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Hong Kong: The shiny side

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Upon returning from our Lamma Island excursion, we randomly found a CitiSuper supermarket at Central Pier. The reason I decided to write about it is because the previous few days I had been knocking around Mongkok streets and markets, absorbing how a lot of the locals lived. There are CitiSupers all around the city, but it seemed fitting to bump into this store in Central, the financial district. Its customers and in-store goods reflected a world far away from the steamy streets we had been wandering in. I took a few pictures of goods that screamed luxury, and it struck me that I live in world where the focus is trying to be on sustainability, a short food chain, and using local produce. That dream is quite impossible for HK, there are simply too many people and too much demand.

As for low food miles and a short food chain, those that can afford it, want more luxury in better packaging every time, there clearly doesn’t seems to be a need to care. And luxury often equates the exotic, which made the following items even more ludicrous:

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The Wagyu beef above (about Aus$35) for hotpot, has a marble score which is off the scale. This overly fatty meat is something so luxurious most will never taste it, never mind dip it in their steaming soup. The fanned presentation is quite something too.

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Just to be clear that exoticism reigns above anything  resembling local provenance, these oysters (their are about 9 different varieties of oysters  from all over the world) hail from Namibia, as in Namibia in South – West Africa, nowhere near the Pacific ocean. Aus$5 each.

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This fish was puzzling as its sold as an Australian Rainbow trout, which it is not al all. It is some sort of other flat fish, with both its eyes on the other said of its head (the side somehow not displayed – possibly to perpetuate the trout idea, or the exotic idea, who knows. Aus$19 gets you 4 small fillets.

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Prat ar Coum oysters are some of the most highly prized specimens in the world, and hail from the seas and estuaries off the coast of Brittany. Beige in colour and favourite of chefs, these are available for around Aus$5.50 each. I would probably be tempted. But then again, waiting until I could possible try them in Brittany and stick with local ones? Infinitely better.

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Aus$35 buys you sea urchin gonads. Which is possibly worth it if you consider the alternative is hacking into one of the spiny little guys yourself, or paying about 5x this price in a uni – inspired dish. Interestingly these are from the US, where Japanese uni is some of the most sought after in the world.

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Whelks. Aus$5 buys you a pack of the weird sea snails, which you may or may not want to cook again depending on how you want to serve them or how much chewing you want to do. I quite like them, but they’re not everybody’s idea of a snack. I’m not sure why they had to come all the way from Canada though – there a gazillion whelks much nearer I’m sure.

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Dungeness crab from Canada again apparently. (Aus$55 each) Usually from the US West Coast, and rather well known for it too, these crab are a prize delicacy as well, and probably indicate the customer base and their tastes and demands.

Didn’t get to the cheese and caviar selections, but there’s always next time!

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Random Stuff, Restaurants

Hong Kong food: The hip & the street

 

 

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September is a very hot month to visit Hong Kong. And, if you’re like me and prone to wandering new cities on foot, it can become a rather exhausting endeavour. However, I only had 6 days, and was determined to pack as much into them as possible, eating all kinds of things, ignoring the heat as much as possible. The last bit became rather hard towards day 6…

I stayed in Kowloon (the Tsim Sha Tsui ‘hotel district’ ha!) which is a great base from where to explore the city. You can see how the the city is slowly being modernised – a glimpse into the local paper a few days in a row revealed at what rate any multi-storey building (recent or old) gets demolished neatly and a newer, higher one replaces it via impressive bamboo scaffolding cage.  It’s great however walking around neighbouring district Yau Ma Tei watching how locals eat, live, shop, sell and spend their time, trying to miss stepping in puddles of fish guts & rotten vegetables.

I found a few restaurants in TST that catered mostly to locals (like the one pictured above, with the excellent xiao long bao I found there) where little to no English is spoken, never mind featured on a menu.

At this particular mom and pop operation the dumplings are made to your order, whilst you sit back and wait, drinking what seems like litres of jasmine tea in the pressing heat.

 

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Of course trying Gai daan tsai (egg waffles) cooked on custom griddles – the best is when the vendor is really busy because then they’re made to your order – they’re  at their plain best straight off the iron (above).

 

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A recommendation by a friend led me to Chachawan in Sheung Wan. (The chef is ex-Nahm & Bo.lan (Bangkok)/Kha (Singapore) and the food sings. Loudly. Which is a good thing because when I went with  my mom we nearly got out-hipstered, and only scored a squashed corner at the bar (walk-in? fools!) but it was well worth the wait and literally the best Thai I’ve had in my life – here in particular being reflective of the Isaan-region. Stir-fried morning glory was exceptional, as well as grilled marinated pork collar with jim jaew – exceedingly memorable actually. I’ll go back just for this.

 

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Back to the markets, and endless displays of (poor!) little fish in bowls, writhing reels & conchs, geoduck clams (my favourite!), butchers chopping up whole pigs, whole massive fish, stacks of vegetables and mountains of ginger – so terribly expensive just about anywhere West. Walking along, we found this stack of cartons – from Patensie, a tiny town in the citrus-producing heart of South Africa, kind of near the famous surfing town Jeffrey’s Bay, on the East coast if that gives you any idea…Anyhow, here these oranges were just hanging out on a smelly Hong Kong street in Yau Ma Tei Vegetable Markets.

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Well worth it too was a day out to Lamma Island, about 30 min by ferry. I think my new life goal is to retire here and spend my days eating pomfret, wandering the tiny (not even) streets and island, and drinking beer. This time round though we just got ripped off like right tourists, eating delicious pomfrets in chilli, and average clams and crab. The beer was welcome though as it was sweltering – top marks for trying to avoid the HK heat, it’s worse on the islands!

I really wanted to try the “deep fired spine foot with pepper salt” (pic above) but mom wisely wasn’t into it, so just had the ‘fired marine fish’ (the pomfret). Local and very fresh, but as (mom, wisely again) pointed out, unsure about the freshness of the local water… (Mines abound this area).

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I really wanted to get to either a Din Tai Fung or Mak’s Noodle for a starchy fix, and eventually found a Mak’s at the top of Victoria Peak of all places, with no queue to boot. Look, they’ve plastered Anthony Bourdain’s face and all the subsequent reviews all over, but the noodles with wontons are definitely a go, (I had brisket noodles), and a real cheap filling meal. Oh, yea, and Victoria Peak is good too, if you like views and all and fear of heights isn’t a factor cause that tram ride is pretty steep!

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Back in Central, I desperately wanted to eat at Ho Lee Fook, hip new bastion of Cantonese fusion fare, and I can see why the hype is big (and probably the first time I can see restaurant hype justified). Cool decor, cool (and really competent) staff, daring menu. (Chef hails from Mr. Wong /Ms. G’s in Sydney – rather obvious if you know these establishments)

Dumplings are freshly made and awesomely more-ish, brussel sprouts and cauliflower cooked with bacon and chilli disappear fast, and every table seemed to be eating the short rib  - sichuan pepper sears and numbs throughout, adding an addictive edge to the meal. We had more – shredded chicken salad, octopus, more sichuan pepper, more deliciousness. We literally couldnt stop eating. So… no place for dessert, but I can report a tight wine list (fair comment, you need to see the restaurant booze prices in this city).  It’s helluva contemporary, and I’m sure offends heaps of Chinese culinary purists, but hey, chefs interpret food the way they see it fit – and sometimes it really works. If you approach this restaurant as just that, a new young chef’s view, its delicious.  I see one reviewer asks ‘is this how they eat Chinese food in Australia?’ I guess yes, they are, because it’s new approachable and…sexy. Hey there’s place for all types in this world.

 

Next post – the Other side of HK.

 

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Ingredients, Rants

Cooking seasonally & working with Local Organics, Brunswick

A couple of weeks ago I came across two stories via Twitter that apparently contradicted each other, on the topic of food seasonality & provenance, something that really underpins the way I cook.

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The first was an interview/conversation with chef Matt Wilkinson of the cafe Pope Joan on ABC Rural where he says that chefs are lazy/ignorant in regards to where their produce hails from (or just not that interested I guess)  - read about that here. The other is an article that appeared in the Guardian about whether eating seasonally and educating people about it is still relevant - read about that here.

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Whilst Mr Wilkinson largely has a good point, not all chefs could really be tarred with the same brush, and it would be good for culinary instruction at tertiary level to emphasise how, and why, finding out where your food hails from is important. Many chefs don’t do it because its inevitably even more effort and a bigger workload for a rather under appreciated and underpaid job.People have got to be motivated somehow to want to do something. Its easy not to care.

As for the other article, it’s largely written from a Eurocentric point of view, where all of Europe is the UK’s shopping basket/aisle, and perfect peppers and cucumbers are grown under kilometres of plastic in Spain and the Netherlands. International shipping does the rest, and we’re presented with ingredients like asparagus year round (it always seems to be from Peru) no matter if you’re in Tesco, Coles or Safeway.

Trying to educate shoppers and future cooks on seasonality shouldn’t be a debate about relevance. It should remain a natural way to understand why certain produce came along with certain seasons – because on a very basic level it makes people understand, appreciate and care about produce on a personal level, rather than just blindly picking out food for fuel. A food crises is inevitable, and as much as possible should be done to get people to care about where their food came from, when, how, and how long the chain was.

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It’s hard to get your head around all the info (even for many chefs). My worst is that supermarkets have now somehow caught onto this provenance caper and lay out their fresh fruit & veg sections and design their labelling to fit in with this ideology – but there is still that crucial lack of actual information. So what to do?

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This is one of my solutions ( I have a few more up my sleeve – especially in applying this philosophy  whilst trying to run a restaurant) For some time now, I have been using organic produce from Local Organics, a local food hub just up the road from our bar in Barkly street, Brunswick east, and its great to work with a supplier who can – and really wants to – tell you where the produce comes from. All the pictures on this post are of ingredients that we used the past year, bought from LO.

 

Blood plums, beets, artichokes, blood oranges, fennel and rainbow chard, all tasting phenomenal, delivered to the kitchen. You’ll also notice a mixed box on the left in the pics below – they do ‘juicing’ boxes and mixed fruit & veg boxes of different sizes.

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If you care to cook around the season’s and market availability instead of drafting a menu and then hunting for the ingredients, it becomes natural to enquire when, for example, strawberries are in (and at their best) and learning that where an ingredient comes from, should shape its seasonality and possibly, different nuances in taste or size, like terroir affects wine.

Try it!

And if you live in Brunswick East, go see what Local Organics has from the farms. They even got eggs. Or search for a food hub closer to your home. Keep the chain as short as possible!

 

 

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Dishes, Random Stuff

Roast on Sundays at Neighbourhood Wine

Beef rump cap

Beef rump cap

Well this is a bit of something.

Maybe everyone is finally over brunching on Sundays as well as Saturdays, or maybe everyone’s decided Saturdays are for poached eggs and Sundays deserve meat with a Bloody Mary on the side. Whatever though, because for the life of me I’d never have thought that Yorkshire pudding and horseradish cream would be such a thing after their curtain call in the ’70′s.

We’re doing a full roast – entree, main, desert and a fire to make you drowsy…no the last part isn’t true, but the idea is there.To create a relaxed Sunday lunch in a relaxed venue. Oh, and with wine.

Yorkshire puddings

Yorkshire puddings

Then nice Sunday nap to follow. Because even I don’t prepare an entree, roast a joint, cook potatoes in duck fat & bay, roast a seasonal vegetable (different each week), bake fresh bread, make a jus, bake Yorkshire puddings and make a dessert when I’m cooking lunch at home. It takes like, days.

Plating the beef roast to share

Plating the beef roast to share

It’s easier at Neighbourhood Wine (and I have help!)

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Random Stuff

Greek Wine Dinner

Last week we did a fun wine dinner with Kir Yianni and Gaia Estate Wines, over four courses of rustic food in signature relaxed  Neighbourhood Wine style. I’ve decided to document it! Photos were taken mid service with an iPhone so forgive the quality (for food photography blogs –  never done by actual chefs – see my links at the right hand side of the blog).

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The first course was a subtle ceviche with raw jerusalem artichokes, radish and grilled, pickled pearl onions. Served with three Assyrtiko’s from  Gaia Estate (Santorini, Gr).

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I’m using goat as the first winter braise this year and on this second course, goat leg was braised in red wine overnight, with chestnut mushrooms. Served with three Syrah/Merlot/Xinomavro blends (Kir Yianni Dyo Elies, Naousa, Gr).

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Followed by Black Angus tri-tip, cooked rare, atop boulangere potatoes (with bacon and leeks), and beautiful organic rainbow chard on the side. Served with three Agiorgitiko’s (Gaia Estate, Nemea, Gr)

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And finally a cheese course,  Shropshire blue and beurre bosc pears poached in honey, served with Samos (Samos Phyllas, Samos, Gr)

Simple, loads of fun!

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Ingredients, Random Stuff

Season’s oysters & MFK Fisher

Coffin Bay specimens

Coffin Bay specimens

The entire summer I look forward to eating oysters as soon as the season turns – something I  stick to rather strictly – not only is the water colder ensuring less risk of nasties travelling out of the sea along with the oysters, but they’re actually leaner and taste their briny best (not a fan of creamy oysters, I’m not).

Something interesting I’ve come across here in Australian markets is the sale of opened oysters in trays of a dozen or so, complete with lemon.  I find that odd, and even though the markets here deliver really fresh produce, the whole point of eating an oyster is enjoying that ‘just opened’ brine that it’s gently floating in.

There are few things more disappointing than sitting in a restaurant, ordering a dozen oysters, and when they arrive, its plain to see they were probably shucked well before you had your breakfast that day. Never is getting through 12 oysters so hard for an oyster lover.

MFK Fisher, whom I still consider one of the best food writers to ever have penned epicurious things, has written  much on the subject of the oyster in “Consider the Oyster”, my copy of which is enclosed in the compendium “The Art of Eating“, a read I return to again and again.

She writes that ‘an oyster leads a dreadful but exciting life‘. Detailing  beautifully the beginnings of life for an oyster (as a he), she writes “For about a year this oyster – our oyster  - is a male, fertilising a few hundred thousand eggs as best he can without ever knowing whether they swim by or not. Then one day, maternal longings surge between his two valves in his cold guts and gills and all his crinkly fringes. Necessity, that well-known mother, makes him one. He is a she.

From then on she,  with occasional vacations of being masculine just to keep her hand in, bears her millions yearly. She is in the full bloom of womanhood when she is about seven. “

It is also around that time (or even shorter these days with farmed species) that we humans go around harvesting these hardworking oysters for our own enjoyment. Many ideas swirl about regarding the best time to eat them, and Fisher has the following to say: ” Men’s ideas, though, continue to run in the old channels about oysters as well as God and war and women. Even when they know better they insist that months with R in them are all right but that oysters in June or July or May or August will kill you or make you wish they had. This is wrong, of course, except that all oysters, like all men, are somewhat weaker after they have done their at reproducing.” ( R is for Oyster, in Consider the Oyster)

Superstitious or not, I’m sticking to the colder months, and leaving the oysters to their private parties in summer!

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So there you have it. Eat them now, eat them at Christmas, but I like the way the Almanach de Gourmands (1803) states it: “Oysters are the usual opening to a winter breakfast… indeed they are almost indispensable.” 

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