Day 7 (Monday, April 7):
Lunch: Rainbow slaw with fried tofu and lemongrass lime dressing
Dinner: Dukkah roasted potatoes
Dessert: 1 square of Pana chocolate (mint flavour), Mister Nice Guy Lamington mini cupcake
I made a huge amount of delicious “butter chicken” (except not-butter and not-chicken) tonight – it’ll last two dinners, two lunches this week for both of us plus an additional four frozen portions. Who knew that curry with no cream or ghee or butter could taste this rich and creamy?
Day 8 (Tuesday, April 8):
Lunch: Not-butter not-chicken with a side of dukkah roasted potatoes
Dinner: More un-butter-un-chicken, with an evening snack of Alive & Radiant Kale Krunch in “cheezy” chipotle flavour
I found myself seriously looking forward to eating my curry for lunch. Look at it – can you blame me?
Hungry after work, I wanted to grab a snack on my way to a book club meeting, and it just so happened that the health store was marginally closer to the supermarket on my way to the train, so I bought this dehydrated kale chips packet. It was quite yummy, by the way, and tasted totally cheesy despite being completely vegan – raw vegan, at that! However, the irony of spending $9 on a healthy snack instead of $2 on an unhealthy one because I was too lazy to walk another 20 metres is pretty… great. Let’s just go with ‘great’.
Day 9 (Wednesday, April 9):
Lunch: Last portion of left over dukkah potatoes
Dinner: Udon with mushroom light soy broth, tofu, shiitake and oyster mushrooms
Snack: Sweet William mini dairy free chocolate bar
Day 10 (Thursday, April 10):
Lunch: Tofu mince “bolognese” with shell pasta
Dinner: Lord of the Fries burger and fries
Dessert: Smooze Mango coconut ice
Really? I’m one third of the way through the challenge? I’m really settling into things and getting used to it. I feel that by next week, there isn’t going to be anything to write about, only foodporn.
Day 11 (Friday, April 11):
Lunch: Mixed mushroom vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dessert: Orange Polenta cupcake with Popcorn topping, from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Gong De Lin – beancurd wrapper dumplings, seaweed fried rice with pinenuts, mixed mushroom hotpot
Day 12 (Saturday, April 12):
Phat Brats “Superfood Dog”, “Half-Pint Vegan Dairy” Coconut Milk Ice Cream with Coffee
I went to the newly-opened Melbourne branch of the Cruelty Free Shop today and bought all sorts of meat substitutes – up to this point, I haven’t been cooking with them, but I have a few dishes in mind next week that’ll be able to make use of some nice “chorizo” and “pork sausage”. I also bought this amazing “New Kinda Bacon” thing, which is so convincingly smokey and delicious I had to use all my willpower not to eat the whole $13 packet all at once! The shop certainly had a really good range of vegan foodstuffs, though I noticed many of the prices are high compared to the same product at other fancy grocers in Melbourne. They do have a wider variety of stuff, so I guess for a one-stop-shop, it’s pretty damn awesome.
Day 13 (Sunday, April 13):
Vege Pad Thai and “duck” pancake from Madame K Vegetarian; roast vegetable and “facon” (new-kinda bacon) cassoulet
Week two was easier than week one, even though I didn’t eat out as much – I’m definitely getting into the groove and not randomly craving buttery things all the time. I still had a few things that weren’t vegan – I had some more European milk chocolate that was still in the house, and my Phat Brats superfood dog had chilli mayo in it of the dairy variety as did my Lord of the Fries meal. I want to see if I can go the next week with even less dairy allowances.
Turns out, being a new vegetarian, even almost-vegan, is fairly easy if you just focus on all the yummy things you can eat and just don’t even think about what you can’t. At least, it seems to be working well for me so far.
I honestly don’t think I’m going to do another diary post next week – but I’ll do a round up of food highlights at the end of the month at least! In the meantime, follow the deliciousness I am eating on Instagram, hashtag #aprilvegchallenge!
Day minus-3 (Saturday, March 29):
A trip to my favourite organic grocer – Passionfoods – to stock up on vegan cheese, nutritional yeast (“nooch”), coconut yogurt, cashew butter, raw chocolate and other cruelty-free goodies!
Day minus-2 (Sunday, March 30):
Attended Animal Liberation Victoria‘s vegan market day in St Kilda, devoured an indulgent salted caramel coconut ice cream (by Zebra Dream), ate some delicious vegan homebaked cookies, and came home with yummy toasted coconut vegan marshmallows.
For dinner, I fed friends Palak Tofu (an Indian-style spinach based curry with medium-firm tofu I fried in aromatic spices). Confession: I ate a bit of Sichuan fish left over from dinner the night before, but hey, a 75% vegan day before my challenge even officially began was pretty good, right?
Day minus-1 (Monday, March 31):
Bought some assorted Jelly Bellies and ate all the red ones before bed, because though their “bellies” (tehehe) are vegan, I don’t know if their food colouring contains bugs. KP went to the supermarket because he had run out of milk for his coffee, and I told him without batting an eyelid to stop murdering baby cows. He looked sad and told me not to say that, because it’s horrible, and I retorted that it’s even more horrible to not acknowledge it. Heh, apparently, I’m already preachy even though I haven’t even started this challenge! The last non-vegan thing I ate before my first week was a white chocolate Magnum right before bed.
Day 1 (Tuesday, April 1):
Lunch: Palak Tofu (leftovers from Sunday)
Dinner: Soba noodles with broccoli and shiitake mushrooms, curry miso broth, toasted sesame, garlic and nori.
I went down to the cafe on the ground floor of my office building to grab my usual soy cappuccino, and for the first time, wondered if the chocolate powder they always sprinkled on top was actually vegan. I guess I should ask for it without chocolate next time. It felt very strange to be looking at all this food I knew I couldn’t eat – a new experience for someone with no food intolerances and previously no dietary restrictions of any sort. My eyes lingered on the muffins and baked goods that I rarely glance at usually. It’s not difficult yet, only strange, but it’s only day 1!
Tonight, Angela asked if I wanted to have some funny Chinese mock-meat jerky stuff while waiting for dinner to cook and we had a look through the ingredients. The following conversation happened:
Angela: Would you like some soy jerky?
Me: Are you sure I can eat that?
Angela: Hmmm, it has food colouring, but I’m not sure if it’s the one made from bugs or whatever
Me: I probably shouldn’t eat it…
Angela: You could look up the additive number? I’ll look it up for you.
*5 minutes later*
Angela: *reading from Wikipedia* Errrr, it says it used to be made from coal tar but now it is mostly made from petroleum”. There you go, you can eat it. No animals, just petrol.
Me: Great :/
Day 2 (Wednssday, April 2):
Today, I found out through some internet research that Jelly Bellies are not, in fact, vegan! I’m not only talking about those pesky reddish ones that may be made from cochineal or whatever, but in fact, each and every Jelly Belly has been “polished” with beeswax to give them their shiny coat! Ugh! Needless to say, my vegan friends were not happy about this revelation!
I’m realising that randomly craving baked goods and pastries in the afternoons or early mornings is going to become annoying. It’s not like it’s something that happens everyday, but maybe once or twice a week, I feel like I just need that donut as an afternoon post work pick-me-up. Other times, like this morning, I just feel a whim to grab some fresh macarons on the way in to work! Resisting these things isn’t difficult just yet, but it might start to be a week or two in!
Lunch: Mixed mushrooms vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dinner: Caught up with a friend over zucchini dumplings and vegan Mapo Tofu from Shandong Mama
Dessert: Dairy-free pandan-coconut gelati from Gelateria Primavera (by Spring Street Grocer – the most delicious and authentic gelati I’ve found in this city so far. O SO STRETCHEEE!)
Day 3 (Thursday, April 3):
As I was a bit under the weather, my yearning for baked goods reached its peak – I needed to go to the post office, and went to one further away because I knew there would be a place that sold vegan cupcakes across from it.
Lunch: Chives gyoza from Gyoza Douraku (my top 3 favourite dumplings in Melbourne!) and Chocolate-on-Chocolate vegan cupcake from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Vegan cannelloni with mushrooms, crumbled tofu mince, quinoa, tomato, thyme and oregano, topped with mozzarella-style Cheezly
Dessert: Citizen Cacao raw vegan chocolate truffles (bought from Spring Street Grocer last night) in flavours “strawberry and coconut” and “Proud Mary cold drip coffee”
Day 4 (Friday, April 4):
After four days of not being able to choose to eat 85% of what I came across in the city (though it’s not as if I would have normally eaten those things just because I came across them!) I was excited to go to a vego restaurant where I’d be able to choose from most things on the menu. Shakahari is one of my favourite vegetarian restaurants in Melbourne, but the service on this occasion left much to be desired
Lunch: Left over vegan cannelloni
Dinner: A variety of vegan deliciousness from Shakahari Vegetarian restaurant in Carlton. A highlight was the tofu caramel dessert.
Drink: Passionfruit juice with jelly from ChaTime
Day 5 (Saturday, April 5):
The long-awaited day arrived! I ate with several friends at Smith & Daughters, a Latin-cuisine vegan restaurant we’ve been waiting on to open its doors for a year, and then another couple of weeks for us all to be free and able to get a group booking. It did not disappoint. The blogosphere has been strewn with rave reviews for this eatery since its opening “First Taste Feast”, to which many “real” bloggers were invited. I suppose I could add my own two cents at some point!
We also stumbled upon Merry Cupcakes nearby on Brunswick street which is a healthier kind of (vegan) cupcakery using less saturated fat and less sugar in their goodies – I grabbed some of the said goodies for tomorrow.
Dinner and Dessert: A veritable Latin feast at Smith & Daughters
Non-vegan things I ate: Some milk chocolate sent to me from a friend in Germany and half a Spanish hot chocolate from San Churro.
Day 6 (Sunday, April 6):
Late morning snack: A Merry Cupcakes “Blondie” cupcake
Lunch: Mushroom, egg and goat cheese galette from Breizoz (not vegan, obviously)
Dinner: Tom Yum rice noodle soup and fried vege dumplings from Loving Hut. It was not amazing, to be honest (and was not my first choice, as I wanted the vegan Bun Bo Hue but they had run out)
Dessert: Mister Nice Guy “Golden Gaytime” mini cupcake
Cooked some shell pasta and combined it with diced tomatoes and the left over “mince” filling from the cannelloni I made earlier in the week to create a healthy “bolognese”, and froze it in serving portions.
My cupcake from Merry was delicious, though it definitely “tasted healthier”, if that makes sense, even compared to regular vegan cupcakes – KP had a taste and didn’t like the icing in particular but perhaps he could taste the soy in it whereas I could not?
I have realised how much more I’m spending on groceries as a “vegan”, despite not buying any meat. Firstly, vegan substitutes to things such as yogurt, cheese and mayo tend to be quite expensive. Quinoa isn’t exactly cheap, and tofu and tempeh don’t cost a lot less than meat if you’re buying a good amount of it. Plus, now that it’s not possible to run out during lunch and get a delicious rice paper roll for $3, I have to take packed meal every single day for work and, at least until I learn to eat “boring” cheap lunches and sandwiches, it’s ending up more costly. However, I’m having heaps of fun creating delicious vegan meals.
Being the weekend, I was going to allow myself a non-vegan snack or two from the market – but disaster struck! I asked for a spinach and cheese borek, but was given a spinach and lamb borek, and only realised the meat was there after taking a bite! Despite being an omnivore only a week ago (and almost certainly intending to return to being one in three weeks) I was so disappointed and angry! I felt weirdly tainted and… and impure… which I’m sure is a rather melodramatic thing to say, though it’s not because I’ve turned into a crazy hippie, but probably more because I felt a powerless loss of control that is hard for a control freak like myself to cope with!
What I’ve discovered is that, on top of the happy knowledge that I’m eating an almost entirely cruelty free diet right now, the self discipline has had amazing validating qualities for my obsessive compulsive tendencies! It’s one thing to do what I was doing before – to not eat meat as much as most meat-eaters, to not drink dairy milk and consume less than the average amount of dairy – and of course an entirely different thing to know that you can’t, and to actively stop yourself from doing so. I used to not infrequently go a whole day without consuming any animal products, but more often than not that was something that just happened rather than a conscious decision. Even just one day consciously deciding you cannot do something makes a world of difference.
Week one summary?
I have only eaten three things containing any animal product (milk chocolate, a hot chocolate and a galette) in my first, shortest week of the challenge, not including being unwittingly served lamb and having previously thought that Jelly Bellies were vegan.
All things considered, this challenge is proving simultaneously easier and harder than I thought it would be.
I don’t know what it is about 2014, but with only a quarter of the year gone, I seem to be committing myself to quite a lot of lengthy challenges. With my #100happydays finally drawing to a close (only 15 days left!) I am about to embark on the most difficult journey yet! And it is not abseiling down a Melbourne CBD skyscraper for foster kids (although I’m doing that too!) No, I am going vegetarian, and mostly vegan, for the month of April. And I have roped a couple of friends into joining me!
[TL;DR: click here | give your support]
“I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals, I’m a vegetarian because I hate plants” – I keep recalling this quote of mysterious origins that I heard as a teenager, even though it’s completely absurd, and obviously not true for any vegetarian (… I think?). Only now, after Googling it 15 years later, have I found out that the sentence was first uttered by a stand-up comedian by the name of Alan Whitney Brown. Heh, this is not really important, is it?
Anyway, for me, both parts of Brown’s quote are technically true, sort of. I do adore animals, but I also don’t really like plants – flowers, to be precise, set off my allergies, so I have a deep-seated resentment of them. Botanical gardens are my worst nightmare! God, I’m barely joking. However, I’m not actually planning on eating many flowers in the next month, so unfortunately I am not really able to take out my revenge on the right set of plants. Hrrmph.
So, why am I actually doing it? As a lifelong omnivore, I live with that mental compartmentalisation that most omnivorous animal lovers employ – I’m accustomed to separating meat, which is food, from animals, who are friends (kind of like separating plants which I, err, hate, from vegetables which I love?) I’m not saying this is morally a good thing to do, but it’s actually not a thing that is unique to this situation for me. Generally, I’m a pretty detached person who can be intellectually and by principle outraged at the world’s injustices, yet not exactly passionately or emotionally engaged in the debate against them. This is just the way I am.
Like the majority of kids brought up in meat-eating families, I never gave much thought to human consumption of animals as food, but as a teenager and even into my early 20s I still failed to see what was wrong with the meat and dairy industries. I was an intelligent, well-read young woman and if I had stopped to think about it, would have seen very clearly that the quantity of meat now consumed by the average person in the developed world (or even developing world) has increased many, manyfold in the last century. Perhaps, if I had done that, I would have also wondered how that was possible? Where were all the extra animals coming from? Eventually, I would have arrived at the harsh truths of factory farming, and been as disgusted by them as I now am. Besides, the negative environmental impact caused by factory farming was not only an animal welfare issue but a problem for future generations of humans.
Farming of animals specifically for food has evolved into something completely unrecognisable, and the sheer scale of it is inconceivable to digest, pun unintentional. Gone are the days of only eating the animals you could hunt down and kill for yourself and your family, and gone even are the days when you ate meat, dairy and eggs from your own or your neighbour’s farm. What is worse is that the product of this mass breeding, mistreatment and premature slaughtering of animals feeds into the most horrible industries with no real value to civilised humans – fast food, for example, is artless, bland, unhealthy and contributes to national obesity problems all over the world, including in developing countries.
It started with the eggs. As long as I’ve lived out of home and bought my own groceries, I have bought free range eggs – is there even anyone who doesn’t these days? There is no excuse. I didn’t realise at the time that supermarket “free range” eggs did not have to meet particularly strict criteria to be labelled as such, and besides, without a car or access to markets (of which there are almost none where I lived in Auckland), I couldn’t really purchase eggs from anywhere else on a regular basis. So I didn’t really buy eggs on a regular basis, and still don’t. Then there was meat. Once no longer a poor student, I could no longer condone factory farmed chicken when I could buy free range chicken, or free range pork, and so on. I do not eat veal, ever. But I tried not to think about the fact that the Asian takeaway joints I sometimes ate at must very likely be using the cheapest meat of any origin they could find.
So my habits as a consumer was where I started, but in the last two or three years, I’ve been thinking about things a little more and getting a little more pissed off at how unnecessary all of it is. I grew up in a meat-eating family, yes, but I also grew up in an Asian family. It was not “meat and three veg” – my mum cooked Chinese dishes which were mostly staple carbohydrates, lots of vegetables and a relatively small percentage of meat (perhaps 10-15% of the bulk of the meal). Sometimes, we had fish that my dad caught. We hardly ever ate steak except when dining out occasionally. As an adult, I still prefer to cook Asian dishes (although I have a more diverse repertoire than my mother had, including many South East Asian dishes) because I find them both tastier and more nutritionally balanced, and having travelled extensively over Asia, I have definitely observed that the average diet in most Asian countries consists of less meat than the average Western diet. What is more, they made much more use of offal – the idea of throwing out the majority of an animal after selecting its most “premium” cuts of meat always seemed very sad, silly and wasteful to me – and on top of that, they used dairy far less in their savoury dishes. Dairy. Don’t even get me started on the horrible things I have learned about the dairy industry in the last couple of years.
I began to settle into a lifestyle where I not only ate predominantly Asian dishes with their fairly small ratio of meat, but did not eat meat for many meals, and often for a few full days per week. I rarely bought cheese and began to drink only soy with my coffee. I started to wonder if everyone ate the same quantity of meat and dairy as I did or even less (for I was willing to go further), the corresponding industries would be far less intense, factory farming would be less necessary and the world would be a better place. The truth is, and I probably knew this, even if it would be enough (which is doubtful), there was next to no chance of it happening unless these industries imploded on themselves one day. We have gone down a road that is hard to tread backwards on, and even poorer countries are popularising fast food chains and increased meat consumption. Too many futuristic dystopian books I have read depicted a world where meat was no longer readily available because we had destroyed the ecosystem in some way.
At the risk of hate mail, I may as well state that I do not personally have an intellectual issue with the humane taking of the life of an animal for food; but – I have huge a issue with the torture and prolonged suffering of animals (who feel pain and sorrow) for the purpose of feeding a ridiculously excessive industry that churns out more product than humans should even healthily consume. Many vegos would argue that it is not a human right to take the lives of animals for our own use on any scale. I wouldn’t say that it is, either – but there are no “rights” involved in nature at all.
I will not insult anyone’s intelligence by dragging out the comparison of a lion hunting down its prey because it’s obvious that, unlike big cats in the wild, as humans we have many other ways of getting the nutrition we need without killing other species if we so choose. Evolution has transformed us so that we have become more intelligent than other known animals on Earth, including some very intelligent mammals that I am not at all underestimating. Largely because of this, we have been omnivores for very many, many, many thousands of years. We may have invented hunting weapons followed by agriculture followed by industralised machinery, but we did not “invent” human intelligence – we have simply used what cognitive abilities nature gave us to devise ways to get “what we want”, through the accumulation of knowledge over time.
I’m not saying this is commendable of our species, I am saying that’s what has happened. But that is not to say that we can’t draw the line wherever we want to draw it!
So my line is here:
- I do not want to condone factory farming.
- I do wish to greatly reduce my (already modest) overall animal product consumption.
- I want to limit my routine dairy consumption to a three days per week, and aim to reduce this to one or two days over time.
- I want to limit my routine meat consumption to a maximum of three days (and a maximum of six meals on those days combined) per week, indefinitely.
- I want to always give more thought to where and when I eat meat and eliminate, wherever I can, eating dishes that may have used meat that is likely to be factory farmed.
- I will investigate the true story behind a “free range” label and, when I can, buy meat supplied by farms where I know truly humane farming is practised.
- I WILL to live as a mostly vegan vegetarian for at least 30 days in order to calibrate myself with this adjusted lifestyle and to put my money where my mouth is.
- I want to repeat this challenge at least once every year going forward.
I also would like to use this month to raise some awareness among my friends and acquaintances of the issues I have brought up today, and animal welfare in general – more on this below!
What I don’t want:
- Abuse or judgement from anyone reading this post, though I am open to hearing differing opinions and am all for healthy discussion.
Why have I posted about this?
I wanted to publicly express my views on these issues, and I wanted to prepare you for some delicious, simple vegan recipes coming up on this blog; but most of all, I want your help. My friends and I have set up a fundraising campaign to support our challenge in which everything raised will go to a local animal rescue organisation or animal welfare organisation. Who it ends up going to will depend on you. When you make a donation, you may nominate a relevant cause that is close to your heart, and the winning two non-profits will split the final campaign total! Here is where you can donate:
The reason I am not going 100% vegan for April is, in part, because I may still be using non-dietary animal products such as leather boots only if I already own them, but it’s also a psychological thing. It’s to ensure the success of my challenge and make it much more likely that I’ll stick to it, with the knowledge of just a small window of lenience that I may not always even use. At home and during working hours, I will be 100% vegan. During my social commitments, I’ll still try to be as vegan as I can, however, it would be a huge adjustment for an omnivore today to go to a restaurant tomorrow where the only vegan option is a leafy side salad without dressing (for example) – in these cases, I would choose a vegetarian dish if I couldn’t adapt anything to be truly vegan. I understand this is something “real” vegans actually face in meal outings without cheating, however, as a newbie I need to start less hardcore, and perhaps graduate to this in future challenge months.
It’s actually been over six weeks since I decided to set out on this journey for myself. Just this Sunday, I went to a Vegan Market Day held by Animal Liberation Victoria where a stall was displaying fliers about the “Vegan Easy Challenge“, which is, you guessed it, a program that challenges you to go vegan for 30 days! I took the pamphlets and information booklets, as I thought they’d come in handy, but I didn’t sign up for the program as I had already made up my mind to do my own thing. However, I do encourage my readers to join!
Imagine my disappointment when I found that, for the third year in a row, I had missed out on getting tickets to the World’s Longest Lunch, the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival’s annual signature opening event, this year promising courses by Jacques Reymond, Stefano de Pieri and Adam D’Sylva. The idea of sitting at a half-kilometre long table in the late-summer sunshine being served a delectable alfresco lunch with courses designed by some of the country’s most accomplished chefs not surprisingly excited and intrigued me. I kicked myself for not getting organised earlier, again, and vowed not to miss out next year.
If you’ve never heard of the Longest Lunch, the “longest” refers not to the time-frame of the meal (though it does tend to span the better part of the afternoon) but the length of the table – this year, over 530 metres of pristine white-tablecloth and 1504 charmingly mismatched chairs set along the Yarra river by Alexandra Park.
Let’s backtrack a little at this point.
Years ago, many people knowingly nodded when I informed them I was moving to Melbourne. “You’re just doing it for the food, aren’t you?”
I wasn’t, actually. Somehow, I’ve felt at home in this city since the first moment I set foot in it to visit a friend, and though I returned quite a few times before becoming a resident, I never gave much thought to “why” – when you find a true city soulmate, you plan to move there as fast as possible and don’t really overthink it. I guess if I were to name a few things I love, they would be the focus on culture and art, the beautiful historic buildings, the very old trams, the many events and enthusiastic way Melbournians take part in even the oddest ones, the boutique and outlet shopping, and yes, its world class dining and amazing things to eat on every budget.
So, before I digress any further, my point is – the World’s Longest Lunch is a perfect example of a very “Melbourne” thing, encompassing both the Melbournians’ love of slightly different events and the city’s rich epicurean culture.
My annoyance at missing out was pretty understandable.
Then… I received an unexpected email newsletter in early February from a website (Club Secure) I’d just used a couple of times. Before I could get annoyed at the spam, I saw that it contained exclusive ticketing offers for, among other things, the WLL event which had been sold out for weeks by that time. I snatched up a couple of tickets without delay and set out to find the ideal dining buddy.
The funny and charming Yen from theyennipenni channel ended up accompanying me on the day and we were both pretty excited by the prospect of a day of good food and interesting company.
After same taxi dramas, we arrived at the gardens breathless due to both anticipation and running late and were ushered towards the action by staff who handed us each goodie bags that included straw fedoras. Our places were a breeze to find as we were right down the very end of the table in seats 1501 and 1503. While we wouldn’t be in the “thick of the action”, we had an amazing view of the whole half kilometre of table.
Obligatory photos were taken and of the entire length of the table – or as much of it as we could fit in frame – to be Instagrammed, of course, and almost immediately afterwards we were engaged in friendly conversation by our immediate neighbours who turned out to be incredibly lovely and interesting people. In fact, we could not asked to be seated with better company. We seemed to have been lumped in with many people who worked in or were related to the industry.
The food that afternoon was a little bit of a letdown in terms of both dish execution and presentation – perhaps my expectations were simply so high due to the stellar reputations of the chefs involved that they couldn’t be reasonably met in such a setting, catering to so many guests!
First dish to table was smoked hiramasa kingfish, which turned out to be my favourite of the three courses, though I wouldn’t have guessed it at the time. The fish was a lovely, tender texture with a nice smoky flavour, however, some of the diners’ plates (including mine) were missing the tamarind sauce that was supposed to accompany the dish, while others had the sauce and assured us it worked well with the fish. I feel that failing to include an essential condiment was a fairly large oversight, though it was obviously through no fault of Adam D’Sylva’s.
The main was duck tucupi (“tucupi” being apparently a yellow sauce extracted from Brazilian manioc root), which was the dish designed by Jacques Reymond. There was a bit of a show involving the plate of duck and cute little glass bottles of hot broth being served separately, and the diners having to pour the broth over the poultry themselves. The broth was rich deeply flavourful, however, the duck itself wasn’t well cooked – the fat not having been fully rendered and the flesh somewhat chewy and overcooked.
I personally enjoyed De Pieri’s carrot cake dessert well enough, however, being very dense and moist but not particularly rich and indulgent it was not everyone’s cup of tea.
The service (provided by Peter Rowland Catering) throughout the afternoon was slightly brisk (understandably, with 1504 guests to wait on!) but still friendly and capable, and the staff were impeccably dressed in cute uniform. Conversation with our companions flowed beautifully and naturally and the long afternoon flew by in a blink even with long gaps between the three courses.
Wine was interchangeably poured by the staff or sitting in ice buckets at intervals along the table – not being a drinker at all, I’m not sure if this was preferable to full service, but from what I could tell it meant that those who came for mainly for food and company were able to better control their intake and those who wished to get a little tipsy could do so to their heart’s content.
As it approached 4pm and guests started dispersing, the afternoon ended with an optional boat ride up the river to Southbank and as it was a beautiful, sunny day, I jumped at this opportunity and spent the later afternoon walking along the river bank eating gelato.
All in all, the long lunch was a fabulous experience, thanks to the glorious weather, the relaxed atmosphere, the good-natured service and the amazing company.
The challenge of getting through seventeen days of way too many amazing food events may not seem like a real problem to you… but it so is. It’s a serious, very serious, first world problem, and one I face at least twice every year. The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival (MFWF) has just begun and I’m just brimming with excitement about the schedule I’ve organised for us, so indulge me while I share with you the secrets of planning the perfect foodie itinerary. My guide will be interspersed with photos from last year’s MFWF for your viewing (and my drooling) pleasure.
Restaurant Express: Charcoal Lane. Top: Wallaby tartare, horseradish potato salad, egg yolk gel, smoked bread.
Middle left: Sashimi of King Salmon, finger lime & chilli crab, pickled beetroot, radish. Middle right: Tanami spiced Kangaroo Loin, potato gnocchi, pumpkin puree, rosella flower jus.
Bottom: Gremolata & goats cheese stuffed swiss mushrooms, saltbush, golden beets.
There are a couple of main types of food festivals in Melbourne. Events such as Taste and the Good Food & Wine show happen on a single day, or a few consecutive days with much the same programme and food available throughout. These, though not so exhausting, can be challenging to tackle in their own way if you want to experience everything in the limited timeframe available without totally breaking the bank – but I’ll get to these another time.
A Conquistador’s Adventure (The Exchange Hotel, Port Melbourne). Centre: Scallop ceviche. Right: Crab tostados.
A Conquistador’s Adventure. Left: Chicken, lime and avocado soup with fried tortilla. Centre: Big bellied beef empanadas. Right: Stuffed calamari with quinoa and broccoli, pepper and piso sauce.
The MFWF belongs to the other type – it’s a massive, city-wide affair, with countless separately ticketed events across numerous venues over a couple of weeks or more.
Coming out of the MFWF alive, without being left with a depressing bank balance and without having packed on 20 kg is no task to be scoffed at if you love food and new experiences as much as I do. Many Melbournians are aware of the MFWF being on, but aren’t aware of how to get involved or don’t really care enough. In many cases, they probably want to check out some events but have no idea where to begin finding out what’s “good”! Take a look at the festival website and you’ll understand this dilemma. “Spoilt for choice” is an understatement. If you feel overwhelmed by the wealth of information, this guide isn’t for you (just look at the pretty food porn pictures). If you like lots of information but just don’t know how to get organised, keep reading!
A Conquistador’s Adventure (The Exchange Hotel, Port Melbourne). Left: Peruvian warm purple potato and pumpkin salad. Right: Beef asado with green chimichurri
A Conquistador’s Adventure. Left: Pork belly with black eyed peas. Right: Chicken sudado with saffron rice
Even though I’m passionate about food, as with everything that requires planning, I tackle the task methodically and systematically. Let’s go.
Over the past three years, I’ve started the process in early February, although I would actually recommend starting in mid-January and booking some of the signature events even earlier than that. I keep making this same mistake and so many amazing events are sold out by the time I inquire about them.
Left: WTC Urban Picnic (WTC Wharf). Centre: Queensbridge Square and Urban Coffee Farm. Right: A taste flight at the Urban Coffee Farm, on this day featuring Dead Man Espresso
Queuing for a taste flight at the Urban Coffee Farm
First, I set a budget. How much can we responsibly spend over the entire festival period, and how much extra can be scrounged up by saving in other, unimportant areas of spending, how much will we save in groceries considering we are eating out several times per week (and do I really need to buy that pair of shoes this month?)? Once I have a solid number, I move on to the next step.
Hay Fever (The Woods of Windsor). Left: Hay ash butter, yeast free organic sourdough. Right: Hay smoked kingfish, citrus emulsion dressing, pickled celery, avruga caviar.
Hay Fever. Otway Pork Belly, variety of mushrooms, hay and dashi infused consomme.
Hay Fever (The Woods of Windsor). Left: Gippsland duck breast, curried cauliflower, wilted witlof, hay baked sweet potato and heirloom beetroots. Right: Nutella Paddle Pop, pineapple ice, hay infused ice cream.
The MFWF website allows you to search events by date and region. Ideally, now that we have a car (we didn’t during last year’s festival), I want to look at all of the events across Victoria, just in case, and all of the dates, but I start by filtering on Melbourne Metro, as I only really want to be going regional on weekends. I go through the full list of events, open every single one which looks remotely interesting in a separate tab, and after every 10 tabs or so, read the descriptions and decide if it’s interesting enough to go onto the initial shortlist. There are lots of deciding factors and a lot of side-research is often involved – price and location, of course, the “theme” of the event, and much more importantly, the reputation of the restaurant hosting it and/or the chef featured. Host restaurants that have been on my go-to wishlist are also prioritised. Anything that doesn’t make the shortlist has its tab closed immediately, with one exception – I leave open the page for the Restaurant Express lunches. I’ll get to those later.
Restaurant Express: Punch Lane. From left to right: Lime cured kingfish, short grain rice, fig & shiitake salad; Beef carpaccio, eggplant croquettes, shallot & black pepper dressing; King salmon, fennel, prawn and avocado salad, white peach dressing, bisque sauce; Pork loin, basil & eggplant, crisp puff pastry fritters.
The shortlist is a spreadsheet and the fields include the event name, a link to the event page, the price and any optional notes (such as “difficult to get to”). At this first stage, there will probably be time clashes, but that’s ok. Each event gets highlighted a different colour based on how much I want to attend it to help me prioritise clashes later on. The list is sorted by date, as the search results are sorted by date anyway.
Forage & Feast – Mornington Peninsula and Lamaro’s Dining Room (South Melbourne).
Getting to the end of the full list of events for Melbourne Metro may take me a couple of sessions of a couple of hours each. Worth it. I then move on to the regional events, again opening them in tabs, only clicking on weekend dates so I am not tempted to drive 4 hours out of Melbourne on a Tuesday night for something particularly enticing. I slot these into my shortlist spreadsheet into the chronologically appropriates rows.
Forage & Feast – Mornington Peninsula and Lamaro’s Dining Room (South Melbourne). Top left: Cheese tasting at Red Hill Cheese. Top centre: Port Philip Estate. Top right: Wine Tasting. Bottom: Beautiful, fresh produce sold straight from the farm.
Forage & Feast (Lamaro’s Dining Room ). Top right: Confit heirloom beets, toasted grains, St Brandon goat’s curd. Bottom: Two Tastes of Quail – tempura five spice quail, Asian slaw, soy lime caramel & BBQ quail, fried cauliflower salsa, grilled nectarine.
Once I’ve confidently covered every event on the website, whether ruling it out or shortlisting it, I look at my list more carefully. I add up the sum of the event prices, and of course it’s ridiculous. I take a copy of the sheet, and on the duplicated sheet, I write the sum formula at the top of the page. I then started deleting entire event rows from the page – first, out of any scheduling conflicts, I delete the one(s) that appeal less, then the events I can most easily do without experiencing go next – and watch that sum number go down until it’s no more than a teensy bit over the budget I set earlier minus $80 (get to that later).
Smokin’ with Gavin Baker (Little Hunter). Left: Raw watermelon on dashi ice, dandelion, sweetened bone fruit, umami powder. Centre: Smoked Goat’s Milk Custard, pickled walnuts, peas and their shoots, verjus. Right: Chatham Island Blue Code, tobacco and wood smoke, native sea grasses, grapes.
Smokin’ with Gavin Baker (Little Hunter). Left: Wessex Saddleback slow roasted over orange wood, kale, cider vinegar. Right: Smoked Burnt Butter Ice Cream, chargrilled corn mousse, popcorn crumb, fried silk.
Now I start making reservations or buying tickets. Keeping in mind that not everything will still be available and I might have to replace some events with backups, I start with the ones I’m most desperate to attend followed by the ones I can book online without calling anyone up. If I come across an event that’s sold out, I can go back to one from my initial shortlist (remember, I made a copy before I deleted ones) and replace it with something of a similar price range. Because the one I replace it with might not be in the same time slot, I might have to jig the schedule around a bit to suit (some events have multiple sessions on different days, some having those are good for this situation), so it’s all in constant flux until I have everything booked in.
Lights Out (The Bohemian).
“Restaurant Express” is run every year by MFWF in partnership with a number of top restaurants across Melbourne – you get a two course lunch plus a glass of wine, and tea or coffee for $40. Although once upon a time, it was only $30, this is still an excellent deal as some of the participating restaurants are of a very high calibre and often quite expensive usually. It’s a good opportunity to sample the food at these establishments before deciding if it’s worth going back for a more substantial meal. Now, often after the whole booking process, I end up with more left over in my budget than just the initial $80 I set aside – if this is the case, I can choose between whether we want to go to two Restaurant Express meals or three, or whatever depending on what is left. As there are dozens of restaurants participating, I choose where to go based on location (CBD is good for a Friday business lunch while the inner north might be a good weekend option) and days of availability (as some restaurants only offer the express menu on certain days of the week). Once I’ve made my choices, I make the lunch reservations, usually online – restaurants don’t take any payment upfront for Express lunches.
Restaurant Express: PM24. Left: Pan Seared Salmon Fillet, crushed potato, wood sorrel, lobster vinaigrtte. Centre: Rotisserie Sirlon, shallot beef jus, potato gratin. Right: Ora King Salmon Gravlax, cucumber remoulade.