Tuesday, February 19, 2008

cheap eats

There was a point I dropped off buying the Fairfax food bibles. “The Good Food Guide” segued to cover-to-cover advertising and “Cheap Eats” seemed to reinvent the definition of “cheap”. Sure things have changed since I moved to Melbourne 20 years ago. But for many years I really did have no spare cash and all dining beyond the home or someone else’s house aimed at the $5-10 mark. I’d scour the guide for a little bit of lux parading as cheap but I soon discovered that inclusion fell more into the cost of a single dish, rather than what it took to constitute a meal. Yu Yu for example, technically, has some incredibly cheap dishes all served in an exclusive setting but a serving the size of child's hand tends to leave one a tad hungry.

Looking at the write up for this years winners of the cheapie crowns I am not entirely sure if much has changed.

“The Moroccan Soup Bar” gets a mention in the fast disappearing vegetarian section and absolutely hits the monetary goals. You can eat to the gills, with mint tea, thick coffee and dessert as well, with significant change out of a $20 note. You can do most things there except book a table for 2, eat meat or imbibe in liquor. I am not entirely sure you could fill up as easily at Bar Lourinha, Cafe Zum Zum or Mecca Bah for twice the price. Sure there will always be cheap items on the menu but rarely are they enough to satisfy. Of course, in such establishments we are just talking about food, when adding a bar tab to the bill – cheap is long gone.

True cheap grub, is the string of Lebanese restaurants on Sydney Road rather than the sanitized (but certainly tasty) reinterpretations of the genre that get the gongs. Cheap is any place in Footscray where English is not the language of choice. In Northcote the most delicious feast you can have with the most stunning array of foods is the banquet nights (Friday and Saturday) at Sigri, where there is flavoursome Sri Lankan food on offer for a mere $25. I’m not the kind of person who’d usually frequent a bain marie, serve yourself style establishment but the food here is some of the best in it’s class.

A cheap eat is a falafel, with freshly cooked balls of broad beans or chickpeas, crunchy salad, tangy tahini dressing, in fluffy Turkish bread (the Halal place 2 doors up from Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick is a standout). An inexpensive feast is a trip to the market for bread and deli items, sun ripened tomatoes and grapes, for a picnic. A belly filling delight is the seafood laksa at Chin Chins, in North Carlton.

But the crown of cheapness has to go to "Lentil as Anything" the collection of pay as you wish eateries (once more vegetarian and alcohol-free) - where if you so chose, you really could sing for your supper.

So what is your idea of a cheap eat?

Update: This was a quick post before I went to work today and within a couple of hours and a few comments later a whole new group blog has been born. Take the Very Cheap Eat challenge to help us find the best cheap eats for no more than $20.

What is $20 Australian worth today? (conversion approximate)

US $18 (not usually this high)
UK pound 9
Euro 12
NZ $22

Most meal costs include GST (tax) and tipping is optional.

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Blogger Ed Charles said...

Good point. Funnily enough we went to their top place Rumi on Friday night and filled ourselves to the brim for $80 with no wine but iced tea and coffee. Sure it's quite cheap compared to many city places but it's not the heartland of cheap eats. Maybe its time for the guide to be reinvented. Group blog anyone?

8:34 am  
Blogger Jane said...

I so agree. For me, it's the six dollars a head for a massive lunch of dumplings and greens at Camy Shanghai Noodles - chuck in a beer and it's still only ten bucks. Like you said, pho in Footscray, or the spectacular north-western Chinese grub at 1+1 Dumpling Noodle. Even posh old Yarraville has the lovely l'Uccello where - if you're not totally starving - you can split a fabulous pizza, salad and an alcoholic drink each for about $18 a head.

9:13 am  
Blogger Jane said...

...oh, and also, Al Nada pizza in Spotswood. Three delicious Lebanese pizzas for $13 - it'll do two of you for dinner, with leftovers to take for your lunch.

9:18 am  
Blogger GS said...

Hey Ed - the last collaborative melbourne food blog has fallen flat on its face in the past year but was a great idea. Perhaps it could be resurrected with a new group of contributers and renamed as real cheap eats?

But perhaps the question we should ask first is what is cheap? I don't think $40 pp with no grog (yes am still alcohol free 20 days and counting!) is cheap, moderate or medium priced maybe but not cheap.

Tskerricks good tips - would you be interested in the group blog?

9:51 am  
Blogger Ed Charles said...

Orwestart tagging posts "really cheap eats" and have a monthly event in which a different host does a round-up. Could be popular. Perhaps we could make it Australia wide.

9:55 am  
Blogger Jane said...

for me, $40pp is DEFINITELY not cheap. That's a fancy night out. Cheap is under $20, preferably with one alcoholic drink (though I'm prepared to be swayed on that).

Yeah, I could be interested in some form of blog. I'm a little west-centric though, don't know if that's a problem.

9:57 am  
Blogger Lucy said...

The blog idea sounds great. Count me in, should you go with it.

10:30 am  
Blogger Ed Charles said...

Okay I just seat up a very cheap eats blog at blogger.


Anybody can join. I think you need to email me and you'll get an email from blogger inviting you to join. It's be good to have some other admins join.

11:08 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Totally agree with you. Gave up on Cheap Eats ages ago. The Sydney one is just the same. Every now and then I think it must have changed. But no, it's still full of places I would NOT regard as being cheap.

And it totally ignores the wonderful pizza place up the road from us - where they sell pizza by the slice, and the owner makes his own ice-cream. Plus no mention of most of the wonderful Turkish, Lebanese and assorted Middle Eastern places in the greater west of Sydney.

And having just been to Melbourne and sampled Camy Shanghai Noodles and the amazing macadamia salad at Vegie Bar. How DO they make that salad for $10? I know you guys have some wondrous, genuine cheap eats.

7:43 pm  
Blogger Ann ODyne said...

My writer bloglink Scribble by 3, just posted pics of the St.Kilda festival and they made me miss Cafe Balas great food which is in inverse ratio to the cost.

Mangoes were very cheap today so it's time for mango chutney and my link Bliss Hill just posted a microwave recipe for it.

12:47 am  
Blogger Juliette said...

The place just up from Mediterranean Wholesaler is called Tiba's and is extraordinary value and the food is pretty good... they have meals which include a meat or felafel portion (I love the chicken wings), together with a few salads, dips, and rice and bread for $10. The serves are so big I sometimes share one with my partner! I recently had some soggy tabouli there, so hopefully it's not going downhill...

7:56 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

Has anyone been to the small dumpling house next to Camy Shanghai? I think it is called
" Shanghai Dumpling and noodle house"....

Could I get more the address for l'Uccello, couldnt find it on the net.

4:40 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Kathryn - from a Melbourne persons point we are indeed very lucky to have a lot of good local restaurants as well as a few big name, special night joints.

I have an utter fear of msg so haven't braved camy's - anyone know if they use the dreaded white powder or glutamate laden sauces?

Shreya - check out michael and cindy's review of camy's
http://herestheveg.blogspot.com/2007/07/july-26-2007-camy-shanghai-dumpling.html they have a second review on site as well. You might have to pop over to travelskerricks blog to find out more about l'ucello's.

Dys - maybe I'm about the only person in town who doesn't think Bala's is great. Cheap yes, but loaded in oil and salt covering. I almost wept when the other fantatic st kilda inport, Veg Out Time, was replaced by Balas in Brunswick St a couple of years ago.

Juliette thanks for the name check. Much appreciated.

5:10 pm  
Blogger GS said...

For some reason this comment stream has been bombarded by bogus comments...so if I get lazy and stop pruning them, just take it as read that I'm not promoting bain maries..in Melbourne or any Asian subcontinent.
Spambots/underpaid human slaves in India please rack off.

10:14 pm  

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