London Street Foodie On Tour: wallaby burgers from The Dude Food Man and White Guy Does Thai at Trailer Park Melbourne (Melbourne street food part 4)
I am walking furiously up the western side of a park in Melbourne. My hair is blowing around my face and my hands are being whipped by a hostile wind. I can hear loud traffic way up over the side of the park. There are gorgeous eucalyptus trees, children playing on bikes, or with footballs, and others busy on the tennis court. Looking back towards the city, I can see heaps of nodding donkeys, vast industrial corrugated warehouses, concreted space and gas cylinders. But nothing that I’m looking at is what I’ve come to find.
And then just as I begin walking back through the park I catch sight of a turquoise van that could be the hint I need. Yes! A sign of street food life! Getting closer now, I spot a black and pink truck next to it. This is one of spots where Melbourne street food trucks are allowed to pitch up to serve their wares.
The thing is, Melbourne appears to have a policy of not having street food trucks anywhere very central – or anywhere where it might threaten other businesses – so while it’s a lovely little spot, it’s not one that attracts the kinds of crowds that street food deserves. It seems a waste not to share it all around, in the way that New York does, with trucks on some of the main high streets, and now London to a certain extent, because its democracy is its very beauty.
Anyway, back to adventuring. Much like in London, where in some cases you can eat around the world without even having to leave your street, there doesn’t appear to one type of food that typifies local Melbourne here. As a result I settle on something that sounds more ‘Australian’, the Dude Food Man. Here its owner, a verrry chilled out kinda dude called Johnny, was selling, alongside pork sliders, crackling, hand cut fries and coleslaw, some wallaby burgers. Uh huh, the zoo had come to town.
Johnny, who with his two colleagues is now rocking to music and posing for pictures, is a trained chef who has been running his Dude Food Man van for six months, having quit big kitchens because he “was tired of working for someone and not getting paid for it. And now I have two babies.” He doesn’t miss the 75-hour weeks. He’s tried trading in loads of places – Northcote, north of Fitzroy, Yarraville where we are now, and others, and regarding permits, he says some of the councils are easy going – others, including South Melbourne Market, is “very hard. They’re trying to protect businesses.” His real money makers are music festivals and what he calls “corporate breakouts”.
Johnny’s wallaby burger is a special menu item, that comes with a lamb and wallaby patty – both sourced from Flinders Island – Iceberg lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomato and chipotle aioli for $13. Lamb is quite a lean meat, and the wallaby rich, so it works well, especially mixed with caramelised onions and BBQ sauce. This one is plump, with a medium pink patty that is so yielding it’s dirty, and the sweet sauce goes all over my fingers and drips down the wall I’ve rested it on.
This is some out-of-town burger bash.
TWO MORE MELBOURNE STREET FOOD SPOTS TO TRY OUT
I get to the curry truck, next to the Dude Food Van, just as an old man with a dog comes up and orders a samosa. Next, there’s a lady with her dog and after her a young couple, a girl dropping by at the end of her run, and another guy who has already got a burger from next door in one hand.
Inside, the owner Ibi is at the stove scooping out curries up from one of five silver pans, chatting to customers and telling stories about crying whilst cooking onions. Finally a cyclist arrives and orders. I get the last mango lassi.
What? Started in March 2013 by Ibi who previously ran his own commercial cleaning business, and before that worked in sales and security. He works for himself, with occasional help from his mum, and when not in Melboure he’s trading at festivals.
Why? He’s been cooking curry for six years “for the love of it – I just really, really like curry. Until now I hadn’t found a decent After Hours curry place as many of them close at 9pm.”
Best-sellers? Butter chicken and Indonesian beef randang. The mango lassi is worth a slurp, too.
What do the regulars say? “We’ve been coming here since the end of September, after we decided to drop in after a hockey match. We’ve never had a bad experience – but you have to come early or he sells out.”
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WHITE GUY COOKS THAI
One of the joys of being in Melbourne is the fact you can whizz around the city on trams, something I’ve always loved doing. On this sunny afternoon, a short journey south on one takes me from Melbourne’s central station to Trailer Park Melbourne. Peering through bushes and high iron railings, I spot a line of four brightly coloured street food trucks basking in the sunshine. The walls of a taco truck shout HOLA at me as I trundle past, while a smiling green pea-shaped face smiles at me from the edge of the White Guy Cooks Thai van. A barbecue truck, Digging For Fire, looks ferocious, with its gleaming orange flames painted all over it. The Dude Food Man van looks, well, dudey. Next to this lot are rows and rows of empty picnic tables and chairs. This must be one of the best pub gardens in town.
What? A converted Fort Transit van selling various Asian dishes, started by Simon Williams, an ex-tender writer for Worley Parsons, who has also done an MBA and worked in hospitality. His wife is Thai.
Why? “I wanted to do something for myself.” Often goes to bed at 3am and gets up at 7am. On a very good day he might sell 600 dishes. “We’ve really built up a solid client base. This is a Belgian beer garden which was stopped and became a dead space. Now it’s Village Melbourne and it’s buzzing again.”
Best-sellers? Pork bell banh mi slider, meat from the local butcher and cured in salt and sugar, then slow roasted for 12 hours and flash fried for crunch; Korean fried chicken curries also popular
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