Monday 27 November 2023

Chooka's Cafe, Brunswick

Earlier this year we were excited to hear that there was a new Japanese cafe with a cat theme.  It is tucked away down a little laneway near Sydney Road and is a delight to visit.


Sylvia and I went as soon as we could.  It is in a gorgeous old 1930s building that used to be a market.  It is one of the hidden gems of Brunswick.  My dad says the building has a Spanish feel to it. 

The Japanese have a great ability to blend the simple with the cute.  A little Totoro on a shelf.  Some paint brushes that don't look like they are there just for show.  Paw prints on the Open sign.

 On this visit we sat inside and looked out at the  laneway.  It was a winter's day and the trees were in hibernation.  The cafe has a few tables outside in the sun and shade.

We ordered drinks.  Sylvia had a soy latte but was a little jealous of the cocoa cat on my hot chocolate.  (On a visit with her dad she found that it is worth ordering the cappuccino for the cocoa cat or cocoa footprints on the froth)

I ordered the A Combo: miso soup, pickles and two omusubi.  (I call them onigiri but apparently omusubi is the same rice ball snack that is sometimes shaped into a triangle of rice.  The names seem to come from different traditions and regions.)  
The wakame and nori omusubi  were very good.  I had not had anything like the nori omusubi before.  It had an intense nori and soy sauce filling.  Unusual but good.  I foolishly ordered the miso soup and then upon asking found that it was not a vegetarian stock.  So disappointing!


A little black and white cat darted out of the back room while we were having lunch.  Later Sylvia found out it was called Udon.  Apparently the cat called Chooka is not terribly social and not likely to be seen.

After our first visit, Chookas closed for renovations so it was a few months before our next visit.  It was in Spring when the trees were in full blossom and threw a pleasing shade over the outdoor seats where we ate.  We were there just before 12 and had a short wait for a seat.

This time we were more adventurous with the drinks.  I had the plum soda and Sylvia had the very pretty strawberry matcha iced tea.  We were very happy with our drinks.  Next time I might have a yuzu soda or a kiwi fruit soda and Sylvia fancies trying the mango matcha iced tea.

On our second visit, Sylvia was keen to try all the vegetarian omusubi so we ordered one of each.  They cost about $6.50 - $7.00 each but are quite substantial and satisfying.  The Gomoku Omusubi with vegetables was sold out but we have it on our list for next time.  Below is a list of the ones we tasted: (CHECK ONLINE - sylvia?????)

  • Nori - cooked seaweed in soy sauce in the middle and on top - wrapped in nori - the soy sauce sauce was really intense and thick like a jelly but once we got used to it we loved it and used a little of the soy sauce seaweed as a sauce for other omusubi.  We had two of these.
  • Konbu - salted kelp mixed in - really good, even though the kelp seemed sparsely distributed.
  • Yukari - Japanese mint mixed in with an umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum) in the middle - the mint gave it a gorgeous purple colour and nice flavour but the umeboshi was very salty and intense.
  • Wakame - with salted seaweed and black sesame seeds - another delicious one!  
  • Spicy Takana - with spicy mustard leaf - a slightly orange colour to it - we liked this one but it was quite spicy.

Orders were placed online with a QR code on the table.  When we ordered our omusubi (not long after 12pm) we noticed that there were only 2 slices of the Hojicha Cheese Cake ($9) left.  We got FOMO.  So we ordered our dessert at the same time.  That was a wise decision.  We were quite full and happy to have only one slice to share.  

I had thought that Hojicha was a type of Matcha but a quick search has told me that they are different ways of preserving tea leaves.  Matcha is a bright green ground dried leaves while Hojicha is made by roasting leaves, stems, stalks and twigs to make a reddish-brown nutty smoky flavour.  

The cheesecake was very soft and creamy, unexpectedly quite sweet which Sylvia wisely told me was balanced by the cream on top.  I tend to minimise cream in my desserts because I am not keen on the taste.  Sylvia is keen to try more desserts but I would be happy to return to this one.

Part of Chookas' appeal, especially for Sylvia and her dad, is the cats.  Udon and Chooka live at Chookas.  We have caught a few glimpses of Udon but none of the less social Chooka.  People were bringing their dogs to sit outside so possibly that keep the cats at bay.  But there are also two cats  - Juniper and Gordon - who live not far along the lane.

After our lunch, Sylvia and I stopped to see Juniper (above photo) and Gordon.  They are gorgeous, friendly and amusing.  Sylvia enjoyed patting and watching them so much that it was hard to tear her away.  I spoke to the owner who was enjoying the sunshine and was as lovely as the cats (but not for patting).  It fascinated me to talk about residential flats in the old market building.

Sylvia now has been to Chookas five times and planning more visits.  As well as visiting with me, she has taken her dad and grandfather there.  The last visit they asked for a cocoa Totoro (from the Ghibli movies) and she is sharing her photo.  In the background is a dorayaki: red bean paste and whipped cream sandwiched between two pancakes.  It was very nice, according to her.


It is a great cafe.  Delicious food that we haven't had elsewhere, despite being a fan of sushi in shopping malls.  The building and laneway trees give it a lovely relaxed ambience.  The staff are friendly and the vibe with the cats is fun.  I am sure I will be back and I don't hesitate to recommend it.  However it is quite small and busy so you need luck or patience to get a seat but it is well worth your while.

1 Ballarat St, Brunswick  VIC  3058
Open Wednesday to Monday, 9.30am - 4.00pm

Sunday 26 November 2023

20 Vegemite recipes for the 100 year anniversary, plus reflections and products

Happy 100th Birthday Vegemite!  It seems an ideal opportunity to reflect on and celebrate this dark, intense, salty spread that always has been part of my life and is always in my kitchen.  Vegemite has been with me from being a quick snakc to advertising jingles (happy little vegemites) to school lunches to an all-round excellent seasoning to experimental recipes to cheeseymite products to all the comfort a fine tradition can bring to our lives.  I know that (especially in international circles) attitudes are polarised into love or hate with no in-between.  

This is a long post so you might want to grab a Vegemite sandwich to keep you going as you read it. 

A brief overview of Vegemite:

Vegemite was launched by Cyril Callister into in a world of Australian beer drinkers on 25 October 1923.  He had created it in Melbourne to use up the yeast extra leftover from the beer brewing process.  For some history check out the Guardian article on the Vegemite's 100th anniversary or the vintage Vegemite advertisements in this National Library of Australia's blog post.  I hope to visit the Cyril Callister Museum in Beaufort one day.  The far left vegemite jar in the above photo shows the centenary jar that uses the original label design.

My favourite story is that it was originally called Parwill in response to the UK's similar yeast extra that was called Marmite.  "If Marmite ... then Parwill"!  Sadly it did not take of.  (Marmite is actually named for its shape being similar to the French earthenware or metal cooking pots.)  

Yeast extracts seem to be quite common in adding umami to mainly savoury recipes.  The ones I am most familiar with are Vegemite: a salty yeast extract made with extracts of onion, malt and celery, the UK's Marmite: a salty yeast extract with herbs and spices that has more flavours, and Australia's Promite: a slight sweeter yeast extract with glucose syrup and spice extracts.

Perhaps I should take the opportunity here to note that Australians often shake their head in amusement or despair when watching foreigners slather a thick layer of vegemite on bread and then claim it is disgusting.  I know it is an acquired taste but it is best spread thinly.  A little goes a long way.  Australians never appreciate what a skill it is to spread Vegemite on toast until they see a foreigner try it.

20 recipes featuring Vegemite

It was not so easy to find 20 recipes online featuring vegemite.  It is always the bridesmaid never the bride.  While it is in many recipes in my blog (such as stews) and elsewhere online, it often background flavouring.  The seasoning is critical but not the star.  These 20 Vegemite recipes are divided into my recipes and recipes elsewhere online.

10 Vegetarian Vegemite Recipes from my Green Gourmet Giraffe blog:

1. Cheeseymite scones

Scones with a layer and topping of vegemite and and cheese.  So soft and so tasty eaten warm with all the melty cheese and bitey spread.

2. Sourdough cheeseymite scrolls

A sourdough version of the iconic Bakers Delight Cheeseymite scrolls.  They have been copied by a lot of people so I am in good company.  It took a couple of goes to get them soft enough but it was worth the effort.  Really good!.

3. Vegemite and three veg pizza

This pizza was inspired by my mum's potato, pumpkin and pea mash with Vegemite that I loved as a child. It is also my favourite three vegetables that we had with meat when I was a kid.  The pizza was topped with Vegemite, pea puree, roast potato, roast pumpkin and cheese.  Amazing!

4. Vegemite burger (v)

 In the vegan and gluten free burger pattie, Vegemite is the main seasoning for this mixture of mushrooms, brown lentils, walnuts and brown rice.  I served it on a burger bun with lettuce, tomato, cheese, beetroot, fried onions, tomato sauce and mayonnaise.  Burger with the lot this good is a rare pleasure in my kitchen.

5. Basic vegan nut roast

I love nut roasts and was very happy to find a good simple vegan nut roast that has become a go-to recipe.  It doesn't have much in the way of flavours so the Vegemite is an important element.  It is a rather plain nut roast but goes so well with gravy or tomato sauce in a roast dinner or with salad.

6. Gravy

This gravy is typical of many recipes that don't mention Vegemite in the title.  Actually, I used Promite because that was what I had in the kitchen but today would use Vegemite.  Vegemite gives both the dark colour I expect of gravy as well as the depth of flavour.

7. Vegemite and poppy seed scones (v)

These scones with Vegemite and poppy seeds are not the bonniest. because I made a small batch and had too many scones on the edge of the rolled out dough.  I think I could double the Vegemite but I really liked the combination with poppy seeds to echo the black vegemite!  Not my boldest venture but one to repeat when I am feeling fearless!

8. Vegemite caramel layered fudge

This consdensed milk fudge has layers of chocolate and Vegemite caramel.  If you are freaked out by the idea of Vegemite caramel, think of it like salted caramel with a deeper flavour.  Loved it but it was a bit fiddly to make.  I hope I can try it again some time and be bolder with how much Vegemite I use.

9. Chocolate Vegemite fudge

I found this fudge easier to make than the above layered fudge.  But as with that one, the salty umami flavour of Vegemite balanced out the sweet condensed milk and chocolate in a more sophisticated way than salt might.  One to impress your overseas friends.

10. Vegemite birthday cake

I made this Vegemite birthday cake, inspired by Vegemite's 100 year anniversary.  It was a bit fiddly to get the icing right but the cake was a favourite vegan chocolate cake to which I substituted Vegemite for salt but I would like to experiment with the flavours of Vegemite in this cake.  I was happy with the icing.  It is the sort of iced birthday cake I grew up desperately wanting as a kid and now can make.

10 Vegemite Recipes from other websites

Here are a selection of mostly vegetarian recipes from the internet that I would like to try.  There are a lot of Vegemite recipes online but while searching I got a bit tired of some ideas that came up a lot such as Cheeseymite scrolls though I wished I had room to add the one I also found many were meat because the intense flavours goes well with meat.  I only included one carnivorous recipe for a cheeseymite stuffed burger that I would like to trysand the many recipes with meat.  The stuffed burger would be vegetarian burger.  See if you can guess which is the vintage recipe from Dorothy in 1939 in the Australian Woman's Mirror magazine.

  1. Vegemite cheesecake - A Table for Two
  2. Vegemite spaghetti - Not Quite Nigella
  3. Vegemite baked potatoes - Best Recipes
  4. Cheeseymite stuffed burger - Gusface Grillah
  5. Vegemite ice-cream - Belly Rumbles
  6. Vegemite gougeres - Eat Live Travel
  7. Vegemite lamingtons - Best Recipes
  8. Vegemite oatmeal soup - The New Daily
  9. Vegemite Asian slaw - Vegemite website 
  10. Strawberry Vegemite french toast roll-ups - Simple Cooking Channel on Youtube

Vegemite in my life:

  • Vegemite was always a part of my Aussie childhood.  As experimental student I swung to the Promite camp for a while and then swung back to Team Vegemite.
  • I can't think of any photos of Vegemite in my childhood.  I found a photo of my daughter spreading Vegemite on toast in a cafe.  She was so cute that I took the photo but preparing and eating with Vegemite was too mundane to photograph when camera film was precious during my childhood.
  • We usually ate Vegemite on bread or dry biscuits (crackers) in my childhood.  I took it to school in sandwiches, ate it with grilled cheese on toast as a lazy Sunday night dinner, had it on savoys or salada biscuits for a snack, or just spread it on fresh bread or toast with butter.
  • As a kid, one of my favourite side vegetable dishes to have with meat was Vegemite mixed through mashed potato, pumpkin and peas.  I had a go at making this mash with Promite many years ago.
  • I would pass a favourite patch of tar on the road near as I walked from my childhood house to the pool.  In hot weather it would melt and resemble a small puddle of Vegemite.  It was always very tempting to dip my toe in.  I think I might have once or twice.
  • My mum made lots of scones when I was young.  We mostly had jam and cream on them but my brother was not a sweet tooth and I am not sure if my memory is correct in thinking he once asked for vegemite and cream scones.
  • At school I remember Men at Work's song Down Under featuring the iconic line "He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich."  It linked Vegemite and our national identity in a way that brought it to the attention of the USA.  Though Vegemite never became popular in the US.
  • Vegemite used to come in jars that could be reused as glasses once empty and the label was cleaned off.  We loved them.  They were quite small and could be found in many family kitchens and student households.  
  • The Cheeseymite Scroll - bread dough spread with cheese and Vegemite and rolled into tasty buns - was created by Bakers Delight in 1994 and became an instant favourite.  So many snacks are meaty, that this is an excellent snack on the run.  It is an icon today that I would be lost without.  I've baked them in various ways but was still amazed by this recipe with garlic butter.
  • Vegemite and cheese sandwiches and Cheeseymite scrolls were often in my daughter's lunchbox at primary school.
  • When I lived in Edinburgh if the wind was blowing the right way I loved the smell of yeasty aromas from the brewery near our place.  Perhaps it reminded me of Vegemite.
  • I knew it was love when I met E in Scotland and he made an effort to eat Vegemite on toast.  He still eats it but my daughter feels he spreads it too thinly and prefers the slightly thicker way I spread it.
  • When my daughter was young we would take a jar of Vegemite on holiday as it was great with some fresh bread when we had a holiday house kitchen.  Just in case it wasn't available in a cafe.
  • My nephew in Ireland in a nut free school had kids getting cross at him for bringing Vegemite sandwiches for lunch because they thought it was Nutella.
  • We love mini Vegemite jars for fun.  There was a vegemite jar in the Coles little shop collectables, and recently I bought a Vegemite jar Christmas tree decoration which you can see in the above picture of three Vegemite. 
  • Vegemite was and still is an invalid's food.  When I feel ill and unable to stomach much, the saltiness is often what I need - just with a piece of bread.
  • On this blog I have featured Vegemite in my recipes, reminiscences and posts about what is in my kitchen.  I love experimenting with it in recipes but I sometimes wish I was not been so timid in adding it.

Vegemite on toast or in sandwiches:

The above poster from Scienceworks Museum reminds us that vegemite and cheese sandwiches is a not a new idea.  It was pretty simple then.  The variety of ways to each Vegemite on bread these days show how versatile it is.  The creamy texture and salty flavour combination is a winner. but Vegemite also goes well with nutty and spicy.

Vegemite in a sandwich with: 

  • Cheese:
    A classic sandwich that I have had a bazillion times
  • Crushed walnuts: 
    A favourite sandwich from my primary school lunches.  We all know that a salty crunchy treat is the bees knees. I wish I ate these sandwiches more now.
  • Cream cheese:
    A delicious soft oozy snack

Vegemite on toast with

  • Melted cheese: 
    This was a fine childhood comfort food to be eaten in front of the tv rather than with a knife and fork at the table.  If I were to try a vegan version, I think this would work well with grilling cashew cream in place of the cheese.
  • Dahl:
    Great use of leftovers, though not necessarily endorsed by Indian cooks,  Adding vegemite is like a flavour boost.  Fantastic fusion food.  I remember enjoying this when I was pregnant and feeling queasy about food. 
  • Avocado:
    This is a delicious 21st Century idea that has been embraced by younger people.  The mellow and salty  toppings make a great mix.  Tomatoes and ground pepper are optional but recommended.
  • Mashed potato:
    Another fine comfort food that I picked up from an English housemate in my student days.  No coincidence that the same friend taught me how to make excellent mashed potato.  I usually have cold leftover mashed potato with vegemite on toast.
  • Macadamia butter:
    A posh idea that is especially recommended for vegans wanting to replicate the vegemite and cheese experience.

There are many more combinations.  Others sandwich combinations I have heard of are Vegemite and lettuce or Vegemite and sultanas.  People also like Vegemite on toast with a fried egg.  Then there is this Vegorama sandwich with Vegemite, cottage cheese, grated carrot and lettuce for those who wonder if you can try it in a salad sandwich.  I also love the sound of vegemite mixed with mayonnaise as sauce for a burger.  Anything goes.

Vegemite products

The secret to longevity in products seems to be keeping the people interested by creating new ways to sell it.  It amazes me how many Vegemite flavoured products has been produced over the past decade or two.  Now you can get versions that are gluten free or low salt.

My favourite Vegemite-based product is the Arnotts Vegemite Shapes.  These crackers get the flavour right and make it so addictive that it can't be good for me but it is so good.  And the crackers come in the shape of Australia.  If you worry about Tasmania missing out, don't worry as there are some special Tassie shaped crackers.  Brilliant.  I was pretty impressed by the Cad bury chocolate block with a Vegemite caramel filling.  The Vegemite peanuts, Smiths crisps and Bagel Crisps are excellent.  I was pretty happy with the cheese and vegemite hot cross buns a year or so ago.  I was less impressed with the SPC vVgemite baked beans.  The flavour was not right.  And I didn't like the McCains Vegemite pizzas but I am not a fan of these types of pizzas. These are only some of the Vegemite products to be found on supermarket shelves.

Vegemite has also been a creative force in the restaurant and cafe industry in Melbourne.  I love how Zaatar's sells a fusion Vegemite and cheese pie.  Many cafes can do vegemite on toast, though they always give enough vegemite to last a month.  Occasionally I have found a vegemite and cheese toastie.  Most impressive was the White Chocolate Vegemite Ice Cream at Fluffy Tonedos in Smith Street, Fitzroy.  An excellent use of the salty umami flavour to tame white chocolate which is often too sweet for me.  An online search turns up some innovative restaurant offerings of Vegemite flavoured dishes that I wish I could try.


There is much else to be done with Vegemite.  I am hoping there will be a Vegemite tim tam soon and I would like to try baking Cheeseymite Hot Cross Buns, or adding Vegemite to recipes such as a tofu scramble, mac and cheese dumplings and savoury French toast . I have found plenty of inspiration online and hope I have added a little myself with this post.  Stay tuned for more ....

In the meanwhile you might like to check out more Australian food icons and recipes.

Friday 24 November 2023

Street Art in Melbourne: Northcote

We had a walk down Northcote High Street today.  It is ages since I have been there and wandered in and out of the gift shops.  So much amazing stuff to see.  And the street art was fun.  Here are some of the street art we saw - a few little alleys and a lot of art from the car park at the corner or Separation Street and High Street.  You will spot a post box, some gates, some zeitgeisty pro-Palestine graffiti, and some spiky plants in the garden of the Northcote Social Club.  And I hope you will find something to make you smile.

More Northcote Street Art on Green Gourmet Giraffe:

Sunday 19 November 2023

Focaccia with potato olives and cheese

A few weekends ago I baked a focaccia covered in crispy cheese, olives and potato.  The inspiration came from a Tik Tok video showing how crunchy the topping sounded but there wasn't much of a recipe so I used my favourite overnight sourdough focaccia that I had made before.  It was excellent.  I attribute this to having a variety of cheeses, potatoes from a visit to the Vic Market and letting it rise longer than usual.

This focaccia was a bit fiddly because it involved a lot of grating cheese and slicing potatoes.  The Tik Tok vid showed the dough being folded so I did this.  I don't usually bother.  But it helped shape the focaccia to be more square and high.

It was a good recipe to use up bits and pieces of leftover cheeses and olives. 

This was how it looked when it came out of the oven.  It smelled amazing.  We would not wait to sink our teeth into it.  The cheesy topping was so delicious but it was mainly the cheese rather than the potato that was really crispy.  Maybe I needed to bake it a bit longer with the potato before loading on the cheese.

I was really pleased with the height after the last focaccia I made was quite flat.  Making sure the sourdough starter was bubbly and bouncy, leaving it to rise longer (for a few hours) and folding the dough all helped.  It was cheering to eat after watching the politics on Insiders on tv, and gave great energy to ride to the city for shopping.  It lasted a 2 or 3 days and was great to take to work for lunch the next day.

More foccacia baking on Green Gourmet Giraffe:
Antipasto focaccia
Black cat focaccia  (v)
No knead focaccia (v)
Parmesan and onion focaccia (with tofu bacon option)
Rhubarb and raspberry focaccia (v) 

Potato, olive and cheese focaccia
Adapted from Green Gourmet Giraffe and inspired by Tik Tok
Makes 2 focaccia

300g ripe sourdough starter
450g warm water
40g (about 3 tbsp) olive oil
12g (generous 1/2 tbsp) salt
750g white bread flour
extra olive oil, for shaping

1 handful of olives
2-3 cups of grated cheese
4 small to medium potatoes
1 stalk of rosemary
extra olive oil, for drizzling
freshly ground pepper and flaked salt 

Mix all focaccia ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. If you have time give it a 15 second knead in the bowl after 30 minutes but this is optional.  Cover well (I used a cover with elasticised edges or you can use clingwrap) and leave overnight or 8-12 hours.

In the morning scrape bread out of bowl onto an oiled surface.  Cut in half and shape into a flat rectangle on a baking tray lined with a generous amount of baking paper.  Lightly oil hands if it is a little sticky.  Spread it out a little too much and then fold in three to give a bit more height. At this point you can bake but I left mine to rise for 2 hours which seemed to help.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 220 C.

Slice potatoes thinly and cover with cold water for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile roughly chop the olives and rosemary.  Grate the cheese if not already grated.  After 15 minutes drain the water from the potatoes and pat them dry.  Drizzle with olive oil, and brush over the potatoes.  

Dimple the dough with by pushing your fingers deep into the dough.  Drizzle with oil, scatter with some cheese and rosemary, and season.  Arrange potatoes on the dough so they are overlapping and no dough is showing.  Lightly scatter some cheese on top.

Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and scatter olives and then with more cheese to cover the potatoes well.  Return to oven and bake in 10 minute bursts, checking after each 10 minutes until done (took me 30 minutes with the extra cheese, a total of 40 minutes from when it started baking.)  When it is a crispy golden brown, cool on a wire rack.  You can eat it warm or room temperature and it will last about 2 days.

On the stereo:
Album 1700: Peter, Paul and Mary