I didn't read the brochure, thank goodness I had flat shooes
Who would have thought that Footscray was the place for nostalgia. I am sure it wouldn't be such without the passionate research by Allan Campion of Melbourne Food Tours. My friend, AC, had been saying for ages that she loved Allan's tour when she went on one years ago. She also said that he is the only person in the food industry that no one says anything nasty about. (I hope neither AC nor Allan read this because gossip is not good, is it?)
I didn't bother doing any reading of brochures or websites, I just put myself in AC's hands as we trotted off to the Footscray Food Tour. Thank goodness I was wearing flat shoes. 'Aren't I clever', I thought as the girls pulled their flatties out of bags. Then I realised Allan probably warns everyone in the blurb to come prepared.
The meeting point was strategically located beside the Olympic Doughnut Van in Irving Street. I was wondering about surreptitiously buying some doughnuts while we waited for everyone to arrive. But – hey ho, no need to, we were all treated to a sample and a wonderful history and discussion on the use of Olympic rings in 1956. More power to the people: recently when authorities tried to get rid of the van the locals complained so much that they had to relent and allow the van to stay.
So with the meaning of the phrase "sugar lips" evident, off we trotted to the markets, but surprisingly to the car park on the roof. To one who comes from the mountains it was strange that a three- storey building can be the top of the world with views to the city, the bridges and my own mountain on the other side of the city. From there Allan proceeded to give a structure to Footscray and its environs. All interesting, but I wanted food. Maybe I should have read that brochure….
Finally food. First stop the fresh produce with tastes of herbs and spices, fresh fruit being passed around and a blend of cuisines and discussions on best recipes. There were signs written in three languages. Then a little talk about one of the best ways to tell the best produce: if you're not sure, follow the crowds, which makes perfect sense. We meandered through the fish market and got great tips on how to tell whether fish is fresh and were then taken to Allan's favourite fish stall. It was lots of fun with toned down ribald comments flying in, and around the crowd.
A gentle meander through the meat and poultry and the other parts of the market remind me that I really must get out and about more - the cuts of meat, including rabbit, quail and turkey are amazingly varied, plentiful and so accessible.
By this time it was quite obvious that the markets are surrounded by restaurants. The wafting smells draw us on. More background with a description of the different ethnic regions and impacts on the architecture, food and creation of precincts, followed. To put it into context, at the end of the tour we were given a very smart food map brochure produced by the local council. There are 5 convenience stores and 65 restaurants all within blocks, and that excludes the takeaway only venues.
Tasting our way around the precincts was how Allan very cleverly defined the various ethnic areas. Ranging from a Vietnamese sugar cane juice bar to Indian spice shops, Chinese herbal medicine shops, Italian pastries and traditional Ethiopian bread. At Lemat Injera Bakery Solomon explained how the bread was made and showed us the hand woven baskets that the bread is traditionally stored in. The bread is wonderful and tasted nothing like I had imagined it.
I think my favourite visit was to T. Cavallaro & Sons Pasticceria in Hopkins Street. They are renowned as an institution for traditional cannoli from Sicily and have been family operated since 1956. But, I must admit I loved the traditional macaroons best and that led to a debate on the trend toward filled macarons. My family loves me too because I brought a bag home.
Sarah...very generously offered tastes of everything
We moved on to lunch at the Konjo Café and Restaurant where Rose, originally from France, and her husband Abdi from Ethopia, have their second restaurant in Irving Street. I thought I couldn't eat another thing after all the samples but the tasting platter was fantastic and I kept dipping into the bread basket for Solomon's wonderful bread to scoop up the flavours of Ethiopia. They mix their own traditional spice blends and we tasted the 'mitmita' and 'berbere'. Rose said that in their recipe for berbere they use over thirty difference herbs and spices.
The restaurant is wonderfully modern and contemporary and still not European in dining style. I hope I got this right and wasn't daydreaming, in part the modern ambience is to help make Ethiopian women feel safe enough to dine out, which is not traditionally part of Ethiopian culture.
We finished our excursion with a time-honoured coffee ceremony, very relaxed and not at all foot weary. I couldn't resist one more photo, this time of Ann Creber my friend, Rose, who with Abdi owns Konjo Café and Restaurant, and Allan Campion who took us on the tour. (I've just looked up Allan's website - it's Melbourne Food Tours )
My friend Ann Creber, Rose who co-owns Konjo and Allan Campion who hosted our Foodie Tour - what a great time we had