Scotland - Haggis and Whisky at Robbie Burns Night

A wee while ago my friend Neil invited Brence and I to a special mid-winter "Robbie Burns Night" at the University of Canterbury Staff Club. I share Robbie Burns day with my birthday, January 25th, but down here in the southern hemisphere January is the height of summer, so the locals tend to shift some events to the New Zealand winter. For example, we celebrate Christmas in December with the rest of the world, but it's popular for many people to host a "Mid-winter Christmas Dinner" in July. I assume the folks at the staff club felt that a Burns night drinking whisky by the fire was best done in winter.

We agreed this was a great opportunity for Operation Dumpling to explore Scotland and excitedly went out and bought Brence a tartan tie for the occasion. It turns out he was in good company. Many of the guys there (older blokes mostly) were sporting tartan ties and there were a good few kilts wandering about too.

The Staff Club is situated on the University of Canterbury grounds, in a lovely old two-storey historic building, complete with a big wooden bar and large fireplace. It was a great venue - made even better by the fact that we were given a complimentary mulled wine on our arrival.

After enjoying our wine and chit-chat, the official haggis was ceremoniously 'piped in' and some Robbie Burns poetry was recited. Then we all sat down and got ready to eat!

Piping in the haggis


On the menu was haggis and side dishes of mashed potatoes and 'neeps' (mashed turnips). Basically you got a plate with 3 different coloured piles of goo. Hungrily we tucked in:

Look! We're excited about eating haggis!

We're REALLY excited about eating haggis!

Urgh! We are now less than excited about the haggis.

But it's all in good fun - that's what Operation Dumpling is all about!

The haggis was pretty nasty, but not how you might think. The flavour was fine, rather like turkey stuffing, but the texture was appalling. It was extremely smooth and pastey, and trying to eat even a small mouthful made my mouth go all dry and gummed up and I found it impossible to swallow. Neil said that he's had much better haggis (in Scotland, funnily enough) where the texture was a lot nicer than the one we were sampling.

The mashed potatoes were nice enough but the surprise winner of the night was the 'neeps' - I'm not usually a fan of turnips (mashed or otherwise) and I don't know what they did to these ones but thankfully they were delicious.

After dinner we retreated to the bar where we decided to complete our Scottish mission with a small whisky tasting. Neither Brence nor I are whisky drinkers, so we relied on the advice of Neil and the barmaid to select three different ones to sample. They all tasted like Avgas to me, and one in particular (a 'peaty' style) had the aroma and flavour of burnt plastic. They tell me it's an acquired taste, but I think it's one I'll leave unaquired.

Look! We're excited about drinking whisky...

Um, why did nobody tell me it would taste like burnt plastic?

It was fun to sample the different whiskys but I will never understand the appeal of the 'peaty' flavour and will stick to my gin, thank you very much.

So Robbie Burns night was indeed full of interesting flavours. I admit I left feeling a little hungry but was glad to have had a great all-round Scottish experience chalked up on our Operation Dumpling 'mission accomplished' list. Now will somebody please pass the neeps?

3 comments Posted by Sharon on Monday, September 15, 2008

Italy - Pepperoni Pizza

Venturing out on another Operation Dumpling mission, we went in search of a small pizza place that had been recommended to Sharon by a friend at her work. I am no stranger to pizza and I have eaten my fair share; however, keeping with the theme of Operation Dumpling I don't think it would be right to eat any old pizza from the local Pizza Hut or Dominoes and to tick it off as a pin in Italy -- that would be too easy, too boring and probably would not taste particularly nice.

Sharon's friend recommended that we try out a little pizza restaurant in Christchurch called Pepperoni. After being told great tales of the hand-tossed pizza bases and scrumptious toppings at Pepperoni, we were anxious to try the place out

Sharon and I found ourselves driving slowly down Stanmore Road with a string of cars backing up behind us as we looked for the restaurant. It had been a long day and were eagerly anticipating the delicious pizza that we would soon be eating. Finally, in the fading light, we spotted the word 'Pepperoni' in large painted letters across the banner of a small establishment. After the stellar recommendation and the aching hunger in my belly I was initially disappointed with what I saw.

the extremely downbeat exterior of Pepperoni (made somewhat worse by the fact that we forgot our camera and had to take all the photos with Sharon's phone)

The outside of the restaurant was very unassuming and slightly run down, with fading paint and a very ordinary appearance - one that vaguely resembled the relics of a former corner dairy or fish and chip shop. It was also directly across the street from a really low-rent looking "Bargain Lounge Suites" furniture clearance warehouse.

However, from many other Operation Dumpling adventures we have discovered that looks can be deceiving (as the China Kitchen will attest), so with that in mind we headed inside, driven by a strong desire to find some of the delicious pizza that we had been promised!

We were politely received by a waitress as soon as we walked in and escorted to a nice romantic little table tucked away in the back corner. The interior of the restaurant was simple, but very nicely decorated. A massive mural on the back wall of a beach scene viewed through a 'fake' window (a bit like when Wyle E. Coyote paints a train tunnel on a rock wall) gave the impression of dining in a small beachside venue and, despite sounding a bit tacky, we both admitted it had a certain appeal and for some strange reason to both of us felt like we were in an 'authentic' little Italian hideaway. Neither of us have ever been to Italy so we're not sure our feelings of authenticity were themselves authentic, but the bottom line is that the place is quite cute and does feel a bit like a hidden treasure only the locals know about.
Can you see the beach? It's there, through the "window"

We made ourselves comfortable at our cosy corner table. The waitress brought over a candle to add some romantic flair and provide a tiny amount of light in our cozy enclave. We ordered garlic bread and red wine to tide us over while we choose our pizza. The garlic bread was fantastic; big hunking slices of baguette, and the chef certainly didn't hold back on the garlic!
Sharon eyeing up the garlic bread!
Luckily for us, a table near us had their pizza delivered before we ordered our pizza...and we realised how huge they are! We decided one pizza would be more than enough for the two of us. We settled on something suitable meaty from the large selection on offer.The service was very efficient and friendly, and our pizza arrived about 10 minutes after we ordered, and thankfully it looked like it would live up to its reputation.

Pepperoni make all their pizza bases from scratch and they are 'hand-tossed', which is the traditional Italian way. This means that back in the kitchen there is a stocky Italian guy wearing a chef's hat, a red scarf and sporting a bushy mustache who is twirling flat pieces of dough as it is thrown in the air to stretch it out. Unfortunately I did not get to see the chef, but I can only imagine what must have been going on back there. The result is a slightly misshapen and lumpy pizza - a far cry from the cookie-cutter perfect round and flat pizza from your local Pizza Hut or other similar pizza-mega-mart. Much like an organic apple, which is not all shiny and perfectly round, the pizza just looked more 'natural', and comparably, like the the organic apple, it also tasted much better than the mass-produced variety.

The pizza was indeed very, very good. Full of flavour and not too heavy on the cheese...not that I have anything against cheese, but you can overdo it. The pizza base is of the thinner variety, which I know that some people don't like but Sharon and I both prefer. I think the thinner base helps to bring out the flavour of the toppings. The meal was also reasonably priced - obviously more expensive than going to Pizza Hut, but typical of a pizza restaurant - in the $15-20 range per pizza.

So, lucky for us, the recommendation of Pepperoni was a good one and we extend the recommendation to anyone else interested in a quiet slice of authentic and well-made Italian pizza.
1 comments Posted by B on Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ginkgo - Northeastern Chinese cuisine par excellence

Sharon and I had some friends from Texas stay with us recently and we were in need of some tasty food before we headed out for the evening to a friend's party. We were not in the mood for cooking, so we decided to take the Texans out for Chinese food at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants in Christchurch.

Ginkgo is on Hereford Street - look for the red lanterns outside - and serves delicious and authentic cuisine from (northeastern) Sichuan and Dongbei areas in China. We have eaten there a few times before and it has always been a great experience. We decided that it was time that Operation Dumpling paid an official visit!
The first thing that strikes you when you walk into Ginkgo is the amazingly decorated interior. It is unlike most other inexpensive Chinese restaurants in Christchurch, which are either Chinese-come-fish'n'chips or are quite bare and unappealing on the interior. At Ginkgo, there is an overwhelming sense of warmth and, dare I say, decandence, from the plush red carpet and walls, and the ceiling wrapped with a silky gold material. Chinese sculptures and carvings surround the tables and the walls have an array of Chinese art and Chinese lanterns. It's quite beautiful.
The waitress greeted us at the door, dressed in a silky red kimono and led us to our table. The menu, as in most Chinese restaurants, has quite a lot to choose from. Having eaten at Ginkgo before, we knew that the portion sizes are quite large, so we decided to start with some dumplings (of course!) and then share 2 dishes between the four of us. We ordered Kung Pao chicken, which not only has a great name but also tastes good, and some Dongbei vegetables.

We had some Chinese green tea served to our table and we chatted and drank tea whilst we waited for our food. We were all very hungry and we zealously attacked the plate of dumplings with our chopsticks when they arrived. We ate them so quick that I forgot to take a photo of them!
Sharon and I paused from eating long enough to take a photo...

I had not had lamb dumplings before, as most of the dumplings we seem to get are pork dumplings. I don't know if lamb is a traditional dumpling flavour in China of if that's a bit of the New Zealand influence coming through. The dumplings were the small circle variety and were more on the soft side rather than being a little crisp (steamed instead of fried), which is the way I prefer them. They tasted very good, but did not rival the dumplings that we had at the China Kitchen, which, so far, are our favorites!
The Kung Pao Chicken is a favourite that we have eaten every time we have been to Ginkgo. The dish consists of small pieces of chicken and a thick sauce with peanuts and a hint of almost caramel-like sweetness cut with a bit of a chili bite. There are large pieces chili in the dish (the 'pao' we assume), but they are not too hot. My only criticism is that this dish would be nice with a few vegetables in it.
Kung Pao Chicken!I think mike is giving sharon a texan stare down
over the plate of Kung Pao chicken.
Better get in quick while you can!

The other dish was the Dongbei vegetables. This consisted of a nice variety of vegetables such as capcicums, aubergines, and potato in a delicious sauce, slightly sweet and had a hint of ginger (we think). Sharon went a bit ga-ga over the Dongbei vegetables, actually, and said it's her new favourite Gingko menu item – even trumping dumplings! From Sharon that's high praise indeed.
Dongbei vegetables
Sharon was a big fan of the Dongbei vegetables

As we were finishing up our meal we were brought a complimentary Jin Deui; which, when translated literally means "fried pastry". Unsurprisingly, given its appearance, it is known to westerners as a Sesame Rice Ball. Biting into it, we discovered that it was a lot harder than you would anticipate. The taste was sweet and curiously familiar, yet I could quite place it. The center was hollow and had interesting patterns to the pastry on the inside, alas there were no fortunes to be found inside, but it was a nice way to finish the meal! (We found out later that the typical "Chinese" fortune cookie is most likely Japanese or American in orgin, so it's nice to know that at Ginkgo you're getting the 'real deal' when it comes to the cuisine).
Sesame Rice Ball
Laura looks for the fortune

Sharon and I love Gingko, and our Texan visitors had a great time there as well. The decor is great and the service friendly. If you are in Christchurch and want to eat some delicious Chinese food that is not greasy, not filled with MSG and is suprisingly affordable (if you share a large dish between two), you will be hard-pressed to find somewhere both as tasty and beautifully inviting as Ginkgo.
1 comments Posted by B on Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bienvenue a Québec

Something exciting happened the other day; Frédérique, a friend of ours from Québec (now living in Christchurch and working for the New Zealand Immigration Service!) invited us over for home-cooked traditional Québecois food! Having someone else cook for us is a first for Operation Dumpling, but hopefully (*hint, hint*) it won't be the last.

Québec is a province of Canada, but don't let that fool you, they aren't Canadian... well not according to Fred anyway! They have a fierce pride for their unique province, and, from what Fred tells us, they identify as Québecois or 'Quebeckers' rather than as Canadian per se.

National politics aside, let's discuss something vastly more important - food!

Frédérique (we just call her Fred) was already partway through cooking when we arrived. Sharon and I hovered in the kitchen and drank wine whilst Fred did the actual work and told us stories about Québec, its food and some of its customs.

Fred was cooking us pâté chinois for dinner. It is often more affectionately know as 'Chinese pie' and is similar to English 'Shepherd's Pie'.

Pâté chinois, despite being dubbed 'Chinese pie' is not a Chinese recipe at all. Legend suggests that during the building of the North American railroads in the late 19th century, the Chinese cooks would commonly make the dish as a cheap alternative to Shepards Pie. Today, pâté chinois is a common dish eaten by many people in Quebec, that is popular because it is cheap to make and simple to prepare.

It is a fairly simple recipe that has layered ground beef with sauteed diced onions at the bottom, creamed corn in the middle with mashed potato on top, finished off with a sprinkling of paprika. It is served and eaten with a healthy dollop of ketchup.

Fred's commentary on the dish's history:

"Apparently it's a cross between the French 'hachis parmentier' and the Irish 'shepherd's pie', it appeared in cookbooks in the 1920s - in a variety of shapes and combinations involving meat and rice or potatoes, layered and baked. Again, a cheap meal and a good way to eat leftover meat.

Food historians can't explain the appearance of corn other than one day, someone must've had a serving of corn on their plate where there was already some pâté chinois and thought 'Wow, this is really tasty!'... But they do know the corn would've been added after WWII, when someone started selling the first canned corn in Québec...the addition of creamed corn in the middle suddenly made this a uniquely Québec dish, not French or Irish anymore - especially since corn wasn't typically grown in Europe at that time. Corn therefore represents our 'americanity', our distinct Québec culture.

Pretty cool, though maybe not as exotic as the railroad workers' story!"

View the video of us making Chinese pie!

Cheap, easy and oh-so-tasty!

For dessert we had something really quite amazing – pouding chômeur or 'poor mans pudding'. It is another classic Quebec recipe, which apparently originates from the depression era and is made from ingredients that were cheap and available (at that time) - cream, butter, sugar, flour and an UNBELIEVABLE amount of maple syrup.

It was an exciting dessert to watch being made. Sharon, a transplanted Canadian, was just about beside herself about the amount of maple syrup that was being used (in fact she was almost as excited as the time she discovered the New World supermarket in Dunedin stocked imported A&W root beer). I was wondering if I was going to get any sleep this week after the anticipated sugar rush I was going to receive upon consumption of this dessert - but I was willing to find out!

View the video of us making poor man's pudding!

Big jug o' mapley goodness!

Licking the beaters

The pudding is a fairly simple recipe, similar to a chocolate self-saucing dessert (except it uses a bucketload of maple syrup). While she was making the pudding, Fred told us about the Quebec tradition of going to 'sugar shacks' (cabanes à sucre) in early spring when maple sap is harvested from the trees and festivals are held where there is an orgy of food served with maple syrup. One of the most traditinoal is the dish known variously as Tire sur la neige where hot maple syrup is poured on snow and then eaten after it cools.

butter, sugar, flour, cream and maple syrup = goodness in a bowl!

Oh crikey that looks goooooood!

So gooey, so saucy, so delicious

The dessert did not disappoint. It was hot, gooey, and incredibly sweet and syrupy. I highly recommended it. But not if you're on a diet because LORD ONLY KNOWS how many calories it must contain.

I am happy to report that, even though we were loaded up on sugar, we still managed to sleep fairly well that night. Fred however, later told me she was bouncing off the walls on a sugar high until 2am. She did say it was well worth it though!

Interestingly, right after our Quebec evening at Fred's, she sent me a message saying that both pâté chinois and pouding chômeur had just been voted as Quebec's most traditional food dishes! She also was kind enough to forward her recipes for each, which we've copied below.

Bon appétit and à bientôt!

Brence & Sharon

Pâté chinois

A very approximate recipe (because, well, who needs a recipe for pâté chinois? who DOESN'T know how to make pâté chinois?)

- 400gr-ish ground meat (mix beef, pork, veal if you can get your hands on it)
- a small onion, finely chopped
- a pinch of ground cumin
- 2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped/crushed
- salt & pepper
- 1 tbsp oil

1) Heat oil in a heavy-based skillet, cook onion until softened, add cumin and garlic, stir for a minute, add meat, salt & pepper to taste, and cook until brown, stirring.

- 500gr-ish potatoes (4 or 5 medium-sized ones)
- 1/2 cup milk
- a couple green onions, chopped
- chicken stock or milk, and butter
- salt & pepper

2) Peel and cut the potatoes, boil until soft. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk with the green onions in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, take off heat and let stand. When the potatoes are cooked, mash, add the hot milk. Add more milk (or chicken stock for a healthier version) until you like the texture - it should be fairly stiff. If you want, add a couple tbsp butter, salt and pepper to taste.

- a large can of creamed corn (in NZ, AVOID Pam's and Wattie's at all cost), or a small can of regular corn, drained, mixed with one of creamed corn.

3) Heat oven to 180ºC. In a loaf pan, layer the cooked meat, cover with the creamed corn, then with the mashed potatoes. Make artful marks on the potato top, put a few shavings of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Cook in oven for 30ish minutes, or until it bubbles on the sides.


Pouding chômeur

- 540ml (18oz) maple syrup (= 1 can)
- 540ml (18oz) heavy cream
- 125ml (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature (or microwaved for 20sec a couple times)
- 250ml (1 cup) sugar
- 2 eggs
- 500ml (2 cups) flour
- 10ml (2 tsp) baking powder
- a pinch of salt
- 125ml (1/2 cup) milk

1) Pre-heat oven to 200ºC (400ºF)

2) In a large heavy-bottom saucepan, bring the maple syrup and the cream to a boil - being careful it doesn't boil over and spill the sweet goodness. Simmer for 3-4 minutes, then take off the heat.

3) With a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together. Add the eggs and beat for 2min. Sift and mix the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture, alternating with the milk.

4) Pour the cake mix in a large casserole dish (32 x 23cm). Cover with the maple/cream sauce, and bake for 30-35 minutes.

* The pouding-chômeur can be made in small individual ramequins. You can even put a few raspberries in the molds before pouring the cake mix in!

** this should not be consumed any later than 5pm if one expects to get any sleep later on.
0 comments Posted by B on Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Going Dutch

Ever since we started Operation Dumpling, my friend Ralph from the Netherlands has been encouraging us to sample some European cuisine of the Dutch persuasion.

I had some difficulty with my geography when I started trying to write this post. The Dutch don't live in a country called 'Dutchland', they insist on calling it the Netherlands; or just to confuse you, they might just refer to it as Holland. Wikipedia assures me that there is some overly complicated reason why, which relates to "The kingdom of the Netherlands" and a separation or amalgamation of 12 separate provinces or some such thing. Anyway, I digress.

Back to our mission, Ralph sent us on a very specific quest to Van Dam's Dutch cafe, which is in the suburb of Riccarton and I believe is the only Dutch restaurant in Christchurch. We parked around the back and used the back alley entrance. It was the sort of thing that makes you expect to be greeted by a thick wooden door and to have to recite some secret password to gain entrance. Alas it was not to be.

The inside of the cafe has an eclectic and homely feel that was warm and greeting and undoubtedly very Dutch. Van Dams is half cafe and half Dutch shop. We spent time checking out all the Dutch goodies that they sell and purchased dutch pancake mix (for our ongoing saga of find the perfect pancake, soon to be written up as an Operation Dumpling side mission), zoute drop (that salty licorice stuff) and, of course, windmill biscuits - we just couldn't resist.

Whilst purchasing our Dutch goodies we discovered a small sign noting that Van Dams was relocating their cafe to the new location, and that the current cafe would just become the Dutch shop.

One of the things that Ralph had specifically suggested that we try was Krockets, however, we were told that if we wanted to eat these we had to go across to the new cafe. Luckily for us the new cafe was just around the corner, so off we trundled into the Bush Inn Centre to find it. Sadly, we felt the aesthetics of the new cafe were a bit of a let down compared to the cosy place we had just come from. It was much more 'generic' feeling, not nearly as homey and european feeling as the shop was. Not to be deterred we headed on in to eat our Dutch food!

the new cafe just didn't have the same 'Dutch' feel to it...

As instructed by Ralph we ordered Kroket Deluxe, Bitterballen and Dutch fries. It all looked very delicious, but did give me the impression that everything in the Netherlands is deep fried.

First up, we tucked into the Kroket Deluxe. It was not what I expected. It looks like a hybrid between an america hot dog and a hamburger - long bread bun contained lettuce, sauce and the kroket itselt, which has the illusion of looking like a crumbed sausage. It comes in your choice of chicken or beef so we were expecting it to be meaty, and similar in texture to that of a sausage. Not so. The Kroket is really soft in the middle, about the same consistency as mashed potatoes! It tasted good, with a savour chicken-gravy flavour, it just wasn't what I expected texture-wise.

The Bitterballen are small ball versions of the Kroket with the same squishy interior. We had beef bitterballen and they were quite tasty. Sharon likened them to one of her favourite fast-food indulgences - KFC's 'mashies' (crumbed mashed potato balls.)

Watch the video "OD goes Dutch"

Kroket Deluxe

Bitterballen with mustardIt's like beefy potatoes and gravy in the middle!

The Dutch fries were excellent. The were served fresh and crispy sprinkled with herb salt and mayonnaise and sweet ketchup on the side! Yum! We had a near disaster when we ran out of mayo for the fries, but more mayo was procured and the crisis was averted.

Dutch Fries! Yum

To finish it all off we had Olieballen. We had no idea what it was but we were intrigued to find out. The Olieballen was served warm, sprinkled with icing sugar and it appeared to have been deep fried; along with the rest of the food from the Netherlands. The Olieballen had had apple and raisins in it and a texture similar to steamed pudding or a very heavy/gooey doughnut - it tasted pretty good!


So our Dutch mission was mostly a success. The food was tasty as well as intriguing, however we thought it was unfortunate that the new cafe was lacking the atmosphere of the old joint. The Dutch experience will continue on at home for a few days, because we also have those windmill biscuits to have with tea. Yay!

Thanks for sending us on a mission Ralph!

4 comments Posted by B on Wednesday, May 14, 2008