I'm a mum, teacher and published writer who loves travel, vintage, art and history.
Published May 28th 2015
Immerse yourself in a food lovers experience
I attended a Food Lovers Tour run by the City of Greater Dandenong and it was an absolutely enjoyable experience! My mother joined me, and together with a lovely group of people that were also on the tour, we were lead by our experienced tour guide Russell Bald, through some fascinating eateries, speciality food and produce stores, bakeries, and delicatessens. The Food Lovers Tour would certainly delight any food lover!
With 150 different nationalities that make up the tapestry of the Dandenong community, it really is no surprise that cultural food showcases so prominently in the area. Exotic spices from all over the world, traditional cuisines, time honoured food preparation techniques and practices with roots still firmly grounded in their traditional heritage, along with affordable, and at times ridiculously inexpensive prices, makes for a vibrant, cultural precinct that in many ways is unrivalled in Melbourne.
Civic Square, Dandenong. Corner of Lonsdale Street and Walker Street
The tour departed from the Civic Square on the corner of Lonsdale Street and Walker Street, Dandenong. The Civic Centre is a wonderful new space that houses the Council offices, a public library, a large square for festivals and other events, a giant TV screen for open air movies and screenings, and of course, cafes. I was there nice and early and it really was picturesque with its sculptural elements, ornamental conifers and cloudy skyscape.
Russell Bald, our Food Lovers Tour Guide, has been a chef for 20 years, having worked in Melbourne's top restaurants, and classically trained in French and Italian cuisine. Currently, he's a resident Chef for 'The Kitchen' at the Dandenong Market, a Chef Instructor at Chisholm Institute, and a food tour guide with the City of Greater Dandenong. Russell really has his finger on the pulse of what makes the cultural cuisine hub of Dandenong tick, and together with his approachable demeanour and great rapport with local business owners, he really creates a fun, fast-paced food experience for all to enjoy.
First stop was the Polish Rye Crust Bakery which is a family owned and operated business with 35 years experience in the art of bread making. We got to talk to one of the specialty bakers about one of their prized bakery items - traditional Polish sourdough bread. I got the chance to try some of the fermented dough that is used to make their sourdough bread and it was not at all what I expected. It has a mild, almost yoghurt like quality and apparently it's meant to be very good for you. Not bad for something that's 100 years old!
At Rye Crust Bakery they make the most delicious Polish bread and European breads using traditional artisan methods. They also make traditional Polish cakes, like Poppy seed cake, baked cheesecake and Polish doughnuts, in addition to continental cakes and sweets. We got to sample some pretzels and sour dough bread, which were delicious. They also make sandwiches, bagels and traditional Polish cuisine, such as cabbage rolls and my favourite, pierogi, which is a Polish dumpling with a variety of fillings. Polish Rye Crust Bakery is located at 101-103 Foster Street and their website is www.polishryecrustbakery.com.au
The tour then made its way to Uncle's Deli, 123 Thomas Street, where we met the owners of the Deli who told us all about the smoking techniques they use for their traditional Polish smoked hams. The deli is popular and well respected within the Polish community as a source of top quality small goods, like Kransky, specialty smoked hams, and Polish produce. The deli also stores Polish jams, pickles and some of my favourite Polish chocolates, chocolate coated plums.
Even though I'm vegetarian, listening to the owners talk about their produce with passion and dedication was really interesting and judging by everyone's eagerness to try food samples I would definitely say that they loved the food.
Making our way down Thomas Street, and past many popular Afghan restaurants, our next stop was at Maiwand Supermarket, which is located at 262 Thomas Street. The supermarket is opposite Afghan Masala which I previously reviewed here. It stocks exotic spices, sweets, groceries, preserves, rice, nuts, dried fruits, mince garlic, legumes, and anything really that is traditionally used in Middle Eastern, Afghan and Iranian cooking. It is extremely affordable, with large bags of spices only costing a few dollars and bottles of rose water for $4. We sampled some traditional Afghan sweets made from Halwa (tahini: sesame seed based). It was lovely and not overly sweet or rich. The Supermarket sells trays of these Middle Eastern and Afghan sweets.
Just around the corner, we visited Maiwand Bakery at 7 Scott Street. There we met the bakers and staff that work in the traditional Afghan bakery with Tandoor ovens. Traditional Afghan bread is a flatbread called Naan-e Afghani and it is cooked in clay ovens (tandoor). The dough is stuck to the interior wall of the oven to bake and the bread starts to puff up and change colour as it cooks. Once cooked, the bread is laid out of a flat surface ready to be wrapped in paper for the next customer. This is delicious, fresh, flatbread which sells for only 75 cents! The bakery makes thousands of these each week and I bought some to take home.
We then made our way to Pultney Street and walked through the enormous Indian and Sri Lankan grocery store MKS Spices'n Things. At the end of the store is an eatery with a small sit down area, but they also do takeway. They sell curries and Indian street food. I tried their Fish Roti which was delicious. The supermarket is packed with all sorts of Indian and Sri Lankan grocery products from spices, to curry pastes, to frozen food items. They sell Indian yoghurt, sweets and biscuits, fruit and vegetables, and more!
After we had a thorough look around MKS Spices'n Things we walked back towards Lonsdale Street and stopped at Rob's British and Irish Butchery, 177 Lonsdale Street, for a visit. The owner Rob talked to us about the history of the store, its iconic place as a primary supplier of British and Irish smallgoods and products to major companies, hotels, and retailers, and its award winning sausages. Again, I didn't try the samples, but everyone else couldn't get enough of what was on offer. The inside of the store itself is quite fascinating, with paraphernalia and memorabilia from the UK covering every inch of the interior. Many of the items have been given as gifts to the store by devoted customers. Rob's a real character, with some wonderful stories to tell, and it is clear that he is passionate about his produce, and proud of the heritage of his products. The store stocks a full range of products made by Rob and his family, from sausages, to steak and kidney puddings, black pudding and pork pies. You can visit their website here.
Our last stop on the Food Lovers Tour was A1 Bakery at 201-203 Lonsdale Street. It's a Middle Eastern and Lebanese Bakery, Cafe and Restaurant. We got a chance to chat to the owners who were extremely hospitable and we tried some Zaatar bread, a Middle Eastern bread which is absolutely delicious. It had sumac which is a herb used in Lebanese and Middle Eastern cooking, as well as Wild Thyme. We also sampled baklava, specially made herbal tea and spinach and ricotta pie. The restaurant/café has a wonderful display of Middle Eastern and Lebanese sweets, desserts, cakes and biscuits, while the rear of the Bakery has a section for pizza, and hot food. To one side is a grocery section which stocks a multitude of herbs, spices, and preserves used in Middle Eastern and Lebanese food. For a complete guide to their menu visit their website here.
Central Dandenong has over 70 cafes, restaurants and eateries from different cultural cuisines; African, Polish, Afghan, Persian, Indian, Thai, Uyghur, Serbian, Lebanese, Italian, Sri Lankan, Fijian, Filipino, Mauritian, Chinese, and Malaysian.
It is the perfect place for food lovers!
The City of Greater Dandenong runs a number of Food Tours; Food Lovers (Daytime Dandenong), Food Lovers (Night Time Springvale), Afghan Bazaar, Little India and Sensational Springvale. For more information and bookings visit www.greaterdandenong.com/tours or phone 8571 1377.