For some reason over the last couple of years I have become accident-prone. Don’t be alarmed, there has been no major incidents, but more of a succession of annoying injuries that have prevented me from running which in turn makes me very grumpy. To name a few, there has been a handful of broken ribs, multiple occasions of recurrently broken toes, countless bumps to the head, plantar fasciitis and most recently during our Melbourne trip, a torn quadriceps. It has got to the stage that I get more of an eye roll than any sympathy from the Boy because seriously…it is never ending and according to him somewhat preventable.
For my most recent injury it was a case of me being overambitious, which again the Boy believes is a common occurrence. My stepmum invited me out on a run with her one morning. As we walked out the door my father was chanting out retorts that she doesn’t really run suggesting I was in for an easy outing.
Eighteen rounds of interval training at a flat out sprint later I was left out of breath with a stitch and sweating profusely. My stepmum had barely worked up a sweat and had to slow down so I could keep up the pace.
Two days later, still stiff and sore the Boy and I hit the shops to do some clothes shopping. It is a rare event that the both of us are in the mood to shop and this day our minds were perfectly in sync. Winning. Just as we were getting into the swing of things with a number of bags in hand, I crouched down to pick up a pair of jeans and felt something in the front of my leg go “twang!”. Sharp bolts of pain radiated up my leg and I struggled to pull myself up.
And thus our shopping expedition ended. Within minutes a very focal hard area of swelling and bruising came up on the front of my leg and I was unable to extend my leg out. Yup, I tore a quad. Awesome.
As my eyes watered with pain the Boy tried to distract me from my injury with offers of a lunch date instead. We were minutes shuffle from Supernormal on Flinders Lane so I plucked up my courage and hobbled along gritting my teeth. Supernormal serve Modern Asian share plates, with a lot of Chinese influenced dishes as a result of the Head Chef’s time spent in Hong Kong.
As we were seated we were given some complementary pumpkin seeds to nibble on while the waiter went through the gluten free options for me. I was finding it very hard to concentrate with pain shooting up and down my leg and not knowing whether I should sit or stand I kept shuffling about at our table with an unattractive grimace on my face. To buy us some time the Boy ordered some pickled vegetables and oysters to start along with a strong hit of gin for me. I downed a couple of pain killers in one gulp and waited for my pain to subside.
As the gin coursed its way through my veins, my pain gave way to discomfort allowing me to sit back on my bar stool and knock back some Sydney Rock and Pacific oysters. I could take my focus away from my torn muscle and concentrate on the menu enough to select a couple of larger dishes to share. We started with the silken tofu with marinated eggplant and coriander after being advised it was gluten free. It wasn’t until the waitress actually brought the cooked dish to our table that she then paused and exclaimed “Oh! This isn’t gluten free!” and whisked it away quickly. I wish I hadn’t got to smell and see the dish because it looked amazing and I really felt like I had missed out. Boo hoo to gluten.
I had heard many good things about Supernormal’s lobster rolls so you can imagine my joy when our apologetic waitress told me they could do a gluten free version of this dish using a lettuce leaf cup instead of the brioche bun. The Boy ordered the standard version which although small for the price did get a number of exclamations and groans of pleasure out of the man.
Whilst not getting to enjoy the texture and flavour on the brioche bun, I was hardly missing out with the sang chow bow styles lettuce cups. The lobster was sweet, fresh and all the colours of delicious. For a brief moment there I could almost forget I was a cripple again. Food has a wonderful way of making things better in the short term.
I will definitely be returning for a few more rounds of these next trip to Melbourne hopefully without any injuries to distract me!
180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VIA 3000 | (03) 9650 8688 | www.supernormal.net.au
This afternoon marked the inaugural AHA International Great Waiters Race held over in Claisebrook Cove, East Perth. As part of my official Eat Drink Perth reporting duties I planned to attend this event knowing there would be a number of gluten free options for me to enjoy in the Gourmet Food Village. I took it for granted that the Boy would feel the same way and was quite disappointed when my attempts to convince him to join me failed miserably. It was raining, he had study to do and apparently the idea simply did not appeal to him. As I resigned myself to attend alone, he suggested that we go somewhere local instead and check out the International Vegetarian and Vegan Food Fair at the South Perth Community Centre. I couldn’t find a lot about this food fair on the internet so being curious I obliged to his wish.
Whilst I would never called myself a strict vegetarian, I do eat a predominantly vegetarian diet. I would only really eat meat once or twice a week and it tends to be more of a garnish to the meal than the central point of it. The Boy on the other hand will go out of his way to avoid eating meat and is much more compliant with his vegetarianism than I.
The International Vegetarian and Vegan Food Fair is into its tenth year and they are moving to holding the annual event twice yearly as it has become very popular. The Fair is run by the Dao Ji Association of Perth in order to raise funds for their not for profit organisation. There is a very family friendly vibe with most stall holders very obliging to help work out what is gluten free. There were a wide variety of Malaysian, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian and Chinese dishes to try.
All the stall holders had a full list of ingredients on display which made it easy to narrow down which dishes to ask further details with respect to their gluten free status. Most of the mock meats contained gluten however some stall holders used a tofu based product instead. One of my favourite starters were the highly addictive taro and sweet potato rolls. The rice noodle netting was so super crunchy that it was hard to eat without making a lot of noise. Inside the rolls soft, subtly sweet mashed taro and sweet potato felt lusciously smooth and silky in texture.
The Boy had free rein to try whatever he liked as obviously all the dishes were vegetarian and in fact the vast majority of them were also vegan. He really enjoyed the mock fish balls which had a strong, salty flavour. He also tried the “pork” crackling which was made using wheat flour however he didn’t think these were nearly as tasty as his fish balls.
For my main dish I chose the nasi lemek, a beautifully fragrant rice dish made with coconut milk and pandan leaves. The rice accompanied a richly flavoured curry made from coconut milk, galangal, potato, carrot, tofu based mock chicken, chilli and lemongrass. Some fresh cucumber, fried peanuts and tofu skin were served on the side. It was a substantially filling dish and left me feeling pleasantly content.
The Boy ordered the Thai green curry which was made using mock chicken. His dish wasn’t gluten free so I sadly didn’t not get to try any of it however he did comment that my curry tasted much better than his. What a nice change that makes, the gluten free dish tastes better than the normal option!
I couldn’t walk past the Thai sweets stall without buying some layer cake or as it is known in Thai, khanom chan. This dessert was the highlight of the night markets in Thailand as I always knew that they would be gluten free. They have a gelatinous sticky texture with a lovely coconut taste. I planned to take my serve home but ended up eating them all while the Boy wandered off looking for his dessert choice.
He settled on the vegan equivalent of ice cream; ice kachang. For those of you who haven’t travelled in South-east Asia chances are you may not have tried this super sweet dessert. Firstly, a variety of beans, sweet corn, bread and jelly is served and then this is topped with super fine ice shavings. The ice is then drizzled with brightly coloured flavour syrups and condensed milk.
The ice particles are so small that they dissolve on contact with your tongue releasing all the flavours of the syrup. I wasn’t sure if this would be the Boy’s kind of thing but he happily polished off the lot which indicates to me it was a winner.
I cannot believe this fabulous day out has been happening in Perth for a decade and I had no idea of its existence. We had a great day out and I have no regrets missing out on my original plan of attending the Waiters Race. It is an event for all food lovers regardless of whether you are a strict vegan, vegetarian or you are just someone who realises that there are huge environmental, ethical and health benefits if you eat less meat in your diet.
Something many of you may not know about me is that I am a quarter Chinese. My grandfather Wun on Tong immigrated from the Canton province in China to New Zealand in the 1930’s to flee the changes in government. He met my Irish grandmother in Auckland; they married and had a family of three children with my mum being the youngest. As is sometimes the way, their marriage unfortunately wasn’t meant to be and she left the children to be raised by their loving but hard working father. Sadly I never got to meet my grandfather as he passed away before I was born but my mum has very fond memories of him and has shown me some gorgeous photos of him. He was quite a handsome man!
My Chinese ancestry is one I know little about and I wish I had more knowledge of this side of my family. I love traditional Chinese food culture and I am not averse to trying unusual dishes however I am often heavily restricted with what I can actually eat because of gluten. Soy sauce is used ubiquitously in Asian cuisine however I am yet to see a bottle of gluten free soy sauce on supermarket shelves in any of the Asian countries I have visited.
Recently on our return from our Thailand wedding we stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Singapore. One evening we dined at their Cantonese restaurant Cherry Garden and I was blown away how capable they were at accommodating my gluten free requirements.
I don’t usually like eating at the hotel we stay in excluding breakfast but with our post-wedding exhaustion kicking in we were both happy to be able to dine out without having to go very far. On arrival at Cherry Garden we were warmly greeted and taken to our table. We were offered some crispy fish as a complementary starter. They were like prawn crackers; crunchy, quite salty and very tasty. Fish pretzels!
One of my favourite Cantonese starters is chilled jelly fish. This is considered a delicacy and is usually prepared with oil, vinegar, chilli, sesame seeds and soy sauce. The chef was happy to make this dish gluten free for me. The jelly fish had the perfect texture and was resilient without any excessive chewiness. It wasn’t too spicy either meaning both the Boy and I could enjoy it together. We have mismatched chilli tolerances; he can barely tolerate any whilst I enjoy a bit of kick. Our polarised taste buds can run us into trouble sometimes when we share spicy meals.
Our next dish was a “trilogy of hand-picked mushrooms “. There were shiitake mushrooms in a spicy garlic vinegar emulsion and some Monkey head mushrooms in a tangy sweet and sour sauce.
The third and best part of this dish was the deep fried enoki mushrooms. Frying these tiny little things turned them into semi-translucent crisps that almost reminded me of whitebait. Being such a mushroom addict I was in seventh heaven, the combination of these three morsels made it a truly delectable dish. As we gobbled up the portions we were glad we didn’t choose the set menu as we would have never got this dish.
After walking past a number of bird’s nest stores earlier in the day, we were intrigued enough to try this delicacy for ourselves. Edible bird’s nests are among one of the most expensive animal products in the world with an average nest selling for about $US 2500 per kilo. When added to a soup, the bird’s nest forms a gelatinous substance. I was surprised at how mild its flavour was and it had quite a firm texture. The addition of crab and egg white gave the soup a lovely sweet after taste however I went bit nuts with adding the chilli oil to my soup, added too much and ended up nearly coughing up a lung.
Our next dish wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I ordered chilli crab anticipating it to be whole pieces of crab however out came a creamy crab soup. The Boy’s soup was served in a Mantou which is a type of Chinese bun and for mine they replaced this with some gluten free bread on the side. Considering how many fine dining Western restaurants don’t bother sourcing gluten free bread I was very impressed to be served some here. The soup was so velvety smooth and despite not being what I wanted I was not left disappointed.
Our final main dish was braised homemade tofu with monkey head mushrooms and green vegetables. The tofu was set with seaweed on top and was incredibly silky. It makes such a difference in texture when the tofu is made in house.
At this point our attention was drawn away from our own table and over to the couple next to us. The waiter had just brought out a spectacular looking dessert complete with dry ice. The smoke was tumbling down off the edge of their table and was mesmerising. I hoped that we could order one too. I was in luck once more. The waiter said that it would be possible to do a similar dessert gluten free. This would have to be the first time I have eaten a gluten free meal in a Chinese restaurant and not felt like I miss out whatsoever.
Our dessert consisted of cherries marinated in two Chinese rice wines: Nui er hong and Kuei hua chen. It was served with refreshing lychee sorbet. After so many courses it was good to end on something light but sweet.
Our experience at Cherry Garden was a polished one from beginning to end. It was a little on the pricey end but we did eat a number of delicacies and receive impeccable service. Their ability to adapt their traditional dishes to be gluten free was done with a can-do attitude and at the end of the night our waiter came over and gave me a fresh long stemmed rose to keep. A sweet gesture that brightened up our hotel room for the duration of our stay.www.mandarinoriental.com Price: $$$ Food: 4.5/5 (totally adapted for GF, wonderful flavours) Service: 5/5 (very polished without stuffiness) Ambience: 3/5 (a little dark and not a lot of other diners) Drinks: 3.5/5 (inflated mark ups on wine prices as often in hotels) Total: 16/20
Yelp is a company that operates a local search website focused on user reviews much like Urbanspoon, however it encompasses all types of businesses not just restaurants and cafes. Whilst Yelp originated in the US nearly ten years ago, it has more recently landed upon our shores in Australia and has grown steadily in its popularity since. Each capital city has its own dedicated team of promoters who host a number of fun events for their “Yelp Elite” reviewers with the aim to help raise the profile of local businesses. I don’t often blog about these events however my most recent experience at Five Bar has made me want to share my renewed opinion of this venue with you.
I first visited Five Bar back in my early blogging days in November 2011. I cannot believe how much my writing style and photography have developed since then! Whilst I didn’t have anything truly negative to say about that visit, I did find I was very limited with what I could eat that would suit my food allergies. There was a distinct lack of flexibility with kitchen staff and as a result we didn’t return. When I recently received an invitation to their new Spring menu launch I was intrigued to see how they would handle my requirements this time round.
After being greeted by the always smiling Yelp team, Five Bar’s manager Andy welcomed us warmly and talked us through the philosophy and history behind Five Bar. Later in the evening he came over to me to chat and explained that in previous years gone by his kitchen staff weren’t as familiar in working with customers with food allergies as his current staff are today. He carefully advised me what I could and couldn’t enjoy off their tasting menu and assured me that the kitchen would organise a couple of extra gluten free dishes just for me.
I was happy to see two of my favourite gluten free dishes from my previous visit remained on the menu as regulars; the roasted field mushrooms and the addictive sweet potato fries. The mushrooms are normally served on bread but are just as tasty on their own. The sweet potato fries come with a coriander mayo and are the type of chips you would fight someone over for the last one. The kitchen appeared to be well rehearsed in churning out a number of gluten free options for me over the course of the evening. Now whilst I understand that at a free sponsored event it is impossible to document an honest, accurate review of the food because the chef knows that people will be scrutinising it; I wouldn’t have thought that a total change in attitude towards food allergies would be something that you could fake.
There was a distinct Asian influence with a lot of the dishes making them light and easy to eat, the perfect food to match with a casual Sunday session with friends. The coriander and avocado ceviche with cucumber and crispy salmon skin tasted as fresh as summer and I was informed by the beer drinkers it matched perfectly with the chosen beers from Feral Brewery.
To wrap up the night, Steve from Feral Brewery gave us a very animated and passionate summary of what his microbrewery Feral is about. You can read about my recent visit to Feral Brewing Company here.
It may not come as a surprise to you that after eating all this food the Boy and I still wanted more. I take this food blogging career very seriously; it’s not a successful foodie outing until I am bursting at the seams. I am one of those strange people that actually really enjoys the feeling of being overly full. Thankfully the Boy and I were joined by a couple of other like-minded food bloggers; Whitney from dineWHITme and Sandy from Hungry Again. The four of us bundled ourselves up in jackets and scarves and traipsed down Beaufort Street to the Beaufort Street Merchant.
As always the Merchant had plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options to satisfy our needs. I particularly liked their chick pea chips. Thick cut like polenta, they were fluffy light inside almost like tofu.
Whit and Sandy shared the potato gnocchi which we were informed they considered it to be the best gnocchi in town. With added truffled Swiss Brown mushrooms, toasted hazelnuts and comte cheese it may have been a fair statement. Oh gluten why do you have to be in gnocchi?
I ordered the vitello tonnato; thinly sliced veal dressed with a thick tuna mayo, crispy capers and crumbed mozzarella that I was assured by our waiter was gluten free. I also ordered some baby potatoes on the side which came with Brussel sprouts and truffled mayo. I must admit that as I ate each indulgent ball of crumbed mozzarella, there were alarm bells going off in the back depths of my brain saying: “Warning! Warning! Gluten alert!”. I mean since when are crumbed mozzarella balls gluten free? However courtesy of the sultry dim lighting, excesses of wine and abundance of good conversation my subconscious’s attempt to save me was wasted.
The Boy ordered the organic spelt salad which almost looked too healthy to be tasty but I was assured that not only did his body thank him but so did his taste buds. The spelt was tossed through some spicy Harissa along with coriander, sweet corn, cherry tomatoes and radish.
This night was one of those rare occasions where was no room for dessert and as the Boy and I both had to start work the following day at an obscenely early hour we were happy to call it a night. The penny didn’t drop that I had eaten gluten until much later into the wee hours of the morning when I was woken by the delightful effects that gluten casts upon me. Suffice to say my next day at work was quite a grim one. Gluten makes me very fuzzy in the head and it is no surprise that I ended up crashing my car on the way home from work! Damn you gluten! I was left feeling very disappointed as I have always thoroughly enjoyed my visits to the Beaufort Street Merchant. Not anymore. On a brighter note, I’ll be sure to be returning to Five Bar.www.fivebar.com.au www.beaufortmerchant.com
There are a lot of things I love about being a food blogger. Despite what some of you may think there is much more to blogging than just eating, drinking, photographing and writing about food. There exists a strong sense of community amongst us, not just locally but across the nation and in some cases around the world. Friendships are easily formed and due to our heavy involvement in social media these are friendships that are relatively easy to maintain! I wish I had enough time in my day to be able to read more food blogs however in a time poor world I find myself having to narrow it down to reading those blogs that I have the strongest connection with.
In the months before I started blogging back in late 2011 I started following a handful of blogs that I found interesting. One of these blogs was Weny’s blog Weny Wonders Why and his blog remains one of those I still manage to keep up with today. We share very similar taste in restaurants and have been known to unintentionally visit the same restaurant in the space of one week and only find out as we simultaneously post our own reviews. Despite communicating regularly to each other via our blogs, we only very recently met face to face for the first time at the Accento Italian Cooking Class Media Launch in May this year.
A few weeks later, Weny kindly invited me along with a couple of other Perth food bloggers to join him for a Chinese Banquet at Shun Fung down on Barrack Street jetty. I have very fond memories of Shun Fung. Nearly 15 years ago when the Boy and I first started dating the bulk of our weekends were spent partying and clubbing. Back then none of our friends at the time were foodies and would have never considered spending their money on expensive restaurants. The Boy and I felt differently and his love for fine dining was an immediate point of connection for the two of us; a match made in gastronomic heaven! In those days Shun Fung was well known for serving top-notch Chinese cuisine and we went there for our very first fancy dining experience. Together we tried sea cucumber, jelly fish and all sorts of other interesting Chinese delicacies. Unfortunately since those heady heydays, while Perth’s food scene grows from strength to strength Shun Fung has suffered a steady decline in both its reputation and patronage.
Shun Fung’s owner Eva has decided that it’s time to bite the bullet and is investing her time and money to get Shun Fung back to its former glory. She has hired new chefs who have been busy redesigning the menu and will be serving dishes from all the provinces of China rather than just one region. It was intriguing to learn that Shun Fung is actually part of a chain of around 30 restaurants located in China. Some of these are massive establishments having up to 200 chefs working at one time. Perth’s Shun Fung is their only venue here in Australia. Our dining experience that follows is an example of what you can order as part of a $100 per person banquet meal.
I am used to the fact that Chinese food is rarely gluten free as the wide spread prevalence of soy and wheat flour makes choosing suitable dishes hard so I find I tend to avoid dining out at Chinese Restaurants. After taking my seat at the banquet table I unrolled the menu and was very impressed to see that the kitchen was going to significant effort to design a separate gluten free banquet especially for me. I wasn’t expecting such care and attention and was very grateful.
For the rest of the table who could eat gluten there were four appetisers; green chilli in special sauce, ruccola salad, spicy kimchi in Chinese Style and marinated duck wings. Whilst I was not able to try these dishes I was told the ruccola salad was light and refreshing on the palate and the marinated duck wings were very tender and slightly sweet.
My gluten free appetiser was some freshly grilled soft squid with a bean shoot salad and some slices of tomato. Our host recommended that I place a piece of tomato and squid in my mouth as the same time to maximise the flavours. Although it sounded like a curious thing to do it turned out to be good advice. Sometime the simplest combinations of flavours can be surprisingly exciting.
The three season entrée platter was quite a magnificent sight. In Chinese cuisine there are considered to be three important characteristics; aroma, taste and colour. This platter was vibrantly decorated with brightly coloured vegetables and flowers achieving a successful round of “oohs” and “ahhs” across the banquet room. Carefully placed on the platter were golden radish balls, chilli and salt mini dried fish and backed oysters with foie gras sauce.
Golden radish balls are a bit of a misnomer as I believe these tend to contain mainly seafood which is finely chopped and then deep fried. I believe these balls were actually the highlight of the platter for many. The chilli and salt mini dried fish looked like whitebait fries and listening to the audible crunch coming from either side of me they were obviously perfectly crispy! Although the Boy isn’t that big on oysters he did comment to me that they were delicious and creamy.
As everyone started to tuck into their entrees my gluten free alternatives arrived. I was delighted to receive some super fresh oysters with some fresh lime and a gorgeous little lettuce cup of sang choy bow. My sang choy bow had a great nutty texture and was packed full of seafood.
Our next course was the abalone soup. I am fascinated by how much flavour can be found in clear Chinese broths. Superior soup always looks so deceptively watery but manages to impart such complexity of flavours. This is brought about by careful selection of ingredients including chicken, Jinhua ham (Chinese dry cured ham that is similar to Spanish Iberico), pork, pork bones, dried anchovy and/or dried scallops. This superior soup was smooth and delicate with rich unami flavours.
With all this food it was hard to believe we hadn’t even started our mains yet. Thank goodness I planned ahead and wore my stretchy dress! Our first main dish was the Coral Trout which was prepared in two styles. The first preparation was gluten free. Soft flakes of steamed trout with medallions of slippery shiitake mushrooms and a scattering of dried Goji berries. The Goji berries introduced a tart flavour to the otherwise delicate and sweet tropical fish. A gorgeous dish. For the second preparation the trout was lightly battered and pan fried. Not being gluten free I didn’t try this style.
As we finished off our fish our host entered the banquet room carrying sizzling stones topped with juicy cubes of Wagyu beef. I had to presume the meat was marinated in soy because I was advised not to eat it and given my own individual serve. My portion of Wagyu was equivalent to several portions for the others and I could feel a number of pairs of eyes staring at my plate longingly. Only the Boy was game enough to try and steal a piece.
The next dishes of honey and mustard king prawns, Szechuan spicy chicken and braised king oyster mushrooms with shallots all contained gluten and so it became my turn to gaze longing at everyone else’s plates until my next alternative dish arrived.
I didn’t have to wait long and was soon presented with a large King prawn served “backed” like how they do it in Thailand. It was flavoured with “special sauce” which has is a slightly sweet, slightly salty sauce is made from garlic, ginger, Chinese rice wine, oyster sauce, sesame oil, honey and white pepper. The prawn flesh pulled effortless out of its shelled and before finding its way very quickly to my mouth!
My next special gluten free dishes included mixed mushrooms in superior sauce and some sizzling runner beans. The beans were very moreish and briny which contrasted nicely with the more delicate flavours of the soup. While the rest of the table tucked into the Dim Sum platter, to finish off my meal the hostess brought me a bowl of seafood fried rice with egg yolk sauce. It was a lovely gesture but in all honesty I didn’t really need any more food!
For desserts, there were three options to choose from; mixed sweet beans with ice cream, deep fried ice cream or the red bean pancake with ice cream. I got a pang of nostalgia when I saw red bean pancake on the menu. Many years ago when we used to frequent Shun Fung, the red bean pancake was one of my absolute favourites. Those days of carefree gluten eating are well and truly over for me! Sigh!
For my gluten free dessert I received some freshly baked sweet yam cakes. Eva informed the kitchen only just baked them that day. These yummy little dumpling-like cakes are made from rice flour and taro. I love the gluggy texture of Asian style cakes and I soon got over missing out on the red bean pancake as I chowed down a couple of these beauties.
I am so hopeful that Shun Fung’s return it’s slumber will be successful. Our banquet evening reminded me how much we adored this place and knowing they are able to cater for gluten free diners is a huge plus in my books. The banquet provided a huge amount of food for $100 a head and we all rolled out of there bursting at the seams. Thank you once again Weny, Eva and all the staff for providing us with such an enjoyable evening.Shun Fung on the River Old Perth Port, Barrack Square, Perth WA 6000 | 08 9221 1868 | http://www.shunfung.com.au/
Chompchomp dined as a guest of Shun Fung. As a result I will not give a score on this dining experience as it is too hard to be 100% subjective when the meal is complementary.
It was the day after attending our dear friend’s wedding banquet at the Fairmont Hotel in Singapore. Knowing that avoiding gluten at a Chinese banquet would be literally impossible I made the choice to eat gluten that night so I wouldn’t miss out on any of the gorgeous delicacies served to us all. I had psyched myself up for this event for months and was fully prepared to deal with the onslaught of symptoms that would ensue in the following days.
When I got up that morning it was hard to distinguish what were the after-effects of eating gluten and what were due to the alcohol excesses. The tell-tale spots of eczema were only baby fledglings at this stage and for a change had not appeared on my face…yet. As a gesture of their gratitude to us for coming to all the way to Singapore to share the happiness on their big day, our friends and their parents invited us to join them and their family for lunch at Pow Sing Restaurant; a place famous for its Hainanese Chicken Rice along.
Since my arrival in Singapore I have been dying to try this classic favourite especially as I know it is one of the main hawker’s foods that is easy to do gluten free. Hainanese chicken originates from China and it is found in Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai cuisines and many Singaporeans consider this to be their national dish. The whole chicken is delicately poached in a broth of pork and chicken stock which is infused with ginger. This stock is then used along with rendered chicken fat to prepare the rice resulting in an extremely flavourful dish.
Pow Sing’s Hainanese chicken did not disappoint. The chickens were plump, soft and very succulent; the meat nearly dissolved in your mouth it was so tender. The rice looked innocent enough but as soon as I served myself some I could smell its fragrant aroma. Each rice grain was coated in the tasty oily broth giving it a full body of flavour. To accompany our chicken; my friend parents proceeded to order a long list of Nyonya favourites for us to try. I could feel myself getting caught up in the fun of it all and figured seeing as I felt rotten from the night before eating a little bit more gluten was hardly going to make that much more of a difference provided I was careful and didn’t go overboard.
The sweet crunchy honey bean pods served with the delicate, musty, slightly earthy flavoured straw mushrooms were a refreshing dish after the oiliness of the chicken. Straw mushrooms have been used in Chinese cuisine for over two thousand years and are so named because they’re grown on straw that’s been used in a rice paddy.
The crispy Nyonya squid was another flavour bomb. The squid are coated in a batter containing coconut and then deep-fried giving them a very crunchy texture. They are then stir-fried in chilli and garlic and then dipped in a tangy sweet and sour hot sauce before serving. This was quite unlike any fried squid I have had before and I could have easy demolished the plate but I held myself back knowing the batter would probably contain flour. One taste was all I allowed myself….pace yourself girl!
The ngog hiang is a Nyonya style of spring roll. Meaning “five flavours” in Hokkien, it was initially brought to Singapore from the Fujian province in China. The original five flavours were prawn, pork rolls, pork liver, egg and pork sausage. These days they are made with all sorts of different meats which are usually combined with water chestnuts, other vegetables and then seasoned with five-spice powder. The outer layer is made with bean curd skin. For preparation they are steamed first followed by a short time in the deep fryer. Absolutely delicious but not for those with heart disease as I’m sure too many of these tasty morsels would clog the arteries!
Many of you may know my penchant for tamarind dishes; I love the sweet and sour aspect of these dishes much better than the horrific sickly Australian take on sweet and sour. The asam pedas is basically a fish curry made with tamarind paste and various vegetables. Ours contained okra, tomatoes and eggplants. It had a fair bit of kick to the heat and I noticed the Boy politely avoiding serving himself seconds as the rest of us dipped in for more.
Otak otak are a type of fish cake made from fresh mackerel meat pounded and marinated with ground chilli, lemon grass, ginger, turmeric and coconut milk. The end result is something that looks more like fish paste than the traditional fish cakes I’m accustomed to in Thailand. This fragrant paste is then wrapped in banana leaves and gently steamed or cooked over hot charcoals. The banana leaves trap in the moisture and flavour making it into a mouth-watering, custardy sweet treat.
The crispy Nyonya Tauhu is made from egg tofu and deep-fried to exact point to have a crispy thin exterior yet a velvety moist interior. The egg tofu is made by filtering whole beaten eggs into the soy milk before the tofu is set. It is a paler yellow colour and has a silken soft texture and milder flavour. These little creamy logs were to be dipped into the accompanying sweet black sauce and nearly seemed like a dessert than savoury course.
We finished our feast with a recommendation from the Bride; a chendol. Like all Asian desserts this came laden with all the sugar in all the land! The basic ingredients of this sticky drink included coconut milk, green jelly made from rice flour and Pandan flavouring, shaved ice and sugar. Ours was enhanced with layers of presumably highly artificial colourings and flavourings. At the bottom of my glass were red beans and grass jelly. The beans were a welcome relief from all the sugar!
Giddy with the sugar combined with my gluten induced haziness I felt like I was intoxicated all over again. Despite knowing the next week was going to be rough on the body, I walked away feeling satisfied that I had made the most of my gluten onslaught by eating wonderful dishes that ordinarily I would avoid. Most of all, not only did I get to appreciate how insanely delicious Hainanese Chicken rice is I tried it from a location that many consider to be the best in Singapore!Pow Sing Restaurant 65 Serangoon Garden Way, Singapore 217970 | +65 6282 7972 | http://www.powsing.com/index.html Price: $$ Food: 9/10 (ok now bear in mind this is coming from a naïve Westerner, but all dishes were brilliant) Service: 4/5 (speedy, no fuss) Ambience: 3.5/5 (hustling and bustling; this place remained packed) Total: 16.5/20
The exciting event of the wedding of a close friend brought us back to the lovely city of Singapore for the first time in over ten years. It was to be my first experience of a Chinese wedding banquet and was to be held at Szechuan Court, Fairmont Hotel, Singapore. I felt so privileged to receive an invite and prepared myself right from the outset that for that one night I was just going to have to eat gluten. Avoiding gluten in a Chinese banquet of any occasion is literally impossible due to the ubiquitous use of soy sauce. I knew that if I was to eat the banquet regardless of the gluten I was going to suffer for it the next day however I figured it would be worth it.
As we were shown to our seats I noticed that both our table and the bridal table next to us was much more lavishly decorated than the rest of the tablets. Our table was covered in a bright red table-cloth and decorated with bigger bouquets of flowers. As the night progressed I also observed that our plates were filled with more food and served to us in larger bowls.
In eager anticipation for the feast I forced myself to only graze on a few small snacks over the day. As we headed to Szechuan Court I was so hungry I could have nearly eaten my own arm. If only I had known before that it is common custom at these important Chinese events for there to be quite a wait before food is brought out! By the time our starter combination arrived I was so utterly famished that I demolished it all far too quickly. There were beautifully plated slices of roast duck sandwiched around a fresh sliver of mango, there was a richly coloured chunk of Soya chicken, a thick wedge of succulent honey glazed pork and a cute little lettuce cup of chilled spicy jelly fish. This was one of my favourite dishes for the night and I really regretted my gluttony wishing I had savoured its flavours for more than a millisecond.
I love the deception of clear soups. Gazing into my reflection in the bowl I always wonder how something so watery looking can manage to pack such a powerful punch of flavour. This crab soup was no exception and the table went silent for a few minutes while everyone slurped away hungrily.
Bamboo fungus is a type of mushroom that is claimed to have many medicinal properties including antibacterial and anti-cancer effects. Another more unusual fact about this fungus is that the smell of the fresh fungus has been reported to trigger spontaneous orgasms in women!
The next course was some lightly steamed live Marble Goby served in a broth of superior soy sauce. Marble goby is a type of freshwater fish that considered something of a delicacy by many Chinese as for its flesh is delicately tender yet has a lingering sweet flavour.
With a number of gluten containing courses now under my belt, I accepted my fate that in a few hours I would start to feel the aftermath of my indiscretions therefore I really had nothing to lose and must press on. I had psyched myself up for this banquet for months and certainly wasn’t going to turn any of these sumptuous dishes away! The next two dishes steered away from the more traditional Chinese style infusing some modern fusion flavours. The wasabi prawns crunched loudly as I bit into their crispy exterior and I couldn’t help but feel liberated to cast off the shackles of my allergies for one night even if it made me unwell and covered in eczema!
I was informed earlier that evening by the dear mother of the bride that sea cucumbers are very laborious to prepare for eating. There is an extensive amount of work involved over several days which include slitting them open, turning them inside out and then repeatedly washing and boiling them over a few days.
The Boy and I first tried eating sea cucumber many years back at Shung Fung in Perth and we both really loved its slippery, nearly rubbery texture and subtle flavour. Sea cucumbers are a highly nutritious food and contain large amounts of protein in addition to many essential compounds including iodine, calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, selenium, manganese, chondroitin sulphate, saponins and vitamins like vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin and niacin.
The beauty of eating slowly is that you get full much more easily as your brain has time to actually register the food you are shovelling into it! The polite sized scoop of seafood fried rice was just enough to fill the last gaps in my stomach before dessert.
Many of my dear readers may recall my obsession with food shaped in tiny balls; tobiko, caviar, sago, tapioca, you name it I’m sure to squeak with delight if you serve them to me. I think this obsession is one of the main reasons I love Asian desserts so much! The chilled cream of mango was not overpoweringly sweet and the tang of the pomelo gave it more depth and flavour.
By this late stage of the night things had started to become quite rowdy, but in a good way. The bride’s father proudly led the bridal party in a procession to each table individually bearing a very elaborate looking bottle of whiskey. At each table he would stop, pour healthy size nips of whiskey to everyone before drinking some himself and then commenced to singing very loudly at the top of his lungs. No one required much encouragement to join in and before long dining room was filled with the booming voices of all the guests joyous for this wonderful marriage of two very beautiful people.Szechuan Court, Fairmont Hotel, Singapore 80 Bras Basah Road, Marina Bay, 189560 Singapore | www.fairmont.com/singapore Tripadvisor Price: $$$ Food: 8/10 (I am no expert on Chinese fine dining but my taste buds don’t lie!) Service: 3/5 (a little slow serving drinks) Ambience: 3.5/5 (the function room was filled to the brim with cheerful, noisy guests) Total: 16.5/20
I have to be the worst person in the world at keeping secrets. I don’t know how the Boy does it but consistently for some years now he manages to crack the puzzle on what his Christmas gift is from me. It frustrates the hell out of me! So this year I thought I’d go way outside the box from the usual gift giving we normally do and instead I decided I would get him a holiday …. and I would come along of course!
Now obviously the first place that came to my mind was Thailand as our love affair with this country continues and I really wanted to organise a trip to Bangkok with a detour via Hua Hin for some beachside relaxation. But after some investigation with our travel agent, I soon realised that with a wedding to save for; going to Thailand during its peak season was realistically out of my budget! She suggested we go somewhere a little closer to home such as Bali. Being only three and half hours flight from Perth it seemed like the perfect place to get in a quick amount of much needed R&R.
For nearly half the price of a trip to Thailand she arranged a five night holiday to Bali including flights staying at Villa Air Bali in Seminyak. I laminated some brochures of the villas and pictures of Bali and wrapped it all up in a big gift box with the Flight Centre travel documents. To my exquisite delight the Boy had absolutely NO IDEA what it was until he opened it! Finally success at keeping a secret!
The flight was over before we knew it and we were collected by our pre-organised transfer. We travelled for nearly two hours from the airport bouncing along on potholed streets in the bucketing rain while our transfer tried to sell us guided tours. It was much to our relief when we pulled into the lobby area and were warmly greeted by our hotel receptionist. The lobby was open plan with a large moat pond surrounding it with some beautiful Koi and a symphony of frogs. The locations of the villas are slightly out of the main area of Seminyak so it was generally a taxi ride to get to the restaurants and beach clubs.
We were taken to our villa where our porter showed us every infinite detail of the villa right down to opening the kitchen drawers and showing us the forks and knives. The kitchen had only basic utensils and enough glasses and plates for two people. Although there was a stove top, there weren’t really enough kitchen bits and bobs to make much more than a stir fry. Not that I planned on doing ANY cooking mind you.
The villa was clean and free of any mouldy odours so common to some middle range accommodation during the wet season in the tropics. The only downside of the villa design was that during rainy downpours, water would flood across into the living area and onto much of the tiles. Both of us nearly stacked it a number of times as the floor became very slippery. The pool was so refreshing and inviting; it was invigorating to stumble out of bed each morning and plunge into the pool.
The bedroom was icily air-conditioned much to the Boy’s delight and the bathroom was enormous. In fact it was bigger than the bedroom. There was a large selection of amenities and in addition to the usual suspects there was some insect repellent and some fragrant bath salts.
Despite the brochure for the villa mentioning it has free WIFI, it took us a couple of days before they could actually get it to work properly. The connection was very poor as reception informed us that the internet in Bali is not very fast. The villa comes with a free stocked minibar but this was a little deceiving as it only contained only a couple of beers and some soft drink. I guess I can’t really complain if it’s free!
Breakfast can be served in villa or the restaurant with six options available: American, Healthy, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and Japanese. We decided on arrival we would try and have a different kind each morning for a bit of fun.
The first (and worst) breakfast we had was The American. It was bland and very simple but I suppose it was acceptable enough. The scrambled eggs were light and fluffy albeit a little tepid. The black rice bread was gluten free and had a distinct nutty flavour which I really enjoyed. The yogurt was watery and fairly inedible.
The Chinese breakfast consisted of some congee (rice porridge) with a myriad of accompaniments not all of which I recognised and could identify. It was served with some mantou (steamed buns). I carefully selected a number of the accompaniments and placed a sprinkling of them into my congee.
The Boy on the other hand piled all of his on top of his congee and mixed it all through. The end result looked at little scary and was not very pleasant apparently! I quite enjoyed mine but I was a lot more conservative with what I put in it.
The Indo breakfast option gave an option of either Nasi goreng (fried rice with shrimp, chicken and vegetables) or Mie goreng (fried noodles with egg, chicken and vegetables). I ordered the rice and the Boy ordered the noodles. My nasi goreng was fairly run of the mill and was nothing I couldn’t have recreated better at home. Unfortunately I spotted some onion contained in this one and ended up spending a fair amount of time having to sift carefully to pick the pieces out which was annoying. As with our American breakfast, our meals were served a little on the cold side.
The Japanese breakfast was by far and by large my favourite – I actually ordered this one twice I loved it so much! It came with some bean paste soup (miso), steamed rice, a couple of pieces of marinated grilled fish and some steamed white and orange sweet potato. There were also some green beans in peanut sauce. On the side was some dessert containing sweet jelly, red beans and fruit which made a refreshing end to the filling meal. I did make the mistake of tasting the side dish of natto. What the hell!! I always thought I was good with eating weird tasting things but this stuff is definitely an acquired taste – we both thought it was pretty gross. Is there a better way to eat this stuff?
Overall if we return to Seminyak we will probably stay somewhere more centrally located, but if you don’t mind being a little off the beaten track Air Bali was good value, peaceful and clean.
Like Me on Facebook!Villa Air Bali, Seminyak | (+62) 361 737378 | www.villa-airbali.com Price: $$ Package deal with Flight Centre: $1014 per person for return flights with Virgin Blue from Perth, airport transfers, 5 nights accommodation in a pool villa with breakfast included, two massages in villa, free minibar Food: 2/5 (in villa breakfasts should be served promptly after making to avoid being cold) Service: 3.5/5 (reception went out of their way to notify restaurants in advance of my allergies) Ambience: 4/5 (relaxing, clean and modern style villas) Drinks: 2/5 (minibar was scant and was refilled only intermittently) Total: 11.5/20
I decided to buy a Scoopon to Old Cathay Restaurant to give to my beloved as a small token gift to further lengthen our post-engagement celebrations. I’m currently on Doctors orders to punish my body with six weeks of gluten hell in order to determine for once and for all whether I am actually coeliac or just have fructose malabsorption. I am still trying to continue to convince myself that this is a time to embrace this character building experience as an opportunity to have total freedom in ordering whatever I like and just grit and bear the consequences.
Chinese food is not one that can be gluten/onion free very easily so it was exciting to order the tasty dishes we wanted instead of the select few adjustable ones. Old Cathay has a warm and inviting interior and was full of customers on a Thursday night. The staffs were very welcoming despite us being Scoopon customers (something not all restaurants do!). Upon being seated we were quickly informed our Cathay tasting plate was being prepared and our bottle of wine was brought to the table. We had choice of white or red – we chose the white (Rothbury Estate SSB). We requested to order an additional entree to the coupon offer which was no problem.
The platter contained 2 Golden Vegetarian Spring Rolls, two Prawn Twisters, one bowl of Chicken Kerabu Salad and two Crunchy Prawn Kataifi. The spring rolls were fresh and hot. The two prawn dishes were both fried and looked like heart attack central. I’m not the hugest fan of deep fried food; however these were actually very crispy and light and didn’t leave my mouth feeling full of oil. In addition to the platter we ordered the boy’s favourite: Soft shelled crab. This was not the tastiest soft shelled crab I’ve had – it felt like it was missing a dipping sauce? Nevertheless it also was crispy and not soggy at all.
For mains our Scoopon included two mains so we ordered the Old Cathay Gui Fei Tofu and the Kung Po Squid. Being food obsessed, we always both tend to want to order more food than is humanly possible to eat so we ordered an extra main of the sweet and sour pork. I’m not usually a big tofu fan, I don’t hate it, but I never think to order it. But Old Cathay tofu is something not to be missed. They make their own tofu and it was wonderfully soft as silk in my mouth. It was accompanied with shredded chicken, mushroom & carrots. The Kung Po squid was stir fried with dried whole chillies and cashew nuts. The sauce with this dish was scrumptious. Unfortunately this dish was a little lukewarm and ideally should have been served at a hotter temperature. The sweet and sour pork had decent sized pieces of meat with a light batter cover that maintained its crispiness and hadn’t gone soggy in the sauce – fresh! The sauce was tangy and gingery and not overpoweringly sweet. A winner for sure.
To end our overindulgent evening, our coupon included a desert each. I was so excited to see red bean pancake on the menu – a Chinese delight I have been deprived of for many years! Imagine my disappointment when they told me there wasn’t any left! Boo! Instead we ordered the Taro Ice Cream and the Sago Gula Melaka served with Ice Cream. These were fairly standard dishes although I like the extra touch of shaved crispy coconut pieces on the top.
I am already planning our return before my gluten clock runs out – to be continued……
Venue 8/10 Service 8/10 Food 7.8/10Old Cathay | 59 Albany Hwy, Victoria Park 6100 | (08) 9361 1881 | www.oldcathay.com.au