My challenge should I choose to accept it was Christmas dinner for eight, a flat $100, and everything to come from Footscray and Little Saigon markets. I scratched my head, rubbed my tummy and came up with this devious plan:
Vietnamese-style poached chicken and lettuce wraps
Crispy roast pork
Giant cous cous and roast vegie salad
Would I find everything? Would it come in under a hundo? Stick around and find out!
First stop, Footscray Market. Six years ago, I'd stop here every weekend after another round of house hunting in the area. The happy, multicultural hubbub was what made me fall in love with the inner west.
First stop, rice vinegar, fish sauce, rice vermicelli noodles and crispy fried shallots for my Vietnamese appetiser. I really like this little Asian grocer, just off the Footscray Market food court.
It's tidy and well organised...
...and has quite a few interesting bits and pieces like this Filipino spiced coconut vinegar. I highly recommend the fried tofu for sale on the counter, whether for taking home to place in homemade rice paper rolls or sushi, or just to nibble as you wander about the market!
"Big Trade" is the supermarket inside Footscray Market. From the outside it can look a bit uninspiring, I admit, but if you rifle around inside you can uncover so much buried treasure.
Check out this awesome range of spices, like Turkish black chilli (a favourite ingredient of Greg Malouf, apparently) and liquorice bark slices. The "chicken mix" has been a family favourite of ours for years - mix with yoghurt to make a delicious marinade for chicken on the barbie. This is the place to grab allspice, the secret ingredient to really good tabbouli.
Big Trade also comes through with giant cous cous and burghul (cracked wheat, for the tabbouli). They also sell freekeh or roasted, cracked green wheat (middle shelf, on the right above), a superfood that normally comes with a super price tag - but not here! I'm also intrigued by the Turkish dried white corn on the middle shelf above. It's for soups apparently, but I wonder if with a turn or two in a kind friend's Thermomix, it could actually be a stand-in for the American grits I so desperately crave?
Another Big Trade find - mastic, a dried tree gum with an intriguing "pine" flavour (see mastic ice cream here at Morsels and Musings - yum!) The "machlepi" or "mahlab" are tiny cherry pips which are used, among other things, as an ingredient in Greg Malouf's Lebanese naqaniq sausages.
Big Trade also has flours (including proper "hard" flour for pasta or pizza making), oils and a much-loved deli with interesting cheeses. After picking up our dry goods plus a pot of cream for the pavlova, it's time to move on...
...to Little Saigon Shopping Centre for seasonal fruit and crisp greens. Like any market, it's worthwhile browsing the three main fruit shops for what looks best on the day.
There are snacks to be had along the way - try dipping the fruits in this chilli/salt sprinkle, which both offsets and serves to highlight their sweetness.
Once you buy greens from Little Saigon, you'll struggle to buy them anywhere else. Bunches of mixed mints are about 70 cents each, as are whole bunches of spring onions. See here on the right Vietnamese water spinach, and in the middle under the 4 for $2 sign, rice paddy herb, essential in rare beef with lemon coleslaw. So much freshness!
There are loads of rarely-seen goodies like (on the left) fresh turmeric, baby Thai eggplants and (at top right) slightly alien-looking kohlrabi. I'm here to snap up fresh limes for my nuoc cham Vietnamese dipping sauce (go for the ones that are slightly yellow, which denotes ripeness).
The fruit offerings are highly seasonal here, and now's the time of year to pick up the best mangos and cherries. I got three gorgeous mangos for a little over $3 - that's total, not each! Remember, you can taste just about everything so you know exactly what you're buying.
Now, loaded up with crisp iceberg lettuce, spring onion, white radish (for Vietnamese pickles), fresh fruit and more, it's back to Footscray Market for some more "continental" produce. Bushy Park Wholesale is a relatively new resident (you can even like them on Facebook). They have a good range of produce including loads of Asian veg - I even saw Indian methi or fresh fenugreek leaves! They came through with really lovely bunches of Italian parsley, $1.50 each.
Masters next door is my old favourite, although I do miss the Lebanese girls who used to man the registers and were always up for a natter. The outer display holds the best bargains, while inside there's more specialty produce like passionfruits (three for $2) and slender green baby zucchini.
Awesome - Australian garlic! Plus my favourite taters, kipflers, which make the best potato salads.
Time to scour the meat hall for the main event, crispy roast pork.
I'm always scouting for what looks best on the day rather than having a favourite butcher, but the Hong Kong Meat Co is known for having more European-style cuts. For around $30 I got a 2.5 kg rolled pork loin, trussed and ready for scoring (although I did have to unroll and retie to trim off some of the skin which had been rolled into the centre - you only want it on the outside). Hot tip - TH Butcher across the way has great pork and fennel sausages.
Then at Dai Quang Poultry, it's time to get a whole free range chook (from Bannockburn, as seen at Sims)...
...and a half-dozen certified organic free range eggs ($3.80). Awesome!
Last stop, Footscray Market Deli, owned by the same family as Masters fruit and veg.
The cheeses are so tempting but today I'm only after Dodoni feta for sprinkling on my cous cous salad (it was on special, but I reckon Bulgarian is just as good).
Likewise, smoked meats will have to wait for another day!
Did you know Footscray Market Deli sell gorgeous sourdough bread from the venerable Natural Tucker Bakery in North Carlton, as well as sourdough from traditional European baker Andrew in Laverton?
Two markets in under two hours! Market ninja.
And here's the haul - everything from the markets, from vinegar to cream and everything in between, for the grand total of $91.30! (You could use the extra $8.70 towards olive oil, salt or other basics if you didn't have them the cupboard.)
For the Vietnamese-style wraps, the chicken is poached in an Asian-style stock (infused with ginger, garlic, spring onions and black peppercorns) before being cooled and gently shredded.
The Vietnamese pickled vegetables can be made a few days before, by soaking carrot and daikon batons in a sweetened vinegar for at least one day. (PS: The carrots are from my vegie box, but they'd only add up to a few cents. If you get a veg box too, you will sympathise with my constant state of carrot glut and why I couldn't bear to actually purchase the darn things!)
Then, arranged with iceberg cups, cooked and cooled rice vermicelli, pickled carrot, cucumber and interesting mints, guests can make their own cooling poached chicken and noodle wraps...
...and dunk them in piquant home-made nuoc cham sauce, a sweet/tangy blend of fish sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice and sugar.
Christmas to me means the kids in the pool, a full roast dinner and dozing, full-bellied uncles all around, Christmas cracker hats sagging lopsidedly atop slumbering heads. I know it's not very modern but to me, Christmas has to have a roast, and what better than juicy roast pork with perfect crackling? (You could start it in a hot oven to get the crackling up and then transfer to a slow barbecue, if you don't want to be stuck in a hot kitchen.)
Then luscious tabbouli, dressed with lashings of lemon juice and olive oil, spiked with sea salt, black pepper and the all-important allspice.
And a warm salad of roasted vegies and giant cous cous (easy to prepare - just cook like pasta until tender), dressed with red wine vinegar and olive oil and sprinkled with tangy feta.
A blend of tradition, multiculturalism and modernity - that's the Australia I love.
We did do the Chrissie pudding growing up, and while I do love it, nothing says Australian summer more than good old pav. If you haven't had it before, pavlova is essentially a giant meringue (made from egg whites and sugar), topped with whipped cream and your choice of seasonal fruit.
I use Stephanie Alexander's recipe which advises flipping the cooked meringue over so you get that wonderful contrast between crisp exterior, fluffy marshmallow meringue middle, cool whipped cream and tangy summer fruits. SO GOOD.
So there you go - Christmas dinner for eight, sourced with the most seasonal, ethical ingredients available, and all for under $100. I LOVE FOOTSCRAY!
Disclosure: I was approached by Footscray Life, a division of Maribyrnong Council, to create a Christmas menu for under $100 with ingredients from Footscray Market and Little Saigon Shopping Centre, with the subsequent piece to appear both on Footscray Food Blog and Footscray Life. I quoted Footscray Life for my time and was reimbursed for my ingredients.