Melbourne Night Noodle Markets 2015: an insider's guide

Nom, nom ... More stallholders this year means more hawker-style fare  for Melburnians.
Nom, nom ... More stallholders this year means more hawker-style fare for Melburnians. Photo: Supplied

Blame global warming or people like Raph Rashid – founder of our first new wave food trucks – but Melbourne's diners have never been keener to take their forks to the streets, and Melbourne has never been better equipped to answer that call.

It was only 2010 when Rashid rolled out. Now we have permanent food truck parks on both sides of the city in the model of the Urban Food Fest in London, or Brooklyn's Smorgasburg​, while over a dozen outdoor food festivals have joined stalwarts like the Johnston Street Fiesta, bringing our obsession with Asian-style hawker markets and American barbecue to fragrant, fizzing life.

Ready, set, noodle: The Night Noodle Markets are back at the Yarra's edge this month.
Ready, set, noodle: The Night Noodle Markets are back at the Yarra's edge this month. 

Eating bao and brisket alfresco has never been such a delicious possibility.

Now in its third year, Melbourne's biggest hawker-style food market, the flagship event of The Age Good Food Month, is about to engulf Birrarung Marr in a cloud of spice and smoke for a record 18 nights starting on Thursday, November 12.

The first year had vendors chopping food with their hands while trying to roll noodles underfoot to meet the demands of an unexpected tidal wave of diners. Last year, the markets moved to bigger Birrarung Marr, the number of bars increased and the stalls doubled (up to 50 from 25). So did the crowds. Over an extended 17 nights, 560,000 people passed through the markets compared to the first year's 285,000, beating the crowds at Sydney's Night Noodle Markets, which have more than a decade of history behind them.

This celebration of Asian specialties has gone from strength to strength.
This celebration of Asian specialties has gone from strength to strength. Photo: Supplied

In 2015, the formula has been tweaked further. There are a total of 60 stalls and food trucks locked in, more bars, daytime sessions on the weekends to make it easier for those with kids, and an extra entrance on the upper terrace via Batman Avenue, which means more zen flow, less elbowing strangers while balancing dumplings.

Food-wise, this year's menu is competitively eclectic. Ever wanted to try a Nutella gyoza​ or edible insects on a salad? This is your chance.

Stalwarts like Chin Chin and Gelato Messina are back. Hoy Pinoy​ is bringing whole suckling pigs, Red Spice Road will bring the pork belly (winner of the Age Good Food Guide People's Choice award) and Delhi Streets (the Guide's best Cheap Eat restaurant) are doing traditional pani puri – hollow cases filled with spicy liquors and chutneys.

Bring your appetite this Good Food Month.
Bring your appetite this Good Food Month. Photo: Supplied

It's your first chance to try the dishes of Hawker Hall – Chin Chin and Kong's new sister venue – while Lady Carolina, Paul Wilson's new Latin American party restaurant in Brunswick East, will host Diego Munoz​, chef at Peru's Astrid y Gaston​ which sits at  No. 14 on the World's 50 Best list. Together they will be creating chifa and nikkei dishes, the Chinese- and Japanese-influenced street foods of Peru.

For sweet tooths, there's a mini-New York invasion. Christina Tosi​ of Momofuku Milk Bar has designed a cookie for the Singleton whisky bar, and fellow New York sugar legends Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff of Big Gay Ice Cream are popping up on November 27 to sell fairy bread ice-cream sandwiches with the My Two Mums ice-cream truck.

That's a party, whichever way you look at it, but it's also a lot of stimulation and choice. Our hot tip is to make a plan. Here's the shorthand guide. Read it, keep it.

Dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings.
Dumplings, dumplings and more dumplings. Photo: Supplied

Pro tips for 2015

There's an entrance via Batman Avenue which will make getting in and out a lot smoother. Look for the red sign near Chin Chin and Mr Miyagi.

You can park in garages nearby, but you're right opposite Flinders Street Station, surrounded by bike bays, and at the intersection of almost every tram in the city. Plus, there are bars by Coopers, Yalumba and Singleton Whisky.

The markets are now open for lunch on the weekends for those worried about losing babies or wayward friends in the throng.

Night Noodle Markets, Melbourne. Can the event set a new record in 2015?
Night Noodle Markets, Melbourne. Can the event set a new record in 2015? Photo: Supplied

Queue smarter. The more popular stalls will always have a wait. Our tip: pick the shortest line and quickly get a snack to eat while you face the bigger queues.

Make a plan. Plot your course, take a group and designate friends to get the beers while others queue for snacks. Divide, and conquer.

Top dishes for freaks and geeks

The full Night Noodle Markets menu can be found here, but to save you time, we've plucked out the top dishes for frankenfood freaks and authenticity geeks.

DISHES FOR FREAKS

Papaya salad with (optional) mealworm garnish at Ladyboy Dining

Don't freak. Sydney restaurants have been on the bug trend for years and we're finally catching up. The deep-fried insects add nutty, sustainable protein to the salad.

Nori brisket taco at Mr Miyagi

It's just as it sounds: umami seaweed wrapper holding a slip of brisket for easy one-hand eating.

Ramen burger at Everybody Loves Ramen

Always a mess of leaking sauces and noodles hell-bent on breaking free, but if you can find a corner it's worth the hassle.

Banana Nutella gyoza at Harajuku Gyoza

The Brisbane and Sydney purveyor of freaky dumplings is heading south with dessert dumplings – crisp-shelled, soft-centred, they're like a bite-size version of a choc-banana crepe.

Betel leaf chicken burger at Chilli Tuckshop

It's the final fusion frontier – those fragrant betel leaves sandwiching lemongrass and chilli chicken.

Pasar Malam Marmite Pork Slider

It sounds so wrong, but Britain's answer to Vegemite adds a good umami and salt kick to the meat.

Waffles on sticks at Waffle on a Stick

This is carnie food done right. Waffles impaled for ease of roving with a Nutella dipper.

David Bao-wy at Gelato Messina x Wonderbao​

The two cult brands unite to bring you sweet bao including this guy: a deep-fried gua bao filled with salted coconut sorbet, dipped in white chocolate, mango ganache and rolled in crushed cashews.

Chocolate dumplings at Charlie Dumpling

A returning champion, the Prahran eatery serves what resemble deep-fried Lindt balls.

Chilli crab wonderbao at Baotime 

Baogers are the specialty at this little shop, and this year they're giving the soft steamed buns the spice-and-seafood treatment.

DISHES FOR GEEKS

Rendang curry at Hawker Hall

The restaurant will barely have swung open doors so this is likely your first chance to get at their rendang curry, which they're pitching to be the restaurant's signature.

Pani puri at Delhi Streets

The Age Good Food Guide's Cheap Eats winner is serving the salty, spicy, crunchy puffs for their first year.

Dosa at Overdosa

The crisp-shelled southern Indian rice and lentil pancakes come filled with either goat or classic potato masala with coconut chutney.

Cup of pho at Roll'd

Typically too hard to eat on the run, Roll'd has stepped in with a portable solution: pho in a cup. 

Wok-fried quinoa at Lady Carolina 

A chifa-style dish (which means Chinese-Peruvian) this is essentially fried rice, Peru-style,  with tamarind, prawns and asparagus.

Paneer tikka roll at Autorickshaw

It's India's answer to the burrito: milk curd cheese, which resembles tofu, wrapped in roti.

Yakitori skewers at Burwood Teppanyaki House

What's an outdoor market without meats on sticks? Nothing.

Spit-roasted suckling pig at Hoy Pinoy

It's hard to miss Hoy Pinoy, follow the queues and the stream of smoke from the charcoal grill. Beyond the skewers, stick your fork in some roasted suckling pig.

Boat Noodles at Fat Thai

The dark and potent Thai noodle soup is deeply spiced and enriched with blood, usually topped with a little crackling.

Caramelised pork belly at Red Spice Road

The soft pork belly served with a biting apple slaw and chilli caramel is one of Melbourne's favourite dishes. Arm yourself with a snack to queue for this.

The Age Good Food Month Night Noodle Markets, presented by Citi, Birrarung Marr, November 12-29, open Mon-Wed 5pm-9pm; Thu-Fri 5pm-11pm; Sat 2pm-10pm; Sun 2pm-9pm, free entry, see melbourne.goodfoodmonth.com