Category Archives: eating

The act of eating. Dining, products, flavours.

Short and sweet: it seems Adriano Zumbo will be a Melbourne fixture

The Age newspaper this morning mentioned in it’s local gossip column that Sydney patissier and MasterChef regular Adriano Zumbo is on his way to having a presence in Melbourne. I wonder if that explains his increasingly frequent visits!

In some ways I often hope that good pâtissiers will stay on their home turf, giving a reason for visiting their city for a special treat, rather than succumbing to the business temptation of expansion. I imagine many will disagree vehemently, given that Asian outposts of Pierre Hermé and Lenôtre have made it possible to sample good macarons without travelling all the way to Paris. 😉

Of course, until recently Melbourne hadn’t produced any entrepreneurial pâtissiers with the skills to produce good macarons (there are some I haven’t tasted in a while that might have improved… but I don’t spend money on macarons in Melbourne anymore. Too many utterly mediocre experiences.) So I guess Zumbo is giving Melbourne what it deserves.

I visited Zumbo’s shop in Sydney two years ago and wasn’t as thrilled by his macarons as the large number of devotees in Sydney (half of Sydney’s foodbloggers think he’s cute too, so perhaps there’s extra enthusiasm!). I don’t know what his average quality is, but clearly it’s held in high esteem. He’s a creative fellow well beyond just the macarons, and if nothing else he will bring a breath of fun to the patchy but improving (albeit not as much as PR-sponsored reviews might indicate) retail pastry scene in Melbourne.

Hoarding food novelties from my travels

The lure of supermarkets and convenience stores is irresistible when I travel. The novelty of different packaging, mysterious powders, new chocolate brands (mostly disappointing), and the cornucopia of snackfoods can keep me entranced for ages. I have enough trouble escaping from Tatsing (Newmarket) or Minh Phat (Richmond) and neither of those are new to me! But it’s the extra weight in my luggage when I fly my way home that really shows the lure of new things.

Before recent travel I thought it time to examine my Shelf of Travel Food Mementoes. The intention of the shelf was originally to encourage me to sample and continue to eat my way through the collected bounty, but I seem to have failed, as many years’ travel appears to have accumulated without sufficient attention from me.

You might notice, for instance, an abundance of Ricola lollies. There’s aux Plantes, Verveine citronée, AlpinFresh, Argousier, CitronMélisse, Fleur de sureau, OrangeMenthe, Spearmint Fresh Pearls and LemonMint. The Frenchie ones were acquired in France (2009) when I was on the wave of Ricola discovery (I didn’t use to like hard sugary lollies, but times changed and long-ignored products suddenly caught my attention). Little did I know that what I thought was a very narrow range of Ricola in Australia (thank you, Coles), was nothing of the sort. I returned from travels to find the Reject Shop selling most of the above flavours in English 😉 for half the price! Of greater embarrassment than this, however, is the fact that most of the packets were unopened when I took this photo, despite having been bought over a year earlier. Tsk tsk. At least the Spearmint Fresh Pearls were only about eight months old (Kuala Lumpur in October)… still unopened.

Meanwhile, from Sweden (also 2009) are Läkerol, a few flavours of which are found at IKEA in Australia. But mine, collected in the “home” country are the rather tasty Yuzo Citrus (yes, opened that one), and the as-yet-untasted Eucalyptus, Pitaya (dragonfruit) and Licorice-Watermelon. Actually, I just opened the Pitaya and discovered that it comes “with strawberry pieces” and tastes, um, sweet and acidic and lightly perfumed. It’s lucky that chewy lolly connoisseurism isn’t a big thing, or Läkerol would have to try a little bit harder (and who would try to seriously capture the flavour of dragonfruit??).

I rarely use chewing gum, but new flavours always catch my eye. Fond memories of a Wrigley’s sage and lemon chewing gum linger from a trip to, um, the Czech Republic I think (I found the almost empty package in the bottom of a laptop bag the other day… too gory to reveal to you here). In the picture below, however, you see Green Tea Mint chewy (foul) and Lemongrass (obscured at the top) which was new in Malaysia last year (and rather difficult to find once I was addicted).

On the top right we have the rather awful pseudo-macarons made of fruit-flavoured chocolate from the otherwise excellent Michel Cluizel. They were awful when I bought them, and over a year later they were downright spit-out-able (I know, should have chucked them out a year ago). In complete contrast, the neighbour in the photo are tasty little cinnamon flavoured Pastiglie Leone. I have a few half-eaten packets of other flavours from previous years lying around the house. I emphatically do not recommend the green tea “Tuareg” flavour, astringent enough to shrivel your tastebuds for a day unless you’re a hardened green tea lover! Putting that flavour to one side, I was delighted to discover that you can find these pastilles in Australia — on a visit to Liaison café in Melbourne I saw an artfully arranged pile of boxes.

The coloured tins with heart-shaped figures are OralFixation Mints from the US (but bought in Malaysia). I’m a sucker for small tins, and US sweet and gum manufacturers are great at feeding my fetish. (Come to think of it, a star in the tin world is Altoids, actually British, but better known in the US.) Anyway, these OralFixation thingies in cinnamon (yum, but not steroid-strength like Altoids) and green tea (meh) are very stylish.

Almost finished, and we have three favourites at the bottom left. Starting with the childhood nostalgic disappointment is the Jacobs orange Club biscuit. Knowing that, as a child, I loved the greasy chocolate and the gritty biscuit just didn’t save them from disdain. Having bought a six-pack with glee at Tesco, most of them lay unloved at the back of the shelf, with good reason. Then there’s the Fazer Viol licorice chewy lollies. Lovely. Clear violet flavour. A pleasant suck. And finally, childhood hit and enduring favourite, violet flavoured Anis de Flavigny — hard, lightly fragranced sugar balls with a smooth exterior and a tiny aniseed in the middle.

I know of many others who hoard tasty treats (flavoured KitKats seem to be a recurring theme among bloggers), but most do manage to devour their bounty within a brief time. What do you hoard from your travels and then find months or years later?

Breakfast time and pancake temptation


For the most part, I’m not the kind to dally over, under or prior to breakfast. Once upon a time, I could barely manage the few minutes of showering before my stomach felt like it was devouring me. Staying with various friends in Germany was a special torture, as the morning routine extended beyond showers and shaves, to setting tables, brewing coffee, laying out cold meats and cheese, and popping down to the bakery for fresh rolls. At times, breakfast begins more than an hour after rising. (It must be said that such German breakfasts are delightfully homely affairs — totally gemütlich — and can fill a day with bonhomie. But only if I haven’t already collapsed from the aforementioned self-consumption.)

Breakfast, as some readers already know, is rather important to me, associated with simple but very important dietary specifications. It is, however, here that I first reveal the temporal parameters of my breakfast. As a child, I would eat before showering. Little did I know this would establish digestive patterns that have turned me into a wimpering hunger-immobilised wreck when visiting Germans or poorly-catered hotels.

As a student, I tried going to the gym before breakfast, and quickly found myself staggering, zig-zag fashion, across campus as my nervous system gradually shut down non-essential functions. I think it was around about this time that I discovered morning croissants were not only delicious, but an excellent surrogate for gym exercise.

After quite a few years of travelling, I can now manage almost 45 minutes without food before my stomach starts gnawing. And you know, 45 minutes is just right for making puffy pancakes. I grew up with my mother making pikelets (the only true puffy pancake in my family) with butter and golden syrup for special breakfasts, and of course she was up well before me, so there was never a delay in product delivery. As an independent adult, these morning luxuries have been rare, because they take too long.

However, I was so attracted to the recent tasty photo of banana/bacon/ricotta/maple pancakes on The Last Appetite a few weeks back that I decided to brave the ticking clock and reproduce them at home. 45 minutes. Done, dusted, devoured.

I rarely post recipes on Syrup & Tang because most readers have their own trusted books, or you can Google pretty much anything (with about an 85% chance the result will have been “adapted” from a book). So, off you go and find some fat pancakes (often called American pancakes. I like the buttermilk pancakes in Stephanie Alexander’s big fat Cook’s Companion). Slice or mash some banana. Fry some streaky bacon over low heat for quite a long time until fairly crisp. Have heaps of butter and maple syrup ready! Try not to forget the ricotta whipped with honey (ehem, damn). Devour noisily.

And if that doesn’t suit you, have a bowl of Rice Bubbles. They’ve made me the man I am today.

Postscript: My co-eater, Mittens, was browsing through Maggie Beer’s Maggie’s Harvest and came across a salad with pear and prosciutto. “How about this on our next batch of pancakes?” What a good idea… (not the salad part, of course).

Beprickled stinkpots: My only-moderately-helpful guide to durian


I asked the durian seller, quite persistently, how to tell the difference between the many varieties of the fruit he sold. He had four, each for a different price.

Mittens, my co-eater, had tasted every one of these stinky, prickly darlings over our nights in Kuala Lumpur and could discern differences in texture, sweetness and some of the “bitter” aspect described by many durian afficionados. Yet to the uninitiated, these were all just homogeneously beprickled stinkpots.


After interrogating the seller, I rushed back to my hotel to make notes for later, so I could communicate the imparted knowledge to my dear readers. Alas, somewhere between good intention and a bag of cheap and gorgeously delicious mangosteens, the manual annotation never happened, leaving me with just my memories. Those memories endured for a few weeks, but now, as I have sat down to impart the durian knowledge a few months later, I discover I have no notes and my memory has faded.

It seems almost cruel to tell you the differences between four varieties of durian when I can’t remember which was which, but I live in hope that some other durian-wise internaut might pass by and help out with the labelling.

Durians are weighty, prickly fruits, usually in excess of 1kg, with large segments of thick, creamy flesh surrounding a seed. The flesh ranges from pale off-white to yellow and even red. Durian lovers can identify “sweet” and “bitter” characteristics between varieties, and the texture can range from very creamy and soft to quite thick, and sometimes fibrous. Durians smell nasty to the uninitiated and are variously banned from hotels, some public places and public transportation (which of course means they are often identifiable on public transportation, rules being there to be broken).

Durian season in Malaysia is approximately June to September, but kampung (village) durian from local village growth, rather than organised plantations, and Sarawak/Sabah (Borneo) durians are around for considerably longer and can still be good quality (we were there in late October). Durian vendors will usually cut open the chosen durian and remove the segments, placing them in a container for you to smuggle back to your hotel. Hehehe. The SE-Asian press frequently writes about durian, and there are a few blogs too, though unfortunately they spend more time enjoying the latest durian than helpfully cataloguing the types (I display my analytical bias unashamedly). The widest range of photos is probably found at Stinky Spikes, or watch this guy’s great video of durians being cut open.


I believe the Malaysian varieties that were explained to me were labelled D2, D24, D101 and King Musang. (Malaysia has helpfully numbered many local varieties, though they are sometimes commonly referred to by special names instead.) You’ll also find other varieties such as D99 around Malaysia and the lucky-dip kampung ones. In Australia we only really see Mon Thong (D159) durian from Thailand, quietly defrosting at market stalls or in the occasional supermarket.

So here are the four characteristics I was shown and sadly can no longer associate with specific varieties:

Type1: the spikes align so that you get straight spines (valleys) running the length of the fruit in some places. (possibly D24)

Type2: the spikes are arranged in groups of four of similar size, surrounding a fifth little one. (possibly D101)

Type3: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to an almost bald spot, described by the seller as looking a bit like a star (the uneven flattening around the edges could create that impression). (perhaps King Musang?)

Type4: at the base of the fruit, the spines diminish to a raised almost bald spot which protrudes a little like a nipple.

We saw all of these examples firsthand, but I can’t guarantee that these characteristics are always present.

Variety D24 is very well regarded (pale yellow flesh, stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet), but King Musang (stronger yellow flesh) seemed to be the most expensive in KL when we were there and Mittens loved it (I suspect this is the same as the variety that seems to get a lot of press in SE-Asia: Mao Shan Wang; stinky, creamy, sticky, bitter-sweet). D101 has dark yellow flesh and is sweet, creamy, with small seed.


Although I would once have vomited at the prospect of eating durian, my “appreciation” of this fruit changed during our trip (hey, two weeks of durian-smuggling-into-hotels by Mittens didn’t leave much scope for nausea). I still can’t breathe through my nose while putting the flesh in my mouth, but I can sort of enjoy the thick creamy mouthfeel and sweetness. It’s a bit like an incredibly unctuous egg custard, thickened too far, and with a dash of rotting onion thrown in for fun. I don’t appreciate the residual rotten-onion-breath.

So while Mittens slurped up the contents of a one-kilo durian every night for thirteen nights, I contented myself with juggling fresh, spongy-shelled mangosteens, and discovering why hotels don’t appreciate the red juice from the shell (it *stains*). Mangosteen are just beautiful, but don’t bother with derivatives like syrups or sorbets, as the delicate flavour is almost impossible to capture properly.


As a side-note, it should be mentioned that while the pong of durian is very very hard to conceal, the pong of jackfruit is more pervasive in a hotel fridge. Jackfruit seems innocuous, and tastes quite pleasant, but it smells of something approaching warm, rancid cheddar, even at 4C, and its spirit lingers even after consumption.

Anyway, back to durian for one last time. Chinese Malaysians will tell you that durian is “heaty” and one shouldn’t eat too much. “I’ve heard of someone who died by eating too much” is a not uncommon comment. Well, to them I say that Mittens must be rather chilly, cos after thirteen durians he was crying out for the next one and was in excellent health.

Apologies for this rather unhelpful durian catalogue! Fingers crossed that it is enhanced over time. Selamat makan!

Confessions of a Rice Bubbles (Rice Krispies) addict

Hello everybody. My name’s Duncan, and I’d like to share something with you. I eat bubbles of puffed rice every day. Every day.

Everyone who knows me well enough to welcome me into their home on my travels knows that I eat one thing for breakfast. It verges on religion. If I stray from the one true breakfast, I am punished with bad moods and heavy stomach (or growling hunger). What’s more, perhaps unusually for something so mundane, I’m quite faithful to one brand — they’re known in Australia as Kellogg’s Rice Bubbles and in most other markets as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies (which is their original name).

I like my Rice Bubbles with cold milk. And it mustn’t be UHT/long-life liquid. Ick. Cold, pasteurised milk (for want of access to unpasteurised). No sugar (though I used to have half a teaspoon in my youth).

I’ve been eating Rice Bubbles for, oh, about 85% of my life. My earliest memories are accompanied by snap! crackle! pop!, though I have strayed on occasion: I’ll blame my parents for forays into puffed wheat and shredded wheats and such things (though they might object). And travelling makes life very difficult. You see, Rice Krispies overseas are quite hard to find. In France you have to go to a hypermarket and pray a little. In Germany I knew who had the goods and had to make long distance trips with a car boot or many cloth bags. In Sweden, Rice Krispies were widely available but priced like gold-dust, meaning that the appearance of discount coupons led to frenzied shopping and filling of cupboards (I wonder if I can find the photographic proof! I’ll post it here later if I find it).

Worst of all, many people just don’t get my favourite cereal. The apartment owner in Paris who had rented out his place to me for two weeks looked aghast when I, as a friendly gesture, told him there was half a packet of Krispies left in the kitchen. “Why would I eat kid’s food?” he snorted. Hmph. German fellow students in college used to listen to my breakfast as if it were a new-fangled wireless, incredulous at the orchestra of white noise emanating from my breakfast bowl. This is not to say that my international friends are unsympathetic to my addiction. Indeed, some have gone to admirable (and much appreciated) lengths to obtain my bubble-dope, even when I’ve protested that there are tolerable alternatives when on the road.

For instance, freshly baked croissants (or even oven-heated frozen ones!) can hit the spot. I hate müsli, but at a pinch I can stomach some without much fruit. And I can eat buttery thick pancakes and pikelets if I think of them more as a treat than breakfast.

The worst surrogate, however, can be fake bubbles. For a while in Germany there was a non-Rice Krispies brand of puffed rice. It was made of some sort of sprayed aerated ickiness which tasted thoroughly foul. For years, that trauma kept me away from other clones, but straitened times pushed me to explore other surrogates in recent years and, luckily, I chose well at the first attempt. The Australian supermarket chain Coles had a house-brand version, Rice Puffs, that actually tasted almost the same as my one-true-cereal.

Alas, Coles has betrayed my trust — a recent repackaging of the Rice Puffs product didn’t just mean a prettier box. Behind the scenes (and undeclared) they had changed their supplier. The result was very disappointing. And so I have returned to the original again.


Exhibit A is the one-true-cereal. Exhibit B is the now-missing Coles version. Exhibit C is the small, unfluffy, yucky Coles stealth-replacement product.

I wonder if I’m the only single-cereal-addict out there… ?

Spring harvest in Paris

All sorts of things grow when the weather is going crazy. In Paris this week, the temperature fluctuated between 14C and rainy and 35C and excruciatingly humid. I got home from a day of walking around the rive gauche (Left Bank = mix of university, studenty, somewhat wealthy, public service, cultural and dawdling tourist population). Look what had grown in my bag from the curious cultures floating through the air…

There was a strange box containing delicious cakes and a small cellophane bag of macarons. (Pierre Hermé’s coffee and vanilla tarts, plus macarons: grapefruit, pistachio+cherry, olive oil+vanilla, passionfruit+choc.)


Then there was a bag of chocolates from Patrick Roger.


And much to my surprise, a bunch of caramels from the rather eccentric Denise Acabo.


Plus some bags of handmade lollies from Fouquet, and read what David Lebovitz has to say. (EUR 14… who knew sugar could cost so much?!)


Not to mention the compensatory box of chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat in the letterbox. (Read why here. Oh look, no touching!)


And I mustn’t forget a passing mention of confit de canard, the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had, two macarons from Ladurée (bergamote and fleur d’oranger) and (gasp!) an ice-cream from Berthillon (cacao extra bitter — like cold liquid chocolate, thym-citron (thyme-lemon) — beautifully tangy with some bitterness). Okay, none of those were in my bag.


On days like this, you just wish apples or a light salad were easier to find 😉

Artisan du Chocolat: less spin, more flexibility please

I had intended to review some of the chocolates from the British chocolatier Artisan du Chocolat, as I was in London recently and had previously enjoyed (and written about) them after a visit in 2007. Some businesses in high-end food succeed in respecting customers, others choose to be rigid and deliberately unhelpful. Artisan du Chocolat seems on the face of it to fall into a more positive category, but on this visit I was disappointed.

Unable to make it to their Chelsea shop, I visited the outlet in Selfridges department store. Artisan du Chocolat staff are refreshingly generous with samples when a customer is exploring what to purchase (the range is large and the flavours are at times very interesting). My first sample was, I believe, a jasmine tea chocolate. Alas I found the flavour to be on the barely-present side of fleeting and I mentioned that the flavour was too mild for me. I was disappointed to receive in reply a vacuous “We only use natural ingredients, so the flavours are often very subtle.” I really loathe this sort of rubbish. Don’t take customers for idiots. I work with natural ingredients too and my palate is pretty good. While some aromas can be difficult to capture and preserve, a customer has good reason to expect a flavour label to correspond to an olfactory experience upon tasting a product.

I was polite in my disagreement and the assistant was helpful enough to tip me off (without prompting) about which flavours I should best avoid for their “subtlety”. Good.

And so it became time to make a selection for purchase. The chocolates are sold by weight, but can be packaged in fixed-weight boxes or in cellophane bags. I wanted a 200gm box to house my chosen chocolates (especially as I was travelling) and suddenly there was a problem. One product group in the company’s range is dusted in cocoa. I wasn’t allowed to have the cocoa-coated chocolates in the same box as the other products. Wasn’t allowed. They all cost the same by weight. They all fit in the box.

I asked why this wasn’t allowed. “The cocoa would get on the other items.” I explained that this didn’t concern me, but no, they couldn’t be combined. I suggested putting in a paper divider. No. My irritation began to show and the manager was consulted for a second opinion about whether I could have my box of chocolates. No. The other chocolates might get dirty. Gotta love this sort of ignore-the-customer’s-desire approach. Why couldn’t they just insert a piece of paper or wrap the cocoa coated chocolates in some way? “It’s company policy.” So the company doesn’t want me to risk dirtying the chocolates I wish to consume? “It’s company policy.” You’re afraid I’ll complain to someone about the cocoa on the non-dusted chocolates if they happen to rub together? Afraid I’ll come back and complain? “Sorry, sir.”

I don’t actually know why I proceeded to spend my money there. I guess the desire to try some new product briefly blinded me to just how bloody idiotic “company policy” and half-truths are. Unsurprisingly, the chocolates, in separate cellophane packages, didn’t survive travel well. Money ill spent. Thank you so much, Artisan du Chocolat. I now look forward to two weeks with Paris chocolatiers before flying home. At least in Paris I know which shops are relaxed and helpful and which are rigid or haughty, rather than having to navigate this British middle-road of spin answers and “company policy”.