Melbourne, New York, Paris… Sunshine?
Not being a typical wish list destination for most people’s food or cultural experiences, the Sunshine Business Association is taking aim to change this perception. Playing host to a progressive cultural dinner experience and walking tour around the western suburbs of Sunshine for the final Friday of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival MFWF.
For the past 30 or so years, Sunshine has experienced successive waves of Asian, African and Indian immigration which combine to make it extraordinarily culturally and gastronomically diverse.
Like some of its outer western suburbian friends, it also has a bit of a rough reputation.
About 40 hungry and eager Melbourne foodies crowded around the shopfront of Thuan An Vietnamese restaurant where the owner and chef Phuong welcomed us to the event with a history of how they came to the area and to introduce South Vietnamese (Saigon style) traditional entrees.
The vibe was all smiles and anticipation and the entree a delightfully fresh start to the evening.
Featuring two coleslaws (beef and chicken), a prawn rice paper roll, coconut prawn with delicious strawberry sauce and Thuan An’s signature soup with a cheeky little quail egg in the centre.
The crowd was a mixture of locals who lived and/or worked in the area, MFWF regulars, and curious first-timers. In each group I chatted with, there was at least one person who hadn’t tried the cuisine or even the dish before.
Regardless of how delicious the food was (very), the connection, storytelling and exploration shared started to quickly outshine the food itself.
Like it’s neighbour Footscray, it was obvious strolling between restaurants, the amount of money that has entered the area, and the efforts to tidy up the streets. The signs for the banishment of plastic straws appear in most shop windows.
Indeed the shop fronts and main street have undergone major facelifts and the brand new (very large) council and town hall buildings dominate the street views.
The five-minute balmy-evening walk from Thuan An, to Gojo Ethiopian Cuisine, took us through a gorgeously decorated alley with images of love, peace and unity. The big patchwork tile peace sign hand influencing the mood.
Let’s hope some dimwit doesn’t decide to deface it.
Excitement piqued when we were greeted by the owner at Gojo, Daniel and were introduced to the fabulous drumming of “Fred from Ghana”.
We could have stood and listened to Fred for hours if it weren’t for the rumbling of bellies being louder than the smell of Ethiopian food wafting from the restaurant.
I’ve written about Ethiopian food on a number of times. However, I was quite surprised at the number of people living locally that hadn’t before tasted delicious injera bread, smoky Siga Watt or experienced an Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
It was delightful to watch people’s faces light up with the flavours and a humbling reminder of my own privilege. It’s far too easy to forget that others don’t have the opportunity to explore as often, and the importance of sharing.
People using their hands to mop up every last skerrick of sauce with the injera and exclaiming over their new found love of lentils made for a very fun main.
Even if it was about 32 degrees inside and out.
Our final stop on the tour was for dessert at Classic Curry.
A family-owned business for more than 20 years, we learned from Vasu that her family came to Melbourne more than 35 years ago and opened one of the first North Indian restaurants in the city.
If you live in Melbourne and love North Indian cuisine, you should probably write them a thank you note.
Learning the stories and cultural tidbits from local families and entertainers perfectly matched the food, this fusion summed up perfectly by Ether Element:
“I play this in a North Indian style.. with a bit of fusion, cause I’m from Braybrook”
Dessert was a mango lassi, homemade ice-cream and the always popular and amazingly sweet doughnut gulab jamun.
We were stuffed. With a belly full of food and quite a few belly laughs as well.
I was initially concerned about the cultural flavour being washed from the Sunshine streets with a suburban facelift.
The diversity of the area is what makes it special. It’s great to see an event like Sunshine Food Fever aiming to maintain, nurture and celebrate it.
The night certainly expanded the culinary and cultural expectations of a suburb for those who may have been trepidatious to head there before. Myself included.