Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Flavours of Asia Market Festival Preview

Disclosure: I was invited as a guest to the preview of the Flavours of Asia Festival. 

“There’s horse-racing at this time of year?” my mother comments as a tv ad for the Sportingbet Blue Diamond Stakes Day at Caulfield racecourse plays in-between an episode of MKR. 

Although the Spring Racing Festival is certainly a huge event on the social calendar in Melbourne, it’s easy to forget that through the year there is always horse-racing going on, although I guess that might not generally interest the average person.

But what if you tie in a food festival in with that? A bit of racing and entertainment and actually good food at the race course? Well that perks my interest (I do like a bit of a bet)!

I was invited to a preview of the Flavours of Asia Market Festival, held as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival, with carefully picked member of the food scene to feed the crowds, with dishes starting from just $5. 

I’m crossing fingers that the weather holds out this weekend, and that it’s as beautiful as our preview night; balmy weather is simply perfect for ‘The Market Mule with a Kick’, the feature cocktail for the evening and the weekend, with the usual vodka and ginger ale components with an addition of chilli. Yum!

To start us off, Hammer and Tong’s red and black rice salad was clean and refreshing, Wonderbao’s pork bao was steaming hot, fluffy and moreish; bringing me back to greedy lunches in Hong Kong as a kid. 

But honestly, not to play favourite’s, but Hoy Pinoy totally played it with their Lechon Kwali, slow braised and crisp fried pork belly with buco, chilli and yemma sauce. It was the kind of dish that when James Meehan, one of the founders, comes over to ask how it is, you can only thumbs up as the crunch of the crackling does all the talking for you. A little sweet, and perfectly succulent; I’d like thirds please!

As we chit-chatted amongst ourselves, there suddenly was an irresistible aroma in the air…and like bees to honey, we swarmed over to the barbecue, where Hoy Pinoy had their Inihaw na Baboy and Inihaw na Manok skewers barbecuing away, the deliciously smokey aromas filling the air. 

Inihaw na Baboy are the pork belly skewers in a banana ketchup glaze, which are beautifully cooked and sweet, and I simply adored the juicy beautifully rendered pieces of fat on the pork belly…however, I was a little more partial to the Inihaw na Manok, which are chicken skewers in a traditional soy glaze, or for those who are familiar with filipino food, something akin to adobo. 

The chicken skewers I found were much more tender, the meat and all the flavours just melting in the mouth. 

Wonderbao’s gua bao’s are always hard to go past, how do they get the buns so fluffy? One bun was filled with braised pork belly, which was luxe, moreish and decadent, whilst the other was stuffed with fried tofu, which were a refreshingly light option after all the meat! 

I always like getting involved in making food, so when Hammer and Tong asks for an assistant, I’m the first to throw my hands up, and teeter through the kitchen door in my heels, and form an assembly line with Simon Ward to get some soft shell crabs out to the other guests! (Thanks for helping take pictures Agnes!)

I make 10 in a pretty reasonable time period, but apparently on a busy night at the Queen Victoria Night Market, they can pump out around 1000 of these! Phew! 

I'm apparently more than happy to work for soft shell crab burgers. What can I say? I'm cheap labour. 

For some reason, despite it’s notoriety, I had not had one of the famous soft shell crab burgers from Hammer and Tong…and I’m so happy to say, that it totally lived up to all the hype. The bun is perfectly toasted, a slight crunchy char on the edges, but fluffy all up in the top. The soft shell crab flavour definitely comes through, despite all the other additions, and the light tapioca batter is just right…you can hardly tell it’s battered at all!

We’re definitely struggling by this point…but there’s always, always space for ice-cream. Especially when it’s a black sesame ice-cream gua bao by Cream Supreme (brought to life by the Wonderbao guys as well). Whoa. The black sesame ice-cream was intense and deep in flavour, the gua boa is fried until it’s golden and crisp, with a sugar crust over the top…what a clever bunch indeed. 

So, no plans this Saturday? Maybe you should have a date with some of Melbourne’s most delicious Asian food vendors, which includes more than what we sampled a couple of nights ago. I’ll probably pop down myself at some point in the afternoon to also check out Overdosa's dosas (obviously), Lankan Tucker's roti rolls and Eat the Chicken's fish cakes (funnily enough) so say hi if you see me there!

Need to know: 

Saturday 28th February 
Gates Open: 11am - 6pm 
Caulfield Racecourse, Gate 22, Station Street, Caulfield VIC 3145

$20 Adult entry which includes admission to the racecourse and the Flavours of Asia Market Festival. Tickets available at 

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