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Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: My stomach says thank you

Soft serve challenge across Japan 2015

2015. Let's call it the year of the soft serve. It definitely started that way, with a group challenge to eat as many unusual soft serves in Japan as we could (Personal highlights? The gold leaf, the sea urchin - yes really - and the 8 layer behemoth that needed two hands to hold upright).

And really 2015 was a pretty epic year. I published 83 posts (four more than last year!), visited Wellington and Japan (my fourth time for both), and realised one of my food writing career goals - I was a part of the SMH Good Food Guide reviewing team. Crazy, I know.

Sydney's Best Cheap Eats by Helen Yee for Good Food, 28 April 2015

In fact, my cover story for Good Food on Sydney's Top 20 Cheap Eats 2015 was part of the work I undertook for the Good Food Guide, something I couldn't reveal when it was first published. Curating the list itself was tough - there were so many more that I wished I could have included - but I'm glad that even in the comments section to the article online, readers appreciated there was a good mix of suburbs outside of the usual Surry Hills radar.

Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016

In late September, the Good Food Guide 2016 was launched to a room full of nervous industry heavyweights. The entire process up to that point had been intense and undertaken with extreme seriousness. Working as a part of the restaurant reviewing team was one of the hardest things I've done but definitely one of the most rewarding.

Arashiyama bamboo forest in Kyoto, Japan
Arashiyama bamboo forest just outside of Kyoto

And maybe this is why my trip to Japan was so incredibly busy, as though the momentum of juggling full-time work with writing gigs spurned me onto to continue a frenetic pace of observing, capturing and reporting.

Snow monkey in front of the outdoor onsen in Nagano, Japan
Snow monkey at the outdoor onsen pool in Nagano

Our three week jaunt saw discover firefly squid in Toyama, eat gold leaf soft serves in Kanazawa, see the snow monkeys in Nagano, visit the bamboo forest in Kyoto, feed the deer in Nara, eat our way across Osaka, luxuriate in wagyu beef in Kobe, make a pilgrimage to the home of Kurobuta pork, Kagoshima, eat at the the birthplace of Ichiran Ramen in Hakata, swing through Hiroshima and Miyajima Island, feast on Hokkaido king crab in Sapporo and discover the joy of sea urchin and squid ink ice cream in Otaru.

Teppanyaki chef with Kobe wagyu beef sirloin at Wakkoqu, Kobe, Japan
Wagyu degustation at Wakkoqu in Kobe

And I still haven't finished blogging about our final stops in Hakodate and Tokyo. I'll get to them soon, I promise!

West Coast whitebait fritter sandwich by Logan Brown at the Cuba Dupa Festival 2015, Wellington
West Coast whitebait fritter sandwich, a Kiwi classic

I also made my forth trip to Wellington, a city I adore for its left-of-centre energy, compact geography and seriously good coffee scene. It's the love child of Surry Hills and Newtown, but windier!

Seal sunbaking during the Seal Coast Safari, Wellington
Seal lazing at Red Rocks

Positively Wellington Tourism flew me over as a guest. My itinerary highlight was the four-wheel drive seal safari to Red Rocks - don't we all want to lounge about like a seal sometimes!

Li-Sun Exotic Mushroom tour in an old railway tunnel at Mittagong
Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms tunnel tour

But one of the coolest things I did this year was the Li Sun Exotic Mushroom tour in Mittagong, about a 90-minute drive from Sydney.

Chestnut mushrooms in the Li-Sun Exotic Mushrooms railway tunnel, Mittagong
Chestnut mushrooms

They've been growing mushrooms commercially in this disused 650m long Mittagong railway tunnel since 1987.

Wholewheat bread and whipped butter with chicken jus at Automata, Chippendale
Wholewheat bread and whipped butter with chicken jus at Automata

And then there was Sydney's burgeoning restaurant scene. Automata was one of the city's most anticipated openings, and it came through with the goods. That chicken jus whipped butter is dairy crack.

Baller Bucket of hot wings from Belles Hot Chicken at Wulugul Pop Up, Barangaroo
Baller Bucket from Belle's Hot Chicken

And to say I was excited about Melbourne legend Belle's Hot Chicken finally opening in Sydney was an understatement. There was no other option but to order the Baller Bucket - a dozen wings fried to a blissful crisp.

Thai sandwiches and salads at Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Crab and prawn cake noodle salad and Thai sandwiches at Boon Cafe

The new Jarern Chai grocery with its attached Boon Cafe heralded a new direction for contemporary Thai food in Sydney. I love wandering its grocery aisles too.

Spicy red ant egg salad by Boon Cafe at Jarern Chai, Sydney
Spicy red ant egg salad at Boon Cafe

And I applaud Boon Cafe for serving up red ant eggs, a traditional Thai dish that is nothing about novelty value and all about a fiery balance of flavour.
Diners at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Hawker dining hall

Hawker, the sister restaurant to Mamak, opened and - rejoice - finally gave Sydneysiders proper char kway teow with cockles, hokkien mee with deep fried pork fat cubes and grilled stingray.

Ikan bakar grilled stringray at Hawker Malaysian, Sydney
Ikan bakar grilled stingray at Hawker

Banh cuon nhan thit meat steamed rice rolls at Banh Cuon Kim Thanh, Bankstown
Banh cuon nhan thit meat steamed rice rolls from Banh Cuon Kim Thanh

One of my favourite suburban finds was Banh Cuon Kim Thanh in Bankstown where they make silky steamed rice rolls to order. They're also masters with the deep-fryer. You have to get both the sweet potato fritter and the shrimp and mung bean fish cakes - the latter will change your mind about mung bean forever.

Jianbing pancake at Mr Bing, Chippendale
Jiang bing pancake at Mr Bing

They also cook your jiang bing pancakes to order at Mr Bing in Chippendale, in one of the smallest kitchens you'll ever see. I love how you can watch every step of the action through the open window.

Owner and head chef Alex Wong of Yang's Malaysian Food Truck in Sydney
Owner and head chef, Alex Wong, outside Yang's Malaysian food truck

And I was excited to see my friend, Alex Wong, bring his dream of a Malaysian food truck to fruition with Yang's. The soft shell crab with chilli sauce and the Mamee fried chicken are sedap! Brilliantly good.

Turkish coffee, Black Sea hazelnut and cacao bean dondurma ice cream at Hakiki Turkish Ice Cream, Newtown
Turkish coffee, Black Sea hazelnut and 100% cacao bean dondurma Turkish ice cream from Hakiki

On the dessert scene, I've fallen in love with Hakiki Turkish ice cream in Enmore. The inclusion of salep, a special orchid root, makes this ice cream stretchy, chewy and slower to melt. The flavours don't taste synthetic either.

Creme brulee gelato at Ciccone & Sons Gelateria, Redfern Sydney food blog review
Creme brulee gelato and buttermilk & passionfruit gelato from Ciccone & Sons 

And I'm also obsessed with Ciccone & Sons Gelateria in Redfern. Anyone who uses jersey milk and Pepe Saya buttermilk is a friend of mine. The coffee gelato is wicked too.

Gold leaf soft serve in Kanazawa, Japan
Gold leaf soft serve in Kanazawa, Japan

But the most spectacular dairy-based dessert of 2015 had to be this gold-leafed beauty. And this soft serve didn't just look good, it was lusciously creamy and oh so silky smooth.

Thank you all for coming along with me for the ride in 2015. I appreciate all your comments on the blog as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Here's to a fantastic New Year for everyone, and an even bigger and brighter 2016 ahead!
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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/31/2015 01:57:00 am


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