Thursday, September 08, 2011

Elizabeth Chong

Melbourne foodies are a force to be reckoned with in a way I don't think happens in Sydney. Correct me, if you will. Before Mietta O'Donnell was tragically killed in a motor car accident, there was one foodie earlier who I remember, Rita Erlich, who was married to The Age writer Dennis Pryor.

I saw Rita Erlich once at a cabaret performance at a place in Hawthorn. I can't remember who was performing, or what the venue was, but Rita was in the company Elizabeth Chong. (remembered later with some help from R, it was Capers and we saw Stan Munro, a female impersonator in the vein of Danny La Rue)

While born in China, Elizabeth came to Australia at a young age. Her father invented the Australian dim sim, which many of us treasure as a fast snack food. She grew up near Melbourne's Victoria Market, where her father a fruit and vegetable seller, had his dim sim factory. Her father opened a restaurant at some point and one of the staff he gave a start to, a young lad called Gilbert Lau, went on to become the entrepreneur of the Melbourne institution, The Flower Drum.

As a bored Balwyn housewife, instead of taking to Bexs Powders and the Vickers bottle, Elizabeth started doing cooking demonstration fund raisers for the school her children attended. Her cooking school evolved from that and the rest is history.

There is another famous Melbourne foodie connection for Elizabeth and that is Stephanie Alexander, who had been more successful in Australia with teaching good food eating habits to children than Jamie Oliver. Elizabeth is older than Stephanie, so it is unlikely that she taught Stephanie the art of Chinese cooking, but Elizabeth did teach Stephanie's mother.


Later edit: I should have made mention of her significant award for one of her books. She won the Prix La Maille as International Cookbook of the Year.

So, Elizabeth, you turned eighty in May this year. I takes me 'at orf to you as a Melbourne icon.


  1. I've often wondered who invented the Australian Dim Sim now i know thanks for the info. I prefer my dim sims deep fried as steamed dim sims taste like cardboard :-).

  2. She sure doesn't look 80. I guess it's all the dim sim.

  3. Anonymous6:04 pm

    Good on Elizabeth. As for Stephanie, a worryingly large number of her recipes don't work (despite being in a very expensive hardbound edition). I think she deliberately omits an ingredient or a step so that no-one will ever cook like her. Annoying.

  4. Anonymous7:14 pm

    Wow 80, doesn't look it at all! As for Stephanie Alexander, my youngest daughter did her kitchen garden program at school with Fiona from last years Masterchef, she enjoyed it. Its a great program , that teaches them from the garden to the kitchen, but have not bought her book. If its anything to go by what Scott has said then I dont think I will :)


  5. I like both Windsmoke. I feel I am being healthy when I have a steamed dim sim.

    Towanda, while I know she is good for her age now, I am not sure how old the photo is.

    Interesting Scott. I bought her book for R a year or so ago, but if he needs a recipe, he looks it up on the net. I better peruse the book and and have a look at some recipes, not cook them mind you.

    Michelle, as above. I don't know when the photo was taken. Stephanie appears to be bit of a grouch at times, but I think her heart means well and what she has set up for kids sounds very good to me.

  6. I love Elizabeth Chong but I do think that a lot of her dishes are catered more for the western palette. To my surprise, her spoken chinese is actually quite poor.

    By the way, after years of hearing people (mostly white people) rant and rave about the dim sims at the south melbourne markets, I finally bought one the other week. It tasted like a sausage roll to me. I was so terribly disappointed. It wasn't very authentic at all (but maybe I missed the point).

  7. Ooops... I meant palate not palette.

  8. AdRad, given she started to inform Australians about Chinese food in the sixties, I am not surprised that her food is very westernised. She wouldn't have learned to speak Chinese properly, is my guess. Actually, I have never heard her speak Chinese. It would be odd to hear anything but English come from her mouth.

  9. I don't know why there's not more emphasis on our OZ chefs - the whole celeb chef thing with OS chefs like JO leaves me cold!

  10. As you would know Red, our chefs are high demand the world over, so they should have more prominence here.

  11. Mister Z.6:31 am

    Norman Lee owned a dim sim factory, he got shot dead during a heist at Melbourne airport. It's alleged he used the dim sim business for money laundering. Norm also took part in the Great Bookie Robbery.
    Busy man.
    And cranky.
    Seeking evidence one time the police demanded the key to a safe in Norm's office. Norm was stubborn, wouldn't give it to them. So they transported the safe to headquarters and had it opened with an oxy torch. It was empty.

    O' Rare Norm.

  12. Interesting Mr R. Not heard about that piece of history.

  13. brigitte9:32 am

    Interesting, I am a stephanie fan, have her big book and haven't any issues with any I have cooked so far.

  14. Brigitte, certainly interesting for me to revisit the post. We have Stephanie's cookbook but I don't know that we have ever cooked anything from it. If my partner is unsure about a recipe, online is the place to go now.