Houndstooth

36 Johnston St, Fitzroy
Phone: 0411 404 374

I don’t know about you, but this year is flying by for me. Life seems to be full of projects right now; I’ve learned a lot, and made some great new friends in the past few months. It’s an exciting thing when you encounter new people and try new things, but it often means that your old favourites fall by the wayside, and old friends who are much loved somehow get neglected.

Ms A and I used to live together, first in a cosy worker’s cottage in the heart of Fitzroy, and then further out in the Crox’, where I planted my most successful vegie patch ever. She’s one of those important people in my life who I know I’ll be friends with forever. But though our friendship bonds are strong and deep, it doesn’t mean we haven’t grown apart, if only in social circles. It had been months since I’d last had a chance to catch up with her properly, so we scheduled a little dinner rendezvous in our old neighbourhood, the ‘Roy.

For years, I’d heard people talk about Houndstooth, but I’d never managed to get down there. They were known for an ever-changing seasonal menu, and exceptionally good value. The menu works like this: there are four courses on offer – starters, entree, mains, dessert/cheese – and you can choose any combination of them, with a minimum of two courses. Two courses will set you back the miserly sum of $20, three courses $25, and four courses $30. It would be hard to find such good value with this style of cooking anywhere else. It’s a fairly small establishment, with only four communal tables, each seating around 8-10 people comfortably.

imageNot being extremely hungry, we decided to just have two courses. We started with the piadina flatbread, with pickled eggplant. I had expected it to be a little thicker, like pita bread, but it was quite thin, like a more bready version of a crepe. The eggplant was nicely pickled – not too salty or sour – though I thought there was a little too much oil brushed on the bread, and it became a little messy towards the end.

imageWe also shared the Jerusalem artichoke and potato soup. This was a bit of a disappointment. While the flavour of Jerusalem artichoke was very apparent, the overall flavour was still pretty bland, and needed some more seasoning. I wouldn’t recommend you try this unless you’re a Jerusalem artichoke fanatic.

imageAfter a bit of a disappointing start, we were looking forward to the mains. We’d both had trouble choosing, as there were many enticing options. It being a chilly night out, we were both in the mood for some hearty meals. Ms A went for the stifado – we both had a little giggle about the name – which was explained to us as a Greek style sweet and sour beef stew.

imageI sampled a little, and it was indeed sweet and sour, though nothing like the Chinese version. This was much more on the sweet side, and I think it was probably honey and red wine, as opposed to sugar and vinegar. The flavour was rich and warming, and the crumbled feta added a nice piquancy to the overall dish.

I find it hard to look past more unusual meats like goat when they’re on a menu. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s an allure of the exotic, I guess. This goat dish was certainly that; braised with vanilla, cinnamon and white wine.

imageI took a moment to just inhale the vanilla and cinnamon aroma that floated up from the dish. It was soft, sweet and delicate. Not at all what you would expect from a goat dish, where so often chefs try to mask the flavour of the goat with bold spices. The vanilla and cinnamon were well balanced with the white wine, and the sauce complemented the goat beautifully. So after a shaky start, Houndstooth really managed to deliver. I mean just look at our empty plates!

imageI think next time, we might try the desserts instead of the entree. And there will definitely be a next time soon, as Ms A and I have resolved to catch up more regularly. Because even though there are so many new and exciting things going on in our lives, it’s good to recognise what’s important, and truly good friends are certainly that.

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Monga

Level 1, 217 Russell Street, Melbourne
Phone: 9654 4885

I came upon this place by accident. I’d just finished dinner with Mr J at Meshiya, and was craving a little dessert. I thought we’d head over to Dessert House, because I was in the mood for some sago loving. Then as we walked along Russell Street, I almost walked into a sandwich-board sign. It doesn’t get more literal than that, right? We took a look at the menu at the door, I giggled a bit about the name of the place, and we headed upstairs.

From the huge bouquets of flowers, you can tell the place had just opened. Walking in, I was impressed with the place – it’s partitioned off into little spaces, but only by frames, not screens, so it still feels quite bright and airy.

From what I can gather, Monga Sweet Cafe is a new branch of two other Mongas, in Box Hill and Glen Waverley. Geographically speaking, a pretty good pedigree for what is basically a Hong Kong style cafe. They serve some light cafe fare, like toasted sandwiches, but the main focus of the place is the array of Hong Kong style dessert. I had high hopes that I’d found a local version of Hui Lau Shan – one of my Hong Kong meccas.

I ordered the mango sago with mango and pomelo. To be frank, it was disappointing. But then, Hui Lau Shan standards are pretty high, and it was the start of Autumn, so good fresh mango is hard to come by in Australia, unlike Hong Kong, where close proximity to tropical countries pretty much ensures a year-round supply of quality mangoes. And well, I think I’ve only seen pomelos once in Melbourne, so it’s not that surprising that was a little lacklustre too. But the main problem was actually that the whole thing was just too sweet.

Mr J had the sago with coconut and mango. I think he was similarly underwhelmed.

I’m curious to see how their toasted sandwiches are. I’m hoping in true Hong Kong style, the bread is thinly sliced and white, and the ham is bordering spam-like processed-ness.  It’s a nice spot to hang out, so hopefully there are some redeeming items on the menu.

Gurney Drive (forgotten food)

284 Victoria St, Melbourne CBD (it’s across from the Vic Markets)
Phone: 9329 6649

I don’t mean this post as a slight to the good people at Gurney Drive. I really enjoyed my meal there, it just happened to have been months ago, and I don’t remember the specifics. While having a conversation last night on twitter, a few foodbloggers and I were opining about the ‘burden’ of having an ever-increasing backlog of places to post about. And foodblogging shouldn’t be about that. We’re not being paid to write about food; we do it because we love it, and want to share our experiences.

But what happens when you consume more than you produce? I know, in another context, this is a much more potent question – about the ethics of consumption and production and poverty and sustainability. I’m not so knowledgeable about all of that, so if you’re interested in the more important questions, I suggest you take a look at Tammi and Essjay‘s blogs.

The result of last night’s twonversation is that a few of us will be looking to start up an amnesty site, where we can at least post the images of the food about which we no longer remember all of the specifics, or our impressions. A photoblog, basically, not unlike foodgawker.com. I know a large proportion of you are also foodbloggers, so let me know if you’d be interested in contributing to such a site, and any ideas you may have about how we should implement this.

Anyway, on to the (not-so-forgotten) food!

This was ju hu eng chai (cuttlefish and water spinach). It was a little on the sweet side, from memory.

Penang char kway teow. They used the right noodle! I don’t really remember if this was good, so it must have been at least passable?

Fish head curry. This was wonderful – and huge – but it was pretty mild. I would have preferred more heat!

 

Gurney Drive on Urbanspoon

Vessel

Shop 2, 21 Andersons Creek Road, Doncaster East
Phone: 9841 8688

Recently, Jess Ho wrote what I’m sure will in time become a classic instructional piece for all first/second-generation Chinese migrant children. While so much of it rang true, I’m not sure about the final point, “You’re picking up the bill”. In my experience, that almost never happens, and only ever on occasions when the kids have somehow through a cunning plan of distraction, stealth and misdirection. My father and uncles seem to have an uncanny knack of ‘needing to go to the bathroom’ at the end of the meal, and of course on their way back to the table, often unbeknownst to all present, they’ve stopped by the cashier’s counter, and settled the bill.

As my generation has grown up, gotten jobs, and in some cases, spawned kids of their own, and my parents’ generation one by one have resigned themselves reluctantly to retirement – and subsequently taken up day-trading as a collective hobby – things have changed a little. Somehow, my generation hasn’t taken to the notion of trying to be the one who pays for everyone. It might be that we don’t see each other as much as we used to – my cousins and I aren’t as tight with one another as my parents are with their siblings – so you don’t exactly know when someone’s going to shout you a massive Chinese banquet in return. Not that it’s about keeping score, but there’s a part of our upbringing which ingrained in us the remembrance of our own debt to others, so we kind of live in the expectation that all others have the same morals. Anyway, these days the bills at big family dinners are split, and the largesse is, well, not so large anymore.

That’s not to say the feasting is any less extravagant or satisfying. Recently, we trekked out to Doncaster East for my grandmother’s birthday dinner. I arrived a little early, and started to promptly hoe in on some deep-fried signifiers of my youth.

Nothing like an atomic pink prawn cracker to whet the appetite. As the family filtered in, it was great to see the cousins whom I don’t spend enough time with, as well as their parents. It’s a funny thing, because we’re far from being a cold family, but my conversation with aunts and uncles very rarely extends beyond how are you doing, are you still working at [redacted] and the dreaded “so have you got a girlfriend?” which has increased in the past year since my sister got married.

Once we had all arrived, the ordering taken care of by a couple of aunts and uncles in secret council – if there are family members of an older generation at dinner, don’t expect to have a say in what you’re going to eat – and soon after, the obligatory first soup course arrived. It was a classic pork and dried bok choy broth, and it was another quintessential flavour from my childhood.

The next course was the obligatory seafood starter. Often it’s crab, but this time it was oysters and baby abalone. The oysters were steamed and hada classic black bean and chilli sauce, while the baby abalone – sorry, I didn’t manage to get a photo – were topped with an XO-tossed rice vermicelli. I prefer my oysters raw, but these were pretty good. The abalone was a touch over-cooked.

Then we moved on to the parade of dishes which form the main course. That’s the thing about a Chinese banquet. It may only be four courses, but that main course usually involves at least four dishes, eaten with rice, so it’s rare to ever walk away feeling anything but stuffed. This first dish was something of a mystery to me. I was told  that it was geoduck, but I can’t really imagine geoduck would have that texture. It seemed more like some sort of membrane than a sliced clam meat. In ant case, it was interesting and new in a good way, and well matched with the rather assertive garlic chives.

From the exotic and unfamiliar to the comforting and well-loved. Simple baak jaam gai – literally translated as white chopped chicken – is, for me, probably the perfect way to cook chicken. The chicken is basically boiled (or sometimes steamed) just to the point where it’s barely cooked. The sign of a good baak jaam gai is that the blood in the thicker chicken bones is still red. Once it’s gone brown, the chicken has been over-cooked. It’s most commonly served with a ginger and spring onion oil. The chicken at Vessel was superb. Cooked to perfection, with the meat juicy, silky and tender, and the skin gelatinous and plump.

Here’s a close up. Despite – or in fact, because of – its simplicity, this was probably my favourite dish of the night.

The next dish was much less successful. Choy sum in some kind of bland broth, garnished with what seemed to be dried scallop strands, but much too long to be dried scallop strands. Bizarre. In any case, the whole thing might have been good, were it not marred by a slick layer of oil which seemed to coat the whole dish.

Then there was an unexpected detour from dishes that I’ve encountered in the Chinese banquet arena. With the exception of a whole steamed fish, most dishes tend to be presented in a way that makes them easily shared; that doesn’t involve having to serve each other, though we always end up doing that anyway. Not so with the braised pork hock.

It’s a magnificent, impressive dish, I’ll grant you, but it’s a little messy to negotiate on a lazy susan, and the meat wasn’t as tender as you’d expect. It really needed those swathes of sauce on the plate.

Then there was a venison in honey and black pepper. The meat seemed to have been treated with bi-carb, and lost a lot of its meaty texture. Not as extreme as some dishes I’ve had in other restaurants, but noticeable. Is venison that tough that you need to use soda with it? Anyway, the flavours were quite good, and I like the mixture of wood ear fungus and snow peas.

Fried tofu with a crab meat sauce. The tofu could have been a bit smoother. Tofu is usually one of the dishes that my nanna adores, because it’s soft and she can manage it with her falsies. she didn’t really like this dish that much. Neither did I, but that was more about the cornstarch gravy being a bit too gluggy.

One of my favourite dishes in the world is geh jup haar look. In case you can’t figure out the first two syllables, I’ll give you a clue. It’s also spelled catsup. These whole prawns are deep fried, then coated in a ketchup based sauce. Sounds odd and altogether un-Chinese, but I assure you they’re amazing when done well. And Vessel does them very well, thank you.

At this point, as you can see, the table is full. And very quickly our bellies are reaching a state to match. But of course, there has to be a fish dish.

Plates were shuffled to accommodate the fish, which quite sadly, we didn’t manage to finish! It was a cod of some description, and it was steamed beautifully, the flesh just reaching the point where it flakes away cleanly.

After all of this, there was the customary dessert. It being summer, I thought they might have served something else, but no, it was the standard sweet red bean soup. Served warm, too. I don’t mind it served cold, but warm, it’s not so much cleansing as cloying I find.

Clearly, my cousin’s little daughter doesn’t agree.

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Awash

82 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 1955

I’ve been meaning to get our of my local dining rut. Which isn’t so much of a rut as a predilection to eating at Vietnamese restaurants when I go out for dinner locally. It’s hard  to stop myself from heading for the enticing tastes of fish sauce, chilli and lemongrass. But as those who live in the area, and those who are clued in enough to read Lauren’s Footscray Food Blog know, there’s a lot more to the ‘hood than pho and broken rice.

When Mr J agreed to come out West for dinner one Saturday night, I thought I’d take the chance to suggest we hit up one of the African restaurants nearby. Now I use the term African only out of ignorance – I don’t really know much of the intricacies which would distinguish between an Ethiopian or Eritrean restaurant, nor any other country; though these two seem to be the most common in Footscray.  I feel a little guilty, as I rankle at the thought of someone referring to a Korean or Thai restaurant as an ‘Asian’ restaurant. I’ll make an effort to educate myself further in these matters soon.

Originally, I had thought to go to Adulis, but it’s recently closed – though another restaurant of indeterminate African origin has sprung up in its place – so went to Awash, as it had more people dining there. It’s something of a sheep-like move, but I still get put off eating at restaurants with no patrons in them, unless I’ve been recommended to go there. I avoid places with spruikers on the street in the same way. So we stepped in out of the rain, and were met by bright green walls, the smell of bebere and the happy beats and chanting of the African music playing in the background. There were no staff in sight, so we seated ourselves, and a moment later, an earth-mother type lady came out with menus. The place is pretty small, and I think pretty much just run by a family who work both in the kitchen and front of house.

Mr J had never eaten food of any African variety, so he was pretty excited. This was during my Lenten red meat fast, so we ordered the vegetarian combination, and the doro wat – a chicken ‘curry’ – along with two Ethiopian beers to wash it down.


Three of the great things about Ethiopian/Eritrean food is that it’s served on injera, it’s a shared meal, and you eat it with your hands. Food’s always more playful and enjoyable when you eat it with your hands, I think. And there’s a sense of bonding that comes with that process. Hence the term ‘to break bread’ with someone. So as long as you’re not too crazily clumsy, Ethiopian is probably a great second date option. Things get a bit messy, especially towards the end, when the injera has soaked up a lot of sauce and starts falling apart in your hands. But it’s a pretty level playing field, so as long as your date has a sense of humour – why are you on a second date if s/he doesn’t – it’s a lot of fun.


The various lentils and vegetables were full of flavour, though the heavy use of spices without any real chilli heat is something of a confusing thing to my palate. I’m fairly sure that’s just because I have turned into something of a chilli fiend in the past year or so. There were three different types of lentils, along with a braised kale (or silverbeet) and another dish of carrots and cabbage. My favourite was the kale. The doro wat was also really tasty, though the chicken was a bit dry.


It’s probably not the greatest African food I’ve had, but it was pretty good. All in all, Awash is a great, casual place. Given the nature of the ‘hands on’ eating, I’d only go there with friends, or people I want to get friendly with!

Awash on Urbanspoon

Bun bo Hue at Thien An

32 Irving St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 0398

When I was a uni student – which is appallingly a decade ago – one of my close friends was dating a Vietnamese guy who lived in Altona. To be honest, I never really understood what she saw in him, but let’s not to be too uncharitable. He did introduce us to Thien An, or as we knew it back then, ‘Colourful Tables and Chairs’. Back then, it was on the other side of Irving Street, and a much smaller, unassuming place. With mismatched, surprise surprise, colourful tables and chairs. We used to go there for soup noodles, com tam and bo luc lac, and it was the first place I’d been introduced to avocado smoothies. They were good times.

But you can’t stop the winds of change, and it seems success saw Thien An move across the street, into bigger, ‘ritzier’ premises. Complete with a white leather chaise in the front window – from nearby Franco Cozzo? – and a chandelier, if memory serves. Don’t be intimidated by such finery (kitschery!) though, like a lot of the Vietnamese restaurants in Footscray, Thien An has just gone a bit overboard with the Vietnamese idea of modern and stylish when renovating.

I stopped in on a Sunday afternoon, hangover in tow, with a mind to try their pho bo dac biet. Only they don’t have pho on the menu! Denied! So I went for my second favourite hangover soup noodle, bun bo Hue.

The bowl arrived, and even I was a little daunted at its size. Make no mistake, the servings are generous. Though I’ll insert a caveat here: I’ve heard the food is a bit inconsistent. But upon first inspection, there was cause for excitement. Thinly sliced beef flank: check. Congealed blood cube: check. Processed cha lua sausage: check. Most importantly, PORK KNUCKLE: check! The pork knuckle is an oft-omitted, but in my humble opinion essential ingredient in a good bun bo Hue. Which is strange, because it’s a beef noodle soup, not a pork noodle soup. In any case, all the elements were there, and the broth was not bad, either. It lacked the fragrance of the broth at Dong Ba, but there was a hint of the lemongrass which is sometimes missing.

There have been many and varied reports of a slide in quality at Thien An over the past few years. And yet when my parents came over to Footscray for dinner a few weeks ago, Dad said my uncle had recommended Thien An to him only a few months ago. It having been a decade between visits for me, it’s hard to say if that’s true. All I know is I was quite happy with this bun bo Hue, and will be back to try some other things there. I’ll keep you posted!

Thien An on Urbanspoon

Secret Recipe

Level 3, Melbourne Central, CBD
Phone: 9639 8884

I think I’ve blogged about my tendency towards indecision when choosing places to eat on the spot. It’s very rare that I’ll have specific cravings, so when I meet up with someone for dinner and we don’t have a destination in mind, I tend to be more useful as a reference guide than an executive decision maker. I understand that this can be frustrating, and sometimes frustration leads to rash decisions. That’s how Mr R and I ended up eating at Secret Recipe, in Melbourne Central.

I wasn’t aware at the time – though I had my suspicions – that Secret Recipe is a franchise operation. It’s a chain of ‘fusion’ cafes which originated in Malaysia. The rather mass-produced looking menus, replete with stock photography blandly inoffensive fonts kind of gave it away. Alarm bells? Perhaps.

One thing the place has going for it was there’s a rather long pour on the wine.

Also, the chips were quite crisp, although I had ordered them as a side to my meal; in a combination which obviously perplexed the waitress, as she served them as an entree. We soon worked out that neither of our meals would be forthcoming until we’d polished off the chips and the waitress had taken the empty plate away. So I ended up eating more chips than I had intended…

… before my char kway teow arrived. I know, I know, CKT with chips? Weird. I take back not craving specific things. I clearly crave FAT. The char kway teow wasn’t offensive, but it was pretty timid, even with the optional sambal served on the side. There  was a lack of the smoky wok hei which typifies a good CKT, but that wasn’t really too much of a surprise given the modern, sterile feel of the Secret Recipe operation. Though I would have thought that a Malaysian franchise would get CKT right.

Mr R went the pasta option. Some sort of agnolotti (pumpkin?) with a cream sauce. One of us was clearly going to fare better than the other; it’s rare to find a restaurant which can do both pasta and Malaysian food well. He seemed to really enjoy it, so perhaps despite its Malaysian roots, the Secret Recipe of the place is in its mastery of Western food. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given that would be its selling point back in Malaysia.

If there are any secret recipes to this place, beyond taking common Malaysian and Western dishes, putting them on a menu together, adding some comfortable seating and executing food at a passable but mediocre standard, I certainly didn’t catch on.

Secret Recipe - Melbourne Central on Urbanspoon

Happy Cook

165 Springvale Rd, Nunawading (on the same side of the road as Nunawading station)
Phone: 9894 1663

It was my mother’s birthday. It was also my birthday. Well, it was actually neither, but it was close enough. It seems my (slightly belated) 30th birthday present to my mother was labour pains. But another three decades have since passed, and she’s forgiven me. I’m not sure she’s forgiven me for the fact she’ll never have a daughter-in-law, but that’s not the point of this story. For our combined birthday dinner, we decided to go out for Peking duck. As a family, we’d been to Old Kingdom years ago and enjoyed ourselves, so the first intention was to try Simon’s Peiking Duck Restaurant, but it was fully booked when I called. I started trawling the foodblogs for other options, and came across Happy Cook.

Apparently the owners used to own a restaurant called Fortuna Village in the city, which was kinda big in the 80s? This is what my research told me. Given that I was living in rural Victoria back then, I didn’t really know – or care – that much about this ambit claim. All reports seemed to be pretty positive, so I went ahead and booked.

My sister got a bit lost trying to find the place, as a typo on some site had her looking on the other side of Springvale Road for it. And you could be forgiven for missing it even if you were looking on the right side of the road – it’s a pretty non-descript shopfront in a small strip of non-descript shopfronts next to Nunawading station. When I walked in, I was a little worried that I’d chosen the wrong place for a double birthday dinner. There were mismatched tables – some with white tablecloths and others red, and there were also decidedly 80s chairs with chrome legs. Of course, I should have known better than to judge a Chinese restaurant by its decor, and looking at the mostly-Chinese-families clientele, as well as the food on their tables, I was soon put at ease.

We had pre-ordered two ducks between five of us. I had pretty much assumed that we’d just have the two course duck – there’s no ‘spit soup’ as Jess Ho calls it, at Happy Cook –  and that would be it. Like at Old Kingdom, right? But the proprietor wandered over and suggested we try some other dishes as well. We resisted, though did order a dish of beans, as I was feeling like some more vegetables than the duck banquet entailed.

And then the duck arrived. A little disappointingly, it arrived completely carved – there was no table service theatre, unlike other Peking duck restaurants.
20110502-014137.jpgStill, you could tell they had just carved it out the back, because the duck was still warm and moist.

20110502-014314.jpgAnd there was a lot of it! Too much for the amount of pancakes;  I swear, these duck places must have a business model which is based on you ordering extra pancakes! The duck was moist, tender, and juicy. The skin was wonderfully crisp too, though – and it’s not often you’ll hear me say this – a little too fatty. It would have been great with a little more of the fat rendered out.

20110502-014355.jpgThe pancakes themselves had that barely-cooked wheat flour taste to them, which marries well with the rich muskiness of the duck, the sweetness of the hoisin sauce, and the cleansing lightness of the cucumber and spring onion. My mouth waters just recalling this.

The Peking duck involves a second course – you can choose to have duck meat (stripped from the carcass after the prime Peking duck slices have been taken) stir-fried with noodles, or with bean shoots. The speed at which this dish comes out after you’re done with the pancake course would suggest that you’re not actually getting the duck meat from your duck, but that doesn’t really matter that much, does it? The noodles weren’t that great – they lacked any assertive seasoning, and were just bland, for the most part. They were also a bit over-cooked, leaving them too soft, and a bit mushy. The bean shoot dish – which I forgot to photograph – was much better.  Bean shoot stir-fries are almost always great!

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These were the beans we ordered. They were pretty tasty, and well fried, giving them that slightly crispy, wrinkly outer shell that I love.

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All in all, was it worth the trek out to Nunawading? I’m not so sure. It was good, but not so much better than Old Kingdom, which is much less of a hassle to get to.

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Summer with Miss Jackson

2/19 Grey St, St Kilda
Phone: 9534 8415
www.missjackson.com.au

This is a pretty belated post. The next few will be, actually.  Apologies, but I’m working my way through the backlog of the past two months. I should also note that the good folk at Miss Jackson provided lunch for free for us on this occasion, as a thank you for my participation in the Melbourne Food Blogger’s Dinner last year. Oh, and the menu at Miss Jackson is seasonal – because that’s a big part of what they do there – so I can’t guarantee these dishes are still available!

I don’t really get to St Kilda very much. It’s part of that whole Northside/Southside menatlity which is a little silly, but also a little justified, given the amount of time it takes to cross town. Though now I’m in the West, going from Footscray to St Kilda is about the same as going from Footscray to Northcote, or Richmond. But there’s nonetheless a stupid psychological block there, a grudge that probably stems from a deep-seated jealousy of beaches and rickety roller-coasters, and a staunch belief that the lifestyle depicted in The Secret Life of Us was not what life in Melbourne is all about. But I digress. And rant. As usual.

It was a brilliantly sunny day (as you’ll see from the horrendous job of white balance my iPhone did), and the Pride March was on. So I made the mistake of driving down to St Kilda – it took so long to find a park that I missed half of the marchers parading down Fitzroy St – to meet Mr R. Neither of us had had lunch, so after the on-street drinking period ended, we headed over to Miss Jackson for a spot of lunch in the sun.

Mr R and I both got quite excited by the mention of polenta chips on the menu. Lightly panko coated, and served with a chilli mayo, these were a real treat.

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I’d been told about the panko-crusted chicken schnitzel burger, and seen pictures of it on twitter, so there was very little doubt in my mind what I wanted to try.

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And I was really glad I did. The chicken was moist and succulent, and the panko crumbs gave it a bit more crunch than your average schnitzel, without making it dry or hard. The slaw in the burger was also great, if a little messy towards the end!

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Mr R had the panzanella salad – so pretty, with the different heirloom tomatoes – and was also very happy with it. Though he wanted more haloumi. But then it’s haloumi. Who wouldn’t want more? I was happy because I got a lot of his olives.

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Last of the Fatties. Two days in Penang.

So it’s been a couple of weeks, but I’m back. New domain, new look, new blogging engine. But not much else has changed. Thanks to those of you who noticed I had taken a break, and those who encouraged me to get back to blogging sooner. It’s heart-warming/ego-stroking to know that people actually read what I write!

Anyway, enough with the pleasantries, it’s time to clear the decks for new eating adventures. So what was probably going to be another four or five posts is now the #fatty Penang megapost. I was in Penang for a total of four days. This post represents the food I ate in the last two days. You’re about to see why I hit ‘food fatigue’ at the end of this holiday.

Let’s start with Penang-style yum cha.

20110501-114537.jpgInstead of trolleys being pushed around, dishes are paraded around the tea house by waitresses with huge steamer trays. The servings tend to be typically smaller. To be honest, I wasn’t really that impressed with this, compared to yum cha in Hong Kong, but it was an interesting take on it, and I liked the relatively informal feel to it all.

20110501-114612.jpgThere were all sorts of dumplings and yong tofu-style items.

20110501-114654.jpgAnd also the typical braised items, involving bean curd skin, prawn mince, or various types of offal.

20110501-114719.jpgIt might seem greedy that we had so many har gao between two of us, but these things are tiny! Which makes them all the more impressive for the pleating skills involved, but they lacked the succulent plumpness of the more famous Hong Kong style ones.

20110502-010751.jpgWe also had a couple of char siu bao, which were pretty great, though probably not the best idea given the amount of food I was going to gorge myself on over the next 48 hours…

20110502-010844.jpgEither was this lor baak gao, which was totally awesome. No minced prawn or Chinese sausage, but the texture was pretty perfect, and look at those cripsy edges! I’m going to try this deep-frying approach next time. Mmm, hard arteries…

20110502-010905.jpgSo this morning yum cha session took place at around 10am. We then drove around a bit – there’s not much walking to be done when Mr A is your culinary guide – and before too long, it was around 1pm – time for lunch! Never mind that usually, if I have yum cha in the morning, I don’t need to eat until dinner.

Mr A took me to a little neighbourhood restaurant, so I could try some typical Hokkien food.

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20110502-011015.jpgFirst up was an oyster omelette. Having just had one a week ago in Hong Kong, expectations were high. And while it’s not really fair to judge one against the other – as they’re completely different styles – I much prefer the crispy Hong Kong version. This Hokkien version was pretty gelatinous. The omelette is held together by the egg, but there’s also a fair amount of a tapioca or corn starch-based batter involved. To keep this from sticking to the wok, it seemed like they simply fried it up in more oil, which meant it ended up quite greasy and heavy. Also, I wasn’t a huge fan of the strangely sweet chilli sauce.

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This was some sort of bee hoon dish, I think. Bean thread (the transparent type of vermicelli) ans choy sum stir-fried with prawns, some sort of soy, and a hefty whack of garlic. This dish was great, but a little challenging in the searing middle-of-the-day heat.

20110502-011105.jpgMr A said this was a traditional Hokkien Mee. Which was interesting, because I’d always though Hokkien Mee was more of a dry, stir-fried noodle, like Mee Goreng. To be honest, I rarely ever order it, because the size and texture of the noodle itself isn’t one of my favourites, and wherever Hokkien Mee’s on the menu, most often so it char kway teow or laksa. I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish, but I did like the little oysters peppered throughout it. Apparently oysters are a pretty common ingredient in lots of Hokkien dishes.

20110502-011127.jpgThis was another gelatinous Hokkien specialty. Little chunks of pork had been battered and fried, then cooked in thr broth. The broth itself had an odd amount of cornstarch in it, giving it a slight viscosity, but not so much as you would find in some Chinese soups, usually involving feathered egg. The end result was a little unpleasant, texturally, though the flavour was not bad.

20110502-011148.jpgA few hours off – I went for a browse around the air-conditioned malls – and Mr A picked me up again, this time to take me to the local night market near his apartment building. The markets are on once a week, and situated outside the local wet markets. It was similar to Viet Nam in that respect, where the day/night raw/cooked use of market spaces is also very common.

We wandered around, picking up various items at different food carts, and then settled down at a table to feast on the goodies we’d collected. It was not unlike visiting a hawker centre, only you could also pick up some cheap sandals, a new mobile phone cover, or some LED torches while you’re there.

This was a type of pancake/waffle/crumpet, which had sesame seeds and brown sugar sandwiched in the centre. It should have been dessert, but we came across it first, so ate it was we wandered around buying other items.

20110502-011226.jpgOne reason why Asia is the best continent on Earth: food on sticks. Everywhere.

20110502-011251.jpgMmm, satay action.

20110502-011314.jpgThese are some loh bak sausage-y things (it’s spiced pork mince wrapped in bean curd skins) deep frying.

20110502-011339.jpgOf course we were going to have some of these!

20110502-011402.jpgMr A knows the local fish ball guy. And trust me, once you’ve had fresh fish balls, anything you can buy in an Asian grocer pales into insignificance. The genuine article is light, springy and delicate, and is at once wonderfully fish-flavoured, without being ‘fishy’. And no, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what sort of fish was in these. Nor do I care. They’re that good.

20110502-011434.jpgA little chai tow kway, anyone? It’s a glutinous rice flour cake (like the lor baak gao, but without  the daikon) that’s been stir-fried with beanshoots, egg and soy, similar to char kway teow. It’s pretty great, but again – there’s a pattern here – not advised for those with limited stomach space.

20110502-011539.jpgWe walked past this weird stall…

20110502-011612.jpgThose little vermicelli nets were actually sweets. Like little coconutty hoppers.  As if that weren’t enough, Mr A insisted that I needed to try some of the Malaysian version of chin po leung/sam bo luong. It’s a sweet soup with all manner of fruits, grains and fungus in it. Sounds more scary than it actually is. It’s actually very refreshing!

20110502-011659.jpgThe next morning, we went around the corner from the hotel where I was staying, because I was staying in close proximity to Georgetown’s best har mee.

20110502-011723.jpgThis har mee is so renowned that it’s not uncommon to have to wait 20-30 minutes for it. So we ordered, and in the mean time, we ordered other things. ‘Cos you gotta have waiting food, right? Right. Like these prawn fritters.

20110502-011800.jpgAnd this char koay teow.

20110502-011906.jpgMr A wasn’t in a shrimpy mood that morning, so he had some of hte soup noodle, involving pork mince and Hokkien noodles.

20110502-011837.jpgAfter about 20 minutes, the har mee finally came, and let me tell you, this was the most intensely shrimpy broth I’ve ever tasted. Well, that might not quite be true, because there are a few Vietnamese dishes which would give it a run for its money, but what set the har mee apart is that its flavour had a lot more to do with prawn heads and shells – like a bisque – than the use of fermented prawn paste.

20110502-011945.jpgI would have finished all of the broth, except it was making me thirsty. That’s not to say it was laden with MSG, it was just very salty and rich.

20110502-012006.jpgI was left to my own devices for lunch, because Mr A was busy, and to be honest, I was hitting the food fatigue wall. I often laugh at those who claim that certain foods aren’t ‘breakfast foods’, but seriously, prawn fritters, char koay teow and har mee is a hefty challenge. I thought I should try something a little less punchy for lunch, so I headed to nearby Fatty Loh’s, a chicken rice specialist, with a cartoon chicken mascot. Never trust an animal that is selling you its own flesh.

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20110502-012441.jpgThe chicken itself wasn’t great. It was a bit on the dry side, though quite tasty. The pork was much better, though the highlight was actually the chicken rice. Well seasoned and lightly garlicky, I would have been happy to eat it on its own. The sambal was also quite good, though not really sour enough, and well, the less said about the vegetables the better. Oil city.

Full, but unsatisfied, I craved more chicken rice. When Mr A picked me up for dinner and asked what dishes I’d still like to try, I told him without hesitation that I was yet to try good chicken rice here in Penang. He seemed a little surprised – chicken rice is not enough of a Penang specialty, perhaps – but he quickly knew exactly where to take me.

20110502-012539.jpgAs we walked up to the little hawker ‘restoran’, proudly out the front was its big draw: the chicken rice stand.

20110502-012718.jpgI’m fairly sure Mr A ordered me what was a double serve, as I did see other locals having chicken rice, but their servings weren’t nearly as generous as the one placed in front of me.

20110502-012604.jpgFeeling a tad guilty, I nonetheless tucked in. Oh, the joy of simple, perfectly boiled chicken. The meat was tender, moist and succulent. The texture was not so far removed from the soft, plump skin which clung to it. Yet somehow, while being oily, it didn’t taste greasy at all.  The polar opposite of Fatty Loh’s, the rice here was just plain steamed white rice. But I didn’t care; that chicken… that chicken!

20110502-012627.jpgThe sambal was also very good. Nice and piquant, though I could have done with a little more chilli heat.

20110502-012652.jpgAs if that weren’t enough eating, because it was my last night in Penang, Mrs A insisted  that I should try everything I hadn’t yet tried, pressing me to name dishes I still hadn’t sampled on my short eating tour. The only thing that came to mind was Siam laksa. So we stopped off at another local neighbourhood night market. It was starting to rain, and people huddled around tables under tarps and beach umbrellas that sprung up as the downpour got heavier.

20110502-012751.jpgWhen I had questioned her about Siam laksa earlier, and how it differed to the Assam laksa more commonly found in Georgetown, she said it was Thai style, and had coconut milk in it. I took this to mean that it was the more common curry laksa style that I was used to in Melbourne. But I was wrong! It was still very similar to Assam laksa – the use of mackerel (or sardine) was still there, as was the trademark tamarind. But this had been married with curry and coconut flavours, creating a whole other experience.

20110502-012911.jpg20110502-012936.jpg20110502-013002.jpgOf course, no meal is complete without one last char koay teow. This one was decent, but nothing to write home about.

20110502-012828.jpgSo finally that was the end of the #fatty adventure for me in Penang. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about and looking at the wonderful food I tried there as much as i did shoving it in my mouth! Next time, we’re back onto more local eateries.