Tuesday, May 19, 2009

May 17, 2009: Buddha's Day & Multicultural Festival

Our visit to this year's Buddha's Day & Multicultural Festival was much anticipated. I first heard of it two years ago, after Mellie and EG attended and blogged the festival food. Last year Michael and I were out of town when the festival rolled around and I enviously read more about the food from Kristy and Buttons. Finally, this year, Michael and I got ourselves to the festival and having skipped breakfast, we couldn't wait to hit the stalls. Though they're operated by only two or three organisations, the volume of deep-fried and faux-meaty goodness is pretty amazing - barbecued corn, turnip cakes, deep-fried sushi and bread, curry puffs and spring rolls, veg oysters and squid, steamed buns, noodles, soup and sticky rice... these are the things we ultimately didn't find room for!

My first taste was of vegetarian Peking duck. This is probably the best flavoured 'duck' I've ever had, though the wrap suffered a little from sitting in the display box for a while.

Michael got stuck into the veg chicken in lotus leaf. More filling than my first choice, this was unlike anything we've bought before - soft and subtle rice, 'chicken', mushrooms and what we think were chestnuts.

Ramping up the grease factor were the deep-fried chicken drumstick, prawn, and sweet potato. The faux-meats offered some interesting textures, but ultimately there was too much oil and too little crunch in these morsels.

By contrast, this plate got the oil element down perfectly. The roti was delectably crisp and perfectly mopped up with the smattering of curry sauce. The golden chicken skewer ranked as the best faux meat we sampled that day - served super hot with a melt-in-the-mouth centre and light and savoury crispy coating.

By this time I was done eating, but Michael went back for a bowl of 'beef' noodle soup. It was most impressive, with tender tofu in addition to the faux beef, and some fab spicy condiments to ration out.

After eating our fill, we headed over to the ongoing Vegilicious cooking demonstrations to see what Fifteen had to show us. Between instructor Glen and Fifteen alumnus Patty, they demonstrated an impressive three course meal in about 40 minutes. The mushroom pasta main and baked pear dessert looked fabulous, but the thing that Michael and I will remember most from this exhibit was Glen's use of anchovies in the bruschetta entree.

At a vegetarian cooking demonstration - seriously? Not. Cool. Unfortunately, this has only served to put us off visiting the restaurant.

On the brighter side, the Vegilicious booklet has many genuinely vegetarian recipes from the other cooking demonstrations at the festival (although I just spied another one that includes shrimp paste - argh!). We also had the good fortune to run into Will - we made his online acquaintance through this blog a while ago and he was photographing the festival. Hopefully his pictures will be up on the festival web site soon!

Will had already attended a lot of the cooking demos and he observed that many of the successful chefs featured had admitted that these dishes don't appear on their menus. It's possible that they chose dishes more accessible to the home cook but in some cases I suspect it reflects the scarcity of vegetarian meals at their establishments. I'd like to think that these sessions might encourage them to think more about tasty meat-free meals but I also wonder if the opportunity's been lost to show off the awesome vegetarian cooking that has long been going on in Melbourne. I would love to see something from the Las Vegan crew, or learn how to make roti and faux meats by hand, like the ones we enjoyed from the stalls. How about some East Asian Buddhist cooking?

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed our outing to the Buddha's Day and Multicultural Festival; I'll look forward to stopping by for a lunchtime feast next year. In the meantime, I'll be thankful for the many Melbourne cafes and restaurants who know their stuff and can sell me a brilliant vegetarian meal any time I want it.


  1. Eek! @ the anchovies and shrimp paste. I find it weird that in so many recipes (nigella, bill granger etc) they have "vegetarian" meals with shrimp-filled curry paste, fish sauce etc.

    xox Sarah

  2. ugh, anchovies as vegetable. yuck gross.

    the lotus leaf and rice thing Michael had is quite similar to ba cheng, which is one of my favourites (and often uses banana leaves)

  3. I am so bummed I missed this. That 'duck' wrap looks amazing.

    Also, this blog is fantastic!

  4. not cool is right. it really bothers me when people who have been TRAINED to cook professionally cannot demostrate any imagination when it comes to meat free meals. seriously - the anchovies weren't bloody neccessary!

  5. Was the anchovies an oversight or intentional? If intentional, what was the purpose of it?

    I think you don't see more vegetarian dishes at restaurants because probably the numbers just don't add up. Until it becomes profitable for them to do so, they won't. But it's a catch 22 because if you don't entice customers to your restaurant with vegetarian dishes, it will never be profitable.

  6. maybe one day we will get there - looks very interesting

    can't believe the anchovies - you talked about so much faux meat I thought you were going to say these were faux anchovies

    and love that cooking demo pic with the mirror - fantastic idea

  7. All that food looks AWESOME (ok, minus the sardines) and I'm totally jealous. That mock beef soup that came up last looks especially delicious...

  8. Yeah, those anchovies were just wrong. It did register with me briefly, but forgot to follow up on that with Glen. They repeated their session later that day, but I don't remember them mentioning anchovies the second time around. And to be honest, I wasn't too impressed by the chefs who did mention that normally they would add this or that meat product to it (there were only 1 or 2 that mentioned this but I don't remember which ones now).

    Regarding your last comment about some Buddhist Cooking, well there was, that was the last session of the day with Ah Ming Ku from the Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery which was a fairly good session. Also, last year they had a session by the chef from Vegie Mum in Doncaster.

    The session after Fifteen's by Tony Tan was actually pretty good with the Sri Lankan Cashew Curry dish. He's a pretty impressive chef! I'm always more impressed with meals that don't require the use of "mock" meats that are really flavoursome.

    Also, I think if you were there Saturday you would've been quite impressed with Geovanna's 2 sessions (first one with her 2 daughters, and second one by herself).

    Also, in my Thai Vegetarian cookbooks there is actually a Vegetarian Shrimp Paste. Perhaps that's what they meant? Probably not the case, but anyway...

    I think the situation with restaurants and their Vegetarian offerings could always be better. On the one hand, i'm glad that a large portion of Melbourne's restaurants do offer Vegetarian dishes, but I always think that they could do much better flavourwise.

    Really glad you and Michael enjoyed the day on the whole (despite the anchovies)! And it was great to finally meet you two after having followed this blog for awhile now.

    I remain hopeful that more restaurants will offer more Vegetarian/Vegan alternatives in the future as more and more people do offer Vegetarian alternatives.

  9. Hey Sarah, glad it's not just us vegos who find this weird. :-)

    Hey Steph, I just googled ba cheng and your photo of it came up first. :-)

    Hey, thanks Cooper! Great to have you visit. :-)

    Agreed, Pip - it's not even part of the traditional dish, to my knowledge.

    Thanh, the anchovies were certainly intentional - the chef drew the audience's attention to the extra flavour that the anchovies would bring to the dish.

    I wasn't really referring to a scarcity of vegetarian food at restaurants in general. Most of the 200+ Melbourne restaurants that we've visited cater for us just fine - some of them brilliantly - so presumably profitability is not a major issue. In that context I'm surprised some of the particular chefs and restaurants featured in this session aren't more veg-friendly.

    Faux anchovies - that would have been hilarious, Johanna! I agree that the set-up of those demo kitchens is really neat.

    Hi be'ershevaboheme6! We're pretty lucky that festivals like this roll around every year. :-)

    Will, thank you for supplying extra info about the other sessions! I was originally hoping to stick around for Tony Tan's demo, but I will console myself with my copy of the Vegilicous booklet, since it includes the recipe. :-)