Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Vietnamese meal in Bankstown

We did end up at a Vietnamese restaurant. Somehow I always do whenever I am in Australia. A lot of times, I go for the pho bo - the Vietnamese beef noodles. This time, Sam brought us to this shop for the goi cuon - the Vietnamese rice paper rolls.

The place he took us was Bun Bo Hue Gia Hoi, located on Chapel Road South in the Sydney suburb of Bankstown. It is about 15 minutes from Sam's place. Bankstown has a sizeable Asian population and a number of Vietnamese and Chinese eateries. Bun Bo Hue Gia Hoi is one of the smaller ones. It was brightly lit and appeared to be popular with the local folks.

Bun Bo Hue is the spicy Vietnamese beef noodle. And Gia Hoi must be the name of the shop. Since they put the 2 together, I guess this shop specialises in this spicy noodle. As we walked into the shop, I did noticed a number of people having it. Unfortunately none of us opted for it.

Sam ordered a large portion of goi cuon (Vietnamese rice paper rolls) for the 7 hungry stomachs. The ingredients for the rolls came in a large plate. There were a variety of meats - beef, chicken, fish cake, and I think there was pork as well. Some were weirdly red. There were also various vegetables - taugeh (bean sprouts), fresh basel, lettuce, carrot strips, mint leaves, etc. And generous portions of soft rice vermicelli or 'bun' in Vietnamese. And these were served with various types of sauces.

An unlimited amount of stiff rice papers were provided. They were accompanied with bowls of water.

We wetted the hard rice paper with the water. It was quite intriguing to see how the stiff rice paper became soft and malleable in a jiffy. I guess it takes some practice to wrap the ingredients into a decent roll. Amateurs like us had to be contented with this performance.

The goi cuon was okay - not a wow. The ingredients were plentiful but did not taste fantastic. Perhaps I did not use the right sauces. 

This was a plate of fried koay teow. There was generous amount of meat, fish cake, mushroom and vegetables. The koay teow, like those in Katoomba, were fat and thick. I guess for this type of frying, the thick koay teow are okay.

This plate of fried mee is definitely not okay. I think it was Alan who opted for it. The noodles were deep fried and turned out hard and wiry. The ingredients were pork and seafood. There was simply not enough gravy to soak in the noodles to make them soft and more edible. 

My choice, as always, was the beef noodles. I have never been to Vietnam - but someone in the course of the meal mentioned that the Vietnamese beef noodles in Australia are better than those in found in the native country; the reason being the much superior quality of beef in Australia. The bowl of noodles served to me was huge. For the first time ever, I could not finish the bowl. Perhaps it was because of the goi cuon I had. The taste of the noodles was okay. The soup was clear and sweet. But all in all, it definitely could not match the ones I tasted it Melbourne

Finally, this was a plate of crocodile meat that Leonard had. It was stir fried in a chilli sauce with onion and served with rice and salad. I sampled a piece of the meat. It was like a cross between chicken and pork. It was not bad - all lean, soft and tender. This was my first taste of crocodile. Talk about food exoticism. Asia is supposed to be the leader. Looks like Australia is not very far behind with kangaroo and crocodile and god knows what else.

It was a mediocre meal. The servings were large. I think this was a quantity rather than a quality sort of place. 

I definitely enjoyed the company more.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Uniquely Malaysian in Katoomba

Our visit to the Blue Mountains was sweltering. Except for the better humidity, the weather was no different from home. The sun was blazing. The sky was hazy. Still the sight was spectacular. We had our share of exercise that day. We walked down to the Three Sisters. Walking down was not a problem. Walking back up was. At our age, the steps can be very exhausting.

At the end of our small adventure, we were dying a long cold drink and a nice cool place to sit down. Our stomachs were starting to grumble too. We drove to the nearby Katoomba town looking for relief. We had Vietnamese in our mind. Our target was a nice bowl of beef noodles. We walked the main street, hoping against hope to find a Vietnamese place.

We didn't find one. We started to look for alternatives. At this time, any cafe would suffice. "Let's go for some pies", Sam said. Then we saw this place - Unique Patisserie. Looked very ordinarily Aussie. Not particularly interesting....

Until we read the "small prints" on their display boards. "Malaysian cuisine. Penang style. Asam laksa. Nasi lemak..."

Inside, Mr Khoo greeted us. He spoke to us in Penang Hokkein. Made us feel absolutely at home.

Mr Khoo runs his small restaurant with his wife. His young son helps out. He hails from Penang. He said he has been in Katoomba for more than 20 years. But he started this business just a few months back.

His restaurant is apparently gaining popularity in Katoomba - not for the Malaysian food, but for his cakes and pastries. Khoo is a pastry chef. He had a good selection of his creations on display.

But cakes were not our immediately priority. We perused the menu. Eddy wanted char koay teow. It wasn't in the menu! What Penang restaurant worth its salt does not have char koay teow? Khoo explained that because of Katoomba's remoteness, supply of koay teow is inconsistent. He then called his son, "Ask Mummy if there is koay teow in the kitchen." His son came with an affirmative. "OK, no problem. We make char koay teow for you."

The char koay teow was as good as it could be. Of course there was no see hum (鲜蚶 - cockles). There were some nice good-size prawns instead. The koay teow was rather fat and thick. But this was Katoomba. We could not expect the works. Even though it wasn't the same, we enjoyed it nevertheless.

The nasi lemak was more authentic - served in a porcelain banana leaf. The rice was aromatic. There was a good serving of rendang chicken. And some real nice acar. The peanuts were not the same, and I missed the crunchy ikan bilis. All in all, it was a good plate of Malaysian nasi lemak.

The curry laksa looked yellowish and odd. But the taste was really quite good. The curry was rich in santan and flavourful. There were pieces of chicken and dry tofu with a sprinkle of deep fried shallots.

Sam had his pie. It was nice. But in the midst of what we were eating, it was rather out of place.

The Malaysian dishes were apparently all prepared by Mrs Khoo. As we near the end of our meal, she came out of the kitchen to chat with us. She was a very pleasant lady. Again, it was all in Penang Hokkein. "Why don't you try our assam laksa?" she said, "It is very nice." OK. Bring it on. We shall have a bowl of assam laksa.

In a short while, she returned with a big bowl of assam laksa. I took a spoonful of the soup. It blew me over. It was absolutely one of the best assam laksa I had ever tasted. It is no over-statement that I say that there is no assam laksa in KL, PJ and the Klang Valley that matches this one. The taste was authentically Penang. The spiciness and the sourness was just perfect. Mrs Khoo said she used a mix of tuna and mackerel to make her laksa soup. It was awesome. We talked about this bowl of assam laksa days afterwards.

Unique Patiserrie... We were so very glad we did not find any Vietnamese in Katoomba that day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sydney Fish Market

To people who love seafoods, the Sydney Fish Market is indeed a culinary paradise. I had the opportunity to be there (thanks to Sam) during a recent trip to Sydney, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was yum-yum, fascination, relaxation, heat and chaos - all in one.

Located in Pyrmont fronting the Blackwattle Bay in downtown Sydney, it is a must-visit for foodies in this beautiful vibrant city. 

We arrived there on a hot summer afternoon, the temperature touching 40 degrees C. The first thing we did was to look for a place to settle down. They have a stretch of outdoor tables completed with big umbrellas at the waterfront, overlooking a marina. It was not a fantastic view. I have seen a lot better waterfronts. But the atmosphere was good and the food fantastic.

On the weekend afternoon, it was not easy to find a table. It was crowded to the brink. Many resorted to sitting and eating on the ground - on a sloping grass strip between the fish market and the outdoor tables.

We stood around for awhile and were lucky that a family at a nearby table packed their things and left. We quickly moved in to claim our territory. That done, we proceeded inside the fish market to buy our food , while one of us stayed back to guard our domain.

Inside, it was a chaos of sort. The place was crowded and noisy. There were more tables and more people merrily eating away. Others were walking around, jostling at the food counters and some talking at the top of their voices. It was literally.... a fish market.

There were a few retailers - selling all kinds of raw seafoods. They do not cook. You buy the stuffs to take home.  There was such a fascinating array of things from the ocean. Everything looked so fresh. It was such a happy place.

And there were lots of food stalls selling ready-to-eats. The cooked food were on display for your pick. In some stalls, you pick your raw fish or crabs or lobsters, and they cook it to your specification. 

We made our purchases and regrouped at our table. The feast began. What better way to start than some nice fresh oysters. They were absolutely exquisite. So very fresh. They was no need for sauces. Just some lemon squeezes. The oysters flowed into our mouths. What a fantastic feeling.

And then the sashimi. We had some tuna and salmon. Like the oysters, they were fresh to the superlatives. Eddy commented that the sashimi here were fresher than those in Japan. He should know - Japan is almost his 3rd home. There was only one problem. The wasabi and soya sauce were not quite enough.

The prawns were of good size. They were simply blanched and were perfectly done. Overcooking would make them hard and coarse. These were tender and succulent. As we peeled the shells, the juices flowed out. No flavouring was need. Prawns this fresh do not need any additional flavouring.

These were fresh scallops. They were cooked in a mild spicy tomato sauce. Again it was the freshness that made it so very delicious. The scallop meat peels out of the shell and was fleshy and tender in the mouth.

This was another plate of oyster. They were baked with bits of cheese and bacon on the surface. They were aromatic and delicious. However, I thought the fresh ones were better.

This plate was a single mud crab. The crab was huge. We selected it live from a basket. The stall keeper cooked it "Chinese style". It was lightly deep-fried and then cooked in a soy sauce with some herbs and spring onions. The meat was firm and sweet. It was a good crab by any standard. But it was damn bloody expensive. Alan paid AUD88 - more than RM280 - for the single crab.

The barramundi (siakap) was also selected fresh and the stall keeper pan grilled it for us. It was very well done. The skin was crispy while the meat was succulent. We picked on the fish with our fingers, savouring on the crunchy fins and head. 

It was an awesome seafood orgy. We sat in the hot sun gorging on the food with some nice chilled white wine to cool us down. In spite of the heat, it was strangely very relaxing. The gulls eyed our every movement, hoping for scraps for which large signboards advised against. 

It was a delightful meal. Great fresh seafood with great old friends. What a hot summer afternoon. If you are ever in Sydney, do not miss their fish market. Your trip would not be complete without a visit to the fish market.