How I Melbourne: Meg Tanaka

Published on 4 June 2019

Photo: Zenta and Meg Tanaka

Meg Tanaka was born in Okayama, Japan, and met Zenta, her partner in Adelaide, but it’s in Melbourne that she and Zenta founded Cibi. Opened in Collingwood in 2008, Cibi was established as a concept store where food, design and people mingled. The non-descript exterior of the original premises belied a warm space inside, where Japanese-inspired food and good design were presented as part of the everyday. In 2018, Meg and Zenta took the concept to a space next door that is nearly twice the size of the original, remaining a fixture of the Collingwood streetscape. There, the couple continue to introduce Melbourne to an approach to food and design that is personal, humble and always in style. Meanwhile, Cibi spread its wings to Tokyo in 2017, with a store opening in Sendagi in the city’s east.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I look at blue sky, sip on my long black in the morning, then head out to Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy for a picnic with my family in the afternoon.

My first defining food moment in Melbourne was nervously opening Epicure, in The Age, circa 2009 and proudly reading a wonderful review from Matt Preston about Cibi. It’s a source of inspiration for us still.

The best new thing I’ve found is from my 94-year-old grandmother. On a recent visit to Japan, she taught me how to make tofu in her kitchen at home. The beauty in observing traditional skills, the honesty in the hand-made and the home-made filled me great happiness; I’m still smiling. This warm intimacy, where people are at the centre of a food experience is what we endeavour to do at Cibi.

When I want to push the boat out on a meal,I love to indulge in a day out in the Yarra Valley, especially when friends visit from Japan. It’s a way to share with them a celebration of the Australian landscape, its food and its wine. In Healesville we head to Graceburn Wine Room by Mac Forbes to taste food and wine from the region that we just passed through. A day like this is one that ignites all my senses.

There’s no better value in Melbourne than wandering through a farmers’ market, a visual, educational and nourishing experience. Meeting the growers and producers at the Collingwood Children’s Farmer’s Market provides me with weekly inspiration.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to go with a little combination of Supernormal, City Wine Shop, and Spring Street Grocer for gelati. It makes for a perfect outing. Sometimes the order gets thrown around but that doesn’t matter too much.

In the mornings you’ll find me having breakfast with my twin boys at Cibi, before dropping them at kinder around the corner in Collingwood

My local is Cibi again (haha), because we live very, very local.

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be to arrive at a point where Japanese ingredients are intertwined with our customers’ everyday home cooking. Ingredients like miso, mirin, sake, yuzu and koji bring interesting new flavours to existing meals. Using shio koji to marinate lamb before barbecuing, for instance. In a sense, understanding how ingredients that have a proud tradition within Japanese cooking can simultaneously have a life beyond – I find this very exciting and inspiring. At Cibi we love this space of home-style Japanese inspired cooking.

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is the diversity of food that comes from living in a multicultural city. My experience was of not only being welcomed into the Melbourne community but also feeling there was space to share and celebrate the food of my cultural background.

Cibi, 33-39 Keele St, Collingwood, For more of Meg Tanaka’s adventures, follow her on @cibi_minanoie and @meg_cibi.

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