Saturday, August 29, 2015


Joint project maps Sydney’s future food supply
In the Local Government section of the Sydney Morning Herald 25 August there is small article about the Syndey Peri-Urban Netowrk (12 councils around the ring of the city) and the Institute of Sustainable Futures at UTS starting work on a project called Mapping Sydney’s Potential Foodsheds, the aim of which is develop info that ‘will help inform both local and stage government land-use planning decisions relating to Sydney’s fringe’.

[Note to self, must read Local Government pages more often}

A social history of Jell-O: The rise and fall of an American icon
‘Plain Jell-O and sweet Jell-O salads remain popular in the US, especially in the rural Midwest and the Deep South. Savory Jell-O salads do, however, remain popular in Utah and other heavily Mormon areas. "There will be at least four or five kinds of Jell-O salads at any event," almost all of them savory, Sariah Hilliam of Roosevelt, Utah, told the Los Angeles Times. In fact, this region is often nicknamed the "Jell-O Belt," and in 2001 the state of Utah named Jell-O its official state snack.’

I don’t recall every having the savoury made-grelatine salads of the peak of this fashion but I have to confess I am tempted to try some. I do recall quite fondly the Aeroplane jellies my mum made with canned peaches or pineapple or cherries inside, though, with a dollop or two of vanilla ice cream; I used to love mashing it all up together, vomitous though the result often looked. In latter years I have on occasion made a fruit jelly though I am likley to use agar agar these days as I live with a vegan; the consistency is quite different at least in my experience, and I have had an interesting time when too much agar agar has made a think rubbery sliceable lump.

Weird waters: the trend for modified, mleted or infused H2O
‘“Lots of people are really working the water space,” says Morgaine Gaye, a food futurologist.’

Well, there certainly is a lot of space to work between the ears of the likes of Morgaine, that’s for sure. On the other hand, you have to be in awe of capitalism at times like this.

Kale crisis: aphids could destroy the superfood smoothie revolution
‘It doesn’t bear thinking about. Where will they get their daily doses of beta-carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, sulforaphane, indole-3-carbinol and bile acid sequestrants now?
And smugness. Don’t forget the smugness. You would be smug, too, if you were banishing cancer, wrinkles, bowel woes and cholesterol in one fell swoop.
And joy. You banish joy if you’re forever chewing on a fibrous bale of bitter greens. There are lots of ways to improve those aspects of this wonderfood.
Mm-hm. Any of them wholly successful? The Italian method of calling it cavolo nero and drowning small portions of it in cream, cheese, olive oil and spaghetti seems to work best.’
Look, you can slapdown your superfood kale any time and that’s fine with me, but keep your satire away from cavalo nero.

Less salt in home brand foods, surprised researchers find
‘"This research shows that is not always the case in regard to salt," she said. "This is good news, especially for families shopping on tight budgets who are more likely to buy private label products, but are also most likely to suffer from health problems caused by high blood pressure.’

Yeah, but, call me cynical, just how much of the whole product is salt, hmmm. And can I say this research is typically the kind that Tim Spector criticises in his book The Diet Myth. The Real Science Behind What We Eat, research that looks at a single part of foods whose overall nutritional value is still staggeringly low.

Read more:

Friday, August 14, 2015


Loved finding this new treat - Yunnan pot noodle soup - yep, this is a single serve :)

A surprise J

Deer penis with hagfish: City of Gold celebrates the eclectic flaours of L.A.
‘But the documentary is mainly focused on the families and communities that run, support and keep alive the numerous eateries and restaurants that make up the LA food scene. Guerilla Tacos, Soban, Chengdu Taste, Jitlada, Meals by Genet, Pho Minh, Petit Trois and Earlez Dogs all get a special mention with interesting snapshots into how these places got started. Many of these are stories of migration, financial struggle and passionate determination. These fascinating mini-narratives are a celebration of the ethnic diversity of LA and support Gold’s contention that cuisine should continually break with convention and create something new.’
I hope the film lives up to this claim.

Bitter truth
‘On the face of it, reducing bitterness in foods sounds like a great idea...But there is a catch. The same chemicals thatmake fruit and veg bitter also imbue them with many of their health benefits. When scientists talk of the healthiness of green tea, dark chocolate, red wine or broccoli, much of  what they are talking about is due to bitter chemicals called phytonutrients. To satisfy our love of sweetness, food manufacturers are now removing many of these substances, causing some people to worry that we are turning bitter fruit and veg into junk foods of the fresh produce aisle.’

A terrific article from New Scientist, 1 August 2015. Jennifer McLagan gets a side bar talking about how to keep bitter in food based on her book Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavour. Happily I have never had a problem with bitter, which I put down to my Sri Lankan foodways in which vegies like bittergourd and aubergine are common items at table.  I have scanned the article and can make copies available on request.

Ah Toy’s Garden: A Chinese market garden on the Palmer River goldfield.
I came across a reference to this study in Susan Parham’s Food and Urbanism. It’s a 1984 paper in Australian Historical Archaeology by Ian Jack, Kate Holmes, and Ruth Kerr. I’ve been reading some other short studies by archaeologists and anthrolopologists on interpreting sites for what they say about foodways and find them fascinating both for their approach to deduction and also the insights they report. This one spends more time on the dwelling and the site but has intriguing findings on irrigation and identifies some fruit trees but has little about what market produce was grown. Still, I can make a copy available to those of you who are interested.

NASA astronauts take first bit of lettuce grown in space: “Tastes like arugula”
Is it just me, or do you also worry that a romaine lettuce grown in outer space – well, inside a space thingy – would taste like rocket/arugula? I mean, they aren’t even the same species, yeh? Arugula is Eruca sativa and Romaine is Lactuca sativa L. var. Longifolia. Sure, they both have ‘sativa’ in their name but so does pot.

Greek the Salad
‘Horiatiki was not one of the salads Kremezi grew up eating, because it didn’t exist until the mid-nineteen sixties. “When you sat down at the tavern, you ordered tomato salad and feta cheese, and then whatever else you wanted to order,” Kremezi says. Tomato salad, sometimes with cucumber or onion, sometimes not, was its own dish. A big slab of feta cheese (sheep’s milk only, or if you must, a tiny bit of goat’s milk, says Kremezi), covered in olive oil and dried oregano, was its own dish. Olives, too, were separate. Horiatiki takes all of those disparate meze dishes and combines them into one big salad. Horiatiki was created, and then adopted throughout the country, in response to Greece’s desire in the sixties to be considered a real urban power—a European country, not a Middle Eastern country, like Turkey. Horiatiki is a salad to compete with ni├žoise. 

I asked Maria Kelly to comment on this one: Great article….I totally agree with Aglaiia...I can never recall in my childhood having so called Greek salad - though growing up in Gunnedah there was never any fetta available. I recall that a salesman used to regularly come through the town  and we used to always buy our tins of olive oil,  a head of pecorino cheese and huge tins of salted sardines from him.  I think they (the wholesalers) were called Gallanis  Bros, but don’t quote me.  Our family did mix tomatoes and cucumbers together, with olive oil and S & P.

Fighting food waste: four stories from around the world
‘“If the market price is favourable, the farmer can choose to sell, but they are now no longer forced to sell immediately following harvest to avoid losses,” explains WFP’s Uganda programme officer, Richard Sewava. Nakaziba, who purchased the silo and a plastic tarpaulin from the WFP on a cost-sharing basis, is happy. “Now the rats cannot get to my grain, and by selling later I am able to get 900 shillings [16p] per kilogram instead of 350,” she says. “With the extra money I’m getting I can buy things for my children and my garden.”

One of four terrific vignettes about the small and not so small changes that can avoide food waste from production to consumption.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Kottu Roti: The creation of a fusion dish in Sri Lanka

I was asked recently whether kottu roti, a Sri Lankan dish of chopped god(h)amba (wheat-based) roti combined with vegetables and egg and sometimes meat, was a Tamil contribution to Sri Lankan cuisine.

When I was growing up in Sri Lanka there was no such dish. By most accounts from Sri Lankans it made its appearance on the streets of Kandy sometime in the 1970's.

It's origins, I hazard, are twofold.

The first is the godamba roti itself, a long established part of Sri Lankan cuisine, most usually associated with Tamils, and similar to Malaysian murtabak; made from an buttery and oily wheat based dough that is tossed and tossed till thin and almost translucent onto a flat hot plate. Here it cooks rapidly, being folded from time to time to make a layered flat bread. When an egg is cracked into it as it is cooking you get egg godamba.

Godamba roti like other rotis in Sri Lanka and India are used as you would other flat breads like naan or pita, mainly to scoop up another dish, say a curry or a a vegetable sabzi.

The other part of the creation of kottu roti is not so clear, but the process through which it is made, two heavy wide flat blades being used to chop up and mix pre cut godamba with other ingredients - meat, vegetables, spices - is exactly the way Pakistani kat-a-kat is made. This latter is usually a dish of offal that is tossed onto a hot plate and chopped as it cooks using two flat wide blades. Here also onion, chilies, spices are mixed in with sweeping and gathering and cutting motions of the blades. The name kat-a-kat comes from the sound of the blades hitting the hot plate.

I have no idea as to how the two came together in Kandy in the 1970's but they seem to have. Certainly there is no other dish like it in the 'classic' Sri Lankan menu.

Here's a video of making kottu roti


Labelling liars: how Australia food is hot property
‘These counterfeit products are found in the supply chain of many companies and not only on the streets, as we assume."
One who learned the hard way was wagyu beef farmer David Blackmore, whose beef takes pride of place on the menu of Neil Perry's Rockpool restaurants and other high-end eateries across the globe.’

...and who is facing closure because of complaints that his farm is a ‘feedlot’ which has led Neil Perry to start a campaign in his defence.

Most Australians now Contestants on a Cooking Show
‘Social researcher Gabby Henderson said the way we cook at home had changed as a result. “Most people now describe out loud how they are cooking something, while they are cooking it, which is a great new development”. two more of them are about to hit our screens L

Micreogravity veg
New Scientist 18 July 2015 reports:

‘On July 8, astronauts on the International Space Station began growing their own romaine lettuce. If all goes well, by next month they’ll get to eat some.’

...yeah, unless the lettuce eats them first! Haven’t these people ever seen Attack of the Killer Tomatoes!!!

Rice’s gas problem gets muted
More news from New Scientist, this time from 25 July:

‘It’s food for climate conscious consumers. A strain of rice has been genetically modified to produce less methane. Rice agriculture is responsible for between 7 and 17 per cent of human-induced mehtane emissons. Sugars produced during photsynthesis leak into the soil via the roots, where they are used up by methane-producing soil microrganisms. Chuanxin Sun from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala and his colleagues have now engineered rice that stores more sugar in its grains and stems. In a three-year long trial, the rice grew well and led to drops in paddy field methane emissions’

And here I thought the stench in the rice fields behind our house when I was young was the windy farmers.

A Renaissance painting reveals how breeding changed watermelons
Thanks to Jacqui Newling for these two delightful and informative links. No I did not pursue the link at the bottom of the painting page to discover...well, you may like to do it and you can report to me what the answer is.

On MSG and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
‘But the important thing to know is that, hundreds and hundreds of studies later, there is no evidence that MSG causes the symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. This was an unfortunate episode that should teach us a lot about carefully reading proposals of cause and effect between something we eat and some effect that it might have.’

A timely article by Harold McGee and a fascinating story of the origins of a food myth.

Frequent spicy meals linked to human longevity
As the study, published in the BMJ on Tuesday, was observational, conclusions could not be drawn about cause and effect but the team of international authors, led by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, suggested that more research could lead to dietary advice being updated. Experts warned that the study did not provide evidence to “prompt a change in diet”.

I somehow think this is a diet fad that won’t take off. That being said, nice to know that my return to chili flakes on pasta and upping the ante on chili ion my curries generally can now be passed of as a health intervention.

And look, I know I am in a losing battle, but can we please stop equating ‘spicy’ with chili-ed.

The day I ordered pizza that ‘doesn’t exist’
‘As we eat them upstairs in my flat, I'm still unable to come to terms with Emanuela's reaction. "I've ordered it a few times in various pizzerias, and nobody's ever batted an eyelid!" I say defensively. I'm now wondering if the waiters were simply being polite. Chicca - who's Sicilian - says she can see my point, but thinks it would be wise if in future I ordered margherita with garlic to avoid, I quote, "emotionally destabilising the pizza-maker"

I can undestand the reaction of the pizzaiola in this article. My sister in law, of Sicilian parentage, was ‘emotionally destabilised’ when someone at the dinnner table put parmesan on her marinara pasta. I get emotionally destabilised when someone puts yoghurt in a Sri Lankan goat curry I have made.  It’s not rational; it’s visceral; I cannot but feel a little disregarded when it happens.

Russians despair at food destruction as Moscow says it is having its desire effect
‘Tonnes of pork tossed into incinerators, truckloads of cheese bulldozed into the ground, and an orchard’s worth of apples buried in a shallow grave. The visuals ofRussia’s stepped-up fight against sanctioned foodstuffs have been dramatic, and left many Russians wondering why so much is being destroyed in a country where millions of people live below the poverty line.’

I can only hope that the undesired effect of this criminality is violent revolution.

How colour coding your fridge can stop your greens going to waste
‘To help households waste less food, first we need to understand exactly why it happens. My research has identified three major contributing factors: food location knowledge (where are items stored?), food supply knowledge (what items are available?), and food literacy (how are items used and how do we judge if they are still edible?).’

And you need to colour code your fridge to resolve this?!! Can you just teach people to use their senses intelligently – LOOK where things are in the fridge; SEE what you have and don’t buy  more; SMELL & TOUCH to test for freshness. Sheesh! But I suppose it’s better than having fridgecam for chrissakes!

Brew do you think you are? Why tea needs to copy coffee in order to survive
‘With its steely levers, clanking and hissing, the coffee machine hides its secrets in a puff of magic steam. But any fool can make a tea.’

Fie! Making a good cup of tea is every bit as expert as making a skinny flat soy latte with extra froth. I’ve drunk some perfectly awful tea in my time. And then there was the marvellous chai strained through the filthiest cloth imaginable outside a Ganesh temple somewhere in Rajasthan.

The secret life of cheese
This peculiar cheese—known as calig├╣ or su callu, depending on whom you talk to—is one of Sardinia’s lesser-known but more ubiquitous specialties. It’s also one of the most primal dairy products you’ll encounter in the modern world. Upon killing a kid, a farmer simply takes its milk-filled stomach, ties it off in a tight knot or sews it shut, perhaps covers it in mesh to keep the flies off, then hangs it from the ceiling of a cool, dark room. He then waits for a few months until the natural rennet within curdles and hardens the milk into a thick, creamy cheese and desiccation tightens the gut into a pungent, leathery rind.’

Wow, su callu AND casu marzu. I really really have to go to Sardinia. Warning: this article has one perhaps very confronting image among its stunning pics. And it’s a damn good read, too.

This article is one of three food stories in the latest ebulletins from the Roads and Kingdom site, each well written and with fantastic pics. The other two are: