Conversations always come around to food when you talk about a trip. Did you have some good food? What do they eat there? I’ve already mentioned the delightful markets around Melbourne and in other Australian cities, where fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and seafood are plentiful and competitively priced. Large grocery stores, even in the city centers, are a bit more expensive but stock most of what we are used to back home. Australia is more European in that there are a lot of small local bakeries that offer an array of tempting, and again expensive, breads, donuts and cakes. Many are connected to cafes, serving breakfast and lunch.
At first, we went out for brekkie(!) a lot. My go-to favorite was mashed avocado, feta, mint and lemon on toast and Frank found one place with good porridge. But overall, the food was fancy and overly priced — I’m talking $50 every time we went for breakfast! Frank hated the coffee and the toast was always hard! Other than my flat white coffee and our bombolinos or the yummy (and cheap) crepes at the Market, we decided to limit restaurants to lunch and dinner.
Many of the more popular establishments require a booking (reservation) and there is often a time limitation. Conversely, you are never rushed out by being given the bill – you have to ask for it. Casual restaurants and pubs offer sit down or “takeaway.” Once seated, we always appreciated the fact that they brought over a big bottle of water so you wouldn’t have to chase down a server for more.
After a few misses, we studied our trusty Goodfood Guide and asked locals where to eat. With 180 ethnicities in Melbourne, there are restaurants of every kind. We enjoyed some incredible Chinese, Mexican and Indian meals and then decided to seek out food that was uniquely Australian. We chose to take a pass on kangaroo and vegemite (the nasty bread spread) and discovered that national “specialties” seem to be ethnic dishes with an Aussie unique twist. A lot of pubs and restaurants feature “parma and pint” night, which is basically eggplant parmigiana crossed with chicken schnitzel and served with a “pint” or glass of beer – a great combo! Australians love their meat pies and they’re sold all over town. We tried beef and mashed potatoes in a flaky crust. Not bad (for a pot pie)! Australia has some of the best seafood in the world and they’ve claimed fish n’ chips as their own. The fish is served fresh, with salt and lemon, wrapped in newspaper. One of the more popular Australian fish is barramundi (Aboriginal for “large-scaled river fish). On most menus, you will also find salt and pepper calamari as an appetizer.
For dessert, Aussies love their vanilla slice, a custard-filled, multi-layered pastry topped with vanilla icing. (Napolean?) Another favorite is pavlova, a meringue-based dessert that has a crisp crust and a soft, light inside. It’s often decorated with whipped cream and fresh fruit and served at special meals. (Think schaum torte.)