While I’m working for Tourism Victoria, I’m not writing Victorian restaurant reviews or about Victorian product more generally on this blog. This is very much self-imposed. There is too much scope for conflicts of interest. I can hardly accuse a TV show’s kitchen of sucking while having to front up to a meeting with the producers, or complain about the quality of a board member’s winery and value my job. To write criticism, at the very least, you need a modicum of distance.
It may be a cop out but I love my day job. The only thing better than writing is writing for money.
I do however still seem to spot local food that seems important but not useful in my day job, an ambient intimacy that stretches beyond the bounds of the prevailing brand narrative. They’re the sorts of places that don’t have a team of hip, young publicists carefully crafting Tweets on their behalf and go unnoticed by the hundreds of Melbourne’s food bloggers who trail that bandwagon. They will fit a narrative in a few month’s time by which stage, you will already know about them and they’ll be old news. And still not useful to my day job.
So I’ve decided to publish things which I predict will be covered by your Broadsheets and Epicure in two month’s time; no reviews, just the sort of tip offs that would make me want to check if a restaurant even existed. Maybe this is a Melbourne PR long game that I’m playing. Feel free to accuse me of that in the comments.
Melbourne restaurants that you’ll interested in:
Ayiguli 323 Fast Food (快餐323 阿仪古历) (Uighur)
323 Swanston St Melbourne VIC 3000
Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven (Uighur)
166 Little Lonsdale St
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Pics on Flickr from their Springvale branch
Melbourne Bornga (Korean)
Level 1 258 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
In what is fast becoming a tradition, my local market, Footscray Market, has failed to post opening hours anywhere online. Opening hours for the market over the Christmas/New Year’s period 2012 are:
Monday 24 December (Christmas Eve): 7:00am-4:00pm
25-26 December: Closed
Thursday 27 December: 7:00am – 6:00pm
Friday 28 December: 7:00am – 7:00pm
Saturday 29 December: 7:00am – 5:00pm
30 December – 1 January 2013: Closed
Wednesday 2 January: 7:00am – 4:00pm
The regular opening hours for Footscray Market continue to be:
Tuesday and Wednesday – 7:00am-4:00pm
Thursday – 7:00am-6:00pm
Friday – 7:00am-8:00pm
Saturday – 7:00am-4:00pm
A while back there was a discussion amongst West Footscray locals about the etymology of the suburb’s abbreviation “wefo”, a discussion started by its commodification by this $65 cushion from design gallery Post Industrial Design. I’d first seen the suburb referred to as WeFo in an email from November 2008 so the abbreviation’s history predates its growing popularity as a hashtag on Twitter and at a guess, probably started when people began to feel uncomfortable about gentrification and needed an ironic response.
And what’s more ironic and discomfiting than buying it, and wearing it on a tshirt.
Click through on the below images to buy in your choice of colour and style. Prices start at $17.
Here’s a community built map of overhanging fruit in (mostly) Melbourne. Not much will be in season at the moment apart from the lemons, so hold off a few months before you selfishly plunder the neighbourhood trees.
View Neighbourhood harvest in a larger map
My favourite Mexican cookbook is Marilyn Tausend’s Cocina De La Familia because it is not devoutly Mexican. Tausend isn’t Mexican and collated her recipes from interviews with home cooks across America rather than in Mexico. Recipes come with the location that they were collected and the Mexican state where the recipe or cook originated. It captures the evanescent nature of immigrant food; the adaptations and innovation required from living somewhere other than home and cooking for the eternally-shifting tastes of Americans that at some point in the past came from Mexico. It says “authentic” on the cover but it is an uneasy label for a book that documents a cuisine that has thoroughly changed from an imaginary state of origin south of the border.
I like it because it gives Mexican-Americans a huge amount of credit and agency for adapting traditional recipes. Cooking nachos is given equal importance to cooking a more traditional looking sopa. The emphasis is on delicious rather than time-honoured.
With the current flood of Mexican restaurants opening across Melbourne, the laziest way to deride them is decry their lack of authenticity, ticking off your personal list as to whether they serve corn smut or cabeza or whatever other edible markers of tradition apply, making an assiduous note of the ethnicity of the chef. As soon as that happens, you deny that food and culture are mutable, and shifts to accommodate the locals.
Recently, Gustavo Arellano took this up in an interview in the New York Times.
But he is wary of the many non-Mexicans who have anointed themselves as ambassadors for Mexican food in the United States, from Bertha Haffner-Ginger (who taught cooking classes at The Los Angeles Times in the early 20th century and wrote an influential and confusing cookbook called “California Mexican-Spanish Cook Book”) to more modern arbiters of taste like the British expatriate Diana Kennedy and the Chicago chef Rick Bayless.
For Mr. Arellano, non-Mexicans who glorify “authentic” Mexican cuisine, even with respectful intent, are engaging in a kind of xenophobia. “It’s a different way of keeping Mexican food separate, out of the American mainstream,” said Mr. Arellano, who calls Mexican-food purists “Baylessistas.”
Arrellano has excellent form – his now decade old column “Ask a Mexican” in the OC Weekly pokes into the recesses and excesses of Mexican-American culture, often to hilarious effect. To underline his idea of authenticity: he’s a man who takes a great deal of joy in what happens when you translate Vietnamese food for a Latino clientele rather than seeing it as a culinary abomination.
To Arrellano (and me), food is more interesting where cultures butt heads and I can’t imagine a situation more interesting than watching what happens in Melbourne where the previous culture of Mexican food that was wrapped up in the yellow box of an Old El Paso meal kit runs into the current one that seems to revere the taco truck of Roy Choi rather than the markets of Oaxaca.
Since the City of Melbourne passed an edict that no new restaurant can get a liquor licence in Melbourne unless it serves a fish taco, my Melbourne restaurant name generator has become redundant. I’ve been meaning to write some reviews, but most of the new joints do a pretty good job of satirising themselves. So inspired by this tweet from Beechworth chef Michael Ryan, here’s a Mexican edition of the restaurant name generator. Name that new restaurant:
My Bajacaliforniano Uncle