A Night of Feasting

Hatsune is our favourite restaurant in Beijing. It was actually the first foreign restaurant that we ever visited after moving here. It has since opened another branch, which is positioned dangerously close to our house. Their Japanese menu is creative, fresh, delicious and every dish is a piece of art.

Room is a relatively new restaurant in Beijing. Their decor is bright and simple, evoking a feeling of space and fun. I’ve eaten there once, and the drinks were fantastic and the food yummy and well-presented.

So, you can imagine that when I saw an ad for Hatsroomie I started jumping up and down in excitement! Brian McKenna (from Room) and Alan Wong (from Hatsune) had prepared a 10-course menu together.

Brian McKenna’s Menu

Appetizer: Shellfish 1-2-3

A mini lobster burger, a freshly cracked oyster with lime and anise star flavoured crushed ice, lightly curried sweet potato soup, coconut foam and marinated shrimp. The crushed ice ‘popped’ in your mouth like those elf chocolates did back home! And this was the first time I’d drunk soup from a test tube!

1st Course: Crab and Avocado

Hand-picked crab meat with crushed avocado, sweetcorn sorbet and basil oil. The most amazing thing I’ve EVER eaten out of a cocktail glass. This was my favourite savoury thing on Brian’s menu.

2nd Course: Salmon and fois gras

Slow-cooked Norwegian salmon with spiced lentils, sauteed fois gras and herb creme fraiche. Fois gras goes surprisingly well with salmon.

Main Course: Beef and Bone

36 hour braised rib of Australian beef with sauteed bone marrow, paris mash and wild mushrooms.


Dessert: 1-2-3

Sweet breakfast (juice/eggs/toast/coffee); Pineapple, rum, coconut flavours; Hard-boiled lemongrass and mango egg; French toast/espresso foam/milk sorbet/coffee crumble. The dessert was out of this world. The concept of eating something that looks like an egg yet tastes like sweet mango is a sensory overload. The ‘coffee crumbles’ added an amazing texture to the foam and sorbet.

Alan Wong’s Menu

Appertizer:

Torched unagi and foie gras sushi ball, dashi poached spinach roll with shiitake mushroom and flying fish roe, miso marinated black cod in a lettuce wrap with shredded daikon and gobo root.


The Onsen (Spring Bath):

Lightly poached egg with chilled urchin, sashimi squid, salmon roe and black tobiko caviar in a dashi bath. This was my favourite thing on Alan’s menu. It was a flavour unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before. The texture was smooth and it glided down your throat. The roe and caviar ‘popped’ in your mouth as you sipped the cool, salty ‘soupiness’.

The Sukiyaki:

Premium marbled wagyu beef and seasonal vegetables. Sumptious beef. I just didn’t eat enough because by this stage I was getting pretty full and I wanted to save some space for dessert.

The Sweets:

Sticky rice and diced Lexie’s cupcake sushi roll topped with almonds and mango chutney; Diced mango, dragonfruit and asian grapefruit in a cookie spoon; Strawberry shortcake in a cookie spoon. Mmmm…. cupcake in a sushi roll. Genius. The cupcakes are from Beijing’s now-famous Lollipop Bakery.


A mystery vegetable

One thing I soon learnt after coming to China was that there are a myriad of vegetables in this country that just don’t exist in Australia. There are an incredible amount of chinese vegetables that end in -瓜 (gua), which means melon, and in my mind they don’t represent melons at all!!

As the weather has recently started to warm, I’ve revisited my favourite outdoor fruit and vegetable market behind Gongti. It’s only open from the wee hours until about 10am and is secretly hiding behind a big brick wall. The only way you know it is there is from the steady stream of grandmas and grandpas going in and out!

This market has a great range, and is generally dirt cheap – though I’m pretty sure I still end up paying a few laowai prices. There are also great surprises like asparagus, radish sprouts and thai basil, usually not showing their green faces at standard markets around the city.

As a result, there’s often a random fruit or vegetable that’s just dying to sneak into my shopping bag for some investigative cooking!

This week I discovered 榨菜 (zhàcaì). This bolbous, almost-fluorescent green head of a vegetable is difficult to research. I eventually found out that it is most commonly used as a pickled vegetable bought in a jar loaded with chilli. It’s commonly a bar snack, associated with Sichuan province, to be snacked upon whilst sipping on beer. It sounded like this snack was incredibly salty.

But I decided that it must be used fresh somewhere! So, myself and the girls at work starting searching online in chinese and got a little further. We found a recipe for pickling it, though I wasn’t so interested in that. Further home-based research, stretching my chinese skills to the limits, got me a recipe for ‘Stir-fried zhacai and pork strips’. A simple recipe (phew!) and a good place to start. After a bit of dictionary work, I had a simple recipe.

I was a little scared of this bright green monster as everything online consistently said that it was: a) very salty or, b) had a ‘distinct’ flavour, without specifying further. I sampled a fresh piece – similar to a 冬瓜 (donggua) I thought. I sliced it all up and made my stirfry!

And, I really enjoyed it!! The zhacai has a western cabbage-like flavour, but it’s more solid than cabbage, so it has a nice texture to sink your teeth into. The pork cooked perfectly and wasn’t tough at all. The colour of the dish made me smile – it looked so green and fresh! There were no crazy distinct flavours, and it wasn’t salty. It was a subtle dish, and I think it would be a great dish as a part of a chinese banquet with other strong-flavoured dishes. I put a nice dollop of my favourite chilli and peanut paste on top and wolfed it down.

Stir-fried zhacai and pork strips 榨菜炒肉丝

50g sliced zhacai, 50g sliced leek, 10mL cooking wine, 2g salt (I omitted this), 10mL cooking wine, 5g cornflour

1. Mix the cornflour with some water and add the sliced pork. Sit for a few minutes.

2. Put some oil in a wok and heat it on high until quite hot.

3. Add the pork, stir-frying continously.

4. When the outside looks mostly cooked, add the cooking wine. Keep stirring.

5. Add the zhacai and leek. Keep stirring.

6. When the pork is cooked through, serve!

I would recommend chilli paste if you’re eating this on its own. I imagine that some fresh dill or coriander would also make a great garnish.

**Update** I bought this dish from our local take-away place to do a comparison. They used the pickled variety in their dish. It was good, but I think I prefer fresh. Having a whole plate of something pickled is pretty intense on the stomach. Their pork strips were a little prettier though. The greenery is a little bit of garlic chive.


The Tea Obsession and Sailor Moon

I first travelled to China on a backpacking holiday in 2004. It was the dead of winter, and I’d come from sunny Adelaide. My husband (boyfriend at the time), Zac, and I soon discovered that tea tasting was a great way to warm up. The welcoming nature of Chinese people means that they are quite happy for you to come and sit in their tea shop for hours, sipping hot tea and thawing out. And you don’t have to buy anything (though I usually did because I felt sorry that we’d taken so much of their time)! My first chinese character that I learnt to recognise was chá, 茶, a welcoming sign when your toes are numb and your legs are tired. So, we traversed the country, sampling teas from many a province, without really knowing what we were doing. I bought a delicate tea set to perform tea ceremonies at home and for my birthday Zac organised a tea tray to be brought back from China for me.Hence, I returned to Australia and moved on from my Twinings Lady Grey. I would spend ages perusing the concoctions devised by The Tea Bar and T2 in Australia. I’m pretty sure tea and tea shopping kept me sane through my many hours of thesis writing!

Upon returning to China to settle, Zac and I both had a mis-match of English teaching jobs. Zac used to go to one students’ house weekly for a private English class and he was always served amazing tea. When complimented on their tea collection, his student offered to take Zac and I down to Maliandao (马连道), Beijing’s ‘Tea Street’.

It was sensory overload. As you drive along this street, tea shop after tea shop drifts past the window. Each window is stacked high with tea canisters, paper-wrapped tea bricks and beautiful tea cups. We got out of the car at a four-storey “Tea City” and went inside. The first thing to do when walking inside a tea market is breathe…. and breathe…. and breathe again. The scent is amazing. It’s very earthy with subtle floral hints. You have to experience it for yourself.

We were led to a small shop on the ground floor and sat down around a table in front of a cute girl with gorgeous skin. As my Chinese was minimal at the time, the chinese conversation washed over me. Bits and pieces were translated and we tasted tea after tea for a couple of hours. I was overwhelmed. The tea was unlike anything I’d tried before. We left Maliandao with a few samples of tea and a sense of widening horizons.

We went back. And back. And back. Each time learning more and more about tea and tea ceremonies. We became good friends with Sailor Moon, which is what we named our gorgeous tea lady after her once wearing a sailor’s outfit. And, in 2008, we were invited to her family’s tea farm for the harvest in Anxi county, Fujian Province. We spent a few days in the seaside capital, Xiamen, then took a bus and a long drive to her family’s property.

The rolling hills are lined with rows and rows of tea plants. In front of each plantation is a family home. Now, the tea business is lucrative in China. If you can grow good tea and market it well, you can make a lot of money. At first, it was quite strange to see three-storey homes dominating the landscape, full of antique chinese furniture and the latest in bathroom fittings, but in retrospect, it makes sense. Sailor Moon’s family home is multi-storey. The ground floor was mostly tea production and then a kitchen to one side. The second floor had bedrooms for the six family members and the third floor was yet to be finished. Next door, in a dilapidated state, stood the old family home. The only sign of life was the old tea roaster, still used by the family for cooking the leaves.

 

We stayed on the farm for a few days, learning all about how to produce tieguanyin (铁观音), the only tea that the family produces. Conversation was difficult at times. Sailor Moon’s family only speak ‘minnanhua’ – the dialect of the local area. So, to communicate with the family, we had to use standard mandarin to talk to Sailor Moon and she would translate for her family into the dialect. We were the village novelty for those few days. The first day we arrived, we had to do a welcoming cheers with everyone who had dropped by, for any possibly reason anyone could think of. And we weren’t sipping. Each ‘ganbei’ involved a BOWL of beer. I chickened out after a while, but poor manly Zac had to continue.

We accompanied Sailor Moon on her tasting trips into the main town. As her family only produced a limited amount of tea each year, she had to source more supplies for her tea shop back in Beijing. When she’d settled on a main tea supplier who she was happy with, she agreed to work for him for a few hours in order to get a great price on his tea. This is when we realised how special this girl was – a man with a huge reputation in the area was willing to trust her to taste and make decisions about the tea to buy for his company. The next few hours saw farmer after farmer wander past the door with a hopeful look in their eyes and a sack of tea. Sailor Moon would first stick her head in the bag and take a big whiff. If she was happy, she’d make the tea. If not, they were sent away without a tasting. Many a sniff later, she would take a sip. If she was satisfied, maybe one or two more. If not, she would quietly leave the shop and daintily spit the contents of her mouth onto the street. We learnt a lot on this evening. We were allowed to try most of the teas coming through, however, this was business and she couldn’t let her thoughts be known until she’d made a decision. So, we taught her two english words so we knew whether she thought it was a good tea or not. ‘Awesome’ and ‘D.B.’ (Dog’s Breakfast). In this way, we were privy to the flavours that are sought after in a good tieguanyin.

This was an eye-opening holiday and has been the catalyst for our tea obsession. The tea journey continues, and I plan to document it here.

My comfort foods

Having just been back to Aus for a holiday, I spent approximately 3 weeks eating and drinking my way through my most-missed foods.

1. Amazing coffee.

This cafe in North Carlton, Melbourne, has the most amazing coffee. And incredible vegetarian food. You can just pick a size of plate and fill it! The best way to eat.

2. Burgers.

Man, Aussie’s make good burgers. This was an especially good one. From ‘The Galleon Cafe’ at St. Kilda. My favourite part was the flying pickle.

3. Potato on a stick.

This is not an old favourite, but a new one. We ran into these delicious snacks in a few places. This one was at the Queen Vic Markets. Mine was pepper flavour. I think it may be Korean. It’s a whole potato on a stick – so if you get a big one (like me) you are particularly lucky!

4. Chicken schnitty.

Nothing in the world could be better than a mouth full of chicken, chips, tomato and cheese all at once. This one’s from The Oriental, Adelaide.

5. Fish & Chips.

No actual picture, but my favourite place is the Grange fish & chip shop in Adelaide. Go there. Grab a seafood pack, a lemonade and a golden gaytime. Then, proceed to the beach with your beachtowel.

6. Lebanese food.

Quiet Waters on Hindley St. I recommend the banquet. Delicious.

7. Platters & Wine

An amazing food platter from Pindarie winery, Barossa Valley. Fish, olives, goat curd, dips, capers and more. It was so inspiring that I think I replicated it again at least twice before the end of the trip. Plus a chickpea pie. My favourite wine was the 2010 Savagnin, ‘La Femme’.

We also visited Willows winery – the sparkling burgandy was exceptional and the cab sav also yummy.

8. More wine.

The family drop. One of many bottles consumed.

Lamington Biscuits

I thought my inaugural blog post should introduce my first creative move for the year. Living overseas makes events such as Australia Day seem so much more important! So, for Australia Day, our international group of friends got together for snags in bread and a bring-your-own creative Australian dessert. I’ve always loved lamingtons, but I’ve never attempted to make them. I wanted to add my own little touch to these chocolatey-coconutty delights.

So, I made a big piece of shortbread. Now, this is not as simple as it sounds in my crazy oven, but after an engineering feat of balanced oven trays, glass dishes and baking trays I had a perfect piece of shortbread. After cutting the shortbread into timtam size pieces, I drowned them in chocolate and dipped them in coconut. Instead of the usual desiccated coconut, I used much fleshier coconut pieces which added to the texture of the biscuits.

I am so proud of these and plan to make them again and again in the future.