Lunches under $10 don't have to be dull sandwiches with dry chicken breast meat, plastic cheese and wilted lettuce leaf wrapped in cling film. Similar to Sydney, Melbourne is a culturally diverse city and we are absolutely spoiled for choice when comes to food options. So there are really no excuses to spend the money and not get the most out of it. Accompanied by Phil Lees from Tourism Victoria, I was led through laneways and arcades, and we snacked our way through some of the best eats under $10 this city has to offer, all within walking distance.
Banh Mi - N. Lee Bakery Cafe
Banh Mi needs no introduction, this French influenced Vietnamese baguette sandwich has taken over the world by storm over the past years. Queueing for a good banh mi is not unheard of, and that's exactly what we wanting and willing to do at N. Lee Bakery Cafe on Little Collins Street, along with a horde of lunch goers from the nearby offices. There was quite a production line behind the counter, with 6-7 ladies making banh mi nonstop to orders.
While the Bánh mì xíu mại (pork meatballs roll) tends to be the public choice, our basic original Banh Mi wasn't too shabby either. Even though the filling was a little skimpy, but it was that airy yet crusty blistered baguette itself that makes this bakery on top of his game. While many moan about the 50c inflation that it now costs $6.00 for a Banh Mi, I reckon Melburnians will flip tables and smash windows when they find out it actually costs a whopping $8.00 in Sydney CBD.
N. Lee Bakery Cafe
Unit 2, 422 Collins Street, Melbourne 3000
Mon - Fri 6am - 4.30pm
Sat 8.30am - 4pm
Steamed buns - Wonderbao
Maybe is just me, but I feel like singing the theme song of Wonder Woman every time I hear about this place - Wonderbao. Bao, in Chinese literally means 'wrap', which is also used to describe this thousand years old street food from China - a soft steamed bun filled with savoury or sweet fillings inside. But it is undeniably that David Chang of Momofuku was the man who put the traditional open-face Gua Bao on the chart of food trend of this decade.
Wonderbao is well hidden in an arcade where a secret laneway that only the nearby RMIT students would know how and where to find 'em buns! You can either eat it inside the tiny shop with only about six stools along the bar table, or better still, learn your 'Chinese squat' and enjoy the bao on the kerbside outside.
The open-face buns are being the most expensive on the menu at $3.80 each and the cheapest is custard or taro bun at $1.70, you can easily smash a few of these babies without over the $10 budget. While the roast pork belly gua bao is easily a crowd pleaser with fatty slices of roast pork belly (sadly no cracklings) sandwiched with cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon and a sweet hoisin sauce, I absolute adored the traditional flavours of braised pork belly gua bao, with pickled mustard, coriander and crushed peanuts. The vegetarian option of fried silky tofu gua bao might not have that same intense flavours like others, but there is always a bottle of Siracha hot sauce at arm's reach to save the day.
Shop 4/ 19-37 A'Beckett St
(easy access through Literature Lane off Little La Trobe Street)
Melbourne, VIC 3000
(03) 9654 7887
Mon - Fri 8am - 6pm
Sat 11am - 4pm
Burger - Mr Burger
And then, we have the food trucks. From movable locations to a semi-permanently stationed spot, Mr Burger now has up to six trucks travelling around Melbourne to get your heart and artery pumping from chasing after a meaty burger. If chasing after food trucks is not your thing, then you can always find them tucked away inside a converted warehouse right across the street from Queen Victoria Market Deli.
The menu is simple, two choices of the classic 'Mr Burger' for $9.00 or 'Mr Meat' with the extra bacon and different sauce for $10, there is also 'Mr Veg' for non-meateaters. The burger comes wrapped in al-foil, sandwiched between soft brioche bun is a juicy beef pattie that actually packed with big flavours. Messy fingers with juices running down both hands was definitely a good sign of a delicious burger being well devoured.
Mr Burger Food Truck
Opposite Queen Victoria Market
Off Therry St, North Melbourne. Look for the signs.
Gelati - Gelateria Primavera
Despite its real name is Gelateria Primavera, most Melburnians would refer this place as "that gelato shop at Spring St Grocer" or simply "Grocer". Because once you have tasted their gelati with the most unorthodox and unusual flavours ever churned by the human kind, whatever this shop name is, isn't important anymore. Inside the pozzeti at the counter are some of the weirdest gelati flavours you can imagine. All flavours sound so wrong but seem so right - peach and basil, chilli salted caramel, if papaya, ginger and tangerine is a little tongue twister, then goat's curd with olive jam and rosemary itself is enough to be considered a meal in liquid form!
But it was "that notorious gelato" with a light green hue and a subtle hint of funky aroma that blew me away - behold... the Gorgonzola gelato. Each mouthful made my tastebuds turned upside down, it was a weird sensation of sweetness followed by the salty blue cheese flavour. The blue cheese can be overpowering after a few mouthfuls, a drizzle of acacia honey from Rooftop Honey did wonders by balancing out the flavours with its sweetness.
One thing you need to know about this place is that the gelati menu changes frequently, all depends on what they can lay their hands on. Just choose the weirdest flavour on the menu, pay $6.50 for a medium cup and let your imagination runs wild.
Spring St. Grocery
157 Spring Street,
Melbourne VIC 3000
P: (03) 9639 0335
Opening hours :
Mon to Fri 7am - 11pm
Sat & Sun 9am - 11.30pm
[A Table For Two visited Melbourne as a guest of Tourism Victoria]