Thursday, November 27, 2014

Report from Emerald City: Part one: finding my organic groove

A few weeks shy of the six-month mark since my move, I thought it was time for an update.

The  food adventures in my new home have been rather eclectic. This is largely due to my own dietary perculiarities combined with the Not Boyfriend now being in his third year of veganism. It has also been a year or so of unexpected hiccoughs, interrupting our cash flow – so we’ve been a tad parsimonious.

Sydney is a noticeably more expensive city to live in. From the price of produce to the inflated real estate market, eating out or at home just costs more. No longer having my tiny but productive 9 square metres of veggie garden doesn’t help either. Though I’ve got my name down on the waiting list at the nearest community garden (but that could take a decade to come to fruition!)

Organic produce


I mourn my mid-week pilgrimage to Vic Markets. Not just the healthy competition between the organic stalls and diversity of conventional produce available but the one-stop shop aspect of the market. There’s nowhere that even remotely replicates the quality and variety of the fresh fruit and vegetables, plus the diversity of the market hall vendors. I yearn for a single market to buy quality fish, great olives, fantastic bread, my weekly staples (oats, nuts and tofu) and graze delectable edibles. 

Pick of the crop

Orange Grove Public School
Cnr Perry Street & Balmain Road, Leichhardt, 2040, Saturday, 7 am to 1 pm. 
This has more organic stalls than all the food markets I’ve shopped at, plus interesting homemade food and a delightful array of plant stalls. It's nice to see plants and foods come together.
Bonus: ample on-street parking.

Marrickville Organic Market 
142 Addison Road, Addison Road Centre, Marrickville, 2204, Sunday, 7.30 am to 3 pm.
It's a little bit hippy with a relaxed atmosphere, the famed chai tent (or sloping lawn) and a wide variety of home cooked food to graze on. There's a dearth of Sunday markets, so that's a bonus.  A couple of beefs with it though. Despite the name, only one stall is 100% organic (but it’s a great one). Parking is a nightmare, necessitating being there by 8am if you need to drive. Not a lot of fun on a day off. But otherwise a charming weekend diversion.
Don't miss the amazing smoked olives available at the smoked salmon stall - at Leichhardt on Saturday and Marrickville on Sunday.





Fresh chamomile at Marrickville


Eveleigh Market at Carriageworks
245 Wilson St, Eveleigh, Saturday 8 am – 1 pm
Well curated and a good place to bring visitors, it’s handy for topping up on a few extras for the fridge and pantry but a bit pricy for a weekly shop. Favourites include the truffle oil, exotic mushrooms, flowers, pho stall (vegan and omni) and watching Kylie Kwong cook. There’s a knife sharpener as well, plus good coffee and pastries. Definitely a foodie outing for both locals and tourists.
Bonus: If you’re lucky you’ll catch Barbara Sweeney AKA The Talking Cookbook – I love what she’s about and if you're a reader of food blogs, you'll also enjoy having a chat with her.



Back to the weekly shop

After many weekends spent exploring produce markets and weekdays trawling through expensive health food stores (don't get me started), we’ve settled on ordering a weekly organic veggie box. After a couple of months buying one elsewhere for more than twice the price, we’ve settled on a Wednesday box from our local food co-op Alfalfa House and topping up on fruit and other goodies elsewhere as needed. The $25 box of organic veg is great value and always fresh (though oddly I often find the fresh produce in store expensive and of variable quality). We can combine a mid-week collection while restocking the pantry. There’s a great selection of grains, spices and pantry staples but it’s the tempeh collection that  exceeds my Vic market stalwart. The Byron Bay fava and seaweed (soy free) tempeh is exceptional. There's lots of other yummy stuff in the fridge including a locally made coconut yoghurt (the makers are sometimes at Eveleigh Market).


While I still dream of Melbourne’s cornucopia of goodies at an affordable price, the kitchen is now fully stocked with an interesting variety of fresh organic food. I’ve always loved the challenge of culinary improvisation, so a box of mystery goods (bar the turnips and capsicum!) is a joy to create from. 

The dreaded turnip


Despite the odd moments of frustration it has been fun exploring the shopping options in my new locale. And while I think I've finally cracked it, there's something new opening around the corner,  pandering to the gamut of Sydney food fads from vegan to paleo, with a side of kale and activated nuts.






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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

London Markets – the biggie at Borough

You’ve got to remember that My London was the one of Thatcher’s Britain. Grey skies. Muddy moods. Gritty.

Food markets were everywhere. They’d pop up in the morning along a street and often disappear without a trace around lunchtime. Barrow boys would spruik their wares. Long before twenty-first century eco-consciousness, markets didn’t run to the expense of plastic bags. You bought your basket, opened the mouth wide and they’d pour the produce in straight from the scales.

These neighbourhood markets were the lifeblood of every suburb in London. Mine was in Dalston.  Each week our large shared household would head down and buy produce by the pack load. There were many treasures I’d never come across before in New Zealand, especially all the exciting roots and leaves favoured by the local Jamaican community. Even the somewhat less exotic caused a thrill for a gal who’d never seen fresh beetroot before. The beets were sold boiled and slopped from steaming vats. Into a BYO container they’d slip and quickly taken home, sliced and doused with vinegar while still warm.

While it’s rumoured that the first incarnation of Borough Market opened in the eleventh century, its latest retail incarnation is comparatively recent and didn't exist in the Thatcher era. Let’s face it, you couldn't even get a decent coffee in London back then.

Fast forward to September 2014 and I finally make it to the hallowed halls (after a right neighbourhood/wrong day experience two years earlier). Did it live up to the hype?


Yup.


I swapped recipes with the mushroom seller (her: ‘the giant fleshy mushrooms cooks and tastes just like chicken”, me: “the chantarelle’s taste amazing with potatoes”), gorged on some gluten/dairy-free rocky road (no marshmallow but biscuits and honeycomb), salivated at the beautiful tarts, olives, bread, currants, tomatillos…


Like those who have gone before, I feasted my eyes and my belly.


Revelation – the next time I make a falafel I’ll skip the obligatory iceberg/tomato combo and stick to hommos, Middle Eastern pickles and a large handful of fresh mint. This was one of the cheapest meals I ate in my week in London and arguably the best.



I don’t need to tell you how to find Borough Market – just bring your appetite, jump a tube to London Bridge and follow the hungry hoards across Borough High Street. 

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

the butcher, the baker, the...

Or rather the organic stall owner, the fishmonger, the guy who grinds my coffee.

There’s my favourite manager at the pub up the road, who always ducks out and shares a hug if she’s free when I pass by and restaurateurs in the neighbourhood strip.

These are the providores who populate my world.

And they’re the people I’ve been saying goodbye to this week - my favourite stalls at Vic Market, the local shops and restaurants.

It will take a while in my new city to find my food tribe, as much as I look forward to discovering them there’s something so special about Melbourne’s food community (and bloggers!) – from the multigenerational families who sell me feijoas or fillet the fish, to newer kids on the block who’ve garnered respect.


So in Sydney’s Inner West where I can get great vegan dips, or (not so vegan) fresh fish? Where are the freshest nuts and vibrant herbs? Come on Sydney – woo me and welcome me into your fold.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

So much to do, so little time




Am beavering away on a new website, moving cities and bouncing back to blooming health. More later.

Monday, March 17, 2014

MIA


It has been a while. I have indeed been missing in action, or more accurately missing action full stop.

Two months to the day after I had my idyllic birthday in Chiang Mai, I was whisked off on a hospital trolley into surgery. To say the last five month has been life changing (in not necessarily a positive way) is an understatement.

But this is a food blog.

What has lured me back?

Truffles!

Or rather to quietly bookmark a simple variation from Evan Kleinman.

For a vegan dark truffle base all you have to do is reduce a cup of stout on high heat until the volume has halved, then stir in 225g of dark glossy chocolate. Chill the mixture and roll in the usual way.




(The laughing buddha may be speaking no evil but I think what he's really saying is life's too short to eat crap chocolate)


In other news, the Significant Eater and I have adopted an adorable Burmese cat.


And the cat and I will be decamping Melbourne mid-year to move to Sydney’s inner west.

Now, go back and talk amongst yourselves.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

vegan Chiang Mai


With Happy Cow listing 68 vegan/vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai (compared to a mere 25 in Melbourne), do you need any more reasons to Northern Thailand? 

Chiang Mai is home to over 300 Buddhist temples, hundreds of eateries and a haven for travellers in Asia who don't want shrimp paste in their curry. As we spent 9 days in Chiang Mai, it was a relief that vegan choices beyond the standard curries and Pad Thai abound. Every meal ranged from good to spectacular, including breakfast in our hotel (which, let’s face it, in the best of places can get a bit samey after a few days). The kitchen was always happy to make a vegan hot breakfast to order for the Significant Eater, usually rice or noodle based, supplementing the dazzling array of tropical fruit, salad, sticky rice in banana leaves and amazing juices and iced teas. Vegetarian choices also included eggs cooked to order (my favourite being a Thai omelette with fresh herbs and chilli), pancakes and savoury rice porridge.

We ate most of our meals in the Old City but two of my three top vegan picks are beyond the moat. Keep in mind getting around is easy. For a mere 20 baht (less than a dollar) you can jump in a shared ‘taxi’ (converted ute/pick up truck) or 50 baht for a tuk tuk. For a day trip we found a mid-priced car and driver for 1500 baht (about $50).

Best of the omni cafes


Chiang Mai does casual dinning well. Want breakfast, coffee, a beer, late lunch or a three course dinner? These two laid back gems mightn’t look like anything special but warranted return visits. Both offered free wifi, good vegan choices and a relaxed atmosphere.

1. Peppermint cafe 1/1 Soi 5 Rachadamnoen Rd

The menu is a blend of Thai and Western food, including a fusion of both. If you want your salad ‘Thai style’ with extra spice, you will get a fiery hit. One of their specialties is pizza and they didn’t flinch at whipping up a vegan one (the SE said it was the best vegan pizza he’d ever eaten).

2. Nature’sWay Moon Muang Soi 4
The signs proudly state they don't use MSG. Food is fresh and sometimes organically grown. The vegetarian tom yum soup and noodles were free of fishy additives. I loved their big noodles with tofu and vegetables. Friendly staff, who remember your face and welcome you back. 

Note: my affection for these cafes was probably heightened by cuddles from neighbourhood cats that stopped by for a smooch.



Top three vego eateries in Chiang Mai

Sadly we only sampled a handful of the dozens of vegetarian restaurants but these three stood out for the diversity and sheer yumminess of the food. 

1. Pun Pun 
Wander through the grounds of Suan Dok temple and look for the ‘monk chat’ sign. Pun Pun, an al fresco café, lies beyond. 

Pun Pun is run by a sustainable living community and showcases their own organic vegetables. The menu is large and varied. My soup, with nori and a beetroot sauce, was certainly not traditional Thai and defied culinary pigeonholing. Even the spring rolls offered a novel filling. This is a great daytime café (they have a new restaurant  further out at the base of the hills that stays open til 8pm), perfect for when you get bored of the usual suspects and want to explore new flavours. Check the website for opening hours (the first time I looked at the site it said ‘closed Wednesday’, the next time it didn’t mention it). Avoid if it’s raining, as there’s very little cover in a downpour.





2. Bodhi Zen 18/5 Ratchvithi Road, Sriphim, Chiang Mai (not far from Thapae Gate)
Did you hear about the Vietnamese monk who opened a vegetarian restaurant in Northern Thailand? Offering ‘world cuisine’, this is another excellent choice for when you want to eat something a little different. The rice balls and cabbage rolls were both spectacular. While the meal was amazing, it was a chaotic and slightly uncomfortable dinning experience (for many, many reasons). But the food is worth it. Really.




3. Radiance Restaurant (at The Spa Resort) 165 Moo 4 Tumbon Huaysai, Chiang Mai 
About 40 minutes from the Old City in the grounds of a health resort, Radiance is an upmarket restaurant on the rural fringe of Chiang Mai. The verdant setting is calm and indeed ‘radiant’. I pity those who pay a lot of money to stay here and choose the detox package. While the menu lists a wide range of delicious juices for those fasting, even reading the description of the dishes must drive them wild. Though not strictly a vego restaurant (they offer some fish and chicken) they also have  extensive raw food options (the lasagne was a work of art and the raw chocolate dessert is worth a trip to Thailand in itself). Despite not being a fan of mock meat, the 'duck' curry was one of the most emotionally satisfying meals of my holiday. It also serves booze, something many of vego eateries avoid. This place earns the accolade of gourmet, though expensive by local standards is still significantly cheaper than at home. Worth a detour.

Other food-worthy mentions


Coffee: While Chiang Mai professes to having a ‘coffee culture’, including its home grown answer to Starb*cks, the espressos I sampled were very ordinary. With one notable exception. Akha Ama's  beans are organic and sustainably grown in Northern Thailand. They’re serious about their product, have a good rig and train their baristas. I’m not kidding when I say this is possibly the best espresso I’ve ever drunk. They do a mean iced green tea, like no other (possibly with powdered green tea?)
I frequently visited their new café at La Fattoria, Rachadamnoen Rd (past the police station, near Wat Phrasingh).




Markets: There are a plethora of wet markets selling fresh produce, if you want to pick up a kilo mangosteens for less than a dollar. My favourite was San Pakoy, just across the river, perfect for an early morning walk. (Non-vegans might want to try breakfast from the many carts near the market or outside the night bazaar, for some real but undeniably meaty street food).

The Sunday Walking market along Rachadamnoen Rd offers a number of vegan goodies including noodles, barbecued corn and stuffed betel leaves. Don’t forget to take a break between grazing and stop for a foot massage.



Cooking: There are a truck-load of cooking schools in Chiang Mai but I'd heard grumbles that some use vegan-unfriendly curry pastes. We spent a delightful day in the country at Thai Farm Cooking School, on a small organic farm, where we cooked everything from scratched. As you cook your own dishes, there's no problems being in a mixed omni/veg*n class. We had a fun day, visited a local market, cooked a soup, curry, stir fry, noodles and sticky rice...and patted some nice cats.








Maps. The Nancy Chandler map is a Chiang Mai institution, now in it’s 19th edition. It plots a pleasing amount of V’s for vegetarian, along with non-food things to do in town. Don’t forget to check online for updates (unlike us, who didn’t and went on a thwarted hunt for the cat sanctuary and wooden foot bridge). You can pick up your map from any of the bookstores in Chiang Mai selling English language books. 



Want more tips? Check out my entry on Chiang Mai in my travel blog.






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