victoriamarket2 April 10

Melbourne: A Food-Fueled Photo Essay

A few days ago, I boarded this gorgeous monster of an A380 at LAX (which honestly struck me as far too big to fly.) Miraculously it did somehow lift off the runway and transport us  to the other side of the world. qantas Now if you are trapped in a tube hurtling across the Pacific for 14 hours, it is possible to sleep 6 hours, and still have time to watch a couple of movies (Philomena and Saving Mr. Banks), read two entire books (Meet Me at Harry’s and One Came Home) watch several episodes of House of Cards and Downton Abbey, and still have time to contemplate life. 

It’s a very, very long way.

I started to wonder if we went much further we’d be closer… IMG_8074 And finally we arrived in Melbourne. If I were to imagine a visit to a perfect city, I would place it by the sea, scatter parks all about, and fill it with cafes… Cafes serving magnificent coffee and gorgeous pastries.  And add restaurants serving food from every possible corner of the globe – Greek, Italian, Indian, all forms of Asian.  Then I’d include maze-like lanes and arcades with funky shops selling goods that can’t be found anywhere else.  And of course there would be bookshops brimming with interesting titles I had never seen before… And lovely old Victorian Buildings and churches juxtaposed with gleaming glass skyscrapers.

OK, if it were absolutely perfect, it wouldn’t have been quite so damp.  But it was darn close… IMG_8075 I had a mere 24 hours to spend romping all over this amazing city solo, as Michael had meetings just outside town.  I know there are museums and parks and architectural treasures to be explored in this town.  Really I do.  And if I had 48 hours, I would have dug in.  But let’s face facts.  I was most interested in Melbourne’s food. My main mission: experience the famous Cafe Culture, and find some the best coffee on offer.  I discovered a list of Melbourne’s Best Cafes through the Beanhunter blog… and chose three to visit:

(Yes, one right after the other… and I do understand it was a lot of caffeine in the name of research)little blue bean

  • The tiny The Little Blue Bean features a whimsical chalkboard wall with instructions for brewing the perfect cup (which struck me as quite possibly the carefully constructed notes of a caffeine-addicted chemistry teacher.)  The coffee was divine… but the blueberry danish fairly ordinary.

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  • The warm and quirky Brother Baba Budan, where chairs are suspended from the ceiling, and the selection of pastries delicious.  The barista encouraged me to try a tiny flourless rhubarb cake with cream cheese frosting to accompany my brew, and it was fantastic – dense and sweet and completely infused with wonderous rhubarb.

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  • And I had to check out the rather utilitarian the Little Mule Cafe and Cycles - tucked down one of Melbourne’s dozens of alleys.  It is just what is the name implies… coffee in the front, and bicycles in the back.  Seemed to be a popular destination with the local university students, who were enjoying their coffee with rather huge ham or bacon and egg sandwiches. Like the other two cups I had already enjoyed, this one was lighter and more citrusy than we generally get in the States, and quite delicious.

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  • I passed on Little Mule’s hot cross bun and sandwich offering and instead stopped into the lovely Phillippa’s Bakery to have a look.  Her store features magnificent bread, and bags of playful baked items such as honey bears, gingerbread pipsqueaks, and anzacs.  Phillippa’s Home Baking is a beautiful cookbook featured in bookshops all over town, and I am still contemplating picking one up… it’s quite a comprehensive (translation HEAVY) book… so I’m still thinking…

Next up, I wandered for blocks and blocks, past every imaginable cafe and ethnic restaurant… dozens and dozens of them. Somehow I never passed a grocery store, and was beginning to wonder if people actually cook in this town.  And then I discovered the Queen Victoria Market.  The answer is an enthusiastic yes… The people of Melbourne have a treasure that’s been in operation well over 100 years… And oh my goodness did I give my camera a workout trying to capture it all: victoriamarket2 After wandering the outside fruit and veg section, I wandered into the teeming food halls, and explored for a good long while. I found all sorts of inspiration for dinners when I return home (kebabs and meatballs yes, kangaroo meat and the coffin bay oysters not so much)victoria market 3I made a nuisance of myself admiring possible ingredients (what exactly is tomato kasoundi, and how would I make it? But I’m sure I could figure out a way to make pumpkin and poppyseed fettuccine…)   victoria market1 What an amazing place… oh my, I could have stayed all day.  But all that looking at food was making me hungry for lunch.  I heard the outdoor cafes of Hardware Lane were well worth a look… but at this point the rain was getting steadier… so I opted for a Greek Restaurant on the corner of the Lane with window seating:

I dug into a lovely felafel sandwich (fresh, light and piping hot), which didn’t disappoint.  It made me quite happy I had made the decision to:

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Rested and fueled, I set off down Hardware Lane, lined with lovely Cafes…

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…heading off to explore a few of the arcades:

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I paused at the Royal arcade to admire some of the Easter treats at Koko Black Chocolates…

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And then set off for the Block Arcade, where families were lined up to enjoy the exquisite pastries at Hopetoun Tea Rooms:

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I, on the other hand, got completely lost in a magnificent spice shop called Gerwuzerhaus:

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Spice blends from around the world, housed in storage bins tempted spice-lovers like me.  One wall featured nutmeg sugars, blends for apple cakes and mulled wines.  Other areas featured curry blends, African-inspired blends, paprika blends for goulash and savory German potatoes…  a “BBQ-Blokes” Blend for grilling was even among the offerings.   I completely lost track of time while choosing a dozen or so to take home with me… (while contemplating a new career as a blender of exotic spices…) It’s a good thing it was just me and my camera – this would have driven any member of my family completely crazy.

After nearly an hour obsessing over spice choices, it was time for the final coffee of the day, this time at the Cafe Duomo – and possibly my favorite cuppa during my time in Melbourne.  Time to reflect upon a wonderful day in Melbourne, and wonder:

How would it be possible to bring such a rich cafe culture to DC?

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