Sydney’s Good Food Month + Homemade Southeast Asian Dishes

November 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

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Last month was Good Food Month in Sydney, so you can imagine how excited I was. The whole month was dedicated to highlighting Sydney’s best chefs and eateries through festivals and special events. I didn’t get to attend all of the events I was interested in but I was fortunate enough to enjoy several of the main ones!

Smooth’s Festival of Chocolate

photo 3 copy            {Peanut butter chocolate bar with caramel popcorn = Snickers bar x 10}

The month started off with Smooth’s Festival of Chocolate in The Rocks. In addition to the usual Rocks Markets that occur every Saturday and Sunday, there were long strands of food stalls that mostly had sweet offerings, especially chocolate, but there were also numerous savory options.

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I had knafeh for the first time that day and I seriously hope it wasn’t my last. Knafeh is a traditional Middle Eastern cheese pastry topped with sweet syrup. The one at Knafeh Bakery is a rich, creamy twice-baked sweet semolina-cheese custard served with pistachios and sweet syrup. It was absolutely delicious and it was served hot straight out of the oven.

Chinatown’s Little Eat Street Festival

photo 4 copy                                 {BBQ octopus and skewered shu mai}

Each Friday night during Good Food Month, there was a festival in Chinatown that was filled with many foods you would normally be able to buy on the streets of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other regions in Asia.

photo 4 copy 2                            {Roti canai in the making at the Mamak stand}

It was comforting to be surrounded by such familiar foods and was a cool experience explaining what certain dishes were to my friends who weren’t familiar with this type of cuisine.

 photo 5                    {Crackling pork belly + Kaarage chicken with spicy aioli}

Mr. Bao was hands down my favorite food stand of the night. The soft, pillowy baos (“buns” in Chinese) are the perfect vessel for the savory, flavorful fillings. Both the pork belly and chicken were delicious but I am partial to the Kaarage chicken with spicy aioli. The fried chicken was crispy on the outside yet juicy and tender on the inside and I am a sucker for spicy mayo.

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Deep fried Tim Tams. Yes, this is real life. I knew I had to try one the second I saw it.

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Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed because I was expecting it to be just as amazing as fried Oreos. The Tim Tam cookie is still firm when you bite into it unlike its American counterpart, which simply melts in your mouth. Nevertheless, it was still a deep fried Tim Tam so I was happy.

Night Noodle Markets

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The Night Noodle Markets are a staple of Good Food Month. They were held everyday for almost the entire month in Hyde Park. Despite the name, the festival offered much more than just noodles, although my friend had some good Pad Thai there. Various Asian cuisines were represented, ranging from traditional to creative fusion dishes.

According to my friends and the articles I read about this festival, I had to get the famous ramen burger. This was a big craze back in New York and is still popular but I never had the chance to try it so I figured this was the perfect opportunity. I ordered it with a beef patty (there were also pork, chicken, and vegetarian options) and it came with a side salad and watermelon.

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The burger met my expectations and tasted amazing. The beef was tender and the spicy mayo (I told you I was a sucker for spicy mayo) that came with it was a great addition. It appeared that the ramen noodle “buns” were made by boiling the noodles, forming them into circles, and pan-frying them on only one side. This resulted in a crispy exterior that held together the “bun” while the interior tasted like regular noodles. I almost felt like I was eating a handheld beef lo mein dish and it was awesome.

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Another highlight of the night was a pandan waffle topped with coconut ice cream and crushed peanuts. I’m glad I quickly got over its St. Patrick’s Day appearance because the waffle was absolutely delicious. Of course, it was only made better with a scoop of creamy ice cream and the peanuts provided a nice crunch. I love the modern take on the traditional flavor combination of pandan and coconut, which is customary to Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese cuisines.

After visiting these food markets and wanting to spice up my cooking, I was inspired to make Vietnamese rice paper rolls and Thai red curry with chicken.

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

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These Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls look impressive but they’re actually really simple to make and if desired, can involve absolutely no cooking. If you’re like me and are starting to get tired of packing a salad or sandwich for lunch, make these rice paper rolls the morning of and then pack them in a container with an ice pack or refrigerate.

I made an easy peanut sauce by combining smooth peanut butter, soy sauce, honey, garlic paste, ginger paste, and chilli flakes to taste and then thinning it out with water until I was happy with the consistency.

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If you aren’t familiar with rice paper rolls, it may seem really strange. When you take the rice paper out of the package, it almost seems like a stiff piece of plastic. To soften it, you soak it for about five seconds in a bowl of warm water, or until it becomes pliable. You don’t want the rice paper to become too soft or else it becomes difficult to work with.

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I spread the peanut sauce on the rice paper before adding the other ingredients but you can also choose to serve it as a dipping sauce. I stuffed my rolls with leafy greens, carrots, bell peppers, cucumbers, Thai basil, and tofu to make these vegetarian for a Meatless Monday but the great thing about this dish is that it is extremely adaptable to your tastes so have fun experimenting! Side note: I was really proud when I discovered in the above link that Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health helped revive the Meatless Monday movement (Go Hop!).

Thai Red Curry with Chicken 

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The nice thing about making my own Thai curry is that I can control how spicy it is and have plenty of leftovers. I also like adding just enough protein for each meal at a time instead of for the entire curry so the dish can be vegetarian if I want. I’ve eaten this curry with chicken and tofu separately over brown rice and both were delicious.

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Although they probably aren’t quite authentic, I was happy that the Vietnamese rice paper rolls and Thai red curry turned out well and that I had leftovers so I didn’t have to cook as much during the week, which is especially helpful when you share a kitchen with seven other people!

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