Although my days as a student are over and I no longer study menus with the same eye for ‘great value’ (or rather, ‘the least for the most’) I still love eating cheap. Everyday food excites me. What different cultures eat regularly always has something going for it — deliciousness, nutrition and comfort are addressed neatly and with little impact on the pocket. One of the joys of Melbourne is having so much choice and variety across different foods and customs, never failing to inspire and most importantly, keep the tum full.
My top 4 cheapies — here goes:
Do yourself a favour and go order a small chicken pho from Pho Chu The on Victoria Street. Sit at the table in the window and look out onto the road. Watch the elderly Vietnamese women push their shopping trolleys. When your soup arrives on the table cover the top of the bowl with a handful of bean-shoots, basil, and fresh chilli. Sip your soup from a spoon and slurp the noodles. The broth here is second to none. If I was Matt Preston I would say that it has ‘delicate notes of kaffir lime and lemongrass.’ But I’m not so I’ll just say it’s bloody tasty, the staff are lovely, and you’ll get $1.10 change from a tenner.
Koutouki Café on Burnley Street has single-handedly ceased the need to ever eat second grade souva. On Friday nights especially it is pure sensation and pleasure — slow cooked lamb carved from the bone, soft pide-like bread, tomatoes, lettuce, onion, tzatziki. If souvas aren’t your thing, try a plate of homemade dips, spanakopita, or meatballs in tomato sauce. It is simple food cooked perfectly — Mum is in the kitchen doing the hard yards and she delivers. And brought to your table by a smooth-talking man in a tracksuit, who will cringe if you ask for your souva takeaway, what more could you ask. As a side note, if you frequent Koutouki you may be lucky enough to be offered a ‘shotty’ of homemade ouzo. I’ll leave that pleasure without a description. $1 change from a tenner — that you can go place a bet next door at The Rising Sun.
African food is very filling. A little bit goes a long way. And so we arrived at African Town in Footscray quite unprepared — we ordered up. Soon the table was heaving with bowls of spicy bean mixes, beef and slow-cooked goat curries, and pieces of flat bread the size of a large pizza. Honest, fuss-free food that will not disappoint. Enjoy with an equally cheap Ethiopian beer and you’re out for about $7 or something crazy like that.
Holy wow, the best burgers any man or woman could ever ask for. Takeaway food at its best: Andrew’s Hamburgers. Owner Greg runs a tight show behind the counter — fast, clean, a positively dreamy production line. Having never been a fan of the works burger as a concept, I usually opt for an old fashioned cheeseburger. Amazing. A few things that makes Andrew’s simply a cut above the rest: mix of cabbage and lettuce on the bun for extra crunch, patties with real mince cooked upon order, ripe tomatoes, barbecue sauce, and a buttered, toasted bun. The best place to eat this is to sit at the wooden bench against the wall and survey the hall of fame — Greg posing with celebrities including Wayne Carey, Michael Long, and the women from that show ‘The Circle.’ Cheeseburger will set you back $7.90.