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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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Sadly during our stay on the Gold Coast on our holiday, the only partly sunny day we had was spent at Tropical Fruit World.  Why is that sad?  It’s not that it was a terrible experience or anything but we left feeling like we were trapped on a crappy tourist ride at Disneyland and it spit us out from one place to the next only to make us wait for the only thing I cared about – the fruit.

Tropical Fruit World is less than an hour south of Surfer’s Paradise on the New South Wales border.  Apparently they grow the most varieties of tropical fruit in the world and it’s also used as a research centre for scientists.  So with all that nerdy food stuff, I was excited to learn about different varieties of fruit that I’d never seen or eaten.

Upon arriving, you see that it’s sort of kitschy with a young female employee and someone dressed as half an avocado waving at me in front of the avocado statue (I didn’t expect anything less).  There is a little retail fruit shop that sells whatever ripe tropical fruit that is available that day and it’s interesting and reasonably priced.  We asked about the tour and were told that there was one leaving right away so we took advantage of it!

So off we go to hop onto an open-air bus with about 25 other people.  The bus drove inside the acres and acres of tropical fruit and I was getting really excited.  After a few minutes, I was annoyed because the driver was whizzing by the plants and spewing out information so fast that you barely had time to listen to all the facts much less take any clear photos of anything.

Whizzing by the lychee trees! There were dozens of varieties but I wouldn't know what the difference is since we just drove by so fast.

Our first stop was not to take a walk but to grab handfuls of raw macadamias and practice cracking the nuts and eating them.  He gave us about 5 minutes before we were ushered back onto the bus.  Ok, I had fun but I was hoping we’d get to see more than that.  The driver actually told us that we don’t have to come since we had a pram but heck no if I was going to miss out on anything!  Then we drove through more orchards and saw a lot of interesting things that I was desperate to see more clearly but was happy that I learned a few things here and there.  But then, it gets worse…our next stop was at their “petting zoo”.  Here, we were told to pet the kangaroos, sheep, horses and whatever else was there.  I was not very interested at all and I guess it was for the kids but we stayed there a lot longer than I cared to.  I took that opportunity to let my kid say hello to a kangaroo but only for a picture op.

Cracking Macadamia Nuts

Kangaroos for the Kids

Again, we were ushered off to yet another activity that had nothing to do with tropical fruits.  We were going on a boat ride…to where?  As we hopped onto this open-aired boat, we were all given huge hunks of bread to feed the ducks that beg alongside the boat since the actual boat ride and scenery are not that interesting.  At the end of the ride, we are taken to the “island” and then we hop onto a mini steam train that we straddle!  The train was fun, but again, it had nothing to do with tropical fruits and we were stuck there for longer than we cared to be.  The whole time that you’re taken to pet animals and ride trains, you have NO idea where you are and how to get out.  I had lost all sense of direction and positioning.

Finally, they asked how many people didn’t taste fruit yet and we raised our hands and they ushered a few of us out to yet another waiting bus that plopped us back to “reception”.  Once we got to reception, we were told that we were too late for this tasting and that we would have to wait for the next one in over an hour!!  Although annoyed, by that time we needed a break so we took the time to eat lunch and sit in the a/c.  Another family from Adelaide were also made to wait and were very angry because like me, that’s all they came for (to taste fruit) and they couldn’t believe that they had been taken to all this other shit and had to wait for this tasting.

Finally the Fruit Tasting

The cafe there is very interesting.  They serve some very interesting smoothies using really exotic tropical fruit that they grow and they also make interesting ice cream flavours.  What was amazing was that our lunch was the BEST part of the day!  Perhaps because both of us had such low expectations for the food (food at touristy places are often sooo average), we were amazed when my husband’s smoked salmon sandwich was huge and fresh with generous lashings of salmon and avocado and my chicken wrap was juicy and satisfying.  We ordered two interesting drinks – Babaco (Champagne fruit) ice cream float and Black Sapote (chocolate fruit) smoothie.

Thank Goodness for the Yummy Drinks

On our way out, we found a walking path along dozens of interesting varieties of mangoes and honestly, that was much more relaxing and informative than most of that tour and the walk was free.  We took a picture of the giant avocado and laughed about our experience and were thankful that I was able to get in for free (had a voucher) or else we would’ve felt the sting of wasting so much money!

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Lychees sold off the side of the road

 

A few years ago, we were on our way to Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast, and decided to take the scenic highway to get there. Back then it was called the “Glasshouse Mountains Highway” but they have since renamed it “Steve Irwin Way” since his death which is pretty apt since his Australia Zoo is on that road. Although we have never visited Australia Zoo, we’ve driven past it numerous times and it’s always very busy. One visit, we stopped at this fruit stand that stood next to a pineapple field that advertised “pineapple crush” and really good burgers. We not only had one of each but we also bought one of the largest pineapples I’d ever seen for really cheap! Pineapple crush is basically pineapple juice with crushed pineapple bits in it and that time, it was sooo sweet and so cold that I was hooked. The burger was huge and amazing with avocado in it and we took it to a nearby national park to eat it.

You know how sometimes it’s best not to return to a location so that your memory of the place stays in tact and it lives on like a happy dream forever? Well, I definitely understand that. On our way to catch our flight in Brisbane, we decided to find that fruit stand (I couldn’t remember what it was called) and at least get their pineapple crush. Well we found it alright but sometime was different….it lacked the character that it had. No more signs exclaiming about the best burgers in the world. No pineapple crush in sight and it was pretty dead. I went up to the counter and enquired about the pineapple crush and the woman said that yes, she still had some left. I ordered two large ones (pretty expensive $4.50AU each) and because we didn’t have time to eat burgers, we left with just that. The crush was not very sweet and it tasted watered down. I think they have changed ownership and it just lacked soul. It was so disappointing. Oh well, I still have the memories of the last time I went there and photos of that great burger.

Bought pineapple crush here

 

Luckily, just before we got to the fruit stand, I saw a guy selling fresh picked lychees off the back of his truck (we call ’em “utes” in Oz). Even though I was about to get on a flight, I just HAD to have them. I couldn’t believe that they were $5.00 for 1 KG (2.2 lbs) bag (here in Adelaide I saw one greengrocer selling them for 3 pieces for $1.00)!!  Because it’s illegal (because of quarantine issues) to bring in fresh fruit to South Australia, we peeled all of the lychees at the Sydney airport while waiting during our layover to go home.  We gorged ourselves on the lychees before getting on our flight home.  I haven’t had such fresh lychee since I was a kid in Hawaii picking them off trees in Nu’u’anu. So fresh and delicious that there was no hard skin that formed around the seed – instead the flesh was very soft and the seed easily slipped out.

I love going to Queensland because it reminds me of my childhood. It is tropical and the fruit that is available is amazing. As you drive along, you can see sugarcane fields, ginger fields, avocado farms and pineapple fields to name a few. If you go there during summer, be sure to eat some fresh lychees. If you are near the Sunshine Coast, “the Big Pineapple” is a hoot to stop at…just for the pictures at least. In late summer the mangoes are in season too and they are beautiful.  Enjoy!

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I know that many airlines offer a kid’s meal on some flights (mostly international) but there are probably not too many that do offer them on domestic routes both in Australia and elsewhere. Qantas Airlines is the only major carrier that still includes meals and drinks on their domestic flights within Australia and it has never had a crash in its long history.

Before going on my last trip to Queensland, I was reading the fine print on their website and saw that you can request a BABY meal! I thought I’d try it for fun to see what I’d get. From my flight from Adelaide to Melbourne, we were given two purees – apple & pear and a chocolate custard. The silly thing about that meal was that whoever packed it, put adult sized spoons in the pack.

The flight home from Sydney was very neatly packed and we were given two purees – sweetcorn & chicken and vanilla custard and a baby juice. This time, there were tiny, baby-sized spoons included – yay!

I make a lot of my baby’s food but when I do purchase some, I don’t purchase Heinz because their foods are really, really tasteless. There are other baby foods on the market that have much more flavour. BUT, even with saying all that, I was thrilled to be given baby purees so that I didn’t have to lug that extra stuff on the plane when my nappy (diaper) bag was already as heavy as bricks.  Beggers can’t be choosers. 🙂 

So next time you fly Qantas domestic, request a baby meal for your infant – it’s pretty convenient and best of all, free.

Chocolate custard and apple & pear puree grabbed by some little chubby hands.

 

Baby meal on flight home.

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Honestly, I have no idea how many places in Hawaii serve up onion rings but every time I go home, I crave the ONION RING TOWER at the Yard House (chain restaurant found in nine states) on Lewers St. in Waikiki and I think that it’s the best I’ve ever had.  It comes with both regular Ranch and Chipotle Ranch dipping sauces and is piled high on this pole. The batter is very light, crisp and slightly sweet and I could probably eat the whole thing by myself but I have always shared it with someone.

If you order it, make sure you enjoy it with some of their over 100 draft beers!  Apparently they have the world’s largest selection of beers on tap!  The downside of the place is that it is very noisy and you can’t really book reservations. The weekends are very busy and the wait can be around an hour for a table.  Luckily, the restaurant is right where there are new shops to whittle the time away.

To finish, their Kona coffee ice cream sundae was as HUGE (as big as my face) and it was very, very tasty.  Hubby got the Lemon Souffle Cake and it was really disappointing so don’t waste your time on that (didn’t even taste like lemons).

Aloha!

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This weekend, the 2009 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery will be held at St. Catherine’s College in Oxford and I cannot be there.  Instead, many of my friends will be there and I will hear all about it when they return.  This year’s topic is on “Food & Language” and although I had an idea for an abstract, I was much too busy to do the research.  Besides, after reading this year’s paper topics, I don’t think I would’ve had anything near as intellectual to add.  I cannot believe that a whole year has gone by without me even reporting on what happened last year so although late, it’s better than nothing.

Because it was my second time at the symposium last year, I felt “at home” and less nervous about mingling with people and reading my paper (although I was put in the big lecture theatre which is always very intimidating).  The faces were familiar and surprisingly, people remembered me as well.  I was thrilled to hear that I’d be reading my paper with Elizabeth Andoh, the author of “Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen” – winner of the 2006 James Beard Cookbook award and that our moderator this time was Fuschia Dunlop, Chinese Scholar and author of “Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper” and “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook” to name a few.  In 2006, I read my paper with Fuschia on the same panel so I was happy to be with someone I was familiar with so it kept my nerves down.

When the symposium schedule is put together every year, similar subjects are often lumped into one session and it was natural that both me and Elizabeth were paired together since we were talking about Japanese subjects.  Elizabeth read a paper on Modoki, vegetarian temple food that is artistically formed to resemble something completely different from what it is made of.  A very fascinating topic that was made better by Elizabeth showing great photos of such beautiful cuisine.  I thought that we worked well as a team and we bounced ideas off each other and presented the tasting of various forms of daikon together.  It was a great pleasure to be on the same panel as Elizabeth…I hope to visit her in Japan one day.

My paper was about daikon – the humble yet very important radish…but not about ordinary daikon but focused in particular about a radish that grew through asphalt in a small town in Japan and was made into a national celebrity and anthropomorphised into a symbol of hope.  The extraordinary twist to the story is that the radish was vandalized one night and caused a great uproar among the townspeople – so much so that the vandals returned the radish to its original growing place due to guilt.  This radish, although in a poorly state, was revived and has since gone on to produce four generations and will be sold as seeds.  I also went on to discuss the importance of daikon in Japanese cuisine.  It was by far no way near as intellectual as many others but my aim was to bring some lighthearted quirkiness with relevance to the topic.

What was exciting was that a film crew from BBC4 were there the whole weekend filming various people reading their topics for a new documentary on food writer/historian Alan Davidson – the founder of the symposium.  Right before we started our session, the camera guy came up to me and said how thrilled he was to hear my paper and that he was looking forward to it…that made me nervous.  Anyway, all went well and I was sent an email saying that they’d like to use footage of me in the documentary and then I signed my life away…but I still haven’t heard when this documentary will be airing…more on that when I hear about it. 

St.Katherine's College Grounds

St. Catherine's College Grounds

Us posing with my daikon dolls and books

Me and Elizabeth posing with my daikon dolls and books

 

Elizabeth, me, Fuschia (l to rt)

Fuschia, me and Elizabeth (l to rt)

If you are really interested in food from an academic angle, you should try to make your way to Oxford one year.  The symposium is attended by the “who’s who” in the industry with many there who have written numerous books.  My favourite regular is Claudia Roden, who is so sweet and her book on Jewish cuisines is one of my all-time favourites.  In 2006, Jeffrey Steingarten attended and so many people were dying to talk to him…I wasn’t one of them but he was keen to talk to my friend who didn’t even know who he was!  The symposium is a great place to network with like-minded people and not feel bad about making any elite comments about food…lol.  The food was great last year and it looks like it will be fabulous this year as well.  Looks like Raymond Blanc’s (who’s there every year) restaurant Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons will be providing the last dinner and it’ll be called, “The Language of French Gastronomy:  From the Raw to the Cooked.”  I’m jealous.

 

Raymond Blanc in the middle as moderator

Raymond Blanc in the middle as moderator

 

 

 

 

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I haven’t even upgraded my iPod to an iTouch (I have an old iPod Mini) nor have I purchased a new laptop in many years. I have only just upgraded my mobile phone that includes a good camera, MP3 and internet capability but I can barely keep up with technology.

Twitter is, of course, the new micro-blogging site where you can tell the world every minute detail of your thoughts and doings at any given time.  I signed up for an account the other day but I’m still wondering how to incorporate it into my life.  So far, the only way that Twitter seems useful to me is if you use it on the go with your mobile phone but it’s definitely not made for stay-at-home mothers. Twitter’s usefulness in the food industry is a different story especially when restaurants update their menus and their whereabouts to all their following fans.  This is especially useful if a restaurant’s location changes nightly such as a taco truck in Los Angeles.

NPR (National Public Radio) in the U.S. did an article on Kogi, the Korean-Mexican mobile restaurant (aka Taco Truck) in L.A. In the article Tweeting Food Truck Draws L.A.’s Hungry Crowds, writer Ben Bergman talks about how Kogi’s success is owed largely from their fans following Twitter to track where Kogi will be parked on a particular night and what specials there are each evening.  Apparently, there are over 8,000 people following Kogi on Twitter and since joining Twitter over a week ago, I also became a Kogi follower even though I live nowhere NEAR L.A. and am not planning a trip there anytime soon.  I am following Kogi just in case I get to go to L.A. within the year and use my cool phone to track them down one evening.  I have to say that the combination of Mexican and Korean – two of my most favourite foods (apart from Japanese) makes me want to hop on the next plane to try their tacos.

Looks like old-fashioned food reviews in newspapers are not going to be the only influence on a food business anymore – seems like technology has caught up with networking sights such as Facebook and Twitter and to keep up with the trends and to attract future crowds, we have to keep our minds open and sharpened to the latest marketing tool.  But I have to admit, even though I’m not exactly old,  it is truly exhausting keeping up.

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