Friday, December 31, 2010

Suburban Surprise - Bussaracum Thai Cuisine

When people disparage the suburbs and the people who live in them, I always think to myself 'What a wanker'. Most of us come from the suburbs and eventually return there, after a stint of inner city cool and shared housing hell during university and early working life. Restaurants like Bussaracum are a reminder that the suburbs are not the soul-less wasteland that some may think.

Over the Christmas season we have been catching up with family and friends, and the Tuesday evening after Christmas saw us catching up with a friend in Ivanhoe at Bussaracum Thai Restaurant. Bussaracum specialises in a style of Thai cuisine known as 'Royal Thai'. Rosemary Brissenden, in her excellent cookbook
South East Asian Food, tells me that Royal Thai cuisine has its basis in the court of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, an area north of modern day Bangkok, which was open to foreign trade. South Indians and Malays involved in foreign trade settled there, bringing with them the spices of their trade, coconut milk and chilli from the Portuguese.

Bussaracum sits atop the first floor of a brown, institutional-looking brick building on Upper Heidelberg Road that was probably built in the 1970s, quite an unprepossessing location for such a wonderful restaurant. We arrived around 8.30pm for dinner and were treated to views of a beautiful sunset across the Melbourne skyline. The suburbs hide little gems like this and the focus on Royal Thai cuisine lifts Bussaracum above its suburban counterparts.

To begin with we ordered a trio of dumpling-type entrees: Puak Sod Sai, Khao Krieb and money bags.

Puak Sod Sai

Khao Krieb

The taro pastry wrapped around the minced chicken, prawn and mushroom of the Puak Sod Sai was quite delicious and provided an interesting texture that hinted at chewiness as you bit into it. The lurid green colour of the Khao Krieb was both off-putting and mesmerising. Filled with minced pork and crushed peanuts, the outer pastry was soft and sweet from the drizzling of palm sugar. This was our favourite of the three - something very different from what we were expecting that offered interesting flavours and texture. The money bags were a familiar item and while the crispy pouches filled with minced pork and chopped water chestnuts were well prepared, they didn't match the deliciousness of the other two entrees we ordered on the night.

For mains we again ordered three dishes: Cha duck, deep fried squid with spicy salt and Takrai. Given that all three of us were still in a post-Christmas food coma this was perhaps a little ambitious however, we gallantly made our way through the dishes.

Cha duck

I'm a big fan of duck and my choice of the cha duck was a dish composed of boneless duck stir fried with capsicum, wild ginger, young peppercorns and aromatic sweet basil in a purportedly mild chilli sauce. 'Mild' it was not! While quite delicious, the heat was described by my friend as 'hitting you in the face' and continued to build in your mouth long after you had swallowed it down. So be prepared!

Deep fried squid with spicy salt

The deep fried squid with spicy salt also included garlic and chilli, though with no where near as much heat as the cha duck, and was served on a bed of iceberg lettuce. There was a lot going on in this dish and the iceberg lettuch provided a fresh and crisp counterpoint to the saltiness of the squid.

The takrai, sliced chicken with coconut cream, lemon grass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and aromatic dried chilli was by far the favourite main course for all of us. It was perfectly balanced, showcasing the subtlety of the spices used and not overpowered by the coconut cream. This was the one we all returned to and the first to be finished.


I didn't drink alcohol on the night but in retrospect a Singha beer or two would have helped calm the mouth down after the cha duck. Desserts are also available but we were too full to try these. Service was attentive on the night. I was very impressed with Bussaracum and highly recommend it. We are planning our return there already.

Entrees: $8-12
Mains: $16-28

Bussaracum Thai Cuisine
223 Upper Heidelberg Road
9497 4650

Bussaracum Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quick and Tasty - Teriyaki Salmon

To state the obvious, I like to eat good, tasty food. However working full-time often means that on week-nights we both arrive home tired and not particularly wanting to cook, or we run out of time to pull something together for lunch of a morning.

The busy festive season has reminded me how important it is to have a couple of quick, delicious meals up my sleeve that I can whip up in a short amount of time to get me through meals over a couple of days. So this will be the first in (another) occasional series, 'quick and tasty', the criteria being a dish that can be made ahead quickly, keep for a couple of days and take more or less 30 minutes to make (by that I mean you're not standing around prepping food for more than 30 minutes, but by marinating or other like process may stretch the time out longer, and you can go off and do something else).

This recipe is simple. It is great for a dinner or lunch served with a salad and some rice (if you have the time to cook it). Make it ahead, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon, to give yourself a couple of lunches or mid-week dinners that require minimal preparation.

400-500g salmon (Ask your fishmonger to cut the fillet into 1.5-2cm wide pieces. You should be able to get about 6 pieces)

Teriyaki sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin*
2 tbsp sugar

Combine all sauce ingredients in a saucepan. Stir the mixture well. Put it on medium heat and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to low and simmer for a couple of minutes. Stop the heat and cool the mixture (Sauce can be stored sauce in a clean bottle in the refrigerator).

*If you don't have mirin, you can substitute sake and sugar for mirin. The ratio of sake to sugar is 3 to 1. Adjust the amount of sugar to taste, depending on your preference.

This recipe makes a lot of sauce.

Marinate the salmon pieces in the teriyaki sauce for about an hour, in the fridge.

Using a griddle-style pan, cook the salmon for approximately 5 minutes each side. The exact time will depend on the thickness of the salmon piece however, I look to cook it until the teriyaki marinade has taken on a thick, dark, caramelised appearance. Right at the end of the cooking process I pour some of the remaining marinade over the salmon in the pan and let it bubble up and thicken. The salmon should be well-done but not dry.

The cooked salmon fillets will keep in the fridge for the next couple of days. I quite like the salmon for lunch with some rice, salad/s and slices of lemon. It reminds of fabulous
bento boxes we enjoyed on our travels through Japan.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ramen - yeah!

When we were planning our first trip to Japan one of our friends said to me 'Promise me you'll slurp ramen at the train station'.

Matsumoto Station, I fulfilled that promise. With my limited recognition of Hiragana, beginners level spoken Japanese, a bit of pointing and help from the bevy of welcoming mama-sans working in the small platform restaurant I bought myself a 500 yen bowl of ramen and quickly slurped it down in the company of mostly suited fellow train travellers, with a couple of minutes to spare before we boarded the train to Kyoto.

We've travelled around Japan several times now, each time in early spring when the air is still cold and there's still a little snow on the ground. For a quick meal to get us through a busy afternoon of sightseeing, or at the end of the long, cold day when we are tired, there is nothing more enjoyable then a bowl of warm, steaming and nourishing ramen. It's a staple on our travels, and generally good value too.

Ramen is Chinese in its origins and
regional varieties abound across Japan. Stock is the basis of ramen and hence a good stock is essential to its success. There's a cheesy film that I quite like called 'Ramen Girl' starring Brittany Murphy as an over-priviledged, aimless American woman in Tokyo who manages to get herself apprenticed to a Chef Maezumi at her local ramen restaurant. His memorable line from the film sums up what a good ramen is all about:

A bowl of ramen is a self-contained universe with life from the sea, the mountain and the earth all existing in perfect harmony. Harmony is the essential. What holds it all together is the broth. The broth gives life to the ramen.

As there are many regional varieties, there are a variety of broths available. My favourite is the tonkotsu broth, which is made from pork bones, resulting in a rich, thick, milky white stock. This type of ramen is associated with Fukuoka/Hakata. The best ramen we have ever had has been on the island of Kyushu and our favourite restaurant is Komurasaki in the city of Kagoshima, where you sit at the counter watching the stock master at work as you eat your ramen - it's mesmorising.

Not the best photograph but you get the idea

But I'm not really here to regale you with tales of our travels or film reviews. I'm here to review Ramen-Ya, a ramen restaurant tucked away down a laneway at the back of the GPO. We've been going here since they opened in late 2008, when they used to offer table service, and although we found the quality of the tonkotsu stock a bit disappointing late last year (I have found its quality to be a bit inconsistent over time), things are back on track and I have to say that I think it's one of the better ramen restaurants in Melbourne.

Ramen-Ya prides itself on offering authentic Fukuoka/Hakata-style ramen. Three types of stock are available to choose from - miso, shoya (soy) and tonkotsu, and four toppings to choose from- char siu, minced chicken, gyoza and seafood gyoza. My preferred combinations are the miso stock with minced chicken and the tonkotsu with char siu, which is my favourite and the one I always go back to. The standard price is $10 a bowl however I order some extra char siu which adds a couple of dollars to the cost. Still good value in my book.

The ramen is served in a large bowl with a generous amount of chewy, tangled noodles, topped with spring onions, bamboo shoots, fish cake, pickled ginger (yes, the bright red stuff), pickled seaweed and a boiled egg (not as soft as it could be but I'm not complaining), all nestled in their proper place. The stock was lovely and rich on the night that we went and flecked with pork fat, coating the noodles as you slurped them up. All very tasty and welcome on a cold night.

We often find ourselves at Ramen-Ya on cold and wet Melbourne evenings, when the rain dripping over the awnings, the tea lights casting a dim glow over the tables and the dankness of the laneway makes for a melancholy atmosphere. A bowl of ramen on nights like this is comfort indeed. I recommend you try it too.

Ramen and bento boxes available from $10

Shop 25G
Melbourne GPO
350 Bourke Street

Ramen Ya on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I like my local pub but really... The Quince Poacher bites back

It's been a while since my last entry but I've not not been busy, oh no! There's been recipes cooked, restaurants dined at and cookbooks read, in between finishing off this semester's uni subject and a busy period at work.

During this hiatus I spied this article in M magazine, one of the Sunday Age magazines, announcing their second annual M-ie awards. And the best pub award goes to...Post Office Hotel. How exciting, I thought, it's only around the corner from us.

As I continued to read this article I thought 'This is odd. Didn't I read a review of this hotel week or so ago in The Age's Epicure, which said something about a journalist being married to one of the co-owners'? If you can't be bothered clicking through and reading the whole article, let me draw your attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of it:

A co-owner of the Post Office Hotel is married to an Age journalist

Don't get me wrong. I like the revitalised Post Office Hotel. I enjoy having a pub within a five minute walk from my home that serves great food and drinks, has a fantastic atmosphere and attentive staff, and is welcoming (in a very authentic way, not just of an 'alternative' crowd) of a diverse group of people. It's much more preferable to what it was before - a faded, once bright yellow blob on the corner of Reynard and Sydney Roads, Coburg's own version of 'The Vault' (aka 'the yellow peril) that many women were afraid to go into, where you could only buy three types of beer, VB, Melbourne or Fosters, from the bottle shop and you were served by barmen with prison tatts.

In the scale of things the M-ie awards mean very, very little. But this example of working editorial connections annoys me. It's journalism that is condescending towards its readership. It does credit to neither the venue, by not allowing it to rise or fall on its own merits and diminishes the reputation of the fourth estate, which is already precarious in the post-print media world.

Update 16 Feb 2011 - I stand admonished. The Age journalist has contacted me to set the record straight and clarify that no undue editorial influence has been exercised in relation to The Age articles in which the Post Office Hotel features. However, I stand by my decision to have a healthy scepticism about things that I read.