Category Archives: travel

A food-obsessed guide to Sydney’s Inner West

Let’s get one thing straight before corrections pile in and objections are made (as if I had the reader base): we are not experts on the Sydney food scene yet. In fact, we’ve only been here for two months, give or take a week, and while we do tend to plan every outing around some food destination or another, we have only just begun to discover the best bits of our own neighborhood. Sydney is a big place, and clearly has a fantastic, diverse, exciting food scene for those who like to try out new cuisines from around the world.  These are just our initial impressions.

The farmers’ market scene in Sydney is serious. There is a market in pretty much every suburb you can think of.  Near us, the Eveleigh (Carriageworks) market is probably the biggest, and it’s every Saturday, so we frequently end up buying our produce, bread, and meat there.  Most of the vendors give out samples, too, so you can taste before you buy.  If you go, check out the bread selection at the La Tartine bakery stand. It’s the cheapest and best of all the bakers at the market.

Saturday 8 am – 1 pm, 243 Wilson St. Eveleigh NSW

The Marrickville market is a bit more fun, and has a greater variety of (non-edible) goods. It’s a bit crunchier, but it’s a better lunch destination, and seems to have more variety in terms of produce.  As we’ve found, most Australian farmers market producers aren’t particularly adventurous with heirloom fruits and veg, which is a shame, really.  But that may just be a seasonal thing.

Sunday 8:30 am -3 pm, Addison Rd. Community Centre, 142 Addison Rd. Marrickville NSW

Campos coffee gets my vote for the best coffee in Sydney. I know people who make it a destination for the weekend, and there’s always a long line out the door if you want to actually sit in the tiny cafe.  The coffee rivals some of the Kona coffee I’ve tried, and is about as expensive as all the other beans in this city. Dark City is my favorite so far, but the Obama blend is pretty nice, too. Another plus? They roast the beans in our neighborhood, which means they’re always fresh.

Various locations. Mine is 132 Missenden Rd. Newtown, NSW.

Mamak is closer to the CBD than Newtown, but I’m including it because it’s one of those places that you line up for without regret.  They make the best fresh rotis in town, and rival even the Deep South (USA, folks) for their fried chicken. Their curries are pretty tasty, too. Their prices and late night hours on Friday and Saturday (2 am closing time) demand repeat visits.  Even better, they are BYO, with a $2 corking fee, so the absence of a wine list really isn’t an issue.

15 Goulburn St. Haymarket, Sydney NSW.

Other places to check out:

Dae Jang Kum Korean BBQ Restaurant, 35 Goulburn St. Haymarket. Excellent and affordable Korean BBQ. Bring friends.

Doythao Thai, 343-345 King St. Newtown. Try their Massamann curry or spicy noodles. Order less rice than you think you’ll need.

Istanbul on King, 159 King St. Newtown. Excellent pide, and a funky little dining area (past the flouro takeout counter in front) featuring Turkish music videos and intricate carpets.

Pho 236, 236 King St. Newtown. Excellent pho for cheap, BYO. This place is always packed, despite a less than charming atmosphere.

Happy Chef Chinese, 264 King St. Newtown. Cheap, delicious, and not necessarily greasy.  Order noodle soups with veggies — they always taste fresh and are properly cooked.

(Brasserie Bread’s soy and linseed loaf)

Sydney has a decent selection of artisan bakeries. None of them make the crackly, almost burnt crust you crave after a trip to Paris, but they do seem to do a decent job with sourdough loaves. Brasserie Bread makes a good soy and linseed loaf, but is otherwise not really worth the price. Sonoma bakery has some decent whole grain loaves, as well. Bourke St. Bakery (633 Bourke St.) is the best for the price, and often has interesting loaves (fig and barberry was one of my favorites, with big, juicy figs throughout the loaf for just $4.50). There’s a line there, too. La Tartine is also similarly price, and has the best loaves across the board. I get their bread at the Eveleigh Markets (see above).  Other notables are Le Pain Quotidien (yes, it’s a chain, but it’s an excellent one) and the Paris Patisserie Francaise (no bread, but their tarts are decadent; 91 Bondi Rd. Bondi). There’s also one across the street from the Kings Cross Farmers market whose name escapes me, but they make the most heavenly almond croissants I’ve ever tasted.

Finally, this is our awesome spice rack, made of a “Victorian whatnot” from Mitchell Rd. Auctions (one of our favorite places in Sydney), spice jars left over from our wedding decorations, and spices from random places around Sydney. Which reminds me: if you’re ever in need of 5 kg of smoked paprika, or any other spice, flour, or grain, visit Fiji Market (591 King St.). If you only need a pinch, try the Alfalfa House Organic Food Co-op at 113 Enmore Rd, Enmore. Join for a 10% discount, and bring your own containers. Yes, we are members, and yes, we have purchased everything from cacao butter to spinach pasta from this particular bulk food paradise.

That’s all for now… I’ll try and keep you posted on our current discoveries, but am in the midst of a new, exciting project that’s eating up some of my time. More on that soon!

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Filed under Australia, Beginnings, travel

Oh, the places you’ve been

Have a look at the spiciest meal I have ever had. The rabbit (the dish in the foreground) was nothing in comparison to the spicy chicken dish, which was the first food that ever brought tears to my eyes.  It’s amazing what you find in your cupboards when you’re moving: in this case, a CD full of photos a friend from my REU in Beijing put together for all of us after we returned home.

It has been, oh, more than five years since that trip, but as I explained here, it was probably responsible for my current  obsession with food.  Despite my father’s adventurous (and usually experimental) talents in the kitchen, it wasn’t until I traveled all the way to Beijing that I started realizing that I had not yet stepped outside of the boundaries of my comfortable culinary existence.

I guess this is one of the reasons I’m enjoying Fushia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fins and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China.  I find familiarity in her initial explorations of Sichuan cuisine, and share her fascination with the unfamiliar flavors and textures that she encounters along the way.  I’m only about halfway through the book, but it already has me googling “Mandarin lessons, Sydney” and wondering if it’ll be easier to find cooking classes that I can actually afford to attend in a bigger city.  Obviously, I should wait to review the book properly, when I’m finished, but for now, all I can say is that her story has me thinking about adventures that I would probably have written off as too expensive, or silly, just a few years ago.  Now? I can’t wait to try something new, learn some new languages, explore a new cuisine… Oh, and plan some trips.

Yes, there will be trips — there is no doubt about that.

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Filed under China, stories, travel

One last weekend in the city

It’s funny how a move forces you to finally do all those things you always meant to do someday, but never really got around to. Like spending a full weekend in New York, just because.  We finally got around to doing just that last weekend, and it was great.  (Why didn’t we do it earlier??)

The thing about day trips in NYC is that you’re so tired and grumpy by the end of the day that you really don’t get to enjoy all the stuff you try to cram in before boarding the commuter train home.  Staying in the city gave us a bit more time to just wander and enjoy the snow, check out the funny sight of New Yorkers encountering “nature” (think sledding on any hill in sight and lots and lots of Hunter Boots), and actually spend almost an entire day wandering around the Met, because we could.

We stayed at Hotel 17 (which I recommend for a cheap place to stay on the Lower East Side, if you’re looking for one), and took the opportunity for a late night tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern on Friday.  We had a reservation at 10:30 pm originally (that’s all we could get), which got moved up to 9:30 because of the 20.9″ of snow that had just fallen.

Gramercy Tavern deserves all the praise it gets.  The staff are incredibly attentive, and know exactly what they’re doing. Watch them avoid collisions in a busy dining room on a Friday night, and you’ll see what I mean.  The place isn’t snooty, and you can show up in jeans if you want.  And the food is worth waiting for, if you happen to be in the neighborhood without a reservation and try and get a seat in the Tavern.

We did the Winter Tasting menu, which is ~5+ courses stretched over about 2 hours.  I ordered a glass of Malbec with mine, and James was happy to find a lemon bitter on the drinks menu, which ended up going really nicely with the first several courses on the menu.  Each course was very fresh, very different, and made excellent use of the few vegetables available to us here in the North East in the midst of winter.

The amuse bouche was simply slivers of fresh local veg speared on a toothpick with a lemony vinaigrette — maybe not the best amuse bouche I’ve ever had, but it really was the only dish I wasn’t that impressed with, and it was really just meant to cleanse your palate.  The first course was thinly sliced, really fresh scallops with pickled swiss chard stems and aji dulce peppers, which was fresh and light and almost tasted spring-like despite the season-appropriate selection of vegetables involved.  The second course was this amazing lobster soup with brussels sprouts and pancetta. They poured this absolutely delicious broth over the soup ingredients, and I only hope to recreate it someday at home.  My guess is it involved a bit of soy sauce, maybe veal broth, and balsamic, among other things, but I may be mistaken.  The third course was some of the nicest smoked trout I’ve ever had, with three types of onions that even James ate happily.  There was a sweet onion puree under the trout, with beet red pickled onion slices on top and something like a chopped onion marmelade to make the dish just a little prettier.  It struck me as a play on bagels and lox, which was appropriate for the place.

The next dish was almost an Asian fusion dish, though I’ve never seen Asian / rural Bavarian cuisine combined in such a way before. It was a rabbit (?) dish, with cabbage, golden fried spaetzle, and fresh black trumpet mushrooms.  The sauce was salty and savory and delicious, and it sort of made the dish, even if I did feel like I needed to drink a gallon of water afterwards.

The last main dish was a rack of veal and deckle, which they served with some stewed red cabbage and heirloom white beans of some sort.  While the veal was a bit sinewy, it was nicely cooked, and quite tasty, as was the deckle, which was a fatty bite of goodness that I wished I had saved for last.

But that is not all, of course, because Gramercy Tavern is awesome and tasting menus have a few extra treats by design, at least at most places.  We thought we had one course (dessert) left.  We were given a choice between a blood orange cheese cake and some sort of chocolate mousse dish, and had ordered one of each and some coffee.  What appeared was a deconstructed apple pie with sake-caramel sauce, fresh apples, and cinnamon cream.  THEN dessert came (and the blood orange cheesecake won in my book, but I LOVE blood orange anything, so that’s not surprising).  Then petit fours, and a final surprise: a cardamom coconut breakfast cake, all neatly packaged to go, for the next day.  At that point, we were stuffed, and happy to sit in a food-coma stupor for a bit, and then stroll around the city at half past midnight, realizing that EVERYONE was out on the street, slightly tipsy and ready for snowball fights and chats with random passersby.  This was when I started realizing why people actually enjoy living in the city, and I really hope Sydney will feel similar.

The rest of the weekend was also a lot of fun.  We checked out Egypt and ancient Armor in the MET, and discovered Le Pain Quotidien, which had light, delicious tartines on some serious bread, tasted sandwiches at Porchetta (sort of not worth the hype, or the $10, but it wasn’t bad) and Belgian fries at Pomme Frites (which was good, but maybe a bit expensive at $7 a pop? Unless, of course, that’s your dinner, which very well may be the case at this place).

That, book browsing / shopping at Strand (amazing selection, but get there early if you, like me, can’t stand the pushy NY crowds), brunch at The Smith (potato waffles! Though the omelets looked better, and yes, you need a reservation), pear cider at the Union Square greenmarket, a stroll in Central Park, and a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge and through the Brooklyn Bridge park were some of the other highlights of the weekend.

It was a fitting way to spend one last weekend in New York.  And as it turns out, our last weekend before embarking on a low-sodium, low-fat food experiment.  Yes, I’m going to have to get a little creative in the kitchen out of necessity.

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Filed under New York City, restaurant review, travel

On a lighter note

I figured I’d share a few favorite things I’ve discovered since I last posted on something other than current events.  In no particular order, here they are:

  • If you are trying to decide between the 20 million charities that are currently asking for donations for Haiti right now, consider Partners In Health.  They have, thus far, been making the best use of funds donated for disaster relief in Haiti, have an established network in the country, and are a pretty fantastic organization all around.  If you want to know more, go check out their website, or read this book by Tracy Kidder, which is well written (as are all Tracy Kidder’s books, but that’s another story).  They are one of those organizations that actually has an effective, efficient, sensible plan for accomplishing their mission, which is one of the main things I look for when I’m choosing an organization to donate to, and they’ve been working in Haiti for decades.
  • The White Mountains are amazing, especially in winter.  We just made our second trip up there, and managed to summit Mt. Lafayette.  It was worth every bit of muscle pain.  I only wish we had summit pictures to show you; we’re still waiting on those from friends, as our camera did not like the cold one bit.  The photo above is from the Falling Waters trail in Franconia Notch, which I highly recommend, but only if you have the gear.  If you go up Brindle Path and down Falling Waters during winter, you can slide down the mountain most of the way!
  • Snow is actually pretty fantastic if you take full advantage of it.
  • Radish kimchi goes with EVERYTHING (er… maybe not chocolate, but that’s another experiment). If you haven’t tried it, go! Now! You don’t know what you’re missing.  I had a breakfast burrito with kimchi, New Zealand cheddar, and fried eggs this morning, and have been known to put kimchi on nachos after a late night at the lab…
  • If you’re stuck in a wine shop trying to decide between the cutesy lizard label and the adorable kangaroos, ask if they have a rioja.  Spanish wines are cheap for the quality, and I think they’re worth trying at least once.  Reservas are even better, if they are in your price range.  Barring that, try a Malbec.  These are Argentinian reds that are also generally pretty good for the price, though they aren’t quite as reliable as the riojas seem to be, in my experience.  Reservas are also a good bet for Malbecs.
  • Steep and Cheap is worth checking out if you’re interested in mountaineering gear.
  • The CSS upgrade on wordpress is worth it.  If you’ve noticed (aka still don’t read blogs in some sort of RSS feed), my site has gotten somewhat ugly since I got cheap on you and stopped paying the $15/year upgrade.  I may have to do something about that one of these night shifts.
  • Two tv shows I really should stop watching on netflix but cannot: Spooks / MI-5, which is a BBC series, and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Clearly I’m about the last person on earth to start watching the second show, but having watched some horrible cooking shows and the shows he’s featured on places I’ve actually lived, I really think he actually tries to treat each place he visits with respect.  That’s hard to find on television these days.

And that’s all for now.  I have an experiment setup to supervise next week and a life to sort out, so we’ll see when I return…

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Filed under books, cabbage, firsts, holiday, travel, wine

So it is

I’m writing from a ground floor room in Berkeley with fishbowl windows and a tv the size of my living room, after yet another meeting where I am left confused about what to do.  This one was a small, collaborative meeting, and I was there as a notetaker, essentially — a fledgling scientist with a somewhat cloudy vision of the future of my field from the little I’ve managed to read on the subject in my spare time.

But as is typical for these meetings, I meet people, for a first time, second time, maybe third time… Names refreshed, the awkward dance begins.  What are you doing next, they ask, and I still have no certain answer.  The story comes out different every time, and all of it is true, but I’m sure I come across as a flake.  I wish I could just say I want to be a scientist, but haven’t figured out what kind yet.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t fly with the funding agencies these days.  I need to be focused (and obviously applicable) to be fundable, which is a shame. Science has become a profitable enterprise, with measurable outcomes and a lot of bs about what we’re going to do next.  Let me tell you something: it’s not science if you know what you’re going to do next.  You don’t know what you’ll find along the way.  Like any good recipe, scientific discoveries often start with a bundle of leftovers and a misstep or two. I think we’ve forgotten that, in our constant query, “But what will it do for us?”

I certainly don’t know what I want to do next. I apply for postdocs because I have some lingering interest in this field, and because I do believe on some level that what I do might matter someday, in ways I can’t predict. But beyond the tiny thrill that comes from placing a new level, seeing something new, I am crippled by the sense that this (in a very specific sense) isn’t what I’m meant to do.  What enthralls me is standing in Moe’s this afternoon, picking through books on fluid mechanics and biology, radiation and evolution. I love the complicated stuff, in other words — the interconnections between all these fields, ideas, systems. Nuclear physics isn’t like that.  We consider an isolated system, forget the electrons, forget the outside world.  Yes, the field is relevant — we are, after all, ultimately a product of nuclear reactions in stars — but I guess I’m missing the wonder in my particular corner of science.

Of course, I may have just deluded myself into thinking something else is necessarily better than what I’m already doing here.  I wouldn’t be the first to make that mistake, nor will I be the last.  I just wish I could give something else a try without sacrificing what I already have here.  Because it is a good life, in many respects, the people are fascinating, I like collaborations, and the opportunity to travel the world and meet new people is almost too persistent.  The hours are long, but that’s true of most jobs these days.

And so, I’m left yet again with a dilemma I have no business complaining about.  Which is probably why I’m posting on my (food) blog, which has morphed into a space for random (and sporadic) thoughts.  As a reward to the two people that actually read this thing in search of food, I will say Pie in the Sky near Center and Shadduck in Berkeley has a pretty nice thin-crust slice, the Downtown Berkeley Inn really isn’t bad for the price, and the view from the LBL cafeteria is enough to make me consider selling my soul to the government.  The food isn’t bad either.

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Filed under science, travel