They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s often the least varied too. We seek out some of Melbourne’s less ordinary morning meals to replace your usual serve of eggs or muesli.
Our city doesn’t only have an insatiable appetite, but a palate that is infinitely diverse and curious. We can’t wait to taste something new, see what it looks like on a plate and be surprised by a strange and exotic flavour. We learn what we like and what we don’t like; we burn out tongues in anticipation; we leave sauce rings and splatters on the table because we enjoyed it that much.
While lunch and dinner tend to be the time for happy adventuring, the very first meal of the day seems to be one that espouses a stubborn fixation on the familiar. We’ve come a long way from the homogeneous menus of ‘ham toasties’ and ‘eggs benny’, with innovative chefs starting to introduce less conventional produce and spices to our breakfast plates. But from a wider perspective, our popular breakfast culture is still largely anchored to our English and American influences, and revolves predominately around a loose foundation of mueslis, eggs, toast, a few varying sides and coffee.
We know Melburnians are always up for trying something new, but maybe they just need a little prod if it’s before 10am. So here’s our nudge. These are some of our favourite, lesser-known, worldly breakfast dishes around town that will make you forget all about your usual.
Bún bò Hue at Co Do
196 Victoria Street, Richmond
Positioned in the middle of Melbourne’s self-declared pho mile, Co Do’s main drawcard is in fact a dish one might consider a more decadent variation on the much-loved noodle soup theme.
An offering originating from Vietnam’s former capital, Hue, Bún bò Hue is made up of a rich broth, centred on the fragrance of lemongrass and boldness of chilli. Arriving hot and steaming at the table, the broth contains subtle traces of star anise, cloves, cinnamon and ginger. The accompanying noodles are of the spaghetti-like, round rice variety and the featured meats range from tender sliced beef brisket, glutinous pork knuckles, pork loaf and congealed pork blood cubes that would give any full English breakfast a run for its money. Matched with a selection of fresh coriander, Vietnamese mint, bean shoots, sliced red onion, shredded red cabbage and a lemon wedge, this is one generous dish to wake up to. For those looking for the perfect hangover cure or for the colder months ahead, Bún bò Hu? is sure to satisfy your appetite.
Ful at Konjo
89 Irving Street, Footscray
At Footscray’s Konjo, the front door barely shuts before it swings open again. Local faces appear every few minutes – some for a coffee, some just for a short conversation. Ethio-jazz pulses from somewhere at the back of the restaurant, while a smoky curl of burning myrrh twists languidly upwards at the front counter. The air is sweet.
It might not be on the menu that day, but sit down and ask for the Ful. A breakfast dish eaten throughout East and Northern Africa and the Middle East, each region does it differently. At Konjo, Ful is a simple but hearty stew of beans, tomato, onions and rich spices, topped with sliced egg and green chillies. Without a spoon in sight, the only thing to do is break open the fresh, crusty rolls hands-first and mop up the stew with the soft white bread. Far from the streets of Addis, this breakfast is warming and comforting, especially with sweet, spiced chai on a cold morning.
A colourful, kitsch, Cuban-inspired space, Sonido on Gertrude Street is worth visiting simply for the relaxed atmosphere, friendly staff and self-described ‘killer tunes’ (which comprise Latin jazz, funk and soul beats, just in case you’re wondering). The exciting breakfast offering of Ropa Vieja con Arepa (old clothes beef) is just an added bonus.
Formed around a Cuban pancake of unleavened corn dough, which acts as a perfect sponge for the ropa vieja resting on top, this slow cooked (or ‘old clothes’) beef is traditionally made from leftover cuts of meat and braised with a stunning combination of garlic and cumin flavours. Creating a melt-in-your-mouth moment with each bite, this dish is then paired with some sharp extras in the form of refreshing tomato salsa, boisterous guacamole, creamy feta and coriander to garnish. Somewhat cheekily, the venue lists this option on their menu as a secret recipe, or revolution we “shouldn’t tell Fidel” about.
When the traditional Japanese breakfast (asagohan) at Collingwood’s Cibi arrives at your table, you immediately notice all of the different, but highly considered offerings that rest on the various plates and bowls before you. Positioned on the central plate is a grilled, sliced salmon fillet, a sweet, delicate free-range egg omelette, light and creamy potato salad, green beans served with some sticky, web-like bean curd and fluffy brown rice. As an accompaniment, a few pickled zucchini slices, preserved plums and soy sauce are offered to cut through the sweeter flavours on the plate, while soothing, traditional miso soup is a must for digestion.
Although slightly overwhelming at first glance and sounding more like an evening meal option, you quickly discover how this collection of Japanese flavours cleverly works together and nourishes like no other. As the most important meal of the day, this breakfast is a celebration of tastes, colours, textures and elements that blend logic, like only the Japanese can.
Cibi’s traditional Japanese breakfast is only available on weekends.
Even if you haven’t visited Babka for as long as two decades, you’ll be thrilled to find that they’re still serving their Russian Blintzes today in the same way they always have – even made by the same pair of hands.
“It’s one of those nostalgic things,” owner Sasha Lewis reflects, “…people like to reminisce about the food they had when they were children, or when it was prepared by beloved relatives that are maybe no longer with them.”
As your fork digs into the elegant, sugar-dusted parcels, the cottage cream cheese filling melts slowly outwards, mingling with the sweet, caramelised lemon syrup. The subtle tang of the citrus and warm cheese filling is balanced perfectly by the pops of soft sultana and layers of sweet, delicate crepe. Whether you grew up with these special pancakes or not, you’ll feel a warm, childlike contentment as you run your finger along the plate, leaving a lingering sweetness on your palate all morning.
Breakfast topped with an exotic purple flower might be something you’d expect in a Balinese resort – but much less so on Queensberry Street in North Melbourne.
What is perfect about this Southeast Asian-inspired breakfast dish is the symphonic harmony of flavours. The tartness of the juicy mango cheek sets off the sweetness of the swirling palm sugar, which is soothed by the creamy coconut, then spins away with that playful touch of salt – and around we go again.
What’s more, the sweet black rice is a lighter option to the gluey, heavier rice puddings that might leave you feeling sleepy, but is substantial enough to keep you going well into lunchtime.
For those partial to a warming porridge or a sweet start the day, Twenty & Six Espresso’s Black Sticky Rice is a tropical adventure that will have you planning the next trip before you’re finished.