Although they generally have excellent coffee here in Melbourne as a legacy of Italian migration, ordering a coffee in a cafe here drives me nuts. This is because drip coffee is a niche product relegated only to the fanciest of fancy pants coffee nerd cafes that serve single-origin drip coffee out of a chemex-style setup. These are uniformly pretty amazing.
However, in the 95% of cafes that don’t serve coffee you must choose between either ultra-dense and tiny black espresso or a milky, mild latte or a flat white (a flat white is almost identical to a latte, but it has either less or more foam than a latte). They don’t even offer an Americano (espresso diluted with hot water). As an American who eschews milky/sweet coffee for black coffee, yet for whom a single serving of espresso is also a bit too much (but also too little), this just isn’t working out for me. Luckily I usually just make my coffee in a french press (or “plunger” as they call it here) with the fine quality beans available in most neighborhood shops.
Although there is a lamentable lack of good cheap Mexican food in Melbourne, there is a great wealth of other eating opportunities—aided by Melbourne’s multicultural influx over the last 100 years. Some of my favorites so far are:
- Laksa. As far as I can tell, Laksa is the king of asian soups. A seafood/coconut milk broth is packed with tofu, fish balls, chicken, prawns, and noodles to create something akin to Chicken Noodle Soup made exceptionally rad. One thing I can’t figure out is why the places that are the hottest in the world (Vietnam, Malaysia, etc) have the tastiest and most warming soups.
- Chinese food. We live in Preston, which seems to have the most Chinese outside of Chinatown in the CBD of any area in Melbourne. The High Street is filled with Szechuan, Cantonese, Chinese BBQ, dumpling shops, and even Chinese bakeries. I had no idea Chinese bakeries were even a thing that existed outside of China (who I suppose need non-noodle and dumpling carbohydrates as much as the next culture). I’ve sampled only Szechuan so far, but it was easily as good as anything I’ve had in the states.
- Banh Mi. Banh Mi is a bit like a boring old American sub sandwich, but rendered undeniable with the addition of pate, pickled vegetables, hot peppers, pork, and a crusty roll. I’ve found that if I ask for “banh mi”, even Vietnamese will say “You want pork roll?”, which makes me fear that my english is even worse than I thought (note—I have a degree in English). One of the greatest things about banh mi is that they currently go for $3-4. As a point of comparison, a friggin’ burrito is $10+ in this town.
- Meat Pies. I was a vegetarian last time I was in Australia, so I never was exposed to perhaps the most quintessential of Aussie foods, the meat pie. Having read about them on the internet, it would appear that many are vile assemblies of ground mystery meat and gravy in a pie crust. My only meat pie so far was from the chain “Pie Face”, whose name foreshadows the difficulty in eating these by hand. Despite the messiness, my black pepper and steak pie was actually quite good. The crust was flakey like that of a pasty or pot pie should be, and filled with nice chunks of beef and a beef-oriented gravy. I probably wouldn’t make a habit of eating these, but in a pinch I would much rather eat this than most other convenience foods.
- Kangaroo. My kangaroo eating experience so far has been limited to ground kangaroo on top of cheesy nacho-style doritos. That said, it was indistinguishable from most other ground meat products.
-Kebab. One thing that is a massive fail for Minneapolis is its lack of cheap Turkish food. There may be a place to get a decent kebab around, but I certainly don’t know of one. My understanding of Turkish food comes almost exclusively from Berlin, a city full of Turks and Döner kebabs, where it is the ultimate food for drunk people (another thing that Berlin has a lot of). Kebab here is perhaps not as good as that of Berlin, but that’s like saying that pizza in Philly isn’t as good as pizza in New York.
- Fish & Chips. There seems to be almost as many fish & chip places as there are beer stores in Inner North Melbourne. There are at least 3 within walking distance of our apartment in Preston. Most of them seem much the same, only distinguishable by whether Greeks or Asians are running the fryer. They serve up some varieties of fish that are different from what you might see in the UK or US. Flake seems to be the bog standard. It’s actually a variety of shark, from what I hear. It’s fine, but nothing special. I prefer the Blue Grenardier, which is one of the main ingredients in a Filet o’ Fish, according to wikipedia. It has a more substantial, meaty texture and a good flavor. People tend to denigrate some fish as “fishy” tasting, and I’ve heard people slag off Blue Grenardier as such, but if a fish doesn’t taste “fishy”, what the hell does it taste like? Excitingly, Melbourne chippies don’t stop at fried fish and potato products, they also offer things like souvlaki (at the Greek ones, at least) and the vaguely asian, beefy-tasting Dim Sum roll (either steamed or fried). These delicious concoctions appease western palates by sporting a mass of starch with what might be an infusion of beef broth. They’re also really cheap, so I tend to get one when I order my regular fish and potatoes.
There is plenty more to explore as well—the Croatian burek (some kind of cheese-roll), Lebanese pizzas, and hopefully seafood when I muster up the cash to afford it. Stay tuned—maybe next time I’ll even have some pictures.
1. Get large monitor for above middle laptop (movie time, etc)
2. Get couch to more comfortably watch movies on
3. Get stereo or one of these.
4. Live comfortably in perpetuity.
It’s a cold, somewhat wet morning here in Melbourne—which has me thinking of hot, sandy Jodhpur in Rajasthan with its blue havelis, camels and elephants in the street, aggressive rickshaw men, and snake charmers.
(Future location of a container garden)
Things I would like to grow in my garden:
The b-side to this single is a cover of The Velvet’s “I’m Waiting for the Man” performed live with Nico. Why didn’t they pick a song that she actually sang on? The world will never know.
Peter Murphy at his most Danzig-like.
Stay weird, John Maus.