Archive for the ‘sydney food’ Category

Six Reasons to Eat in Sydney and Beyond

October 20, 2009

Indulge me, if you will, just one more vacation/holiday post before it’s back to regularly scheduled programming.

Well, as any of you who head home for the holidays know, spending time with your family and friends in your hometown is technically not a vacation. In my mind it’s a visit, a way to keep connected with the clan and long-time friends who knew you way back when. Does that make sense? Probably the subject of another post…

But in the spirit of the old adage, a change is as good as a holiday, six things to love about the food scene in Sydney and beyond. Print and save for when awesome airline deals fly by again — these day $600 round trip  SFO to SYD is not unheard of — and the Southern Hemisphere sunshine beckons during the rainy winter months just around the corner for those of us in the Northern climes. (Well, California hardly counts as a place with difficult winter weather and the two weeks I just spent in Sydney this spring were cool and wet, but you get the general idea.)

Even if the skies didn’t cooperate, the food didn’t disappoint.

My picks from the trip:

1. Seafood

Where to begin? It’s fresh, local, and tastes like it was plucked straight out of the sea. Prawns that actually exude a prawn-like flavor. Fleshy white fish that flakes off the fork and the tongue. Calamari with just the right chew factor. I found myself devouring barramundi in a lovely bush setting at Echo on the Marina, enjoying the inventiveness of kingfish sashimi, Spencer Gulf prawns with wasabi, and jewfish in XO sauce at the fancy-pants glass brasserie run by Sydney celeb chef Luke Mangan, and chowing down on some decent street eats — salt and pepper squid  — (what my niece used to call crunchy seahorse) at the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park. I’d be a full-fledged pescatarian (rather than a somewhat-lapsed vegetarian) if I lived in my hometown.

Cafe Culture

The cafe scene Down Under is simply marvelous, you get a real sense of a place’s unique personality the minute you walk through the door. I miss the Sydney cafe scene madly, hardly surprising since I dwell in the land of generic coffee shops such as Starbucks and Gloria Jeans, and chain eateries like Pasta Pomodoro and P.F. Chang’s (and these restaurants offer solid dishes compared with the ubiquitous U.S. fast food joints found the world over).

Sydney’s cafe culture runs the gamut from fine dining to cheap eats, and includes at least three distinct scenes, details follow.

2. Upscale Cafes

cafe.sopra.sardinesMy last lunch in town was spent noshing with my long-time friend and her two hungry kids at a high-end (but not exxy) cafe in an artsy and industrial neighborhood. Cafe Sopra in Waterloo, is housed in a warehouse-like location above Fratelli Fresh, one of this town’s  more interesting fruit&veg providores. The cafe boasts a blackboard menu and elegantly simple (mostly) Italian-inspired dishes with a few hearty English overtures here and there. The menu also includes an emphasis on top-notch produce (natch) and the service is pitch perfect, warm and professional, still something of a rarity in this otherwise sophisticated city.

Plus, I watched an eight-year-old plough through a plate of pan-fried sardine fillets perched on grilled bruschetta with braised tomato and a dollop of pesto like there was no tomorrow. If that’s not a ringing endorsement of this cafe’s gussied up home-style cooking I don’t know what else is. Oh, it was voted best cafe by TimeOut Sydney last year. Loved the antipasto plate with pickled beetroot and gorgonzola, along with roasted pumpkin salad and green beans with pesto. Not for the carb adverse, my galpal and I tucked into a bowl of tagliatelle brightened successfully with just lemon, chili, garlic, and broccolini.

3. Neighborhood Cafes

Sydney is also chock full of fabo spots to duck in for a quick bite for brekkie or lunch or a well-brewed coffee, especially in the inner-city suburbs (this oxymoron makes sense when you’re on the ground). I’ve always especially liked the cafes found in and around the inner west. This trip I was pleasantly surprised by what was dished up at Piccolo Padre in Rozelle; loved the salad of pan-fried haloumi with generous chunks of roasted pumpkin that I ate before taking a long walk with my screenwriter friend, who heads to the Piccolo for a post-school drop off coffee most mornings.

4. Beachside Cafes

See a theme emerging here? There’s nothing quite like drinking a freshly squeezed orange-carrot-ginger juice and eating Turkish toast smothered with rhubarb jam while you watch the waves and observe the locals at play on the sand. I’m partial to the cafes with ample outdoor seating at Bronte, Bondi, Coogee, or Clovelly in Sydney’s eastern beach suburbs. Die-hard northern beaches fans will no doubt weigh in with their own surf-side nosheries. And, of course, the perfect way to preface such a breakfast or lunch is to begin with a brisk walk. Last day in Sydney I hoofed it from Coogee to North Bondi to work up a decent appetite before I took a well-earned pit stop at Jenny’s cafe in Bronte.

5. Ethnic enclaves

turkish.golemeA trip home isn’t complete without some local Indian, Thai, or Vietnamese take-away. I’m also a big fan of the cheese and spinach Turkish Gozleme, a type of savory crepe sold at several urban markets. And for a sweet treat with a cuppa tea, a Portuguese tart does the trick, with its flacky pastry base and light custard filling. Local food blogger Helen Yee, at Grab Your Fork does a stellar job summing up the range of ethnic eats in and around Sydney. The city also boasts chic modern Asian restaurants with a sustainable food focus like Billy Kwong; along with two more recent standouts, Red Lantern and Spice Temple, that, alas, I ran out of evenings to try. Next time.

6. Regional cuisine

Regional cuisine is on the rise around Australia. It wasn’t that long ago that you’d be hard pressed to find something edible in a small country town or seaside community. That’s no longer a worry. Case in point: A small, unpretentious seaside restaurant in Port Macquarie, on the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, fusion 7 serves Mod Oz cuisine worthy of inclusion in the Good Food Guide. Along with a gaggle of gals from high school, this out-of-towner was delighted to dig into some Aussie-inspired offerings such as rocket, parmesan, and macadamia nut salad, soft-shell crab with shitake-ginger sambal and peanut aoli on a bean sprout and coriander salad, barramundi with soba noddles and chilies, and passionfruit brulee.

Are you about ready to book a flight? If you live in Sydney, or will be there between now and October 31, enjoy the last week or so of the crave sydney event, which showcases local food at its best.

As for me, I’m back to hiking the hills around Berkeley in an effort to ward off any collatoral damage from my recent trip.


Fear of Flying: The Food’s a Factor

October 15, 2009 photo by nicholas.blah used under the Creative Commons license.

I’ve recently spent 27 hours in the air, something I do on a relatively regular basis, so I think I’m well qualified to weigh in on airline food for the long-distance traveler. It’s horrible — no surprises there. But what’s to be done about it?

In the days of People Express (remember the low-cost, no-frills, no-food airline of the go-go ’80s?) I used to brown bag my own sandwich, fruit, and nuts for a cross-country trip. I gather that in these cost-cutting days, with “free” in-flight meals a thing of the past on most domestic carriers, edible offerings can be had — for a price — some developed by celebrity chefs no less.

But on a recent trip from San Francisco to Sydney, which leaves around 11 p.m., I just didn’t eat. I don’t get hungry in the air these days. In part that’s because I’ve developed a debilitating flying anxiety disorder over the past decade or so after years of winging my way across the Pacific Ocean without a care in the world.

Folks who similarly suffer in the skies know just how crippling flight anxiety can be. Yesterday I had a full-blown panic attack, complete with whole body shaking, as I white knuckled my way through 90 minutes of turbulence thanks to a tropical storm off the coast of Australia. When the attendant told me to expect more of the same — and worse — in our approach to San Francisco (the day after the biggest deluge in the city’s past 50 years or so) I cried. Flight anxiety is irrational, embarrassing, and exhausting, especially on a long-haul journey. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean.

It’s also a total appetite suppressant. Probably just as well, given what was on offer in the cabin. Was that weird yellow goo resembling glue really eggs? And what was that mush underneath? Surely not potatoes. I usually stick to the yogurt and fruit plate but on the leg into Sydney the fruit was warm, ditto the orange juice. One sip and i almost threw up — and not from nervousness.  I stopped bothering to request a vegetarian meal ages ago, since the veg trays were comprised of dishes as dry as cardboard and who needs to get even more dehydrated at 35,000 feet?

So help me out here fellow travelers: How do you handle the food factor when you’re flying internationally? Are some carriers known for better nibbles than others? (I’m a slave to my frequent flyer account — aren’t we all? — so when I’m talking about bad airline eats I’m really talking about what passes for sustenance from the folks in the friendly skies aka United Airlines.)

This very funny letter sent to Virgin’s Richard Branson earlier this year about a hideous dinner served in-flight from Mumbai to Heathrow makes me think that this is a global phenomenon for those of us who fly cattle class.

Is the only answer to bring your own chow for overseas trips so when you hit that cruising altitude you’ll have something edible to eat while you watch movies you’ve already seen and can barely hear, wincing in your seat at every bit of bumpy air?

Ah, the glamor of international travel.

Sydney Street Food

October 14, 2009

On my last evening in Sydney I took a quick swing through the Night Noodle Markets, downtown Sydney’s own street food fair, and part of the Sydney International Food Festival.  Hyde Park north, a fig-tree filled swatch of grass in this southern city’s central business district, is a prime setting for stalls selling, well, all kinds of noodles from Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, as well as Japanese pancakes, Chinese dumplings, Turkish gozleme, peanut butter ice cream, and French chocolates (go figure).

Under the umbrella of the Crave Sydney event, a month-long celebration of food, outdoor art, and entertainment, the noodle markets are a welcome pit stop in a park that’s more frequently used as a thoroughfare for busy commuters, hangout for inebriated teens or odd bods, or place where couples canoodle.

As with similar events around the world, it’s smart to show up early (the market begins at 5 p.m. to catch the after-work crowd), snag a table, and take a spin around the stalls to see what looks and smells best before buying. (My friend Lou, who has spent time in Singapore, was underwhelmed by our first flat noodle dish and coveted those from another vendor we discovered later on.)

We found folks only to willing to point us to a favorite hawker’s stand, so if you want recommendations on the ground, just ask. Such due diligence means you may skip the inevitable long lines for food and drink. (This being Sydney, booze is also on offer.) Stay until dark to soak up the lantern-lit ambience as you slurp noodles and sip a local brew while bats fly overhead.  (Be warned: Travelers looking for an authentic Asian-style hawker market — and prices to match — will likely be disappointed by the whole chardy-drinking crowd.) And while there was pleasant piped music in the park, the promised live entertainment didn’t appear while we were there.

But these are minor complaints. Munching on salt and pepper squid skewers, sharing some pad see ew, and savoring a cheese and spinach gozleme fresh off the griddle with friends in an urban green oasis: Can’t think of a better way to wind up a visit to my hedonistic hometown.

Friendship by the Numbers

October 9, 2009

5 gals

2 become firm friends at age 8

12 the age we all get together and become great mates

4 years tanning our legs along the C block wall

7 countries, 4 continents

5 marriages

4 partners from overseas

3 exes

1 20-year union

10 babies, ranging in age from 3 to 18

1 parent gone

15 years since our last weekend away as a fivesome

10 months since we were reunited in sydney

26 years since we’ve all lived in the one country

33 years as the fab 5, together again for

1 wedding


1 celebratory feast at fusion 7 (more on that later), punctuated by

1 passing, 1 proposal, and 1 silly pink Akubra hat for the hen among us who refers to herself as a boiler

countless hours spent laughing, crying, listening, and talking together over plunger coffee, a good red, or a fine dining experience

here’s to many more…

The Sweet Dish on Sydney

October 6, 2009

Flickr photo by jcmurty used under the Creative Commons license.

When you pop in and out of your homeland once or twice a year, as I do, it’s pretty easy to pick up on trends since you last touched down.

I was in Sydney for a month this past Southern Hemisphere summer, that’s December-January for those of you who have a hard time getting your head around a Christmas spent enjoying surf, sun, and fresh seafood. In the past few days over endless cups of tea or glasses of champagne a few food themes have emerged among my Sydney circle since I was here nine months ago.

The country is wagyu beef crazy. That’s well bred marbled meat to the uninitiated. Even people who don’t normally talk food throw this term around when speaking steak. Reading glasses in snazzy frames are a necessary accessory for diners of a certain age, though a recently-returned food critic blames it on a trend towards dimly lit tables at some of Sydney’s top restaurants.

Veggie patches are sprouting along median strips, including the beach suburbs Clovelly and Coogee. And the TV sensation MasterChef Australia has taken this island nation by storm, inspiring home cooks to spring for kitchen equipment like pasta makers, hunt down obscure ingredients, or get more adventurous behind the stove.

Food fads come and go, but some dishes remain classics. Like sticky date pudding. My sister-in-law Alice whipped up this simply delicious dessert  for a recent family gathering. I’m from a large clan: 5 siblings, 14 nieces & nephews (and another on the way). Many of these young adults tower over me now; all have hearty appetites. So we shared warm sticky date pud accompanied by lashings of whipped cream, a scoop of ice cream, and generous drizzles of caramel sauce on a chilly spring evening and all was well in our corner of the world.

Sticky Date Pudding
(Adapted from Alice Henry’s recipe.)

185 grams (6.5 ounces) pitted dates, coarsely chopped
250 mls (8 ounces or one cup) of water
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
60 grams (2 ounces) butter
2 eggs
185 grams (6.5 ounces) sugar
185 grams (6.5 ounces) self-raising flour
1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees C (375 degrees F).

2. Grease and flour a baking tin (8-inch square, 2 inch deep) or cake pan.

3. Place dates and water in a medium saucepan and cook on high heat, bring to a boil, until mix resembles jam.

4. Sir in the bicarbonate of soda. Mixture will foam. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool slightly.

5. Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla until pale and creamy.

6. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

7. Fold through dates and flour until all ingredients are well combined.

8. Spoon mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.


150 grams (5 ounces) brown sugar
150 ml (5 ounces) of cream
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.

2. Cook, stirring frequently, until sauce comes to a boil.

3. Reduce heat and simmer for another couple of minutes.

4. Cut cake cut into squares or wedges. Drizzle with sauce, and serve with ice cream and/or whipped cream.

Also delish with strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar.

Pudding photo: Alice Henry

Update: My friend on the ground, Jacqui, see comment below, shares a photo of a community garden plot she spotted sprouting in Kirribilli, on Sydney’s north side. Anyone want to chime in with the story behind this movement to grow greens in urban Oz?

Sydney Festival Flags Food

September 29, 2009 I’m headed home tomorrow, that’s Down Under, for a couple of weeks to celebrate some significant milestones with family and friends. And I’ve only just realized that I’ll be in town for the start of the Sydney International Food Festival. I’ll  miss the world chefs weekend showcase, but hope I can catch a night noodle market, some barbecue madness, a bush tucker event, or even a 100 mile diet dinner. And I’m wondering if I can attend the luncheon where Stephanie Alexander, the Alice Waters of Australia, will speak — and still make my return flight in time.

Sydney food is pretty darn delicious, whether it’s cheap & cheerful or fancy pants fabulous. More specifics in future posts but I’m already compiling a to-do list for my trip on the eating-out front. Seafood is high on the agenda. And since it’s a multiculti place I’m keen to have some local Lebanese, Thai, Turkish, Vietnamese, and Greek food too.’t you just love these national flags made from national foods, part of the publicity campaign for this spring food event? The simple images, created by Aussie ad agency Whybin/TBWA, are fun, fresh, and clever. Plus, I get hungry just looking at them.

Here’s a quick quiz: Can you tell me which countries these six flags represent — and what foods are included in the mix?