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Week 2 – Because-I-Hate-Plants Diary

Day 7 (Monday, April 7):
Lunch: Rainbow slaw with fried tofu and lemongrass lime dressing
Dinner: Dukkah roasted potatoes
Dessert: 1 square of Pana chocolate (mint flavour), Mister Nice Guy Lamington mini cupcake

I made a huge amount of delicious “butter chicken” (except not-butter and not-chicken) tonight – it’ll last two dinners, two lunches this week for both of us plus an additional four frozen portions. Who knew that curry with no cream or ghee or butter could taste this rich and creamy?

Day 8 (Tuesday, April 8):
Lunch: Not-butter not-chicken with a side of dukkah roasted potatoes
Dinner: More un-butter-un-chicken, with an evening snack of Alive & Radiant Kale Krunch in “cheezy” chipotle flavour

I found myself seriously looking forward to eating my curry for lunch. Look at it – can you blame me?

Hungry after work, I wanted to grab a snack on my way to a book club meeting, and it just so happened that the health store was marginally closer to the supermarket on my way to the train, so I bought this dehydrated kale chips packet. It was quite yummy, by the way, and tasted totally cheesy despite being completely vegan – raw vegan, at that! However, the irony of spending $9 on a healthy snack instead of $2 on an unhealthy one because I was too lazy to walk another 20 metres is pretty… great. Let’s just go with ‘great’.

Day 9 (Wednesday, April 9):
Lunch: Last portion of left over dukkah potatoes
Dinner: Udon with mushroom light soy broth, tofu, shiitake and oyster mushrooms
Snack: Sweet William mini dairy free chocolate bar

Day 10 (Thursday, April 10):
Lunch: Tofu mince “bolognese” with shell pasta
Dinner: Lord of the Fries burger and fries
Dessert: Smooze Mango coconut ice

Really? I’m one third of the way through the challenge? I’m really settling into things and getting used to it. I feel that by next week, there isn’t going to be anything to write about, only foodporn.

Day 11 (Friday, April 11):
Lunch: Mixed mushroom vermicelli from Miss Chu
Dessert: Orange Polenta cupcake with Popcorn topping, from Joy Cupcakes
Dinner: Gong De Lin – beancurd wrapper dumplings, seaweed fried rice with pinenuts, mixed mushroom hotpot

Day 12 (Saturday, April 12):
Phat Brats “Superfood Dog”, “Half-Pint Vegan Dairy” Coconut Milk Ice Cream with Coffee

I went to the newly-opened Melbourne branch of the Cruelty Free Shop today and bought all sorts of meat substitutes – up to this point, I haven’t been cooking with them, but I have a few dishes in mind next week that’ll be able to make use of some nice “chorizo” and “pork sausage”. I also bought this amazing “New Kinda Bacon” thing, which is so convincingly smokey and delicious I had to use all my willpower not to eat the whole $13 packet all at once! The shop certainly had a really good range of vegan foodstuffs, though I noticed many of the prices are high compared to the same product at other fancy grocers in Melbourne. They do have a wider variety of stuff, so I guess for a one-stop-shop, it’s pretty damn awesome.

Day 13 (Sunday, April 13):
Vege Pad Thai and “duck” pancake from Madame K Vegetarian; roast vegetable and “facon” (new-kinda bacon) cassoulet

Week two was easier than week one, even though I didn’t eat out as much – I’m definitely getting into the groove and not randomly craving buttery things all the time. I still had a few things that weren’t vegan – I had some more European milk chocolate that was still in the house, and my Phat Brats superfood dog had chilli mayo in it of the dairy variety as did my Lord of the Fries meal. I want to see if I can go the next week with even less dairy allowances.

Turns out, being a new vegetarian, even almost-vegan, is fairly easy if you just focus on all the yummy things you can eat and just don’t even think about what you can’t. At least, it seems to be working well for me so far.

I honestly don’t think I’m going to do another diary post next week – but I’ll do a round up of food highlights at the end of the month at least! In the meantime, follow the deliciousness I am eating on Instagram, hashtag #aprilvegchallenge!

Giapo

This is an imported/archive post.

This has been a review I’ve wanted to write for a very long time! However, I visit Giapo so frequently that enjoying their delicious gelato is very much a routine thing for me, and as such it never crosses my mind to take any photos. Now that I’ve finally snapped a few using my cellphone (remembering at the last minute the other day) it’s time to explain why I’m such a loyal patron of this little gelateria located between the Civic and SkyCity Cinemas on Queen Street.

To start with, the service is fantastic. The owner, Gianpaolo Grazioli, can often be found serving or chatting to customers or keeping up-to-date one of Giapo’s many online presences. No matter how busy it gets (and it gets crazy busy, often), Giapo’s staff are friendly and gracious, always willing to help with flavour selections and sampling, while at the same time remaining calm and collected in a high-paced environment and generally very efficient.

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

Giapo gelato shop on Queen St, with outdoor seating

That’s not even the best thing about Giapo.

In most gelato shops in New Zealand you will find a reasonably varied selection of flavours compared to standard ice cream parlours. Typically, they will take a known chocolate brand (eg. Bounty, Ferrero Rocher) or popular dessert (eg. tiramisu) and turn this into a flavour. Giapo does this, but they go further than that – they blend these popular tastes together, they add creative ingredients to classic varieties, they invent completely unique flavours out of the blue. They’re things you never dreamed would taste good in a gelato, but more often than not, it turns out they really do! Green Tea and Roasted Rice – weird? Try it, it’s amazing! Other less yummy strange flavours they have attempted before include popcorn and even sausage! Though some of these were just never meant to be, I totally commend Giapo for giving everything a go!
But even better than creative, Giapo is versatile. No gelato maker is perfect – Giapo doesn’t always get it right the first time. They create new flavours, they self-assess and critique, they invite feedback from customers and their online fans, and then they go back and improve on the recipe, sometimes over and over until they think they’ve got it right.

While the classics and favourites, such as the mouth-watering Giapo Hazelnut with Nutella, are permanent fixtures on the menu, new exciting flavours are created and served pretty much every week; often, they are even unique creations dedicated to celebrities, sponsors or events. At the moment, they are partnering with the Wine Vault to deliver a series of wine sorbets with a different Sauvignon Blanc base every week! The resulting sorbets are light, summery and delicious with about 2% alcoholic content remaining. “The Darling” is my favourite so far, with lemon tea, grapefruit and hints of guava. Generally speaking, Giapo’s sorbets are more flavoursome than those sold at most gelato shops around Auckland. The fruity ones not only contain real fresh fruit, but actually taste like it – like you’ve just had a scrumptious salad with fruit ripened just enough for maximum sweetness and juicyness. The new Rockmelon flavour is a perfect example of this.

Amongst other original creations that make a repeat appearance are the Trudy Pancake – real pancake with maple syrup, and the Chocolate Fantasy (or a variant, Chocolate Yummo) – four or five different types of chocolate-based ingredients combined to make a single orgasmically rich chocolate sensation.

Giapo - LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Giapo – LCD menus showing other yummy products like flavoured coffee

Italian gelato classics showcased include the Amarena – a fior di latte based gelato swirled through with sour amarena cherries, and Stracciatella – chocolate bits throughout plain fior di latte. The Amarena is one of my very favourite flavours when I’m not craving something rich, but rather light and fruity. I’m not a fan of Stracciatella in general as I find the flavour too subtle, the chocolate bits unable to provide enough flavour to do much to the gelato in the temperature at which it’s stored. That’s why I love my sauce swirls…
Flavours created to adapt to local palates include the Cookies and Cream (a variation of the popular kiwi classic using pale cookies rather than dark and larger chunks of it), the Milo and the Coffee and Baileys. Other flavours are made rarely but do keep returning at random times, often being long-awaited. My absolute favourite flavour which I am always hanging out for is the Pavlova with cherry. It’s gelato perfection. Cookie Dough is another flavour that is not made everyday as it seems to take some effort to produce.

One particular thing that impresses me about Giapo is that they are able to make genuinely authentic tasting versions of non-Italian and non-Kiwi flavours. The Green Tea and Roasted Rice flavour I mentioned earlier is one example – not only does it taste like real Japanese matcha tea, it is the best tasting green tea flavoured gelato or ice-cream I have sampled to date, including those I have tried in authentic Japanese restaurants and in Asian countries! The Aloe Vera sorbet was a genius idea, and is now one of my favourite low-calorie dessert options from anywhere. To celebrate Chinese New Year, Giapo offered three flavours – Red Bean (a Chinese classic), Black Sesame and Rice. The first two were delicious and as authentic as you can get, while the Rice tasted much better than expected while having nothing for me to compare it to due to its uniqueness.

Let’s talk texture. The best gelatos I have had have a certain consistency – Giapo’s gelato is definitely amongst them. Gelato’s consistency is one of the main things that sets it apart from and why I much prefer it to ice-cream. It’s made with a higher milk-to-cream content ratio, is frozen at a higher temperature, is lower in fat and is denser and heavier. One thing I’ve noticed is that if you insert a small spoon into a well-made gelato and pull it out at a moderate speed, the gelato will stretch and move with it like Play-Doh and form a sort of curl where the spoon left the dessert; if you do the same thing to ice-cream, nothing will happen except that a bit of residual cream will cling on to the spoon – the ice cream stays the same. Giapo gelato is super stretchy and just feels great in your mouth!

Giapo - the creamy side - with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos... mouth-watering richness!

Giapo – the creamy side – with chocolate, cream, coffee and dessert based gelatos… mouth-watering richness!

Giapo pays attention not just to what goes into their gelato, but also the quality and origin of those things. They use organic A2 milk, organic locally grown produce, and the best of the best imported ingredients such as (supposedly) pistachios from Bronte in Sicily and hazelnuts from Langhe in Piedmont. Additionally, no preservatives or additives go into their products, so it’s hard to feel guilty when enjoying these relatively healthy desserts. It does mean that if you purchase a 1-litre take-home pack at $22, you need to polish it off within a few days for optimum taste and texture – but that’s not hard!

I have visited enough gelaterias in other countries to notice a worldwide theme for these shops when it comes to decor – clean and bright and modern. Some of Auckland’s gelato shops don’t really share this atmosphere, and not always for the worse – Valentino’s down at the Ferry Building, for example. But Giapo tries to. When the shop first opened at the beginning of 2009, I was immediately attracted to it visually. There is a lot of white with bright lighting and their vibrant signature purple. Over the past year, though their gelato just keeps getting better, I would actually say the shop’s visual appeal has decreased slightly. They have kept adding things to their shop, like a big spinning wheel (part of a game to help you decide on additional toppings), colourful menus on LCDs, an interactive computer where you can take photos of yourself and send messages online… none of these are bad things, however, it’s a very small space that it has all been squashed into and the result is that the shop looks and feels too “busy”. It’s cheerful, sure, but there’s just a bit too much going on.

Marketing is something this small business really, really excels at. I have read criticism that Gianpaolo, the founder of the business, was criticised for trying to sell a brand and not a product. The fact is, selling a brand works, but it only works long-term if the product matches up to the expectations the brand creates. Clearly it does here, or Giapo in tiny New Zealand would not have a Facebook following of over 4,000 fans within its first year of opening. It is here where the staff of Giapo invite honest feedback on their products from real patrons, many of whom seem to visit the shop as frequently as I do. More importantly, they actually listen – there has never been a message or even off-hand statement of mine that hasn’t been addressed or responded to. Based on customers’ comments, criticism and advice, I’ve seen actual improvements and changes made to specific gelato flavours the very next day! Once, I suggested that they release a list of their flavours for the day at the start of each day so that frequenters such as myself don’t show up only to be disappointed that a favourite flavour wasn’t there that day. Done!

 

Of course, it helps that Gianpaolo is very active on the Facebook page and is obviously web-savvy, knowing the importance and effectiveness of online social media for today’s retail businesses. In fact, Giapo was even featured on the news for its excellent use of social media.To even further engage and interact with their patrons, Giapo holds weekly karaoke nights with prizes. Even cleverer – progress is updated throughout the night on their Twitter account and, for me at least, that really works – the real-time commentary makes me want to be there, eating the gelato, singing the cheesy pop songs.

If I have only one critcism, it’s the seating options. While it looks great, the outdoor white high chairs with purple legs and an ice-cream cone shaped hole in the seat back is somewhat uncomfortable and impractical – I always feel a bit awkward climbing onto the giant chairs with a tub of gelato in hand.

A little bit dearer than the average gelateria in Auckland, though not the most expensive, Giapo still provides good value with its original flavours and excellent service. As an added bonus, you may choose two flavours with the smallest-sized tub, unlike the one choice you are offered with small options in other shops.

There’s not much else to say to conclude this novel of a review other than this: While they have perfected several amazing flavours, Giapo isn’t perfect; but they want you to help them get there! Keep returning to see the results of the team effort – and with their ever-changing selection, you’ll never be bored!

Address: 279 Queen St, Auckland, New Zealand
Website: http://www.facebook.com/giapogelato
Opening Hours: Mon-Sat: 10.30am-late
Sun: 11.30am-late
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