279 Swanston Street Walk Melbourne, VIC 3000
There are three types of Melbourne International Film Festival meals: pre-film eating on fast forward, cinema-seat popcorn scoffing and slow-mo post-film feasts. The city centre, especially Swanston Street, makes the pre-film feeding frenzy easy with heaps of efficient Asian restaurants offering everything from no-brainer sushi to my favourite Melbourne menu item, the scary "lamb internal mixture soup" at a regional Chinese cheapie near Melbourne Central.
Malaysian canteen Old Town Kopitiam Mamak is just off Swanston Street, hidden away in QV Square. It works for quick, early meals and for post-movie munching: service is speedy and tables are shared, all the better to hear others spill their must-watch and better-avoid movie wisdom. A "kopitiam" (coffee shop) sells Malaysian-style coffee and tea mixed with condensed milk. The essential accompanying snack is kaya toast, spread with a sweet mix of pandan-flavoured egg and coconut milk. Hawker dishes are often part of the picture, too. Old Town is also "mamak", which means it's Indian Muslim and therefore halal.
The roti is made here and it's flaky, fresh and golden. Savoury versions like the roti telur bawang, sandwiched with egg and onion, come with curry sauce and sambal. My new favourite treat is the sweet roti bom, a fat, fluffy scroll served with dipping dishes of condensed milk and sugar. Have it with Milo, which is huge in Malaysia and delicious here served hot in a cute cup and saucer.
Nasi kandar - biryani rice with your choice of ready-made hot dishes - makes an easy, cheap meal to share. I tried the beef stew, which was a little dry, and the unctuous eggplant belacan, which responded better to the food warmer. Classic dishes such as mee goreng and curry laksa are under $10 and cooked to order, along with more obscure noodle and rice dishes such as the pan mee. The "dry base" pan mee is a flat rice noodle dish, stir-fried with crisp anchovies, mushrooms and greens and served with special chilli and shrimp paste sambal. It's a curious, moreish dish.
A couple of tips: bookings are possible Monday to Thursday; otherwise, come before 6.30pm or after 8.30pm for the best chance of a no-wait meal. A note on libation: Old Town is alcohol free, but I was surprised to discover that it's possible to talk film while sipping tea instead of red wine.
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