Rainanese Hicken Chice

Why do I have this stupid compulsion to come up with ridiculous puns for the titles of these posts?  Why?  As Mr Fawlty’s medical guests once said “there’s enough material there for an entire conference”.  I’m sure that would apply to most people, but it probably applies a little bit more to some than others.  Anyway I blame my mother.  Primarily ‘cos she’s dead and can’t answer back and also ‘cos she smoked and drank heavily during pregnancy.  Eek, a mouse.

So, stupid title or not, you simply can’t hide from this delightful offering any longer.  I refer to, of course, Hainanese Chicken Rice (HCR).  Now don’t let me down; I’m picking that the majority of my learned readers will already have been introduced to this wonder of the Orient.  If you haven’t you should be slapped until you take the plunge – chickenallergy sufferers obviously exempted, but you’ll need to show your badge.

Hard to know perzactly where to start with this one; after all it’s like it says – chicken and rice wiv a little bowl of soooop.  Oh no it isn’t.  If only life were that simple.  If any cheapeat is a testimony to cooking skills it’s this one. 

HCR originated in the South China island of Hainan about 450 trillion years ago.  Later migration to Malaysia and Singapore created the Nyonya peoples (also known as Peranakans) and HCR is the spine of their quite delicious and sophisticated cuisine.  As with many SE Asian dishes there are multitudinous variations upon a basic theme; if you’re interested sit down with a large cuppa and go Googling – you’ll find heaps of recipes.  Despite the variations there is one common theme.  Complexity.  What appears to be a simple dish has a tortuous methodology.  My tip?  Don’t even think about cooking it yersweetself.  Leave it to the experts and help the employment figures.

So what is it?  Chicken and rice wiv a little bowl of soooop of course, weren’t you listening?  The whole thing revolves around the creation of a masterstock, in which the rice is cooked, the chicken is poached and from which the soup is derived.  Now I’m guessing that these masterstocks are closely guarded family secrets, and have been in continual production for 450 trillion years, like they never finish the pot but simply top up as required, meaning 450 trillion year old tastes have been allowed to develop.  I’m sure you’ve all considered, nay, worried about the fact that, due to the Earth’s water being a fixed amount from the beginning of the atmosphere, we do not drink beer we just rent it.  This means that statistically we have all probably drunk a molecule or two of Julius Caesar’s “beer” along the way.  Now that may sound disgusting (….but give her a dusting etc)  but a) it’s sort of true and b) it explains the ridiculous depth of flavours in a good HCR.  That said, I’ve never really had a bad ‘un and I’ve had hundreds.  Along with our old mate meegoreng it’s the main lunch item in Singapore and Malaysia, and one tends to join the locals.  Doing so adds to the flavour of the visit and helps conjure up visions and memories.  Maybe my bucolic visions of wood fires, straw hats and 500 year old cooking grannies are all wrong.  Maybe there’s some ginormous nuclear powered factory in the depths of Tennessee that ships 5 tonne vac packs of the stock to a central warehouse hidden away in the Cameron Highlands where gravity distributes the golden liquid via labyrinthine pipes to the local kepala desai who allow only chosen villagers to purchase it, generally those villagers with a surfeit of amazingly nubile young daughters willing to……..whoa boy, cheap eats, remember.

Back to the HCR.  So what are the many variations?  OK, the chicken can be poached or poached then roasted; the chicken can be served hot (Singaporean) or cold (Malaysian/Thai); the rice can be yellow or white etc etc.  In Thai places the dish is called kha mun gai.  And it can easily be given an informal Heart Tick – just peel off the skin and give it to the mongoose.  My personal fave is cold, poached, skin on, yellow rice and that seems to be the most common format in these parts.  I also break with tradition by having hot sambal as a side, but make sure you ask for this after the dish is in front of you or they tend to substitute that for the other dipping sauces (see pic). 

In Auckland every man and his mongoose – did you know that the plural is mongeeses? – seems to sell HCR. As I said, I’ve tried dozens of them and to be fair they have all been on the high side of good, even standing up to comparison with the HCR capital, Singapore.   I had a dry one once from that Chinese place upstairs at Mercury, but even that was OK.  The main reason I prefer cold is that the chicken is generally served over a bed of beansprouts in a delightful dressing.  When it’s cold you get this luvverly crunch which becomes a less than luvverly squelch when hot.  And the rice, don’t forget that it’s been cooked in the mysterious masterstock so treat it with respect please.

So for once I’m not going to recommend a specific eatery.  Good ones are available all over, even in the CBD!  By the way, that’s a bottle of Tsingtao beer in the background.  330ml of 5% delectability for $4.50, but if I told you where it was from I’d have to kiss you.  Make love not war.

As a concept Hainanese Chicken Rice easily rates full marks.

Didgeridefinitelynot

 

Just a quickie.  Dosa Plaza is the name of the place I saw recently on Dominion Rd.  I dropped in there this week and dropped out just as quickly.  Nonsense.  I must admit I didn’t eat because it would have been against all my principles to do so.  Mexican dosa for pity’s sake!  Howsabout American Delight Dosa with cheese.  No?  Well go for the mushroom chopsuey dosa then.  Thought not!

This is a franchise chain, a sort of cross between Pizza Hut, Mexicali and a Polanski nightmare sequence.  I have installed a secret type of scanner outside their door which instantly sprays Vindaloo paste on any ACER readers who try to enter.  Funnily enough, as I was taking these pictures two of the operatives came out and told, not asked, me to stop.  I was uncharacteristically quite rude to them.  It’s not that I’m a food snob, it’s just that I’m a food snob.  The day after I went there I had an 8pm call from experienced cheap eats enthusiasts Jo and Martin telling me that they’d just done the same as me – the body swerve! 

Silver lining though.  Directly opposite is Guang Zhou Soup Shop serving, amongst other delights:

Who’ll be the first to try this delicacy?  Please let us know if your loin pain has been expelled. 

There’s ‘nowt worse than loin pain.

Well, I’ll eat my cat

Sorry, must be all this talk of inexpensive Asian food!  Don’t you just love those ’80s stereotypical cheap japes?  The older I get, the more astonishing a place the world becomes.  Reason for my disbelief: last post was the masala dosa one.  Well bugger me old boots, I was driving down Dominion Rd yesterday when I spotted a new cafe sign, wait for it, Dosa Parade!!  Seriously.  I seem to think it promised 44 different dosai.  More to follow.

Didgeriwhynot…….

Honestly, certain examples of these are big enough to look like an edible native Australian wind instrument.  Some of them taste good enough to transport the lucky consumer to Dreamland, others taste like the inside of a Melbourne tramdriver’s glove.  Now you don’t really see these in non-authentic eateries.  God I hate all this “authentic” stuff but I don’t know how best else to describe it…..are we all savvy with what I’m getting at?  And if you do see one in a non-authentic eatery you’d be well advised to give it the good old body swerve, although if you’re eating in plastic crapholes you probably deserve all you get.

What is he banging on about?  No idea, need a cuppa.

DOSAI

Dosai is plural of Dosa, and that’s what you’ll see on the menu:  masala dosa, egg dosa, special dosa etc etc. A dosa is a thin rice flour pancake, the other descriptor being what it’s wrapped around and what accompanies it.  Originating in the Indian state of Mysore (yes I know, Mysore bottom etc, that’s why they renamed it Karnataka in the 70s) it is now an ubiquitous South Indian food icon.  The Sri Lankans have a version they call a Hopper (as opposed to a string hopper, don’t ask) and the first one of these I ever had was during an altered state evening at the Moon festival in Amblangoda.  This one was stuffed with bananas, green chilli, egg and curd, just sensational.  Sensational to the extent of my considering setting up a nanahopper stall in Covent Garden.  But then I came round and………….

Back to the dosai.  Major quality criteria: 

1) lack of greasiness: a goodun will be totally lacking in oil.

2) pliability: no point wrapping the dosa around the filling if it’s going to fall apart as soon as you look at it

3) chunk size: large chunks in the filling are a bit of a no-no.  Large chunks and friability are hopeless.

4) accompaniments:  usually a sambar – spicy soup, and a coconut relish.  Both should be luvverly

5) extras: if you’ve paid a premium for, say, a Bangalore Special Dosa you should be able to discern a difference.  Many places charge extra for apparently nowt, or like $2 for a spoonful of diced onions so make sure you ask first.  This practice can be called adding value or gouging depending on whether you work in marketing or technical support!

The three shown in the picture cover the Auckland cheapeats cost spectrum.  You can pay more at those other places but why would you?

From the left: Xotic Masala Dosa $7   Saravannas Egg Dosa $10  Ras Vatika Special Dosa $12 

Xotic only sells masala dosa and these vary wildly with the chef.  I’ve had almost inedible, greasy, crumbly examples and the next time a light, pliable truly toothsome one.  At $7 you take your chance.  The accompanying sambar is always good, the relish can be bland.

Saravannas do lhe largest range I’ve yet seen, from plain dosai through chicken to truffled lobster thermidor dosa, and I must say every one I’ve had so far has been good, the egg dosa showing real class. Their chutneys and relishes are exemplary.

Ras Vatika (Dominion Rd, Balmoral near the Laundrette):  top of the range in price, subtley spiced, nice accompaniments but the more expensive ones aren’t worth the extra.  And they can be VERY SLOOOOOW.

I’ve put my specs in the pics to give you an idea of size.  Xotic is the only relatively small one, the others are huge.

Now Plato, Aristotle, Russell, Murdoch and the like have long pondered the intricasies of our society, covering such worrisome topics as greed, war, truth and moustaches.  But they have, to a man, avoided one of the really thorny issues: is a masala/egg/special etc dosa an adequate, satisfying meal?  I suppose this is just an extrapolation of Newman and Baddiels’  professors sketch – “see that diced carrot in that pool of vomit, that’s your mum that is”  See, I had a mental image the other day of Graham Greene commenting on lunch at Mercury Plaza….”A lingual delight it may have been on the surface but in the underlying strata were ripples of decay, untruth and perversion” etc.  

However, it is a valid question.  Those of you who have dosa’d should know what I mean.  One minute you’re faced with this huge thing, 5 minutes later it’s all gone and yet………   My view is that they’re just about ok for lunch (oddly enough the smaller ones tend to be thicker so just as filling as the big ones; refer to Young’s modulus), but for dindins a supplement is required and that’s probably why Vishnu invented samosas, idlis and the like.  It’s just that I always feel guilty ordering extra food when one has a two foot long thingy on the table.  Change subject pronto.

And the upshot of all this is what?  I have little or no idea save to hope fervently that you, my dearest reader, will be galvanised into action and head toward your local Dosas ‘R Us outlet to introduce yourself (or re-acquaint yourself) to the delights of this wondrous invention. 

For the record, I’d score the above as follows:

Ras Vatika:  Quality 8/10   Quantity 7/10  VforM  8/10

Saravannas:  Quality 8/10  Quantity 7.5/10  VforM 8.5/10

Xotic:  Quality 6.5/10  Quantity 7/10  VforM  7.5/10

Incidentally there’s a place on Peachgrove Rd in Hamilton called, inspirationally, South Indian Restaurant which knocks up a cracking example of the species.  There you go, that’s good eats in Waikato covered!

Apologies dear readers……..

……..the last review featuring Lime in Otahuhu, forgot to mention that they’re only open 7am – 4pm, 7 days.

Stop press

Just a quickie folks, ‘cos at these prices there’s a good chance you’ll blink and miss it.  Now I wanna tell yew a stooory (Max Bygraves, the scourge of my childhood Sunday evenings).  A story of sweat and bravery.  First the bravery:  yesterday I parked my car out of sight for an hour on Station Road, Otahuhu.  Apparently this is a primo “conversion” location, ie someone converts your car into their car by application of paint and number plates.  So, brave or what?  Don’t answer. 

I’d seen this place a few weeks ago whilst making an unsuccessful attempt to eat in the Malaysian place next door (closed Wednesday lunch!) but I was in dire need of a nasi lemak so went to Mercury instead.   However, it stuck in mind because of its unusual menu.  So I went back.  Thank God.  Suffice to say that I had THE BEST VINDALOO I’ve ever eaten in NZ, apart from the pork one I make at home from a 30 year old Madhur Jaffrey recipe which takes about 3 hours to prepare and cook.  Now I can hear certain brains ticking over (Hi PC!) with thoughts of “they don’t eat pork in India, you fibbing git”.  Nahnahneenahnah, vindaloo originated in Goa which was a Portuguese colony for 400 years, hence Roman Catholic ergo porkypoos.

I asked the delightful Indian chef for it to be “Vindaloo hot, how you would eat it” which seemed to please him and spurred him on to serve up an ace.  A much too big portion of tender beef chunks in a fiery red sauce predominated by the tang of vinegar and the freshness of masses of freshly ground coriander seed, both hallmarks of the classic vindaloo.  This was as hot as a hot thingy gettin’ jiggy wid another hot thingy in a sauna whilst drinking warm absinthe.  But, and this is the telltale of a properly constructed hot curry, there was no mouth/throat burn.  Just a delectable taste of lots of red chillies.  So, you may enquire, what happens to the hotness?  The hotness directs it’s chemical energy towards the old central nervous system and stimulates increased release of serotonin into the bloodstream.  This triggers, in particular, two things – an overall feeling of calm and wellbeing (what a daft thing to say, of course you feel good you’ve just had a megavindaloo!) followed by increased sweating.   As I left I had a lovely contented glow and my hair was sweating!  And my car was still there.  Result.

This magnificent offering was accompanied by two oil free rotis, a bit of salad and some thermonuclear relish.  TEN DOLLARS !!  Tot it up; in your local plastic Indian the vind would have been $15 – 18 for a smaller quantity and the rotis at least $1.50 each.  And it would have been crapola. 

It’s called Lime, 14 Station Rd, Otahuhu and it has the world’s strangest menu.  All the curries are $10 – boneless duck, lamb masala, beef madras etc and I would imagine they’re all gooduns.  Then there are salads and stuff – fullhouse Caesar, Greek, kumara/bacon, calamari etc……all $10.  And he does all day brekkies – eggs benny, omelette, B&E, S&E, French toast etc……all $10!  Smoked salmon is a dollar extra, and The Works is $14.50 including a free stretcher home.

So, apologies for breaking the rules and recommending an establishment as well as a dish but I felt this one to be sufficiently novel as to warrant the deviation.  Your feedback on Lime would be welcomed.

Guest reviewer

Good day sirs and madams, C3PO here.  Mister Andrew’s central processor has not yet readjusted to normal mode after his trip to the outer reaches so he kindly gave me the opportunity to show off my “humanoid prose” skills.  Forgive me, I’d much rather be ironing Mistress Leia’s thong than appearing in public like this but I cannot refuse a command.  But I can do both; do excuse me for a few moments…..

….Ah, that’s better, the heady aroma of Shout and starch!

So, I believe I am meant to discuss my favourite lunch.  Now our diets are quite different.  You seem to eat dead cows arses and lizard snot whilst R2 and I happily consume filet d’axle, ouefs a la cyclotron and fricassee de warp drive washed down with liberal quantites of Magnatec40/80.  But forgive me as that would represent a lavish dinner and I understand you to be more interested in cheap lunches.  You may have noticed that R2 and I never pay for anything.  How can we, we have no credits, let alone pockets, and I believe that this be the nature of slavery…..feed ’em well, work ’em hard.  So not miles away from the human way then, but you have to buy your own lunches.

The cheapest nutriments we eat are derived from waste bins, and today’s example is typical of the sort of fare we must glean outside of regular feeding times.  This is an Alderan specialty, the Canon Biryani.  Now ideally you’d be looking for an EOSDSLR, or even a vintage OM2 and going yumyum all the way from the skip.  Ah, rare times, fond memories.  But back in the real parallel world, in the disgraceful throwaway society in which we live, one is lucky to find such rarities.  The norm is the compact camera and here we have a prime example of the genre, and I must add a most satisfying snack, the Canon IXUS400.  Some of those wankers you saw in Master Luke’s dad’s droidyard eat all sorts of lower class crap: Sureshots, Easyshares and the likes.  As I say, parallel.  It was R2 first put me onto Canon and I’ve never looked back.  Well obviously I have looked back since my AVS unit rotates 360 but I’m trying out “humanoid prose” and I’m told a major feature of this is lying, or poetic licence as it’s known.

Back to the food.  Canon Biryani: Take one IXUS400, smash the crap out of it with a special stick, arrange it photogenically on a plate and consume.  I do this in a similar way to your species but R2 rolls over it and sticks it up his bum.  He misses out on the subtleties and nuances because of this; can’t tell a 400 from a 200, you know the type.  Any way, lovelygrub.  The IXUS400 has a much higher titanium/mercury ratio than the cheaper models and trust me, it’s worth the difference.  Sure, theres the odd tough bit, but that’s what you get with sublicence manufacturing.  I’m told the original factory prototypes are soft as monkeybrains.  Selenium sambal and a cheeky little V2O5 foam add a touch of sophistication.  You humanoids don’t know what you’re missing. 

Cow’s arse indeed.

Quantity: 7/10  Quality (for the 400): 7/10  Value for money: 6.7763887 / 10