Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


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A roe by any other name

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The freshest ikura and kani don at a seaside restaurant on the Shakotan Peninsula. 

The etymology of words is fascinating.  And so it is with that sought-after Japanese autumn delicacy, ikura, – いくら – the glistening omega3-packed sacs of exquisate piquancy that explode with surprise and flavour on the taste buds. Otherwise known as “red caviar” the Japanese word for the salmon roe sounds a natural part of the language. But in reality it’s borrowed from the Russian for “caviar” – ikra – and directly transposed into the Japanese into which it readily fits. A clue that it’s not a Japanese word is that it is written in a phonetic script, rather than kanji Chinese characters. A little research also reveals that in the Turkish word for caviar is kuru, very similar to ikra and ikura.

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Delicacy double dipping – ikura and uni don. 

Each year the salmon river migration takes place in late summer/early autumn in Hokkaido. Luckily for the salmon using every ounce of their strength to get back home, once they enter the rivers and streams they are protected, except for recreational fishermen who apply for a special licence ahead of time. But that it doesn’t count Hokkaido brown bears and eagles. After spawning, the exhausted salmon depart to fish heaven.

The most delicious ikura is said to come from  roe taken just before the breeding season when the outer film is taut and the roe soft.  The thin membrane that holds the roe in a cluster needs to be carefully removed to separate the individual eggs. They are then marinated before being eagerly devoured, usually with steamed rice. My daughter-in-law’s mother marinates her ikura in a 60/30/10 mixture of soy sauce, sake and mirin.

Separating the roe from its membrane sac; marinating ikura; ready to eat!  

A popular dish in Japan is ikuradon – a bowl of rice topped by glistening, deep red roe. Often it is teamed with other treats such as uni – sea urchin – and kani – crab. Sea urchin is a prized luxury in Japan, especially when it’s in season in summer. My son is a great fan and would weep to hear of seaweed farmers in Tasmania destroying sea urchins with some sort of robotic spear because they are a major predator of their “crops”. There must be an export opportunity there!

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Packaged ikura tops Hokkaido souvenirs at New Chitose Airport’s amazing retail mall.

 


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Let them eat cake

Strolling along the Centro Historico’s Avenue 16 de Septiembre, named for Mexico’s independence day, not far from the amazing Mercado de San Juan Pugibet where you can buy everything from gourmet imported cheeses and Asian greens to a weird selection of exotic meats including lion and skunk, we stumbled across what from the outside looked like a wedding cake shop. On entering we came face to face with one of the greatest arrays of cakes, pastries and biscuits we all agreed we had ever seen. Welcome to the Pasteleria Ideal, a place which, rather Hotel California-like, you can check out anytime you like but you can never (willingly) leave – or leave empty-handed.

The idea is that customers take one of their big trays, then wander around piling it up with whatever takes their fancy from the superabundance of sweet treats, then head to the cashier to pay the bill for an amount described by some impressed online reviewers as “miniscule”. From a quick check of the TripAdvisor site I selected the following impressions from three pages of rave reviews….”Is there anywhere in the world a more impressive bakery?”; “This bakery has everything you could ask for”; “You can smell this beautiful bakery before you see it!”; “A gourmand’s heaven”; “This huge place packed at almost every hour of the day.”

On seeing these pictures again I’m wondering at our restraint in walking out of Pasteleria Ideal with only one pastry apiece to eat with our coffee.

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Rivers run through it

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Sunset at Cudgen Lake, behind Cabarita beach.

It had to happen. With such an abundance of gifts from nature – rich volcanic soils, sub-tropical climate, mighty watercourses, a bountiful ocean and rich pastoral lands close by – the New South Wales Northern Rivers district was destined for gastronomic distinction.

This serendipity of ingredients is coalescing into serious recognition with two innovative Northern Rivers restaurants recently claiming a place on The Weekend Australian colour magazine’s top 50 Aussie eateries list. And, as good fortune would have it, on the very weekend the list was published I was heading off with visiting family for two days in that very region. Quick phone calls secured bookings at both prize-winning eateries, Fleet at Brunswick Heads and Paper Daisy at Cabarita Beach, both of which make ready use of the local bounty of seafood, tropical fruits and plants.

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Cosy at Fleet, Brunswick Heads.

The Northern Rivers is part of the family fabric, with my mother’s clan resident since the 1930s. Until recent times an aunt remained in picturesque Murwillumbah, her home a long-ago refuge for my brother and me from the confines of Brisbane boarding schools during mid-term holiday breaks. From around the 60s and 70s the beaches north of Byron Bay suffered in the shadow of the glitzy Gold Coast and the aftermath of sand mining which flattened sand dunes and stripped away vegetation. The development this century of resorts such as Salt have restored dignity to the beaches.

The Northern Rivers has always been one of those “God’s Own” sort of places with the crooked thumb of Mt Warning – Wollumbin, or Cloud Catcher, in the local Bundjalung language –   a reminder of its volcanic past. Early settlers made the most of the fertile soils to grow sugar cane and bananas. But now those rich soils yield so many more crops including coffee, macadamias, pork, dairy and cheeses, berries, bush tucker, mushrooms, exotic vegetables and herbs.

Fleet and Paper Daisy both make the most of this produce to craft their menus. Fleet takes the prize for original concept with diners sharing a communal slab in a space that limits numbers to around 20. On the one side are the wine and drinks waiter, and the hostess-cum-menu interpreter, who is also the co-owner, with the diligent chef working meticulously at the far end. The menu delights with inventive offerings such as smoked mullet, crispy skin, potato and dill; cauliflower, sea urchin, butter; sand whiting, corn, truffle; and mandarin, buttermilk, pistachio, thyme.

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Fleet fare offerings.

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Paper Daisy, right on the beach at Cabarita in renovated surfing motel Halcyon House, is as capacious as Fleet is cosy. Much of what’s available on the menu is made in-house with an emphasis on the local. Offerings include wholemeal sourdough with macadamia butter; pippies with potatoes and peas; grilled cauliflower with kefir and black garlic; fresh ricotta with raw and preserved vegetables; sweet potato with brown butter and seeds; zucchini with lemon, parmesan and fried squid legs. Worth waiting for.

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Itadakimasu

Back in the 70s and 80s we lived in Tokyo, at one stage in Shibuya, just a stone’s throw from trendy Harajuku, home to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics stadium and the crazy kawaii fashion scene.  On weekends we would often stroll down Omote Sando, a treed boulevard in Harajuku known as the Champs Elysee of Tokyo, marvelling at the outlandish costumes and dances of the takenoko zoku (bamboo shoot tribe).   Part of the fun included popping into one of the many hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving scrumptious Japanese fast foods such as ramen noodles, yakitori, tonkatsu, unagi, and many more. A regular tasty dish was gyoza, little crescent-shaped dumplings filled with mixes such as pork, green onion and cabbage.

So I greeted the Brisbane eating scene’s recent arrival Harajuku Gyoza with nostalgia and mouth-watering anticipation. Lucky for me, their second Brisbane branch after Brunswick Street opened with a raft of new eateries at the newly refurbed Indooroopilly Shopping Centre – temptingly close. A visit was only a matter of time.

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Setting the scene, a team of hachimaki-wearing gyoza makers sit in the restaurant window, assuring prospective diners of the freshness of the product. As a greeting chorus of irasshaimase rings across the restaurant, fond memories flood back  – the noisy, cheerful hustle and bustle of a Japanese eatery, the creative freshness of the food, the down-to-earthness of the vibe, the diversity and conviviality of izakaya-style eating.

As its name suggests Harajuku Gyoza offers a tempting array of dumplings, including duck, chicken, pork, prawn and veges. And – what must be a world first – nutella banana and apple with icecream. Other temptations include steamed edamame, cucumber and miso salad, chicken karaage, a selection of katsudon and agedashi tofu. For the complete Japanese experience there’s on-tap Kirin, or sake and umeshuGochisousamadeshita (thanks for a delicious meal)

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