Cabramatta. Always a hive of activity.
Last Saturday, locals woke to find Freedom Plaza overtaken by a stage, massive white tent and food stalls, as the Cabramatta Allsorts Barbecue swung into gear for the Crave Sydney International Food Festival.
Simon Marnie broadcasting live for 702ABC Sydney
702 Weekends was broadcasting live from Cabramatta, and I'd been asked to come down to be interviewed for a segment with Sydney food bloggers. Host Simon Marnie was either on stage or roaming the streets looking for people to interview. It never ceases to amaze me how calm he is despite the chaos around him.
Thang Ngo being interviewed by Simon Marnie
I arrived just in time to see Thang from Noodlies being interviewed by Simon about where to find the best pho in Sydney.
But I found myself gravitating toward the suckling pig which was a vision of crackling splendour. The pig was cooked by local Chinese restaurant Iron Chef, and two chefs soon set about slicing the skin.
The sound of the cleaver splitting the crackling into neat little tiles was music to my ears. You could hear the crisp snap as the blade broke through the surface of the thin even toffee-tinted crackling. Simon pulled me on air for an impromptu interview which would have flummoxed me, except that talking about the delights of pig comes surprisingly easily to me, as I soon found out.
Reassembling the crackling back onto the pig
In a demonstration of their carving prowess, the crackling was reassembled back onto the pig, as if to tempt our tastebuds even further with crackling so close and yet so far away.
I did have a chance to sample the crackling, a mouthful of porcine crunchy perfection served on a wheatflour pancake with hoisin sauce.
Alvin Quah with Simon Marnie
MasterChef season 2 finalist Alvin Quah was interviewed prior to his cooking demonstration to an appreciative crowd. He was lovely in person and equally pork-obsessed as me. There was no shortage of MasterChef fans eager for a photo with him, although he reckoned that when he walked around Cabramatta with Luke Nguyen earlier on, he was nothing but second fiddle!
Andrew Rose, 702 Food Blogger with Simon Marnie
Our initial segment aired at about 10.15am as Simon Marnie introduced Andrew Rose, the winner of the 702 Food Blogger competition. Andrew will be covering a number of festival events for 702. Simon then had a brief chat with Trina from The Gourmet Forager, Simon from Simon Food Favourites and myself, before handing us each twenty dollars (straight from his wallet!) and instructing us to hit the streets and bring back the tastiest dishes we could find in Cabramatta.
What did we buy?
Simon's choice: Crispy skin chicken with dry egg noodle from Tan Viet
Simon in stereo (Simon and Simon)
It was quite funny being interviewed by Simon as we each tried to describe our dishes. I immediately noticed Simon Marnie's efforts to include detailed visual descriptions for the benefit of listeners at home.
We had Simon's choice of crispy skin chicken later and it was delicious. Tan Viet is famous for their crispy skin chicken which is succulent beneath its layer of golden fried skin - it's also a bonus when you can crunch down half the rib cage with ease (guilty, Your Honor).
Trina's choice: Thit Heo Huong pork chops with rice and egg
Trina chose pork chops over pho mainly for practicality issues, but thit heo huong is always a favourite of mine - the sticky caramelised pork chops tender and flavoursome with lemongrass, fish sauce, garlic and sugar.
Trina chatting live on air with Simon
Trina posing with her dish
Clockwise from top left: Durian shake, avocado shake, sugar cane juice,
custard puffs and a nem nuong bread roll
I came back with five things to try. As I said to Simon, $20 is a lot of money in Cabramatta.
We started with the nem nuong bread roll, skewers of sweet grilled pork mince that are served in a crusty baguette with grated carrot, onion, cucumber, shallots and coriander.
Simon hit the drinks next. Sugar cane juice -- slightly citrusy with the addition of cumquat -- has always been his favourite, but it was his first time trying avocado shakes which he admitted he actually quite liked. There was a smile in my voice as I introduced the king of fruits, the durian shake, but this too, was deemed to be reasonably mild compared to the fruit on its own.
And a bag of custard puffs (7 for $2) can't be beaten either. Soft sponge cake with a hot eggy custard are the ideal pocket-sized treat.
This was the third time I've been interviewed by Simon for 702 and I was a lot more relaxed, although I think that being around food was partly the reason! Simon's calm and chatty demeanour (and that smooth radio voice) always helps too.
The Allsorts Barbecue tasting stall
I wandered the streets of Cabramatta for an hour afterwards and couldn't resist snapping a few photos. There's such a great atmosphere about the place - a bustling community where the streets are busy, and people still do their shopping at family-owned businesses.
Every weekend you'll find Vietnamese grandmas with makeshift stalls on the footpath, selling homegrown vegetables, boxes of grated fresh lemongrass or homemade rice dumplings wrapped in banana leaves. Everything is cheap and cheerful and I love the myriad of arcades that you can easily get lost in, only to emerge on the other side of the block, blinking in the harsh sunlight.
Tropical fruits, tubs of fresh seafood, a maze of grocery aisles with plenty of new things to pick up and ponder, and always a street food stall waiting with snacks to propel you through another hour or two of happy carefree browsing.
Selling homegrown vegetables and potted plants
Vietnamese takeaway desserts
Old-fashioned watch repairer in a tiny cubicle down an arcade
Pork floss bread rolls
Fried bread sticks
Vietnamese grocery store
Purple sweet potato
The 702 Weekends outside broadcast took place on Saturday October 2, 2010 in Freedom Plaza, Cabramatta. I'm not sure that a podcast of the broadcast will be available, but ABC images from the day can be found here.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
SIFF 2010 - Cabramatta Allsorts Barbecue
SIFF 2010 - Fishing for a Difference at Etch, Sydney
SIFF 2010 - Malaysian Food Festival, Grace Hotel
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10/05/2010 02:59:00 a.m.