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Live crabs for sale at one of Springvale’s many seafood markets – image by Amy Martin

 
If living life to its fullest could be personified, Elizabeth Chong would be a pretty good example!  At 84 years of age, this energetic lady with sparkly eyes and amazing skin has been running Asian cooking classes for 54 years, conducts local walking tours and hosts tour groups in amazing foodie destinations across Asia.

During a recent tour of Springvale, some of Elizabeth’s secrets to her youth were shared including drinking copious cups of Chinese tea, eating fish 2-3 times a week and plenty of green vegetables (full of calcium!) every day, and incorporating Chinese medicine practises – including having the right yin and yang balance in each meal.  When preparing fish for example which is a yin (cool) food Elizabeth will typically cook it with ginger to “yangitize” it – one of Elizabeth’s own words that we all loved!

Springvale is an area close to Elizabeth’s heart, as one of Melbourne’s most important Asian communities.  And as we discovered on tour, it’s also a significant destination for lovers of Asian cuisine with more than 100 local businesses being restaurants, cafes and fresh food stores.  In addition to trawling the many fresh seafood, meat and vegetable markets, here are a few highlights from a morning spent in Springvale.
 
 
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Milan Tea House owner Wendy Wong with one of her ‘cha’ pots – image by Ewen Bell

 
 
Milan Tea House – Shop 33D Buckingham Ave, Springvale

“In China hospitality is not by the way of the fridge but by the Chinese teapot,” Elizabeth Chong.

Our tour started at the Milan Tea House in Buckingham Avenue with an education on the origins and health benefits of tea from tea expert Wendy Wong.  In this calm, serene space Wendy demonstrated the ritual of making ‘cha’ (the Chinese word for tea) including taking time to brew the leaves properly and really enjoying tea at the right temperature, and the right time.  We enjoyed two types of Pu-erh tea from the Yunnan province which Wendy encouraged us to smell before tasting – both delicious and refreshing with wonderful health benefits including lower cholesterol and blood cleansing.
 
 

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Lemongrass chicken bahn mi from Bun Bun Bakery – image by Amy Martin

 
 
Bun Bun Bakery – 1/288 Springvale Rd, Springvale

Even mid-morning this famous Bahn Mi shop is buzzing with activity.  In addition to the traditional salad options, pate, coriander and fresh chilli, Bun Bun offers a wide selection of meat including crispy roast pork, lemongrass chicken and their speciality of pork meatballs.  I highly recommend the lemongrass chicken with extra chilli.  The bread is fresh, crusty and delicious!
 
 
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Lewis Dam preparing peking duck at Golden Lake Cake and Roast – image by Ewen Bell

 
 
Golden Lake Cake and Roast – 46 Buckingham Ave, Springvale

Lewis Dam and his family have been running businesses in Springvale for over 20 years.  Their current venture Golden Lake Cake and Roast sells over 150 peking ducks each Saturday and it’s easy to see why.  This pristine (and I mean sparkling clean!!) servery also specialises in a whole roast piglet cut into cubes and reassembled for dinner party presentation.  Aside from the roast duck and chicken we also tried sweet pork ‘floss’ and a deliciously salty snack of roasted peanuts, chilli and anchovies – perfect with beer we’re told!
 
 
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Some of the amazing frozen dumplings available at Frozen Smart – image by Amy Martin

 
 
Frozen Smart – Level 1, 46 Buckingham Ave, Springvale

On closer inspection this unassuming supermarket with rows and rows AND rows of freezers actually contains the makings of an amazing Asian feast.  There is a whole aisle dedicated to yum cha with every dumpling imaginable and there is also a vegetarian aisle with plenty of soy-based and other vege-based products.  This food mecca has the potential to turn even the most nervous home cook into an expert chef.
 
 

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Lunch at My Cambodia – image by Amy Martin

 
 
My Cambodia – 28 Buckingham Ave, Springvale

With somewhat already full bellies we landed at our last stop on the tour where we were met with a table full of share plates!  My Cambodia is a family owned restaurant serving traditional Cambodian cuisine with influences from South East Asian neighbours including Vietnam, Laos and Thailand.  With over 100 items on the menu we were happy to be served some of the family’s specialities including chicken larb, marinated beef cubes, fried rice with prawn paste and turmeric, and bitter sadal salad with pork.  We also managed to squeeze in an iced coffee – indulgently made with condensed milk!

If you’d like some help navigating all that Springvale has to offer, the City of Greater Dandenong hosts regular food and cultural tours in the area or to find out more about Elizabeth Chong check out her website.

AM x

 

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