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Flavours of Melbourne: a culinary biography

Wakefield Press 2008

This fascinating book gives the reader a unique road map to Melbourne’s culinary history. Its ten chapters lead you through from The Indigenous Pantry to the modern era entitled Olympic Appetiser.

We read of early Melbourne (which Charmaine quaintly calls “the town that mutton built”) through the fabulous gold rush days when the Chinese, the first significant non-British migrants began to influence our idea of food.

By mid eighteen hundreds coffee houses were established by temperance business men, property prices were booming, Queen Victoria Markets were established in 1878, and in 1880 Melbourne held an international exhibition which invited the world in.

The rise and fall of the economy, the Great Depression, two World Wars and our changing immigration policy all influenced our culinary culture. Charmaine gives recipes in each chapter relevant to the social history of the day. These range from Baked Rabbit to Japanese Miso Soup and ingredients are relevant to our kitchen today.

You will read of the influence overseas travel as travellers have returned to Melbourne eager to continue experiencing the tastes of Europe and Asia. In the late nineties, Middle Eastern food became popular; Charmaine forecasts the next cycle of interest may be African food.

Hoteliers, restaurateurs and chefs are part of this story. You will read names such as Swallow, Hoadley and Stephanie Alexander, the Windsor Hotel and see photos in the journey through the years of this historical jaunt.

There is an extensive bibliography, recipe and general indices, as well as contacts for the restaurants, hotels, cafes mentioned in each chapter. Charmaine has given us an insightful look from “as we were” to “how we are now.”

This book is for the historian, the average Australian, the whole culinary community as we recognize Melbourne as the wine and food capital of Australia.

Reviewed by Rev Barb Bailey