It is possible to eat delicious food that is also healthy when on holiday, discovers Jesse Mulligan in Melbourne.
Eating holidays are the best, but as you get older and fatter it's good to look for ways to achieve the joys of food-based travel without some of the side effects — being permanently hungover, uncomfortably full and feeling obliged to detox for weeks upon returning home.
You can resolve to eat healthy, but this can too often feel like some sort of punishment.
Better to choose food that is delicious first and good-for-you second, and that's where ferments and pickles come in. Full of the healthy bacteria missing from the modern processed diet, these foods are good for the gut which, it turns out, is crucial to your physical and mental health. Some of them can seem a bit wacky, while others are everyday fridge items you'd probably never have thought of as being fermented. Here's my guide to finding the best of both worlds in Melbourne.
Shik is a new Korean restaurant which elevates preserved foods to the level of genius. Wrap up some marinated beef in a lettuce leaf then flavour it up with fermented persimmon and licorice, pumpkin, beetroot or kohlrabi. Sprinkle with a selection of salted herbs and leaves. The backroom of the kitchen must look like a chemistry lab, but it's all done with taste at the forefront — you won't find anything more delicious in the city.
offers kimchi as a side dish, but you'll also find pickled curiosities scattered and dusted over a range of dishes. This was one of the best meals I ate in Melbourne — sit at the bar for a view of the action.
In the same area, Embla is a great wine bar across the road from the QT Hotel that usually has something pickled on the menu — soured cucumbers cured in chardonnay vinegar on the night I visited.
For breakfast or brunch try MOM (Market on Malvern) in Prahran, a cafe attached to a wellness centre where the food has no right to taste this good. The Japanese pancake with kombucha mayo is unmissable, and the Buddha bowl is fantastic too. Order a side of sauerkraut or ask to try the chef's latest ferment — he'll have something on the go that may not be advertised on the menu.
For lunch, Vegie Bar in Fitzroy does a beautiful job of making carnivores forget they're not eating meat — a smoked tofu bao bun with kimchi is particularly good, and you can order a bottle of ginger or blueberry kefir to wash it down.
Tokyo Tina on Chapel St is hip Korean — try the all-you-can-drink bottomless brunch bingo on Sunday if you think you're up to it.
For something a little more straight up try Denmark House, a pickle-friendly lunch spot open weekdays in the Danish consulate.
And reserve at least one meal for Terror Twilight, where you can sub your coffee for a mug of miso and kombu broth, then build a healthy bowl from all sorts of gut-friendly options.
Cheese definitely counts as a ferment and so does beer — order a flight of each at Milk the Cow in Lygon St, a licensed fromagerie.
Or seek out Melbourne Supper Club near Parliament House, a discreet and luxurious late-night bar with its own cheese cave downstairs.
If you're looking for more extensive beer tastings try the female-owned Two Birds Brewing or "Urban Farmhouse Brewery" La Sirene — both a decent but not unmanageable Uber drive from the city.
At viking-themed Mjolner you can try honeymead, the oldest fermented beverage in the world, then gulp your ale from a horn. More than simple gimmickry, this is a fun place to eat like a Norseman — a Norseman with a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen.
Natural wines are a big thing in foodie circles right now, and you'll even find some naturally fermented house sodas at Henry Sugar, to drink on their own or as part of a house cocktail.
And if all this fermented food is sounding too healthy, join the queue for a croissant from Lune, one of Melbourne's hottest places to visit right now — croissants and coffee are all they do. The pecan flavour is particularly incredible, and the extra fermentation of the pastry gives it a texture unlike anything I've eaten before.
The evidence on fermented foods is in and there's nothing better you can be eating. Alcohol and sugar tend to zap all the good stuff you're feeding your gut. But with a pickle here and a ferment there, you'll feel noticeably better after your meals. What's more, the sharp taste of these sorts of foods can act as an appetite reviver, so if you're starting to feel full take a forkful of that vinegared turnip and get back on the horse.
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