Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin

I’m always on the look out for the fresh and cheap places to buy fruits and vegetables wherever I am. This morning I headed off to the Sunday morning Rapid Creek Markets in Darwin.

I was thrilled to find a busy market full of shoppers and stalls. This is a proper food market for the locals. Not a tourist market you so often see around the world, selling the same commercialised, overpriced items. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices. The focus is predominantly on Asian produce. There were lots of herbs, greens and vegetables that I could not identify. Coming home and Googling has not been fruitful so I’ll just have to go back to ask their names and buy some to try these weird and wonderful things for myself!

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Vegetables for Sale at Rapid Creek Market

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Lemons and Limes for Sale

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Vegies for Sale at Rapid Creek Market

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Fruits for Sale at Rapid Creek Market

In addition to the fresh fruit and vege, there were lot stalls selling Asian goodies both savoury and sweet. There were stalls that would make fresh fruit juices and smoothies. Other stalls selling savoury Asian dishes, either pre-made or cooked in front of you. I bought some interesting looking steamed glutinous rice packages. There were numerous other Asian sweets on offer as well. Some of the other weird and wonderful vegetables on sale include Kaffir limes, tiny chillies, pea eggplants, kangkung, four angled beans, bitter gourd, bitter melon and much, much more. There was even a store selling Tau Foo Fah (soybean custard) and Nian Gao, the sweet, sticky rice cake traditionally made at Chinese New Year time.

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Fresh Fruit Smoothie Stall

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A Collection of Asian Sweets for Sale

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Black Sticky Rice for Sale

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Sticky Rice Packages with Banana and Black Beans

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Thai Food Stall at Rapid Creek Market

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Indonesian and Malaysian Cuisine Food Stall

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Paw Paw Salad Freshly Made in a Mortar and Pestle

This lady made my paw paw salad fresh as I waited using her mortar and pestle. She asked me if I wanted it spicy and I said “yes!” She got a crazy gleam in her eye as she smiled in acknowledgement and I knew instantly I’d probably regret it! The salad was very fresh and very tasty but VERY spicy, TOO spicy! Next time, I’ll have to swallow my pride and ask for it, less spicy!

The humidity of Darwin’s wet season means I’m sweaty and hot but I’m happy. Nothing like bags of cheap and fresh produce to put me in a good mood and carrying my loot home, I’m feeling great and looking forwards to my Darwin adventure!

Cooking in Sanur, Bali

One of my most favourite things to do when I travel is to do a cooking class. I find that they are always lots of fun and I tend to meet interesting and lovely people doing a cooking class. It’s something about the people who love to cook and love to eat! These are my kind of people! Of course, I love to learn about food and culture and life as well which you can do on a cooking class.

When I visited Sanur in Bali, I did a cooking class with Chef Mudana at his home in Sanur. This cooking school is a relatively new business venture by this experienced Chef and I think it will do very well because of his bright and attentive personality and the sheer number of dishes he manages to get through in a session. In class, we were taught 9 different recipes. Whilst this seems like a daunting number of dishes for only 2 hours of cooking time, it really helps a Balinese food amateur understand how the Balinese spice mix called Bumbu Bali is the basis of a number of dishes and how many of the other dishes have the same starting point. Once you have the basics sorted out, you have the foundation for other recipes.

Chef Maduna

Chef Mudana of Chef Mudana Cooking School in Sanur, Bali

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning of the morning before discussing the various dishes. First we had a market tour at Jimbaran fish market. It’s right on the beach where we could see fishermen checking their nets for small sardine fish.

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Fishermen at Jimbaran, Bali

The fish market itself is a wet market so I would avoid this part if you are squeamish about being in a wet market. The fish and other seafood looked fresh and the seafood market was not smelly at all.

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Tuna Fish at Jimbaran Fish Market

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Fresh Fish for Sale at Jimbaran Fish Market

For the first time ever, I saw a mahi-mahi fish. It’s a strange looking fish, very thin but long with a strange protruding forehead and vibrant colours.

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Mahi-Mahi at Jimbaran Fish Market

I like visiting markets especially on a tour like this one because it gives me a chance to ask a local lots of questions. I can get help to identify all manner of new fruits, vegetables and animal products as well as get a feel for local prices and the way local people like to shop for their food.

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Stink Bean (Petai)

Snake Fruit

Snake Fruit

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Rambutan

After we purchased fish and prawns, we bought the vegetables and the chicken. From there, we went to Chef Mudana’s home where we were treated to a light breakfast of fruit and local sweets. The sweets are called Lak Lak and Lupis and they were served with grated coconut and a drizzle of palm sugar syrup. Lak Lak are made with rice flour and has a chewy texture a little like crumpets. Lupis are triangular dumplings made with glutinous rice within banana leaves and boiled. They are similar in concept Chinese rice dumplings wrapped in leaves and there are many, many scrumptious variations both savoury and sweet all across South East Asia (that’s one of the things I love about food and cooking – you can take one great concept and across the various cultures in the region, there can still be so much variation).

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Balinese Sweets – Lak Lak and Lupis served with Grated Coconut and Palm Sugar Syrup

After munching down on the Balinese sweet treats and some tropical rambutan and mango, we got started on the cooking. Chef Maduna carefully explains the traditional Balinese ingredients and cooking methodology encouraging us to smell, touch and taste during the cooking process. The recipes or dishes we prepared during the class are as follows

Bumbu Bali – this is the traditional Balinese spice mix which will give a classic Balinese taste. Whilst this was ground using a mortar and pestle in class to demonstrate traditional methods, I would definitely be using a food processor for speed and efficiency!  In fact, I think doing a big batch and then freezing small portions of this would make a speedy cheat on a busy night to give a dish an exotic flavour lift!

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Raw Ingredients for Bumbu Bali (Balinese Spice Mix)

Ayam Betutu – tender, juicy, steamed chicken coated in the Bumbu Bali. It was also stuffed with more of the spice mix and greens. The result here was tender, flavourful chicken and yields quite a large amount of spiced chicken juices which I think would make a delicious stock for soup, risotto or rice.

Sate Lilit Ayam – this is a grilled spicy chicken mince shaped around a lemongrass skewer. This dish was also flavoured with the Bumbu Bali and contains a surprisingly large proportion of grated coconut compared to the chicken. During class, these were cooked over a charcoal grill with the lemongrass stalks. I think if I do this at home, I can use my sandwich press to cook them. The flattened shape won’t be authentic but they will still be tasty and perfect finger food for a party!

Soup Cramcam Ayam – This Balinese chicken soup has an interesting backstory. It too uses the Bumbu Bali to flavour the dish. Originally this soup was invented as a way to make the tough meat of fighting cockerels palatable once these birds had finished their cockfighting careers – unfortunately they didn’t often die of old age! Hence the use of mince and soup to counteract the tough, dryness of these kind of chickens! Smart cooking!

Sayur Urab – a vegetable dish of blanched vegetables, sautéed aromatics and freshly grated coconut. A healthy dish with a bit of spice and lot of texture. Yum!

Gado Gado –  a famous Indonesian dish of blanched vegetables and hard-boiled egg served with a peanut sauce. Deep fried tofu and tempeh are added for texture and protein.

Ikan Sambal Matah – a slab of simple, grilled fish topped with a spicy raw mix of aromatics called Sambal Matah. Sambal Matah is basically chopped garlic, shallots, lemongrass, chilli, kaffir lime leaves, lime and coconut oil. How can such a combination whilst still raw be tasty? Well, it is! It’s my favourite thing about Balinese cuisine. I don’t need anything except Sambal Matah and steamed rice and I am in a tasty food heaven! Well, the mix is delicious on fish as well. I think it would be a fun thing to whip up for a BBQ as a spicy, tasty topping for any grilled meats.

Sambal Udang – this is a prawn dish stir fried with chilli, shallots, garlic and tomatoes. Simple but delicious!

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Sambal Udang (right), Sate Lilit (Top), Gado Gado (left) and Sayur Urab (centre)

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Ikan Sambal Matah (left) and Ayam Betetu (right)

Dadar gulung – a dessert of thin green crepes wrapped around a palm sugar, grated coconut mixture. There’s something about the fragrance of palm sugar which takes this dessert to another level

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DadarGulung

In addition to all these dishes which were on the “syllabus” for the cooking class, the Chef had noticed during the market tour that a participant was partial to eggplant and I have a liking for bitter gourd. He picked up some of each and did a quick and delicious stir-fry dish with each for us. What a thoughtful gesture!

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Eggplant Stir Fry

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Bitter Gourd and Egg Stir Fry

On completion of the cooking class, we were all returned to our accommodation where we could digest our massive and delectable lunch with bit of an afternoon snooze!

Hope this has whetted your taste-buds for Balinese foods! What are the base ingredients which are the foundation of many dishes in your culture? Check out this infographic for some inspiration!

Food Crazy Penang – Hawker Food Heaven!

Where in the world do you find the most food crazed population? My pick is Penang, an island off the peninsula of Malaysia. The people of Penang love to eat food, think about food, talk about food, plan around food and argue about food. They will go great distances and queue up for lengthy durations to get the best food. The priority is always the taste. They are happy to forego air-conditioned comfort, sit on plastic stools with rickety tables if it means getting the tastiest dishes. It is a culture that hospitality, generosity and affection are all demonstrated with food.

In my opinion, there are three factors that make the food of Penang so amazing. Simplistically, it boils down to diversity, specialisation and passion.

Firstly, Malaysia is a country where different races live side by side. The three most populous races are the Malays, the Chinese and the Indian people. There are many other smaller minority groups as well. Another group which are represented in Penang are the Peranakan Chinese, Baba-Nyonya or Straits Chinese. These are descendants from the Chinese immigrants that came to Malaysia many generations ago, as early as the 16th century. Due to their many generations of living in close proximity with the other races in Malaysia, Nyonya cuisine incorporates elements from the other cultures to form a cuisine which has a rich heritage, a distinctive combination of ingredients, delicious dishes and pungent flavours. More on Nyonya cuisine later in another post. The diversity of cultures in Penang leads to large diversity of great dishes.

Secondly, street food is huge in Penang. On every street corner, you will find hawker stands. Each hawker stand usually sells one kind of food or variations on the one kind of food. For example, a hawker may specialise in selling Hokkein Mee, a noodle soup dish with a prawn based broth. The hawker may have variations where you can choose to have more toppings on your noodles but it is still at its core, the same dish. Having to concentrate on one dish for income means that the hawkers are incentivised to improve and focus on making the best version of that dish as possible. This specialisation leads to immense deliciousness and for the best hawkers, queues of people waiting to buy their food and the ability to raise their prices due to the high demand.

Thirdly, the passion for tasty and delicious food by the people, drives improvements in taste and quality in the food scene. The people of Penang are a discerning bunch and they are always exchanging hot tips for the best food location. Before a meal is finished, discussion has usually already turned to the next meal and there would have been lengthy discourse during the meal about the merits of the dishes being eaten. I doubt that any shop selling bad food would survive for long in this kind of environment.

The result of all this food crazed madness is an island famed for amazing food. You can eat solidly for a week and not have to consume the same thing twice!

Let’s have a look at the delicacies I consumed when I visited Penang. I’ve broken it down into 2 categories, snack and meals.

Snacks are very popular in Penang. The culture is not to turn up empty-handed when visiting so visits by relatives and friends are usually accompanied with delicious goodies!

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Ban Chang Kueh

These tasty pancakes are called Ban Chang Kueh. They are pancakes which are usually filled with sweetened ground peanuts. For extra deliciousness, creamed corn can also be spooned into the centre. The result is an amazing textural and tasty bite with their crispy edges, soft and fluffy interior, a nutty, sweet filling as well as the creamy, slightly salty taste from the creamed corn. Bliss!!

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Apom

This is another pancake snack. These are called Apom and are made from a batter which contains some coconut milk. Unlike Ban Chang Kueh, these are usually eaten without a filling. When these are fresh, they are flakey on the edges whilst being soft and fluffy in the centre.

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Tao Chang – Glutinous Rice Dumplings

These rather unattractive blobs are Tao Chang. They are part of a family of glutinous rice dumplings known as Chang in Malaysia. In China, they are known as Zongzi. They are wrapped in bamboo leaves usually in a pyramid shape where they are boiled. These are laborious to make, tricky to wrap and secured with string. Wrapping the Chang neatly and tightly is essential or else they will not survive the boiling process well. It is a bit of a dying skill. There are savoury Chang filled with marinated pork, mushroom, Chinese sausage, salted egg and/or bean as well as sweet Chang which are to be eaten with a sweet, fragrant, dark sugar syrup. Whilst these are addictively delicious, glutinous rice tends to sit in your stomach like a brick and greedy over-consumption will lead to a very uncomfortable few hours to follow!!

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Vadai – Deep Fried Indian Snacks

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Putu Mayong

Onwards to two snacks which originated in India. Firstly, these delicious deep-fried morsels are called Vadai. These are a savoury, spicy, deep-fried snacks which originated in South India.  Then we have Putu Mayong, a slightly salted, soft, vermicelli like snack which is eaten with desiccated coconut and brown sugar. The “strings” are made with rice flour and extruded on an overturned basket and then steamed.

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Lor Bak, Prawn Fritters and Fried Tofu

This plate of yummy deep-fried titbits for dipping include Lor Bak, fried tofu and prawn fritters. Lor Bak is five spiced pork wrapped in thin beancurd sheets and deep-fried till golden brown. These are quite a Nyonya food delicacy and worth trying if you see it on the menu.

Ok, enough with the snacks. Let’s move on to the big hitters of the Penang hawker meals, starting with Penang Char Koay Teow.

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Char Koay Teow

Penang Char Koay Teow, is one of my most favourite dishes in the world. Char Koay Teow or Fried Koay Teow is a dish of flat rice noodles usually stir fried with bean sprouts, chilli, cockles, Chinese sausage and prawns. There are many versions of Char Koay Teow depending on the location but by far, the very best is the Penang Char Koay Teow. It’s more spicy, not too sweet and it has a smoky flavour imparted by the use of an extremely hot wok. Char Koay Teow is best fried in small portions. If you mention this dish to anyone in Penang, you will probably start a verbal stoush over the best source of this famous and much-loved dish. It’s not great for your waistline as traditionally pork lard is used for extra flavour but I think this dish is definitely worth those extra calories.

Assam Laksa

Assam Laksa

Another dish which is the pride of Penang is the famous Penang Assam Laksa. This is a Nyonya dish and is different from the coconut based curry Laksa that is more common. This has a tamarind and mackerel based broth. Together with the fragrant mint, crunchy cucumber, sweet/sour pineapple pieces and spicy chilli, you have a balanced, heady bowl of heaven.

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Curry Mee

So if a Laksa in Penang is has a tamarind broth, what if you want a bowl of the creamy, coconut curry type Laksa? Well in Penang, you have to order Curry Mee. This usually comes with “tau pok”, cuttlefish and coagulated blood. The best part of this dish is the “tau pok” which are tofu puffs. These absorb the delicious curry gravy like a sponge and then floods your mouth with this flavourful gravy as you bite into them.

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Hokkein Mee

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Chee Cheong Fun

Another popular dish is Penang Hokkein Mee. This is a noodle soup dish which combines yellow egg noodles and thin rice noodles with a spicy prawn broth. It is served with all kinds of toppings including prawns, pork and eggs. In this version I have pictured, it was topped with curls of pig skin. The hero of this dish is the broth which needs to be full flavoured and spicy.   

If you don’t feel like a noodle soup dish, you could eat Chee Cheong Fun. This is a Cantonese dish and consists of steamed flat noodle rice rolls. Versions of this dish can be found at dim sum restaurants usually with a prawn or BBQ pork filling. In Penang, Chee Cheong Fun is eaten without filling but coated with a pungent concoction of sweet sauce, prawn paste and chilli sauce.  Whilst this is nice, I prefer Chee Cheong Fun in the Cantonese style with a filling of prawns and a much lighter sauce.

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Rice Porridge with Salted Egg and Century Egg

When you’ve had too much greasy hawker food and need to give your digestion a break, rice porridge makes for a lovely lunch. Rice porridge is eaten across Asia with various toppings as a meal or as food specifically for young children, the elderly or the unwell. It’s simple to make and easy to digest because it is not greasy and can be eaten plain and unseasoned. For this meal, my creamy,rice porridge was topped with pieces of deep-fried dough, salted egg, century egg and spring onions. For me, this is very comforting food and feels therapeutic to eat when I’m unwell.

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Thin Rice Noodle Soup with Offal

Now, on to the most shocking thing I ate whilst in Penang! I ate a bowl of soupy thin rice noodles and offal. This bowl contained pigs brains, liver, intestine, stomach and kidney. Oh, and also a few pork meatballs! It was quite good. The brains were still quite creamy!

I like that in every culture there are recipes and dishes which include all parts of the animal. Once upon a time, it was critical to eat everything to avoid wastage and possibly even starvation. Eating all parts is also very healthy, for example liver has very high iron content. We have become distant from the eating of offal these days. There are many offal based dishes from many different cultures and they are part of our food history. It would be tragic if they were lost due to some squemishness and a lack of a willingness to try.

Well, this was only some of the food that I enjoyed whilst in Penang. I will write another post about Nyonya cuisine shortly. I think that Penang has the most diverse, interesting and delicious street food scene in the world. Put on your elasticised shorts, visit Penang and eat! It’s a foodie heaven!