Archive for March, 2009

Food in your country is probably crap if… people shop weekly rather than daily


I live in a city called Perth in Western Australia (population is 1.6 million).  We have a lot of land and a great climate.  We have the kind of climate that southern Europeans make use of to provide nice fresh vegetables and fruit every day.

Instead of taking advantage of our climate, we in Perth have laws keeping supermarkets shut on weeknights and on Sundays.  So, even though we have a geographic advantage, we legally prevent ourselves from using it.  Perth residents tend to go shopping once a week – they buy a big trolley full of canned and frozen rubbish.  Then, all week they have a diet of rubbish, like they are on some sort of demented camping trip in their own homes.


these vegies will be ruined by the time you eat them

It would be nice if we could change the laws but a bizarre coalition of jesus freaks and closet communists are in the way.  Apparently, removing our current bizarre laws and introducing normal shopping to Perth is some sort of imperialist counter revolutionary subversion.

Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro may be ailing but their attitude to free enterprise is alive and well in Western Australian shopping restrictions!

I can remember listening to US Forces radio in Japan (Eagle 810) and they had a segment explaining to the forces that Japanese families liked to buy a smaller basket of goods each day so that vegetables, fruit and fish were in their prime.  That was why Japan had so many smaller, convenient stores, they said.  The guy on the radio encouraged people to try it, as it makes your meals tastier and healthier.  It is a shame that this kind of thing is illegal where I live.  Despite the great climate, Perth people have to eat as if they lived in the Arctic circle. 

It is not only wacky local shopping laws – many people actually choose to do a single weekly shop.  This means that for the second half of the week, everything you eat is past its prime.  Not only that but fish off the menu.

In countries where food is good, it is very rare to see a single big visit to the supermarket.  If that is what happens in your community, there is a fair bet that food in your country is crap.


Food in your country is probably crap if… there are hippies working at your local food market


Are stalls at your nearest food market staffed by normal locals who have produced food all their lives professionally?

Or are they staffed by unwashed hippies? Middle aged women pursuing a hobby career (while their real household income comes from their husband)? Are the stalls staffed by people who are “rediscovering” something or “getting back” to something?

Do the sellers want to engage you in conversation that has something to do with stuff other than the food?  Is the food only a part of some greater philosophy or politics that drives them?

Even worse, are the stalls interspersed with stall selling crap folk art, crystals, or other rubbish?

Sadly, at many farmers markets in Australia and the UK, the closest thing to good food you can get is from the ice cream van.

a market that sells tofu organic tacos is never going to provide you with good food...

In countries with good food, you will never see the crap photographed above.  In France and Italy they concentrate on selling excellent, seasonal food.  That is why they are happier and healthier.  It is also why they are sad about the food we have to eat in our country.

Food in good food countries is about excellence, not about some weird philosophy.

Kushiyaki of the week: Tsukune


This is the start of a series on Kushiyaki.  Kushiyaki means any food skewered and grilled.  Yakitori and motsuyaki are both types of kushiyaki.  Mostly these articles will each be on a particular stick – but some will be about the types of restaurants that serve kushiyaki and how it is best ordered, cooked, served, eaten…  Kushiyaki are seasoned with either salt or sauce (shio or tare).  I will give my view on the best way to eat each piece.

TSUKUNE(shio/tare? – I think tare, few have shio)

There are so many types of different yakitori sticks and few are common to all yakitori shops.  Tsukune is one that seems to be.  Tsukune is essentially minced chicken mixed with negi (like leek but thinner and with a taste similar to spring onions), egg, salt and sometimes a bit of filler, like bread crumbs.  Yakitori shops all seem to have their own recipe.  Some include ground up cartilage that can give a slightly gritty texture. 

My favourite shop keeps the mix in a cold container and they only shape it onto the stick to order.  Others seem to do it in advance.  Some shops make it like a series of balls on the stick, but I have noticed that these are often mass produced ones that are full of filler.  Some of the fancier shops will serve it with raw egg yolk to dip it into.




Good tsukune should be hot through and never dry.  They are a great introduction to yakitori for people who have never been lucky enough to have real yakitori before – especially if they are victims of the “yakitori” served in those weird Japanese restaurants in Australia!

So far in this series I have only done tsukune.

Food in your country is probably crap if… children’s menus are popular


Part one of  “Food in your country is probably crap if…”  I will outline at least ten differences between countries with good food and countries with bad food.

Kids in Italy don’t eat chicken nuggets and chips while the rest of the family get stuck into real food.  If you find a children’s menu in Italy, it is probably in a restaurant that is trying to cater to tourists who are hell bent on teaching their kids to be fussy.

Some people tell me that there is something innate in children that means they can only eat baked beans, frankfurts, chips and so on.  Personally, I think this is a purely cultural phenomenon.  Parents assume this to be true, so they act like its true.

You almost never see this kind of crap in Japan, Hong Kong, France or anywhere that has good food.  Feeding kids this sort of rubbish is what makes fussy, unadventurous adults.  And when a country is full of fussy, unadventurous adults, restaurants have to follow suit.  That is why in some countries the restaurants are full of bland unauthentic muck. 

I thank my lucky stars that I always ate whatever my parents ate.  I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to like it.  My family had not been degraded down to that kind of thinking at that time (or since).  I have met adults for whom fast food is not an occasional convenience but a savoured treat.  That is seriously screwed up.  All of them were fed a specially selected bland diet by their parents who wanted to keep things simple. 

One of the excuses I hear is that kids will kick up a fuss unless they are given this kind crap food.  However, I never see kids in Japan or Italy turning away pasta etc and asking for junk.  I think it is a case of the parents opening a gate they can’t close.

Can matsutake be grown in Australia?

Probably some some of the most significant food news out of Australia in the last ten years is the successful growing of truffles in the Manjimup area of Western Australia.  They haven’t grown the easy ones, they have gone for the real deal.  And the results are not the dry hard lumps other “new world” projects have resulted in. 

One of the good things about Australia is the size of the place gives us a massive variety of climates, soils and weather systems.  Surely, somewhere, we can grow almost anything.

Which brings me to this:

The price is 30,000 yen - nearly 500 Aussie dollars

The price is 30,000 yen - nearly 500 Aussie dollars

I photographed this punnet at a food market in Kyoto – it is slightly bigger than my fist and costs nearly 500 Aussie dollars – they throw in three little yuzu citruses with it to sweeten the deal.

These matsutake mushrooms are in season in the northern Autumn every year and have an amazing long and warm taste.  They are a key feature of the autumn season kaiseki cuisine.  Here is a pic of a dish I was halfway through while staying at the Benkei Ryokan in Arashiyama, Kyoto:

the beer was nice too...

the beer was nice too...

This is a soup that is made with matsutake when it is in its prime.  As you can see, a bit of fresh yuzu squeezed in really freshens things up and provides the balance in flavours.  This is a premium product and you can’t really make matsutake dishes with a substitute mushroom.

The question is, can Australia succeed where China has failed?  Can we grow a quality matsutake mushroom?

Japanese Mayonnaise Banned in Australia?


I can’t believe I am posting this – I will check the facts and see if it is true.  It can’t be?  Can it?  I hope I can post a retraction!

The owner of a Korean supermarket told me that the Australian government is not allowing imports of Japanese mayonnaise – even though the egg content is heat sterilised.  Surely this can’t be true?

If a truck load of this fell on you, you'd be in trouble!

If a truck load of this fell on you, you'd be in trouble!

There is no substitute for Japanese mayo on the market, so if it will be banned, how are you supposed to adjust your diet?  What?  Do we just stop eating dishes that require Japanese mayo?

Australia is a country that allows rugby, rockfishing, phenomenal binge drinking, prostitution, cage fighting…  and we ban condiments?  What the hell sort of risk management is this?

NEWS – Now I am told that it is only Kewpie brand (the most popular brand) they are harrassing.  Hanamasa and the others have not been targetted yet…