I'm a freelance travel, lifestyle and content writer based in Melbourne. If you need the right words, I have them. Feel free to connect with me or have a look at my site https://www.clippings.me/users/daniellenorton for examples of my published work
Published July 2nd 2019
Flavours of Coburg, explore a new neighbourhood
Coburg is one of Melbourne's migrant areas and with people from other cultures come a myriad of stories and a rich heritage. Over the decades, people have come from Italy, Greece, Vietnam, the Middle East and India and they have brought the food and recipes of their mother countries to help lay the foundations for their new lives in Australia. Flavourhood Tours runs a three-hour foodie walking tour of this vibrant suburb. Participants get to experience the cultural delights of 6 different countries over 8 unique food stops.
I show up on a drizzly Melbourne morning with an umbrella in hand, ready to brave the elements. Raffaela Ceddia, the owner of the company and guide of this tour, had warned me that tours go ahead rain, hail or shine. She'd also advised me not to eat breakfast before the tour, despite the start time of 10am and by the time we finish the tour at 1pm, I'm very glad I'd listened to her.
Our first stop is Al Alamy, a Middle Eastern grocery which does a roaring breakfast trade as well as offering groceries from around the world. We are met by the shop's friendly owner, Ahmet. He's very proud of the business that he's owned for the last 14 years, and is passionate about the food. He describes the shop as "organised chaos all day long. 7am -7pm" but, from what I can see, things run very smoothly.
Our first meal of the day is a traditional Lebanese breakfast of labne pizza. A light base, slathered in labne and layered with tomato, olives, mint and chilli. I'm surprised to learn that in Turkish culture, they only eat olives in the morning. The pizza is fresh and tasty and a magical way to start the food tour.
To go with it, Ahmet brings out some warm bowls of Ful Medames (fave beans cooked with chickpeas, garlic and olive oil) and what is probably my favourite dish of the day: Fatteh, a dish of chickpeas cooked in yoghurt with butter, nuts and dry bread underneath.
Next, we head across the block to Flirting Shadows Cafe where Lucky teaches us how to make Turkish coffee. For those who don't drink caffeine, he has created the "Lucky special", a milky drink flavoured with orchid flower roots, mustik and cinnamon. Local legend has it that Lucky created this drink because a child wanted to order coffee from the shop and Lucky refused to serve it to him. Lucky' s conviction that coffee is not good for children is a demonstration of his passion for his product.
Liquid gold at Flirting Shadows
As we're nibbling Turkish delight and drinking our coffee from the miniature cups that the Turkish are so famous for, I watch as another customer requests a take away and Lucky refuses. "Turkish coffee needs to settle. If you walk around with it, it will all come up and ruin it". The customer agrees to drink it in-store.
Raffaela leads us out of the cafe and into the Walkers Arcade. It's a step back in time to the 1970s and 80s. "We're going to this lovely business called The Pie Place but we're not having pies," she says, smiling broadly. Before approaching the store, Raffaela gives her guests a history lesson about exactly how Coburg fits in to the development of Melbourne as a city.
The area was designed for farming and early in the 1800s, Pentridge Prison was constructed. The surrounding homes were occupied by wardens, guards, prison staff and their families, a mix of British and Irish settlers. After the Gold Rush in 1851, Melbourne became multicultural and, along with the Chinese settlers came Melbourne's first Chinese restaurant in the late 1800s.
Post World War II, Italian and Greek immigrants arrived in Australia and, because the land was cheap, it was great for immigrants. Lebanese and Vietnamese immigrants arrived in the seventies and the cultural mix of the suburb really started to develop. "You can literally find anything in Coburg", says Raffaela, as an elderly gent zooms past on covered scooter, like a Thai tuk tuk, tartan blanket on his legs, waving and greeting us a chirpy "good morning".
The Pie Place is now run by brothers, Justin and David. Started by their father in 1984, it has long been a favourite with locals for the Vanilla slice. The crispy pastry contrasts delicately with the creamy custard. As we stand in front of the shop, licking our fingers, a man pushing a bicycle walks past and yells out, "best pies in Coburg". I'm sure they are.
While our breakfast and breakfast dessert settle in our stomachs, we are are taken to Najaf Jewellers on Sydney Road and introduced to Hassan who explains to us that gold is a big part of middle eastern and Indian culture. Instead of property or shares, his customers prefer to invest in gold. The business sells so much gold that the owners must go to Dubai at least ten times a year to stock up on supplies.
While he's talking, I am admiring all the sparkling rings, earrings and bracelets but one item catches my eye; a 350g necklace which I later discover is worth $26,000.
Incredible, intricate pieces at Najaf Jewellery
The tour doesn't end here. We head to Victoria Mall which is like a local community European square on the Saturday morning. Men have gathered for coffee and a chat.
Raffaela recommends the Menemen at the Chorba cafe. It is the Turkish version of Shakashuka and, at $12, is a true bargain. However, we don't eat there.
Next door is the Half Moon Cafe, a halal cafe specialising in Egyptian style falafels. Instead of using chickpeas as the base for the falafel balls they use fava beans. Also added is coriander which makes the falafel bright green. It's a fresh twist on an old classic for me and, as I watch Sharif, the owner's son, scooping the mix into a spoon and frying the felafel in front of us, I know I'll be back to buy these again.
Fava Bean Felafel at Half Moon Cafe, Coburg.
It's time for another sweet, this time a Greek one, so we cross Sydney Road to enter Axilleon Caffe Cake Shop. The Pastry chef is from Thessaloniki and is one of the best chefs from the best area in Greece for cake baking. We learn a little about the different types of cakes baked and eaten by Greeks to celebrate Easter, Christmas and the New Year, then tuck in to a vegan baklava, a flaky, chewy, sweet mix of nuts and pastry that has a perfect mix of the elements that make up this Greek delight. One of my fellow tour participants declines her pastry, so I gladly eat hers too.
Baklava at Axilleon Cakes, Coburg.
The sweet tastes don't stop there. We next wander in to Trivelli Cakes, an Italian cake shop which has been located at the same site on Sydney Road for 53 years. We meet the owner, Grace, who tells us that her father started this business all those years ago and that her husband is now the chef. On the counter is a huge Cannoli cake which is filled with 50 individual cannoli. This is often ordered for parties and looks so spectacular that, while we are in the shop, no less than five people come in and ask how much it is.
The group is offered a selection of cannoli, sfogliatella, biscotti and shortbreads. My favourite is the brutto e buono. Raffaela translates the name as "ugly but good". It's crunchy on the outside and chewy inside.
This shop has anniversary celebrations every year. This year, head down on Sunday 15th September. All cannoli will be $1.50. It's too good to miss!
On our plates, we find tender beef brisket, roasted red peppers and a creole slaw. The beef has spent 18 hours in the smoker. Al, the pit master, has been bare queuing since he was a kid in Uruguay and a chef for 21 years. He has perfected the art of using apple and red gum wood to smoke the food at the Bluestone American BBQ. Applewood boosts the smoke, he says, and a branch of a living tree gives lots of green smoke, which is exactly what is needed to create tender meat. They're open all week but reserve your seat on a Tuesday night to receive a special $12.50 set meal.
Al, co-owner of Bluestone American BBQ, Coburg.
The final destination of the Flavours of Coburg tour is The Deli Coburg Cafe where we are offered an antipasto plate of prosciutto, a Western Australian salami, asiago, Tasmanian brie,
Italian olives as well as a glass of red or white wine. Italian groceries line the shop walls on one side, the other is dominated by the fridges containing hundreds of cheeses, meats, olives and delicacies from all over Italy.
The Deli Coburg Cafe
As I make my way back home, I am stuffed full of great food, brimming with new information about the history of this Melbourne suburb and armed with a list of delis, cafes, restaurants and shops to visit again in the near future.
Sometimes it really does pay to be a tourist in your own town.