Melbourne’s food, culture and community make me happy again

My favourite reason for visiting Melbourne is the food. Melbourne has many things to offer, but the food is my drawcard. When planning a trip there, I always calculate the amount of days I will be staying and how many meals it equates to.

This weekend trip had been planned for a couple of months but the timing couldn’t have been better. Last week was rough on many people, myself included. Coming to terms with President Donald Trump and the racist platform he ran on hasn’t been easy. But travelling around Melbourne and eating in restaurants, cafes and at a cultural festival provided somewhat of an antidote. It reminded me how well we do all get along, and how we can come together respectfully to experience different cultures and amazing food.

Food

A special Melbourne food experience has to be the laneway cafes, with all the different styles of food jammed together. The choices, the vibrancy, the vibe from all the people seated at outdoor tables as you peruse the handwritten menus out the front of each café create an exciting atmosphere.

3 days in Melbourne = 3 laneway breakfasts.

Issus Café Bar in Centre Place. We chose this café based on what turned out to be a lunch special. But, never mind, we still had a very enjoyable breakfast. The avocado smash with refried black beans, poached egg, feta and spinach on toasted sourdough was tasty and a little different to other avocado toast I have had. The black beans added a soft texture and the sharp feta worked well with other toppings. The café is somewhat cramped,  but the service and the coffee were good. By the time we had finished our breakfast, the café had filled up with customers.

AIX Café Creperie Salon in Centre Place. This tiny café at the top of the laneway was a very pleasant surprise. The waitress remembered us from the previous day when we looked at the baguettes for lunch and greeted us warmly even though we chose another café for our lunch. We were seated inside and at that time of the morning we were the only customers. The waitress chatted with us about everything from where we were from to the music they were playing in the café. I chose the goats cheese, red pepper, thyme and spinach crepe. It was delicious! The warm goats cheese oozed out the side and, for only $9, it was a very cheap and satisfying start to the day. As we enjoyed our crepes, I watched as the friendly staff remembered and greeted locals and regulars by name as the café started filling up. “Yes”, I thought to myself, “this is what food and multiculturalism are all about”. I left AIX Café Creperie Salon with a smile on my face.

The Quarter in Degraves St. We had breakfast in this dark, European style café on our last day. We were seated inside and the small space was bustling. We both ordered the halloumi eggs, consisting of poached eggs, pesto, halloumi and sourdough toast. Our breakfast was yummy, the coffee was great and the service was excellent.

Culture

Moroccan Soup Bar in St Georges Road Fitzroy. My sister had been telling me about this vegetarian restaurant for years and, this time, I finally tried it. I can’t believe I waited so long! I can honestly say I have never eaten anywhere like it before. As we approached the restaurant on foot, aiming to arrive close to opening time because I was aware of its popularity, we spotted the queue of people already at the front door waiting for it to open. When we arrived a few minutes later, the restaurant was already full. Luckily, we were able to take a seat at an outdoor table. From this vantage point, we witnessed a steady stream of people entering with their own plastic takeaway containers, some leaving soon after with takeaways, others leaving after their meal with the remains of their very generous portions. We had the banquet for 2 and when we reached the end, we lamented the fact we didn’t have our own plastic containers! Our banquet consisted of a shared plate of dips and pita bread, 4 dishes, dessert and a green tea. It was all outstanding, high quality food and, at $23 each, exceptional value. I thoroughly enjoyed the dip starter plate and the chickpea bake with yoghurt on top was a new experience and my favourite dish of the night. Not only was the food amazing, the staff were friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was one of happiness and inclusion. I will definitely be back!

Stalictites Restaurant in Lonsdale St. Due to a delayed flight, we arrived in Melbourne much later than originally planned. “Oh well”, I thought, “that’s one less meal in Melbourne”. Not to worry, as Stalictites  Restaurant is open 24 hours. I had eaten there on a previous visit and I was definitely happy to return for a late Greek dinner. Even at 11pm this place was busy. Stalictites is a bit of an institution and it’s not hard to see why. The portion sizes are large and the food is oh so tasty. We had dinner there twice on this trip, the vegetarian platter for 2 both times, and it was always delicious. Those potatoes!!

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Vegetarian platter for 2 at Stalictites

Community

Lentil As Anything in High Street Thornbury. We caught the tram to Thornbury to try this vegetarian, pay as you feel, not-for-profit community café. We were not disappointed. And how could you be with the ethos food, culture and community, and the outstanding delivery of all three. We were greeted by a friendly waitress who explained the process – order what you would like and leave your payment in the box on the way out. From our position, we watched the Tibetan momos being skilfully made, saw the operation in the busy kitchen and soaked up the community participation and enjoyment. We ordered the momos (2 plates because they were so delicious), the Japanese rice noodle salad, the potato balls and the lentil patty. It was all delicious! The balance of flavours was exceptional and presentation was beautiful. This was an overall impressive experience.

Polish Festival in Federation Square. We happened upon this fun and insanely busy festival by chance. And what a discovery it was! Security guards controlled the queues at some of the food trucks due to the crush of people. The lines were long, but the food looked amazing as people walked around eating their dumplings, hot dogs piled with sauerkraut, danishes, potato cakes and many other Polish delicacies. We, of course, had to try the potato cakes with a dollop of sour cream. The queue was long, but the result was worth it. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, tasty potato cakes. Watching the streamlined process between the cooks and servers was fascinating. Next we decided to try the Polish dumplings, joining a queue controlled by security guards. We chose the ruskie, with the creamy potato, fried onion and traditional farmers cheese filling, and the kapusta, with mushroom and sauerkraut. Yum! As we were served, the women joked around and danced to the Polish music and asked what we thought of the festival. They were clearly having a great time, and so did we.

This visit to Melbourne can be summed up by Lentil As Anything’s ethos of food, culture, community. It blasted a much needed and defiant light through the darkness of last week, proving to me (or reiterating, really) that we will be OK.

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