Monday, 30 April 2012

Bun Rieu at Dinh Son Quan

he says:

OK so another admission, I'm not in love with Pho... It's not that I dislike it, I think maybe it's just a bit too subtle for my taste. In Vietnam, as I understand it, Pho is mostly eaten as a morning meal which  makes more sense to me. If any of the Vietnamese restaurants in the CBD were open early enough I'd happily slurp up a bowl of Pho Bo or Pho Ga for breakfast but sadly they aren't and I can never get organised enough to find my way to Footscray, Sunshine or St Albans on the weekends. While I'm making admissions, I have ordered the 'Dac Biet' variation (with offal and ducks blood etc) a few times but most of the special 'Dac Biet' goodies ended up being left in the bowl for the wait staff to collect...

So maybe I'm missing out, maybe I'm not. I don't feel too bad about it because whenever the weather gets a bit colder, Tina and I almost without a word spoken decide to head to Dinh Son Quan for a bowl of Bun Rieu or Bun Bo Hue. Bun Bo Hue is totally delicious but that's for another time, today is about Bun Rieu! 

Dinh Son Quan have a number of specialties, including the Banh Cuon and Banh Cong dish that Lauren from Footscray Food Blog recently posted about. I also check the bain marie every visit searching (in vain) for the pork stuffed calamari dish that I had there ages ago and am desperately hoping will one day return. My personal discovery of Bun Rieu came from the Dinh Son Quan corkboard that contains a number of dishes listed in Vietnamese that when I first saw it were all a complete mystery to me. I don't have a photo of the mystery board but you can see it in this old post of Lauren's from 2010. It's a bit of a golden rule of mine that if a restaurant had a board with a list of dishes that's separate to the main menu these are the ones to try. Invariably they are the house specialties and more often than not they are the dishes that you're less likely to find anywhere else. The first time I noticed the corkboard I was not an iPhone owner so settled for scribbling down as many of the dishes as possible and returned home to research which ones to try on my next visit. After a quick google I had Bun Rieu at the top of my list. 

Bun Rieu is basically a tomato flavoured chicken or pork broth with my favourite thin rice noodles (thicker than vermicelli), fried tofu, Vietnamese pork loaf (Cha Lua) and the best bit, the crab and pork meatballs. When you eat Bun Rieu you notice that the meatballs aren't particularly well formed but seem to be these random clumps of pork and crab mix that taste awesome and have a particularly delicate texture, far more delicate than you could achieve by forming them with your hands and adding them to the soup. One of the things that makes Bun Rieu so interesting is that cooking it is like a gastronomic science experiment. What I mean is that the pork and crab mince is mixed with a few beaten eggs and forms a very watery, almost sauce like liquid which is certainly nothing like the meatball texture of the finished dish. When the soup has achieved the right balance from the stock, the crab, pork and egg liquid is poured into the soup over a gentle heat where it then magically melds into beautiful tender random clumps. It's actually quite an interesting process and not like anything I've seen before in Western cooking. If you want to have a go at cooking it yourself at home, a few recipe suggestions are gastronomy, Miss Adventure at Home and of course YouTube has a number of videos worth checking out. Check out Miss Adventure's Vietnamese recipe section while you're there, many of my favourite recipes have come from her blog. 

Now if you can't be bothered cooking Bun Rieu yourself then head to Dinh Son Quan, preferably on a colder day. Otherwise, if you're in the city Vietnamese Noodle House does a pretty decent version too. I find the Bun Rieu broth more flavoursome and much richer than Pho and as with most Vietnamese noodle soups adding of lots of sliced chillies only adds to the enjoyment. The crab and pork clumps are like delicious little hidden treasures that I find myself digging around searching for. And personally, I prefer the thin rice noodles over the more cumbersome wide noodles that are used in Pho but that's just me! 

Dinh Son Quan on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Pad Krapow

he says:

For those that aren't that familiar with Thai food and perhaps were wondering why this blog is called  'krapow' I thought it's probably about time I explained. I went with krapow because the dish pad krapow is one of my favourite Thai meals. In fact I believe its one of the favourite meals of most Thai people, aside from Khao Pad (Thai fried rice) of course which is pretty much a daily staple for most Thai.

Bai krapow is holy basil which is different from Thai basil (the purple one) and also different from the European basil that is widely available in Australia. Sadly bai krapow is quite difficult to source in Melbourne, it is grown in Queensland and by the time it arrives in Melbourne its often quite wilted and starting to blacken. It is referred to as holy basil because on the subcontinent the Hindi typically use it as an offering to the gods and most households will have at least one plant growing in their garden. I'm not sure how they feel about the fact that the Thai choose to eat it...

This is one of the better specimens that I have purchased in Melbourne. I have only ever found it at Footscray and Springvale. Sometimes it is almost unrecognisable, if you see a back of wilted blackened leaves on the counter of a Melbourne Thai grocer for around $2 it's likely that the bag contains bai krapow that has seen better days. 

This is a magnificent specimen that I purchased from a grocer in Banglampoo in Bangkok. I wasn't able to cook with it but I had to buy it anyway, I was just so excited to see such it in such good condition, and it was only about 50 cents.  

This is another gorgeous bunch that I spotted in an asian grocer on a recent visit to see my parents in Townsville. Once again, I had to buy it!. At least this time I got to cook with it! The pad krapow was well appreciated although I did add an authentic amount of chilli which had most of our lips burning. Fortunately the same grocer had some awesome Thai cucumbers that helped sooth the heat. 

Pad krapow is simply translated with pad meaning wok fried (like in Pad Thai) and krapow of course referring to the holy basil. Pad krapow can be made with pretty much any kind of meat although pork is most common and my personal favourite. On a menu the protein is added after the pad krapow so you get pad krapow moo (pork), pad krapow gai (chicken) etc. This delicious looking dish above is pad krapow moo from a little hidden foodcourt in MBK Bangkok that is mostly patronised by the centre staff. We use the basic rule in Thailand being 'eat where the locals eat' so we ate at this little foodcourt every time we visited MBK (which was far too often) and I certainly became very familiar with their pad krapow moo. This foodcourt also doesn't use the annoying voucher system that you have to deal with at the main MBK foodcourt.  

Here's another great version from a restaurant in Phuket Town. I'd read a lot of recipes for pad krapow before we visited Thailand last year (including David Thompson's from his authoritative book Thai Street Food on which my recipe below is based) and none of them included snake beans (and neither did I when cooking it at home) so I was quite surprised to see that almost every version I tried while in Thailand contained them. They add a wonderful crunch and also a bit of vegetable variety to the dish.

This is an old photo of a pad krapow gai from our very first trip to Bangkok. I asked my great uncle Colin's (who lives in Thailand) friend Prachan what his favourite Thai meal was and he answered pad krapow and wrote it down in Thai for me. We wandered down the road from our hotel that night and the first place we went into happily cooked it up for us. At the time we loved it, so very spicy but now looking at the photo I am wondering where the egg is! You have to have the egg, its fried in oil in the wok to get beautiful crispy edges but the yolk is left runny so that when you cut into it it bursts out and mixes in with the krapow sauce to create a taste sensation!

OK so now I've got you salivating here's how I cook it at home! Pad Krapow Moo is a staple meal at our place where its cooked at least once a week and is always well appreciated.

Alright here's the fresh ingredients that you will need and if you were paying attention above I'm sure you will have realised that the basil in the picture isn't actually holy basil, its just plain old western basil. Yes its a huge compromise especially after all my spiel above about bai krapow but decent holy basil is just so hard to get in Melbourne that I'm not willing to sacrifice my weekly fix and for that reason I accept the compromise. (Don't tell Kat though, she seems very angry about the whole thing!) For what its worth I have asked about krapow in Papaya Pok Pok a while ago (after Kat's review) and was told that they use normal basil. I also asked at Pad Thai in Midtown who in my opinion make one of the better versions in Melbourne and I was told that they use holy basil but when I asked where they get it, I was told to go to Woolworths in QV! Of course I headed over there immediately and was quite confused to see the same basil that I saw in Pad Thai for sale but of course it was just plain old western basil. I'm not sure if this was lost in translation or just the old 'tell the inquisitive farang what he wants to hear'. Anyway, I was a bit annoyed for a week or two but then I realised how much I enjoyed the Pad Thai version and I quickly got over it. I now think that the western basil provides a much sharper, stronger and slightly sweeter flavour than any holy basil that I've bought in Melbourne.

I have used a long red chill this time because I managed to find some really hot ones but normally I use about 4-6 scuds depending on their size. The garlic is a wonderful mini garlic that I buy from a grocer in Springvale whenever I'm over that way. Thai garlic is much smaller and not so powerful as western garlic so you can use a lot more of it and often it is used unpeeled. I'm not sure if this is actually Thai garlic but I like to think that it is. It certainly the closest that I have seen to the garlic I saw in Bangkok. Otherwise I use the chinese garlic that is super cheap and also not too strong, I avoid that pungent purple Australian garlic for Thai dishes. To get started, chop up all the vegetables as shown above and pluck the basil leaves. If I can't get snake beans I will often use baby corn chopped into 5mm slices. I'm not sure this is authentic but it tastes great!

You need the three sauces above. I use Lee Kum Kee premium oyster sauce (the expensive one), I've also used the Megachef oyster sauce but I find that it's too salty. Megachef fish sauce however is wonderful and worth seeking out. The Maggi seasoning is obviously the odd man out here and I use it as as msg substitute. I used to be against msg but I'm over that now. I reckon msg is widely used in Bangkok and I don't have a bag of it in my pantry so instead I opt for Maggi seasoning which I reckon is basically liquid msg. I only use a few squirts and you could probably omit it but that's up to you.

Once you've prepared all the ingredients and put some jasmine rice in your rice cooker you need to fry up the eggs. Add a good amount of oil in your wok and get the heat nice and hot. You need to add a fair bit of oil, similar to a shallow fry so that when you crack the eggs into the wok you can spoon oil over the top to cook the top of the egg. It also helps to achieve those delicious crispy edges. Make sure the yolk is still runny and drain the eggs on paper towel and put them aside. It's very important that your wok is well seasoned otherwise the eggs will stick. I never use detergent on my wok and am actually quite proud of how well seasoned it now is. A key to looking after your wok is to not leave cooked food in it after you have served up. While its still hot the wok should be wiped clean under hot water then dried with a teatowel and put away for next time. Definitely try to avoid metal scourers which will ruin your seasoned wok surface.

Add the pork mince first, about 300 grams is enough for two people. I prefer to buy my pork mince from an asian butcher as it seems to have a courser consistency that I think works better. David Thompson suggests making your own mince by chopping up a piece of meat with a cleaver which also produces a course texture but isn't fatty enough for my liking. When the pork starts to brown add the finely chopped garlic then the chillies and snake beans. After a couple of minutes the pork wil have cooked, now its time to add about 1 to 2 tbs of oyster sauce, 1 tbs of fish sauce and a few squirts of Maggi seasoning and about 1 tbs of sugar. (These are rough guesses, I just splash away until I'm happy with the colour) Making sure that the wok is still fierily hot I add a splash (maybe around 1/4 cup) of boiled water to create a sauce. Let this simmer away for a bit then add the basil and cook until it is wilted per the picture above. The cooking process is quite quick and you should have the whole thing wrapped up in around 5 to 7 minutes. 

Plating up is simple, a pile of fluffy rice on one side, the pad krapow on the other and then its finished up with crunchy fried egg on top! As with most Thai meals, the correct utensils are a fork and a spoon with the fork used in the left hand to push the food onto the spoon which is used in the right hand to scoop the food into your mouth. For meals that require cutting, the spoon is turned on its side to use the egde to cut with. Contrary to popular belief, chopsticks are rarely used by the Thai with the exception being for noodle soups where they are used in combination with a spoon. The chopsticks pick out the noodles and the spoon is used to slurp up the broth. 

So that's my take on pad krapow, as always I strongly encourage you to have a go at cooking it at home. Its dead easy and absolutely delicious. 

A bit of trivia to finish with. Most young Thai do not call each other by their legal names, rather each person chooses a nickname (often with a western meaning) and it is by this name that that are referred to by friends. A few examples of Thai nicknames are Benz, New, Bank, Neon, Beam, Fanta, Mint, Ice, Guitar and even Man-U. Brand and wealth references are popular. I suppose this is similar to what happens in Australia although most people have nicknames conferred on them rather that being able to choose their own which often results in less than flattering outcomes. When referring to a Thai by their nickname politeness requires that the prefix khun meaning 'you', so the name becomes Khun Benz etc. Although I am neither young nor Thai I have decided to select my own Thai nickname, yes you guessed it ....   khun krapow!  

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Me Dee Thai Springvale

he says: 

So why did the northsider cross the river?  To get to Springvale of course! OK so pretty lame joke but for me there's a lot of truth in it. I just learned the extremely disappointing news about the impending demolition of Little Saigon Market in Footscray which saddens me immensely. Thinking about losing this wonder of Melbourne reminds me of the day when we fist stumbled into the wonderland that is Little Saigon Market. I can remember feeling so excited that after almost 10 years living in Melbourne there were still such interesting and unique places like LSM that were yet to be discovered. This feeling left me wondering what else was out there that I didn't know about. After a bit of research and asking around I was hearing things like "If you like Footscray, you'll love Springvale!" So of course I ventured out there that weekend and after hunting down a carpark I wandered around in heaven for and hour or so with a huge smile plastered over my face. I'm still a relative newcomer to Springvale but I actually find that quite exciting as it means there is still so much more to discover. For me it's a bit like still having a pile of Christmas presents under the tree just waiting to be unwrapped. 

On this latest visit I was set on working my way through the list of awesomely authentic Thai restaurants that reside there. I wasn't sure which one to start with but after snagging a great carpark, we locked the car and turned around to see Me Dee Thai and the decision was made. I had read about Me Dee on Kat's blog Spatula Spoon and Saturday and had always wanted to try it but until now I hadn't been able to find it. 

The Me Dee menu is awesome and to my eye very authentic. It certainly makes choosing difficult, a problem that will be overcome by my already planned multiple return visits. First up was Crab Fried Rice (Khao Phat Poo) and it was as delicious as it looks. Beautiful wok seasoned smoky fried grains of rice with really healthy big chunks of crab meat. There's only one thing better than picking your way through a freshly fried pile of crab claws and that's when someone else goes to the effort of getting all the flesh out for you! It's one of those things that if I was rich, I'd happily pay someone to do for me. The slices of cucumber on the side is a wonderfully refreshing accompaniment that I am really developing a taste for. 

Every time we eat at a Thai restaurant I make sure we order at least one Thai salad and the fantastic range on offer at Me Dee made choosing difficult. We opted for the Grilled Beef Salad (Yum Num Tok) and it was superb. Thai salads are often very simple in construction which belies the complexity of flavour they impart and this was a perfect exponent. The beef was almost buttery in texture and so beautifully seasoned, chewing was almost unnecessary! I've tried cooking my fair share of Thai beef salads at home and I can testify that getting that smoky flavour while keeping the subtle tenderness of the beef is definitely not easy to achieve. I've mentioned the toasted ground glutinous rice (Khao Khua) before but it seems remiss not to point it out again, it adds so much to both the taste and texture of this dish. Again, don't dismiss the crunchy cabbage side, its a wonderful fresh compliment to the richly flavoured beef. 

One of this Thai dishes that you very rarely see is Hoy Tod. This is a mussel (and sometimes oyster) omlette that's made with a rice flour batter and eggs and is always eaten with a spicy sriracha style chilli sauce. The Thai claim that it makes an excellent hangover cure although I understand the thought of eating mussels for breakfast while hungover might be a bit too much of a stretch for some. Plump juicy burst in the mouth oysters are even more confronting. Not for me though, I love it! (Either hungover or as is less often the case not) In Bangkok the Hoy Tod vendors often also sell Phad Thai. I first tried Hoy Tod at a little place in Sukhumvit and while it was quite confronting at first I ended up thoroughly enjoying it, you can check out my not so great photos here. The Phad Thai was pretty great too. We're heading back to Bangkok in June and we both can't wait. Hoy Tod is one of my many many 'must eat again while we're there' dishes.

The Moo Ping (Grilled Pork Skewers) were absolutely divine. One of the great things about the Street Food in Bangkok is that you get to see how the food is prepared and cooked. In Melbourne this isn't so easily achieved although I am partial to a visit to the bathroom which hopefully requires a walk through or at least within eyeshot of the kitchen and of course I try and sneak a gander at as much as possible. Whether it be what's cooking or what brands of sauces or noodles are being used. I try not to be too snoopy but there are so many questions that I want answered I can't help myself. Unfortunately Me Dee didn't give me the chance for any snooping but if they did I would definitely be looking to see whether there was a charcoal fired grill going on in the kitchen. There had to be, I just can't understand how they could achieve the beautifully smoky grilled flavour of this Moo Ping with out one.

For drinks we had a round of Cha Yen (Thai Iced Milk Tea) and we also couldn't resist the pineapple smoothie which Charlie just loved. I have never been a big fan of iced tea of coffee until recently. We discovered Cha Yen at the Nang Loeng Market in Bangkok (bad photos again, sorry) where we were drawn to a man who was pouring an orange brown liquid from jug to jug in a grandiose fashion which I later learned was to aerate the tea. It's just perfect to combat the exhausting heat of Bangkok and while the Melbourne weather at the moment doesn't quite justify an icy caffeine hit I still can't help myself.

So as I was once told, "If you like Footscray, you'll love Springvale." I find it interesting the way it seems to have divided itself into a Vietnamese section and a Thai section. Lately I have been more obsessed with the Thai section probably because I get my Viet fix from Footscray most weekends. Unfortunately I am no closer to my goal of trying all the Thai restaurants in Springvale as I am really going to struggle to not go straight back to Me Dee on my next visit as there were so many meals on their menu that I want to try. Right up the top of that list is the Duck Egg Noodle Soup (Bamee Kuay Tiau Ped?) as you almost never see this offered anywhere in Melbourne and when cooked well is just sublime.  We both still salivate just thinking about the many times we ate it in Bangkok. Also on my must try list  is the Me Dee Boat Noodles (Kuay Tiau Reua). Regular followers of this blog will already know that I am totally obsessed with Boat noodles and hope to one day soon sell them in Melbourne at my own Popup Street Food Stall (stay tuned).

If you do venture out to 'Little Bangkok' in Springvale I recommend having lunch at Me Dee then venturing next door to the Thai video store to stock up on Thai snacks and desserts (all made locally and very authentic) then head around the corner to the Thai grocer for one of the best ranges of Thai ingredients in Melbourne and after that across the road to another Thai grocer where you can get pretty much any Thai cooking implement that your heart desires from Kanom Krok pans, tea socks to bamboo rice steamers.  Well that's my idea of a perfect day anyway, maybe with a few glasses of Victorian Pinot later that evening...

Me Dee Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 April 2012

Thai Thoranee

he says:

I received a lovely surprise the other day in the form of an email from Lauren from the wonderful Footscray Food Blog inviting Tina and I to check out Thai Thoranee in Newport. Of course I immediately agreed and we arranged to meet there that Saturday night. It goes without saying that I was excited about trying a new Thai restaurant and a quick look at their menu on Urbanspoon had me salivating. I was also looking forward to meeting Lauren in person as Footscray Food Blog is definitely one of my favourite food blogs and thanks to Lauren I have enjoyed many, many excellent meals in restaurants that I would never have found without her help. I was also really looking forward to meeting my first fellow food blogger, Lauren and I had traded a few emails but there is no substitute for a good old face to face chat, and no better place to place for a couple of food bloggers to have a catch-up than over dinner at a local restaurant.

Thai Thoranee is quite a small establishment but very cosy and perhaps a bit homely. Aside from the great food, my favourite thing about Thai Thoranee is the portraits of Thai royalty. No true Thai business is complete with out portraits of Thai royalty. I'm pretty sure on the left is King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and his impressive moustache and the on right is the current King Bhumibol Rama (IX) and his wife Queen Sirikit. The Thai are very respectful toward their royalty and the display of royal portraits is considered to provide good fortune as well as being a show of national pride. 

We had a couple of rowdy guests with us (namely Charlie and Lauren's youngest daughter) so to satisfy them we opted for the mixed entree which contained various deep fried goodies, spring rolls, curry puffs and some not quita as popular deep fried vegetables... 

The first meal to arrive was the Yam Pla Goong. Yam is Thai for salad and I think Pla Goong is prawns as this dish contained some deliciously seasoned juicy prawns. They were complimented by the usual sliced shallots, tomatoes, cucumber, iceberg lettuce and asian herbs, all of which added a lovely crispy freshness. I love this style of meal, so light and fresh and my love of the Thai lime, chilli, fish sauce and sugar dressings shows no signs of diminishing. I couldn't help but scoop the remaining spoonfuls of dressing like it was soup. If you look closely you can also just make out a few of the specs of what I believe is ground toasted glutinous rice (Khao Khua) that is quite commonly used in Thai salads to add a special toothsomeness that is unique to Southeast Asia.

No Thai meal is complete without rice but instead of ordering our usual steamed or sticky rice we decided on the Khao Kati which was described as coconut rice mixed with Thai herbs. As the meal contained pieces of chicken I'm not 100% certain we actually received the Khao Kati, I suspect that we may have been given the Khao Pad Prig which is fried rice with chicken, vegetables and red chilli paste. The rice was delicious and to be honest we were so busy chatting and enjoying watching the girls get along so well we really didn't notice. I've never had either Khao Kati or Khao Pad Prig previously so I can't be sure but I am sure that whichever it was, it was superb and an excellent compliment to our other dishes.

Next up was the Moo Yang (grilled pork), this was a tough decision as Thai Thoranee also serve Gai Yang (grilled chicken) but it definitely turned out to be a good one. This was probably my favourite meal of the evening in which all the meals were superb. The pork was lovely and tender and had a grilled smokiness that I decided must have been imbued by cooking over charcoal although I do admit that I may have been letting my imagination get the better of me. I don't know how many Thai restaurant kitchens have charcoal grills but based on the glorious smokiness of this Moo Yang, they should be made compulsory. Once again the iceberg lettuce provided a wonderful fresh crispiness. You have to eat the lettuce with the grilled meat, it isn't just a garnish! Oh yes, the sauce was also amazing. I got so carried away with the pork that I didn't even try the sauce until the very end, bit of a mistake there. Oh well, next time.

If rice is mandatory for all Thai meals then noodles are a close second. On this occasion we decided to go with the Pad See Ewe. Everyone loves Pad Thai and I am no exception but I recently saw a post on She Simmers (my favorite Thai cooking blog) and it got me thinking that while I knew what Pad See Ewe was, I really had no memory of actually eating it. I had an old hangup that I didn't like wide rice noodles which is why I never ordered it but then when I was thinking about it I realised that this hangup was based on experiences that were so long ago I couldn't even remember why I felt that way, yep pretty strange! Once I realised my foolishness I knew I was going to get back on the horse the first chance I got and fortunately Thai Thoranee turned about to be an absolute thoroughbred! The Pad See Ewe looked quite simple and aside from the wide rice noodles contained chicken, broccoli and bean sprouts. In contrast to its simple appearance the flavour was anything but simple. I tasted a tangy sourness that I thought may have been tamarind although I wasn't really sure. Identifying individual ingredients from taste is definitely not one of my strongest skills but I have a go anyway. I'm sure that another contributor to the special flavour of this dish was what the Cantonese refer to as 'wok hei'. In the post from my link above, She Simmers calls this the 'secret wok smell'. Unfortunately for those despairing home cooks 'wok hei' cannot be obtained from the standard oven gas burner, you need something much more powerful than that and I am guessing an equally powerful extraction fan would also be required. And yes, I'm now a born again Pad See Ewe convert!

In summary, Thai Thoranee rated very highly in my opinion. It was relatively inexpensive with most meals around the $10-$15 mark and $20 for the seafood options. They were also very tolerant of loud children which earns them the 'family friendly' tag. Good Thai restaurants are far and few between in the western suburbs (although this seems to be improving) and Thai Thoranee was up there with the best of the west. We will certainly be returning soon, Next on our hit list is the Gai Yang (grilled chicken), Gang Pedt Yarng (BBQ Roast Duck Curry with Lychees) and any (or all) of their stir fries (extra 'wok hei' for me please).

A big thankyou to Lauren for once again steering us to another hidden gem, you truly are the good queen of the west!

Thoranee Thai on Urbanspoon

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The Flavours of Vietnam Cookbook Giveaway!

he says:

I love cookbooks! I go through different phases using certain cookbooks all the time and then neglecting them for long periods of time. I love it when something triggers me to dust it off and rediscover it again. It's a testament to a great cookbook that it keeps coming back to reveal more layers as you progress along your journey of discovery of a particular cuisine.

On of my favourite cookbooks in this regard is the very understated The Flavours of Vietnam by Meera Freeman and Le Van Nhan. This great little book is not a huge production, it has only a few photos and contains mostly text. Often the lack of photos is a major issue for me when it comes to cookbooks as I find it really helps to see what the meal your are attempting to reproduce actually looks like. The main reason that this isn't so much of an issue when it comes to The Flavours of Vietnam is because the book is basically a list of recipes for all the meals you find on most Melbourne Vietnamese restaurant menus. I find it very satisfying to be able to reproduce a meal that I have enjoyed in a restaurant days earlier and this book has been the key to many instances when I have achieved this. So what I'm saying is, you don't need the pictures, just go to a Vietnamese restaurant order your meal and hopefully enjoy it. Then go home and look it up in this book, head to Footscray, Richmond or Springvale to buy the ingredients and then just follow the recipe in this book. I guarantee you will come very close to reproducing the restaurant meal you enjoyed.

Some of the recipe books out there have wonderful photos and list copious amounts of ingredients for a particular meal but when you go to try and cook it, it doesn't look or taste anything like the same meal from your favourite Vietnamese restaurant. That's not to say it doesn't taste delicious, just somehow different. A good example of this is the Nuoc Mam from Luke Nguyen's Songs of Sapa. I own and love all of Luke's cookbooks and watch his shows regularly but there is no way his Nuoc Mam (which is excellent) tastes at all like the version you get in the local Melbourne Vietnamese restaurants. This is probably due to all the regional variations which is understandable but also very frustrating to the home cook trying to reproduce a particular experience. On that point, I  am starting to think that maybe Melbourne Vietnamese food is in itself a regional variation. We do have one of the largest populations of Vietnamese outside Vietnam so its not that crazy an idea. The Nuoc Mam from The Flavours of Vietnam is much closer to what I have found in many of the Melbourne Vietnamese restaurants so as I'm writing this I'm forming the view that this cookbook may not be an authenctic guide to Vietnamese food in general but it certainly is the best cookbook that I know of to showcase the regional variation of Vietnamese cuisine that is Melbourne.

Ok so as usual, I need to get to the point. I have a brand new and unstained version of this cookbook that I am giving away to a lucky reader. All you need to do is leave a comment telling me about your favourite Vietnamese meal and the name of the restaurant at which you enjoyed it. Simple! I also need you to enter your email address in the 'Follow by Email' box to the top right of the screen so I have some way to contact you if you win. Alternatively, you can 'Like' krapow on Facebook. And that's it! I am happy to cover the cost of posting the book interstate or overseas within reason (I reckon about $10 should get it most places). Even better, if you are able to meet me on a weekday in the Melbourne CBD I will deliver it to you in person. Entries close on Sunday 29 April.

Good Luck!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Burgundy Backlog

he says:

While I love drinking Pinot and Burgundy I find writing about it much more difficult that writing about food. As a result I tend to put it off until I build a backlog of to do wine posts which usually results in most of then not happening at all. The obvious solution to this problem is to forge on and not be too precious about the whole thing so I hope you'll forgive me for not having the most detailed descriptions. At the end of the day I believe that all the descriptors are helpful but to be blunt it really just comes down to whether you thought the wine was good, great, poor or hopefully exceptional!

Choosing wine can be a challenging process and I select different wines for different reasons. I'm not much of a food wine matcher as I pretty much drink only Pinot and Burgundy and eat only Thai and Vietnamese but lately I have been buying wine with a view to learning more about the different styles. I am particularly interested in the comparison between French Burgundy (old world) and Australian Pinot Noir (new world). Ever since I learned about the different Cru's of Burgundy I have made it my goal to enjoy as many of them as possible, sadly no Grand Cru has hit my palate to date...  I recently learned about the 'Village' classification which I had mistakenly believed was any French Burgundy that wasn't single vineyard Premier or Grand Cru. I now know that this is not the case, to be 'Village' the grapes must come from the local 'Village' area, as opposed to a 'Bourgogne' where the grapes can come from anywhere within the Burgundy region. Hopefully I have that right...

The very friendly sommelier in City Wine Store (easily the best wine buying the the CBD) pointed this out to me when recommending the Robert Chevillon Bourgogne which at around the $50 mark seemed quite good value. This wine is not classified as 'Village' however the sommelier informed me that it is very likely that this wine was in fact 'Village' although it was not labelled as such. 

Ok so now to get to the point. First impressions of the Robert Chevillon 2009 Bourgogne were a strong pungency on the nose that was not easily identifiable, we decided that perhaps it was hints of sulphur with a somewhat musky aroma of mould. I realise that doesn't sound great and we were certainly taken aback by it. I decant all my wines and we decided to let this sit for a little while to see if the pungency blew off with exposure to a bit of air. After about 20 minutes we tried it again and were pleasantly impressed by how the nose had mellowed considerably, although traces of the initial pungency remained. The wine exhibited a clean clear clarity with a dark intensity. The flavour was mildly plummy with a slight amount of tightness in terms of acidity. Overall the wine was enjoyable with a nice length and balanced tannins once you got past the confronting nose on entry. In conclusion, I rated this wine Good but not Great and was left a bit perplexed about how useful this wine was a tool for learning. 

Next up is the Bass Phillip Crown Prince 2010 Pinot Noir. Phillip Jones is pretty much infamous for his excellent Victorian Pinot and given that he is one of a only a few high quality (ie high cost) Gippsland producers I have a strong interest in his wines. From memory, the Crown Price was around the $60 mark which compared to the other Bass Phillip wines is probably a good price, his premium vintage sells for around $130 with some of his other vintages selling for the $90 mark. Yes I am looking for any excuse to try them all!  

In terms of appearance the Crown Prince was decidedly different to the Robert Chevillon, the clarity was much duller and I suspected that perhaps it was unfiltered. I have a soft spot for unfiltered wines, for some reason I really like the powdering dullness of intensity that they display. Maybe its my palate associating the intensity with the wonderful funky goodness typical of a lot of unfiltered wines. The colour was quite dark for a younger pinot, I rated it ruby/garnet although my notes from drinking these wines are from before I dicovered the colourlovers blog which has an excellent guide for assessing the colour of wine.  You can check it out here, I suggest bookmarking it on your iPhone or iPad. On entry the wine showed a degree of spritziness toward the front palate, I associated this with the acidity and noted that this mellowed considerably after a few minutes in the glass. The aroma was absolutely wonderful musky earthy funk and a great exponent of what I associate Gippsland Pinot to be.   Flavour wise it had the usual high level of red fruit that I have come to expect from the younger Australian Pinot. This was complimented perfectly by a nice touch of mild oak.  In conclusion, I rated this wine Great. 

Another City Wine Store purchase (actually all the wine in this post is from City Wine Store) was the Monthelie-Les-Duresses 2008 Premier Cru Domaine Des Comtes Lafon. Remember that if you can! One of the things I really like about the Premier Cru wines is that the websites usually have a map of the local village showing where all the individual vineyards are located, Monthelie-Les-Duresses is shown here. I like the idea of using this simple map to find the google map satellite images to get a feel for the area in which the wine is produced, hopefully this link works (unfortunately there is street view of the actual appellation). The Les Duresses appellation is right in the centre of the screen with the village of Monthelie to the right of screen (the google map is rotated about 90 degrees to the map on the Monthelie website). Also of interest to some may be this link which gives you a simple description of the viticulture of this appellation.  

My notes on this wine are a bit more formulaic but I will reproduce them here for those interested. 

Clarity: Clear and Bright
Intensity: Medium
Colour: Ruby/Garnet
Condition: Clean
Intensity: Light
Aroma: Spice and Mineral with Mild Oak
Sweetness: Medium
Acidity: Low
Tannin: Low
Body: Light
Flavour: Red Fruit (Berries), Spice and Oak
Length: Short and Smooth

Conclusion: I rated this wine Great

Overall I found the Monthelie-Les-Duresses smooth and subtle (perhaps a bit too subtle) with an aroma and flavour of spice and oak and a mild touch of red fruit. It also displayed a nice level of tannins that were most noticeable toward the back of the palate. I decided that this was not a complex wine, rathe it was quite light and simple. I do acknowledge that at 2008 it may have been a bit young and as with most well made Burgundy would benefit from a few more years in the cellar. However, until wines with 10 years of age are available at a non astronomical price I will have to settle for drinking them a little younger. This wine was around the $80 mark which I think is pretty cheap for a Premier Cru Burgundy. 

The last wine of this post is The Wanderer 2010 from the Upper Yarra Valley. Unfortunately I do not have any notes about this wine so I have to use my memory which is not great so this is going to be short and simple. The sommelier informed that in his opinion this is one of the best Pinots from the Yarra Valley so with that recommendation I had to give it a go, I think it was around the $40 mark. This wine displayed excellent flavour and lovely smooth tannins for a wine so young. It was pretty typical to the Victorian style of Pinot and I enjoyed it immensly. In conclusion I rated it Great. I don't drink much Yarra Valley Pinot so I am happy to agree with the City Wine Store sommelier that this is one of the better Yarra Valley Pinots out there. In saying that, I think it could find some tougher competition if it went up against many of the other Victoria Pinot regions, namely Macedon Ranges, Mornington Peninsula, Bellarine Peninsula and of course Gippsland.

In summary, as for which is better, French Burgundy or Victorian Pinot? I think it comes down to personal preference. I have a few ideas about what I enjoy in both regions and what I look for when tasting them. So far I have come to the conclusion that Victorian Pinots drink better than their French counterparts when they are a bit younger. Albeit that they are very different in style and definitely far more fruit driven. I find the French Burgundy much less fruit dominated and more refined in construction (by refined I mean more processed, filtered, fined etc), more emphasis seems to be placed on the developing the tannins and acidity. So far I have found the Burgundies to be more oak and spice and the Victorian Pinot more fruit and floral. Sadly I have not had the chance to try a well aged Victorian Pinot as they seem to be as rare as hen's teeth. I am guessing that this is due to the smaller lot sizes of the Victorian producers but in saying that if anyone has a hot tip about where to buy a great aged (8 years plus) Victorian Pinot please contact me immediately! 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Thai Thonglor 55

she says:

It was such a beautiful Sunday and I wanted to take Charlie to a different park for a play before we had lunch. Andy suggested a restaurant in Maribyrnong that he would like to check out so we went to a lovely park out that way on the river and then headed to Thai Thonglor 55 for lunch.

This place is quite different to most of the Thai and Vietnamese restaurants that we usually dine at.  Thai Thonglor has pulled out all the stops to create an upper market Thai restaurant.... cushioned leather chairs, wooden tables, over sized Thai style cutlery, Thai ornaments and flowers all help to create a lovely atmosphere that is cosy and comfy.

When we arrived, two staff members were sitting down to their lunch - we were very early to arrive at Thai Thonglor (around 11.30 am) and the first customers of the day so this might be the only time the staff get to have a quick bite to eat.  Of course eagle eye Andy instantly noticed that the staff members were eating Boat Noodles.  If you read this blog often you will know that Andy is slightly obsessed with Boat Noodles so there was no doubting what he would be ordering.

The waitress handed us the menu and after a quick scan Andy quickly realised that boat noodles were not on the menu. Ah, but that did not stop my little Boat Noodle man..... he pointed to the staff members and told the lovely waitress that he wanted what they had.  She had limited English and after some pointing and broken Thai conversation, she giggled and told us that Boat Noodles were not on the menu but that she would check with the chef.  It seemed to be quite a process for her to talk to the chef and there was a lot of back and forth going on but finally the chef agreed to make it for us.  And can I say thank goodness she did!!  Firstly I think Andy would have been gutted if she had said no and secondly the Boat Noodles were fantastic! The broth was very rich and flavoursome and the beef was very tender.  This meal is so moreish..... it is very very difficult to stop eating it and I really had to fight Andy for my share.  So a big thanks to Thai Thonglor for agreeing to feed us this dish..... and please put it on the menu!

We also ordered Pad See Ewe with chicken.  This was also very yummy - lovely crunchy veggies, delicate sauce and tender chicken combine to make this dish just lovely.

We also were served pig skin crackers and swilled all of this down with Cha Yen (Thai milk tea). The crackers are excellent (Charlie loves them) and the tea was lovely and creamy..... I have been making the tea at home and although my homemade version has improved it is still not as yummy as the ones I order at many Thai restaurants. I am not sure what I am doing wrong, but I suspect that I may not be adding enough condensed milk?

This is a lovely little place and not too badly priced for lunch.  We did get to glance over the dinner menu and that is more expensive but for a great night out in Maribyrnong it would be well worth it.

Thai Thonglor 55
40 Edgewater Blvd.
Ph. 9317 9880

Thai Thonglor 55 on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Grilled Pork Neck salad with Jaew

she says:

Hooray.....a blog entry from the lady of the house! Not a willing one either I might say. Yes, I will admit that I was slightly peeved that I had to organise this meal for the household the other day. This is not because I dislike cooking, but because I had other activities on the agenda for the day that I had to can.

So after I got over my 'woe is me' thought process, I really quite enjoyed putting this meal together and it turned out to be an absolute winner! The comment of the night went something like 'baby, the last two meals you have cooked lately have been awesome' - actually to be honest I can't remember what Andy said, but I am sure that this is what he meant.

So normally when we buy pork neck we marinate it in a lemongrass/chilli/garlic etc concoction which I have referred to in a previous blog marinated pork with papaya salad. This time Andy sent me a recipe from she simmers - not only was it dead easy, but it was so much better then the marinade of the past.

So here is what you do (you can also refer to the she simmers link above for more info):
Slice pork neck thinly (about 500g)
Mix together 3 tbs palm sugar (chopped finely/grated)
2 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs whisky, brandy or rum (we never drink spirits but luckily we had a left over bottle of whisky from a party we had here many moons ago)
Mix all ingredients together and marinate pork for 2+ hours.

The pork can be served with a side salad or rice that will of course need a dipping sauce - enter Jaew (again from she simmers) ......

Oh my goodness this dipping sauce is amazing - spicy and yummy and excellent with the pork.
1/4 cup shallots sliced thinly
1/4 cup finely chopped coriander
1/2 tsp galangal powder
1/3 cup fish sauce
Juice of one lime
2tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp toaster rice powder
1 tbsp dried chillies (grounded)

Mix all of this together and adjust flavours to taste. I made my own toasted rice powder which is quite simple really. Use glutinous rice (sticky rice). Put about 1/2 cup in frying pan over low/medium heat until brown which takes about 10 mins or so. Keep moving rice around so that it cooks evenly and does not burn. Once browned, wait for it to cool and then bash to a powder in the motor and pestle.

Cook the pork in a smoking hot griddle pan.  I served this meal with a simple side of freshly sliced cucumber, iceberg lettuce and the Jaew.  Simple but very tasty!

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Issara Thai

he says:

I recently discovered a new favourite cheap Thai lunch option near my work. Cheap, Thai and nearby = win, win and win! Issara Thai is in the foodcourt underneath the Cambridge International College building at 422 Little Collins Street. I mentioned this unusual little foodcourt in my recent post about Little Collins Espresso's wonderful Vietnamese iced milk coffee. Read about it here. Issara Thai is the latest player to occupy this spot in the foodcout, it was previously Nusantara's second city store then another Thai restaurant then Issara who originally opened with a set menu style offering served up in Japanese style compartment takeaway containers with delicate little egg nets on each meal. It was a cute offering but obviously not the best fit for the local lunchers as they have changed things up to now offer a bain marie with the choice of fried rice or vegetarian Pad Thai with a choice of extra dishes. Fried rice or Pad Thai with one extra dish is a bargain $5.50 or $7 for two extra dishes, also a bargain!

I have been a regular since they changed to the new offering and have slowly worked my way through most of their meals, all of which I have found to be exceptional. Issara offer the usual green chicken curry, red beef curry and massaman curry but what excites me more is the less common offerings of stir fried eggplant with minced pork, braised pork with tofu and boiled eggs and chicken mince balls with potato gems. Also great is the stir fried beef with chilli jam (nahm prik pao) and veggie and tofu stir fry.

Early on in my adventures with Thai food I often discounted many dishes as not authentic Thai because they used ingredients like potato but I now believe that potato is actually used quite often in Thai cooking (other than Mussaman curry of course). The chicken mince balls with potato gems is one of these dishes. I love this dish, which I think is more of a Bangkok street food meal rather than a traditional Thai classic. Lately, I've developed a bit of a theory that Bangkok street food vendors can sometimes be very progressive with the meals they offer and are constantly coming up with new combinations of traditional flavours combined with what many would consider more western vegetables. I'm not sure where I'm going with this other than to say that its best to keep an open mind and not write dishes off as untraditional too quickly. Just because a dish seems to have western influences doesn't mean you won't see it served up on Bangkok's streets and I don't mean Khao San Road. What I'm saying in a round about kind of way is that the Thai seem to have a way of taking elements of western and other cultures and blending them relatively seamlessly into their own modern culture. A good example of this is the updated version of the wai traditional Thai greeting while holding a mobile phone from the excellent book on popular Thai culture 'Very Thai' (top right hand corner).

Now that I've said that, one thing I'm still a bit undecided about is Issara's use of tiny cubes of carrot in their fried rice. Don't get me wrong, their fried rice is simple but excellent. I think my issue with carrot in fried rice is just a bit of a hangup from the Chinese Aussie version of fried rice (sometimes with peas too!) offered in the 'all you can pile on a plastic plate' shopping centre buffets. I'm pretty sure you won't find carrot in the fried rice (Khao Pad) that you buy in Thailand, except perhaps if you're in Phuket! Maybe some things are sacrosanct and not to be played with, in my theory Khao Pad falls into this category.

Another Issara favourite of mine is the stir fried eggplant with minced pork. I have only recently discovered my love of eggplant, I went crazy for it when I first tried Cinnamon's Sri Lankan eatery's superb version of egg plant curry. Issara's eggplant offering is also excellent, beautiful smoky creamy eggplant combined with a lovely seasoned pork mince mix. It's not something I've seen on any other Thai menu which makes it even more appealing to me. Is it authentic? See my theory above. 

Aside from being great value for money and having such an interesting variety of meals, one of my favourite things about Issara is their use of heaps of fresh vegetables. Great exponents of this are the stir fried pork, the stir fried beef with chilli jam and the veggie and tofu stir fry. The green chicken curry is another great example, the use of broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, cabbage and capsicum is again perhaps not what you would traditionally expect but the flavour and heat of green curry was spot on for me and the vegetables add a wonderful crunchy freshness to the whole meal. If you could't already tell, I'm a huge fan of Issara Thai. I love having somewhere that sells fresh cheap Thai food so close to my work. I reckon I probably eat there (or get take away) 2 or 3 times a week. They are easily the best business to occupy this shop in the foodcourt and I'm very hopeful that they'll outlast all the other previous occupants. 

I almost forgot to mention, as if Issara Thai's $5.50 and $7 lunch offers weren't already ridiculously good value (I should say they are not skimpy when it comes to serving size) you can also get a free can of soft drink with every meal if you show your  THAI Liciouz VIP membership card. What is THAI Liciouz? I visited their stall at the Melbourne Thai Festival and was given a free VIP membership card which offers various discounts at heaps of local Thai restaurants. Check out their website for more information. 

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