Sunday 22 June 2008

Exotic stuff!!

I often wonder if my food ravings fall on deaf (or possibly bored) ears... Like anyone with an obsession, I find that most of my conversations centre around it. When asked "How are you?" I will most often reply with an answer that has food at the core.. "I'm stuffed, I cooked for 16 last night" or "I'm great! I tried a recipe for bouillabaisse last night and it was da BOMB!" or even "I am so freakin excited, I just found a local supplier of my favourite rasa al hanout!" I have been increasingly aware that I have very little else in my life except my food obsession, and was becoming concerned that I should maybe broaden my horizons.

Until this weekend when my friend Jo asked me out on a food date.

Apparently, several months ago a series of food shops opened up at Doncaster Westfield, and Jo has been walking around the centre for months thinking to herself "pg would LOVE this!!"

So maybe those ears are not so bored, and there IS a social need to open up discourse on food, food miles, SOLE food and what constitutes GOOD food. As part of my theory on "What is Australian Food", I surmise that as we, as a society, further evolve, we move further from the food of the traditional Motherland, and are entering a phase where the food of our actual citizens becomes less of the exotic, and more of the mainstream.

Like any adolescent, we're breaking the ties with Mum and Dad, and evolving our own identity, based on the sum of our experiences. And the reality for Australia, and its cuisine, is that a huge percentage of our collective experiences are from other cultures.

Thus more and more purveyors of food and food stuffs are carrying the ingredients and the flavours of Africa, or central Europe, of Latin America, of the Orient.

And this is what is obvious in 4 shops in a pretty standard suburban shopping centre.

The first shop is Jones the Grocer. You know that Australian palates are changing, when you have a providor with a cheese room, in the 'burbs. There are various tasting stations, the presentation is immaculate, the staff are young, good-looking and knowledgeable, and the food is SENSATIONAL. Their macadamia fudge made me make a mess in my rompers, and I am not a sweet-toothed person. You can buy anything from Tartuflanghe Italian acacia honey with truffle to Jones the Grocer's own brand of lavosh. Galler Belgium chocolate to dried porcinis.

The second shop is Oil and Vinegar. As far as I can find out, it is the first of this franchise in Australia, Again, presentation is immaculate, the feature wall being covered with a dozen or so glass amphorae with different oils and, well.. vinegars in them. The amphorae are backlit, and the effect is spectacular. Forget the demise of Tastespotting.. if you want real life food porn, it's there for you in the 'burbs! They too have several tasting stations, and you can sample everything from the real aged Moderna aceto balsamico (at $35 per 150ml) to both white and black truffle oil.

The third shop is El Bazaar, a funky shop that stocks all things Middle Eastern. here you can scoop chick peas from hessian sacks, and if you close your eyes and inhale you could very well be in a souk, or the spice markets of Istanbul. The prices of their dried goods were ridiculously cheap, and with Coles only 2 shops away, this puts paid to the argument I often hear that "shopping SOLE is too time consuming. I don't have time to go to individual shops". El Bazaar has a huge range of dried fruits and nuts, and the shelves are stocked with an amazing array of fruit pastes and gels and spices and cookware. I asked the young girl behind the jump about tagines and she offered to ring her Mum to see if you could get an answer to my queries! Now THAT's service.

The final shop was the Oxfam shop where you can get everything from a "Not Made In A Sweat Shop" bag, thru fair trade quinoa to organic chocolate.

And it's at these last two places I made my purchases.

The Nabali Tree Olive Oil. (from the Oxfam shop) I have Googled for info on this product and found absolutely NOTHING. SO, dear readers, I believe I am the first person ever, to write about it. It doesn't even feature in their online catalogue.

Nabali Tree olive oil is organic cold-pressed extra virgin OO, certified USDA organic, certified Fair For Life by IMO and is a member of the Palestinian Fair Trade Association. It is a product of Canaan Fair Trade, Palestine. The label reads:

"Fruity and flavorful and legendary, Nabali Tree Olive Oil, from the native olive tree of Palestine, the ancient home of olive oil.

Canaan oilve oil is naturally organic owing to the ancient Canaanite traditions of farming that persist to this day. Canaan olive oil is produced by farmer cooperatives that are members of the Palestine Fair Trade Association. We guarantee fair prices to farmers and reinvest a portion of our profits in developing projects that serve the farming community. If you are enjoying this oil withing 3 to 6 months of pressing, you will experience the peppery hints and subtle bitter aftertones of "Zeit Fghish", a set of taste impressions unique to freshly pressed Palestinian Olive Oil"

It is a Chartreuse green, and I couldn't detect any peppery notes, but the date on my bottle says it was pressed in 2007, so I might have missed the time period and the oil is more mature. There is most definitely a bitter note to the oil, which mellows on the back palate. It is really a unique olive oil. I am planning to use it as a dipping oil with some sumac and Zaatar.

And my other purchase was from El Bazzar. Some Pashmak, or Persian Fairy Floss. The very knowledgeable young girl behind the jump (the same one who offered to ring her Mum for tips on tagine cooking) explained that this stuff is basically halva that has been pulled and stretched in a similar way to pulled noodles until it resembles fairy floss. It has a pronounced nutty taste. Actually, it tastes exactly like it sounds.. nutty and sweet.. Halva in thread form. A large box cost me $6.50, and I am going to top some hot chocolate chai with it al la Mute Monkey's Beetroot experience. The kids had some last night, atop Emmaline's Chocolate Indulgence Cookies, and some vanilla ice cream. It looks and tastes decadent and spectacular!

So forget all those anti-SOLE arguments, and get with the programme. Those of us in the 'burbs no longer have to trek to Turkisk/Greek/Viet enclaves to get our fix of "exotic" ingredients. We no longer have to brave the Nazi parking officers in Richmond, to get a Simon Johnson-esque rush. We can buy beautiful, fresh, ethical ethnic ingredients at our doorsteps, and incorporate them into our everyday cooking!


Anonymous said...

Hi pg. I've noticed a similar growth over at Highpoint, though I don't venture there often and haven't examined it further. One issue which I'd ask you to comment on is the prices. Previously, many of these 'accessible for the suburban shopping centre customer' places have priced themselves in a luxury bracket because of their exotic cachet. Are prices becoming more reasonable?

grocer said...

How excited are you?

Jones the grocer has become a franchise and now owned by a melbourne based company. Always been yummy but expensive.

there is an oil & vinegar at Bondi Junction Westfield, so this must be a franchise.

I am a little curious as to where SOLE starts and stops. Is it better to buy fair trade Palestinian olive oil or an Australian grown olive oil of good repute?

Are the bags of chickpeas etc any different to the supermarket ones, and how are they packaged for purchase?

It's all rather interesting to see the market evolving in order to grab the conscience dollar.

;] g

purple goddess said...

Jones the Grocer was pricey. $6.50 for 150g (or so) of pashmak, as opposed to $6.50 for a 350g box next door. The cheese prices were comparable with what I'd pay at say, DJ's Food Hall. Their spices/rubs ect were also on par with DJ's or any good deli. The range of coffees (both imported and local, organic and free trade,and neither of those things) were on par with what you'd pay at a good coffee supplier.. more than Slaveways, less than Simon Johnson's.. that sort of range... Obviously the balsamics and imported oils (from both JtG and Oil and Vinegar) were pricey... $38.00 for a 750ml bottle of lemon infused OO. The Oil and vinegar "handle" if you like, is that you can re-fill your bottle from the amphorae on the wall, and that keeps the price down.. some of the OO's were going at about $35 a litre.

El Bazaar was cheap. Cheaper than I've seen in Coles et al. Chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, raisins, dried fruits, besam flour, almond.. all sold by scoop weight from hessian sacks. The sesame seeds were about $2.50 for 200g.

And G, that's the "sting in the tail" of SOLE, isn't it... do I buy fair trade rice from a co-op in Thailand, or water-wasting local stuff??

My take on it is, that sometimes you gots to rob Peter to pay Paul... I wouldn't buy JtG's imported OO, I'd buy the best quality Aussie stuff, but this Nabali Tree stuff fascinated me, in that its description sounded unusual.. and unusual it is!.. AND it is organic and free trade, too.

Will it replace my everyday Cobram OO? Nup, but if I am going to buy and "exotic" ingredient it might as well be an organic, free trade, co-op produced one from Oxfam.

grocer said...

I guess it just depends what it is and what you place your importance on...

but yes fair point at the end their (and glad you are on the cobram estate - I stock the boundary bend blend)

Anonymous said...

PG I love shopping for food & checking out new places is extra exciting. Even the humble old supermarket is interesting.
I find myself checking out whats in every one elses trolley. The thing that especially interests me though is the freezer cabinet.
I always marvel at the cross section of people from all demographics, ages & differing cultural backgrounds who regularly pick up the frozen cheesburgers from its frosty shelves.
Go figure?
As to the SOLE-locavore issue, I think that supporting ethical producers whereever they might be in the global marketplace is a just
cause, at least you have an idea wher your money is really going-or at least I hope one does.

grocer said...

ohhhh the freezer section.

My husband couldn't get over the amount of time I can spend staring in the freezer aisles - at each frosted up door and each person opening them to put packets into their trolley.

It's fascinating in a way I can't explain. Possibly because, aside from ice cream, peas, spinach and pastry i had never seen any of those things until I started shopping for myself!

Adele said...

It's wonderful when shops near you finally start selling the stuff you used to have to scour for, although it's a little sad to no longer need to raid the chinese market or indian shops on the Golden Mile for some random spice.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think Australian foods as this:

1) Indigenous Australian food - fish, grubs, the whole works.

2) British colonial food - ahh, where would Australia be without it's meat pies with tomato sauce on top, fish and chips, etc.

3) Immigrants from all over the world - Malaysia, South Africa, etc.

4) A modern mixture of 1 or 2 of those cuisines-types. And you've got Australian food. :)

Anonymous said...

We are a US based company that currently sells the Nabali and Rumi (certified Organic and Fair Trade Palestinian Olive Oil) and other Palestinian delicacies with free shipping. Please see our website for details, we are hoping to make Palestinian Olive Oil a household name.

Best Regards,


Olde City Imports LLC
PO BOX 153
Randolph , MA 02368