When the pandemic struck, and the photography industry was put on hiatus, he made a big life choice, and decided to take over his family business. His parents ran Footscray’s D&K Live Seafood and D&K Asian Grocery but were getting old, and the workload of their grocery business was becoming too much. Rather than see it taken over by outside buyers, Tran decided to give up his apartment in Tokyo, and come home.
Back in Melbourne, he found himself frustrated by the lack of everyday Japanese staple ingredients that he could easily buy in Tokyo, so decided it was time for Footscray to have its own grocery store filled with his favourite Japanese ingredients. His photography life has now kicked back into high gear, and he is loving the balance that these two jobs provide him.
My locals are Mr Westand Babysnakes: unbeatable varieties of wine and beer that will suit any taste. They both also let me bring in pizza from Slice Shop downstairs. Babysnakes has one of the most underappreciated charcuterie boards in Melbourne.
I know I’m in Melbourne when I can grab a banh mi, a bottle of sake, a natural wine all on the same street – while simultaneously getting yelled at by a bogan for whatever reason.
My defining food moment in Melbourne is too difficult to pin down to one occasion, but I once got mistaken for Adam Liaw at a food event. I milked it and took advantage of all the free drinks I was being offered because of it.
On a serious note, being able to collaborate with Mr West and Bonehead Brewery on our very own beer was an amazing experience. Melbourne has an incredible collaborative energy. If you have an idea, you’ll undoubtedly be able to join forces with someone equally as passionate.
Also, during lockdown, my grocery store played host to pop-ups from Tamura Sake Bar, Parco Ramen, Wabi Sabi Salon, Tori’s, Takeshi Sushi and Cafe 279. Lockdown was a depressing time for everyone – customers couldn’t leave their 5km radius, the restaurants couldn’t trade – but I could, so I thought it would be cool to host pop-ups every week where the restaurants could sell take-home packs at my shop. It was a great way for customers to circumvent the dreaded radius and eat restaurant food, but most importantly: it put a smile on everyone’s faces! We sold out within minutes every week.
My favourite place to stock up on supplies is undoubtedly Footscray Market. Beyond the crazy affordable produce, it is a real cooks’ market. Need to find some rare cuts like chicken tails, cartilage or even immature chicken egg? Footscray Market has you covered… and they won’t take the piss with price, like some other markets around town that try to position themselves as selling “exotic” cuts. It even has the best banh mi and bun bo Hue in the food court (Ngu Ngoc and Huu Thanh, that is).
The best new thing I’ve found is Leeds Street Yakitori. A small, private yakitori place in Footscray that is strictly invites-only at the behest of the chef. He serves an omakase course and seats six people at a time. Hence, the invite- only situation. Shit, did I just give a secret away?
Oh, and Taka Tamura from Tamura Sake Bar has made the most incredible condiment – a chunky and savoury wasabi oil that’s used in a similar way to a chilli oil and is sold at my shop. It’s a put-on-everything condiment – from steak, to fish or even just on white rice, it’s incredible.
When I want to push the boat out on a meal, I order the full sushi omakase from Takeshi Murakami. There is simply no one like him in Melbourne, an all-encompassing sushi experience that rivals some counterparts in Tokyo and Osaka Yes, I know, that’s a big call, but one that I make with confidence. If I want French, I can’t go past the filet Rossignol from Stefan at Small French Bar. It’s a giant slab of house-made parfait melting on a glorious cut of fillet steak, served alongside twice-cooked potatoes – make sure you have a bed nearby.
When I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to keep it local by showing them around the golden triangle of Footscray, Seddon and Yarraville during the day. And then out to dinner at the Flower Drum and karaoke at Yum Sing House. Then finish the night off with some incredible sake from Fumi and Taka at Tamura Sake Bar – the vibe is simply unbeatable and Fumi has wicked taste in music.
There’s no better value in Melbourne than the legendary streets of Footscray, Richmond, Sunshine and St Albans. Seriously, people need to stop relying on Coles and Woolies for their produce. If you really wanna save some pennies, go and explore the markets here.
The must-have items from my shop are… I’m a lazy cook, so my condiments dictate what I’m gonna make for dinner, therefore:
Hakata spice: a super umami bomb of a spice mix that i put on almost everything. Potato salad, salmon, grilled vegies, you name it. We’re the only ones that stock it in Australia, because we practically begged them to send it to us. The makers are a husband-and-wife duo in Japan – small producers, very niche, but we can’t get enough of it.
Weipa seasoning paste: an ungodly concoction of MSG and beef and pork concentrate that I use as a base for stir-fries, soups and anything sauteed. You really don’t need to add anything else if you’re using this.
Kombu dashi: a viscous kombu concentrate that I use in place of salt when I want to add extra umami to anything instead of just using salt. I have seriously even used this for extra seasoning in Bolognese. It’s a background flavour that rounds off the dish and it is exquisite. You can even make super-fancy butters with it. Just stir it through some warm butter. Bliss.
If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be removing some roadblocks to encourage a more vibrant street-food scene. We have so much under-utilised space that we can take advantage of. Think of Yurakucho and Ueno in Tokyo – they literally set up izakayas underneath the train tracks. These are permanent, tiny eateries that have been there for decades. Some are standing only, some are sitting. They add so much energy to an already bustling city. I think we can do the same. We have the space, we have the brains and most importantly, we have the creativity.
But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is Footscray Market. For the love of god, please leave it alone. It’s a sourdough-free zone; let’s keep it that way.