Friday, November 25, 2011

Chilean empanadas at La Morenita


I love backstreet suburban shopping strips.  Like little rockpools, they foster small, unique shops.  On unremarkable, semi-industrial Berkshire Road in North Sunshine, La Morenita is definitely the pearl in the oyster.


The sign on the windows still points to the old occupants, but inside La Morenita remains a hub of the Chilean and wider South American community.  A range of Latin American grocery products are on offer, from yerba mate, a herbal infusion beloved in Uruguay, real paprika-rich chorizo sausages and other smallgoods, and bundles of thick dried seaweed or cochayuyo used to make very rustic Chilean dishes.


Stop in for a surprisingly decent coffee and a caramel-stuffed sweetie or loosen the belt for some homestyle Chilean sandwiches.  Order at the counter and then settle down while your meal is whipped up out the back.


Empanadas can be a light meal or entree.  Their edges lovingly folded up, they can be baked and filled with beef mince, olive and hardboiled egg or mildly-spiced chicken and tomato.  Alternately my favourite are their fried cousins, melty with cheese, the pastry golden, crisp and bubbly.

Chorizo and cheese empanada, $3

Hello sailor!  Gorgeous little morsels of rich, smoky chorizo sausage with golden stringy cheese in a crackly pastry shell.

Sandwich #9, $5 ($5!!!!)

This sandwich was unreal - great bread filled with wafer-thin, tasty steak, lightly-cooked emerald-green beans, gooey cheese, tomato, mayo and extra green chilli relish.  The mayo mixed with the meaty juice, soaking into the tender bun, while the chilli gave a tangy, delicious kick.


If you can bargain with your stomach to find some room, try the fabulous house-made sweets.  The alfajores are shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with deep brown caramel sauce then rolled in coconut.  Or try the ones filled with more caramel and spread all over with glossy white meringue.

Viva La Morenita!

La Morenita Latin Cuisine on Urbanspoon

67 Berkshire Road, North Sunshine
Phone:  9311 2911
Hours:  Tues-Wed 11am-5pm, Thurs-Fri 8am-5.30pm, Sat 8am-5pm, Sun 8am-3pm

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chilli India

Billy and I got very excited recently about the "Supper Market" opening in the basement of the new Westville Central development.  We began daydreaming of the clang of wok sang on huge, blackened wok, great licks of flame being thrown in the air lighting up the faces of the hawkers, the scent of wok hei rising up the escalators.  After a minute I raised my eyebrow though.  "Um...  I reckon they mean supermarket."

July to Sep 089

Well, at least I have Chilli India.  Tables crammed into the tiny passageway leading into Melbourne Central, buzzing late at night, it's as close to an authentic hawker centre I'm gonna get anytime soon!

CP queue

The only eat-in area at Chilli India is sort of outside, yet under the covered walkway.  It's packed with students, smoochy couples and big families tucking into silver-trayed thalis.  As we sat, there was a non-stop, steady stream of hungry people queuing to order at the register.  You can still have friendly, efficient table service and they will bring you booze from the main Chillipadi next door.

July to Sep 102

Right next to the register is a huge flat-plate BBQ where this rockstar chef whips up dosa and freshly-made roti before your beady eyes.  MMMMMMM!

The drawcard here is not only the freshly-made Malaysian-Indian street food but the biryani.  Commenter Make Best West had informed me that the biryani at Dosa Hut is far from the real deal and indeed "the worst biryani I ever had.  I can say that because I hail from the land of biryani (Hyderabad) and this place is making a mockery of such a beautiful cuisine. Authentic biryani is light in spices and has a nice balance of important ingredients such as yoghurt, mint, lime and golden-coloured fried onions - none of them could be found in this version.  This lame version was floating with chillies, cloves, star anise, cardamom, cinnamon and less-meat-more-bone cheap meat."

July to Sep 094
Special Hyderabadi dum biryani (chicken)

I am always up for being corrected and when the suggestion is this good, I am profoundly grateful.  This was a very special biryani.  The rice grains are totally separate, non-greasy and underneath are pieces of supremely tender marinated chicken.  I still detected hints of spice but it did indeed have a lemony fragrance.  It came with pots of sweet raita and an almost peanutty sauce.  As we sat, waiters brought out brass pot after brass pot of this obvious crowd favourite.  The chicken could get a bit bony but the flavours were all there.

July to Sep 093
Chilli chicken

I love Indian-Chinese food - it is a total mindf**k.  Confronted with battered meat or vegies in sauce that looks like bland suburban Chinese food, your head says no, but your heart asks, "Why does it taste so bloody good then?"  Indian-Chinese takes the battered nuggets and thick sauce of "bad Chinese" and switches it up with heaps of chilli, tang and spice in true Indian style.  This was delicious, really spicy and zingy with green onion and ginger.

July to Sep 095
Vegetable avial with plain roti and roti Chenai

Avial is a very southern-style curry with fresh vegetables, coconut and yoghurt.  This was delicious with fresh, tender broccoli, beans and carrot.  The sauce was thick and creamy but not naively, suburbanly so and highlighted with curry leaves and mustard seeds.  The breads were fantastic - the Chenai was flakier, more pastry like while the plain was like a well-fried chapati.  I find it very hard to eat roti now unless it has been made fresh in house.

I know the Chillipadi brand often divides opinion quite sharply but I thought this meal was fab.  Everything was fresh, cheap and tasty, it had a real buzz and we had great, friendly service.  I might be cynical about the soon-to-open "Supper Market" but Chilli India is a great street-style option in the meantime.

Chilli India on Urbanspoon

Menzies Alley, Melbourne Central
Phone:  9669 3866
Hours:  Mon-Tues 11am-3.30pm, Wed-Sat 11am-3.30pm, 6pm-10.30pm

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Oriental Charcoal BBQ


A friend of mine has a trick of how to make her kids eat anything - chop it up small and stick a toothpick in it.  There's something about eating food off a tiny stick that kids just love.  It extends to adults too, I guess - satays, kebabs, devils on horseback and Dagwood Dogs!  Oriental Charcoal BBQ has just opened in Footscray, poised to capitalise on our love for meat on a stick.

bbq int

There's still some remnants of the old Vivid Star here like a forlorn star mobile hanging from the ceiling, but the space is now watched over by huge, festive red hangings featuring traditional motifs.


The range of BBQ choices is mouthwateringly vast - BBQ sausage, garfish and chicken heart.  Vegetarians can choose from lots of different vegies including two types of mushroom and mantou, Northern Chinese-style steamed bread.

Veggies combination

An interesting range of cold salad dishes are on offer.  The menu has pictures which is fantastic, as it can help you get a sense of a dish and try more interesting things.  This variation on the classic cucumber salad included cucumber, boiled peanuts and tofu skin in a sweet, chilli hot, vinegar dressing.  It was quite good but I think I prefer the classic cucumber-only dish.

Platycodon salad

We chatted to the owner about this intriguing vegetable.  He said it was a type of root and that he got "platycodon" from the Oxford dictionary.  Investigating further I believe it is also known as Chinese bellflower root or in Korean as doraji.  It was traditionally a foraged food, dug up in the fields and has a place in herbal lore as an anti-inflammatory used for coughs and colds.  It was delicious, the dressing thick, spicy and very tasty, reminiscent of Korean chilli paste.  The sesame seeds and coriander provided delicious angles for the hot flavours to bounce off.

Lamb skewer, $1.50

If you order one or two BBQ items, be aware that they come out one by one.  I couldn't help but thinking they looked like surgical specimens on their silver tray lined with plastic!  The lamb was great, juicy and smoky and the cumin flavour was actually quite mild.  A table nearby were literally ordering these by the two dozen.

Enoki mushrooms, $2

Pleasantly stringy enoki mushrooms, threaded and lightly dusted with cumin - yummy.

Squid, $2.50 and "green beans", $2

Tender and tasty squid and seasoned, crunchy snow peas were also delicious.

BBQ chicken bone, $5

The menu read, "Charcoal BBQ chicken bone is the most popular BBQ food in Northern China.  For those like traditional Chinese BBQ food and drink beers, this is absolutely a good choice".  Sounds like my kind of thing!  Unfortunately though, it's not a mistranslation - it literally is chicken bones!  I have no doubt this is traditional and well-loved but it took a lot of determination to prise off the tiny slivers of meat and suck all the sauce off.  Not one for this gweilo family (although Grandpa ate it all) but the skewer-hungry table ordered this and attacked it with gusto.  Unless you are hardcore, go for the "softbone with meat" on the same page which I think is boneless chicken.

Eggplants in Sichuan sauce, $10

I thought this might be spicy eggplant with a sticky, jammy sauce a la Dainty Sichuan but it was a more homestyle dish of silky fried eggplant and tasty slivers of pork.  It wasn't spicy at all but was soothing and comforting.  Although I think it is traditional to have this much oil, it wasn't my favourite part of the dish.

Boiling pork dumplings, $8/15 pieces

Unfortunately these were rather overcooked - the skins had lost that lovely al dente texture and had become mushy and gluggy.  Fried are the go for next time.

If you are curious about mainland Chinese food, Oriental Charcoal BBQ is a good place to start.  The skewers are yummy and a variety with some salads would make a great meal.  The menu is small and easy to navigate with a few braised dishes, noodles with helpful photos and various very traditional stir-fried dishes like beef with bitter melon or pork belly with pickled vegetables.  I would be interested to hear how you find it!

Oriental Charcoal BBQ
110 Hopkins Street, Footscray
Phone:  9687 0421

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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Cafe Ancheto

Have you seen this wonderful map of the world at night?  It sparkles with little baubles of light created by urban metropolises, which contrast with swathes of peaceful, midnight blue.  Brightly-lit South Korea, of course actually on a peninsula, is rendered an island against North Korea's darkness, while the Himalayas provide a stark boundary between booming India and the peaceful Tibetan plain.

If you will indulge me, you could compare this to a map of great Melbourne coffee.  Sydney road and surrounds sparkle all the way to Coburg, and South Melbourne glows.  Heading west it's patchy, although Seddon and Yarraville glitter proudly, but once you hit Braybrook it's pretty much a Saharan desert for awesome coffee.  That is, until Ancheto.


Hidden away on the southern side of Sunshine, Ancheto is in the old Euro Masonic Hall.  It's run by the new owners of the Hall, Bob and Aneta, and is only open Saturday mornings.


Let's get this straight - this is not "pretty good", "satisfactory" or "acceptable".  This is seriously awesome coffee!  They use Sensory Lab beans and the owner Bob really knows how to work the espresso machine.  Just gorgeous - smooth and balanced, the foam silky and with body.

Eggs ($8), mushrooms ($2), homemade hash brown ($3)

The menu encompasses well-loved eggy breakfast classics with Eastern European touches, like ajvar relish and cevap skinless sausages.  Sunny yellow free-range scrambled eggs were perfect with well-buttered sourdough toast and juicy, fat mushrooms.  The homemade hash brown, made with grated potato, was crispy and delicious.


Step inside to check out the homemade cakes.  The old cloakroom has been turned into a tiny kitchen.  The owners are lovely.  They explained how they got sick of travelling to Seddon and Yarraville for a great cafe, so decided to start their own, focussing on awesome coffee as the base and letting it grow from there.


The main hall is full of retro chairs and tables, perfect for spreading out the Saturday papers.  They occasionally have theatre performances here too.


Ancheto has plans to open Sundays and possibly even Friday nights.  Bravo, and welcome to the neighbourhood!  Long may they glow as a much-needed beacon of great coffee in the wider west.

Thank you reader Jo for writing to me with this great tip!

93 Hampshire Road, Sunshine
Hours:  Saturdays 9am - 2pm

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quan Viet, Braybrook

SS QV HF 003

My friend wrote to me recently with a scandalous confession.  "I have never eaten Vietnamese food before," she confided.  "Will you teach me?"  Absolutely!!  Where else better to do it too than her new local Quan Viet which has opened on the site of an old chicken shop in South Road, Braybrook.

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Sometimes when something is the only "one" in an area, you worry they have no bar to meet.  Not so here - the food is unreal and there are heaps of interesting regional specialties from the southern part of Vietnam's eastern coastline.  It's only small but the decor is lovely, contemporary yet colourful.  With six kids between us, we made so much mess and noise but no-one minded a jot.

SS QV HF 005

Some rocket fuel to get the tummies rumbling.  J remarked that Vietnamese coffee tastes like Tootsie Rolls - I have to concur!  Don't suck it down too fast, let the ice melt a little to create a long, cold drink.

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Nem cuon Nha Trang (Nha Trang grilled pork patties rice paper rolls), $9

These are a house special and a delicacy from Nha Trang in south-eastern Vietnam.  They are freshly rolled with chargrilled nem nuong pork patties (very springy from the baking powder and very finely ground pork used), a skinny, crunchy spring roll with a little spring onion inside, and plenty of fresh herbs and vegies.  The sauce is totally new to me.  It was orange, smooth, mild and lip-smackingly good!  We asked and were told it contained pork - maybe this is it.  These are fabulous in flavour and in texture, with juicy, smoky meat, the crunch of the roll and the sweet, cool vegies.  See here for a home-style banquet of these rolls.

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Banh hoi dac biet (sugarcane prawn, grilled pork & spring rolls on angel vermicelli), $12

Poor J - I was torn between wanting to show her the classics and selfishly wanting to try unusual things!  Luckily Quan Viet offers this fantastic combo which means you can have your spring rolls but eat your sugarcane prawns too.  Take a cup of lettuce, fill with herbs and a "mat" of very fine vermicelli (they come in little squares), lay with your choice of spring roll, sugarcane prawn (prawn mince molded around sugarcane and fried/grilled) or excellent, smoky, juicy grilled pork.  Roll up tight and dip in fish sauce.  The classic Vietnamese flavour combo - superb.

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Com bo luc lac (Shaken beef on rice), $9

This was J's favourite dish of the day and indeed it was excellent.  It's called shaken or shaking beef for the motion of the searing hot wok as you quickly toss cubes of beef back and forth.  The beef here was really tender and juicy. To be really authentic, it doesn't come with a thick cornflour-based sauce but the beef juices just speak for themselves, soaking into the classic tomato-red rice.  Here it was served with a dipping sauce made with just freshly-squeezed lime into a mix of salt and pepper.  Really great.

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Com tam dac biet (broken rice with pork spare rib, shredded pork, eggloaf, fried egg), $9

The Vietnamese everyman's meal - the most classic everyday lunch.  It may or may not come with a bowl of chicken broth but will come with a bowl of seasoned fish sauce for dousing.  The egg here was gorgeous with a runny, sunny yolk, atop a generous serve of broken rice.  The pork chop was delicious, big and meaty with a tasty, sweet marinade.

SS QV HF 007
Com chien cua (Crab meat fried rice), $11

I spotted a couple having a plate of this to themselves each.  It was fantastic - rich and tasty with soft shreds of egg and pieces of sweet, good quality crab meat.  This sort of fried rice isn't really for covering with another meat-based stir fry, but for enjoying on its own merits.

Banh khot vung tau (Vung Tau Crispy Mini Rice Cake), $9

I went back with another friend recently to investigate more regional specialties at Quan Viet.  These are teeny little patty pan-sized steamed cakes made from coconut milk and rice flour (see here for a recipe).  Each is dotted with a juicy niblet of prawn and (I think) sprinkled with prawn floss (essentially ground dried prawns).  They taste just like mini banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake).  Roll up in lettuce with mint and pickled carrot and dip in classic seasoned fish sauce - a flavour and texture sensation!  These are very rarely seen on Melbourne restaurant menus - Alan enjoyed some at Richmond's Thanh Ha 2.

Mi ga chien don (egg noodle with crispy chicken), $9

When we came here originally, we totally neglected the other side of the Vietnamese food coin - all its soups in their sweet, sour, herbaceous or chilli-slicked glory.  This is a naughty favourite of mine - a bowl of egg noodles in flavoursome chicken broth, with a crispy fried chicken Maryland on the side.  Oh my!  The chicken was awesome, the skin crackly and gorgeous and the meat succulent.  The noodles didn't rock my world though - I think they were dried rather than fresh, which is perfectly acceptable but I love that springiness fresh mi (egg noodles) have.


I loved my meals here and really dig the neighbourhood vibe.  There are still more unusual goodies to check out on their menu like tom hoa tien, conical spring rolls apparently known as "rocket shrimp rolls", filled with crab and with a prawn tail poking cheekily out one end.  Lucky Braybrook residents can wander here on a summer's evening, and even if it's not within walking distance, I reckon it is worth the trip.

Check out Kenny's recent visit here.

Quan Viet on Urbanspoon

Quan Viet - Facebook - see menu below
103 South Road, Braybrook
Hours:  6 days, 10am-9pm - CLOSED TUESDAYS
Phone:  9312 1009

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