Filled with goods from around the globe, the specialty stores of Melbourne are irresistible to home cooks. The Good Food team grab their Eskies and hit the road.
It is almost a spiritual pilgrimage for me at the start of each year: a trip to Mediterranean Wholesalers in Melbourne's Brunswick. One trolley is not enough to handle the trays of San Marzano tinned tomatoes, Callipo tuna, wedges of parmigiano reggiano and packets of Gentile pasta. Somehow all those carbs soothe me and make me feel like I am ready to tackle the year. The produce is cheap and wonderful and the staff even laugh at my husband's joke as we lug boxes to the car and he says "see you next week".
Melbourne is full of similar specialist stores, Aladdin's caves of goods worth crossing town for. Some are new and glinting with well-lit tins and packets; others have been standing strong and authentic for decades.
We asked our team to tell us the stores they make a pilgrimage to at least once a year (maybe even once a week). And to enhance the journey, we asked them throw in their favourite nearby (or in-house) place to grab a snack at before or after the car boot has been loaded.
Good Food editor
D&K Live Seafood
Mussels, royal blue marron and lobsters don't come any fresher than the alive-and-kicking specimens you can choose from the fizzing tanks of this Footscray fish retailer.
Originally, I was drawn here while trying to stock a dam with water-cleansing mussels. But once you behold the bounty of wild yabbies, Tasmanian sea urchin, and things you weren't completely aware existed, such as sleepy cod, you'll be leaving with a fat bag and thin wallet.
A note for the squeamish: they will happily dispatch your goods if you can't face doing it yourself.
Unit 3, 28A Leeds Street, Footscray
Snack stop: Tum tard platters (lunch only) at Issan Thai Street Food (16 Paisley Street, Footscray) deliver a fiery banquet of hits from North Thailand – som tum salad, sticky charcoal-grilled pork and rice noodles that pull no punches.
Neri's Hummus Bar
Tahini Neri has been making silky waves in the sesame paste market for a number of years, and their shop in Bentleigh East is never without a queue for their big tubs of hummus, spicy harissa and big packs of pillowy pita. But Fridays are now a total riot thanks to their recently established hummus bar.
From 9am-3pm (Fridays only), you can pick up your dips (original hulled tahini, or maybe the version spiked with garlic and greens) plus warm bowls of silky hummus loaded with chilli sauce, pickles, pita and fresh falafels for a killer $10 lunch.
937 Centre Road, Bentleigh East, tahinineri.com.au
Snack stop: If you're into offensively well-stacked hot sandwiches, you better call into Saul's (right around the corner from Neri's). Keep an eye out for their spicy fried chicken number.
Fish by Moonlite
Yes, another seafood shop, but it is (sadly) rare to find one like this Anglesea gem owned by gun chef Matt Germanchis and Gemma Gange. You can guarantee they know the provenance of every finned thing in the cabinet, which is sourced by ethical, small-scale suppliers. That might be silvery Port Lincoln sardines, Venus Bay clams, Hawkesbury River school prawns or fat hunks of Germanchis' own smoked salmon.
All of this is excellent, but admittedly the real reason I'd drive down the coast is for the potato cake, available along with epic fish and chips, oysters and a tight list of wines and beers at weekends.
Shop 4, Anglesea Shopping village, 87-89 Great Ocean Road, Anglesea, fishbymoonlite.com.au
Snack stop: This IS the snack stop.
Latin Foods and Wines' chacarero (steak sandwich). Photo: Chris Hopkins
Latin Foods and Wines
A Chilean former boss tipped me off about Latin Foods (nee La Morenita) more than a decade ago, and I've followed its journey from Sunshine to Deer Park and now Melton. Past trips to the broadly Latin American bakers, wholesalers (under its new Almasol label), importers and caterers have involved pizza boxes packed full of freezer-friendly baked beef and onion empanadas, each with requisite boiled-egg wedge and black olive (they'll knock off 50¢ a pop if you buy 10 or more, with more than 25 fillings to choose from).
Vibrant red fresh chorizo sausages from Sydney's Rodriguez Brothers are a must. As are house-made alfajores – biscuits sandwiched with thick dulce de leche caramel. My favourites are maicena (coconut-ringed cornflour shortbread), or they come coated in chocolate or crisp meringue. The minis mean you can try them all. Grab a jar of the caramel to go, too.
47 Unitt Street, Melton (also at 9/44-56 Hampstead Road, Maidstone)
Snack stop: Keeping it in-house, the chacarero (Chilean farmers' sandwich) – grilled minute steak and green beans, tomato, cheese, mayonnaise and a kick from red chilli paste in a pan amasado bun – is worth the journey alone for me.
File photo of Rob Boyle of Rob's British Butchers, who will celebrate 30 years in business this year. Photo: Simon Schluter
Rob's British Butchers
Fry-up fans can get all the fixings for a full English (or Scottish or Irish) breakfast at Rob's, with nuanced country-specific styles of bacon, black and white puddings. Regional pride extends to the sausages, which cover various UK counties, and other hard-to-find specialties such as haggis, gammon and traditional shell and hand-raised pork pies.
There's also plenty of imported pantry staples, sweets and crisps, and even laundry items and UK-made Cadbury chocolate for homesick Brits.
Be sure to grab a pack of potato scones (Scottish triangular pikelets that sop up bacon grease) and a jar of Tony's Own local pickled onions.
177 Lonsdale Street, Dandenong
Snack stop: Breakfast rolls are freshly cooked in-store on Saturday mornings; the Rob's Special is the fry-up equivalent of a burger with the lot.
Casa Iberica in Johnston Street, Fitzroy. Photo: Gary Medlicott
Whole legs of jamon and lengths of cured chorizo hang above the counter of arguably Melbourne's most authentic Spanish deli, and its mostly Spanish-speaking clientele provide the perfect soundtrack.
It's tightly packed so be prepared to weave around the shelves to get to the back wall of well-priced glazed terracotta tapas dishes and paella pans.
Treasures to seek out: Los Novios smoked paprika (pimenton ahumado – the retro bride-and-groom-emblazoned tins also feature on the mural on the shop's exterior); sacks of Calasparra rice for paella; Masa Brosa blue masa and a cast-iron press for making tortillas; cured chorizo; and a jar of locally made Dorina brand chimichurri.
25 Johnston Street, Fitzroy (also at 154-156 Fulham Road, Alphington), casaibericadeli.com.au
Snack stop: Grab a fresh soft or crusty roll filled with cold cuts – jamon serrano, manchego, roasted peppers and olives is a popular combo ($8.50).
Maker and Monger's All American cheese toastie. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen
Maker & Monger
Melbourne is blessed with many fabulous cheesemongers but nothing quite compares to Anthony Femia's (pictured), which has its own maturation room where he ages Marcel Petite Comte specially selected for Maker & Monger, plus limited-edition creations from Stone & Crow and Long Paddock.
My list usually includes one of the clothbound cheddars matured by Neal's Yard Dairy in London and a round of delicate La Tur, soft enough to spread with a spoon. But I always leave with more.
Stall 98, Prahran Market, 163 Commercial Road, South Yarra, makerandmonger.com.au
Snack stop: A cheese toastie, of course. The All American deploys fresh parsley and onions to offset rich Vermont cheddar.
Uncle's Deli & Smallgoods
"If it's smoked, it's here" could be the coffee cup motto of this eastern European deli that now stocks even more kielbasa, bratwurst and pastrami in its new home.
Aside from all the smallgoods smoked over open fire just three minutes down the road, there are rows and rows of Polish mustard and pickles, La Verna sauerkraut, Uncle's own house-made pierogis to stock the freezer, plus a brand-new cafe serving sandwiches and St Ali coffee.
32 Gladstone Road, Dandenong, unclessmallgoods.com
Snack stop: Don't go past the reuben, one of the few where pastrami and sauerkraut are both house-made.
A relatively recent discovery for me, MKS has been serving Melbourne's South Asian communities for nearly three decades, keeping cupboards stocked with a rainbow of pulses and almost any dried spice you could ever want (it's a big fave of Daughter In Law chef Jessi Singh).
The range is truly overwhelming, but I'm on a mission to try as many different chutneys and masalas as possible, while also stocking up on sev (short and crunchy chickpea flour noodles for snacking), jaggery (raw sugar), kulfi and more.
Locations in Ashburton, Dandenong, Epping, Preston and St Albans, mymks.com.au
Snack stop: Most stores have dozens of snackage options, from biryani to kottu roti, but don't go past the cutlets, crumbed and fried parcels holding spiced fish, slow-cooked lamb or lightly spiced potato.
D&K Asian Grocery in Footscray. Photo: Vien Tran
D&K Asian Grocery
Discreetly tucked along a Footscray side street sits dreamy food emporium D&K Asian Grocery, packed with hard-to-find, quality Asian ingredients (like Michelin-starred Tsuta and Nakiryu noodles), cooking implements (takoyaki pan, get in my basket) and a rotating range of grab-and-go dishes from some of Melbourne's best Asian chefs and eateries. High on my short 2021 highlight list was sushi, prepared and handed out by the Langham's legendary sushi chef, Takeshi Murakami, himself.
Time it right (or follow @dkasiangrocery on Instagram for the tip off) and you can take home a Wabi Sabi Salon @wabisabisalon katsu sando for lunch. And for finish-at-home ramen, there are pouches of creamy Tonkotsu broth from Ippudo @ippudo_jp, dumplings from Din Tai Fung, and at least 10 types of chilli oil to get excited about.
17 Byron Street, Footscray
Snack stop: It's got to be a crispy pork banh mi (and maybe a sneaky dimmie) from To's Bakery (122 Hopkins Street, Footscray), with change from a tenner for both.
It's a live gozleme-making show (and juice bar) up the front, and an eclectic selection of mostly Mediterranean ingredients (and butcher) towards the back of this legendary Collingwood continental supermarket, which has been going strong for more than 50 years now.
It's especially good for hard-to-find spices, sauces and specialty items (such as jars of cactus for your next Mex fest, and Lebanese Al Nakhil Tahina that I drizzle on everything), but it's the ridiculously good hummus that had me crossing town. House-made every day, it's impossible not to buy a tub or two (and some puffy-fresh Turkish bread).
It's also open every day, including Christmas, so make a mental note: a pretty tin of El Avion paprika or Spanish sardines makes a great last-minute gift.
216-218 Smith street, Collingwood, sonsamarkets.com.au
Snack stop: What else but a made-in-front-of-you spinach and ricotta gozleme for $10. Say yes to the offer of lemon and chillies to go with it. Squeeze, fold, shove into your mouth.
The Que Club
I thought I knew a bit about American barbecue – until I visited The Que Club, that is. Holy smoked brisket, it is quite the cult, and one I've started to dip my tongs into.
So many imaginatively titled rubs, dusts, injections, hot sauces and killer pickles to try, I'd need a separate pantry just to store them in.
Where to start? The beginner-friendly Kosmos Q Dirty Bird is an award-winning, back-porch friendly (ie. a 'lil basic for the pros) rub, while the fresh-from-Kansas Traeger Sugar Lips Glaze gives meat a sweet, sticky kiss. They also have all the gear (and guidance) for those with no idea. No comment.
434 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, thequeclub.com.au
Snack stop: You can't leave without trying the tender juicy brisket from the on-site restaurant. Now that's something to aspire to when you DIY at home.
The South African Shop
Homesick South Africans call into this well-hidden shop for their favourite brands of chips, biscuits (Ouma rusks are not just for teething bubs, apparently), sweets and mielie meal (maize porridge).
Me, I'm just here for the biltong, South Africa's answer to beef jerky. The house version is made by rubbing silverside steaks in vinegar and spices, which are dried until they resemble slabs of bark, then thinly sliced to order.
On my last visit, a customer asked for his order to be doctored with chilli salt ("when you think you've added enough, add some more"). The result is a moreish salty-sweet high-protein snack.
The cold cabinet also stocks boerewors (pictured), the spiral-shaped sausage essential for braais (barbecues) and stokkies ("little sticks" of dried beef).
Shop 7 & 8 , 112 James Street, Templestowe, thesouthafricanshop.com.au
Snack stop: If you can get out of the car park without tearing open the bag of biltong, you're made of stronger stuff than me.
There are more modern and spacious Sri Lankan grocers on this unassuming shopping strip. But Cake Point is the original, and judging by the number of Sri Lankan expats coming and going, still the best.
The shelves are neatly stacked with bags of red rice for idli (breakfast rice cakes), pre-mixed batter for hoppers (rice and coconut pancakes), and dense blocks of Derana kithul jaggery, palm sugar used to make watalappan, a dark and fragrant coconut steamed pudding.
But most people squeeze between the aisles to choose "short eats", fried snacks sold on street corners all over Sri Lanka. While they're here, most customers also load up with takeaway containers filled with biryani or rice, a couple of curries and sambol to stock the freezer.
1296 Centre Road, Clayton
Snack stop: For me, the beef pan rolls, spicy beef and potato swaddled in pancake and breadcrumbs, are the pick of the bain marie.