In this weekend foodtrail, I am going to talk about key Asian ingredients and spices, and where to find them. But first, I like to express my view and pay my respect to a tragic news of this week. Nope, it is not Michael Jackson but close to one of his song’s lyric, “it doesn’t matter if it is black or white”.
This tragic news involved a 26-year old international student from China, Tina Yu. She was found murdered and dumped in the Tyenna River near Mt Field National Park, about 60 km North-West of Hobart. There is an outcry of racism from the international student community studying at the University of Tasmania, from verbal to physical abuse such as being thrown at with eggs and bottles. Whether Tina’s murder is related to racism or a night-out that has gone seriously wrong is not known.
Another tragic and probably one of the most horrific news on international students happened in Sydney in October 2008. The convicted man was charged with 21 offences including murder for a series of horrific sex acts in relation to the Chinese student who fell to her death from an apartment balcony. She was one of four Asian students who are sexually assaulted for up to an hour at the hands of a knife-wielding predator, before two of them fell from a balcony. The deceased Chinese female student’s boyfriend, a 19-year old Korean man, who was also sexually assaulted, suffered serious spinal injuries and multiple broken bones in the fall.
In both cases, the two international female students are from China and they are the only daughter in the family, and the girl that fell from the balcony after being sexually assaulted several times is the only child being raised by her mother, who tragically before her murder has lost her business in May 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, which killed at least 240,000 people.
The thing that I am bothered is that until today, there is still no report on the autopsy (or whether there is one) if Tina has been sexually assaulted in the apartment before being murdered and dumped in the national park. Hobart is a small city of under 200,000. It doesn’t surprise me that what actually happened to Tina in the apartment by the two men, who are in police custody, has been suppressed from the public.
Why am I so upset about these two cases? Well, because I have been an international student in a foreign country with no family, relatives and friends when I first landed in the country. We travel thousands of miles away to pursue a higher education, with the perception that it will give us a better future. Similar with the international student outcry in Hobart, I experienced physical abuse from the locals by having rocks thrown at me while walking to my university and verbally shouted at “You chink! Go home and eat your noodle!” That was 1982 in Arkansas, USA. Now that I am a lot older and still live in a foreign country, I still experience some verbal racism slur, once in Huonville and the other incident in Sandy Bay. The major difference between my experience and the other 2 cases above is that they have lost someone, and a terrible way to loose that special person. My heart goes to the families and I pray they will find some peace in their mind for the loss of their beloved daughter.
Now you may think what I have said so far has nothing to do with food. I would disagree because as an international student in a foreign country we have to learn to adapt and live, not just about the place, the locals, the culture, but also about the food. What international students miss most is their home food, where to find them and where to shop. Incidents like the above cases have never cross their minds before they leave their home country to pursue their study. Their feeling is filled with great enthusiasm, excitement, experience and greater future. Nothing will ever prepare them from the truth studying and living in a foreign country. It is about how we adapt in a new environment.
The first thing I always ask myself is where can I find the food that I love most and where can I shop for my “must have” ingredients. The tasks can be very daunting depending on where you live and what you need. In a big city such as Sydney, there are plenty of choices and things are readily available because there is the population and demand for that unique ingredient. Since moving to Hobart in 2003 for that “sea change” from the noise, crowd, pollution of Sydney, the first year is about adjustment and exploration in a new place. Well, I have to say that it is quite a challenge because it means getting to know people and making new friends at the same time. It is indeed quite hard to find what I need for my cooking and equally hard to find good Asian eatery in town. The Asian restaurants in Hobart and the surrounding are not worth mentioning except a handful such as Taj Palace and Annapurna in North Hobart, Chai Vegetarian in Mathers Lane, Hobart, and Mee Wah and The Bund in Sandy Bay. So I make my frequent pilgrim to Sydney and Melbourne for the first few months to treat my appetites.
As I come from a Chinese background and was born in Malaysia, the type of ingredients I stock in my kitchen has be a cross-between Chinese, Malay and Indian. So naturally, my essential ingredients are:
Oyster sauce. As the name implies, it is traditionally made with oysters. It is flavourful and savoury. The sauce was invented in 1888 by Mr Lee Kam Sheung, in Nam Shui Village in Guangdong Province, China. His company, Lee Kum Kee, continues to produce in my opinion the best premium oyster sauce in the market.
Soy sauce. The sauce is made by mixing roasted grain, soybeans, water and salt with yeast and other microorganisms. Traditionally, soy sauce is fermented under natural conditions, in giant urns and under the sun.
When I was a boy, I walked with my mum to a soy factory, a few hundred metres from our pre-war terrace house. In the factory, there is a wooden front shop with tens of giant urns sitting on the floor with a cloth wrapped giant lids. Each urn is marked with the grade and date in Chinese of when the urn was manufactured. Behind the wooden shop front are hundreds of other giant urns with different date of manufacture for fermentation process to complete before they can be sold. I guess it is somewhat quite similar to wine making. 🙂
There are two types of soy sauce that I use in my cooking. One is the light soy sauce, which is saltier and used in seasoning the meat and to flavour the food without changing the colour too much. The other is a dark soy sauce, which I use to give the dish a rich, darker colour to flavour the dish. It is less saltier and a bit sweeter that the light soy sauce.
Fish sauce. Some time I use fish sauce rather than soy sauce, depending on what I cooked. Fish sauce is made from either fresh fish or dried fish and briefly fermented for that fishy, salty flavour. It is mainly used in Thai, Laos, Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes.
Other “must-have” in my kitchen pantry are spices such as cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, dried chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, turmeric, galangal to make spices for my curry paste. And to make the gravy, I some time use coconut milk, coconut cream or Carnation Milk depending on the richness of the curry that I so desire.
I embarked on my foodtrail journey in Hobart in search of my Asian ingredient and spices. I found two Asian supermarkets and two Spice Shops. They are located in different part of the city. It took me a while to get adjusted to these dislocated joints from one end of the city to the other. I am even more surprise that most Hobartians do not know these shops and if they do, have never been there! Where is multiculturism in the society? So if you live in Hobart or near Hobart, take a drive and drop in to one of these 4 shops for some insights into what Asian cuisines have to offer.
My first stop – TASpice Shop, located on 204 Elizabeth Street, Hobart.
This spice shop is opened on 1 September 2008 in Hobart by Anil, ex-manager of a local favourite Indian restaurant – Annapurna. I have driven passed this shop a few times but have never stop to look inside. So last week, I decide to drop in to check out the products. The first thing I notice in the shop is the smell of incense and spices and the sound of soft Indian music (not the Bollywood’s fast pace, hip gyrating, hand clapping type music). The products are nicely presented on a dark coloured wooden shelves, the place is neat, clean and tidy. The main focus is on gluten free and organic products. The spices are mostly pre-mixed and ready to use for certain type of curry and well labelled. There is a good range of basmati rice and other rice that I am not aware of, such as Red Raw Rice. The service is very personable and friendly. They even have a customer book where you can place your order for a special home ingredient that is not available in the shop or anywhere in Hobart, that Anvil and his shop assistant, Blanche will be happy to source for you. When I was there, there is a new freezer where new frozen products will arrive next week, such as different Naan bread and vegetables. The shop also stock a good range of Maharishi Ayur Veda’s health products.
Next stop is Spice World, located in Shop 10, Bank Arcade, Hobart.
The other spice shop, Spice World, is located in central Hobart CBD. It has been been there for over 10 years. It is well stocked with different spices from around the world, mostly in a larger pack. The owner is less friendly and very suspicious. By the way, this is probably one of two places in Hobart that sells fresh turmeric and galangal. The other place that I am aware of is Stokes and Hammond in Tasma Street, Hobart.
The last two stops are Wing & Co, located on 6 Russell Crescent, Sandy Bay and Chinese Emporium, located on 42 Main Road, Moonah.
The two Asian supermarkets are Wing & Co in Sandy Bay and Chinese Emporium in Moonah. Wing & Co, which started over 30 years ago in Hobart CBD before relocating to Sandy Bay, is probably the biggest store among the two. It has Chinese cooking utensils including different wok sizes, bamboo steamers, fresh Asian greens in the fridge, frozen dumplings, spring roll wrappers, noodles, banana leaves, Asian drinks, and many other common Asian ingredients and products. The difference in Chinese Emporium is that they have a larger selection of smaller products from China, Taiwan, India, Japan, Korea, South America and South East Asia. If you can’t find a product in Wing & Co, you could probably find at the Chinese Emporium. The Chinese Emporium is a husband and wife business of over 20 years.