Melbourne: Australia’s Culinary Heartbeat

By A J Williams

Her more famous cousin, Sydney, has the instantly recognizable landmarks, beaches, and even the world’s second largest fish market, but it’s Melbourne that will take any gourmand on an arguably tastier journey.

We recently spent six days in Melbourne, sampling and savouring every moment of its food scene. The ethnic dining options don’t seem exotic or in some way ‘imported.’ The city’s culinary diversity somehow feels as if it’s always been that way. Of course, that’s not true. Culinary delights started arriving here years ago from Asia, Africa, Europe, and other far-flung places. The lure (pun intended) of the freshest of seafood is irresistible. Asian, Italian and Greek cuisines abound in Melbourne.

To start your mouth-watering tour, visit the Queen Victoria Market, a foodie’s nirvana and every chef’s essential stop on the way to the kitchen. This market was opened in 1878, and now encompasses two full city blocks. There are other 19th century neighbourhood markets in Melbourne, but the “Queen Vic” is by far the largest and most intact. It’s located on the northern edge of the city’s vibrant Central Business District (CBD.)

Inside you’ll find the typical market fare: produce, seafood, meats, breads and cheeses. But this market, my foodie friends, is anything but typical. At every turn, there’s something interesting to see, learn and most importantly, taste. Vendors are friendly and will happily answer questions or provide suggestions. A walking foodie tour is a must, and our native Melburnian guide gave us two hours of culinary bliss. We sampled fresh oysters on the half-shell, cheeses, Australian olives and oil, sausage and fresh, hot pasta.

Of course, we tried grilled kangaroo and emu (the Australians are probably the only culture I can think of that actually eat both animals depicted on their coat of arms.)  Kangaroo is quite delicious….if you don’t think too long about it.

After you’ve strolled the indoor market, head outside to sit and savour some fantastic local wine while watching all the excitement of the lively vendors.

Markets are often the inspiration for great meals, but when visiting Melbourne, you won’t be cooking very much due to the plethora of incredible restaurants to try. Australia is home to the world’s second largest Greek population. If you prefer Italian, Melbourne’s Little Italy area is the perfect place to spend an afternoon, while enjoying fresh pasta, carefully curated charcuterie and of course amazing wines. Patio afternoons on Lygon Street should probably be given the same official sporting status as all the other sports this town is crazy for! Some honest and candid Sydney natives we met admitted that “Melbourne is like that cool cousin you wish you were like, but you aren’t.”

You can find any Asian cuisine in Melbourne. A visit to ChinChin, one of the city’s culinary institutions is a must: it’s the perfect collision of Asian, Indian and Australian cuisine. Don’t bother looking through the menu.  Just say ‘feed me’ and you’ll embark on an epic seven-course tasting menu.

Melbourne’s transit system is world-class, making it easy to get around to all the city’s most coveted dining spots.

But why not eat while seeing the city?  A fleet of glossy, burgundy historical trams have been transformed into the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant – and are the first travelling Tramcar Restaurants in the world – a truly unique dining experience.

The laneways are filled with fun, vibrant bars and cafes – the perfect spot to gaze at street art, enjoy a local beer or immerse in the city’s famous coffee culture.

Melbourne is a craving. Its food scene has a vibe with bold, creative flavours. It’s hip and modern and the furthest thing from stuffy white linen dining. Guilt-free indulging is encouraged – luckily Melbourne is a very walkable city – guaranteed to work up an appetite and burn off your lunch. And Melbourne is sure to make you hunger for another visit.  

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