Sofia Levin’s five kilometre world food tour
I’ve been self-employed since I graduated from my journalism studies, so when the first lockdown hit last year, little old self-employed me was the first to go. Articles were pulled. Stories were canned. For the first time in my life, my to-do list was completely wiped. But there was a silver lining. The pandemic gave me the opportunity to work full-time on a dream project I’d long put at the bottom of my priority list, Seasoned Traveller.
Seasoned Traveller is a website that celebrates cultural diversity through food. It’s a platform dedicated to my raison d’etre, which is to encourage people to Eat Curiously. I believe it’s the best way to learn about each other and check our biases – so much change can happen around the table. Early last year, while chipping away at the website, I launched a fortnightly email newsletter. It features lesser-known food stories that don’t often make mainstream media and is the closest thing we have to travelling internationally right now.
When the first 5KM radius lockdowns were announced, I saw an opportunity to encourage people to explore overlooked restaurants in their neighbourhood. And so, the 5KM World Food Tour was born. Over eight consecutive weeks, I recommended 80 restaurants in Melbourne’s north, east, south and west where people could travel with their tastebuds. I am still blown away by the messages I receive off the back of those dispatches.
Now that lockdown 5.0 has been extended, it’s time to revisit the 5KM World Food Tour. You can see all 80 restaurants when you sign up to the newsletter at seasonedtraveller.com (you’ll be sent a free eBook, though note that given the times, at least one venue has unfortunately closed down while others are keeping different hours, so always call ahead to be sure), but for this segment I’ve selected a few favourites that remain open during lockdown.
CHILE » Neruda’s
6/210 Albion Street, Brunswick, 03 7001 8344
This cafe is a gateway to Chile. Flags and souvenirs cover every surface, but you’re here for the avocado-topped Chilean hot dog known as a completo, pastel de choclo (a shepherd’s pie made with corn, but better) and a regular special of deep-fried Chilean sushi inundated with Peruvian leche de tigre. More of a visual person? Here’s a video I filmed with the owner, Gus, in between lockdowns last year.
NIGERIA » Adonai Foods
478 Drummond Street, Carlton, 0439 449 402
Located beneath the Drummond Street flats, this is Melbourne’s only dedicated Nigerian restaurant. There are bites like moin moin steamed bean pudding cakes; the national dish of jollof tomato rice and poundo yam (mashed into a smooth, semi-solid paste that’s rolled into a ball). It’s a casual set up with a bain-marie display, but embrace it – everything is made fresh daily.
EGYPT » Mizraim
541 Riversdale Road, Camberwell, 0419 982 984
It’s all about the whole freekeh-stuffed duck at Mizraim, arguably the only truly traditional Egyptian restaurant in Melbourne. You need to order 24 hours in advance if you want to try it, and it was my most exciting lockdown meal last year. The same goes for fat mombar sausages stuffed with meat and rice, hamam (squab) and a filled flatbread called feteer, which people travel from Ballarat and Bendigo to Camberwell for. Owner Nick Nicola will cook just about anything you request with advance warning, otherwise swing by for scrambled egg and beef basturma (seasoned, air-dried beef), laffa bread wrapped around kebabs, mixed grilled meats, dips and fresh salads. Let me know when you figure out how to pronounce kaware3, a slow-cooked stew made with gelatinous cow’s foot.
MALAYSIA » Colonial Coffee Cafe
Westfield Doncaster, 619 Doncaster Road, Doncaster, 0401 862 638
This Malaysian grab-and-go cafe inside Colonial Fresh supermarket in Westfield Doncaster offers incredibly affordable dishes on rotation, including banana leaf-wrapped nasi lemak bungkus (try one with petai stink bean and prawn), Nyonya-style filled sticky rice dumplings in bamboo leaf, nasi goreng kampung (fried chicken with ikan bilis and a hard-boiled egg), assam laksa, mee rebus, kueh desserts and so many more. Everything is under $10 with many dishes around $6. There are a few of these scattered around the place, including a brand new one in Balwyn and others in Bentleigh, The Glen, Blackburn, Point Cook, KFL Asian Supermarkets in Wantirna, Forest Hill and Doncaster East and more!
COLOMBIA » Berbeo Bros
602 City Road, South Melbourne, 0413 595 851
Aside from Tolimense-style round tamales, everything on the menu here is $14 or less when you order direct. The dishes are a combination of street food and grandma Berbeo’s recipes. Order ceviche, empanadas, arepas and my personal favourite, perro caliente, a Colombian hot dog finished with crushed potato crisps, pineapple sauce and quail eggs. The frozen products here are brilliant for stocking up, and they ship Australia-wide. I have the empanadas and morcilla on hand at all times. You can also try your hand at traditional hot chocolate with melty cheese (I put together a video on how to make a Colombian breakfast last lockdown. Check out the name of the chocolate, how unfortunate!).
INDONESIA » Garam Merica
71 Queens Road, Albert Park, 03 8529 5246
Owner Corina Tan is originally from Tengal in Central Java, so you’ll find a lot of dishes on her menu that taste like home. During the 2020 lockdowns she introduced Garam Merica’s now-signature dish, nasi bungkus, where customers pick two meat and two vegetable dishes wrapped with fragrant rice in banana leaf. Given you can choose from some two-dozen options – including beef rendang, west Sumatran-style grilled chicken and baby squid in ink – it’s more like a signature feast. Rock up to the shop and pick what you like the look of, pre-order via WhatsApp (0488586486) or head to doodel.com.au for weekly delivery.
IRAN » Cafe Sunshine & SalamaTea Restaurant
21 Dickson Street, Sunshine, 0401 034 959, Sunshine
Chef Hamed Allahyari arrived in Melbourne from Tehran via Indonesia and a five-month stint in a detention centre. He started SalamaTea, a social enterprise, to give people seeking asylum the foot in the door he fought tooth and nail to get himself. His story is inspiring (you can watch an interview here), but his food is also a doorway to vibrant Persian flavours: fesenjun (chicken and walnut stew), ghormeh sabzi (lamb stew made with dried lime and kidney beans) and his signature dadami herbed labne.
VIETNAM » Bun Cha Co Dao
83 Nicholson Street, Footscray, 03 9995 4936
Look no further for the best bun cha in Melbourne, a northern Vietnamese dish with grilled, juicy pork served with flaky spring rolls, vermicelli noodles, lots of Asian herbs and nuoc cham dipping sauce. Bun Cha Co Dao also has traditional noodle soups (including one with oc, or snails), stewed pork and quail eggs with glutinous rice and more.
Are these suggestions outside your 5KM zone?
If you’re based in or near the CBD, I’ve written a list of eight venues offering takeaway and delivery within The City of Melbourne, as well as a list of my favourite Thai restaurants. And if you’re further out than what the 80 Lesser-Known Restaurant Guide covers, think of a country you’ve always wanted to visit or love dearly, and then Google that cuisine + “near me” – you’re bound to find something.