Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cold lunches

I can't believe that we're facing such cold weather already. Yes, I'm having a whinge. With barely enough time to lament the passing of daylight savings I'm now suffering chilly mornings and the need to already dig out winter coats and scarves and sweaters.

This weather does, however, give reason for hearty food; bedsocks and hot water bottles; days spent wrapped in a blanket no longer 'a waste'; the ongoing search for bars and pubs with real working fireplaces; and boots.

On hearty food, I could never imagine having a steaming bowl of soup noodles when there's a blue-sky, sunny day nearby. Which is silly, because one should eat what they want to eat, but I'm programmed to be weather-directed like that.

Cheap eats in the CBD on chilly weather days usually means one of two meals for me: Vietnamese pho or Japanese ramen. The decision usually comes down to the flavour hit I'm looking for: is it the wholesome, soup-sweetness of a beef pho topped with fragrant herbs and lemon; or the savoury, umami-rich ramen stock with chewy noodles and scattered vegies?

Shoyu ramen with chicken from Miraku Japanese Cuisine,
Hunter Connection food court

This day it's the latter in the bustling Hunter Connection food court joining Pitt Street to George Street near Wynyard (also known as my wet weather, undercover path to the ivy...). I find that shoyu ramen tends to be my pick at most ramen outlets because of some, possibly misguided, idea of mine that it is less oily than other varieties. Miso ramen is a little overwhelming for me as is tonkotsu ramen many a time.

I have chicken in this version; a generous addition of broiled thigh chunks along with bamboo shoots, shallots, bean sprouts and corn kernels. The noodles have a bite-y texture and make the perfect warming mouthful with the hot, steaming soy sauce soup.

Other days call for a pasta fix - and these can be truly bad or naughty days. There is a severe lack of decent, quick, cheap pasta available in the CBD for lunch. There are the microwave-to-serve options, although they're rarely heated sufficiently or end up suffering a dry microwave burn. There are some bain marie options, which are again lukewarm and blandly conformist at the best of times.

One of the best I've had is actually worth the extra walk although I've yet to have the toss up of accessing better pasta versus freezing body parts off. I'm sure this winter will bring it.

Chicken pesto penne and ravioli bolognese from Piato,
Metcentre Food Court

Perhaps not quite so representative in this picture, the selection of pastas in the bain marie here seem a little more innovative, a bit fresher, and definitely tastier than other takeaway options. Admittedly the pasta was overcooked and the ravioli tended on bland - the filling, I'm not even sure what it was (it was similar in colour to the pasta dough and didn't taste like cheese). The bolognese sauce was infinitely better than others, with minced meat you can actually see and taste, though just a touch underseasoned.

The creamy pesto was much better in comparison, but the naughty things always are, aren't they? This burst with flavour: creaminess, herbiness, sun dried tomato slivers and lots of chicken breast meat too. This carb-fest is much enjoyed, and in the end I'm glad that it's a little further away than other sources despite the cold.

P.S. I know about books and their covers, though I'm not sure if the rule applies to tins and their labels.

Six skinless hot dogs - in a can

For reasons fairly obvious to me, I'm not a hot dog fan - and seeing this, I'm glad. Do you know where your frankfurt comes from? And does it even constitute a hot dog without the bun?

Miraku Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 27, 2009

Remembrance, races and roti

It's good to have the odd weekend of significance; the odd event here or there for a point of difference in an otherwise same-same environment. It's also a little unusual to not have a separate public holiday for this year's Anzac Day but that's not really the point anyway.

Anzac Day commemorations conincided with a day at the races for me, where there were plenty a current, uniformed serviceman at rest and play. And finally some blue, albeit windy, skies for the last day of the autumn carnival at Royal Randwick. Picture floaty dresses aflutter, hands on hats and headpieces, and losing tickets floating about.

General admission lawn on Sydney Cup Day, Royal Randwick

Favourite activities on race days include: people watching and fashion spotting; running into random people I know; tottering to and from the lawn/betting ring/grandstand/TAB/bar all day long; rubbing shoulders with the older, majority male punters putting money on with the bookmakers; and winning (a rare occurrence for me).

It's a fantastic day out and made all that much more fun by the seemingly superfluous need to dress up. I mean, really, I can drink and gamble in jeans and thongs, can't I? Nevertherless, the uncommon and personally novel need to match my dress, shoes, stockings, headwear, bag and all is part of the fun and frivolity. The outfit construction could be likened to the construction of a dinner menu, ensuring harmony, comfort, and of course, a wow-factor.

A day out at the 'sport of kings' is mostly incomplete without a few beverages (beer or sparkling, depending on mood and finances) and food of the punters.

Pie with sauce at Royal Randwick

Unlike some previous experiences, this 'dog's eye' is actually quite passable and even good. Its filling is not scathingly hot nor filled with odd bits and ends. It's tasty with a crispy, flaky pastry and easily wolfed down between race five and six.

Inevitably, after the last race the jolly pilgrimmage to Central station is peppered with one of two moods: happy, excitement-filled and eager for more socialising/drinks/food or downcast, regretful with a weight-challenged wallet. Extraordinarily luckily on this occasion, I'm of the former and as someone keeps emphasising, it's Anzac Day.

And it's not Anzac Day without a spot of legal-twice-a-year gambling on coin tosses in a highly questionable drinking hole.

Two-up crowd

Gamble. Heads or tails. Cheer/boo. Repeat.

It's a lively crowd, to put it politely, wagering side bets ranging from $5 to $100 on the chance of heads or tails. But it's a little too much for me to bear after a long day out subsisting on only a pie and so we seek food in nearby Chinatown. At early evening, there's just a small queue of waiting diners at Malaysian eatery, Mamak, watching the deft, masterful creation various roti at the front open kitchen.

Roti in the making at Mamak, Goulburn Street, Haymarket

The patron turnover is relatively quick, only requiring a short wait for our twosome although larger groups seemed to have an unfairly longer wait. We've also used our waiting time to decide on our order - first up, drinks.

Limau ais

I've tried a few of the Malaysian drinks here and still find it a little odd to have milk tea as an accompaniment to dinner. However I do adore the almost sickly sweet limau ais - a sugar syrupy concoction, cordial-like in taste, in a glass mug with ice and a chunk of fresh lime. It's also the perfect extinguisher for later when things get a little hot and heavy.

The curries usually come out of the kitchen in lightning speed shortly after ordering so I'm surprised when the first dish to hit the table is our Malaysian-style salad.


This curious array of ingredients was a complete surprise the first time I tried it but I'm now a converted fan of the rojak salad. Juilienned pieces of cucumber and yambean on the bottom are thickly doused with a mildly spiced, sweet peanut sauce. The cucumber is the perfect juicy partner to the yambean, which I was not familiar with before the rojak; a slightly starchy but sweet and crispy root vegetable. And then there's the less healthy ingredients: half a hard boiled egg, fried cubes of tofu, golden fried rectangular prawn crackers, and a mysterious pudding-like, sweet coconut fritter - all matching extremely well with the peanut sauce and playing interestingly with each other.

Roti canai

When our roti arrives it's a pretty sure sign that our curry isn't planning to join us anytime soon, as the roti tends to be the last of arrivals on all previous visits. Not sure if that's due to the time required to make it or normal procession of eating, though I would prefer to eat it as a starter or appetiser.

The basic roti canai is my absolute favourite - who needs extra butter, egg or onions when the pastry dough is perfectly chewy and soft and crunchy all at the same time? We ditch the rojak momentarily and rip into the roti, dipping and stuffing away. I like the thicker curry sauce seen on the left; the other is of a thinner consistency and has a fruitier, tart flavour. The sambal blob goes largely untouched except for a few game dips at the end - it's not too hot at first but I remember the overpowering heat of subsequent tastes on other occasions.

Kari ayam (half eaten...)

And lastly our lost, requested, then found (well, brought out) chicken curry arrives looking hot and fiery topped with fresh red chillis. Sizeable chunks of skin-on, bone-in chicken thigh sit submerged in a red curry sauce and promise tingling of the tongue. Eaten with lots of steamed rice, the chicken is tender, moist and quite moreish. My tongue burns but I still continue to eat more, with the occasional potato chunk. The sauce is hot but not to the extent that I can't taste flavours of the fragrant curry.

So it's with full bellies and alert tongues that we exit Mamak, stunned by the 10 metre-plus queue outside. I know it's a nice and cheap feed but I thought there were way too many eating places in the Chinatown area to warrant that sort of queue at any one establishment. Anyway I'm full, happy, even on the day overall and ever thankful for the lifestyle we're privilaged to have. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.

Mamak on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Orange cupcake addict

In our often crazy world, the notion of control can seem very far-fetched and foreign. To those indifferent, fatalistic or subservient it's probably completely unnecessary. Yet when I struggle to control even the simplest of habits, cravings or itches it makes one really question the capability to control or even manage things more serious than sweet orange cupcakes.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form

Is there anything quite like the simple pleasure of beating egg whites? Soft or stiff peaks, that continuous whirring of the beaters; that transformation from clear glugginess to creamy bubbles to snow white fluff; that evidence of the possibility of change. Which all comes crashing to a halt when the pavlova doesn't turn out properly. But today the fruit bowl beckons and makes an offering to the cupcake recipe where egg whites are beaten separately. Really, for cupcakes?

Orange - post zesting and juicing

Egg whites and batter meet...

... and become one

The mixture is obviously lighter and fluffier than usual after the egg whites are gently folded in. And the verdict? Handed down after a quick stint in the oven, the cakes are indeed light, moist and fluffy - even the next day. I can't comment about the day after because the cupcakes didn't quite make it that far.

I did notice, however, that the cake tops were not smooth as per a normal cake. They were dotted with little craters which I can only presume are the air bubbles from the beaten egg white. Which is fine if you frost the cakies - which I chose not to given the tooth aching sweetness of the cakes. Will certainly reduce that one cup of sugar for the next batch.

Cupcakes out of the oven - crater tops and all

I don't know if it was the high sugar content or flavour mixture, I simply could not stop eating these cakes. Of course the samples from each bake, and then between meals and snacks - yes, snacking between snacks! They were somewhat reminiscent of Madeira cake in flavour (which I used to eat plenty of in younger days) but not weight or texture.

But they would just evilly draw me in from across the kitchen, smug in their patty cases and inflated sugar egos. If my self-control can disappear in the hands of a 20 gram baked item, what hope do I have in this crazy world?

Friday, April 24, 2009

School of... doing what you want

Hmm, need to eat more and drink less. There's a food blogger's lesson for next week. In the meantime, these guys are awesome.

School of Seven Bells at the Gaelic Club, Surry Hills

And look out for posts regarding addictive orange cakes, almond butter biscuits and a three-hatted restaurant in Surry Hills.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Happy Orthodox Easter

Better late than never. And I'll be all too glad when my local Woolworths butchery aisle stops staring at me.

Selection of lamb plucks and heads

Ewe's looking at you

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fulfilling festivals

Sunshine, markets, live music, food and booze, like-minded revellers, adorable pooches, eye candy - I'm a happy camper. The Surry Hills Festival has come and gone again and rather than feeling a tad old for the number of festivals attended, I can't hide the smile on my face as the weather holds up for one of my favourite annual outdoor community events.

Early crowd at Surry Hills Festival, Prince Alfred Park

Despite the touch of autumn chill and threatening greyness, Prince Alfred Park is packed with other happy campers and the pet dogs of Surry Hills ready for the day. A gold coin donation is exchanged for entry and a government-sponsored sticker questioning my intentions of binge drinking.

This dog obviously paid its gold coin donation

I put on my sunnies, wonder if government spies were stalking me the night before and immediately seek coffee. The bars were noticeably quiet early on with queues swelling and snaking later in the afternoon. Coffee, however, is another story - a notable lack of a dedicated coffee vendor (for Surry Hills - crazy, I know!) meant a 10 minute wait with many others for a watery, bland, shameful excuse of a cappuccino. And the skim milk is not to blame.

Sub-standard caffeine fix in hand made perusal of market stalls a little more difficult than usual, though appropriately so for one under a shopping ban. The absence of food, drink or other distraction in hand leads to the picking up of pretty, usually expensive items and the subsequent, sometimes impulsive, purchase of said items. But it's so pretty and I love it.

And I did come across an adorable little stall with the quirky, kitsch style pendants that I adore, and in this case, almost want to eat. Spot the following in the picture below: prawn, California sushi roll, butter cookie, Granny Smith apple slice, fish head stew, chocolate soft serve cone, red bean dessert, sea urchin roe genkan sushi, jam cookie, baby bok choy, fruit salad and ice cream, heart-shaped chocolates, chicken mid-wing, dumplings in soup, slice of chocolate cake.

Necklace/pendant market stall

There's no shortage of food at this stall but of the edible variety, a stall-lined avenue of festival food delights including the ubiquitous Turkish gozleme, corn on the cob, chorizo rolls, lemonade stand, chocolate-dipped strawberries, and cuisine of the Indian, Thai, Italian, Maltese, Hare Krishna, Cuban and many other varieties.

Chicken and mushroom pastizzi

A pastizzi from the Maltese stall seems a roaming-suitable snack and with four filling varieties advertised I would, of course, pick the unavailable one. The chicken and mushroom option ends up being the choice, however the chewy rather than crisp and crunchy pastry makes me regret not waiting a few more minutes for the spinach and cheese variety. It's good to try something different anyway, and the filling of minced chicken and mushroom slices is new to me for pastizzis and quite tasty.

And with snack, roam I do - to lust-worth goat's leather bags and satchels, picturesque prints and photo frames, funky modern dresses of vintage fabrics, painfully pretty headwear, and the always busy and giggle-inducing Happy High Herbs stall. A lot of this roaming was conducted to a live soundtrack - at the Lilypad stage a manic, almost maniacal vocal and physical performance; a chilled roots-y vibe at the Red stage; and more the rocker variety at the main Green stage.

Some nutters performing at the Lilypad stage

It's not long before the lunch stomach grumbles commence - by now it is late afternoon but the body has admittedly skipped the part of day known as morning. The body was also giving rather strong messages to stay away from the bar. Maybe those government stickers do work. The eyes and brain work together in scanning the range on offer - vegie nuggets from the Hare Krishna guys, seafood paella, woodfired calzones, Himalayan wraps, fish and chips - before finally settling on a duo of Indian curries.

Eggplant & potato curry and butter chicken on basmati rice

The meal is disappointingly lukewarm, not helped by the chilly breeze. It is satisfyingly filling nonetheless with tender chunks of chicken thigh in the vividly-hued sauce tempering the mild fire of the vegetable curry.

Bellies full - on this occasion with not a drop of beer - and kicking back in the sun to live music and friendly wandering people and dogs alike is my quintessential festival routine. If only every day were a festival.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You call that a cupcake?

It's not wrong to indulge oneself every now and then. Especially if you've done something worth congratulating and there's no-one about to dole out the praise, a little self-indulgence is not only healthy but necessary. And even if you haven't really done anything worthwhile - well, you only live once.

A visit to my favourite cupcake store is just that - indulgence of the latter variety. Indecisive minds beware. What awaits you at Cupcakes on Pitt (I believe it's the original of the cupcake craze) is a cabinet full of bright, tempting, sweet little treats with more than just your chocolate and vanilla varieties. And given their ideal size and amiable price, it's easy to go on a mini tasting session all on your own. Or we could share the happiness around. Whichever.

Cupcakes from Cupcakes on Pitt, Pitt Street, Sydney

This selection is predominantly the fruity flavours as when you've seen the mammoth chocolate feast I've seen below, you kind of want anything that's remotely healthy. Starting from the top left I have the butter cookie cupcake: a chocolate cake base with butter cookie bits baked in, topped with vanilla buttercream and more chunks of rich, crumbly butter cookie.

Below that is the raspberry: a meltingly good, pink-hued raspberry cake topped with a swirl of raspberry icing. In the middle is the apricot with its thick and creamy apricot icing. Below that is the rocky road: rich chocolate cake topped with ganache, nuts and mini marshmallows.

And then on the top right, the pumpkin cupcake: moist and subtle in flavour, and quite as innocent as it looks. And lastly, one of my favourites, is the blueberry cupcake: purple-tinged blueberry cake base topped with its correspondingly flavoured icing, it's like a blueberry muffin turned cuter, sweeter and a little naughtier.

And now for the heart-pounding, stop-people-in-their-tracks, little girl's birthday dream: the mega cupcake. I'm having visions of Paul Hogan looking at my little blueberry cupcake going: "You call that a cupcake? This is a cupcake!"

Regular cupcake versus mega cupcake

Unfortunately this photo doesn't do the Goliath any justice - it is one mighty big cupcake. Made to order in your choice of cake, icing, decorations and all, this is the stuff of cupcake fantasies. Just imagine blowing out the candles on this puppy and cutting into it. Make sure you don't cut to the bottom of your birthday cake? No problems here I think.

Mega cupcake icing and decorations

Can you ever have too much cupcake/chocolate icing/ganache? It would seem that there's one indulgent way to find out.

Cupcakes on Pitt on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Moth attractions

Like moths to the light we humans also sometimes have unstoppable magnetic attractions to things that aren't necessarily good for us. Perhaps more a matter of having rubber arms or bad habits than magnetism - you know it's bad but you just can't help it. Or you don't want to help it because even though it might be construed as bad, it's still good in a fun, hedonistic, devil-may-care way.

Without getting into too much detail, it's a cruisey late weekday lunch that finally finds me at the city's Small Bar - the first Sydney bar under new liquor licensing laws that I've been meaning to go to forever. Well, since December last year anyway. The shopfront is much like its neighbouring stores and could be easily mistaken for a cafe if not for the bottles of wine on the wall shelves.

The narrow walkway between the bar and seating is to be navigated carefully if seated heads aren't to be knocked, especially if one has an oversized tote bag in tow. We're told the upstairs has been booked for a private function so we squeeze out onto the tiny balcony for a look around. I think there was a couple squished into the balcony area but we spy the laneway below and an empty table beckoning us.

Descend down a perilously narrow creaky wooden staircase to get to the lower level that's all dark and moody, candles dotted about the plush lounges and a defunct fireplace trying to contribute to a grungy Melbourne bar feel. There's a smattering of tables and chairs in the grey pedestrian laneway outside where there are marginally more nosy business types (with "Why are you sitting drinking wine in this lane?" expressions plastered all over their faces) than traffic noise.

We relax into our seats only to be told by staff that we'd have to order and pay upstairs. I trudge back up the grandmother's house stairs to order from the very reasonably priced menu. Food consists of 'smalls' and 'meals', the latter of which is an eclectic gathering of pub bistro style dishes peaking at $18.

I order a glass of a Victorian pinot grigio, a juice for the 'non-drinking' companion and an item from the 'smalls', and am then confronted with the daunting task of walking back down aforementioned dark, perilous, narrow staircase with two glasses, purse and table number. A warning for the high-heeled: stay upstairs, especially after a few drinks.

Antipasto plate from Small Bar, Erskine Street, Sydney

Luckily our antipasto plate is brought to the table - I'm not sure I could manage the stairs with this plate. It almost seems as though the antipasto has been inspired by the Aussie barbeque with its two rows of thinly sliced cooked meats.

I start on the small bowl of warmed olives - an uninteresting mix of tri-coloured savoury olives in oil. The fetta is a little more exciting, not too crumbly nor salty but quietly creamy. The pile of roasted marinated strips of eggplant, capsicum and tomato makes me wonder if there's a vegetable ration about but the thinly sliced, chewy sourdough bread on the side makes me smile.

And so onto the meats. I've never really had a steak as part of an antipasto plate before - bresaola, yes, but not a thin tataki-style slices cooked to a pink-centred medium. Nonetheless the meat is warm, tender and very tasty though I keep having to stop myself from looking for the ponzu sauce. The warm, thin slices of chicken breast or tenderloin are coated in Cajun-style spices and are a distinct departure from traditional antipasti. The salami draws me back momentarily, however its greasiness is off-putting.

Settling back into my director's chair we ruminate on the Small Bar concept and mismatch of rustic wooden furniture to our very Sydney laneway. It's nothing like a Melbourne bar and doesn't offer refuge in a quiet corner or alley. Rather it's a point of difference, as if its purpose and being is just to contrast the existence of Sydney's, sometimes very well done, larger venues. There's also a further us-versus-them vibe as at this time we lucky patrons watch working business types trudge to and fro.

It isn't long till the novelty wears although I'm much looking forward to an evening visit to Small Bar sometime soon, particularly to custom their enticing wine menu. Instead we seek other lounge-worthy moments nearby and hotfoot it over the road to the Central Baking Depot to marvel at their window filled with baked delights. It's time for dessert as we enter, um-and-ah over the sweet, sweet choices then settle into their unique bakery-styled seating.

Seating at Central Baking Depot, Erskine Street, Sydney

I end up falling for a tart (typical) though I make a few promises to the chocolate cake, orange and chocolate brownie and lemon pillow that I'll see them soon.

Pear, almond and chocolate tart

Going for the relatively healthier option with pear, the tart is mild in sweetness with a soft, flaky pastry casing. The dark chocolate filling is subdued in richness, probably by the almond meal, and the pear is a scrummy baked addition.

And not regularly having coffee anymore has really made the palate fonder of the roasted bean - a beautifully strong creamy cappuccino to wash down the tart.



Such a lovely afternoon spent eating and drinking in our lovely summer city. It's almost a pity to revert to moth-like behaviour later in the night and inevitably drink my way into the usual lights of city pubs and 'larger venues'. I blame hedonism, my rubber arms and Justin Hemmes.

Small Bar on Urbanspoon

Central Baking Depot on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Fragile delicacies and tongues

I find it ironic that when there's the realisation that life is fragile and delicate, the natural instinct is to go and do all the crazy, wild things that really stretch life to the limit. Like being told a fine cashmere sweater has its limits and then taking it into a contact sports game. Is it testing the theory of the realisation? Or succumbing to and accepting its inevitability and just making the most of the situation regardless?

Passing through Ashfield was the perfect excuse to indulge in fragile and delicate dumplings as the abundance of northern Chinese eating establishments proffered more than enough to satisfy any dumpling diner. The problem is that there are so many places it's difficult to know where to go. Judging a restaurant by its facade is one way to go but like its literary relation, can be a shallow and partial approach.

At some point on the main road two decidedly Shanghainese eateries sit side by side. Both have the word 'Shanghai' in their names, both are filled with diners at a late lunch hour, and strangely enough they both seem to have used the same sign maker as well. Well, the typeface and style is similar anyway.

Our decision is strongly swayed by the ability to get seating for our entire group at New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, although the closely positioned tables make me feel a little like I'm sitting with a different group. But never fear, I'm all that much closer to the viewing window where a lady effortlessly creates balls of pleated, thin pastry-wrapped mince, delicately placing them into bamboo steamers. For me! And a large majority of the other diners too.

Window into the kichen at New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant,
Liverpool Road, Ashfield

Her finger movements are mesmerising and she's almost robotic if not for the laughing and interacting with other staff. I know I want a basket of these steamed beauties but the menu presents me with page after page of other mouthwatering options, from hot snacks, fried noodles, soup noodles and other Shanghainese delicacies.

Our decision making and the service takes a little while, but our orders slowly make their way out of the kitchen in no particular order, dumped somewhat unceremoniously at the edge of the table. All of a sudden we decide it's going to be a communal shared meal and help ourselves to cutlery and napkins.

Prawn and pork wonton soup

First to arrive in a steaming bowl was the prawn and pork wonton soup. Small packages filled with tasty minced pork ethereally float the way only wonton pastry does in a light soup. Topped with shallots and strips of dried seaweed, the wonton were delicate on the palate; its filling springy with a whisper of ginger flavour and seemingly missing prawns. Perhaps I just picked an unlucky dumpling?

Fried hand-made noodles with pork and vegetables

The first noodle dish arrives next to a now hungry audience. It's very difficult to snap a picture when there are four other hungry people snapping their chopsticks at you and the dish - and especially so when you're sort of sitting on the next table.

The hand-made noodles are thick and covered in a soy based sauce - sprightly but closer to soft than chewy, which is my preference but not everyone else's. The dish overall is a bit on the greasy side but the pork strips and baby bok choy are tender and feel sustaining.

Vegetable noodles in soup

The requisite vegetarian dish is another noodle option - this time thinner white noodles in a flavoursome soup with a fantastic array of vegetarian toppings. The choy, carrot, mushrooms, black fungus, broccoli, baby corn and lightly fried tofu have been cooked in a separate sauce then scattered atop the large bowl of slippery noodles. It's a relatively healthy dish and tastes accordingly.

Pork and shallot pancake?

And then the bizarre and unexpected dish of the day - five golden fried, sesame seed covered balls rattling about on a large white plate. I look confused and ask the waitress what these are and if they belong to our table. She checks and yes, apparently I have ordered these. What I misunderstood to be a pork and chive flat pancake turns out to be these, or maybe I just pointed to the wrong menu item. Rather than sending things back and waiting for the new order, we just shrug and grab a crunchy spherical parcel each and chow down.

The outer casing is shatteringly crisp, concealing a thick inner layer of starchiness - potato or taro-like. Inside this is a minute portion of savoury pork mince filling with shallots. So perhaps this is what I ordered, I thought as I crunched and munched through it. Not too bad for an accident.

Xiao long bao (steamed little pork buns)

I sight a bamboo steamer basket emerge from the kitchen and it's heading for us! It's our xiao long bao and as you can see I wasn't as quick as others on the table to reach the basket. They're not quite as uniformly perfectly-shaped as other versions but it's more than a little anticipation as I pick up my first dumpling and wait patiently for it to cool a little to avoid burning my tongue.

Not quite patient enough it seems, although my tastebuds have resiliently recovered less than 24 hours post injury. The pastry is slightly thicker than the above mentioned other and I think there's about a one second pause from piercing the skin to boiling hot soup rushing out and encompassing my mouth. The soup flavour is intensely good and I savour it all despite the burning. The filling is a fine mince packed with fantastic flavours that leaves you wanting more.

Last but not least, a good 10 minutes or so after we've finished all our other dishes, the long-awaited pan fried Shanghai pork buns turn up. They look like joyous little bundles and seemingly worth the wait.

Pan fried Shanghai pork buns

In what could be likened to a xiao long bao on steroids with a burnt bottom, these little puffballs are fluffy and chewy at the top part where the pleats come together and thin and crunchy on the bottom. There's a similar tongue-burning experience to be had with the hot soup contents and filling is not too dissimilar to their skinnier, steamed counterparts. Comparatively, there's a much higher dough to filling ratio in these, hence my preference for the xiao long bao but for a filling snack high in taste value, these pan fried versions are the go.

Who would have thought such fragile and delicate foods could make you so crazily and wildly full for less than $10 per head? The value for money is mind-boggling and justification enough for the west-ward trek. On the bloated bellied-stumble back to the car we pass by more mind-boggling value and 'delicacies' in a butchery. Such is the fragility of life.

Pig's tongue next to chicken feet

Pig's ear (left) and pig's stomach (right)

I hear ya - pig's what?!
I think it's intestines

New Shanghai Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


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