Thursday, 18 December 2014

Grill The Foodie: China

Our regular series “Grill the Foodie” is all about getting inside a country’s food and eating experiences from the perspective of travellers as well as expats living abroad. We will delve into what makes world cuisine great and why travellers love to eat so much. We want you to be inspired by what is happening around the world, how others enjoy their food and how food can unite cultures.

This weeks Grill The Foodie Interview is with Ningning, originally from China, Ningning now resides in Perth, Australia. Although we have not met in person I know myself and Ningning would get along famously. We have a shared passion for Chinese Dumplings and Szechuan Hot Pot and what more do you need for a great friendship? I also feel her pain in not being able to access truly authentic Chinese cuisine in many parts of Australia, food in China is outstanding so read on to find out more about it with Ningning.


What part are of China are you from? 

 I am from Shandong province, in Northern China. My city is  800km east to Beijing on the coast of  the Yellow sea.

Being Chinese and having lived a majority of your life in China how do you think Chinese cuisine and culture has affected your outlook as a Foodie? 


The first 23 years of my life living in China has definitely set my foodie outlook. Pork is not only my favourite meat also an essential element in my diet, especially the pork belly (mouth watering), it doesn't matter how it is cooked (which cuisine cooks it) , lol! Chinese food is my favourite food (not that surprising) and when I go out to eat I normally choose wheat flour food ie, noodles, pasta, buns, roti, pancakes over rice because we don't eat much rice in where I am from. My dad hates rice, he doesn't eat rice AT ALL! A lot of my friends are surprised when I tell them I am not a big fan of rice, being Asian and all.

 We have lots traditions that are food related. for example, I HAVE TO have noodles on my birthday for a long life and mooncake for the moon festival as well as stick rice wrap for the dragon boat festival.

Growing up in China what are your strongest food memories from your childhood? 


DUMPLINGS!!! LOVE them! when I was little my family was like most of other Chinese families, used food vouches to get essential food due to the central government control (this was finally eliminated at the end of 80's when China transformed from a central-controlled economy to market economy).Therefore, dumplings were only for a treat for birthdays and moon festivals and Chinese New Year. And every time there were dumplings on the dinner table, they never lasted long......


Do you find Chinese food differs greatly from region to region and what is your favourite Chinese locality from a Foodie perspective? 

Yes, it is VERY different from region to region. As I mentioned earlier, rice isn't the main carbs for us while it is for almost the rest of Asia! There are 8 streams of Chinese food, I found a few website describing the 8 streams of Chinese food. You may find this website useful to help explain the various cuisines around China.

Now you are living in Australia what authentic Chinese dishes do you crave and immediately make a beeline for upon your return to China? 

There are soooo MANY dishes I crave that I can't get them in Perth... The top one is fried dough, called YouTiao in Chinese, it's like cereal for you guys, very basic and simple breakfast but I can't get it anywhere here :(

Being an avid world traveller where have you found your favourite cuisine or foodie experience? 

Besides China  I loved food in Italy, although I only went to Milan for a few days. I think because noodles play such an important role in my daily diet, all different sorts of pastas just fit in perfectly.

When you travel do you find yourself searching out a particular world cuisine?

When I am travelling, I prefer to eat the local cuisine unless on my birthday when I have to have noodles!

Does being a foodie affect the way you travel and experience a destination?

 I believe so, I always relate my travel experience with the local food, good food means good holidays!

Having lived in both Sydney and Perth which city wins for best Foodie cred? 

Of course Sydney! I used to study at UTS which is next to China town, they even have my local food restaurant there! I used to go to a restaurant whose owner is also from my province. I was very sad when my friend told me that they closed down a couple years after I left.

Now living full-time in Perth where are your favourite food haunts? 

Northbridge and then Vic Park, there are lots Asian places to eat at.

 Do you like to cook at home or head out to fulfil your food dreams? 

I used to hate cooking, but I cook at home a lot now. First reason being I can't find an authentic Chinese restaurant to get food I crave for and second reason being I have a mortgage :(
I just found out that the combination of soy sauce and oyster sauce makes stir fry veggies very tasty!

If you do cook at home feel free to share any favourite recipes or if you know anything about Chinese Hot Pot I would love to know. I am on a never ending mission to re-create Szechuan Hot Pot that I had in Chongqing. I haven't been able to nail it as yet, particularly the dipping sauces and the chilli oil broth.

OMG, do you like hotpot? I LOVE it, although I normally have it with tears. I don't know how to make the broth, I normally buy the package from the supermarket and boil it. There are 2 types of dipping sauces, I am not sure which one you had.. One is garlic mince with sesame oil, the other one is tahini paste (sesame paste) with some chive paste, fermented tofu, garlic, soy paste and if the hotpot is too spicy, some vinegar also helps.
Originally posted on Thursday, 18 December 2014 by

Monday, 15 December 2014

2015 Is Looking Bright

The closure of 2014 sees me wrapping up one very major part of my life. I have written about this before so you can go back to my article about Stacked Cakes to see why I am wrapping up the cake business. This past weekend I finalised my very last paid cake order. So after more than five years, thousands of kilos of chocolate and icing, hundreds and hundreds of cakes, many happy clients, the odd unhappy client (you can’t please them all), a case of tendonitis, many laughs, a few cake disasters and the odd tear shed I am finally done! Now to work out what of my copious amounts of cake equipment I will keep for hobby purposes and what I need to sell, it’s going to be a big job.

So apart from that I am currently on countdown. To what you may ask? Well I have seven working days left before the Christmas break and whilst I am very excited to be heading to the coast with the family over the holidays I am also looking forward to a change of jobs in the new year.

It isn’t as much a change of the actual job I do, I will still be a travel agent. It is more a change of location. I currently commute around 180kms a day and to be honest it is too far and has worn me down. So when a position become available at Queanbeyan City Travel and Cruise which is a 17 minute drive from my house I jumped at the opportunity.

Although the actual job of selling travel is the same, I do need to psyche myself up for a change of pace. My current agency is pretty slow paced. We sell travel but we are not going to be winning any top sellers awards any time soon. Queanbeyan City Travel and Cruise on the other hand are a top selling agency for many travel suppliers. Every year they take out the top awards in the industry so I know that I need to gear up to be busy.

It’s quite exciting really. I have worked in busy agencies before and there is such a different vibe. The consultants really motivate and play off each other. The reps are always offering incentives to sell. Achievement awards always come with prizes that predominantly consist of travel and although it is a more stressful job you feel productive and energised.

My new office and new boss, ever the winners of major travel sales awards
I will admit I have been cruising by the last few years and it has been starting to get to me. When I left the travel industry I had no intention of ever returning. I had been burned by working in management for bosses who had no apparent people skills or thought for their staff. After a year of making cakes for a living I did miss travel but wasn’t ready to go back to a high pressure role. So I went back to the store I started in the industry at as it was a known quantity to me. I can’t complain about the lack of stress in my life, it is nice but it is also demotivating to have long periods of boredom. I am ready to join the real world again.

It also means I can keep running my home based agency in my little town of Bungendore which I currently do after hours. It doesn’t generate a tonne of business but it is a little extra income and it is nice assisting the local folk with their travels. My Bungendore Travel website is currently getting a major overhaul by my genius web designer hubby, it is so modern I am not sure the town of Bungendore are ready for it but it will be going ahead in the next few weeks.

So new things for the new year is always fun to look forward to and I will continue bringing you food and travel adventures through 2015 with the blog. I hope my readers have a lovely Christmas and exciting plans for 2015 to look forward to and if you don’t have exciting plans, something that lights a fire under you bum get some cause you only live once.
Originally posted on Monday, 15 December 2014 by

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Filipino Cooking with Yasmin Newman

Knowing little about Filipino food, sometime ago I purchased a Filipino cookbook "7000 Islands- A Food Portrait of the Philippines". Like with all SBS publications I was not disappointed. The book itself is a personal account a one woman's journey to reconnect with the food she grew up with, her Filipino mother cooking food from her homeland here in Australia. It is quite nostalgic with the author Yasmin Newman telling stories from her childhood which was interwoven with this wonderful cuisine. As you would expect from a modern cookbook it is beautifully photographed and is as much a cultural journey as it is a food journey.

I guess before this cookbook I was under the assumption that Filipino food may bear some resemblance to cuisines in the South East Asian region. Possibly incorporating the fresh herbs of Vietnam or the complex spicy chilli based curries of Thailand. I was completely wrong. It is far more a fusion with the Spanish cuisine bought to the country during the Spanish occupation in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The first dishes we cooked from the book were the Adobo's. Adobo being the national dish of the Philippines it seemed a good place to start.  We made both Lamb and Chicken Adobo for a dinner party we hosted and it went down a treat. The tender juicy meat is infused through a slow cooking process with flavours of garlic, ginger, soy, bay leaves, onion and chilli.  The dish has quite an unusual tangy flavour due to the use of vinegar and I find that unique tang is what makes it so morish.  I have made these dishes a number of times since as they are easy to make, hearty and a crowd pleaser.

Since mastering the Adobo and as much as I just wanted to keep making it over and over as it is one of those dishes you would put in your readily used repotoire I decided we needed to expand our Filipino horizons. I chose a recipe called Binagoongang Baboy, partly lured by the exotic name and partly by the fact the main ingredient is Pork Belly. I love the fact that the name is so foreign, I mentioned to a Filipino colleague that I was making this dish and she immediately knew I was making pork in fish sauce. If I were to give it a literal translation I would say I am making twice cooked pork belly in a tomato and fish sauce.


The beauty of SBS cookbooks is you can also find all their recipes on their fantastic website. So you can see the full recipe right here.

So the first round of cooking the pork belly requires it to be par-boiled and I will give you a tip. Keep the remaining liquid after you have reserved the 250mls required for the rest of the dish, pop it in the fridge and you have an amazing stock to use for other dishes. In the same week I used this stock to cook up a Balinese Bumbu spiced pork dish as well as a Thai Yellow Curry (not a particularly traditional technique to use a pork stock but tasty none the less).

As you see from the recipe you then deep fry the pork belly and add it to a sauce of caramelised tomatoes and shrimp paste. I am still not sure we found the correct shrimp paste. It seems from the recipe description the Filipino shrimp paste is different to the more solid block version you use in Thai cooking so we hunted down a jar that was a wet, lumpy, stinky, blobby paste. Hopefully we got it right and if anyone out there knows more about the correct Filipino shrimp paste and where to get it do drop me a line.

The final result was delish. It did have that odd fishy overtone that a western palate at first wants to reject but after a few mouthfuls it is actually really tasty. The crispy pork belly was divine and the caramelised tomatoes really harked back to that Spanish influence in the cuisine.

I really encourage you to cook this dish. It was not time consuming at all and really highlights how the Filipino cuisine is so unique and stands on it's own amongst what many just like to call "Asian Food" it is proof that food cannot be defined as simply "Asian".


Cost:2/5 Ease:3/5 Time:4/5 Taste:2/5
Originally posted on Tuesday, 9 December 2014 by

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Chicago is...


 I was recently fortunate to be offered a whirlwind trip to the States (or as we call it in the industry a“familiarisation”) through my job as a travel agent and I was thrilled to be spending eight days split between New York & Chicago with a brief stop in San Francisco on the way home.

I have been travelling as an agent for many years now and I am use to seeing cities and countries at lightening speed. Although the time frame is short we always hit the ground running, jetlagged? too bad you will be going all day and into the night non stop. The sponsoring suppliers need to get their value for money out of their agents so they certainly know how to pack it in. I am not complaining at all. I thrive on it and the exhaustive nature of the travel is compensated by the heavily reduced pricing that accompanies these industry sojourn’s.

What heightened my excitement for this trip was that is was my first famil after a break from the travel industry in which I went off to become a cake decorator. Prior to that I had been managing a new travel agency and the few trips we were offered I did give out to the staff who were newer to the industry and not as well travelled as me. So I had been hankering to get myself back into the game and what better way to do it than a week in the USA!

As you may expect as a first timer to New York all my thoughts in the lead up to this trip were centered on the Big Apple. I was so ready to experience that city that all else melted into the background. Of course New York did not disappoint and whilst we didn’t have enough time to really get into the swing a such an expansive city we got a taste of it and I am certainly hungry for more New York. But what caught me completely by surprise was Chicago. Its post snow storm, crisp blue skies enveloped us and the city wriggled it's way deep into my core.


To be honest with more than a decade in the travel industry and sending thousands of people overseas I have never sent a single soul to Chicago and I have never even had anyone enquire about it. It is just not on the radar for Australians which is such a shame. I will put myself out there and I will say that I enjoyed it far more than San Fran which may be unfair to say with my brief single day spent in San Fran and I certainly enjoyed it more than LA or San Diego. It is impossible to compare it to Vegas as it is another world unto itself and I am not game enough to say it was better than New York but I will say it exceeded my expectations and left a real impression on me.

Sometimes cities can be elusive in what cements your love of them. Chicago isn’t in your face saying “I am awesome” like New York is. There isn’t one single aspect I could put my finger on that I would say impressed me the most but I will attempt to convey why you should go there.

Starting with the architecture. Now to preface this I know very little about architecture but Chicago intrigued me to find out more. The city area itself is relatively easy to navigate and beautifully laid out along the Chicago River and bordered by Lake Michigan. A short cruise along the Chicago River takes you on an architectural journey. I won’t pretend I knew any of this prior to reading it on Wikipedia but it is interesting to note that the buildings are not particularly historical as most of Chicago burnt down in a fire in 1871. I don’t know what was here before the fire but I tell you it may have done the city a favour as what has sprung up since this time is just stunning.

I was particularly blown away by the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower which gave you the distinct impression that Batman was certainly nearby. Even in their Neo Gothic, French Renaissance and Spanish Revival glory they don't actually manage to leave the more modern buildings in their wake. It seems that tradition of great architecture has carried on in the city and even the more modern constructions like Trump Tower hold their own in the skyline. There is just something about American architecture that is epic and that we do seem to lack here in Australia. Cities like New York and Chicago just scream wealth and power.




The second thing that imprinted on my mind was that lake. Now that is a real lake. Coming from a country where lakes tend to be dry a large part of the year, I was floored by this body of water extending off into the horizon, if I didn’t know better would think was the ocean. Being the end of winter that I was there we didn’t partake in the waterfront activities I believe go on in Chicago, we only viewed from the top of Willis Tower but none the less, wow.


The vibe going on downtown was also noteworthy. The streets are clean, the shopping cheap and accessible and at night the streets twinkled with fairy lights in the trees. The restaurants have that classic American dark wood and hanging portraits thing going on. The kind of places you see in the movies and can imagine the Godfather busting out an Uzi in.

I also felt very safe and comfortable downtown which is interesting. If you look at the crime rate for Chicago you might think you would be lucky to escape without a gunshot wound but I can only assume this kind of violence is predominantly in the suburbs.

Lastly I have to tell you about The Bean. This public artwork mesmerised me, like a fat kid with a lollypop I was spellbound. It’s highly polished mirror finish reflected and warped the surrounding buildings and from every angle the image moved and changed. It provided me endless entertainment and without the strict schedule I may have stayed for many hours, staring into the psychedelic abyss.



I don’t know why Chicago doesn’t have a place in the heart of Australian travellers. All I can do is help spread the word about this amazing city and hope more Aussie’s discover it’s wonders soon.
Originally posted on Wednesday, 3 December 2014 by