Category Archives: Photography

Singapore Celebrity Concierge

Sambal Stingray from Adam Road Food  Centre

What do you do when you plan your trip to a new city? If you’re anything like me you spend days scouring blogs, twitter, and various travel sites on the internet trying to put together a list of the “must do” (realistically “must eat”) places to visit.

So what if instead of spending all that time, you just relaxed and put yourself in the hands of a trusted advisor. A well informed local who could put together a list of awesome things for you to do/eat? Such was the proposition I received recently as an opportunity to visit Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board was put forward.

“Impossible!” I thought, as the email came in from the PR reps. There was no way the itinerary could possibly satisfy someone with my obscure culinary obsessions… Oh how wrong I was. Whilst being led through the dried fish and spice laden halls of the dry goods section above Bugis Food Centre with our celebrity concierge Audra Morrice pointing out where her mum comes to collect ingredients for her homemade sambal and curry. I was in the midst of musty, dehydrated food heaven.

Audra was part of Masterchef in 2012, and clearly made it a lot further along the way than I did, a fact which I tried not to hold against her, because her love of food and all that goes along with it is compelling. Based in Sydney with her young family now, she’s a Singaporean through and through, as evidenced in a small alley way in the covered markets of Chinatown haggling over the price of some freshly cut durian with a crafty operator. In short, she was the perfect person to show me the sights and tastes of Singapore that I’d been missing.

Now of course the rest of this post should be read with the knowledge that I was invited to come to Singapore on behalf of the Singapore Tourism Board. The flights, accommodation, and daily activities were all paid for. In fact, if I didn’t have a massive craving for Bakkwa that needed to be satisfied with frequent nightly trips to Lim Chee Guan, I’d have struggled to pay for anything. I stayed at the very trendy Dorsett Hotel in Chinatown and had a friendly mini bus driver named Steven who let us bring durian puffs on board as long as we double bagged them.

Disclaimers aside, I can’t think of many things on the itinerary that I wouldn’t have done of my own accord. The tour was designed by Audra to give us an idea of what her Singapore was all about, and it was a feast for all the senses. It was facilitated by local tour guide Wee Tee, a lady whose innate Singaporeanness is second to none, and who only got funnier as the days went on. She took great delight in introducing me to the wonders of foot reflexology, which should actually be known as foot murder.

So in no specific order here are the highlights in photo form for you to peruse:

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

Soft boiled egg at Chin Mee Chin

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

An old school bakery of much repute on East Coast Rd. This was the spot Audra chose to take us to experience the joy that can only come from a sweet cup of kopi (strong coffee brewed with or without a sock and loaded with condensed milk) and some kaya toast with soft boiled eggs. Kaya is a sweet coconut jam made with eggs, and the best way to eat it is on some plain white toast with a slab of butter. Our group fortunately arrived early as a line started forming out the door not long after we arrived. I managed to eat about 4 soft boiled eggs with liberal doses of soy sauce and white pepper sprinkled over them. The kaya toast just works, I could eat it anytime of the day. Soft white bread lightly toasted and loaded up with melty butter and thick coconut jam is a superb match.

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery
204 East Coast Rd
+65 6345 0419

Tiong Bahru

Chwee Kueh from Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Chwee Kueh

Tiong Bahru is an old area close to the centre of Singapore. It was Singapore’s first housing estate, built in the 1930s to the west of Chinatown, and has in recent years undergone a “gentrification” of sorts. With all kinds of new coffee shops, bars, and designer stores appearing in what previously was home to kopitiams full of mahjong playing old timers.

We took a little of the old and a little of the new on this visit. First up hitting up the hugely popular Tiong Bahru Bakery for breakfast pastries and specialty coffee supplied by hip new roasters Common Man Coffee (A collaboration between Perth locals Five Senses and Singaporean coffee trail blazers Forty Hands). My Kouign-Amann was crispy on the outside, soft inside, sweet and perfect. The coffee expertly poured by one of the most eager to please baristas I’ve ever met.

We took a short stroll down the road and Audra pointed out some pandan growing in a street front garden that I encouraged her to steal. We settled for a photo in front of it. Then onwards to the Tiong Bahru Food Centre and a little breakfast treat called Chwee Kueh. I discovered this on my last trip to Singapore, and was super happy when we made a bee line for the Jian Bo Chwee Kueh stall with aunty dutifully scooping steamed rice cakes out of their moulds onto a sheet of wax paper and lathering over a healthy dose of preserved radish and sambal. I played it cool for a while but when it was obvious that the rest of the party were lacking in the power eating department I stepped up and finished most of them. I can envision a future in which I eat this for breakfast everyday and am totally happy.

Tiong Bahru Bakery
#01-07, 56 Eng Hoon St
+65 6220 3430

Tiong Bahru Food Market & Hawker Centre
30 Seng Poh road

Lolla

Chargrilled octopous with chorizo and calamansi

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

Now a slight divergence from the hawker stalls and local food as we headed to a little restaurant in Chinatown called Lolla. I was all ready to not like this place with its Spanish this, tapas that, and this is our version of what. Plus the distinctly not-hawker-customer-friendly price tags on the dishes… but damn if the food wasn’t good. Chef Ming is a young guy who is clearly keen to impress. We arrived for a lateish lunch and he was prepping pork skin for dinner service which was slow cooked overnight, then dried, before being deep fried into perfect crackling. The dishes I tried could not be faulted… a sublime seafood custard (think Chawanmushi with squid ink) topped with sea urchin. Then a slow cooked tripe that fellow offal fiend Rebecca and I could not go past, crispy gelatinous honeycomb. Then octopus, clams, smoked cheese. Washed down with a Spanish Albariño I could have quite easily forgotten I was still in the heart of Chinatown with ducks hanging in windows all around me.

Lolla
22 Ann Siang Road, Chinatown
+65 64231228

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

To get us back on the local track, after lunch at Lolla we took a stroll around Chinatown, checking out the Buddhist temple (home to part of Buddha’s tooth), and the wet markets where old and young guys used very large cleavers to take the heads off very large fish. Small cages of frogs who had lost all hope of escape sat complacently awaiting their fate, and all manner of person haggled with vendors for the best prices. Outside the market old men played Xiangqi (Chinese Chess) and we wandered through streets of covered markets til that all too familiar smell of Durian filled our noses and Asian food novice Aleisha was given the baptism of fire into that most special of fruits. It didn’t go well.

Bugis

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

Another day another market and this time it was Bugis. An area previously famous for lady boys during the second world war, we had no Adam’s Apples to be wary of unfortunately, just more great street food from the hawker centre and market stalls. Wee Tee our guide happily procured rojak for a snack and ice kachang and ice cendol for a snack dessert. I’m pretty sure it was mostly for her, but she let us have a taste as well. The hawker centre doesn’t just stop at the food level, head upstairs and you find yourself in the aforementioned dry goods section. Audra pointed out dried persimmon, all manner of dried mushrooms and fungi, giant bags of dried scallops and ikan bilis and a whole stall dedicated to dried sea cucumber, a food that must surely be close to the top of the list of ugly things that are crazy expensive.

Little India

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Contemplate the coconutSingapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

Little India is an area like no other in Singapore. I have yet to reach India, but I have a pretty good idea of how it would feel from spending a few nights in Little India Singapore. The streets are heady with the smell of incense and dried flowers, and spices. Road rules and the regular orderliness of Singapore goes out the window and in the evenings an otherworldly noise envelopes you as the sound of thousands of voices speaking a hundred sub-continental dialects fills the night air.

On this trip Audra took us to a favourite restaurant of hers, the Madras New Woodlands Restaurant, which I was somewhat shocked to find was totally vegetarian. Of course the health conscious need not get too excited about that as plate after plate of fried breads like poori, dosai, and vadai rolled out onto the table. I mopped all of them up with coconut sambal and chickpea curry and washed it down with mango lassi. Meatless what?

Madras New Woodlands Restaurant
14 Upper Dickson Rd
+65 6297 1594

Adam Road Food Centre

Sambal pipis

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Sambal pipis (lala)Sambal Stingray from Adam Road Food CentreSingapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

Back to the hawker centre for dinner, and one I’d never been to before. Adam Road has a wide selection of classic hawker dishes. We started with some excellent sambal stingray, and sambal pipis, dabbled with some hokkien mee, satay, and a little black carrot cake (not actually made from white carrots, but with radish and sweet soy). I may also have downed a few of bottles of frosty cold Tiger beer with the help of Rebecca. Singapore is so far the only place where I will reach for a beer before anything else. The humidity in Singapore can feel like walking around in a warm bath sometimes, and who doesn’t like drinking beer in the bath? Am i right? Anyone…

Adam Road Food Centre
2 Adam Road
Singapore 289876

Boon Tong Kee Chicken Rice

Boon Tong Kee chicken rice

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

You know what has been conspicuously absent during this post so far? Mentions of chicken rice. You only need to go to Singapore once to realise what a phenomenon chicken rice is, and how hotly debated the “best” version is. Don’t know how to break the ice with that cute girl at the hawker centre? Ask her where the best chicken rice is. It is undeniably Singapore’s national dish and for good reason. The perfect chicken rice is a transcendent experience. Perfectly steamed chicken bursting with succulent juices and umami packed rice that’s been cooked in chicken stock with some fat mixed in for good measure. Paired with the right chilli sauce, and some sweet sticky soy (and a little broth if you’re lucky), this is about as good as food gets for $3-$5 on average per serve.

Audra chose to take us to the River Valley outlet of Boon Tong Kee chicken rice, a chain that features in mostly all the “best chicken rice in Singapore” lists. Despite having been eating constantly for 3 days at this point, I had no issue in partaking in lusciously plump steamed chicken and flavourful rice, the chilli could have gone up a notch for me, which I guess means I’m becoming Singaporean because splitting hairs over amazing/cheap food is pretty much a national pass time.

Boon Tong Kee
425 River Valley Road
Singapore 248324

Singapore skyline from the Super Tree grove

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014Singapore Trip 2014

On the non edible side of the country, we also visited the S.E.A Aquarium (which was amazing, but made Audra hungry for seafood), and the alien landscape that is the Super tree grove in the Gardens by the Bay. The one certain thing about Singapore is that it is constantly reinventing itself. For an island state that turned itself from a collection of sleepy fishing villages to a global financial power player inside of one generation is astounding. That it continues to morph and grow and adapt is certainly no surprise.

That does make it pretty tricky at times to find the real Singapore, which for me is tucked away in the back streets and hawker stalls, on the ground floor of the not so trendy shopping centres, and anywhere the smell of durian and charcoal mix together and linger in the humid night air.

In case it wasn’t obvious at the top of the post, here it is again at the bottom. This trip and tour was made possible by the Singapore Tourism Board and was a part of their Celebrity Concierge program where you can take part of a unique service that pairs you with a celebrity with local knowledge of Singapore to help plan your trip. Go check out the site and see if you too can be a winner.

Thanks again to Audra and her excellent advice, and to the lovely people at Singapore Tourism Board (and the fearless Larissa) for giving this glutton another 50 reasons to love this country. If you haven’t been yet, I’m not sure how much I can stress this… go.

Gnocchi with the Papas

What is wrong me ? Seriously. I have been looking back at photos on my computer this evening and it’s criminal the amount of things I have taken photos of, loved, absorbed as part of my very being, and then promptly forgotten to write about.

One such occasion was a couple of years ago in a small kitchen at my dear friend Alex and Linda’s place in Inglewood. When Linda’s parents announced that they would be making gnocchi. What this meant in reality was a full scale production that would take over the majority of the house and end up preparing enough food to feed a small army.

The menu was simple. Gnocchi, and red sauce. Now I’m not sure Italians are necessary well known for understatement, but “red” was by no means the defining quality of that sauce. Of course the people preparing the mean were no ordinary hosts. Italo and Grazia have a love of food and hospitality engrained into their very fibre. At home in Adelaide Italo makes his own sausages, grows every kind of vegetable under the sun in his backyard, and has a cellar full of wine that he’s made himself.

I was fortunate enough to be adopted into the family that day, as we fed mounds of freshly boiled potatoes through the ricer and Italo methodically worked in just enough eggs and flour for the mixture to bind into a light smooth dough. Then the real work began. As Italo rolled out long thin logs of dough and swiftly flicked off bite sized pieces for Alex, Linda, and I to roll down the back of the gnocchi board.

All the while Grazia stirred a giant pot of “red” sauce that constantly evolved with each thing added to it. First went in chicken drumsticks, then a rolled fillet of pork (maybe beef), then a deceptively simple rolled egg omelet, then a couple of rolls of thick slices of pig skin with a layer of stuffing on top made from breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and egg.

The sauce bubbled away for a couple of hours absorbing all the delicious flavours from the meat and then we gingerly slid the now multiple trays of pillowy gnocchi into another big pot of salty water. As they slowly started to float their way to the surface Grazia would scoop them out and into a large bowl ready to be mixed with spoonfuls of the sauce.

Italo fished out the meat from the sauce and sliced it all up and onto a platter. This would be the traditional style of eating, with the first plate being the gnocchi, and the second plate being the meat and a light salad.

I’m going to let the photos do the rest of the work because my meager superlatives can’t really do justice to just how wonderful this meal was.

To make this less of a gloat fest, I may as well include a recipe for the gnocchi themselves. Italo’s basic recipe for the gnocchi dough was 250 grams of flour to 1 kilo of potatoes, two eggs, and salt. Boil the potatoes and then feed them through a ricer, before very gently mixing the flour, eggs, and salt in. Try not to overwork the dough as the more you activate the gluten in the flour, the harder the gnocchi will become. When the dough is smooth and firm, roll it into small logs and cut into bite sized pieces.

The gnocchi board isn’t essential, you could just use the back of a fork if you wanted to. The idea is to give the gnocchi some texture that the sauce will grip onto, but I think most sauces do a pretty good job of gripping on their own.

Most importantly, invite some good friends to help you, don’t attempt it on your own or you’ll wonder what the hell you’re going to all this effort for. Food as good as this deserves great company.

*******************************************************

The Faces of Eat Drink Blog 2013

Recently I was involved in organising the 4th edition of the national food bloggers conference Eat Drink Blog. The event was from my point of view a massive success in bringing together food bloggers from all over the country and internationally to discuss the issues that make them tick. There was much considered discussion and a bit of fiery debate on topics ranging from improving your writing skills and photography, to legal issues surrounding blogging and how/if to engage with PR.

I couldn’t have been happier with the way the event turned out, it was exactly what we as a committee had planned all the way along, and with help from some amazing sponsors and speakers, we were able to put a great program for our delegates.

I was pretty busy over the course of the day running around checking things, talking to people, MC’ing the odd session, and then serving our empanadas in the evening at a pop up dinner. Although I did manage to find some time to take a few photos of my own, and so here I present some of the faces of the lovely people that made the event so enjoyable, and all the hours put in to organising it totally worthwhile.

Emma from My Darling Lemon ThymeLiz from Perth Breakfast ConfidentialPia from Life of PiaShez from One Bite More and Rachi from Le Bon ViveurBri from Eat Meets West and Adam The Amateur GourmetChristina from  The Hungry AustralianAnna from European FoodsMartine from Chomp Chomp and Whitney from Dine White MeThe crowdAi Ling the Blue Apocalypse on stage with Cyn The Food Pornographer and Phil of Last AppetiteDavid from Food BlargTeresa aka ChisaChris from Bon ViveurMarcelita and HaritoJamie from Gourmet MaleBryton from Bryton TaylorChristine from Cooking CrusadeGillian from My Square Frying PanPhaemie from Raging CravingsDianne from Traveletto and her excellent marinated mushroomsEd Charles from TomatomMichelle from Foodie CravingsAga from A Matter of Taste

I can’t wait to see you all again at the next event :)

Singapore

How to sum up a country in a single blog post ? It’d be fairly audacious of me to even attempt such a thing, especially after a single visit, but this is a blog, and if you can’t be self important and all knowing on a blog then where can you be ?

So I received an email last year that piqued my interest. It was from a girl called Venetia and she was inviting me to come to Singapore and visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Now I’m not sure if my stance on accepting freebies is particularly well known, but I generally decline most of the emails I get sent due to lack of interest or lack of time.

As of now however, I have discovered my breaking point. International travel. If you as a marketing/pr person are willing to fly me to another country and show me all the good things there are to do there, I will more than likely accept, whilst still writing what I genuinely think about the place… slowly, perhaps a year or so later.

What made the decision a little easier was that Singapore has been a destination on my radar for a long time. I have an uncle and aunt there who were recently married in Perth, and so it’s almost a shameful secret that I hadn’t been already. The Marina Bay Sands invited me for a culinary tour of the restaurants within the complex, along with a group of other Australian bloggers who were a lot more diligent than I am about writing about it. (Hey Helen, Jen, and Lizzie), as well as groups from Malaysia and Indonesia. The tour started on Monday and so Marcela and I arrived on the Friday beforehand to acquaint ourselves with this most curious of cities, and eat as much dodgy hawker food as possible.

So on the plane we jumped and a quick 5 hour flight red eye from PER -> SIN landed at us at Changi Airport at 6am, where even so early in the morning the humidity welcoming party was waiting for us the second the electronic doors slid open. Like a big hug from a sweaty Aunty you don’t really remember, but are sure you’ll end up liking. Then straight into a taxi and back to my uncles place on the East Coast where my plans for hitting the hawkers for breakfast faded as quickly as my head hit the pillow for a “quick nap”.

Of course it didn’t take us long to get into the swing of things. An MRT ride into Orchard Road and then a visit to Newton Circus for Oyster Omelet and Black Carrot Cake (actually rice cake fried with sweet black soy sauce), and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice with lemon. Perfect.


********

Later that evening we were taken to the East Coast Park outpost of the famous Jumbo Seafood chain for chilli and black pepper crab and plenty of cold Tiger beer to wash it down.
I have never been a big beer drinker, but sitting outside, dripping with sweat, my lips slightly stinging from sucking all the flesh out of perfectly cooked crab drenched in a spicy tomato sauce… beer has never made more sense.


*********************

The next day for lunch we did some covert surveillance of the Marina Bay Sands and visited the dumpling empire that is Din Tai Fung for as many dumplings as we could manage. What’s not to like about an army of face mask clad dumpling ninjas rolling and stuffing every dumpling with military precision inside a glass cage ?


*******************

We then decided to head out of the touristy zones and explore an area called Tiong Bahru. This is a suburb that has traditionally been very local, but is undergoing something of a gentrification of late, with trendy cafes and bars popping up in formerly nondescript shopping centres. We tried that much loved “King of Fruit” the durian at a small market near the MRT stop. After watching a safety gloved young man deftly hack his way through a large pile of them, he eventually noticed the curious looking tourists and asked if we’d like to try. I’ve had durian before, but first time for Marcela. We’re both in the “interesting, but not for me” camp it would seem. My theory is that you have to have grown up with the stuff to really get a taste for it, but then the signs on the MRT saying “No Durian allowed” would seem to indicate that not everyone is a fan in Singapore either.

********************

From Tiong Bahru MRT station we wandered around in circles for a while before eventually finding a little cafe getting a decent rep of late Fourty Hands. I had heard the specialty coffee scene in Singapore was a little dire up until a few years ago, but that is all changing. Micro roasters, and committed espresso lovers seem to be flocking in droves and setting up interesting and thoughtful places that break the mold of the typical Starbucks style chains.


****************

Forty Hands felt like being in Fremantle, Surry Hills, or Fitzroy… Funky lighting, graffiti, Synesso espresso machine, latte art, and importantly quality coffee flown in by Five Senses from Perth roasted fresh each week… And Australian cider in the fridge. Definitely worth checking out when you need a little taste of home.

The next day we hit up Chinatown. Strolling down the laneways packed with vendors selling every conceivable crappy nick nack and tshirt you could imagine, we found solace and refreshment in the form of whole coconuts cut open for us, and the awesomeness that is Bak Kwa. If you’re uninitiated Bak Kwa is thin slices of pork mixed with a sweet spicy marinated, cooked, cut into squares, then basted with more sauce and fried. It is the stuff of legend and I could die happy with a giant pile of it as my last meal.


*******************************

Not done eating, we then made the short walk to the Maxwell Hawker Centre for the famous Tian, Tian chicken rice. As popularised by Anthony Bourdain and every other blogger under the sun. Now I’m sure how much better the Tian, Tian chicken rice is than the other 3 or 4 chicken rice places in Maxwells, but it was good. For $3.50 you get a plate of supremely succelent steamed chicken, intensely flavoured rice, and a trio of sauces – chilli, ginger, sweet soy, as well as bowl of the chicken broth and a few veges to make things look respectable. Chicken rice is (one of) Singapore’s national dishes and rightly so, this was fantastic.


**************

More photos of eating around Singapore and the actual Marina Bay Sands hotel to come…

Mundaring Truffle Festival 2012

Another wonderful Truffle season is soon coming to an end. With every smile that accompanies the turn of the seasons from Winter to Spring, there is a corresponding sigh as there is nothing quite so satisfying as being fortified from a cold night outside by hearty food, robust wine, and intoxicating truffles…

The Mundaring Truffle Festival has become a staple event of my winter for quite a few years now, and this years was no different. I trundled up the hill to Mundaring on Saturday morning, expecting to have my ears and nose frozen off like normal, but instead found myself basking in the warm winter sun all day long.

Such a lovely way to spend the day tasting all the goodness on offer from stall after stall packed with truffle goodness.

After being greeted by the charmingly hirsute Earl of Maynooth (He was a character from a Sherlock Holmes novel, and I didn’t really get the connection, but he was a lovely man) we were pointed in the direction of great coffee courtesy of Re from European Foods. Coffee situation sorted we strolled down the boulevard of temptation and sampled their wares. Truffle infused pork dumplings from Jumplings, truffle risotto from Il Paiolo, Rabbit Spring rolls with truffle from Creative Catering, Beef ribs and morcilla from El Asador, a truffled apple tart from The Loose Box, and probably a bunch of others I’ve forgotten.

Perhaps my favourite part of the day however, was heading back into the kitchens for the truffle masterclass run by Guillaume Brahimi, Alain Fabrègues and Emmanuel Mollois. The three French chefs were at their finest on stage. Hamming it up and generally trying to outdo each other in raw Frenchness.

Alain was preparing a scallop entree, Guillaume a beef cheek main, and Emmanuel a tart tartin as you probably don’t know it.
So whilst they were out the front explaining the technique on stage, a small team of chefs were in the kitchens preparing the meals for the packed house of truffle fans.

Led by the head chef of the soon-to-be-open Bistro Guillaume at Burswood, alongside chefs from The Loose Box and Bistro des Artistes it was a formidable line up.

I did my best to stay out of their collective ways while scallops were sauteed rapid style, sauces and purees were blitzed and brought up to heat, and slow cooked meats were taken out of sous vide cocoons and slid onto plates with piping hot jus. Then virtually every plate finished with lashing of freshly shaved truffle.

If i hadn’t eaten earlier I probably would have died in that kitchen. A giant basket of truffles was carted around the pass tables and the smell of each successive truffle being shaved was enough to send my porcine senses into overdrive. I fortunately managed to keep it under control (ok, one or two scallops may have gone missing), and did my best to look respectable as the masters each took a turn of inspecting their respective dishes as they were being plated.

Then a small army of eager faced young wait staff marched dish after dish out to the tables. The flurry of excitement and energy lasting 20 minutes and then subsiding briefly til the next course was due to go out.

Many thanks to the Shire of Mundaring and the organisers for continuing to put on quality events year after year, and I look forward to my seasonal truffle treat next year all the more.

**********************************************************************

Colombian Sancocho

I recently traveled to Colombia with my beautiful wife for the first time. It was a journey of discovery and adventure, great food, cheap rum, and quite a lot of time spent riding horses. In short, it was amazing.

I’ve been married for almost 2 years now, and with Marcela’s patient teaching, my Spanish is slowly getting better. But it’s safe to say that I was as out of my depth in Colombia as a cruise ship giving a drive by to a Mediterranean island (ie: run aground on a frequent basis).

Nonetheless I did my best to persevere and communicate with my mother in law, sister & brother in laws, and my niece as best I could. Which was entertaining for them if nothing else. But after a while the ¿Cómo amaneciste? and ¿Esta cansada? started to come as easily as “tengo hambre” (I’m hungry) and fragments of words and ideas slowly started to meld themselves into something that could vaguely be called communication.

I was introduced to many of the great things that make Colombians love their country. The food, the music, the dancing, the drinking, the family, the football, the landscapes and the zest for life that people have despite a vast majority of them being very poor.

If there is one dish that perhaps can sum up my experience in Colombia, it would have to be Sancocho. Sancocho is somewhere between a soup and a stew (depending on how you make it). But what is perhaps more important about Sancocho than what goes into it, is where you make it.

Sancocho’s home is the street. When Christmas time and holidays come around, Colombians take to the street with a bottle of aguardiente (the local spirit of choice), a blackened old pot, a bucket of water, and as many ingredients as they can get their hands on. A makeshift fire is lit on the sidewalk, and the pot lowered onto it, propped up by bricks, rocks, or whatever spare car parts can be found lying around. Then someone takes on the all important job of fanning the flames while the water starts to boil and the soup is built.

Into the soup goes pork (cerdo), chicken (pollo), oxtail (cola de res), potato (papas), green plantain (platano), cassava (yuca)
onions, garlic, mazorca (big corn that isn’t sweet), coriander (cilantro), and spices like cumin (comino), and paprika (pimenton).

Then the long slow process of the cooking begins. Each vegetable or meat being added at just the right time so that the end result is a deep rich stock (caldo), falling off the bone soft meat, and veges with just the right level of give. It should all hopefully coincide with the point where everyone is drunk enough from aguardiente and tired enough from dancing, and just before someone starts a fight over who gets to choose the next song blasted out into the street via the speakers that have been dragged outside. This is when the soul and body restoring qualities that only a great sancocho made on the street can provide are needed most.

I got to make sancocho twice in Colombia. Once on the street in San Antonio de Prado, Medellin, with my brother in law Hamilton (that’s him fanning the flames in the video), his friends, and all the family. And once just outside the small town of Andes, Antioquia in the heart of a coffee growing region, next to a river, after walking down a hill for a kilometre to get there. Some local kids managed to goad me into jumping off a bridge 3m above the river, and though I thought I was going to at one point, I didn’t die, and there’s nothing like escaping death to bring about a hunger. Sure as hell made the walk back up that hill more bearable anyway.

You can, of course, order this dish in many restaurants in Colombia (or make it yourself at home), but it will never be quite the same as this one.

**************************

Sri Lankan High Country

Sri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - AprilSri Lanka - Tea factorySri Lanka - April

This is high country Sri Lanka, Nurawa Eliya more specifically. It’s the heart of the tea growing regions of Sri Lanka, and the place where the best tea comes from. Lipton, Dilmah, Bushells, they all own plantations here, and nearly every available piece of ground that can grow a tea plant, does grow a tea plant.

We drove from Kandy to Nurawa Eliya along winding roads of dubious quality and sweeping views of the valley floor below. We were shown hidden cave temples and trudged through leech infested waters for the privilege of seeing reclining Buddha’s carved out of a cave wall. We visited a tea factory at Bluefields and were shown the tea drying, roasting, and filtering process and tasted their teas. The smell inside the drying room was intense. A thick heady tea aroma hung in the air like someone with something to hide and happy trigger finger on a bottle of eau de toilette.

We did it again at Mackwoods Estate and were given a piece of chocolate cake.

We stopped and spoke to the tiny Tamil ladies who form the vast majority of the tea picking work force. They’d smile wide with gap filled mouths and simultaneously put out their hands for money. Don’t believe any of the things you see on tea commercials, the people growing and tending the tea plantations and doing the picking get paid next to nothing. An average income for a tea picker is around 400 rupees a day, the equivalent of $4 AUD. So any tourist is seen as an instant bonus and smiles come easy for the chance to double or triple their income in return for a cliched photo.

So we paid some money, we got our photos, and we hopped back into the van and continued on down the road. Lovely tea though.