Stewed emu

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On my recent trip to Australia I wanted to experience all the different aspects of Australian culture as I could. One of the most important sides to the local culture is undeniably the aboriginal influence. I tried to seek out native Australians and their culture wherever I could. One of the more interesting places is at Tjapukai near Cairns where aboriginals show your their costumes, dance, didgeridoo and fire-making skills.

Upon arrival we were served an array of canapes, one of which was braised emu. An emu is a bird that’s very similar to an ostrich, but perhaps a little smaller, and native to Australia. Like its big brother, emu is more comparable to meat than to poultry, and you can serve it as you would a steak. In this case however the meat was stewed down and very tender. It was served with a slightly sweet native plum sauce that was a great match for the somewhat gamey meat.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 8

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Mango chocolate

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Dove in China has been known to bring out some more unusual chocolate combinations. A recent batch saw the arrival of mango flavored chocolate, a pairing I had never seen before. Where most of the Dove creations in the past had been made with white chocolate, the mango one was made with regular milk chocolate. In the end there was nothing to be concerned about as the combination of the sweet mango and the creamy chocolate did indeed work. You could definitely taste the mango and the chocolate, but luckily the flavors didn’t clash.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 7

Soft shell crab

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During my recent trip to Bali I ended up in a Spanish tapas restaurant called Cuca which was awarded by Tripadvisor as one of the top 10 restaurants in the world. My friend and I decided to order the chef’s tasting menu and saw dish after dish arriving at our table. At one point we were presented with a tempura fried soft shell crab along with a dipping sauce.

Soft shell crab is not a separate species of crab, but rather a crab that has just shed it’s skin leaving with a soft outer shell. It is at this point that the whole animal can be eaten, including its outer shell. The crab meat was very nice and a little sweet and the tempura coating gave it a nice crunchy texture. I do think, however, that the eating the shell is mainly an aesthetic thing as it doesn’t really add much flavor. It’s just interesting to get to eat a whole piece of crab, rather than a spoonful of shredded meat.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Torch ginger flower ice cream

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During my vacation in Bali I came across torch ginger flower in my food a couple of times. At one restaurant the waiter explained that this flower does not actually stem from what we know as ginger root. It is a big red flower, bigger than a human hand, that grows in South East Asia and is often used in savory dishes.

In a restaurant in Ubud called Spice, which is owned by the same chef as the highly established Mozaic, it came in a sweet form instead of savory. It was used to flavor some ice-cream that was served with a rather lovely crème brulee. The taste of the ice-cream. However, was a bit generic. It was a good ice-cream, but I would never have guess the magic ingredient. I think this one just needs a little more work.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test – 6

Wasabi Oreos

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Here’s something I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. Wasabi Oreos. Yet there it was, on the shelves of the supermarket. It was a limited edition, the same time as those chicken wing flavored ones, so I was lucky to buy a pack when I could. The actual cookies were just regular Oreo cookies, but the stuffing was extremely green almost as if it was pure wasabi paste. I’m thinking now that perhaps it actually was just plain wasabi, because as soon as I had a bite I got this massive whack in the face that only wasabi or horseradish can give you. I tell you, it was not pleasant.

Fear Factor – 6 / Taste Test – 1

Sea salt ice cream

 

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Putting salt into desserts is nothing new, of course. We’ve seen a whole slew of salted caramels and salted chocolate and yet I had never had salt – or salted – ice-cream before. I had heard about sea salt ice-cream being a hit in Japan, and even making it’s way down to Australia, but it wasn’t until Pizza Hut in China started offering the treat on its menu that I had the chance to try it for myself.

The ice-cream came out looking rather blue, which I just can’t imagine is natural. It did, however, remind me somewhat of the ocean which of course is where sea salt comes from. Tasting it was not at all unpleasant. It wasn’t salty in the sense that you were dying for a sip of water. Yet you could taste the salt in the ice-cream. It was as if you could taste salt without it being salty, if that makes any sense. Of course salt is hailed by chefs around the world as a way of enhancing the natural flavors of food, so perhaps it does make sense after all.

Fear Factor – 2 / Taste Test – 7

Braised wallaby tail

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When people think of Australia often the first thing they think about is the native animals such as kangaroos and koalas. Some people find it strange that Australians would eat kangaroo because they are so cute, but as always “you eat what you have” and for Australia that includes animals such as kangaroo, wallaby and emu. Having said that you might find it difficult to find any of these animals on a restaurant menu as most people have converted to the usual suspects of beef, pork, lamb and chicken. There are even less restaurants that put their entire focus on native.

One of the forerunners of cooking with native ingredients is Kylie Kwong whose award winning restaurant Billy Kwong is closing in a few months. I’ve known Kylie for years now through her appearances on Masterchef Australia and was eager to taste her fusion of Chinese cuisine and native Australian ingredients and booked seat at the bar. They were running a couple of specials that night of which I ordered the braised wallaby tail in a red pepper sauce.

Wallaby is a species of marsupials that look very similar to kangaroos. They are often seen as small versions of them. They use their massive tails just as much as they use their feet, which is why they are of a subspecies called macro pod. The best cuts of meat often come from parts of animals that have been used regularly which is definitely the case for the wallaby tail. It was braised for 8 hours and was presented on the bone much like an oxtail. To me it even tasted like beef with just a hint of sweetness. The meat was extremely succulent and I had no problem getting it off the bone using only chopsticks. It’s a shame the restaurant is closing but also exciting to see what the future holds for Kylie.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 9