Archive | food and drink RSS feed for this section

DAY 248: Getting inflamed by an African menu

6 May

It's supposed to hurt.

THE drinks list alone of the Nyala African Restaurant in Fitzroy is like a Shakespearean drama:

The first cup is bitter, like life,” the menu says of the mint tea, “the second is sweet, like love; the third is gentle, like death.

I order a coffee, which promises “passionate flavour”. If that’s not code for “even more alluringly vicious than Vietnamese coffee”, I don’t know what is.

I’ve never been to an African restaurant before – which is shameful, as Nyala’s been here for 20 years – and I’m pretty excited. The décor here’s warm and welcoming, and it smells like comfort food.

When my coffee arrives it’s thick and tarry and gives me a face like a bulldog chewing a wasp.  My fella’s beer smells as yeasty and syrupy as a brewery. In good ways. Sometimes you want a drink to really hurt.

Then my meal arrives, and it’s hurty spicy. The fluffy bread is lighter than celestial pancakes, and the hearty Ethiopian stew (you’ll find dishes here from all over the continent) suggests this cow has been marinading since infancy.

Look how fluffy.

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 243: Eating my nemesis

1 May

Eel action shot. I just sicked in my mouth.

 I’VE always had a morbid fear of eels.

I hear what you’re saying – sea snakes are worse – but perhaps because the English don’t eat jellied sea snakes and the beasts don’t hang out in rivers much* or star in porn films so regularly, they don’t rattle my cage.

The Mighty Boosh put it best when they mused:

Eels up inside ya
Findin an entrance where they can
Boring through your mind
Through your tummy
Through your anus

This blog’s named after an Eels song, though, and it’s all about facing your fears, so I order an eel something-or-other at this café in Chinatown and get cracking.

I look a bit like an eel in this frock.

Fortunately, when the thing arrives it’s nicely grilled, and looks and tastes like a bit of white fish. If it was a foot long and covered in jelly, that would be a different story all together.

Keeper? Will have to tackle a jellied eel next in England. Then that’s it.

* Did you know: Eels don’t hang out in watering holes; they only like running water.

DAY 239: Getting busted by the pumpkin cops

27 Apr

Ha. Ha.

ON the edge of the Big Desert, feral pumpkins roam the land like unloved kids. At first we deduce some must have scarpered under the fence from a farmer’s field and made a break for it, but they’re bloody everywhere.

They huddle at the sides of dirt tracks, make a run for it across great expanses of scrub and freeze when you turn around, so that they’re scattered like so many sinister pods in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.

We jump out of the ute and break green globes free from their vines, fired up with joy as though this sudden glut of vegetables has taken on some magical significance. Scattered around are tiny yellow balls with soft spikes, like the useless toys you find up near the till in useless tat shops. We have a baby pumpkin fight and I squash one in my palm to lick it. It explodes like a tomato, but it doesn’t taste good.

I climb up into the ute tray with the vegetable matter and hold on to the rack, ducking low-slung trees as the bush pirate goes chundering down Border Track, quite deliberately exploding rogue pumpkins as he goes.

The main road between Victoria and South Australia is punctuated by a Fruit Fly Quarantine Station, which means the number’s up for our new friends.

“Why is everyone so obsessed with our poisonous pumpkins?” one of the two uniformed women approaching the ute says incredulously. I can still taste deadly cucurbita on my lips. Suddenly we feel foolish for being so excited at our haul.

“Roll them over there with all the others,” she says, pointing at the undergrowth where hundreds of pumpkins have already fallen.

The border cops are nice enough though, looking after the rest of our hoard while we head into the nearest SA town to see what gives. You can’t blame them for being jaded – they’ve seen it all.

The neighbouring town’s a welcoming place, and we’ve a warm, fuzzy feeling by the time we pull up to the fruit fly quarantine station again. And here’s our friend with our cooler bag of dangerous salad leaves.

“We’re going to tell people it’s full of cocaine,” quips the bush pirate as we take her picture handing it over.

“That’s okay, we went through it,” she says, “it’s not in there anymore.”


Keeper? Gone right off pumpkins.

DAY 237: Pulling a pot in a country pub

25 Apr

The Pinnaroo Hotel.

WE’VE just crossed the border from Victoria to South Australia; first stop Pinnaroo.

Pinnaroo (pop. 900) is a no-nonsense, dusty sort of a town, peppered with railway tracks, silos, and the biggest specimens of farming equipment I’ve ever seen. It’s a town that sees itinerant workers passing through, although since the spud wash* closed a couple of years back, it’s been struggling a bit.

While I charge my iPhone and laptop like a nonce in the games room of the spotless Pinnaroo Hotel, and worry about where I can find a latte, the bush pirate pulls up a pew at the bar. He sinks a bunch of beers with the manager, Phil, who looks a bit like Dennis Hopper.

For a loner, the bush pirate sure can talk. By the time I come out, he’s learned the lay of the land, secured us multiple suggestions of swimming holes, an invitation to the local ATV race, told Phil all about this blog, and persuaded him to let me pull a pot behind the bar of his country pub so that I can add that to my list of things done. I pour Phil and the bush pirate a pot each, and Phil says they’re on the house.

“That’s a fucking great idea, that is,” he says, and wishes me luck on my quest.

“Hoo roo from Pinnaroo” a road sign bids as we leave.

Scuse face - eyes crazed from lack of latte.


Just having a look.

Keeper? We’ll always have Pinnaroo.

* I freely admit I have no idea what a spud wash is.

DAY 220: Baking bread

8 Apr

“DON’T blame me if this doesn’t work out,” says Clare, who said the same thing about my marriage, but I’ve let bygones be bygones.

Clare reads out bread-baking instructions over the phone and I slap a loaf together in real time. I add magic ingredients caraway seeds and Weetabix (that’s English for Weet-Bix) for a special touch. It turns out really good, and I think taking it out too early makes it even more gummy and tasty.

This lack of trust by my friends in my domestic skills is shocking though, because today I’ve darned shorts, hoovered the rug, arranged the pantry with Tupperware boxes, paired my socks and baked a loaf – all without incident. If somebody could teach me how to make a lasagne, I reckon I’ve got everything covered.

Keeper? Curiously, this all felt really satisfying. My house smells of scented candles, chai tea and freshly baked bread, instead of rabbit mess.

DAY 147: Eating curious things

25 Jan

My haul.

COR, I’ve never seen so many junkies in one place. There must be some sort of convention on.

Victoria Street is crawling with the shifty buggers today, all moving in that peculiar, sphincter-clenching gait that’s native to the area. No wonder all the shopkeepers are so impatient with me on my quest to eat curious things.

“How would it be fresh if it was kept outside?” one snaps at my request for durian fruit that isn’t frozen. He stops just short of pushing his tongue into his chin, spastic-style.

Next stop is a bubble tea. Kiwi snow shake bubble tea with jelly, to be precise. Jelly that takes you by surprise when it shoots up your straw. Then there’s a packet of Aloe Vera dessert and a can of grass jelly drink; ingredients: grass jelly, sugar, water. Simple. The woman scoots my change across the counter at me with a frown, so as not to touch my hands.

I take the haul back to the office. Half an hour in, I’ve consumed so much sugar-water, I’ve probably developed thrush. I’m keen to get onto the durian though – a fruit so legendarily stinky that in many Asian countries there are signs banning it from hotels and other establishments.

With the cellophane on it smells like over-ripe mango, but the moment the cellophane comes off, an offensive whiff gusts into the office and clears it. It’s bad, all right. A bit of rotten eggs, a bit of blue cheese, a bit of je ne sais quoi. As soon as it’s in my mouth, I lose the smell, but it adheres itself to my teeth like putty.

Keeper? On occasion. I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied with a drink without jelly in it again.

DAY 135: Becoming a psycho Chiko chick

13 Jan

I’M going for my citizenship test soon, so I’m keen to immerse myself in as much Australian culture as possible – particularly since a question on this national delicacy is bound to come up in the test.

“A cheeko roll please,” I toothily bid the good man at Wanna Pizza Me on Elizabeth Street.

He scrapes a saturated cylinder off the bain marie, puts it in a little paper jacket and hands it over. I peruse it sombrely, weighing its sinister, leaden mass in my hand. The best thing to come out of Wagga Wagga since the Sturt Highway, this is, and already it reeks like yesterday’s regrets.

Together with two giant coffees, the Chiko Roll is to make up today’s breakfast… but five minutes in I’m like a kid amped up on orange squash. I make a few regrettable phone calls that should have gone well, before realising I’m so flushed with adrenalin-pumping food-rage I actually want to punch on. Cor – that’s after just three inches, imagine what the full seven would do.

I back away from my inbox and telephone for a bit, and instead have a quick Google of the snack. On eBay there’s a Chiko Roll chick sticker going for $76.

There have been some surfy, Roxy-style updates, but you can't really top this ad. The angles are poetic.

Keeper? If I’m planning on making an emphatic point I might snort one of these down first.

DAY 116: Making a Sudanese feast

25 Dec

EVERY Boxing Day for the last four years, the East African Community of Castlemaine have put on a thank you feast for the local people who have helped them with things like English and maths tutoring, computer skills and driving lessons. This year’s event marks a particularly pertinent time, as the Southern Sudanese independence referendum is in 11 days time, affecting everyone preparing for the gathering in the Campbells Creek Community Centre tomorrow.

This evening, I head down to the council office kitchens to help some Sudanese women prepare the food.

Arob pulls up a chair for me and shows me how to dice the potatoes just so, for a mincemeat and vegetable dish. I’m thankful she’s got the job of peeling the potatoes so that I don’t show myself up… but then she examines my dicing technique critically and says, “We will try you with something else.”

Now I’ve got a box of okra to work through, which is way easier, particularly when Arob urges me to work at a more leisurely pace. “Last year we were still doing this at five the next morning,” she says, handing me a cup of tea and a biscuit.

We have a chat about the merits of Castlemaine over Melbourne and Arob’s husband pops in with some more food. Some pleasantries are exchanged, probably: “This girl’s nice enough, but she can’t even cut a potato.”

Keeper? Yes.

DAY 61: Cooking seafood

31 Oct

Totally cooking those scallops.

IF Helen’s hamming it up, she’s doing a marvellous job. “Fantastic,” she says, tucking into scallops and broccoli, delicately singed with chilli and garlic. “Really, really good.”

Upping the ante thrillingly from Day 11, in which I ate seafood, I’ve put out the call for suggestions for a seafood dish to cook myself, but since these suggestions ranged from “penguin” to “fish fingers” to the bloody impossible ” bouillabaisse”, I’ve decided to go down the scallop route. I’m pleased to be broadening my practical skills, although I’m mortified when I complain to Helen about the toxic garlic and chilli fumes infiltrating the house, and she pleasantly offers, “That’s why I always shut the kitchen door.”

I reckon there’s a ways to go before I think of things like that off my own bat.

Keeper? Yes! Will try mussel broth next time, and laugh in the face of food poisoning.

DAY 57: Getting a rebetika education

27 Oct

REBETIKA is like the blues of Greek music, with seamy, underbelly connotations. A band plays every Wednesday at Spitiko in South Melbourne so I went along with Clare to see them.

Earlier in the day I leapt out of the car upon passing a big watermelon. I’ve got a hankering to visit all the big things in Australia (avocado, prawn and banana are already under the belt), so if anyone fancies doing a heeeey-I’m-sure-that’s-been-done-before road trip… well, let’s do it.

Keeper? Yes, and yes.