First Taste 頭啖湯 (Footscray)

104 Hopkins Street
Footscray, VIC 3011
03 9689 4274

I wonder if it’s a very Chinese thing to love double boiled or stewed soups. I grew up loving the taste of it at home when mom or grandma would cook it. Because we’re Hokkien Peranakans, our soups weren’t all that that herbal, but the style of cooking meant that the base flavour would be similar to canto-style herbal soups.

These days, I’m loving the taste of herbal soups more and more. I’ve bought a huge container to put all my Chinese herbs in to pick, choose and learn what to use. Getting into this realm of food discovery requires quite a bit of cupboard space, I’m trying to stop using pre-made soup packets now. To help me, I’ve bought a book teaching me how to brew nourishing Chinese herbal soups, with a commentary about the types of healing that each herb combination brings.
I sensed a form of kinship when I-Hua posted about the darker herby (Hokkien?) version of Bak Kut Teh, she loves herbal soups like I do and knows what herbs to use. It’s a very Eastern approach towards health and medicine, one that I am keen to learn more about. Pity I can’t bring that knowledge to the animal world. Imagine asking a cat to drink soup!

My very first visit to First Taste was actually at Box Hill’s branch not long after I’d arrived in Melbourne 3 years ago as a wide-eyed migrant. I was quite amused by the concept of first drinking a small bowl of soup, and then having a single-serve claypot rice dish. must be a style of eating in China? Good meal, comforting soups that reminded me of home and the claypot rice was great too.
I ate at this branch a year later but this time, it was a mediocre experience. The soups weren’t served piping hot and the claypot dishes just weren’t cooked as wonderfully. Is the quality different between branches? Either way, Hao and I decided to give it another go 3 weeks ago. It was his first visit to Footscray. We were walking up and down Hopkins St looking at eateries, but once I mentioned ‘this is a soup place’, he walked right in.
I must say the outside looks quite crummy… and all their branches seem to have this tendency to cover the front windows with faded pictures and reedy, bamboo-like ‘foliage’. Lol… so ‘shrouded in secrecy’.
The interior looked a little tired at night, but it’s definitely more cheery than from outside!
莲藕花生鸡脚炖瘦肉 $4.50
Lotus root, peanut, chicken feet stewed pork soup

Once again, the stewed soups weren’t really served piping hot and they were on the salty side. But I enjoyed them this time round. This chicken feet soup had the sweetness of lotus roots, peanuts and longan. But the flavour is brought together by strong hints of dried cuttlefish. Great combination. Hao liked this one, he tells me how the Chinese wordings for this dish on the menu almost looked like a line from a poem.
Seeing chicken feet floating in a soup must feel scary to some of you, it’s easier to stomach when it’s marinated and steamed till tender as yum cha dish. But of course, Hao and I fought over the chicken feet pieces here. They were texturally so delicious! :D

元肉淮山杞子燉牛 $3.80
Herbal stewed beef soup

This was a rich, bright and yet clear soup. It liked its clean taste. I dug into the soup and unearthed carrot, onion, goji berries, longan, ginger and cloves. Mmmm…. want to make it at home! Hao did not like this soup as much. There were floatey brown scummy bits in the soup that tells him it’s cooked blood. He doesn’t like that.
When it comes to these stewed soups, some of us may not even eat the meat pieces inside. They can be quite firm, ‘dry’ and ‘leached out’ in flavour as all the goodness has already gone into the soup. For me, I’d still eat the stewed meats very happily plus drink every last drop of soup. How about you?

榨菜魚柳煲仔飯 $8.50
Preserved Chinese radish and fish fillet on rice

The claypot dishes were once again disappointing. I mean, I’m not even unfairly comparing this with claypot rice in Singapore. Hao had this one and I had a taste of the sauce on top – it was really, really sweet. And the sauce was corn-starchy gooey. He said it was alright, but couldn’t finish.

剁椒酸菜魚柳煲仔飯 $8.80
Fish fillet, sour pickled mustard and chilli with rice
Unfortunately, I also couldn’t finish mine. It was not spicy at all and the fish had a weird jelly-like soft texture mingled with a goopy unexciting sauce. On top, there were shreds of sweetish pickled mustard (the ones that come from a packet) that looked like it wasn’t cooked together with the claypot. The chillies were so weak they tasted like tomatoes, lol!
And if you dug in, all you can see is white rice, a little soft, and without much fragrance. I think it should’ve been cooked longer. And even if you mix the sauce in, it did not satisfy. Is there a way to eat this dish? Do you have to pour in several other sauces and oils and mix it all up first before eating, just like the way we do it in Singapore?
Strange that it’s nicely charred outside, but still not a good claypot rice dish to me. I guess there wasn’t enough deliciousness to the entire dish to make me wanna scrape and dig and crack into these charred bits.
I’m not sure whether the different branches of First Taste differ in quality, but I’m unlikely to order the claypot rice dishes at this branch again. All that said, I think the stewed soups are not bad. Should I have a craving for Chinese soups, I could just grab two soups from the menu and have it with a bowl of rice!
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