Melbourne, the food capital of Australia, where multi-cultural cuisines reign supreme. You've arrived at a food blog where good food has no boundaries - be it restaurants, cafes, takeaway joints and any other eating places. Recipes to try out with successes and failures blogged to no shame. The focus is on authentic Asian (Singapore) food found right here in the heart of Melbourne. Just remember, the best dining experience could surprise your tastebuds when you least expect it. Get ready to be surprised on my food journey. Bon Appétit!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Wonderful World of Box Hill Fresh Food Market

1 Main St, Box Hill VIC 3128 

The general gloom of dreary weather and soggy salad for lunch was broken by a quick read of an email we received. 'Twas  an event showcasing the fresh produce Box Hill Central has to offer through their Fresh Food Market accompanied by a 3-course lunch.

Piqued by curiosity as we've already been to the market during our quarterly stock-up for Asian groceries, we RSVP-ed our delight attendance. This will be a long post as it fits into the ethos of this blog. You cannot find a genuinely more Asian food centric town than Boxhill in Melbourne. It is long overdue as a feature and we owe it to you dear readers.


As it turns out, it was an enlightening and somewhat unexpected experience.

We were greeted by the self-effacing and affable Chef James Tan, who casually described himself as a "gypsy nomad". Chef Tan was born in Singapore, grew up in Switzerland, did stints around the world before finding himself in Melbourne starting up the famed No 8 in Crown Casino. 

James led us on a tour around the market and gave introductions to the stories behind some of the stores. It was a familiar trudge through the hustle bustle of this maze of shops we have been through so many times before but somehow, today, our blinkers were off. We saw it through different eyes.

Yan Yan (人人)apparently has the highest turnover in Asian grocery sales in Victoria. I have no idea how this was computed as I would imagine there is a fair bit of privacy involved when it comes to income. No roundtable confessions of Asian grocers comparing turnovers. But it is doubtless nonetheless they are BUSY. CONSTANTLY. It is worth mentioning a young Indian assistant was particularly helpful when I was looking for some rice sesame keropok. He had never heard of keropok as it is really a S'porean/M'sian thing but he went out of his way, a far cry from the brusque manner of the cashiers. 

Yan Yan's competing store in the market was known as the friendliest. We knew what James meant when he said that as Asian grocers are not generally known for for their effusive service. *insert cheeky wink emoticon here*


There were 2 big seafood stalls in the market. We were told Elaine, the current owner for the more modern fitout of Boxhill Fish Market, was also the original owner for the other seafood stall in the same place. An enterprising woman, Elaine arrived in Melbourne 40 years ago to make a go of it in the seafood business. They offer several sashimi-grade seafood, such scallops, prawns and fish. Do ask them though as they often do not display the grade of produce. Always a good sign as it means they are used to selling higher-grade seafood as a norm. The tassie oysters we had were creamy, meaty and extremely fresh. $18 a dozen for restaurant quality oysters. My jaw would be hitting the ground if not for keeping the oyster in.



There appeared to be a pork specialist (Asian staple), a Wagyu beef specialist but most fascinating of all, Yarra Range Poultry, staffed by friendly Aussies, were selling the cleanest-looking chicken feet at only $2.90/kg. Any yum cha aficionado knows this is a fixture on the trolley rounds. I was completely beguiled at the grotesque severed claws of chickens past but fascinated and excited from a culinary perspective. Garlic, black bean and oyster sauce for pressure-cooking stewing with one kg of chicken feet is like 10 dim sum baskets worth!


Chef Tan ended the tour with his expertly-prepared meal for us. Admittedly after hearing about his impressive resume, I did raise my level of expectations in cooking techniques and presentation, both of which were met with aplomb. 


The first entree was a ceviche and it was a subtle layering of flavours. I detected the gentle use of fish sauce with brunoise diced capsicum and tomatoes. The acidic twist did not overwhelm the sashimi, giving a velvety pleasantly unctuous feel in the mouth. 



As it turned out, the ceviche was a deliberate quiet lead-up to the Spanner Crab and Coconut Salad. The flavours were unashamedly explosive and virile with each strong element coming together surprisingly well. Chef Tan shared his use of de-shelled spanner crab meat from the fish market at $85-$90 for 500 gm. He left a few chunky pieces in the salad for textural contrast. It was an interesting combination of fusion cuisines. 


Even the herb mix was incredibly daring. Laksa leaves, basil, Vietnamese mint and edible flowers shared the spotlight in this dish with the instant hit of coconut aroma and the creaminess of the mayonnaise dressing. The cracker for us were the crackers (sorry pun intended) of deep fried puffy rice keropok with sesame seeds. Chef Tan was evasive about their provenance and we can understand why. That's the yummiest secret weapon for any home cook. We can serve our guests this and dine on it alone!


The final course was Roasted Duck Breast in Master Stock. The duck meat was enticingly tender with a crisp skin and an undulating layer of fat between them. What a morsel! The jus was a combination of master stock and soy reduction with a hint of truffle oil. 



I loved Chef Tan's use of micro herbs to garnish. It really suited the delicate nature of what he was serving in appearance. All his ingredients were sourced at the Box Hill Centro Fresh Market. There is such an euphoric rush everytime I meander through markets taking in the exciting assortment of produce and animated chatter in the background. I love it.

Our final guided stop for the day was an education and discovery of Chinese traditional tea ceremony at Chat Tea. I am a massive fan of tea, admittedly a frequent patron of the large commercial chain, T2, due to despicable compulsive retail spending in fashionable shopping centres

However, this incense-scented enclave of traditional Chinese furniture, chinese tea-centric shop for the purists have given us an invaluable lesson in the appreciation for Chinese tea. No, yum cha tea, we are NOT looking at you.

Spencer Wong is the part-owner of Chat. He divulged a second location in the city arcade opening opposite Tim Ho Wan in just 30 days. 


The whole tea ceremony was such a sensory experience. From the education of quality incense and the ornamental aspect to them to the build-up of tea potency as the tea-master went through deliberate round after round of patient pouring of boiling water to tea leaves to tea over teacups and teapots. The teapots get a glazed rich brown exterior from the tannins of the tea.


The tea cups are minuscule so as to savour but also medicinally it is believed sipping in slow and small portions allow the benefits of tea to be infused into and spread throughout your body.


My personal favourite was Pu'er among the 3 varieties served. The tea-master explained the financial investment of tea, with some vintage compressed tea cakes selling for up to $1 million per kg at prized auctions. 



We were privileged to be served a very special brew the generous tea-master decided to share. At $400 a pot, you would think knowing the price in advance might have influenced our taste buds veering it in a positive direction. But I can honestly state if I had not known the price of this 1984 Wu Yi Da Hong Pao tea, I promise I could still detect the grade of the tea leaves straight away. The first cup was a shy introduction with floral undertones and a light tentative linger. 

As the tea builds its potency, the floral accent became bolder bouquets not in the aftertaste but even while sipping. A honey flavour and aroma develops and coats your mouth with an intoxicating yet still light scent. The empty tea cup held those notes of sweet fragrance making you want more. It is addictive and exciting. I felt like I was in a tea coma. Deliriously swept along but almost sleepy. Quite an education. 

Who knew Box Hill could provide such an alternative experience when I've been there countless times rushing through my shopping list? 

And James, I am still searching for those crackers.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

House Of Yi - Special CNY Review

* Pictures might take a little longer to load in this post

We are right in the midst of Chinese Lunar New Year 2015. The 13th day of 15 days of celebration to be exact. This post has taken a period of time to post and no time is more appropriate than right now when the craziness of house visitors and frequent celebration dinners are held in most Chinese homes. 

For the longest time, it has been extraordinarily difficult to locate authentic Singapore dishes not in the vein of Malaysian cooking. Malaysia shines in their own culinary way, but there is a distinct difference in taste and flavours. Much less trying to replicate recipes found on the internet, where it can be a bit of hit and miss. 

So to have it all in an instant pack with all herbs and spices sorted and all you have to do is to add fresh produce and cook, all I can say is there is no shame in this game in a busy season or even on a daily basis. Most readers of this blog know I eschew the easy way out if I can with cooking, but I am first to admit it's due to the unsatisfactory standards of instant packs that I prefer to do everything from ground up. 

If this comes across as a big advertisement, it probably is with my full endorsement. House of Yi, currently stocked in Daiso and most Asian grocery stores across Australia, has kindly provided a variety of cooking sauces, flours and mixes for this post. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, the brand has not once placed any conditions on my post. This blog strictly does not compromise our integrity for any paid ads. 

CRISPY PRAWN FRITTER FLOUR

This takes me back to my grandmother's home. On several occasions I have tried replicating grandma's recipe without much success. This is the very first House of Yi product I purchased. This was solely based on their irresistible picture. Admittedly, I was very skeptical of the result. But voila! 

The prawns were juicy inside encased in such a light crispy batter, it was unbelievably true, and possibly better than the advertised picture.




Yup, it was so good, I used it to fry Banana Fritters...although I realise bizarrely they look the same in these pics...


SAMBAL FRIED SHRIMP

It was so surprisingly strong, spicy and pungent, this sambal belachan was versatile enough to fry kang kong and cuttle fish with a wetter consistency or perfect as a dry stir fry with sweet asparagus. 



KUNGPO SAUCE

Wonderfully sweet, spicy with a great hit of vinegar, this taste more like the familiar taste of Singapore gong bao ji ding than the slew of Aussie-Chinese offerings found in the bain-marie at foodcourts.

I've opted to put dried chilli flakes and red onions. But you could very well have whole dried chillies in it with capsicum and cashews with a drier consistency.

 

INSTANT CHILLI CRAB PASTE

I have cooked this paste with crabs but would like to showcase the versatility of this sauce here. I've use mussels and added a little extra ketchup in my version. It is sweet, spicy but tangy at the same time. Such an easy tasty option for a quick lunch or dinner!



BLACK PEPPER CRAB PASTE

Again, another paste that can be used in a variety of ways and with different protein. This black pepper crab paste is gutsy and bold in flavour. Forget the honey pepper sauce you find in the common chinese takeaway joint. Singapore is famous for their 2 varieties of flavouring their crabs - Singapore Chilli and Black Pepper. I love adding a smidge of butter and a handful of fragrant curry leaves to my black pepper dishes. 

My favourite is large diced beef eye fillet pan-fried and smothered in black pepper sauce. But just as enticing is this seared scallop and sugar snap peas combo. 


CRISPY BUTTER CEREAL PRAWNS

This was one of my absolute favourite tse tzar dishes in Singapore. This version is also uncanny with what they sell in Malaysia. So crispy and knock-your-socks-off fragrant with the addition of curry leaves...

There were more cereal when we started, but I couldn't resist shoving scooping them into my mouth as we dished up

TONGPO STEWED MEAT

I could go the normal route and used the other House of Yi pack they had for dao you bak. But I wanted to try something different and more aromatic. The wonderful smells from the pressure cooker and the tasty morsels with juices oozing from the deletable dried shitake mushrooms all plumped from the gravy were all worth it. Pork was tender and seeing as I cooked over 2kg of meat, I did use a power punch of 3 packs. 


CHICKEN RICE MIX

We thought how wonderful to have chicken rice as an accompaniment to the stewed pork above. We didn't cook the whole hog (pardon the pun) of labour-intensive Singapore Hainanese Chicken, but it was so quick and easy to cheat with the Chicken Rice Mix. Wash rice and mix with the sauce from House of Yi, and yay, chicken rice! The only permissible form of cheating in my book, delicieux!


FISH HEAD CURRY

I used Rockling Fish Head in the photo here but we have used this paste several times with great success with Snapper Fish Heads, which I prefer. Apparently it is no easy task sourcing for fish heads in Singapore. However, in Australia, it is still an undiscovered delicacy. Not only is it more readily available, it is also relatively cheap. Do get your fishmonger to scale the head for you as it makes life so much easier. 

The Malaysian versions I have had in restaurants here are sorely lacking in the tang and the assam punch of the Singapore version. I dream of Apollo and Banana Leaf...and I am quite happy to report with about 3 packs and a huuuge head, pineapples, tomatoes, eggplant, lady fingers, that dream is fulfilled. For those who are squeamish about using fish head, using fillets on a smaller scale with 1 pack will do just fine. I did add extra assam (tamarind) juice though for the extra kick. Mum was pretty happy without it, but it's individual preference to taste.


SINGAPORE LAKSA PASTE

The elusive Katong Laksa flavour is still not within my grasp But for a quick fix, the House of Yi version is probably as boldly spicy as you can get. I added a bit too much coconut cream for health reason, but it was unctuous and rich. 


FRAGRANT FRIED CHICKEN

If you can hear my lewd and bawdy wolf-whistle, good. This was a surprise hit. It lived up to its name and was crunchy to hilt. As with most deep fried food, not a daily must-have, but what a special treat!