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Report from Down Under: The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival

Cracking crabs, making friends in Australia

By Jennifer Cannon, special correspondent for The Food Channel

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival is a 19-year-old event that spans two weeks in March. It's Australia’s internationally acclaimed celebration of food and wine.

The festival began as a groundswell and has grown to attract locals and visitors alike. Each year, the festivities include more than 250 events throughout the city – a true expression of Melbourne’s infamous love of food and wine. The Festival’s prestigious reputation attracts some of the world’s biggest culinary and wine personalities to its door. the event also showcases many of Victoria’s own celebrated chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers, sommeliers, producers and artisans.

We had the opportunity to attend one of these events this year, known as Cracking Crabs. This is only one event among many we wish we COULD have attended such as Melbourne World’s Longest Lunch, Cellar Door & Farm Gate, Foodie Family Day, Crawl ‘n’ Bite, and Metlink Edible Garden…all with fabulous names and promises of overflowing tables. But you can’t go wrong with Cracking Crabs! At a cost of $85 it was a deal, even by Australian standards. The event was held at The Exchange, a very old hotel converted into a restaurant by the seaside in Port Melbourne.  

We enjoyed an end-of-summer seafood feast featuring blue swimmer crabs accompanied by table-long platters of Barilla Bay oysters, Clarence River school prawns, Hervey Bay scallops, Western Australian scampi and Spring Bay mussels. The spread was accompanied by classic seafood sauces, dill potatoes and an assortment of breads – but those things are a waste of space when faced with a table full of seafood. As with EVERY meal in Australia (yes, sometimes even breakfast), it was accompanied by alcohol--lots of wine and buckets of beer. We left with full bellies and dirty hands.  

We also left with a reminder of why we love Australia so much. This truly is a “no-worries” culture. The Aussies are laid back and know how to have fun--and not a bit self-centered. We were sitting at long tables, in traditional crab-fest fashion, and by the end of the night we knew all 20 of our table mates. They made it a point to come around and visit and get to know everyone. Maybe it has something to do with the constant flow of alcohol, but we certainly came away from the evening with an overall understanding of the Australian people's propensity to celebrate more and worry less. And….we brought a little home with us!

Below is a short video clip of the event's guest chef showing us how to crack a crab. Sorry for all the background noise, but...that's the sound of Australia having a crackin' good time.