Sunday, January 31, 2010


It was a perfect night for a walk, so B and I strolled leisurely through the back streets to dinner at Madhumoti. The decor is basic but sweet - little bunches of plastic flowers on the tables, and Nanna-style plates with water lilies on them. We started with the haleem, which was almost Indian chilli con carne - a slow-cooked, soupy stew of rice, wheat and lentils with chunks of meat. The grains had melded into absolute lusciousness, which was followed up by a massive kick of heat from lots of green chilli. One of my favourite things is slow-cooked cheap cuts, which maintain all the flavour that expensive cuts like fillet lack, but through a long-cooking process become tender you can shred them with a fork. The meat in the haleem was just that. This is definitely on the slow cooker to-do list for me this winter.

The menu is really exciting, and I am glad Madhumoti relishes in its Bangladeshi heritage, and hasn't given in to the typical, predictable Indian suburban menu of samosas, butter chicken and rogan josh. We had Beef Do-Piaja, which was a lightly-cooked dish of tender beef pieces, thinly sliced capsicum and spring onion, almost like a stir-fry. We also enjoyed Tok-Mishti Begun (sweet & sour eggplant) which was eggplant in a tomato-based sauce, seasoned with kalonji, sugar and tamarind. This was accompanied by what shall henceforth be known as the bread of pure evil - Moghlai Porota, which was bread stuffed with cheese and egg, dipped in batter and deep-fried. Eek!

The thing with Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi food is, there is actually no such thing in these cuisines as "curry", in terms of a catch-all phrase for a thick, sauce-based dish. The British popularised the term when they brought Indian food back to Britain, and they in turn had learned it from the Portuguese, who had colonised parts of India in the 16th century. The Portuguese at the time described 'caril' or 'carree' as 'Indian broths' made from butter, spices, nuts and other ingredients. This in term was derived from the south Indian words 'karil' or 'kari', which described spices for seasoning, as well as dishes of sautéed vegetables or meat. Basically, Indians do not lump their dishes together as 'curries', but rather speak of them in terms of the cooking methods used, or the main ingredients. For instance, a true Korma means a braised dish (not necessarily rich & creamy), Bhuna dishes are dry-fried, and Baghar or Tadka dishes feature a flavoured oil, in which garlic and whole spices have been quickly cooked, that is then stirred into the finished dish. (If you are interested in the history of curry, I recommend Lizzie Collingham's Curry: A Biography).

Bringing this back to Madhumoti, each dish had its own unique texture and flavour. This is unlike many Indian restaurants where, although the meats and sauces are different, there is a certain sameness in the textures and flavours, almost as if the same ginger/garlic/spice mix is used as the base for every dish, which then has cream, tomato or spinach added to create the required sauce. We were the last to leave and the chef and waitress were genuinely delighted that we enjoyed the food. I can't say I am hanging for the deep-fried cheesy bread again - not because it wasn't gooood, but because I can't trust myself with the doggy bag. I had eaten the rest of it before breakfast the next day! As I said, pure evil!

Madhumoti, corner Irving and Albert Sts, Footscray

See most recent post here

Madhumoti on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Shelf Gleaning - Yummie

So I had the idea for Shelf Gleaning a while back - a new section in which I "demystify" ingredients I bought in Footscray (but that you too could buy from your local multicultural grocer) and show you what to do with them. Twice I cooked the same chana dal with fenugreek leaves, and twice I was thwarted in taking a pic of the finished dish by arsenic hour. Man - kids and elegant, food-bloggy photography just do not meld. So I present to you, the harried parent's guide to dinner, gleaned from the freezer of Yummie dumpling shop.

Yummie is lined with freezers stuffed with all manner of house-made dumplings and bao (steamed buns). There are also frozen sticky rice in lotus leaf. It's like your own personal take-home yum cha trolley. Behind the counter, the staff are deftly filling and pleating their wares. I was overwhelmed with choices, so I picked a mixed pack, which was $8 for 10 little treasure chests.

The assistant was very friendly and advised me to steam the dumplings from frozen for 15 minutes. They also sell a small selection of dumplings fresh (i.e. not frozen).

May I say, these dumplings are AWESOME. They all taste very distinct, and it is obvious that the ingredients are quality and that they are prepared with care. I wish I was more knowledgeable about the different names, but I did recognise har gow and the fat white Beijing style ones. We had them with a little dipping sauce of half light soy, half malt vinegar, and a simple bowl of egg noodles and vegies.

If I had my way, I would go to yum cha every Sunday. As we suffer from arsenic morning as much as arsenic hour, that is just not possible, so Yummie is going to be my ticket to dumpling dreaming.

Yummie, Leeds St, Footscray (between Golden Harvest and Pho Tam, on your right heading up from Hopkins)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shelf Gleaning

Phil at The Last Appetite, fresh from a wholly unsatisfying dining experience at “old Footscray” stalwart Poon’s, has published a fantastic post bemoaning the blinkered view many Australians have of Asian food. He refers to an article by Necia Wilden in the Australian, in which she sniffs and snorts her way through a shopping trip through the “minefield” of an Asian supermarket. The ensuing discussion over at Progressive Dinner Party is brilliant, and I urge you to savour Zoe’s initial post and the comments that follow.

Wilden embarks on her Asian shopping excursion without a sense of wonder or adventure, but rather with her guard up and her hackles raised. She assumes she is going to be duped by the inscrutable shopkeepers, rather than having an open mind and giving the benefit of the doubt. She is like a rich tourist on a package holiday, perhaps a food & wine tour of Tuscany – she wants all the variables taken out of the equation by an “expert”. This, I am sure, would result in a nice holiday, with lots of nice food, but it would be just that – nice. Perhaps you, like me, would prefer the massive highs and lows of a self-propelled trip, eating at street stalls, risking a bad tummy, for the elation when you discover, hidden down some alley, the stonking good food at some friendly, dirt-cheap, mom & pop shop.

Crunchy pork rolls and glistening curries are only half the magic of the food of Footscray. The suburb’s different multicultural grocers, its butchers and markets are full of food finds to create wonderful meals at home. I would like to introduce a new section, in which I’ll share with you what I have gleaned from all the shelves of Footscray, crammed with dusty packets, and what I have made with them. This way too, if you don’t live in Footscray, you don’t need to see this blog as just a reference for the few times a year you may find yourself here. I’m sure you can find most of these interesting ingredients at your local Asian or Indian grocer.

Please note: I am very conscious that this section will belie my ethnicity (Anglo-Australian). These things are only new for me because of my cultural background. I am trying to avoid using terms like “discover”, as they are loaded with cultural baggage – think Columbus or Cook “discovering” Australia or North America. I also find the term “ethnic shops” (i.e. those that are Asian, Indian etc) really difficult, as it rests on the assumption that white-ness or, more specifically, Anglo-Saxon-ness is not an ethnicity but rather the norm. I am sensitive to this but still I hear myself talking about “a butcher” (where I mean an Anglo, schnitzel & sausages butcher) VS “a Vietnamese butcher”. Also, bear with this round-eyes if I get wide-eyed over the Asian equivalent of, say, tomato sauce or Weet-Bix.

Stay tuned for the first post in “Shelf Gleaning”.

Take Away Café at Rotunda, Williamstown Beach

Welcome to the first guest contribution on Footscray Food Blog! Christie of OH-MY-LA (a local Western suburbs blog) has kindly provided the review below. Glad to hear from a fellow chicken-salt addict, Christie! If you too would like to send in a review to Footscray Food Blog, please do, via footscrayfoodblog at gmail dot com. Picture/s optional but encouraged. Let's keep it restricted to the city and Western suburbs. Thanks and enjoy!

No trip to Willy beach is really complete without fish’n’chips and last Sunday was no exception. We cruised along the Esplanade on our bikes and stopped at Rotunda (next to Sirens) to see what the kiosk had to offer for lunch. From an exhaustive list of meal deals we selected small chips, 2 dim sims, 2 calamari and 2 potato cakes. Our lunch was served in a cardboard tray and was ready in less than 10 minutes, we didn’t mind the wait as we enjoyed strains of an acoustic performer entertaining a function upstairs. We ripped open the paper bag to see a delicious selection of golden goodies. Everything was so crispy and fresh (yes even the potato cakes) and every bite was a pleasure. Their only downfall was the lack of chicken salt, but for a measly $8.90, we very much enjoyed our fish’n’chips at the beach and I’ll happily bring my own next time.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Golden Harvest

Roast duck? What roast duck? Oh yes, the very forgettable roast duck at Golden Harvest. I didn't even finish it, and I am a clean-your-plate gal from way back.

Golden Harvest, 15 Leeds St, Footscray

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pho Tam

I love Footscray, but I am not a native West-Suburbian. I lived in Richmond from when I was 13 or so, for 12 years before moving West. They were great times. I worked at Dimmeys in the "Goodness Gracious Cafe", selling $2 pie and cuppachino deals, making up iced coffees from the big tin of International Roast Caterer's Blend under the counter. Later, gigs at the Corner, smoking in the band room, ending up at the Vine at 5am. I taught English to a Vietnamese woman in the North Richmond flats. Her whole extended family lived in the one tiny apartment it seemed, some on camp beds in the lounge room. They always wanted to feed me. I remember guiltily riding the lift to her floor, thinking about what treats they would make for me, when I should have been going over my lesson plan.

Nothing ties me to Richmond any more apart from my family, who still live there, and Thanh Thanh. I have tramped the length of Victoria St and eaten in almost every restaurant and Thanh Thanh consistently came out on top. (Xiao Ting Box was also a fave, but I have decided I am too old to eat at brazenly grotty places. At least attempt to hide the dirt, people!) But even Thanh Thanh's tenuous tie has now been snipped, with the discovery of Pho Tam.

I read about Pho Tam here, here and here. What a find. Firstly, I love that the menu has a few pictures, and the menu items have descriptions rather than just their title. When I first started eating Vietnamese food, I had no clue what the English "codes" for different delicious dishes were. How would you know that "Rare Beef with Lemon" means beef carpaccio with punchy herbs and crispy vegies? Or that the seemingly innocuous "Spicy Beef Noodle Soup" (Bun Bo Hue) may get you a spicy, oily soup brimming with offal? Lots of trial & error means I now know my "rice vermicelli" (Bun) from my "fine rice vermicelli" (Banh Hoi). Pho Tam's menu could cut out a lot of the heartache (and heartburn) of experimental ordering, and make you more adventurous too!

For comparison I had my fave, Bun Chao Tom, or "Sugar cane prawns with rice vermicelli". It is essentially kebabs of prawn mince on stripped sugarcane, which lend a complex sweetness to the prawn meat. This is served on top of a warm salad of rice vermicelli and crispy vegies, sprinkled with crispy bits of pork fat, and served with sweet fish sauce dressing. Pho Tam's version was sensational - more rustic than Thanh Thanh's, the prawn meat still on the sugarcane, with a real grilled flavour.

I had an iced coffee and was delighted at how it was served. See picture, but essentially the silver contraption above the glass is a mini coffee brewing machine. When it has finished dripping, you stir it up and add to the icy glass. Divine! The waitress was so friendly and willing to explain it all to me. I can't wait to go back and be more adventurous. Next visit to Pho Tam: unravelling the difference between the enigmatic "Egg noodle - soup or dried". They are certainly the right people to help me.

Pho Tam, Cnr Ryan & Leeds Sts, Footscray

Pho Tam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Ba Le

I have been doing some reading on Vietnamese pork rolls or Banh Mi. During the French colonial period, fancy delis in Vietnam offered "French sandwiches" to the colonials. Over time, they were popularised throughout all levels of society, from the aforementioned fancy delis to mobile sandwich shops (a box on a tricycle), the peddlers (pedallers?) of which stuffed their rolls with plenty of cheaper and more Vietnamese ingredients such as herbs, pickled vegetables, cucumber and chilli. My source claims that the rolls were a status symbol, reminiscent as they were of the French. I wonder if people just realised that they tasted bloody good.

Ba Le is no exception. Today we had two rolls, a BBQ pork and a chicken & onion. The emphasis seems to be firmly on the meat rather than the salad, which was muffled by the fantastic flavours of the pork and chicken. The pork was warm, juicy, infused with hoi sin, while the chicken and onion was soy-based, lighter, very tasty. The other side of the store sells various types of cha lua/gio lua or Vietnamese pork loaf, plus sliced-to-order hams and pressed meats which you could buy to make your own banh mi at home. But really, why would you bother?

Ba Le, Shop 3, 28A Leeds St, Footscray (between Barkly & Ryan)

Ba Le on Urbanspoon

Altona Pines Takeaway

Altona beach is a real gem. Tall pines line the foreshore, which stretches far in each direction, and caters for everyone, whether you want a solitary stroll along the tide line, or a place to lay your towel on soft, well-trodden sand, to engage in a bit of sun worship. In the case of us, it was not just a towel (oh, those childless and non-Sunsmart days where one just flung a towel over the shoulder and shot off in a cloud of ancient Corolla smoke). This time, greasy limbs lugged a sun tent, an esky and four green bags filled with buckets, spades, birthday cake, watermelon, sunscreen, nappies, spare clothes, distress beacon, etc. But some things don't change - we all had a ball, and we all had fish and chips for tea.

Altona Beach and the little foreshore park transport me to a seaside village, and the Pines takeaway completes the picture. It is a fantastic, old-style fish & chipper with a high wooden counter where you order, the option of chicken salt (yeah!) and plenty of butcher's paper to wrap up your crispy goodies. The art on the handpainted blackboard looks as if it hasn't changed since the 50's. It is family-run, and the night we were there, Grandma was working the grill, flipping burgers and cracking eggs into egg rings. King George Whiting was $5 and it was spanking fresh. I love that they always seem to throw in an extra potato cake. 7 of us ate like kings for $45, and we didn't have to pay to park the car, which was only stone's throw from our possie on the sand. St Kilda, eat your heart out!

Altona Pines Takeaway, 18 Pier St, Altona (opposite the park)

Altona Pines Takeaway on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Babylon Restaurant

I often wonder how the Subway in Footscray makes any money, surrounded as it is by Vietnamese bakeries. How could anybody choose those pallid slices of "ham" or "turkey", wizened lettuce and claggy bread over the crusty, light, fresh, flavour explosion of a Vietnamese pork roll? Similarly, why put up with soggy-bottomed, oily, mystery meat pizza when the world of Lebanese pizza or man'oush is out there for the exploring. From your local makhbaz or Arabic bakery, man'oush might come spread with tangy za'atar (local Mid-Eastern oregano/thyme) or lahmi (lamb/tomato paste, sprinkled with lemon & chilli), or folded into a calzone shape and filled with salty, stretchy haloumi - mozzarella on steroids!

Well that is all well and good, you say, but where is my local mabkhiz, or whatever it was you said anyway? Never fear, fellow Footscray-philes, we now have one! This is good, as the speeding ticket I got racing to the makhbaz in Altona North (at the Circle shopping strip) to get my fix was one too many. Babylon Restaurant in Nicholson St is your new local purveyor of all things Lebanese - or so I thought! Read on.

(OK, I know my pictures suck. I will get better!)

Babylon is in the sleaziest part of Nicholson St, down near the Centrelink, the horrible Court House Hotel and the Club X (which is next to a halal butcher - only in Footscray!) The interior decor is total kitsch, think sunken pirate galleon meets NGV water wall. Without wasting any time I ordered the holy trinity of man'oush - za'atar, lahmi (lamb/tomato) and jibni (cheese). While waiting, I perused the menu, and realised I had been overly hasty. Babylon is not just another kebab shop/bakery, it is an Iraqi restaurant! Tantalising dishes I had never heard of jumped out at me - tashreb, barche, mindi. The range belied Iraq's position on the eastern fringe of the Middle East, from classic Levantine felafel and dips, to Persian/Indian loans such as beriani (biriani).

Our pizzas arrived, and they were really, really good - the bread was a lot thinner and crispier than the classic Lebanese style, and they were made with a lot of care. But I couldn't help feeling I had missed out on the real treasures of Babylon. A return visit planned - stay tuned!

Babylon Restaurant, Nicholson St (between Paisley & Irving), Footscray

See more recent review here

Babylon Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 11, 2010


I have been to a lot of great places in the months since I stopped posting, but to be fair I think I need to revisit them in order to give a fair review (ah, the agony!) It does seem fair to write about Aangan, though, given I have been there so many times. I have a weird relationship with Aangan. In the little country town that is Barkly Village, West Footscray, there are not too many dining options. Krishna take an hour plus to bring your mains, and Thai Angels is a bit ordinary. Aangan is always the go-to if you want a good meal within stumbling distance of home. The set-up is a great, with a huge beer garden, the beer is cheap, the variety is huge and lots of Indians love it. So why don't I? Don't get me wrong, I do like it. The samosa chat is addictive (not a discussion about fried pastries - crushed samosas drizzled with tangy tamarind sauce and yoghurt, and sprinkled with chat masala). I just discovered and looove their Gobhi Manchurian, an Indian riff on classic bad Chinese sweet & sour pork, only with cauliflower and lots of chilli powder. Basically it is just expensive. I don't like paying $2.50 for garlic naan and $2.50 for rice on top of a $12 curry, when Kitchen Samrat (36 Leeds St, F'y) does free rice and 2 naan with all $7-8 curries. But it is a great place for a girls' night out or a second or third date, whereas Kitchen Samrat might be pushing it, even for a fellow intrepid foodie.

Aangan, 559 Barkly St, West Footscray

Aangan on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hao Phong

Hao Phong is your massively menu-ed, always busy, go-to Vietnamese in Footscray. It is fresh, fast and delicious as we Melbournians have come to expect Vietnamese to be. Last night was the second time I have been, and our waiter used to work at Thanh Thanh in Victoria St, Richmond, my all-time fave V. restaurant - a good omen!

Chicken Coleslaw - fresh, light and who can pass up a sleazy prawn cracker

Seafood Char Kway Teow - toothsome fresh rice noodles, egg, turmeric, lots of mixed seafood (may I be a purist and say, correct me if I'm wrong but it was not really char kway teow, but quite happy nonetheless)

We also had crispy squid which despite being battered rather than crispy rice/cornflour coated, was sinfully squidlicious. Tea was hot, fresh and not bitter at all. Great restaurant - love it.

Hao Phong, 136 Hopkins St, Footscray (between Leeds & Nicholson Sts)

Hao Phong on Urbanspoon

Nhu Lan

When trying to find a good eatery, it is generally a no-brainer that the busiest one is best. This logic prevails at Nhu Lan, a bakery adored for their Vietnamese salad rolls. Lunchtime today found the counter 4 deep, which is pretty much standard. Big colourful pictures on the walls let you know your choices, from mixed ham, BBQ pork or chicken, pork meatball etc. Normally the BBQ chicken is my fave (think sticky, glistening and an unnatural shade of crimson, chopped on a big rough-hewn chopping block concave from years of use) but decided to mix it up and go with the tofu. This is as far as I know a Nhu Lan exclusive, juicy fried cubes in a shiny, light, soy-based gravy with spring onion. The roll was also stuffed with the classic carrot/radish pickle, coriander, cucumber and chilli. It was to die for! J and I snarfed it in the car before we even pulled out of the parking lot. Tofu Nhu Lan roll now a classic in my book.

See more recent review here

Nhu Lan, 116 Hopkins St, Footscray (opposite the market, just past Leeds)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back from the dead

Back when I started this blog, I had no idea how I could get people to find it, and after a while it seemed a bit dull to be writing to myself so I let it go. Now I know that people are out there reading the blog and keen to discover more fantastic Footscray food I am keen to continue, so stay tuned!
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