Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Christmas banquet from Footscray's two markets

This is a commissioned piece by Footscray Life, a division of Maribyrnong Council.  See end of post for full details.

My challenge should I choose to accept it was Christmas dinner for eight, a flat $100, and everything to come from Footscray and Little Saigon markets.  I scratched my head, rubbed my tummy and came up with this devious plan:

Vietnamese-style poached chicken and lettuce wraps

Crispy roast pork
Giant cous cous and roast vegie salad


Would I find everything?  Would it come in under a hundo?  Stick around and find out!


First stop, Footscray Market.  Six years ago, I'd stop here every weekend after another round of house hunting in the area.  The happy, multicultural hubbub was what made me fall in love with the inner west.


First stop, rice vinegar, fish sauce, rice vermicelli noodles and crispy fried shallots for my Vietnamese appetiser.  I really like this little Asian grocer, just off the Footscray Market food court.


It's tidy and well organised...


...and has quite a few interesting bits and pieces like this Filipino spiced coconut vinegar.  I highly recommend the fried tofu for sale on the counter, whether for taking home to place in homemade rice paper rolls or sushi, or just to nibble as you wander about the market!


"Big Trade" is the supermarket inside Footscray Market.  From the outside it can look a bit uninspiring, I admit, but if you rifle around inside you can uncover so much buried treasure.


Check out this awesome range of spices, like Turkish black chilli (a favourite ingredient of Greg Malouf, apparently) and liquorice bark slices.  The "chicken mix" has been a family favourite of ours for years - mix with yoghurt to make a delicious marinade for chicken on the barbie.  This is the place to grab allspice, the secret ingredient to really good tabbouli.


Big Trade also comes through with giant cous cous and burghul (cracked wheat, for the tabbouli).  They also sell freekeh or roasted, cracked green wheat (middle shelf, on the right above), a superfood that normally comes with a super price tag - but not here!  I'm also intrigued by the Turkish dried white corn on the middle shelf above.  It's for soups apparently, but I wonder if with a turn or two in a kind friend's Thermomix, it could actually be a stand-in for the American grits I so desperately crave?


Another Big Trade find - mastic, a dried tree gum with an intriguing "pine" flavour (see mastic ice cream here at Morsels and Musings - yum!)  The "machlepi" or "mahlab" are tiny cherry pips which are used, among other things, as an ingredient in Greg Malouf's Lebanese naqaniq sausages.


Big Trade also has flours (including proper "hard" flour for pasta or pizza making), oils and a much-loved deli with interesting cheeses.  After picking up our dry goods plus a pot of cream for the pavlova, it's time to move on...


...to Little Saigon Shopping Centre for seasonal fruit and crisp greens.  Like any market, it's worthwhile browsing the three main fruit shops for what looks best on the day.


There are snacks to be had along the way - try dipping the fruits in this chilli/salt sprinkle, which both offsets and serves to highlight their sweetness.


Once you buy greens from Little Saigon, you'll struggle to buy them anywhere else.  Bunches of mixed mints are about 70 cents each, as are whole bunches of spring onions.  See here on the right Vietnamese water spinach, and in the middle under the 4 for $2 sign, rice paddy herb, essential in rare beef with lemon coleslaw.  So much freshness!


There are loads of rarely-seen goodies like (on the left) fresh turmeric, baby Thai eggplants and (at top right) slightly alien-looking kohlrabi.  I'm here to snap up fresh limes for my nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce (go for the ones that are slightly yellow, which denotes ripeness).


The fruit offerings are highly seasonal here, and now's the time of year to pick up the best mangos and cherries.  I got three gorgeous mangos for a little over $3 - that's total, not each!  Remember, you can taste just about everything so you know exactly what you're buying.


Now, loaded up with crisp iceberg lettuce, spring onion, white radish (for Vietnamese pickles), fresh fruit and more, it's back to Footscray Market for some more "continental" produce.  Bushy Park Wholesale is a relatively new resident (you can even like them on Facebook).  They have a good range of produce including loads of Asian veg - I even saw Indian methi or fresh fenugreek leaves!  They came through with really lovely bunches of Italian parsley, $1.50 each.


Masters next door is my old favourite, although I do miss the Lebanese girls who used to man the registers and were always up for a natter.  The outer display holds the best bargains, while inside there's more specialty produce like passionfruits (three for $2) and slender green baby zucchini.


Awesome - Australian garlic!  Plus my favourite taters, kipflers, which make the best potato salads.


Time to scour the meat hall for the main event, crispy roast pork.


I'm always scouting for what looks best on the day rather than having a favourite butcher, but the Hong Kong Meat Co is known for having more European-style cuts.  For around $30 I got a 2.5 kg rolled pork loin, trussed and ready for scoring (although I did have to unroll and retie to trim off some of the skin which had been rolled into the centre - you only want it on the outside).  Hot tip - TH Butcher across the way has great pork and fennel sausages.


Then at Dai Quang Poultry, it's time to get a whole free range chook (from Bannockburn, as seen at Sims)...


...and a half-dozen certified organic free range eggs ($3.80).  Awesome!


Last stop, Footscray Market Deli, owned by the same family as Masters fruit and veg.


The cheeses are so tempting but today I'm only after Dodoni feta for sprinkling on my cous cous salad (it was on special, but I reckon Bulgarian is just as good).


Likewise, smoked meats will have to wait for another day!


Did you know Footscray Market Deli sell gorgeous sourdough bread from the venerable Natural Tucker Bakery in North Carlton, as well as sourdough from traditional European baker Andrew in Laverton?


Two markets in under two hours!  Market ninja.


And here's the haul - everything from the markets, from vinegar to cream and everything in between, for the grand total of $91.30!  (You could use the extra $8.70 towards olive oil, salt or other basics if you didn't have them the cupboard.)


For the Vietnamese-style wraps, the chicken is poached in an Asian-style stock (infused with ginger, garlic, spring onions and black peppercorns) before being cooled and gently shredded.


The Vietnamese pickled vegetables can be made a few days before, by soaking carrot and daikon batons in a sweetened vinegar for at least one day.  (PS:  The carrots are from my vegie box, but they'd only add up to a few cents.  If you get a veg box too, you will sympathise with my constant state of carrot glut and why I couldn't bear to actually purchase the darn things!)


Then, arranged with iceberg cups, cooked and cooled rice vermicelli, pickled carrot, cucumber and interesting mints, guests can make their own cooling poached chicken and noodle wraps...


...and dunk them in piquant home-made nuoc cham sauce, a sweet/tangy blend of fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice and sugar.


Christmas to me means the kids in the pool, a full roast dinner and dozing, full-bellied uncles all around, Christmas cracker hats sagging lopsidedly atop slumbering heads.  I know it's not very modern but to me, Christmas has to have a roast, and what better than juicy roast pork with perfect crackling?  (You could start it in a hot oven to get the crackling up and then transfer to a slow barbecue, if you don't want to be stuck in a hot kitchen.)


Then luscious tabbouli, dressed with lashings of lemon juice and olive oil, spiked with sea salt, black pepper and the all-important allspice.


And a warm salad of roasted vegies and giant cous cous (easy to prepare - just cook like pasta until tender), dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil and sprinkled with tangy feta.


A blend of tradition, multiculturalism and modernity - that's the Australia I love.


We did do the Chrissie pudding growing up, and while I do love it, nothing says Australian summer more than good old pav.  If you haven't had it before, pavlova is essentially a giant meringue (made from egg whites and sugar), topped with whipped cream and your choice of seasonal fruit.


I use Stephanie Alexander's recipe which advises flipping the cooked meringue over so you get that wonderful contrast between crisp exterior, fluffy marshmallow meringue middle, cool whipped cream and tangy summer fruits.  SO GOOD.

So there you go - Christmas dinner for eight, sourced with the most seasonal, ethical ingredients available, and all for under $100.  I LOVE FOOTSCRAY!

Disclosure:  I was approached by Footscray Life, a division of Maribyrnong Council, to create a Christmas menu for under $100 with ingredients from Footscray Market and Little Saigon Shopping Centre, with the subsequent piece to appear both on Footscray Food Blog and Footscray Life.  I quoted Footscray Life for my time and was reimbursed for my ingredients.

Recipe inspiration from my own cookbooks, as well as Kylie Kwong's poached chicken and Israeli couscous salad from Two Peas and Their Pod.  Thank you!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The West's first food truck - 'White Guy Cooks Thai'!

Things we love:  Pork belly, banh mis and sliders.

Things we love more:  Pork belly banh mi sliders!

Things we love most:  A food truck that sells pork belly banh mi sliders!!!

Things that make our head explode:  A food truck that sells pork belly banh mi sliders, IN THE WESTERN SUBURBS!!!!!!!



Yes, westies, we're not Melbourne food trucks' forsaken faithful anymore.  Big thanks to Simon, David and Rachel of brand new food truck "White Guy Cooks Thai" who have chosen to bring their blend of funked-up, fresh Thai to Footscray, Yarraville and surrounds right off the bat.

Side of gyoza, $4

There are mains like curries (that changes daily) or vegan sweet corn cakes, and you can mix and match with sides like these gyoza with soy n' lime dipping sauce.  These were crisp, non-greasy, punchy parcels of flavour - one chicken and water chestnut, the other water chestnut and shiitake mushroom.

Pork belly banh mi slider, $4

I had brought some magazines, intending to nibble daintily while turning pages.  I didn't even open the front cover though until I'd completely devoured this fantastic specimen.  The pork belly was thick, juicy, and crisp and soft in all the right places.  The juices mingled with creamy mayo and tangy chilli sauce, set off by gorgeous Asian slaw.  I would love an even crispier bun though (I know Nhu Lan make a mini bread roll similar to this one, and theirs have that real banh mi crackle and crunch).


You can read more about owner Simon and his CV in Meld Magazine here, but suffice to say he knows his tom yum from his yum som.  Today's curry was green prawn, while yesterday Kenny really dug White Guy's beef massaman.


White Guy will be touring Wednesday to Sunday, so keep track of the truck via their Facebook and Twitter to see where it'll be next.  It's a brilliant set up for families - just set up in whatever park's nearby, wander over and the kids can play and run about with no worries about mess.  One $4 slider (minus chilli) from the "sides" menu would be perfect for a child.  If building a meal for an adult from the sides alone, I'd say get three.


So I don't know about you, but summer just got even more exciting!

Thank you so much Andy of Krapow for the tip.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Show-stopping Ethiopian in North Melbourne


Telling someone who lives in Footscray that they know a great Ethiopian restaurant elsewhere in Melbourne is kind of like selling ice to eskimos.  But hey - I like ice.


Little Africa is on Victoria Street in North/West Melbourne, not far from the Vic Market.  It's teeny tiny inside and quite lovely, with interesting bits and bobs decorating the walls and each table set with a tiny red tea light.  I loved the gorgeous young waiter, softly spoken and wearing regulation hipster garb of skinny jeans turned up at the ankles and black plimsolls.


Some frosty beers while we perused the menu.  There are loads of interesting things, all with clear descriptions.  I had my eye on kitfo - "freshly minced lean beaf sauteed with warm clarified butter, mitmita [chilli] and cardamon" or maybe dorho aletcha - "cubes of chicken breast marinated and sauteed with spices, onions and peppers".  But it's still very hard to go past just the straight-up vegetarian combo as a good marker of an Ethiopian joint.

Veg combo, $20 for one, $35 for two (each additional person $18)

WHOA - did I say marker?  I meant goalpost.  As in, sailed right through.  Yes, I know it makes no sense.  But look at those colours and textures!  The chef (mum?) brought out this huge platter covered with a big sombrero-like woven cloche.  So from the 6 o'clock possie we have dubba - pumpkin cooked until collapsing in berbere spice.  Sweet, rich, oh so divine.  Heading left, I loved these simple veg, cooked very lightly in a little garlic and still with so much freshness, colour and flavour.  What a fresh, modern touch.  Then brown lentils, cooked with berbere, earthy and just perfect.


So to the left of the lentils is fool - dried broad beans cooked down with tomatoes, chillis and onions for a warm cumin-rich treat.  Then, still heading left, my fave and something not all too often seen - shiro, powdered dried chickpeas cooked with berbere for a silky smooth, rich, seductive paste.  Then finally cabbage and carrots cooked in garlic, ginger and turmeric.  The cabbage, like the veg, was left chunky in leaves - I think I prefer it a bit more shredded.  But oh boy, the flavours, I tell you!!!  They were all brought together by lemony, super-fresh salad in the middle.  This was seriously incredible East African food.


We ate to our heart's content and then we ate some more...and some more, and suddenly our "dinner and a few beers" looked like it might be more like "one beer and stagger home, protuberant stomach first".  We managed to waddle the few doors to Prudence where we groaned in painful satisfaction and sipped icy beer very slowly.


As we sat, the lovely young man from Little Africa entered again and again with more giant trays with peaked, woven covers that emitted smells that still tantalised, despite our stuffed state.  Turns out the good citizens of North Melbourne have cottoned on to this most excellent idea, and are taking it up with gusto.

This is East African fare worth travelling for.  RUN DON'T WALK!

Little Africa on Urbanspoon

PS:  I would book.  They are already pretty busy!  If they're full, you can always "order in" at Prudence!
PPS:  I am pretty sure they have rice!  (I heard someone ordering it.)

Little Africa
358 Victoria Street, North Melbourne
Phone:  9329 8018

Hours:  Tues-Sun 5-10pm

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