Weekend and holiday road trips were quite frequent in my household as a child and I could never contain my excitement of knowing we'd left the city upon the first sighting of a cow. Standing or laying about, serenely chewing on grass, it was literally the signal of greener pastures and the beginning of weekend or holiday adventures.
Ripping the sheltered inner city (and surrounding suburbs) roof off for a day, my adventure-beginning signal is probably the 40+ minute train ride out of Central station. Passing suburbs like Merrylands and Fairfield, it was very much "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore." I'm guilty of being somewhat insular in my traipsings, with still so much to see and do about my sheltered comfort zones.
I'm adventuring with a more experienced Cabramatta tourist, whose memory of the area and grasp of the Vietnamese language is blushingly adequate. We depart Cabramatta train station in search of food, in particular a yum cha restaurant of experiences past. It's a few twists and peers into arcades before the restaurant is spotted.
Our sub-optimal dining time means the restaurant is almost empty, but the owner insists that we get the yum cha experience rather than ordering straight off the menu. In what quickly resembles yum cha deja vu, a waitress brings trays and a bamboo steamer-laden trolley to tempt the tastebuds.
Having being liberally doused with soy sauce table side, we dig in to the stickily soft noodles. The prawns star with their firm texture against the oversteamed rice noodle. The soy sauce is sweetly satisfying, playing condiment to other dishes as well.
The chicken feet also seem to have received an oversteaming treatment, although possibly to their advantage. The bones and tendons almost fall apart - perhaps a sin for others but I like the hard chewing work taken out for me - kept together with a big-hitting, chilli-abundant marinade.
We've elected scallop dumplings over having both them and prawns as we have ideas of snacking throughout the rest of the day. The skin on the dumpling is sadly all gooey starch and the filling is a bit of a mixed bag: some scallop, prawn and other minced ingredients.
The pork dumplings look rather plain, stretching out their egg pastry skins. The filling is a little floury, a little vegetable-y but pleasant enough smeared with lots of chilli sauce.
And just as we thought we were done, the waitress brings over a tray of richly caramel-looking braised eggplant. Eggplant has been underrated and undereaten by me in the past, but I'm looking to rectify that problem by ordering it whenever possible these days. This version is quite good, the eggplant having been fried in oil to a soft, mushy inner and crisp skin, embedded with a bit of fish cake. The accompanying sauce is garlicky and would have been nice with hot steamed rice.
So starting on a familiar note in an unfamiliar area, we've mapped - in mind at least - the rest of the days plans which may or may not include sweets, drinks and another meal; groceries and colourful plastic items abound; a Muriel's Wedding moment; and sleepy train rides home in the next Cab-bing post.