FROM Greece to Mexico, more than 20 nations have now hosted the Olympic Games. Marcella Purnama dishes on some of her favourite host nations, and where you can sample their native cuisines – right here in Melbourne.
Sure, the Olympics are about great sporting feats (and who can stay up to watch all 40km of the women’s marathon), but we at Meld are convinced there’s more to this event than just sport.
When Baron Pierre de Coubertin designed the Olympic rings in 1912, he said it was a truly international symbol and would stand to represent a meeting of all the world’s cultures.
As far as we’re concerned, you can’t experience the world’s culture without experiencing its food.
So to pay homage to the Games, we’ve picked our five favourite past host nations and the Melbourne restaurants cooking up the best fare these nations have to offer.
1. Greece 1896
Exactly 116 years ago, the first Olympic Games were held in Greece. Back then, only 14 nations participated in nine sports – and no females were allowed to compete. But we’ll let that slide.
Get a taste of Greek cooking at: Stalactites, 177-183 Lonsdale St
Arguably the best late-night dining places in the Melbourne CBD, Stalactites serves everything from souvlaki to custard pudding.
Signature dish: Lamb Souvlaki, $12.50
2. Germany, 1916
Germany was meant to host the sixth Olympics Games in 1916, but this was cancelled following the break out of World War I. But the Germans did eventually get to host the games in 1936.
Get a taste of German cooking at: Hofbrauhaus, 18-24 Market Lane
While we’ve reviewed Hofbrauhaus before, we just couldn’t resist mentioning it again as the best place in Melbourne to taste the authentic German food and beer. And beer. Oh how we love German beers.
Signature dish: Schweinshax’n (Bavarian picked roast pork knuckle served with sauerkraut and homemade potato dumplings), $25
3. France, 1924
Fun fact: During this Olympic Games, two British runners, Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, won the 100m and 400m events respectively – thus inspiring the 1981 film Chariots of Fire.
You may have caught the film’s soundtrack being played by the orchestra at this year’s London Olympics opening ceremony. Yes, it was the song with Rowan Atkinson in it.
Get a taste of French cooking at: Bistro Vue , 430 Little Collins St
This is the most expensive restaurant on this list, but the food is so good I just can’t bring myself not to mention it! Bistro Vue is actually the sister restaurant of the well-known fine dining restaurant Vue de Monde, but much cheaper and just as delicious!
Signature dish: 600 day grain fed Wagyu Steak with potato gratin, beetroot and your choice of sauce , $35
4. Mexico, 1968
Have you ever heard the quote, “My country did not send me 10,000 miles just to start the race. They sent me to finish the race?”
It was uttered by Tanzanian runner John Stephen Akhwari, who dislocated his knee joint early in the Olympic race in Mexico. He crossed the finish line an hour after the winner did, but hopefully he was still happy about finishing.
Get a taste of Mexican cooking at: Mamasita, 1/11 Collins St
Hidden in a small city alleyway, Mamasita is the place for Mexican food – if you can get a seat, that is. The last time I went here it took me two hours to actually find a seat, but trust me, the food is worth it. Sadly though, they don’t take any reservations.
Signature dish: Pollo Tostadita (fried tortilla filled with chicken, avocado and cheese), $14
5. Spain, 1992
If we were talking Hunger Games, the 25th Olympic Games would be the one where all the previous gold winners got to compete again. Spain was the first and last Olympics to host what was then called a “Unified Team”. This team consisted of 12 of the 15 former Soviet Republics, all of which competed as one single gold-medal hogging nation.
Get a taste of Spanish cooking at: Movida, 1 Hosier Lane
Movida is one of the few restaurants in Melbourne that offers an authentic tapas experience. Once you’ve been here, you can’t resist going back for more… and more…and more.
Signature dish: Bistec Tartar de Wagyu (Spicy Steak Tartare), $18.50