2012 – my top 10

I know I’ve been pretty slack with the blogging this year, but as it’s the last day, I figure I should make an effort and do that thing that we all love to do at the end of the year: reminisce. So here’s my top 10 food things/events/places for 2012, in no particular order.

1. Ji Ji Wonton Noodles – we discovered these on our holiday, and I’ve been trying to recreate them ever since. I think I’m getting close.

2. The black sticky rice pudding at Thien An – a hidden Footscray gem, and worthy of a visit after dinner elsewhere.

3. Poonami – a trip down the street turned into a trip down memory lane, into my past life in an Australian Chinese restaurant.

4. Making paté from scratch – so easy, and so amazing. Impress your friends with this recipe from Bon Appetit.

5. Messina gelato – so this isn’t really that new to Sydneysiders, but I discovered it for the first time in 2012, and it’s probably one of my favourite things in Sydney. Go the figs poached in marsala and cherry flavours.

6. Obnoxious Thursdays. You know who you ams, ladies.

7. Experimenting with curing meat. This year, I made bresaola, pork prosciutto, and duck prosciutto.

8. A second tour of duty. I returned to Viet Nam after three years; revisiting old haunts and discovering new places. The fresh calamari rice paper rolls on Phu Quoc island was a revelation.

9. Xi hong shi chao ji dan – I’m a shame upon my ancestors, because it’s taken me 32 years to discover this Chinese ‘delicacy’. Big thanks to @carryon_JW to introducing it to me.

10. Coffee (in general) – this year, I started drinking coffee again, after about 7 years of being a non-coffee drinker. I’d like to thank all the tattooed baristas of Melbourne for helping me rediscover my love affair with caffeine.

Here’s wishing you all a happy, tasty and safe 2013!

Oriental Charcoal BBQ

110 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9687 0421

There’s few greater things in this world than food on sticks. A thing that @carryon_JW and I agree on. So after an exciting but long day out for his birthday, we stopped in at OCB for some chuar (lamb skewers, Western Chinese style).

@carryon_JW spent four years living in Beijing, so to him, chuar has a special place in his heart. OK, that’s an overstatement; in his belly. It’s funny, though. Even though I’m the one with the Chinese heritage, he claims the authoritative right to declare how authentic a Chinese dish is; given that his Mandarin puts mine to shame – so he often does the ordering – perhaps this isn’t so funny after all. Therefore I was a little nervous to suggest we try this place on his birthday. But it’s local, and it’s not Vietnamese, Ethiopian, or Cantonese, and I’d been keen to try it for a while, so it kind of happened by default.

Something else that happens by default just about whenever I got to a Chinese – Chinese as in Northern/Shanghai/Sichuan, as opposed to Cantonese – restaurant, is ordering this cucumber dish. It’s essentially cucumber with salt, oil and a metric butt-load of garlic. OCB throws some coriander, sugar and MSG in for good measure, in case your taste buds weren’t paying attention.
Ordering a cold dish or two is always a good move at a Northern Chinese restaurant, because it gives you something to snack on while you’re waiting for the other dishes to be cooked.

The next few things to arrive were the various things on sticks. The classic chuar were pretty great. Not as meaty as the Uighur-style ones I’ve had at Tarim in Malvern, but expertly spiced and juicy all the same. JW enjoyed his birthday chuar, as you can see. He also enjoyed the satellite TV broadcast of this crazy Chinese dating show, which sees male contestants choose from a pool of 24 women (some inexplicably dressed up in traditional minority garb), who in turn can elect to accept or reject his interest based on highly stylised video clips in which his friends and family give testimonials about various aspects of his personality (and earning potential). The funniest segment was where the male contestant was clearly tongzhi, even if it wasn’t explicitly acknowledged.


It’s not a birthday without a birthday food coma, so we also ordered some more substantial dishes. There was a ‘fish-flavoured’ eggplant claypot on the left – probably the most delicious version of this dish I’ve ever eaten – and a beef brisket and tomato claypot on the right (that was just a bit meh).


It was OK lah.


This, however, was DIRICIOUS!


It’s not a birthday without a birthday food coma, so we also ordered some dumplings. These were pretty great, though I’m ashamed to say we couldn’t finish them all. The skins were nice and thick, in that doughy Northern style, and the filling was well seasoned, with a decent amount of vegetable and herb matter. I’m often disappointed by how just plain meaty some dumplings are. I mean come on, where’s the skill in just using minced meat?


The chilli oil at OCB – which I’m fairly sure is home-made – is nice and smoky, and the sesame seeds give the flavour a nice roundness, so it’s not as sharply hot as some chilli oils can often be.


So if you’re looking for a (cheap!) happy place in which to induce a most satisfactory birthday food coma, definitely give OCB a try.


I should note that last time I went back, the staff were a little run off their feet, because they sadly participated in one of those EVIL group shopping deals. Hopefully this doesn’t ruin them, like it has other small businesses. I know I’ll be back, though!

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