Good Eats in Australia

VICTORIA, AUSTRALIA — Traveling opens your eyes, as well as your taste buds.

My recent week-long trip to Australia, sponsored by Boundary Bend Ltd., was no exception.

Both in Melbourne and throughout the outlying countryside of the state of Victoria, there were so many wonderful new ingredients and dishes to revel in. Here are some of the highlights:

Prahran Market:

I could have stayed for hours meandering through the stalls at the famous Prahran Market, Australia’s oldest continuously running central marketplace. The covered marketplace, teeming with produce, seafood, fresh pasta, flower, soap and olive oil vendors, originated in 1864 at a smaller locale in Melbourne, and moved to its present location in 1881.

If there weren’t those pesky agriculture and customs laws (for good reason, of course), I would have brought back to the Bay Area armloads of the mesmerizing finger limes (above and below photos). The fragrance alone is intoxicating — beautiful enough to be a perfume that you’d want to dab on all the time. It smells of kaffir lime, with a bright floral, refreshing and very complex nose.

What’s really fascinating, though, is that this lime doesn’t have much juice at all. Instead, give one a squeeze and out will come these little globules that look for all the world like caviar. Damian Pike, a wild mushroom specialist, whose stand was selling these, explained that the fruit can be used in marmalade and all manner of dishes. One taste of the chewy globules that burst with tangy delight and I was dreaming of them atop sashimi.

Pike’s stand also sold fresh pepper berries, which I had never seen before, having only been used to the dried variety that fills my pepper grinder at home.

The tiny berries grow in clusters like grapes. They’re stronger tasting when fresh, and juicy, with a pleasant oiliness. You’re hit with a blast of heat when you first bite one, but it soon dissipates. They’re great as garnishes, especially in meat dishes, Pike said.

Yarra Valley Dairy:

When you want handmade farmhouse cheeses in this region, you head to the charming Yarra Valley Dairy about an hour outside of Melbourne, which has been churning out incredible Persian Fetta (note the spelling with the extra ‘”t”), chevre, and Camembert-style cheeses since 1995.

About 150 tons of cheese are made by hand here annually. Although the goat’s milk is purchased from another dairy, the cow’s milk comes from a herd of 140 that live on the grounds.

We got a chance to taste some of these fine cheeses, including an ash-rubbed, pyramid-shaped fetta made with goat’s milk and lovely fresh cow’s milk curds flavored with garlic and chives.

My favorite was the justly famous Persian Fetta, made with milk only a day old from cows, and marinated in extra virgin olive oil, thyme and garlic. It had a wake-me-up fresh milky flavor that was made only more wonderful by the rich olive oil and heady herbs. I was relieved to hear that this cheese is available at Whole Foods in the United States, as it is absolutely addicting spread on some artisan bread.

Restaurants:

Far too many wonderful bites to recount, but definitely a highlight was the vine-wrapped King George whiting with spicy chorizo, green olive, chilies and smoky, sweet charred corn at the Healesville Hotel Dining Room in Healesville, an hour northeast of Melbourne in the Yarra Valley.

The pretty and intimate restaurant, inside a restored 1910 building, received one coveted chef’s hat (akin to the Michelin stars system of Australia) in the 2009 Age Good Food Guide awards.

King George whitings come from off the southern coast of Australia. The fish, with an elongated shape, constitutes one of  southern Australia’s most important commercial fisheries. With its supremely silky, delicate and almost sweet flesh, it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular choice among diners.

We also dined at the two-hat Stefano’s in Mildura, on the banks of the Murray River.

Chef-Owner Stefano de Pieri was born in Italy, just outside of Venice, and immigrated to Australia in 1974. His restaurant is reason alone that so many travel to Mildura.

It serves a set five-course dinner each night, which is served family-style. The night we were there, that included cured Tasmanian trout, Wagyu beef cheeks with mashed potatoes, South Australian quail stuffed with mushrooms and prosciutto, and the most dreamy ricotta gnocchi in a Gorgonzola sauce with orange zest.

Besides the restaurant, de Pieri also owns a cafe bakery with combination dining room/art gallery, which features works from local artists.

Our last dinner of the trip was at the two-hat Pearl, where the executive chef is Geoff Lindsay, who accompanied our small group of food journalists on one leg of our trip.

Modern and sleek, Pearl serves modern Australian cuisine that has a lot of Asian touches. Our dinner included minced quail lettuce cups, roast duck curry with a crispy fried egg, and an exquisite slab of yellowfin tuna, seared on only one side, then served with sunflower shoots, galangal, kaffir lime and pickled young coconut.

On the Banks of the Murray River:

One of the most special meals we had the pleasure of experiencing started with a boat ride in a “tinny,” small,  motorized metal boats and ended with an outdoor picnic on the banks of the river, lined with soaring red gum (eucalyptus) trees.

Our hosts from Boundary Bend had set up a large picnic table with wine and homemade salami, as a couple of their friends prepared a most amazing feast cooked over a fire in the ground.

On a warm, bright afternoon, we kicked back with local yabbies, sizable freshwater Australian crayfish (after getting a quick lesson on how to crack them open).

Next came a hearty, soul-satisfying lamb shank stew dished up from a huge cast-iron pot that had been cooking for hours.

Much like the entire trip itself, it was a moment to savor that I wished would never end. If only.

More: Australia’s Olive Oil Industry

More: Olive Oil & Sherry Pound Cake

More: Two Australian Wineries

More: Two Famous Australian Cookies

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Date: Tuesday, 20. July 2010 5:28
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Cheese, Chefs, Fruit, General, Restaurants, Seafood, Travel Adventures

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40 comments

  1. 1

    What a fabulous week of eats and you had CRAYFISH! Yummmmmm!

  2. 2

    What a fabulous land with great produces!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. 3

    I am totally intrigued by those finger limes! I wish we could get them here!

  4. 4

    Gorgeous as always. I have to stop saying how jealous I am because I am starting to sound like a broken record, but it’s a well deserved adventure for all the hard work you do. I think it would be so hard though to discover so many great treasures and not bring them back. Those finger limes look especially interesting as Barbara says.

  5. 5

    Wow, that finger lime is so interesting looking. I’ve never seen one before.

    I’m gonna go check out that Persian Fetta at the Whole Foods!

    I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. *sigh* Someday. :)

  6. 6

    Wow, looks like you packed in a lot for a week. I’m dying to see Melbourne because of all the food stuff. That finger lime almost looks like fish roe on sushi! And the crayfish looks just like crawdads, except more orange. What a fun mix of foodie fun!

  7. 7

    oh my, I really want to try that finger lime!

  8. 8

    Wow, that market especially sounds amazing! I’d really like a finger lime, please, and some of that Persian feta.

  9. 9

    It’s really too bad you didn’t smuggle a few finger limes for us to taste. ;)

  10. 10

    Wonderful food centric trip. I love how you describe the finger lime like a perfume. Murray River looks beautiful.

  11. 11

    Totally love the look of that aussie food. The market at Prahan sounds and looks amazing. I only wish I had the opportunity to there last year when I visited australia on a wine tasting adventure.

  12. 12

    I feel like I was along for the ride! Great post!

  13. 13

    What an awesome post! You’ve really sold Australia to me. And my word of the day is now globule and I’m going to try to use it in a sentence tonight. I love it!

  14. 14

    Carolyn,
    I have been enjoying reading about your adventure to Australia. I’m so much closer to it now and yet, I’ve not been. Thank you for taking us along for the ride. What a great experience. So glad you got to do this. Next time, swing by Malaysia while you’re in this part of the world. We would show you around here too!

  15. 15

    What a trip! Those finger limes look pretty fabulous.

  16. 16

    omg! this is truly awesome, a dprecious trip that would love to follow! lovely, such an eye opener!

  17. 17

    I’ve always wanted to go to Australia and now after reading about your trip, I want to dine my way across the country.

  18. 18

    Annie: If only I had had more time, I would have loved to have lingered to see a lot more in that part of the world. Have yet to make it to Malaysia. But like Australia for me, there is always a first time for everything. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to discover all the wonderful things there that I enjoy reading about on your blog.

  19. 19

    Oh Carolyn, great to see you in Australia. I do have an Australian business trip which I have been postponing for ages… fascinating finger limes! I have to make sure I load up on some of those!

  20. 20

    Finger limes and pepper berries both sound so interesting!! I can’t wait for them to be available in the States someday.
    Your thoughts on sushi is making me drool! :D

  21. 21

    I’ve been meaning to figure out a way to get my grubby hands on finger limes here in the states. Sadly, I still haven’t found anyway to get them :( Your week sounds so delicious! Just looking at those pictures makes me hungry >w<

  22. 22

    Those lime sacs …yes….looks like caviar – molecular-gastronomy in the making.What a wonderful trip. When I was in Melbourne and Tasmania for vacation, I always wish it never ends….

  23. 23

    I’d love to try that finger lime, ive haven’t seen those around before

  24. 24

    I love Prahran market too, esp homeware store called The Essential Ingredient. Cooks’ heaven!

  25. 25

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CarolynJung, Bridal Rehab. Bridal Rehab said: This lime looks interesting: http://www.foodgal.com/2010/07/good-eats-in-australia/ [...]

  26. 26

    Great post Carolyn! I love reading about what you think of our country ;) And finger limes are just rather brilliant aren’t they!

  27. 27

    Charmaine: I did go to the Essential Ingredient. Sort of like the Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table of Melbourne. Great gourmet foods and cooking gadgets.

  28. 28

    good eats indeed! that lime is awesome.

  29. 29

    What a trip! I’ve seent hose finger limes before!!!!!!!!!! Next time I’ll mke sure I buy them.

  30. 30

    Those limes are sooo cool! I love be introduced to new fruit! Thanks!

  31. 31

    I saw those limes on Tastespotting and was floored. They are so visually appealing, I just want to eat all the little caviar-esque bubbles!

  32. 32

    Wow. Just wow. What a wonderful experience.

  33. 33

    great images and it sounds like an unforgettable trip! now you have me craving timtams tho…

  34. 34

    What an awesome trip and thanks for showing us some of the sites and foods. I want to try to recreate that delicious sounding marinade for the feta. I can only imagine that on top of a crusty loaf.

  35. 35

    Hi Carolyn – I’m catching up on your latest entries. I recognized the finger limes from my trip to the Sunset celebration weekend. Four Winds nursery (based in California) supply finger lime trees and one of their gurus was talking about all the interesting citrus that they supply. I know OSH retails 4 winds trees, but you can also order directly from the 4 winds website.
    http://www.fourwindsgrowers.com/variety_list.html#exotic
    In our climate I don’t think you’d have any problem raising one, and I’ll bet you could even do it in a pot….!

  36. 36

    Rena:Oooh, you have me tempted now. I must figure out if my teeny yard has room for another tree. I’d love to try growing a finger lime one!

  37. 37

    Woooww!! How can I recreate your Boundary Bend / Murray River experience?!
    I’m going to Australia in a week and I want a trip planned ALL around food…! I think I need to add this on there…and Adelaide..are there any other places in Aussie that I must hit for culinary delights? :)

  38. 38

    [...] items in his CSA boxes that he grows primarily for chefs, such as edible chrysanthemum and amazing finger limes. Because he operates a nursery, he sometimes includes seedlings as well, such as mustard greens [...]

  39. 39

    [...] Bazirgan is partial to Island Creek oysters from his home state and they showed up on the half shell, drizzled with sweet, salty, complex 25-year aged soy sauce and little pearls of finger lime. [...]

  40. 40

    [...] And: Finger Limes [...]

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