The Dispensary Enoteca

Chancery Lane (off Pall Mall), Bendigo
Phone: 03 5444 5885

I recently travelled up to Bendigo with Mr N. There was a little trepidation on my part, as it was the first time I’d met some of his family, but I was also eager to learn more about his childhood and see where he grew up. Not that I’ve never been to Bendigo or anything; I grew up in Swan Hill, so Bendigo was our half-way pit stop when driving on family trips to Melbourne.

My friend Mr I had also visited Bendigo not so long ago, and he highly recommended that we visit The Dispensary, a cute little restaurant tucked away in an arcade in central Bendigo. Mr N was dying to catch up with his old friend Miss S, who had recently graduated from her studies, so it was an apt place for a little celebration!

The place was pretty empty on a Tuesday night, but it’s a fairly small place, so it felt pretty cosy still, especially given the cold winds outside! The staff were pretty congenial, though I couldn’t help but feel there was an air of snobbery about the service.

I had the lamb two ways – I think it was the backstrap and a rib cutlet? With a pumpkin puree, wilted silverbeet and a wonderfully spiced couscous. It was well cooked, but I couldn’t help but think there could have been a bit more lamb on my plate. Especially when you consider Mr N and Miss S’s dishes…

 Miss S had a pork loin with spiced cauliflower and poached pear, I believe? Memory FAIL. In any case, she assured me that she’s not often a fan of pork, but this dish won her over. She also had trouble finishing it, such was the size of the loin placed in front of her!

Mr N was in the mood for a steak, and boy did he get one! I think this bad boy was a 400gm rib eye still on the bone. It didn’t come with any sides, but that was OK, because we’d also ordered…

… arguably the best beer-battered chips in Bendigo. They came with aioli.

I filled myself up on those chips, so by the time we came around to ordering dessert, we thought we’d just share some. Home made sorbets – from top to bottom: Jasmine milk sorbet, salted caramel ice cream, mango ice cream. I couldn’t get enough of the jasmine milk sorbet, which made me a little sadly nostalgic for Casa del gelato‘s jasmine gelato. Sadly, they don’t make it anymore.

We also shared some chocolate fudge. Those two little cubes are deceptive. There’s about a family block of chocolate flavour packed into them! So very good – and at $4.50, quite possibly the greatest value on the menu.

Having grown up in country Victoria, a place like the Dispensary isn’t something I would have expected to find. There’s definitely an urban sophistication which you’d associate with fine dining in the big smoke, but yet reading the menu, there is a connectedness to the local producers which explains the quality of the food being served. Next time we go and visit Mr N’s folks, we’ll be sure to visit again!

The Dispensary on Urbanspoon

Fu Long

942 Whitehorse Rd, Box Hill
Phone: 9890 7388

Family dinners out are an elastic-waisted pants sort of affair with my family. Indeed, I would think for most Chinese families, because the places we go tend to be filled with other Chinese families. Luckily, they don’t happen all that often. Else I’d be stuck on the treadmill a lot more often!

It was my grandfather’s birthday recently – I think he turned 82? I’m such a bad grandson – and the family all went out to Fu Long Seafood Restaurant in Box Hill – the comment that came along with the invitation in mum’s text message was “mud crabs $14/lb”. Colour me eager; though truth be known, I prefer duck to crab, it’s so much less work!

Extended family dinners are extended in both senses of the word. It’s a chance for me to catch up with cousins I rarely see, and to dodge questions about if I have a girlfriend from my aunts and uncles. The fact my sister just got married doesn’t help that line of questioning, but at least she’s now copping the “so when are you having a baby?” heat, so it’s sort of fair. The dinners are also extended in that it’s rare that we’ll have less than five courses, because, well, that’s the way a Chinese banquet rolls.

At Fu Long, we started with steamed oysters with an XO sauce. Some had chilli, some did not. The chilli ones were much better. Though in my opinion, you ruin perfectly good oysters by cooking them. Omelettes notwithstanding.

Next up was the first of two crab courses. Fried with chilli, salt and pepper. Not the way we usually have crab, but more on that later, this was quite good, though the cooks were a little too liberal with the MSG.
A fairly dry dish to begin with, the MSG didn’t help things, making me even more thirsty.

Luckily, the ‘spit soup’ as @thatjessho likes to call it, arrived at the same time. Shredded duck and bamboo soup, with the feathered egg and cornstarch thickness. Pretty standard Cantonese fare.

You can tell you’re at an extended family dinner of mine when someone requests chilli for the table. My cousin J insisted we needed this much chilli for a table of eight. She wasn’t wrong, actually. Next time, more fresh chilli, less chilli paste.

Then came the second crab course. The traditional Cantonese style with ginger and spring onions. Funnily, there were no noodles with this course, because as my aunt informed me, the noodles were an extra $4 per head, which is a little ridiculous when you’re charging $28 for a kilo of crab! It’s a shame, because the noodles are actually my favourite part of the crab dish. Crabby juices and ginger and spring onion all mingle and coat the noodles, making them supremely tasty. Oh well.

Then we moved on to the ‘dishes course’. After the seafood (and sometimes quail) courses, a succession of dishes arrive at the table, and rice is finally doled out. I kind of hang out for this moment, because I love my steamed rice. First up, fried whole flounder, with chilli, salt and pepper. Again, a bit too much MSG on this one.

Peking-style chicken ribs. This dish was so great. A good balance of salt, sweet and tangy, I kept coming back for more of these. At this point, I was happy there were mostly girls on my table. More girls = more food for me!

Fried prawns with – you guessed it – chilli, salt and pepper. You’d think the chefs here only knew how to do one thing! Again, crazily over-seasoned with salt and MSG. It almost felt like the MSG was burning my tongue just about now. The prawns themselves, however, were perfectly cooked, and super succulent.

Finally, a dish with a little moisture! There’s only so much rice can do in soothing over-worked taste buds, and I had to keep the beer-swilling to a minimum, because it doesn’t look good if you’re the family alcoholic. Even if you are, you should try to appear not to be. It’s a Chinese thing – saving face and all, you know? Seafood combination with mushrooms and pak choy.

This was OK, but the sauce was a little too gelatinous for my liking. Heavy handed with both the MSG and the cornstarch, I see… things did get a little better with the scallops with bok choy and XO sauce. I quite liked this, actually.

Then came redemption! Roast duck breast with pineapple. It’s a little odd to me to have roast duck at a Chinese restaurant without bones, but this dish won me over. By filleting the duck, the chefs take away the rib bones (duh!) which usually add a salty dimension to the duck. The result is a less roast-y, but funnily more gamey flavour, which was contrasted well with the sweet acidity of the pineapple sauce.

This was by far my favourite dish of the night. The duck was also sufficiently fatty, and the skin had been crisped up nicely (no doubt with a quick dunk in what must be an enormous fry vat, given the amount of fried food we ate that night! It’s not often I shy away from fried food – I figure if I just go to the gym more, i can eat whatever I want, right? – but the whole family was clamouring for something not fried after the prawns arrived on at the table.

Fu Long ended the banquet with a somewhat odd pairing of orange slices and vanilla ice cream. I decided to pass on the dessert, even though one should always finish a Cantonese banquet with fruit, and just ordered another beer. To hell with it, it’s probably better to be the alcoholic grandson than the gay one, right? Oh, whoops…

Fu Long on Urbanspoon

The Provincial Hotel – the Roast Collection

299 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
Phone: 9810 0042

A cold and rainy night was sort of the perfect backdrop for my one and only outing to this year’s Melbourne Food and Wine Roast Collection event calendar. The streets were unusually empty for a Friday night in Fitzroy, but you could hardly blame the punters, inclement weather always makes me want to stay home too. But the booking had been made weeks in advance, and I was looking forward to catching up with good friends over a hunk of meat. And at $35 for two courses, who was I to pass this up?

I must admit that I haven’t been inside the Provincial before. I always assumed it was just another Fitzroy pub, with perhaps a beer garden out the back. But what probably used to be a beer garden out the back was actually an enclosed glasshouse-like dining courtyard. We were quickly shown to our table by one of the delightful waiters; I should comment right now that all of the waitstaff that night were perfectly charming.

Some wonderfully soft bread rolls came out to the table shortly after ordering, but we were a little perplexed by the lack of bread plates at our table. Never mind, we all tucked in. It became evident that perhaps the bread was supposed to accompany the first course. Leek and potato soup.

This was a hearty way to start the meal, though I felt it could have been a little thicker. And not to quibble, but the soup arrived a good 15 minutes after the bread, so by that stage, all of the bread was gone. 🙁

Having read Penny’s review of her experience last week, on her recommendation, I ordered the 12 hour slow-roasted lamb shoulder, tempted as I was for a bit of roast chicken. The rest of the table, it seemed, had the same idea, and all five of us chose the lamb option. It took another half hour or so after the soup to arrive, but I’m assuming they slow-roast the lamb for 11 hours, and put it back in for another 1hour once the order is received, so that’s understandable. When it arrived, the wait seemed all worthwhile.

We were all a little surprised when the roast arrived at the table still on the bone, and even more surprised when the waitress announced that “now, this is the two person lamb”… meaning an even larger one was to come for the other three of us!

And arrive indeed it did! Served with roast pumpkin, wilted spinach, some sort of sweet jus, and the absolute standout of the evening, pan-seared semolina cakes, which had a creamy, mildly cheesy, ultra-rich texture. It somewhat overshadowed even the melting-off-the-bone lamb! My one criticism of this dish is that it lacked saucing. While the lamb was beautifully cooked, it somewhat lacked flavour. The jus was there, but a little difficult to get off the serving plate onto your own. Thankfully, we were old friends at the table, so none too shy about dipping our meats in the communal jus! I guess that’s part of what serving a roast at the table entails; there’s a communality and intimacy about sharing food that I love about this style of eating.

Between the five of us, we didn’t come even close to finishing neither the two nor three person lamb dishes, and we were all happily groaning about how full our bellies were.

The rest of the menu looked quite enticing, though there was nothing particularly innovative, it had gastropub favourites like risottos and pork belly. Mmmm, pork belly. Might have to revisit.

The Provincial Hotel on Urbanspoon

Banh mi battle

Inspired by Kate at Eating Melbourne’s Hot Cross Bun blind tasting, I decided to organise a panel of banh mi enthusiasts to see if we could find Melbourne’s best Vietnamese baguette. So one Sunday afternoon, we gathered at @jeroxie‘s house, to see if we couldn’t settle this turf war.

Originally, we were hoping to have good representation from the three epicentres of Vietnamese food in Melbourne; Footscray, Richmond and Springvale. Unfortunately, our Springvale representative had to pull out at the last minute, so I fear we have somewhat unrepresentative results.

Another caveat: we were sorely aware that iconic Vietnamese bakeries N. Lee, Sunny’s (both from Collingwood), Kenny’s (around the CBD), and N. Tran (South Yarra) have been omitted, but there’s only so much bread a team can eat in one afternoon! Things are shaping up for a second heat, perhaps.

All in all, we had banh mi from nine different bakeries.

From Richmond (all along Victoria St):

  • Lee Lee
  • Huong Huong
  • Phuoc Thanh
  • Saigon Bakery

From Footscray:

  • To’s – 122 Hopkins St
  • Nhu Lan – 116 Hopkins St
  • Ba Le – 28A Leeds St

From Preston (both on High St):

  • Tina’s
  • Mai Lan

On the day, we tested banh mi thit nguoi, which is known ubiquitously as the Vietnamese pork roll. It has various cold meats in it, which we thought a fair (and classic) example on which to judge bakeries, as it’s a staple, and no bakery would be disadvantaged by us sampling a banh mi which should otherwise be consumed while hot (as is the case with a banh mi xiu mai – meat ball – or one with grilled pork or chicken).

In order to ensure that this was a true blind testing, I devised a scheme which involved a two-step masking process. So we split into two teams. Team A was responsible for removing the banh mi from the packaging, and attaching numbered tags to each plate of two banh mi, while Team B were in another room. At the changeover, Team A left the room, and Team B switched the banh mi around, noting the change in tag numbers.

Then the tasting commenced! The scoring system allowed us each to award up to five points for each of the criteria:

  • Bread
  • Salad
  • Meats
  • Overall Flavour

giving each banh mi up to a potential 20 points. But what do you look for in a good banh mi? Well, that’s totally subjective I realise, but my judging for each criterion essentially broke down like this:

Bread: I like the crust to be almost crispy rather than crunchy. I’ve had a few incidents in the past where I’ve injured the roof of my mouth on a too-crusty bread roll. The interior should be pillowy and soft, with a decent amount of baguette-y bread aroma coming through. I’m not a fan of seeds on my banh me baguette.

Salad: For me, this is largely to do with two elements – firstly, the amount of coriander. I like a lot, but this is rare. Secondly, the pickled carrot and daikon – it should be reasonably tart, but also carry some sweetness. It also should still have a hint of the carrot’s natural crunch, and not be a soft mess. I’m not all that fussy about the cucumber element.

Meats: I’d be lying if I said quantity didn’t matter – it’s nice to get a decent amount of meat in the banh mi. Indeed, that’s what I find distinguishes a banh mi you’d get in Melbourne (or Australia, I suppose) from one in Viet Nam. A banh mi in Viet Nam is a snack, or a light meal at best. It’s cheap, and it tides you over. An Australian banh mi is closer to a lunch-sized meal. There’s a substantial amount of filling there. Another factor in judging this criteria is the variety of meats. The standard three meats in a banh mi thit nguoi are cha lua (pork loaf), a Chinese style roast pork, and another preserved ham (gio heo) which is almost terrine-like in its complexity. Due to its being encased in a layer of gelatin, we fondly referred to it as the ‘jellymeat’. Some bakeries had more than these three types of meats, with variations on cha lua, or the jellymeat. Finally, of course, was the perceived freshness and quality of these meats.

Overall Flavour: for me, this came down to three things: the amount of chilli – I like it challenging, but not crazily hot; the ‘butter’ – which is really more just emulsified oil (or eggless mayonnaise); and the pate – which really should be home-made and choc-ful of MSG for my liking.

I’d like to go into what made each banh mi WIN or FAIL, but I was a little too excited, and didn’t take very many notes. So here are my scores:

Lee Lee Huong Huong Tina’s Nhu Lan To’s Phuoc Thanh Mai Lan Saigon Bakery Ba Le
Bread 3 2 2 4 1 2 2 3 3
Salad 2 3 2 3 3 3 4 2 1
Meats 3 3.5 2 4 3 2 2 3 4
Overall Flavour 3 4 2 3 2 2 3 4 3
Total 11 12.5 8 14 9 9 11 12 11

In the end, the Footscray branch Nhu Lan emerged a clear – though not quite unanimous – winner, with Huong Huong bakery in Richmond also making a good showing.

My fellow panellists:

Tris and Gem from Eat Drink Stagger
Penny and Mr from Jeroxie
Ms Baklover from Footscray Food Blog
Alex from MSG: the Melbourne Social Guide

Proud Mary

172 Oxford St, Collingwood
Phone: 9417 5930

When you move into a place, it’s a good idea to scope out what the local breakfast places are. Which place does the best eggs Benedict, and who has the best coffee? Two questions I never really asked, because I’m not a big fan of Hollandaise, and I didn’t drink coffee for six years of my adult life. Then there was the year in Viet Nam, where it was more about where do I get the best pho, and which banh mi lady had the best pate.

But times, they do change. And now I drink coffee, so it would seem. Luckily, my local happens to be Proud Mary, so I can indulge in true coffee wankery and drink my single-estate sourced Clover coffee. From a stemless wine glass no less! I think that’s the establishment’s way of telling me I should be approaching the consumption of coffee like you would approach the consumption of wine. The barista also made a point of coming over with my coffee and explaining the subtlety I should be noticing. I noticed that I could drink it without sugar, and that I didn’t get a crazy caffeine buzz with an attendant crash-bang-headache. Still, the glass is pretty.

Along with said Clover coffee, I had the ‘green eggs’, which as you can see, weren’t particularly green. They were, however, nicely soft and runny. How I like my scrambled eggs. The side of mushrooms was generous, but not particularly flavoursome.

I was with the lovely Miss K this morning, who shouted me breakfast for installing her new modem (I think we all know I got the better end of the bargain there), and she had the porridge with dates, almonds and banana. She said it was quite good – I’ve had the muesli there before, so I’m inclined to think she’s right – they know what they’re doing with grains there.

On the way out, we caught a glimpse of these great bruschetta-type-eggplant things. They looked yummy!

Proud Mary on Urbanspoon

Prince Patrick Hotel

135 Victoria Pde, Collingwood
Phone: 9416 1455

The Prince Patrick Hotel is one of about four pubs you could probably call my local. Funny thing s it took me about a year to get around to eating here.Having done so now, I’m pretty glad that I did. The place serves up good gastropub/bistro food, and the decor’s pretty genteel, though a little cavernous.

I ordered the pork belly. If you’ve read enough posts, you know that I, like most foodbloggers, have a fondness for pork belly. The crackling was nicely crunchy, but was let down a little by meat that was a bit on the tough side. It came with a hefty chunk of potato gratin, which was great for mopping up the jus with, and some bok choy which was thankfully not over-cooked.

Miss K had the chicken breast with some sort of mash or risotto – I can’t remember correctly! – but her main comment about the dish was that the chicken was a bit dry.

Mr D had the chicken parmigiana, which looked hefty, and was reportedly quite good. The chips were nice – I snuck a couple – but they really should invest in some larger plates. Nothing worse than good chips turning mushy because they’ve been saddled by a big hunk of parma!

Prince Patrick Hotel on Urbanspoon

Supper Inn

15 Celestial Ave, Melbourne CBD
Phone: 9663 4759

You’ve probably all been before. Or at least you know about it. Because, well, frankly, it’s as much of an institution in Melbourne’s Chinatown as Flower Drum and the Shark Fins. Supper Inn has been around for around as long as I have (about three decades) and apart from the fact that it serves up consistently good Cantonese food, its other big draw card is that it’s open until 2am. And we all know there’s a serious void for good food after midnight. Which is fine if you’ve just finished a Friday night bar crawl and will be sated by a souvlaki or dare I say the Dirty Bird, but it’s another thing when you’ve just finished a late shift at work and you’re craving something a little better than decent.

Mr N had just finished a late shift, and it was about 11:30pm when we walked up Little Bourke St towards Celestial Ave. It was chilly – the winds were blowing, and there was the first hint of misty rain in the air. We leaned into the wind and walked a little faster, the fluorescent beacon promising the hearty warmth of, for me, something close to comfort food.

We walked up the wood-panelled staircase, which always makes me think of Twin Peaks:

Lynchian references aside, it says something about the quality of the food when the decor is so unrelentingly bad. And on weekends, you can almost guarantee that there will be people lining up on these stairs, waiting for a table. Especially after around 11pm.

I still remember my student days, when we would line up and wait for a table, so we could have some soul-hugging congee after midnight, on a study break. But I’ve grown up now, and I cook my own soul-hugging congee. So these days, I go in for more of the complicated Cantonese dishes. And Mr N and I like to share dishes. Because sharing is caring. This night, we started with the Lo Hon Chai vegetables with duck.

Purists – or those who speak Cantonese – will know that the addition of duck makes this dish something of a contradiction, because the word chai here actually means vegetarian. We were a little disappointed with this dish, as it was rather bland. In honesty, I picked it because it wouldn’t be too flavoursome – you’ll see why below – but the flavours weren’t so much subtle, as dull. The duck was a little over-cooked, and there was too much pak choy and not enough fungus, for my liking. But as I said, I ordered it as a counterbalance to this dish:

Sweet and sour pork. Yes, I am Chinese, and I order sweet and sour pork at Chinese restaurants. Judge me all you want, but you know when it’s done right, it’s SO. FREAKING. GOOD. And it’s done right at Supper Inn. Unlike suburban Chinese restaurants – and regrettably, that of my family’s, years ago, in country Victoria – Supper Inn’s S/S Pk (that’s our restaurant’s old shorthand, don’tcha know) is more bold with the level of sour in its flavouring, which for those uninitiated, is how it should be. The pork itself was wonderfully crunchy, and the batter sparingly applied – again, unlike the poor versions where a small morsel of pork is trapped within a castle of batter.

Many would say that sweet and sour pork is the flagship of bastardised Chinese food, and they would probably be right. But as much as it’s been adjusted to Australian tastes over the years in many restaurants, it’s a dish which, when done right, can be a shining example of true Cantonese cuisine. And yes, before you pedants arc up, I know, it’s originally from Jiangsu.

Anyway, if you haven’t been, get yourself to Supper Inn soon, so you can call yourself a true Melburnian.
Supper Inn on Urbanspoon

Tia To

8 Whiteman St Crown Entertainment Complex, Southbank
Phone: 9292 6989

After a heady High Tea at the Langham, followed by an afternoon of grazing at the Good Food and Wine Festival, I had a couple of hours to kill before meeting a friend for a movie at Crown. I will admit to being somewhat… tipsy… after the GFWF (you can’t turn down a shed full of winery stands offering tastings now, can you?). So tipsy, in fact, I wandered into Rockpool, and asked for a seat at the bar, thinking “Hey! I’ll finally get to try that wagyu burger!” only to be politely told by the hostess that they’d be happy to fit me in – at 6, when they open. It was apparently only 5:15. Oops!

So I thought I’d have a look at one of the restaurants in the casino itself (I know! Why!?) seeing as I’d been there years ago as a student, taking advantage of the gambling-subsidised food on offer. I stopped at Tia To, curious to see what Crown’s version of pho would be like. I mean there’s a hefty amount of Vietnamese problem-gamblers, right? Surely their tastes must be catered for…

I was heartened by the impressive array of condiments on the table.

And by the noodle-slurping Chinese men who were also eating pho at the next table (even though they were Mandarin speakers, so not likely to be experts in pho authenticity?)

Unfortunately, at this point in time, my phone decided to die on me. Which was not only devastating in terms of my inability to document the noodles about to arrive at my table, but also it made things difficult in terms of meeting my friend to see the movie afterwards!

So you get no pictures of the actual pho – which in some way defeats the purpose of this post; I know, right? – but trust me when I say it was rather underwhelming. The amount of basil which came with the beanshoots and lemon was on the stingy side. The broth was one-dimensional in flavour – that dimension was MSG. The beef was similarly bland. It’s a bad sign when the best thing in a bowl of pho are the ‘beef balls’. Because they’re almost certainly from a packet that you can buy from any Asian grocer.

This place serves a soup noodle which is something of a travesty against pho. I was left wishing I had ordered the seafood platter special, and consoling myself in the fact I had a $4 bottle of Carlsberg. The only other upside I can think of about this experience was that the service was really quite good.

Tia To on Urbanspoon

Tom Toon Thai Noodle Cafe

241 Victoria Parade, Abbotsford
Phone: 9417 7447

Opening up a Thai restaurant a couple of doors up from the institution that is Ying Thai is either a gutsy or a foolhardy move. A move, however, which seems to have paid off for the owners of Tom Toon Thai Noodle Cafe, and has also further cemented tiny stretch at the Hoddle street end of Victoria St as a little Thai enclave, next to its much more sprawling Vietnamese cousin.

I’d been to Tom Toon once before, when Mr B and I had feasted ourselves silly on Larb Moo, Som Tum – not on the menu, but on the board on the wall above the counter – and pad Thai. It being a noodle cafe, I wanted to return to try more noodles. Though I was immediately distracted by the promise of “BBQ Chicken skin skewer”. Chicken skin? Hell yes, please!
Unfortunately, either I had been deemed not capable/worthy of eating the chicken skin, ordered incorrectly, or the chicken skin had been mystically transubstantiated, because what arrived were skewers of skinless chicken. Disappointment city: population me.
To be fair, the skewers were well marinated, and quite tasty, if a little overcooked. The dipping sauce was an interesting tamarind-based sauce, with a hint of chilli, and the ground roasted rice gave it a great aroma.
The disappointment started to fade when the Pork Noodle Gravy Soup (Kuitiw Nur Toon) arrived. There were four different types of pork in the bowl! From top right, working clockwise: boiled pork, braised pork shoulder, pork ‘balls’ – reconstituted meat is quite common in South East Asia, more pork shoulder, and the tan/orange-y things at the top are FRIED LARDONS. Oh yeah. Also in the noodles were some kangkung, bean shoots and coriander.
Check out the superfine rice vermicelli! Such an amazing texture. While it’s actually quite a pedestrian dish – it’s essentially street food in Thailand – the soup was so evocative of the late night cart noodles I’d had in Phuket earlier this year. When food so clearly brings up memories of great holidays, it scores bonus points. Bonus points also get given for things being cheap. While no match for the 45THB I paid for noodles in Phuket, Tom Toon’s noodles are still pretty cheap at $9.90.

Tom Toon does pretty authentic Thai food, but be warned: there are no curries at this Thai restaurant. Somewhat incongruous, but what they do, they do well.

Tom Toon Thai Noodle Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pumpkin Miso Noodles in Shiitake Dashi Broth

International incident noodles party

First of all I’d like to thank and congratulate Penny for coming up with such an innovative way for us to all share the joy of a noodle party, without having to eat them all ourselves, or leave out own homes, for that matter!

So for this party, I came up with this idea that I could infuse miso into udon noodles, and that I could teach myself to hand-pull sad udon noodles. Here is my FAILWHALE tale.

So it all started pretty well. I came across a hand-pulled noodle recipe, which wasn’t udon, but looked pretty good. The ingredients were pretty much:

  • 500gm plain flour
  • 300ml water

The dough came together looking like this:

Following the video, I rested it for 20 minutes, kneaded it until smooth, rested it for another five minutes and kneaded it again. Before the final kneading, I added about 2 tablespoons of white miso, and the same quantity of mashed pumpkin. In retrospect, the pumpkin was a big mistake. Far too watery, so I had to keep adding flour to compensate for the excess moisture. This was the beginning of the FAIL.

To cut a long, arduous, knead-y story short, the resulting dough was far too tight to be stretched, and I resorted to pulling out the pasta machine and super-laminating the dough with ever-increasing amounts of flour.

Not wanting to make ramen/spaghetti sized noodles, I continued on my lazy option, and went for fettucine-shaped noodles. If I had an obaasan (Japanese grandmother) she would have been rather upset. Although if I had an obaasan this travesty of noodle FAIL would never have happened! Seeing as I don’t, I persevered.

And boiled the noodles for about 3 minutes.

In the meantime, I had been simmering shiitake mushrooms and ginger for about two hours, to make a dashi broth.

It was lacking in flavour, so I added about 2 teaspoons of salt. Oh, by the way, that’s a quail egg I’m poaching in the soup ladle there.

My friend Mr R came around to help evaluate my Japanese experiment, which made me a little nervous because he is something of a Nihon-ophile, and had recently returned from Japan with tales of tonkotsu ramen and tonkatsu made from pork ribs, but I had caveated the exercise as experimentation, so he was quite gracious in his reception.

Time to plate up. Add noodles to broth (to keep them from sticking together as you assemble the other ingredients).

For my toppings, I included some silken tofu, shiitake mushrooms from the broth, grilled eggplant and snow peas. Mr R didn’t like quail’s eggs, so I had a poached one on mine, but omitted it from his.

Even though it was a strange fusion of fettucine and Japanese flavours, it all came together rather well.

Though next time, I’ll omit the pumpkin from the noodle, and add more miso. While the noodle had some flavour, it wasn’t nearly enough, considering I had left the broth quite simple (read bland) to compensate for flavoursome noodles.

I’m going to play around with putting other things in my noodles – the next candidate will be harissa!

You can find everyone links to everyone else’s noodles at!

International Incident Party Flickr page