To re-spark my creativity and eat is why I travel and there’s no better way to start both than a visit to one of Sydney’s local markets.
This is Paddy’s Market, a produce market on one end and a “fringe market” on the other selling clothes and novelties. My Bin eats half of a custard apple (atis) every day that we’re in Australia; so enamored is he with them. These are huge and heavy and taste a lot like the ones from Manila but with fewer seeds. I’ll never forget the American chef I met years ago who taught me how to roast butternut squash with a little brown sugar, butter and honey. “Use Australian butternut squash if you can,” he tells me. “It’s the best.” And here they are. I order every butternut squash dish that I come across, so crazy am I for it . Here’s one of my favorites: a butternut and eggplant tempura cloaked in a curry sauce. A typical Aussie Big Breakfast: two “fresh cracked eggs”, bacon, sea-salted
tomatoes, veal Chipolata, field mushrooms, potato gems (what Americans call tater tots), and toast. Side of Baked Beans up top.
A meal (interrupted for an almost-forgotten photo op) celebrating Australia’s bounty. Fried soft-shell crabs with cherry tomatoes, snow pea salad, and a citrus dipping sauce; a cold seafood salad, and of course, chips (french fries) and tomato sauce (ketchup) on the side. Here’s something that I eat in an Italian restaurant that’s new to me and which I enjoy very much. Crochette, deep-fried mushroom “croccquette” (croquette) served with a spicy tomato sauce. Possessing a texture liked mashed potatoes, the meatiness of the mushrooms has been distilled so much that it actually tastes like there are truffles in there.
Australia’s booming population of Asian immigrants has deeply influenced the local food landscape. Here are some delicious examples:
Overnight Pork Belly: braised for 24 hours in a sweet soy sauce. Unbelievably clean-tasting, the fat is firm, the pork, tender to the teeth. The sauce is so thick that it coats lips. … and their sushi rolls. My favorite is the salmon-avocado roll (platter on lower right, below), a harmonious combination of a fatty fish and a fatty fruit. Meat pies are a staple in Australia, a favorite snack. Best when hand-held and eaten with crumbs trailing down one’s chin, the varieties are astounding. In my travels, I’ve not come across a country that’s as obsessed with ice cream as the Australians. Ice cream is everywhere here: in specialty cafés, gelato shops, eaten from cups, licked from cones, or bought at the local convenience store. The variety is astounding. Australia is Magnum country, where this famed ice cream treat was launched more than 20 years ago. I can’t believe how many different riffs there are on chocolate-coated ice cream. I hope the Magnum Big Choc Bikkie, with crunchy biscuit pieces and the Magnum White Chocolate will make it to Manila. Lamingtons, a very typical Australian sweet. Squares of sponge cake are dipped in chocolate and then finished with shredded coconut. I buy these at an up-market grocery and eat a little for breakfast everyday. They’re moist and buttery with just enough chocolate. As a coconut lover, I like the flavor it adds to the sweet. A sweet thing that I become quite obsessed with while I’m in Australia is the Caramel Slice. A bar cookie, it’s a shortbread crust on which sits a layer of caramel and a thin glaze of chocolate. A coffeehouse menu regular, it comes in an amazing array – from an equal ratio of crust to caramel, a crust made from coconut, to a caramel in which macadamias are embedded (below). Delicious, all!
Australian scones are similar (if not the same) to their British counterparts. Floury and firm, they’re what Americans would call biscuits.
I find that cupcakes aren’t as much of a craze in Australia as they continue to be in the States. I only count about four different kinds of cupcake (brands) in Sydney. Still, these cute little things are jewels to behold, their stores a wonderland of buttery aromas. Australian cupcakes aren’t as sweet as those I’ve tasted elsewhere, and the cake is somewhat spongier, not as dense.
The most outrageous cupcake “topper” that I encounter in Australia: mini cream puffs atop a vanilla cupcake; such caloric bravado given the rather harmless name of “Custard Tumble.” Frankly, I find these quite frightening.
Adriano Zumbo is an Australian pastry chef known for his whimsical and bold creations. His patisserie at The Star Hotels & Casino feature little “ovens” where customers pick and choose among the various flaky delights, and a dessert train (similar in concept to a sushi train). Unfortunately, it only runs in the evening, so this afternoon, I make do with the macarons which are out-the-door popular (and pricey!)
My Adriano Zumbo macarons: Salted Caramel (orange) and Milo (green). Chewier than the average macaron, what sets these apart is the way the flavors are pure and power through the mouth.
What I Drink in Australia
I rarely drink cola but I find carbonated drinks like ginger ale and Ginger Beer irresistible. Sold in Manila under the Bundaberg brand, which is also common here in Australia, this fizzy beverage cools with a slight sweetness. I’ve heard about other ginger beers that are rather “fiery” made with more ginger but I’ve yet to find those. Dairy products in Australia are absolutely exceptional: eggs are free-range and possess golden yolks, cheese is wondrous, and the milk, my god! the milk and cream and double cream… I immerse myself in the rapture of all this divine dairy. Here, the copy on the side of a box of chocolate milk; it makes me laugh out loud.
There are several chocolate cafés that I come across, some of them the establishments of revered chocolate brands like Lindt and Guylian. Hot chocolate is something they all proudly offer and I order it when I can, it being my favorite drink in the world. I have high hopes for each one but some are watery, having been made from cocoa powder, or some have just too much milk. When it’s a good cup of hot chocolate however – those pictured here – it’s celestial.
A collage of the hot chocolate served at the Lindt cafe. A pitcher of hot steamed milk is served and I add just enough to transform the melted-down bar of Lindt chocolate into a thick, satisfying drink.
The Flat White vs The Latte
There are only two places in Manila that serve a flat white: McCafé and Dome. In Australia however, a flat white is very common and can be found on any coffeehouse menu.
What exactly is a flat white? And is it any different from a latte? I harbor romantic notions about the former, fueled by passionately written treatises on coffee websites maintaining that yes, there is a difference. Ostensibly, the difference lies mainly in the quality of the milk foam: a latte’s is more frothy or airy, while that of a flat white’s is more velvety and “flat.” If you’ve seen baristas banging the frothing pitcher on the counter to eliminate air bubbles, the resultant milk foam is an example of that used in a flat white.
After consulting with several baristas in cafes throughout Sydney however, what all of the above really are are just fanciful facts. The hard truth: it’s different terminology for the same drink based only on the vessel it’s served in.
A flat white is served in a cup. Of course, if I’m taking the coffee to go, the difference is nil. Still, the flat white is my hot beverage of choice while in Sydney. I love the silkiness of the milk, marvels of finely-spun bubbles of foam capping a cup of strong coffee. Flat whites forever!