World on a plateOctober 24, 2009
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Enzo Fazzini from Enzo's Italian restaurant. Photo: David Mariuz
David Sly traces the origins of the capital’s culinary culture.
Walking through the lively Adelaide Central Market provides a fascinating snapshot of the city's diverse culinary heritage. Only steps away from the 250 market stalls housed beneath one roof in the centre of the city, you can dine on authentic Mumbai tandoori goat, savour a steaming bowl of Vietnam's national dish, pho bo, graze on plates of Greek mezes or simply enjoy an unadulterated bowl of spaghetti bolognaise from a stall that first served this “exotic” dish to Adelaidians in 1957.
Such a culinary melting pot is a far cry from the state's sober colonial foundation, where prim British traditions of roast meats and sweet cakes were the staples of an inherited diet that barely considered the local climate. The rich diversity of what South Australians eat now has occurred only in the decades since World War II, when an assisted migration scheme brought 215,000 people from across Europe to South Australia – including large numbers of Italians, Greeks, Dutch, Polish, Balkans, Germans, Scandinavians and people from Baltic nations. Almost a quarter of South Australia's population was born overseas and each cultural group has brought its culinary traditions.
Italians established market gardens throughout Adelaide's suburbs (especially Lockleys, Findon, Newton and Campbelltown), while Greek and Croatian fishermen increased the variety and volume of the local seafood catch. Agricultural toil focused on what foods had been grown in their homelands. Before taking root in Adelaide's restaurant culture, however, such foods first became available at ethnic supermarkets in the suburbs. Many of these food emporiums are now revered institutions.
Imma and Mario's Mercato (625-627 Lower North East Road, Campbelltown, (08) 8337 8024) is an Italian superstore that, for 35 years, has stocked a huge selection of local and imported cheeses, antipasto, oils, vinegars, biscuits, chocolates, organic foods, fresh, dried and packaged goods and even kitchenware, with an on-site bakery and cafe that many visit for coffee, cake, breakfast and lunch. Hampers can also be sourced from Bottega Rotolo (7 Osmond Terrace, Norwood, (08) 8362 0455), a classy Italian providore boasting a huge refrigerated glass room filled with cheeses. Gaganis Brothers (9-13 Bacon Street, Hindmarsh, (08) 8346 5766) and Omega Fine Foods (33 Adam Street, Hindmarsh, (08) 8346 6499) are wholesalers that also sell everything from fresh, dried and tinned goods to giant spit barbecues and huge pots for authentic sauce making direct to the public.
As more diverse types of produce emerged, migrant cuisines soon influenced a new breed of restaurant. It started inconspicuously with a smattering of “continental” eateries: Allegro's Italian Cafe in Rundle Street (1947), Paprika Grill in Hindley Street (1952) and Lucia's Spaghetti Bar, which still operates in the Adelaide Central Market where Lucia and Pasquale Rosella served Adelaide's first pizza in 1957. Now, the Italian signature is everywhere – perhaps half of Adelaide's 1000 licensed eateries have some strain of Italian influence in their menu, from the fine dining elegance of Enoteca at the Adelaide Italian Club (262 Carrington Street, (08) 8227 0766) and Auge (22 Grote Street, (08) 8410 9332), to such smart ristorantes as Terranova (see story page 5) and Milano Cucina (80 Hutt Street, (08) 8227 0961).
Other migration waves have had a similarly profound effect on Adelaide dining tables. The Vietnam War triggered a large influx of Vietnamese and Cambodian immigrants, whose instant dismay at unfamiliar local food options saw them soon farming their own plots around Virginia and Two Wells, planting many different Asian herbs and vegetables.
Former South Australian premier Don Dunstan helped to promote the standing of Asian food in South Australia's culinary culture. In 1974 he encouraged the creation of market gardens at the Cadell correctional facility in South Australia's Riverland region to plant exotic trial crops, particularly vegetables and fruits from South-East Asia. Many of the successful crops were subsequently introduced to commercial market gardens and formed the genesis of the abundant harvest that is now evident in the Adelaide Central Market and weekly farmers' markets at Wayville, Willunga and the Barossa Valley.
When the familiar native foods of South-East Asia became readily available, neighbourhood eateries soon sprouted around a cluster of western suburbs where Asian refugees mostly lived, at Woodville, Ferryden Park and Pennington. This was true Vietnamese dining – no glitz, no glamour, no lingering at the formica tables but incredible freshness and authenticity to the dishes. The food was also very cheap, which is why such modest eateries as Pho Ba Ria, Vietnam, Nghi Ngan Quan and My Tho drew an appreciative crowd of Caucasians.
To satisfy the demands of a food-focused local Vietnamese community – and encouraged by the popularity of successful Asian supermarkets in the Chinatown precinct immediately west of the Adelaide Central Market – Viet grocers became larger and more expansive in suburbs ringing the city. The Asian Grocery at Torrensville (162 Henley Beach Road, nuzzled between a string of Italian and Greek eateries) and the Kilburn Asian Grocer (360a Prospect Road, Prospect) are now foodie landmarks and stock other Asian culinary exotica.
More recently, Adelaide has witnessed a surge in numbers of East African refugees and the subsequent emergence of a few key grocery stores – especially Sudanese refugee Isaac Rog's African Supermarket at 182 Prospect Road – and a string of homely cheap restaurants that ring the inner western and northern suburbs. These range from the Ethiopian soul food of Addis Ababa cafe and the Abyssinian Restaurant, to the flavours of modern Sudanese cuisine at Babanusa in Prospect with time-honoured recipes featuring okra, eggplant, lentils, fava beans, chickpeas, dates, garlic and sheep products from lamb to yoghurt.
The global tour continues through other Adelaide eat streets, from Tangritah Uyghur (112 Grote Street, city) presenting food traditions from the remote western tribes of China, to the Spanish El Choto (124 Port Road, Hindmarsh (08) 8346 1267).
The Adelaide melting pot has also yielded some lively unions of flavours and food styles. Malaysian-Chinese chef Cheong Liew led the charge with his fusion of Eastern and Western flavours at The Grange restaurant in the Hilton Adelaide. Many chefs have followed his lead in bustling restaurant strips along Gouger, Rundle and Hutt streets in the city, King William Road at Hyde Park, The Parade at Norwood and O'Connell Street in North Adelaide, where cultural harmony comes on a plate.
First Australian foods
Indigenous Australians taught colonial pioneers from the 1840s how to survive on native produce, yet it wasn't until the first Red Ochre Grill opened in 1985 that bush tucker became a culinary curiosity in Adelaide.
Chef Andrew Fielke started using wattle seed, lemon myrtle, bush tomatoes and quandongs as key flavourings in his dishes and their popularity spawned commercial production of native ingredients.
In the late 1990s, Andrew Beal of Australian Native Produce Industries started making inroads with large-scale production at Paringa in South Australia's Riverland. As well as producing the Red Ochre brand of sauces, condiments, fresh herbs and spices, he propagated new domestic citrus trees introducing the outback lime and blood lime.
These ingredients have moved beyond a novelty to become restaurant signatures, evident at the Red Ochre Restaurant. This large, elegant room perched above the banks of the River Torrens (War Memorial Drive, North Adelaide, (08) 8211 8555) has executive chef Ray Mauger being smart in his subtle use of pepper leaf, mountain pepper, lemon and aniseed myrtle, lemon aspen, warrigal greens and muntries in dishes of kangaroo, salt-and-pepper crocodile with prawns, or rich emu pate.
For a simpler introduction to bush flavours, try a wattleseed ice-cream from the Bush Tucker Ice-Cream van at the Adelaide Showground Farmers' Market (Leader Street, Wayville) each Sunday morning.
Suburban bites are the culinary delights
Babanusa (86 Prospect Road, Prospect, (08) 8342 1222) is said to be Australia's first Sudanese restaurant. For 15 years it has been a cultural focal point for swelling ranks of African migrants and locals who enjoy its laid-back atmosphere, often punctuated by African drums and xylophone. Chef Eddie Ahmed prepares simple dishes, with hefty soups providing an essential start to the meal: adass (red lentils with garlic), waika (dried okra with either lamb or chicken and herbs) and shorba (peanut paste soup).
Ethiopian food can be sampled in two distinct styles – from the homely Addis Ababa Cafe (462a Port Road, West Hindmarsh, (08) 8241 5185) where chef Yenesh Gbere adds a big pinch of spice to rustic dishes, to the funky vibe of Abyssinian Restaurant (126 Henley Beach Road, Torrensville, (08) 8443 4300) where Ras Mokonne evokes a cool atmosphere that feels more like a social club and serves such wholesome dishes as gomen (collard greens), kitfo (cardamom-spiced beef) and injer spongy bread.
Authentic Moroccan food is served at Marrakech (66 King William Road, Hyde Park, (08) 8299 9901), where fez-wearing chef Mohammed cooks fragrant tagine with couscous, presented in an appropriate setting with low tables and plush cushions.
To taste Vietnamese pho bo at its simplest and most pristine, try Pho Ba Ria 2 (54c Hanson Road, Woodville Gardens, (08) 8244 5522). The place is not fancy to look at but it's what's in the bowl that matters and this is the genuine article: a clutch of condiments on every table – Hoisin, fish, chilli and soy sauces, chilli oil and brown vinegar – allows you to season the rich beef broth as you see fit. There are other delights to savour, including minced prawns wrapped around sugar cane skewers and a luxurious soup of roast duck with egg noodles.
Vietnam (73 Addison Road, Pennington, (08) 8447 3395) is the long-standing institution that introduced Adelaide diners to authentic Vietnamese food and still doesn't disappoint. Favourites include warm seafood salad served with glass vermicelli noodles, steamed prawns, scallops and squid; barbecued quails marinated in lemongrass and chilli; and crispy seafood dishes braised with ginger and fish sauce. The rice hot pots are a specialty.
Nghi Ngan Quan (34 Wright Street, Ferryden Park, (08) 8244 6003) is a big, open restaurant that attracts Vietnamese migrants from surrounding suburbs and has a menu of more than 100 dishes, most costing less than $10 a serve. Shredded pork cold rolls and the hot sour soup with taro are superb.
My Tho (183B Hanson Road, Athol Park, (08) 8243 0585) produces southern regional Vietnamese dishes true to the Mekong Delta area – clean, delicious soups ranging from chicken sweetcorn to chicken fungus mushroom and shark fin and crabmeat; a cluster of goat dishes; and salt-and-pepper flounder with chilli, garlic and ginger.
So much Italian culinary influence has been absorbed into slick contemporary cafe culture that it's comforting to still find some old-fashioned ristorante hospitality in Adelaide's inner-western suburbs. At Hindmarsh, Enzo's Ristorante (308 Port Road, (08) 8346 2786) offers classic Italian flavour, with soccer shirts on the walls, murals of the homeland and genial host Enzo Fazzari serving fabulous authentic Italian food. Capturing authenticity in simple dishes is also the mantra of Terranova Ristorante (170 Henley Beach Road, Torrensville, (08) 8352 1822), run by the Vorrasi family, who also own the superb O'Furno Bakery next door. Chef Edoardo Strappa makes a fist of classics from bistecca Fiorentina to spaghetti vongole.
Kefi Greek Cuisine (61 Tapleys Hill Road, Glenelg North, (08) 8350 9199) embraces the classic taverna style of Greek dining with robust enthusiasm. Generous to a fault (portions verge on excessive), this small restaurant is always crowded, attracting hungry diners eager for superb meats that are chargrilled to remain moist and succulent, especially the quail and lamb, and a glorious seafood psarika.