Fish & Chips the Aussie Way

 

Fish & Chips on the pier. Fremantle, Australia

 

We recently ventured down unda’ for the first time, travelling to the city of Perth on Australia’s sprawling west coast. The flight was a short 4-hour commute from Jakarta, but the difference in worlds here felt as if we were light years away.

Hello infrastructure! Is that you blue sky? Look, sidewalks! You mean we can communicate with each other using one common language? (no pointing…no signals…no drawing pictures?)

Sarcasm aside, it was great to experience 4 days basking in the glow of the developed world and the brilliant skies of Australia’s sunniest capital city.*

We took the sparkly clean and wonderfully efficient metro rail (oh, public transportation, how I’ve missed you!) over to the sea port town of Fremantle and enjoyed the day on the beach, the pier and strolling along the tiny town’s myriad of artist shops and local coffee houses. To my foreign eyes, the city oozed an eccentric mixture of New England vibes, a smaller San Francisco topography, distinctly British undertones and the general mystery of being in the land  down under (♫ where women glow and men plunder! ♫)

So when we ran into a popular eatery that touted fish & chips and local Aussie beer to be enjoyed while sitting at the New England style restaurant on the San Fran-esque looking pier by the Indian Ocean, I wasn’t in the least phased at this cultural hybrid of a situation.

But I was surprised to find that the fish & chips meal was the best I’ve ever eaten. Being once a resident of London, I can honestly say that I’ve had more than my fill of fish & chips from various pubs around the city in various life situations. When I was feeling poor (which was always) I ate fish & chips. When visitors came to town (which was frequent) we ate fish & chips. When I was drinking pints (which was also frequent) I ate fish & chips. When I was studying (which was daily) I ate fish and chips.

And honestly. This one beats them all. The fried breading was light and fluffy and falling off a juicy, fresh white snapper that had been grilled in lemon and lime. The vinegar was tangy, the chips were salty and there were no “mushy peas” to be seen. Washing it down with our Victoria Bitters made us feel truly connected to an amalgam of worlds–delightfully those of the developed variety.

* Perth enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and was voted one of the world’s most livable cities.

April Showers

 

 

tea house

 

I have been refraining from blogging recently, as doing so only cements the hard cold fact that…yes, my parents have left China. Yes, their much anticipated visit is finito. And yes, I’m left in a desolate apartment (the boyfriend’s on another business trip in Jakarta) with only the empty shells of eaten pistachios to remind me of a more festive time.

Sad.

Well, at least I have a 15,000 word dissertation to keep my mind off things! With only 14 days to start and finish this year’s final thesis, who has time to wax nostalgic over parental visits and entertain feelings of homesickness?

Okay, perhaps this is even more sad.

Well one positive thing to be happy about is that my mom brought me 2 dozen of those sinfully sweet Cadbury Eggs over to China. Being my favorite (but seasonal) treat as a kid, I got hooked on these little delights when I lived in London last year and discovered that Cadbury Eggs are offered all year round (and, consequently, for my weekly consumption).  They aren’t sold here in China at all, so having 24 of them all to myself is…

Okay, perhaps the fact that the Cadbury Egg constitutes a “positive highlight” in my life right now is the saddest thing of all. 🙂 But it’s always the little things, isn’t  it?

Now excuse me as I get back to my thesis writing, with egg in hand.

Photos of my parents’ amazing visit coming soon to Facebook and Picasa…just right after I write a few 15,000 words.

The Best Dish of 2009

On the coldest day to date this winter, the boyfriend and I bustled around downtown Shanghai in order to prepare for our holiday travel. Hair was snipped, last-minute items were purchased and bills were paid as we got our proverbial “ducks in a row” for the next 3 weeks in South East Asia. A quick itinerary of our trip to follow. But first, a note about food.

 As it’s becoming a bit of a trend that my posts gravitate around wonderful food consumption, I thought it worthy to quickly mention the dinner I had on the aforementioned evening. After a long afternoon spent shopping ‘round the chilly city, Ray and I decided to meet at Ninsei: a local Japanese restaurant on Nanchang Road. Hunkered down in our winter coats, with rosy cheeks and numb toes, we were delighted to find the ambiance of Ninsei dark and cozy and the sake piping hot. 🙂 Our entire meal (from the seaweed wrapped fois gras to the green tea frappe with sugar cubes dessert) is worthy of a blog post unto itself. But I’ll keep it simple and just highlight the rasion d’être for this post:  my order of Oh Toro Steak. Ever hear of it? Because we had not.

Oh it’s fish! Wait, is this steak? Hmm, it looks kind of like white meat…could it be pork? Oh wait, see how it’s striated? Maybe it is beef!

Such was our conversation when the Oh Toro Steak arrived. (The obvious solution is: ask the waiter, dummy! But the staff was the “real deal” insofar as they only spoke Japanese and a bit of broken Chinese). The second solution to this problem was to bite into this unidentified, but lovely smelling mystery meat. So I did…and then I died and went to heaven. When I came-to, I declared (with mouth still watering): “I think it IS fish!” Warm, rare, lightly grilled with a buttery taste that was the most wonderful thing I’ve eaten, possibly, ever, in my entire life…fish. After savoring every.single. last. scrumptious. bite. I went home and promptly googled “Toro.”

Wiki gave me an array of possible definitions, although the only ones edible being:

 “(rodent) a spiny rat in the genus sothrix”;

and

“fatty bluefin tuna belly” 

I’m praying for banking on the latter. For those of you that know what Toro meat is, I’m sorry to bore you with my culinary naivety. But for those that don’t, I suggest running to your local Japanese joint and ordering it pronto. I’d attempt to describe the taste in a bit more detail, but I simply wouldn’t be doing it justice. Just know that if you like awesome, savory, melt-in-your-mouth food, that’s better than anything you’ve ever tasted…well, enough said. The smell alone is so alluring that (like me) you’ll dive right in without even knowing what animal it’s from! (And let’s all keep our fingers crossed that it’s not spiny rat genus afterall).

As 2009 is drawing to its close,  I can finally declare what my best meal of the year was with absolute confidence—a bold statement coming from a girl that’s spent the past year eating her way through London, Paris, Edinburgh, Dubai, the Greek Isles, Taipei, the metropolis of Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.

What’s your favorite dish of 2009?

UPDATED: Where the Wild Things Are…

But I feel relatively neutral about New York

The first thing I noticed upon arriving in Hong Kong was Bing Crosby’s deep voice crooning through the airport loudspeakers: “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.”

Then I noticed the three massive Christmas trees standing in the glow of festive colored lights, alongside a blinking sign that exclaimed, “Merry Christmas!” As I walked a bit dazed into the nearest convenience shop, I ran smack into a Chinese sales person wearing a Santa hat. What the…

“I’m so not in China anymore,” I thought to myself and, admittedly, with a bit of a smile.

While technically a part of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong enjoys its autonomy as a “special administrative region” or SAR—a fancy term allocating Hong Kong its own judicial, political and economic systems (in a nutshell, Hong Kong controls all state issues, except national defense and diplomatic relations).

A  British colony for over 150 years (this explains the Christmas cheer), Hong Kong was “re-unified” with China in 1997. This “one country, two systems” policy was the brainchild of  then leader of China, Deng Xiaoping, as a solution to dealing with Hong Kong’s advanced capitalist market and economy under Mainland China’s socialist system. (See? Only ONE China…2 systems, but only ONE China. Got it?)

One of the world’s leading international financial centers, this tiny speck of land is packed to the gills with people (over 7 million), business, retail, skyscrapers, glitz, glam, fashion, and FOOD of any type imaginable (seriously, you want Haute cuisine? Got it. Snake soup? Well they got that too.)

We enjoyed our first dinner at upscale CuCina on the 6th floor of the Marco Polo Hotel. Approximately 3 hours slipped away as we gorged ourselves on delectable fried crab in garlic crumbs, a large array of pork, crab and veggie Dim Sum with 3 incredible dipping sauces, rare beef fillets in wasabi sauce with spicy asparagus and, lastly, traditional Chinese fried noodles that put to shame the greasy variety I get in Shanghai (sorry, Shanghai, you lose in the chǎo miàn department)—all the while, licking our lips and gazing on arguably one of the best harbour views in the world. See below.

Fried crab in garlic crumbs

View of Victoria Harbour from restaurant

View of Victoria Harbour from restaurant

Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour

For our next large meal (and there were many) we decided to go the more traditional route and found ourselves in the most famous and long-standing Cantonese restaurant in Hong Kong: Yung Kee.

The famous Yung Kee

Since the roast goose has been the talk of the town since 1942, we had to try this specialty dish which boasts a perfectly juicy and succulent experience for the senses. The restaurant itself was an upscale version of traditional Chinese “canteen” dining rooms and I was happy to see that most of its customers were locals:  businessmen and women and typical Hong Kong families

The menu was daunting, with over 10 pages devoted to its culinary awards alone (it is the only Chinese restaurant to ever make Fortune’s “Best 15 in the World” list). With over 30 award-winning dishes to choose from, many of which I had never heard of (Pig Trotter anyone?), we decided to play it safe and go for the “Deluxe Fixed Menu for Two.”

tantalizing geese in the window

This entailed the Roasted Goose with Preserved Pig Trotter (Best of the Best Culinary Awards 2002); Deep Fried Prawn with Mini Crab Roe (Best of the Best Culinary Awards 2001); Abalone with Mushroom in Superior Soup; Steamed Garoupa with Chinese Ham; Wonton Noodles; and for dessert: Fresh Mango Pudding.

The goose was by far the best dish and well deserving of its culinary blue ribbons. The rest of  the dishes served won points for their exotic nature and fun names (what exactly IS an Abalone and what makes the soup “superior”?). However, the general consensus was that our “fixed” menu was on the pricey side and perhaps packed  more fan fare than culinary punch.

Our succulent, crispy goose

I’d surmise that apart from its glorious food, the second most indulgent aspect of HK is its nightlife. Basking in the afterglow of our goose with 5 dish accompaniments, we decided to hit up Lan Kwai Fong—the epicenter of HK nightlife and hedonistic happenings. A set of narrow streets and winding alleyways, Lan Kwai Fong is dotted every few inches with swanky bars, mellow jazz clubs and bumping discos.

Much of the area is closed off from traffic, giving the bar patrons freedom to spill out onto the street with drinks in hand, resulting in a perpetual block party on every corner. The dancing, drinking, shouting street scene looks like New Year’s Eve debauchery , but to the residents of HK, it’s just your typical Friday night. The video below provides a quick soundbite of the scene.

We christened the night off with seductively sweet lychee martinis at the dark and heady 2121 bar. According to my guide-book, it’s the place to “see and be seen.” Well the people I saw were typical Western suits, drunk tourists and incredibly attractive and swanky Asian men and women—alright by me. From there we  wandered through the pulsing sea of street minglers outside and found ourselves at The Cavern—a music joint where we were able to catch a live performance of a hip-hop/pop group. Typically, Lady Gaga and Jay-Z covers are not my cup of tea when it comes to catching live music. However, with a 6 piece ensemble ranging from drums, base, keyboard, 2 guitars and an incredibly long-legged female singer with a great set of pipes, the band was surprisingly very good and we even stayed to catch a second set (although, this might have also been in the spirit of my fresh mango and gin cocktail).

The rest of the night involved various stops at lounges such as Dragon and Tivo (as well as befriending a guy named Vikram on the street and making plans to be friends forever). Although this might come as a total shock, we ended our night at yet another food locale (I think I have a problem)—this time an Indian dive located down a tiny alleyway where we sat outside at folding tables and slurped spicy masala while listening to stories about India from the owner and his adorable 5-foot- 1″wife. A perfect and delicious way to recover from chaotic Lan Kwai Fong.

The last highlight of my short jaunt to HK was a trip up to “the Peak”—the highest point in Hong Kong and the place to catch spectacular views of the urban jungle below and the water beyond.

View from the Peak

As I boarded the plane en route back to Shanghai the next day, I wondered what exactly made this trip to HK so….(I searched for the word and surprisingly found..) comforting? Hmmm, was it the warm weather, delicious food, vibrant nightlife or gorgeous scenery that tugged at my heartstrings and made it hard to leave this island behind?  Although all of those aspects made the trip pretty damn fun, I have to admit: what made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside from the very start of my trip until the last moments on the Peak, was the constant and overwhelming Christmas spirit. The cheerful decorations and fabulous lights around every corner, the families bustling in and out of shops carrying bags of goodies, those old but so familiar Christmas carols playing in the background—all of these cheesy and commercial aspects created a context of comfort for me that I reveled in for 4 days and was only cognizant of once it was gone.  Well, I guess living abroad for the past year and half kind of sneaks up on you sometimes… and suddenly, you find your eyes misting over at a “Merry Christmas” sign in the Hong Kong airport or a Santa Hat on a Cantonese child. Who knew?

Full digital album of my trip here.

Where the Wild Things Are…

futurama Hong Kong

I’m currently in Hong Kong until Sunday and whoa, is it pretty freakin cool. I’m staying in the Kowloon district, which just happens to be the most densely populated place on earth (51,000 people per sq km). Okay, perhaps that doesn’t sound too enticing as you’re probably envisioning massive crowds and the likes of NYC’ s Times Square on speed. But I promise, with the teeming maddness of this place comes the intoxication of a multitude of different shops and cafes, towering sky scrapers against steep green peaks, a harbour hosting dozens of boats lit-up like Christmas trees and 10,000 different restaurants of which to choose (that’s right, TEN thousand). Besides eating my face off, I plan to revel in the warm weather (currently mid 70’s  farenheit and sunny) and partake in some serious people watching as the crowd here is deliciously sexy, multi-cultured and definitely wild. Updates to follow.

My temporary hood--Tsim Sha Tsui

UPDATED: Not Your Typical Turkey-Day

My very first time hosting Thanksgiving dinner (in China of all places) was indeed a delicious success. Despite the basic hiccups that come with the territory of being a 28-year old woman who’s completely ignored the art of cooking all her life, the endeavor went rather seamlessly. Here are some general tips that I learned from this first-time experience:

# 1: It doesn’t take as long as one would think to clean and stuff a turkey. What does take an hour (or if you don’t know what you’re doing like us, TWO) is the process of making homemade stuffing from scratch in order to fill that turkey. Consequently, our bird went into the oven about 3 hours AFTER we had originally planned (1pm instead of 10am). Mild panic ensued, but was subsequently calmed by the fact that my gas stove is apparently hotter than the fires of hell and the bird crisped right on time.

# 2: Don’t talk to the turkey in coddling baby voices while cleaning it in the sink. It drives the boyfriend nuts and apparently it’s not normal.

# 3: Okay, so what’s that flap of skin that hangs off the “back” of the turkey all about? I needed to consult Mama Lou for this one.

Well, first of all, she tells me,  that’s not the back of the turkey, sweetheart, it’s the front.

whoops.

She goes on: In our family, we always called that flap the “pope’s nose.” It’s actually the skin flap from the turkey’s former neck and makes a great place to pack-in extra stuffing when the chest cavity is filled.

Perfect! This is all great to know and makes total sense. But wait, what’s the chest cavity?

# 4: Bacardi 151 rum is less expensive than the other bottles of liquor in the store because it’s basically 151 PROOF fire-water. Don’t buy it for a party thinking you’re getting a “good deal” on spirits and certainly don’t serve it to your guests on an empty stomach.

# 5: Coffee and tea post Thanksgiving dinner are an absolute MUST. Turkey + wine + that pesky amino acid tryptophan = an intense food coma that generates stifled yawns, long silences and my boyfriend repeatedly asking if anyone would like a scotch.

# 6: Lastly, the most surprising discovery of this whole adventure is that turkey is not the main ingredient in a Thanksgiving feast. Neither are potatoes, or stuffing or the wide array of veggies. Nope. The main ingredient used in massive quantities in just about every dish you prepare is BUTTER. Sticks and sticks of melted butter. I have to admit, this little fact took the spark out of my Thanksgiving wonder. Of course everyone loves this holiday meal! It doesn’t matter the amount of love, or care or hard work that goes into prepping this feast. In the end, it’s all about the butter.

Overall, it was a great and very informative experience. Next year’s Thanksgiving in the U.S. of A. will seem only too easy in comparison.

Not Your Typical Turkey-Day

So it’s Thanksgiving Eve in the United States and I’m here in China. In an attempt to celebrate my native country in true Amurrican style, I decided to host a traditional Thanksgiving meal tomorrow for 10-12 of my friends. The starting product? This 20 pound frozen bird.

 

Frozen Bird

The goal? This guy…

The Goal

As I’ve never quite hosted a large dinner party before, let alone cooked any sort of meal involving more than 3 dishes, and certainly never attempted to broil a 20 lb bird…the whole endeavor is a bit challenging. But, the obvious fact that I’m living in Shanghai, China presents another hurdle all together. First, how does one exactly say “turkey” in Chinese?

Oh, that’s simple,” my Mandarin speaking friend informs me, “The word for turkey is ‘Kong Long.'”

Perfect. Then Kong Long we shall have. However, the only thing is…”Kong Long” in the Mandarin language does not in fact indicate our tasty feathered friend. Oh no, Kong Long actually means “dinosaur”…and guess who was popping into various stores around Shanghai asking if they sold a “dinosaur” that could serve 10-12 people?

What a cute little prank my friend played on me! Perhaps I should reconsider his seat at my Thanksgiving table tomorrow 🙂

The second hurdle (once you know the appropriate word for turkey, which is “huo ji,” thank you very much) is actually finding the raw ingredients one needs for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. After swinging by 3 different grocery stores, I realized that this year’s feast might be just a tiny bit different.

Because, well….why buy turkey meat when you can have chicken feet? Considered a delicacy in China, my local mart offers a wide selection served elegantly on ice:

Or perhaps you are craving something of a  more cold blooded variety. Well Tesco shopping mart has a great deal on some pretty languid looking frogs and slithery water snakes:

hao chi!

please pass the snake.

Despite the fact that my local grocer shop resembles a pet store, I was still able to score some traditional T-day ingredients for reasonable prices. The Kong Long turkey is…ahem, a different matter. At $135 USD a pop, there’s a lot riding on that bird, namely that I don’t manage to burn it black before the day is over.

It’s currently 3 minutes to T-day here and I’m already pooped from all the shopping, planning and perusing of live amphibians. Wish me luck tomorrow folks. An update to follow.

Oh, and Happy Kong Long Day! 🙂