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Archive for the ‘Asian’ Category

A few months ago, I headed to Bali with my family and met up with my mother-in-law there for a lovely holiday. As Bali is a cheap, overseas tropical playground for Australians, there are tons of western conveniences and experiences there if that is what you are looking for but I was determined to get a “off the beaten track” view of the island. We stayed part of our time in the mountains near Ubud and the rest of the time just north of Seminyak near the ocean but both of our freestanding villas were away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Kuta. Our villa in Ubud was in the jungle overlooking rice paddies and we were stared at by villagers as we were the only foreigners in town and I loved it.  I wanted to be away from the touristy bits for at least part of the time.

Every morning at both villas, we were served gorgeous tropical fruits. Made (pronounced ma-day), the cook at the villa in Ubud, would take her time to make a beautiful creation every morning and I absolutely loved it. We had mangoes, pineapple, mangosteen, papaya, rambutan, salak (snakeskin fruit) and lady finger bananas.  Salak was the only fruit I’d never seen or heard of.  It is a sort of triangular, brown fruit that feels like it’s covered in snakeskin, complete with scales.  Unlike all the other fruits mentioned, salak isn’t juicy or squishy but sweet and crunchy with an almost chalky mouth feel.  It tastes a lot like lychee or rambutan but denser and with a totally different texture.

There was this other fruit too, wish I remembered the name, a small brown and round fruit that is probably related to longans.  It was lighter than a longan but had one or two little black seeds inside that were very bitter so I’d pop them in my mouth and search for the seed or else it would ruin the sweetness that was happening from the soft flesh!  Very intriguing stuff.

The artistry of fruit every morning was such pure luxury and I was in awe of the talent of creating such a pretty plate for us everyday.

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Last week when I was in Perth (which has so many Japanese restaurants), I noticed this intriguing restaurant. It served both dim sum AND sushi on a conveyor belt! I didn’t eat there but ate at another shop selling takeaway sushi next door yet couldn’t help but sneakily take this photo! Two of my most favorite foods!  I’m still not sure if I like the idea (it’s sort of creative isn’t it?) or whether I think they’re a bit confused and should really stick to one idea and cuisine. If it’s any good, both dim sum and sushi require a lot of experience and skill to do right. I’m also not sure I like the hot steaming baskets too near my cold raw fish.
Hmmm…

Anyway, it’s called Edo Shiki and it was at the Forrest Chase Shopping Centre where the MYER is. Anyone eat there? Is it any good? Eating in seemed a bit pricey but their takeaway section with various bento-like options was really reasonable.

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Happy new year!  In Hawaiian we say, Hau’oli makahiki hou and in Japanese, akemashite omedetoo. Growing up, Christmas was not the most important holiday for us but new year’s day was.  Like the Scots, the Japanese have a big clean of the house to welcome the new year and thus, it metaphorically starts the year off with a clean slate.  Traditionally, a large feast was prepared and put into containers that would last three days (because you are not supposed to work the first three days in January).  Most items were salted, sweet or preserved somehow and meant to be served cool/room temperature.  This feast is called osechi ryori and today in modern Japan, most people purchase their feast pre-made from restaurants, department store food halls and even 7-eleven!  I have read of some osechi ryori costing as much as $10,000USD per person (CRAZY – I hope it comes with a diamond!)

Growing up, my grandmother used to make it and we would help out.  I can’t recall what she made each year (as it would change) but what I loved most was the kazunoko (herring roe) that was served.  They are expensive and hard to get so it was a special treat.  Very crunchy and salty, I loved the texture more than anything, dipped in some soy sauce.  The next best thing was kobu kazunoko (herring roe on kelp) – roe that somehow clung onto pieces of thick kelp.  Black sweet soy beans (kuromame) were another thing that I remember well and various types of fish cakes and sweet egg.

The other mandatory thing to eat on new year’s day is ozoni – a brothy soup with ingredients that change depending on what part of Japan you are from and what your family likes to put in.  In the Kanto area (Tokyo) the broth is clear while in the Kansai area (Osaka), they add miso paste.  My maternal side of the family came from Shimabara in the south and their specialty is guzoni, ozoni that is filled chock-full of ingredients and eaten not just on new year’s day.  The one similarity and obligatory ingredient is mochi or rice cake, for good luck/strength for the new year.  A piece of grilled mochi is placed into the soup and it becomes sticky and gooey and oh so lovely!  People who didn’t grow up with this texture may find it challenging (like my husband) but it is very filling and comforting for me.

This year, I spent new year’s day in Noosa, Queensland in tropical Australia.  My friend’s parents have a beautiful holiday home on the river and invited us to spend a few days there.  As a way to thank them, I wanted to cook a Japanese new year’s day breakfast (as best as I could) but it was quite a journey to figure out where to source the ingredients in a different state.  Prior to going to Noosa, we spent a few days in the Gold Coast and stumbled upon a small Japanese grocery store in Robina but it was still quite a few days before the new year so I waited to go to another store closer to Noosa.  This second store had more frozen goods and I was able to buy roughly what I needed to make this feast.  My biggest mistake is that I forgot to buy dashi – essential in Japanese cooking – fish stock!!  Needless to say, it was interesting making this in someone else’s kitchen in the tropical heat and without all the right ingredients.  My grandmother was proud of me for being able to make this as many young Japanese have lost the skills of traditional cooking since it can so easily be bought.  She doesn’t believe me when I say that it was her that made me a good cook.

Although the meal was not totally traditional, it turned out pretty well despite a few hicks – forgot dashi, sushi rolls were a bit small, rice for sushi was very sloppy (had to make it twice – over the stove with gas), and rolled egg was a bit overcooked.  For the ozoni, I grilled the mochi on a grill rack instead of the traditional grill used in Japan and it did a great job.  The kuromame (black soy beans) were made mostly out of my instinct and memory of what it should taste like but I had no idea they’d take nearly five hours to cook!  I also think that they were the most challenging item as most people couldn’t work out whether the beans were for dessert or to be eaten with the meal.  I guess it’s sort of like eating candied yams at Thanksgiving – many people who encounter it the first time think that it is a dessert and find it strange to be eaten alongside all the other savoury stuff.

I served two different sakes with the dish – one Australia-made and one Japanese-made and what was awesome was that the meal was eaten by a Scotsman, three Kiwis, one South African, one Australian, one Englishman and an American…now that’s what I call international!

Setting up the ozoni before I add the broth in.

The spread.

L to R: datemaki (egg), namasu (pickled veg - didn't have daikon available), kamaboko (pink fish cakes), kuromame (black sweet beans), california roll.

Nimono (stewed root veg - lotus, burdock, bamboo, taro, carrots & shiitake).

The Cameron family and the gorgeous view we had.

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A Vast Array of Fried Bugs in Bangkok

A vast array of fried bugs in Bangkok

Roaches at least 3 inches long and fried small birds

Roaches at least 3 inches long and fried small birds

Sorry for the lack of posts – traveled a total of over 7 wks (mostly to visit friends and family) and can’t seem to quite recover yet.  It doesn’t help that I just started a new full-time job so I’m exhausted as hell.  Do you know how hard it is to go through thousands of photos to chose a few to post on a blog?  Anyway, enough about me…

Whenever Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain go on their tours of Asia, you always see them eating some type of insect so I was really hoping to find some form of cooked insect in Thailand.  I was lucky to find this woman, who had a stand on one edge of the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok and I was quite excited that the variety was so immense! From what I can make out, there are silkworm cocoons, grasshoppers, crickets, and some beetle larvae in the first photo.  In the second photo, in the foreground, are the most gigantic cockroaches I’ve ever seen and behind them, looks like some type of small bird (think it’s a chicken that’s not quite mature yet)!!  At first I thought that those fried birds were fried bats…all of the items were deep-fried to a golden crisp and nicely garnished with green stuff (pretty sure it’s green onions).

I have had fried beetle larvae (the white ones that look like caterpillars) before, piping hot actually, and even watched crawling ones get plonked into hot oil and ate them soon after!  Where the heck was this?  Well, this was the last class in the entomology course I took at UC Davis.  What did they taste like?  French fries.

I was just not that adventurous and the heat (being about 38C and 80%+ humidity) definitely did not help.  I just know that even though those huge cockroaches are deep fried, they will probably be a bit…squishy inside – yuck.  I don’t mind handling them but eating them…that’s another story.

(Hey Jin, you would’ve been screaming so loudly!! haha)

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Traditional stalls set up near a KFC & McDonald's

I am not a wimp but my gut isn’t what it used to be.  I went to Bangkok with EVERY intention on actually eating food off street stalls because they are often very tasty and authentic.  Some of my best memories of eating throughout Mexico were the dodgy-looking tacos, ice creams and grilled corns from street stalls.  The main reason why I didn’t eat at many of the stalls in Bangkok is because of the absolutely scary and appauling food-safety conditions.  Let me remind you that it was very hot, (over 35C and over 90% humidity) and it was rainy season and so often, I’d walk by street stalls with bowls of meat sitting out in the hot sun for god knows how long!!  Or, if it looked decently clean, I’d see the bucket of stagnant water that they were washing their crockery and cutlery in (not to mention they reuse wooden chopsticks) and realized that they didn’t refresh the washing water very often.  Yuck!  Also, because it was the very beginning of my around-the-world trip, I honestly didn’t want severe gastro problems so early on (especially since my next flight was 13 hrs to London).

I made a rule for myself that I would only eat something at a street stall if it wasn’t on washed crockery and only if it was piping hot when I purchased it.  So, grilled & marinated chicken skewers qualified under that category and they were awesome!  So juicy and tasty and it cost about $0.20 each and they were piping hot off the grill.  One of the things that I couldn’t resist buying were cold drinks and fresh juices from the street vendors, especially during those scorching days.  We bought thin popsicles, frozen in the most interesting manner (see picture) to refresh ourselves and the Thai iced tea flavor popsicles were fantastic!  We also ate a lot of sweets off street stalls – among them, grilled sticky rice and banana wrapped in banana leaf and fried peanut crackers.

Popsicle freezer...ingenious

Popsicle freezer...ingenious especially since it was so hot out!

Some of the tastiest and juiciest chicken skewers I've ever had...just make sure it's fully cooked because Thailand has had avian flu

Some of the tastiest and juiciest chicken skewers!

At the Chatuchak weekend market, a noodle stall almost called me to sit down because it looked really good.  In the middle of each table, there were large mounds of shredded cabbage and other vegetables piled in bowls and wondered what it was for.  I soon saw that the raw veggies (as much as you like it seemed) were to be added into your hot soup (kind of like Pho).  Problem was, they offered NO tongs so that diners were licking their forks and then diving into the veggies and double-dipping!  New bowls of veggies weren’t provided to the next customer – they were simply refreshed with more veg.

Mounds of veggies on table...

One of the scariest things I saw being sold by the side of the street was sushi.  It looked entirely homemade, in a large tupperware container and sold with ZERO refrigeration.  People were still buying them from the vendor and that really amazed me.  The average Thai person must have very different flora in their gut to be able to withstand all the gastrointestinal onslaught from foodborne diseases!

No refrigeration, homemade, scary sushi

No refrigeration, homemade, scary sushi

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This photo was taken on a random street in Bangkok on our search for Chote Chitr restaurant (reviewed on NPR and NY Times – story on that later), it was very near to the restaurant on the main road.  Although the weather was scorching hot and humid, I just couldn’t pass by these hot treats because they invoke a lot of childhood memories for me.  I have actually never had taro chips “hot off the fryer” and it was amazing to me that they had this type of set-up outdoors (but then again, they cook anything by the side of the street in Bangkok).  I bought two bags for the total of about $1.30USD.  The woman tossing the chips was very grumpy and unfriendly but who cares, it was all part of the experience!

Mmmm...hot oil

Fresh taro before being sliced

Tossing hot taro chips with salt

Bag of hot, salty, crispy taro chips

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Adelaide doesn’t have a huge Japanese population compared to the big three (Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane) but we do have our share of half-decent sushi places (that are actually run by Japanese, which most aren’t).  Our Chinese and S.E. Asian population on the other hand is very healthy and growing each year.  I am happily able to get a really good won ton mein or Pho or Kuay Teow but we didn’t have a ramen restaurant at all – until now!!  I was sooo excited when I heard that a real ramen restaurant arrived in Adelaide!  In Japan, there are reportedly 16,000 ramen restaurants (in a country small enough to fit into the state of California!)

Outside Ajisen

Outside Ajisen

Inside

Inside the Restaurant

Cheery Little Napkin

Cheery Little Napkin

Fried Garlic to the left, Japanese Chili on the right

Fried Garlic to the left, Japanese Chili on the right

Chashu Ramen

Chashu Ramen

Spare Rib Ramen

Spare Rib Ramen

Ajisen ramen, a chain from Kumamoto, Japan has opened a small outlet on Leigh Street (the tiny lane off Hindley St).  They are open everyday except Sundays and are open for lunch and dinner.  Every time I pass by the place, it is packed!  I had to make a reservation one lunch with two girlfriends so that we could guarantee ourselves a table and that’s rather unheard of in noodle joints!  BusinessWeek Asia says that Ajisen (meaning a “thousand tastes”) is planning to open about 500 outlets in China alone!

Ajisen’s signature broth is the tonkotsu or pork broth with its slightly cloudy, white colour.  Tonkotsu is very different from miso, shio, or shoyu ramen that you can get in Japan.  It is my absolute favourite broth in a ramen and I was very excited!  Because I was judging for authenticity, I decided on a traditional Chashu Men, or in Chinese, Char Siu Mein. Japanese style pork tenderloin sliced thin, floating on fresh noodles in pork broth ($10AU).  Yum!  My friend Katie also ordered the same but Jacqui ordered the ramen with Spare Ribs in the same broth.  Both the pork tenderloin and the ribs were melt-in-your-mouth tender and the noodles were cooked just right, with a slight bite to them.  There were about 20 different ramens to choose from including stir-fried yakisoba.

No ramen eating experience is complete without gyoza.  Although our server forgot about it until after we had practically finished our ramen, the gyoza tasted homemade, was very generous in size with a lovely crisp skin and juicy pork filling.

Gyoza w/Dipping Sauce

Gyoza w/Dipping Sauce

Don’t forget to try some of the fried garlic topping sitting on every table to sprinkle on your ramen.  Beware, it’s very strong!  What I found interesting is that the bottle is written entirely in Japanese with NO translations anywhere but I suspect that people will eventually figure it out.

All in all, you get a lot of food for very little money and I would definitely recommend it (just don’t expect much from the service) – and not because it’s the sole ramen restaurant in Adelaide.  It is definitely a great fast meal before seeing a movie.  Service was rather forgetful and confused but I usually give up getting much service in this city so it wasn’t a huge shock to me.  Definitely a tasty, inexpensive and warming meal – especially in winter!

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