Once upon a time, a newly-minted working girl* (oh, get your mind out of the gutter) was sent to Sydney to attend a meeting.
This is her story.
*insert Wayfaring Chocolate theme music*
I arrived in Sydney at 4:20pm on Thursday afternoon, and by 5:15pm was heading towards Chinatown with the inspirational, tastiness-dedicated, and metaphorical-tiara-wearing Helen by my side. Ahead of us? A token savoury dinner meal with Chocolate Suze followed by a dessert degustation to be guided solely by our cravings, my lack of Asian dessert experience, Helen’s inside-her-mind map, and Suze’s predilection for reacting with panther-like acuity to the faint aroma of barbecued ribs in the night air.
Helen, Suze and I started our night at Home Thai, looking from inside the restaurant at the people in the queue outside who were, in turn, looking at the chefs inside who were, in turn, looking at their woks, mortars, chopping boards, and vats of boiling oil which were, in turn, deep-frying dough sticks for dessert.
Are you confused yet?
Som Tum: Green papaya with garlic, chilli, tomato, green been, dried shrimp, peanut, lime juice, palm sugar
Because one of my goals in life is to find my platonic ideal of Som Tum, we ordered Som Tum. After too-sweet versions of this dish in Paris and Canberra, this Sydney plate finally soothed my craving. Spicy, tangy, crispy, and flecked with both roasted peanuts and tiny dried shrimp, I ate more than my fair share.
I have no regrets.
Yum Hua Plee: Banana flower with chicken, prawn, shallot, coriander, onion, dried coconut, cashew nut, fried shallot, chili jam with chef’s dressing
The banana flower salad we ordered intrigued me with its amalgamation of flavours that I couldn’t quite put my finger on (though I put my tongue on them hardcore. NATCH). It was quite sweet, with the non-dressing ingredients so finely shredded that it was hard to pick out individual components. The prawns on top were lovely and moist but, alas! rather flavourless.
Red Rubies. (Which makes me think of Red Rum, which makes me think of Jack Nicholson, which makes me think of the Joker, which makes me think of Batman and Robin, which makes me think of plastic nipples. Yep, that’s the end of that train of thought.)
Our last savoury order was the Pad Pik Khing: Stir fried crispy pork belly with chili, lime leaf, green bean and pik khing sauce. You can see it in the top photo, but what you can’t see is how its chilli-strength defeated Suze and led her to order a dessert before we’d finished even a quarter of our mains. She chose Red Rubies: water chestnuts and jackfruit in coconut milk. Suze generously allowed me a spoonful of this creation, and while it was suitably texturally interesting and sweet, I’m simply not the biggest fan of coconut milk-flavoured desserts.
Then came (or began) the most important part of the night.
In the photo above, you can see my single-girl mind ticking over as I try to decide whether to share the two stumpy fried bananas in front of me with the other ladies.
Fried green sticky rice with banana
Luckily for all involved, once we cut into the pandan-flavoured-sticky-rice-wrapped-then-fried bananas, they looked less… shall we say anatomical? At this point I made nice and shared.
I quite enjoyed my first bite of this dessert. The toffee and pandan flavours in the rice combined with the banana’s warm squoodginess were initially pleasant, but after a while became a bit heavy and gluggy.
Pak Mhor: steamed rice dumplings with peanuts
Then came the Pak Mhor. Oh, the Pak Mhor. Also known as the Wicked Witch of the West Dessert, Suze proclaimed that these looked like goldfish whereas I (silently) thought they looked more… well, just think of what might accompany the earlier bananas. However, I refuse to take that train of thought any further in writing.
This “dessert” had clearly been delivered to our table straight from Crazytown. The gelatinous dumpling skin encased a filling of sweet candied peanuts and… garlic. So very, very much garlic. Suze took one tiny bite and piked, Helen ate two whilst grimacing slightly, and I ate three.
Because here’s the secret: the incomprehensible strangeness of the salty sweet garlicky peanut sugar flavours, along with the accompanying DESSERT LETTUCE**, tickled my fancy more than I was inclined to admit at the time.
Want to know another secret? This was only the tip of our Sydney dessert iceberg.
To be continued…
* Complete with knee-high black boots.
** I did, in fact, squeal “DESSERT LETTUCE” in a high-pitched voice as I gobbled up the greenery. Twice.