Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tean's Gourmet Crispy Prawn Chilli

I blame Celeste.  I was noodling along, quite happy with my cock sauce (aka Sriracha), when I read her delicious recipe for her mum's Mamak-style noodles.  At the end she had a picture of an interesting jar, under which she mentioned, quite glibly - "Serve with a side of sambal if wanted."  I filed the name on the jar - Tean's Gourmet Crispy Prawn Chilli - somewhere in my brain and told myself I should buy it next time I saw it.  I promptly forgot and months went past.  One day I happened upon it in D&K in Footscray, remembered, and bought it.

Crispy Prawn Chilli, where have you been my whole life?  Tiny, crunchy nuggets of fried garlic, chilli pieces, and pleasantly, just ever-so-slightly pongy prawns, bound together by radioactive red oil.  Oh, garlicky, spicy, crunchy seafood heaven!

I want to share my recipe (if you can even call it that) for fried noodles that is quick, easy, kid-friendly, but also delicious for adults, on its own or with a big turbo-charged spoonful of Crispy Prawn Chilli love on the side.

You need some noodles, either fresh or dried.  If using dried, they should be egg noodles.  Cook til al dente and drain.  If fresh, soak in boiling water for a minute before rinsing very well to get rid of the soapy taste from the alkaline water used to make them (see here).

Finely chop garlic and chop up whatever vegetables you have.  If you do not have children snapping at your heels, I recommend finely julienning the vegies.  Soak some Chinese mushrooms in boiling water for 20-30 minutes, cut off the stems, and slice them up too.  I recently learned the best are the ones with pale tops, crisscrossed with darker brown (i.e. not the ones I have in this photo!)

Heat a wok or frying pan to very hot before adding a generous amount of oil.  Allow to heat and throw in chopped garlic.  Add vegies.  Fry for 3-4 minutes.  Add noodles.

Add a couple of shakes each of light soy sauce and fish sauce as well as about 1/2 a tablespoon of white sugar.  Toss, toss, and toss for a few more minutes until noodles are nicely coated with sauce, vegies are cooked, and everything tastes yummy.

Anoint with a big dollop of crispy prawn crack before inhaling.  Oh, so good.

Now, having tasted this forbidden fruit, innocent dishes such as potato & leek soup or cauliflower cheese seem pale and benign in comparison.  While the rest of the family is content with cracked pepper, I find myself hunched over the kitchen bench, surreptitiously stirring spoonfuls of Crispy Prawn Chilli into my dinner.  Baked beans, spaghetti bolognese, pumpkin soup - this superb sambal complements them all!

Incidentally, the laksa paste which comes in a pouch and is also made by Tean's Gourmet is divine (though you must use chicken stock to make it up, not water as the back indicates).  I have not tried adding the sambal to Tean's laksa yet, as I fear my head will explode.

Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to indulge in my latest guilty snack - cheese and Crispy Prawn Chilli on toast.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Hung Vuong Saigon

"When I have kids," mused my sister, absentmindedly smoothing her vintage skirt, "I will make them Japanese rice balls every day for their school lunch."  It took everything I could muster not to throw the can of baked beans I was peeling open at her.  Like most parents, before they were born, I had grand visions of what my children would eat.  Things started off well, but as time went on, the grand vision seemed little more than a mirage.

Despite the fact that she had been weaned on dal and hummus, at about age 3, my eldest daughter decided she hated noodles, dumplings, curry, and just about anything that wasn't old-school Aussie fare.  We persisted, and many congealed bowls of lentils later, she came around with a taste of Grandpa's special noodles (aka Chinese spaghetti bolognese).  Now she adores many multicultural dishes, with dumplings at the pinnacle of her own personal food pyramid.  When she and I go out together, we normally head somewhere that specialises in her favourite, but this day I was hankering over an old love of mine: pho bo tai.

Hung Vuong was the first restaurant I ever went to in Footscray, and I still absolutely love it.  Evidently so does everyone else - it's not uncommon to actually have to leave as there is no room to sit at all, and that is on a weekday.

It specialises in pho, Vietnamese noodle soup that is built with fresh rice noodles and either a special beef or chicken stock.  This is topped with the meat of your choice, either just sliced or accompanied by various types of offal.  Also on offer is the classic pork chop on broken rice or various warm rice vermicelli salads.

The pho bo tai or sliced beef pho here is unreal.  Slippery rice noodles of varying widths in a clear beef broth, topped with wafer-thin raw meat that cooks almost instantly in the hot stock.  The stock is so fresh, clean, and flavoursome.  It comes with a plate of bean sprouts, Thai basil, lemon, and chilli.  I pile mine with bean sprouts and a little basil, but this is one of the one things I never add chilli to - the broth is such a sweet and lilting melody, that it is a pity to drown it out with chilli.

I'm not exaggerating when I say I find eating really great pho a meditative experience.  Bent over your bowl, the noise of the busy restaurant subsides.  The steam bathes your face as you watch the meat undergo transubstantiation from red to brown.  The depth of flavour in the broth makes you want to close your eyes and just do nothing but savour every mouthful.  You are both lost in and living in the moment.

From the sublime to the... kid-friendly.  These prawn spring rolls were pretty good, but points off for no mints, stingy lettuce, and very sweet dipping sauce.  My daughter did used to eat pho - Hung Vuong even have a glass full of kiddie forks, teaspoons, and little craft scissors near the register, that you can request and use to chop up noodles and beef for your child.  (Incidentally, I think that explains who in god's name orders the large size pho - families with kids!)  Anyway, I ordered these as I thought they would be a substitute for dumplings.

However, after one curious taste of a piece of beef then a slurp or two of the soup, I found myself stuck with a plate of spring rolls while my daughter polished off my bowl of pho.  Success!  Thanks, Hung Vuong and your sublime soup.  The vision of culinarily globetrotting tots is perhaps not a pipe dream, after all.

Hung Vuong Saigon on Urbanspoon

Hung Vuong Saigon
128 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 6002
Hours: 7 days, 9am - 8.30pm

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hyeung Jae Korean BBQ House

One of the things I love after coming home after a long absence is noticing all the little changes in the world around.  I have magically skipped the depths of winter and reemerged in streets studded by blossoming trees.  It was a treat to come home and see the garlic I had planted has grown tall and promising on its own, even without watering or weeding for many weeks.  One of the things I was most excited about, however, was the impending opening of the Korean BBQ House at the old site of Thai Tho in Hopkins St.

Supper Club girls, I know we have our date booked, and I tried to wait, I really did.  But after a freezing walk, icy wine clutched in hands, who can resist the siren song of sizzling meat and the waft of glowing charcoal?!

The fit-out is pleasant, with inconspicuous extractor fans above each table.  Very incongruous hip hop bumped and ground on the stereo all night.  The menus have a cute list of Korean greetings at the front as well as lots of droolworthy pictures.  We opted for the $25 per head banquet, which offered 4 courses.  It's all about the value, people!  Nothing to do with being greedy at all!

Complimentary appetisers arrived first.  On the right is kim chi or fermented cabbage in chilli sauce - I was not mad about this, finding it a bit one-dimensional.  The cabbage tasted flat and the chilli was neither hot nor tasty.  The white blob in the centre was some kind of potato salad, which wasn't to my taste.  On the left, bringing up the rear, was a simple salad of julienned vegetables in a sesame dressing, which was in fact very nice.

Mandu (vegetable)

These mandu or dumplings were excellent.  Bite-size pockets of tasty, smooth vegetable filling, with a delightful contrast between their fat bodies and the crispy crest on each one.  Vegetable dumplings are often a true test of a restaurant in my book, as they are often mushy and bland.  We couldn't pick what the filling was (potato, perhaps?) but it was just delicious, especially dunked in the light, soy & sesame dipping sauce.

Agedashi tofu, $6

A reader had raved about the tofu so we ordered this as well.  Oh, god!  The most delicious, quivering, silky-soft tofu, fried in a very light dusting of flour.  It was drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise and teriyaki sauce, and topped with a crunchy sesame seed blend.  Absolutely unreal!

Now, I'm not sure how authentic this is, as agedashi tofu I have had in the past has been dressed with dashi (Japanese seaweed and bonito stock) and crowned with bonito flakes that dance and flutter eerily when presented to you.  In fact, I really am somewhat of a Korean food novice, so I can't judge the authenticity of everything we ate tonight.  This is somewhat liberating, however, as in this situation you are guided by taste alone rather than splitting hairs of what is authentic and what is not.

Kim chi pancake

Top marks for this jeon or Korean pancake!  Kim chi and other vegetables were bound in a tasty batter and fried until seriously crispy.  Cut into squares and dipped in the same light, sesame & soy sauce as the dumplings, it was totally unreal.  The bubbly, crunchy edges contrasted beautifully with the tasty veg and pleasantly springy dough inside.  The jeon reminded me of the Japanese okonomiyaki, a fat pancake of cabbage and other vegies, drizzled with a special brown sauce and Japanese mayonnaise.  Hyeung Jae has a choice of seafood or kim chi, and this kim chi version was absolutely excellent.  While I wasn't mad about the fermented, chilli cabbage on its own, once bound in the batter and augmented by other vegies, it was a winner.

Mushroom salad

Three types of mushroom adorned this fabulous salad - enoki, button, and great, fat-stalked ones, like something out of a Korean fairytale.  The mushrooms were lightly cooked and reclined on a refreshing tangle of gourmet lettuce, cucumber, and carrot.  The dressing was a light, tangy blend of mild vinegar, sesame, soy, and perhaps a kind of mashed bean, which set off the mushroom's umami-liciousness.

Up until this point and without us even noticing, everything we had eaten was 100% vegetarian.  With the emphasis on BBQ'd meats, Korean probably isn't known as the most vegetarian-friendly cuisine, but vegetarians would be well-looked after at Hyeung Jae.

Galbi (butterflied beef ribs)

Hyeung Jae have a large selection of BBQ meats, ranging from galbi and galbisal (cuts from the ribs), to wagyu, ox tongue, squid, and scallop.  A portable BBQ is brought to your table, smoking pleasantly with real charcoal.  Our banquet included galbi, butterflied beef ribs, and slices of pork belly.

The meats are cooked deftly by the waitstaff tableside.  As the charcoal heats up and the meats begin to sizzle enticingly, you are presented with a bowl of rice; a basket of lettuce, raw garlic, and green chilli; and a neat little dish of seasoned sesame oil and Korean bean sauce (similar to hoi sin) for dipping.

As each piece of meat is done, it is carefully snipped with scissors and placed on your waiting bowl of rice.  You may either wrap it in lettuce and dip, or gobble it up straight away.  Oh, the flavour!  The beef is super tasty, juicy, and tender, while the pork belly is divine - little caramelised chunks of porky, fatty flavour.  I had thought pork belly couldn't be cooked quickly like this, that it needed slow cooking to gelatinise the fat - oh, how deliciously, crispily, sinfully wrong I was!

We had a lovely chat to the young woman manning our BBQ.  She was passionate about Footscray's future and decried the lack of nightlife around these parts.  She was excited, as I am, about the upcoming redevelopments of Forges and the Royal Hotel.  My vision would be a cool cafe or two, a bar - just a small one perhaps, and small shops accessible to artists and niche retailers.  I'm sure there will end up being the inevitable Gloria Jeans and Boost Juice, but Footscray is for everyone!

Hyeung Jae have a separate lunch menu, which is superlative value at $10 and under.  I'm looking forward to trying the classic bibimbap, vegies and meat atop rice crisped in a hot stone bowl.  There's also japchae, Korean noodles made from sweet potato, or jajangmyun, black bean noodles, as well as mixed seafood with gochujang, hot pepper sauce, for just $10!  There's a full cocktail menu, and happy hour is between 4pm and 6pm!

Hyeung Jae means "brothers" in Korean, and this fantastic little restaurant has got what it takes to become a long-lived and much-loved member of the Footscray family.

Korean Hyeung Jae BBQ House on Urbanspoon
Hyeung Jae Korean BBQ House
152 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 2666
Hours: Daily 12pm - 9.30pm
BYO wine only (corkage $5)

P.S. Incidentally, I am planning another Korean BBQ expedition, and because I am meeting a friend halfway between our places, Hyeung Jae is not an option.  Can anyone recommend any of the 3 BBQ houses in Victoria St, West Melbourne, or perhaps Hwaro in the city? Or is there somewhere else altogether?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bean pies and Faidley's crab cakes

My sister once ate a Thai-style fried whole baby snapper that was so delicious, it literally made her cry.  Even if you live to eat as I do, it's not often that you have an experience so sublime, it makes you swoon.  Like love, these things come when you least expect them.

Lexington Market in inner-city Baltimore, Maryland is a proper fresh-food market, similar to Footscray or Preston markets.  It's so exciting to see that markets like these exist in the States, as before now I had thought that the only options available to Americans were the pallid, wizened vegetables at a regular grocery store, slimy with overenergetic misting, or the frou-frou of the organic farmer's market.

Tucked down the back of the market is Faidley's, a seafood purveyor that has been in the same family and in the same location since 1886.  They are famous for their crab cakes, a Maryland specialty.  Who tipped us off?  Everyone's favourite Baltimore cop, McNulty, of course!  Wire freaks only - scroll about a 1/4 of the way down for the quote.

It's standing room only at Faidley's, which is a dangerous thing when you take a bite of this crab cake and feel your legs give way.  Absolutely one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  Fat chunks of crab meat - no shreds at all - just barely bound with cracker crumbs before being lightly fried.  The crab is so fresh, and there's no room for any extraneous binders or fillers, such is the quantity packed in.  As Bruce Goldfarb says, "A crab cake to tell your grandchildren about."

On our way out we picked up an "Ali Teenie Beanie - with The Come Back Taste!"  Oh, say it with me now - The Come Back Taste!  I love it!!

These pies, made with navy beans (small, white beans like the ones in canned baked beans) have an interesting history.  They have been associated with the Nation of Islam movement, whose founder promoted the pies as an attempt to get his followers to eat more healthily, and also as a fundraising method. 

Well, I should get my daughter's kindy onto these instead of the filthy Cadbury fundraising box.  The interior is sweet, custardy, and gooey, while the top is burnished brown sugar.  Eating a pie made with beans doesn't seem weird to me at all, especially when so many of my favourite sweets are made with red beans, mung beans, or glutinous rice.  The beans give the custard a more substantial texture than just eggs alone.  The Come Back Taste - amen to that!

This ends my chronicle of the best foods I ate in the States.  Thanks for coming on the journey with me, and I hope I managed to show you some of the diversity of this great country, which is so often unfairly written off as nothing but a fast food nation.  I had been worried to write about non-Footscray things here; the blog's focus is very specific and I do like it that way.  However, I was surprised and delighted that you all seemed to enjoy my virtual "slide night" and didn't switch off!  As you read this, I am back in Footscray, getting ready to share more western suburbs gems with you.  Stay tuned!

If you're planning a trip to B-more, I recommend Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! to get you off the beaten path.  You can find the self-guided Wire Tour here at Wikitravel.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Italian beefs and Bawlmer pit sandwiches

"How do you want it?" came the voice, crackly down the phone line.  "Hot and wet," I whispered, "and sweet and juicy for my friend."  It's not every day ordering couple of sandwiches makes you feel like you're a phone sex operator, but that's how you do it here in Chicago when you want an Italian beef.

This is absolutely my favourite Chicago food.  Seasoned beef that has been "wet-roasted" in a flavoursome, clear beef jus, then sliced wafer-thin and returned to the juice it was roasted in.  This is then piled on thick, coarse-crumbed, Italian-style bread.  The "sweet" or "hot" in the order comes from your choices of sweet peppers (sauteed capsicum) or hot giardiniera, a spicy mix of pickled vegetables and feisty green chillis.  Once constructed, your sandwich can be "dry" (the meat was allowed to drain before being piled on the bread), "wet" (the meat was slapped on with lots of juice), or "dipped"/"juicy" (the entire sandwich was dunked back into the juice).  Each beef shack has its own subtle permutations on the lingo, like "soaked" or "double-dipped."

Baltimore has a signature beef sandwich too - the "pit beef" or "pit sandwich."  Good enough to make you confess to murder, apparently!  (If you have not watched The Wire - SHAME, SHAME! - spoiler alert!!)

Chaps Pit Beef in Baltimore is just off the highway heading out of town.  You can pick it by the line out the door and the plume of smoke rising from the monstrous grill inside.

Great hunks of beef are blackened on the bars here, before being thinly sliced and served on your choice of bun, the classic being a kaiser roll.  The meat, which is best rare or medium-rare, is then traditionally topped with raw onion and doused liberally with fresh horseradish or "tiger sauce," based on horseradish.

Very tasty, although mine did need a lot of help in the form of salt and horseradish - and ordering it was a lot less fun than ordering a beef in Chicago.

For Italian beef in Chicago, you could start by exploring Beef with HotI recommend Johnnie's Beef (Arlington Heights/Elmwood Park) and Tore & Luke's (Palatine).

Chaps Pit Beef
5801 Pulaski Hwy
Baltimore MD

Friday, September 10, 2010

Clam cakes and pizza slices

New England, the area of the US of which Rhode Island is a part, is probably best known for its seafood.  Thick, creamy clam chowder is enjoyed across the region, Maine is known for its lobster, while Maryland loves its crab cakes.  In Rhode Island, clam cakes and "stuffies" are the favourites.  As explains, the former is a fried ball of dough mixed with chopped clams, while "stuffies" are a bread stuffing mixed with chopped clams and baked in a clam shell. 

Of course, anything that is the "signature" food of an area is ripe for tourist ripoffs, particularly with something like seafood.  With just a few hours to go before our whirlwind trip of Rhode Island drew to a close, we were on a mission to find a "locals only" seafood shack.

Just past the airport is the village of Warwick, and after a picturesque walk along an inlet leading into Apponaug Cove, we found the Crow's Nest.  This restaurant has been in the same location since the mid-sixties, and has been serving many of the same seafood favourites ever since.  It was packed with the blue rinse set, which I thought was either a great sign or a really, really bad one.  Luckily it turned out to be the former.

Cup of chowder and 1/2 lobster roll

Chowder, a thick soup made from clams, bacon, potatoes, onion, and herbs & spices, normally comes New England-style (white and creamy) or Manhattan-style (tomato base).  Unfortunately the Crow's Nest didn't serve the clear, broth-like version indigenous to Rhode Island, but they more than made up for it with their classic New England style.  This is high on my list of things to learn to make - so smooth, comforting, yet the taste of the clams lightens it up.  Also served is a half lobster roll, which was insanely generous with lobster - concealed beneath the shredded lobster/mayo mix were huge chunks from the claws.

Three clam cakes with a bowl of chowder, $7

I was not so much a fan of this Manhattan-style one.  It was thin and I didn't think the chunks of potato worked as well with the bitey tomato flavour.  The clam cakes to the right were awesome though - I suspect the batter was made with cornmeal, and they were neither too light nor too dense.

So we had had our "hot weenies" and our seafood - Rhode Island was two for two.  At a small farmer's market in the city centre, I spied a man selling "pizza strips," the last local delicacy on my hit list of RI classics.  You could say these are pieces of pizza without the cheese, served at room temperature, but I think that would be doing them a disservice.  These particular pizza strips were so tasty, fragrant with olive oil, and the pizza sauce so rich and thick.  I will try this at home - when the sauce is this good, why ruin it with cheese?

I loved Rhode Island - the place I probably expected the least from on our trip turned out to be my favourite.  The pizza strips were 3 for $1, and when I opened up the paper bag at the airport, what we found inside sums up this delightful part of the USA - the man had given us 4 instead of 3.

The Crow's Nest (map)
288 Arnold's Neck Drive
Warwick RI

Baker at the Downtown Farmer's Market (map)
Fridays 11am - 2pm for limited months of the year

This is Footscray Food Blog's 100th post!  Blogging has become a creative outlet for me that I really treasure.  It has also been wonderful to meet and continue to meet so many fun, interesting people through the blogosphere.  Thank you so much for reading, subscribing, and all your comments.  I now have a Facebook page - you can "like" the blog officially now (see button to the right, if reading on the site).  I'm not sure how it will fit in, but it could become another space for readers and writer/s to interact.

My American food journey is almost at an end, and I will bring you more Footscray delights very soon.  Until then, thank you!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hot wieners

The US has such fantastic regional cuisine variations, which are quite unmatched in Australia.  We really don't have foods specific to particular parts of the country, unless you count the pie floater in Adelaide.*  On the other hand, in the States, many cities have their own best-loved BBQ dishes, be it Texas brisket, North Carolina-style vinegar-soaked pulled pork, or Chicago's fall-off-the-bone baby-back ribs.  Green chile stew is popular in Colorado, while Texas chilli is a meaty stew which, in contrast to most other chilli con carne recipes, has no beans in it at all.  I love that even the smallest state in the US - Rhode Island - has a whole groaning buffet table of culinary specialties that are totally unique to it.

Rhode Island is actually one of the world's centres of vintage costume jewellery components, which is how K and I found ourselves cruising the dusty aisles of a rickety warehouse, exclaiming at the yellowed stickytape and fragile tissue paper cradling some specimens, and gasping with delight upon discovering some hidden gem (both literally and figuratively).  After a couple of hours of rummaging, our throats aching from decades-old dust, and we headed just down the road to the famous Olneyville New York System for a long, tall coffee milk and a couple of hot wieners.

Hot wieners, pronounced "hot weenies" and alternatively known as "gaggas," start with a special type of hot dog that, being made with pork, has a milder taste than Chicago's favourite Vienna Beef variety.  They have square ends as a result of being chopped when they come out of the hot dog machine (don't think too much about that!) rather than tied off.  They are placed in a plain white hot dog bun, squirted with mustard, and topped with a special, spiced, ground beef topping.  This is then layered with raw onion and celery salt. 

They are so beloved that the Rhode Island Magazine had to discontinue the hot wiener category in its "Best of Rhode Island" awards, such was the hate mail that resulted from their top choices and who was left out.

We perched at the counter at Olneyville N.Y. System, which has been serving hot wieners since the 1930s, and at the current location since 1953.  The "New York System" part of the name is apparently because hot dogs were originally associated with New York City.  Rhode Islanders, both now and during the rest of our stay, proved to be so friendly and curious, and they were delighted we had made it to semi-industrial Olneyville just to sample their favourite snack food. 

And let me tell you, the "hot weenies" were SO good.  The meat sauce is not fatty or wet, but a drier style (I am not a fan of "chilli dogs" a la Pink's in LA, which are topped with chilli con carne).  It's spiced with a secret mix that must include a little cumin, but I couldn't tell you what else.  The onions and the mustard cut through the richness, and the celery salt adds a zing to everything.  SO, SO yummy!

We washed this down with Rhode Island's favourite drink, "coffee milk", which is icy-cold milk, sweetened, and just stained with coffee.  While we were eating, some customers came in and asked for 5 spoons of sugar in their coffee milk.  I thought they were just mucking around, but the man faithfully made it up as ordered, and then one of the customers came back to the counter and said she actually wanted 10 spoons!  We left soon after, so we never got to see if it was all bluster back and forth, or horrifyingly, if it was not.

Olneyville N.Y. System (map)
20 Plainfield St
Providence, RI

If ever planning a trip to RI, you must explore, which is such an awesome site devoted to all things RI.

* I'm sure there are many indigenous food variations, but of these I am sadly unknowledgeable.
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