Thursday, September 17, 2015

Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem.

There is a Czech proverb I love, which can be translated as:

As many languages you know, as many times you are a human being.

Earlier this year, I decided to return to an enduring passion of mine - languages.  I grew up bilingual in English and Auslan, speak good French and decent Modern Standard Arabic.  I spent the first half of 2015 revising my French and Arabic, and on 3 June, hopped a plane to Paris!


Yes, this is the reason I have been AWOL for the last few months. I stayed in wonderful places throughout France, from this houseboat on the Seine to a country home among the cherry orchards of Ardèche.


From Marseille I flew to Morocco where I spent three weeks at a language school, studying the Moroccan dialect.


I lived with a local family, shopped in the wonderful old city full of twisty-turny lanes and had numerous days where I spoke absolutely nothing but Arabic.


On a linguistic note, it was a very fast switch to go from Modern Standard Arabic to Darija (North African dialect).  If you are studying MSA and despair that everyone thinks you sound like Chaucer - with the right tuition, you can move very fast to a dialect.


From Morocco I flew to Spain, or more specifically Catalonia.  Catalonia is an autonomous region in northeastern Spain - Barcelona is the capital.  Catalan - not Spanish - is the native language, and what most people speak on a day-to-day level.  It was a fascinating experience to see such a strong and proud minority language at work.


But what about the food, you say?!  Here are just a few tasty highlights.  This pissaladière was possibly the best thing I ate in France.  It's a sort of savoury tart, this one on gorgeous, burnished puff pastry, layered with anchovies, beautiful tomatoes, olives and cheese.


I ate so, so much incredible food in Morocco - of which I have virtually no pictures.  Most of it was eaten as breaking of the fast meals in Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting.  So a., no pictures because there is a spiritual element, and b., I was honestly so starving by the time it rolled around I just shovelled it in!


Here is "warqa" pastry being made - sort of like filo or spring roll pastry.  I never did not see the guy on the left working at this stall, no matter what time of day (or night) I went past.  This would be used to make wonderful little pies filled with chicken, green olives and preserved lemon.


In the town I was living in, women would come down from the mountains and sit in the alleys of the walled city, selling bottles of homemade yoghurt, homegrown garlic, fruit or eggs.


People generally shop daily and everything is just so fresh.  As in - this is the chicken shop!!!  As in, you choose a chicken, and they kill it for you!


In three weeks in Morocco, I only ate couscous about three times!  It is not something people eat very much at home, or at least not in the region I was in.  On the contrary, there was lots of bread - one variety that was essentially roti, various yeasted loaves, and little breads that looked like English muffins which my host sister would fill with meatballs, cheese, olives and mayo to make delicious Moroccan sliders.


Fresh sardines by the beach with my host family, served with bread, a thick split pea soup/dip, and a plate of chopped onion and tomato doused in vinegar.  About $1.50 and one of the best things I've ever tasted.  I ate a lot of fish - I loved one particular tiny variety that were battered and eaten whole, bones and all.  The weirdest thing I ate was snail soup - the snails, with brown and cream-striped shells, float in a dark, herbal broth.  You pull out their long bodies with safety pins.  They taste like mushrooms!


Amazing paella in Cadaqués, Spain...


...and also so amazing was fideuà, which is a Catalonian version of paella, made with short spaghetti.


From Spain we travelled to the UK to see family and friends.


I couldn't get into the warm, flat beer, but my traitorous tastebuds found this traditional English fish and chips so delicious and better than anything I've had in Oz for a long time.  When I got home, I smelled something acrid in my room, and opened my bag to find my Australian passport singed around the edges.


That Czech proverb I mentioned before can actually be translated another way:

For every language you speak, you live a new life.

I have been reflecting a lot about this blog.  I have decided to put it on an indeterminate hiatus.  There is only so much time in both a day and a life, and after many years of happy blogging, I now want to use my time to do other things.


I do have a sense as well that "my work here is done".  I feel that the western suburbs are now firmly on Melbourne's food and culture map.  Yes, there may be issues of balance, but I feel that wider Melbourne is switching on to the western suburbs' delights.


Frankly, though, I never set out to be an unofficial PR agent for the west.  Even if I didn't realise it at the time, this blog started as a way for me to get over the deep feelings of isolation and confusion that I experienced as a new mother.  I felt isolated geographically, and as a younger mother who was still at university and had never had jobs beyond waitressing and office temping, I felt very confused about what had happened to - or what I was doing with - my life.

I used to read a blog occasionally about another younger woman's experience of motherhood.  It was called "Once Edible, Now Consumed".  I identified very much with the feeling of being consumed - both in the sense of being swamped by the demands of mothering, but also with the sense of lost potential, that my life had taken a turn that did not fit with "the plan".

This blog was a big part in turning that feeling around.  Some incredible experiences have blossomed from it, from becoming a writer for The Age, Time Out and Broadsheet despite having no writing qualifications; running really fun and well-researched food tours for the CAE and then as part of my own business; running delicious dumpling-making workshops; and coordinating the truly epic 2014 Rickshaw Run for the Food & Wine Festival.  The exhilarating afternoon after the Rickshaw Run finished and the morning my first cover story was published were truly some of the best moments of my life.

Thank you for coming with me on this wonderful journey.  Keep eating and loving the western suburbs.  And may the (pork) floss be with you!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dosa Hut

Anyone remember "hit the hut" from Pizza Hut?

Growing up with one health freak and one culture freak for parents, hitting that particular hut was strictly verboten.  It therefore followed that as a child, it was all I ever wanted.  I remember on maybe my 12th birthday my dad saying I could go anywhere I liked for lunch - anywhere at all!  I know he wanted me to say Mask of China or wherever else was the "it" place in the early 90's.  I said - you guessed it - Pizza Hut.  He was horrified!

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Something must have rubbed off, though, as I now have zero interest in unlimited quantities of bad chocolate mousse and every interest in this particular hut, which I recommend you hit with vigour.  Meet Dosa Hut.

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Dosa Hut has been in Barkly Street for at least as long as I've lived in the area (9+ years).  Over that time they have expanded into the place next door, and continued to expand their menu into a greatest hits of South Indian cuisine.

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One of the best-known South Indian staples is dosa - very light, impressively huge pancakes made from a lightly fermented (like sourdough) rice and lentil batter.  They have crisp, burnished bottoms and are unflipped, making their top layer capable of soaking up all manner of delicious juices.  This was a nontraditional but particularly awesome dosa "filled" with Chicken 65...

photo 1

...which are battered chicken pieces in a sticky red sauce spiked with curry leaves.  It's an Indian spin on Chinese food, but instead of being dumbed down, it's amped up.  Spicy, rich, tangy - awesome.

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If that all sounds a bit much, start with the classic masala dosa.  This one is filled with a dry-ish potato dish made with peeled potatoes fried with spices.

photo 2

It's a classic and deservedly so.  The dosa come with a zesty, runny pickle, amazing coconut chutney and sambar.  If you like it a bit hotter, get the Mysore version, which has special chilli powder added.

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Sambar is a South Indian soup of sorts made with onion and other vegies (here, carrots), lentils, spices and tomato.  You spoon mouthfuls in between bites of dosa.

photo 1

Mango lassi are awesome.

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Dosa Hut's menu is voluminous.  If you don't know what things are, just ask - the staff are very friendly.  A few things I can tell you is rava dosa is a dosa made from semolina; uttapham is like a very thick pancake with toppings cooked into the top (kind of like a pan-fried pizza); the spring roll dosa is rolled up tight, almost like a burrito!  I have not partaken of the "Lindt chocolate dosa", but that sounds like a particularly worthwhile ordering experiment - and just as good as an all-you-can-eat dessert bar!

Dosa Hut
604b Barkly Street, West Footscray
Check out the menu here (Tarneit store, but as far as I can tell, the same as the WeFo one)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quelque chose s'approche...


Remember this photo from a few weeks ago?

So it turns out, going front-to-back in Schaum's French Grammar is the worst possible way to revise (or learn) a language.  This book is drier than a box of stale Saos.

Rather than give up, I have been doing a lot of reading about the best way to learn languages.  Kató Lomb was a Hungarian female polyglot (speaker of 4+ languages).  At her death in 2003, she spoke 16 languages, most of which she learned in her 30s and 40s.  She was completely monolingual (Hungarian) until about the age of 24.  She insists there is no special "innate ability" or "gene" for languages, and that what makes one good at languages is your degree of passion and amount of available time, combined with your level of inhibition (ie, low inhibition - prepared to make a lot of mistakes/sound silly = good).

One of her tips is to create for yourself a "linguistic microclimate".  If you sit down with a tutor once a week and think "that's that", you will learn excruciatingly slowly.  Instead, think of what you do in English and do it in your target language.  So now I watch French music videos while I cook.  On long drives, I listen to French audiobooks, not English.  I write my shopping lists in French.   I changed my phone language settings so it's all in French.

I am constantly scanning my day for more ways to include French, to create my own personal "linguistic microclimate".  Basically, the best thing that could happen to me right now is if a small French bar opened in the neighbourhood.






Footscray, meet Stefan Armentano.  He is a French chef who has taken up a lease of one of the little shops in the old Royal Hotel redevelopment and is in the process of turning it into a bar/deli, modelled on the French "bars du quartier" or "community bars" - the little place on the corner where you can drop in for a glass of wine and maybe a bit of interesting cheese and ham, freshly carved.

"I've got this passion for cheeses," he said.  "It's a bit selfish - I'm opening a deli just to provide cheese to my kids!"  The idea is to have a fully-stocked deli that is open from about 11am-11pm, so you can stop in in the day and pick up some pâté, or stop in at night and eat said pâté with some wine.  (Or stop in in the day, and eat said pâté with some wine - I'm not judging!)

Menu-wise, you'll be able to have something from inside the cabinet, or "little French rural things" - Stefan's thinking beef tartare or duck confit.  Or a nice French sandwich where Stefan tells me butter isn't merely a spread, but is so thick and of such quality, it's considered a filling!

(It's the place with the whitewashed windows!)

Stefan plans for maybe two or three beers on tap, a good selection of wine and "a couple of good French calvados" (apple brandy).  His previous business was a tapas restaurant in Perth called Gypsy Tapas House.  Regarding Small French Bar, Stefan is very humble, saying that he wants it to be a place for "a good old cheese and a good old red", and only wants it to seat about 20 people.

Stefan and Small French Bar are currently chugging through the maze of building permits and licences.  The aim is to open sometime this year.  You can keep up to date on his Facebook page.  All I can say is - "Vite!  Vite!"  (Hurry!  Hurry!)

If you are learning a language and can point me in the direction of more good resources, whether online, offline, traditional or non-traditional, I'd love to hear from you!  For example, I recently discovered italki and am blown away; can't wait to get started!  I'm sure there are more good sites or blogs out there that I just don't know about yet.  Or if you speak/are learning French or Arabic, I would deeply appreciate some good music, good podcast or good online radio station tips.  Send me an email :)  Also, if you are interested in or work in languages or linguistics, I would also love to chat with you, whether just generally or to pick your brain about particularly well-regarded courses or directions within the industry.  Email addy to the right.  Massive TIA!

A bit of French music for you - I love this song, the lyrics and the video:

And I have been enjoying Sexion d'Assaut - really like this song, but the video is a bit random - I think they got sponsored by Smart cars!

If you are interested in Kato Lomb's book "Polyglot: How I Learn Languages", you can read it for free here or buy from Lulu.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Melbourne Market tour winner revealed!

Hi everyone - thank you so much for your fantastic entries to my first-ever giveaway!  I put out a call for "your best westie story - the one that just sums Footscray, or the inner west, up".  The winner gets two tickets to an upcoming tour of the Melbourne Wholesale Fruit & Veg Market.  I said I'd publish the winner today, and I will - plus a few more, because so many were just too good!

There was a real theme of history among many of your entries.  Roslin writes that:

"1995, 5 year old Roslin would get her hair cut at Forges by Marina, then navigate through the hustle and bustle of Footscray Market with her mum. Fast forward to now and 23 year old Roslin is eating her way through Footscray: Cannoli. Pho. Ethiopian. 8bit and more."


And from Lan:

"My mum used to work at the Asian grocers that's still on the corner of Hopkins and Moore St. As a little girl, dad would bring me with him when he went to pick her up from work. I remember waiting by the register with her whilst she finished her shift and watching people from all walks of life come in, have a little chat with Mum before taking their goodies home. Mum seemed to know everyone and many conversations revolved around what they were going to make with their ingredients. It was fascinating to hear the variety whilst I sat perched up on a stool having a durian or red bean ice cream! The things you learn growing up in the west!"


I loved Kate's Saturday morning Footscray ritual:

"My Saturday morning in Footscray - a sense of adventure in the air. I battle the masses at Nhu Lan for my beloved Tofu roll. A jump to Vy’s for my Vietnamese Iced-Coffee. A cheery ‘hello’ to the elderly street side vendors. A myriad of curious stores and restaurants longing to be explored. The vibe is unique and incomparable. I am energised and inspired!"


And I really feel Footscray's capacity to subvert your expectations in Georgia's entry:

"One of my most memorable moments in Footscray was with my Somali friend, her dressed in her colourful hijab and me in my traditional melbourne winter outfit of BLACK! We entered an Arabic store which looked like a shop which sold various foods and kitchenware of odds and ends. My friend suggested we enter and I was wondering what we would possibly buy here...  as we walked towards the back of the shop the heat and gorgeous cooking smells hit us and there was a man making fresh injera on a supersize pancake maker with his wife sorting and packing it for customers. We left with beautiful bread and me with the experience of a lifetime having met wonderful people and entered a world I would never have known existed."


Wendy got a peek into an "inner world" too, at Gold Leaf, Sunshine:

"Treating a visiting Nimbin hippy fresh off the plane, we eschewed Melbourne's CBD, instead heading for Sunshine (how could you not love a place with a name like that!) As the last diners sharing a very relaxed late lunch with wait staff, laughing as they all dived on the best trolley baskets for their own meal break... Only in the West!"


Kathryn apologised for offering four entries and told me clearly that if this was "overkill or cheating", to just consider her first entry.  Oh, but I love all of these little vignettes so much.  I love their honesty and the way they make me pause.

"Two African guys argue (something about rabbits) at Sunny Nguyen’s counter, while the Vietnamese lady serving looks nonplussed. Finally, one says to the other, ‘No, last year was Year of the Rabbit, this year it’s Year of the Snake, and after that, it’ll be something else.’ He looks at me and we exchange grins."

"A grizzled white man wheels a stunt bike along Footscray station, stopping to admire a pit bull (‘Fucken beautiful dog, pardon my French’) and tell me this joke. ‘You know the government’s changing the family subsidy - what do you call a white person with six kids? An entrepreneur!’ He grins. ‘It’s a good one, isn’t it?!’"


"Further up the Maribyrnong they sit in family groups, their fishing rods wedged into upright tubing, but this angler sits alone, holding his rod in gloved hands. Once he’d plunge carp into ice to banish the mud flavour from their flesh; now he throws them back, and his faded red bucket holds no ice, just river water."

"Overheard. Two men (one begging), Footscray station.
A: (Calmly, but becoming belligerent) No, no, no. I won’t. I won’t give you money so you can smoke. I won’t do it. What do you think you’re doing? It’s not right. I’m not gonna do it. I’m not. So don’t ask me.
B: (Quietly) Alright, mate."


But in the end, I am going to award the tickets to May, whose entry I felt was as bright and crisp as the snow peas she describes.

"As I inspected the snow peas at Little Saigon, a friendly member of staff approached holding a box above his head carefully, as if presenting Simba to the Sahara. Slowly, it tipped and rained crisp, glorious, snow peas into my waiting hands. I put on my war mask and went into battle as the vultures descended..."

Congratulations, May!  I hope you have an awesome time!  Thank you also to everyone who entered.  I loved reading your wonderfully diverse submissions.  Keep living and loving the west!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

GIVEAWAY - win two tickets to a tour of the Melbourne Wholesale Market!

Disclaimer:  I have two tickets to give away to a Food and Wine Festival event (more details in body of post).  I am not being paid or otherwise compensated to run this giveaway.  See below for full disclaimer.

African Taste and market 013
Image c/- Lauren Wambach

So sometime this year, a big part of the western suburbs is going to disappear.  It's the Melbourne Wholesale Fruit, Vegetable and Flower Market, which has been trading on the northern side of Footscray Road since 1969.  The market has been continuously trading, whether at Footscray Road or on other sites in the Melbourne CBD, since 1841.

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The market is moving to Epping to a new purpose-built facility later this year.  I have two tickets to give away for a tour of the market, which is pretty much your last chance to check it out before it hitches a ride north!

African Taste and market 047
Image c/- Lauren Wambach

I did a tour of the wholesale market back in 2010 and loved it.  It's the point in Melbourne where produce changes hands from growers to retailers, and it is normally closed up tight to the general public.

African Taste and market 033
Image c/- Lauren Wambach

Says Karen Vella of the Melbourne Market Authority:  "Many of the local products are picked and placed on the shelves within 24-36 hours...  Market-sourced fruit and veg is the best way to get the freshest as the growers and retailers meet in one place, exchange goods and it’s then on the shelf all within one day."

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The market is not only populated by growers, but by wholesalers too.  When I went on my tour, I remember a fascinating peek behind the scenes of a family-run, sixth-generation ginger wholesaler.  The great-great-great x 6 grandson had some wonderful stories and tall tales to tell about his family's life and work in the market over the years and down the generations.

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Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

The two tickets I have to give away are for the tour on Friday 13 March, 6am-8am.  Karen Vella reports that "our tour operator Jan will be taking visitors around the market on a little train.  Visitors will have the opportunity to meet growers and wholesalers and see a wide range of produce.  Jan will talk about the trends of produce and show visitors different varieties including heirloom vegetables, newer Asian vegetables etc…

Image c/- Melbourne Market Authority

"Each tour will be different as it depends on the growers and wholesalers available on the morning. We will be providing a light breakfast and a take-home pack."  (PS:  You don't normally get this pack if you go on a regular tour - this is a Melbourne Food and Wine Festival special!)  See more details on the MFWF website here.

And how do I win these amazing tickets, you say?  Inspired by Ros's beautiful postcard from Footscray, I want to hear in 50 words or less, your best westie story - the one that just sums Footscray, or the inner west, up.

Here's an example:  I remember being at Rina's Coffee and Nuts in Footscray Market having a coffee with Annie, the owner.  There were two old guys there - one Southern European, one Asian - and we got chatting.  One was the acupuncturist to the other - he'd been treating him at his Footscray clinic for, like, 30 years - and they always went for a coffee and a chat at Rina's after.  Footscray in a nutshell.

To enter, email your story to by midnight, this Friday, 6 March.  I'll announce the winner on Monday, 9 March.  The winning story will be published on Footscray Food Blog (if you want to remain anonymous, that is absolutely fine - I'll check with you how you'd like to be credited before publishing).

PS:  I'm not going to count the words, so don't have a fit if you're a few words over!  You can also write about elsewhere in the west, eg, Sunshine, St Albans...  And if you miss out, I believe there are still tickets to the tour available - get 'em here.

Disclaimer:  The Melbourne Market Authority contacted me asking me to help promote their Food and Wine Festival event.  I suggested a giveaway of tickets.  I was motivated to do this because I genuinely believe the Melb. Wholesale Market is an important part of the west and soon it will be gone forever.  I attended one of their tours in 2010, paid completely out of my own pocket, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am not receiving any financial or other compensation for running this giveaway.

Friday, February 27, 2015

A postcard from Footscray

I got the most lovely email the other day and felt it really encapsulated everything I love about Footscray.  I know I blog about the west, but reading through, I felt like I was seeing it with fresh eyes.  I couldn't wipe the smile off my face the whole email!  With the author's permission, I'd like to share it with you.  (I've added some links to the places either she or I refer to, and also some purty pics from my collection...)

Hi Lauren, Thanks so much for your reply...and don’t feel bad about the delay...  I can relate to that :-)
Thanks to your blog, I had the best day on Friday in the market and surrounds!  I drew myself a map and marked in all your suggestions, going first to the grocery market (your suggestion) across the road from the station...where I found the Red Boat fish sauce!  Sorry, can’t think of names and I’ve thrown out my bit of paper.
Pho from Hung Vuong Saigon, 128 Hopkins St, Footscray
As it was around midday when I arrived on the train from Geelong, I headed for the place you recommended for Pho (Huong Vien?)  Wow.  I had the beef & chicken one.  I’ll be back!
Then went looking for Mama Rosina’s, but couldn’t find it anywhere.  Never mind, found a little place selling grains and went in and asked them about Teff.  They told me I’d get it at Bharat Traders, 580 Barkly St.  As I was in Barkly St, I thought it can’t be too far.........!!!  Anyway, got my Teff...and found out I could get a bus back...thankfully! 
This was another lovely memorable part of my visit.  On the bus, I felt like I was a tourist in another country (not sure which one though...Vietnam, Nth Africa, India? :-) )  So many ladies offered me a seat beside them (taking pity on an elderly foreigner!)  I sat with a Vietnamese lady and struck up a conversation with her, then an Indian lady in the seat behind joined in, both offering to help with directions.  They were just lovely...  One of them even got off the bus with me and walked me in the direction of Mesnoy Bakery.
Meftuha from Mesnoy Injera Bakery "baking" injera at a festival in Footscray
So...I got my Injera!!  The two girls at Mesnoy were so friendly and helpful too.  When I showed them my Teff they rolled their eyes a bit and told me exactly what you said :-( * Never mind...think I’d already decided I wasn’t going to attempt it.  My son-in-law is going to though; he loves fermented stuff, so it won’t be wasted.
Anyway, I’ll try and shorten my story. I had a great time stocking up...well, as much as I could.  My fingers were nearly cut in half from the weight of my two shopping bags...and I had to get back to Southern Cross to catch the 6.30 train back to Swan Hill...finally home about midnight.  Put all but two pieces of Injera straight into dehydrator overnight.  Next morning, beautiful crisp Injera chips, which I’ve put in cello bags & sealed.
Misir wat (red lentils) at front left - I can't remember where I ate this but I wish I could!
For lunch on Saturday we had Injera (freshened in microwave), with the red lentil recipe that I found on Mesnoy’s website.  Yum!  But it was even better cold as a dip that night with Injera chips!!  Then on toast for breakfast yesterday morning!!  The recipe made heaps.  Half of it is in tubs in the freezer ready to have dip & chips again!! 
Can’t wait to go back...and take my husband.  Very doable from Swan Hill.  SH train passes through and stops at Footscray at about 10.30 am, then can pick it up again at about 6.45 pm without even having to go into the city!  What a day we’d have...BUT first stop next time will be to buy a shopping jeep...or two!! 
As you can probably tell...I’m still on a high! 
So...a big thank you again for introducing me to the culturally diverse culinary delights of Footscray! 

Thank you so much to Ros from Swan Hill for allowing me to share her delightful email.  She has really touched on everything that makes Footscray amazing.

* What I said re the teff was:  In terms of teff flour - it's not legal for export, so you cannot buy it.  The only exception is Bob's Red Mill which is an American company that produces teff flour (among others - coconut, amaranth etc).  It's available at health food shops and at Sims supermarket in West Footscray.  The catch is that that teff is apparently a poor grade so it's not very nice.  The Ethiopian community here in Melbourne don't use teff - they use combinations of corn, wheat, rice and sorghum flours to approximate the taste.
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