Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cats in the Kitchen

I met my grandmother's tiny white kitten for the first time today.  Seven weeks new to the world, two days new to that house, and what energy!  Such a bundle of bounces compared to our two friendly giants, who are now quietly watching the rugby with us on TV.  (Go the All Blacks!)

From Cat by B. Kliban, Eyre Methuen 1979
Cats are only related to food in that they go crazy when they smell fish or chicken in the kitchen, or so I thought.  Imagine my astonishment when I opened a bilingual recipe book I'd brought back from Hong Kong several years ago, and every single page mentioned "catties" and "taels"!

Here, for instance, are the surprising list of ingredients for Shanghainese Sesame Seed Dumplings in Kitty Choi's Foundation Dim Sum Making (Food Paradise Publishing Company, sixth print 2008).  These black and white balls are my token nod to our national team:
    1/2 catty glutinous rice flour
    4 Tbsp rice flour
    12 oz. water
    1 1/2 taels sesame icing sugar
    1 1/2 taels white sugar
    2 taels pork fat

Quite apart from the fact that I had always assumed desserts would be vegetarian, I had never come across "catties" and "taels" before.  Wikipedia to the rescue: they are Chinese units of measurement.  In Hong Kong, 1 catty = 604.78982g and 1 tael = 37.79936375 g.

This knowledge doesn't solve all the problems with the recipe though.  Throughout the book, a catty is also given as 640g, which contradicts the Weights and Measures Ordinance of Hong Kong.  The author also assumes the reader is familiar with the cuisine: I can easily imagine someone being confused at seeing the black centres of these dumplings in the colour photographs, when the filling is made only from the last three ingredients.  (I still remember the time we made muesli bars at intermediate school.  I was tasked with bringing sesame to sprinkle on top, and we only had black sesame at home.  Everyone thought I'd burnt the tops of the otherwise perfect bars!)  Then there are the odd translations, that even the mighty Google could not help me with (what, for instance, is Lein wine, which appears in another recipe)?

I guess that's why I love buying books like this.  They have an authentic feel, they entertain you, they make you think, and in the worst case, well, you can get someone to translate it for you afresh from the Chinese.  Not to mention they generally cost a fraction of the price of the books written purely in English for the Western market.  And they help me learn Chinese.

By the way, if you like cats, you can get a fully Asian dose of them at the Anzac Street branch of Hulucat.  This bubble milk tea vendor is often full of students, who hang out playing games with their friends while giving their stomachs time to digest the giant cups of flavoured drinks.

You will find cats on every wall at Hulucat
A not-so-related but equally novel "catty" eatery is Kati Grill on K'Rd.  There you can buy what you might call Indian-style kebabs.  The Achari Paneer Kati Roll I tried months ago was delicious, though I found that it felt heavy, because of the cooked vegetables in place of a raw salad, so maybe I should have compared it to a burrito instead.

And that's the end of this tale, if you'll excuse the terrible puns.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: The Mulberry *CLOSED*, and loosely related musings

[Added 10 July 2012: I am sorry to report that this restaurant is closed.  I had assumed it was closed for Christmas holidays at the beginning of the year, but it just never opened and now there is a sign for yet another branch of Mozaik Cafe there.  Does anyone know what happened?]

The other day, a vegan workmate received a huge box of goodies she'd ordered from the States.  I'm sorry to say this, but I've found that vegan food is generally a poor imitation of what you would really like to eat, the chocolate cake I attempted to bake for her being a case in point.  Although I don't eat all that much milk, cheese and eggs, they are things I would find very hard to give up.  No matter how many varieties of tofu there are in the world, you get a bit bored with it after a while.  So I was surprised when this person produced not one, but two things, which I had not only not tried before, but could imagine myself wanting to eat again.  They also promised to be very healthy and natural, unlike the (what I imagine to be) highly processed fake meats, soy milks and margarines with scary trans fats.

I had never even heard of Essene bread before, and the moist brown lump did not look very appetising.  Made only of sprouted wheat and purified water (according to the ingredient list, though I am sure I spotted some raisins), and baked at a low temperature, this local product was actually unexpectedly sweet and nutty.  It didn't hold together very well, but it tasted good with peanut butter and jam.  I briefly considered toasting it before deciding that a) it would probably crumble to bits, and b) it seemed wrong to grill something that had deliberately been barely heated.  I enjoyed it as it was anyway.

The other food I was introduced to was chewy, sweet and easy to eat.  I have never seen mulberries for sale before, and these dried white ones imported from Turkey, looking like elongated raspberries but pale yellow in colour, were definitely a new fruit I'd like to have more of.  The white variety is supposed to be milder than the darker mulberry varieties, but I found it to be very flavourful, probably because the taste is concentrated in dried fruit.  Hopefully I'll get to try it in fresh form in the not too distant future.

Which brings me to The Mulberry, a "gastro style bar, bistro and fine dining restaurant" in Mount Eden, at the site of what I once knew as the Berlin Restaurant (upstairs) and Swiss Konditorei Telle (downstairs).  I'm not sure why these previous businesses closed, since the German restaurant was mentioned as a local favourite in the Footprint travel guide to New Zealand in 2003, and the Swiss cafe always seemed to be full, but they were replaced briefly by a sports bar called The Mount (I never ventured in, not really being a sports bar kind of person, their neon green sign disagreed with me, and the place always looked empty anyway), before transforming into the venue we have now.  The historic lift in the corner doesn't exist anymore, sadly, but the place is clean and inviting, though rather dark.

We've tried out the tapas from their Tastes menu in the casual bar area (they were indeed tasty), but what you might not realise is that you can have a proper, formal, three-course meal upstairs in the dining room.  We still remember the bouillabaisse entree we had there last year!

Seafood bouillabaisse, saffron bisque, garlic ciabatta
The rotolo pasta entree we ordered more recently was delicious and actually very filling, no doubt from all the cheese and oil in it.  It must be among the best vegetarian dishes I have eaten, almost up there with the panfried gnocchi I had at Tabou (which unfortunately no longer exists in Kingsland, though some of its wallpaper shows through at Arthur Avenue) and the mushroom and truffle pappardelle I had at Molten (my enjoyment of which may have been swayed by my excitement at tasting cavalo nero for the first time).

Rotolo pasta with three cheeses, artichoke, pine nut, sultana, aromatic tomato
The desserts are also worth saving room for, judging by the way we ended up scraping the crusts out of the ramekin which held the dark chocolate souffle.

Dark chocolate souffle with macadamia toffee and black doris sorbet
The Mulberry may not be the best restaurant around, but it is certainly well worthy of your attention.

Panda Recommends

We haven't really tried enough of their current menu to make recommendations yet, so go for what you fancy.

Vegie Pandas
The rotolo pasta ($19) was great, as was the side of seasonal vegetables ($9), which turned out to be green beans and broccolini with lots of delicious butter.

A la carte menu - page 1

A la carte menu - page 2
Restaurant Details

The Mulberry
425 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 630 1588

Opening Hours:
Mondays to Sundays 11am till late

The Mulberry is on the corner of Mount Eden Rd and Essex Rd

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