Sunday, 14 September 2014

back to the beginning: eating in klang

The night we arrived in Malaysia, my parents whisked us from the airport, back to our home in Klang, and on the way we stopped to get some takeaway fried chicken from a street stall.

Fried chicken.

Klang is where I grew up. It seems fitting, then, that my sabbatical starts here.

I had some ambitious plans for this sabbatical, but to be honest, I haven't been terribly productive since I quit my job. Still, I have been eating my way around Malaysia. On this front, at least, I've done quite well.

There are food items that had barely crossed my mind, but I instantly recalled them with affection as my parents started dishing them up to me. Jianshuizong - which literally means "alkaline water dumplings" - is one of those things. Made with glutinous rice and lye water, it may not sound all that great, but there's something about the sticky texture and the alkaline taste that is oddly alluring when paired with something sweet - sugar, syrup, or honey.

Jianshuizong - alkaline dumplings, served with honey.

Then there is chee cheong fun, rice noodle rolls with assorted goodies such as beancurd skin, fishballs and vegetables, all slathered with a savoury-sweet sauce.

Chee cheong fun.

I am also in tropical heaven. When I was in Australia, I gravitated towards cheap,local, seasonal produce, and even though I missed the tropical fruits I grew up with in Malaysia, I usually didn't fork out the money for them. Here, however, I didn't need to hold back! Mangosteens, longans, dokongs... all can be enjoyed for just a few ringgit per kilo.

Mangosteens, longans, and dokongs.

We ate out often enough, too. One of the first highlights was this deep-fried salted egg tofu dish. Here, wobbly, silken tofu is masterfully held together in a crispy salted egg batter.

Deep-fried salted egg tofu.

Then there is the place where my dad says has the best roast pork he's ever eaten. I can believe it. The tender, juicy meat is topped off with probably the most satisfyingly crunchy crackling I've ever experienced.

Roast pork.

Last but not least, Klang is famous for its bak kut teh - which literally means "meat bone tea", and here, we like having it for breakfast, a truly carnivorous start to the day. Nary a vegetable in sight, just bowls full of various cuts of pork in a rich dark broth, to go with oily plates of rice. You may opt for lean meat, or you can go for a fattier part such as the pork belly, or chew on the gelatinous skin to your heart's content with the pork leg. Or, like me, you might choose to throw yourself at the pork stomach and intestines. Don't knock it till you try it...

Bak kut teh - the offal version.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

an exploration: our malaysian garden

Well, we're now in Malaysia!

It has been nearly 5 years since my last visit. But home always feels like home.

The day after my return, my dad took me for a tour around our garden, complete with commentary. Some things have changed, some things stay the same. I enjoyed re-acquainting myself with the old, and discovering the new.

The first stop was the mulberry plant. Mulberry fruits are quite sour, and my parents tend to either make a fermented drink out of them, or throw a few into a mixed fruit smoothie for a nice hint of tartness.

A mulberry fruit.

Bird's eye chilli probably needs no introduction. With its fragrant, intense heat, these little chillies are a case of good things coming in small packages.

Bird's eye chilli, commonly known as cili padi in Malaysia.

We also have a kaffir lime tree. Though I had been oblivious for a long time, apparently this name has politically incorrect connotations in some parts of the world, so an alternative name is makrut lime. My mum makes an awesome salad and she often includes thinly sliced lime leaves for their sharp, distinctive flavour. I've also used it a few times in recipes that have featured on this blog, and my favourite original creation is this tofu dish.

Makrut lime (more commonly known as Kaffir lime).

Pandanus shrubs (also known as screw pine) thrive in the garden. Pandan leaves, which impart a gentle mellowness to dishes, are commonly used in various Southeast Asian desserts. Here is a simple pandan beverage you can try, if you are after something delightfully easy and thirst-quenching.

Pandan plants.

Then there's what we call Pegaga growing as ground cover. It is otherwise known as Centella or Gotu Kola and is purported to have excellent health benefits. It can be blended to make a refreshing drink, and it is also often sliced and thrown into salads.

Pegaga, aka Gotu Kola or Centella Asiatica.

Last but not least, here is the pretty blue pea flower. It has the rather cheeky scientific name of Clitoria Ternatea, referring to the flower's resemblance to a clitoris. Questionable naming conventions aside, the flower yields a gorgeous blue dye, so it is the perfect natural ingredient to colour rice for sweet glutinous rice cake desserts, as well as the savoury dish called Nasi Kerabu.

Blue/butterfly pea flower.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our garden in Malaysia - there are many more plants that I have yet to mention here, but I think I'll have to leave them for another time. I might do a post on our garden herbs in the future, once I learn more about them via my parents' wealth of knowledge, so watch this space.

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

zimari, prahran/windsor: a cretan restaurant

Warm pita bread at Zimari.

Another catch-up meal, this one from late July. By then, Simon had arrived in Melbourne, and my friend June happened to have an unshakeable craving for Greek food, specifically saganaki cheese, so I suggested the three of us make our way to Zimari (268 High St, Prahran/Windsor) for lunch.

Zimari's Facebook page describes themselves as "a modern Greek Restaurant with clean, simple flavours influenced from the Greek Island of Crete."

The decor is clean and simple, too; there is an airy feeling with the space and lots of natural light during the day.

The waitress who served us suggested that we try their assortment of dips with warm pita bread. We didn't end up ordering this, however they gave us a complimentary little sample plate anyway, which was lovely, in more ways than one. The pita was gratifyingly warm, dusted with spices and dotted with olive oil. The dips - a pretty purple beetroot dip, and a pale pink taramasalata dip (made with cured fish roe) - tasted fresh, and we happily mopped it all up.

Beetroot dip and taramasalata dip, served with warm pita.

Of course we also started with saganaki. Here, they fry it with graviera cheese, which is a specialty of Crete. It had a nice crust, texture, and the expected saltiness without being too over-the-top salty, which I appreciated.

Saganaki - grilled graviera cheese with lemon and oregano. ($12)

Their spanakopita - which boasts a homemade pastry and a filling of spinach and mizithra cheese, another famous Cretan cheese - is also delectable. 

Spanakopita - homemade pastry filled with spinach and mizithra cheese. ($9)

For something green and healthy we had the marouli salad with mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. Nothing remarkable, but fresh and pleasant.

Marouli salad - mixed greens, pear, dried figs and walnuts. ($13)

This stifado from their specials menu that day was homely and comforting - a braised beef stew cooked in red wine, tomato and shallots, served with potatoes on the side.

Stifado - beef braised in red wine and tomato salsa, shallots and oven potatoes. ($19)

We really enjoyed the tigania - pork fillets in a honeyed, herbaceous lemon-mustard-oregano glaze, so charmingly sweet and tender.

Tigania - pork fillet in a lemon, mustard and oregano glaze. ($14)

For desserts, we wandered over to the counter, where the options were explained to us. We were drawn towards the portokalopita, an orange yoghurt filo cake - something different and interesting to us. I had always associated filo pastry with crispy baked goods, but here it is soft, syrupy, and unexpectedly luscious. We went at the cake again and again with our spoons, which quickly disappeared. So glad we tried this.

Portokalopita - yoghurt, filo and orange syrup cake. ($7 by itself, $9 with ice cream)

As we paid for our food, we had a chat with the guy behind the counter, who I think is the owner. He tells us he came here from the island of Crete, Greece, and has now lived in Melbourne for about five years. I tell him that this was my first time to Zimari, and that I wished I had discovered it sooner. Next time I'm in Melbourne and craving Greek food, I know where to go.

Zimari on Urbanspoon

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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea

Luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea.

Here's another beverage that came about while I was clearing out my cupboards for the big move.

When my parents visit me every now and then in Melbourne, they invariably stock up my fridge and my pantry in their efforts to look after me. One of the ingredients they provided one time was dried luo han guo (also known as monk fruit, buddha fruit, or arhat fruit). The luo han guo beverage is something I drank often back in Malaysia, yet it was always prepared by someone else. I never got around to making it myself - so as an ingredient, the monk fruit remained so enigmatic to me.

But I was moving house and I couldn't bear to throw it away. That's as good a time as any to get out of my comfort zone, right? I vaguely remembered my mum's reassurances: "It's really easy to make luo han guo tea, just crack the fruit and simmer it in water until the flavour comes out."

So that was what I did, and it was truly that easy. Like so many things, it's not as scary or as mysterious as it seems, once you actually try it.

Dried luohanguo / dried monk fruit.

luo han guo tea / monk fruit tea

Use approximately 1 litre, or 4 cups of water, for every piece of whole dried monk fruit. Break open the fruit with your hands, so that the dried flesh inside gets some exposure. Bring the fruit and the water to boil in a pot, then cover and allow it to simmer for at least 20 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more intense the flavour is. If it becomes too strong, simply add more water to dilute it.

As monk fruit is naturally very sweet, there should be no need to add any sugar. Strain out any bits and pieces of the broken fruit, and the tea is ready to enjoy immediately if you wish. This is a beverage which is delicious with its sweet herbal quality, at all temperatures. I had it hot on this occasion, but I love it really cold with ice.

Note: I just asked my mum and she generally uses 1.5 - 2 litres (6 - 8 cups) of water for each fruit, and simmers it for around an hour. I guess mine is the shortcut method, haha!

Luo han guo beverage / monk fruit beverage.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

tsukiji, prahran

Trays and trays of sashimi-grade fish and other seafood in the fridge - take your pick.

It's not the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, but Tsukiji grocery-cafe-restaurant (237 High St, Prahran) definitely has their fans amongst sashimi-lovers in Melbourne.

I only sigh because I never got around to visiting this place until the few weeks before I was due to move interstate, despite it only being half an hour's walk from my apartment for the past several years. But I made up for lost time, you bet I did. In the space of just 18 days, I managed to visit Tsukiji not once, not twice, but three times.

The first time around, my lunch date and I kept it simple by ordering one sashimi set each, which came with assorted sashimi, rice, miso soup, and a smidgen of seaweed salad. The fish was of excellent quality and tasted very fresh. My friend, upon taking a bite, exclaimed, "melts in your mouth".

Sashimi set ($15).

We enjoyed our meal so much that we decided to get takeaway for dinner, too. I grabbed a few trays of raw fish from the fridge, and had them slice it up for me - which they do for free - to take home.

A succulent, dewy, exquisite selection of sashimi ($11.90).

I chose the smallest pieces of raw fish - one modest portion each of sea perch, salmon, tuna, gurnard, and hapuka. After getting home, I put my sashimi treasures in the fridge, and opened it up not too long afterwards for an early dinner - I wanted to savour the fish while they were still reasonably fresh.

As expected, the tuna and salmon were beautifully creamy, like what I already had for lunch. As for the white fish, the gurnard and hapuka were firmer, and had more of a bite. The sea perch was surprisingly tender, delightfully gentle. It was a fun and tasty selection and I was happy with my choices.

Salmon, Hapuka, Gurnard, Tuna, Sea Perch.

The following weekend, a friend visited from Adelaide, just to catch up before I go - isn't that just awesome! - and I brought him and his partner to Tsukiji. We went all out - in addition to the usual suspects, we also had generous amounts of scallops, uni (sea urchin), and toro (tuna belly). I can't remember exactly how much it all ended up costing us but I believe it was around $25 per person. We would easily have paid twice that in any other Japanese restaurant in Melbourne, considering the luxurious, sought-after items that were on our plate.

One of the sections of our luxurious sashimi platter.

Seriously, my interstate guests went crazy at the fridge section, picking out two trays of toro, claiming that they can't get that stuff in Adelaide. The label doesn't specify whether it's chutoro or otoro, but looking at the marbling I'd say it's the latter. Fatty, rich, totally decadent - and I can only have a tiny bit before it becomes too much for me. No matter, for my friends merrily devoured it all.

Why, yes, there is such a thing as too much toro (tuna belly).

I went back to Tsukiji for a last hurrah when Simon came over, and we caught up with a friend there, too. They both ordered unagi don - yes, there is a hot food menu, even if I tend to neglect its existence - I had a taste of the glazed grilled eel, and it was delicious. But it is still difficult to go past the sashimi here...

Gorgeous ruby-red tuna sashimi.

Even though it was winter, I opted to have a dessert of their black sesame ice cream. It seems to be a homemade version that looks like it was frozen in a small plastic tub, before being turned out into a bowl. Needless to say, the presentation wasn't the most attractive, and the texture was a little hard. However, it had a nice subtle sweetness, and the black sesame flavour rang loud and clear. I had no problems finishing it at all.

Black sesame ice cream.

Anyway, I guess for the month of July, I had enough sashimi to tide me over for a while, in case I don't get any more raw fish for the rest of the year.

As for the rest of you who still reside in Melbourne - if you want to eat in at Tsukiji, get in right when they open at noon to secure a seat - just in case. Otherwise, there's always takeaway.

Tsukiji on Urbanspoon

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Thursday, 31 July 2014

chamomile almond pear smoothie

Chamomile almond pear smoothie.

Big events, or at least the lead-up to them, can be stressful. Moving my belongings interstate, and following that with international travel, is definitely one of those things. I'm getting rid of the items I've accumulated over the years. Cleaning. Tidying. Packing. Dealing with red tape. Wrapping up loose ends. Trying not to freak out, trying to make time for friends and relatives before I go, trying to keep my sanity amidst it all.

Perhaps this is why I was drawn to create something with the gorgeous loose leaf chamomile tea I have in my pantry, an ingredient which I thought might help encourage relaxation. Besides - let's face it - I wanted to finish as much of my food as possible, before I go. Can't let the good stuff go to waste!

So the pretty dried chamomile flowers are put to work, and their soft, mellow perfume infuses this gentle chamomile almond pear smoothie. I drink it quietly, slowly, and I find a little moment of calmness.

Dried camomile flowers / Loose leaf camomile tea.

chamomile almond pear smoothie 
(makes 1)

1/2 teaspoon dried chamomile flowers or 1 chamomile tea bag
1/2 cup freshly boiled hot water
1/8 teaspoon honey (Optional, omit if vegan, or use maple syrup. You may add more, but I like the subtlety of less.)
1 soft, ripe pear
2 tablespoons almond meal
3 ice cubes

Steep chamomile in hot water for a couple of minutes (or you may time it according to instructions on the package, or just wait till the tea reaches your desired strength). Remove the tea bag / Strain out the chamomile flowers.
Allow the tea to cool down to room temperature, or chill in the fridge. Stir in just a tiny bit of honey, if using.
Remove the skin, stem and pips of the pear, chopping up only the flesh to use. Do make sure you use a soft, ripe pear - you want the flesh to be creamy (rather than crisp), for a good smoothie texture.
In a blender, whiz together the chamomile tea, pear, almond meal, and ice cubes.
Serve, sip, and chill out.

Pear, almond, and chamomile smoothie.

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Saturday, 26 July 2014

ayomo, south melbourne

Banella waffle from Ayomo, with lots of banana and Nutella, served with a dollop of frozen yogurt.

I know, I know. We're in the middle of a chilly Melbourne winter right now. But I don't care. I'm still eating fro-yo (soft serve frozen yoghurt) when the cravings strike.

One of the things I will miss about working in South Melbourne is being in close proximity to Ayomo (226 Clarendon St, South Melbourne). Their cute name is derived from the phrase "A Yoghurt Moment". The people there are always nice and friendly, and they make some tempting fro-yo.

I've been there a few times since I first discovered it last year. They have both their standard natural and signature macadamia yoghurt all-year-round, with other flavours filling in the roster as they see fit. If you're not sure what to get, you can try samples first. And what I really like is that even when I get the small serving (which in my opinion is still quite generously sized), I can opt for more than one flavour in the cup. Awesome!

I've tried the lychee, which was graceful and floral, the young coconut, which was beautifully light with a taste that is more like coconut water than coconut cream. I've also tried the dairy-free mango, and the more indulgent salted caramel. So far, though, their signature macadamia fro-yo trumps all others, for me at least - it's gentle, tangy, just faintly sweet, and wins me over with the subtle, but distinctive nutty taste of macadamia.

The frozen yoghurt here is good enough to enjoy plain by themselves, but Ayomo offers an array of toppings, too, and my favourite is the halva.

There are other items on the menu as well, like the waffles in the picture above. They certainly don't skimp on the ingredients, as you can see from the plentiful slices of banana and lashings of Nutella on mine. Served with a frozen yoghurt of your choice, it makes for a very filling dessert.

Due to my big move, I don't know when I'll next visit Ayomo again. But hey, who knows? I may be back in Melbourne one day, and perhaps I'll even ask them if they have any job openings - it would be pretty cool to work in their Flavour Lab...

Frozen yoghurt from Ayomo with various toppings.

Ayomo Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 21 July 2014

dolan uyghur food heaven, melbourne cbd

Lamb skewers / Zih Kawap. ($12)

With the big adventure coming up and all, I've been crazy busy.

Dealing with my rental lease, clearing out my stuff, packing up my belongings, wrapping up loose ends...

Phew. It's hectic. I don't deal well with this kind of hectic.

But you know what helps? Catching up with my good friends before I go. Yes, meeting up with people takes up more of my precious time, but it's only right that my precious time goes towards precious friendships. Plus, having delicious conversations over delicious food is always, always worth making time for.

For our catchup, my friend Scott (by the way, check out his food website, MealDish) and I decided to go with Uyghur cuisine at Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven (166 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne). I had never been to a Uyghur restaurant before, so this was rather exciting.

The menu arrived and there were so many interesting dishes that sparked my curiosity. However, having heard about the generous servings here, we limited ourselves to just two items.

First, we decided upon the lamb skewers (zih kawap), which seem to be popular here, and I can understand why. Dusted with spices, they tingled delightfully upon the tongue. Actually, I think I've tried this dish before, at a street stall in Beijing a few years ago.

I was initially intrigued by the chopped noodles, but lured by Scott's promise of gigantic noodles instead, we ended up going for the stir fried spicy whole chicken with potatoes and capsicums, special homemade sauce and noodles (dapanji - which literally means "big plate chicken" in Mandarin, or yangyu tohu kormisi). The handmade noodles were indeed massive, and so was the dish itself. Scott says he’s had better - it seems this may have been at least partially prepared ahead of time rather than being made to order, as the potatoes looked a bit old, and the chicken was a little dry - but still, while I can see how it could have been better, I enjoyed it - not sure how much of that is due to novelty, but I'll take what I can get.

Big Plate Chicken / Dapanji / Yangyu Tohu Kormisi. ($26)

Anyway, we spent over two hours in the restaurant and in that time, we managed to finish the lamb skewers and polish off most of the chicken noodle dish, albeit only gently grazing by the end of the evening. I’m quite impressed at our efforts, I must say.

All in all, it was a great night out - so many things to talk about, lots of laughter, and, for me, a newly discovered appetite for Uyghur food.

Dolan Uyghur Food Heaven on Urbanspoon

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