Favourite food moments in London

24 Nov

So  Steph and I went to London this weekend, and we had a blast. And ate like hell.  Here were  a few of my favourite food moments and places to eat…

1. Harrods:

When I m bored, I sometimes muse about what heaven would look  like. After this trip, I ve decided it would look a great deal like the Harrods Food Hall.

This food hall has everything a foodie could ever want in one, and quite frankly, puts La Place Mangerie to shame- there’s an oyster bar, seafood bar, champagne bar, a grill where you can have succulent steaks cooked in front of you,  fresh fruit and vegetables with colours so rich they seem almost artificial, rows upon rows of  Christmas hampers of English sounding things like “mince pies” and “mulberry jam”….and finally, the candy section. Oh lord, the candy. Let’s just say it’s the closest thing to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory that I’ve seen in the real world (but the hunt continues).

 

Like I said, heaven.

2. Brick Lane 

This is a street populated almost entirely with Indian restaurants with neon lights and signs advertising things like “Best Curry Chef 2009”. If you stroll there at dinner time, you will be undoubtedly be harassed by numerous Indian men spruiking their particular restaurant- “Mate, I give you 2 bottles of wine on the house and 30 % discount “,  “What did that guy offer? I can top that- 10 pound meal flat rate. No joke”.

It’s loads of fun, and kinda feels like walking through a busy market in Bangkok, or the red light district of Curry Houses. In the end, we settled on one a few doors in (largely through a process of eeny-meeny-miny-mo) which was excellent. Good quality Starter, mains and naan (with complimentary wine) for 10 pounds flat. No joke.

3. (Free) English continental breakfasts

I love free  breakfasts (I am a cheapskate Cheung after all), so the free english continental breakfast at our Hotel was quite a treat. Big cups of english breakfast tea, bacon, eggs, toast, hash browns, pork sausage and baked beans (plus an additional buffet table at our disposal). We were rather full by the end, and swore we’d skip lunch or dinner as a result, but that plan failed miserably.

4. Portabello Road 

The reason that planned failed miserably was this:

We went to Portabello Road around lunch time, which is amazing for Vintage fashion, antiques…and of course, food. I would definitely recommend the seafood  paella above  (cooked by 4 spannish guys in the biggest woks I’ve ever seen), mulled wine and a visit to the ever packed “Hummingbird” cupcake bakery for dessert. Try the Red Velvet.

I’m told Borough Market is another excellent food market, but sadly we ran out of time…next time!

5. Good old fashioned British Pub grub

With the sun setting at 4.30 pm and the rain flowin in, Steph and I decided to do the traditional British thing one night and sit in a dodgy pub drinking a pint of warm ale and eating hearty British meals. In the end, Steph settled for a good ol fish and chips with aoli sauce, and I had a  juicy gigantic steak and ale pie with a side of mash potato and peas. ( ok I confess, the pub was actually an Irish one called “O Neills”, and the pie was actually a steak and guiness one, but same same) Anyway, it was delish, and one of the few moments in life where I felt Imight actually explode after my meal.

Speaking of exploding stomachs, for great burgers, the “Gourmet Burger Kitchen” chain is excellent. These burgers are massive. My friend Pete ordered the “Kiwi” (a very Aussie thing- beef, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, mayo, pineapple, eggs, bacon…essentially a heart attack special), and found it impossible to fit it in his mouth. The 5 yr old British boy who was marvelling at it at the table next door suggested a simple solution- “Um, why don’t you just take out all the veges?” Bless him.

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PS-  If you’re a fan of street art, there’s also a big painting on the wall by Banksy just off Portabello which has been preserved in perspex . Def worth checking out!

 

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Wild Mushroom Risotto recipe (by Tom Lai)

22 Nov

One of my favourite past times is to flick through my friend Tom’s facebook album of dinners he has cooked on exchange- much as girls do with fashion magazines, or guys with dirty mens mags. It’s a guilty pleasure and mighty fun.

For those of you who have read and also drooled over the photos of Tom’s food in the previous post… I present to you Tom’s first recipe- Wild Mushroom Risotto.

Tom gave me some artistic license to edit it, but I ve kept it in its original form…cos quite frankly, if it turns out anything like it does in the picture, then every word is gold. It’s a tad more detailed then my 3 step “recipes”(see post- “My Cooking Philosophy”..), but I think that might explain the vast difference in quality between my food and Tom’s.

Anyways, enjoy guys!

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Wild Mushroom Risotto

” One thing that I love about Europe is that wild mushrooms are everywhere, even in the local supermarket fridge. This is a great recipe where mushrooms are the star of the dish.

One thing that’s essential for this recipe is a good homemade chicken stock. In most recipes, you can get away with substituting water for stock, but there are so few ingredients in a risotto and no strong herbs to hide behind, so a good stock is a must.

To make the mushrooms stock, boil 250g of sliced button mushrooms in a litre and a half of chicken stock for about 40 minutes. Strain the stock and keep it hot.

Gently fry French shallots and garlic in some olive oil and butter over a low heat. You want to soften and release the flavour of the shallots and garlic without colouring them. This should take about 5 to 10 minutes. Once the shallots are soft, add one cup of risotto rice (preferably Carnaroli) and toast the rice for a minute. Turn the heat up to medium and add half a cup of white wine. Allow the alcohol to evaporate, then add hot stock, one ladle at a time.

Agitate the pan by shaking it. Try not to stir it too much. Wait until most of the stock is absorbed before adding the next ladle.
Meanwhile, in a separate pan, heat up some olive oil and butter and fry a selection of wild mushrooms. Add thyme and a clove of garlic.

Taste the risotto to see if it is done. The rice should be soft, but the centre should have a bit of bite. When the risotto is almost done, add one last ladle of stock and turn the heat off. Add a few blobs of butter and let the risotto sit for 3 minutes. Stir through some shaved parmesan just before serving.

Serve the risotto on a deep plate. Place the mushrooms on top and garnish with a few sprigs of chervil.”

A politically incorrect christmas in Amsterdam

17 Nov

Christmas in Amsterdam is a wondrous time. We have belgian waffles stands, ice skating rinks, decorations all round…

We also have Black Pete. 

According to Wikipedia:

“ In the folklore and legends of the Netherlands and Flanders, Zwarte Piet ( pronunciation (help·info)) (meaning Black Pete) is a companion of Saint Nicholas. The characters of Zwarte Pieten appear only in the weeks before Saint Nicholas’s feast, first when the saint is welcomed with a parade as he arrives in the country (generally by boat, allegedly travelling from Spain). “…. In the old days, parents would  also warn their children: “If you don’t behave, Black Pete will come and take you with him back to Spain.” **

Black Pete and SinterKlaus

Right now in Holland, Black Pete is somewhat of a celebrity. Strolling through the streets of Amsterdam, one will  invariably see an assortment of Black Pete puppets and figurines adorning shop windows…There are Black Pete CDs, Black Pete wrapping paper, Black Pete Costumes for rent. There are even Black Pete impersonators who you can pose with in photos ( see pic of Evelein below).  Seriously, this guy’s bigger than Miley Cyrus.   

Lucky Evelein

What I find so hilarious about Black Pete, is that he is so hilariously inappropriate. Seriously, in any other country, if grown men were to adorn afro wigs and paint their faces black, they would be scorned! In fact, this very thing happened in Australia early this year on a TV talent show –“Hey Hey it’s Saturday”, where there was quite a scandal over a skit involving 5 men covered in black facepaint and black wigs.  Harry Conick Junior was a guest judge at the time, and was so offended by this that the station was forced to issue a public apology. The ‘blackface” skit even made international headlines, spreading a misconception overseas that Australians are one of the most racist peoples in the world (We’re not by the way, we’re really quite nice!)

Oh, and the 5 guys got a grand score of zero for their performance.

Cool

Not Cool.

Harry's not impressed.

 

Now, I am by no means implying that the Dutch are racist (they too are really quite nice!), but I chuckle to think how a modern, politically correct parent would struggle to explain Black Pete to their child: 

“ Child: Mummy, why does Pete have a black face?

Mum: It’s just soot darling, from when he slides down the chimne.y.

Child: But mummy, why does he have black curly hair and big red lips?

Mum: …”

Now, I could go on a critical rant condemning Black Pete as a racist caricature from a colonial past, or I could just accept the fact that Black Pete is now so firmly rooted in Dutch culture and tradition, that the Dutch have decided to turn a collective blind eye to the whole inappropriateness issue. And, as I walk through the streets of Amsterdam peering at him through shop windows, I think I might just do the same thing 🙂

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** In a vain attempt to link this post to food, wikipedia also states that:  “The tasks of Zwarte Pieten is mostly to amuse children and to scatter pepernoten and candies around at children…”

Cheap eats around Amsterdam (Inspired by my Uncle Mick)

16 Nov

A blog entry really here wouldn’t be complete without a Cheung family story, so this one’s devoted to my Uncle Mic .
 
For those of you who don’t know him, my uncle mic is a bit of a cheapskate. Don’t get me wrong, he’s awesome- he volunteers at the State Emergency Service, is a total computer whiz and once served a short stint as Nicole Kidman’s bodyguard.* But he is undoubtedly a cheapskate. During his university years, he based his diet solely on what was on special that week at Coles (usually instant noodles and canned SPAM**), and he has an uncanny ability to sniff out discounts, buy one get one free specials, and freebies. As well as a talent for exploiting these wholeheartedly.

 Take complimentary hotel goods. While ordinary people are expected to take the standard stuff- shampoos, toothpaste and shower caps, Uncle mick has more of an “if it’s not bolted to the ground, it’s fair game” policy. In the past, he has been known  to take bathrobes, slippers, and one one happy occasion, the light fittings from a hotel desk lamp.

 My other favourite uncle mic story is the time we went to the snow many years ago, and stopped off at a Burger King to buy one of those bottomless refilllable cups (not sure if these still exist, but back then they’d give you a cup, and you could refill as many times as you wanted). Uncle Mick took this offer quite literally- he bought a coke, kept the cup, went to the snow for the weekend and used the same cup on the drive back for more refills. **

Why Burger King Australia no longer sells refillable cups

Nothing is off limits

 

I have a feeling the cheapskate gene runs in the family. My granddad for instance, also has a knack for sniffing out free samples ( The habit escalated once he hit 60 I think, and was therefore exposed to a whole new world of pensioner concessions and discounts). Upon entering his house, one will find stacks and stacks of free serviettes, taken from everywhere in town- Mcdonald’s, the local cafe, and his all time favourite, Star City Casino. As a result, we have a lifetimes supply of Star City Casino napkins, and if you sneeze in his vicinity, chances are he will whip out a Star City napkin from his little red backpack and offer it to you. For some bizarre reason, he also has a life times supply of  Calcium tablets, which he also dispenses freely like candy. I m not sure if these were free, or he simply went nuts at the Discount Pharmacy warehouse one day, but everyone in our family has very strong bones as a result.

 So, in keeping with the family tradition, and for all those starving exchange kids out there who are currently broke after one too many Ryan Air trips, I have compiled a list of places giving out free samples in Amsterdam. Or at least very cheap meals. Enjoy!

 1. Noodermarket (Saturdays)
 
 Going to Noodermarket is one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday, because on Saturdays, there’s an organic food market. They sell fresh fruit, vegetables, bread,  oysters, cheese and all varieties of sweets. And the best thing is, the free samples. Of everything. Ideally, one should gracefully flutter here and there, sampling in small doses and purchasing as a result, but if you are really cheap and hungry, you could basically make a lunch out of all your samples.

Noodermarkt organic food market

2. Amsterdam Cheese house (Sort of near Central)
This is a big cheese shop that usually has free samples of all sorts of Dutch cheese- herbed, sweet chilli, plain… Also good if you are feeling peckish, or genuinely want to buy some cheese.
 
3. La Place, Mangerie (near Spui)
These guys usually do free samples of their focaccia breads- big fat fluffy focaccias  in the back corner usually baked with pesto/cheese, or tomato/basil/mozarella. Other free samples include drinks (eg a delicious non alcoholic mohito), and also pizza slices which were delicious. if you feel like splurging, you could even buy a fetta/olive twister bread roll for a grand total of 99 c.

la place for la piggies

 
4. The little chocolate shop inside Magna Plaza (near Dam Square)
Can’t remember the name, but usually has free samples of chocolate, cheese..and occassionally, stroopwafels.  Walk in the entrace and it’s just to your left.  
 
5. “ALl you can eat in an hour” Dumpling house (Zeedijk, Chinatown- next to Nam Kee)
  
 The sign outside this place says it all- “All you can eat in an hour for $8.50”.

  I love dumplings, so this is heaven to me, but the “in an hour” part puzzles me.  I assume the time limit is  there to stop greedy piggies from camping out at the restaurant till closing time and plopping dumplings in their mouths till they pass out into mini food comas. But the ironic thing is that I feel I’d be inclined to eat double what I would normally eat in an attempt to stuff as much in my stomach as possible within the hour. 

Time limits on buffets are like time limits on exams- the greater the pressure, the greater the chance I will panic, regurgitate all the useless knowledge I have, and leave the room with a slight feeling of nausea and regret. 
 
NB- I have a feeling Uncle Mic would  actually love this place. In fact, once, at an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, he surreptitiously removed the individual oysters from their shells at the buffet table (leaving the shells there for the other patrons), thereby allowing him to fit more  oysters on his plate. And in his stomach.  Oh yes, we’re  all class in this family!  

 
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* Funny story– My uncle once had to act as chauffeur for Nicole kidman/ Tom cruises’ kids- Connor and Isabella. He was driving a fancy car around trying to avoid the paprazzi, and being Uncle Mic, asked Connor if he’d like to go through a McDonald’s drive thru.  Connor replied sadly that he wasn’t allowed to eat McDonalds because his parents had put him on a macrobiotic diet.

** For those who don’t know, SPAM is a tinned meat of pinkish colour. No one knows exactly which animal it comes from, or how long its shelf life is, but it was popular with the soldiers during the War and nutters stocking up their bomb shelters in the lead up to Y2K.

Petition to get Tom Lai on Masterchef

12 Nov

Sometimes I wish I chose to do my exchange in Utrecht.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Amsterdam. I have the canals. I have the parks..and I have the Pancake place down the road. But the lucky kids at the IBB Utrecht building have Tom Lai as their resident chef.

For those of you not in the know, Tom is a law student from Sydney, who writes essays on jurisdiction and procedural fairness by day, and conjures up mouth watering gourmet dishes by night. Like, these dishes look good enough to be on the cover of food magazines.

Sure, Tom will probably make a great lawyer, buy I personally believe Tom’s future lies on Austrailan Masterchef (for the international peeps, that’s an Aussie cooking tv show contest- like Top Chef, but better. Or Idol for cooks), which could then lead to  his own cookbook, television show, and the opportunity to rub shoulders with Matt Preston (Again for non aussies, that’s the pompous food critic/judge who wears cravats all the time).

The Judges of Masterchef Australia (Matt preston in the centre)

In fact, Masterchef of late seems to be a haven for frustrated law students and lawyers of late…The guy who won last season (Adam!) was a top notch media lawyer actually,and  I believe there were quite few other law students, accountants and other disgruntled professionals sprinkled in the crowd. Here are some pics of Tom (and Ros and Lily), working his magic in the Utrecht Kitchen, as well as some of my favourite dishes Tom has cooked, stolen from his facebook album. (There are many more, but i was scared wordpress wouldn’t let me upload so many pics, and I m sure there’s some copyright issue there..maybe)

Word of warning-  the following images may cause uncontrollable salivating, drooling and an inexplicable desire to haul your ass down to Utrecht for the day. Or semester.

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This is my favourite. Look at the gorgeous composition of teh fanned pear, dallop of ice cream, sprinkles of pistachio and cinnamon stick. Art.

 

Ros, Tom and Lily, I am so looking forward to eating with you guys, woops I mean seeing your lovely faces, in Utrecht soon. Counting down the days!

20 food related things I ve learnt in Amsterdam

10 Nov

1. ”Paprika’ flavoured lays chips here taste exactly like ‘ Barbecue’ flavoured chips back home.

2. ‘Paprika’ is the dutch word for capsicum. Americans call them bell peppers.

3. Americans call rocket ‘arugula’.

4. You can confuse an American by ordering a salad with ‘capsicum, rocket, tomAHto and BAHsil’  (as opposed to toMAYto and BAYsil)

5. Cheap good sushi is impossible to find here.

6. They give out free cheese samples at the cheese store near Central.

7. They give out free samples of everything at Noodermarket on Saturdays.

8. I think I will do a whole post on free samples around Amsterdam.

9. ‘ Kaas smaak lekker’  means ‘ cheese tastes good’ in Dutch. It is also the only Dutch phrase I know, and what I imagine a Dutch cave man would sound like.

10. A stroopwafel with 2.5 pumps of butterscotch syrup is just right

11. Pancakes Amsterdam! really does have the best pancakes in Amsterdam.

12. The dodgy kebab place down the road does NOT have te best felafels in town, despite its claims to the contrary.

13. Albert Heijn stocks an annoyingly limited selection of Ben and Jerrys flavours.

14. Albert Heijn does not stock pork mince. IT stocks beef, 50% beef 50% pork, but not full pork. WEird.

15. Albert Heijn sells 3 pack cup’ a soups for 60c. If you’re lucky, they sometimes do a buy one get one free special.

16. Chinatown here is like, 2 streets long.

17. At Christmas, everyone eats these chocolate covered gingerbread thingies’ they’re tasty.

18. They’re selling delicious belgium waffles at a stand near Leidserplein at the moment. Right next to the Christmas themed ice skating rink.

19. Dutch Mcdonalds sells a ‘ McKroket’  burger. (there s a croquette inside).

20. The dutch word for bag is ‘zak’. It sounds much sexier than the English version.

 

Food sketches from my travel diaries…

4 Nov

When I travel, I like to keep a sketch journal with me. A lot of the time I like to paint or draw a place rather than take a picture, cos I feel I get to appreciate the scene better. Anyway, I was flicking through the other day, and I realise a lot of the time in my journals I m talking about the meals I had that day ( go figure). I think I also mention stuff like churches and museums, but not anywhere to the same degree.  (Documenting all the food you ve eaten that day may seem somewhat neurotic, bordering on crazy, but it actually came in very handy when I was giving travel tips to some friends who were going to Barcelona recently, in that I could recite exactly which restaurants they should go to, and exactly what dishes to order…with which desserts)

Anyway, here are some more memorable food experiences I’ve had on my travels in the last couple of months just before arriving in Amsterdam, and also in Iceland. Enjoy! 

1. Our trip to Da Michele’s Pizzeria, Naples

Technically, this isn’t a good food experience, because we didn’t manage to actually eat any food. This is the time my friend Adelle and I took two three hour train rides to Naples to visit the best Pizzeria in the world, only to find it closed for renovation. Below is the wasted train ticket, and a picture of the closed door. Note to self: Call up the restaurant before forking out 80 euros on train tickets.

The front door at da michele, Naples

2.  Spaghetti Vongole, Rome

Spaghetti Vongole

This was my favourite dish in italy- Spaghetti Vongole (or spaghetti with clams in light white wine sauce) I think we must have had it three times in the space of two days, and actually the best dish of pasta I had in Rome was in a dingy looking restaurant near Termini station (that area is usually best avoided for food)  Planning on getting some clams from Noodermarket on Saturday and getting Andrea to make this dish for me.

3. Amazing sandwich, little Deli in Ravello

I went on one of those Busabout “italian adventure”tours that takes you around the South of Italy. We stopped by one day at a little town called Ravello, where our tour guide took us to eat “the best sandwich of our life”. I’m not sure if it lived up to that title, but it was pretty close. The sandwich contained shaved parma ham, olive oil, sundried tomatoes, fresh sprigs of basil and fresh chunks of buffalo mozarella between two hunks of freshly baked crispy bread. It was massive.

Also, the business card for this place shows a picture of a happy plump Italian woman holding a gigantic ham. Love it.

 

 
 

Ravello- the square where we ate our sandwiches

 

4.  Red hot chilli Pepper stands, Amalfi

Also on the tour was a stop off at the town of Amalfi ( along the Amalfi coast), which i such a lovely cute steroypically Italian town- little cobblestoned alleyways, vespas everywhere, gelato and limoncello shops lining the streets….A particularly funny thing I saw was that he little fruit stands on the side of the road with lines and lines of chilli peppers hung up, which were advertised as ” Viagra- au naturale . 2 euros  a bunch”.  Trust the italians to turn to food rather than pills to get their spirits up!  

"Viagra- au naturale"

 

Amalfi town

  5. Tapa Tapa, Barcelona

Tapa Tapa- my favourite place to eat in Barcelona. Adelle, Kristen and I must have eaten there at least 6 times that trip, and ordered between us almost the entire menu. Tapa Tapa is a cute, fun, cheap tapas place opposite the Gaudi house ( Casa battlo) on Passage de Gracia. It has a wide variety of affordable dishes- potato bravas, mini paellas served on mini woks, gorgonzola risotto dishes (not strictly Spanish but whatever)…and endless Sangria. I love tapas (ie sharing many small dishes between a group), because I love to share and try new things, and I always get food envy and end up picking off other’s peoples plates anyway. SO tapas is essentially that, but socially acceptable. Love this place- definitely worth a visit!  

6. Cooking class in Barcelona with Fernando

My friends and I signed up for a cooking class in Barcelona on one of our final nights, taught by his guy called Fernando. They felt a little jipped, because we don’t actually get to do any cooking in this class ( unless you count assembling the chorizo and cheese onto bread), Fernando just taught us how to make a giant paella with a demonstration (using a mssive work containing enough paella to feed 35) It was like a live cooking show. They also taught us how to make sangria! Orange juice, lemon soda, fruit and red wine. With sugar. (funny how when you’re 18  or underage and mix wine with soft drinks, it’s considered a tad unsophisticated, but the SPanish have made it into a national drink!  Kudos to them!)

7. Home made pasta and resourcefulness in Seville, Spain

Ok, so we were feeling frugal one night, so decided to cook pasta at the hostel in Seville for dinner. Only problem was that the little grocery store around the corner only stocked tinned tomato, which makes for a passable sauce, but nothing to write home about. Anyway, we were going to see a flamenco show that night, and we ordered a chorizo/ cheese plate. We couldn’t finish the plate, but we were too embarrassed to ask for a doggy bag, so we proceeded to smuggle the leftovers into serviettes and in our handbags to add to our pasta that night. (In hindsight, not sure why we thought this would be less embarrasing) It was delicious in the end, but Kristen’s bag smelt like meat for a while after!  

 
 
 

spaghetti+ tinned tomato+ leftover chorizo and cheese from flamenco show= yummy pasta!

 

8.  Pasteis de Belem, Portugal

In Lisbon, there is a world famous patisserie called “Pasteis de Belem”, which is renowned for its world famous portugese tarts. This place is so good, that the line for these pastries wind all the way around the block. The inside is deceptively massive, and sits over 200 people (and we got there , it was relatively full). we ordered a ham and cheese qiche, portugese tarts (with cinnamon and sugar) and palmier pastries (see pic below), all of which were delightful.

What else is delightful is the gorgeous park across the road, where you can have a nice picnic and feast on your purchases!

9.  Best hot dogs in Iceland, Rekjavik

Hot dogs are to the Icelandic, what Frite stores are to the dutch. They are  the national junk food delicacy. We visited one that was meant to be the best in Iceland- it’s been frequented by the likes of  Bill Clinton. It’s actually a dingy looking tin shack by the wharf in Reyjkavik, but the hot dogs were pretty tasty- they come with mustard, ketchup, fried and fresh onions, and “special sauce” ( best not to ask what that entails). Anyway, they were super tasty, especially when we were freezing our butts off!

The best hot dog stand in Iceland, with its running hot dog logo 🙂

Kind of getting hungry now reminiscing over all this, so I think I shall cook myself something. Hopefully will be able to add to this collection soon!