Category Archives: Produce

Oriental City

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Men's Pocky
Men’s Pocky: Not for women!

On Saturday we visited Oriental City, also known as “London’s real Chinatown”. Reading its tea-leaves will apparently tell you stories of demolition and replacement with new cultural icons, such as hardware stores. This “real Chinatown” proved to be up to the title, but don’t expect the tourist-ready gloss of London City’s Chinatown area. The Oriental City rendition of Chinatown is raw and gritty; from the old men in the food court chatting in Chinese and puffing on their cigarettes to the “Japanese Lifestyle” shop selling “essentials” from chisels and drill bits, through sushi making equipment to hair accessories. For those in Sydney who’re familiar with the places, my impression of the feel of Oriental City is: “Blacktown Westpoint and surrounds cross-bred with Parklea Markets”. Well, prior to the Westpoint upgrade – I haven’t been in the area since about 2002.

Feeling famished after a rushed morning with no breakfast we headed straight for the food court. The aroma in the air was unmistakeable… cigarette smoke. There are signs overhead delineating “smoking” and “non-smoking” zones, all they need to do now is teach smoke how to obey signs. We ordered ourselves some lunch anyway, Gyu Don for Kathlene and “Eel-and-Egg” Don for me, and with a little difficulty navigated our way to a patch of lesser smokiness. The meal was decent, large and cheap – above expectations for Japanese in a food court. There are about 15 different outlets in the food court, including Japanese, Thai, Drink/Sweets, Indian and several Chinese stores. The drinks/sweets stores later prove not to have any taro/yam/ube drinks at all (the purple ones).

We trundled around the centre and scoped out some of the non-food shops. There are a couple of decoration/junk/”artefact” shops, a furniture store with a 1.5m long jade boat, a shop with a huge range of ceramics, a Japanese “lifestyle essentials” shop, a real-estate agent, a small dojo and down the far end there seemed to be some sort of large “Sega”-branded arcade. The ceramics shop impressed us, shelves and tables stacked with plates, bowls and tea-sets; mostly in Japanese styles. We perused stacks of chop-sticks, various trinkets and Kathlene paid special attention to some large bento boxes. The Japanese “lifestyle essentials” shop amused us, a quick sample of some items you can find there: drill bits, bento boxes for kiddies, sushi making equipment, plastic replacement teapot handles, hair accessories, cookware, stacks and stacks of clear plastic storage boxes, pulleys in multiple sizes and items I couldn’t identify like small iron squares with nails sticking out.

We didn’t escape empty handed, we now have a tea-ball and some vegetable shape-cutters, perfect for our “Japanese lifestyle”. In wandering past the dojo we watched a video demonstration of spray-on-attacker permanent-UV-reactive-dye playing on a screen in their display window. Alongside this a random collection of knives, swords, pointy things and an entire wall hung with nunchaku. The dojo turned out to be the source of a heavy drum-beat we’d been hearing since shortly after lunch, inside were four youngsters learning to give a drum a good new-year style beating.

The final stop for the day was the most interesting: the supermarket. Unlike London Chinatown with it’s couple of streets and several smaller supermarkets/grocers the Oriental City mall contains just a single supermarket. It’s a big’n though, possibly offering a wider range of goods than found in Chinatown proper. One example: I found some shiro-miso and there were also several other misos, but all I can ever find in London is aka-miso [Update: I found a great stash of miso in London near “Chinatown” in this place: Japan Centre]. We even found a Filipino section, but try as we might we didn’t find some essential Filo foodstuffs. No belacan/baga-ong! There were some ube wafer sticks, but no other ube! Not satisfactory! Fermented shrimp aside, the range or food available in the supermarket is impressive. The distribution of goods is somewhat chaotic, we found kombu in three different locations. The fresh fruit & vege selection was good but low-volume, there were some interesting items and all the usuals, including: okra, bitter melon (two we do not buy, but I like to taunt Kathlene with them), banana leaves, dragon fruit, and eggplants in about 10 different combinations of shape, size and colour!

Oriental City Goodies
Oriental City Goodies

We passed many a freezer filled with the weird, wonderful and even slightly disgusting. Up the back we found a wall of meat with everything from steak to any extremity or organ you’d want to devour. The fish counter was… a little fishy. I didn’t like the look of it but there was a good selection of piscine wares, including cuts ostensibly suitable for sashimi (I had my doubts).

At one end of the supermarket we wandered into a land of cookware and rice. Rice can also to be found in several other locations, but at the far end you’ll find rice in huge sacks, stacked in piles on pallets – there must literally be tons of rice. The cookware selection is small but it fulfilled our bamboo steamer and Tamagoyaki pan quest, more ways to make dinner! To add to the days education we discovered that Pocky is for wussies, real men eat Men’s Pocky. Eventually we escaped; with a small hoard of oriental delights.

Wok! Wok! Wok! Coffee, Cheese, and Cow!

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Or: Our Friday trek into London to resupply in Chinatown and potter around Borough Market. Leading to our return home: well caffeinated, wok-enabled monkeys looking forward to an evening meal of dead cow’s leg.

On Friday we made a trip into London to grab some supplies from Chinatown and raid Borough Market. Chinatown in London seems rather small to me, I’m sure the area in Sydney with the “Chinatown” label is much larger. But maybe there are additional wings of London’s Chinatown we have not yet discovered. Our destination: the large and, reassuringly, slightly chaotic supermarkets. And now I have a wok! Wok! Wok! Wok! Such a great word. Thirteen cold hard inches of pressed steel. We also picked up supplies of various essentials such as miso paste, shoyu (aka soy sauce), mirin, rice vinegar, and wasabi (trying out a powdered version for the first time). Much of this is to fuel Kathlene’s sushi-making.

After our oriental shopping extravaganza we had good ristretto at Caffé Vergnano 1882 on nearby Charing Cross Road. We then had lunch consisting of some rather uninspiring Korean at a place on the other side of the road called Corean Chilli. They do not represent good value for money, I don’t recommend them. I increasingly find that I don’t want to bother with Oriental food in the UK (Asian here implies Indian); I’ve been spoilt by the Sydney standard and everything here in a normal price range is Sydney food-court-class.

Next Stop: Borough Market. This market is just around the corner from London Bridge tube station and is the best market I’ve seen, measuring by variety of produce. In contrast to the very single-purpose nature of Billingsgate and Smithfield markets, Borough Market is a true one-stop-shop destination. A retail rather than a wholesale experience. The various stalls stock all the fruit and vegetables you’d want; there are butchers with every normal cut of meat plus a wide variety of game meat; fish mongers with, uh, fish; many cheese/salami/olive sellers; and loads of options for lunches, snacks and sweets.

Fungo! Fungo!
Fungo! Fungo!

We first homed in on what I think of as the “mushroom place” (where I previously obtained key Mushroom Pasta ingredients). The “mushroom place” a fruit and vege stall located in the mouth of the northernmost alley off Stoney Street. We came away from here with bags of fresh shitake (for miso soup) and oyster (for a risotto) mushrooms. Next we picked up a wedge of absolutely beautiful Parmesan from the Parmesan Cheese Company stand, it is worth visiting their website to read all the interesting information about Parmesan (the people pictured on the site actually run the stall). On our way out we found ourselves drawn to the Farmer Sharp stand, mmmmm meeeaaaaat. Again, the dude on the website is the dude behind the counter. Reaching meaty gravity-well escape-velocity only cost us 1.5kg of osso bucco – dinner for the following couple of nights!

The last time we were at Borough Market we found unexpected good coffee at a small stall that seemed to have vanished. How distressing! It turned out to have just moved (we surmised) to a big permanent space across the street… however their website indicates that they’ve been in this location since 2001. We must have missed it last time and the new look of the fittings may just be a sign of very good cleaning! (Or maybe they were renovating?) It is Monmouth Coffee that I write of, in summary: damn fine espresso.

Kitty Under the Sideboard
Kitty Under the Sideboard

When we move into London-proper, an inevitable future, Borough and surrounds is high on the list of desirable locations. It is a satisfying picture: living near Borough Market with Billingsgate market and Chinatown only a couple of tube stops away and the whole of London city within what I call “walking distance” (but there’s always the tube). Picking up good produce from markets in the city costs no more than Tesco (major supermarket, like Coles), in many cases markets can cost a lot less (especially Billingsgate), and the quality is incomparable. We’ve stopped getting fruit and vege from Tesco already, since the little, local greengrocer (the greengrocer is quite large actually, but his shop is small) has better produce, better prices and less bloody plastic packaging. We tended to buy “organic” produce from Tesco and the problem Tesco have to solve is “How do our checkout dudes know an organic red onion from an in-organic red onion?” – the answer is to wrap organic red onions in plastic socks, with copper end-fasteners and polypropylene labels. Returning to the topic of price, even the coffee at Monmouth is cheaper than the local, far inferior, coffee options in Ricky. Unfortunately travelling between the city and Ricky costs more than 10 quid for both of us, so London doesn’t work out so well for groceries while we’re out here, certainly not for the sake of cost alone.

Maybe if we moved to somewhere around Borough we’d save a few quid on shopping… to make up for the fact that rent in London is nightmare-high. Scanning some adverts tells me that a place similar to what we’re in now in/around Borough would be at least twice the rent, something in the order of £2k to £2.5k per month. We can’t afford that until visas are sorted and we can both work properly, or I get a higher-paying London-city-job (damn those banks pay a lot, to make up for the jobs being insanely boring from what I hear). We do have more space than we need in our largish 2-br apartment and could easily downgrade to a one bedroom place and maybe, barely, a large loft or studio style place. No entertaining, no dinners for friends or huge pizza parties – when living a world away from close friends entertaining space isn’t required. Share-housing is always there as a cost-cutting route, but we don’t know anyone in London well enough to count share-housing as even a remote option (unless anyone we know thinking of moving here? ;).

Well, one can speculate on future plans endlessly. We’ll be in Ricky for the foreseeable future: for as long as current company engagements continue. Eventually things must draw to a close though, then it’ll be time to consider the options.

Briefly back to Borough Market, I have to mention: Brew Wharf. There is even excellent beer nearby! I tried a dark beer from Meantime and their own “Brew Wharf Best” last time we visited the market, they were both very good. What more could you ask for?

Market Quest: Billingsgate & Smithfiled one Friday Morning

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

We awaken at 04:45 on Friday morning. It is dark, below zero and foggy outside. By 05:30 we’re up at Rickmansworth tube station, the first steps of our quest behind us. Plan? Get to Billingsgate Fish Market before 07:00 then move on to Smithfield Meat Market by 09:00. Inventory? One backpack containing two small umbrellas, a London street map, a camera and two large blocks of ice wrapped in plastic bags and tea-towels. Goals? Fresh fish (sashimi grade) and Reindeer (or Elk) steak.

I’m under-dressed for the temperature, as usual, and eagerly await the arrival of the day’s first Metro-line train. The temperature is -3°C and I can’t feel my nose anymore. The train arrives and, thankfully, it’s warm inside. Twenty-five minutes later we alight at Finchley Road to swap to the Jubilee line. The Jubilee line train is cold, it seems the city tube trains are not fitted with heating like the outer suburbs ones are. Thirty minutes on this frigid train gets us to Canary Wharf. I wonder if the name comes from the area being a cannery? Having been the centre of London’s seafood supply for a very long time makes this seem plausible, and there is an area to the north-east called “Canning Town”. Relying on areas having been historically spelt “correctly” here doesn’t get you very far. However, an area to the south is named Isle of Dogs, so there lies an entirely different potential namesake.

From the bowels of Canary Wharf tube station we make our way to the surface, pleased that the temperature seems somewhat warmer. Then we step outside. Ouch. We step into a freezer, a freezer that looks entirely unlike what I expected. Being a “wharf” I expected an industrial look; what we get is skyscrapers, bank buildings, we’re on Bank Street. A short stroll down Bank Street takes you over a canal, past a rather extreme security check point (can’t let the terrorists demolish the banks maybe?) and to Billingsgate Market. In fact, you find yourself on the outside of the ten foot high fence that surrounds the market. You look around: to the south is a security check point, to the north is a busy highway, to the west the highway continues around a bend, and to the east the Billingsgate fence continues alongside the highway and fades into the foggy distance. E. After ten minutes following the fence we reach the end and rather than walk another 100 metres to the road junction we follow the reverse path of a man who climbs over a low hedge. He’s 6’6″ and built like a bouncer, black, dreadlocked, well dressed in a designer trench coat, and carrying a black plastic bin bag pregnant with heavy looking objects. Not what you want to see jumping over a hedge ahead of you in the fog. After a moment of concern my cold-slowed brain catches up and realises that what we have is just a happy seafood shopper taking a short-cut.

Short-cut behind us, we wander through the Billingsgate carpark and up to the markets proper. It’s 07:00, below zero and foggy outsize. We step into the market hall, I think it’s still below zero, it’s a large hall filled with stands and packed with shoppers. It’s the Friday before Christmas day, we wonder if this means the market is busier than usual or if this is a normal morning. I recall the Sydney Fish Market: a sleek, albeit fishy, shopping mall compared to Billingsgate. Where in Sydney there is more a collection of fish shops than a market, at Billingsgate there is the seeming utter chaos of a real market. Now we’re cook’n with fire. Photography is prohibited unless you have first obtained a permit from the management. It’s a busy business environment, I guess they want to try to avoid having it clogged with insomniac tourists and other ad-hoc and amateur photographers. No photos for us!

Pink Porgy
Pink Porgy

Our fishing takes longer than expected, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of knowledge we lack when it comes to picking fish suitable for sashimi. In the end we purchase four beautiful little red snapper for £10. We also pick up a pack of 13 frozen salmon steaks, two boxes of frozen baby squid (1kg) and two boxes of frozen king-prawns (1.4kg). It all squeezes into the backpack. We set off only 30 quid lighter.

Mistakes do happen, the next thing we did was step into the foul dimension of the Golden Arches. It is 09:00, below zero and foggy outside. The trap lies immediately outside the Billingsgate gates. I have not touched the evil wares of this terrible place for years, and even then it was only for fries. Maybe it has changed? Maybe after all the recent hype they’re better? They have bagels on the menu! OK, a bagel with cheese, egg, and sausage – does that sound so bad? I should have known better, I should have realised that evil ways never change. The mistake was made, I learned my lesson, how many years will it be before I must learn it again? The coffee? Not bad if all you want is something to warm your hands.

Grand Avenue, through the middle of the Smithfileld Meat Market.
Grand Avenue

We follow convoluted pathways to the nearest DLR station, Blackwall. On the platform I take my first photos for the day, squeezing in two shots before the camera claims “low battery” and packs it in. The battery was fully charged but has reached that age where Li-Ion batteries tire, the freezing temperature kept the electrons in their beds. The light rail train arrives and takes us to Tower Hill station and we change to a Central Line train to get to Barbican. To the Meat Market we go! But alas! The time is around 10:00 and we’re far too late, the providores of flesh are packed up and shipping out! Across the street a lone butcher shop of a more retail presentation remains open. All is not lost. The small side window of S.C. Crosby presents us with ducks, pigeons, rabbits, partridges, pheasants (two hanging from the wall still had their feathers attached) and huge tongues. We sadly bypass these delicacies to purchase 2kg of of boned, rolled and dressed venison shank. It’s not reindeer, but at least it is deer. Having had the battery in my pocket for a while to warm I squeeze in a few photos.

The core tasks of our quest complete, we trundle down Cowcross Street towards Farringdon tube station. Along the way we pass a total of three Starbucks spaced less than 100 meters apart. We righteously shun these and fetch merely-not-sickening espressos from Costa. I wonder if these chain stores have replaced independent cafés with more character, it is likely. The Costa double espresso serves an additional function of warming my camera battery a little (I put it under the cup, not in the coffee).


From Farringdon we catch a Metro-line train heading homewards. The train is in no hurry and after we’re out of the tunnels we watch foggy outer-London slowly pass by. At Harrow-on-the-Hill (hyphens official) we must alight, await and aboard. Another train, the final leg home. It is around 13:00, below zero and foggy outside.

We’re home and it’s time to stash goods and clean snapper. A freezer draw full of fishy goods, 2kg of deer in the fridge and four red snapper on ice in the sink. Filleting fish takes me back, a task I haven’t attempted for a long time. Luckily I seem to remember how it is done, with some hints along the way from Kathlene’s sushi book. Cleaning fish gives good motivation to clean your kitchen, once you’re done you’ll be finding errant scales in every corner (even though I used a covering bag while scaling, it is really a task best done outdoors). The snapper looks excellent but we’re uncertain of its sashimi potential. We play it safe and boring and don’t sashimi, it would not be ideal to start off a holiday with food poisoning. I wish I knew enough to be confident in obtaining fish for raw consumption. My promise to Kathlene: when we’re in Western Australia next year we’ll do some fishing. When we’ve just caught the buggers we’ll have all the confidence we need that the fish is fresh.

Filleted Porgy
Filleted Porgy

Four snapper fillets for dinner and four for the freezer. After a coffee trundle to Cinnamon Square and some general relaxation it was time for dinner. A simple affair: snapper pan fried in butter with capers and spring onions, served with garlic sautéed vegetables. Possibly one of the best dinners I have ever cooked, perfect food as simple as it should be.

Twenty hours since first awakening it is time for bed. It is dark, below zero and foggy outside.

Portobello Produce

Note: This entry has been restored from old archives.

Today we went for a trip into London. This involved about 40 minutes of train travelling, from here to Baker Street and then onto Paddington. Paddington is one of the stations close to the company office in Notting Hill (closest station is Notting Hill Gate, but that would involve another train change). In the end the primary purpose of the trip turned out to be a dud, as I couldn’t get into the office thanks to a new security system; score security: 1, Yvan: 0. The secondary purpose was somewhat more successful, Kathlene saw a GP (which wasn’t much more expensive than Sydney for just a prescription re-issue) and we discovered that “The Pill” costs less here than it does in Sydney (not much less mind you) – same brand.

Along the way we discovered two new quests for the day; the first was sushi. There is a sushi “train” in Paddington station, conveniently close to the GP office that Kat choose (coincidence? I think not). I wont say much about this one, the sushi was disappointing – it wasn’t even close to as good as the lowest class of sushi train in Sydney and it cost more then the best one. Poor Kathlene is now resigned to having to wait to gorge herself on sushi on a yearly sushi pilgrimage back to Sydney. Come February next year Sydney’s sushi industry better be prepared as they will face a ravenous beast with a Godzilla like, fury-driven appetite for their fishy delights.

The second quest, also of a culinary nature, was somewhat more successful. We wandered to the street where the riches of ages are stowed to hunt produce, less endowed in the “ages” one hopes. While there we visited the best coffee place in the known England: the Coffee Plant (the owner of this fine coffee establishment believes that the US government blew up the WTO buildings… and wrote a book about it).

Also, while in the area, we visited a nearby Oxfam bookshop and bought a few books:

All for the tidy sum of £9.97. I haven’t looked at the bonsai book yet and the Japanese cooking one is a bit on the simple side (we knew that before we bought it). The French cooking book is well written and contains some interesting recipes, I especially like the way that the recipes all seem to have a story to go with them.

With books in hand we then did a trawl of the produce stalls, there are around three decent length blocks worth of the things – vegetables galore. Sold by a variety of people with a variety of accents – I wonder if some of them have driven across from the continent for the could of days of trading. There is some absolutely excellent stuff available there for very reasonable prices.

Our bag for the day was: four large and excellent Haas avocados (£1), two large and firm aubergines (£1.20) and four sweet and aromatic red peppers (£1.20). All significantly better than the stuff we can get in the local supermarkets and at a combined cost that is lower than the avocados would have cost us anywhere else (for comparison we saw Haas avocados at Tesco today which were almost as good but sold for 80p each!). Ouch! The red peppers were really especially fine, I didn’t pick them out for their looks – I smelt them as I walked past. I’m so used to sniffing the produce in the supermarkets and wondering if things have been substituted with wax versions.

If only it wasn’t a £4.80-each round trip to get in there 🙁 certainly the place to buy some vegies if we happen to be in London for other reasons anyway, but not quite worth it as a motivation in its self (if just one of us went in then the total cost would have been about the same as buying the same stuff from Tesco and thus probably worthwhile as a weekly trip (made borderline by the ~1.5 hours total train travel).

One aubergine and two red peppers were made into an excellent dinner. The remainder has been roasted up for use in this weeks sandwiches (saving significantly on buying roast eggplant and red pepper), the same fate awaits the avocados.

No, I wouldn’t normally use the names “aubergine” and “red pepper” – trying to pick up the local customs and all 😉