I think it’s fair to say that Melbourne is Australia’s culinary capital. And while a melting pot for different cuisines from all around the world, some of the very best and most readily available food here comes from East Asia: Korea, Japan and China.
There are places all over the city for excellent Asian food but as you’d expect, a lot of it can be found in Melbourne’s Chinatown district, right in the heart of the city. Dating back to the 1850’s it’s grown from a place of Chinese gold rush immigrants to today’s vibrant Asian community full of shops and places to eat. With literally hundreds of eateries to choose from though, it can be hard to know where to go first. Here are my recommendations…
For authentic and delicious ramen head to Hakata Gensuke (168 Russell Street), just outside of Chinatown. You’ll know you’re there when you see the queue. (But…they bring out menu cards for you to order from which the process along.) There are just four ramen on the menu and they are all made with traditional pork bone broths as their base. Try the signature tonkatsu with seaweed, a flavoured egg and spring onion. The flavors are incredible and the homemade noodles will leave you feeling full and satisfied. The restaurant is crowded, busy, noisy and fast paced. You might be sharing a table with others or be seated at the bar. Either way, it’s all part of the experience.
There are so many great places for dumplings in Melbourne, including Teo Dumpling House in South Yarra, Shandong Mama on Bourke Street and DC Dumpling in Box Hill to name a few. But inside Chinatown, Juicy Bao (178 Little Bourke Street) is the best. Like some of the other more traditional places, you’ll see the women in the front window rolling the dough for their bao and dumplings. I love to watch them work, they’re always so fast! This place is reasonably priced and usually at its busiest around lunch time. The best way to sample a bit of everything is to order three types of dumplings (enough for two people). I recommend their signature Pork Xiao Bao, the Steamed Chicken and Prawn Dumplings and the Pork and Prawn Wonton in Peanut, Chilli and Spice Sauce.
There are several Korean restaurants around Chinatown, many specializing in Korean BBQ and dolsot (hot stone) bibimbap. That said, the Oriental Spoon (254 La Trobe Street), around a five minute walk away from Chinatown on La Trobe Street, is the best. Korean food is pretty new to the Australia and some dishes are harder to find than others, but Ddoekbokki (or Toppokki) is one worth searching for. It’s a dish made of rice cakes and fish cakes coated in a sweet, spicy sauce made using gochujang which is synonymous with so many Korean dishes. Gochujang is a fermented condiment or cooking paste made with red chillies, fermented soybeans and other ingredients and it gives any dish a really spicy-savoury, umami flavor. Order the Ddoekbokki alongside a bowl of steamed rice, a pot of bubbling hot kimchi jjigae and a spring onion pancake (pajeon) for a hearty and filling meal. You won’t be disappointed.
You’ll find plenty of places for dessert in Melbourne, from Greek patisseries to D-I-Y frozen yoghurt. However, I urge you to try something from Taiwanese/Hong Kong home style dessert restaurant group Dessert Story (195 Little Bourke Street). There are currently nine of them in Melbourne with several new openings planned for 2017. Head to the Dessert Story on Little Bourke Street in the very heart of Chinatown and enjoy the nighttime hubbub. Sweet potato tofu pudding or black glutinous rice with taro and red bean are interesting, both texturally and flavor-wise but might test some people’s palette and understanding of the word “dessert.” Start with a mango snow ice or sweet balls coated in sugar, crushed peanuts and sesame and go from there.
Finding your way
Melbourne’s Chinatown is easy to find as it’s in the Central Business District, running along Little Bourke Street, Swanston Street and Spring Street. It’s within easy walking distance from both Parliament and Melbourne Central stations and lies within the free tram zone. Be aware that a lot of restaurants do not allow split bills and equally, many do not even accept card. My advice is to take cash!
About the Author
Alex is a British girl who loves to eat and explore the world through food. She’s always loved to travel and has a wanderlust list as long as your arm. She’s been travelling with her boyfriend since September last year, having packed up their life into storage. Currently they’re in Melbourne Australia for a couple of months with Malaysia and Singapore up next. Alex blogs about her foodie travel adventures and works wherever she is in the world as a freelance writer and marketing manager for small businesses. Follow her on Instagram @gingeybtes.
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