Friday, July 22, 2011

The New American Shopping Experience is here in Sydney

Despite the heavy rain and traffic jams caused by the huge crowds, my wife and I joined the thousands of shoppers to shop at Costco's first Sydney store yesterday. Our new American way of shopping experience started long before we arrived at the store. We were stuck in an one and a half kilometre traffic jam leading to the 14,000-square-metre warehouse store in Auburn; the second to be opened in Australia by the US chain that sells discounted products in bulk to customers who pay a $60 membership fee.
We had read in the papers that their first Melbourne store received a rapturous response from shoppers on their grand opening and we were sort of preparing ourselves for a big turnout at the first Sydney outlet when it opened its doors yesterday. But nothing could have prepared us to this entirely new shopping experience. It was beyond our expectation! Customers had arrived two hours earlier before the opening time at the Sydney store and quickly filled up the 800-capacity car park. When we finally inched our car to our destination, we had to park at the designated overflow car park opposite the store.

We were soon ushered to join the long queue of customers pushing oversized shopping trolleys towards the entrance of the store. Inside this well-lit warehouse, we were taken aback by the pallets stacked three high of variety of products ranging from TV sets to household goods and fresh produces.
Soon I was overwhelmed not by the special opening offers that the crowds were piling into their trolleys but the congestion at the checkouts told me it was time for me to get of there.

Unfortunately, I had to cut short my new shopping experience and decided to head home early and come back another time only if their prices are attractive enough to entice me to shop with them again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homemade Noodles with its Political Ingredients...

I sat down intending to enjoy my bowl of homemade noodles and was about to give myself a pat on my shoulder in front of my family for cooking this rustic noodles dish on a cold winter day. But I suddenly realised the credit should go to my late mother who had taught me how to make these noodles. I do not know from whom she had learnt how to make these noodles. If my memory serves me right, she started to incorporate it into our staple food during one of the campaigns where the Singapore government was encouraging its populace to eat more flour when there was a shortage of rice in the regions. I am pretty sure that many Singaporeans of my generation can still remember some of the numerous campaigns that were continuously churned up in the 60s and 70s. Whatever Parliament decided to do, a national conversation about the campaign would last until it was replaced by another new another campaign.
Although my late mother was not a politically savvy person, she had always been a staunch supporter of the People Action Party in her lifetime. She openly supported her Prime Minister and his political party to a fault. She would chide anyone in the family or her neighbours,who dared to be indifferent from her political conviction in her presence. To her, the PAP can do no wrong. Maybe she was right. My family and I still love these homemade noodles regardless of it political origin.

Homemade Noodles Recipe

2 1/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tsp oil
2 cup flour (for dusting)

Combine 2 ½ cup of flour and salt and mix in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add water and oil a little at a time. Mix into soft dough with both hands and knead on a floured surface for about 15 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with a cling wrap and set aside for about 1 hour to improve on its texture.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface with a rolling pin into 3mm thick sheets. Dust the rolled sheets with flour to prevent sticking. Using a sharp knife cut the floured sheets into strands and dust with plenty of flour. Do not worry if the stands are irregular in its size; that is the trademark of homemade noodles.
Fresh noodles can be used for most noodles recipes and will stay fresh for a week in the refrigerator and can also be frozen for future use.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Where have all the Toasted Salt and Sichuan Peppers (Huajiaoyan) gone?

It is regrettable that the traditional dip for Chinese style deep fried chicken is fast vanishing and has been replaced with sweet chilli sauce in most restaurants in the last couple of years. This dip commonly known as “Huajiaoyan” (Toasted Salt and Szechuan pepper) or simply called “Pepper and Salt “ is served with deep fried chicken and to eat it in the traditional fashion, pick a piece of the chicken with a pair of chopsticks and dip each piece into the huajiaoyan before eating. I am pretty sure you have tasted Sichuan peppercorns before. It has an array of aliases, such as pricky ash,fagara, sansho and huajiao. It makes an excellent dip for a variety of dishes especially crispy-fried chicken.

Although not botanically related to the black or white pepper, Sichuan pepper is certainly its culinary cousin. Unlike its cousin, Szechuan pepper lends to its own characteristic flavour which produces more of a numbing pungency that gives the tongue and lips a tingling effect than the spicy heat that lingers in the mouth which is normally akin to the after-effect of eating a chilly. Well, before it vanishes into the horizon and joins the forgotten list of traditional food, here is a recipe for keepsake.

Huajiaoyan (Toasted Salt and Sichuan Pepper)

4 tbsp salt.
1 tbsp Sichuan peppercorns
½ tbsp black peppercorns.
Heat wok over moderate heat and pour in the Sichuan peppercorns and the black peppercorns. Stir about 1 minute or until the peppercorns release its fragrance. Pour the peppercorn into a mortar and grind them into a fine powder. Reheat the wok and pour in the salt. Stir until the salt just begins to turn golden brown. Pour it into a bowl to cool. Mix the ground peppercorns with the salt. Store in an air tight container and it will keep indefinitely if kept dry.