When I think of the apocalypse (which I do, because I’ve been watching too many episodes of Supernatural), I imagine it raining some sort of delicious food which I can’t help but eat until it kills me somehow. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Call me a positive person.
How I knew that the end was not nigh last Friday night: it was raining food, alright – jaffles, to be exact – but we sometimes had to chase it around the block in order to get at it, except for when it was flying into trees or attacking my partner by unceremoniously hitting him in the face. It was all wrong, and way too funny to be Armageddon. On the other hand, the untimely gale force winds did seem to blow all the way from hell, creating beautiful, jaffle-chasing chaos.
A small crowd gathers to witness the Flight of the Jafflechutes
Jaffles, for you poor ignorant readers, are a type of toasted sandwich, their main feature being that the edges of the bread are sealed while toasting to create a piping hot cavity full of cheesy (or whatever) gooey goodness. Almost like a pie, but in bread instead of pastry and obviously far superior. Old fashioned jaffle irons are still considered a bushcraft, err, tool. You put your bread and ingredients inside the cast iron enclosure, which would then be cooked over a campfire. Its medieval predecessor, so I’m told, was the waffle iron. I won’t rant on about that, but feel free to consult Wikipedia.
Back to Friday night. Earlier that week, by chance I found out about this really stupid and really awesome thing that some people were trying to do. I say “some people” because they weren’t a business or anything, just a group of young’uns who thought it might be a good idea to attach jaffles to colourful mini parachutes, call them “Jafflechutes“, and fling them out a window late at night in the middle of the city for paying dunces to try and catch. I was one of those dunces. I’m the laziest 28 year old you’ll ever meet on a Friday night as it’s usually my night-in with the boy, but there’s nothing like a weird food event to drag me out of my hovel.
The Jafflechute HQ folks up on their balcony and a jafflechute mid-flight. Also note the one stuck on a ledge on that building!
I never got my jaffle in the end. The assumption is that it was one of the many that sacrificed itself to the Magnificent Jaffle Tree, which by the end of an hour looked like it was actually spontaneously growing those piping hot, toasted, filled sandwiches (*sigh*, if only!) But I’m also not convinced it wasn’t some hangry
bastard who, after losing his own jaffle and catching mine, decided to eat the evidence.
The magnificent Jaffle Tree a quarter of the way through the night
It was a good time, though. The air was ripe with excitement, laughter and exasperation… and probably a little nervousness towards the end of the night when the police drove up
just as a bright blue jafflechute landed right in front of their car. Oops. They couldn’t figure out what had happened so apparently, they just drove off. Honestly, I’m not too sure these good jafflechute folks had the required, errm, permits, for throwing hot food out windows at paying customers.
The cops weren’t the only confused ones, as a steady trickle of baffled pedestrians and drivers alike passed through Flinders Lane with bewilderment and amusement evident on their faces. Some of those on foot had the added pleasure of one of us overexcited jaffle-dorks breathlessly try to explain to them what was happening. “You see, there’s… jaffles… falling out of the sky… oh you don’t know what jaffles are? You see they’re… toasted… oh never mind, but you see, we’re trying to catch them! But the wind… they’re flying away… Why? Why not? WHY ARE YOU LOOKING AT ME LIKE I’M CRAZY!?!”
The Magnificent Jaffle Trees (plural!) halfway through the night
One jaffle convention attendee almost forgot her purse in her excitement, but my dear friend Liana called her back as her group was walking off, adding to her kind deed the coining of the phrase “Jaffle people”. Used in a sentence: “Hey, jaffle people! Is this your purse?” Indeed, later that night on Twitter, the Jafflechute HQ guys themselves referred to us patient jaffle catchers as “jaffle people”.
There was also a sense of camaderie between us Jaffle People, as we worked together to get sandwiches down from lamp posts, threw stuff in turn at tree branches, and read and called out each other’s names written on the paper-bagged, string-tied, hot airborne parcels.
We left after about an hour, adrenalised, a little disappointed by my jafflechute-deprivation and suddenly craving homemade jaffles (which, by the way, we actually picked up ingredients for on the way home and actually then made). The night wrapped up after our departure with a bunch of mystery raffle jaffles being released into the swarm. If you caught one of those, it was yours. In spite of the chaotic outcome (or perhaps because of it) a fun night was had by all, at least 80% of the jaffle people had a good feed notwithstanding the hell-wind, and from what I understand, future jafflechute apocaly… er, evenings… are planned for the future.
Sorry about the horrible photos, I was way too excited to take decent snaps, but here’s a video I filmed to keep you entertained.
I want to tell you about an unassuming, homey dumpling eatery located in an arcade off Chinatown. Among the abundance of dumpling houses in this area, ShanDong Mama has several points of difference which elevate it above its competition.
I’ve been on the hunt for a really good dumpling since I moved to Melbourne 18 months ago. It’s not that places that serve them are hard to come by (they’re everywhere!) See, the main problem with Melbourne’s “dumpling scene” is that it’s still dominated by a few big old powerhouses. These places – many of which are all named, for some inexplicable reason “Shanghai” something–or–rather – serve dumplings that mostly fall into the Northern Chinese variety.
Shanghai Village Dumplings – one of Melbourne’s most popular dumpling houses
The upside of these dominating establishments – which are crazy popular with all demographics and packed full to bursting every night – is that they have ensured the average young Melbournian has at least a basic experience of Asian dumpling consumption. Yes, this adopted city of mine has its own unique dumpling “culture” – and I’m grateful, even if it’s a bit unbalanced and one-dimensional.
Still, from time to time I get the alarming question “what is a dumpling?” and the rather impossible one “will I like them?”
Well. Originally, “dumpling” referred to lumps of dough the British liked to eat with suet – think gnocchi, without the deliciousness of egg and potato in the mix, but with animal fat. Appetising?
Thankfully, international cuisine has hijacked the word in the last century! Today, the Asian “dumpling” is basically any food encased in a wrapper of any shape or form.
So, will you like them? Unless you have an innate issue with the concept of food wrapped in other food, with the right knowledge, you shouldn’t have to look too far to find a type suited to your tastes.
But I digress. A lot. Can one digress before one has even begun? This isn’t a discourse on Dumpling Education of the masses – that’s what the Dumpling Dictionary I’m building is for.
I couldn’t ignore the light hype that started around ShanDong Mama in the Melbourne food blogosphere earlier this year. The reviews told the story of “Mama” from the ShanDong province of China, an area known for cuisine based around its abundance of fresh seafood. It was all a bit charming, and I decided I had to check it out for myself.
The decor is basic, but the restaurant is neat and modern and it certainly doesn’t exude the same greasy scunginess of many of its rivals.
They’ve also managed to produce the clearest (read: most English-user-friendly) menu of any Chinese dumpling restaurant I’ve seen anywhere which isn’t an overpriced fusion establishment. Each dish isn’t merely listed cryptically as a badly translated Chinese dish name but described in detail with each ingredient mentioned. Vegetarian dishes are clearly marked, the majority of the vego dishes also being vegan. They also have a kind of dorky sense of humour… (evidence below)
In fact, as far as marketing, presentation and image are concerned, this little family business ticks most of those boxes you wouldn’t expect its peers to tick. A bit of sleuthing around Google tells me that Mama’s daughter and godson handle these PR and marketing matters, even cleverly inviting bloggers to sample their food when they first opened.
But what about the dumplings, you ask? Well, the first thing that any dumpling amateur will notice is that their panfried dumplings look somewhat different from other Chinese fried dumplings. They’re long and open-ended and have sort of angular/rectangular-ish bottoms where they join up to the dumpling-next-door. Now, I’ve tried doing a bit of research but I can’t claim to know whether this is a traditional feature of a dumpling from the ShanDong province. It is, however, eye-catching and if not authentic then certainly a neat presentation feature.
Visual quirks aside, the dumplings here are among the tastiest I’ve had so far in Melbourne. The filling is beautifully fresh, and gives the impression of being lovingly hand mixed rather than carelessly mushed up and mass produced. (This YouTube video will prove that impression correct!) You feel like you’re eating “real food” here – homemade and fresh – a rare thing in a inexpensive dumpling house.
Break open a dumpling and you’ll see – each ingredient distinctly identifiable to the naked eye rather than disappearing into processed-ball-of-meat-land; each ingredient easily savour-able by the palate.
Boiled fish dumpling with fresh mackerel, mixed and whipped by hand, coriander, chives, with home made dumpling skin.
Filling combos here are rather refreshing and creative compared to your typical pork-and-cabbage varieties (although they did also have that option on my first visit). The vegan option is based around finely grated fresh zucchini, which is certainly a nice change.
On multiple visits I have tried the “Melbourne Dumpling”, the pork and dill, the beef, the vegan, and of course, Mama’s signature dish – the mackerel dumpling in both its fried and boiled forms.
The zucchini lends a bit of sweetness as well as satisfying bite and subtle crunch to the veg dumpling, which is fast becoming one of my favourite simple vege-based dishes.
Vegan zucchini dumplings with crushed tofu, spring onion, coriander and ginger
Vegan zucchini dumplings with crushed tofu, spring onion, coriander and ginger
Lacking that dodgy “fishy taste” that often comes with seafood in budget restaurants, the mackerel dumplings are quite worthy of the positive reviews and are undeniably fresh and nicely textured. The menu describes how the fish is whipped into a mousse by hand and seasoned with coriander, ginger and chives.
While delicious and a little different, there’s nothing too remarkable about the meat dumplings I sampled. Every dumpling traditionalist would ask how the boiled pork jiazoi went, and I can tell you – above average. This certainly isn’t the iffy, suspiciously pink “pork” filling you’ll find at Camy’s, and definitely superior to the lumpy ball syndrome in Shanghai Village’s pork dumplings, but I’ve had better. I have yet to try the chicken dumplings and the prawn option.
The “Melbourne Dumplings”, a contemporary house recipe, were a little bit of a let down. Boasting such an impressive number of ingredients (four types of seafood, chicken, lemon rind, olive oil, parsley and garlic) that it leaves you wondering if they could possibly all go together, it was a bit anticlimactic in its lack of flavour explosion. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the flavour – it was still a more-than-decent dumpling – but it just lacked the wow-factor I was hoping for. This offering was supposedly inspired by Melbourne’s multicultural food scene, which explains the odd European additions of olive oil, parsley and lemon rind? I feel like this dumpling somehow fell prey to something similar to the Pizza Topping Complexity Syndrome, where eventually, once exceeding an ingredients threshold for optimum tastiness, it all starts to go downhill a little.
Mama’s handmade jiao dough has a good, springy consistency rather than a gooey one. The wrappers used for the panfried dumplings differ from those wrapping the boiled dumplings – which is really as it should be! Too many budget restaurants serve their potstickers (panfried dumplings) with the same gloopy, doughy wrappers as their shui jiao (boiled dumplings), which immediately makes them complete failures as potstickers as they just don’t crisp up to the appropriate texture for being considered a potsticker.
The “right” wrappers allow the panfried dumplings at ShanDong Mama to maintain their unique tunnel-like shape, which, when I now think about it, actually optimises crispy surface area! The browning also releases a very subtle sweetness in the dough – caramelised dumpling, anyone? Additionally, the wrappers used for the different dumpling varieties also differ – for example, the boiled mackerel dumplings are encased by a very thin, delicate skin, its fried version uses a slightly thicker skin, while the boiled pork dumpling uses a medium-thick homemade skin but its panfried counterpart uses a medium skin of what is almost certainly a different type of dough. Dough Science: an exercise in texture balance, flavour pairing and structural integrity.
Sweet and sour shredded cabbage salad with a dash of sesame oil
I’ve been so busy trying Mama’s dumplings that I’ve only had an opportunity to try two of the eatery’s other dishes; however, both were fantastic! The simple shredded cabbage salad packed a massive flavour punch I definitely wasn’t expecting with its sweet and tangy dressing, and some fragrant sesame oil thrown in. The black fungus salad was similarly tasty in a surprising way, and to boot, both dishes were vegan-friendly and only two out of a fair many herbivorous offerings!
In reading other reviews, I’d stay away from the noodles-based mains and stick to dumplings if you’re after a carby fix!
Black fungus tossed in aged vinegar, sesame oil and garlic
The dumpling hunt isn’t over yet, but I’ve certainly found a favourite among the inner city’s numerous cheap dumpling houses – and I will be returning again… and again.
This is an imported/archive post.
Hulu Cat is by far my favourite bubble tea vendor in Auckland. Unlike other places which are either often average or hit-and-miss, Hulu makes good value fantastic-tasting drinks 95% of the time (the lacking 5% probably being a matter of preference).
With better tasting drinks, a little more character and a little less cheese than Momo Tea, its main competitor in the area, my main problem with Hulu Cat is that they’re always too busy! Many a time I have wandered in and every single comfy sofa and less-comfy seat was filled. But lucky me, they are just a brisk 5 minute walk away, and too many nights a week I run over, grab a favourite beverage and run back home to enjoy it in front of the telly. Props to the staff, whose simultaneous multi-bubble-tea making skills have been honed to robot-speed to cope with the volume of patrons. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for their food preparation, but that can be forgiven given that food isn’t their specialty.
Hulu Cat – Grape “Creamy Milk” with Green Apple Jelly Crystal
As far as Asian eateries in New Zealand go, Hulu Cat hovers on the more creative side decor-wise. There is a cutesy kitty theme, yes, but it’s not garish or weirdly lit – just a bunch of couches and cushiony seats arranged in a social yet cosy-feeling environment. Chinese and Japanese comics, cards, board games and table games can be found lying around and are made full use of by the animated groups of young students dining in.
The drinks menu here is extensive. The only one missing from my long list of favourites is coconut milk tea. You will find cold and hot beverages, green and black teas, yoghurts and slushies and Taiwanese-style milkshakes. Take them with or without bubble tea additions, of which there is a very good selection – you can choose from the usual tapioca pearl, six types of jelly crystals (most stores only have one or two), egg pudding, taro pudding, chocolate pudding, mango pudding, “ai yu” (a lightly lemon-flavoured soft jelly), herbal jelly and even ice cream – and they have never been out of stock of any I’ve asked for to date.
Price-wise, Hulu Cat is one of the best value specialised tea-houses around. The two other bubble tea specialists within 5 minutes walk from me (Momo Tea and Feeling) both have prices starting from $6 for a plain milk tea, to about $8-$9 for a slushy with added jelly. At Hulu Cat, a plain milk tea or iced tea is just $5, slushies are $6, while drinks with toppings are an additional $1. Overall, the equivalent menu items cost $1-$2 less than the competition while their takeaway cups are actually larger than those of their competitors, providing double value in addition to (in my opinion) better quality!
I have never had a complaint about a single beverage at Hulu Cat. I’ve heard a few others say that they use a tad too much syrup in their single-serve drinks, but I guess I prefer that extra sweetness and often find bubble tea in other stores quite bland. You can ask for a half-syrup serving if you prefer a weaker taste. The only time I have ever been disappointed in a drink here is when I dared to try a flavour I suspected I wouldn’t like in the first place. As an added bonus, the drinks are rarely over-iced.
There is usually an excellent texture to the pearls, also – not mushy, not undercooked, just the right amount of gumminess and chewiness. A friend has, however, previously commented that the egg pudding was too hard (over-gelatinised?) the time she tried the Caramel Egg Pudding Milk Tea. I would say this probably varies day to day and hour to hour as the longer the pudding is refrigerated the harder it becomes, generally.
Personally, my favourite drinks range is what they call the “Creamy Milk” range – it’s a sort of light frothy milkshake with mostly tangy fruity flavours but somehow different from a Western milkshake in a way I can’t quite put a finger on. A strawberry creamy milk with grape jelly crystal is my current absolute favourite.
Hulu Cat – Green Tea strained with Roasted Rice & complimentary seasoned pumpkin seeds
A fantastic item on the food menu here is the flavoured toasts. They prepare these super-thick slices of white bread in their mini oven while you wait, and they are smothered in a generous coating of creamy butter or flavoured spread such as coconut, chocolate and peanut butter. It smells amazing – a delicious snack at just $3. The only other food items I have tried are the kumara chips (crispy and browned on the outside, still soft and moist on the inside) and takoyaki (a long wait but a pretty good effort for a non-Japanese restaurant).
Just once have I had my order from Hulu Cat in the actual restaurant. One particularly chilly Monday night, we wandered in and ordered a pot of green tea strained with roasted rice – the aroma was just heavenly. The refillable pot is just $8, comes with complimentary nibbles (on this particular day, pumpkin seeds) and can be shared between two… although they didn’t seem all that thrilled about us doing this.
When you visit Hulu Cat, take your time and enjoy a hot tea for two on a comfy sofa – it’s an excellent opportunity for low-key conversation or just to relax with or without company. Or for a different type of experience, arrive with a big group of friends, commandeer a corner table, sample as many different drinks on the menu as you possibly can between you, add some fried snacks to the table and spice the night up with a game of Jenga! If you don’t like crowds, however, on Wednesdays to Saturdays between 8 and 10, just stick with a cold bubble tea to take away!
||28 Anzac Ave, Auckland CBD, Auckland, New Zealand
||+64 9 3771868