Karaage Raamen at Toki Japanese Restaurant

88 Grattan St Carlton
Phone: (03) 9347 9748

I’m grudgingly coming to the conclusion that you can’t get good ramen in Melbourne.

My main gripe with the ramen at Toki is that it doesn’t even make any pretense of freshness. Pre-cooked vegetables some what let the team down, even with nicely fried chicken pieces. But then again, the soup was overly salty, and the ramen, while obviously not from an instant packet, lacked the springiness and ‘toothsome’ quality which separates good ramen from the noodle rabble.

All this said, the Chef’s special platter that the couple on the next table were eating looked amazing!

Toki Japanese on Urbanspoon

Braised lamb shoulder at von haus

Crossley St, Melbourne CBD

I dropped in for lunch yesterday on Xmas eve at Von Haus. It was grey and gloomy outside, and I felt the urge for something hearty. The braised lamb shoulder did not disappoint. Full of flavour, melting off the bone, with mushrooms and olives that somehow seemed to have soaked up the red wine in the sauce, while exuding their own flavour as well, this dish was almost too wintry for December. But it was just what I was after. The only thing which was a little disappointing was not having a chunk of bread with whic to mop up the sauce. Von Haus, you’re two for two so far!

Von Haus on Urbanspoon

Don don box at Don don

A reliable CBD stalwart, don don’s massive bento, with sukiyaki beef and teriyaki chicken never fails to satisfy. At $8.40, you’d be hard pressed to find a better value lunch in the city. It’s a little alarming to hear the staff speaking mandarin to one another though, as it was always Japanese owned/run.

Don Don Australia on Urbanspoon

Dinner at Spicy Fish

I’ve been here before, so this time around we didn’t order the eponymous spicy fish, nor the succulent dong po pork, and I vetoed the chilli chicken because it’s 2/3 dried chillies. Where’s the value in that?!

We had the eggplant and scallop hotpot (spicy, with a slightly sweet tang Рsuper tasty) and the fried string beans with minced pork and black bean, accompanied with the spicy Sichuan couple (ox to gue and tripe) and garlicky cucmber. All delicious, washed down with a Wirra Wirra ros̩ (not great) and an exceptional Langmeil Shiraz viognier.

Spicy Fish on Urbanspoon

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.

Birdman Eating on Urbanspoon

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!

Wood Spoon Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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).

Thai dinner party at my house

Beef salad with cucumber and beanshoots, and a lemongrass and basil chicken stir fry. But wait, there’s more!

That’s right, punters! Red duck curry, with mini eggplants, pineapple and lychees. I’m going to add okra next time. Forgot to photograph the chicken satays and son-in-law eggs for entree. Oops!