All about Asian, or, back in Sydney

Since arriving back in Sydney with only two knives (a Kyocera Kyotops and a handmade high-carbon paring knife, if you must know), I’ve been eating a helluva lot of Asian food. This has been for two reasons: I have missed the proper stuff big time, and I’ve been writing a whole stack of recipes for an Asian food company.

Our first day in Sydney, after landing at an ungodly 5am, included dumplings with friends at Zilver and a bag full of chilled Thai meals, to eat in a coma state later that evening, from Mae Cheng groceries on Campbell St, Haymarket (the caramelised deep-fried catfish was fantastic). Since then we’ve revisited the marvellous Spice I Am twice (the original is more interesting than the Balmain restaurant we reckon), raced into Red Lantern’s new venture on Riley St (it’s not just gorgeous, but produces singing dishes such as jellyfish and poached chicken), and scoffed pho in Marrickville at Ben Ngu. All this frantic chilli-laced munching made Ben ask if Sydney only served Asian food. And then I started developing a whole lot of recipes for Asian Home Gourmet, and not only our meals out on the town, but our meals at home (on our laps, it must be admitted – we’ve yet to get a table…) became almost exclusively Asian.

Writing recipes for a market who don’t want to spend over 30 minutes cooking dinner means that I’ve taken a lot of recipes that would normally use slow-cooked methods and changed them to make them as fast to preparImagee as possible. One that worked particularly well moved from a slow-braised pork neck in caramelised sugar and soy, to cubes of gorgeous Feather and Bone Melanda Park pork loin and fat, fried to brown and render fat before the addition of rock sugar and soy to caramelise and then Thai red curry paste, rice wine and a little water. In the background you can see my latest favourite noodle, Taiwanese song hua ban, which has a pulled, frilly edge and wonderful spring to the bite.

Ben has been assured that the next few weeks will involve foods other than just those from the Asian continent. And so they will, of course, because we’re heading back to London.

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The Algarve, Portugal

Cooking for athletes on the Algarve turned out to be easy. All that was difficult was avoiding too much of the cheap, extremely quaffable vinho verde.

The fish markets in Quarteira were a particular pleasure, heaped with everything from the wild and wonderful (long, snake-like espada fish, black with bulging eyes and enormous teeth) to the cheerfully appealing (cockles, pippis and clams in abundance, all spitting at shoppers as they walked by). We bought a gleefully ugly monkfish for a garlicky stew, turning its liver into pate along the way, and ate a plethora of local breams and shellfish. The local recipe for cockles couldn’t be simpler or more delicious: steamed in olive oil, garlic, white wine and fresh coriander.

Wild herbs such as lavender, thyme and rosemary grow by the sea and provided a ready source for cooking over the month we spent there. Rabbit was widely available and made an excellent paella with chunks of sweet blood sausage, and other meats, particularly pork, were cheap and available in wide range of cuts. Greens are in abundance, locally grown, and while we were there grelos (in this case the flowering tops to a kale plant), made for very pretty, if occasionally stringy, eating. Also popular locally are warrigal greens! Yes, Australia’s own native spinach-like plant has made it all the way to Portugal, where it’s become a popular vegetable patch addition. Apparently the plant is also grown in France. Why it’s not grown in more Australian gardens, I don’t know. While we were there we added handfuls of warrigal greens to seafood stews, or sauteed with garlic to serve with simply prepared pork cuts.
Near the cross-country course where runners from around the world kicked up their heels, a local restaurant Casa do Mel (known locally by English-speakers as the Honey Farm) provided good meals, gorgeous housemade carob cakes (with carob prepared from local carob trees) and local honey from bees drunk on the region’s orange flowers. Did I mention the oranges? Why the runners sucked on gels on long runs, I’ll never know. I just nicked an orange off the handiest tree!
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Iten, Kenya

Retrospectively, a quick take on cooking and eating in the Kenyan countryside amongst the world’s best marathon runners.

Meat comes sliced off a carcass to order from small corner shop-like butchers, who hang them in the window – quite appealing I think! No need to know what to ask for, just point. Beef is most readily available, however mutton and chevon also appear during the week. For £4 we bought a shoulder and most of the spine of a sheep and slow-cooked it in local Guinness (7%), local honey and toasted cumin seed. Less successful was slow-cooking beef on the bone, which took three days (!!!) of cooking to get somewhere close to tender… no doubt a result of the aged and active nature of the beast and of the altitude (Iten is 2400m above sea level).

You can’t run or travel through Kenya without getting to know ugali. Kenyan athletes swear by it, and eat it with every meal. Think of a cross between Deb instant mashed potato and polenta and you have it. It’s basic, very filling, high energy and it sucks the moisture from every corner of your mouth. We wrote an alternative cookbook for uga (the flour ugali is made from) called 101 things to do with uga including recipes for tortillas, cornbread and sweet breakfast porridge. None of the recipes included turning it into ugali.

Food is basic in Iten. There is no rich heritage of elaborate dishes; every day most people eat ugali, chapati and bean dishes. Meat is simply prepared by finely dicing and cooking in a simple stew or stir-fry. Hotels serve heavily sweetened milky tea and fried bread, similar to doughnuts. Local food markets are at their most vibrant and colourful when full of local fruits including a myriad of plums, mangoes, avocados and of course, bananas. Travelling down to the valley floor is to descend into a warmer, more tropical clime where the largest, plumpest and most aromatic of these fruits come from. Women offer their gardens’ fruits on platters by the road. For the first time in two years I bought a bag of proud mangoes wafting tropical scent, and tucked in, up to my elbows in flowing juices.

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In Parma, Fez Mangal, Bree Louise

More good eating out this week.

In Parma in Fitzrovia is a small, very European-style cafe showcasing Parma ham that’s as sweet and pretty as rose petals, albeit shaved off of a leg proudly on display at the counter (its trotter and hock modestly removed). Other than the superlative salume another highlight is the range of polenta dishes, including a super rich, warm sliced polenta draped in a very sexy way in a pearlescent cloak of lardo.

Small, bustling Fez Mangal in Ladbroke Grove is very serious about its time limit of one hour and fifteen minutes per table on Friday and Saturday nights. We were asked at least a dozen times if we’d like to order our main dishes, despite ordering felafels (disappointingly they’d been reheated in the microwave so had soft exteriors and dry interiors) and mezze (including a fantastic tart, zesty tabbouleh), and waiting for our fourth diner to arrive (he was fifteen minutes late for the booking). Fortunately the yogurtli adana and lamb shish were excellent kebabs although next time I want to visit it will be at a quieter time.

Two visits in one week to Bree Louise in Euston confirms I like this pub a lot: it’s an old man pub in the best kind of way (old carpets, lots of interesting ciders and ales, and there are plenty of old men into the bargain). I was impressed with the Pig Orchard Philosopher Cider and the Titanic Iron Curtain Russian Stout. The food available isn’t that hot (the chips are pretty good at least), but the drinks are worth travelling to check out.

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Meat, fish and Eritrean

After a month spent in rural Kenya we’ve been enjoying some catch up eating: lots of cheese, sausages, bacon and trips around London to eat out.

I cannot recommend highly enough the fabulous @markymarket and his great service scouring the markets each week, offering his very worthwhile suggestions for purchase and delivery service. This week we’ve been scoffing wild boar and apple, and beef and Guinness sausages. Today I had a piece of his Hereford bavette for lunch and it was perfect – I love the flavour in this cut, and I didn’t find these steaks tough at all, rather I’d say they have wonderful texture (something of course lacking in tenderloin).

On my trot around town I stumbled on The Fish Shop on Kensington Church Street and was impressed by the variety of beautiful, albeit somewhat pricy, flat fish. I came away with the more budget conscious mackerel which couldn’t have been fresher and were bloody lovely roasted with a good splash of chardonnay, finished with butter, lemon juice and chervil.

After two years meaning to visit I finally got around to visiting Mosob in Westbourne Park, and can highly recommend it, particularly for its simply perfect shiro (chickpea flour sauce), the best version I have tasted outside of Ethiopia. My review is up on View London website.

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