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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New Experiences

After finding ourselves in the city after a lesson at CAE at 9.30 on Monday night, we were starving and frankly, the thought of food was the only thing keeping us from not going home due to exhaustion of busy-ness. C thought of Supper Inn, which excited me beyond belief. Supper Inn holds a bit of nostalgia for me, as it was the place where my parents took me the night before I was due to start orientation at uni a while ago. Also, in my two-and-half years in Melbourne, I had heard lots about the famed congee (or rice porridge) and I was itching to try it. At that point though, probably anything hot put in front of me would have been OK by me. Nonetheless, we trekked to Chinatown and up the rickety stairs, and after a 2 minute wait, we sat and ordered. C ordered a thousand-century egg and pork congee, whereas I went with the less conventional, but more appetizing (to me, at least) roast duck congee, as well as some fried dough sticks to go with it. Mmmm. The congee was flavourful even on its own, without any smidgen of MSG (or perhaps they just cooked it so well that I didn't taste it). The duck was delicious, tender and slim with barely any fat. The chinese donut, sliced into little bits, dunked into the congee was just the icing on top of the cake. Speaking of cake, we didn't have any cake, but we did have banana fritters with vanilla ice cream covered with some type of heavy syrup. I loved every bit about that meal, including the fact that it was mostly conducted in Cantonese, there were a large number of Caucasians there appreciating the authenticity of the food, and also I'd been waiting to eat this meal for a few years now. Though the congee was a little pricy ($6 each), the meal worked out to $10 for each of us, so we were pretty happy with it. Perusing the menu, C commented that a proper meal with dishes a la carte would probably have worked out to way more expensive. However, it was still delicious and I pronounce it one of the Best Meal Ever, the first of its kind here at The Secret Foodie. In fact, just thinking about it is making me hungry....

As for tonight, on the pretense of 'research', I trekked to the Moroccan Soup Bar accompanied with T, C and a bunch of other girls. We arrived at 6.20 to be told that they were all booked out (we forgot to book ahead of time), but if we could eat fast, we could have the tables that were reserved for 7.30 onwards. So we plonked down, and little glasses of sweet mint tea were handed to us as we waited for the rest of our group to turn up. I, of course, had heard all about this place for a long, long time and had, again, been meaning to try it out. We all decided to go for the $17.50 banquet, and platters of pita bread and dips were brought out to us. The hommus was a particular winner in my books, and other parts of the entree platter included marinated carrots, potatoes and olives, broccoli dip, tzatziki. As soon as we had wiped the last bit of hommus off the plate, more plates laden with beautiful looking food came out and were put in front of us. We had spicy vegetable stews with couscous, roasted eggplant, lentil stew with rice, a potato dish with rice, the famed chickpea bake and homemade dolmades. The meal became a bit of a blur, as everyone tried to juggle spooning food into their bowls, passing all the dishes around and trying to eat at the same time. Everyone loved the chickpea bake, whereas I, though enjoyable, had concluded that perhaps I just am not necessarily that partial to chickpeas. I don't know. It was still really very good though, and I loved the not-so-crispy-yet-not-soggy bits of baked pita bread in the dish. I particularly liked the spicy veggie stews with couscous. My utmost favourite part, though, was the cardamom sweetened coffee and the sweets that came at the end. We had a slice with pistachios, which was very nice. There was also a cream puff that looked rather like a spring roll which I didn't try, as I was more partial to the biscuit which was crumbly on the outside and had a nice dollop of sweet paste (perhaps date?) in the middle. Delicious. At that point, the 7.30 party arrived and we thought it might be prudent to scooch off so they could have their pre-booked table. Also we were just itching to go home to drink our bottle of wines in our bags.

Supper Inn Chinese Restaurant
15 Celestial Ave

Moroccan Soup Bar
183 St Georges Rd
Fitzroy North