Last Saturday the vibrant city of Cabramatta in Sydney’s western suburbs hosted a barbeque as part of the CRAVE Sydney International Food Festival (SIFF). The Cabramatta Allsorts Barbeque in Freedom Plaza was covered by Simon Marnie’s 702AM ABC Weekends show and I had the good fortune to be asked to be interviewed on the show along with Helen from Grab Your Fork and Simon from Simon Food Favourites.
The 702AM coverage of the event started at the sprightly early hour of 8:30am in Cabramatta. Having grown up a few suburbs away, and still maintaining a healthy habit of returning to Cabramatta for either a meal or the fresh produce every other weekend, I was well aware that the locals take their events and festivities very seriously. Parking was going to be scarce.
I arrived early, well before my estimated on-air time, parked far enough away to be in the next suburb and even then, but when I got there, crowds were already bustling around Freedom Plaza. Dark, pregnant clouds threatened to spoil the fun so a large, sturdy marquee had been set up in the middle of Freedom Plaza and it was not long before I spotted Simon Marnie already hard at work, casually flitting from person to person, the interviews calm and casual, the interchange between interviewees seamless, despite the chaos around him.
The Iron Chef restaurant supplies a whole suckling pig for the barbeque, which is displayed momentarily before being quickly scored and dismembered by deft gloved hands wielding heavy cleavers. Choice squares of crispy skin are salvaged and served to guests on soft Peking duck pancakes with a dollop of hoisin sauce. They were delicious, the crackling breaking with a satisfying crunch.
I find the other bloggers and we watch as the barbecue display slowly comes together, the roast duck carved, mountains of bread rolls sliced and the bain-maries filled with delicious barbequed goods. The heavens open up and all around us water streams off the marquee but it doesn’t stop the enthusiastic crowds milling in for the barbeque and for Masterchef series 2 finalist Alvin Quah’s cooking demonstrations. The Allsorts Barbeque is designed to introduce out-of-towners to the delights hidden in Cabramatta as the curious locals were milling around to see Alvin and the other celebrities. I could see locals using shopping bags and trolleys like armed weapons to clear the way in front of them to get to the front of the barbeque display, only to look confused and wonder out loud why they’d want to buy barbequed goods here when they could get it at their favourite barbeque shop where they can inspect, choose and haggle to their heart’s content. Certainly, my parents who were in the area doing their weekly shopping were wondering that – they’d hoped for something different. They seemed to accept my explanation that we were trying to showcase Cabramatta, and surely enough, nestled amongst the locals in the crowds, visitors to Cabramatta were in abundance (easily identifiable as they don’t have that look of steely determination and bargain hunting purpose on their faces).
The boisterous Costa Georgiadis from Costa’s Garden Odyssey was a barrel of raw untamed energy and was clearly a fan of the barbecue.
Simon completes his circuit of the plaza and returns to interview Alvin between his cooking demonstrations..
…And the food paparazzi know a photo opportunity when they see one and cameras are whipped out to snap the interview.
Then in a seamless transition, Simon Marnie is interviewing us on air and briefs us with the mission. He introduces the winning 702AM ABC SIFF blogger, Andrew Rose, and handing us twenty dollars each, instructs us to find and bring back a favourite dish that showcases Cabramatta, with a secondary task of passing on some food blogging tips to Andrew.
Twenty dollars is a lot to spend in Cabramatta. I’d toyed with a couple of options including the obvious choice of beef pho, or a snack favourite, the Vietnamese pork roll. But in the end I decided upon a dish of pork chop with broken rice and fried egg. It isn’t the most poetic of names, but it is a literal translation of the Vietnamese name for the dish. The choice of this dish was two-fold: the first, for convenience as the chaotic scene around me begged for an easy to handle dish and not something with potential for disaster like a brimming bowl of steaming noodles; and secondly, because this dish brings back fond memories of my teen years.
Some of my previous posts have mentioned my childhood aversion to rice. Relentless rice-pushing by my parents ensured that. It was through my best friend, L-bean and her introduction of Vietnamese cuisine to me in my early teen years that I came to slowly appreciate rice through the wonders of nuoc cham, that fragrant fish sauce based dipping sauce. Pork chop with broken rice and egg became a instant hit with me and I still get cravings for this dish (still not rice alone, but I can stomach rice when accompanying a pork chop).
The peculiarity of broken rice is interesting. As far as I can tell, broken rice is actually a cheaper grade of rice – it’s literally, the broken grains of rice that remain at the bottom of the rice barrel at harvest and was frequently eaten by poorer farmers and peasants. There are suggestions that the popularity of broken rice is fuelled in Western countries by those Vietnamese reminiscing their childhoods when food was more scarce. L-bean insists that broken rice is nuttier and more flavourful, starchier and holds sauces better than normal full grain rice but in a voice beyond her years bemoans that in recent years broken rice dishes are harder to find in Cabramatta as the additional effort required to filter the grit from broken rice is shunned in favour of the easier to handle full grain rice.
Personally, for me, it wasn’t the flavour – broken rice was novel and different enough for me to dissociate it with the normal long grain white rice my family traditionally eats and that was enough to get my vote. To get my pork chop broken rice dish, I headed to Bau Truong, known for their rice dishes and is very conveniently for me, just off Freedom Plaza.
The restaurant was busy with its morning trade when I ordered the dish. I had expectations that it would be easy to have the dish presented on a proper, dine-in plate, with proper cutlery as opposed to take away bowls and cutlery once I explained I was part of the SIFF event, but I was wrong. It took a lengthy amount of convincing to persuade the restaurant owner to allow me to “borrow” her plate and cutlery for the event, with assurances and promises from me that I would not run off with their plate. Whilst they prepared the dish, I spied the barbeque grill behind a glass splatter pane where the pork chops were being char-grilled with mouth watering aromas wafting towards me. I asked politely whether I could take a photo of the grilling from behind the grease spattered glass. After a bit of consideration and personal scrutiny, the answer was a resounding “no”. Confused I tried to re-explain my intent and the answer this time was – “er, no, the boss isn’t here so I can’t make that decision”, all the while ignoring that the owner behind the till was in plain view.
Well, at least they make a tasty pork chop here. It’s herby and strong in garlic and lemongrass flavours, sweet, savoury from a soy marinade and smoky from the char grilling. It is best enjoyed by breaking the taut egg yolk up on the rice so that the rich yolk mixes with the rice, pour the nuoc cham dipping sauce on, mix it through with the fried spring onions and enjoy the rice between mouthfuls of juicy pork chop. The accompanying pickled radish and carrot provides a bit of texture and acidity to cut through the oily, rich components of the dish.
The 2 pork chops, fried egg and broken rice comes to a bargain $13.
I had intended to order a milk egg soda drink with my change – a curious creamy, fizzy drink made with egg yolks, condensed milk and soda, but considering I’d have my arms full ferrying this dish carefully back across the plaza, thought better against it.
But I needn’t have worried since the owner sent someone out with me to carry the precious plate to the marquee (I suspect to confirm I was actually with the SIFF event and to deter any rogue thoughts of me from running away with her plate and cutlery)!
Not long afterwards, I was joined by the other bloggers and we set up our dishes.
Helen had chosen a good variety of drinks and snacks including 3 varieties of drinks – durian, avocado and sugar cane and cumquat juice; a Vietnamese pork roll filled with nem nuong and custard egg puff snacks.
There was my pork chop dish with the accompanying nuoc cham dipping sauce (in red) made typically using cooked fish sauce; sugar; lemon, lime or rice vinegar; pickled vegetables and chilli. There is also the ubiquitous serving of chicken broth with coriander and spring onions – again just to cut through the richness of the dish.
Simon Leong chose a dish of crispy chicken from the popular Tan Viet Noodle House which comes with a bowl of egg noodles, lettuce, herbs, nuoc cham and chicken broth.
It isn’t long before Simon Marnie is amongst us again and interviewing us about our choices, the flavours and how to actually dissect and eat the dish. I switched onto autopilot so I can’t remember much of what I said but in retrospect realised I completely omitted the information about the broken rice. A minor face palm moment but nothing too disastrous was said by anyone and I think everyone was happy with their on-air performance.
But the show must go on and Simon is due to move on to the next segment and start wrapping up as a young timekeeper holding a clock designed for the visually impaired silently reminds us.
Costa takes this opportunity to channel Flavor Flav.
And of course, there are photos of the food bloggers too. Aside from Helen, Simon and myself, Simon Park of The Heart of Food and Thang Ngo of Noodlies also were there, Thang being interviewed earlier in the program about his popular pho contest. Many thanks to Thang also for providing two of the photos below.
If not saying anything career-limiting on air isn’t reason enough to celebrate, last weekend happened to be our 9th (!) anniversary and once I’d dutifully returned the plates and cutlery to Bau Truong, I hightailed it home from Cabramatta. Our 8th anniversary happened to be a rather memorable one, spent at 5000m+ on the salt flats in Bolivia, in a paper thin dorm room with 4 other men and suffering from altitude sickness and delirium.
For a tamer anniversary celebration, the Co-pilot and I spent the long weekend in our friend Mick’s peaceful country home amongst the bushland in Wollombi, in the Hunter region of NSW. Mick has spent the last decade building his prized country home from scratch and it is a world away from the busy vices of city life – with no TV, no internet, barely any mobile reception, water from a rain tank and power from a generator. It is a precious and rare thing indeed to find oneself gloriously unconnected from the digital world. And better yet to have sweeping views of the surrounding valley.
There were cows roaming about on the property from neighbouring farms and every now and then shy wallabies would watch on from the sidelines.
We wandered down to the Wollombi markets to peruse through the offerings. I’d hoped it was a fresh food market, and though there were sausage sizzles, pies and pastries, chutneys and jams on offer, there wasn’t any fresh farm produce.
There was all manner of knick knacks, antiques, junk and tools being sold. It had everything but the kitchen sink.
Oh my mistake, there’s the kitchen sink.
I did manage to score one find – a bonsai and a bargain at $20! Hopefully this one fares better than the other bonsais in my hands and actually survives for once.
The weather closes in and we settle down for a cold and windy weekend of rain. Just as well we have a fireplace to enjoy it!
We made the most of the unseasonally, wintery cold weather and the Co-pilot made a delicious beef bourguignon. Perfect as I was feeling the cold and needed something warming.
As it turns out, I was feeling a bit more than the cold and was coming down with a throat and ear infection and have now lost my voice. It’s now 5 days and counting with barely more than a squeak out of me. The Co-pilot thinks I sound like a Dalek. I think I sound like that synthesized warbled noise they use for demons in bad Hollywood apocalyptic movies. At least I can be thankful it didn’t happen a week earlier when I was due to go on radio.
And the final celebration comes this weekend – it’s my little blog’s 2nd anniversary this weekend! Granted it wasn’t the most productive year as I took a long break from blogging when I migrated from old blog to new, but hopefully, the coming year is more productive, holds more unique adventures and definitely more travel! Thanks for reading!
Shop 10-12, 70 John Street, Cabramatta.
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