Saturday, January 28, 2012

Cold Soba Noodles with Tsuyu Dipping Sauce

It's been awhile. I must say that there have been too many things happening in December/January. When I say too many, I mean too many to have time to type up blog posts and upload my food photos.

Not to worry, I am slowly getting back into my Melbournian routine. And slowly finding precious little pockets of time to think about my blog and prepare more blog posts.

A friend who's moving countries recently gave me the remainder of her cooking ingredients and condiments to play cook with. Among them were a few unopened packets of plain and green tea soba noodles, dashi stock powder, Japanese dark soy sauce, mirin and toasted black sesame seeds. Just the right ingredients to make cold soba noodles with the accompanying dipping sauce, tsuyu.

I lovelovelove cold soba noodles! Especially the green tea variety - the smokiness of the green tea in the noodles adds another dimension of flavour to this simple dish that makes me want to eat more and more. So I stumbled across this awesome website that is quite useful if you are interested in learning to cook Japanese dishes, and have little knowledge of the cuisine (apart from eating it!). You can check it out here.

It's easy to make at home, and costs you a lot less than the $8-10 charged at Japanese restaurants.

Cooking the noodles

Cooking the soba noodles is easy enough - just follow the instructions on the packaging, and don't forget to rinse the noodles in cold water after. I rinsed my noodles twice in cold water just so they were the right amount of cold :) And make sure you strain them well in a colander to get rid of any excess water that may be hiding between the noodle strands.

Making the tsuyu dipping sauce

So this tsuyu sauce is a combination of dashi stock, and this other thing called "kaeshi". I just used the instant dashi powder to make my dashi stock. And to make the kaeshi, here's what I did:
  1. Simmer 45ml of mirin for a few minutes - I used the Mizkan Honteri Mirin
  2. Add in about 35g of caster sugar and stir to dissolve.
  3. Add 250ml of dark Japanese soy sauce - (not to be confused with thick soy sauce) I used the Ichibiki soy sauce, some recipes say that Yamasa is also a good brand. Have this on low heat until it starts to bubble, then take it off the fire. Don't let it boil.
  4. At this stage, I tasted the kaeshi and felt that it needed more sugar - so add a little more sugar to taste, if need be.
As you have probably realised, this recipe makes a lot of kaeshi. But you can store it in an airtight container or jar, for a few months apparently.

From here, I used a small amount of the kaeshi to make tsuyu for one person. To make the tsuyu I mixed 3 tablespoons of the kaeshi with 6 tablespoons of the dashi stock and simmered it for 2-3 minutes. It's good to taste the sauce at this point and add more dashi stock if you like. Then I chilled it for about 20 minutes in the fridge.

Serving the soba noodles with the tsuyu

I put my noodles in a bowl and sprinkled some toasted black sesame seeds over it. I served the sauce in a little bowl on the side, and just dipped the noodles in the sauce for each mouthful.

The next time I make cold soba noodles, I'd like to try having it with cold soft silken tofu, some finely sliced spring onion, and maybe tempura vegetables.

This meal is fairly quick to make (once you've made a batch of the kaeshi), and is really healthy :)

I'm not a total noob when it comes to Japanese food - I've made a few sushi rolls in my uni days. But nothing more apart from that (and now these noodles). So this is all pretty new to me. I must say, that thanks to this friend of mine and all the ingredients she has given me, a whole new world of cooking adventures has opened up. (Yayy!)

The trendy, tasty and not-so-cheap of Melbourne

So in the past month I've had the opportunity to check out a few "hip and cool" new Melbournian dining places.

Chin Chin - 125 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

I was slightly late to jump on the Chin Chin bandwagon - numerous people had told me how amazing the food was and how I just had to try the food at Chin Chin. I must say that I was both impressed and disappointed. Maybe I have become a teeny bit of a food snob, but maybe I just am a more fussy eater. Out of the 4 dishes I tried at Chin Chin, I only found one to be a whole new level of amazing. The other 3 dishes were definitely very tasty. But I really had my hopes up after hearing all these rave reviews about the place and the food, and what I experienced just did not match up to my expectations. So the lesson learned here is: it's best not to have any expectations when stepping into a new restaurant, even a little bit is too much..

Our seat at the counter where the staff were preparing the dishes. Very cool :)

Having said that, I really did like the setup of the place - warm lighting, interesting illustrations on the wall, large dining-hall layout. We had the chance to sit at the counter where the food was getting prepared before being served. This was more because by the time we had arrived, all the tables had already been taken and the only place left to seat people was around this counter! They don't take any bookings (which I think is kinda dumb) so one piece of advice if you are planning to eat there - get there before 6pm (5.45pm is good), and make sure you have your whole group with you because, the line is ungodly by 6pm, and they won't let you have a table if a few people in your dinner group are late.

Bag hooks!
First dish we had was the Chin Chin pork "roll-ups" - red braised suckling pig with pancakes, slaw and sour herbs. Very tasty, loved the sour herbs and the sauce and how well they complemented the pork. Nothing superly amazing though.

Next we had the steamed spanner crab and chicken salad with green mango, chilli and coconut dressing. This dish was TO DIE FOR. I plan to go back to Chin Chin and just have this dish. Every bite was like a little bit of heaven. The other dishes, whilst tasty, aren't worth the price you pay for them. And that's a fact.

Love at first sight

Then we had the crispy quail, soy marinated, with sichuan salt, lemon and sriracha sauce. One word - dry. I think it was over-cooked, which is an easy mistake to make with quail given its delicate texture and size. So I wasn't very impressed by this dish. It definitely had the potential to be a good dish, but failed due to lack of skillful execution.

Finally we had the soft shell crab dry red curry. Yum! Our waiter happily recommended this dish by drawing arrows all over it on the menu (I kid you not, see photo below). Naturally, I found him very amusing. The dish was very tasty. Probably the second best dish of the night after the TDF (todiefor) spanner crab salad - that's what I'm calling it in my head from now on. Only I wish they had given this curry a bit more of a "kick" in the spice department. Still, I'm not complaining - don't need to endure the pain of eating spicy food to feel happy about eating a particular dish. I'm not messed up that way.

I'm sorry, this photo does not do the dish justice..

This one probably does :p

Done!! :)

The bill came to about $100 for the 4 dishes (excluding drinks). A bit steep for Asian cuisine I think.. Ying Thai 2 would probably give you a similarly indulgent experience for half the price. (Or a doubly indulgent experience for the same price! Yes, maths has always been my forte :p)

All in all, I would go back for the TDF spanner crab and chicken salad, and perhaps the red curry soft shell crab. It's a nice place to go to if you want a slightly upmarket place to dine and catch-up with friends, good service and a bustling and fun atmosphere. But at those prices, I'd rather make multiple trips to Ying Thai 2 to satisfy my Thai food cravings. At least until I get a pay raise.. :)

Chin Chin on Urbanspoon

Anada - 197 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy

The first thing that struck me about this place was how small it was compared to what I had been expecting. It's not a bad thing - I actually liked the fact that it was about half the width of a regular shop lot and, apart from the usual restaurant-style tables, had little counter tables against the walls which sat 2 people per table, and a large dining table at the back for bigger groups of about 10.

Like other restaurants and cafes on this street, Anada has a casual and all-welcoming feel. This is on top of its other attributes - a bit of rustic, chic and cozy all bundled up into one delightful package.

We had the tasting menu which costs $55 per person and consists of a selection of 9 tapas (smaller) and raciones (larger) dishes from their a la carte menu. The only complaint I had was that we weren't allowed to choose our tapas and raciones ourselves, and instead had to leave it up to the chef. They do however take into account dietary restrictions. I told the waitress serving us that I don't like sardines (because I cannot stand sardines, and there was a sardine dish on the menu) and she gave me a funny look and was a bit cold towards me for the rest of the night. Having said that, I'd put up with a cold waitress anytime over having to eat sardines. Blegh.

To drink, we had wine. Anada has a nice, concise list of local and Spanish wines. Some are sold by the glass, and some are only sold in bottles. I ordered a 2008 Tempranillo which turned out to be quite suitable to complement the food we had (except the oysters). I'm not a wine connoiseur, and am pretty bad at accurately describing wine - I can tell if it's fruity, spicy, dry, full-bodied, medium-bodied, or just plain bad, but I can't tell much more than that. This Tempranillo was a tad bit too spicy for my liking, but everything else about it, I really liked.

We started off with the Coffin Bay oysters, served "au naturale". The oysters were good, but kinda small and squiggly - these supposedly Pacific oysters, but they definitely didn't look or taste like the larger, fleshier and creamy-textured Pacific oysters I've tasted... Still, I did enjoy it. Next we had the Serrano Reserva Jamon from Toledo - yummay! I love jamon. I think it's the tastiest kind of ham out there (prosciutto is a close second). And I like that it was served in thin slices because sometimes I find the taste of meat to be a little too strong, and this serving method just makes the taste seem more delicate and more enjoyable.

Then we were served the salted cod and garlic shoot croquetas. Very tasty - light, crunchy breadcrumbs on the outside, and the potato, cod and garlic on the inside was one amazing explosion of flavour. After this, we were served a creamy soup thing - green gazpacho with smoked oil (food blogger fail: I didn't write down what was in the soup when the waitress was explaining it). It had leek in it, I'm sure. And had this smokey tasting piece of cheese in it that really added to the already awesome-tasting soup. I savoured every sip slowly, knowing that in no time at all the cup would be empty and my wonderful experience would be over, but wishing that the moment would carry-on for just a little bit longer.. Yes, this soup was that good.

THE gazpacho :)
Next on the list was the Charcoal grilled Shark Bay (WA) King prawns with salmorejo & crispy pancetta. It was really goood. I have a love for all things chargrilled - I love the smoky, slightly burnt flavour that this cooking method gives the food. It was perfectly seasoned, and the sauce thing (salmorejo) that it was served on was really tasty. Wikipedia tells me that salmorejo is a cream made out of tomato, bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar.

Then we had the pork belly - Otway Rangers pork belly with fennel seed & smoky aubergine. This was another amazingly tasty dish. Crispy, crispy pork belly skin on top (*sigh*). Soft tender pork meat, layered with thin strips of pork fat. All this sitting on a bed of smoky aubergine puree. <3 I really liked this dish because it wasn't too fatty - other pork belly dishes I've had always had too much fat between the meat, and I think that's really gross. It's a personal taste thing. Most of my friends (especially male friends) really like the pork fat, so the more the better. Can I say ewww?

Then we had the Charcoal grilled quail with freekeh and pomegranate, Slow roasted beef cheeks in Oloroso with fava bean puree, and beetroot with mint and labneh on the side. The quail was cooked and seasoned very well, a bit too salty, but apart from that, perfect. The beef was apparently tasty as well, and the beetroot and labneh went well together. I'm not sure where they source their beetroot from, but it was the best-tasting beetroot I've ever had. (I don't usually like beetroot).

Ze quail
I think this was all perfectly worth it for the $55 per person that we paid. But the next time I go back, I'm going to order a la carte so that I can try the rabbit empanadilla and the paella amongst other things. It's a nice place to sit down, have a quiet chat, have a glass of wine with your meal, and just unwind after a busy day's work.

Añada on Urbanspoon

Gerald's Bar - 386 Rathdowne Street, North Carlton

This is a bar, run by this dude named Gerald, who kinda just cooks what he feels like cooking everyday. So there is no standard menu - the dishes served vary with the ingredients sourced for the day, and what Gerald is inspired to cook. It's a pretty cool system I think. There are a few that re-appear on the menu quite frequently such as the fried chicken. But that was already sold out by the time we arrived at the restaurant. And this was at about 7pm on a Tuesday night. They probably only had about 5 pieces of fried chicken to sell or something... Joking.

The bar itself is very quirky - typical of the area that it's located in. Music is played from a record player, the menu is hung on a wooden sliding ladder located behind the bar, and the whole place is "accesorised" with random ornaments which really do add to the character of the place. Sorry for not taking any photos of the place... I was too busy being social and forgot :p

This bar is famous for its extensive list of wines - from various parts of Europe and Australia. So of course, we had to have some wine. The list is sorted by type, and goes for pages. The system employed here at Gerald's is quite an interesting one - you are allowed to order wine by the glass so long as that wine variety (e.g. chardonnay) has not already been ordered in that same evening and already has another bottle of that variety open. The bottle opened is the only wine for that particular variety that can be ordered by the glass after that, until it is finished. At this point, another bottled may be requested to be opened and purchased by the glass. So basically if you get in early, any of the wines are available by the glass. The 2 friends I was with had a glass of white wine to start, but I didn't want to drink anything on an empty stomach.

We did open a bottle of Hermitage shiraz to go with our main meals after. And I had my share of this wine. It had a very smooth, almost velvety texture in my mouth - like nothing I've tasted before. I really liked it.

To start, we ordered a plate of various cured meats to share ($28). This came with a few spicy salamis, some prosciutto, and bresaola. The prosciutto was the best that I've tasted in a long time, and maybe even best ever. The salami was also very, very tasty, and I loved the spiciness that it brought with it. Again, the meat was sliced very thinly, so naturally, I enjoyed it a lot more :)

I ordered the quail with spicy burghal. Not before querying what exactly "spicy burghal" was. The waitress patiently explained that it was similar to cous cous, but of a slightly coarser grade. The quail was very tender, and very yummy. The burghal however was the standout of the dish for me. I'm not sure how they seasoned it, but it tasted divine. It had been stir-fried with slightly dehydrated grapes, toasted pistachios, and toasted pine nuts. I just couldn't get enough of it. And at $20, I'd say it was pretty reasonably-priced for what it was.

The quail and spicy burghal
My other friend orderd the grilled rump steak with polenta and mushrooms. Apparently it was tasty rump and tasty polenta, but could have done with a bit more seasoning. My friend didn't look to excited by it.. But I'm sure it tasted good. This was $20 as well.

I would like to go back to Gerald's again sometime in the near future, to check out what is on the menu for the day, and sample more of their interesting wines. But for now, my purse needs a break for awhile :)

Gerald's Bar on Urbanspoon