Archives for category: Food

Today, my boss mentioned watching Anthony Bourdain visiting Singapore in his Layover program and his fiancee going gaga at the sight of teh-tarik. Both announced they would love to visit my home country and smash their faces into pots full of fishhead curry and shit. On a less savoury note, my facebook feed threw up people criticising Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan for being out of touch when his Ministry for Environment and Water Resources was quoted in the Straits Times as: “surveys show that in general, ingredients form about 60 per cent of a hawker’s costs”. Notably, food critic KF Seetoh posted, “If your food cost is 60%, eh, you long long close shop liao la. If you cannot do below 30%, go be a highly paid civil servant better la”. I don’t think the dichotomy of desire and reality not meeting could be summed up so painfully by both parties.

On the one hand, I can be proud that Singapore is famous for it’s great food. Yet, on the other, I can only see the abyss that faces said cuisine. There are many reasons why I have not chosen to start a restaurant in Singapore, weather being one of them, but everything else explains the difficult situation my beloved nation’s food heritage and identity faces today.

First off, most food in Singapore is ridiculously cheap. Some asshat will say that food in Indonesia or Vietnam or Ethiopia or whatever is cheaper. We have long been considered a developing nation and if hotels that look like the ark landed on top or the number of Vuittons per capita (LVPC) are anything to go by, I’d say that the little red dot is very much first world. A first world country that adopted the approach of keeping food cheap through a conscious government effort since the heady days of independence. This policy had two major effects. The first is that it keeps people happy, satisfying a basic need easily and keeping the government in power. The second is that the people developed a complacency and absurdity of expectation. Not only should it remain cheap despite the fact that the country sees affluence aplenty, it should also remain at the status quo in terms of taste. This is world class fare that costs very very little. Fuck inflation, fuck immigration policy, fuck market capitalism, fuck profit margins. We want cheap, hygienic, locally made, authentic and tasty stuff that’s subsidised by a benevolent dictatorship that’s somehow expected to be about face socialists when it comes to thing we eat.

In 1965, my moms was still a child and her experience revolved around 20c plates of noodles and it’s ilk. When I was a similar age in 1990, I remember the same thing would cost $2. So we’re talking a 1000% increase over 25 years. It’s a rough estimate of course but let’s compare it with the next 25 years. When I last went home in April this year, 2015, a relatively extravagant plate of hokkien mee cost $5 and it’s probably meant to be shared. So over the last 25 years, inflation was 250%. In 2040, will I be surprised if my $5 plate became $10? Honestly, I’d rejoice because that same thing runs about $15 here in Sydney here today and it hasn’t been honed by 20+ years of dedication involving long hours in front of a wok burner. And still, the clouds of nostalgia would present the idea that the taste has been going downhill post Planck epoch.

Singaporeans moan way too much. They’ve had it too good for far too long and gone are the tenets that my parents and grandparents’ generations have held so true; hard work and determination. Today’s Singaporean is more attuned towards ranting on a WordPress blog (like myself for no one to read) or a couple of lines on a Facebook comment as if they somehow deserve the $3 plates of god level chicken rice. It’s the entitled attitude that reeks. A dish that today has a few distinct styles, each worthy of merit and each developed through years of tireless innovation and ideas. Roasting garlic and onions to deepen the flavour of a broth, which in turns flavours the pristine rice or refreshing slow poached low temperature chicken in ice water developing additional texture with gelatinisation… I would suggest comparisons with the ramen scene in Japan and yet, these under-appreciated achievements come at a fraction of the cost. You’ll see a blog come up with some stupid list of their own favourite chicken rice stalls and the list is long. This snobbery is made possible only by the quality and quantity on offer.

So what does this low cost mean for me, a chef who is perhaps considering if he should start a F&B business in Singapore? Well, it’s all about competition and the ubiquity of it. There’s too much good food at stupidly low prices in Singapore. I could make great food but I’m no Rene Redzepi, David Chang or the guy who runs Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice or whatever but does that mean that I should not have decent remuneration for my effort and skill? In Singapore, the answer would be no, because you would be happy to go to the next guy since there’s so many. No one can say with any degree of certainty who the best chicken rice in Singapore is. Not fucking hungrygowhere, ieatishootipost or your grandmother’s left toe. There’s just too many candidates and low cost of food combined with high levels of competition means stupid high barrier to entry with little plausible reward.

So don’t do chicken rice or hawker food then, why don’t you run an Italian joint? This brings me to the next point of contention with the food scene in Singapore. We seem to not mind dropping dollars on a aglio olio or “carbonara” with cream or maybe some sushi/ramen/burger etc. Basically, we don’t mind spending more if it’s foreign. Hell, if you slice some truffles or throw on some gold leaf or maybe make soy milk look like camembert (true story), you’d drop $30 or $300. I love fine dining but the best I’ve experienced from L’Astrance in Paris, Central in Lima to Mugaritz in Errenteria are all locally sourced and locally inspired. This is not the case in Singapore, where Restaurant Andre is run by a Taiwanese person, Waku Ghin by Aussiefied Japanese and everything else French, Italian… you name it, anything but Singaporean. Where the real gods of cooking charge you maybe $8 for a sickass bowl of bisquey prawn noodles with massive superfresh premium shellfish. Versus a “seafood aglio olio” for $13.80 involving the privilege of air conditioning and table service.

Foreign food interests me and inspires me as a chef and I love cooking/eating it but I have scant interest in fleecing people with wagyu from Ohmi prefecture followed intensely by otoro from the Southern Antarctic. The ingredients are delicious, there is no doubting that, but the cost is prohibitive and/or otherwise unsustainable. We owe it to our future generations that we don’t live our lives in such excess that there is nothing left. Whilst some dismiss locavorism as just a trend that will surely fade, it is really all about great flavour and in truth, a return to how we ate prior to market capitalism and human greed detaching humanity from it’s food sources. Singapore is epitomy of that, with it’s need to import most of it’s food. I don’t however suggest that local for Singapore, should not include it’s neighbours in South East Asia or even indeed, China or Australia. After all, we did use to be a sleepy fishing village that transformed into one of the major shipping hubs around the globe because of our unique geography. Our importation of food is but another facet of our existence and we ought to celebrate it within reason. Still, the thought to cook expensive food in a foreign style using foreign ingredients or using cheap ingredients to cook in a foreign style at mid-range prices does not intrigue me. Our obsession with kurobuta this or uni that is a noose on our local cuisine. Because of our well travelled, foodie by birth nature, Singaporeans place too much exoticism on shit they can’t pronounce well. This is not cool.

But perhaps I ought to overlook the insane levels of competition and ridiculously small margins that could tempt me. Let me instead consider the “successes” in Singapore. One of the many changing fads perhaps? From franchises shilling the next big trendy little snack to the various hipster cafes pouring shots at $5 a cup to go with $7 rainbow sponge/red velvet cakes topped with shit buttercream. Sure, I oughta jump on that bandwagon. Sure.

I’m not saying that croissant taiyaki or macarons or boba tea isn’t good or there aren’t any good hipster cafes with amazing red velvet cakes made with ultralight microwaved sponge and perhaps flavoured with haw flakes and a custard apple icing. I’m sure there are and their latte art is awesome. I’m not saying that we should only eat local and not consider eating Japanese or Thai or Russian. I’m saying that our perspective is fucked and we ought to look again at poor old Singaporean food and give it the money it deserves.

This leads onto what would possibly change my mind. If people were willing to spend money on great food and appreciate the locality, seasonality and provenance of it, they ought to tip their favourite hawkers beyond the paltry figures imposed by government. If I had the opportunity to do so, I would, although I suspect they might not even allow me to have the privilege. What this dog eat dog world of competitive cooking needs is a conscience and respect from everyone. The government should drop any mandate to try to keep prices at stupid levels. 60% food cost is very high but many high volume/turnover, low price/service outfits rely on that to turn a profit. Hawker stalls have typically been like this and if food cost is really 60%, the problem isn’t your rent or wages or utilities or whatever. It’s the pricing. If food prices were higher in Singapore, there’s way more leeway, more room for creativity and more room for talent to produce what Singaporeans crave. I’ve read about various young people starting great initiatives cooking a variety of cuisines in hawker stalls and cafes and restaurants but how many of these will enjoy success with our expectation that they should not make any money?

But would Singaporeans be willing to pay more to get table service? Or would they rather moan that the hawker is rude? If I put one of the many deific personalities who run hawker stalls in Singapore into a white tablecloth restaurant with waiters and a sommelier, would you be willing to part with your hard earned at a level equivalent to what you would if Joel Robuchon’s name was plastered across the front of the entrance? Maybe we should take a step back a bit. What if I ran a contemporary restaurant in Singapore using locally sourced ingredients from the Asia Pacific region and focused on trying to create a cuisine which fuses the best old and new international cooking methods and ideas with that local identity? Say throwing up an egg yolk cured in gula melaka sitting on a muahchee esque blob of peanut and glutinous rice covered with crispy meringue and it came in a kopitiam saucer? That uniquely Singaporean palette that is willing to balance sweet soy and egg with cockles and Chinese sausage or a curmudgeon of spices blended so expertly you only notice the whole not the sum, would it be willing to countenance such a thing? Or perhaps it is easier to lull it into a dream with whisper of marbled beef and myths of beer addled massages.

Why the hell would you? The risk reward ratio is just weighted against the latter to the point of absurdity. Far easier to just troll people with stuff they’re less inclined to have too much affinity and understanding for. I could throwdown the best Peruvian style cevicheria or Basque tapas bar and you wouldn’t fucking know if it was close to the real deal even if you visited before because you didn’t grow up with that shit. Nah, you just have your fucking snobbish grandstanding pseudo gastronomic tendency to proffer your reviews on shit you have no clue about.

Yes, sign me up for this impossible quest. For what am I but yet another stupid chef who only lives in earnest desire to make tasty shit with some measure of a conscience?

For the record, fuck your fucking shitty rainbow sponge / red velvet / shit pseudo retro anglo slices of frivolousness. That shit needs to die.

On my last day in Singapore, my mom drove to this fruit store called Durian Lingers somewhere along Bukit Timah road. It’s not particularly famous but I wanted to eat durians and it was open. She handed me $100 and I promptly went over and grabbed this bigass Green Bamboo for $50 at $18/kg. I figured one expensive, indulgent treat would be enough. Regrets make you determined to revisit good experiences.

It was a pretty dope one. I was about a week off from durian season proper, which is generally June to July as the primetime in Singapore and even into August and September probably, with an second season round November til January or February. I always seem to be home sometime around March or April so I must be a fucking idiot. Despite the fact that it wasn’t primetime, I had a really nice, bittersweet durian that had all the attributes of fine wine. Bouquet, texture, length and also a slight peacock’s tail people find in excellent Pinot Noir. It wasn’t the best durian I’ve ever eaten but it was pretty damn good anyway.

There’s only so many things that do it for me and have that crazy interesting impact on my palette. Durians are about the only fruit. Chempedak, jackfruit and some of the more pungent mangoes can be pretty good but tend to have mostly initial impact but little in length. On the other hand, creamy fruits like custard apples or avocadoes have got great texture and some length but the flavours don’t shift and play a jazz piece on the palette. It’s the only naturally occurring fruit/vegetable that is so stupid flavourful, albeit divisive without requiring much intervention from people.

You have to catch, kill and butcher a near extinct tuna before aging it to get delicious chutoro or the same with a cow and a great steak. With caviar, you need to catch, kill and butcher a near extinct sturgeon before brining the roe to produce shit in cans that cost 100 times it’s weight in gold. There’s cheese, fine wine, coffee, tea, Jamon Iberico de Bellota, fermented foods… These all require much in the way of human intervention. Uni is close but you still have to dive into a body of water and hope for little pollution, not to mention cutting it open. So what I’m saying is that not only does a fine durian compare favourably with a Romanee Conti or a Cinco Jotas, it’s also completely ethical and sustainable.

The only real problem with durians lies in it’s divisiveness. True, it’s smell can be like asafoetida to some people. It’s got that sulfuric stench of overcooked egg yolks and raw or rotting onions and garlic. Not everyone can look past it to find the nuances. I wish I had a tasting note for every durian I’d eaten and come up with this extensive comparison based on other flavours.

“Colour is creamy yellow, tinge of gray, flesh appears firm and taut, aroma of blackcurrant buds, Spanish onions,  and black garlic, bit of whisky zabaglione. Skin is thin. Texture is overripe avocado. Fibrousness is low. Acidity is medium. Sweetness is medium high. Bitterness is medium high. Flavour of creme brulee, banana, custard apple followed by Cognac, Cointreau and asphalt. Finish is long, slight raspberry and asparagus. This durian is a Mao Shan Wang. No this durian is Wang Zhong Wang. This durian is from Kelantan, Gua Musang from a high quality producer. A fantastic durian.”

Consider this. Good durian considers farming practices, terroir, seasonality, the producer’s hand, the ripening process, the geography, the language, the culture and the purveyor prying it open gracefully for the eater to inspect. Maybe one day, I’ll finally be that durian tasting negociant of my dreams where like minded durianophiles can discuss if this year’s vendage compares favourably with the great ’83 or ’87 or the percentage of new bamboo tonneaus in the D24 from Johor or the pros and cons of slash and burn versus modernist organic.

Somehow I just don’t think it’s going to take off. Something to do with the lack of alcohol I think. Hang on. Maybe I ought to ferment that stuff huh? (It’s called tempoyak btw)

It really sunk in only when I got out the subway exit onto Nathan Road. This was Hong Kong, where Chow Yun Fatt and Tony Leung reined. It was where WKW freeze framed Aniki Jin and made him eat pineapples. Where girls looked like Maggie Cheung, Lin Ching Hsia or Cecilia Cheung. In some ways, it felt strangely familiar, as I half expected, my childhood and teenage years having spent some time immersed in the cultural export of this former British colony. This was where one grandad and 2 grandmas came from so in some sense, it’s the OG motherland. Random fact: I’ve even got this nephew who lives in Hong Kong who I don’t know who’s 15 years my senior somehow.

I loved the grittiness of the place. The density and the immediacy of life struck me but let’s be honest I’m way too chilled to wanna be a hustler in the fragrant harbour. I suppose that side of HK, the materialistic side I didn’t enjoy quite as much. But the chaos was enthralling. I was mesmerised by the crazy multi level highways and pedestrian crossings and mish mash of tunnels throughout the sland side. Then on Kowloon it’s still madhouse with tight streets and neon and signs sticking out way over the street and mad throngs of people, relentlessly moving, writhing.

Every which way I looked I saw humanity trying its best to eke out a living. Everywhere I went I felt the hustle. It’s either mad cheap or ridiculously expensive. Case in point is possibly over expanding Tim Ho Wan which just swung the doors open at its Sydney outpost. I’ll say that in Hong Kong we spent 136HKD or 23AUD for two people. Not stuffed but enough. Yet despite that paltry figure, I completely agree with the Michelin inspectors that it deserves a star. It may be hyped to death and all that but I loved it and it is fantastic value. The money we spent is like 1 dish at Mr. Wong in Sydney. And yet I reckon THW is way better. You can argue about different countries costs etc but you can’t fight good flavour. Spare ribs > perfect rendition. Shumai > brilliant. Hargow > superlative. Because you’ve eaten all these classics it’s easy to miss the perfect textures or delicate seasoning. They’re really good. For the record I think the charsiu bao are overhyped.

Onto Yung Kee. Awesome awesome roast goose drenched in drippings. Charsiu > nonevent. But $50ish for a goose drumstick even if its massive is pretty damn steep. I think Joy Hing quoted my mom $60 for a whole goose. Aud. It is good, no doubt about that but my moms surprise at the gold clad three storey building of today compared to the humble store of yore that she remembers is testament for sure.

I also had a mini egg tart hunt, mostly around Wan Chai. I liked Kum Kee the best. Just don’t get Tai Cheong, which has branches everywhere. The main difference with egg tarts in HK and everywhere else is they’re served piping hot and there’s less sugar. So you basically get this balance between unctuous hot custard and crispy rough puff and it’s quite delightful.

I’m sure there’s loads more food in HK than the little I’ve discovered but I’m also relatively certain that I’m more into the Tim Ho Wans and Sun Kee cheese pork neck noodles or Australia Dairy Co scrambled eggs or Sing Kee congee with awesome pork liver. I wanna delve more into stuff like that and less into restaurants that swop my plates out when they’re full of bones and shit.

Also my Chungking Express dream was mostly a wash. I did however discover a lovely walk from the top of the mid level escalators down to the peak tram station.

All in all I gained much insight as to just what makes HK HK and how it produces people like John Woo or Alvin Leung or Li Ka Shing.

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This is the best ice cream in Sydney. In no particular order.

Supermarket

  • Maggie Beer – Burnt Fig Jam, Honeycomb and Caramel
    It’s popular with everyone, it’s available everyfuckingwhere and it’s fucking sick. This should be more famous than her obsession for verjus or horribly sweet Pheasant Farm Pate. This is the BOMB.
  • Streets – Golden Gaytime
    A classic. This is what you eat if you’re visiting Australia. It’s more than just the name too.
  • Weis – Fruito
    Banana, Pineapple and Passionfruit. What a combo.
  • Pat and Sticks – Vanilla Lace
    Allow a little time for the biscuit to ease up and you’re good to go.
  • Coles Smart Buy – Neapolitan
    Actually, only the “strawberry” with it’s incredible un-strawberry like nuances is good. The choc and vanilla are unfortunately, taints.

Gelato Shops

  • Gelato Messina
    Queues are now insane. The Darlinghurst spot was my first date spot. That was how much more civil it used to be. Nowadays, it’s just absurd and they’ve got multiple stores, even one in Melbourne. Still, prices haven’t changed and at ~$7 for 3 scoops, it’s just straight up the best dessert deal in Sydney. Quality and flavours are just as good as ever. My faves include but are not limited to: Salted Caramel & White Choc, Blood Orange, Chocolate Sorbet, Hazelnut, Pistachio
  • Cow & The Moon
    Pretty damn popular but not on the Messina scale. This Enmore shop has a constant stream of people in it from opening to closing. It’s also priced well and the servers scoop awesome gelato scoop quenelles onto cones and cups alike. My faves are: Chocolate Sorbet, Honey, Popcorn
  • Pompei’s
    This Bondi pizzeria has got some awesome Amedei 65% chocolate sorbet (see a trend yet?) plus Fior di Latte, White Peach, 70% dark Amedei gelato, 40% Milk Amedei gelato and solid hazelnut and pistachio too. Pricey but the choc sorbet is unbeatable. Clearly, if you don’t like luscious and insanely rich stuff that melts away with unbearably so inside your mouth, you ought to reconsider life.
  • N2 Extreme Gelato
    Truth be told, I only like the texture. I find the flavours pissweak and different for the sake of and a lot of it’s just pure gimmickry. However, despite the fact that this is one of the best examples of not getting the point about modernist cooking, it’s also a great example of what’s good about modernist cooking. You can’t beat using liquid N2 to quickly freeze ice cream such that bigger ice crystals don’t have to chance to form. The texture is just spectacular but if you had access to a stand mixer and a license for renting liquid nitrogen dewars, you could do this at home too son.
  • Antica Gelateria
    Tucked away in one corner of Crows Nest, this is a little under the radar store that isn’t quite as good as some of the more popular shops in the city but it’s still pretty damn good. When I lived around the area, they had this sick black sesame chocolate chip and also an amazing banana split plus a really good choc sorbet, nut flavours etc. I just kinda wish it had a better location/concept. The product is just really good.

Now I know there’s more than this. There’s plenty of places in Sydney that do great Gelato/Ice Cream that I haven’t had the chance to try. This is my list and yes there are some cliches but we all fucking scream for ice cream. So, in summary:

When I think vegetable, Kailan or “Chinese Broccoli” is what comes to mind. It’s what I imagine mothers pointing at when they yell at their kids. It’s a sweet and slightly bitter big green leafy vegetable with strong crunchy stems that can be fibrous if too old. For me it’s kinda like a cross between kale and broccoli and better than either. Kailan has got 4 significant parts to it. There’s the leaves, the thin stems, the thicker base and sometimes there’s also yellow or white flowers. It’s a plant that’s common year round because it’s a hardy plant but it’s actually a cool season crop.

When I was young, all I ate were the leaves, which were sweet and easy to down. I wasn’t the biggest vegetable fan but I would go to town on kailan leaves. I’d pick the stems out and not eat them. As time passed and I got a little bit older, I started to enjoy the thin stems and then later the thicker base stems too. By the time I was rocking out to Oasis and Radiohead, I was a full fledged kailan lover. I had to have it like 2 or 3 times a week and my grandmother knew I preferred the younger, sweeter baby version of the vegetable as opposed to the big thick woody stuff that’s almost asparagus like at the stem. You can always just trim or peel the base away but it’s got nothing on the beautiful flavour and texture of perfectly cooked baby kailan.

More recently, I had some pickled kailan stem at Chairman Mao’s in Sydney and it was one of those things that blew my mind. I guess I didn’t think about it before but if you take the big thick stems that you’d normally chuck, slice them reasonably thinly and pickle them, you get a bit of magic from what would be compost. The pickling process evens out the texture of the stems and definitely improves the hard, woodiness it can have. It’s not going to take away the fibrous outer bits and ends so you’re going to waste something but a lot less.

You can have it so many ways too. Stir fried is generally the classic. With a simple bit of garlic, stock, salt and oil, you get a very natural flavour. With oyster sauce, the sweetness is amplified and the bitterness removed because it’s so salty. Stir fried with beef or pork and wilted through noodles, you get a variety of crunch and sweetness.

Kailan’s something that most Chinese people take for granted. It’s just a common vegetable and you’ll find it everywhere. But it’s fucking magic. The leaves wilt but retain a slight leatheriness that really goes well when you get a slick of oil on it. The stems stay crunchy for days unlike a lot of other similar leafy greens. You have a kale craze that I can somewhat understand but for me, kailan’s just got more things in it’s locker than kale. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe kailan is too ubiquitous and known but I’m pretty damn sure if it had a less Chinese name, it’d deserve a global craze too.

I saw a video of Rene Redzepi praising this Aussie stagier putting kale into a dessert and sorta making it work or at least being extremely brave but she would have knocked his socks off if she used kailan. I don’t recommend blending it into smoothies with a vitamix, you lose all the wonderful textures of the vegetable and you really need a little light cooking to temper the rawness in my opinion. Still, I like to toss it in my pastas, noodles, stir fries and everything really. Buerre noisette and some almonds? Thai Basil and chilli? It can probably go a lot more ways than the usual garlic / oyster etc. My dream is for chefs who’re not Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese/Malay to use kailan more. Apparently it was actually imported to China by the Portuguese so maybe there’s a start.

This idea popped into my head one day. I was thinking about people trying really hard to put childhood memories of sweet stuff like pop rocks and sherbet and making stuff with that and failing hard. So here’s my attempt.

What I’m trying to make is just a popsicle, a Splice y’know? Vanilla ice cream and lime flavoured ice. What I like about that is the combo of flavours and what I don’t is the icyness of the lime component. So basically, the interior of my popsicle is gonna be vanilla ice cream and a lime flavoured candy shell. This we’re going dip into stuff so we get a coated thingamajig.

“Splice”

  1. Vanilla Ice Cream
  2. Limes
  3. Sugar
  4. Corn Syrup

Make anglaise and freeze then paco till soft. Fill moulds and put a popsicle stick on the ends. Blast chill till super hard. Meanwhile, combine lime juice with sugar, corn syrup and water to make a candy shell and bring to boil. Dip hard popsicles into lime syrup and then blast freeze again. At this stage we have a crunchy lime candy shell with a creamy vanilla interior.

“Splice on Crack”

  1. “Splice”
  2. Coca Cola
  3. Pop Rocks

Make a reduction of coke. Dip the Splices into the cooled reduction and then coat with pop rocks. Freeze.

To serve

  1. “Splice on Crack”
  2. Sherbet
  3. Mirror
  4. Credit Card

You need a mirror to serve as the plate. Make a pile of sherbet at one corner and then make lines of sherbet, using the credit card to do so. In this case, a black or platinum card would work best. Put the “SoC” on top of the sherbet pile, making an indent into the pile but not completely obscuring it. Serve immediately.

The great thing about this dessert is that it’s all prep and easy to plate. I’m just not 100% sure I can succeed with that candy shell and ice cream. Also, I feel that the sherbet on the plate is really just kinda there for the sake of being there. I do like that the pop rocks are front and centre on this bitch.

For some absurd reason the other day, I stuck a banana into the freezer. I had no idea why. Anyway, when I pulled it out, I realized I’d made a mistake, I shoulda peeled it first. Eventually, I found a Pacojet container and managed to get the skin and pith off. I broke the banana into pieces and stuck the container into the Pacojet for a whizz.

The result? Oh man… Pure banana frozen gelato/smoothie whatever. No cream, no added sugar, no eggs, no yoghurt, nothing. Pure banana. It was just superb and the texture of the banana itself was fantastic, a little creamy/sticky and the flavour not watered down by anything.

I love that it’s an all natural, no additive “sorbet” that takes advantage of the natural starches in bananas to confer a particular texture. Honestly, if it weren’t frozen, you’d effectively have fucking baby food. Still, I love the texture and flavour and my colleagues seem to think it’s good too.

Definitely wanna stick this down on a waffle/dessert thing. Yea, a fuckin’ Chinese crepe with banana sorbet, palm sugar praline, peanuts and coffee.

Actually, it’s definitely going to be a “breakfast” dessert.

  1. Crunchy Nut Crunch
  2. Toasted Peanuts
  3. Banana Sorbet
  4. Milk Ice Cream
  5. Peanut Coffee Praline
  6. Salted Caramel

Alright, I’ve just been to the best Korean BBQ joint in Sydney. Kang Ho Dong 678 is actually a chain from Korea started by the comedian of the same name. Mr. 678’s latest venture is here in Sydney, located on the corner of Pitt and Goulburn in Haymarket just above Mr. B’s Hotel. Actually, the owner is a friend of an acquaintance of mine as well but I can unabashedly say that I’m completely unbiased.

I first heard about 678 from my colleague, a Korean dude who’s also an avid eater. He went there twice in a week so it’s gotta be good. My girlfriend heard it was pricey but good. I was keen to find out for myself.

The interior is actually kinda nice. Lovely high ceiling, nice wood booths, tables and chairs with big windows that would surely provide heaps of light in the daytime. Then you got the plentiful smoke suckers and these actually work really well. Honestly, I enjoy the smoke myself and don’t mind smelling of chargrilled meat at the end of a night but I guess most people prefer cologne. I also think smoke with grilled meat is part of the eating experience too but it’s a concession I’m willing to accept. I love the attention to detail here. Ssam lettuce is served on nice wooden trays and individually as well so everyone gets their own tray. The aluminium dishes are also of a higher, thicker walled variety than you’d commonly find.

We ordered 3 cuts of meat plus a Haemul Soondubu Jigae/Seafood Tofu Soup to share for 2. We got 8+ Rib Eye, 6+ Skirt and pork shoulder. But first to arrive were the ban chan/side dishes. We got some paechu kimchi (cabbage), dongchimi (cold radish soup), ojinguh jut(raw pickled squid), radish kimchi, sweet potato, lettuce salad and gyeran jjim (steamed eggs). The only minus was the gyeran jjim which went a little over and got a little browned on the bottom. (I have now been advised that this is actually more authentic) Flavour wise though, it was good and eggy. Everything else was a solid 7. The squid, in particular, was a highlight. It came with the cutest little glasslock container of seaweed to wrap with some rice. My dad would love this.

They then bring out glowing hot charcoal which looks really good. I mention this and my girlfriend thinks it’s just standard fare in Korea. Well we’re in Sydney honey, it tends to be shit here. I get interrupted next by the ribeye.

What caught me was how cleanly cut the steak was. It also came as a nice slab of meat, lovely marbling even if I’m not 100% that it’s 8+. Clearly they either have a nice sharp slicer or a good sharp knife with a good butcher. You could be fooled into thinking that the slab they give you is a piece of plastic is how clean it was prepped. They do the meat in house by the way so it ought to be good. The steak seared off nicely. I tried to take a peek and moved the vacuum smoke sucker which let loose a bit of smoke. The staff immediately came over, stopped me and made sure nothing escaped! I found this a little intrusive but I suppose ultimately, it kept the restaurant devoid of smoke. As for the meat… Well, it’s fucking good. The flavour is light and superbly clean. No funk, no smell. Texture was sublime at medium rare and still great even at medium well when it was left on the grill for a bit. All you need is the beautiful quality salt they give you.

Now the skirt. I generally prefer secondary cuts nowadays and was trying to look for something aside from the usual ribs/ribeye/scotchfillet at K BBQs. Thankfully, the specials had inside skirt. Fantastic. I love inside skirt cos it’s got that wonderfully bloody, meaty, beefy flavour and the way they scored the meat went a fair way to making it tender too. Overall, I prefer the skirt but the ribeye is a nice luxury and well worth it.

By the time I got to the pork, I was almost all done. I could only do 2 out of 7 pieces of the shoulder. The meat was again nice and fresh, no smell and really clean tasting. The serve came with a generous amount of fat, which gets better on the charcoal. The shoulder tends to be a little tougher than other cuts but I like the flavour of their pork and with the fat, it’s just great.

The seafood tofu soup was also excellent. The stock isn’t spectacular except for the addition of crab, which gives a brilliant sweet flavour. The serve is also generous and comes with clams, zucchini, mushrooms, onion and some pork belly as well as big hunks of whole tofu not broken up plus a beautiful egg that still had the yolk runny when I ate it. Sublime. The crab itself isn’t meaty or anything but I still find the serve great value.

Across the board, 678 ticked all the right boxes for me. For the quality of meat, the generosity and the standard of stuff aside from the meat, it’s a superb meal and really good value to flavour ratio. We ended up spending 90+ including 3 bottles of OB lager but I reckon 50-60+ is a more normal figure. This works out to about 30ish pax. I pay about the same when I smash it at various different K BBQs across the city and outside it.

One of the specials was a 9+ cut of beef that went for $39. Considering their portion to be around 150-180g, it is again, generous. You can get 9+ at like fucking Rockpool Bar & Grill or something like that but that’s a 3 figure steak. For the money, you really can’t find a better steak in Sydney, albeit one you cut up with tongs and a pair of scissors. If you compare against the various Strathfield, Homebush, Chatswood, Eastwood, Campsie etc K BBQ joints, this one is the clear winner in terms of quality meat.

This is straight into my favourites. That’s how fucking good it is. Keen to try the marinated meats and also the lunch specials.

You don’t think about rice much. That’s unless you work in a sushi restaurant perhaps. Most people don’t even eat rice in the world. The ones who do tend to be labelled AZN but in truth, plenty non AZNs eat rice too. I’ve actually been thinking about it a lot recently. Partly because Rene Redzepi made an unusual dessert from it in the last edition of Cook It Raw. Partly because my housemate decided to start making moonshine/makgeolli (he’s Singaporean to boot, not Korean). Partly because I work in a Japanese restaurant.

When I was young, I used to eat a lotta rice. I used to get double serves all the time. My grandma called me rice bucket/fan tong. I think all AZN kids might be like this regardless of whether you’re Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, Malay, Thai or whatever… We eat a lotta rice. I didn’t hate eating the blandness at all. I often found that I needed it to eat some delicious sauce or whatever. It was the perfect complement.

I was also spoiled, growing up in Singapore. I got good rice. Whether it was the intricate stock steamed perfection of Chicken Rice or the saffron looseness of briyani or perfectly loose and golden egg coated fried rice, it was always good. Of course, I also had the experience of cooking rice as a child, putting my hand into the pot to feel for the water to rice ratio. If I screwed it up, I’d get a soggy mess or maybe crunchy cereal.

As I got older, my family’s tastes gravitated toward Japanese short or medium grain rice. We liked the firmer bite and the texture. When I moved to Sydney, the rice of choice now, is restricted to Korean medium grain that is cooked in a Cuckoo, a talking rice cooker which is also a pressure cooker. This is often mixed with black rice or brown rice, which I abhor. I like it whiter than white. I’m totes rice-ist in this respect. Coloured rice I label as grains, not rice. Cuckoo is amazing. Not only does it sing out when the rice is ready, it also hisses a load of steam to let you know it’s cooked well under pressure. This pressure is what enables the rice to typically come out bloody perfect. So much so that everytime I eat rice out of a Cuckoo at home, I’m extolling it’s virtues. Koreans make the best home rice cookers.

Pressure is hugely important in cooking rice. Jiro Ono knows this to be true. In the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, they are shown to cook the rice with a great weight on the lid of the pot. This produces the pressure necessary to cook the rice well. It’s totally neglected in a lot of older rice cookers and how most people cook rice. The Koreans and Japanese know what’s up when it comes to applying pressure to rice.

Working in a Japanese restaurant, I’m up close and personal with washing rice. We use two types of rice. One for sushi and one for plain white rice. The sushi rice is spectacular. It’s up there with the best I’ve had, in Japan/Korea/China/Singapore etc. It’s maybe not the best of the best but we’re getting into a rarefied atmosphere. The plain rice is less so. I like to eat the sushi rice before and after the vinegar is mixed in. This tells you if it’s been soaked well, washed well and cooked with the right amount of water. I think our cooker lacks great pressure but the rice itself does the trick.

I also learned about Uncle Ben’s, a brand of parboiled rice that always comes out perfect and is totally idiot proof. The texture is just superb because they do most of the work for you. I had this at a Turkish/kebab type joint in Surry Hills. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have that fresh cooked flavour, in fact, it’s got a bit of a metallic twang to it that’s not noticeable if you’re eating it with smelly chargrilled goat.

One of my best rice experiences came at Thai Pothong, in Newtown. Thai’s use fragrant jasmine rice and at most joints, they can come up with soft, soggy stuff that’s not all that great. Actually, in general, I’d rate South East Asia as poorer skilled in cooking rice versus the Koreans and Japanese. So when I had jasmine rice that was firm but fluffy and delicious as is, it was awesome.

When it comes to basmati though, I’m not a big fan. I think of basmati as a different beast, something that’s got great flavour but something that also needs flavour. It’s not blandly tasty like long/medium/short grains. It’s a skinny, starchless anomaly of it’s own. Again, I just see it as different to what I typically think of as rice. I’m sure my perspective would be totally different were I born in South Asia. Still, personal preference or not, I think rice that’s fluffy, firm and texturally intriguing with a seeming blandness is absolute perfection. Basmati, for me, has a one note kinda of texture and has too much flavour going on which detracts so it needs to be paired with something. I like rice you can eat by itself without any accompaniments and yet be completely enthralled by. This last part is the most difficult to achieve but it’s what I aspire.

Recently, I had the opportunity to further appreciate the wonder that is well cooked rice. I ate at a food court in an outer Sydney suburb and it was a revelation in how to make a rice smudge. I was taught to eat all the grains or I’d get pimples/African kids would haunt my dreams… I couldn’t. It was despicable. A crime. It taught me that some people just don’t care at all about the simple things but these very things are actually the most important.

Respect rice.

Yesterday I did a 13.5 hour shift with no break except the requisite midday dumpathon. Aside from tasting the prep, I managed to scoff down 5 pieces of cold, semi braised beef and a gob of rice. It was a good day because service was smooth and without hiccups and my partner in crime managed to bust out the prep whilst I worked the line. Compared to most regular human beings, chefs are thankful for the small things. I made it out at 11pm and smiled as the darkness of the outside hit me; freedom.

The previous night, I was in an auditorium at the Sydney Opera House listening to a bearded Danish guy rattle off entries from his journal. I quote the man himself: “who writes a fucking journal?”. But listen I did and so did a buncha other guys just like me. You could see the same jadedness in their eyes, the phantom checked pants that would’ve been worn just a few hours ago, the stain of miscellaneous proteins caught in the crevices under the fingernails, the thoughts revolving around stocktaking at the end of the month…

I think Redzepi’s prose is making me more morose and contemplative than usual and also a lot more wordy. I went without any expectations and/or ideas about what was going to happen. I think I wasted my money but I also kinda enjoyed myself somehow. $45 is about 1.5 hours work for me gross. I shoulda been chillin’ with Fifa 14 and some Four Pines instead.

Anyway, it was kinda funny. Redzepi got his chance to promote his new book, A Work In Progress, which is actually 3 books. One has recipes. One has photos. The last is his fucking journal from 2011 to 2012, sometime after winning the Restaurant of The Year award for the first time. It all starts when his wife asks him one day “Are you OK?”. He thought he was but then stared at a zombie in the mirror to realise that he wasn’t at all. Resolving to write the journal, he ended up chronicling his successes, frustrations, annoyances, fears and the scarily huge pile of failures that were so confidence depleting.

I left the talk with a certain optimism, something echoed in my housemate who’s also a chef and been at it as long as I have. We spent the remainder of the night walking to Chinatown and chatting about the profession. Had it actually become one? I mean, you got guys like Redzepi talking at the Opera House and starting symposiums and stuff. Well, he’s the fucking chef patron of one of the most innovative and exciting restaurants in the world. Us? We’re just kitchen slaves doing the dirty work.

Still, it’s good to know that one of the world’s best chefs is kinda just like you. It gives me hope to know that whilst I’ll probably never make the top 50000000 restaurant list, I might still be able to enjoy really well the 5% of my time that is actually pleasurable and ignore the other 95%. It’s good to know that you’re not the only moron slogging away trying to eke a living out of coagulating proteins.

This is my journal.