Step right up

UnknownStep right up, step right up, step right up,

Everyone’s a winner, bargains galore

That’s right, you too can be the proud owner

Of the quality goes in before the name goes on

Tom Waits

Yes, it’s a serious event for the food industry, but my annual visit to Fine Food Australia provides me with as many laughs as inspirations – and the occasional rueful head shake as I take a look at the way Big Biz has moved on the food we eat and the way it’s prepared.

I went on the first day, and wandered through the displays of gleaming hardware: machines for heating, freezing, drying, baking, frying, slicing, moulding, extruding, their stands all personned (but mostly manned) by shiny people with sincere grins ready to extract the credit cards from the poor bewildered restaurateurs and café owners wandering through  in a daze  – there’s even a funding stall so you can borrow the money to buy the latest Sizzling Slicer or Burger Flipper.

Of course all this hardware has a  place in the modern kitchen, but how much of it is needed and how  much of it is bought for status or as  a must have toy? When you consider the churn rate for eateries in Sydney, you wonder how much is due to over-capitalisation.

But after half an hour or so of being dazzled by the technology of the edible (how could anyone do without a Taylor Frozen Carbonated Beverage Dispenser?) I found the exhibition of food and food like substances. And beverages.

First up, the Just Squeezed Juice company. Just Squeezed? When? I could see no evidence of squeezing on the stand, only little plastic bottles. So I’m assuming that the ‘just’ in the title is a flexible as the ‘fresh’ in Coles food products.

I stumbled upon the Comunidad Andina – the Community of the Andes, side by side stands displaying products from Bolivia, Ecuador, Columbia and Peru. Including what looked remarkably like some real food: quinoa and chia for example. But they’ve now  moved into the second stage that every product goes through: first you have the real thing unadorned – jeans for example, just blue denim and studs – then comes stage two – stretchy, stone washed, pre-ripped, diamante-studded –  the marketers move in and put lipstick on the pig.

In the case of quinoa, the Bolivians are now selling quinoa pop – as in rice bubbles – turned into snack bars covered in caramel: La Chapaquita Grageas de Quinua. The Columbians were flogging Yoghurt Candy, the Peruvians chocolate, coffee and Pisco, a white cane sugar spirit spectacularly employed in the Pisco Sour, which is made with lime juice, Angostura bitters and other stuff and glasses of which, kindly provided by  affable stall holder Luis, were disappearing as fast as they could be built.

Luis also told me that the Peruvian national dish, lomo saltado, strips of marinated beef sirloin, is cooked in a wok, and that the wok was incorporated into Peruvian cuisine when the Chinese arrived as labourers after the abolition of slavery in the mid nineteenth century. Saltado means leap, so leap beef, because when the beef goes in to the wok – with Pisco of course, it is flipped over the flame and leaps about (see the recipe at the end).

Luis  told me where, in Sydney, you can find Pisco: Restaurant Morena and Pachamama House, both in Surry Hills.

Who  eats kangaroo regularly? I have to admit I don’t and I don’t know why. When I do, I love it.  My next stop after Peru was the Macro Meat stand, and their range of packaged kangaroo meat products: loin fillets, premium steaks, marinated steaks, grilled mini roasts, burgers, dices, and kebabs. They  only sell male animals, they’re graded by species, age, and where caught. The company is South Australian based and they’re moving into capital city markets. About time somebody took the marketing of this wonderful Australian food product seriously.

A little further down in the South Australian region, and still with bounding marsupials, Kangaroo Island, and a product that sounds like I want to try it – speaking as we were of native Australian  produce – Kis Gin, made with  native juniper berries or boobialla (Myoporum insulare). Not cheap and at the moment only served at Pilu at Freshwater. Reckon we’ll see more of it.

And South Australia is still at the forefront of gastronomic teaching – the Regent Hotel School started by Graham Latham and premier Don Dunstan was and is one of the most illustrious culinary teaching schools in the country  – and  now they have the Artisan Cheesemaking Academy Australia, industry supported and offering short and Certificate 4 Courses. Go to  www.tafesa.edu.au/acmaa. I can’t actually think of any other such course in the country. I tried a very good pecorino pepato and a not so good white mould, both made by students.

And I’m very overhjoyed to record that Jindi cheese was showing, the cheesery having been totally re-built after the listeria tragedy. I tried an Old Telegraph Road Jackson’s Track and it was luscious. Good on them for hanging in there. Support them please.

From South Australia, a nonchalant paseo to Spain, and to Ubed’Oliva 100% picual olive oil, a truly fine drop with good fruit and a nice bitterness at the back of the throat which I hope we see here soon. Here I was joined by Monica Brun from the Spanish Commercial Business office, and my old friend Jose Gonzales of Broadway Cellars and TapaVino bar.

From olive oil, we moved to Conquistador jamón. Now I’ve been eating their Serrano for some time, inexpensive and pretty good for the price. But now they’re bringing in an iberico de bellota – that is an indigenous pig served a diet of acorns – and it’s a beauty. Again, hope they get it in. A short saltado to a new sherry brand, Pemartin, and a very drinkable fino, which also, should it find an agent, have the advantage of being inexpensive.

And from the sublime to the gorblimey. I knew Frank McEnroe, the boilermaker from Bendigo who ‘invented’ the Chiko roll. I worked on the Chiko Roll advertising account in a previous life and century. Frank famously saw the success of the dim sim – what we call the siu mei – and thought “good product, but it’s too bloody small!” An lo, the far more phallic Chiko Roll was born. Two points. I was not responsible for the splendidly suggestive and sexist posters that followed. And, having seen them made, I have never actually eaten one.

Well, time passes and Mr McEnroe dies, and the Chiko Roll falls on lean times – the only thing lean about it – until it is snapped up by Simplot, that good ole’ American company that has apparently swallowed much of Australia’s big food biz: Edgell’s,  Seakist, John West (although this was owned by English octopus Unilever), Ally Salmon, Leggo’s and Birds Eye (also a pom import).

With good old American ingenuity, Simplot has line extended: as well as the original roll, there is now the Chiko Hawaiian Sub, Chiko Brekky Sub, Chicken Balls, Mini Potato Cakes and – the piece of resistance – the Chiko Dimee! Proving what goes around rolls around.

And irony of ironies  just around the corner, the Dim Sum Company, serving up a range of pre-packed siu mei, cha siu bao – indeed all the basic  yum cha items very cleverly packaged. But not terribly good to eat. The siu mei I tried had been finely minced for ease of extrusion (see the Acme Patented Siu Mei Extruder), a bland gwei lo version. The best thing about a sui mei is the little nubbly bits of who knows what.

I was almost over my annual Fine Food fix, two last stops. In Thailand, I was given, graciously,  a  little pail of dried fruits courtesy of  the National Bureau of Agricultural Commodity and Food Standards, selling nothing but dedicated to better standards.  And again I fell prey to the shy charm and beautiful smiles of the young women on the stand. I’m sitting here nibbling on dried mango (na-muong) durian (too-rian) and sweet tamarind (ma-kham-wan).  Note the name for durian – very close. But the name for guava – fa-rang – is very curious. Farang is what the Thais call us, foreigners.

And my last stop China. In amongst the   gaudily packaged food like substances, a modest stand with an array of teas displayed in celadon bowls, overseen by the charming and polite Pei Wei, who told me that if I would like to try some of the teas from her company  Guanxi Minghui Tea Co. Ltd. – I need only email her in China.

With that modest offer, I left the world of Fine Food for another year.

Lomo saltado or leaping lomo!   

Ingredients

  • 1 lb sirloin steak cut in thin slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
  • Season to taste
  • 3 tablespoons good oil
  • 1 small red onion cut in thick slices
  • 2 plum tomatoes cut in thick slices
  • 1 seeded and ribbed aji amarillo (or jalapeño) chili pepper cut in thin slices
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Pisco or white rum
  • 1/3 cup beef stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Instructions

  • Season the beef with garlic, salt and pepper.
  • Put a wok over very high heat. Stir in oil and cook the meat, a few slices at a time (so they do not steam  and the meat browns), flipping the meat in the wok. As each batch cooks, take it out and store in a warm place. Cook  until only just done, still pink inside.
  • Stir  the onion, tomato, chili pepper, and stir for about 2 to 3 minutes. The tomatoes and onions should be crunchy, not mushy. Add beef back to  wok. Stir in soy sauce and Pisco on sides of wok or pan. Mix everything. Add beef broth and boil. Taste for seasoning.

Turn off the heat, add chopped cilantro and serve at once with either fries or white rice.

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