Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas seafood from D&K Live Fish

Planned your Chrissy menu yet?  Are you are a die-hard traditionalist, busy polishing your gravy boat and your turkey baster?  Or are you a breezy modernist, googling recipes for festive farro salad and Christmas pud-flavoured cassata?  No matter what school of Christmas menu you subscribe to, the one thing most agree is that an Australian Christmas means seafood.

If you're in the west, that has traditionally meant Conway's.  The queues at their Wingfield Street store stretch right down the block on Christmas Eve.  I want to share with you another local secret, though.


D&K's seafood is not just fresh - it's live and kicking!  The way it works is you choose your fish (there's a sign that says "no self-service", which is kind of awesome to think that folks have been known to just grab a net and start scooping), it's killed for you on the spot and you take it home.


This is David, the D in D&K, caught midway through installing a new filter.  He's a lovely guy and great to have a chat to.  He mainly buys direct from suppliers, as the fish market doesn't deal in live fish.


Everything at D&K is marked with where it's from, plus whether it's wild or farmed, so you know exactly what you're buying.


D&K's oyster "bar" is a Footscray secret that needs to be shared.  These beauties are shucked to order and are just sensational.


There are always a few different regional varieties to choose from, plus differing sizes.  Check out the prices, too!  Oysters and champagne - really, does Christmas lunch need to be anything else?!


I sent a mate here and she came back with pippies for a spaghetti alle vongole (with little clams).  *Got* to try that this summer!


Live mussels - their shells were gently opening and closing.  So delicious, whether cooked proper moules mariniere-style with garlic, white wine and cream, or steamed with aromatics like lemongrass and ginger.


You may ask, why bother with live fish when it's dead when you take it home anyway?  Well, no need to sit and wonder if those fillets are really fresh (or indeed if they've been frozen and thawed) when it's flapping in front of you.  Just-killed fish also has a much sweeter flavour and better texture.  If you've ever had a live fish from a tank in a restaurant, you'll know what I mean.


D&K are open every day of the year (including Christmas Day!)  When I asked David for his hours, he said that they close maybe for a half day on Chinese New Year.  Then he paused and added, "Maybe".  That's one hardworking Footscray family!

D&K Live Seafood
Shop 1-3, 28A Leeds Street, Footscray
Open 365 days a year

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Substation farmers' market, from the makers of Collingwood and Slow Food


Guess what, westies?  We have a new farmers' market, and this one has a seriously impressive family tree.  It's the new sibling of the venerable Saturday circuit of farmers' markets at Collingwood Children's Farm, Abbotsford Convent, St Kilda's Veg Out and Gasworks.  Its first outing was two weekends ago and I popped down to wet the baby's head...


...with a coffee, of course!  Brews were served off this back of this gorgeous blue ute and were by Collingwood's Farm Cafe.


Now that I've had my coffee - some backstory.  Before coming down this day, I had a talk to Miranda Sharp, who established the Collingwood Children's Farm market in 2002, and is part of not-for-profit company Melbourne Farmers Markets who run the above-mentioned markets.  We talked about what prompted this move west.  Miranda said that instead of having a small number of really big markets, her goal is to have more smaller, neighbourly markets, more often.


Miranda is a straight shooter and she has a clear vision for "her" markets.  They're not meant to be "foodie, winey, wanky bloody events," she says, but rather, they aim to address issues of food distribution in Australia.

Andrew of Rayner Stone Fruit

Miranda started as a caterer and chef but became frustrated that it was so hard for one small business to buy from another.  There's no middleman at a farmers' market (or as Miranda puts it, a "guy in a shiny suit with a clipboard"), so you are buying direct from the producer.


Or at least, ideally, you should be.  Some farmers markets may allow resellers and wholesalers.  The best way to avoid this is to choose a Victorian Farmers Markets Association-accredited farmers market.  This accreditation means that over 90% of stallholders are accredited with the VFMA, which involves them proving that they really do grow or make what they sell.  The two in the west that are fully accredited are Flemington farmers' market, and now Newport.


I still have not been to Flemington, but I have been to the market out of which that one grew, at the Showgrounds.  I still remember a comment on my post about that back in 2010 in which "Organic Pat" wrote:


This has stayed with me, and since then I've wondered if farmers' markets are (pardon the frankness) just a big middle class wank with the farmers getting screwed either way.  I put this to Miranda, and she replied that farmers' markets are not all things for all people.  "But for the people it works for - that's all we can ask for," she said.  If you need to move a certain amount of potatoes per week, standing in the rain, hail or shine might not be the best way for you, but farmers' markets really do work for some small business owners.


I met Lisa of Spring Creek Organics who has a rigorous schedule of farmers' markets at which she sells her certified organic seasonal produce.  She told me that her family have just recently been able to stop selling to the wholesale fruit and vegie market and sell exclusively at farmers' markets.  According to Lisa, the wholesale price hasn't just stayed the same for the past 10 years they have been selling - it's gone backwards.


But hey, enough serious stuff.  Let's go geek out over all the yum on offer!  


This is Louisa, one half of Shuki and Louisa, who make the fantastic dips above.  The chickpeas in the hummus are actually grown by her dad up in the Mallee.  Their dips are brilliant, especially the super-smoky baba ghanoush and the silky hummus.


It was also awesome to run into Dr Marty himself, who makes his own crumpets with organic flour.  Crumpets are a comfort food of mine from way back, but the preservatives in good ole Golden brand don't make me feel so warm and snuggly.  It is awesome to find a crumpet alternative made with so much love, and that is so deliciously squishy!


Another thing I've been searching for for ages - unsalted pistachios.  I love these because you actually have to expend some sort of energy to eat them, rather than just funnelling them into your gob.  Without the salt, you can taste so much more sweet crunch.


Freshly cracked Victorian walnuts from St James Walnuts.  This is James of St James, although I'm assured the farm was already called that before he came along!


I snapped up some bacon from Jason at McIvor Farms, who farms old-breed Berkshire piggies.  This is real free-range pork, not outdoor bred - see Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms' list here for real free range farms, which includes McIvor.


Plus, I had a great chinwag with Cliff from Spice Crate Foods and got some southern American spice blends, like a Creole-style rub for blackened fish and a herbaceous Cajun mix for dirty rice.


This is a lovely little market.  My criticism would be that at Collingwood and Gasworks, there is lots of green space to go and loll about with your bacon n' egg sarnie.  Newport is in a carpark near the train line, so there isn't that same bucolic feel.  But it's not meant to be all about a nice day out - the idea is that locals can come and get their regular shopping here, rail, hail or shine.


Here's my haul!  I loved the veg from Spring Creek.  I am 100% not kidding when I tell you that when I took my spinach out to wash it about three days after buying it, there was a ladybird still alive among the leaves.  I also managed to eat half of that whole delicious, creamy cauliflower on my own last night.  (Yes, it was covered in cheese sauce, but still - veg is veg!)


Above all, Melbourne Farmers Markets are committed to a market or even markets in the west.  Newport runs on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of the month (including this one!) and they are considering other sites for the 2nd and 4th.  So if you are a local primary school or community centre in, say, Footscray (ahem, not that that would suit me to a tee, or anything) - I reckon you should put your hat in the ring!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Westies 2013 - the complete wrap-up, with winners!


So the morning of The Westies, I was blow-drying my hair (after dusting the cobwebs off the hairdryer) and - 100% no BS - I found my first grey hair.

It was 110% worth it.

A crowd of about 70 beautiful people gathered in the sunshine at Yarraville Gardens to hear the announcement of the inaugural winners of The Westies: Dishes of Distinction.


City of Maribyrnong Mayor Grant Miles came down and said a lovely few words about the food in the west, which is one of our biggest strengths.  We always wanted these awards to be not so much about winners or losers, but to celebrate the food culture of the western suburbs.  But winners there were - and the first is...


Pork and prawn banh cuon from Xuan Banh Cuon, Sunshine!


Banh cuon are gossamer-thin rice noodle crepes - almost like a Vietnamese version of cannelloni.  They are not that common to find in Melbourne, and when you do, often the noodle sheets are shop bought.  Mum Xuan of Xuan Banh Cuon makes all of hers the old-fashioned way, pouring rice batter atop mesh-like material, stretched tight like a drumskin over a pot of simmering water.


XBC's classic version is served filled with prawns, wood-ear mushrooms and pork that is minced in house to get it to just the right consistency.  Topped with pork floss and fried shallots and served with dipping sauce and a forest of herbs - it is an instant Westie classic.


XBC's Westie already has pride of place in the restaurant, as you can see from this photo I pinched from @sunshinephofever's Twitter feed!  Carson of Xuan Banh Cuon spoke beautifully about how much this award means to his family, and how they feel it is a win for the whole community who have supported Xuan Banh Cuon since they opened just a few months ago.

Now, without further ado, the second winner is...


Chicken and rice "Regular" from Safari, Ascot Vale!


Congratulations to Mohamed and Fatima, and I confess - I love the name of this dish just as much as the components.  Well, OK, maybe not quite as much, but I do love it.  It's down the bottom of the menu as "The Regular", and you'd do well to become one here at Safari.


This Somali dish is a kingly two-course affair with drink for the grand sum of $13.  It starts with a bowl of lemony, lip-smacking lamb broth, in which chunks of carrot and onion bob gently.  You'll need to stipulate what sort of "Regular" you'd like (rice or spaghetti?  Chicken, lamb or fish?) but we recommend opting for the rice and chicken version.  You'll receive a heaping portion of glistening rice, each grain separate, redolent with rich stock, cardamom and garlic.  The feast continues with tangy chargrilled chicken breast, crisp salad and my fave - quickly sauteed capsicum and garlic.


But that's not all - you'll also receive a tall glass of something icy, maybe freshly squeezed OJ or Vimto cordial, which tastes like jellybabies.  (PS:  Don't be shy to ask if they forget to bring it!)

Our lucky last winners could not make it to the picnic, as Saturday is their busiest day of the week.  So we popped down this morning in fact to present their award in person.  And it goes to the...


Cheese burek from Nada's Take Away, Footscray!

I have a long history with this one.  Eight years ago, I found myself in Footscray at least twice a week, looking at houses, newborn baby in tow.  I'd always end the trip at the Footscray Market food court.  I liked the congee from one little shop, but I remember one day hankering for a sneaky dim sim or two.  I fronted up to Nada's but immediately I spied something else I knew I had to have.

Nada's burek (L Wambach)

Nada and Cane (better known as Sonny) are of Macedonian heritage and Nada makes her own Macedonian burek for the shop, selling it in giant, warm wedges.  She makes the whole thing from scratch, including the pastry.  Imagine warm, soft curls of pastry, enclosing pockets of creamy ricotta, with a crisp and crackly outer shell...  It is comfort food of the highest order.


Sonny and Nada have run their shop at Footscray Market for 28 years.  She said today that this is "the best present I ever got".


With the formalities done, it was time to enjoy the food and the sunshine.  Xuan Banh Cuon had brought the most delicious Vietnamese coleslaw with green papaya and beef jerky to share.  There are rumours this might become a menu item!


We chilled out to some guitar and banjo tunes...


...and it wouldn't be a celebration of all things food without some of our fave food trucks making a special appearance.  WeFo locals Happy Camper Pizza brought us delicious pizzas, including a gorgeous gorgonzola and fig number, while the ever-awesome Mr Burger served up their namesakes with a smile.


My eleventh-hour coffee campaign bore fantastic fruit - we were so delighted to have Christine and Kat from Wild Horse Cafe, serving excellent coffee with Coffee Supreme beans.  Christine and I first made contact at about 10.30am Friday, and everything - power, water and permits - was sorted by 2pm.  These chicks are on the ball!

Kenny and I were so proud to be part of this event that brought together many different communities and celebrated how great we've got it in the west.  We are already brimming and bubbling with new ideas for next year.  So we will see you - and YOU, Grey Hair #2, because you're not allowed to emerge any time sooner - in Spring 2014!

Thanks to Footscray Life for their generous financial support towards the design and production of our trophies.

Thanks to my dad, Mike Reed, who took the fantastic photos on the day, and my sister, Liz Reed, who designed the plates.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Co Thu Quan, Little Saigon

Photo by Mike Reed

Wanna know how singleminded I have been about The Westies the last few weeks? So much so that my phone now autocorrects a "the" in the middle of the sentence to "The". About seventy amazing folks came and joined Kenny and me in Yarraville Gardens to celebrate how good we've got it in the west. A full picnic and awards wrap is to come on FFB, but you can get the scoop on the winners in this piece I penned for The Age, and also feast your eyes on some more gorgeous picnic pics over at Consider the Sauce.


So the Westies might be done for 2013, but the amazing food never stops. I am so excited about this new opening in Little Saigon market - Co Thu Quan. This little cubbyhole serves Vietnamese street food, including many dishes I've never seen anywhere in Melbourne.


Firstly, the decor. Isn't it gorgeous? Conical hats gently undulating from the ceiling, and gorgeous, graceful artwork on the walls. Don't quote me as more research is needed, but I'm pretty sure it's by Vietnamese artist named Duy Thai, who you can learn more about here.


Sick of the same old spring rolls and wonton soups? Your eyes will start bulging as soon as you start scanning Co Thu Quan's small menu. The signature dish is bun dau mam tom, which looks like a kind of sample plate of goodies (vermicelli, herbs, pork belly and tofu) around intense mam tom sauce, which is made with fermented shrimp paste.


I will definitely try the bun dau mam tom soon, but this time I was all about the banh trang dishes.  Banh trang are rice paper wrappers, but they are prepared a bit differently here than on the rice paper rolls you're probably more familiar with.  This is banh trang cuon - a rice paper wrapper filled with green mango, flaky, intense beef jerky, and other random goodies.  It was amazing - so fresh, juicy in some places and crisp in others.  I reckon these are steep at $6 a pop, but seriously, you have to try one.


Another related dish is this banh trang tron ($6).  For take away at least, it comes in a bag just like it would be in Vietnam - according to the lovely server, this is a favourite of young gals who work in offices who grab it for a healthy, easy lunch or dinner.  This is definitely on the to-eat list next time.


Check out all that amazing herbage and greenery!


This is bap xao or fried corn ($5).  It was delicious, served warm with a little butter, shallots and Sriracha-style chilli sauce.  Other good lookin' dishes here include a sticky rice with Chinese sausage number, and (if you dare) beef offal with kalamansi lime sauce.


Lastly, a cool, creamy drink made from five different toasted beans ($4).  I definitely tasted black sesame.  Apparently it's good for your skin - not that I need an excuse to have it again!


Co Thu Quan is a gem.  The staff are also very friendly and keen to help you understand the menu.  Worth The - I mean, the - trip.

Co Thu Quan
Little Saigon market, cnr Leeds and Byron Streets, Footscray

UPDATE!  I found their Facebook page - here!
Related Posts with Thumbnails
Related Posts with Thumbnails