Monday, October 28, 2013

A Day in Cabramatta

Australia’s largest Vietnamese community has courted its share of trouble in the past, but the eats and the atmosphere have always remained great and true to tradition. We took the train out to Cabramatta to spend a day sampling everything the suburb has to offer.

Carrots aren’t of the ‘heirloom’ variety in Cabramatta, nor are the lettuces. If there’s one place that offers respite from Sydney’s often over-fluffed menus and pricey boutique grocers, it’s here. Menus are laminated and sticky in parts, the most popular dishes photographed in stark lighting and tacked to the wall as a crude form of advertisement. Grocers are busy and brisk, buzzing neon signage signifying one from the next. Bunches of small, finger-sized green bananas swing from rails while glassy, bronzed glazed ducks hang from hooks in the butchers and barbecue shops. If you close your eyes and open your ears, you could be standing on any given street in Hanoi.
Thirty kilometres southwest of the city centre, or a 40-minute train ride if you don’t feel up to tackling the M5 motorway, Cabramatta is home to the largest Vietnamese community in Australia and is the closest experience you’ll find to the real deal. Though fraught with a somewhat turbulent history, including a period in the 1990s when the area was riddled with such a pervasive heroin problem that the local Cabramatta train station became known as the ‘smack express’, it was the influx of post World War II immigrants that came to define the area’s multicultural identity. A second wave of immigrants swept through the infamous (and now demolished) Cabramatta migrant hostel and nearby Villawood after the Vietnam War in the 1970s, including groups from China, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Cabramatta is also home to many from Macedonian, Italian, Serbian and Croatian communities, cementing the suburb as one of the most truly diverse in Australia.
Crime has been rapidly reduced in the last decade following a targeted police crackdown and these days most travel to Cabramatta (or ‘Cabra’) for the pho rather than anything illicit.
There’s no best way to work your way around Cabramatta, as half the fun comes from picking your way through each store and stall, discovering as you go. John Street forms the main thoroughfare through the suburb and shops are compacted into about a 200-metre stretch from the train station entrance. A good place to start is at Thahn Binh Restaurant (52 John Street) for a lunch of bánh hoi rice paper rolls. An almost whipped mix of prawn mince is packed around stalks of fresh sugarcane before being puffed up in the deep fryer. Flat, stiff disks of rice paper are softened at the table in a small bowl of lukewarm water, ready to be filled with the sugar cane prawn mince, bundles of vermicelli, fresh mint and pickled carrot cut with a crimped knife. Sip tall glasses of lemon ‘drink’ or a frosty custard apple smoothie before ordering plates of bò tái me (beef marinated in tamarind and mint and served with a side of crisp sesame rice crackers to scoop it all up). The beef pho here is also fragrant and excellent.
Across the road, you’ll find a queue of both locals and visitors lining up before a yellow sign proclaiming ‘Hot Bread’. This is the báhn mì vendor you don’t want to bypass. Soft bread rolls are spread with pâté, topped with thin slices of roast char siu pork, hollow green spring onions, chilli and pickles and are best eaten right there on the sidewalk before the juices escape. Takeaway cups of sugar cane juice are pressed before your eyes here too – a good remedy for those heavy handed with the hot sauce bottle.
Avoid the plethora of blaring frozen yogurt shops and bubble tea vendors and slip down the alleyways to snoop around in the grocery stores for some curious finds. Spiky, stinky durians are piled up next to green okra, gnarled ginger and bitter melons, while daikon as thick as a man’s forearm are stacked 10 rows deep. If you’re not so confident with Asian greens, stock up on spices and bushels of fresh herbs. Aromatics like star anise, cinnamon and cloves are sold together in packets ready to be dropped straight into beef stock, while packs of dried rice noodles come in every colour. Wander down the lane to the row of fishmongers, where buckets of salmon bones with the head still attached are sold for a song, the key to a top-notch fish soup. Fresh mussels and frozen squid are all incredibly cheap, too.
A little further along, the next row of stalls will reveal tables of take-home packed meals (an insider’s secret). Noodles with chopped peanuts and vegetables are wrapped tightly with cling-wrap on polystyrene plates, while savoury, pyramid shaped sticky rice parcels are swathed in banana leaves ready to be steamed. Luminous green pandan leaf-infused waffles for one dollar each scent the air with a sticky sweetness and are a great snack to chew on as you wander the aisles of fabric spools. Coffee is also a treat here, laced with condensed milk and served in highball glasses, it’s strong enough to rouse anyone from a lunch-induced food coma.
Typical plastic kitsch abounds in Cabramatta and it isn’t so different from what you’d find in any Chinatown worldwide. Rubber and bedazzled iPhone cases, incense by the kilo, gilt statues and the odd firework (if you look hard enough) are to be found if you feel guilty spending all your money on waffles and noodles. But if after a day spent in Cabramatta you don’t head home laden with bags of groceries (and promises to make your own beef stock on a regular basis), you’re doing it all wrong.

This article originally appeared in the spring print issue of Broadsheet Sydney, 2013.

Photography by Alana Dimou.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Florals and Windowpanes

I know what you did last summer.

You drove and drove and drove before stopping for a sip of ginger beer. You ran down to the beach at dawn. You ate burgers and dried mango, and pizza by the slice. You bought tickets to see bands and danced - badly - and smiled at people you didn't know. You inhaled someone who lives on the other side of the world, you dreamt about them when they left. You talked. You listened.

You stole your sister's bikini and floated in the pool. You didn't get sunburnt once. You drank bitter, strong negronis and made new friends that lived in teepees, literally. You swung in a rainbow hammock and walked down wooded roads. You kissed a Canadian with a moustache, you regretted it. 

You wrote love notes, and scrawled angry rants. You punched the air and wrestled the dog. You moved home, and started again. You killed three succulents. You shot on film and ate scoops of caramel ice cream with your sisters. You bought flowers for yourself, you let them turn black and dark in the vase. You read book, after book, after book. You didn't cook much, but you met a boy that wants to teach you how to make paella.

You stalked Lena Dunham on Instagram, you wondered about what it would be like to date a photographer. You ate long, loopy strands of spaghetti with clams and opened a jar of pickles. You bought wine for your dad. You slept with the fan on. You thought about how fucking fantastic it is to be nearly 25. You thought about how paralysingly scary it is too. You drank beer in the shower, you worried about your job. You worked hard. You felt bad about not writing here. You missed it.

1, 3, 4, 6: Sydney's Flower Market for this story.
2: Windowpane, Fitzroy.
5: People's Market, Collingwood.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lizzie Hewson's Garlic Prawn Burgers


Like a blue-tinged monster from the deep, I've finally surfaced from a month of what can only be described as personal admin hell. If you've ever quit your job, thrown a house party, scrubbed and moved out of said house, juggled a rather complicated love life and started a new job in a new city, all while trying to fit in your Christmas shopping, you may have some idea of the kind of coals that I've been grilling myself over. Maintaining a scrap of finesse while gathering the motivation to actually, you know, do things like my hair every god damned morning has been full-on, so please ignore my absence from this space. 

Writing here has loomed in the back of my mind like an ever-present white elephant. But I've missed you, and I hope you'll be reassured to find that I've returned from battle laden with burgers for you all. These burgers belong to Lizzie Hewson, a beautiful friend of mine who is a sensational cook. This girl is at the produce market just about every weekend. She's slow-roasting lamb shoulders and whipping cream for tiramisu quite nearly every time I speak to her. She grows corn in her backyard. CORN! She's also lucky enough to represent some of the greatest restaurants and brands in Sydney (but seriously, ask her how many times she's eaten Quay's snow egg).

Lizzie's recipes are varied and effortless. They seem intricate from the outset but are simple and clean once you get started. Which is all part of their charm. She's a whiz, this gal, and was sweet enough to spend an afternoon teaching me how to make my favourite dish of hers, which soon enough will be released in her cookbook next year. 

The book will be a collection of recipes collated for cooks who want to be better, but aren't so sure where to start. You might be moving out of home and wish you'd paid more attention to your mother when she put dinner on the table night after night. Perhaps you just want a fail-safe ream of recipes that work every time, or an easy menu for a special occasion. Either way, you'll find what you're looking for in the pages of her book, keep an eye out for her name. 

Prawn burgers! Genius. Crisp fried in Panko crumbs for crunch, with tiny pops of capers and the grassiness of parsley, these should be at the top of your summer menu. Don't go easy on the mayo, either. 

Thank you to Sophie Roberts for the beautiful photography in this post.

Garlic Prawn Burgers with Lemon Mayonnaise 
Recipe by Lizzie Hewson
Makes 8 burgers

600g raw prawns - peeled
3 garlic cloves - peeled and minced
zest of 2 lemons
half bunch of parsley - chopped
half cup of baby capers - drained
Panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
vegetable oil for shallow frying
8 soft white buns
baby cos lettuce
juice of half a lemon
1 quarter cup whole egg mayonnaise 

Mince the raw prawn meat by chopping it up finely with a sharp knife. Mix in garlic along with capers, parsley and zest of 2 lemons. Using your hands, mould the sticky prawn mixture into patties that are roughly 10cm wide and 2cm thick. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, this helps the patties hold their shape. You can leave the patties covered in the fridge for up to a day.

For the lemon mayo, mix together lemon juice and mayonnaise. Set aside.

When you’re ready to serve, gently dip your patties into the Panko crumbs to coat. Heat a thin layer of oil in a non-stick fry pan until hot (you can test to make sure the oil is hot enough by dropping a bread crumb into the pan, it should sizzle). Place two patties into the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until golden. Carefully flip and cook for a further 2 minutes on the other side.

Remove patties and place on paper towel to drain. Spread a thick layer of lemon mayo on your white bun, then add lettuce leaves and top with a prawn pattie, plus more mayo if desired.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Whole Larder Love's Smoked Trout Pizza + A GIVEAWAY

*Edit: Entries for this competition have now closed.
There's something about men who are really into food and cooking isn't there? I think it's something to do with confidence, and it's about care, too. There are a hundreds of male chefs of course, but it's the home cooking that's really special when it's a dude behind the pans. 

I've mentioned Rohan Anderson's blog Whole Larder Love here before because it's like nothing else out there. We in the city whine and preach about eating seasonally and local produce and that kind of thing but he's actually out there living it. He lives by the ebb of the seasons and eats from his garden and hunts his own game. He organises tomato passata days at the end of summer and dries his own beans, can you believe this legend? All this with two little blonde daughters in tow who don't seem to miss the supermarket confectionery aisle. His website and book make me want to sharpen my knives, pick up a wicker basket, head out mushroom hunting and never come back.  His wonderful, colourful and original first book, published by Penguin, is a natural extension of his blog, where you'll find incredible food photography and tales of adventures in the woods, but alas no recipes - that's what the book's for.

In Whole Larder Love Rohan speaks loudly of sustainability and the pleasures of being self sufficient. He writes that "A downside of the civilised world is that we have lost the ability to depend on ourselves for essentials of everyday life... What if the current system fell apart? It's not improbable; many successful civilisations have crumbled at their peak. How would you get your food?" Well I for one, would survive off sprigs of thyme and some very green cherry tomatoes - the entirety of my tiny inner-city garden in my inner-city house, but Rohan and his family are set. They'd eat wild trout, rabbit and duck, foraged nettles and safron milk cap mushrooms for pasta made with eggs from their own chooks, easy.

Within the pages you'll discover the tools you'll need to set up a life like this, (he also recently built his own log cabin smokehouse, which was beautifully documented by Smith Journal here) and also how to prepare the food you find yourself, like how to skin a hare, for example - awesome. This is one for people that know not only how much better food tastes when it's from the wild, but also how much better it tastes when it's you who has put the work in to grow or find it.

Rohan's publishers were lovely enough to send me a copy of his brand new book Whole Larder Love to give away to one of you lucky people. All you need to do is leave a comment on this post, and I will announce a winner here at 10am EST on Monday October 1st, chosen by random number selection. This giveaway is open to anyone world wide - friends, go for it! And good luck.

If you're not lucky enough to win in this giveaway, pick up a copy here for A$29.99.

Whole Larder Love's Smoked Trout Pizza
Recipe published with permission from Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson

I cut this recipe in half when I made it, which made three quite large pizzas, so feel free to do that if you aren't feeding too many.

 Pizza Base:
8 cups (800g) 00 (bread-strength) flour, plus extra for dusting
700ml lukewarm water
14g dried yeast
1tsp caster sugar
semolina flour

To make the dough for the pizza base, first mix the lukewarm water with the yeast. Add the caster sugar, stir and set aside for at least 5 minutes.
Tip the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer or a large bowl if you plan on kneading by hand. Make a fist-sized well in the centre of the flour, and then pour the yeast mixture into it. Mix the ingredients until a basic dough forms.
Set the dough onto a flat kneading surface dusted with flour. For 10 minutes, knead the dough by pushing into it with the heel of your hand and then folding the dough in on itself. At about the 8 minute mark, the dough should feel smooth and elastic. If necessary, add more flour as you knead.
Dust the base of a large bowl with flour, and place the dough inside. Cover the bowl with a tea towel. Let the dough rest and rise for at least 30 mins, until it has doubled in size.
Separate the dough into 6-8 pieces, depending on how large you want each pizza to be. Sprinkle a flat surface with semolina flour, and use a rolling pin to roll each dough ball into a circle shape by pushing from the center out, all the way around. Aim for an even thickness of about 1/2 cm.

tomato passata 
1 x whole smoked trout, meat removed and de-boned
marinated goat's cheese
olive oil
rocket leaves
fresh basil 
(I also added some halved cherry tomatoes)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.
Add your toppings to the rolled-out pizza base, minus the rocket and basil. Drizzle olive oil over pizza prior to cooking.
Cook pizza for 25 minutes, serve with a generous garnish of rocket and basil and dress with extra olive oil.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

On The Road

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

- On The Road, Jack Kerouac

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mixing a Ruby Americano

There's something that sometimes happens when your whole world collapses - it's hope. Hope that maybe the best really is yet to come. Hope that those doubts you had late at night, that you pushed down, down, down, to somewhere below everything else, mightn't matter now. Hope that everything happens for a reason, hope for things that you never thought truly existed.

So you change the sheets, and you buy a bunch of ranunculus and ten kilos of blood oranges that seemed excessive at the time but were actually a great idea, and you drink a little with friends that laugh and make you laugh. You drink to the happiness you had for a while, but also to the future. To the life you're about to live, and to endless possibility, and the hope that maybe, just maybe, life might be even better from now on.

Onward we go. And upward, too.

A Recipe for a Ruby Americano
Inspired by a cocktail from The Hazy Rose cocktail bar in Sydney

Serves 2

In each glass (a stemless glass works best, I love these) pour 30ml of Campari, and 30ml of sweet red vermouth (I used Cinzano) over plenty of ice. If you have those giant cubes of ice, they would be great. Juice one large ruby grapefruit and divide the juice between each glass. Stir, and garnish with a twist of ruby grapefruit zest. Be happy.

All photographs by the very talented Sophie Roberts, my partner in crime. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Week in Berlin

Berlin - A To-Do List

Little Otik
We've talked about this little place before, and it is a must-do for simple, effortlessly graceful food. 
Katie's Blue Cat
I stumbled upon Katie's Blue Cat on my last day in Berlin and was blown away. English-style baked goods like treacle buns, homemade crumpets with house jam, real coffee and teas, giant cookies and a cute little collection of tables out on the street.
(Pictured second from the bottom). Great little cafe for breakfast in Kreuzberg. The ricotta pancakes with a dusting of crushed pistachios, gooseberries and raspberries have seriously stuck in my mind. Coffee ain't that great, but there is a serious lack of good espresso in Berlin.

Passenger Espresso
Absolutely tiny, but packs a punch with its strong, Australian-style coffees and ANZAC cookies in a glass jar on the counter.
Santa Maria Mexican
Tacos! Incredibly potent hibiscus margaritas! On one of the busiest streets in Kreuzberg, this is a great place to start the night off on a good note, the staff were a bit spacey and it is PACKED in the summer, but that didn't really bother us.

Club der Visionaere
A hippie flop/bohemian cafe-cum-club on a barge tied to the bank of a a canal under a giant willow tree. It's only a 1 Euro entry which you get back if you return your glass to the bar when you've finished with it. Cool electronic music.

Just down the road from Club der Visionaere, Cake is filled with mismatched vintage couches, the bar looks like it was set up in about 20 minutes from a bunch of crates and a few slabs of beer, but the music is fun and the drinks are seriously cheap.
A club with a rooftop bar in the middle of an office building in the city, great view over Berlin from the roof. We saw Justice here a couple of years ago and they hold regular parties with similar acts.
Absinthe Depot 
Enormous range of real-deal absinthe, (not the fake dribble we get in Australia). The staff are really helpful in helping you choose the right bottle, and you can buy all the tools here too like water fountains (should you get really into it) and sugar grates.

The best beer garden in Berlin in my opinion. Click the link to read more.

Stil in Berlin
ExBerliner Magazine

Badeschiff pool
Shop in Mitte 
Shop around Kreuzberg  

Friday, August 24, 2012

Through the Tiergarten

1. Hire bikes. 

2. Whiz around under the green canopy, over bridges and around tight corners, just like you should be able to do in Central Park but aren't allowed. 

3. Race down the avenues, circle the fountains, screech to a halt outside a small cafe in the middle of the park.

4. Order a beer and a plate of pork schnitzel like it's nobody's business. 

5. Ask for thinly sliced cucumber pickles and potato salad. Eat apple strudel for dessert and pretend you're German. Get back on your bike and try and find your way out again. 

6. Make sure you make the most of it, because you never know what's coming next.

Friday, August 17, 2012

PraterGarten, Berlin

This was one of our favourite places in Berlin. I'd read about the PraterGarten on a list of recommendations that someone at work had given me, but we'd been swamped with so many lists that I hadn't actually researched it at all. 

After shopping out Rosenthalerstrasse in Mitte from nose to tail, we strolled past a giant sign glowing in the afternoon sun, and so in we went. It was one of those decisions that is so typical of traveling, and that never happens in everyday life. In real life there are always plans, always schedules, it's rare that anything just happens because you let it. You can spend all day searching corners and alleyways for some obscure underground bar that a friend of a friend  recommended, only to leave angry that you couldn't find it. A stumble-upon is so much more fun than PLANS, are you with me?

It's a pretty simple recipe for Good Times, really. Find a nice clearing off one of the busier streets in the center of the city, a place with shady, foresty trees that dapple the light. Set down a few benches - nothing fancy. Serve beers in a single size (giant), and some classic snacks. Sausages zigzagged with mustard and tomato sauce, with a perfect ratio of bread to sausage (pictured) and pickles the size of something completely inappropriate. When the sun decides to split, turn on the lights that you thought would look charming strung up in the trees. Let people stay until midnight if you want, and make everything cheap. Very cheap. And then, friends, when that's all done, give yourself a high five, because you've just found a winner.

10435 Berlin – Prenzlauer Berg
Kastanienallee 7 – 9