Monday, May 31, 2010

Bharat Traders

Four years ago, as the moving truck swayed over the Bolte Bridge and we began our life in the West, we were already salivating at the thought of mountains of cheap, fresh herbs and bottomless bowls of pho, all within walking distance.  However, we were totally unaware of the spicy delights nestled in nearby Barkly Street's Little India, like fairies at the bottom of the garden.  Bharat Traders, the largest Indian store in the strip, is a place I am now enchanted with and regularly get lost in.  Claudia, a reader and fellow devotee of all things Bharat, has kindly shared some of its secrets with us...

The Footscray Food Blog has fast become one of my favourite cyber haunts.  My own private Footscray food odyssey has been reinspired by Ms. Baklover’s own adventures, and it certainly is a lot cheaper than physically visiting the countries themselves.  We are so lucky to have it all in our own backyard.  Recently, after 12 years in Footscray, I decamped to Spotswood but I return at least once or twice a fortnight for regular epicurean pilgrimages – grey boring day in Melbourne, go to Saigon Market for hustle, bustle and super soup.  There’s just so much life in the joint.

One of my and my daughter’s favourite post-school treats on a Friday afternoon is a visit to the West Footscray Library, where two bookworms nestle in a pile of books for about 45 minutes.  Then, laden with new ones, we both feel the pull of over the road – Bharat’s supermarket, a gorgeous multi-function repository of all things Indian.

Usually we have a peek in the window at the religious furnishings, silvery Shivas and golden Ganeshes, lustrous devotional mini-temples and bowls. Great stuff. But they are just visual entrées.

We head in the door and there is an instant waft of spice that my daughter particularly enjoys. A quick but lingering glance at the trays of sweets and samosas near the front door (we’ll be back) and then straight to the fridges down at the back for kid-friendly mango lassis and delicious instant naan bread, paneer cheese and huge containers of yoghurt.  Who's watching their weight on Friday anyway!

The naan is great over the weekend with curry, soups... Its butteriness is irresistible to one and all and it also freezes well. If I shop alone I also love to grab some eggplant or mango pickles, spicy bhujia and the masala cashews should be sold with a warning – you WILL eat all of these before you even get home!

Finally it’s time to leave this treasure trove and we head to the counter for bright pink barfi (Indian sweet) for Ella and an ambrosial gulab jamon for me. We usually scoff this booty a few doors down in front of one of the amazing Bollywood stores as we decide which is the best outfit, and which bejewelled sandals would suit – a seven year old girl's heaven really! And then it’s over... the colour and scents, the sparkle... Until next time...

Thank you so much, Claudia!  Like you, for us, no trip to the library is complete with a trip across the road for whatever obscure spice or lentil Mum needs, followed by a long, passionate "discussion" of who would get which dress in the sari shop window.  As you mentioned, the yoghurt is so good at Bharat's and so much cheaper than the supermarket.  I also buy huge bags of stoneground wholemeal flour (known as chakki atta) for really low prices.  The kids love the barfi (Indian fudge) – flavours include cashew (pink), chick pea (yellow), and almond (white).  Just ask the staff, as they are always happy to run through the different varieties.  Oh, and those cashews!  A spice fiend's fairytale ending.

Bharat Traders
580 Barkly St, West Footscray (map)
Phone: (03) 9687 6071
Hours: 9.00 a.m. - 9.00 p.m., 7 days

Do you have a foodie secret in the western or northwestern suburbs you'd like to share?  I've been guilty in the past of "keeping things for myself," but go on - do the owners you like so much a favour and spread the word about their business!  Guest contributions are always welcome and much appreciated.  Email footscrayfoodblog at gmail dot com.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gold Leaf Sunshine

The weekend could have gone either way.  It started with me getting up at 5.00 a.m. to study, just as Mr Baklover was getting home from a big one.  Nothing says "I love you" like a big, snoring lump on Saturday morning, while the kids clamour for pancakes and the paper sits accusingly in its plastic wrap, unread.  Rather than become bitter, I decided to meet Dad for yum cha.  This had the unintended and wonderful effect of raising Mr B from his slumber, and we headed for Gold Leaf Sunshine.

Get here early if you want a parking spot.  To enter from the parking lot, you walk down a covered walkway that hugs the building, which reminds me of a serene Buddhist temple.

The atmosphere inside is far from serene, though.  It's warm and full of life, and the low ceiling bristles with chandeliers.  The trolleys duck and weave through the narrow aisles between the tables, dodging the constant flow of patrons in and out as the tables turn over as fast as you can say...

Duck tongues with jellyfish

... quack?  Dad loves these.  Eating the placenta of an embryonic duckling recently was enough duck for me, though.

Har gow

These prawn dumplings are supposed to have very delicate, translucent wrappers, but these were too thick and mushy.

The thing I love about Gold Leaf Sunshine is that they have a lot of interesting thing that are unique to them.  I had never seen these before - it was a kind of prawn dumpling mince wrapped around the tail, and enveloped in a won ton wrapper.  I didn't think they worked, but Mr Baklover loved them.

Mixed offal

Speaking of which, his hangover breakfast this morning was a duck tongue followed by a big piece of tripe.  Now I remember why I married him!

Shu mai

Many of my Sundays as a child were spent nibbling at a shu mai dumpling, impaled on a chopstick.  My girls have recently woken up to the delights of yum cha and they are now continuing in the tradition.  I've had much better shu mai than these, though, and in fact, Gold Leaf Sunshine really let itself down with the calibre of its dumplings today.

This was a gentle dish of braised mushrooms atop balls of minced prawn.  It was OK; nothing memorable.

Prawns in fried beancurd skin

I hang out for these deep-fried beauties.  They are hard to stuff up, but again, I've had better.

Sticky rice

This sticky rice was, again, pretty good but not amazing.

Crispy pork and jellyfish

But oh, the crispy pork!  Glazed and bubbled skin that shattered like candy in your mouth.  The meat underneath was succulent, and the hoi sin dipping sauce entirely superfluous.  This was served with more jellyfish, which is mild, chewy, and sweet.

Crispy squid

The squid was fantastic, crisp yet tender.  I love the way the batter adheres to the suckers and provides textural variation to the smoother top side of the legs.  Whitebait is often done in the same way.

This was eggplant stuffed with the same nondescript prawn mince that kept featuring in this meal.  The sauce it was in was glutinous and bland, and the eggplant was oily and unsalted.

Chicken's feet

Another of Dad's favourites, and a must if you are bringing a baby to yum cha - they love to gnaw on the big bone.  They all eventually develop a "gross factor" though, it seems, and refuse to eat chicken's feet any more.  I know - I was that baby once!

Pig's blood

I know, you want to know what it tasted like, right?  Erm, I was full, just had NO room to fit a piece of wobbly, grey blood jelly in.  I mean, I totally would have eaten it otherwise.
Ham sui gok

Oh, so I guess you don't have any room for ham sui gok?  A crispy torpedo of sweet dough, enclosing delectable, savoury pork and mushroom?


The troops were growing restless, but the dessert cart kept hovering around the outer edges of the restaurant, like a mirage.  Thankfully our waiter was kind enough to see us looking at it yearningly and brought us over a bowl of jelly.  See the wooden "bucket" on the left?  That is silken tofu, which is served with a sweet ginger syrup.  Do try it, it's absolutely delicious.

I've had far better dumplings here - it must have been an off day.  So far, I still think Gold Leaf Sunshine is your best option in the west.

And the rest of the day?  Nothing says "I love you" like an uninterrupted afternoon of study and a mango pudding.

Gold Leaf Sunshine
491 Ballarat Rd, Sunshine (map)
Phone: 9311 1863
Yum cha prices: $5, $6, $7, $8.50, $10.50

Monday, May 24, 2010


Places and times of transition are imbued with a sense of trepidation and magic.  In literature, misty marshes and bogs often provide the setting for mysterious events, betwixt as they are between land and water.  The blurry light of dusk and dawn are portentous times where possibilities abound.  Clear-cut notions are safe and reassuring, like primary colours.  Meanwhile, a haze of ambiguity hovers around the margins of times, places, and ideas.  Some find this uncertainty ominous and unsettling, while others find it electrifying.

So much of what we eat is neatly packaged, both literally and metaphorically.  The divorce of plastic-wrapped supermarket food from its natural farmyard or forest state has been oft written about.  Many people also expect, even subconsciously, that food stay within certain parameters.  For example, carrots should be orange; tomatoes, red; and bananas curved, not straight.  Eggs should have brown shells, and any speck of blood within should be fastidiously picked out.

Balut, or fertilised duck eggs, are a "transition" food.  They contain a semi-formed duckling nestled within the yolk.  Neither egg in the Western sense, nor entirely duck.  Billy (cloudcontrol) had enticed me to a recent Melbourne food blogger meetup with the prospect of homemade bo kho and just casually dropped in that we would be having a balut starter.  Also known as hot vit lon in Vietnam, these eggs are enjoyed across Asia, but particularly in the Philippines as a snack after a night of drinking.  A sense of foreboding came over me as I gave in and googled "balut" late one night.  When does an egg become a duck?  At what point does eating an egg become eating meat?  Could I really eat such a thing - feathers, beak, gizzards, and all?

Eggs were purveyed from three corners of Melbourne - Springvale, Footscray, and Richmond.  Buyers were advised to find "middle stage" eggs.  I have seen these large white eggs before in Asian grocers, neatly stacked in trays and stamped with a red Chinese character, but had no idea what was lurking inside, curled and dormant.  Each egg was marked with an S, F, or R to denote its origin, and they were boiled for around 15 minutes.

About fifteen pairs of eyes - some dancing with curiosity, some wide with anticipation, some squeezed half-shut in terror - watched Billy as he brought a silver spoon down on the hollow end of an egg.  A veined membrane was revealed, and he sprinkled it with salt and pepper   Delicately he dipped his spoon in, brought out a creamy, quivering morsel, ate, and declared it good.  The spell was broken.  Round the table, bloggers and their friends tucked in, and the overwhelming mood was one of surprise, that fertilised duck eggs were actually yummy.

Moi?  Well, on preparing for this event, I talked to my dad, who has eaten balut (along with duck tongues, chicken's feet - I could go on).  He advised me it was just like a hard-boiled egg.  Phew, I thought - until I remembered the only three things in the world I cannot abide are offal, blue cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.  Their farty aroma and rubbery texture makes me retch.  I did have to walk away from the balut feast a few times and take a few gulps of fresh air.  But I did try some, and was amazed to find I liked it.  The yolk is extra creamy - perhaps being fertilised, it has kicked into being a placenta-like powerhouse of nutrients.  But the best was the broth that came off the top of the inner membrane.  Like the most piquant, balanced fish sauce, it was a revelation and absolutely divine.  I challenge anyone to try a spoonful and not agree.

Anh of A Food Lover's Journey, who is originally from Vietnam, talked about how, growing up, "egg" meant balut.  There was an awareness of the life cycle of the chicken or duck.  We have lost that in the West, at least among most city-dwellers.  In many situations where roosters and hens are not kept artificially separated, I imagine that it would be accepted that an egg gathered from the garden may be at any stage from unfertilised to ready-to-hatch.  I respect so much those food traditions that embrace the natural life cycle and habits of a bird, and see balut as a delicious bonus to an otherwise everyday food - the egg.

Fabulous things happen when foodies get invited to a pot luck.  Warming bo kho, fabulous fried noodles, crisp Vietnamese coleslaw, tangy Thai salad, and a luscious coconut, banana, and tapioca dessert.  (My canh recipe here.)  It was a perfect autumnal afternoon, and we whiled away the afternoon in Tammi's cosy backyard, in the glow of a warm fire and to the sounds of chickens gently clucking.

As I drank my wine and chatted with friends, both new and old (hi Daniela!), something was simmering within me.  In the balut battle between Footscray, Richmond and Springvale, Footscray got fried!  Our eggs sucked - they were old and had no tasty broth.  Our pride was poached!  Our coddled cred was crushed!  I vow to avenge my fair suburb in the upcoming blind banh mi battle.  Stay tuned!

Read about #balutfest at Celeste's Berry Travels.  I'll add more links if and when people post about the event :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Phu Vinh

Phu Vinh is tucked under the eaves of Footscray Market, on Hopkins St.  It had never caught my eye. However, after reading rave reviews from penny aka jeroxie and Food Floozy, the sparkle on its gold noodle bowl caught my eye one market trip and we had to stop in.

I always love it when the menu is small, maybe 12 things at most, rather than a colossus of "Chicken with Black Bean/Satay/Mongolian/Garlic", repeated ad nauseam for all manner of meats.  It makes me think that the establishment has carefully selected a few dishes which it knows it does well.  Phu Vinh has a simple menu, just 2 pages, and a few of its dishes are displayed in bright, colourful pictures on the walls.  All the signs were there for a great little find.

Spring rolls, $9

Some spring rolls to start.  At first glance, these did look fairly big for Vietnamese spring rolls, which are normally quite thin (and therefore, extra crispy) when compared to their Chinese counterparts.  I was quite miffed to find only four or so small leaves of iceberg lettuce, rather than the quarter-head many restaurants are generous enough to provide you with.  Only European mint was offered, but I put this aside as me being a bit of a know-it-all, so enamored am I with my latest discovery (mixed bunch of three types of mint for 80 cents!)  Shrugging, I dipped my skimpily-clad spring roll into the nuoc mam cham.

Quelle horreur!  It was sweet chilli sauce!!!  What an insult!  The spring rolls were yucky too, mealy and unflavoursome.  Phu Vinh was starting to look very tarnished.

Dry rice noodle with separate soup (#4), $9

Next was this dish of rice noodles topped with shredded pork, calamari, prawn, quail's egg, vegies, and a large cracker.  A tasty chicken broth was served separately.  The rice noodles were thick, yet almost translucent, with a wonderfully toothsome texture.  They could almost have restored Phu Vinh's lustre if not for... more sweet chilli sauce!  It killed the dish for me.  However, if you are a sweet chilli fiend, you are probably thinking by now, "What's she on about?  That Phu Vinh has the Midas touch!"

Special Broken Rice, $9

Where has com tam been my whole life?  Phu Vinh's version was not so memorable, though.  The bi (shredded pork skin) was a little too chewy.  Although the pork chop and banh trung (steamed meatloaf) were tasty, I found them overly sweet.  This did come with nuoc mam cham.  Perhaps the bottle of sweet chilli had run out.

Pork and prawn soup with rice noodle (#1), $9

One sip of this clear, hot broth though, and Phu Vinh was starting to shine again.  A slurpworthy soup, filled with those same fabulous clear rice noodles, and topped with excellent cooked pork, pork mince, quail's egg, and garlic chives.  A forgettable calamari and prawn were promptly forgotten as I returned to polish the whole bowl off.  Delicious.
I loved watching the chef in the kitchen - he was so efficient and fastidious.  I don't mean to bag a small, family business, but the spring rolls did suck.  Some of the other dishes were just too sweet for my palate.  The noodles are delicious, though, and I've since tried their egg noodles, which are also great.  A suspicious-looking box did lead me to ask if they do indeed hand-make their noodles, as has been reported, but they told me they do not.  Perhaps they once did.  Go and try the noodle dishes, but leave #4 unless you are a sweet chilli nut.  They are out there - I once worked with a woman who would have toast with peanut butter and... sweet chilli sauce.

Phu Vinh
93 Hopkins St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9689 8719
Hours: 9.00am - 9.00pm, 7 days

Monday, May 17, 2010

Cafe Lalibela

Café Lalibela seems to be the "starter restaurant" for Ethiopian cuisine.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Person A: "Have you tried Awash/African Town/Harambe/Abesha/Dinknesh Lucy?"
Person B: "No, but I've been to Lalibela."

I'm not sure what it is.  It's probably the most appealing to middle class sensibilities, I guess, with nice decor and less of a cafeteria feel than some of the other Ethiopian restaurants.  But hey, who am I to judge - I popped my Ethio cherry there.  My friends and I went a long time ago and did enjoy it, but we all migrated to African Town on badass Nicholson St.  If we were going to be brutally honest, it was probably more about the cred than any superiority of African Town's food.  Sometimes, though, you just want a bit of tablecloth action, and because having dinner with K is such a rare treat, I decided Lalibela was the place for us.

After a few sips of frosty Ethiopian brews, we chose the vegetarian combination and the doro wat, a traditional celebratory dish of chicken and hard-boiled eggs, slow-cooked in berbere and niter kibbeh The owner took our order but very sadly informed us there was only one piece of deliciously sour, dimpled injera bread left.  With sad smiles, we accepted rice with our meal along with the lone piece.  A few minutes later, he rushed past our table to the door, and as we looked up, he exclaimed, "Going to find you more bread!"  Indeed, he returned with a plastic bag full of injera - from whence I know not, as all the bakeries were closed at that hour.  What a legend!!!

Vegetarian combination ($12) and Doro wot ($12)

The food is served in the traditional manner, in that a large platter is lined with injera bread and your choices dolloped on top.  You eat from the outside in, tearing off small pieces and using them almost like tongs to pinch a mouthful of hearty stew, before popping the whole morsel in your mouth.  From left to right, we have ater kik wot, a mild yellow split pea dal; atakilt wot, sautéed cabbage, cauliflower, and carrot; hot misir wot, spicy lentil stew cooked with berbere; shiro, chick pea flour cooked with berbere; mild misir wot, brown lentils cooked in gentle spices; and the star of the show - doro wat, chicken cooked to melting tenderness, in a sauce of berbere and onions, rendered unctuous through hours of long, slow cooking.  The meat fell from the drumstick like soft, fat petals.  Each dish was delicious, the flavours discrete, and just the right amount of chilli to keep it interesting.

Have you ever gone out with a group of people - perhaps new colleagues or some sort of committee you are on - and there's that kind of uncomfortable rattling of the menus where you all wonder if you know each other well enough to say, "Hey, let's share a few things?"  That's one lovely thing about Ethiopian food - it really encourages sharing.  The great thing about Lalibela is that they are not shy about serving their food in the traditional manner on a communal platter.  I do love food traditions where you share food in this way, both figuratively and literally.  By necessity, you must sit closer together, and you develop a kind of subconscious harmony where your hands never collide over the same tasty morsel.  When the meal ends, you have shared more than just food.

I just had to take a pic of this.  This dais was carefully arranged with traditional instruments and coffee ceremony implements - a little shrine to the home country.  Yet from above, a Western Bulldogs souvenir poster looks on.  You just know you're in Footscray, on so many levels.

Café Lalibela
91 Irving St, Footscray (map)
Phone: 9687 0300
Fully licensed

Cafe Lalibela on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

International Incident Party - Dumplings

It's not a stretch to say that penny aka jeroxie is somewhat of a legend in the Melbourne food blogging community, and I was lucky enough to meet her recently. I am very excited to pack my little pink beauty case and jet off to her latest International Incident Party, where we will be being wanton with dumplings.

I do love how Penny encourages crazy variation on a theme. If you didn't know, I do have three dumplings of my own, and they are wont to split at the seams at the most inappropriate moments. This puts some constraints on my cooking flights of fancy, but at the same time, my three kids inspire me to weave interesting, healthy, multicultural things into our nightly meals. Wontons are a favourite of theirs, as they can help make them and they taste absolutely divine.

First, you will need to make the broth. Anh of A Food Lover's Journey recently told me that in Vietnam, the "first test" of a wife is whether she can make a good broth, followed by the quality of her nuoc mam cham (dipping sauce).

Chicken Broth (Canh)

Note this makes a huge quantity! It's so delicious, though, and great to freeze.

Chicken carcasses (12 frames or around 2.5 kg meaty bones)
Large knob of ginger, roughly chopped
About 5 cloves of garlic, bashed with a cleaver
Bunch of spring onions, white parts only
White sugar
Fish sauce
Light soy sauce

Place chicken, ginger, garlic and spring onions in a large pot and fill with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer on very low heat, uncovered, for at least 3 hours. Strain through a colander into a very large bowl and leave on the bench to cool overnight.

Before and after removing fat

Early next morning, place into the fridge. After about 8 hours, the fat will have congealed into a solid white "raft" that you can easily lift off and discard. Don't stress if you don't get it all.  Line a colander with a piece of muslin or an old teatowel and pour the broth through it into a clean pot.  Bring to the boil, and season very well. I use a ratio of probably 40:30:20:10 salt:sugar:fish sauce:light soy sauce. Mmm, chicken broth... so nourishing to body and soul.


2 x 150g packets wonton wrappers (from the fridge of any Asian grocer)
300g pork mince
10 prawns
3 spring onions, chopped
2 Tb finely chopped ginger
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 Tb light soy sauce
1 Tb fish sauce
1 Tb Shao Hsing cooking wine
1 Tb oyster sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour

Remove wonton wrappers from fridge. Place all ingredients (except wonton wrappers and cornflour) in a food processor and process to a semi-coarse paste.

Now, dissolve cornflour in about 1 Tb water in a small dish. Set up a tray dusted with cornflour and have a damp teatowel ready to cover the dumplings as you make them.

1. Place a teaspoonful of filling in the centre of the wrapper.
2. Using your finger, paint a small amount of cornflour mixture around the top edge and halfway down each side.
3. Fold the bottom part of the wrapper up over the filling and press to seal, making a rectangle.
4. Next, fold the top margin of the rectangle over, using both index fingers (one of mine had to hold the camera!)
5. Now, the tricky bit - sticking the bottom corners together. Here's a video of how it's done:

6. Make sure you use just a little dab of cornflour to stick the corners together, and fold them to one side so they sit flat. Place wontons on the cornflour-dusted tray and cover with a damp teatowel so they don't dry out.

Tricky? You will get better with time. Really, though, it does not matter what shape you do the wontons, as long as the filling is safely enclosed. The kids love to help me (although do be prepared for cornflour EVERYWHERE!)

Setting out wrappers for Mum to fill; "painting" cornflour around edges (with a clean paintbrush)

Next, cook whatever accompaniments you would like, in the simmering broth (such as green vegetables, noodles etc - make sure you cook the noodles really al dente as they will continue to cook when you add the broth at the end).  Remove each ingredient as it is done and place in individual bowls.  Cook the wontons last for about 5-6 minutes (you can always remove one and chop in half to check they are done).  Add to the bowls, ladle over hot broth, and garnish with chilli, chopped spring onion (green part), and fried shallots.

The translation of wonton is "swallowing clouds", and this soup really puts me on Cloud Nine.  Thank you Penny for hosting, and I look forward to seeing everyone else's heavenly creations!
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