Byline: Olivia Hill-Douglas
Olivia Hill-Douglas’ oriental top 10. MELBURNIANS are spoilt for choice when it comes to Asian food, and most will have their favourites places to slurp steaming bowls of pho or scoff plump, duck-filled crepes. By no means exhaustive, this is an unordered list of places and treats that cropped up again and again in conversations about Asian food in Melbourne. Duck feast The laminex tables and, let’s face it, somewhat dingy surrounds of this Smith Street restaurant are fortunately no indication of the food’s quality, and the duck banquet (which must be ordered in advance) is a cracker: a whole bird done three ways.
First, the succulent, perfectly roasted duck is presented to the table, only to be whisked away and reappear sliced alongside warm, doughy crepes to make Peking duck. The rest of the meat is shredded and stir-fried with beanshoots for the second course, while the bones are boiled up for a duck broth finale. All, of course, served by the restaurant’s Elvis-lookalike owner, brandishing a frighteningly sharp cleaver. Old Kingdom, 197 Smith Street, Fitzroy Son-in-law eggs
This is a standout dish on the menu of hawker-style snacks, reminiscent of something nibbled on while wandering around a bustling, smoke-filled night market in Yangshuo – except the chairs there were definitely not by Philippe Starck. This snack is one to share: a plate of three soft-boiled eggs with runny yolks, deep-fried and served with chilli jam and fresh Asian herbs. At $4 an egg, it’s a winner. Gingerboy, 27-29 Crossley Street, city Flower tea balls Watching one of these exquisite tea balls slowly unfurl to reveal its hidden heart of flowers is almost as much of a treat as drinking the delicately flavoured tea. Handmade in China, the purported benefits of each ball make choice difficult. A combination of green tea and jasmine is named after a fairy maiden who gave up everything to find true love, and the jasmine helps calm the nerves and sooth emotional problems. For those seeking financial success, meanwhile, the green tea, jasmine and chrysanthemum variety’s name is translated as “whole room of gold and jade”.
So drink this tea in good conscience, knowing that what looks beautiful is also healthy. For stockists and cafes or restaurants where the tea is served, visit shanghaiteacompany.com.au Pho (soup) Eating pho in Australia isn’t quite the same as at a street stall in Vietnam, watching the seller add raw strips of beef to a bowl of steaming, noodle-filled broth, but the pho here comes pretty close.
Soft rice noodles arrive at the table in a bowl (small, medium or large) of fragrant broth, with beef, chicken, or a mix of both; there are also offal options for the more adventurous. Add crunchy beanshoots, Thai basil and lime juice to the soup, along with chilli, hoisin, and – of course – tangy fish sauce. Pho Dzung, 208 Victoria Street, Richmond Dim sim at South Melbourne Market If the queues stretching back from the counter are any indication, these dim sims are the reason many come to the South Melbourne Market.
Plump, meaty and peppery, they are best steamed and smothered with the thick, sticky soy sauce provided. The spring rolls aren’t half bad, either. The dim sims’ creator, Ken Cheng, died in 1996, but the stall has carried on his tradition and the dim sim legacy is safe. Stall 96, corner Cecil and Coventry streets Scrambled eggs in crab shell
These spicy, chillied, just-set scrambled eggs, nestled in a crab shell, are worth travelling for. The decor is functional – all purple laminex and takeaway containers piled on the front counter – but it’s the food that keeps people coming back. The eggs are so good that I once had them for dinner three nights in a row, and the coconut rice is a perfect accompaniment: creamy, sweet rice that tempers the spicy heat of the eggs. Burmese Kitchen, 356 St Georges Road, Fitzroy North Golden almond pudding This warm, quivering slab of jelly-like pudding covered with a thin membrane is surprisingly hard to cut into with a spoon, but worth the effort. Dusted with black sesame powdered sugar, the slight crunchiness of the sugar mixture contrasts happily with the gooey, custard-like unctuousness of the pudding itself. Sweet yet savoury, the mix of flavours and the mouthfeel of the dessert make for a satisfied diner.
David’s, 4 Cecil Place, Prahran Mei Hong Yen It’s the beef and pork jerky in the window – slabs of the stuff, in honey and chilli flavours – that draw you in to this lolly-shop-with-a-difference. Once you’re inside, take some time to wander the aisles and marvel at how many ways dried cuttlefish can be prepared.
Stock up on salted plums and dried fruit, or try some of the preserved mango with chilli. And, naturally, some chewy jerky to go. 9/206 Bourke Street, city Maxim’s Cakes This bakery’s small shopfront on Little Bourke Street doesn’t scream at passersby, but nonetheless a steady stream of foot traffic that has worn a path in the floor tiles is testimony to its popularity. It’s the egg custard tart that most come here for – the flaky, slightly salty pastry offsets the rich, quivering, creamy custard it holds.
While you’re here, pick up a freshly baked pork bun or a spring onion roll and turn the snack into a meal. 173 Little Bourke Street, city Kenzan This sleek Japanese restaurant and sushi bar has been around since 1981, and the full tables at lunch on a weekday indicate that Melbourne’s appetite for Japanese food has not dimmed. The tempura prawns and vegetables here are a treat: thin slices of sweet potato, pumpkin and zucchini as well as beans and plump prawns are encased in a light, crispy, just-salty-enough batter that is satisfyingly crunchy, yet delicate. Add miso soup and rice to make it a meal, or just munch your way through the battered goodies and then walk it off back to the office. 45 Collins Street, city
CAPTION(S):PHOTO: Handmade tea balls from China, imported by the Shanghai Tea Company, unfurl in hot water to release their flavours.