Steppin’ Out In Sunshine

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MaDE in Brimbank is a dance and music bash being held in the car park adjacent to Classic Curry and in which we almost always park when making one of our frequent Sunshine visits.

Now, dance is not really my thing, but I end up being very glad I make the effort.

This is another wonderful westie community event.

I spend quite a few hours enjoying it all – from an hour so after proceedings commence, but departing way before the party winds down.

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While on hand I catch all sorts of dancing and other entertainment, ranging from junior hip-hoppers to traditional styles from Africa and Europe.

And there are food trucks.

Actually, there are a LOT of food trucks – they’re so thick on the ground, I wonder how anyone is going to make a buck. Maybe things pick up after I split.

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Given the plethora of food rucks on hand, it is no surprise I bump into erudite and much-travelled foodie Nat Stockley.

Nor is it any surprise, given her “thing” for dance, food and, more recently, food trucks themselves, that I likewise stumble across the Urban Ma and other members of the wonderful family with which only days earlier I had been utterly privileged to participate in an amazing Pinoy family feast.

Wonderful folks!

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From Amy at Trailer Made Food, I secure a serve of fried potatoes with tomato sauce and Turkish sausage ($10).

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It’s a lovely thing!

The spuds are crisp and salty, the sauce is intense and the sausage just right.

But I’m still hungry.

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So I hit the Souvlaki Cart – and hit souvlaki heaven.

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My $10 souvlaki is wrapped in everyone’s fave Greek-style pita bread.

Internally, the lambs cubes are really, really top class and a cut way above the meat found your average takeaway souvlaki.

The only quibble I would have is that the yogurt/cucumber combo could’ve benefited from quite a bit more garlic.

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Coasting in Yarraville

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Friendly Neighbours Family Day, Beaton Reserve, Yarraville

We know some of our neighbours, one of them very well.

But, like everyone else, we could do better.

So we are happy to embrace the Friendly Neighbours Program, the leaflet of which arrived in our letterbox this week.

Even better, we are happy to check out the local festival being thrown in that spirit at our local park, which we mostly use for one of our favourite past-times.

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We can’t recall there ever being a public event in “our” park before, but we certainly hope this one becomes a regular.

Bennie remarks as we arrive that it’s the most laid-back fest we’ve ever attended – and we’ve been to heaps.

But laid-back has its charms, for sure.

We like the stalls – and we like even more that the stallholders have been charged no fee!

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I especially like talking to Karen, who makes all her hats and caps from recycled materials.

My search for a winter hat is on, but I don’t find quite the right one among her on-hand range.

But I have her details (karenfalting@gmail.com) should I decide a custom-made number is the answer.

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There’s ukeleles …

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… line-dancing …

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… and bluegrass with crowd-sourced percussion.

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We eye food trucks including Dos Diablos and Beatbox Kitchen somewhat warily – after all, our weekend eating-out budget is pretty much shot.

So we are profoundly grateful to the nice folks from the Ethiopian Youth & Parents Association who are offering, at no cost, snacks that do us just right.

They include injera rolled up like roti rolls and including dal, a sort-of bolognese and a spicy cheese-and-green number – all absolutely delicious!

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Rickshaw Run 2014

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A whole weekend fuelled by Vietnamese iced coffee, freshly-squeezed sugarcane juice and love …

Last year, I volunteered for a couple of shifts pulling a rickshaws, Bennie joining me for one of them.

This year, we are up for way, way more.

As much as we can get, in fact.

Why?

Well, our continuing adventures with Consider The Sauce and projects such as The Westies: Dishes of Distinction and the CTS Feasts are only strengthening our commitment to and love for the west, its food and its people.

As well, this year the Rickshaw Run is being co-ordinated by our great pal and partner in the Westies, Lauren Wambach of Footscray Food Blog.

We’ve been eagerly anticipating this night and the days ahead for many weeks.

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Getting set for the first night.

Several months before RR14, Lauren had suggested I would be perfectly suited for the role of meeter-and-greeter at our guests’ first stop – D&K Live Fish for fresh oysters.

And so it was agreed.

Turning up at about 5pm after my regular (paying) gig, I take in the scene and then get busy familiarising myself with my job.

Lemons, napkins, time schedule, touching base with David of D&K, oysters … tick, tick, tick, tick tick!

Am I nervous?

Only a little – the simple truth is can’t wait to get into it.

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Maribyrnong mayor Grant Miles gives rickshaw pointers on opening night.

And then it’s on!

I handle my first group, and then another, and then another – and so the night unfolds sweetly and with intense pleasure.

I find I am getting a real kick out of sending our guests on their way with smiles all round.

I develop a spiel that takes in the western suburbs, their many marvels and their incredible food, with plugs for the Westies awards as I go.

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My first group at D&K make short work of their oysters.

I soon discover that in each group of eight, there are some who oyster and some who don’t.

I let them sort it out for themselves.

A week or so before the run, Lauren had tipped me that a group from my NZ hometown of Dunedin would be passing my way.

But that is meant to be on Sunday arvo.

So I am utterly gobsmacked by what happens halfway through Friday night.

There I am, settling into my “welcome to the Rickshaw Run” groove and happily entertaining a wonderful group of gorgeous gals.

Then, with the conversation being focused on oysters, one of them asks me: “Have you ever had Bluff oysters?”

Here’s how the conversation unfolds:

Me: “I’m Dunedin born and bred – of course I’ve had Bluff oysters!”

She: “So are we!”

Me: “What?!”

She: “We’re all from Dunedin!”

Blimey!

Then unfolds a fabulous conversation and gales of laughter.

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From the left, Pip Gardner, Nicole Hesson, Maureen Williams, Sheryl McCammon, Barbara Anderson, Kenny, Alison Glendining and Karen Dalzell.

All of these women are about the same age as me, and the degree of separation between them and myself in terms of connections between friends, family and business is way below six degrees.

Here’s more conversation with the same chick, Barbara, who asked me about Bluff oysters:

Barbara: “So King’s High School – did you know Geoff Anderson?”

Kenny: “Yep – he was pretty much in the same class as me all through high school. His old man was deputy principal. He was a cranky old bugger!”

Barbara: “I married his son!”

Cue more uproarious laughter …

(Confession: My somewhat jaundiced memory of my high school years paints all the King’s High School staff – including those who were young and female – as “cranky old buggers”!)

Thank you, beautiful Dunedinites – I loved meeting you. Where were you in my teenage years?

In the meantime, my newly teenaged son has been having a ball and making himself useful at the same time.

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He’s bonded with Duncan at Toh’s Bakery and is stepping right up in terms of serving the Rickhshaw Run guests banh khot as they listen to the fabulous drummers of Wadaiko Rinko Noriko Tadano.

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As Friday night winds down, we head to Sen for a feed with our similarly ecstatic fellow volunteers.

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Then it’s home for some well-deserved sleep before arising and doing it all over again.

Fronting on Friday, I had been tired from a hard day’s work and wondering how I was going to get through the Rickshaw Run night.

By the end of it, I’m outrageously high on natural love juices.

I struggle to bed down for the night – and I’m not alone.

Lauren texts me in the morning: “I took ages to go to sleep!”

I get there eventually, despite the racket emanating from our next door neighbours’ party and their hideous taste in music.

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It’s fabulous to return to the scene on Saturday morning and watch our wonderful event unfold as the Saturday Footscray street similarly comes to life.

I happily swing into action at the “oyster bar”.

By this time, I am embellishing my spiel with tales of events and people who have already passed my way.

As well, depending on the group, I am finding there is sometimes a lot of interest in food blogging, how it works and my own personal journey.

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Adding to the fun and colour are periodic episodes involving some Footscray locals who think they know a good thing when they see it.

On several occasions I am obliged to explain that, no, the oysters are not for general public consumption and are actually part of a paid, ticketed event!

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Rickshaw passengers Tony and Rosa are offered sweet treats from their own business!

With the lunch rush over, I am able to wander around a bit and take in the greater Rickshaw Run picture.

For a lucky few groups on Saturday afternoon, their journey includes the impromptu generosity of canoli, beignet and biscotti from Cavallaro’s.

Wonderful!

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Then it’s time for us to go on our own Rickshaw Run.

I had been somewhat reluctant about this, seeing as both of us have been having such a swell time in our volunteer roles.

But we’re food bloggers, too, and duty calls … and the truth is we are looking forward to a yummy break and seeing life from the other side of the rickshaw.

We have a real nice time with Kylie, Gee, Sean, Paula, Jenni and Temple.

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We are delighted to be hauled around by our good friend Jane.

As with all other Rickshaw Run punters, our adventure includes making our own rice paper rolls at Sen and hu tieu soup noodles at Phong Dinh.

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As the day’s oyster action winds down, Lauren summons me to Sapa Hills for the dinner shift.

There’s a bottleneck of rickshaws happening.

Sapa Hills is mad busy so there is only one table available for Rickshaw Run purposes.

A suitably assertive marshal is required.

To my surprise, I find I enjoy this role, too!

It’s simple – explain to the guests what the situation is and that they have precisely 20 minutes from the time they are seated to enjoy their bun cha ha noi, charcoal grilled pork with vermicelli and herbs.

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After I’ve done my best to make everyone involved in the flow of what is, after all, a glorified progressive dinner, things move along nicely.

Long and his crew do their bit by making sure the food is on the table pretty much as soon as their guests are seated.

There is one group, though, that is uncomfortable with being given instructions and perhaps even with the whole Rickshaw Run arrangement.

One member of this group gives me a “death stare” of epic proportions.

That’s OK, lady – I love you, too!

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Out on the street and during this logjam, I witness a truly heartwarming scene.

As four rickshaws and their passengers await their tasty time in Sapa Hills, I see all eight guests deeply engaged in conversation with their haulers, who include our friend Georgia.

No way could this be defined as “killing time”!

We give the volunteer meal session at Sen a miss and head for home once more, tired but very, very happy.

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Sunday dawns beautiful, sunny and just right for a whole lot more of the same.

Today the rickshaw haulers are to include a beefy, friendly bunch from the Footscray Rugby Union Club.

At the “oyster bar”, I have long since done away with asking people their names. But I do persist with finding out from whence does every individual customer come.

They come from all over Melbourne – and in terms of the west, I am surprised how many emanate from West Footscray and Williamstown.

They come from all over, actually. From New Zealand, of course, and quite a few from Britain.

But it is only with my second last group that I meet my first North Americans – and even they’re Aussie residents.

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Halfway through our final day, I find my own passion and enthusiasm completely unflagging.

But Bennie is starting to feel a little jaded and bored.

So I am grateful to Lauren’s hubby, Paul, for whipping him away for a few hours to be in another place with other faces.

Hot food at the Croatian Club, if you don’t mind!

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My expected post-oyster Sapa Hills duties fall through on account of there being another ultra-keen volunteer raring to go.

And it’s too early to wait around to enjoy the camaraderie of the Sen volunteer shebang.

So it’s over for us.

Damn.

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A week or so before Rickshaw Run 2014, I became involved in some undignified dickering over the placement of the CTS logo relative to others on the official event T-shirt.

The matter was easily resolved.

But I later reflected on the episode with dismay, horror and revulsion.

It was a glimpse of the sort of ego-driven ambition that sometimes made monsters of myself and my colleagues in our big-time newspaper days.

I don’t want to go down that road again.

So I am profoundly grateful to the Rickshaw Run and all who sailed upon her for a timely reminder of what it should be all about.

I loved every single minute of it and enjoyed meeting with and talking to so many wonderful people from all over the west, Melbourne, Australia and the world.

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The photographs below constitute by far the biggest ever pic spread attempted on Consider The Sauce.

They are published in chronological order as our one night and two days of the run unfolded.

As I actually had a job to do and there were simply so many people and events going on all the time, I unhappily dispensed with the idea of taking names for captions.

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This Sapa Hills vegetarian alternative – eggplant done in the same way as is frequently accorded chicken ribs and calamari – was the best dish of the weekend for me!

Meeting Lorisse

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Dandenong World Fare, Dandenong Market

It’s all a bit confusing.

We’ve been Facebook friends for a while, hooking up there on the basis of our numerous friends and former colleagues.

We’ve had some fun chat and even a few more reflective and personal moments through messages.

I certainly didn’t have Lorisse – or anyone else for that matter – in mind when I posted about not getting stuck in a rut.

But several weeks back, I was gazing rather absentmindedly at my computer screen and Facebook, when I thought: “Now that’s someone I want to meet!”

I mean, what’s not to love – big heart, whacky sense of humor, Stephen King fan, ardent feminist and sports nut without out being humourlessly obsessive about either, fully paid-up member of the sub-editor sub-clan of the journalist fraternity …

Why leave it to chance and some possible future gathering of former staffers of the Sunday Herald Sun, where Lorisse worked for about four years starting – it seems – almost immediately after my own departure?

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My inquiry about meeting up for dinner was greeted with an unequivocal “Yes!” … but a nasty virus intervened and some rescheduling was done.

And then came the big announcement – Lorisse is departing in a matter of weeks for a gig in Abu Dhabi.

So … am I meeting a new friend or bidding farewell to an old one?

It feels like something of both, which seems about right.

Picking up my pal at her Frankston pad, we hit the road for the Dandenong World Fare and proceed to have a swell time – alternatively gobbing some pretty good food and yabbering away about our numerous mutual interests, as well as talking rather briefly with fabulous foodie Nat Stockley.

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event is not as big and sprawling as I have been expecting.

But the stalls, numbering about 50 all up I reckon, are well laid out; getting around is easy and the crowd not too overwhelming.

Overall, the food available is quite diverse, seems of uniformly high quality and is all very affordable.

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We start with some crunchy bhel puri that could’ve been a bit more tangy.

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Then it’s on to some pretty good grilled chicken with salad from the Nepalese stall. The mildish chilli sauce is a winner and we wish there was more of it.

Despite the diversity, the one thing we are having difficulty spying is something spicy, something with a real heat hit.

So after a few more bits and pieces, we finish on a high note with Korean popcorn chicken from the Ghost Kitchen crew.

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It’s a true cliche – this is how KFC should be: Tender, slightly peppery, delicious.

The chilli sauce is what we’ve been craving – it’s homemade, hot and divine

We look at the dab they’ve supplied, we look at each other … and then I return to the Ghost Kitchen stall to have ALL our chook bits smothered in the fiery elixir.

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Yarraville Festival 2014

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We’re a bit ho-hum about this year’s Yarraville Festival.

Well actually, I am.

Bennie’s pumped.

So it’s a good thing I made him knuckle down yesterday by spending a couple of hours on his first high school project. Said project is going to take several more hours today for it to be completed to our mutual satisfaction.

While he’s been doing that, I’ve been doing blog work (with clothes) and house work (without).

By the time we’re just about ready to roll – going our separate ways to the festival for the first time – the pace outside our home has quickened considerably.

The parking in our street is gone and people are walking to the festival from blocks away.

Sauntering the two blocks to the festival is always a strange sensation.

Turn a corner and – blam! – I’m straight into the intensity of crowds, stalls, music, food aromas and, as always, dogs of all shapes and sizes.

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Perhaps because this the first festival to be held on a Sunday – normally a relatively quiet day in the village – this year’s fest seems even more crowded, even more thronged with people and eats commerce.

The food stalls are doing such hot trade that there are queues everywhere.

So I hit a snag – two of them actually.

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The first comes from a stall under the jurisdiction of the Maribyrnong Swifts Football Club – and it’s perfect in its simplicity.

A superb pork sausage – sourced, I am told, from Footscray Market – on a slice of very good white bread has me sighing with pleasure.

It’s the best food I’ve enjoyed at any Yarraville Festival in any year.

Further along Anderson St, in the mad car park, I hit snag No.2.

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This lamb number ($7) comes from Snagga’s Healthy Sausages and is also perfection – a loosely-filled sausage with top-class greenery.

At this point I run into my good pals Pastor Cecil and his wife Jane.

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I hang with them for about half and hour, enjoying some lively conversation that includes the saucy tale of their courtship and eventual marriage in Bundaberg.

And just for the record, I record once more the fact that my favourite clergyman has once again been seen out and about and in public wearing sandals with red socks.

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Moving on, I hook up with three new friends, two of whom happen to be of the junior human variety.

So it’s a pleasure to spend my remaining festival time in their company, experiencing second-hand the day through young eyes.

This includes a thrilling merry-go-round and faint-painting …

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… and even a remarkably placid but assuredly razor-toothed ferret.

Another notable feature of living so close to the village – I can hear the festival’s last hurrah of amplified music as I complete this post.

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Ace Thai noodles

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Sukhothai noodles by Soi 38, Indonesian Street Festival, Victoria Market

The Indonesian Street Festival is a typically, happily intense Melbourne multicultural celebration.

There are heaps of stalls and heaps of people.

We see some unusual dishes and we see many on which we could for sure take a punt.

But we maintain our focus.

We are here, primarily, to try out the offerings of the second public appearance by the Soi 38 team of Andy from the Thai-centric blog Krapow.

We were delighted with the boat noodles we had in North Melbourne and are eager for a second helping.

This time out, Andy and his crew are cooking up sukothai noodles.

Andy’s description runs thusly: “A light pork and garlic flavoured broth, various proteins including fish balls, sliced pork, pork balls and dried shrimp served over sen lek rice noodles and topped with sliced snake beans, fried pork crackling and crushed peanuts.”

(For a more detailed description of this dish and its background, see the Krapow post here.)

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The Soi 38 team members are going flat out, as are those of every other stall.

But our noodles are not a bain marie job – they’re made to order for all customers.

So we’re happy to pay, take our numbers and scout out a couple of hard-to-find seats.

It’s all worth the wait and jostling – and then some.

We both go the soup option instead of the dry variety (both $8).

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The broth is tangy, yet at first, such are the quantities of the other ingredients, it seems to act more as a sauce than a soup.

But as we consume the contents of our bowls, the dish takes on a more soupy persona.

The flavours become more intense; so does the spiciness.

We are both very happy chappies.

We sincerely suggest you keep track of Soi 38 through Krapow or its Facebook page – they’re offering a delicious, very affordable, friendly and fun way to enjoy Thai recipes and dishes you are highly unlikely to see listed at your local or favourite Thai joint.

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Brimbank Central Multicultural Festival

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Brimbank Central Multicultural Festival, Errington Reserve, St Albans

While there was some firmness about how and what Consider The Sauce would be when it started, it was also always going to be the case that it would evolve.

One of the really neat things that have become a feature – and one Bennie and I really enjoy – is getting out and about to various festivals and community events.

This has led to a regular routine of keeping tabs on social media, the suburban press (on the very odd occasion when it gets delivered) and other sources for info about forthcoming events.

Inevitably, of course, some slip between the gaps.

So we were delighted to get hipped to this lovely festival by another blogger who also keeps pretty good tabs on these sorts of things, Eve from Conversation With Jenny.

We met Eve while on rickshaw duty and we’re happy to enjoy her company again for this Sunday outing.

After walking from Yarraville to Footscray, where we’d wisely left our car after the previous night’s festivities, we hook up with Eve and tootle on up Ballarat Rd.

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The festival takes up a whole lot more space than any of us have been expecting, although much of that is taken up by your regular sideshow alleys attractions and rides.

The stalls – mostly food, but including others such a funeral director from whose staff we get show bags – are arrayed along a strip about 100 metres long.

The food offerings feature some that you’d normally expect to see at such a bash, but there are a few pleasant surprises as well.

Bennie and Eve are both lusting after those Dutch-style mini-pancakes, so off they go.

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He gets his from a regular-looking fast-food caravan establishment; she gets hers from the faux castle outlet.

Seems like a tie to me, though Bennie claims bragging rights in terms of quantity.

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I go for a serve of fish tikka – it’s mildly spiced, delicate and nice.

Next up for me is a $10 Polish platter from the folks from Eastern Bloc Catering.

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This is a delight … three pierogi stuffed with potato, cheese and onion, and topped with crumbled bacon and sour cream. I’m told the cheese is “farmhouse first hanging”.

Cabbage that looks like it may be sauerkraut but isn’t; it’s more of a slaw, lightly pickled and including both red and white cabbage.

Slices of Polish sausage topped with dill pickle and a mix of beetroot and horseradish.

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Eve shouts Bennie one of those potato tornado thingies.

He opts for the salt and vinegar version.

Looks pretty much like potato cake on a stick to me.

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Eve snags a small bucket of Taiwanese popcorn chicken but us boys to get to try it, too.

It’s fresh, hot and wonderful … not to mention stupendously healthy.

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That’s about it for us in terms of food, though I do wrap things up with a serve of chewy loukaomades and an excellent cafe latte.

We take in the sights and sounds a while more before heading home, beating the afternoon downpour and leaving the festival to roll on well into the night.

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What a weekend in the west!

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Gosh, I wish had time to check out – and taste – all these events!

As it is, I reckon two out of the many may be where it’s at.

The inaugural Blacksmiths Festival will be held today and tomorrow at 4 Maribyrnong St, Footscray, right on the river immediately below the Footscray City Arts Centre.

They promise “high-quality food and beverage traders including Wagners Fine Foods (German-style sausages), local traders (Happy River Café) and traditional Belgian foods such as waffles Belgian Beer/Wine (Belgian Club and the Belgian Beer Café)”.

The Altona Beach Festival will be held today from 10am-8.30pm (fireworks at 8.30pm).

The Weerama Festival will take place in Werribee today and tomorrow.

The Sunshine Festival is on today until 6pm at Hampshire Road.

Also on today, from 11am to 2pm, is Taste of Union Road, which will see the food-laden Ascot Vale precinct’s many flavour outlets strutting their stuff.

Expect to see good stuff from the likes of Safari, Crumbs Organic Bakehouse and Mister Nice Guy’s Bake Shop.

The Harmony Feast will be held tomorrow at Maidstone Community Centre, 21 Yardley Street, from noon to 3pm.

This promises “the flavours of the world”.

Yours truly attended this free event in 2011 and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Finally, the Lara Food and Wine Festival will be held tomorrow from 10am-4pm at Pirra Homestead.

I think this may have become a “gold coin donation” event, but in any case it’s a beaut, intimate festival with great – and affordable – stalls.

I certainly enjoyed myself there last year!

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Rickshaw runners wanted …

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VOLUNTEERS WANTED FOR 2014 RICKSHAW RUN, TOO! SEE HERE.

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The Rickshaw Run has rapidly become a lauded tradition of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.

The run takes guests on a tasty journey around Footscray central that takes in Little Saigon Market, making rice paper rolls, live music, a hawker stall and a six-course feast.

Unfortunately, this year’s event is sold out – but there is another way you can participate.

Become a rickshaw runner!

While the Rickshaw Run takes about three hours all up, actually pulling of rickshaws involves about 20 minutes.

The event is held every evening from March 1 to March 11, with daytime sessions on weekends.

A free meal is offered after each session to volunteers.

There is also a need for need for marshalls to facilitate people in and out of restaurants.

Interested?

Contact Ben on 0434 100 567 or president@footscraytraders.com.au

Feasting in Footscray media launch

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Council communications officer Georgie explains injera to some newbies.

Feasting in Footscray media launch @ Konjo Cafe & Restaurant, 89 Irving St, Footscray. Phone: 9689 8185

It’s a little odd to find that my first experience of an Ethiopian coffee ritual is part of a media-laden photo op.

But that’s OK – I enjoy learning about the history and traditions of Ethiopian coffee, and the significance of the various accoutrements, anyway.

Deputy mayor Grant Miles gives a speech.

So does food writer Allan Campion.

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While all that is going on, Misra is in the rear room getting the Ethiopian food ready for the guests.

The launch is based around the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event Cultural Blend: The Origins of Coffee and Ethiopian Spices.

But there are several other Footscray events in the festival that are likewise either cheap or free – check them out here.

The food laid on by the Konjo folks is sensational – fresh, diverse, incredibly tasty.

Included are two dishes I’ve never before come across – one made of kale, another of beetroot.

Some guests dabble; some don’t bother at all.

Seeing as it’s clear some of this great stuff is going to go uneaten, I have no hesitation in making a freeloading pig of myself.

Makes me wonder why CTS has enjoyed just a single, solitary meal here previously!

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Ms Baklover in paparazzi mode.

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If you’re going to a be a reporter for The Star, you may as well wear Star Shoes! (Hi Charlene!)

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Yarraville Festival 2013

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Yarraville Festival, Yarraville, February 16, 2013

It’s hot and getting hotter.

Maybe that’s why every other stall on Anderson St and surrounds seems to be very big on hats.

There’s a lot of friendly and familiar faces and food around, such as the lovely ladies at St Nicholas Orthodox frying up their loving batches of syrupy dough goodness.

One new wrinkle is the freshly shucked oyster being offered at the pub for $1.50 a pop.

Sadly, I’m done food-wise by the time I notice them.

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From the stall being manned by the staff of Kawa-Sake at the river end of Andrson St, I grab a good chicken yakitori skewer and really, really good mini Japanese pancake.

Nearby are three poorly distributed stalls serving up paella, two of them being run by local businsses.

But I get a $10 serve from the one providing their rice in cardboard containers, having already been dismayed somewhat by the amount of plastic being used and discarded at the festival.

I scoot back to the Kawa-Sake stall to eat it, being granted permission to grab a small table and stool in the shade.

Thanks, Lucy!

My paella is nice, with a tang and plenty of seafood, chorizo and chicken, and it’s a much bigger serve than it appears.

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In leafy shade near the train station, I stop for nice natter with Ross and Breda at their Garden Honey stand.

We’re not honey eaters in our home, but I think it an intriguing hoot that these folks are producing salable quantities of bee juice … in Kensington.

So expect a story on how they do it some time soon right here at Consider The Sauce.

At one of the Ballarat St stages, there’s a whole lotta love for a group called Mother.

This virtually all-chick aggregation with a token bloke does classic ’70s rock.

Just a covers band, you say?

Well, yes … but this lot stomps it out with such passionate glee that for a while there they make me and many others true believers.

Loud, crunchy and swaggering, their music is just the right distance below the pain threshold in terms of volume.

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There’s a handful of paunchy, black T-shirted fans down front getting RIGHT into it.

During a certain Led Zeppelin song, these air guitar cats do the famous guitar solo note perfect.

Check this band out if you see them playing near you – they’re hot!

Let it rock!

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Quang Minh Tet Festival 2013

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Quang Minh Tet Festival 2013, Quang Minh Buddhist Temple, Braybrook

This was widely advertised as an all-day new year celebration, but when I dropped in mid-afternoon there had not been a lot going on.

So now I’m back for the finale and the whole joint has been transformed.

It’s odd being out so late at night – a reminder of just how much the nightbird days, when 10pm was the earliest I would be stepping out on a Saturday night, have been put behind me.

There’s a not unpleasant discord between the austere temple buildings and the gaudy, noisy delights of the sideshow alley attractions.

I am fascinated by the varied attire.

Virtually all the men and boys in attendance are dressed casually through to sloppily.

I see only one elderly gent in a suit and tie and another much younger fellow sporting a sports jacket.

Some of the females have gone casual, too, but overwhelmingly they’ve made a big effort – there’s stacks of vividly colourful traditional attire, as well as the likes of sequinned mini-skirts and physics-defying high heels.

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The best part of being here is just … being here.

I’m not expecting to eat.

But if I do, I expect it to be from the range of snack-type goodies being sold in the covered outdoor area near the main entrance.

I soon find out, to my very intense pleasure, that need not be the case.

Following my nose and the crowd, I end up in what amounts to a bustling, noisy and joyful mess hall.

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Everyone there is tucking into big bowls of soup noodles, so I do, too.

The soup noddles, costing $8, look like pho but are, of course, vegetarian.

Thus the broth is mild by comparison – good thing I load up with chillies and lemon juice.

I dig the multiple and large chucks of sweetish, chewy mushroom and I’m fine with the tofu slices.

The two kinds of meat substitute – one is, perhaps, “beef” and the other, um, “meatloaf” – are a little less appetising.

But I slurp the whole lot up anyway.

Because this meal is supremely enjoyable in a way that has more to do with circumstances, a certain place and time, and the young Vietnamese adults with whom I share a table.

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Outside, the outdoor food area is jammed packed to virtually unnavigable status.

A lot of incense is being burnt and a lot of prayers are being said.

I discover that Vietnamese festivals favour ear-splitting volume just the same as do their Croatian and Albanian variants.

On the stage near the main entrance, singing gives ways to speechifying.

Much of this is done in Vietnamese, but I’m surprised to hear one English speaker indulge in a bit of politicking about the federal election.

Then it’s back to Vietnamese for the countdown to the fireworks.

What a magnificent racket!

Many “ooohs” and “aahhs” later, I’m heading back to my car, with the smell of incense having given way to the equally pungent aroma of fireworks continuing to be gleefully set alight by the homeowners near the temple.

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Brimbank Cup

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Brimbank Cup, Keilor Park Soccer Club, Keilor Park Recreation Reserve, Stadium Drive, Keilor Park

The Brimbank Cup is a beaut community soccer event that features clubs and teams of a wide array stripes and genders from a broad swathe of the Melbourne’s western suburbs.

However, despite the rainbow-hued nature of the event, I am not expecting the food available to be equally diverse.

Hoping maybe – but not expecting.

Truth is, by the time I get to Keilor Park Soccer Club, my appetite is sufficiently robust that I’m pretty much up for anything – even that turns out to be your regulations sports club pie, chips, hot dog, whatever.

We all – players, family and friends, club officials, kids, police officers and many more – do a whole lot better than that.

The canteen is selling your sports club fodder, but a barbecue is all fired up and its crew are doing brisk business in some serious food.

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Steak sandwich? Nah.

Hamburgers? Hey, they look pretty good.

Chevapi roll? Hell yes!

After two of those babies – lettuce, tomato, hold the onions, no sauce, thanks – I’m a very happy chappy, and all set to enjoy the footy proceedings and mingle with the hordes.

Before I do, I secure a coffee from the clubrooms bar. It’s a surprising procedure:

“Can I get a coffee, please?”

“Yes.”

No question as to what type, milk required, how much sugar, if any.

But my cardboard cup of lovely coffee represents $3 well spent.

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Just before the exhibition match between the coppers and a World XI, the police band commits a brazen musical crime by performing a highly synthesised version of a certain Asian novelty pop hit.

Throw them all in the slammer, I say!

And ABC film crew asks me for my opinions about the sports corruption brouhaha; I duly give them some not very original thoughts.

I offer to waive my normal high-three-figure appearance fee if they give Consider The Sauce a plug on that night’s TV news.

They laugh.

The Brimbank Cup continues tomorrow (Sunday, February 10), with an exhibition game between FFV and celebrity sides at 1.30pm, the women’s final at 3pm and the men’s final at 5pm.

Check it out – it’s a hot and it’s free.

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East Meets West Lunar New Year Festival

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East Meets West Lunar New Year Festival, Hopkins St and surrounds, Footscray, Sunday, January 20.

As I head for the door and out on my Sunday outing, I very clearly say to myself: “Righto, time to go to work!”

Oh dear – this is a first!

Undoubtedly, I have always taken what I hope is a workmanlike attitude to doing Consider The Sauce.

But “going to work”?

That’s not the right frame of mind at all.

After all it’s a lovely sunny day, a cool breeze is blowing and the weather is of very noteworthy unextremes.

What could be better?

Well, that’s easy – street food and lots of it.

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I have my fill of it, too, as I mingle with the happy crowds and take in all the sights and sounds in and around Hopkins St.

And the aromas. Always the aromas. Of course.

In quick succession I fang a lovely chicken skewer, some delicate seafood mini-pancakes, another skewer of toothsome beef wrapped in vine leaves and a serve of a stodgy but satisfying fry-up of rice cake, egg and green onions topped with grated carrot and anointed with a light soy sauce.

Amid all the festival gaiety, I do notice, however, a certain sameness among the food stalls – take my items and throw in fried octopus tentacles, corn on the cob, sugar cane juice and several more varieties of skewer and you’re talking about 90 per cent of what’s available.

I wonder if such standardisation is something to do with logistics or health regulations.

I do grab a slice of chilli pork jerky.

And, of course, all the restaurants are open and doing a roaring trade.

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Jane, from Tim & Jane, the lovely coffee and chocolate joint in what was once the Royal Hotel, suggests the food is what it is because it’s festival fare.

They make me a fantastic cafe latte – strong, but not too strong; fantastic.

Tim & Jane is one of the very few places in Footscray Central serving Italian-style coffee, so makes a great stopping off point if that’s what you seek after eating elsewhere.

They’re open  8am-6pm Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm on Saturdays and 10am-4pm on Sundays.

You can read Ms Baklover’s story about them here.

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Albanian Community Festival

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Albanian Community Festival, Footscray Park.

The Albanian Community is being held at the portion of Footscray Park right opposite Flemington Racecourse.

It’s the perfect setting – families have thrown rugs and are relaxing on the hill overlooking the sound stage and stalls, where most of the cultural and social action is taking place.

It’s so perfect I wonder why this space is not used for such celebrations more frequently.

Alabania is a small country so it’s right that this is a small festival.

But the vibe is wonderful and I have a grand time.

There’s only two food outlets – one selling baked good of both savoury and sweet varieties, the other selling meat-stuffed rolls – but what I have is just right.

But more of that later.

The most fun I have is meeting, and peppering with questions, the lovely Shelley, who is overseeing the fascinating display mounted by the Australian Albanian Women’s Association.

As ever I did some basic sleuthing about the country and what food I might encounter at the festival, but I am nevertheless woefully ignorant about Albania and everything to do with it.

Shelley, breaking off at various times to greet friends and relatives, happily and generously answers my questions at length.

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Shelley with some of the belongings brought by her parents on their voyage to Australia.

She tells me Albania is necessarily a multi-lingual country that is predominantly Muslim but with some Catholicism in the north and Orthodox Christian in the south.

She tells me of the unfolding surges of migration to Australia that started in the Depression era, with most of those Albanians being market gardeners and the like, so they mostly ended up in Shepparton.

Subsequent migratory waves were spawned by wars, both World War II and in Kosovo and, eventually, the collapse of communism.

While being a small nation tucked between Greece, Macedonia and the Adriatic Sea, Alabania was not spared the notorious attentions of Mussolini, Hitler or Stalin.

The Republic Of Albania was founded in 1991.

Shelley tells me that for younger generations of Australian Albanians, such history is becoming increasingly less significant.

She first travelled to Albania, the home of her heritage and ancestry but not of her birth, in 1982 when the country was still under communist rule.

Completely unsurprisingly, she found it a an extraordinarily bracing experience.

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Shelley points to her father’s former house in Albania and some of the mementos she gathered when she made her pilgrimage there.

I run into Enzo from Just Sweets, who is out enjoying the day with his family.

Like me, he reckons the simple $5 rolls – chicken or beef “chevap” – are wonderful.

Fresh, crusty rolls, simple cabbage and carrot salad, and marinated chicken or beef skinless sausages.

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I have one of each and they’re perfect in every way.

A funny thing – as I parked at the sports grounds a little way up the river, I was dismayed to realise I had failed to hit an ATM on my way to the festival.

As it turns out, my $20 is plenty enough to eat real swell AND buy groceries on the way home.

Ambling around the festival, I happen across another, smaller and unrelated gathering at which I bump into Pastor Cecil.

He’s looking just as suave and cool as ever, especially in the Burmese jacket given to him by his friend, Khai.

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CROktoberfest

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CROktoberfest, Somers Street, North Sunshine.

It is an unexpected musical epiphany, though one that is perhaps at least a little predictable.

As we are enjoying our time – and the sights, sounds and aromas – at CROktoberfest, being held in the ground adjacent to the Melbourne Knights football ground, the music is being provided by a group led by event organiser Dom.

Now, European music is at the very fringes of my musical interests.

But this stuff makes me feel right at home – the lilt and swing is akin to the vintage downhome American music I love so much, and also very much of the Spanish-language music of the US south-west and Mexico, of which I am also a fan.

But what is it with Croatians and volume?

Even with this band and its acoustic instruments, the volume is at a full-tilt, ear-attacking, chest-thumping level – just as the music was at our previous engagement with Croatian music and food.

And all this even before the DJs and rocker get things really cranking later in the night.

Presumably, the geese digging the music from the very front of the stage are used to such things …

But of course, while we have come here to enjoy the party vibe in general, it is the food that is the main drawcard – and especially the bull on the spit.

And there’s do doubt it is a very impressive sight.

As it revolves and roasts, meat is carved from the fragrant beast and passed to crew members who dice it for stuffing into rolls awaited by eager customers.

Like all the food we have, it is dressed simply with shredded lettuce.

But on the evidence of my $10 roll, nothing more is needed.

The plain appearance disguises the quality within – this is as fine beef as I’ve ever had: Juicy, tender, slightly salty, magnificent!

Bennie goes first-up for a similarly priced schnitzel roll, after which we go our separate ways to explore the fun.

The festival area is quite compact, with kids activities off to one side and many more people inside the clubrooms, where there is more music and similar food on offer.

Even here there is music that reverberates with my past – although it, too, is at extreme volume.

There are very many happy people.

There is very much beer being consumed.

So I go with that flow and have one with my second offering of the day – pork cubes in a similar roll for the same price.

The meat here is also tender juicy and flavoursome, but has nowhere near the “wow” factor of the bull.

Bennie has a bull roll then, too.

Some more music and then we’re done – leaving the party masses to work on the rest of the night.

And morning.

CROkoberfest: Win tickets!

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CROktoberfest is an all day – and most of the night! – celebration of Croatian culture, including much lip-smackingly good food.

It’s being held next Saturday, October 20, right in our own backyard in Sunshine North.

Thanks to event organiser Dom, we have two tickets – worth $25 each – to give away.

Simply comment on this post, telling us in a few words why you want to go.

Team CTS will choose the winner on Wednesday night and arrange to get you tickets to you before the event.

Featured at the festival will be the CROktoberfest Cup Soccer finals, six DJs, traditional German and Croatian folk dancers, a boulder-throwing competition, cup and saucer rides, face painting and heaps more.

And, of course, lots of food.

Says Dom: “It’s the only place you will ever see a bull on the spit – that’s right a bull. The only place you will ever have cevapcici and pretzels at the same time.”

CROktoberfest is on October 20 from noon until 4am at the Melbourne Croatia Social Club, 2 Somers St, North Sunshine. Details: Dom Dedic on 0431 167 294.

Children under 12 get in for free.

CROktoberfest website.

Lara Food & Wine Festival 2012

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Lara Food & Wine Festival, Pirra Homestead, Sunday March 25, 2012

As a Lara Food & Wine Festival newbie, the first thing that strikes me as I pull into the dusty paddocks that are serving as carparks just a tick after noon is the sheer number of cars already in place.

Obviously, this is a much bigger and sexier operation than I had perhaps envisaged.

Inside the grounds of Pirra Homestead, I find the festival is set up with stalls swinging in a big semi-circle away from the lovely buildings and back, with more stalls in the middle.

On the homestead veranda, local musos do their thing at a suitable volume.

Somehow the endless parade of cover versions of such ditties as Sweet Home Alabama and the like seems just right.

The place is crowded in a companionable way and a long way short of discomfort.

The only queues of any magnitude are for prawns, calamari and Twistto Potatoes (“Korean spiral potato on skewers, with a choice of dipping flavours”).

At the other end of the festival set-up, a big crowd looks on as Matt Preston presides over the Ultimate Chef Challenge – basically cooking displays featuring locals chefs such as Leonie Mills from Jack & Jill Restaurant.

Despite the fact that MasterChef and the like make me grind my teeth, Preston impresses as charmer and it’s quite a lot of fun hearing him and the various chefs do their thing and tell their stories in the process.

I wish he was still doing the Unexplored Territory column in The Age.

I’d been warned by Kristine – long-time Consider The Sauce friend, American-born Melbourne resident, foodie and all-round good gal – to keep my expectations in check regarding the festival’s barbecue stall.

Nevertheless, I pretty much make a beeline for Smokin’ Barry’s Barbeque.

I expect to be able to spend some serious money on a plate of ribs and sides … or something similar.

So I am disappointed to discover they only have available beef and pork rolls and something called BBQ nachos, all for $10.

Verdict: Kristine is 100 per cent correct.

Bummer!

My pork roll is so bland it’s fast approaching tasteless.

I don’t know which is more surreal – that I paid $10 for this or that this outfit uses terms such as taste, flavour and succulent on its website.

I do oh-so-much better with a rabbit pie from the folks at Western Plains.

This is very yummy indeed and well worth the $7.50 I pay for it.

There’s quite a high bunny quotient, aided and abetted by chunks of sweet, tender, beaut carrot.

I stop and talk with Vanessa and Jonathan, who are manning the Cobram Estate olive oil stand.

I tell them that in our household their products have become the default setting when it comes to olive oil – fine products well-priced and widely available.

And if that’s the case for us, it must be so for many others, too.

How have they achieved such notable depth and breadth of market penetration?

A lot of hard work over a sustained period of time right throughout the company and with various assisting agencies, they tell me.

Along with substantial investment levels.

And the rapid growth of consumer awareness regarding the dubious nature of many imported oils has helped, too!

No such festival as this would be complete without at least one outfit doing the vego thing in the long and venerable traditions of the Hare Krishnas sustaining happy punters the world over.

Here that happy chore feels to adherents of Supreme Master Ching Hai.

They’re doing good business, too, with what appears to be simple noodles and the like, but as I’m full of rabbit and dodgy BBQ, I make do with a simple piece of tempura seaweed.

Oily but good!

I am given a show bag by a nice fella. It’s full of literature about the groups and its aims.

On the outside, the bag is printed with slogans promoting vegetarianism – “change your life” and the like – and a chook that proudly boasts that “we pray for you”.

Under “Be a vegetarian like them” are name-dropped a whole of host of celebrities and historical figures.

I tell the bag man that advocating the vego way by using the name of Gwyneth Paltrow makes me feel like heading straight out and tucking into a great big juicy steak.

A very rare great big juicy steak.

He thinks I’m joking.

Like all festivals, there’s an element of hit and miss about which tucker to select, while the festival scenario itself seems to restrict or compromise in some ways the available selections.

But the prices are good.

As well, there are plenty of stall offering samples of breads, relishes, olive oil and much more.

Entry to the Lara Food & Wine Festival is by gold coin donation.

The carparking is free.

Stallholders pay a little over $200, a price that is actually subsidised by the festival in terms of provisions of tents, tables and so on.

That latter information comes courtesy of the festival’s media person, Tara Iacovella, who I phone the next day for the lowdown.

This a purebred community event – there’s not a single person involved who is on any sort of payroll, and that includes the musicians and the likes of Matt Preston.

Oh, OK – yes the local scouts get paid for their clean-up efforts.

But nor is the festival in any way amateurish.

But really … all-round this is a brilliant event, one that shows nothing but contempt for the hard-bitten cynicism of this journo/blogger.

And for that, I love them!

Ajitoya, Seddon Festival

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Hillbilly llama at Seddon Festival, 2012.

Ajitoya, 82 Charles St, Seddon. Phone: 9687 1027

Seddon Festival 2012, Harris Reserve, Seddon

Decisions, decisions …

The final cricket match of the season seen off, we are left with three delicious prospects for the remainder of our Saturday.

There’s the famed multicultural celebration called the Pako Festa in Geelong.

But a voluntary drive to that city when so many are mandatory means that idea is likely to remain a mere flicker of possibility.

There’s a more monocultural celebration going at the junction of Lonsdale and Russell streets in the Melbourne CBD.

But finally, especially given the rising temperature, we settle – much to Bennie’s satisfaction – on our local Seddon Festival.

A short, sweaty stroll up Gamon St and we’re there.

We’d already decided that in case the festival’s food offerings do not appeal that it’s best to have a Plan B ready to roll.

The fest food stalls seem more like snacky territory than the lunch proper we are desirous of.

Plan B is Ajitoya.

We had reviewed Ajitoya just a day or so after it opened, and have been back for a few meals since.

We’ve enjoyed seeing the place evolve and grow courtesy of soulful Facebook updates.

It’s time for another look.

Due to the heat and appetites of only medium stature, we stick with basic lunch orders rather than $16-21 sets.

Zaru soba at Ajitoya in Seddon

Bennie had some weeks earlier absorbed my enthusiasm about the cold Japanese noodles served here so has no hesitation in ordering the zaru soba ($13).

He loves it to pieces, merrily dipping the superb noodles in the soy-based dipping sauce into which he has stirred wasabi and spring onion slices.

There is something paradoxically both exotic and plain as can be about this dish, and it’s a winner for sure on a hot day.

Can I tell you how much I love my son and what he’s achieving?

In recent months, he’s gone from being a non-lover, non-eater of capsicum and tofu to happily eating just about all forms of both – and has even taught himself to use chopsticks, as he does here!

His father improvises by ordering miso soup ($4) and a trio of salads ($9).

Trio of salads and miso soup at Ajitoya in Seddon.

The miso soup is fine, the salads are something else again.

They are listed as …

Lightly shredded chicken salad with wasabi dressing.

Buckwheat soba noodles with pickled mustard greens, mayo and spice

Leafy hijiku with lightly fried tofu with daikon ginger vinaigrette.

OK … the chicken salad also has cabbage along with soy/tamari in the dressing; and the noodles have little or no pickle flavour, but do have a tingling chilli hit.

But I adore the way the three salads, and their distinctive dressings, work together – marvellous harmony!

This is another light and great meal for a hot day.

Ajitoya’s Adam tells me he’d have the whole counter cabinet chockers with salads if he had his way, but customer demand dictates sushi rolls remain a mainstay of the business.

I vote for more salads!

He also tells me he and Maya have learned to avoid too constant scanning of what different folk are saying about them at Urbanspoon. Yes, it can do a head in.

One customer, for instance, posted a review there on her mobile saying the food was fine, “but a bit pricey for what you get”.

Other customers have told them their prices are too cheap!

Looks, it’s true a short drive away you can get pho and the like for significantly less than you pay here.

At the same time, though, there are four places within a couple of blocks where you can pay quite a lot more for restaurant food.

Perhaps it’s the very cafe, if very chic, vibe or the display cabinet of sushi rolls that leads people to expect big serves for under $10 here.

Whatever … we have no issue whatsoever with the pricing, especially given the quality and presentation of the food, along with the service.

Ajitoya … don’t think of it as a cafe. This is a Japanese restaurant serving restaurant-quality Japanese food.

Back at the festival, the heat is killing and things don’t seem to have gotten any more lively.

The lawn expanses, subject to the full blast of the unrelenting sun, are unpeopled.

Shade is at a premium.

Everyone is doing it hard – including the panting inhabitants of the animal farm.

Even the music has a sort of desultory, “can we really be bothered with this?” air about it.

Nevertheless, we spend an enjoyable couple of hours taking it all in, talking to friends we meet and just generally hanging out.

Food-wise, we make do with a yummy $5 serve of churros with chocolate dipping sauce from the nice people at Sourdough Kitchen.

ajitoya on Urbanspoon