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 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.


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.


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.


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