Monday, October 27, 2014

A Meal in Brief: The Stall (大牌檔) (*CLOSED*)

[Added 15 March 2016: The restaurant at this location is now Legend of Noodles Cuisine 好運麵家]

We came here because the name of the restaurant (dai pai dong in Chinese) suggested we would be able to find the congee, rice and noodle dishes typical of the cheap roadside stalls that were once popular in Hong Kong. There is a lack of these little Cantonese places on Dominion Road.

The Stall is on the other side of Balmoral Road from the main cluster.

The menu indeed contained congee, rice and noodle dishes. It also had cold entrees like jellyfish, deep-fried and stir-fried meat dishes, and dim sum dishes (only available before 3pm and after 9pm for some reason). The front counter contained both Western cakes and Asian puddings.

The setting was more clean and classy than we expected. There were wooden chairs, and vertical white tiles on the walls, rather than plastic stools out in the open. Framed pictures coupled with English descriptions explained the concept of dim sum, for instance. Although a bit incongruous, there were also cakes and coffee available by the counter.

Interior of restaurant.
The service was welcoming and attentive, though it was a bit strange that we were asked if we were okay with using chopsticks. We were given a choice between hot tea or cold water when we sat down, and presented a plate of pickled daikon (the waitress called it "carrot") while we waited for our meal. Unlike most Chinese restaurants, there were shakers of salt and white pepper left on the table.

Table setting.

What we ate included:
  • the aforementioned cold pickled daikon sticks (free) - these were crisp, sweet and sour
  • steamed rice roll with bread stick ($5.90) - the rice roll was soft and fresh, but was missing the the fried bread stick promised on the menu. The sauces were the usual sweet and nutty ones, but included a bit of sweet chilli on one corner of the bowl, and we were also given a jug of soy sauce on the side.
Steamed rice roll which was supposed to have a bread stick inside.
  • steamed seasonal vegetable ($6.00) - this turned out to be spinach, thoughtfully cut into bite-sized lengths. It was topped with minced garlic and stewed pork. Pretty good, though we didn't expect the toppings, which had the aroma of five spice.
Steamed seasonal vegetable.
  • beef hor fun ($11.50) - this was hot and delicious, minus the smoky burnt oil flavour you sometimes get, so it's probably better for you too. This was our favourite dish. More places should sprinkle sesame seeds on their food.
Beef hor fun.

  • preserved egg and lean pork congee ($8.50) - we needed to add plenty of salt and white pepper to this, but after that we could taste the ginger and other ingredients. The flavour was good after adjustment, but the texture was not quite right: a bit lumpy like they had tried to blend leftover rice into it.

Preserved egg and lean pork congee.
Overall, the food was slightly different from our pre-conceived notions of what Cantonese food should be like, but it was fresh and tasty. Our entire meal came to $31.90, so they clearly didn't charge us for the tea, daikon, or takeaway boxes (which were supposed to be 20 cents each).

I do wonder who their target market is: on the one hand, there are signs in Chinese only; on the other, they cater to people new to the cuisine with the explanations on the wall. Then there is the coffee shop aspect, with Hӧpt soda in the fridge, along with the cake and coffee.

Anyway, it is good to see something around which doesn't offer the same dumplings and noodles as is prevalent in that part of Dominion Road. I would be tempted to return to try their double skin milk custard and similar items too.

Restaurant Details

The Stall (大牌檔)
465 Dominion Road, Mount Eden, Auckland
(09) 631 7546

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Foodie Excursion: Howick Historical Village

New Zealand is a relatively young country, but it's been around long enough for plenty of changes to have taken place. Since we missed the Auckland Heritage Festival recently, we indulged our sudden interest in local history by making a trip out to the Howick Historical Village, to see how things were in the 1800s.

The village is a "living history museum" consisting of original colonial buildings as well as replica structures, designed to let visitors experience life in a fencible settlement. Communities like this were made up of retired British soldiers and their families, who arrived between 1847-1854 to protect Auckland from possible attack. They settled not only in Howick, but also in Panmure, Otahuhu, and Onehunga.

Although the focus of the museum is not particularly on food, there are still plenty of food-related points of interest, as you can see below.

Old Kitchens and Dining Rooms

The buildings range from large homesteads to little cottages (to a replica tent), and you can see what the kitchen and dinings areas were like in some of them. They may be lit by electric lights rather than candles these days, but the items in the rooms still paint a fascinating picture of of the past.

Kitchen gadgets.
Special objects in a kitchen included (not all pictured)
  • an egg rack - this looked like a wooden board with round holes
  • a knife cleaner - iron knives were used before stainless steel ones were available
  • a honey press - the leftover wax was used to make candles
  • tin mugs and plates - common in 1860, though slowly replaced by enamel ones from 1840

Dining room.
Both the kitchens and the dining rooms had a fireplace, which I imagined the families would huddle around for warmth.

Herb Garden

Lavender is a pretty common plant, and I have heard of lemon balm, chamomile, comfrey, and caraway before, even though I may not know what they look like. The herb garden by one of the cottages had some more exotic specimens as well though:
  • angelica
  • borage
  • clary sage
  • hellebore
  • foxglove
  • soapwort
  • tansey
  • winter savory
  • wormwood
  • yarrow

Small part of herb garden.
In another garden area, we saw tobacco and broccoli being grown, not to mention sugar cane and pomelo.

Making Flour

The museum had an exhibit on the production of flour inside John Bycroft's flour mill, which included scythes, hand operated wheat mills, a chaff cutter and peck and bushel measures, along with plenty of information. We learnt that
  • wheat was introduced to New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773
  • John Bycroft had a wind driven flourmill in Epsom, until about 1854 when he moved with his brother Joseph to the windmill near Manukau Harbour in Princes Street, Onehunga
  • Howick and Pakuranga farmers often took their wheat to Partington's mill in Symonds Street (where the Langham hotel is now), and were given half the flour as payment for the wheat
  • flour was often bought for the quality of the flour bag, which made good pinafores, undergarments and items for the household

Chaff cutter.
In other areas of the museum, we came across old millstones from Partington's, as well as an outdoor bread oven.

Millstone from Partington's.

Given how long it took for us to drive out to Howick, it must have been an absolutely epic journey for farmers to take their wheat in to town. I also had no idea that Auckland had flour mills in the central city and surrounding suburbs, but suddenly a street named Windmill Road makes a lot more sense.
Making Butter

An exhibit in another building focussed on how butter was made, with butter churns and boxes on display. We learnt that:
  • most families had a house cow
  • each family had their own wooden stamp design to identify their butter
  • milk from different cows and the use of different amounts of salt resulted in different flavours
  • this butter could then be sold at the store
In George Sommerville's Cowshed and Creamery (built in the 1860s), we found old milk cans, milking stools, and a cheese press.

George Sommerville's Cowshed and Creamery.

There were lots of random facts scattered throughout the museum. It was really interesting walking through the old schools, churches and stores, and I was surprised to find multi-coloured Indian corn was eaten.

James White's General Store.

Other nuggets of information included:
  • Mason preserving jars were patented in 1858
  • charcoal was used in water purifiers to remove cloudiness and bad tastes from well water
  • the black Urenika potatoes were brought to New Zealand by Captain Cook. They were grown and sold to the early settlers by Maori
All in all, our visit to the Howick Historical Village was highly informative. Looking at the various old buildings is fun in itself, but if you are interested in history, you can spend a lot of time reading about the lives of the individual occupants and looking at the exhibits in detail too. If you time it right, you could also combine this with checking out the Saturday Howick Village Market.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dishing Around Auckland: The A - Z Challenge

I've set myself a challenge. For each letter of the alphabet, I am going to come up with a dish, then go around eating it in Auckland. It'll have to be something I want to sample, be available for sale (rather than something made at home), and preferably lead to me trying something/somewhere new. Feel free to join me if you like!

The trouble is, I got stuck pretty much straight away. With something like fruit, it seems pretty easy to come up with an option for each letter, at least to begin with: Apple, Banana, Cherry, Durian, ...* With dishes though, I had trouble finding something starting with A. I kept drifting to sweet treats, like apple pie and apricot danishes. Trying to work out what starts with X will be even harder!

* Eggplant, like tomato, is botanically a fruit, but I tend to think of it as a vegetable.

Anyway, I'll update this post with links to what I've chosen for each letter as I write about them.

A - Ajitsuke Tamago
B - Bánh Mì
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