The Flying Foodie: Footscray, Melbourne

Our Flying Foodie, Alana Lowes, ventured out of Melbourne CBD and into the burbs – Footscray, where old meets new – east meets west – into a food mecca for everyone to experience.

Long famed for its authentic Vietnamese and African restaurants, Footscray is the cultural food destination in Melbourne. With more than 135 cultural groups calling it home, this suburb is just 6km from the city and is a melting pot of heady scents and bold flavours.

Despite the recent gentrification and continued development, there is still that traditional authenticity that will lure you out of the CBD and across the Maribyrnong River and into the grungy and multicultural heart of Melbourne.

I spent a day exploring the old and new and both are just as a delicious as each other – I would have to say that is winning all round!

Here is my ultimate food tour of Footscray. 

First up: Breakfast

Footscray Milking Station, 35 Bunbury Street 

If I lived in Footscray, this would be my regular brekkie haunt. Nestled on a residential corner, the cosy sun-filled café is the perfect part busy, yet homely with a menu to get your taste buds salivating. My choice of the vegetarian breakfast, a plate filled with spiced pumpkin mash topped with poached eggs, dukkah and leafy greens certainly satisfied my rumbling stomach. There is also a breakfast burger for those who love to (slightly) over indulge, with the eggs cooked to right consistency – runny, but not too runny.

Morning Tea Time

Happy River Café, 45 Moreland Street

With one of the best views of Melbourne, the Happy River Café is a must stop on your tour of Footscray. You have two seating options, outside on the grass with large oversized cushions and beanbags surrounds by communal vegetable gardens and lush trees, or, as I did, a light-filled window seat inside to sit and gaze across the river at the humming Melbourne city skyline. The brightly batik printed table cloths are warm and inviting giving the feeling you are visiting a friends place.

For morning tea, there is a range of homemade cakes and breads. If you are lucky enough to be there on a day they make the rhubarb bread and butter cake, do not miss out on tasting this. The soft sweet bread cake with a sticky tart rhubarb jam like topping is one of the most sensational cakes I have tasted. Despite only just eating breakfast, I devoured the entire slice…trust me, you will too!

Lunching

Rudimentary, 16 Leeds Street

As you take the journey across to Footscray, you will have noticed it’s the home for empty shipping containers needed on-call from the nearby shipping yards. Playing on this, a shipping container café couldn't be more suited than in the heart of Footscray. 

Using three beautifully fitted out shipping containers, Rudimentary is a bright and happy café focused on sustainable good quality food while paying homage to the cultural diversity in the area. 

The Japanese stable of okonomiyaki is the right amount of indulgence without over filling (especially on a day long food tour). Other menu items of soft shell crab burger with chilli mayo, green mango and mint honours the Vietnamese history of Footscray in a modern way. 

Bustling markets

Footscray Markets, 81 Hopkins Street

After lunch, walk of your meal by visiting the Footscray Markets. Colourful, loud and an experience like no other in Melbourne, the Footscray Markets is a rich diverse blend of cultures. With the Vietnamese selling fruit and vegetables, the Chinese seafood and the Greek some of the best cuts of lamb you can find in Melbourne, just wander and inhale the exciting environment.

A must stop

T Cavallaro & Sons, 98 Hopkins Street

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli”, this quote could never ring truer and tasting a cannoli at T Cavallaro & Sons will change your life.

“Sit down and I’ll make you an espresso and bring you out a cannoli,” Tony orders. What Tony says, one must do, especially when it comes to trying his Italian espresso and of course the famed T Cavallaro & Sons cannoli.

Established in 1956, T Cavallaro & Sons have been making the delicate tubes of golden fried pastries for more than 50 years. Still using the Sicilian tradition to produce the shells, Tony fills the crispy shells with vanilla and chocolate patisserie cream or a more traditional combination of whipped ricotta, marsala and almonds.

Today it’s the vanilla and chocolate flavour for me. One bite and I am hooked. The flaky crunch of the shell gives way to the soft creamy filling and is seductive and absolutely perfect.

If there is one place you have to visit on your visit to Footscray, it has to be T Cavallaro & Sons.

Beer stop (or some bourbon and smoked meats)

Up in Smoke, 28 Hopkins Street

It’s a barbecue, beer and bourbon lover’s idea of heaven. With its $20,000 smoker safely behind a glass window (you can look by can’t touch), grab a stool at the bar and do as I did, chat with the knowledgeable bartender all about the craft beers on tap. 

While barbecue is the main reason for heading here, I popped in just for schooner. With 10 beers taps featuring a rotating selection of the local craft beers including the very interesting Hempire Hemp Ale by the East 9th Brewing, the first hemp beer to hit the market in Australia. The creaminess and nuttiness is drawn from the organic ground hemp seeds after fermentation.

Pho-tastic

Pho Hung Vuong Saigon, 128 Hopkins Street

It’s a big call, I know, what with Victoria Street churning out some pretty spectacular phở, but if you want some seriously authentic Vietnamese food, Footscray is your ultimate destination. The menu at Pho Hung Vuong Saigon is simple – rolls, rice, noodles or noodle soup. While all the others are delicious in their own right, it’s the noodle soup you must try. A steaming bowl of either chicken or beef broth with slippery silky handmade flat rice noodles with whatever protein you desire. Customisation is the fun part, adding freshness and liveliness to the soup – fresh chilli, Vietnamese mint, coriander, bean shoots and my favourite, a tangy hot chilli sauce.

From my experience you are guaranteed to cough and splutter at least once on the heat from the chilli and chilli sauce, but this is like a right of passage when slurping down a bowl of phở.

Phở Hung Vuong Saigon is bright and fun and serves up quite simply of the best phở I have tasted.

Dinnertime

Jim Wong’s, 259 Barkly Street

If after all this tripping around Footscray, you are still peckish, Jim Wong’s is the ultimate institution for your suburban Chinese food indulgence. Nostalgic dishes of lemon chicken, honey chicken and sizzling Mongolian all make an appearance on the long menu. Everything about it screams cheap and tasty Chinese, from the décor, the classic menu, and the fact you actually need to ask for chopsticks!  Some say it’s the Flower Drum, without the frills and hefty price tag.

The food is spot on and tastes every bit the authentic 80’s Chinese, but it’s done with using the best ingredients and cooking techniques – like the Westlake duck dish. A lightly battered and fried steamed duck topped with a sweet and sour sauce- an absolute standout on the menu.

 

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