Well, aren’t I a lucky little caffeine addict. Truly spoiled for coffee choice in my neck of the woods, I often find I’m a tad blasé about what’s on offer. So it’s always a nice surprise to venture out of this sprawling city of Sydney a little further afield and find a brilliant coffee spot. Whaddya know kids? The world doesn’t begin and end with Sydney.

I can’t help but think the common threads among the cafés I love- vintage furniture, bearded baristas, bikes on the wall are kind of the hipster’s equivalent of going to Paris and only eating at McDonalds. These cafés are familiar, non-threatening. I know what to expect from them. They’re a genre, a brand if you will. And I’m pretty brand-loyal these days. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, I’m not sure.

Anyway, I’ve checked out Rolador in Hamilton a few times now, and I have to say I’m impressed. Like many great things in my life, it was my gorgeous boyfriend’s idea, as was this post. There is indeed a roller door on one side (facing the station) serving takeaways, with a bunch of benches, tables and chairs scattered around. Inside it’s all eames-era vinyl chairs and kitsch knick knacks, but we find ourselves a seat outside and it’s not long before someone comes over to take our order.

Perched on a sun-drenched corner, seconds from Hamilton station and open seven days a week, I find myself wishing Rolador were my local. Friendly staff, retro touches, good coffee and home-baked treats, even Mexican tapas, whatever the hell that is, at night sometimes. And I love a café where you can literally see you train pull up.

We weren’t catching a train that day, but if we were I’d be willing to miss it for this oh-so-lemony lemon muffin we chose, which was more like cake really. We bantered back and forth with the waiter about what qualifies as cake. My macch was no slouch either, and my man pronounced his piccollo a success.

It was so pleasant in the sun we sat for some time, spreading butter from our laksa spoon on our lemon cake/muffin and sipping coffee in a reasonably sophisticated manner. I even refrained from dunking the cake in my coffee.

If I lived in Newcastle, I’d be pretty happy with this place. The coffee is good, they offer a decent spread of homemade-looking (in a good way) cakes etc. on the counter, the menu looks solid, and the vibe was relaxed, friendly, and not the least bit pretentious. We’ll be back.

Rolador
1 Beaumont Street
Hamilton, NSW 2303
02 4969 1786

Roladoor on Urbanspoon

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If food blogging means you can fly the length of this great brown land to spend the weekend eating and drinking  yourself stupid with kindred foodie spirits you’ve met once, then I don’t see a downside.

I spent last weekend in Perth with two awesome food bloggers, hosts, tour guides and, dare I say it, friends Heather and Ai-Ling, who showed me all ‘the good Perth’  has to offer. We did cafes, small bars, markets, breakfast, the list goes on. They planned out every minute of my trip but somehow it was a laid back weekend. Seriously guys, get your foodie tours of Perth business going soon. You’d make an absolute mint.

At the Subiaco farmers’ markets, I picked up a swag of corn cobs and limes. I had no plans for them, other than perhaps to grill them on the BBQ. After a night stumbling through small bars and drinking out a of jam jars we found ourselves in a bookshop and I found myself thumbing through Lonely Planet’s ‘The World’s Best Street Food’, where a recipe for elote (corn cobs) caught my eye.

This Mexican/US recipe is the kind gracing the menus of many an up-to-the-minute dive bar or slider-serving eatery in urban Australia these days. Now you can start your own Americana/Mexicana shack right in your own living room with the surprising flavour combo of corn, lime, mayo and cheese.  Elote goes great with any virtually flavourless cerveza such as Mexico’s Corona or Korea’s Hite (but for God’s sake, not Quilmes, NEVER EVER drink that), just stuff a lime wedge down the bottle’s gullet for a bit of zing. We ate these on the beach in Perth at the end of a long hot day, watching the gorgeous sunset  over the sea.


Elote asado

Grilled corn cobs
(Adapted from Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food)
Makes 12 mini cobs

You will need:
4 large corn cobs, husks on (each whole cob should make 3-4 mini cobs)
4 juicy limes, cut into quarters – ¼ of a juicy lime per ‘mini cob’
About 8 teaspoons of mayo – about ½ teaspoon per cob find out how many cups this is!
100g freshly grated parmesan or romano cheese – I used pecorino

Heat up your grill or BBQ until it is quite hot. Place the cobs, in their husks, on the grill, turning every few minutes or so. They will take a long time to cook, probably 30 or 40 minutes depending on the heat of your grill, but trust me, it is well worth the wait to have those gorgeous charred morsels popping in your mouth. You will know when they are ready when the husks are blackened and burnt to a crisp.

The cobs will be quite hot so you will may need to wear oven gloves to remove their husks. You could also wait a while and let them cool slightly, but the joy of eating the corn hot is kind of the point and anyway, after waiting so long for them to be ready, you’re probably starving. De-husk them ASAP and cut them into thirds or quarters.

The rest is simple – rub each mini cob well with a lime wedge, smear on some mayo and then roll it in grated cheese. Serve immediately and with beer.

As this is a street food  there are many variations. Most commonly lime, sour cream and chilli powder are used. You can also use salt instead of cheese. Go nuts!

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The National Multicultural Festival is held each year in Canberra, and as far as I’m concerned it’s the best food fest in Australia. This year it ran from the 10th to the 12th of February.

Nepalese Momo (dumplings). Some were filled with lamb, some with veggies. The accompanying sauce was extremely hot.

Ethiopian. We had this as our morning tea. There’s a potato and cabbage dish, a lentil stew and I want to say key wat? And of course, blissfully crumpety injera.

OMG, the Sicilian stall! They only sold sweets and I coudn’t resist. We tried this custard filled fried morsel, yum!

All that eating makes you pretty darn thirsy. Luckily there were free water bottles and free water.

Vietnamese drinks.

Sausages on the grill…

…and a sausage dog in a bag!

As you can see, it’s a pretty popular place to be.

The line for the Loukamades (greek doughnuts) is always massive. They weren’t as deliciously crispy as last year though…

A papusa from one of the Mexican stall. A cornmeal based thick tortilla, in this case filled with cheese.

And a delicious chicken tamale.

Which is your favourite food festival?

You can read last year’s post here.

We are told time and time again that one of the easiest ways to introduce people to new cultures if by feeding them, because wherever we go, whatever we do, we all need to eat. So it’s no surprise that the main focus of the 2011 National Multicultural Festival was food. I have to admit that although I was born in Canberra and lived there for the first 19 years of my life I’ve never been to the festival before. So I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from it, probably something like the food festivals we have here in Sydney. I was pretty sure there’d be gozlëme, that’s for sure.

Last weekend my man and I were visiting Canberra for a friend’s birthday and she had concocted marvellous challenge- food golf. The idea was that we all had to dress in golfing outfits and prowl the festival, marking off various foods and drinks as we consumed them. Each item was worth various points and at the end we would tally up the scores and proclaim the winner.

I stuffed things up by being the only one who didn’t get a costume sorted, and as we entered the multicultural festival at 3pm on Saturday, the atmosphere was not dissimilar to that of a moshpit and I began to wonder how likely it was that we would complete our challenge. One of the things I always forget about Canberra, a city where comparatively little happens, is what it’s like to be in the thick of it when something DOES happen. With an event like this, there’s a huge turnout and it feels like everyone in Canberra is there. Apparently, this year the three day festival attracted 100 000 people on the Saturday alone! That’s as many as it usually attracts for the whole three days.

I was impressed with food line-up, which went well beyond the usual suspects. Of course there was gozlëme, as well as German, Greek, Lebanese, Indonesian, Spanish, Mexican and Indian food, but there was also an endless list of national cuisines you rarely see, from Ethiopian to Chilean, Fijian, Samoan, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, Serbian, Argentinean and Mauritian to name a few. It was nice not to come across the same stalls that rock up to every Sydney and Melbourne festival I have ever been to. A tapas or poffertjes stall has no place at the Hyde Park Noodle markets, for example, and I wish organisers would take a leaf out of the National Multicultural Festival’s book when they plan such events.

Even though we had a painstakingly prepared list of foods to ‘golf’ we made a beeline for the first Ethiopian stall we saw to grab a castle lager and some delicious injera topped with ‘sauces’, which I think is a good way to describe the way food in Ethiopia is eaten. The injera, a kind of crumpet-like sourdough pancake made of teff flour, is really the star of the show. We had it with a mild red lentil stew and a rich beef stew, with a pleasant heat from the berberé spices but not spicy per se. The injera was pleasantly sour and spongy- delicious!

Then I spied another cuisine not on our list- Philippino. I couldn’t go past a pillipit, a plaited Philippino donut dusted in sugar so my boyfriend ordered us one. He had to ask the stallholder 4 or 5 times because apparently pillipits are also known as shakoys so she had no idea what he was talking about! Unfortunately, the pillipit was not freshly made and was doughy and chewy – kind of like a day-old chain store pizza crust, so I photographed it and we threw it away, not willing to waste precious tummy space on sub-par food.

I was pretty stuffed at this point and needed a break but my boyfriend spied something intriguing at the Greek food stall. Again, Greece was not on our list but the Kokinisto, a meat and onion stew served with chips looked too good to pass up. I nabbed a couple of chips and a mouthful of stew and I’ve got to say it was pretty tasty but still not a patch on the Ethiopian beef stew.

What I really wanted was some Sri Lankan pan rolls or some kind of coconut based curry and that’s when we came across one of the two Sri Lankan stalls. I snapped a few shots of the fried treats on offer, as well as the Korean stall where they were cooking up some bulgogi beef and spicy chicken on large bbqs.

We decided it was time to offset the heat with some more beer and spotted a Spanish food tent selling tapas, beer and sangria towards the Canberra Theatre end of things. The offerings there looked delicious- tortilla de patatas, gambas al ajillo, chorizo and so forth and at pretty reasonable prices. We grabbed a couple of Cruzcampo beers, an easy drinking beer but it wasn’t as good as I remembered. I guess it’s because I wasn’t in Spain and it wasn’t fresh out of an ice-cold tap. Oh well.

We came back to the Greek stall where I had previously seen about 50 people lining up for Loukoumades, Greek doughnuts slathered in honey. I really wanted to get a picture of them being made but as I snapped away, I realised what I really wanted was a plate of these delicious puffs. Having never tried them and still disappointed by my stale pillipit, I joined the long queue which moved surprisingly quickly. The loukoumades were fried, slathered in honey, plated up and topped with cinnamon and walnuts, all for the grand total of $5! They were delicious- crisp on the outside and pillowy-soft in the centre, sweet and sticky with the crunch from the bitter nuts offsetting the warming cinnamon. I have to admit I had more than my fair share.

I noticed that there was a distinct lack of those fenced off little pig pens that have become the norm at NSW events serving alcohol. In NSW, public events require allocated, fenced off alcohol vending/consumption sectors, or else the whole event needs to be fenced off. The ACT has slightly different liquor laws to NSW and as such, although there was no glass allowed (all beers had to be poured into plastic cups), there was definitely a less restricted vibe, although still a police presence. The atmosphere was insanely busy and although it was quite hot and people were drinking, everyone was very laid-back and patient, even with all the lines and crowds.

Finally, we saw a guy weaving his way through the crowd with a shopping trolley full of our least favourite kind of beer- Quilmes. We figured he’s be heading to the Argentinean stall, which we were yet to discover so we followed (stalked?) along after him. The poor guy had a hell of a time getting through the crowd and finally stopped at a Chilean stall selling completos and beer. A completo is a hot dog with the lot (complete) and I had to get one. It had mashed avocado, fried onions, mayo and American mustard and I added pebre, a Chilean salad/salsa. Disgustingly delicious. They also had a selection of Chilean, Argentinean and Mexican beers but none were cold yet as they’d only just been unloaded so we headed back to the Ethiopian stall and grabbed another beer and some Indonesian satay sticks from the Indo Café stall. Tender and charred, they were a perfect finish to a 5 hour meal. All in all it was a grand day, although we had no chance of winning food golf.

So, dear reader, what’s you fave festival food?

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It’s no secret that we Sydneysiders have a diverse culinary world at our feet. From ingredients to restaurants, we can find almost any kind of food, from Korean to Thai to Japanese to Malaysian to Italian, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Brazilian, Portuguese, Israeli, Lebanese…the list goes on, although I have had some trouble finding Ethiopian. And thus, you might conclude, especially if you were American and absolutely if you were Texan, surely there must be some good Mexican food somewhere.

However, it seems there’s only room for so many restaurants and, much like tapas, Mexican food is considered  prestige enough to be on the pricey side here in Aus. Add to this the assertion my Texan friend Ms. Phonetic makes that Aussie Mexican grills aren’t really worth bothering with (plus the argument she had with the owner of one of them when he wouldn’t let her have cheese on her taco, even if she paid extra, because it wasn’t ‘authentic’) and you really might as well have a crack at making them yourself.

I quite like Mad Mex, Guzman y Gomez et al, especially their chicken burritos. This recipe is my own take on them. I love the smokiness of the chipotle marinade and the way it pairs so perfectly with the fluffy Mexican rice. Wrap it a warm tortilla with a dollop of guacamole and you’re in heaven.

Lau’s Feisty Chicken Burritos
Serves 4 (2 small burritos per person)

You will need:
For the chicken:
700g chicken breast
2-3 Chipotles in adobo (finely chopped)
Paprika
Salt
Olive oil

1 portion of Mexican Rice (see previous post)

For the Guacamole:
2 Ripe Avocados
1 lemon or lime
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To finish:
Chopped lettuce and tomato
1 packet of flour tortillas- I prefer Mission Tortillas, they come in a 12 pack and you can just freeze the leftovers (if there are any).
Sour cream (if desired)
Mexican Hot Sauce (I use El Yucateco Green)
Smokey BBQ sauce (I use Fountain, they even have a facebook fan page!)

Marinate the chicken in the chipotles and some of their sauce, paprika, a pinch of salt and a splash of olive oil overnight, or at least 2 hours.

Next prepare the rice and while it is cooking (it takes about 20 minutes), make the Guacamole and chop the lettuce and tomato. To make the guacamole, Mash 2 ripe avocados with lemon or lime juice, freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste.

Heat a frypan with a little olive oil until hot. Cook the chicken and marinade on both sides. It’s ok if it gets a little charred as long as it’s cooked quickly and all the way through. When it’s done, slice it into strips. This means you don’t have to chop up raw chicken and it’s actually much moister cooked this way.

To assemble, microwave each tortilla for 10 seconds. Place some chicken, rice, guac, salad, sauce and sour cream on each tortilla and wrap. Enjoy!

So, readers, where do you get your fave Mexican food?

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My friend Ms. Phonetic, a Texan girl born and bred, often laments the lack of good Mexican, never mind Tex-mex, available here in Sydney. When we were sharing a house back in the day, I remember her half-baked plans for tortilla stands, burrito buses and importing Mexican beer. More recently, I witnessed her untamed joy as we walked through Fiji Market on King Street, Newtown and came a across tins of Chipotles in adobo, Mexican hot chocolate, hominy and a plethora of Mexican sauces.

In recent years Australia has seen a lot of Mexican grill franchises popping up (Guzman y Gomez, Mad Mex and the like). Generally, these places will use large flour tortillas to wrap a burrito filled with your choice of grilled meat, rice, refried or black beans and various salsas, sauces, sour cream and always ALWAYS charge extra for guacamole. Ms. Phonetic maintains that they’re twice the price and nothing like the real thing. Debates about authenticity aside, I’ll have to take her word for it. I guess nothing beats a freshly made tortilla or a fresh batch of Mexican rice or real queso dip.

So, having only my experiences eating at lost-in-translation burrito franchises to go on, I worked to duplicate something of what I had tasted. I scoured the internet for ‘Mexican Rice’ recipes. This recipe is really easy and delicious, all I’ve done is added more spices and extra garlic. My favourite way of serving this is as part of a burrito, which I’ll outline in my next post, but it’s also an amazing side dish. I’ve yet to mix up a batch for Ms. Phonetic but when I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Mexican Rice (adapted from The Frugal Chef)
serves 4 as a side dish.
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil (I used Extra Virgin because that’s all I buy)
1 Tablespoon pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 a small onion, finely chopped
1 cup Basmati or other long grain rice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1-2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup liquid stock
1/2 cup water

Heat the oil in a small pan to medium high. Sauté the jalapeños, garlic, and onion for a couple of minutes. Add rice and spices and toast a couple more minutes.

When the rice begins to ‘pop’, quickly stir through the tomato paste. Add the stock and water and stir through.

Put the lid on and turn the heat as low as it goes. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Burning the bottom of the rice a little is encouraged. I generally turn off the heat after 15 minutes and just let the rice sit for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with black beans or chicken or in a burrito.

I know it looks ugly, but trust me. It’s delicious.

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