Nov 15
icon4 Nov 15th, 2009 | icon2 Food, Music | icon31 Comment »

A belated tänan väga to Christina and Pawel for the hospitality they displayed at their recent Estonian/Polish bash. After being greeted by the hosts, who were resplendent in Estonian traditional dress, we settled in for a pleasant evening of Esto-Polish delights.

The vast array of dishes on offer is a blur to me now, although I remember the blood sausage with special fondness. Served with potatoes, Estonian sauerkraut and cranberry relish … mmm, delicious! Also on offer – courtesy of Yusuke – was okonomiyaki, a sort of “Japanese pizza”, which was a revelation. This is definitely something to look out for. But perhaps my favourite was Pawel’s Polish apple pie, which had me saying “tak, proszę!” to a second (and third) helping.

Another highlight of the night – at least for Rach and I – was our discovery of Żubrówka, a distilled rye vodka flavoured with bison grass from the ancient Białowieża Forest. Polish infants are weaned on this stuff at an early age, but sadly I had to wait 39 years for my first taste. The customary drinking technique is for all present to drink a shot in unison, with a hearty cry of “terviseks!”, followed by a swig of apple juice. Alternatively the two can be mixed, but the vodka is pleasant on its own.

Each bottle of Żubrówka traditionally contains a blade of bison grass, purely for decoration, although this didn’t stop certain Antipodean party-goers from attempting to consume the grass once the bottle was empty.

Topping off a perfect evening, Rach and I were lucky enough to win what was possibly the first ever Estonian/Polish trivia competition, our prize being a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka! Jah!! (I always knew my encyclopaedic knowledge of the history of Polish trade unions would come in handy one day.)

During the course of the night I couldn’t help but be impressed by the music that was playing quietly in the background. The unusual mixture of traditional Eastern European folk, eighties pop and Lloyd Webber-style musical theatre was ear-catching to say the least. I made a mental note to see what I could find out about the Estonian rock music scene.

Although viewed as undesirable by Soviet authorities, popular music established itself in Estonia in the seventies, in the form of a heavy-style progressive rock. One of my favourites is Gunnar Graps Group (or simply “GGG”), who in appearance and sound are very similar to UK metal pioneers Judas Priest, while also incorporating a distinctive Eastern-European melodicism.

Here is GGG performing the song “Hingeleegid”:

Of course, the story of Estonian music doesn’t end with Gunnar Graps Group. There is something for everyone, whether it be the runic-folk-metal of Metsatöll, or the chart-topping girl group Vanilla Ninja. Let me end by playing another clip, this time by subversive punk rockers Singer Vinger. Here they are in 1987 performing “Mina pean sambat tantsida saama”. (I’d give anything for the lead singer’s T-shirt.)

Nov 3

I just invented a tongue-twister. It came about because Rach and I were discussing my love of choc-top ice creams, and how I can’t go to see a movie without getting one to munch on during the Coming Attractions.

By far the best choc-tops are at Dendy Cinemas in Newtown. They make them fresh each day in a variety of ever-changing flavours (my favourite is boysenberry), and the cones are always crisp and fresh. Unlike Greater Union choc-tops, which taste like they’ve been in the freezer since Star Wars came out. Generally speaking, the smaller the cinema, the better the choc-top. This I call “Snubian’s First Law of Choc-Tops”.

My Second Law of Choc-Tops pertains to the fact that no matter how fast or slow you eat your choc-top you will always take the last bite at the precise moment the lights go down and the main feature begins.

Anyway, there’s a film I want to go and see, but it’s playing only at the Chauvel in Paddington, a cinema I’ve never been to before. Naturally my main concern is the quality of their choc-tops, and how they might rate as compared to other cinemas. This led me to create the following tongue-twister:

Which choc-top tops the choc-top charts?

Not bad, huh?

Here’s another one I heard many years ago from a Dutch guy I worked with who seemed strangely obsessed with it:

The Leith police dismisseth us.

This is one I love to tease Rach with, because she can’t seem to say it at any speed. It doesn’t make a lot of sense – I think it’s actually part of a longer poem – but it gets extra points for difficulty. Leith is a town in Scotland by the way.

Then for sheer ridiculousness and impossibility, there’s this:

Blake’s black bike’s back brake bracket block broke.

Try saying that with a mouthful of choc-top.

Sep 11
Eating 101
icon4 Sep 11th, 2009 | icon2 Food | icon33 Comments »

I’ve just been pondering the pointlessness of much of what is termed “etiquette”. In particular I am rabidly anti-etiquette when it comes to dining out. This seems to be one area in which most people still follow – perhaps unconsciously – certain rules, learnt from a young age, that govern how you sit and eat a meal.

Let’s start by watching this short presentation on European vs American “dining styles”:

So what did you think of that? Obviously this woman is at last partly bonkers if she really thinks it necessary to observe all of these rules. Of course, common sense tells us it is most efficient to hold the knife and fork in a certain way (stupid bloody Yanks), but clearly you’d have to be insane to worry about whether the tines on your fork were correctly oriented at all times. Alot of what she says, however, is virtually hardwired into every one of us from a young age, and used unconsciously on a daily basis. This is what I am trying to change in my own little way. Here’s what I mean.

1) Napkin on your lap

I am sick of putting my napkin on my lap. It is totally pointless and I can see no reason for doing it. I never drop food onto my lap, because I lean slightly over my plate to eat. This itself is probably a gross deviation from accepted norms, but I don’t care. I keep my napkin on the table beside me. That way, I can wipe my mouth if necessary – always delicately and with pinky extended.

This leads me to the custom of the waiter placing the napkin on the diner’s lap before the start of the meal. Why it is believed that the diner is unable or unwilling to perform this minute physical exertion is beyond me, particularly when it involves a region of the body to which public access is typically restricted. Having to sit mute while a strange man lays a cloth delicately across my groin seems to me a flagrant violation of personal space at the very least.

2) No elbows on the table

This is an old chestnut, going way back to the family dinner table. Why this is considered rude I don’t know. My idea of a nice dinner out is to relax and be comfortable. I can’t be comfortable with my wrists resting on the table’s edge for two hours. I paid for it, so I’ll lean on it, thank you very much. My response to someone who says that putting an elbow on the table looks uncouth or boorish? Build a bridge and get over it.

3) Placement of knife and fork on plate

OK, I admit that I can see the advantage of a “signal” that tells the wait staff whether or not you have finished with your plate. For many years I carefully placed my knife and fork together at the end of the meal, even at home, where there was certainly nobody to come and gather my plate when I was done. But how about this: the waiter could ask, “Are you done, sir?” They still do this most of the time anway. We can speak, people! Let’s use the gift of verbal communication that millions of years of evolution has bestowed upon us! So this is one piece of dining etiquette I have dispensed with. May my knife and fork lay wherever they fall from my hands once the last morsel of food is in my mouth.

So, friends and fellow diners, these are my brief thoughts on dining etiquette. I believe all areas of daily life should be approached in this same open-minded way. Remember, if the only answer to the question “why am I doing this?” is “because that’s the way it’s done”, then that is not a good enough answer!

Bon appétit!

Dec 18
Food, Glorious Food!
icon4 Dec 18th, 2008 | icon2 Food | icon3Comments Off

Rach and I have just returned from what was essentially a three day eating trip to Melbourne. Here’s a rundown.

Day 1

Having risen at 3:15 AM to get the 6 o’clock flight from Newcastle, we arrived in the city around eight feeling peckish. Eggs and bacon were required so we located the nearest cafe and chowed down – scrambled for me, Benedict for Rach. A quick nap after checking in to our hotel and we were ready for more.

Rach wanted to have lunch at the Mekong Vietnamese restaurant in Swanston St, a place she had eaten previously. Mekong is famous for having a sign on the window that says:

President Bill Clinton Had 2 Bowls
How Many Can You Have…

Sadly, the sign – which refers to Clinton downing two bowls of phở, the Vietnamese meat and rice-noodle soup - is only a half-truth. Clinton has never eaten at the Mekong, although he did make a pig of himself at Phở 2000 in Saigon, Vietnam.

Anyway, the food at Mekong was underwhelming. Rach gave her phở the thumbs down and my broken rice and chicken was so-so.

In the late afternoon we saw the film American Teen, which was great, as were the choc-tops at Dendy Kino! For dinner we stopped in at an Irish pub and had Guiness and beef pie (yum!) washed down with a rather enormous looking pint glass of Beck’s.

Day 2

Breakfast of eggs and bacon at a great little diner style cafe in an arcade opposite the Town Hall. Then to Prahran and a hit of record shopping before setting off to St Kilda. There Rach introduced me to my new best friend, the churro – a delicious Spanish doughnut – which we dipped into melted dark chocolate. Lawdy mama. Then a lunch of sushi washed down with an ice cream.

For dinner this night we decided to splurge a little as a Christmas present to ourselves. We decided on Greek and had a look along  the restaurants on Lonsdale St before deciding on Tsindos. Good choice! I hadn’t eaten a lot of Greek food, so was pleasantly surprised to have one of the best meals I’ve had in years. We started with melinzanosalata, a zingy eggplant dip, served with fresh pita bread, and the absolutely delicious saganaki, which is pan fried kefalograviera cheese. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. For mains Rach chose the slow-baked lamb kleftiko (amazing!) and I had Cypriot meatballs known as sheftalies (stupendous!). For dessert I was desperate to try the galaktobouriko, but was disappointed to find out it was all gone. That didn’t stop the waitress from spending ten minutes describing how mind-blowingly delicious it would’ve been. I settled for the best baklava I have ever tasted. All this – with beer and wine – for under $100. When in Melbourne you have to go to this restaurant!

Day 3

We were starting to tire by this point. After a sluggish start to the day we stopped in at a tiny cafe in a lane off Little Flinders St, where we had toasted sandwiches and tea/hot chocolate. Then walked it off in the National Gallery of Victoria before heading to Fitzroy for a last bout of record shopping.

For our final lunch we decided on Italian, so headed for Lygon St and were almost dragged into one of the many eateries on this strip. Luckily the food was pretty good, I had risotto and Rach had pasta. A yummy cup of gelato a few blocks later signalled the end of our trip. Before heading for the airport we ducked into the Bull & Bear pub for a farewell beer. I hesitate to mention what we ate for dinner at the airport, but I will for the sake of completeness. Rach had a $6 slice of pizza while I played food poisoning roulette with a tray of airport sushi. 

I now closely resemble the Goodyear blimp and vow not to eat again until Christmas Day.

Nov 24
KFC: An Update
icon4 Nov 24th, 2008 | icon2 Food | icon3Comments Off

Information has come to light which suggests that the prize in the below-mentioned “KFC Classic Catches” competition is in fact $1,000 worth of KFC product in a one year period.

It’s been a while since I’ve bought anything from KFC, but I seem to remember I liked the Zinger Burger Combo. This included a tasty “Zinger” Chicken Fillet Burger, regular chips and can of Pepsi. This cost about $6.00 from memory.

So, factoring in a price increase to $7.00 one could buy no less than 142 Zinger Burger Combos, that’s 2 or 3 every week over the course of a year. You’d even have a few dollars left over to buy a special treat on Christmas Day, such as KFC’s rich and creamy Choc Caramel Mousse (“layered with real chocolate flakes”!) 

Burger, chips and 15ml Pepsi

Nov 22
Killing From Calories
icon4 Nov 22nd, 2008 | icon2 Food | icon3Comments Off

I was watching the cricket yesterday when the Channel Nine commentators announced the new “KFC Classic Catches” competition. I forget the details of how to enter but the prize sticks in my mind: $2,000 cash plus a year’s supply of KFC.

This immediately raised two questions in my mind: firstly, how much KFC constitutes “a year’s supply”; and secondly, what is the $2,000 cash for?

How much KFC are they assuming a person will need in a twelve month period? Do they go to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and get data on the annual per capita intake of fried chicken amongst cricket-watching Australians? Perhaps they just assume one or two meals per week and then extrapolate, but surely this would leave the majority of chicken-loving Aussies unsatisfied. Or is it an “all you can eat” deal, where the winner is given carte blanche at any KFC outlet Australia-wide?

Either way, a year of complimentary fried chicken is hardly the sort of prize that should be offered in conjunction with an international sporting contest. I would like to see a “before” and “after” comparison of the prize-winner. I’d be very surprised if they hadn’t packed on a few kilos in their 365-day orgy of chicken consumption.

And then we come to the $2,000. Perhaps this is to cover medical bills for the (un)lucky winner? Cholesterol tests, stomach stapling and so on. How much liposuction can you buy for two grand?

The official KFC Nutrition Guide is vague on exactly how much KFC is too much, although it does give the recommended maximum daily intake of saturated fats for a typical adult as being 20 grams. KFC’s “Chicken Pot Pie” – whatever that is – contains 31 grams.

So if you should win the “KFC Classic Catches” competition I’d steer clear of the Chicken Pot Pie if I were you. Maybe stick to the nuggets, they’re much tastier.

Full of chicken-heady goodness!

Oct 4

Next time you’re in Yamba, be sure to have dinner at Coyote’s Cantina Mexican Restaurant. Rach and I ate there last week, so I can tell you exactly the sort of dining experience you are in for.

First of all, you will be shown to a table by the kitchen door, which apart from being noisy and giving you unwanted glimpses into the kitchen, will render you invisible to wait-staff.

Your drink order will be taken immediately upon being seated. After asking for two Coronas you will be thanked by the harried waitress for requesting “something easy”. This is a reference to their bloated drinks menu which includes a range of ridiculous cocktails, including something called a Smurfet [sic]. (Presumably this is in honour of Smurfette, who I believe was the only female Smurf. Anyway, the Coyote Cantina Smurfet [sic] concoction had about nine or ten ingredients and sounded awful.)

After your drinks arrive you will sit for about 25 minutes waiting for your food order to be taken. By the end of this time you will be wondering whether to: a) physically grab a waitress as she zips by; b) walk into the kitchen and make your own dinner; c) pay for your drinks and leave; or d) not pay for your drinks and leave. We waited until our order was taken. Stupid us.

Get the “Dip Platter”. It is a disgraceful pile of crap that does not belong in any establishment calling itself a Mexican Restaurant. There are four dips, in no particular order:

  • puréed tinned tomatoes
  • sour cream mixed with about half a kilogram of dill
  • mushed-up avocado
  • warm beans with cold grated cheddar cheese sprinkled on top

You also get a plate of Doritos to dip into your dippy selections. I know they were Doritos because I saw the “cooks” in the kitchen pawing them from a Doritos bag onto our plate.

The bean dip is placed above Doritos on the Mohs Scale of Mineral Hardness, and so I was unable to dip into it without my Dorito snapping embarrassingly into ever smaller pieces. And we must’ve got the end of the Doritos bag, because most of the chips were about the size of a five cent piece.

If you’re lucky you might get a glimpse of the chef, a big beefy guy who at one point made a mercy dash to the bar, returning to the kitchen with four beers. “It’s thirsty work in there!”, he said to no-one in particular.

Astonishingly, there was only a brief wait until our mains arrived. I got a chicken chimichanga, which was surprisingly edible. The chimichanga, in case you don’t know, is a kind of deep-friend burrito, stuffed with shredded meat and sauce – not traditional Mexican as such, but tasty nonetheless. The salad had some sort of Italian dressing on it, which was a minor distraction. From memory, Rach’s dinner was also mediocre but edible.

This is what my meal should have looked like

As we were finishing our meals, a family at the table opposite stood up to leave. The mother said to the kitchen staff, “That was the best Mexican I’ve ever had.” The father chimed in with, “Thanks guys, that was bewdiful.” If there was irony in their comments then it was incredibly well concealed.

The bill for this dining extravaganza was a mere $68. No tip.

P.S. If you do ever visit Yamba, go to Sassafras Pizza on Coldstream St. We had a tasty pizza there with drinks and dessert for under $40. Mention to receive a weird look and complementary jelly beans with your bill.