Every six months or so Maribyrnong City Council run ‘Discover Footscray‘ tours which are free or subsidised tours to help locals and visitors discover the food, art and history in Footscray – possibly the last inner city suburb in Melbourne that has yet to be completely gentrified.
Footscray has an enviable reputation of being one of the most delicious (and cheapest) places to eat in Melbourne, thanks to the waves of immigration that have seen it welcome Italians and Greeks, Vietnamese and most recently an African population. As Vietnamese food is one of my favourite cuisines I decided to join an intimate guided tour of Footscray’s markets with morning tea and lunch for a bargain price of $30.
‘Vietnam on a Plate‘ hold walking tours of Footscray and Springvale and have been run by a husband-and-wife team for 17 years. Over 4+ hours we learned about how to select and use Vietnamese ingredients, got to know some of the stallholders at Footscray Market, ate a lunch of traditional Vietnamese dishes and discovered some great little spots for repeat visits.
Here are some of my highlights…
Chooks ‘N’ Googs (Irving St) have been selling in Footscray Market for over 30 years and it’s the place to find free range chickens (sadly most of the market does not sell free range meat) as well as a large array of eggs you’ll never find in a supermarket.
Footscray Market is also the place for all your lurid lingerie needs. Or sensible cotton undies for the grannies.
The market has the biggest range of gourds and leafy green vegetables I’ve seen outside of Asia. For some reason the proprietor of Bushy Park (our guide’s favourite fruit and veg stall) instructed ‘no photos’ so I don’t have any images of melons for you.
Thanh Phat (86-88 Hopkins St) is Footscray’s largest Asian supermarket. In amongst its aisles you’ll find such treasures as ‘Police Dog Brand Tea Dust’. Yeah, I have no idea either…
Among other items our guide recommended Maesri curry paste and fresh chrysanthemum buds for tea.
Our multi-dish Vietnamese lunch was at Dong Que (102 Hopkins St, Footscray). Maybe not the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve been to (I found the flavours a bit bland and the textures a bit rough) but the guide said they are good for groups because they can cater for dietary requirements (with notice), the toilets are clean and you can even hold fundraisers there. For uncertain visitors there’s also a good variety of pictures from which to choose your food. My highlight dish was the fresh and vibrant green papaya salad.
Nhu Lan (116 Hopkins St) is reknowned for having the best banh mi (pork rolls) in Footscray and possibly Melbourne. Their super-crunchy filled baguettes are an incredible $4 each and every time I’ve been there’s been a mob of people such that I’ve never been able to take a proper photo of the place. Just follow the people on the street clutching white and orange paper bags and they will lead you to the bakery.
Fresh sugar cane juice! I love this stuff in summer.
Asian really prize live seafood and Footscray is the only place in Melbourne I’ve seen live eels and live crustaceans for sale. Just like a real Asian wet market and just as creepy.
If you’re a little bit more cautious with your fish all the fishmongers in Footscray Market sell their fish on ice, with John and Kevin’s Fresh Fish being the busiest stall from the looks of things.
Yummie (189/193 Barkly St) sells fresh and frozen Hong Kong style dim sum which are all made on the premises (they also appear to sell Red Bull according to their window, but that’s another story).
I’ve tried steaming some of their frozen dumplings at home with mixed success (avoid anything with a crystal wrapper, it’s way too thick) but their standout are their flaky egg custard tarts for only $1.50. I dream about these egg tarts, they are so good….Unfortunately they don’t transport too well so eat them fresh!
I loved the ramshackle Christmas decorations adorning Little Saigon but most importantly, they were selling longan for $5 a kilo! Footscray is the place to stock up on tropical fruit.
As you can imagine I went home with a full stomach, a large shopping bag and a head full of colour, sounds and smells. Discover Footscray tours are a great way to experience Footscray from a new perspective if you’ve never been to Footscray or even if you walk its streets every day. There is so much to explore! Keep a look out on the Maribyrnong City Council for further tour dates.