I spent the day in Cabramatta yesterday; it’s the first time I have managed to get there this year, getting my cooking school ready to go has kept me busy and ‘off the streets’ as my mother would say. As the home to many Vietnamese Australians, the shops in Cabramatta have a wonderful “Asianness” about them – it brings back fond memories of my time in Asia. Last night we enjoyed chilli and black bean blue swimmer crab, as I always buy seafood when I’m there. It’s so fresh and it just seems to be right to cook in an Asian style having spent the day ‘in Asia’. The one thing I did notice today was how much of the seafood was clearly and proudly marked as Australian; I’m not sure if my consciousness is high at the moment or if it’s a collective drive from the Australian public since the frozen berry scare. Either way, it is good to see.
After I parked and walked out of the Hong Kong-esque shopping mall, I was greeted with a collection of elderly ladies sitting on street side benches selling the things they had grown in their own gardens. I bought tubs of ready cut lemon grass (it freezes well) and a bag full of peeled garlic. It’s usual to see some of the prep work done when you buy things from market stalls in Asia, especially by the older generation. By paying a little more for the partly prepped items you save in time, as well as supporting their daily earnings, which are often small. I miss not being able to buy things like freshly peeled water chestnuts and strings of tangerine skins. (These are a bit like garlic in France – they give your kitchen a great aroma and are also great in stocks and the like.) I also bought some zucchini flowers, which I will stuff with meat for tonight’s dinner. These will probably be a little more Mediterranean themed, but they may just become Vietnamese style pork filled flowers and the green salad more a stir-fry, dropping the feta for tofu. I’ll have to wait and see.
I could not decide between Phở (beef noodle soup) and Bánh mì (a baguette filled with pate, salad and herbs), so I managed to sample both during the day, I always eat too much. I also visited several supermarkets restocking my pantry with sauces and spices, and a few pink supplies for the new kitchen and buying fresh fruit and veg.
One of my great discoveries was a Vegan Asian supermarket. No. I’m not going Vegan. However I do have friends that are and also some with seafood allergies. This ‘vegan shrimp paste’ will open the door to so many Asian dishes for them, and I’m happy to substitute when needed.
I also met a Buddhist Monk. After having a chat and asking him where the monastery was, giving him arms put a good spin on my day. In Asia, I was always very wary about giving money, as often they were part of organised rings and not actually monks but the beggars where dropped off by chauffeurs to the allotted spot for the day. Knowing the truly needy was hard to tell.
I bought some Rau câu, coconut jellies made with agar ager, to eat on the way home and returned to cook my crab, knowing the next time I get to Cabramatta it will be same same but different as every visit is.