Sunday, 22 September 2019

Cooking Indonesian With Eleanor Ford




I have spent a number of weeks now cooking from Fire Islands, Recipes from Indonesia by Eleanor Ford and I have taken away so much more than just a full belly and a happy, well fed husband. The book really got me thinking.

It is all too easy these days to get swept up in the idea of "authenticity", that something is less than if not authentic. Today's internet connected world is quick to slam something that isn't exactly how they know of it, not how it is done in their household or their town or by their grandma.

This mentality has seen so many cookbook authors provide what is essentially a disclaimer. Something to put forth to stop the onslaught of hate, to say that whilst this may not be how you know it, it is my version. 

I once saw an epic internet tear down of a Jamie Oliver Paella as it wasn't true to Valencian Paella. Big call in a world filled with hundreds if not thousands of versions of Paella, many good and quite a few tastier than the snail filled Valencian version.

It's a sad day when we can't appreciate someone else's perspective on something, that anything different is cultural appropriation or disrespectful or just plain wrong.

Eleanor's cookbook is a well rounded homage to Indonesian food. She has clearly done the leg work spending many years living and eating in the island archipelago. She covers all the bases from fast street food to the wonderful slow cooked meat braises. Indonesian dishes with various cultural heritages such as Chinese and Dutch.  Food from the Royal Court as well as the Warung (an small family run Indonesian restaurant or cafe) and desserts, glorious fruity, sticky, sweet as can be desserts. 

And yet despite all of this, all the ground work , all the research, all the hours upon hours of cooking and eating with locals she provides a disclaimer. That these recipes may not be truly authentic. That adjustments have been made for availability of ingredients in the western world, that this may not be exactly what you will find in an Indonesian home or Warung and all in order to stop what has become a modern day past time, backlash.

Yet for me as a home cook this is the hallmark of a great cookbook. I own cookbooks that are entirely authentic to the experience within a country and guess what...you can't cook from them. You can't go to the supermarket or even a specialty grocer and grab some long pepper or salam leaves. Omissions and substitutions must be made if the book is to be usable for its intended audience...home cooks in the west. It is a tricky balancing act for cookbook authors and Eleanor has found that balance.

So that is a big tick from me. The recipes here are true to the spirit of Indonesian cuisine yet cookable at home (provided you do have access to an Asian grocery). There isn't anything in this book that I either could not find or Eleanor had not offered a substitute or option for omission.

Eleanor also suggests the use of food processors as well as mortar and pestles in a well balanced combination. To be truly authentic yes you should grind all your bumbu (spice pastes) by hand and whilst I own a volcanic rock mortar and pestle from Bali there are times I do not want to hand grind a whole spice paste by hand and I think suggesting people must always do so becomes a little fanatical, yes I am looking at you David Thompson.

I must also give a shout out to the graphic design on this book, from the cover to the back page this book is abound with rich colours, patterns and deep earthy photography and apologies, my own photography of these dishes as cooked in my home definitely do not live up to those from the book...another reason to buy the book!

The sheer cook-ability, variety of dishes and eat-ability of these recipes kept me coming back to try more. In a long Bungendore winter the wonderful aromats of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, ginger, and garlic with the sweetness of palm sugar and the often tart presence of tamarind was an escape to somewhere far more tropical than my frost covered little town in rural Australia.

I have included here some piccys so you can see some the dishes I cooked as well as some notes on the dish in each caption. I did not find a bad egg among the bunch so if you are going to delve into this cookbook do so with gusto. Cook with love, cook with joy and eat like it's your last meal.

If you would like to read about my own journey in Bali, Indonesia which includes a hair raising bike ride down a volcano you can read that here. Or my suggestions on how to find Balinese food in Bali (you would think that would be easier than it is but the mega-tourism industry in this area tends to cater more for western food options) you can read about that here

Laksa. Page 127. This Indonesian version if Laksa is quite different to a Malaysian Laksa, Much more about the aromats and less about the deep fishy funk of a Malaysian Laksa.

Lamb Shank Red Curry. Page 71. Best curry I have made in quite a while. The lamb cooked on the bone is incredibly tender and I really enjoyed what the evaporated milk brought to the table, not an ingredient I have used in a curry before.

Betawai Spiced Beef. Page 125. Rich and complex and really set off by the tartness of the Chilli-Fried Potato Crunch found on page 183.

Pork Braised in Kecap Manis. Page 61. Sweet, rich ,moist. So many way to describe this tasty dish that really hit the spot.

Roasted Coconut Chicken. Page 57. Indonesian Flavours meets the classic Sunday roast. Genius.
There is a surprising lack of Indonesian cookbooks in the market. Here is my collection if you are interested in learning more on the topic. Sri Owen is a classic voice on the topic whereas Eleanor Ford offers a more contemporary voice to Indonesian cooking. If you want the ultimate experience head to Anika Cooking Class in Bali. The experience could not be faulted and we came away with a number of books of recipes from the two days we spent there.



Originally posted on Sunday, 22 September 2019 by

Friday, 6 September 2019

Melbourne...It's All About The Burbs


I had a recent epiphany whilst buried shoulder-deep amongst imported antique French wall sconces and hundreds of hanging chandeliers. As good a place as any to have a light bulb moment (dad joke alert!).
What do French sconces and chandeliers have to do with anything? Well, these particular lighting wonders, many pre-Edison with their gas fittings still intact, were hidden behind an unassuming corner door on an unassuming street in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy North.
What dawned on me as I fawned over this shockingly affordable and masterly curated collection was that Melbourne is the coolest place on earth.Overstatement? I think not. I have put in a lot of legwork around the world and Melbourne still delights me every time.
If you’re inclined to hit the Melbourne CBD you will have a fine time but you are going to miss what makes Melbourne one of the coolest cities on the planet. While the city centre does have some unexpected twists–European laneways, hidden bars and lots of graffiti–for me, Melbourne is all about the burbs.
Here are four you might not have considered.

FITZROY NORTH

Now I am under no illusion that everyone is in the market for antique lighting and it’s accoutrements, if you are head to Gregory's. But that is just the tip of the iceberg here.
Firstly, let’s talk about soup. I love that soup is a thing in Melbourne. You could put it down to the climate but Canberra is cold too and we certainly don’t have a soup culture. 

Do you know anywhere else in Australia where a vegetarian Moroccan style eatery serving soup would have survived since 1998? That’s exactly what the Moroccan Soup Bar in Fitzroy North has done. Not only has it survived–it’s become a Melbourne institution and even has a popular cookbook.
Making your way further along grungy St George’s Road in Fitzroy North you’ll come to Obelix and Co. Black and gold lettering on the window will tell you this is a delicatessen, charcuterie and larder, but the description belies that this place is from the pages of Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France.
The glass cabinet is abundant with meats cured in the French tradition, rillettes, pates, handmade sausages and other delectable delights.
The basket of crunchy baguettes on the counter scream picnic even if the Melbourne weather doesn’t and the shelved glass jars hold back homemade pickles and relishes.
If you’re just visiting and can’t stock up, be sure to grab some toasties for the road. Gooey Raclette on potatoes in toasted sandwich form is life-affirming.


SOUTH YARRA + PRAHRAN

Moving away from Fitzroy North, a day spent walking Chapel Street is a must-do. For the full experience, start on the South Yarra end where you’ll find women in ballet flats trying on chic fashion. From there, make your way through the suburbs of Prahran and Windsor. It’s all one road but the vibe, architecture and people change the further along you get.
The sheer quantity of incredible food along this street will boggle your mind. Many restaurants here don’t take bookings leaving you free to pop in and take your chances at getting a table.
That being said, you may want to call ahead to South Yarra’s tiny Italian trattoria Cucinetta. Its incredible Cacio E Pepe with truffle keeps the 15 or so seats here pretty full.
In the Prahran section of Chapel Street, you’ll find a quirky mix of small boutiques, artists galleries, unusual florists and some of the best eating in Melbourne.
Save at least an hour to wander The Chapel Street Baazar. Here dozens of separately run stalls come together seamlessly to form one store in living homage to the saying that one mans trash is another man’s treasure.

WINDSOR

Further down Chapel Street, things start getting a little wild as Prahran morphs into Windsor, however, the suburb’s dodgy reputation is not long for this world as gentrification takes hold.
The opening of Shane Delia’s high-end restaurant Maha East may be the death knell for the once rough and tough neighbourhood.



It still holds onto some of its murkiness though and people watching can be a good pastime…even if it is just to watch Melbournians eating ice cream in the driving rain at midnight.
For me, fusion Asian food is at it’s best in Windsor.
Yes, fusion has been a dirty word when talking about food since it’s abuse in the ’90s, but there is no denying that Melbourne does incredible fusion Asian food.
Mr Miyagi’s is as much fuelled by its incredible food as it’s amusing slogans.
Here you’ll be pleasantly surprised by their technique of transforming nori, traditionally used on sushi rolls, into the crunchiest of taco shells, and the pumpkin toast, although far removed from Japanese food, is one of the best things you will put in your mouth…ever.


Actually, I take that back. Maybe the best thing you will ever put on your mouth is just over the road at Hawker Hall where dipping flaky, buttery roti canai into curry is second only to doing so in Malaysia.
Or maybe it’s the Salmon Tartare at the nearby Tokyo Tina or the Pho at Hanoi Hannah…all incredible food experiences and all in Windsor.
Although food is a big drawcard for the Prahran/Windsor area, you’ll also find some of the weirdest (in the best way) homewares.
One glance into home decor supplier Fenton and Fenton will confirm that you are not in Kansas anymore.
Loud artworks line the walls, monkeys in the form of lighting swing on ropes from the ceiling, ceramic heads form vases holding an abundance of flowers and retro cane drink trolleys lurk amongst cacti, palm fronds and concrete swans.
Eccentric doesn’t cover it. It’s insane, yet it works, it’s inspiring and it reminds you that your home should reflect your personality, not become some beige monument to “resale value”.




This article was originally published on Her Canberra.


Originally posted on Friday, 6 September 2019 by

Monday, 29 July 2019

Is Athens Your Next European Holiday?



I LOVE IT WHEN A DESTINATION TAKES YOU BY SURPRISE.


It’s easy to go into a trip with expectations. On one hand, if those expectations are met you are satisfied. On the other, if your expectations are higher than the experience, you can come away disappointed. But sometimes, just sometimes you come away inspired and delighted by expectations that were exceeded.

I first experienced this a number of years ago on a trip to the US. I was so excited to be heading to New York for the first time that I hadn’t put any thought into what I would expect in my other destination, Chicago and whilst New York was as vibrant and diverse as I thought it would be I was so impressed by Chicago, a stunning city built on the banks of the vast expanses of Lake Michigan with a more relaxed vibe than New York and everything a traveller could wish for.

Well, I have recently had a similar experience. I was headed to Athens for a conference and being a work trip, I hadn’t put too much thought into the destination or what to expect. I went in cold and I came away a little hot under the collar, wishing my time there could have been longer.

Athens as a stand-alone destination isn’t on Australian travellers’ radars. We tend to head to Paris or Rome for an iconic city stay, but I can tell you that I enjoyed Athens more than either of those great cities.

So why did I love it so much? It was a combination of all the things that make a city a pleasure to experience. Warm and welcoming people, great food, easy to use transport, cheap costs of living, history so real you can touch it, great food…hang on did I say that already?

If you have a trip to Europe planned, consider putting Athens on your itinerary.

STAY

A successful stay in Athens is all about location. Whilst there are a number of spots that you will find to be central, my preference is around the Syntagma Square area. Why there over the more touristy Plaka area, you may ask? Well for exactly that reason. The major roads heading out from Syntagma Square, such as Ermou Street, are bustling day and night with both locals and tourists. The locals go about their everyday lives and you can feel the vibes of daily life in the city – not the sanitised tourist version. There is also a major metro station there, so you can access all parts of the city and you’re around a 15-minute walk from the main entrance to the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora and less than 10 minutes walk to Plaka. It is all very accessible.

For a mid-range hotel that has one of the best locations in Athens I highly recommend the Electra Hotel. It’s located right on the main shopping street of Ermou and has a rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis which, when lit up at night, is one of the most stunning locations you will ever likely have a drink.

If you want to splash out then just around the corner you’ll find the Electra Metropolis. Housed in the former Ministry of Education and only recently rebuilt into a 5-star hotel, it cannot be beaten for chic styling and modern amenities. Again, the rooftop pool, bar and restaurant looks out across the Acropolis but there’s also a serious highlight on the ground floor too. Ancient city walls were excavated during the construction of the hotel and have been built into the ground floor with glass viewing panels, so you can glimpse the glory of Ancient Greece.



EAT

It’s hard to get a bad meal in Greece (although perhaps as a vegan as you may struggle with the meat dominated food culture).

For a fun outdoor dining experience head down to Apostolou Pavlou Street. It is aimed at tourists but it will give you some great people watching and some good Greek food. Order a platter so you can try out a wide range of flavours as they come with a little of everything, olives, feta, grilled chicken, kebab, dolmades, pita, tzatziki, cheesy croquettes and lots of other little treats. It is perfect for sharing in the sunshine with a cold beer or a warm coffee.

Fitting with the current rage of street food there are vendors located all over the streets of Athens. You can have a walking feast taking in food such as freshly grilled corn on the cob, incredible fresh homemade donuts (find the old chap midway down Ermou Street, unbelievable donuts) chestnuts roasted right in front of you, incredible local pastries and Souvlaki from hole in the wall shops, some of which have been there for more than a hundred years. There really are endless options.

For a high-end dining experience, spend an evening at Cookoovaya. The seasonal menu delivers all the flavours you’d expect in a city with such a food-centric culture but in the form of high-end dining. Make sure you have their version of Bougasta, a layered pastry and custard dish. I won’t spoil it but there is a surprise.


DO

Athens is a walking city. Despite the fact that the all-white cityscape sprawls from the mountains to the ocean, the city centre feels very compact. It is also very easy to orientate yourself as the towering Acropolis topped by the Parthenon is always a central reference point so you can see where you are and where you are going.

A great loop for your first day is to head down Ermou Street until you hit Monastiraki where you can wander the cobbled lanes lined with shops selling everything from souvenirs to high-quality leather handbags and purses.

Then make your way down Apostolou Pavlou Street until you come to the gates of the Ancient Agora where four Euros in winter or eight Euros in summer will give you access to the marketplace of classical Athens as well as the Temple of Hephaestus which is the best preserved Greek temple from the classical era.

If you head out the other entrance, on the opposite side to which you entered, you can then head to the gates of the Acropolis. The walk up the slopes to the top isn’t as difficult as it looks and there are plenty of vistas to stop and take a selfie with along the way.

You can then head into the Plaka area, stop for a beer at a taverna and then head back to your base for a swim in your rooftop pool.

For a more comprehensive tour in which you can immerse yourself in the history, you must contact Andrew at Athens Off The Beaten Track. There is nothing about this city he doesn’t know and he will take you to some secret locations, such as the best spot to watch the changing of the guards where you can leave the tourists behind.

Make sure you leave time for things like the Athens Archaeological Museum as well as the various museums attached to the sites like the Acropolis Museum. They will help tie together the long history of this amazing city.


WHEN TO GO

I’m a big proponent of avoiding Europe in peak season. The European summer (July and August) is hectic and cities on the Mediterranean are hot hot hot. It doesn’t make for happy exploring.

Shoulder season, spring and autumn are always good options but with more people travelling than ever, even the shoulder seasons can be busy. With the climate in Athens mild in winter, November to February is a viable option. You may need some layers as the temps can range from cool to mild to quite comfortably warm if the sun is shining.

Another bonus is that the attractions halve their entrance fees in the offseason and your airline tickets will be as cheap as they get.

If you’re heading over from May to October then you’re also in the perfect base to explore the Greek Islands. 45 minutes from the city centre and accessible by public transport or taxi is the port of Piraeus. From here you have daily ferries (weather dependent) heading out all across the Greek islands and you can explore less touristy spots like Ios and Paros or go all out in the party island of Mykonos.

BRINGING ATHENS HOME TO THE KITCHEN

I have done a bit of Greek cooking in the past. My colleagues in Greece were surprised to know I had made dishes such as Galaktoboureko from scratch which by the way is an incredible dish...even if you can't pronounce it.

There will certainly be more Greek cooking in my home in the future. My primary reference point right now for Greek food is Greece The Cookbook by Vefa Alexiadou. In true Phaidon style it's hard to imagine a more comprehensive cookbook on a country. They really do produce cookbooks that get to the heart of a subject.

I also have Lyndey and Blairs Taste of Greece which is a nice take on Greece, a very personal journey which also has an accompanying TV show.

And lastly I have Food from many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kiros and Meals and Recipes from Ancient Greece by Eugenia Salza Prina Ricotti. Tessa writes gorgeous cookbooks, From Provence to Pondicherry is one of my all time favourite cookbooks and the latter book on Ancient Greece I am yet to delve into yet but looks like a fascinating take on an ancient society.




This article was first published on Her Canberra, this version has been altered to include the information on cookbooks and some personal photos.








Originally posted on Monday, 29 July 2019 by

Friday, 15 March 2019

The Travellers Guide To Chiang Mai, Thailand



I stood in the marketplace, on all sides I was surrounded by chaos. Charcoal burners smoked and sizzled, the contents of their grills producing aromas of lemongrass and ginger. A tubby Thai lady on a tiny plastic stool scooped ladles of soup dotted with bobbing buoys of congealed blood into bowls for sweaty men on similarly tiny stools.

Flower garlands overflowed tabletops, waiting to be repurposed as an offering for the gods. Chains of balled and fermented pork hung on rails all in a line. Tourists and locals alike squeezed through the narrow walkways between vendors who ply their wares night after night for generation after generation in the same location.




I was in Wororot market, the hub in Chiang Mai where during the day locals wander the indoor markets for their everyday purchases, everything from clothes and shoes to fruit and veg and at night the streets around the main market building serve as a place for locals and tourists to eat dinner and socialise.

As a tourist, Chiang Mai in Thailand’s north is an incredible amalgamation of Thai culture,  temples, night markets, food, animal encounters, bars, Tuk Tuk adventures and anything else the heart of an intrepid traveller desires.

When travelling to Thailand most Australians head to the beaches, the trail to Phuket and Koh Samui is well worn, but standing in that marketplace surrounded by scenes you can only truly understand by being there I was in love. Chiang Mai had me at ‘hello’ or I should probably say ‘Sawadee Ka’ as they do in Thailand.

GETTING THERE




From Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a short one-hour flight north, or if you are feeling adventurous you can catch the overnight train in a first or second class sleeper. Both options are relatively cheap so it will just depend on your time frame and inclinations.

Once there the airport is less than two kilometres from the Old Town and a very efficient ticket system will get you a clean and modern taxi for less than $5. If you arrive at night you will be mesmerised by the twinkling lights and Thai lanterns dotted through the trees and at hotel entrances. It is a magical way to see a destination for the first time.

STAY

You have a number of location options when heading to Chiang Mai.

There are many boutique and larger resorts dotted around the outskirts of the city, and whilst they afford space and view over rice paddy fields you will need to take transport every time you want to explore the city.

Then you have the digital nomad/expat hub of Nimmanhaemin Road where you might want to rent an AirBNB for a longer stay.

As a short term tourist, my personal preference is the Old Town. Located within the old city walls you have one square mile of hotels, restaurants, markets and temples, temples, temples. It is very walkable but you also have tuk tuks and the local transport Songthaews trawling for customers and you can get all over the old town and beyond for a few dollars.



Accommodation in Chiang Mai ranges from really cheap. A few dollars a night will get you a room in a locally owned guest house like Beez Guesthouse where on any given night you might be able to sit with the owners and the colourful long term guests for a Chang beer and watch the world pass by.

In the mid-range price bracket, I recommend the De Lanna Hotel.  Around $100 a night will get you a comfortable room but for a small upgrade to a deluxe room, you could be located around the pool area with a view into the lantern filled garden lined with Koi Ponds at each door.

The Old Town has heavy development restrictions which means your big brand name hotels like Anantara, Le Meridien and Shangri-la are all located outside the old town walls.

EAT

The simple answer to this is—everywhere. It is hard to get a bad meal in Chiang Mai. Try a little of everything at a wide range of places.

You can eat on the street from single person carts (and if you do be sure to try the roti which you can get stuffed with both sweet and savoury fillings), in the markets, in hole-in-the-wall restaurants and in larger establishments such as hotels. Don’t be worried about cleanliness.

Some of these places look a little shabby compared to what Australians are used to but we experienced widespread good hygiene practices and no tummy issues whatsoever. The locals are all quite educated on food for tourists and even in the night markets you will see food laid out on ice and freshly cooked in front of you, and drinks are served with pre-packed ice, not tap water.



In terms of food you, of course, need to try the Thai classics like pad thai, red and green curry, larb and all the amazing holy basil stir-fries, but you must hunt down the northern delicacies. There are two types of northern sausage: one is stuffed full of spices and curry pastes and very rich and meaty; the other is fermented pork, which may sound confronting but has a tart flavour that can be moreish.

Another must is the crispy pork belly. The northern Thais love their pork. You will come across slabs of crispy pork belly hanging in windows and on street stalls and each will have their own version. I personally love Pad Kra Pao Moo Krob which is crispy stir-fried pork belly with holy basil.



 A great way to try a wide range of foods is to head out on a food tour. I would highly recommend the Chiang Mai Night Food Tour By Local Truck. A local guide will whizz you around the city in a local red truck called a Songthaew stopping off for their favourite eats and drinks. You get history and stories and all from the perspective of a local.

PLAY

We stayed for a week and were never short of something new and fun to do. In terms of markets, Wororot—which I describe above—is a must and is a much more local experience than many of the others. It is worth a visit during the day and at night for the food streets.

You will find a lot more local dishes here as there are more locals eating here. I recommend the soups—soup is ingrained in the Thai culture and the variety and flavour is nothing like what you can find in Australia.



The Night Bazaar is a more touristy option but a lot of fun and well worth setting aside a whole evening for—it starts at 6 pm and goes till 10:30 pm.

The Night Bazaar sets up every night on the outskirts of the old town walls and incorporates a maze of streets, laneways and arcades that run in all directions. The shopping is good but the range of food stalls is excellent. Moving through the streets you can grab a plate, grab a beer and watch some live music and once you have done that once you can move along and do it again and again.



The best known night market is the Sunday Walking street which pops up every Sunday night and runs end to end through the middle of the old town. Get there early—around 5 pm—not all the stalls are open yet but you can grab a selection of quick eats and some souvenirs without battling through the insane crowds.

Once the tourists descend this market is shuffle room only which makes eating and shopping a little tricky. Be sure to take the detours set up along the way—many of the temples set up their own markets within the temple grounds which allows you to explore the temples themselves which are open to visitors at night.

The temples take on a whole new atmosphere at night, their golden stupas lit against the dark skies are incredible.



Chiang Mai is known for its animal experiences, elephants being the big drawcard. The elephant sanctuaries have jumped on the no riding bandwagon in recent years and have cleaned up their practices to make these an ethical animal experience. There are dozens of these sanctuaries dotted around Chiang Mai and plenty of reviews and guides on the internet to lead you to the most ethical practices. I would steer clear of some of the other animal experiences but common sense will guide you here.

A cooking class is another must do, and whilst you will find quite a few within the Old Town it is a great opportunity to get out into the countryside to not only cook but see the local ingredients being grown on family-run farms. I recommend Grandma’s Home Cooking School.



A very professional set up, they collect you at your hotel in the morning, take you out of town to a market to see the produce and then onto the farm which is a stunning property that they have converted to have open-air pavilions for cooking in.

You then get to select your dishes to cook from a menu and as a group you are stepped through how to cook your own dishes and then enjoy lunch together. Skillwise it would suit most home cooks but it isn’t a masterclass in Thai cuisine.


AFFORDABILITY

Chiang Mai is incredibly affordable—not only to get to but once you are there as well. On the ground a tuk tuk will cost you $2-$5 depending on how far you need to go, a meal at a local venue can be as cheap as $2 (you can, of course, pay a lot more as well if you end up at a hotel restaurant or one of the riverfront places) and a long neck local beer will cost you around $5.

A good4-star hotel is $80-$100 a night, the temples are almost all free as is the market experiences if you don’t shop and a full days cooking class is around $50 including the transport to the countryside and back.

It is also easily combinable with a stay in Bangkok as you will need to pass through here to get to Chiang Mai and Bangkok is a wild city you must see once in your lifetime.

This article was written by Tenele Conway and first published on Her Canberra.

Originally posted on Friday, 15 March 2019 by