Behind Preston train station, in the Preston Market precinct, a brightly painted, yellow sign proclaims 'Asian Grocers' and that's just what you'll find there, a fully fledged, one-stop centre for many oriental nationalities to pick up the staple ingredients for their famous foods.
Since the gold rush days, when the Chinese introduced market gardening and herbal medicine supplies to the colonies, Asian food supplies have been available in Melbourne - but never like this. The Asian Grocers is a proper supermarket with aisles, stacked shelves and cold, frozen and fresh food sections. It has taken what was previously only found in small specialist stores and brought it all together in one place.
On the shelves you'll find things like big packets of banana leaves, coloured, savoury crackers, packets of pickled mango, dried honeysuckle, sea weeds, muscat grape gummies and a whole section dedicated to dried fish snacks. There's soya noodles, udon noodles, and an aisle worth of pork, shrimp, beef and chicken, just-add-water, ramen noodles.
You can pick up a five kilogram bags of rice, coconut milk, coconut cream, green, red or yellow curry pastes, aloe vera juice, peach tea, lychee sweets, tinned adzuki beans, dried onion flakes, water chestnuts, bean shoots, jelly treats, tins of wasabi peas and coffee peanuts.
Thai Style Dessert (freedigitalphotos.net)
For those raised in the Asian kitchen tradition, it represents a type of reassuring normality but for the uninitiated, it's like being in a strange wonder-world of packets and flavours. If you fall in to this category, one fun activity for the weekend is to go in, buy five to ten completely random items without being able to understand any of the labelling and at home dare yourself to eat each one, no matter what the taste.
With the popularity of shows like Masterchef and My Kitchen Rules and more people making bold choices for their evening meals, it's nice to know that authentic ingredients for Malaysian, Japanese, Cantonese, Korean, Indian and Thai cooking are readily available in Melbourne.