Whipped cod roe. Taramasalata. Pink dip. Whatever you know this Greek dip as, chances are you’ve seen it on a menu recently. Whipped cod roe might at first seem an unlikely candidate for most desirable snack – its main ingredients are fish eggs, oil, lemon juice and day-old bread – but there’s no denying the pull of that salty, smooth paste, served with something bready, crunchy or otherwise dippable on the side.
Whipped cod roe is, of course, the contemporary rebrand of taramasalata, the Greek staple made with salted cod, mullet or carp roe. This is what gives the dip its intense briny flavour and also its name (“tarama” means roe in Greek). While many of us may have consumed a lot of pink-hued taramasalata, this is not the real deal. True taramasalata should be a beige colour or perhaps pale pink, depending on the type of roe that’s used.
Thankfully there’s plenty of the real deal to be had around Melbourne right now, with chefs adding whipped cod roe to their snack line-ups across town.
Whipped cod roe at The Builders Arms
While we owe our ultimate gratitude to chefs on the Med for the dish’s invention, there’s one man who could claim the lion’s share of the credit for its rebranded local renaissance: Josh Murphy. The whipped cod roe that he and Andrew McConnell included on the opening menu at The Builders Arms in 2012 is still a firm favourite at the Fitzroy pub. But at Harley & Rose, Murphy’s pizzeria in West Footscray, it’s offered as both a snack and an accompaniment for the crusts from your pizza in a double-whammy of dip-driven fun.
At French Saloon, blini are the vehicle of choice for the ultra-smooth dip, while at Embla, the team brush sourdough flatbreads with garlic butter, then quickly heat them on the wood-fired grill.
There’s more freewheeling interpretation elsewhere around the city. Embla’s rendition comes with a mix of coriander, parsley and cumin that’s pounded to almost pesto-like consistency, while at Gazi it’s a “Hellenic furikake” with poppy and nigella seeds, Aleppo and sansho pepper added to the base of nori and sesame seeds.
Of course, taramasalata has been on menus at Melbourne’s Greek restaurants for decades, and George Calombaris’s Hellenic Republic retains a straight-up version on its menu.
Why is this Greek recipe being celebrated on a wider scale now, in everywhere from pubs to wine bars? The name is important. Whipped cod roe is easier to read and say for many Australians, plus it tells you exactly what to expect. (You could certainly argue that it’s a dumbing-down, equivalent, perhaps, to calling hummus “whipped chickpeas and tahini” or guacamole “mashed avocado, salt and lime”.)
But there again, perhaps the dish’s popularity could be our current appetite for food that’s easy to share, easy to drink wine with, and, more importantly, easy to wrap your head around. What’s easier to understand than chip and dip? Or perhaps it’s a sign that the Australian palate has matured and grown to prize salty, fishy things, such as anchovies, bottarga, sardines like never before. Bring it on.
Where to find it
The Builders Arms, 211 Gertrude St, Fitzroy, buildersarmshotel.com.au
Embla, 122 Russell St, Melbourne, embla.com.au
French Saloon, level 1, 46 Hardware La, Melbourne, frenchsaloon.com
Gazi, 2 Exhibition St, Melbourne, gazirestaurant.com.au
Harley & Rose, 572 Barkly St, West Footscray, harleyandrose.net.au
Hellenic Republic, various locations, hellenicrepublic.com.au
By Emma Breheny