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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Sunday, 13 July 2014

bitter melon soup / bitter gourd soup

Bitter melon soup.

Wow. Firstly, I want to thank you all for the overwhelming support that you have shown for my recent decision to quit my job to travel. As I prepare for my adventure, I hope to share more details about our plans.

But for now, let's talk about food again!

So, obviously, I am going through interesting times at the moment. It's a time to say goodbye to some, but also a time to say hello to others.

It's a bittersweet time.

This bitter melon soup, then, seems like an appropriate dish to serve up in my life, and on my blog. I rarely cook with bitter melon, as I don't usually get the attraction of such a bitter vegetable. However, this is a soup that my mum cooks for my family. It is a soup that my sister likes. And recently, when I visited my uncle and aunt, and offered to cook dinner, they had a bitter melon waiting to be eaten, so this soup was, for me, the obvious solution.

A bitter melon / bitter gourd.

The bitter melon does have its distinctive bitterness, but it is balanced out by the sweetness of the carrots and ikan bilis (dried anchovies).

My uncle and aunt enjoyed the bitter melon soup. I liked it, too, more than I remember ever liking it. I was surprised.

Cross section of a bitter melon, when sliced lengthwise into half.

So much so, that two weeks later, I bought bitter melon, so that I can make the soup again, all for myself.

Perhaps, as I grow older, my appreciation for this bittersweet soup grows, too.

Bitter melon soup with carrot, tofu, and dried anchovies.

bitter melon soup / bitter gourd soup
(Serves 2 when accompanied with rice, as a main dish. Serves 4 as an appetizer or side dish.)

1 small to medium bitter melon (approx. 250g)
2 medium to large carrots (approx. 200g)
1/3 loose cup ikan bilis i.e. dried anchovies with guts and heads already removed (may be substituted with a few pieces of pork bones and/or dried cuttle fish)
1 small block tofu (approx. 200g. Optional if not serving this as a main dish.)
salt and white pepper, to taste

Cut bitter melon lengthwise into half. Scrape out the pith and seeds, discard those so that you're left with what looks like two empty green boats. Chop up the flesh into bite-size pieces. (First, slice the "boats" into half-rings, then chop those again into quarter-rings.)
Chop carrots into rounds.
In a big pot, put in the bitter melon, carrot and anchovies/pork/cuttlefish with 4 cups of water to boil, then turn down the heat to let everything simmer, partially covered, for around 30 minutes or until bitter melon and carrots are tender.
Cut tofu into bite-sized rectangles or squares. Add to the soup, bring it back to boil, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper.


I usually use a ratio of similar amounts of bitter melon and carrot, with a bit more bitter melon (it’s supposed the be the main character, after all).
If I recall correctly, my mum usually uses pork bones and dried cuttlefish to flavour the soup, but I substituted with dried anchovies (ikan bilis) here instead.
Choose the bitter melon / gourd with plump, succulent grooves rather than the ones that look shriveled up, dry and skinny.
I prefer to use semi-firm tofu (with a softness somewhere in between silken and firm, not too fragile) for this dish. This is usually just the regular type sold in tubs in Asian grocery stores.

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Sunday, 6 July 2014

i am quitting my job to travel.

After seven years at my company, I'm quitting my job, and leaving Melbourne, to travel.

It is difficult to leave behind the people at work, with whom I've spent the larger part of my life for such a long time.

It is difficult to leave behind a steady job, and the fortnightly payments that provide me with a sense of financial security.

It is difficult to leave behind my friends and relatives here, and I wish we had caught up more often.

It is difficult to give up the lease on my little apartment in South Yarra, and it is difficult to leave Melbourne, for I have come to see it as my home.

Yet, despite all these elements tugging at my heartstrings, I feel it would be a mistake if I continued with my routine. The past seven years have gone by fast, with each year going by even quicker than the one before.

My life right now, right here, is great. I am happy. Yet I am also restless, wanting more. Wanting to break free from the 9 to 5, to do something a little different, to explore more of what I can do beyond the cubicle.

I am afraid that if I stay, I will wake up one day another seven years later, wondering where all that time has gone. Wondering if things could have been different, if only I had been willing to take a risk.

And for years, Simon has yearned to travel. Not just for a few weeks every year. No, a few months, at least. With the option for an extension. Perhaps even with the option of being a digital nomad, travelling indefinitely.

So here we are, doing this together. The world is out there, and it's waiting for us.

Stepping into the unknown.

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Monday, 30 June 2014

recent delights: yoghurt, salt with attitude, jarrah honey

Things have been hectic recently.

A huge change is coming, and I'll tell you all about it in my next post.

But for now, here's a short and sweet compilation of some recent delights, as it's been a while since I've posted about the random foodstuff I've bought and enjoyed.

For the past year or two, I've been buying five:am organic yoghurt. It now comes in many flavours, and I haven’t tried them all, though I’m actually quite in love with just the natural one with no added sugar. The tub in the picture below is of the vanilla bean yoghurt - as you can see, they're pretty generous with the vanilla. I still like some of the more niche yoghurts that I get elsewhere, but this stuff is great and has the upside of being easily available in the major supermarkets. I have my eyes on trying the coffee bean, as well as the dark caramel, next.

five:am vanilla bean yoghurt.

I've also just used up the last of my jar of Salt with Attitude from Green Farmhouse. I actually purchased this on a whim at a shop in a local airport whilst on an interstate trip. I rarely buy food souvenirs at airports, but this just looked like it would be delicious, and it was. With sea salt, sesame seeds, bush tomatoes, chillies and spices in the ingredient list, there is definitely some jazzy attitude there, with a bit of kick and a bit of zing. I think the rich, piquant flavour of the native Australian bush tomatoes really give it an extra edge. When I use this instead of regular salt, the dish takes on a distinctive new flavour.

Green Farmhouse Salt with Attitude.

Last but not least, Jarrah honey. Where have you been all my life? I got this on last year's trip to Perth because I was intrigued by the claims that the health benefits of this honey surpasses many others. What no one told me, was that it tastes like caramel popcorn. Yes. Seriously. Sweet, nutty, divine - I’m happy just licking it off a spoon! Mine was from The House of Honey but I suppose any minimally processed Jarrah honey from a quality producer should be just as good. I'm so in love.

Jarrah honey, purchased from The House of Honey in Western Australia.

I hope you enjoyed my Australian-centric edition of tasty odds and ends. Stay tuned for my big announcement in the next post!

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Monday, 23 June 2014

n. lee bakery cafe, south melbourne

Banh mi for lunch, anyone?

I have recently taken to visiting N.Lee Bakery Cafe (234 Clarendon St, South Melbourne) during my work lunch breaks to grab takeaway Vietnamese sandwiches - banh mi - for a change.

The staff here are cheerful, friendly, and generous with their smiles, even during peak hour. If you get there around 1pm, be prepared for a queue, but the wait generally isn't too bad. They make the banh mi to order, and the meat is heated up in a pan so it's still warm in the roll when it gets to you. If you like a bit of a kick to your banh mi (and I so, so do), remember to ask for chilli.

Their banh mi aren't the cheapest you can get in Melbourne, but at around the $7 mark they are still pretty good value for a tasty lunch, considering we're in a more expensive suburb here. The bread roll is crisp, the vegetables fresh, the meat warm and juicy.

Here is the grilled pork banh mi. (I only wish the meat didn't have that artificial red colouring.)

Grilled pork banh mi from N.Lee Bakery Cafe in South Melbourne. ($6.80)

And here is the chicken banh mi.

Chicken breast banh mi from N.Lee Bakery Cafe in South Melbourne. ($6.80)

I have only ever been to the South Melbourne shop, and I'm satisfied with both the service and the food there, but I hear they also have stores in CBD and Collingwood. If I happen to be craving a sandwich when I'm in those areas, I guess I know where I can go!

N. Lee Bakery Cafe on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 16 June 2014

central kebab house, brunswick

Central Kebab House on Sydney Road, Brunswick.

We stumbled upon Central Kebab House (661 Sydney Road, Brunswick) as we were wandering around Brunswick, killing time in between my friend's wedding ceremony and reception.

The woman preparing food behind the counter looked at us with a smile playing on her lips, perhaps wondering how Simon, dressed in his suit, and I, in a dainty dress, came to sit down at this simple joint to eat Turkish pizza with our hands, a carefree juxtaposition to our formal outfits. She brought us a basket of complimentary fresh, warm Turkish bread, and we reveled in her warmth and hospitality.

Warm and fluffy Turkish bread.

Our mince meat and spinach gozleme had a nice flavour, though I felt that the fillings were a little sparse.

Mince meat and spinach gozleme.

The Lahmacun - a thin Turkish pizza - arrived. It also came with a plate of fresh onions, tomatoes, lemon wedges, and parsley.

Fresh salad / garnishes / fillings / toppings for the Lahmacun (Turkish pizza).

Neither of us have had lahmacun before, and I was wondering how to handle all this when I saw Simon pile on the fresh vegetables along with a squeeze of lemon onto the flatbread-pizza, roll it up, and eat it like a wrap. Of course! That boy is smart, he is.

We also shared an Ayran, a Turkish yoghurt drink. With no added sugar and just a gentle pinch of salt, it was refreshingly tangy.

Turkish pizza - Lahmacun / Lahmajun.

I have had limited experience with Turkish food, and I like how, at Central Kebab House, I get a glimpse of what I imagine to be a place that might be frequented by Turkish-Australians in Melbourne. Many of the items on the wall-mounted menu were unfamiliar to me, and there weren't any descriptive explanations, which made it all quite a fun cultural adventure.

If I ever visit this part of town again, I would love to drop by Central Kebab House for round two. I've since found out that one of the mysterious-but-delicious-looking menu items, Manti, is the Turkish version of a dumpling dish, and I am so, so intrigued!

Central Kebab House on Urbanspoon

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Monday, 9 June 2014

amazingly crunchy maple carob quinoa granola cereal

Amazingly crunchy maple carob quinoa granola cereal.

When I say amazingly crunchy, that is exactly what I mean.

These baked maple carob quinoa clusters were this crunchy: even after casting them into a bowl of milk, and spending a few too many minutes angling for the right pictures, they didn't turn soggy. There was simply no quiet way in which I could enjoy them, and my sister commented on the shattering sounds as I chomped on them merrily - it was like a scene out of a breakfast cereal commercial.

Oh, and this happens to be another one of my eczema-friendly recipe creations based on The Eczema Diet that my sister has been using as a guidance. But don't let that put you off if you're not into special diets - this maple carob quinoa granola cereal is awesome for anyone who likes a sweet, malty, crunchy snack.

The amazingly crunchy maple carob quinoa cereal retains its crunch, even in milk!

This is kind of like a clustered, gluten-free, allergy-friendly version of cocoa breakfast cereal. Sweet enough to be like dessert (can also add to ice cream, yoghurt, fruit etc) or have with milk (non-dairy if required) for breakfast or brunch, or by itself as a snack. I made it nut-free for my sister, in accordance to the eczema diet - however, you can add more ingredients to it if you like, nuts or dried fruits could be nice additions.

amazingly crunchy maple carob quinoa granola cereal
(makes a small portion, enough for 2 - 3 breakfasts with milk, feel free to multiply the recipe)

1/2 cup quinoa flakes
1/8 cup roasted carob powder
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon rice bran oil
1 pinch of salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 140ºC (285ºF) fan-forced or 160ºC (320ºF) conventional.
Mix quinoa flakes and roasted carob powder together.
Mix maple syrup and rice bran oil together (with salt as well, if using), then add it to the quinoa flakes. Stir around until the mixture clumps into clusters.
Line a baking tray with baking paper. Spread the maple carob quinoa clusters onto the tray in one layer, so that they don't overlap each other.
Bake in the middle rack for 20 - 25 minutes, giving it a stir to turn them around at the halfway mark to help them bake evenly.
Allow your maple carob quinoa granola cereal to cool completely to achieve the amazing crunchiness.
Crunch away!

If you want to store this granola-cereal for later consumption, make sure they are completely dry and cool, and then they should keep in an airtight container for up to a few weeks.
Also, if you would like to reduce the sweetness in the recipe, instead of using all maple syrup, try substituting half of it with rice syrup. As rice syrup is quite thick, you may need to add a fraction more oil to thin out this syrup concoction a little for better mixing results.

Close-up shot of the amazingly crunchy maple carob quinoa granola.

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Saturday, 31 May 2014

bhaktapur: where i fell in love with a goat, and nepali street food

Schoolgirls look dashing in uniform.

A taxi ride that cost us 900 NPR (~$10.50 AUD) after some haggling in Kathmandu, and we arrived at Bhaktapur at the crack of dawn. Super early, but the locals were up already and going about their daily routines. People going to work. People going to school. People just hanging out. All against the backdrop of amazing ancient architecture.

Soon afterwards, we saw a goat and started taking pictures of it. He noticed, and came galloping right towards me. I stood there flustered, wondering if I was about to become a victim of a random goat attack.

And then, and then... he nuzzled his head against me, and I instantly fell in love. Grinning from ear to ear, awash in unexpected delight and affection. "Simon, he's just like a cat!"

I still consider that to be one of my best moments in Nepal.

Here, meet the best goat ever.

He comes to me and shows me unexpected warmth and tenderness. Bless!

But back to the rest of Bhaktapur. I like it. It has a certain air about it, as the town awakens with a gentle flurry of activity...

Morning market.

It's spring onion season,

So many bunches of spring onions!

and one can handle both spring-onion-bunching and baby-minding tasks at the same time.

More spring onion activity, and a baby.

Then we start seeing street food by the roadside, just right out the front of houses and shops.

Time for breakfast.

The Nepali doughnuts looked really good.

Sel Roti, a Nepali doughnut made from rice flour.

They tasted really good, too. Still warm from the fryer, the thin, crisp layer gives way to a pleasant sweetness, a yielding chewiness.

The cross-section of a Nepali rice doughnut.

Then there is Jeri (also known as Jalebi), they look like pretzels but that's where the similarities end.

A woman making Jeri, or Jalebi.

It's soaked in a saffron-cardamom sugar syrup and it's incredibly sweet. Perhaps too sweet for me, and yet, I enjoyed it (in small doses)... a freshly made jeri is such a fragrant, enticing combination of crunchy, dewy goodness.

A sweet, succulent Jeri.

But wait, there's more!

A man frying up some chickpea fritters and pakoras.

Observe here crunchy golden chickpea fritters and crisp, tender pakoras. They were just the savoury snacks we wanted after a sugary start to the day. We went back for second helpings.

Crunchy golden chickpea fritters and crisp, tender pakoras.

All the street snacks we had above were only 5 NPR ($0.06 AUD) per piece. Satisfying in so many ways!

Energized by our happy tummies, we continued along, catching more glimpses of life in Bhaktapur...

Getting water from the well.

Wondering why there is a puppet in a window...

A puppet in a window.

Fascinated by the butchers and their bloodied workstations...

A butcher's business.

Longingly gazing at the variety of pickles, and wishing I could have a taste of each one...

Assorted pickles.

Marveling at the huge chariot, a remnant from the Bisket Jatra celebrations just a few days prior...

A chariot from Bisket Jatra - Nepali New Year celebrations.

Checking out adorable handicraft at the pottery square...

The pottery square.

Admiring the colourful fabric shops...

Fabric shops.

Hunting down Bhaktapur's famous juju dhau / king curd, a creamy, sweetened buffalo yoghurt...

Juju dhau - king curd / king yoghurt: a creamy, sweetened yoghurt which is famous in Bhaktapur.

And finally, tired but fulfilled, saying goodbye to Bhaktapur.

A lovely afternoon in Bhaktapur.

The next day, we flew back to Australia with lots and lots of magnificent memories.

This concludes my Nepal series for May. I hope you enjoyed it!

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