Saturday, December 31, 2005

Austrian Food

Spetzle, Kaiserschmarren (chopped pancake with sugar) and pastry after pastry seduced my senses during a Christmas skiing trip to Austria with the bf and the quasi-in-laws.

We stayed at St Anton in Arlberg and visited Lech, a neighbouring resort, for lunch. After which, we went up the gondola to Rufikopf (2362m elevation). It's good to see that Kombucha has made it here too. It's quite a refreshing drink, I discovered.

Austria is also home to what I call The Smoked Meat Shop. Smoked meat is ubiquitous here - the most delicious speck bacon for breakfast everyday and the tastiest hams and salamis.

We went into a Spar to look at some local food. We were so bewildered at the cheese section, because they're only described by the valley of origin - and there are thousands of them. So you don't find any Emmentaler or Gruyere, but Jerome and Mossbacher. L says that Jerome is very stinky and has bad BO. They also only sell Austrian smoked meat here. I asked for some salami to be cut and enquired, "Is it Austrian salami?" The woman frowned slightly and said, "Yes, of course."

Oh, they have a taxi company here called Harry.

Monday, November 21, 2005


62 Weston St, SE1 3QJ
nearest tube: London Bridge (5 mins walk)

I have to rave about this restaurant, which is the highlight of all my dining experiences in London. This place served to restore my faith that London is not just jam-packed full of bad food masquerading as mediocre.

My friend N from Canberra was in town en route to Malta and I caught up with him for dinner. He wanted to introduce me to his other friend F that he met whilst living in Moscow; so we combined the two and joined F and friends for dinner at Champor-champor located about 5 mins walk from London Bridge station. I was prepared for anything - the food has been very touch and go here in London; that which is easily accessible is usually not good. Well, Champor-champor is located in a deserted alleyway by the station. You would not stumble inadvertantly across this place, in fact, if you weren't looking for it, it looks just like a strange innocuous shop front. But let me tell you what a treasure trove the inconspicuous front contains.

We walked in to subdued lighting with the trickling of a water-feature tickling our ears. The air was heavy with a spicy incense - we were surrounded by dark wood, teak sculptures and various South-East Asian decorations. The friendly and professional waiters smartly clad in Malaysian-style shirts recognised our searching looks and immediately asked, "Are you in F's group?" like they read our mind. We walked downstairs to the private dining area that usually seats up to nine. Unfortunately we were not the only unexpected guests as the party soon grew to twelve and we crowded around the table. The waiter, a smiling and rather attractive guy with an etched eyebrow, efficiently took our coats and jackets to place them on the decorative swing chair (very Malay) behind the table.

I had a piece of table approximately the size of an A6 piece of paper to eat off, but the staff gallantly sailed through the night, coping with our rather difficult situation with aplomb. Later on I found out that the chef chose to use smaller plates and bowls because of our lack of space. Usually the meals are served on large plates but he compromised the presentation to accommodate our group. It was very intimate and lots of sampling occurred, to my pleasure. We were treated to some complimentary 'bread', thick toasted white bread (just like my grandfather used to make for his British employers), sweet raisin toast without the crust (a very Malaysia breakfast) and a crispy 'lavoche' of sugared, aromatic (cinnamon and allspice, I think) and grilled tofu-skin (Cantonese: foo-pei). I have never, nor would ever have, thought about treating tofu skin this way. It's always been shredded in stir-frys, cut into squares for sweet and savoury soups or stuffed with fish paste. I couldn't stop eating this tissue-thin crispy treat.

A short amuse-bouche arrived while we were still perusing the menu: idli bread (Indian steamed bread) with curry peanut butter and a spoon of deep-fried tofu with spicy kicap manis. This set the tone for the evening and I looked forward to the delights that the menu held. I must say that I've never had this part of the cuisine of my childhood taken to such heights and thought about in such a creative way. I got so excited reading the menu that I wanted to see or taste everything.

To give you an example of dishes that I must reserve for another time:
Borneo-style king prawns umai (cured in lime juice); Asian shallot salad
Malay dried 'barbequed' beef salad; sambal belachan, calamansi & palm sugar dressing
Main courses
Ostrich 'masak kichap'; fish-stuffed green chillies; rice and egg noodle salad
Roast loin of rabbit; crab-meat and turmeric curry sauce; urab rice
Steamed and stirfried choi sum, lotus root & chive wontons; spinach, masala & yoghurt 'bisque'

Roast duck breast; Japanese pickled plum & honey marinade; pear puree; nasi lemak

Two vegetarian options in each section cater for those so inclined.

I chose deep-fried frogs' legs, banana flower & quail egg rojak for a starter. My first time with these tasty limbs, which arrived crisp and golden, succulent and sweet. I've always been seduced by the idea of banana flower, but each time I need to remind myself that this is a textural item, not an aromatic one. When it arrived I forgot what I'd ordered and assigned the texture to artichoke heart. The quail eggs were perfectly cooked and sat attractively above the rojak, the yellow and orange winking in with the white.

For my main course I had the szechuan-peppered chicken breast; Johore laksa; serunding and Asian herbs. I am unfamiliar with Johore laksa, so a quick google gives me the essence of this dish: spaghetti with a thick sauce spiced with fish. Serunding is a kind of turmeric and coconut cream-based reduction with chicken shreds. My dish had a base of noodles topped with a thick turmeric and coconut cream infusion and ground dried shrimp. The aroma was pure heaven for a dried shrimp fan like me. The chicken breast slices nestled in and amongst the noodles, white slices of meat speckled with black pepper peeked through the gravy. A rectangular side-dish accompanied, containing all the Asian herbs necessary for an authentic laksa: mint, thinly sliced red onion, vietnamese mint and an appropriate blob of sambal belachan. It seemd so uncouth to tip everything in and mix it around, but I gathered that was what was needed. So off I went and in a couple of stirs I had the most delicious, thick and creamy noodles in my mouth. Explosions of sambal belachan pungeancy and ground dried prawn punctuated the unctuous gravy and I went into raptures (on the inside, for I did not want to embarress my dinner companions). I did feel that the chicken suffered a little bit in light of the spices, but this was a happy marriage of johore laksa and serunding indeed. Szechuan pepper has an interesting anaesthetising effect on the tongue; I felt the blandness of the chicken was exarcebated by this spice - but I could understand the spicing regime and what Chef Adu Amran Hassan was trying to do.

We had no room for dessert but here is a sample of what was on offer:
Burnt sugar steam cake; raisin and arak (alcohol) ice cream
Pineapple and chilli parfait; mint raita
Baked paneer; poached guava in jaggery syrup

We were joined by Chef Adu and his partner who manages the front of house after half of the guests had left (we had more room then). I conveyed my excitement about the menu and would have gone on and on about the food and his ideas, but held myself back so as not to seem too forward. I didn't want him to feel too uncomfortable that a dinner guest (and wannabee food reviewer) was looking with such an analytical eye towards his food; but honestly, he would have had nothing to be fearful about as it was 'all good'.

The menu is changed seasonally and Chef Adu travels frequently to Malaysia to centre his inspiration and renew his roots. There are definitely other influences, e.g. Thai, Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese, but these only serve to heighten the original Malaysian rubric. They also do festive menus and gave me a sneak peak of their Christmas menu. I was doubtful, no way I thought, Malaysian and Mince Tarts? They've finally gone koo-koo. I couldn't be more wrong. Somehow he has manage to infuse elements of the festive spirit into his cuisine and we have have such gems to come as:
Calamari-stuffed sticky rice 'sushi'; pickled water chestnuts; squid ink and mirin sauce
Roast eel and green papaya som tam; crushed peanuts; baked-parsnip mascarpone
Water buffalo 'rendang tuk'; truffle oil mash; carrot and thyme salad
Wild mushroom, lotus seed, artichoke and tofu skin spring rolls; sweet potato curry

Two courses £22, three courses £26.50 (plus supplements for a few dishes or an 'inter-course' refresher, ~£2 to £3)

Later on before leaving we had a short tour of the upstairs to look at the picture of a red-painted cow (a traditional Malay decorative art) on the wall along with the wooden temple that the owners imported from India, which they set above some lingam worship stones. Everything combined to give an exotic and intimate atmosphere with which the food served to make for a wonderful evening. I look forward to more adventures where I travel with what seems familiar or reminiscent, but am still transported with inspired ideas.

Monday, November 14, 2005


Finally, I have found decent Thai in London. It's not the cheapest, but it is of acceptable quality, i.e. comparable with what I would pay to eat in Australia. Now, £6.50 (AU$15.45) is very expensive for green curry but it is acceptable for eating out prices in London. The beautiful surroundings also make it a nice dining experience. Several large tables have big square trays of water with flowers floating on the surface. I dare say the constant renewal of water and flowers contributes to the cost of the establishment.

Zimzun is at the Fulham Broadway shopping centre (cheesy slogan alert: Life Begins at FBDY) on the same level as the cinemas. I ate a lovely roast duck salad (yum ped) for £7.50 whilst my friend P had duck and spinach fried rice for £6.25. The duck was succulent and correctly dressed with a well-balanced fish sauce and lime vinaigrette. P's fried rice was tasty and aromatic with chewy individual grains of rice kissed with garlic oil. (This last turn-of-phrase is a nod to the "sun-blushed" tomatoes I saw in the deli up the road from me.)

Notice in the website that they do not advertise themselves as being a thai restaurant, but an Oriental one. This is an interesting distinction, as the entire menu is thai. There is not a note of Chinese, or even more closely related Vietnamese or Malaysian dishes. This must be a marketing strategy - perhaps they don't want to associate themselves with pub food or tacky restaurants, which are the places where Thai food is mostly served in London.

We also ordered dessert - I had lychees on ice whilst P had mango ice-cream, which turned out to be Tesco's mango sorbet. A little disappointing, but when he complained to the manager she apologised and took the charge off the menu.

Monday, November 07, 2005


A fermented tea beverage, known as Kombucha, consists of a fungus colony that looks a bit like a giant cow's tongue, according to my friend James. He tells a very funny story about how his friend/flatmate brought a small colony into the house, sat it on a plate in the fridge while she drained its exudate and drank it everyday.

Well, the other day when I was in Dublin I stumbled across Kombucha drink in bottles at the local supermarket. This reminded me of James and his funny story so I took a picture to tell him.

Friday, November 04, 2005


Brick Lane is near Liverpool St station and it's lined with Bangladeshi and Pakistani restaurants. I went there tonight with a group of collegues and we were ten. Apparently what happens is you walk along the road inspecting the menus and the manager will come out and try to entice you in. Then you try to negotiate a free deal, e.g. free poppadums, a round of drinks or a discount. In some cases the more seasoned co-workers were looking at getting a 25% discount on the prices.

We settled on Shaquile's; a Bangladeshi restaurant. I had the Lubi Gosht, which is a lamb curry with green vegetables (very Bangladeshi I'm told by the menu). This was very tasty and my Chinese colleague Tao, who thinks that Chinese food is the best, proclaimed, "This is very tasty. It's like Chinese food." [trans. because only Chinese food is tasty] - high praise indeed.

There weren't many of the classic Indian dishes like Rogan Josh or Lamb Korma, but I did see Chicken Tikka Masala (a wholly Anglo-Indian invention I discovered during a documentary) and various Kormas of meat and vegetable. There was a whole range of different dishes here that I'd never heard of before. I think the competition is so stiff that the quality and value is actually quite high in this area.

I ordered a Palak Paneer to accompany my Lubi Lamb and some Naan. There was a special deal going for £6.95: starter (not seafood), main, rice and naan. I didn't get that, but about four people did. PhD scholarships are on the order of £12,000 pa so budgets are tight in a town like London. I actually can't imagine how they survive. I'm barely coping on my salary as it is.

The total for 10 people was £135.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Conceptually confused

The benefits of working in a university is that you find out where all the students eat. Tonight I'm eating at a conceptually confused Japanese restaurant. The proprietor speaks Mandarin, there is kimchi noodles on the menu along with special fried rice and roast duck. I order Singapore noodles, shying away from the fatty katsu curry. My dish it is tasteless but redolent with turmeric.

I spy a plastic container on the bench containing what looks suspiciously like cold Singapore fried noodles. Obviously it's been a while since my noodles have seen any frying, but they do know the insides of a microwave intimately.

I guess I can't complain at £4.50.

I find myself here again, but only because my first choice, Oriental Canteen, is closed. What kind of eatery closes at 9:30 on a Friday night? This time I order roast duck and rice. Dionne Warwick is singing Why Do You Have to be a Heart Breaker in the background. I am the only Asian (Oriental) face here aside from the proprietors – this is telling. It comes with a weird sour-sesame cabbage salad thing.

I won't deign to give Oriental Canteen a picture. They're the best deal for Chinese food in the area and they know it. They wouldn't last two seconds in Sydney of course, but here because the British put up with so much, they do. One afternoon I ordered Char Kuey Teow and asked politely if I could have extra vegetables with that. To which the mainland Chinese girl replied, "No! Only one size." Their roast duck/pork/bbq pork/etc. is just meat and rice - not even the token three green vegetable strands. Their food is passable, but I sense far too much microwave cookery here for my liking. I spy a plate of Singapore noodles that are whisked out of the dumbwaiter almost before the waitress has a chance to shout the order down into the basement kitchen.


Sorry I haven't been responding to comments. I've only got dialup at the moment while I wait for IT expert boyfriend to come over from Sydney. He's going to decide on the best broadband deal.

I've been waiting for nearly two months now - but at least I know he's sent our boxes over by ship and stored the rest. If he ever wants to see our stuff again he'd have to come over here.

It's been interesting setting up house by myself. The bureaucracy in the UK is quite...stupendous.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

UK Food TV: The Slimming Club

Another funny segment I watched was all about real life foodies and their kitchen. This particular one documented a old woman making beef wellington for lunch with the ladies. She laboriously made the butter-puff pastry by hand using 300g of butter for pastry used on one fillet of beef, rolling and folding it deftly a million times.

The pastry-lined bottom of the tin was slathered with homemade chicken liver pate, then the beef put in, which was previously browned in a mixture of butter and oil, then folded and baked. It looked absolutely amazing when she served it - I have a soft spot for beef wellington although having only eaten it once. I think it is quite an amazing dish.

She served this to her friends with potatoes dauphinoise (cooked in butter and cream), red cabbage and broccoli. Dessert was a pavlova stack with cream and raspberries. It was lunch for the weekly meeting of The Slimming Club where all the ladies would weigh in to record how much weight they'd lost.

Kinda like going to the pub after an AA meeting, perhaps?

UK Food TV: Slow Food

One of the benefits of having cable tv is the UKtv Food channel: all Food, all the time. Unfortunately they tend to bunch up all the chefs, so it will be either Rick Stein and his multitudinuous Seafood Odyssey incarnations, or a wincing Gary Rhodes for 3 hours on end.

They also have a segment called Great Food Live where this middle-aged posh lady who wears too much purple and speaks with half-lidded and gold-rimmed eyes in an off-handed casual (slightly drunk) manner interviews the audience or brings in chefs for themed events. This is live TV gone wrong. Whose stupid idea was it to have a cooking show live? Don't the channel execs know that there are lots of boring bits in cooking? Why-ever do you think cooking on TV popularised the phrase "And here's one I prepared earlier..." Anyway, the funniest segment I ever saw was when purple-woman introduced the Slow Food movement chefs.

Now, I admire the Slow Food movement. I agree with many of their principles, in principle. However, I do think that these people that have the freedom to participate in a Slow Food lifestyle, also don't have careers to build, laundry to wash or tasks like cleaning the house. They have people do that for them. Anyway, Great Food Live is showcasing the Slow Food movement and three slow food chefs have to prepare and serve their favourite dish in 45 mins. Does anyone else see the irony in a Slow Food chef being forced to work to a TV deadline? I mean, these chefs are all about growing the vegetables, nursing them slowly, picking off each leaf from the watercress one by one over a long leisurely afternoon whilst nibbling on homemade brine-soaked olives and bread.

Of course each one decides to do a stew - and none of them would use a pressure cooker as that's against the Slow Food philosophy. One even attempts a rabbit confit to be cooked in 30 mins - HA - foolhardy for I have cooked rabbit and you need at least an hour (preferably two) to render the flesh tender.

I didn't watch to see how the segment ended. I didn't want to see proponents of Slow Food rushing to cook food - it wouldn't have been natural.


Carluccio's is a chain of café-delis around London, usually located around the posher areas of town. He's this stereotype of an Italian cook with his big round face, salt and pepper hair and rolling Italian accent.

To celebrate the return of all my banking facilities (an address confusion followed by an overzealous sales assistant meant I only had internet access to my money and credit for two weeks) I treated myself to a chocolate tart from Carluccio's in South Kensington. This was far too big for one sitting so I had the remainder for afternoon tea.

The tart is dark chocolate and only semi-sweet. The pastry is buttery and crumbly to perfection. Carluccio is obviously making a mint with his name and brand - the shop itself is pretty good if a tad expensive with ready access to glorious olives, wild mushrooms and artisan pasta.

Name change

I've changed the name of the blog from "A Banana in Australia" to "Banana Tikka Masala". This is to reflect the fact that I'm now based in London instead of Australia. It's a lot more curry here - less Thai. I'm missing the fresh food and veges, although it's actually not as expensive as people say. You can get fresh fruit and veges at good prices if you look, e.g. at markets and at certain supermarkets.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Whale restaurant

My last meal in Japan was at the Tokuya (House of Virtue) whale restaurant. This is the logo of the place which is proudly displayed everywhere even on the giant neon sign above the highway on the way to the airport.

Even the chopstick rest is whale-shaped.

A array of little whale treats, we chose: deep-fried whale heart salad, whale breast sashimi, whale tongue sashimi, whale tongue bacon, etc. We also had a whale hotpot with udon noodles. That was quite nice and probable the only tasty thing. Whale is very tough and otherwise tasteless. The blubber and skin were just very fatty.

You can read more about our whale experience on my sister's blog.


Now I'm in Osaka visiting my sister.

We stumbled across the Negibijintei (Beautiful Onion Woman) okonomiyaki restaurant while searching for some rice for lunch. This place is near the Umeda train station and is amidst a one of those restaurant floors in a multi-level transportation/shopping complex. [corrected "Senri Chuo" to "Umeda" 4 Sept 2005]

I ordered a standard okonomiyaki and my sister chose the seafood one. According to my expert sister, this place makes okonomiyaki with a lot more spring onions than usual. The fritatas come pre-made and you warm them on a hot plate set in the middle of your table. You can brush a sweet soy sauce and sprinkle bonito flakes on top while the plate keeps it warm until you're ready to eat it. Then you use the little fish slice to cut a bit off and eat it.


My second dinner in Tokyo was at the Mo Mo Paradise sukiyaki/shabu shabu restaurant. My dining companions, my friend L that I've known since I was 8 years old and her husband D, reckon that it's actually supposed to be the Moo Moo Paradise since there's giant cartoonish cow on the signboard.

My first time eating this dish and it was delicious. The broth is sweet, savoury and very tasty. We flavoured it with the thinly sliced beef as well as enoki mushrooms, spring onions and rocket.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Yakitori at Naka-meguro

I'm in Japan at the moment - it's a crazy old place. Not much has changed since I was here last year. Same old bustling downtowns with croquette and curry places all over downtown.

I'm staying with my good friend L and tonight we ate yakitori at Kushiwakamaru (03 3715 9292). This is a gaijin friendly yakitori place in Naka-meguro, i.e. the menu is also in English. They really know how to eat here; yakitori is all about tasty grilled bits on a stick, we had tonight: chicken wings, beef balls, chicken gizzards, chicken and leek, capsicum and cheese, eringi mushroom, eggplant and bonito shavings, chicken and perilla leaf, chicken skin and a few more that I can't remember.

I even washed it all down with a small serve of Japanese beer.

We finished with a small bowl of rice in a fish broth with shredded nori and bits of salmon: the most delicious rice broth that I've ever tasted.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Bad places I've eaten lately

At the risk of turning this blog into a bitch-fest...oh what the heck, here goes.

Toss'n'turn, next to the Capitol Sq light rail stop, is a crêperie that is truly crâpe. I ordered a crepe with seafood, mornay sauce and parmesan cheese and what I got was a nice enough crepe, but filled with tasteless frozen seafood half-heartedly heated through with some pasty grey sauce. The parmesan was not noticeable at all.

Golden Fang Malaysia (sic) and Chinese Restaurant is located on City Road, Chippendale, next to the University of Sydney. This place has always intrigued me because Malaysian cuisine is very rare in Sydney. It also always seems packed on Friday nights, so I figured it might be worth giving a go for a late dinner on a Monday night.

Alas alack, what a disappointment - they had run out of Hokkien noodles, so my first choice of Hokkien fried noodles was unavailable. My second choice of salted fish fried rice arrived within a minute of me ordering it: highly suspicious if you ask me, but nice quick service.

The neurotic and megalomaniacal manageress bossed her down-trodden waitress around as she showed me to my seat. I bet she couldn't wait to go to the Ball.

The fried rice was incredibly oily, soft and the salted fish of poor quality: very salty without a lot of flavour. The rice grains were squishy and overcooked, liberally coated with oil: yuk.

The roast pork with belachan sauce caught my eye so I ordered it for takeaway. It arrived before I finished the fried rice, so I sampled a bit. I like a bit of stinky belachan - I think it smells delicious.

But this is where I was wrong. This dish assaulted me with it's poor execution and lack of thought. The belachan was not roasted, nor was the onion base given enough time to reduce and caramelise. The whole dish stunk of wet and raw onion. I was nearly tempted to leave it on the table as a message that it was incredibly unapalatable. I took it home, nevertheless, as I hate to waste food. Perhaps I can push this onto the bf, pair it with some rice or noodles. Perhaps I can improve it...who knows.

After leaving the restaurant I was accosted by a strange Asian man who held a small card up for me to read: Can you give me $10 for some food and a ticket to Melbourne, all written in the Chinese cursive roman script. How odd, to beg with a note. I rudely sniffed at him and turned away, but had an after thought that I should have given him that awful belachan roast pork. Oh well, perhaps it was for the best; I wouldn't have wanted to subject him to that offensive dish either.

A Romantic Evening

The complaints of neglect were reaching danger level - dull warning beeps were now wailing sirens, but I only realised at the last minute.

I found myself in a romantic emergency: something needed to be done fast. I pulled out all stops and created a Romantic Sunday Night for the two of us.

I made a quiet-ish dinner for the two of us; well, as quiet as living with three other people can be. I kept it simple because the main event was not the dinner:
Goats' Cheese Salad with Apple Cider Vinegar Dressing
Prawn skewers grilled with Thai Sweet Chilli sauce
Turkish bruschetta with King Island blue cheese and basil
Blue swimmer crab and prawn ravioli with spicy capsicum and tomato sauce (not shown)

Then afterwards, while I prepared Part II of the Evening, he listened to a special playlist I compiled for him:
Especially for You (Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan)
Forever Love (Wang Lee Hom)
One of Those Days (Whitney Houston)
I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do (ABBA)
Make No Mistake, He's Mine (Barbra Streisand and Kim Carnes)
Nature Boy (Nat King Cole, sung by Natalie Cole)
Stay (Paul Mac)
What Sound (Lamb)
Another Chance, Acoustic remix (Robert Sanchez)

I had previously taken out the mud mask from the fridge so it would be at a nice room temperature. I used Wow wow from Lush because he'd always wanted to try something from their Fresh range. He'd expressed some comment on the winter dryness, so that's
why I chose it. So he sat patiently with an improvised towel over the hairline, cucumber slices soothing his eyes and a thick coating of mud pack on his face whilst
Chillout Sessions Vol 3 played quietly in the background.

I lit some tealight candles and a few rose scented ones, then drew the bathroom curtain/door closed as he waited for the magic to begin.

I scattered a box of rose petals I had previously ordered from Pearson's florist all over the bed, the bedroom and the floor.

After a quick shower, he dried off and stepped out into the bedroom. I don't he quite believed that I did all of this. Well, I think I needed to; but I can't claim
complete credit for the inspiration. A mutual friend has compiled a list of Romantic Things to do one day and I springboarded off one of his ideas.

I gave him a full back and leg massage with cold-pressed macadamia oil. I used to go out with a masseur who drilled me in Swedish techniques and how to read muscle knots. I also attended a Shiatsu course once, so my technique is a little combination of both. I don't claim to be therapeutic, but I think it works for him.

After a thorough massage where I managed to work up quite a sweat, I brought out a little box of handmade chocolates, pairs of: strawberry ganache balls, penguins, praline baskets.

He seemed quite pleased - I'll end the story here, kiddies.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Meme - The Cook Next Door

All right, I've just been to Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Hainan (Haikou, Xia-Shan, Xinlong, Sanya) and Shenzhen and nary a word on the China leg of the food adventures. It's been a week since I got back but, understandably, the photo editing, compilation and making things not-boring is a slow ongoing process which competes with day-to-day life and preparing to leave the country, not to mention an attention starved lover.

But this arrived recently and having not posted in ages, I thought this would be something quick and interesting to post. A cooking meme has been started by Delicious Days and it has gradually reached me via Epicurean Debauchery. You know those "Getting to know you" emails that we've all received and passed on, the ones that ask odd things like, "What colour underpants are you wearing now?" well, this is also a "getting to know you" type of posted, but about our food habits and usages. It's being compiled in a great fashion (all family tree-like) by Delicious Days, so it will be interesting not only to read, but to see how our network is formed.

Anyways (as they say in LA - we say "anyway" in Antipodes) here is my contribution.

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?
As a male child growing up in Malaysia, I was strongly discouraged from the kitchen. The many searing gas burners, precariously balanced woks, heavy tree-stump chopping boards and glinting giant cleavers were deemed too dangerous; not to mention the fact that men never cooked (unless they did that for a living, like my grandfather who cooked for the British colonials) but acted as the food critic.

My first attempt was actually a recipe from an Australian cookbook for children: Cooking with Sheri, her Apple Snow (apple puree in uncooked meringue) recipe. Needless to say, I was a major inconvenience to my grandmother at the time with my demands for kitchen access. She was very busy as she had lard to render, prawns to peel, chicken to slaughter and fish to clean. Needless to say this first attempt was rather unsuccessful as the stewed apples were lumpy (I didn't have access to a masher or blender to make the puree and had to squash them with a fork) and the meringue tasteless. My mother took pity on me and help me work with the egg beater to achieve the required texture, but revelled in her prediction-come-true that the end result would be tasteless and bland.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?
My mother's uniquely Malaysian (Chinese) sense of the gourmet has the most influence on me. She was the one that taught me about the necessity (if somewhat fallible) chef pedigree viz. "Don't order the curry from [a Malaysian restaurant]. They're Chinese and don't know how to cook good Malaysian curry." She was the one who showed me how to make curry pastes, fried noodles and other essentials necessary for the running of our takeaway at the time. I think it was more out of practical necessity rather than a desire to pass on knowledge that I got educated - but I choose to see the love behind it.

I also have strong influences from the River Café cooks and Delia Smith primarily for their treatment of ingredients and the fresh and clear flavours they espouse.

Do you have an old photo as 'evidence' of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?
I'm sure there's a photo of me somewhere with chocolate cake smeared all over my face, but it's in my familie's photo vault in another country. There may be one of me eating noodles as well. Fortunately I have lots of childhood photos, unlike my aunt, whose only photo got ripped up and urinated on by a marauding Japanese soldier looking for comfort women (that's another story for later).

Mageiricophobia - do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?
Anything with the instructions, "Now working quickly, simply..." Usually this applies to chocolate or other high-fat and low-melting desserts that need to be shaped before they come to room temperature, or only have a very narrow pliability temperature range. I get scared, my hands sweat, they increase in temperature, they heat the food, it melts as I touch it - it all goes wrong.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest let down?
I don't tend to use a lot of kitchen gadgets as I've been living an itinerant lifestyle for the last 6 years or so. I bought a hand-held mixer which has been invaluable in cake making, whipping, etc. I also love my citrus zester which has given me plenty of palate-lifting rind.

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like - and probably no one else!
Savoury oat porridge. I like my oats (porridge) savoury with (in preferential order): bacon, sausage, smoked meat, butter and chives, tomato sauce, scrambled egg. I've also managed to convince my bf of the value in the savoury so it can't be that weird!

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don't want to live without?
Butter, fish sauce, noodles. I could live on noodles (but I'm having a break from Chinese food as I'm all Zhong-Guo'ed out from the last two weeks). Butter is the salve of heaven; I recently discovered the Danish butter Lurpak - I never thought butter could taste so good! Fish sauce is another elevating ingredient for me, it converts anything into savoury magical goodness.

Favourite ice-cream: Not really into ice-cream but gelato is the rage here in Sydney at the moment. I would pick wasabi if given a choice.

I will probably never eat: Scorpion, snake, ants, day-old mice - anything vaguely medicinal that is derived from vermin, invertebrates or reptiles. I saw lots of 'tonics' involving the above ingredients in China, usually in giant glass jars in front of the restaurant. I'm curious to try deer penis liquor though.

Signature dish: Very basic, this one - bacon and egg fried rice.

A common ingredient you just can't bring yourself to stomach: Radishes. Odd I know, but there's something bitter and icky about them that doesn't diminish no matter how I've tried them: boiled, baked, roasted, deep-fried, thinly sliced. They're so pretty and evocative to look at but I've never enjoyed eating them. Perhaps I lack the delicious-radish enzyme to release it's true flavour?

Ok, now to pick the lucky three. I'm going to choose Umami, AromaCookery and Tabetai. Not sure if they will all respond, but hopefully this should add to the Asian flair.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

Holiday: Day One - Breakfast

I'm on holiday visiting relatives in Malaysia and China at the moment. Here's what I had for breakfast on Day One.

Saturday, June 04, 2005


Location: Leichardt, Sydney

Sydney is full of ethnic enclaves. Certain suburbs are like small versions of the original countries. Punchbowl is popular with Middle-Easterns; Cabramatta populated by Vietnamese; Ashfield, Burwood and surrounding suburbs by mainland Chinese (the size of that country takes up a correspondingly larger amount of suburb area).

Leichardt is considered the mini-Italy in Sydney. Thus, a plethora of Italian restaurants.

It was my last night in Sydney before I depart for China and bf took me out to dinner. Our friend S had recommended before that we try Sapore at the forum. The first time we went there with our other friend K, it was Mothers' Day and of course totally packed. That time we went to Dante instead and had a very enjoyable meal.

This time Sapore was busy, but we were shown straight to our table as it was just the two of us. The waiter was incredibly friendly and jocular. We felt very comfortable in his care.

We ordered calamari fritte (deep-fried squid rings) to start. I ordered a linguine gamberi (linguine with prawns in cream sauce with snow peas and sundried tomatoes). Bf ordered a mushroom risotto,

The meal was overall ho-hum. We didn't really like it but the price was ok. A list of what was wrong with the meal:

1. Frozen calamari was used - there really is no excuse for using frozen seafood in Sydney. It possesses the 2nd largest fresh fish market in the world. Japan has a bigger one.
2. The deep-frying oil needed to be changed - You could taste the degraded and burnt fish oils in the batter - not nice.
3. The risotto was made with the aid of a stock cube - I'm not against the use of stock cubes, but this was patently obvious and of low quality.
4. The prawns in my linguine were frozen - see point 1.

If choosing to dine here ask to sit inside. We sat on the 'patio' section and were surrounded by people who thought cigarette smoke is the perfect accompaniment to Italian cuisine. Imagine holding a cigarette and fork in one hand while cutting your steak with the other. Ugh.

So, if you're at the forum, I recommend going to Dante instead. Also ask to sit inside because of the ubiquitous carcinogen problem.

Entrées: $6 to $9
Mains: $14 to $18 for pasta, $20+ for grill dishes, e.g. chicken or steak

Monday, May 30, 2005

Some random photos

Some photos that were lying around my hard drive. I thought these looked pretty.

Pomegranate seeds

It's no longer pomegranate season, but I indulged and bought two whole pomegranates, juiced them and made some pomegranate agar with some grenadine. Bf said it was only just palatable with a large dollop of double cream. I tended to agree. But they do look pretty - like sticky jewels.

Roasting peppers

Apparently this is how Nadine Abensur first introduced the British public to roasted peppers. She describes their wide-eyed wonder when she put a whole pepper on top of a gas burner to roast. It works quite well, but I think next time I will just buy roasted peppers.

King Island Roquefort-style blue cheese

They've finally been approved to import the mould into Australia and this was on sale at the Blackwattle Deli. This is a very creamy and aromatic blue cheese. Quite sweet and not sharp at all. Best to cut this when chilled slightly otherwise the inside just looks like a rotten sweaty stinky mess.

Rempah for chicken curry

I made a rempah for chicken curry as I was feeling homesick. This recipe calls for several large onions blended with a small amount of water which is then fried till most of the water evaporates and the oil starts to show again. I then add curry powder (Bird brand from Malaysia), some roasted spices (in this case cardamon, fennelseed and cinnamon), squashed cloves of garlic and a fresh paste made from ginger and rehydrated dried chillies. The mixture is slowly fried over low-heat and oil added occassionally until it reaches this golden colour.

This paste is suitable for most meats except seafood. Seafood curry pastes need fenugreek and a slightly more aromatic lemony tang to them, e.g. from lemongrass or fresh curry leaves. All you need to do now is to add chicken and some water then simmer until cooked through. A can-ful of coconut milk or cream (depending on how rich you like your curry) stirred through at the last minute is everything else you need to add for a rich satisfying Malaysian-style curry like my mum makes. Sometimes people like to put some roasted belachan into the paste - it definitely makes it a lot more aromatic that way (I love belachan), but I didn't have any on hand, and I didn't want to stink up the house either.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Paper Chef #6

Sweet desserts, ah, sweet desserts; after an extended savoury Paper Chef repast we welcome a lovely sweet in-between.

There were some lovely ideas and everyone was so creative and took such great care in crafting their dish(es). Two themes emerged along the lines of: biscuity-brown thing with soft white cold dessert and sweet sauce, and cake-y thing with sweet topping. Decision, as always, was hard due to the high standard that all Paper Chef entrants continually exhibit.

So, without further ado, Paper Chef #6 (Ricotta cheese, Almond paste, White chocolate and Strawberry) goes to A Finger in Every Pie for her Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote with Ricotta-White Chocolate Gelato and Scented Madeleines. I was most impressed with how she made the most of the ingredients available. She knew how to handle less than perfect strawberries to heighten their flavour - something that a lot of entrants needed to do as only in Berkeley do strawberries seem to be at their best at the moment. Her madeleines look so beautiful, the delicate clamshells are so pretty. The gelato recipe, whilst being plain, would highlight the strawberries and delicate almond flavoured madeleines.

I also thought some entries were worth mentioning and so I've given out some extra awards:

Best Plating and Photography go to Belly-Timber for the Quinoa crusted prawns and associated ensemble. This would probably get most innovative use of the ingredients too; it also sounds delicious. You can really see the chef training coming through in this entire blog's writing.

Most Impressive Use of the Topical Ingredient goes to Delicious Life for her tiered White Chocolate Ricotta Cheesecake. The strawberries look simply amazing - and I suggest throwing a Cheesecake Factory cake in the face of anyone that dare suggest it is better than your own handcrafted treat.

I bow down to everyone who made a tuile - they look difficult and impressive. Now I'm in such good company, I'm challenged to make one myself.

Congratulations to everyone for entering - this event is turning out to be such a joyful and fun celebration of quick-thinking food. Everyone that participated has invested so much care and thought into their entries. With such innovative and versatile recipes at our disposable, we're all going to make a splash at our next dinner party. I look forward to reading about it all!

Sunday, May 01, 2005


Union Square, Pyrmont

Friday night and some friends were coming over for dinner and a spa. The flatmates looked knowingly at me and repeated, "Coming over for a spa, eh?" when I told them. "Yes, just a spa!" I replied. Bf and I seem to have developed a bit of a reputation with friends "coming over for a spa" so now something so totally innocent and relaxing has such sexual overtones.

Anyway, it was a toss-up (ooh er) between the Taiwanese takeaway Grain, or Italian. I had originally planned to make spinach ricotta cannelloni but to my dismay, the ricotta had started to ferment, I ran out of unsalted butter and there was no whole milk to make the bechamel. This was almost enough to put a frazzled end-of-the-working-week me into tears. Well, mock tears with a fake temper tantrum on the bed before the bf told me to snap out of it and stop messing up the bedsheets.
Our friends arrived and we went to Café XXII a local joint that bf is quite fond of. They obviously plan to be there for a long time because they've engraved XXII into the step leading to their café.

The menu here is small, only about four entrées and six mains. But a nice number given the size of the establishment which seats about 20 people at full capacity.
There is a blackboard menu with a nice variety of pasta, meat, chicken, risotto dishes (one of each). We elected to share a plate of XXII calamari which was floured, deep fried and served with some spring onions. Lovely fresh seafood flavour but a little bland. They also weren't as crisp as I'd like them.

I elected to have a king prawn risotto with dolce latte (blue cheese). Bf had the chicken saltimbocca with steamed asparagus whilst N had rotelle pasta and his bf J had the kumera and provolone ravioli with sage butter.

The best executed dish I think would have been the ravioli. It was certainly the most interesting with the brown butter and sage sauce. Rotelle pasta turned out to be pinwheels which was very cute. This was served with a speck (german smoked ham) and tomato sauce. Bf's grilled chicken looked a little lonely on top of steamed asparagus spears. My risotto was perfectly cooked with even grains and a light creamy texture. The king prawns were fresh, flavoursome and delicious.

I can't fault the cooking but the menu was a little on the unimaginative side. They claim to be modern Italian food - this is correct. It's definitely not stick-to-your-ribs stuff; we were concerned at the small servings at first but we were comfortably full at the end.

I had a glass of chianti with the meal, which alleviated my traumatised state. My ricotta worries were well and gone by now.

Oh, and the spa was lovely innocent and NO naughty business eventuated, I'll have you know.

Entrées: $11 to $15
Mains: $15 to $21

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bf Cooks - Enoki Mushrooms Wrapped in Prosciutto

Bf can cook too. He made me a delicious snack (we love snacks) the other day. Enoki mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto, flash-fried briefly to crispen the ham and then served immediately hot.

This is a very pungent dish, very salty and full of cured-prosciutto ham flavour. The enoki mushrooms are very mild but provide a silky delicateness in texture.

I remember when he first made me this dish. We had only started going out and it was one of those days when I had spent all day at uni writing the thesis. I was tired, had eaten my reheated leftovers (I had started taking dinner to uni because then I could just reheat, eat and then continue back writing - I also had no income at this stage because my scholarship had run out) and was generally feeling down.

I had come home earlier than I had expected because I cut short my gym workout and brought some work home. Bf got into a cute fluster as I came through the door, "No no no! You're home early! It's not ready, it's not ready!" So adorable. I peered over at the kitchen bench, I could see neat little rolls of something but he whisked them out of my sight and into the frying pan. The aroma of frying prosciutto ham filled the air and when they were served, these adorable parcels made me fall all the more in love with him.

When he said he was making a snack, I thought maybe peanut butter on toast, or maybe an omelette or something similar; I was blown away by this. Some prefer flowers or chocolate - I guess enoki mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto do it for me.

Easy Breezy Saturday Lunch

Another one of those Saturday lunches when bf L came down to visit in January. I was still excited by the Sydney Fish Markets and used to bicycle down, pick up fresh fruit, cheeses and of course seafood, before cooking him something nice.

This time the prawns seemed especially fresh.

I also picked up some mussels and steamed them in a tomato, garlic and herb broth.

I fried the prawns in a little oil, garlic and ginger. These prawns were so large that I fried them one side at a time, like little minute steaks. Stir-frying did not work in this instance, I tried.

These were also served with some stir-fried green beans and pan-fried snapper. You can just see these in the corners of the other pictures.

I don't cook like this for him anymore. Absence made the heart grow fonder. He's here all the time now: we just eat instant noodles for lunch. Just kidding. It's been a busy few weeks and the routines have changed a bit.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Summer Snack

During the month of January, bf L was still in Canberra and whilst I had relocated to Sydney. Many long lonesome nights were spent buried at work and I tried to make the weekends a bit special for when he came to visit me.

I live very close to the Sydney Fish Markets and prepared a light summer snack for L when he visited:

Hiramasa kingfish sashimi, caperberries, watermelon, edamame (brined soybeans)

The edamame I defrosted over cold tap water - not homemade, but I figure if that's good enough for average Japanese housewife, it's good enough for me. Caperberries are always hit and miss. Once I ate some delicious ones that tasted like sweet pickles. I've been trying to recapture this taste again, but so far all the caperberries I've tried have that weird seed pod architecture that is so off-putting.

I also made a small dessert:

Citrus mascarpone, sponge fingers and berry compote

These strawberries were a little past their best and needed rescuing. Macerating them in feijoa vodka, cointreau and sugar revived them a little. I soaked the sponge finger biscuits in the macerating liqueur.

Word of advice: Never mix acidic citrus juices with mascarpone. The beautiful luscious cream will seize into a big spongy mass. Still edible, but with a totally different texture. I had to find this out the hard way. Next time I will just use the orange rind.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Paper Chef #5

The Paper Chef event is akin to the Iron Chef television series. Whilst the latter has top-notch chefs from around the world competing against the appointed Iron Chef Italian/French/Japanese/Chinese in Kitchen Stadium, this internet event has amateur to semi-professional cooks beavering away in their home kitchens trying to make a masterpiece out of four randomly selected ingredients.

I have meant to participate in this even ever since it started but practicalities (moving, Mardi Gras, etc.) have conspired against me so far. Finally, I have managed to dip my toe into this competitive pool; I've seen some of the entries from prior winners and the quality of their blogs - it's intimidating.

This month's Paper Chef #5 features the ingredients:
Goat cheese (chevre or any cheese made from goat's milk)
Sherry vinegar
Green Garlic

Green garlic is supposed to be the "topical/seasonal" ingredient. Hmm...I guess that definition only applies to the Northern Hemisphere. Green garlic has nary a mention Downunder at the moment. Persian fairy floss seems to be the ingredient du jour according the the frou-frou food magazines. It is also definitely not seasonal because we are going into autumn this side of the world and it is a spring vegetable.

I also had difficulty finding a definition of what green garlic purportedly is. The picture I found via google depicts it looking somewhat like spring onions. Epicurious also does not have a definition for green garlic. In the absence of clear guidance I invoked The Spirit of Paper Chef and made a substitution. I have used garlic chives instead of green garlic.

Winter Garlic Chives

These chives are the winter version, i.e. they are from the stems of garlic about to go to seed. The flowers have been removed and instead of being flat the stems are turgid and round. They still possess a very noticeable garlic aroma - they stunk out the bf's car on the way home and there were numerous (bad) jokes made about me indulging excessively in leguminous vegetables. I hope this substitution was indeed within the spirit of the competition.

My entry for Paper Chef #5 is:

Garlic chive and Goat's Cheese Ravioli with Sherry Vinegar Reduction and Prosciutto Shards

First I cut the chives into rounds and parboiled them. These will later be incorporated into the ravioli filling; I wanted to soften the stalks so that they didn't clash texturally with the soft goat's cheese.

Parboiling garlic chive rounds

I used an approximate 1:1 by weight combination of chevre and goat's feta from Tasmania. The proportion of chive to cheese is approximately 2:3 in terms of volume but this is all estimated and to taste. The filling was seasoned with a moderate amount of black pepper.

Ravioli filling

Whilst preparing the filling I had already started the sherry vinegar reduction. Approximately 600 ml of sherry vinegar from Simon Johnson was vigorously simmered with 100 g of yellow lump sugar until reduced to 3 tablespoons. Personally, I think Simon Johnson is overpriced for a lot of things, but they usually have all of the world's most esoteric non-Asian ingredients. I choose to use yellow lump sugar because I wanted a moderately sweet taste without excessive caramel overtones at the start because these would be produced during the reduction. Brown sugar would have been too caramel flavoured whilst white sugar would be too sweet. This process took the good part of an hour and stunk out the kitchen with vinegary fumes. When doing this, it's best to reserve some vinegar and make the reduction too sweet and thick, then thin and sour to taste.

Caramelised sherry vinegar

I confess to using store-bought lasagne sheets. I'm essentially a very lazy cook and this Paper Chef event has seen me attempt the most finicky work ever in the kitchen. I drew the line at making my own pasta though. I used lasagne from Pasta Vera on Harris St which make their pasta fresh daily and on bronze dies and rollers. I don't know if that makes a difference, but the food magazines assure me that it does. I nearly cheated and used their Goats Cheese and Roasted Pumpkin Ravioli; but I thought that would definitely disbar me from the competition. Is it still a Paper Chef entry if all the entrant did was reheat and pour sauce on top?

I placed approximately 1.5 teaspoons of the filling onto a pasta rectange (~12 x 7 cm) and sealed the edges with water. These parcels were boiled for 5 mins then drained and tossed with a tiny amount of unsalted (sweet) butter.

Boiling ravioli

I first encountered this method of serving vinegar reductions at Aria restaurant. The sherry vinegar is now a very thick and viscous paste with the consistency of toffee. I painted the glaze in a long arc following the edge of the plate.

Painting the reduction

Ravioli and sherry vinegar reduction

I grilled the prosciutto until crisp then lightly crushed them in a mortar and pestle. Some shards were reserved for garnishing. The prosciutto crumbs were sprinkled on the ravioli which were then anointed with lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil. There is a garnish of rocket at the side.

Anointing the ravioli

Rocket garnish

And voilà, my entry for Paper Chef #5:

Garlic Chive and Goat's Cheese Ravioli with Sherry Vinegar Reduction and Prosciutto Shards

Did it taste good? The bf said that he'd pay to eat this as an entrée (appetizer) at a restaurant. High praise indeed.

Garlic chive and goat's cheese ravioli filling, reduction and prosciutto

The texture of the filling viz. the chive rounds and goat's cheese were complimentary - soft cheese and tender chives like tiny perfectly-cooked asparagus. The flavour of the goat's cheese and garlic chives also went well - I'd forgotten how strongly flavoured goat's cheese is and needn't have worried about the chives overpowering it. The reduction was sweet but sour - a nice compliment to the richness of the ravioli whilst the prosciutto provided crunch and a hit of smoky saltiness. The lemon-infused olive oil I could have omitted or used a lot more lemon rind. Next time I will use store-bought lemon oil instead of trying to make my own. I think a garnish of watercress leaves would have been prettier: round shapes to compliment the square ravioli.

So, good luck to the other entrants and I hope my readers enjoyed this entry. If you know me personally, maybe, just maybe I might make this for you. I've still got uncooked ravioli in the freezer and the reduction is in a jar in the fridge.