Thursday, March 31, 2011

Char kway teow

Char Kway Teow is one of the quickest and seemingly simplest dishes obtained from the hawker markets in the streets of Malaysia, translated  it means fried flat rice noodles.

The Penang Food Trail, a very handy brochure for eating in Penang, says the, "perfect Fried Koay Teow should neither be not to wet or too dry". Yet for me it is not the noodles that are the highlight of this dish for the noodles are like the canvas where one creates the artwork and this dish is 'built' like a good piece of art, each colour (insert flavour as well) layered on the previous one to create depth and character. What I think makes this deceptively simple dish so fantastic are its contrasts, the soft malleable rice noodles and crispy beanshoots; sweet prawns, salty soy and sharp chilli. And then there's all the little treats one finds like the pieces of fried egg, cockles & Chinese sausage (lupchong) or batons of lard adding complexity. And what I love most about a 'good one' is the smokiness achieved by tossing in a scorching hot wok. 

For those of us that didn't grow up with this wonderful dish in our culinary repertoire of 'comforts', Wikipedia nicely details the history of the variants in these ingredients, such as the inclusion of cockles in seaside area's or the omitting of lard for 'health' reasons, . Oh boy just thinking about it has me yearning for a plate.
chillipadi mamk kopitiam's Char Kway Teow
So what does one do upon arriving back home with a hankering for Malaysian style Char Kway Teow? Go looking for the closest version one can find in Melbourne of course! So normally I would head somewhere close by  for a 'quicky' like Straits Cafe or Rasa Malaya, both in Doncaster. But knowing it can be worth trying something new a little search suggested that chillipadi mamak kopitiam might be the go. They claim to prepare 'authentic' Malaysia cuisine and indeed I found their rendition of Char Kway Teow to be smoky and flavoursome with noodles which were neither 'too wet nor too dry', plenty of little morsels, crispy bean shoots and juicy sweet prawns! Not bad at all. There were a few other 'classics' that I look forward to trying next time: Laksa, Nasi Lemak.........
chillipadi mamak kopitiam
295 Racecourse Road Kensington
 Chillipadi Mamak Kopitiam on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The last bite!

I left the last of the jack fruit in the mini bar fridge and its calling me!

I forget how sweet and juicy the fruits are in Asia until I'm back there again - just off the plane, standing on the street no more than a few steps from the hotel door, holding a plastic bag of freshly cut fruit, skewer in hand and with juice dripping down my chin! Now that's a little slice of foodie heaven.

Depending on what's in season, and sometimes that takes a day or two to establish, a daily 'bag' of fruit is usually my first purchase in the morning. I know we now have fruit carts in the Melbourne CBD but the crowd gathered around the fruit vendors in Penang had a whole social scene going on and sometimes serving a cultural interloper like me was not high on the agenda, besides we never know how to 'do it' (eat fruit without it dripping down the chin!) properly anyway. But despite not being able to contribute to the gossip of the day I always join in.

So jackfruit is not exactly juicy, in fact textually its a bit rubbery but the pineapplie bananarie flavour is yum. And the bananas are always better. And then there are guava's, mangosteens, rambutans......

I must still have 'holiday brain' because the other day when I was buying some Asian goods I spotted some Jackfruit in the freezer and added it to my basket - no no no its not the same as fresh. Melbourne is indeed an incredible food city but there's a good reason I munch my way around the globe whenever I can! (and of course I gleam a bit of history and expand my cultural understanding in the process.)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Eat this - seasonally speaking

I'm all out of whack when it comes to seasons, something that is usually easy for a culinary inclined Melbournite. In the last two months I have travelled from Melbourne's pathetic attempt at summer to the arid desert of Rajasthan, to the damp and chilly foothills of the Himalayas in India, and then to Malaysia's hot and humid Penang, hotter Langkawi and rainy KL with leftovers of monsoon season.  Now I'm back and I don't know what to eat! I just know I want to put chilli in and on everything!

Someday's it's warm and I feel like I should be barbecuing something and having it with a salad of the last of the tomatoes and cucumbers that grew all by themselves while we were away. The next day is chilly and I want something wholesome and comforting. And even that I'm having trouble with - fried rice, a family favourite wasn't Aussie enough. 'Too many beanshoots',  I'm told and probably a bit much sambal oelek (chilly paste) as well!

Anyway last Friday's special at the restaurant where I was dining was a fettuccine of seasonal slippery jack mushrooms from Macedon, the apple tree has large rosy fruit beckoning, so given a little more time I'm sure my seasonal radar will click in again. And maybe I'm just imaging it anyway as Melbourne is renown for its fluctuating weather.

P.S. I've heard that the weather has impacted on the fig's so I'd better take a drive and check my 'jam' tree.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I love breakfast!

I religiously start the work day with Sultana Bran and low fat milk - for a person that is so totally unpredictable when it comes to eating this is an anomaly. In our house there is no routine for when or what we eat. Dishes are created from cuisines from around the globe, eating out happens at the drop of a hat and meal times vary enormously. But back to breakfast, taken after 10am if at all possible! The Sultana Bran is the closest I get to incorporating a healthy component to my food regime and its substance helps to keep me going until I get a break at lunch time. On non working days breakfast can be sour-dough with home-made jam, eggs from my sisters rural living chooks, poached seasonal fruit, pancakes..... stop me ... the list is never ending - I love breakfast!

Having just spend weeks not going to work (yay!) and in countries where neither Sultana Bran nor sour dough was an option, I've added a couple more favourites to my breakfast list. Our time in India was in the north so breakfast often consisted of Paratha (stuffed roti) made from wholemeal flour (atta) and filled with my choice of grated or shredded winter vegetables - potatoes, cauliflower, radish, spinach and sometimes paneer - usually some green chilli and spices. At home these were cooked on a tava (concave griddle) with just a little ghee, at the paratha walla in Delhi lots of ghee was used and on the roadside in the tandoor. No two exactly the same but always deliciously earthy and wafting wheaty aroma's even before one bites in to the chewy rounds served with fresh curd and a little pickle.

In Malaysia Nasi Lemak became my Sultana bran - not such a healthy choice though, let me explain, nasi means rice, lemak means fat - FAT RICE, the fat comes from the delicious coconut milk that the rice is soaked in before being steamed with fragrant pandan leaf. Wrapped in a banana leaf, the rice comes with a spicy chilli sambal (a good one really wakes up the taste buds!), a boiled egg, crunchy peanuts, sliced cucumber and fried dried anchovies (ikan bilis), curry is often served with the lunch/dinner version.

Not surprisingly I'm not really looking forward to returning to my sultana bran regime, but then who would after nearly 4 months of fabulous breakfasts!  Today we had corn pancakes with crispy bacon and eggs AND chilli sauce! 
Breakfast version

Lunch/dinner version 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Duck, duck, no goose!

Look at the juicy duck - yum.

So much has been written about the 'Duck Nazi' of Blackburn (previously Fitzroy) that there's little more to say than just go and enjoy the duck. If you like the pantomime well and good, if not, let the duck reign supreme!

 Back in the days of Matt Preston writing for Epicure, before he turned to the dark side - television, he deemed the best roasted duck was to be found at Quanjude's in the city but as I haven't yet made it there and Simon's Peiking Duck restaurant is just down the road from home I'm happy to have my regular duck fix at Simon's (when I'm not eating duck in more exotic locations, such as KL last week!).

One book's by the number of people as per usual but also by the duck! One duck (1 duck = $55.00) between three is about right for most although I know plenty who would argue one duck between two! Besides the duck skin with home made pancakes (12 in the standard package), spring onion, cucumbers and special plum sauce, a second course consists of smoky stir fried bean shoots with duck meat and to finish a duck bone broth with bean curd is served. And I can't tell you about anything else on the menu because I only go for the duck.

A feast for a duck loving family,  a shared meal with a host of friends or fun for a couple - enjoy but there's no just rocking up, you'll need to book ahead.

Simon's Peiking Duck Chinese Restaurant 
197b Middleborough Rd Box Hill South 
 (03) 9898 5944

Simon's Peiking Duck Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Jalebi Walla

Sweets are not really my thing, unforgettable dishes throughout the years include Roquefort and potato mousse,  my first piece of wagyu, Chinese roasted duck, fried whiting with tartare ice cream - not a sweetie in sight.

It has to be pretty exceptional to attract me and I've had Jalebi's before. But amongst the throng of humanity that is Old Delhi, sitting cross-legged behind a huge vat of sweltering ghee is a man known as the Jalebi Walla (man). Day long he creates, (I'm going to defer to the words from a gem of a food guide to Delhi) 'crunchy, sweet and juicy food porn at its best. Golden rings of deep fried maida (finely milled wheat flour) batter, soaked in pure sugar syrup, fill the mouth with a warm liquid of such excessive sweetness that modesty blushes in shame'. the delhi walla food + drink by Mayank Austen Soofi.

So sticky, so crispy, so sweet. OMG! What an experience. No wonder there is a little frenzied jostling going on when one approaches as the next batch is scooped from the syrup. In a flash they are all sold, and no doubt consumed, for this is something that definitely needs to be eaten on the spot - no taking these little beauties home and stashing them for latter! Luckily we had already been to the paratha walla around the corner to sample his wares, so limited our Jalebi intake to only one! But then they are the biggest Jalebi's I've seen!

This famous Delhi Jalebi establishment in Chandi Chowk, reportedly founded in 1884, will certainly be on my list of stops next time I visit Delhi.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Fruit and Veg

After being away for so long its time to restock the fridge but there's no fruit and vegetable stalls at each corner and my preferred farmers market is not for a few weeks! Everything was so fresh in India.

Being a cook I have always loved wandering in food markets and whilst it wasn't listed on any itinerary I managed to articulate my desire to stop whenever I spotted foods 'in the raw' for sale especially en mass. It was a delight to see not just the freshness of daily harvested fruit and vegetables but the care in presenting the produce and this all before one tastes. The flavours of ordinary carrots (not orange but RED and oh so sweet), tomatoes, cauliflower and potatoes in India transported me back to childhood when my grandparents produced most of our vegetables and many of the fruits we ate in their rather large and ever expanding garden. Grandpa's perpetual digging just kept creeping into whatever vacant adjacent land he found! And grandma cooked or preserved whatever was produced. So too in India, vegetables and fruits are preserved, there were plenty of fiery pickles to accompany my morning paratha. 

The choices were limited to winter commodities as Indian agricultural processes are predominantly regionally based and heavily influenced by the seasons, in Australia we have so much more variety but at what cost? Large scale commercial production and harvesting days, if not weeks, before we consume fruit and vegetables does not produce these wonderful flavours. Many of the meals we had did not include meat and I must say I did not yearn for it as the diversity and flavours of the plant based dishes served with plenty of pulses was so satisfying - not to mention making up for it with the abundance of seafood in Malaysia just a few weeks later!

Friday, March 11, 2011

No food at the Taj!

After 6 weeks of travelling India and Malaysia I have just down loaded 1655 photo's! Why so few you might ask..... well my travel companion has more than double that, and has probably managed to capture a little of the essence of these two very different countries whilst I of course have photo's of carrots, cauliflowers, fresh nutmeg and men cooking char kway teow. But just too assure the odd concerned friend that I am not totally food obsessed I have a smattering of other pics supporting the diversity of our travels.

Whilst I'm not about to post me on the back of a camel in the sand dunes in Rajasthan
here is a snippet of something different before I start sharing more of the culinary delights documented by my pics. Since food is banned at the Taj Mahal what else was I going to do!

Indeed the majesty of Taj Mahal demands attention and despite the crowds, the monument and its surrounds evoke a serenity that is more beautiful than any  photo could ever portray. Similar to trying to capture the beauty of food with just an image - no aroma, no textural experience. I'll leave the travel blogging to others who have the adjectives to describe their experiences and get back to what I know - gastronomy.