Ekiben are special bento boxes for train travel. They are the traveller’s friend, and saviour of the non-Japanese-speaking tourist. Pop into any train station or supermarket and hunt through the shelves of refrigerated delights for something that vaguely looks like something you will eat.
Many cheap and cheerful eateries in Japan have a system whereby you place your order at a vending machine outside the door, then present the wait staff with your meal ticket when you enter.
Also known in the west as “Japanese pizza”, this create-your-own-adventure snack is a staple in Osaka and Kansai province, but the people of Hiroshima claim to serve the best okonomiyaki (or “hiroshimayaki”) in the country.
Highpoint Shopping Centre, Maribyrnong
(Level 2, near Woolworths)
Phone: 03 9318 1699
Well it’s been all go up in Knifepoint recently, with a swish new wing opening and all manner of fancy stores now available in the Wild West. The lovely new Woolworth’s is handy and well-stocked, and the other food stores in that precinct a great addition to our local shopping options. A macaron shop, a lovely continental deli, a huge fresh fruit and veg store, an Asian supermarket and a pretty decent butcher’s. It’s all good.
Another fantastic new addition down by Woolie’s is a new branch of Dumplings Plus, that Swanston Street stalwart. It’s always bustling inside and on the takeaway queue. Don’t pay attention to the opening hours mentioned elsewhere: they confirmed themselves on Saturday evening that it’s a 6.30pm close every night except Thursday and Friday when they stay open till 9.30pm for late-night shopping.
All the dumplings are made on the premises, so at busy times be prepared to wait a few minutes. The pork (or vegetarian) dumplings in chilli oil are ridiculously tasty and quite inexpensive at just under $10 for a dozen. The san choi bau are tasty enough but not the very best I’ve tasted in this Shanghai-dumpling-obsessed town. And you only get eight for your ten bucks.
One small downside so far, but nothing major: there are no Chinese bowls so you are confined to a shallow side-dish-type object to mix up your soy/vinegar/chilli sauce combo for your dumplings, or if you plan on sharing plates between a few of you. Weird, not useful for keeping the food hot and pointless if using chopsticks.
It’s worth coming back again and again for dumplings alone, but Orlando has his eye on a few other non-dumpling treats when next we visit. Further reports to follow.
(07) 3367 8188
5/16 Baroona Road (Cnr Milton Road), Milton, 4064
An early dinner for three tired Red Crossers led us to Soul Bistro, up at the IGA supermarket near the Brisbane Red Cross offices.
I’d walked past at lunchtime and the place was thronged. At seven in the evening it was a lot quieter – and chillier – so we sat inside near the kitchen.
It was probably the best thing that it was BYO only. The previous night had been a long one, and an alcohol-free evening meal was not unwelcome.
My two coeliac friends were delighted to find that almost two-thirds of the menu was designated as gluten-free. The waiter confirmed that they had a separate fryer for gluten-free foods. Suddenly, nothing was suspect and my dining companions were excited.
We chose a single starter of whiting fried in corn and sesame seeds which was just enough, perfectly-cooked and tempura-crunchy.
My pot pie was pork and apple, served with steamed vegetables and mashed potatoes. Perfect for a chilly evening.
Julie’s Szechuan chilli tiger prawns looked and smelled divine.
Vicki was in heaven with perfect coeliac-safe fried chicken and potato wedges.
The homemade lemonades were just lovely: lemon and rosemary, and raspberry, orange and mint.
The young waiter was most attentive and the chef came out to speak to us and make sure everything was ok. For a simple little local place, the decor and ambience are pedestrian but this is more than made up for by the delicious food. Added to which, it’s a perfect safe dining experience for the gluten-intolerant amongst us. We will be back.
Barrack Square, Perth
Turns out I visit this place about once a year, and it never disappoints.
This evening I visit with Sally the Gluten Free Person. A G&T each beforehand at the fabulously-named Lucky Shag and we are ravenous. Excellent news: we agree on Singapore noodles being on the order list.
It’s before 6.30pm – in this time zone. In Sally’s Brisbane mind it’s 8.30pm and in my Melbourne head it’s 9.30pm; almost bedtime. We order quickly.
Who knew cumin lamb could be this tasty? Slow-cooked with leeks, it goes just perfectly with the Singapore noodles. The stir-fried squid with mange tout (snowpeas to southern hemisphere types) is similarly delicious.
We sit contentedly on the balcony overlooking the mighty Swan River, sheltered from most of the brisk southerly breeze, eat our fill, put the world to rights, then retire righteously to bed.
I love nights like this.