Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Ashfield Grub Crawl - the wild and the wacky

In hopes of settling back into Aussie life and keeping myself occupied with social things, not only have I started this food blogging thing but I wanted to join some social groups. I met up with a group of wonderful people that I had found through a social group website for a morning of eating 'wild and wacky' foods in Ashfield.  Ashfield is a melting pot but there are many Northern Chinese style restaurants to delve into.  It's abundant for choices!

I wasn't sure what a 'wild and wacky' tour would consist of, but I was keen to find out.  A group of 9 of us met at the local hotel before setting off along the main road of Ashfield to discover some new delights.

We were given a hint of what we were about to discover.  I could only think of foods that may challenge a western palate, foods that tantalise the taste buds and an opportunity to discover flavours that I haven't tasted before.

Our first stop was at the newly opened Dessert Devil which will delight the palate.  We sampled sesame and aniseed biscuits, a glass of lemon water and walked away with a divine looking chili chocolate cupcake (which is in my fridge waiting for tonight's dessert!).  The girls are welcoming and are very talented and are enthusiastic about their craft.  The flavour combinations of their baking are awesome.   Check them out on their website or on Facebook for photos of their cakes. Plus they know that dessert will always come first (I know many people that believe in this philosophy!) - a tick in my book!

sesame and aniseed biscuits

chilli choclate cupcake

A few doors up at the Silver Spoon Cafe order a delectable and tantalising hot chocolate with rose syrup.  Robert has been a chef for the past 18-20 odd years and has decided to go into the cafe scene.  He has carefully selected Toby's Estate beans for his coffee and after only a couple of minutes speaking with him you can see he is just as passionate about coffee as he is with his cooking.  This hot chocolate is creamy and milky with rose accents that waft up to meet my nose.  I enjoyed this but I reckon I could have done with more rose syrup it was that good.

rose syrup hot chocolate

So that might constitute the 'wacky' part of the trip and following on from now is maybe the 'wild' part of the feasting.

We cross the road to Known-Best China Cuisine.  We discuss the three dishes that we could choose from (from a fast array of dishes) and we all agree on one. I get the feeling that we have surprised the staff as we pile around a big round table with a big lazy susan in the middle.  We are served hot jasmine tea and a big plate of their famous ox tongue, tripe and beef, a speciality of the house.  At $13.80 a plate it's good value.  The family have been running this business in China for a few generations and have now brought it to Australia.  I can see why they are famous in China!

Some of us really bite into it and give it a good chew, others are a little more apprehensive and only take a nibble, their minds fighting against their taste buds.  I have tried ox tongue and tripe before but not braised slow and low like this.  This plate is served sans sauce or noodle soup!

I'm delighted.  The ox tongue is tender and has a bit of spring to it.  The tripe has taken on the flavour of the broth that it is stewed in and is quiet pleasant and the beef is definitely 'beefy' but tender.  A good choice for everyones first experience with these cuts of protein.
ox tongue, trip and beef
It doesn't take long for us to all be buzzing about other foods that we have eaten.  The staff thought us 'westerners' were pretty brave and they gave us a cold spicy noodle dish to try to.  That was nice of them.  The cold noodles (called Golden Noodles) were tasty with a good kick of chilli!  The noodle is a fresh noodle and is a square shaped noodle.  It has bite and chewiness to it.  Good texture and the oily sauce sticks well to the starch. I like them.
golden noodles

A quick stop at a fast food place to sample tealeaf stewed eggs, which are hard boiled and a great snack on the go.

tealeaf stewed eggs

Further down the road, we come across China Fast Food - basically a restaurant with pre-made dishes displayed in the window and you pay per plate.  There is a massive selection of dishes that include the whole nose to tail concept.  This is a cuisine that uses up all the good bits!  One lady on the tour has requested that she not know what she is eating until after she has eaten it and we all agree to do that.  It actually helps because if you enjoy something and then find out what it is, it's hard to backtrack!!!

We are served up 4 dishes.  Two vegetarian friendly and the other two NOT vegetarian friendly.  The vegetarian dishes include a cold soya noodle dish and a gluten dish in a sweet sauce laced with peanuts. A great source of protein for those non meat eaters (and meat eaters alike!).  The non-vegetarian dishes included crispy pigs ear, which was a compressed into a terrine like block and thinly sliced, so you had crispy ribbons of ear set in an aspic/gelatine type slice.  I've eaten crispy pigs ears before, but not like this and the texture was a bit weird on the palate but it was tasty.  The dish of the day for me was the pig stomach!  Who would have guessed.  Slithers of pig stomach coated in a chilli and sesame sauce.  It's served cold and I couldn't stop digging in with my chopsticks.  Surprisingly, it was many of the groups favourite dish. 

prepared dishes to eat in or take out


crispy pigs ear and pork stomach

soya noodles and sweet gluten with peants

Our final stop on the tour is at Taste the Difference, which I can only call  5-spice meat store.  They sell pre-cooked cuts of protein mostly cooked in a 5 spice broth.  Pigs heads, trotters and other piggy parts, different types of sausages and deli meats and chicken parts including chicken feet and necks (a prize bit of the chicken apparently) and giblets.  We are offered some giblets to taste, being the only thing we could really eat in the shop as everything else needs to be prepared or cooked).  The giblets are gamy with a bit of a springy bite to them.  Nothing like the giblets mum used to pull out of the chicken and use in her chicken giblet soup (not saying that they weren't tasty, just a different preparation). 
tasty 5 spice meats

We finish off sharing a bag of freshly roasted chestnuts, which a lady is roasting at the front of the shop facing the street, enticing passers-by with the amazing aroma of roasting nuts.  Popping the piping hot, creamy chestnuts out of their pods were a bit difficult until our tour guide showed us that the chestnut had a cut in the shell to make opening them easier for the eater!  A perfect winter snack!
roasted chestnuts
This was a fantastic tour, tasty and knowledgeable (which it is all about right?)  and it's opened up a 'new' cuisine (to me) that I have not really eaten much of.  Northern Chinese cuisine is vastly different from the South.  It's predominately wheat based rather than rice based, so noodles and steamed buns take precedent.  The cuisine is hearty fare due to the long winters and relies on lots of pickled vegetables (due to the short harvesting season). 

The tour may be over, but the eating hasn't stopped yet.  A few of us head to Sydney Beijing Restaurant for lunch.  Like true foodies there is always room for more food.  You make the effort when new things are on offer!  There is only one other couple in the restaurant, but it is past lunch hour and we are seated in the corner under the large TV that is showing The Voice China.  I'll admit I am one of the few who doesn't watch The Voice, but something about the Chinese version sucks me in!  The judges certainly are no Seal, Delta, Joel or Ricky but it's fun to watch and listen.

But onto the food.  We had pre-ordered a Peking duck pancakes and we also choose a lamb in cumin dish and a mixed vegetable dish with family sauce (whatever that is!) and as a last, quick 'let's order this too' dish a tomato and omelet dish.  The Peking duck was nothing spectacular (but I've eaten this many times).  The hoisin sauce is strong, the pancakes thin and light and the duck's skin isn't as crispy as I expected.  I was wowed by the lamb in cumin.  Smoky and spicy it has an oily yellow sauce laced with cumin that you just need some rice with to sop up the delish sauce. This is a dish I will definitely order again and may even attempt in my own kitchen.  The vegetable dish comes to the table piled in sections on the plate and the sauce is added and mixed table side.  It's got peanuts and chilli and garlic and the flavours are similar to satay sauce.  The tomato and omelet dish is good and fresh.

before and after of the vegetables with family sauce

lamb with cumin

Peking duck ready to be rolled

tomato and omelet

All these restaurants are found on Liverpool Rd in and around the mall area.

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