Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Catching up (yet again)

Yes, I know, I've been gone a while. I'm sure my readers (all 3 of you, maybe) will have missed me, but right after exams, I went gallivanting places with no internet connection, hence my disappearing act. As I write, I am sitting in a nice little room in Oxford, England, with the sun shining in from the window onto my desk. Looking out, I see beautifully lush green grass and a babbling little brook that bubbles merrily while snow white swans float down, surrounded by mallard ducks bobbing up and down. Why am I here? C, R (another friend from uni) and I are all here at Oxford University for a month long summer school program on Int'l Human Rights Law (since we're all in law school and stuff). On our way here, C and I decided to do a bit of travelling. Ergo, involuntary internet hiatus.

Leaving Melbourne about 3 weeks ago, C and I took 3 days in Hong Kong to see my family. Noy many (if any) of you may know this, but I lived in HK for 8 years after moving from Adelaide at the age of 10, after which I headed to Melbourne for uni. HK is possible THE BEST place for authentic Chinese food of any kind, and there is just so much of it everywhere. The entire culture is built around eating, resulting in a bustling, cosmopolitan city where East meets West, especially with regards to the food. I know you guys are hanging out for the food talk, so I'll get right down into it. We literally ate and ate and ate for those 3 days. We had authemtic yum cha in the morning surrounded by lots of old retired men and women gossiping and reading the paper, as steaming bamboo containers of har gow (prawn dumplings), mini glutinous rice packets wrapped in lotus leaves, malay cake (a beautifully spongy Chinese.. well, sponge, cake) and char siu pao were put before our hungry mouths as the smells wafted into our noses. The most unusual dim sum they had was a black and white sesame seed paste bun. I LOVE sesame seed generally, and sesame seed paste filled dumplings are my favourite Chinese dessert, so this was an absolute winner in my book. Beautiful.
We also had Shanghainese food, another one of my all-time favourite cuisines (right up there with Indian). We had succulent xiao loong baos (steamed pork dumplings - the special part is that there's a bit of tasty soup enclosed inside the dumpling when they steam it, so be careful when you bite into it lest a hot stream of soup squirts out onto your clothing, or even worse, into your eye) and dan dan noodles (Shanghai 'pulled' noodles in a spicy peanut-y soup), both favourites of mine.
Our last meal was at a local restaurant in Shen Zheng, an area whose restaurants specialise in roast goose. In my opinion, roast goose is a hell of a lot better than duck. The meat is more moist, there's a great depth of flavour and when you roast it the chinese way, the honey-glazed crispy skin (fat and all) is an essential part of the taste when eaten with the dark meat. Taken simply with plum sauce, steamed rice and some green veggies to balance it out, it makes one hell of a satisfying meal.

After leaving HK, our original plan was to head to London for a week. Whilst in HK, however, we decided that this, being both our first times in Europe, would be a great opportunity to see other parts of Europe. Somehow, with the help of lastminute.com, we found ourselves a few days later in Ibiza, Spain. Now this place is known mainly for the crazy insane all-night discos, beautiful beaches, hoardes of English tourists and the origin of many a Ministry of Sound music album. Those of you who know, the original Cafe Del Mar is actually here. I'm not really into techno or house music at all, so me? I was just there for the sun. Our days consisted of waking at noon, having a huge meal with sangria, margaritas, pina coladas or daiquaris, falling asleep on the beach for several hours in the afternoon, wandering amongst the rambling windy cobblestoned streets to do some shopping, snacking on some fresh watermelon, more cocktails or homemade icecream, tanning some more, watching the sun set with yet more cocktails, then heading to a club till sunrise when we would flop into bed - then do it all over again 6 hours later. Trust me, the best and surest way of getting over jetlag. But the food, oh, the food. We feasted on paellas, fresh calamari, fish and other seafood caught earlier that morning. We had some rather touristy, b ut still excelent, Tex-Mex food - burritos with chorizo, nachos with beans, cheese, sour cream and guacamole, tacos with chilli con carne. To commemorate our last night there, C and I indulged in the best Spanish food we've ever had at El Rincon de Pepe, allegedly the first tapas bar in Spain. Whether this is true or not, it was the best tapas I'd certainly ever had, and judging by the number of locals there, it was probably true in the town of San Antonio (and possibly Ibiza). Accompanied with a lovely white wine, we started with some bread and olive oil, as well as a marinated eggplant, peppers and capsicum salad. Gazpacho then arrived, as did a Spanish spinich omelette (more like a frittata than anything else). The best deepfried baby squid then arrived, all crispy and hot and tart from the lemon juice. Mussels cooked with vinegar followed, as did lamb kebabs with home-cut fries. Full as we were, C insisted on trying at least Spanish dessert, which turned out to be a version of creme brulee. It was served cold, but with a crisp toffee top and tasted deliciously cool, feeling more like a firm custard. We rolled home after that, perfectly content.

Sunset with sangria

Paella, dispersed with beautiful prawns and mussels; and deep-fried calamari rings, eaten surrounded by a bunch of Spanish middle-aged men drinking coffees and no doubt gossiping about the 2 obviously foreign girls in their midst.

El Rincon de pepe - Best tapas EVER.

Unfortunately, all holidays must come to an end at some point, and ours unfortunately did. Heading into London was an interesting experience. I admit we were a bit biased against London, having just had the holiday of our lives in Ibiza. C was definitely not impressed with London, wanting to get out of there as soon as possible. As for myself, I enjoyed the architecture, the history, the museums and found everything fascinating. The British Museum and Library was awesome, as was Westminster Abbey and Cathedral. Hamley's, a children's toy store, was fun, even for grown-ups such as ourselves. Harrod's was ridiculously overpriced, though the famed hot chocolate is apparently to die for. Other foodie highlights weren't much to speak of, except for a fantastic
£4.5 full English brekkie at a random cafe - two pieces of toast generously buttered, sausage, fried egg, mushrooms, baked beans and bacon. Deliciously greasy and satisfying. C also managed to find the perfect muffin at EAT whilst waiting for our flight to Ibiza from Gatwick airport - i think it was something like bran, cherry and oatmeal. Absolutely wholesomely delicious. Despite all this, I'm not fully convinced by London. I've seen enough big cities, and with the exception of the history behind it, London seems to me just like any other big city - large, packed with people, sometimes unfriendly.

After arriving in the beautiful little town of Oxford, I have been impressed with the charm of this small town as well as the quaint little cobblestone streets and the beautiful Oxford campus that spans across the whole Oxford CBD. I'm living at St. Catherine's College, which, as a 'conference' guest, we have been getting the best treatment, and this means 3 meals a day, catered fully. Breakfast is a full smogasboard of cereals, pastries, cold meats, fruit and toast as well as hot breakfasts with sausages, beans, mushrooms, eggs and bacon. After our morning classes, we have coffee/tea with biscuits. At lunch, we have starters, then the main meal (yesterday was seared swordfish steak with some sort of creamy sauce, salad on the side, bread roll, cheese and crackers and icecream for dessert). And if that's not enough, dinner is pretty much the same as lunch. I mean seriously, yesterday was confit of duck with honey and ginger glaze, served with creamy mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy; topped off with banana cheesecake with caramel sauce. We are so well fed here that I'm positive if I eat everything, I will go home with added weight (the complete opposite of what I was hoping for), so I've taken to skipping lunch just so I will at least be hungry for dinner. That seems to have backfired against me today, as its 6.10pm (dinner's in 50 minutes) and I've been absolutely starving for the past 2 hours. It's been lovely recapping what I've been doing, but I've missed the foodie world. I'll keep you guys, whoever you are, posted on the highlights of English cuisine. Till then, cheerio!

The beautifully green Hyde Park Corner.