If this sees the light of day there should be twenty-six written records of my gradual weight gain. This is my new kind of holiday for the foreseeable future thanks to the pesky coronavirus. As the (modified) saying goes “When life hands you lemons, throw them at your enemies and head to the nearest capital city to eat and walk the streets.”
The goal – visit Brisbane suburbs that start with a common letter and see what food and entertainment options are on offer in these suburbs.
In theory Brisbane should be metropolitan enough to carry this off but you be the judge? It is hoped I may discover parts of the state’s biggest city that I haven’t yet come across. Could it be that successful that they rename the Storey Bridge? You can’t have a functioning society without at least a few loose ground rules and this undertaking is no different. While these are rubbery here’s a token housekeeping effort:
- The suburbs of Brisbane are based on the official listing of Brisbane suburbs on the Brisbane City Council website. There are some places which I thought were suburbs of Brisbane (eg Birkdale) which fall under another municipality so they won’t be included.
- Not every suburb has to be visited. I am not going to pass up the best new bar in Paddington to have a luke warm pie somewhere at Port of Brisbane (yes, it’s an official suburb.)
- No chain restaurants which are also present in my hometown of Toowoomba.
- Apologies in advance to any cartographers if I stray over suburb boundaries. I assume they are the kind of people that would be easily offended if I unwittingly venture into Boondall when I am supposed to be devoting my time to Zillmere.
- There are no suburbs starting with “Q” or “X”. Will have to work something out there but let’s not stress at this stage. Maybe some property developer may fill in these gaps before I exhaust all other avenues?
- Alphabetical order is not compulsory.
Some context before the mastication begins. My family were at one stage residents within the Brisbane City Council borders, having settled on the the southside of Brisbane in my formative years. This was the end of the 1970’s where it was meat and three veg for dinner (unless it was a Friday and we might get Hungry Jacks if we were lucky.) On very special occasions Mum and Dad might take the family out and eat something exotic at the local Italian restaurant. I remember the men and women in the kitchen tossing dough in the air, the owners spoke different to my parents, using fancy words like “spaghetti” and “lasagne”. A time where “foreign food” was either Italian or spring rolls and fried rice at the building with the dragon on it.
My connection with Brisbane was put on hold when our family left the day of the opening ceremony of the 1982 Commonwealth Games, the day Matilda the winking kangaroo gave birth to twenty small children. Dad’s job meant we were headed west because we all know that the broccoli is greener on the other side.
How to decide on where to visit first? Starting with “A” and following the alphabet is too conventional. I could buy a tin of alphabet soup and fish around until I pulled out some carbohydrate guidance. But then I’d have to stick to the ritual for each instalment and twenty six cans of alphabet soup is wrong on every level resulting in more consonants than the internet. A pointless exercise much like tarot cards but with marginally higher nutritional value. Here’s betting that getting your hands on a tin will be difficult given the limits introduced on tinned goods at present anyway. Fortunately a friend made a suggestion of a worthy starting point provided he could tag along. That suggestion was Sunnybank, the epicentre of Asian food in the southern side of Brisbane. A place around the corner from where we used to live. Somewhere that I haven’t been for close to thirty years. This blog is therefore bought to you by the suburbs beginning with the letter “S”.
My enabler and his family knew these parts like the back of their own hands so I skipped breakfast in anticipation. They had kindly mapped out a series of meals and all I had to do was turn up for “brunch at 10.30”. Was able to navigate through the stormy weather and reacquaint myself with The Velvet Underground on the trip. Whilst his family were still gearing up for what was going to be a big day, the two of us made a start on the first sitting, yum cha in one corner of Sunny Park. Happy to eat anything, my eating buddy did the ordering by marking the ordering sheet with what you want before it magically appears on the table. The days of yum cha where ladies pushed carts around and you hassled them for the warmest dumplings that were located near the bottom have been scrapped with the threat of COVID-19. At one stage I could have sworn he was filling out the senate ballot paper as it seemed as if every box was getting a working over with the lead pencil. Before the first steamer basket came out we were given a stern talking to by the waitress who had given us a form to complete for tracing purposes should the coronavirus come knocking. “Two people, two names!” she said pointing to the vacant paper.
The two lumps above are sticky rice with little pieces of meat added for flavour and texture. As you would expect it was that warming stodgy comfort food you crave on an overcast day. Rice and my chopstick skills don’t normally mesh well together but thankfully like noodles, the sticky rice gives more margin for error, saving me from embarrassment.
Before the sticky rice was finished the next round came to the table. Even at this early stage there was not much room for the array of plates. Half eaten food was balanced delicately atop glasses and other plates. Turnip cake and I became friends in Hong Kong – it’s turnip that has been boiled down, mixed with various meats and vegetables and steamed, then fried to crisp up the outside. A worthy addition to the menu today. With this there was a plain rice congee – eagle eyed readers would have remembered this from my previous blog when by some miracle congee appeared on a menu in Toowoomba. Rounding out phase two was a favourite of mine, cheung fun, a steamed rice noodle filled with bits of meat. Was told it is supposed to resemble the intestine of a pig. In this case a pig that eats beef. Anything with rice noodle and I will put my hand up quicker than the teacher’s pet. At this point our table had a pile of dishes resembling the sink of a student sharehouse, and the problem only got worse when the dessert portions appeared. The table was struggling with the weight of the newest additions.
Dessert was custard three different ways with the random addition of a Chinese sausage roll, a steamed bun which encased a piece of lap chong (Chinese sausage). The star of the show was the yellow dumpling which had salted egg custard inside. Unlike the more common custard dumpling this one keept hostage a molten filling which was like licking the sun. My friend’s warning came too late. Sweet and salty custard, how come we haven’t been introduced earlier? Officially full, I was worried what lay ahead. Not that the experience was going to be bad, I was unsure how to sustain this frenetic pace.
My friend had to go home and get the family for the second leg of festivities so I had an hour to fill in. A trip past the old family home for ole times sake was in order. Flashes of memories from my then five year old brain were overlayed with what has now grown to a major thoroughfare. Our modest house had been fully renovated and how had grown upwards but still maintained that charm, much like me.
Reinforcements were called up off the bench prior to the assault on lunch. Our group of two had now swollen to a total of seven (the already swollen two from brunch, two kids, a baby and an additional two adults.) I couldn’t tell whether the kids were excited about the food that was about to come out or the desserts that were to follow as they let it slip that they were going to be having icecream after this “course”. The location for this gathering was 2.5km down the road at Sunnybank Hills. I didn’t see any noticeable change in the altitude and I suspect the “Hills” suffix was added to squeeze a few extra dollars from the homeowners in the area. The restaurant was a Taiwanese one, something I had not had first hand exposure to but was keen to see how it differed from my experience with Chinese cuisine (before the complaints flood in, I know that the term “Chinese cuisine” doesn’t do justice to be multitude of changes from region to region in China).
Much like multiculturalism the advantages of an expanded group is a wider choice of dishes. If I turned up solo I would most likely have ordered one dish but the increased number resulted in us trying many different dishes, the best bit was the kids weren’t fussy eaters. They were happy to give anything a go if it meant an extra scoop of icecream at the end of the day. The kids and I bonded over a love of icecream, the baby and I bonded over our mutual love of breasts. Before the first dish had made its way to the table I was told by the children that green tea icecream was their favourite because it has “Caffeine in it!” Six year olds these days are wise beyond their years.
Yellow deep fried pieces of tofu were the first to hit the table. This silken tofu had been covered in a similar mixture as the custard bun with the lava centre. The result – a salty, crunchy exterior protecting a jelly-like middle. Rarely has anybody in my circle of friends said they enjoyed a tofu experience, but then again they haven’t had the pleasure of munching on these morsels. These were a favourite for all concerned, old and young alike.
A big serving of fried rice joined the table as well as a scrambled egg dish that I swear would have had at least a dozen eggs in it (I wasn’t complaining). Then the signature dish came out, pieces of boneless duck mixed into a taro puree and then somehow involving a thin pastry. Thankfully the kids were too enamored with the tofu and fried rice to realise what they were passing up. If they bought out another two plates of the duck I would have sat there all day and night. By now I could feel my belly expanding and there was still another dish to come out, poached chicken with ginger and lemongrass. On the surface it seems boring and bland but deceptively difficult to get perfect. The stars lined up for us and I was a happy man they did. Another lesson learnt today, Taiwanese food should be as popular as Thai based on today’s showing.
When I eat Chinese food I never think of ordering fried rice mainly because I am focused on the other flashier items on the menu but I quickly learnt that it should always be at the centrepiece of everything we ate. As the last of the plates were getting cleared the kids were getting eager for their caffeine hit. Sonder was the name of the dessert bar and there was a mass of people out the front with the same idea as us. Even the local Police were taking a break from the beat for a sweet pick me up. The icecream came in four mini cones called “flights” but judging by the photo one of them changed their mind and abandoned the green tea idea all together?
I was pointed in the direction of the parfaits as they were “the best in town”. If there is a better one in town let me know because I reckon this one would have its measure. The bottom had agar jelly in a syrup, below some matcha icecream. The middle of the glass saw a combination of brittle, pastry, biscuits and these sweet rice balls. All topped off with some whipped cream and a scoop of icecream which was stabbed by a pointy wafer. I usually avoid cream like a gypsy avoids work but this was no time to get picky.
Arrangements were made for the night shift and we made our way back to the cars. This weird screeching sound came from the main road and it took me a while to work out that it was a fully loaded ute which had just lost a wheel. Sparks and commotion ensued as people rushed to see how something like this could happen to a new looking vehicle in the twenty-first century. They were unable to ask the owner as he had started combing the main drag for a large orphaned tyre, which he eventually located and rolled back to the injured vehicle. Being as mechanically minded as I am I decided I should get out of there in case I was asked to provide expertise. Thankfully for all parties concerned I was able to make my exit without any incident.
Dinner was set down for 5.00pm giving me a couple of hours to explore and rest up. I wanted to get some money out to make sure I paid for dinner. For a place called Sunnybank there was neither sun nor a bank. My preferred Westpac ATM was non-existent and even when I tried to get some cash out at Coles it didn’t allow me to. The credit card it is then?
The food tonight was going to be Sichuan. Based on the food in the south-west province of Szechuan, a region of China known for its unique spice. The peppercorns used have a numbing, tingly quality about them. I have only had one dish before which incoroprated these when I was in Hong Kong. That day I thought that my face was breaking out in cold sores and I was having a stroke.
The rest of our party showed up minus a child (don’t be alarmed she was dropped back to her parents and is safe). One person down, more food to go around. Without knowing everybody’s spice threshold I ordered a serving of dandan noodles for myself in order to experience the spicy hit. The kid was trying to get the waitress to make it more spicy.
The noodles weren’t as confronting as the experience in Hong Kong but were delicious and still got me alert, ready for the rest of the feast.
The other dishes were a cauliflower, pork, garlic and chilli number which made me feel somewhat healthy considering some of the other things consumed (yep parfait I’m pointing right at you!) The one that scared most of the table was the fish dish. Trust me submerged under that sea of chilli and spice was the most delectable poached fish. The spoon acted like a trawler’s net in the Meekong. And if you are wondering you don’t eat all that chilli, I believe it is mostly there for presentation and flavour. Even without having to eat all the chilli there were a few stages where liquid was threatening to seep out of all my orifices.
I was a fan of the pork and veges that you put in the pancakes and bypass the plate straight into your mouth. The rest of the table weren’t as convinced but that just meant that I had to try to eat more than my share. Challenge accepted. Due to this and the omnipresent fried rice I didn’t have any room for dessert, bread and condensed milk. They turned out to be a good tool to keep the children entertained while I tried to work out how I was going to get out of my chair when it was time to head for the doors.
Somewhere between the last meal and before I headed back up to Toowoomba I was challenged to a foot race with the child when we got back into the shopping centre away from the rain. A course was agreed upon (a circuit around the cafe in the middle of the centre, past the skill testing machine and back to the where we started – the winner would take bragging rights for eternity. Contested under a time trial format, we would run separately and be timed by the other. Long story short I got beat by a six year old due to an old football injury reappearing as I was rounding the discount bins out the front of Fresco and about to hit full stride. Thankfully the victor was full of goodwill towards me, “I could run faster if I put my hair up. It causes drag.” This loser will blame the pre-race drink. Michael Jordan drank Gatorade before his championships. Me, a creme brulee bubble tea. For those that who have not come across this, it’s a milk based drink that has “pearls”, balls of tapioca in the bottom. Rather than milk this one had the consistency of pancake batter. Heaven.
How they torched the top of the creme brulee and retained the structural integrity of the plastic is a miracle in itself. If I was let loose with the blow torch it’s a safe bet the chemicals from the plastic would leech into the milk, rendering the whole think unpotable. Each time I hit one of the pearls down the bottom of the cup it made the same noise a stray sock makes when it accidentally gets sucked up in the vacuum. Warning to inexperienced bubble tea drinkers, pearls can be a choking hazard.
Earlier that week I was able to return back to the Brisbane Office for work. What better time to have a dry run at the A to Z of Brisbane? Lodging in Spring Hill for the night I opted to explore there rather than the usual gravity fed walk down to the Queens Street Mall and surrounds. As I was thinking to myself “If only I could find a place open midweek which was a bit quirky?” Lady Luck grabbed me and pushed me through the welcoming doors of Spring Hill Kitchen. Unlike most kitchens in the area this one specialises in Nepalese food. This gives me a chance to make the “mountain of food” puns! Now unless you are like me and climbed Everest (who am I kidding? I’m out of breath getting up a set of stairs), you have no idea of the local cuisine. Let’s strap on the crampons and learn something together!
A short man with a large smile greeted me and handed over the menu before saying, “New dish not on menu, spicy pork and rice or noodle, boootiful!”. It must be good because his face was struggling to contain his excitement. Before he could say another word I nodded and ordered the secret offering eager to see if his excitement would be replicated by myself. I’d missed lunch so I thought that this was a valid excuse for something else. I didn’t pronounce anything on the menu without fear of insulting the Nepalese culture so I took my guidance from the pictures.
There was a savoury rolled pasta-like thing that looked yellow and odd so I added that to my Nepalese education. Immediately he shook his head, “No, no. Too spicy”. I told him the spicier the better, “if I didn’t want the spice I’d go to McDonalds.” My convincing argument did the trick and with that he suggested another dish. My sales resistance relented and I ordered what seemed to be a dumpling or pasty dish. Research later confirmed that the yellow roll that I ordered is called laphing. It is served cold and has a “slippery” texture. These are served in a broth of spices, vingear and other national secrets which I am forbidden to divulge. In the middle of the rolls (below) there were pieces of diced chicken as well as something crunchy. That something crunchy I am willing to bet is uncooked two minute noodles covered in the sachet seasoning? It was unusual, but not unpleasant once it got a dunking in the soup.
The second portion came out and I immediately had a reference point. Meat in a deep fried pastry dumpling – lots of cultures have their own take on it and this was as good as any of the others. As I was eating this other people had arrived and they had ordered smaller steamed dumplings (momo). If I had not ordered three dishes I would have ordered a helping of these smaller ones to compare against their golden counterparts. This was crisp on the outside, juicy on the inside and the owner was kind enough to bring out some special hot sauce in addition to the those pictured. I later discovered these are called Shaphaley and from what I can piece together can be either pan or deep fried. Winner winner, chicken filler.
Finally the secret menu item appeared. This much hyped game changer was noodles with thinly sliced pork belly and vegetables. It tasted nice and it wasn’t too dry. Tasty? Yes. Groundbreaking? No way. Not as good as the previous one but all part of dipping my toe into the Nepalese waters. Everything that came my way was made with pride and the place had a nice vibe. The menu is fairly extensive and I would like to go back next time I am staying in Spring Hill and try some other dishes to further this education. In the meantime I will see how traditional Maggi two minute noodles are in Nepal. Anymore food and I would need to employ the help of a Sherpa to get through it all.
And finally because it fits neatly under “S”, a quick mention of Ballistic Beer Co. in Salisbury. I was unable to make it back there due to the COVID-19 restrictions (which I have been reliably informed these have since been lifted.) However I had a couple of nice beers and took a happy snap of their brewery/bar/shed etc during my visit post Christmas. The beer is very drinkable, heaps of great seating inside and out and there is enough variety to get all and sundry excited. The Mexican Chilli Chocolate Stout is my personal favourite, especially if you want something different from the run of the mill. A couple of cartons are currently taking up the majority of my fridge space.
“S” is for “suggestion” so if you think there was a noteable omission which may warrant Part II, get in touch and voice your displeasure.
Brunch: Parkland Restaurant, Sunnybank (Yum Cha)
Lunch: Yung Bao Taiwanese, Sunnybank Hills (Taiwanese)
Dessert Break #1: Sonder Dessert, Sunnybank Hills (Japanese Dessert Bar)
Dinner: Fortune Well, Sunnybank (Sichuan)
Dessert Break #2: Heeretea, Sunnybank (Asian Desserts/Bubbletea)
Solo Dinner: Spring Hill Kitchen – Taste From The Top Of The World, Spring Hill (Nepalese)
Brewery: Ballistic Beer Co., Salisbury (Craft Beer)