Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year in Australia and what better way to celebrate than to actually get out in the open. While the lack of daylight may bring some people down, it brings about a sense of renewal for many who realise that winter is slowly melting away and spring will soon be around the corner.
Chilly, dark weather can sometimes draw this intrepid traveller into hibernation, though the lure of a solstice lantern parade piqued my interest. The Belgrave Lantern Parade has been celebrating Winter Solstice for eight years now, and brings many together in a festival of lantern-making and lantern-parading all while keeping the spirit of community art alight. This year’s festivities started late in the afternoon with myriad of activities for parade-goers from bands, to dance troupes, BBQs, face-painting and lantern workshops earlier in the day.
It was a delight to make the hop, skip and jump into Belgrave to see the main street crowded with a sea of creativity and community connectedness. Locals were encouraged to make their own lanterns in the weeks leading up to the event and they joined in to parade their illuminated creations in celebration of solstice. There were suns, fish, lyrebirds (fitting for The Dandenongs), helicopters, teepees and stars while the younger participants opted for traditional Chinese lanterns they had decorated with textas, piping and stickers. Even the local fire brigade and Freemasons society joined in the fun, and Belgrave’s strip shops decorated their premises with lanterns too.
Celebrating Winter Solstice at the Belgrave Lantern Parade also meant that it was imperative to warm up after the daylight disappeared. As the Belgrave Lantern Parade thinned out, it was time to deal with the hunger pains without the stress of tackling nearby restaurants full to the brim with patrons. There was ample time to order a meal online via Menulog before leaving home; knowing that a hot meal will be delivered to our house once we returned gave me peace of mind.
One great thing about Menulog, Australia’s number one site for online takeaway is that you can actually order your meal well in advance (even when the restaurant is closed) in next to no time at all. I decided to order well ahead for two reasons. One, to ensure that our vegan dietary requirements could be catered for and two, to enjoy the parade without having to worry about dinner plans afterwards. All I needed to do was type in my postcode into Menulog’s homepage and a list of nearby restaurants in Menulog’s community popped up. The thought of lanterns made me crave Chinese food, so it was only fitting to try our newly-opened Chinese locale in Ringwood – Kwan’s Kitchen. Dinner was thus successfully booked prior to leaving home within a matter of a few clicks.
Kwan's Kitchen offered a good amount of plant-based options to choose from and our post-parade meal consisted of noodle soup, crispy salt and pepper tofu, and seasonal veggies with cashew nuts all served with a side of vegetarian special fried rice. I had to order with a $30 minimum in mind, which was not too hard when there’s a vegetarian menu. Within five minutes of Kwan’s Kitchen opening, they had texted me confirmation and called me to walk me through my order. I had originally ordered vegetarian spring rolls, but they weren’t suited to our diet and couldn’t be made to order. So, they suggested the noodle soup as an alternative. The vegetarian fried rice only required some slight tweaks and Kwan’s Kitchen happily obliged.
Together with a couple of glasses charged with cider from the fridge, it was a delicious banquet to behold and one that was cooked carefully around our vegan request. Kwan’s Kitchen catered for us enthusiastically and delivered our dinner a few minutes early with a big smile and without any fuss. The portions were massive, all arriving hot, fresh and sans leakage in the bag, which meant we could share the entrée soup between us, fill our plates convincingly with the mains and still have a little left over for the next day.
The soup was a little salty, though a hearty winter-warmer. Next was the salt and pepper tofu which was the most surprising and moreish, arriving as crispy as it would if it were ordered in-house (thanks to a ventilation hole thoughtfully cut out from the lid). The garlic sauce coating the veggies and cashews was light and fragrant, allowing the dish to retain its crunchiness while the not-too-oily fried rice contained a colourful, fulfilling mix of different veggies and mushrooms.
Winter Solstice and the Belgrave Lantern Parade may only come around once a year, yet wholesome and yummy local food can be enjoyed any night thanks to Menulog. We’ll celebrate to that!
Disclaimer: I dined on home-delivery from Kwan’s Kitchen as a guest of Menulog.