Asian/Australian food can be wonderful if you look in the right places!…

One thing we love about living in Australia is our close proximity to Asia plus the huge influence of Asian cuisine especially over the last few decades with waves of immigration.   Asian immigration, after the European settlement of Australia (British First Fleet in 1788), began during the Gold Rush era which attracted many Chinese and has continued through to current times.  Asia, especially South East Asia, has become a very popular holiday destination for Australians as it’s only a 6 hour flight from Sydney to Bali (approx);  7.5 hours from Canberra (Australia’s capital) to Singapore.  We’ve had many and varied travels throughout Asia especially over the last decade but I’ll start this post with our good food find today…close to home at the Old Bus Deport Markets in Canberra:
Black Garlic:


We first encountered the unique flavour of black garlic on our travels in Asia, initially at David Thompson’s restaurant “Nahm” in Bangkok but later at some smaller restaurants in Seminak & Ubud in Bali (some magnificent food there) as well as a more recent visit to Tallwood in Mollymook (Australia’s Sth Coast NSW) where they served a beautiful Mushroom & Black Garlic Pate.  See photos at end of this post from Bali…more to come in a separate post too.

So today when we made one of our regular visits to the Canberra Bus Depot Markets in Kingston we not only purchased some black garlic but we also the supplier’s (Bredbo Black Garlic) recipe book.  We were so pleased to find the recipe for Mushroom & Black Garlic Pate in it (photo below):


Method:

  • Heat the butter & oil in a frying pan – fry onions & garlic for 5-6 min until softened;
  • Add the mushrooms and porcini;  cook over a medium heat for 10 min until most of the liquid has evaporated;
  • Leave to cool;
  • Coarsely blend the mushroom mixture with the lemon juice, ricotta and cream cheese in a food processor;
  • Season to taste, then spoon into a serving dish;
  • Cover & refrigerator for 2 hours to firm.

Another recipe (which we haven’t yet tasted) but we’re keen to make is: 

Method:

  • Heat a large frying pan with 2 tablespoons of the butter over high heat;
  • Season the scallops with S&P and when butter is bubbling, gently lay the scallops in the pan, not touching.               Sear the scallops & cook for 4 min, turning once.  They need a lovely brown colour on both sides;
  • Transfer to a platter;
  • To the same hot pan on high heat, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter;
  • Add garlic slices & the jalapeño pepper & fry until fragrant – about 30 seconds.  Into the same pan, pour the white wine & balsamic vinegar;

Let simmer for 1 min, season with S&P and add fresh parsley;  pour over scallops.  Serves 4 as a starter/entree… is served on a bed of asparagus (no mention in recipe) – I clearly think asparagus is photogenic if other European posts are anything to go by!  

Our foodie focus in Bangkok:

We had 2 weeks in Bangkok (did a house swap with my cousin so we stayed at his apartment in Silom area right near David Thompson’s Nahm.  Unfortunately, we forgot to take our camera (we usually just use our phone camera at restaurants) so we can’t include any photos here but you could look on his site or Trip Advisor have many traveller photos of course.  If planning to visit remember to book well in advance (probably weeks in advance) as it’s very popular although sometimes it’s easier to get in for lunch – reduces the price as well although the menu isn’t as extensive as in the evening.
Most of our food experiences involved casual eateries like at the place in photo below – on the walk to the air conditioned restaurant the little makeup I had applied melted away in the humidity!…and after the steamboat dish, my skin felt like I’d been in/out of a spa with added bonus of having delicious food on offer!  A fun night!

While David Thompson’s Nahm is top end dining – Awarded Asia’s best restaurant in 2014 by Goodfood (goodfood.com.au) & on the list of “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” (at 37 in 2016), there are also a huge range of restaurants at mid range prices such as the one in photo below – Naj Exquisite Thai (a short walk from Sky train/Silom Shopping centre).  It was a traditional Thai restaurant with mostly classic dishes and it attracted both locals and tourists.  There was a Thai dance performance half way through the evening…so a little touristy but all very pleasant!  We also enjoyed another mid+ price range restaurant in same area was Issaya – still in Silom area but we called a taxi as it was a hot night/long walk.

We also did the “Taste of Thailand Food Tour” which met at the train stop near the river – it was fabulous with lots of walking to interesting parts of Bangkok and ending with a beautiful lunch at a formal Thai restaurant.  This walking tour gave us ideas for small/cheap and cheerful food places…on returning via Sky Train to our apartment we needed to then walk past Restaurant Bua so that was a favourite as well as Petra – both served classic Thai dishes as well as a few other popular Chinese plates.

Above photo on left is “Asparagus Stir Fried with Prawns” in David Thompson’s book – Thai Street Food (P230one of the simplest dishes in the book!  The photo on the right is of “Thai Cup Cakes” (P14 in Breakfast section) – more like crisp wafer cups with creamy coconut centres.  The coconut filling is sweetened with sugar and the traditional green onion on top is optional.  We haven’t cooked them ourselves but we tried them from a Street stall recommended on the Taste of Thailand walking tour mentioned above…quite addictive!

Ingredients:

2 serves  

10 thin asparagus spears – Thai asparagus is thin & crisp so try to find thin spears or trim rough ends off the thicker variety.  You can also use other Asian greens;

10 medium sized raw prawns (shrimp);

2 garlic cloves, peeled;  pinch salt;  2 tablespoons vegetable oil;  

5-6 cloud ear mushrooms;

1/4 cup of stock;  1 tablespoon light soy sauce;  a little oyster sauce (optional);  pinch of white sugar & ground white pepper.

Method:  See Page 230 or on request!

Other fave recipes in David’s book are both Pork and Chicken Satay with Cucumber Relish (P169).  His sauce is quite a complicated one with a combination of many herbs and spices so I won’t list the ingredients (similar could be found on the Net) but the Cucumber relish which accompanies the satay is very simple – and beautiful!  See recipe below.

Cucumber Relish:

1/4 cup white sugar;  1/4 cup white vinegar;  pinch of salt;  1 small cucumber – quartered and sliced;  4 red shallots – sliced;  1/4 long red chilli – chopped;  2 tablespoons chopped coriander

Simmer the sugar with the vinegar, salt & 1/4 cup of water.  When the sugar has dissolved, take off the heat and allow to cool.  Add the remaining ingredients just before serving.

Next foodie post – Food trail through Laos…including 2 cooking courses that were well priced and fabulous!

Another of our favourite Australian chefs is Neil Perry – we have a few of his books but the one we use most often is “Balance and Harmony – The Secrets of Asian Cooking“.  An example of two of his Thai recipes are noted below:


Photo above:  Warm Salad of Spicy Minced Chicken (P70) – Known as “Larp” or salad in the North of Thailand although it’s really a stir-fry served on lettuce.  I love the combination of the lime and chilli (adjust chilli to taste).  Neil Perry says it’s a lot like a “Thai Sang Choi Bao”.

Fresh Ingredients:  150 g skinless chicken thigh fillets;  2 cloves garlic;  4 small green chillies; 50 g green beans;  1/2 Spanish onion;  1 tablesp fish sauce;  2 tablespns lime;  small handfuls of mint and coriander,  1/2 baby cos;  1 teas ground roast rice…

Method:  On request or similar might be on Net?

2nd Photo above:   Spicy Beef Stew…easy to make and so delicious.  Neil Perry describes it as “half curry/half stew” P165 of Neil’s book (see above).  The reason we like this one so much is the use of fresh turmeric – my GP Australian/British/Indian!…suggests we eat lots of it as there’s a much lower incidence of dementia related illness in India and research is suggesting it’s the frequent use of turmeric in their cooking.  Even though it’s easy to prepare, there’s quite a list of ingredients in this curry so one to do when visiting a fresh food market.  I’m sure there are similar recipes using turmeric on the Net too.

Another Thai cookbook we like is “Travels with Thai Food” (see photo below).  Here’s a simple fish recipe we enjoy:

Poached Red Snapper with Hot and Sour Herb Salad P137

If you don’t have palm sugar you could use brown sugar but Asian chefs would definitely say that palm sugar is better.

Back to my childhood home of Sydney…

If you know where to look in Sydney you can find some fabulous Asian food and again the range of restaurants is huge.  It wasn’t always like that!  As a child, the two suburbs I frequented most were Balmain (on Sydney harbour – once a fishing village…Grandpa was a fisherman);   and Peakhurst – near Hurstville which now has a large Chinese population.  In the 1960s, there was only one Chinese restaurant in the near vicinity, “Bamboo Gardens” – our 1 and only choice for birthday celebrations – we had my 21st birthday there in the late 1970s!  Today one of our favourite Chinese/Australian chefs is Kylie Kwong.  We have a few of her books including Simple Chinese Cooking – a couple of our simple/fast favourites below with ingredients listed.  Method on request or similar might be available on Net?  We enjoyed Kylie’s restaurant a couple of times in Sydney but we’re not keen on queuing at the door (no table reservations possible at the time) so we haven’t returned since.  We heard she’s opened another restaurant in Sydney now?  If anyone goes there we would be interested to hear what it’s like?  She also has another restaurant called Billy Kwong in Potts Point, Sydney which we haven’t tried yet – maybe on our next visit to Sydney in early April.

Photo on left:  Home style Fried Eggs with Oyster Sauce and Chilli

1.5 cups vegetable oil….yes a bit oily so often we make her other egg dishes which use less oil!  However, this 1 so tasty & when I make it I use a lot less oil (Tony likes to stick to the recipe:)

4 eggs;  1 tablespoon oyster;  pinch of ground white pepper;  1/2 cup finely sliced spring onions (scallions or shallots in Oz); 1-2 red bird’s eye chillies, finely sliced.

Photo on right above:  Deep Fried Tofu with Sichuan Pepper, Salt and Lemon

1 x 300gm packet silken tofu;  veg oil for deep frying;  1/3 cup plain flour;  handful of coriander leaves; 1 teas Sichuan pepper & salt, 1 lemon (halved)

Method:  On request or might be similar on Net?

We rekindled our love of Chinese dumplings on our visit to China a couple years ago.  We’ve had some great ones in Hong Kong over the decades but the ones we tasted in Shanghai were superb (I’ll find a photo to post here from the restaurants we went to).  On returning home we looked in Kylie’s books and found a beautiful recipe, a lot more complex than the ones above, but worth the effort.  They’re called Prawn Wontons with Spring Onion, Ginger & Vinegar Dressing.  Most people who do Asian cooking would have the main ingredients in their pantry but the fresh items needed are 9 raw prawns, fresh coriander, spring onions (or shallots in Oz), fresh ginger, wonton wrappers.  

I’ll do a separate post on China soon…there is a shorter 1 I posted last year.  We enjoyed Shanghai and we did a couple of day trips out of Beijing too.  We were fortunate to have great weather – it was a Monday so the smog had cleared;  partly due to the Government forcing some of their big polluters to shut down for a week or so to allow the skies to clear.  So we were very lucky and got some great photos.

Back to Australia…

On a very recent train trip from Canberra to Sydney (see recent post) we stayed at a hotel in Sussex St not far from the railway station.  The good thing about Sussex St is that it’s just down from Chinatown so there are so many small Asian restaurants.  The range, price and most importantly, quality of food is just as good (sometimes better) as Chinatown – we have found that in recent years Chinatown has become quite touristy.  However, in and around Sussex St (on East side of Darling Harbour) there are so many choices and many locals including Asian/Australians go there.  The area is an interesting mix of Anglo-European and Asian culture (see photo below of historic pub).


To left – The Dundee Arms Hotel
:  built in the 1840s.  It is one of the oldest surviving pubs in the area.  It served the sailors from the ships docked in the harbour, workers from the warehouses of Darling Harbour and the shopkeepers in the Corn Exchange next door.  It had a hotel licence until 1888 and then became a home to many interesting residents including T.J. ‘Buttie’ McMahon – grandfather of Australian Prime Minister Sir William McMahon.  Also a home to award winning artists Rod Shaw, Graeme Inson and Ivy Shore.

Photo to right:  view from Hotel (Hyatt Regency) to Western side of Darling Harbour, Sydney – the pedestrian bridge can be seen on the left;  the Maritime Museum on the right displaying a small lighthouse and many ships including old sailing ships to modern vessels (see other Sydney posts).

Back to nearby foodie places in Sussex Street.  This was one casual eatery we enjoyed – recommended in the Australian Good Food Guide.  The food was very good/quite reasonable prices (for Sydney!) – classic dishes done well…expect a crowded, noisy place so not one for a romantic night out just good/fast fun!  There are many places like this along the same street – a popular place with a younger crowd including business people (CBD just up the hill – 10 min walk) and very different to the Sussex St I remember as a child in the 60s when my Dad worked at one of the offices along here.  The Architecture along the street is very interesting too – ranges from the historic pub (photo above), to the beautiful old school (built in the late 1800s) to old converted warehouses to the elegant lines of Art Deco design like the building you can glimpse in the photo below.  As we sat in this window we found the comings and goings of people interesting to watch…at one point a group of brightly coloured Thai dancers in traditional costume crossed the street.  Probably headed toward one of the larger restaurants – maybe on the west side of Darling Harbour…a very popular area for tourists and consequently often a lot more expensive.

Transport in/out of Sydney + Nearby Regional areas/Good Food Destinations

And so our New Year/short break in Sydney came to an end at Central Railway station.  The railway station should have their new restaurant/cafe up and running as the final fitout was being completed in January.  It looked appealing with some good Asian food choices too!  The food on the train is kiosk style – sandwiches etc…all good/simple stuff but before rail journeys we usually have something at a cafe beforehand or take our own picnic with fresh bread/cheese etc.  On this occasion we took the train trip to Canberra, the National Capital, (4 hours) under Regional Services here.  Lots of good food destinations including wineries there – a post for the future!  It’s a relaxing 4 hour journey through picturesque countryside including rivers, streams, rolling hills, farms, rugged bushland, small and large country towns…gives an enjoyable view of the countryside without the stress of dealing with traffic (can get congested in/around Sydney especially at peak times/rush hour).  However, we know that many do like/need their own car – we usually did when our children were young and parents still alive and living in Sydney.  It’s just worth timing when to come and go!  When we do come by car now, it’s often when we’re driving from our holiday house on the South Coast near Ulladulla (many great foodie destinations there!…another post to come) as the drive into Sydney via the National Park is usually quite straightforward and there are pleasant seaside stops/short walks along the way.  The beautiful Cronulla coastline & village centre (accessible by city train service) is a half day trip from central Sydney.  Cronulla has come a long way over the last decade…it was once very Anglo/Aussie (+ had limited cultural attraction…at least when I was growing up in early 70s!) but now you can find a range of excellent multicultural restaurants and cafes including Asian/Middle Eastern delights too!  If visiting Cronulla, do allow time for a walk down to the stunning beachfront (more lovely cafes down there) and a longer walk along the coastal path – just beautiful!  I remember many days in my teens spent at Cronulla beach – my friends and I would take the short train trip from our homes in the suburbs (maybe where my first love of train travel developed!) to Cronulla station.  It was then a short walk to the beach from the station/village.  No cafes back in the early 70s but wonderful Italian greengrocers and Greek milk bars…the great thing is that over the last decade those cultures have helped to make Cronulla the vibrant and interesting destination it has become in recent years.

Rail/Road journey to South Coast towns from Sydney

There are also trains from Central Station to destinations all over the country – see photo above.   We would like to try the Bomaderry Line …a very frequent destination for us particularly Shellharbour & Kiama seaside villages (see photo below).  Those villages are an easy day trip from Sydney (1.5 hours by car;  2 hours by train).


Photos above:  Kiama on the left…5 min drive from village;  Photo on R – Shellharbour village…on a grey day maybe can’t be compared to Santorini (our Greek post to come!) but it was a gorgeous warm summer day last month & they served an excellent breakfast (photo below).



We have had many recent road trips from Milton/Ulladulla to Kiama (1.5 hours by car; 2.5 hours by bus) and then onto Sydney (1.5 hours by car).  It really is a stunning part of the world with gorgeous, uncrowded beaches – some more so than others (a post for another day!);  dairy country with cheese outlets;  cafes and restaurants galore;  vineyards and wineries (around the hinterland) etc.

The train services can also take you to Newcastle (first city north of Sydney) and the Central Coast (see photo at Central Railway).  We don’t visit the Central Coast as often as the South Coast (South Coast at Bay just 1.5 hours from Canberra;  2 hours to Milton/Ulladulla/Mollymook…good foodie stops!) but we do go up to the Central Coast for at least 1 visit/year; often to visit extended family including our Aunties (Tony’s Aunt Jean – now passed away) and my Aunt Betty (doing well at 91).  On these visits we try to stay for an extra few days (sometimes longer & driving further Nth) staying at B&B’s or small seaside villages.  Here are some of our favourite photos from the Central Coast.

The photo to far left is at a Port Stephens B&B

Food plate above at a seafront restaurant in South West Rocks – figs wrapped in prosciutto.

Food plates above at a restaurant in Port Stephens

Of course, seeing this is a good food post wanted to include our favourite restaurants – I’ll check my journals later & then note the name of the restaurants/B&Bs above + some more great photos from the South Coast too.  Until then, one last memorable photo for us (below) – my gorgeous sister, Laurel, who passed away last July.  I always remember her whenever I’m thinking about our beautiful coastline.  She also loved the beach and would sometimes visit us (from her home in Sth of Sydney) at our holiday house on the South Coast – here is one taken at the casual Bannister’s Pool Bar, Mollymook a few months before she died.  With new treatments she was able to have almost a year of “feeling ok” after the initial diagnosis of Stage IV Melanoma which is often “like a bushfire”.   She made the most of absolutely every day she had left and reminded us all to do the same + remember to “slip, slop, slap”…the sun safety message which sadly, most of us missed out on prior to the 70s.  This photo is of the casual pool bar below Bannister’s famous seafood restaurant (well known due to celebrity status of Rick Stein of course)  – more photos to come from my birthday celebration a year ago.  It’s a great place & was a special time!

Back to Asia...photos below from Bali including 3 different cooking courses we did.  2 in Ubud and 1 in Seminyak.  This was a few years ago but at the time the prices for theses courses, including a lunch or dinner, were quite reasonable – especially in Ubud.  They were about half the price of similar courses in Europe at the time.  We were in Bali for about 3 weeks so we did 1 course/week + plenty of eating, drinking and trying to swim off the calories in between!

Shame Tony has his eyes closed in 1 of us together but as can be seen in the background, a beautiful tropical setting for a cooking school.  The picture to the left is where we sat down for dinner that night.  This cooking school is run by a local woman who worked as a cook at one of the big hotels in Kuta.  She decided she could extend her family home in a village near Ubud and has been doing so ever since – highly recommended (will note the name of it once I check our journals).  We also did a cooking course with Janet De N (will check the spelling shortly) – her cooking school is “Casa Luna” (see apron in top photo).  Janet has written a wonderful book on Balinese cuisine (which we purchased).  Janet is Australian but now lives in Bali (she married a Balinese man).  Our last cooking course was in Seminak (not too far from Kuta) – will insert a map below soon.  Off to the dentist now for a checkup:)