Guidebook A slice of Melbourne food culture

Best eating in town

A slice of Melbourne food culture

Rumi and its chef, Joseph Abboud, are quintessentially Melbourne. “Over starters of house-made labneh (strained yogurt) and bastourma (air-cured beef ), chef Abboud talked to Tom Downey in AFAR about his background:

“My family owned fish-and-chips stores here in Melbourne, but within my family I was known as a terrible cook, and so I never got to do anything,” he said. “We didn’t dine out at restaurants. We ate at home, or we got together with other Lebanese. I only learned to cook much later, when I went to work in a restaurant kitchen.”

As Abboud brought out a dish of caramelized carrots with a little herbed yogurt on top, Downey asked him what he called the kind of food he served. “It’s Lebanese, even if we make some changes, update recipes, and refuse to serve hummus. Why is it that French food encompasses everything from the most traditional to the most experimental, but for ethnic cuisines like Lebanese, only the very traditional stuff is considered the real thing?”. Fried cauliflower came out next. “The Lebanese always ask, where’s the tahini and garlic sauce? Anytime a waiter comes into the kitchen for tahini,” said Abboud, “we know the diners are Lebanese. On the other hand, Europeans tell me the cauliflower is too brown. That it’s burnt. But I say to them, it’s better that way.” And, says Downey, it was.

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