Sichuan Vindication in Cologne

Classy Mapo Dofu

While the western world has in recent years been experiencing a renaissance/journey of discovery into the regional specialities of Chinese cuisine, and Sichuan has become a buzzword for lovers of spicy food, it has long felt like a revolution that would pass Cologne over.

I bemoaned the lack of yum cha here and Maytel asked me: "Is it possible you’ve moved to the one place in the world which Chinese people haven’t immigrated to?" In fact, although there is no Chinatown or thriving German language studies industry, like pretty much everywhere in the world Cologne has its share of Chinese supermarkets, biracial descendants and plenty of small Chinese takeaways selling deep fried meats in cornstarch thickened sauces.

But I have long cherished a dream that somewhere on a back alley in the gothic quarter, we'd find the place where all those in-the-know takeaway workers and tour groups went when they themselves wanted to eat out.
We may have found that at Great Wall, which is owned by two young proprietors in their early 30s named Lily and Jojo. All the staff wear serious black shirts, there are fresh flowers and high-backed chairs, and Mandarin pop ballads pipe out from a tiny stereo positioned half way up the spiral staircase that separates three floors (banquet tables are on the top floor). In short, Great Wall is a dream come true.

Oceans of vivid red chile oil lick at the heels of tofu cubes, bumped up with handfuls of ginger, dried chillies, sichuan pepper and spring onion in their rendition of the classic Mapo Dofu.
A generous plate of Mongolian lamb slivers comes dry-fried and crusted with lavish quantities of cumin & caraway seeds (the chef hails from Hebei province, which borders Beijing and inner Mongolia).
The cucumber salad and rubbery black mushrooms are both must-eats, served cold with a garlicky vinegar dressing and sprigs of coriander.
The Gong bao chicken, though tender and cut into satisfyingly uniform chunks, lacked spiciness and was overly moist - I'd stick to Fuschia Dunlop's more ballsy version in the safety of your own kitchen.
Erik especially loved the Shanghai-style Niu Rou Mian, a generous serving of al dente noodles with chunks of fatty beef, one or two baby bok choi leaves scattered on top and a deep aniseed-cinnamon broth.

We love this place so much, we took visiting kiwi Gut Feelings blogger Coco Solid & Malaysian booty bass DJ Han Baby there last week - it's the jewel in Cologne's crown as far as I'm concerned. We all bonded over the deep fried, home-style aubergine which rivals the laid-back juicy eggplant at KKs in Auckland.

Sections of cucumber are sliced in single pieces which fold out like an accordion:

garlicky, vinegared sichuan cukes

House smoked tofu:

sichuan smoked house tofu

Radical bad attack: Dan Dan Noodles. Bam!

Dan Dan Mian - bam!

Happy emotions at Great Wall:

sugar great wall

tasty Japan

I must have been missing decent sushi: I jumped into a sushi restaurant at Narita airport on my ARRIVAL not on my departure. It was a bit insane.

Couldn't even wait until I got into the city.

I like these takeaway sushi too.

And inari-zushi.

Sashimi at my friend's

Grilled yellowtail breakfast

Whitebate on grated daikon radish

Alfonsino and soft tofu dinner set with brown rice at a hippy diner.

Spring-y bento at the train station

Pick-and-choose set meal at Meal Muji: mixed-grain rice, miso soup, bean curry, tofu croquette, carrot salad, hijiki salad, and hoji-cha pudding with crispy sesame thing-y.

Yakitori (char-grilled chicken) rice bowl (no they are NOT generic teriyaki's)


Prep time

Prep photos from a little side project.


Urgh "CP" hot dogs

Crisco tatties


Ketchup Ribbon FAIL

Chili Amateurs

Alex went pale and called for milk, yoghurt and anthing else available to stop the burning


Why even bother, when you know Manuel Quiroz is king

First Cocktail

The first cocktail arose in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago

McGovern, professor at the Pennsylvania University, Philadelphia, studied the evolution of viticulture in the East and West, finding some earthenware along the Tigris river showing traces of tartaric acid (an element which is characteristic of the grape fermentation), honey, apple juice and brew barley (a sort of beer ante litteram).


I'm no archeologist, but how do they know that the people in question didn't just use the same pot to drink wine, honey, apple juice and beer separately? Archeologists, please explain

WHO knew?

WHO attributes approximately 3 million deaths a year from such diseases to inadequate fruit and vegetable
intake — a risk factor almost as deadly as tobacco use or unsafe sex.

It is noted that the average per capita availability of fruits and vegetables in Bangladesh and Cambodia are among the lowest in Asia. Among the developed countries, New Zealand has the highest per capita availability of fruits and vegetables. From those stats I'm willing to take a wild guess and say that New Zealand probably has a higher proportion of vegans and vegetarians too.

(sorry i can't remember where I read this, so source not attributed as yet)

Milk, Blood Sweat and Tears

It's like the dairy version of Black Sheep: here in Germany, calves are dropping dead from mysterious blood sweats. The blood sweats occurred only on farms where the mother cows were given a vaccine against blue tongue disease. A causal link between the vaccine and the disease has not been proven. The vaccine has been mandatory for cattle in Germany for about a year, though some organic farmers have chosen not to abide by the law.

Me, I'm willing to hedge my bets and consume a little milk & cheese (even after hearing the alarmist claims by British nutritionist Patrick Holford that milk consumption is linked to increased cancer risk). But since reading about the blood sweat scare the other week, I'm trying to stick to organic milk products.
I like gruyere, but I don't dig gruesome.

Quote of the Day

Scientists have found that free-range pork can be more likely than caged pork to carry dangerous bacteria and parasites. It’s not only pistachios and 50-pound tubs of peanut paste that have been infected with salmonella but also 500-pound pigs allowed to root and to roam pastures happily before butting heads with a bolt gun.

If I lived in the States, I'd be more motivated to buy free range pork not because of taste but due to reports of the high levels of antibiotics in industrially farmed pork, and the inhumane manner in which pigs are often killed.

But if letting pigs have a more pleasant existence makes them even more unsafe to eat, argues McWilliams, what are we supposed to do? His conclusion:

If clean and humane methods of production cannot be developed, there’s only one ethical choice left for the conscientious consumer: a pork-free diet.


The Comfort Zone Diet

Jeremy Bentham, the philosopher who 200 years ago also advocated for women’s rights, gay rights and prison reform (...) responded to Kant’s lack of interest in animals by saying: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”

In recent years, the issue has entered the mainstream, but even for those who accept that we should try to reduce the suffering of animals, the question remains where to draw lines. I eagerly pushed Mr. Singer to find his boundaries. (...)

I asked Mr. Singer how he would weigh human lives against animal lives, and he said that he wouldn’t favor executing a human to save any number of animals. But he added that he would be troubled by the idea of keeping one human alive by torturing 10,000 hogs to death.

These are vexing questions, and different people will answer them differently. For my part, I eat meat, but I would prefer that this practice not inflict gratuitous suffering.

Yet however we may answer these questions, there is one profound difference from past centuries: animal rights are now firmly on the mainstream ethical agenda.

Nicholas Kristof, better known for his commentary on humanitarian crises, has written an interesting column in the NY Times about animal rights entering the mainstream.

Well-known part-time vegan Mark Bittman's response to that article was to quote Schopenhauer on the three stages of truth: "First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”

Still - although writers like Bittman and Pollan have made it more socially acceptable to become a bleeding heart flexitarian - there are still plenty of people who believe that vegetarianism is a mask for psychological dysfunction. Reduced meat consumption connected to caring about the welfare of animals still has a long way to go, P.R.-wise.

But Mark Bittman's just getting started, and his approach obviously works because it's so stomachable (when you're not getting stomach pangs about all the dead baby male chicks, that is). It's the culinary version of armchair activism, but it's a start: even hardline vegan bloggers appreciate his efforts.

If you, too, are a bleeding heart flexitarian who thinks it's only human to enjoy a bit of butter on your bread, but still feels vaguely concerned about the effect of wide-scale cow farming on the environment, here's a useful website resource for lacto-ovo vegetarian recipes. I particularly recommend the sticky-black-gingerbread-with-a-touch-of-guilt. It came out very nicely.

Two Food Dances

The "Potato Salad Dance"

Dance Your PhD Winner Brian Stewart "Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking, and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa."
A man goes into MAJOR DEPTH about cooking up the placenta from a recent pregnancy and making a gourmet dinner party out of it. Check out the photos at your own discretion. I'm not easily grossed out, but a normal person probably would be. i just find it funny that this is just a roundabout way for self-righteous vegan hippies to engage in cannibalism.

Buzzfeeds gives the low down on dirty placenta eating hippies.

my sentiments exactly

Quote of the Day

As we are approaching Easter I thought it would be appropriate to make an Italian Lenten dish - a somewhat quirky offering called Tonno di Coniglio which translates to Rabbit Tuna.

This is a dish from the Piedmonte region of Italy and the story goes that the monks would dunk rabbits into the lake and then pull them out where they would then be baptised as fish. This meant they would be able to eat them during lent as they would be eating fish and not meat.

From Cooks Almost Anything Once

This is funny. And reminds me of John Stewart's recent lampooning of the pope on the Daily Show that went something along the lines of "yeah and if you fiddle with little boys it doesn't really count as sex, condoms are ineffective at preventing AIDs and heroin is actually good for you"

Rabbit Tuna ha ha ha. How funny human beings are. They make up silly rules and then end up dunking rabbits in lakes to bypass the rules they made up in the first place.

What I Wish I Was Doing Right Now

kiwi bbq

...Barbecuing at our family bach in Leigh (chicken legs rubbed with smoked paprika and lamb chops from Stubbs butcher), after a day spent at Tawharanui beach (with a picnic snack of radler beers and home-made sweet pepper coca flatbread).
Just behind the barbecue is the entrance to the mudslide, which goes down into the gully. Both barbecue and mudslide have been there since my grandfather dug them in the '50s.



How to Food Blog From Canberra

Actually I have no idea. Although Phil informs me that Canberra has the most food bloggers per capita than any other city. For the life of me I have no idea what they have to write about.

The food here is Terrible. Yes with a capital 'T'.

I can't even begin to tell you how many disappointing meals I've had here.

There are no good kebabs/ souvlakis, no decent pizza, no great noodles, no worthwhile hot pot, no good yum cha, no good Korean, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mexican, Lebanese, or Thai food worth paying money for and so on and so on. And don't ever let a Canberran convince you otherwise. I've ordered prawn pad ka paow, with no ka paow. I've had terrible fluffy based pizza's prefixed with the foreboding "gourmet", I've eaten the worst Vietnamese of my life...Spanish....??? there isn't any?

I think Hock summed it up rather eloquently on his recent trip here when he said "Canberra is full of immigrants who think they can cook, but they can't, they really really can't"

And if you only eat in the restaurants of this "city" then this is indeed the impression you are left with. However, I've come to another conclusion. Canberra is full of immigrants who can cook, except they are not the one's who open restaurants.

Since I've been here I've been invited to numerous Afghani/ Malay Indian feasts with new pals Amrita and Kibir

Kibir (sp) refuses to eat out and is known to conjure fantastic Afghan chicken dumplings in a jiffy

Amrita's prawn curry is kick ass

Tonight, I spent the evening with some other eating pals, Mar and Sai. We are all obsessed with duck so I grabbed a bbq duck from Dickson and Mar made the pancakes. Then I made san choy bao. Mar makes excellent Burmese chicken curry and Sai proclaims he is a dab hand with Shan food, but I've never tried it because Mar never lets him in the kitchen.

Antonella, when she is not working on her thesis has been known to cook for the odd ambassador, craving a decent Italian meal.

Kumiko and Sebastian take turns simmering proteins in either soy and mirin or garlic and red wine respectively, with impressive results. Especially when Seb gets his hands on a wild hare from the winery he works on.

Sango makes great Indian vege curries.

So it is possible to eat well in Canberra, but its all down to who you know and dinner invites.

The produce here is pretty good too. Generally I find almost everything I wish for (except good cheese) in the markets here. The Belconnen markets have a good fish shop (except they sell escolar labelled as "Atlantic Cod"). And no sushi grade fish sorry.
The farmers markets in exhibition park has some great vendors including an excellent eastern european smoked meats guy, and some great organic producers. But you have to be prepared to get up early on a Saturday morning, a rare occurrence for me.

Fyshwick markets are also worth a try, but a little pricier. Don't bother with the overly twee Bus Depot Markets.

And whilst out in the markets I have discovered the odd good bite. There is the extremely utilitarian Indian diner inside the Indian grocery shop in Belconnen. It's a bit hard to find but they make a great array of Indian sweets and thalis.

And the new Asian grocery store out in Belconnen called the "hub" has a pretty good banh mi counter (although it is run by Thais)

Cornucopia Bakery in Barton has excellent pies. Finally a good pie. I especially like the chicken.

And the best roast duck, although it is closed on Sunday's as I discovered today, is Hidden Dragon in civic.

And that's it. That is all I have to say for now about Canberra. Yes that is all I have discovered in the approximately 12 months of living here I have accumulated over five years.

If you have any other eating suggestions, all you hoards of food bloggers...please enlighten me

Vegetarian Animal Fat


As an appetizer before our sweet potato pie yesterday, we ate a salad, and bread smeared with.... 'plant-based onion fat'. Only in Germany would you find an organic vegetarian version of the savoury, toasty pork fat that a lot of people like to smear on bread.

Sweet Potato Pie


Our friends Ina & Harry are quite partial to pumpkin and sweet root veg, especially in the form of desserts or jams. Harry suggested we have a sweet potato pie-making party with prosecco yesterday.

It seems like just the other day that we christened the start of spring with rhubarb-quark cheesecake in Ina & Harry's garden, shortly after they moved into that house. But in the mean time a new resident has arrived: Johanna (see gratuitously cute baby pic below).

I can assure you, despite the teeming wildlife (birds pooping on the garden table and rustling in the bushes, toads getting frisky in the pond) we were smiling like Johanna on the inside after collectively baking that pie, cooling it on the window sill, and after many glasses of prosecco and strong cups of coffee, eating the pie in the fresh air.

If you like, you can de-veganize the recipe by adding an egg to the filling (make sure to reduce the amount of tofu a little -but do not eliminate completely, as the tofu adds good texture without too much richness). Yesterday I added an egg to the crust, which made it a little chewier and less crispy-dense than usual.


Sweet Potato Pie (adapted from a recipe in the Fresh At Home cookbook by Ruth Tal Brown)

3 cups flour (I use a mix of wholegrain and light spelt flour)
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup margarine

1. Grease & flour a pie plate or crockery dish for tarts/quiche
2. Combine dry ingredients.
3. Add marge and oil to dry ingredients and rub it in with your fingers
4. Add water and mix thoroughly. Add more oil or water if the dough won't hold together.
5. Press the dough straight into the dish (I find that this is faster and just as effective as rolling it out first)
6. Pierce all over with a fork
7. Bake for 15 min at 175 degrees then remove to cool. Leave the oven on to keep it warm while you add the filling.

3 medium-large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
3/4 cup silken tofu
2 tbsp grated ginger with juices
1 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
1 cup maple syrup or brown sugar (this time we used palm sugar)
1/3 cup of vegetable oil (sunflower, rapeseed, olive)

1. Simmer sweet potato pieces til tender
2. Blend or mash all ingredients thoroughly (you can reserve a few pieces of sweet potato to mash for the baby)
3. Spread the filling in the slightly cooled crust and bake at 175 degrees for 30 min or until top is slightly browned. Remove and cool on a windowsill before serving.

Bite-size Breakfast Club


OK, it's true. I've recently become sucked into the whole meta-meta-media-filter/'trivial aspects of life as pithy haikus' phenomenon that is Twitter. Between daily pics from Rick Bayless' service line, and what Sasha Frere Jones calls "digital biz yap that makes me feel like I crashed the meeting I spent my life avoiding", there are some trivial treats to be found.

One thing I quite enjoy are the breakfast tweets from Torontonian music promoter My Man Henri.

Here're a few samples:

"Good Morn World: oatmeal x vanilla soy x chopped fruit with METALLICA TCKTS FOR OCT SHOW @ ACC!! W00T!!! Riding Lightning today!"

"Good Morning. Bkrfst: Vanilla Yogurt x Banana Nut Cereal x Sierra Mix. K.I.S.S. Today, the sun still shines - just not here."

"Good Morn World. Huevos con cebolla y espinaca. Need that. Busy week ahead."

I don't know what 'banana nut cereal' or 'sierra mix' are but I don't mind hearing about them at all.

Just in case you, too, find the cataloguing of the morning meal to be a calming business, here's today's breakfast in Cologne Germany:

One 99-cent 'New York Bun' (non-sweetened spelt flour, dark choc chips and dried cranberries), and a smoothie made with frozen blueberries and mango pulp. The mango pulp is imported from India by our friend Demian's father Jelly (who I blogged about earlier, in a post about his christmas bakery).

How would I write that as a Twitter post of up to 140 characters in length? Hmm, let's see:
"Happiness= choc/cranberry/spelt brkfast roll. Drink: frozen german forest blueberries pureed with hippie import mango pulp.Yelp! Peace y'all"

Just kidding -
..I wouldn't write 'Peace y'all'.



"Slow-roasted meats, marinated vegetables, surprising flavor combinations, this is not your mother’s sandwich."

Top Chef judge and Craft chef Tom Colicchio has released a sandwich recipe book named after his own sandwich restaurant franchise. More than the book (which sounds, like Tom himself, solid & defiantly straightforward), the above sentence from the Random House website is quite fascinating to me.

Call me a punctuation pedant, but just because people on TV talk in soundbites, does that mean publishers should get all heady on the scent of commas and turn their noses up at a humble full stop...? Even an ellipsis or semi-colon would let us hop more comfortably into "this is not your mother's sandwich."

I mean this is not John Updike's sandwich we're talking about either.

I'm off to make a batch of watercress sandwiches (no crusts). I will eat them and make huffing noises about the state of the world today.

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