Kenari nut

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A kenari nut is a kind of nut that grows on trees that belong to the genus of Canarium, which is found mostly on the southern hemisphere. Though not all of these trees bear edible fruits or nuts, the ones in Indonesia definitely do, which is why the kenari nut is sometimes called Java almond. I don’t generally like nuts very much, so I ended up giving this a slightly higher Fear Factor than most people would, but bear with me.

I didn’t actually seek this nut out. It was presented as part of a chef’s tasting menu at acclaimed restaurant Mozaic in Ubud. The chef had candied some of the nuts as a garnish and extra texture to go along a starfruit dessert. I soon found that kenari nuts are called Java almonds for more reason than one as they do indeed resemble an almond. That’s a good thing to me as I don’t mind almonds as much as I do other nuts. They had a similar texture but also a certain sweetness. Though that could have just been because of the sugar coating.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 7

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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

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

Quandong

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It’s difficult to really tell what Australian food is. It’s mostly British food such as meat pies and fish ‘n chips or  food with an Asian influence. More and more however, restaurants around the country are starting to cook with native Australian ingredients like the Aboriginals have done for thousands of years. During my visit to Cairns I went to a restaurant called Ochre that tries to highlight local ingredients.

One of such ingredients is the quandong. A quandong is a fruit that is said to resemble a peach and has a brain-like nut hiding inside its fleshy exterior. This is a favorite food of emus and the aboriginals would go and pick out the nuts from the emu droppings. I didn’t get to try the nut, but the fruit itself. It was used as a base for a crème brulee with a few pieces of the fruit on the side.

Personally I thought the quandong fruit was much more like a plum. It was quite tart with a hint of sweetness. It was also a little chewy as if it had been dried a little, but not so much that it resembled a prune. The crème brulee itself was really smooth and the tartness of the quandong worked really well against the sweetness of the dessert.

Fear Factor – 0 / Taste Test  – 8

Goat liver mousse

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A few entries ago I wrote about a visit to the amazing restaurant Locavore in Bali where I was served dried goats heart as part of a tasting menu. That dish actually had a few more twists up its sleeve. It consisted mostly of a goats liver mousse.

I love patés and liver mousse in general, but had never even heard of using goats liver. Goat can have a real barnyardy flavour which I don’t always enjoy. In this case there was still a small hint petting zoo, but it was perfectly countered by the richness of the liver mousse. It was really creamy and delicious with just enough barnyard flavour to remind you that you’re eating goat.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 8

Duck tongue dumplings

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Here in China it’s quite common to find a place to buy all kinds of roasted duck snacks. You’ll find the necks, the heads and also the tongues. I had tried beef tongue before, which I liked, but duck tongue is something else. There something about the look that just puts you off. For one, you don’t get an indistinguishable slice, but the whole tongue. Also, duck tongues are just alien looking as they are forked like a snake’s.

While I was in Singapore I went out for some dim sum at a restaurant by Masterchef Canada judge Alvin Leung. I had eaten in some of his restaurants before and always enjoyed his take on Chinese food. On the menu was a duck tongue dumpling which I could not pass on. The dumpling wrapper was extremely delicate and was stuffed with a mixture of vegetables. This was topped with a whole duck tongue. Honestly, I couldn’t tell much of the flavor as the stuffing dominated the dish, but I definitely recognized the tongue by its chewiness. I think this is one thing I’ll have to try again on its own.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 6

Grilled pork neck

 

FullSizeRenderOn the hunt for Thai food I found a restaurant called Err in the historic center of Bangkok. This Bib Gourmand bestowed restaurant was started by the same team behind big brother Bo.Lan. This is also where I had that whole crispy chicken skin. Of course that’s no all I had, I also ordered a portion of grilled pork neck.

I had had horse mane and chicken neck before, but never pork neck and I imagined it would be very fatty. It was fatty, but only a little. The meat wasn’t streaked with fat like bacon, but had a consistency halfway between meat and fat. It was served with a spicy tamarind sauce with made for a great tangy dip.

Fear Factor – 3 / Taste Test – 7

Durian tart

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In my last blog entry I mentioned my visit to the Erawan Tearoom in Bangkok where I enjoyed an afternoon tea. First came some tiny scones which only made me hungrier, but then a three-tiered plethora of Thai snacks arrived and I was hungry no more.

Among the many sweet and savory bites were crab dumplings, mango and sticky rice and to my horror a durian tart. Durian is one of those things hat my old readers know I hate. It was one of my first blog entries scoring super low on the taste test because it all but made me gag. I can’t fathom why people would enjoy eating something that tastes of rotten onion?

I’d be damned if I let my fears get in the way of polishing of the expensive plates I had already paid for though, so before I was even aware of doing it my hand stretched towards the tart. It actually looked rather appetizing and it didn’t smell that bad either. The taste completely took me by surprise. I could still taste the strong flavors of durian that are oh so familiar to me, and yet it didn’t make me want to gag. It was as if it was as pungent but not as strong like a sweet gorgonzola where you can taste blue cheese but not too strong.

Fear Factor – 4 / Taste Test – 6

Pandan tea

 

 

FullSizeRenderPandan is a grass often used in Southeast Asia for making desserts. It gives a distinctive green color to any dish it is used in. I tried it before in a cream filled cake, but there was hardly any cream to get a good taste, so when I went to Thailand it was time for round two.

I visited the esteemed Erawan Tea Room in Bangkok for one of their afternoon teas. The set was quite unique with lots of miniature Thai dishes and pastries. Of course I was also asked which tea I preferred and so I opted for an iced pandan tea.

It arrived with a piece of pandan sticking out and served with a sugar syrup on the side to sweeten it if you wanted. I tried it first without sugar and it tasted almost exactly like rice. Surely these two plants must be related. After I sweetened it, it became more palatable for my taste like a regular iced tea.

Fear Factor – 1 / Taste Test – 6