Friday, April 17, 2009

Speaking of Cupcakes..

In my daily catch-up-with-the-world hour that I take at work every morning, New York Magazine is the first thing I go to for seeing what's up in New York, after emails and news in three continents.

As I love cupcakes (really, whoever says they don't is kidding themselves), this article I found today in NY Mag was fun to read. You might find it fun too.

In my walkings around this big town, I have sampled cupcakes from Crumbs Bake Shop as well as Buttercup Bake Shop, of which Buttercup was by far better. It was smaller, moister, less sickeningly-just-sugar-in-everything sweet. The ever famous Magnolia has yet to be tried, but the word is that the hype outweighs the product by much. We shall see.

But by far the funnest cupcake place I have seen is this place, called Baked By Melissa, in SoHo. (or is it NoHo? Lower East Side? Really, all the neighbourhoods in Manhattan tend to mould into only a few: Upper East, Upper West, Midtown, Below Midtown). Anyway, about the cupcakes. They were being sold out of a tiny tiny teensy window on Spring St. between Mercer and Broadway. Open 11-8 everyday, the funnest thing about this place is that it sells really teensy TINY cupcakes, they're probably about the same size as a AUD$1 coin - probably smaller.

Though probably a tad more expensive if you really are comparing to the bigger cupcakes out there, Baked By Melissa sells itself on the idea that "[when] You wander into a sweet selling bakery thinking maybe you'll order something... But when that door shuts behind you, you suddenly need to taste everything in sight". Thus the miniature cupcake was born, and you really can eat them all in one tiny delicious little bite. Flavours include Cookie Dough, Red Velvet (so delicious and moist, though really, with a cupcake that small, it's difficult for them to be dry, I'd imagine), Cookies & Creme, S'mores, Peanut Butter and Jelly (JAM), the ever American flavour of Peanut Butter Cup and Tie-Dye.

We tried Red Velvet, of course, Cookies & Creme and S'mores. They were all good, but I was really hankering after the Peanut Butter Cup, which was sold out. Oh well. Red Velvet was particularly good in my opinion, but then again, this town tends to do Red Velvet particularly well. Buttercup Cake Shop does a great version as well.
Prices at Baked By Melissa are 3 for $3, 6 for $5.50, 12 for $10, 25 for $20, 50 for $37.50 and 100 for $70. So, really, it's just cheaper if you buy 100, plus they're so tiny it doesn't really count.

Baked by Melissa is right next to Cafe Bari, and the cupcakes look like this:

This interview with Melissa Bushell, owner of Baked By Melissa, gives you more photos and more info. Om nom nom.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Best Pizza in New York

The claim of Best Pizza in New York is not one easily won. When I googled 'best pizza in new york', over 13 million websites claimed to know something about it. I, however, have taken to scouring NY Magazine, a much more complex (and confusing) version of The Age's Epicure, Yelp, Time Out magazine and Chowhound to guide me in locating delicious and usually (preferably) cheap food.

As we all know, New York, and indeed America itself, is a mish-mash of every single kind of culture, religion, peoples, races, languages that you can find. Much like Australia, the cuisine has evolved hugely, such that the only thing we can really think of as being "real" American food is probably deep fried and originating from the deep South. New York, however, was very much influenced by the Italians and pasta, sub sandwiches and of course, pizza, has become a main staple food. Seriously, impossible to find anyone who can say they dislike pizza. And who would? Really, who?

On the subject of famous pizza joints, New York certainly has a lot to contribute. I stumbled onto this website, which, while may be a bit dated on the subject of 'best' pizza, certainly lists many of the now famous worldwide pizza places that have become must-see tourist destinations. I myself have certainly had my fair share of pizza since I arrived in New York. Boy I Am Seeing, otherwise known as Yank, lives in New Jersey in a college town, which generally means that dinner tends to involve pizza, fat sandwiches (more on that later), sub sandwiches, hot dogs and other guilty type (albeit delicious) foods. Time honoured tradition dictates that since pizza = cheap, college/university kids therefore must = pizza. Though perfectly acceptable for a meal, whether this be dinner time or 3am, college-town pizza usually doesn't equate to 'best'.

The first time Yank and I blundered into Brooklyn, we were going to a bar where a friend was playing a gig. We headed over from Manhattan a couple of hours early, thinking we might find somewhere to eat before going to the show. My little NY guidebook pointed us to Grimaldi's, which coincided with the website, which made me happy, so off we went. After walking around for an hour (always look up directions before leaving the house), we finally found our way there.

Grimaldi's is located just on the waterfront, right under the Brooklyn Bridge, which makes for a very scenic environment indeed. However, unfortunately for us in March, just by the water tends to be a bit chilly. But no matter. When we got there at 7.30pmish, the lines were - literally - 100 people waiting outside. I forgot to take a photo of the queue, unfortunately, but it was quite amazing. After waiting for about 10 minutes, we decided it wasn't worth it given our time constraints and went somewhere else.

Last Friday, I got out of work super early and Yank suggested a repeat of Grimaldi's, mmm. We arrived at quarter to 5ish and despite that, there was still a queue of about 10 people, which, hello, significant improvement. 15 minutes later, we were seated. Grimaldi's has tables packed together inside, which makes for a quite loud meal and also doesn't allow you to get up much during your meal, as you will probably be forced to make 2-3 people get up as you inch your way out.

Famous Grimaldi's in Brooklyn

We were told it would be a 30-40 minute wait for the pizza, as even at 5pm, it was completely packed with people. Which, okay, fine. Mental dock of 10 points. We ordered a plain whole pie (no slices at all, whole pies only - this is a bit of a phenomenon in the States, as you can buy slices pretty much anywhere) with anchovies and mushrooms. It came steaming hot and delicious after I went slightly crazy waiting for it while watching everyone else's pizzas come out before ours.

So this photo doesn't really do it justice (it was dim and something's wrong with my camera flash), but seriously.
Best. Pizza. Ever.
The crust, OMG, was slightly salted, but crunchy and crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, cooked to perfection, and superthin. Toppings were good, though I've been told the pepperoni is amazing so I must try that next time. Very hot, very smoking and very very delicious. Worth the $20 plus taxes. Must be the coal oven. There is literally nothing wrong with this pizza (except perhaps that the slight sogginess of the tip of pizza slice.. minor) The crust reigns supreme and I eat it all. Nom nom nom.

So for those of you who might be visiting, small pie is $12, large is $14 (just get the large, take the leftovers home and eat it cold, still delicious). Unfortunately, no slices, no reservations, no delivery, no credit cards, take-out only if you wait in line with all the rest of everyone else. Boo. But I really cannot recommend it enough, if you also have a spare 2 hours somewhere and nothing to do.

And just to top it off, afterwards, you can mosey along next door to the
Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, like everyone else does, for a $3.50 per scoop of a possible 6 flavours: vanilla chocolate chunk; chocolate chocolate chunk; butter pecan; strawberry; peaches & cream and coffee. Add $1 for obligatory hot fudge that is made with 72% cacao content chocolate and possibly best richest hot fudge I have ever tasted.

Take the above, and add below and a walk along the Brooklyn Bridge - what do you get? The perfect New York afternoon.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

New Beginnings

Dearest readers,

For those of you who are still out there, hi! It's been a while.

About a year ago, I had decided to abandon The Secret Foodie due to a variation of factors, but mainly due to huge changes in my life that upheaved the life I had come to know for four years. During that time, I realized that I had to concentrate on me, myself and I. So I did, and I went away and concentrated on me, which had mixed results admittedly, but it was what I had to do.

So now, a new year later, I had relocated to a new country, a new city doing new things with my life, having moved on from foodblogs, reading, posting or otherwise. But a few days ago, I was running through the Internet doing research when I came across an article on food blogging, which led me to Melbourne Gastronome, which led me to her post about coming to New York in June (incidentally, where I am currently located), which led me back here.

Right now, I am sitting in my office in Manhattan, New York, where I have been since December of last year doing Important Things In The World, but mostly, having eaten a lot of new food, experienced a lot of new people and new things. And once again, I'm excited, really I am.

So, I think I'm ready now.

Hello world, how have you been? I can't wait to tell you about hot dogs, diners and the greatest city in the world.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

¡Viva México!

Hello blog-world, it's been a while. I apologize for my prolonged absence, it's been somewhat of a hectic year so far... but I'm ready now, I think, after having somewhat settled myself. BUT I have so much to tell you all.

First up, Mexico. In early March, a few friends of mine were heading off to Mexico for a conference and had decided to take the opportunity to travel around the country beforehand for three weeks. I was understandably jealous.. so to send them off before they went, we went to
Taco Bill the night before they flew out for dinner. Now, I realize that of all the Mexican/Latin American restaurants we could have chosen in Melbourne, anything, ANYTHING at all would have been more authentic than Taco Bill. Think Los Amates, Mi Corazon, whatever. But we love(d) how tacky it is, and we just wanted a big ass margarita and some nachos, so Taco Bill it was. It was, of course, your typical pseudo-Mexican affair - nachos with salsa, melted cheese and sour cream; burritos, tacos and quesadillas wrapped with chicken or beef, lettuce, cheese and tomato on rice and beans. Being no food snobs, we loved it, and loved also the huge huge margaritas they serve. Made us all very happy, I should say, though I'm not sure if the staff really felt the same about us.

However, Taco Bill is not the end of my Mexico story. Because by 2am the following morning, I had hopped online, found a space on the same flight as my friends and was packing frantically so I could fly out with them in 10 hours time. The adrenaline was pumping and I was too busy packing and making sure I had everything sorted before we got on the plane, but once I was served my complimentary drink 20 minutes after takeoff, I started to freak out majorly. C did a wonderful job of calming me down though and got my adrenaline pumping again when we got to LAX.. and after that, I was just ecstatic, it was the most spontaneous thing I've ever done and probably the best thing I've ever done as well.
In my 10 days there, we spent a few days in Mexico City, then down to Acapulco, then Huatulco before I boarded a bus to head back to Mexico City to the airport and the girls went onwards. We saw amazing sights, was completely immersed in the whole culture, tried every food we possibly could, saw as much as we possibly could. And good lord, we ate. Things are ridiculously cheap, to the stage where if we paid more than 50 pesos for a meal (around $5), it was expensive. The food is good, the tequila amazing and the beaches almost as beautiful as back home.

So, the food... Mexico City saw us eating at roadside taco stands where I'd love to tell you what was in them, but unfortunately I don't speak or read spanish, so ordering mostly consisted of pointing and thus I don't actually know what I ate. Only that it was good. One of our group was a bit worried about food contamination, but pffth I'm asian, I'll eat most things roadside or not, and frankly, in my opinion, what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Other memorable meals included eating at cantinas, which, according to Wiki, traditionally refers to a kind of bar normally frequented only by males for the purpose of imbibing alcohol and partaking of appetizers (bontanas). Apparently, according to Lonely Planet, they often traditionally had signs that expressly prohibited entry to women and children and although some of these restrictions are beginning to fade, it is still viewed as.. not inappropriate, but more, unusual, for ladies to be seen visiting a cantina. However, as I previously mentioned.... no hablo espanol. So in we went, and for 25 pesos ($2.5), the price you pay for a Corona, we got a fish stew, deep-fried whole fish, bread rolls, stewed pork and some rice. Plus a picture with mariachi's. Awesome. If you ever get the chance, take advantage of the tourist thing and do it, it's the real authentic experience and you'll be glad you did it.

Other meals included the more typically known enchiladas and quesadillas (maize tortillas wrapped around chicken, beef or pork, with cheese sometimes, covered with salsas and moles, or sauces); the best tortilla soup i've ever eaten; lots of rice; even more mole and beans. By the end of the trip, I was quite sick of the maize tortillas, but it's true what they say, nothing beats authentic food. No more Taco Bill for me anymore.
Another amazing find was our introduction to cajeta, a sweet caramel made from goats milk, giving it a rich flavour. Traditionally, it's eaten as a spread or filling, but is also wonderful on its own. We were given a little dish of this candy heated up so it was gooey and delicious, and a few spoonfuls each was more than enough to satisfy our sweet teeth.

If you take anything away from this post, let it be this: go to Mexico. Delicious and wonderful things, people and weather await you. Despite what some may say about safety and pollution and otherwise... personally, I don't think these things should stop anyone from exploring the world. The world will be what it is and if you don't take chances, you're not going to live life as fully as you can. So be spontaneous, live and eat. Even if the stuff you eat does come from the side of the road.

After coming back from Mexico, I was left with massive wanderlust without the ability to actually do anything about it. I had planned on heading to Europe with C (again) this July, but finances and other factors meant that I'm now in Hong Kong visiting family instead. Capitalizing on the Mexican thing, however, I really wanted to do something with Mexican food at some point. Today is J's birthday, so 2 weeks ago when we were all still back in Melbourne, I invited B & J and a few others around for a Mexican fiesta involving fun and food. We had 10 in total, and since J LOVES tacos (he is American), I decided to make tacos with a little bit more of an original twist. Dinner thus involved a menu of 40 burrito wraps, 20 taco shells, lots of lettuce, tomato and cheese, guacamole with extra avocado, chorizo con queso (chorizo and cheese), a simplified version of chicken mole and kangaroo fajitas. Lots of food, but delicious it was.

I took a look on the internet to see if I could get some easy versions of these recipes. The chorizo dish I got from here, and it turned out quite wonderfully despite me using just normal chilli flakes (albeit quite a lot of it), instead of the more authentic poblano chile. The kangaroo fajitas was basically just kangaroo steak sliced into strips, then sizzled with onions, garlic, capsicum and my own spice mix of cumin, coriander, chilli powder, chilli flakes and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure I just improvised and it turned out woderfully.

My favourite, however, was the chicken mole, which had a bit of an interesting twist to it. Mole, a Mexican sauce commonly used in many Mexican dishes was first developed in Puebla City in the 1680's, in a convent, no less. Since then, the neighbouring state of Oaxaca has become famous for a particular type of black mole which includes the special ingredients of special spices and chocolate. Mexican chocolate in itself is unique in that it contains large amounts of spices within them, namely cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. In searching for a simpler, but similarly unusual recipe, I found the following recipe. It is very very easy to make, and since it was a sauce, I sort of just went by a chuck-everything-in-in-rough-amounts kind of approach. It turned out beautifully, but I suspect this is a kind of recipe that is hard to mess up.

Easy Chicken Mole
2 tbsp olive oil
6-8 boneless chicken breasts (though I just bought chicken thighs and cut them up into smaller pieces)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped
3 cups salsa (I used hot)
1 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp chilli powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp peanut butter

1. Heat oil in a skillet. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and brown the pieces in the hot oil in a single layer until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Pour out all but one tablespoon of fat from the pan and add the onion. Cook until softened. Add garlic and continue cooking.
3. Add salsa, chicken broth, chilli powder, cocoa powder and peanut butter. Stir till blended.
3. Bring sauce to a boil, then return chicken pieces to the pan, covering them in the sauce. Lower heat and cook uncovered, basting the chicken pieces occasionally with the sauce until cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

N.B. The original recipe, found here, says to let the sauce thicken for 30-40 minutes, but I found a mere 20 minutes was quite good with the pan covered. But it was always going to taste good, really.

Yet more to come (really!) - Tjanabi, Sydney and Hong Kong.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Summer Lovin'

Since returning to Melbourne several weeks ago, I've been through a lot of ups, downs and downright scandalous things. In between, however, I've also played, ate, shopped and frolicked in the streets and gardens of Melbourne city. Though the weather itself has been slightly temperamental, the brilliant days of sunshine have definitely helped restore my spirits a bit. I've managed to pack my weeks with fun at home with the boys, late nights, dancing, bars, and of course, food.

Sister was recently in town for a few days between ending job A and starting job B. Whilst it was extremely nice to see her given our interactions with each other tend to amount to 3-4 times accumulatively per year, it did lead me to understand why sometimes I think it's better that Sister and I live in different cities (Sydney and, well, Melbourne of course). Nonetheless, I was very excited to have her here, and it also gave me the chance to do things I would never normally do on my own. Surprising, considering I do a LOT of things in Melbourne, both touristy and not.

Case in point: the last day she was in town, Sister and I woke up sore and achy from a night that started with "just one drink" and ended up 2am on Swanston Street considering whether or not to visit Hungry Jacks (we didn't, by the way. It was too.. just plain bad, even for me, and I am queen of eating everything, even bad food. I went home and had some homemade coconut bread instead. More on that later.). We dragged ourselves on the tram out to Chapel Street, I hidden behind dark glasses the entire way and she communicating only in groans for the entire tram ride. Brunch at a non-descript cafe involving wedges, pizza and black coffee definitely helped get our spirits up. By the end of the day, however, my shopaholic sister had gotten the best of me and I was reduced to my original state, dragging my feet as I walked. Finally, she suggested we see Prahran Market just to take a look. That definitely perked me up. I was entranced enough by the fresh pastas and cheeses offered by the delis, but I really got excited when I spotted Monsieur Truffle. I tried a bit of their kalamansi truffle as well as their original, and they are both absolutely out of this world. C once donated me a chilli truffle given to her by a lovely friend, S, and that one tiny truffle was enough to send me to chocolate heaven. This is what real chocolate should be. Eat your heart out, Cadbury. If that wasn't enough, imagine how I felt when I saw Crabapple Bakery sitting in a corner of the market. I think my actual reaction involved grabbing Sister's arm and spouting gibberish for about 10 seconds. One bite of Sister's musk flavoured cupcake was enough to send me to a further level of sugar heaven. I wasn't sure it was wise to continue with the eating, given we had reservations at Fifteen that evening. My point of this post? I love Prahran Market. But I'm sure all you Melbournites already knew about those wonders :)

Still to come: Fifteen review, my various attempts at a wonderful coconut bread recipe, Poor Man's Curry and mexican cooking classes at CERES.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


She didn't always like us.

I'm quite certain this was true. I've been told the story by my mother about how when my sister and I were just a 2 year old and her month-old baby sister, she would talk to us and play with us whilst my mother accidentally eavesdropped from the other room. Talking to us about how she was prepared not to like us, how she was actually disappointed when we were both born, because we were girls. She was brought up in an era that taught her girls were inferior -even herself- and that to be born a girl was the worst gift, and that the best thing you could do make up for your mistake was to bring a son into the world to continue the family name. So she didn't like us. But my mother also overheard her telling us that after all she'd prepared herself to not like us, after the intial disappointment, she also discovered how adorable she found us. How unexpectedly loving she found herself being towards us.

But no matter how she felt, her duty called and she was always there: after school to make our snacks, taking us to the park, buying us a treat of hot chips, looking for me when I got lost; being our chaperone, our keeper. Years of living together, a family of six, was both a blessing and curse. It could be the best times we've had together and hell at the same time. We would brawl as a family, all six of us yelling at each other until it was over. Then hours later, we would all be eating dinner together again. Sulking, but still together. Because that was what families did. They stuck together. And that she did. She kept us together.

Bitterness kept her caged for years. When her body began to be ravaged earlier this year, bitterness was what she clung onto. Why me? she would cry, even before when she was well. Why has my life been so unlucky? Why does everything happen to me? Why me? It was all she had, isolating her from the world, friends, her children, daughter-in-law, granddaughters. At some point, though, she began to let go. She began to see that when it came to the end, as it was increasingly becoming apparent, it no longer mattered that her husband had died after only 2 years of marriage, that she was left with a 1 year old and a 3 month old baby, no real money or job to speak of. She was talented, having been the first in her family - and a girl too! - to go to university. Not that a university degree in economics was any match for the still-sexist society of 1950's. Though she was poor, she had her dignity and pride. That, she kept throughout her life, even right till the end.

I was her companion. I gave her small mercies, unknowingly so important to her, like going to the markets, carrying her groceries, checking her bank accounts, just being there. And in return, she gave me her native tongues, several dialects of Chinese that benefit me to this day; my dry skin and allergies; my cheekbones; my temper; my mind; my penchant for mahjong; my love for Chinese food. She taught me the meaning of scrimping, how it was to live in harder times than we were fortunate enough to be born in. A pity I didn't also get her slim, strong, long legs, her endurance, her resolve, her wisdom. But she taught me how to be a family, how to be polite, how to have the proper manners. She showed me determination, wit, strength of will. She didn't always like me, nor I her, but no matter what, she always loved me. A grandmother's love for her granddaughter never wavers.

In the last months, her body grew weaker, but her spirit prevailed. Though it was inevitable, her departure still caught me unaware. Still does. Like she's just gone on holiday. I guess in a way, she has. Only this time, I have to go looking for her.

In memory of her, our family returned with her ashes to China. And we, of course, ate. Po Piah is a native Fujian delicacy. Aside from inheriting a rough knowledge of the Hokkien dialect, I also inherited a love for these freshly made spring rolls. They are eaten at family gatherings, where the ingredients are spread out on the table and everybody rolls their own in accordance with how they want it - spicier, moister, crunchier. The po piah "skin", or thin wheat flour pancake, is used to contain a delicious filling of cooked vegetables, thinly sliced beancurd, chopped chinese sausage, crumbled sweet peanut candy, shredded omelette, sprinklings of ho ti (a finely shredded version of seaweed with smatterings of sugar and salt), and finally, hoisin sauce to hold the pancake together. I've eaten many versions of this, where the ingredients and contents can vary from country to country. But to me, this will always be the most authentic way of eating it. One day, when it doesn't hurt so much, I will try and make my own in the best way I know how. And I know she will be proud of me for just trying.

Courtesy of here

Saturday, October 20, 2007

D.O.C. - Denominazione d'Origine Controliata

After a long week of studying with a few more weeks of study, essays and exams ahead of me, I've taken to getting up early in the mornings to get to the library first thing in the morning so I can work all day and afford to take nights off. So when B asked earlier today if I was free on Sunday morning for brunch, I asked whether he was free tonight for dinner instead. Fine by me, he said. After a failed attempt at convincing a few more friends to join us, I met him at 6.30 and headed down Lygon Street in search of a good feed.

We had planned on the un-original yet reliable Tiamo 2, but seeing the masses of people milling around the entrance on this comfortably cool spring night, we decided to search elsewhere. Stopping at the corner of Faraday Street, I suddenly recalled the new restaurant that Cindy and Michael, as well as Claire, had recently reviewed. Intruiged by the sound of a pizza and mozarella bar, I slyly suggested we try it out (as B, like most, don't know that my ulterior motives for trying out new restaurants is so I can come home and blog about them!).

D.O.C was still only half-full when we got there, so getting a table was the easy part. Perusing the menu, we were informed by the menu that D.O.C was named after the phrase used by various agricultural government bodies that set and oversaw the standards of some Italian foods, such as cheese and wine. The menu plugged "simple Italian food", and that was exactly what we got. B and I decided to go all out, and ordered something from the Mozarella Bar, which we thought was an entree, but turned out to be a main instead. B ordered an Assagio Di Salumi, an assortment of cured meats, and I went with the Bresaola, air cured beef. Both were accompanied by a ball of Australian Fior Di Latte mozzarella cheese and salted biscuits. B later mused that the mozzarella personally wasn't all that spectacular for him. I grudgingly agreed; though I was very enamoured by the idea of a Mozzarella bar, I had to admit perhaps my tastebuds weren't quite up to speed as to be able to appreciate the mozzarella for what it really was. Nonetheless, the cured meats were truly mouthwatering and eating a mouthful of mozzarella with melt-in-your-mouth meat on top of a chunk of the savoury biscuit was really an experience.

The pizzas, however, were on a whole new playing field themselves. B ordered the Pizza ai Porcini with wild mushrooms, truffle oil & mozzarella in bianco, whilst I went for the Pizza Soppressa with tomato, mozzarella, salame, provoloine, pesto di casa & olive. The toppings themselves were good, but the pizza dough and crust really stole the night. Though just a tad salty, they were crispy on the crust whilst satisfyingly chewy on the base. The greatest thing about them is how thin they are. Though B and I could only finish about half our pizzas after having eaten our mozzarella and meats, we ruefully looked back at the table when we were leaving to look at our half-eaten pizzas, a bit reluctant to leave them, but really just unable to ingest any more.

My only complaint about D.O.C was that service seemed a bit haphazard. For some reason, my pizza came out at the same time as the mozzarella "starters", which meant that by the time we got to it, the pizza had gotten cold. What showed how truly impressive the crust was, however, was that the coldness didn't detract from how good it was one bit. It was a bit hard to attract attention after our food had arrived. I couldn't figure out whether it was because we were seated in a nice cornered nook. Plus the price was a bit steep - the bill came to $40 each for two people. That being said, I would recommend it for the experience. And as B wisely said, you can judge how good it is by the number of Italians there were, and there were a lot of Italians. Not sure if I would go again in the near future - mostly due to the indentation it makes on my wallet - but worth another shot definitely.

295 Drummond Street, Carlton
No Bookings
Open 7 nights and Sunday lunch

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A taste of Spring (and a few bites of Winter too)

Spring is here. I can smell it in the nippy cloudy days where leaves are tossed down the street and into my face as I attempt to make my way to wherever I need to be. It's cold and very windy, but it's not quite the biting chilling cold of winter. Flowers are blooming, the nights are getting slightly warmer. That being said, winter is still lingering. It seems the cold fronts keep returning and Melbourne, and we along with it, are subjected to the short, periodic cycles of the days getting warmer, then colder, then warmer again. This little bee has been very busy in all the other aspects in her life, but very very slack in updating the blog. That being said, I've definitely been thinking about food - and this blog - quite a bit, and have eaten many things for the sake of writing about them later (he he).

The first thing that springs to mind is The Phantom of the Opera at Princess Theatre a few weeks ago. Those of you who have been thinking about it but haven't done anything about it, go and book your tickets now. I guarantee you, it will be a breathtaking experience, especially if you happen to have the privilege of catching the marvellous Anthony Warlowe as the Phantom. In fact, I want you to go see it so much, I'm willing to tell you that I cried. Three times. It was that good. The second best part of that experience, however, was that we had the chance to visit Longrain, which was just around the corner from the theatre. S had pre-booked, letting them know we needed to eat within an hour in order to mawwke the 7pm show. Arriving at 5.45, the place was empty and we were seated immediately. S, C and I ordered a drink, whilst R stayed on the water wagon. It being so long ago, I can barely remember what I drank (and the Longrain website doesn't help either), excepting for the fact that it was REALLY good. Like, orgasmically so. All I remember is that there was watermelon slivers in the glass, and they were very very good at the end after I'd had the alcohol, as they were infused with alcohol by then. Mmm. As for the food, we ordered 2 dishes and rice for the 4 of us. We barely managed to finish it all, as though the prices were steep, the portions were mighty generous. The caramelised pork hock with five spices and chilli vinegar was excellent, though we did have to pry the fat off the meat - but boy, was there a lot of meat. The second dish of beef ribs of some sort was similarly excellent. Both dishes were hearty and filling, especially with rice, and were just the things for ravenous little moi after a day of fasting in anticipation. Hee. We got to the theatre in time and enjoyed an excellent show.

I've also been on an ongoing hunt for cupcakes to cater for my upcoming birthday. I had originally planned on Sweet Source, who does vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with a variety of pastel-coloured icing piled high. Though they were a bit expensive, in my opinion, at $3.80, they were cute and individual and best of all, delicious. The first time I made enquiries, I was told delivery would be possible (as I don't have a car) to the venue, which was great. However, when I was putting in the order, I was then told delivery wouldn't be available. Hmph. After doing some online scouting, I decided to check out Let Them Eat Cake in South Melbourne (eliminating the famous Crabapple Cupcake Bakery for the sake of convenience, since they're so far away from Carlton). South Melbourne turned out to be a delight, despite the blustery and eventually rainy day. Let Them Eat Cake was a little bit of a disappointment. Their cakes, though highly reviewed and apparently recognised for its contribution to 'Cake' by Vogue Entertaining, Gourmet Traveller, Harper's Bazaar and our own Epicure, didn't really take my fancy. They just looked over-iced and over-hyped, and not at all the classy, simplistically decorated little cakes (like from Sweet Source) that I've come to prefer. Though I've never tasted LTEC's cakes or other items, I just wasn't all that taken by their presentation. Perusing the newspaper and magazine articles stuck up on the window outside, the wedding cakes did look nice - all iced white and pretty. Still... I just wasn't taken. Oh well. After talking to the lady for a bit, who informed me that to order cakes specially for my event would cost me $8, I was ready to hit the road and take my chances elsewhere, despite my lack of other options. Oh well, I thought.
Heading back into the city, I recalled seeing a cupcake shop opening on Degraves Lane just off Flinders Road and decided to check it out. Stepping into Little Cupcakes, I was enchanted to find a cosy little cafe with rows of beautiful little cupcakes providing a feast for my eyes. The prices seemed quite reasonable - $3.70 for a single regular cupcake and when ordering over 50, $3.20 each. I settled down to try out their $5.50 cupcake and coffee deal. Though the Red Velvet cupcake was just the tiniest bit dry, the creamy icing definately helped it go down easy. I was sold. Their flavours are Red Velvet, Creamcheese Chocolate, Dark Chocolate, Mint, Banana, Strawberry and Teddy Bear (with a little bear biscuit sitting on top of the icing). They are relatively cheaper and though they could probably work on their recipe to make them just a tad more moist, they are perfect for what I need them for. I'm just itching for an excuse to try out the rest of the flavours. Has anyone else tried out this relative newcomer to the cupcake scene?

Speaking of South Melbourne, I took my first jaunt around the market when I was there last Friday afternoon. Because it was cold, I looked around for a snack to pick me up and after hearing so much about the famous South Melbourne Market Dim Sim's, I scoured the place looking for it. There was a bit of a queue, but the line moved along quickly and 5 minutes later, I was holding two large fried dim sims with a bit of soy sauce. I'm not the hugest fan of dim sim usually, as growing up in a Chinese family quickly makes you a bit of a snob when it comes to pseudo-Chinese food. Yum Cha and authentic dim sum is usually more my scene. Dubiously, Ibit into the dumpling, nearly burnt my tongue and experienced somewhat of a food epiphany. It was... good. Really good. It was piping hot on the inside, great for a cloudy, rainy day, and though I couldn't exactly discern what most of it was aside from the pork, cabbage and strangely enough, a pea, all I could think that it was just really REALLY good. If you're ever around, seriously, do yourself a favour and get yourself one. It may be deep fried and not necessarily very healthy for you, but surely one won't hurt.

One last thing. I'm holding a fundraiser for the magazine I do some work for, Right Now Human Rights Law in Australia magazine at the Moroccan Soup Bar on Sunday, 28 October. Right Now is a student-run magazine, which publishes submissions from members of the legal community, students and human rights advocates about current human right issues. The fundraiser will include a banquet feast typical of the gorgeous Moroccan Sup Bar food, as well as many prizes like wine, basket of goodies, movie tickets that you could win simply by turning up to support us. Tickets are $25, so if you're interested in human rights, or simply in tasting really great food, email me at to book your ticket now and support a good cause!

Longrain Restaurant & Bar
44 Little Bourke Street

Let Them Eat Cake
147-149 Cecil Street
South Melbourne

Little Cupcakes
#7, 250 Flinders Street

South Melbourne Market Dim Sim's
#96, South Melbourne Market
South Melbourne

Friday, August 31, 2007


After rescheduling dinner with G and T 3 times, we finally settled on going out Wednesday night to celebrate G's conductoral debut. I've heard a lot about Rumi through the grapevine, and thought it might be nice to try someplace new. A phone call on the day of our dinner meant that I couldn't secure a table booking, but I was assured that they often left the outside tables and bar seats free for walk-in's.

By the time we got there, most tables were filled up even though it was only about 6.30. We vetoed the outside tables due to the windy weather, and settled down at the bar where we could watch the people go by. We got a lot of people waving to us through the window, for some reason. Heh. Though we were seated at the front of the restaurant, we didn't get to see the back, which obviously held more seating area than I had originally thought. The white-washed walls were decorated simply with beautiful green Arabic writing, which, I was told, was an extract from Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. The decor was simple, with wooden chairs and bare timber tables, but somehow, it worked much better than over-clutter.

After perusing the menu, G and T quickly decided to leave the ordering up to me, which I was more than happy to do. After we did so, a beautiful green glass jug of water and little glasses were brought to us, as well as cutlery wrapped in linen napkins. That really got my attention. Lord knows I love a good linen napkin in any restaurant, and in one as quirky as this, it gave me a good feeling about the food that was to come. And I wasn't wrong at all.

A little dish of labneh quickly appeared on our table, accompanied by pieces of flatbread curled into a stainless steel container. The labneh, we were told, was made from their own home-made yoghurt and was splashed with a bit of fragrant olive oil on the top. Tangy and wonderfully fresh, they were beautiful together. The sigara boregi, cigar-shaped fried filo pastries, arrived next, wonderfully hot and beautifully soft and flaky and crisp all at once with the melted haloumi and pinenut filling scalding our tongues deliciously. G and T were raving about the food at this point, and we couldn't wait for more to come.

The fried cauliflower with pinenuts, currants and onions came next, accompanied by the Persian meatballs with saffron and tomato sauce and fried calamari with a thick almond dip. The cauliflower, though fried and crispy, was not at all oily and the crisp pinenuts, caramelized onions and sweet currants were a beautiful accompaniment. The meatballs were fantastic, and though delicate in its presentation, packed a real juicy punch, especially when eaten with a whip of the fresh yogurt dolloped on top of the bright red sauce. The calamari had us all salivating for more. Deep-fried to perfection in tiny slivers with a generous shake of salt, it was very satisfying indeed.

By this point, we were actually all getting to the satisfyingly-full stage, but we had, for fear of under-ordering, decided to order a plate of rice pilaf with chickpeas and a lamb fatteh. We loved the presentation of the lamb, as it came with fried spirals of onions that were gloriously piled on top of the stew itself. We tried as hard as we could, but could only manage about 3/4 of both dishes before we had to give up. This was a shame, as I'd been eyeing the turkish delight and pistachio halva since we'd gotten there, and I'd heard a lot about the Persian fairy floss too. The only other thing I'd heard a lot about was the tangy, hot yogurt soup, which I'd really wanted to try. We vetoed it for the reason that it was hard to share soup between 3 people.
Next time, perhaps. Because there will definitely be a next time.

132 Lygon Street
Brunswick East
(03) 9388 8255

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chicken Congee

So Chicken Congee seems to be the new thing in the foodie world at the moment. After seeing mellie's post about making chicken congee and then reading the original recipe here, I figured if I could shell out $6 for a bowl, I may as well try and make my own.

Growing up, I was not the biggest fan of congee at all. Whenever I was sick in bed, the smell of steaming plain congee would come wafting up the stairs and I would inevitably be brought a large bowl. Eaten plain, it is nothing more than literally boiled rice porridge and doesn't have much flavour at all. My grandma's favourite garnish was flossed pork, which added to it a nice sweet meaty flavour. My mum, on the other hand, loved congee with a passion and whenever we went out for a traditional breakfast at our local wet market hawker stalls, she would inevitably work on a bowl of congee with sliced pork and century egg whilst my dad and I chowed down on plates of steamed rice rolls with soy sauce and sesame seeds. Thus when my mum heard of my newest cooking endevour, she started laughing down the phone, then proceeded to call my grandma, who commented that I was "finally becoming a real Chinese person" and perhaps given that I had started to cook Chinese food, maybe I could find a nice Chinese boy instead of the gwai lo that I am currently dating. Ha. (My grandma is, however, slightly mollified by the fact that A is studying medicine, which is apparently something that works very well in his favour. The Chinese are crazy (actually - just my grandma is).

My newfound love for congee was triggered by the cold winter that has thankfully been chased away by the warm shining sun, and was also spurred on by the wonderful sliced duck and lettuce congee I had a few weeks ago at Supper Inn. Yongtze's recipe was easy enough to follow, but I substituted with whatever I had, meaning I used chicken thigh fillets and minced ginger instead of chicken breast and the traditional sliced garlic. Also, I had unfortunately run out of soy sauce. However, I can tell you all that it still tasted delicious. Congee is one of those recipes, like pasta, where you can pretty much chuck anything into it and it will generally turn out OK. It's easy and warming and comforting and easy to store in the fridge to be heated up in the microwave when you get home after a long day. Plus, it can traditionally be eaten at any time of the day. I think I'll have some for brekky tomorrow morning!

Chicken Congee
(modified from Yongtze's recipe)

1 cup Jasmine rice
1 tbsp vegetable oil
10 cups water and/or chicken stock (I used a mixture of both)
1 tbsp minced garlic
1 chicken thigh fillet
Sesame oil

1. Wash and drain the rice in a pot. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tbsp vegetable oil, mix well and allow to sit for 10 minutes.
2. Add water/stock to the rice. Bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium low, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 20 minutes.
3. Marinate the chicken with sesame oil and minced garlic.
4. Add the chicken to the congee. Cook for 5 - 10 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. Take the chicken out and set aside to cool.
5. Season the congee with salt and cook for another 30 minutes or so.
6. Shred the cooked chicken and throw into the pot. Cook for another 5 - 10 minutes until the congee reaches your preferred consistency.