How I Melbourne: Rushani Epa

Published on 17 June 2021

Photo: Editor and critic Rushani Epa

Rushani Epa is the food and drink editor at Time Out in Melbourne and the editor of Colournary Magazine. Her aim is to diversify the food media industry by providing a platform to First Nations, Black and PoC food writers and creatives and by highlighting the diversity within the hospitality industry. She’s currently in the process of creating Colournary’s first print issue, which is set to be released in July.

My defining food moment in Melbourne was growing up and eating Sri Lankan short eats (aka savoury pastries) just about every week at the Indian and Sri Lankan grocer-slash-casual-eatery MKS Spices'n Things in Dandenong. I didn’t know it then, but something had been awakened in me – my love for food, namely snacks.

I know I’m in Melbourne when I can find just about any cuisine in the one city. 

The best new thing I’ve found is the khachapuri that has taken Melbourne by storm at Gray & Gray. I hope the team can continue to dish up those doughy dreamboats long after lockdown. 

When I want to go crazy on a meal, I order the majority of items off a menu. Most recently I ordered almost everything off the menu at Osteria Ilaria and Aangan in West Footscray (where they amp up the spice upon request). At Osteria Ilaria I couldn't go past the charred Brussels sprouts, crushed macadamia and pops of fish roe on a bed of whipped rainbow trout, and the dish that stole my heart: creamy cacio e pepe mafalde with shreds of Gippsland rabbit that epitomised comfort food. At Aangan it's hard to beat the Amritsari fish with its crisp shield of spiced pakora batter – it's hands-down my favourite dish there. 

There’s no better value in Melbourne than a lot of small businesses out there. Some of which might include the abundance of char koay teow you’re fed at Lulu’s, or the hot little jam numbers you get at the American Doughnut Kitchen at Queen Vic Market.

And when I want to dazzle friends from out of town, I like to show them all the spots that make Melbourne the incredibly diverse place that it is. Maybe go out for hot pot at the elaborate Dragon Hot Pot, or a tongue-sweltering feast at Nana Thai, then grab a drink and listen to some tunes at Hope St Radio’s Wine Bar or wrap up with a cigar and a Dirty Martini at Siglo’s rooftop. 

In the mornings you’ll find me drinking half a cup of tea (and forgetting about the other half and letting it go cold) while I ogle photos of food on Instagram and check my numerous inboxes. Can you tell I’m not a morning person yet?

The most underrated thing in town is the panzerotti at Il Panzerotto Taste of Puglia’s market stand. It’s unmissable for anyone who loves hot, cheesy, carby things and panzerotti are the superior predecessor to pizza pockets. (Did I mention I love snacks?)

If you looked in my fridge, you might be surprised to find shelves of chilli oils, sauces, sambals, crisps, pickles and fresh chillies. I’m obsessed with chilli in all its forms. Don’t check my pantry – it only gets worse.

The last awesome Victorian thing I drank was Avani Wines' Amrit Pinot Noir 2018. Avani Wines is one of my favourite vineyards, owned by a beautiful family with Indian roots in Red Hill South. They love showing off how well Indian foods and/or foods rich in spices can pair well with wine and have a pop-up lunch coming up soon. Shashi Aunty’s story is pretty incredible, too.

My local is the little Vietnamese hole-in-the wall Tân Thành Lợi in Footscray who do an incredible cơm tấm with charcoal grilled chicken or pork. And my local for a drink is Bar Josephine, which not only boasts an impressive array of VHS tapes but locally sourced brews too. 

If I could change one thing about eating and drinking here it would be that we see a lot more of the smaller businesses and PoC-owned venues heralded in more accolades. 

But the one thing I hope never changes in Melbourne is our flourishing multicultural scene. I’m a second-generation migrant who is proud to not only call themselves Australian, but Sri Lankan too. We’re lucky here in Melbourne to be surrounded by so many different cultures and cuisines, and I love the constant education I receive on food and immersing myself in these cultures in a respectful way. It’s the best part about being a Melburnian.

Keep up to date with Colournary Magazine @colournarymag and pre-order the first issue online. Catch Rushani Epa's reviews on Time Out, and follow her further adventures at @epa___.

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