Brunswick Market and related fun

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661 Sydney Road, Brunswick

Many, many years ago – about 25, I think – yours truly aboded near the juncture of Albion and upper Lygon streets in Brunswick for a couple of years, so was then quite familiar with the stretch of Sydney Rd inhabited by Brunswick Market.

In those days, it was a lively place that could hold its own with Melbourne’s many other revered markets.

It’s a bit of a faded beauty these days.

It never gets spoken of in the same breath as the very famous A1 Bakery just a few doors down.

Nor will you hear it mentioned along with markets Footscray, Vic, Saigon, South Melbourne or Prahran.

But in recent years we have been returning to take in not just the market but also a few pizzas at Tabet’s and the general lively ambience of Sydney Rd, so different from our regular westie haunts yet also so familiar.

I start my Friday adventure at Central Kebab House, right at the entrance to the market.

I opt for the eggplant plate ($7.50), as the halved eggplants topped with lamb mince have caught my eye. I ask for a couple falafels and some pickled veggies to be added, for which I am not charged.

Bennie I have had some swell feeds here before, but this is a bit lacklustre. The cucumber/yogurt dip has no zing, the felafels are a bit rubbery and the eggplant/mince combo, too, is just OK.

Next time, I’ll make a point of trying some of the fine-looking gozleme and pides:

From there I venture into the market proper.

What was once, a few years back, a low-key outdoor/indoor eatery that served up darn good dips ‘n’ bread ‘n’ salads has become a sweetie place that dispenses cake/biscuits of both continental and Middle Eastern genres.

Around it are arrayed a deli and clothing/trinket outlets of mostly Turkish flavour.

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The market has three butchers – a regular continental style, and one each of the halal variety for poultry and red meat.

At the continental joint, Ottorenny, I become very interested in some good-looking sausages.

I suspect some of them at least are Maltese or something equally exotic. But I’m told that, no, they’re all of Italian heritage.

The darkest of the lot are pork and pork liver. I’ve yet to be tempted by the pork liver dishes I’ve come across in my mostly unhappy experiences with Filipino food, but I figure that as part of a highly seasoned and prepared sausage with regular pork meat, it may make for a winner.

So I buy four of them, just to see. I’ll be telling Bennie of the nature of ingredients after we’ve eaten them.

At Ali’s Halal Meat Supply, I likewise buy a sample deal of four hot dogs – if they taste good, we’re on to a winner, as they’re an incredible $6.50 a kilo. My four cost 50 cents each.

Right at the end of the market is a large fruit and vegetable outlet.

I have no pressing need to stock up on such items, but note that the range and prices are impressive.

Part of the fun of visiting this part of Melbourne is the maze of back streets between Sydney Rd and the railway line – a jumble of gloriously ungentrified light industry, oddball food service outlets, funky housing and much kool stuff.

It is via these back streets that I am headed for the Book Grocer – love the name! – at 453 Sydney Rd.

Using, I am told, some of the same suppliers as Dirt Cheap Books, the Book Grocer is a very different enterprise indeed.

The range here is much more high-toned, with a wide range of stock that seems particularly strong on history, biographies and other non-fiction goodies.

Almost seems like a regular high-quality bookshop!

Further up Sydney Rd, I stop to gander at the yummy pies and pizzas at Al-Waha Bakery, at 819 Sydney Rd.

We’re currently well-provisioned with such as these in the freezer at home, so I make do with a single ricotta and spinach pie just for assessment’s sake.

The busy and bustling stretch of Sydney Rd leading up to Bell St and Pentridge Prison surprises me – I must have been hereabouts many times before, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever.

Nor of Coburg Market.

There’s pokie little arcades, a zillion kebab and cake shops, Oriental massage places.

Wandering up one side of the road and down the other, my sense of dislocation and newness is such that it feels like when I arrived from (mostly whitebread) New Zealand so many years ago and inner-city Australia seemed so intoxicatingly exotic.

I even find, looking out over a packed parking lot, an intensely interesting place with a super-long menu of dumplings and noodles that is sure to be the subject of a future adventure.

Mankoushe

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325 Lygon St, Brunswick East. Phone: 9078 9223

If we are to resist the deeply seated urge to always head west when embarking on a food adventure, then what I call the “bottleneck end” of Lygon St is just the sort of promenade to inspire a foray east.

From the “bottleneck” itself, where the road narrows to two lanes and a plethora of interesting eateries and shops are to be found, to its northern end, where the Liberty cinema used to live, upper Lygon St mixes ethnic funkery, solid working-class ambience and inner-city hip with style.

Like nearby Sydney Rd, it’s one of our favourite non-western destinations.

So cool are they both that we’re happy to confer upon them honourary western suburbs status. And besides they are no more of a drive than the likes of Deer Park and St Albans, both of which we’ve been visiting regularly of late.

This Sunday we are headed for Mankoushe and Lebanese pizzas/pies.

This is done over Bennie’s objections, he desiring Lebanese of a more substantial kind in Sydney Rd, but in the end he’s delighted with his dad’s choice.

As he should be, as the goodies at Mankoushe are truly sensational.

We heard about Mankoushe from the nice people at GRAM Magazine, but I suspect there are a bunch of online reviews out there, for this is the kind of place that makes foodies drool.

What the family that runs Mankoushe does – building on the standard Lebanese pizza/pie formula with imaginative and tasty flights of inspiration – takes true audacity.

That they do so by producing food that is cheap to buy, fabulous to look at and heavenly to eat – all the while admirably retaining a strong sense of authenticity – is testament to culinary wizardry that approaches genius.

There are some 26 pizzas/pies on the menu, all made with organic spelt flour.

They range from you bog standard zatar for $2 up to $9 for the most expensive, but most are in the $5-6 range.

Crucially, the use of non-traditional ingredients is restrained and extremely well thought out. In this, the Mankoushe meals resemble the new wave of Italian piazzas to be had around town – except, of course, in the matter of pricing!

The bases are amazingly light and moreish.


My order of spicy fetta – feta, fresh tomato, capsicum, onion and a dash of lemon and chilli for $5.50 – is the only disappointment. My parcel is fine and fresh, with a quite agressive chilli hit, but there is little or no salty tang or flavour from the feta.


Bennie fares a whole lot better with his beef kafta – mince meat, parsley, onion and “seven spices” for $6.20.

The meat is more substantial and flavoursome than the usual shallow smear found on Lebanese meat pizzas, while fresh tomato slices and heavenly, creamy mayo top off this masterpiece.

Having foreseen that one pie apiece would not be sufficient, I am happy for us to split a third – at these prices, who’s counting?


Our sojok – spicy sojok (salami), cheese, fresh tomato, onion, olives and pickled cucumber for $6 – is another terrific pie. We gobble it up without arguing over the final two slices – one large (Bennie), one small (Kenny).

By this time, our hosts realise we are a couple of mad bloggers, so present us with a complementary and fabulous housemade Lebanese sweet – a crumbly pastry shell encasing chopped nuts and more, highly perfumed with rose water.

Thanks!


Happily that little bit of “langniappe” relieves us of the need to pursue gelati down the road, so we saunter next door to Blue Attic.

This is a beaut shop that specialises in “independent artists, designers and craftspeople, predominantly from the East Brunswick area“. We have a fine old time checking out the hats, T-shirts, soaps, dragons and other goodies, all while keeping up a rambling conversation with Tani, the joint’s owner, as she makes us fine a latte and a hot chocolate. Among the many topics canvassed is Club Penguin, with Bennie giving Tani tips to hand on to her own kids.


Heading home, we pass Montgomery Park on Albion St, so can’t resist having another crack at the slide.

On a previous visit we’d found that despite its long and gleaming length, it had insufficient incline to really do the job.

This time we use a plastic bag retrieved from the car boot to assist us – with much more satisfactory results.

Whoosh!


The heavens open, so we head home for the A-League grand final and red beans and rice.

Fabulous food, coffee, conversation, silliness – it’s pretty much a perfect Sunday.

Meanwhile, we are looking forward to eating our way through the entire Mankoushe menu – even if it does take us out of our western suburbs comfort zone.

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