Archives for posts with tag: food

I just read this ridiculous article that came up with a list of countries where the food is “surprisingly” good. Whilst places like Sweden, Hungary and Georgia would never be top of anyone’s lists for great grub, most of the others are just retarded. I mean, someone actually thinks that food in Mexico, America, China and fucking Japan won’t be good…

You could eat well out of a convenience store regardless of which little town you go to in Japan, nevermind the myriad starred and highly rated restaurants. The cuisine is in the top 5 in the world regardless of whether you’re talking fine or street. It’s arguably the best imho. It’s also dominated the modern culinary landscape in terms of giving the rest of the world new ideas and approaches when it comes to food and cooking. So much of the world owes their newfound creativity to chefs going to Japan, finding out it’s awesome and returning home reinvigorated. You’d have to be some kind of tunnel dwelling time traveller to not expect great food in Japan.

I could go on and on about Chinese food or American or whatever but what really intrigued me was when I posed myself the question where I think I’d find surprisingly good food. Well I’m not so well travelled that I could come up with a convincing answer about places with unexpectedly good food. What countries would defy your expectations?

I suppose if I put it that way, it’s all down to wealth. There is no way in hell that if you find yourself in a rich city, that the food would be bad. You could say that one city has better food than another but you can’t say any big city really has bad food. That’s just nigh impossible unlikely to happen. On the other hand, if you went to a third world country, say somewhere where famine is a major issue, then you’d expect that any food would place emphasis on survival over taste.

Noticeably, the article failed to mention a single African country. After watching Sean Brock travel to Senegal in search of the real roots of American Southern cooking, I think it might be interesting to check out and if I’m far more likely to be surprised by good food there. Or perhaps I’m way more likely to be impressed if I found great food in a place no one really goes to or a place where it is really poor.

I remember a trip to Abashiri in Hokkaido, Japan. It’s a little town that mainly has 2 attractions. One is taking a boat out to sea to look at drift ice and the other is a prison. I had some insane fried chicken, arguably the best in my life there. That was surprising in how good it was but I still expected to find good food there. The obvious choice, the beer hall, has great yakiniku but it was the little takeaway fried chicken store that was surprising.

After my recent travels, I’ve found that no matter where I was, I was always able to find a good meal or at least a decent one, if I put in the effort to do so. Of course, if you drop yourself in a theme park or some other tourist trap, then good luck but you could also cook yourself. Life survives because it tries to and in part, I reckon the lure of great flavour had a part to play in keeping people alive but also keeping people interested to be alive and you’ll find people everywhere nowadays.

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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