Thanksgiving feast – the tail end.

This year I was lucky enough to be invited to a friend’s house for an awesome Thanksgiving dinner. The spread was pretty amazing; turkey, candied sweet potato, cornbread, chili sans carne (large vegetarian contingent) and roast vegies. Om nom nom nom. This was followed up with a hefty collection of American confectionery, Krispy Kreme donuts, and not only pumpkin, but also blueberry pie!! Sugar overload, and rolling to the couch.

Cheese kransky at Birdman Eating

A waitress mistake (I think) left us waiting quite a while for our food, watching others who had arrived after us receive their food first. Which is always irritating. But once my breakfast came, I forgot abot the wait. The kransky itself wasn’t amazing, and the poached eggs were good, but the apple (and beetroot? rhubarb?) compote as well as the hot potato and cauliflower slaw were great. Another example of why choosing a dish based on the accompaniments/sides is often a good move!

Birdman Eating, Gertrude St, near the corner of Smith st.

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Chow Mein?

Now, being a second generation Asian migrant, who spent his childhood in the kitchen of his family’s Chinese restaurant in rural Victoria, I will admit to a certain level of insider knowledge, and accompanying this knowledge, a difference of experience which has quite plainly left me somewhat ignorant. Ignorant of what some Australians understand by ‘chow mein’, that is.

As a child, it always amused me when customers would come in asking for “chow mayne”, as the Chinese pronunciation is much closer to “chao miin”. The literal translation of Chow Mien is (stir)fried noodles. Which is why when I read Phil Lees’ post about Chow Mein I was a little confused. Rice? In a Chow Mien dish? Really?

Perhaps as the only Chinese kid in town, when I went over to a friend’s house for dinner, her/his parents would be wary of cooking ‘Chinese’ food, but I never encountered such an abomination as a rice-based dish being labelled ‘Chow Mien’.

While Phil’s description of American or Chinese Chow Mien seem fairly accurate to me, I would question his assertion that Chow Mien isn’t a dish found in Chinese restaurants any longer. In fact, I think it’s still very much a staple dish in many Chinese restaurant menus, at least of the suburban variety, along with the ubiquitous Holy Trinity of ‘bastardised Chinese food’ – Lemon Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, and Beef and Black Bean Sauce. Even in many of the Hong Kong style Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, you will still find Chow Mien (possibly not named so explicitly) on the menu.

As for Chow Mein’s close cousin Chop Suey, I think the absence of that from many Chinese restaurant menus in Australia is due to the fact that the term ‘chop suey’ (properly pronounced ‘tchaap soo’ – literally bits and pieces, referring to the combination of chopped vegetables) was never really that popular in Australia, and Chinese restaurants quickly realised it was more accessible to just name the dish something along the lines of “Chicken with Selected Vegetables”, or “Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry”.

From a linguistic point of view, it’s interesting to note the persistence of the Romanised ‘Chow Mein” and “Chop Suey” in the US, compared with the preference for more explanatory translations here in Australia. For me, it raises questions about how language is negotiated; how do factors such as the origins, literacy and influence of the migrants, along with the point in time and cultural formation when the waves of migration occurred, influence terms which we use to label food?

If this other version of ‘Chow Mein’, with the rice and the chicken noodle soup, really does still exist in this day an age, I’d like to try it, if only out of curiosity. The idea of a “mix of mirepoix and cheap cabbage, mince and packet food” makes me a little nauseous, to be frank.

Onigiri at Wood Spoon Kitchen

Onigiri would be high up on the list of my favourite snack foods, if I lived in Japan, or anywhere they were readily available. So when I found out there is a restaurant in my neighbourhood which specialises in onigiri, I was excited. And I was not let down, either. We started the meal with some agedashi tofu, which was a little perplexingly served with a light soy sauce, as opposed to a dashi sauce. The tofu itself was excellent, smooth and yet with a substantial creaminess and, dare I suggest it, flavour.

Next up was the standard gyoza, which were nicely pan-fried – not too well done – and okonomiyaki, which could have done with a little more time on the grill, but it’s hard to dislike anything with those sauces on top!

We chose three types of onigiri – the gomoku (house special with chicken and vegetables), the ebi (prawn) salad, and the sansai (mountain vegetables). All were tasty and held together nicely, though the gomoku was definitely the stand out in terms of flavour.

We also ordered the miso and sweet potato soup, with prawn and pork dumplings. I was expecting gyoza style dumplings, but they turned out to be more rissole-like, without a pastry casing. Still, full of flavour, and balanced out the sweetness of the sweet potato perfectly.

I’d definitely go back for more onigiri!

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Banh xeo – made by me!

OK, so this hasn’t actually been half-eaten. But I had to post something. I finally got around to making banh xeo – crispy Vietnamese crepes – my favourite Vietnamese dish. The first few were a bit disappointing, being a bit soft, but once I thinned the batter out, added a little more oil, and let the frypan superheat, we were in business! The filling in this one was mushrooms, beanshoots, mung beans and tofu (for the vegetarian guests) but the standard filling is whole (de-headed) river prawns, sliced belly pork, bean shoots and mung beans. My mum would be proud. And a bit jealous (she hasn’t quite figured out the crispy thing).