Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Australia's East Coast...with food, family and friends...


Fresh bamboo shoots, Cairns market (photo the author)

On my recent vacation I travelled from my home in Western Australia to visit my daughter in Sydney, on the East coast of Australia, and then northwards to the Gold Coast of Queensland to visit with a friend, and then even further north to stay with another friend in Cairns in tropical Queensland.

One of my passions is food…I have judged restaurants for a prestigious national restaurant award programme and I am an habitual food market visitor – whether here in Australia or in Europe. While our markets here are improving with the growth of the sustainable and organic food industry, they are nothing compared to the regular markets in Europe.  I am particularly fond of the markets I visit in France, and my European friends always laugh when they see my eyes light up at the sight of a sign in a village indicating Market Day.
Market Day, Leysin, Switzerland (photo the author)

While in Sydney my daughter and I went to the wonderful Sydney Fish Market.  She makes an excellent Chilli Mud Crab dish which I had not previously tried.  When we bought the mudcrabs they were still alive and when we arrived home she placed them in the freezer to humanely “put them to sleep”.
The mudcrab trussed ready for the freezer
I was astonished by her ability to chop them up into pieces before dusting the pieces in cornflour and frying them in the wok.  She then assembled all of the ingredients and wove her magic in the wok.  The finished dish was sublime…though very messy to eat.  No table manners required!  Fingers were licked and napkins used and discarded.

The finished product...Chilli Mud Crab

Our modern cuisine in Australia is tending towards an east-west fusion, and given our proximity to Asia this is not surprising. The food tends to be light and reliant on extremely fresh produce. It was with great fascination that I  visited with my friend Christine the weekly Cairns market.  I encountered vegetables that I had never seen before…Ceylon spinach, Aibika, and varieties of mango and banana which are only found in the far north. It was an eye opening experience and one which really inspired my imagination.

And the flowers!  So many different varieties of orchids, even ones with scent;  and beautiful tropical plants presented in  wonderfully colourful  arrangements.

On my first night in Cairns, Christine bought reef fish (a melange of various fish from the Great Barrier Reef) with fresh vegetables and she cooked them in a bamboo steamer…it was light, fresh and delicious.
Bamboo steamer over the wok
The following day we headed north to Port Douglas, about 60 kms from Cairns.  It is one of the most spectacular drives in Australia with the road often between sugar cane plantations on one side and the spectacular Pacific Ocean lapping against beautiful, wild beaches on the other.  And all of it overseen by the soaring mountains covered by thick rainforest. Travelling even further north up towards Capes Kimberley and Tribulation the rainforest actually extends down to the beach….it is spiritual to walk the empty beaches, devoid of any other human beings.

Cape Kimberley 
In Port Douglas we visited a well known restaurant, Salsa, for lunch.  Despite the oppressive heat of 35 degrees with 96% humidity, and no airconditioning we managed to enjoy a stunning dish of local fish served on a potato and spring onion gallette with a tom yum beurre blanc sauce and a green mango and chilli salsa.  It was so inspiring that I tried to replicate it the following evening using beautiful fillets of local coral trout.

Fresh coral trout (photo the author)
(If you would like my recipe, please email me and I would be pleased to pass it on).

The finished dish (photo Christine Simmonds)

All in all the “food fest” of my vacation was wonderful;  the hospitality of my hosts and their willingness to allow me to experiment in their kitchens made a perfect combination of great food, love, laughter, washed down with some beautiful Australian wines.

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