Sweet Food Nothings


A toasted muesli by any other name would smell as sweet...

In New Zealand and Australia, I became convinced that food down there is suffering a P.R. problem. The problem is that the P.R. department is on overdrive.

At some point in the '80s, it became hip to talk about food poetically, and the more foreign the description, the more artisanal the approach implied, the more moolah people became prepared to pay.

Somehow, good food became a status symbol in the new world, and fine foods emporiums sprang up selling passable sour dough bread for eight dollars a loaf, and bags of gnocchi imported all the way from Italy for 14 whole dollars.

When did gluggy lumps of potato begin to triple in value when prefixed with the adjective 'Italian'? Is nobody in the southern hemisphere able to make a decent batch of gnocchi?

This is not just a question of food snobbery. The absurd part is when people pay top dollar for something that's not even close to wonderful. Antipodeans need to say no to false advertising.

Stopping through Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I became a bit depressed at how rarely foods lived up to their descriptions. Browsing in a nice-looking deli-style store, we bought wild honey spice muesli, roasted carrot and tomato soup, sour dough loaf baked in the Californian tradition, and yoghurt with bush honey.

Yum, right? That's what we hoped, but in the end only the yoghurt could be described as delicious. The rest would have been more honestly described as toasted oats with cinnamon, a pretty average loaf of bread that was still better than any of the other bread we ate down under, and soup that could've come from a supermarket. A bit watery. Hardly any discernible carrot flavour.

Guess those descriptions wouldn't have looked so good on the label.

In NZ the situation can be just as semantically obfuscated.

We had lunch at a restaurant somewhere near the Kapiti coast. The menu talked about crusted this and reduction of that. I was a bit disappointed when my roasted potato turned out to be an oily hash brown.

Studies at the University of Illinois last year showed that when food is described in evocative terms, people are more apt to find it delicious
, but surely this ruse can only be taken so far?

It's not like you can't get delicious prepared food down under. There's much more on offer than the lovely fresh figs, jewel-sized plums and batonga pineapples, don't get me wrong - but the wordsmiths need to chill out a little.

People shouldn't pay through the nose when a spade is not called a spade, but instead called an 18th century wrought-iron jersey potato forager.

Soup Semantics


New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, has a few good bowls of noodles up its sleeves, especially those of the Malaysian variety - though we somehow didn't manage to fit in a decent laksa on our last trip there. We stopped at R & S Satay Noodle House on Cuba St before we began the nine-hour drive back up to Auckland. Erik's laksa was not too compelling - a few fish balls and bean sprouts floating a in a watery broth - but this 'Khmer satay soup' (pictured above) was rather tasty. In consistency, spiciness and lemon-tinged acidity it hovered somewhere between a Thai soup and a Malaysian laksa. There were plenty of al dente rice noodles and it was generously heaped with strips of tender white chicken flesh (no dodgy bits - not that I'm averse to a clump of skin or fat every now and then). The ground peanut was barely discernible except towards the end: it served mostly to thicken the soup.

Is this a genuine Khmer-style soup? Perhaps the Cambodian food experts on the Gut Feelings team can lay down the law.

All the hooha about Hahei

beer chips

On our trip home to NZ, we visited the Coromandel with my mother and sister. I'd never been there in high summer before, so I was curious what all the hooha was about, on this iconic strip of kiwi coastline: including beaches like Hahei, Gemstone bay and Cathedral Cove.

I asked NZ techno producer and english teacher Simon Flower for a few tips, which ended up being worth their weight in gold. Hence I am republishing them here, along with my own photo evidence, for the benefit of any other prospective Coromandel holiday makers. Go forth, drink tea, swim with stingrays and eat short ribs. And don't miss the beer-battered fries (above): a very thin and crispy shell on those babies.

Simon's tips:

1. "Hahei beach. The left end is the money end, and is close to the shops, which have a great icecream shop! (behind the general store on the corner). Also at the left end you have a nice cliff side walkway up to the Cathedral Cove track: take your camera as it's a beautiful view from up there.

The view:

cathedral cove wide

2. Cathedral Cove is stunning, but I'd also recommend popping down to Stingray bay on the walk to the Cove. At this time of year the Cove is PACKED, yet in Stingray Bay there is no one, people dont even take the time to walk 2 minutes off the track down to this glorious little bay. And yes, there are stingrays there! Both times I've been there I've seen stingrays swimming in the shallows.


3. Otara Bay. On the road to Hahei from Tairua, you pass a beach called 'sailors grave' on the left. If you go down to sailors grave you'll see a track to the left which goes around the left corner to Otara Bay (about a 10 minute walk). You can walk around the rocks too if you want. Beautiful bay, golden sand, and I bet you won't see anyone there.

4. Colenso Cafe. This is just outside of Whenuakite, near the turnoff for Hahei. Nice country style cafe/herbal tea joint, ladies love it.

(Note from ed: My mother did indeed love it. She purchased the 'crostini topping' below as a souvenir for my grandmother. Crostini topping in a jar...whatever next?)

colenso preserve

5. There is a bar/restaurant next to the Ice-cream shop in Hahei called 'The Grange' (on Grange rd). They do these freakin amazing BBQ ribs. They come on a bed of wedges, so I'd change the order to make it BBQ ribs on their own, with a side of their beer-battered fries. Killer pub grub."

Ahh... fancy pub food, ankles scraped from snorkeling over boulders, herbal tea and jars of gussied up tomato stuff to spread on dry toasts... Thanks for the great tips Simon!
The Coromandel is splendid indeed.

Australia - where even the fruit is sunburnt

Fruit growers whose crops haven't been destroyed by fire are now worried their harvest won't be picked.
General manager of Fruit Growers Victoria, John Wilson, saysthat at Stanley in the state's north-east, growers have ripe fruit that needs to get to market.
"We've had reports that we can't get pickers into the area because of road blockages or debris on the roads, and at the moment we need to get people up there to pick some raspberries."
And in New South Wales and Victoria, farmers are worried the news that many crops are heat-stressed will keep workers away.
In New South Wales, labourers are needed to plough in ruined vegetables, cut burnt flowers and pick damaged fruit in orchards.
Victoria is facing a similar problem, as sunburnt fruit still has to be picked because of orchard hygiene policies.
Grower associations say they'll need plenty of harvest labour this season.

Source: ABC

Growers are requesting that Australian consumers accept lower fruit standards this season.

The land is scorched, the fruit is burnt, koalas are thirsty and I'm sunburnt even though I put on sunscreen, lay under an umbrella and wore a sarong last weekend in Sydney. And just as everyone and everything is feeling a bit singed, the temperature drops. In Canberra tonight its 9 degrees and I have on wooly socks and a cardigan......WTF

Thirsty Koala

Oh so cute.

Bo.lan. essentially Thai, Bangkok, Thailand



Soi 26, Sukhumvit, Bangkok.

Ph 02 260 2962

Go now!

Before it is booked out solid.

Currently Bangkoks best Thai Restaurant.

Bo & Dylan are at the markets by 2 am most days.

End of story.



















Virgins of the American Food

Here's the Burger King's advertisement site.

There are already plenty of criticisms and people blogging about this, such as:

Minnesota Hmong protesting against Burger King's Whopper Virgins campaign, on Twin Cities Daily Planet

Burger King Offends Global Culture on the Telegraph by Emily Haile

Burger King is Despicable: A Rant by Pico and the Man

Like the above two bloggers I guess the critics would find refuge in the Inuit's man's remarks that he prefers seal meat over hamburgers... but since the BK shows it as a part of their documentary-ish ad, I wonder if this is carefully crafted by the BK ad crew.

While I haven't been to either Baan Mon Kghor or Baan Khun Chang Kian myself, I also wonder if these villages are really that remote, in a similar vein with what Seng Vang is commenting:
This is obviously a false, as the specific people in the ads (who are our relatives) HAVE seen burgers before, lots of it. Almost every Hmong Thai villages in Thailand have a TV. Thailand has how many BK franchises? How many commercials in Thai have these franchises run in the past several decades? Even the most remote Hmong villages in Thailand, like the ones in your ad, drive Toyota Tundras, talk to their relatives in St. Paul on their cell phones, and watch CNN and BBC on their satellite TVs. Never seen a burger? Pure fiction. Hmong villagers in Thailand aren’t as backward or primitive as you want Americans or the world to think.
From what I have seen in the mountains of Thailand, some Hmong villages are indeed remote with no electricity, but some Hmong villages are electrified, in that case villagers do own satellite dishes.

I wonder why the BK ad crew chose the Hmong people of all "remote" and "tribal" people they could choose from, even though there are significant number of Hmong people who have immigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War, who would voice their opinions. If they wanted to pick up some of the most "remote" and "tribal" people from Thailand, they could have gone for the Mlabri people, for instance.

My guess is that the BK ad crew picked the Hmong villages because they are actually some of the most accessible of all the tribal villages. In the documentary-ish video, the Hmong people there are actually speaking Thai, and I won't be surprised if they have come down to the city of Chiang Mai and came across BK and McDonald's outlets in the night bazaar area where they'd sell their beautifully embroidered goods and silver jewelry to tourists.

Chinese American...Food

Maytel's Notes
In Thailand, Chinese food is mainly influenced by Teow Chiu people from Northern Quangdong, this cuisine is known as chew chow in Hong Kong. But Chinese Thai has, as Jennifer explains, has transformed into an "open source" food in its own right. In Cambodia, much of what is considered "special" or celebrationary food appears to be of Chinese origin, such as black chicken and various stir fired dishes. Consumption of specific cooler climate vegetables, such as wom bok or "chinese cabbage" in Cambodia rises at Chinese New Year, and other festival occasions. These vegetables are imported from Vietnam mainly. There is definitely an association in Cambodia of Chinese foods as luxury items.

I'm trying to recall if there are anything that is specifically New Zealand or Australian-ified about Chinese food down under. But we never really ate "chinese" take out much when we were young. We did obligatory Sunday yum cha when I was a child, on account of my father being Chinese Thai and having been educated in Hong Kong for the most part of his formative years. But at that stage we were the only family I knew that did this. I guess yum cha has become in many ways, the standard New Zealand lunch for many families now too. It makes me wonder how yum cha in NZ may have adapted to accommodate these new palates.

There's not much good yum cha in Thailand, even Bangkok. I find dumpling making standards are pretty low, especially compared Malaysia. In fact some of the best "canto-style" dumplings I've had were in Penang.

In many Australian and New Zealand cities, the recent wave of mainland Chinese is changing the face of Chinese restaurants from the sad old tired suburban take out stores that were once a common site in most neighbourhoods. What I did notice when we drove around the South Island is that Thai food seems to be the new Chinese restaurant in small country towns. And just as I once, as a child wondered about the poor isolated Chinese family who owned the only Chinese restaurant in say...whakatane or whatever, when in the South Island I couldn't help but wonder about the poor isolate Thai woman stuck behind a stove in a small country tow, with no lemon grass or Thai basil.
Bugs and tongues reveal human march across Pacific

19:00 22 January 2009 by Ewen Callaway, New Scientist

They probably weren't looking for a tropical vacation, but island-hopping people from present day Taiwan settled the south Pacific beginning about 5000 years ago.

Two new studies of language and parasites suggest that these migrants populated the Pacific from the Philippines to Hawaii.

They moved in fits and starts, probably limited by technological advances such as sailing and navigation, says Russell Gray, a biologist at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, whose team recorded the evolution of 400 languages as if they were organisms.

The outcome, a network of languages, bears a striking resemblance to another network displaying relatedness among different strains of a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, which was also collected from Pacific islanders.

"It's nice that the words that come out of our mouth and the things that come out of our stomachs speak of the same kind of history," Gray says.
In the four months of taping, contestants are given a calorie budget, recipes and a list of forbidden foods: no white flour, white sugar, butter, or anything that contains them. From there, they have to learn to feed themselves.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Mr. Brantley’s wife, Heba Salama, who began the show as the heaviest woman ever to compete, at 294 pounds. “The kitchen was full of weird ingredients like quinoa and kale. It was the blind leading the blind.”

Source: NYT

Food Quote: Stomach vs. Chicken in Prey Veng

“When my chickens die, I also use them for cooking,” he said, “because I think my stomach is more important than the influenza virus.”

Source: Ki Media

Flooded McDonald's



Kitchen Gardens

I have been writing my second to last chapter lately on vegetables. Within agricultural development ciricles it is a well known fact that the emergence of fresh fruit and vegetable commodity chains are indisputably linked with a rise in development and propserity specifically of the middle class urban dwellers. Growth and propserity in Asia in recent years has seen the proliferation of fresh fruit and vegetable production and marketing, with this region now accounting for over fifty per cent of worldwide production. Most of thise produce is consumed locally if not regionally.

In Cambodia, kitchen gardens are a common sight around the raised household lands or river banks where the perils of flooding are diminished. These polycultures are known in Khmer as chamcar. More recently specilaised growers have emerged in nearby provinces supplying the growing consumer market. But still, for the most part, kitchen gardens in Cambodia exist to service the day to day non-market needs of domestic kitchens

On the other side of the world vegetable gardening has seen a resurgence in the developed world. Garden centres have reported increased sales during the financial crisis as people turn to cheaper hobbies that also provide sustenance.

Growing your own occupies a special place in a lot of people's psyches. My own little vegetable patch in Canberra gives me unique sense of satisfaction, and I find myself often memorised by my vege.

It is however, far more of a hobby than it could ever be called "livelihood strategy". For that I would need a much larger plot, seedling production centre and possibly be growing some grain as well.

But for now I potter and I gaze. I relish in the fact that my strawberries are so happy and I am puzzled by my tomatos sad performance.

It seems that in the west the history of kitchen gardens has always been an earthly pursuit of the wealthy or middle classes, first emerging as part of the economies of large feudal estates, and toiled by estate workers to cultivate and provide the freshest and most seasonal and sometimes exotic varieties to the tables of their masters. I read this in the History of Food book, which also noted that the popularity of kitchen gardens grew tremendously in France with the rise of the bourgeoisie.

My sister's has a kitchen garden of this order,of course, in true big sister style the eldest has the most enviable of gardens, carved out the clay soils of the Waitakere ranges, the garden is unlikely to ever "pay" for itself in vegetable yield terms, least the entire world meltdowns and New Zealand remains cut off from international trade and the film industry in which she works (an event it seems that my sister is apparently prepared for giving her predilection to hoard cans of food and bottles of wine)


The garden cascades down the hill from fruit tree terraces lined with feijoas and heirloom variety pears, limes, grapefruit, lemons, peaches etc etc which is interspearsed with edible herbs and other vegetables such as squashes, cabbages and cucumbers. The pergola with sitting bench is framed by two grape varieties to the side and passionfruit vines to the front


The raised beds are planted at the moment with summer vegetables of all variety, corn, tomatoes, potatos, raddishes, peas, beans.....These are interspeared with marigolds and other herbs


Plans are afoot to start bee hives behind the garden shed too

The garden gets a lot of sun but is sheltered from wind by native New Zealand bush. Around the outer borders before the bush begins are strawberries, sage, tamarillos trees.

Finally there is a platform suspended up the terraces where one may lounge in partial shade , read a book and survey with satisfaction the view of fruit and vegetables growing.


This garden truely out does my modest patch of dirt, it verges on an estate garden in my books and fulfils in all my family's pastoral fantasies that our middle class status permits us to have....When I'm there I wander around the garden, picking off sprigs of herbs for making salsa verde. My other sisters like to sit and wander too. But of course my sister has a gardener that comes a couple of times a week to look after the garden, she is after all very busy making money "off-farm"

Which brings me to all the kerfuffle about the White House garden and the Alice Watery and Michael Pollan demands for the White House to dig up the lawn and plant an organic vegetable garden. This is in some way supposed to be "symbolic" of the presidents commitment to good fresh local food, and a commitment to transforming the american agricultural system from the pit of disaster that it currently is..... But should the Obamas capitulate to these requests by middle class food champions? Should the White House be aiming to fulfil the pastoral daydreams of Alice Waters by planting an organic garden. They'll be no shortage of serfs this year to tend these gardens no doubt.....or should Obama not worry so much about the front lawn and concern himself with the very real challenges of transforming the agricultural system and rural communities, rethinking farm policies and introducing a new farm bill?

Eating Math....brassica for nerds

Romanescu Cauliflower ...who wooda thunk it.

From the simple cauli to the currency market.. they can all get mixed up in the Fibonacci sequence.

Is there a math equation for this though?
I just found this website called bifurcated carrots and was reminded to last year's controversy at my uni regarding one professor's presentation entitled "The Fractal Yam: Fractal Recursion and Agency in the Trobriands"


As Jim Fox and his collaborators on the Comparative Austronesian Project have amply demonstrated, the arboreal idiom of ‘base’, ‘branch’ and ‘tip’ animates the origin structures of precedence of many if not most societies of the Austronesian world. Less attention has been directed at indigenous elaborations of base-branch-tip in other cultural and social domains of the region. This paper traces the ramifications of base-branch-tip articulating numerous dimensions of the culture and social organization of Northern Kiriwina in the Trobriand Islands (PNG). Based on recent ethnographic enquires at Omarakana, the site of Malinowski’s original fieldwork, this paper argues that the sequential recursiveness of base-branch-tip across North Kiriwinan contexts is fractally structured – borrowing a notion from chaos theory. The production of every ‘tip’, in other words, becomes the condition or ‘base’ of further base-branch-tip transformation, and so on. In this way, base-branch-tip recursions in the Trobriands serve as the cultural template for social action, or ‘action scenarios’. Re-examining a number of Trobriand cultural contexts as enchained base-branch-tip transformations sheds new interpretive light on many topics of long-standing anthropological interest: e.g. the production, display and exchange of yams and other values, the classification of village and garden spaces, human procreation, the relation of dala ‘subclan’ to valu ‘village’, sagali mortuary de-conception, the nature of chiefly agency, kula exchange, and villagers’ relations with baloma spirits of the dead.

So I wondered, if fractal yams are key to understanding Melanesian society, symbolically speaking of course.....could bifurcated carrots hold the understanding anglo-saxon cultures...or would that be reading too much into a carrot?


Don't we tend to forgot that pumpkins are actually vine? Having used to see those fat pumpkins lying around on the ground and all that.

I sort of did until I encountered this funky one climbing up on the tree the other day in the mountains of Thailand.

Watch your head when walking in the woods.

Khun Churn

Here's my five cents attempting to spice up this blog a bit with my not so spicy beige food review.

It's easy to go vegetarian in Chiang Mai, thanks to several veggie-friendly places like Pun Pun and Khun Churn.

Unlike Pun Pun that closes around 6:30pm, Khun Churn is open from breakfast through dinner, and is conveniently located off the popular Nimanhamin Road.

While their dinner offerings are still of great value, most entrees within 60-80 baht range, their best value is the lunch buffet. The price went up from 65 baht two years ago to 80 baht as of today, but is still a good value.

For the price of 80 baht a person, they offer all-you-can-eat buffet featuring a big salad section with three dressings to choose from, a big jar of brown rice, boiled veggies with Thai dips, three-four different kinds of spicy and non-spicy soups, four-five pan-fried entrees, kanom jiin or khao soi, Thai dessert, and all-you-can-drink herbal beverage. You can eat as much as or as little as you want, which is also the great thing about the buffet.

The place is vastly popular with a mix of Thai and non-Thai crowds. Like my friend szephing says, it is indeed a Chiang Mai staple. You can check out some of their dinner entree pictures on szephing's blog. All my pictures here are from lunch buffet.

For a restaurant of this scale, we can't expect everything to be organic,,, as a matter of fact once I inquired where their veggies are coming from sometime ago, they told me it's from talat muang mai, the Chaing Mai's biggest vegetable market, most of them conventionally grown in bulk. But they do sell what they claim to be organically grown oranges, so, at least they are aware of those things.

If you prefer to go vegan, you have to watch out a bit here, because this place is rather มังสะวิรัติ (mang sa wi rat) that eggs are sometimes included in the dish, and not strictly เจ (jae). Indeed you have so many choices and you can always ask the friendly staff if you want to make sure.

You'll be welcomed by this sign.
They only refer to beverage and meat in both Thai and English, but their pictogram also suggests smoking and dogs are not welcomed either... I wonder if the dogs are part of the meat and smoking part of the beverage? Just kidding.

Khun Churn
Soi 17 (they moved from their old location at Soi 7), Nimanhamin Road
Lunch buffet from 11am to 2:30pm
Dinner 5-10pm
Closed every 16th of the month

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