Coffee v Durian

A few days ago we listened to a talk give by a young American called Lindsay Gasik. She calls herself a Durian Nerd and she travels around the world exploring the many different varieties of what is known in Asia as ‘The King of the Fruits.

Her love & passion for this prickly, smelly fruit that repulses most Westerners with its pungent fragrance, but excites those that learn to love it, has given her the chance to explore areas of the world she might never have visited.
Now I’m not quite sure if we love coffee more than Durian, it’s a fine line. When we’re eating a good Durian, maybe a Red Prawn or Masang King variety we would probably agree that it wins hands over, and yet…….a great coffee, well, there’s nothing that compares with that either!  Of course, the after effects of both are very similar.

Red Prawn Durian

If you love Durian as much as we do then eating too much in one sitting, which we often have, will heat up the body, make you feel a little spaced out, dehydrated and sleepy. Too much coffee will do the same thing after the initial high.
As an antidote for the after effects of Durian some say that drinking water directly out of the  shell solves the thirst and that dipping your hands in the water will take away the smell. But a tasty little fruit known as The Queen Of the Fruit will help to cool you down.  With a coffee overdose, plenty of water will help while you are drinking it.

Mangosteen, Queen of the Fruits, Cooling after Durian Beautiful Mangosteen, Queen of the Fruits

( for more Durian info from Lindsay click here)

Like Lindsay, our love of coffee has added something extra to travel and the chance to explore areas otherwise unknown.
Running tours has given us the chance to travel more but it’s often the time alone that we explore and discover.

Kuala Lumpur Re-Visited

We have a new found liking for Kuala Lumpur! The city we used to think of as dirty, crowded, seedy and relatively uninteresting is having a face lift. Once a place to stop off at en route to or from our second home it has suddenly become an enjoyable change from the less sophisticated lifestyle of Penang.

KL is certainly no less the concrete jungle it always was, it’s still busy and noisy and the huge LRT and monorail systems loom above your head and rattle their way around the city on an ever increasing number of lines. These, regardless of efficiency and a need to transport a huge population, are not pretty.

Monorail in Kuala LumpurMonorail in K.L.  The beautiful architecture of  Masjid Albukhary in the background.

KL is not what you would call a beautiful city by any means, but it is attempting to do something to make up for its once very ugly face. There is green in KL. Parks and gardens allow some respite from the concrete as well as the heat. In front of the Petronas Twin Towers is a beautiful park with a lake, several fountains, a playground and swimming pool for children. Within walking distance of KL Central is the Lake Gardens which also houses an enormous Bird  Park. Titiwangsa Park is only a short trip out of town. Taxis are cheap and Uber even cheaper.

Now Perdana Gardens K.L. Lake Gardens Kuala LumpurLake Gardens, now called Taman Tasik Perdana in K.L.

We’ve noticed too that the city is becoming more pedestrian friendly. There are more street crossings and lights and most of the traffic actually stops for you, unlike Penang where getting across a street can still be risky even for the most nimble of pedestrians.
Covered walkways make it easier to get around out of the sun. A huge covered bridge takes you from KLCC to the Pavilion at Bukit Bintang. The LRT is fast. We rarely had to wait more than a minute or two for a train.

relaxing in K.L.City Centre Parks in Kuala LumpurA Place to relax & enjoy infront of KLCC & Twin Towers

But if I’m really honest one of the main reasons for a visit to KL is for its’ cafes. Coffee in Penang has without doubt gone ahead in the last few years but the big city is at another level. And, dare I say it, there are a few cafes that I would rate as good as those in Melbourne.

Kuala Lumpur Coffee Best Coffee in K.LTasting Plate at Yellow Brick Road Cafe K.L.

Follow coffee in K.L on my next post  & click here for a few ideas of what to do and an unusual place to stay in Central Kuala Lumpur


Healthy Food in Penang

Penang is said to have some of the best street food in all of Asia. Certainly there is no shortage of it. Hawker stalls are everywhere. There’s no excuse for going hungry, you can eat at any time of the day or night. I love to walk the streets of George Town at night. The balmy weather, the street lights, the colour, the sound of food sizzling in woks and above all the smell of many different spices wafting into the night air and playing games with my taste buds.

Spicy Streetfood Curries Night Life in Little India PenangStreet Food in Little India George Town Penang during Ramadan

 Even after nearly 20 yrs of coming to Penang, Little India still excites me with it’s busy narrow streets, loud Bollywood music blaring from corner cd shops, coconut stalls, flower shops, saris, jewellery, Indian sweets, sundry stalls, spice shops, chapatis, dosa, curries and lassis. In fact Little India has it all, not to mention a few temples thrown into the mix.

Roti Cart Little India Penang Bread Cart Little India Bread Cart in Little India, George Town, Penang

For many years we lived on the street food. We loved the variety and flavours that we couldn’t get in Asian food back home. We were training hard with our Tai chi master every day, lunches and afternoon teas were all local cafes and dinners were in food courts or on the street. We were younger too and our bodies coped with foods that we realised in later years were not always nutritionally great. Every now and then we were treated to a meal cooked by our local friends and we tasted the difference in the quality of a home cooked meal and the somewhat greasy equivalent from a street hawker.

Oxidised Oil, Street food, greasy foodDeep Fried Street Food in Penang

We also noticed the difference in the colour of home cooked food. I could never understand how the veggies on the street and at the Nasi Kandar stalls stayed looking so bright & fresh, until I realised that they were all cooked with MSG. I should have realised why I always felt so thirsty after eating at a favourite vegetarian cafe.

Nazlina Spice Station Laksa Nazlinas’ Delicious Homemade Laksa at her Spice Station Cooking School

Except for one bout of food poisoning  when we stupidly ate icecream on an island that used generators and turned them off for nearly half of each day, we never got sick. And food was cheap. We would spend about $15-20 per day for both of us and that was eating more upmarket than a local person, eating say, a Char Kwaoy Chow or Bee Hoon for about 70cents. But even with all the exercise the Patient Partner gained weight every time we were in Penang. We rarely had the feeling of total well being. We could argue that this was due to the heat and lack of air quality that we are so fortunate to enjoy in Australia but we also realise now that we were not getting a totally nutritious diet.

Cooking Mee in Georgetown PenangFried Bee Hoon at a local Street Stall in George Town

Whilst Asians have grown up on a diet of noodles and rice we have not. Our bodies  need different nutrients according to our location and upbringing. Interestingly enough the health and body shape of many Asians, especially the Chinese, who have been lured into the world of the west & its fast foods has changed dramatically.  And, so have we.  In Australia we eat very well and we realise that if we want to stay young and active in old age we need to fuel our bodies with what they need most. Great quality food, exercise, pure water and clean air (unfortunately clean air is not always available in Malaysia!! )

Tai Chi Penang, Armenian Park Tai Chi, Early Morning Tai ChiEarly Morning Tai Chi at Armenian Park in Georgetown

 Street Food in Asia is so much a part of its culture and heritage that it can’t just be ignored. We still love to sit at a street stall or in a local kopi shop for a drink with friends, to relax after an early morning Tai Chi Session and to soak up the atmosphere of the amazing city that we have adopted as our second home.

Hawker fare Penang Breakfast in Penang Relaxing in PenangMorning Hawker Stall in Kimberley St Georgetown

 Even before my new friend fructmal began doing her damndest to change my life we found we enjoyed Asian street food less each year.
For this couple of foodie nerds who spend each Saturday of every week hunting & gathering at whatever farmers market happens to be on, a plate of fresh, organic veggies is far more appealing than a plate of greasy noodles cooked in blackened oil and doused with MSG

Straits Quay Farmers MarketOrganic Veg at Straits Quay Monthly Farmers Market in Penang

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not against Asian food. During our 18 yrs of traveling we’ve been lucky enough to sample some amazing local food from several Asian countries.  Tastes we would never have had in Australia. How could we ever have known what Yak butter, buffalo curd, smelly tofu, idlis with coconut chutney or tarantula legs tasted like if we only  ate lettuce &  bean sprouts!!

Idlis with Coconut Chutney, Indian IdliSouth Indian Idlis made using Fermented Black Lentils & Rice

If you happen to be on a two or three week holiday go for it. Try and taste all you can. Experiment like crazy and enjoy the local food and drink. If food intolerances are not an issue then a few weeks of eating food that may taste great but is perhaps not nutritionally great won’t do you any harm.

But living long term in Asia is a different story. We don’t want to compromise the health that we enjoy. We love the quality of the food we buy in Melbourne. We make it a challenge there to stay away from the processed crap found in supermarkets and enjoy our day at farmers markets stocking up on fresh veg, organic eggs, locally caught fish and seasonal fruit for the week ahead.

Organic Veggies Melbourne, Melbourne Org VegFresh Veggies from a Melbourne Farmers Market

Buying quality fresh food in Penang can be difficult, though recently a few small farms have started growing organic or chemical free fruit & veg. One of these is Happy Farm at Relau, an organic farm run by Mr Lee, a hard working young man with just an acre of seasonal produce. On the day we visited his farm there was not a lot ready to be harvested but what we did buy such as lettuce, cucumbers, Bok Choy and pea sprouts were absolutely beautiful. What we didn’t eat immediately stayed fresh and tasted delicious even after several days.

Mr Lee also runs a delivery service. A package of available veg of the week will cost very little.  Real Food, a vegetarian cafe at Straits Quay that run a farmers market on the 3rd Sunday of each month, is the pickup point.

Happy Farm Penang Mr Lee Organic Farm PenangOrganic Happy Farm at Relau in Penang

Should you decide to take a trip out to the farm make sure you check out Mr Lee’s beehives. You can have a really close look at these because the bees are the non stinging variety. I’ve never seen this kind of bee before, and what was even more interesting was the pot as I think it’s called, which stores the honey. There were only a few of these in each hive, which, by the way, is a rather expensive tree stump with an entrance the same as a hole in a branch.  The nectar is collected from the surrounding tropical fruit trees so it should taste quite amazing. Extracting the honey from the pots is done manually and is incredibly time consuming. Mr Lees’ hives are quite new so at the moment there is only enough honey for his family but he hopes that in the future there may be enough to sell.

Non Stinging Bees and pots Happy Farm PenangBeehive at Happy Farm showing the Pots containing the honey

A stones throw from Happy Farm is Wonder Wilder Farm. We have yet to visit this one although we have eaten some of their lovely herbs at a local restaurant where an interesting talk was given about the farm and  the meal was cooked with the the creative flair of Chef Mathijs Nanne.

Wonder Wilder Org FarmMeal cooked by Chef Mathijs using  herbs from Wonder Wilder Farm

Much of Penangs’ fresh produce comes from the Cameron Highlands where the temperature is cooler and conditions are more conducive to growing a greater range of veg.
Other than that what we see in street markets and supermarkets is brought in from overseas, often Indonesia or China, and since we are finding out more each year about the chemicals used on and in their food production then we are probably better giving them a big miss, although I’m not sure that what is grown in Malaysia is any better!

We can’t complain these days about the lack of Health Food, or organic shops as they are called here in Penang. I guess this is a bit of a misnomer because not everything in them is organic!  They are popping up  almost as fast as cafes in Penang and in areas I haven’t yet checked out.

However, some are a bit short on what I would call Health foods, as they appear to be selling lots of tinned powders and packaged goods, often from China, and much of it is soy based.
From what I see they have nothing much that is to do with health and I don’t shop in these.
On a positive note there are shops such as I.E Organic in Pulau Tikus and Just Life at Hillside in Tanjung Bunga that have a wide range of healthy products including  fresh organic veggies and free range eggs.

IE Organic shop Pulau TikusGood Organic Shop with adjoining cafe serving healthy local dishes

We do most of our buying at IE as it’s a bit closer to us.  Just Life is further out of town and can be a little more expensive. The staff at I.E. are lovely, especially Sam who runs the shop as well as the wonderful little adjoining cafe.We love to eat here, the food is a healthy take on local dishes such as the Hakka Lei Cha (Thunder Rice), a spicy Rendang dish, Pineapple Rice, Vietnamese Egg Rolls, Fried Bee Hoon, a superb Laksa as well as an Indonesian Lodeh Rice and Nasi Lemak.

ie Organics Vietnamese Egg RollsDelicious Vietnamese Egg Rolls with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce

Laksa at ie Organic Pulau Tikus, Vegetarian Laksa in Penang, Spicy Laksa at IE Organics Pulau TikusSuperb Flavour in this Vegetarian Laksa

There are also a few set menus that include an apple cider or longan & honey drink and either soup or dessert, and if you like you can upgrade for an extra RM4 and have their delicious sugar free ice-cream. Why wouldn’t you?!!  And if you happen to be lactose intolerant then they do have a vegan icecream.  The prices are very reasonable, main meals are around RM 11.50 to about RM 15. Set meals are around RM 12.50 ( so cheap for this quality of food) and all ingredients where possible are organic or chemical free.

Hokkien Lei Cha (Thunder Rice)Hakka Lei Cha (Thunder Rice)

Nasi Lemak at IE Organics Pulau Tikus, Vegetarian Nasi Lemak ie Organics in Penang, Spicy Nasi Lemak in Pulau TikusSpicy Nasi Lemak with Antioxidant Rich Blue Pea Flower Rice

As for dessert, the cakes are hard to resist. Made using coconut oil, free range eggs and coconut sugar I can rarely get out of the cafe without devouring one of them at least. ( I could probably eat two!!)  Their chocolate & walnut brownie with a scoop of double chocolate ice cream is a must have!!

Tip: If you happen to visit this cafe and have a food  intolerance such as Gluten, Fructose or Lactose then please let them know what you can’t eat. I have found them to be extremely happy to avoid any problem foods you might have in certain meals.

Pulau Tikus is an easy trip from George Town on the bus. The 101, 102,103 & 104 will take you. Get off at the Burmese Temple & Reclining Buddha and walk past the temples to Burma Rd. Turning left, cross over the road and you will find Solok Moulmein on the right. The Interesting Pulau Tikus market is on the right and if you like markets this is well worth a visit.  Inside the market is a small stall called LSY Health & Organic selling a small range of health foods including some vegetables & fruit.  If you feel like a bit of healthy refreshment on the go then do try one of their organic juices.

Also in the market you will find a stall with a lovely lady selling  products from Happy Goat Farm in Balik Pulau. Goat milk can be a great alternative for anyone who has an allergy or intolerance to cows milk, as it is far more easily digested, and therefore more gentle on the stomach. This is especially so for small children and babies. As well as milk they also supply, kefir, yoghurt and cheeses. My three children all had allergies to cows milk and suffered with hives and eczema until they were changed to goat milk. From then on they never had another problem with the skin.

Turn left at the end of Solok Moulmein and you will see IE Organic on your left. It’s right opposite a nearly finished block of expensive apartments.

If it’s the right time if the day you will see an Indian couple making String Hoppers. Do try it. It’s rice flour pushed through a wooden mold and layered like lace onto a steaming upturned basket. When cooked it’s piled into several small oblong layers and served in paper, alongside a mixture of coconut & sugar. Very moorish!!

Putuh, String Hoppers, Pulau Tikus MarketPutu Mayam or String Hoppers Near Pulau Tikus Market Penang

A little further on from IE on the same side is another Organic shop called Oon. We do get a few items from here too. Like IE the staff are very friendly and the shop has a reasonable range of items.
On the right hand side of Solok Moulmein is Go Organics. I like the feel of this shop. It’s small and packed full of stock.  What they do have is a good selection of Gluten Free products and they did manage to get us some Schars Gluten Free bread (one of the better tasting GF breads) when we needed it for a  member of one of our Penang tour groups.

Just Life in Hillside is a beautifully laid out shop with a good selection and its the only place I can buy Australian Millet. They usually have a fridge full of organic veggies and its my favorite place to buy Shampoo & Conditioner as they sell the Indochine range of skin products which I love. Their basil and lemongrass soap is gorgeous, it smells and feels divine and I often put a bar in with my clothes as I’m sure it keeps the silver fish away.
I know there are a few other shops that I haven’t explored yet, but I’ll get round to them in time. I’ll update when I do.

The Search for a Great Loaf

 I often yearned for a good old sandwich during our early years in Penang. You know, the ones with two thick slices of bread that have substance. Bread that feels like you are actually eating something worthwhile, that will hold together most of its filling and above all has a flavour that is unmistakably bread.

Sourdough Sandwich

I gave up the search. Nothing came close. What was called bread was a thin, white soggy sponge loaded with sugar and goodness knows what else, wrapped in a plastic bag and piled onto supermarket or seven/eleven shelves. So months would go by without and I would curb my sandwich desire until we were back in Melbourne. But it wasn’t a big deal as there were so many other things to eat to take my mind somewhere else. Also, regardless of the soggy bread, one of my favourite sights and sounds then and still now, is the old bread cart going around the streets of Georgetown.

Penang Bread Cart

Since 2008 when Penang gained it’s Unesco Heritage status the city has  been changing rapidly. Whilst some might lament Penang’s need for  development, and certainly in many aspects I am one of those, I am not apposed to Penangs’ food becoming a little more sophisticated.
Artisan bakeries have sprung up around the state and great breads, often sourdough, are suddenly available.

Several years ago we found some good bread at Gusto Cafe. This is a popular eating place at Hillside in Tanjung Bunga. Jason, the owner and his wife were once missionaries and teachers and their caring attitude towards people is quite evident. They set up a system whereby, if you feel inclined, you can pay a little extra for your meal and those few ringitt  will go towards buying a free meal for a homeless person. They also have a collection box for a local stray dog shelter, helping to buy food and medicine for those animals rescued from the street.

Suspended coffee or meals at Gusto Cafe

Not only do Jason and his staff make you feel incredibly welcome they also cook up some tasty food. The menu is extensive providing mostly western options to accommodate the many expats living in the area.

Gusto Cafe Penang

There is no shortage of sandwiches now. Gusto make some delicious combinations and there are also Paninis, burgers and salads. I would also recommend the lassis, especially the chocolate, coffee and raspberry ones.  You certainly won’t be short of choices here and if you struggle with cigarette smoke as we do, just go down a couple of steps to the back of the cafe and you will find a small smoke free garden area.

A family member of Jason was supplying Gusto with fresh bread and we often went home with several loaves at a time just to make sure we wouldn’t run out.
These days the same bread is available at The Baking Garage just a few streets from Gusto Cafe.
There is a good range of bread, much of it sourdough and the Croissants are to die for, but I would suggest phoning them with your order because, not surprisingly, they sell out very fast.

The baking Garage Croissants

Their phone number is +60124075088. Hours are 7am-11am & 5pm-9pm every day except Friday when they are closed. There does seem to be more bread available during the afternoon/evening hours.

Not long after discovering that Penang suddenly had some real bread we happened to find Yin and her Sourdough Bakery only a stones throw from where we stay. This is what tends to happen when living in two countries. We are  kept on our toes because so much changes in the months we are away and there’s always more to discover when we return.

Yin's Sourdough Bread, Yin's Sourdough Bakery, Yin's Starter Culture, Levain at Yin's Sourdough BakeryYin’s Special Sourdough Bread

Finding YIns Sourdough Bakery was like finding the holy grail. Here was a baker who believed as I do in creating a loaf from a pure culture rather than including any bakers yeast or additives.
This is not always easy. It takes time, skill and a whole heap of patience to produce enough to sell.
There are so many variables in sourdough baking and I admire Yin for believing in what she is doing and sticking with it.

Sourdough StarterA Sourdough Culture

As well as a huge variety of loaves the bakery also makes delicious scones, buns, cakes, muffins and granola bars (the Patient Partner is addicted to these) Yin’s homemade kefir is a great addition to smoothies or as topping for your porridge or muesli. A selection of homemade jams made by Farina & Mathijs, the head chef at Suffolk House are simply superb on Yin’s sourdough.  Their Pineapple, Cinnamon and Spice conserve on toast is simply luscious. I  have never had a jam before that has a whole cinnamon stick sitting in the jar. The latest addition to their range is a mouthwatering combination of Orange, Mango & Pickled Lime. This is a sugar free marmalade that, happily for me, boasts a fructose content of just 5%.

Pineapple& cinnamon Jam

The cafe in the bakery serves up some delicious sandwiches and focaccias, all sourdough of course, very yummy french toast with a topping of banana, nuts, and, if you like, a drizzle of honey or jam. There are breakfast dishes with eggs and sausage if you prefer something a little heavier, and if it happens to be in season, and you love Cempedak as much as the P.P. and I, then this awesome fruit paired with cheese in a sandwich is a must have. Coffee, chocolate and a selection of teas are available, and great lassis made with lots of fresh fruit and kefir.

Cempedak Sourdough SandwichYin’s Cempedak & Cheese Sourdough Sandwich

But what really stands out at Yins Bakery is the incredible customer service.
Here every customer is special. No sooner have you walked through the door than a glass of cool filtered water lands in your hand and this will be re-filled throughout your stay.
Yin is ably helped by her father in law and a staff who, judging by the great smiles they give to customers, obviously enjoy their work.

Despite the many hours of work running a bakery, a cafe and three small children Yin’s bubbly personality creates an environment that has her customers returning many times. She appears to have time for everyone and nothing is too much trouble. We feel that the Bakery is a lovely oasis in an otherwise hot and crazy environment.

Yin the Sourdough Baker

And, if that’s not enough Yin and her husband Seng opened another venue this year in the historical Yeap Chor Ee building in China St, Georgetown. An awesome Italian wood fired oven has taken pride of place in this  latest cafe and they are now serving the best sourdough pizzas in Asia.

Sourdough Zucchini & Eggplant PizzaYins’ Zucchini & Eggplant Sourdough Pizza

Whilst Yin spends most of her time at the bakery, husband Seng and staff take care of the Pizza restaurant, and whilst we have never been big pizza eaters, infact in Australia we never eat them, we are really enjoying these. So far our favourite is topped with zucchini & eggplant, and we really love the crunchy crust around the rim.

Yins' Crusty Sourdough PizzaThe Delicious Crunchy Crust

We have yet to try the sweet pizza which is topped with pears and OMG there’s a Durian pizza waiting for us!!



Coffee in Penang

Kopi, Kopi C, Kopi Peng, Kopi Kosong, Kopi O …….no,not for me!!!

When I first came to Penang in 1998 there was no such thing as a Western coffee. The local Kopi, a strong, thick brew made with beans roasted until they were something that resembled a tar for the highway, with the addition of sugar, margarine and sometimes sesame oil was the only coffee available.  The roastery would be in the bottom room of an old shophouse with walls and ceilings entirely blackened by years of smoke from the furnace used to heat the huge roasting plate.

As a visitor I was unable to spend more than about 5 mins inside before my stinging eyes and choking lungs would have me racing outside gasping for air. So how did these roasters cope with it every day? What did it do to their long term health?

Coffee in Malaysia

Nowadays these roasteries still exist but many have upgraded to slightly better exhaust systems and for the sake of tourism they have become more user friendly. Now there’s a huge outlet for sales of flavoured and 3 or 2 in 1 local coffee for overseas markets and not just the local cafes.

I could never drink this thick concoction. The sediment at the bottom of the cup and the sickly sweetness of the condensed milk would leave my stomach wondering what on earth had hit it and that was during the years when I didn’t have a problem with fructose!! Though I must admit that on a few occasions I was rather partial to their  Kopi Ice and whether I like the taste of the coffee or not the smell of the beans roasting, often from several streets away, is still pure heaven!

Malaysian Iced Kopi

What does concern me is the effect on the health of those that sit in the  old coffee shops for hours on end drinking the local brew and more often than not with a cigarette hanging from their lips. In a country that has the highest rate of Diabetes in S.E.Asia then this amount of sugar in an otherwise harmless drink is a somewhat unnecessary addition.

Relaxasia Tour Group with coffee purchase

All said and done a lot of people I know are quite happy to drink this stuff ( one friend of ours used to drink up to 10 cups a day) but for me it will never do the trick. For a start most of these roasts are from the Liberica coffee varietal. Originally from Liberia and considered to be an inferior bean it is possibly  sweetened to mask the bitter notes.

Liberica makes up about 90% of the coffee plantations throughout Malaysia whilst the other 10% is Robusta, also a lower  grade bean and often blended with Arabica to impart more flavour at a lower  cost. Although I sometimes don’t mind this blend I’m not partial to  Robusta alone as it does boast a higher caffeine content, is more acidic and has a bitter taste.

making Kopi in Penang

In the last 5 or so years the Western coffee culture throughout Malaysia has taken off and there’s been a boom in cafes run by entrepreneurial young people. Many have experienced coffee in Melbourne, Sydney or the States whilst studying at Uni, have been lured by the bean and gone back home to try their luck  behind a beautiful Synesso Espresso machine.

Some cafes have what it takes and survive. Others that haven’t quite done their homework and don’t realise just how many coffees they need to sell each day to cover costs sadly close within months of the grand opening.

Competition is fierce just as it is in the West, but if everything gels, great  food, a passion for serving amazing coffees, a knowledge of the Industry and superb customer service then it seems you can’t go wrong.
And in my experience location doesn’t matter because if all the above are just right then your cafe will be found even if it’s in a field in the middle of nowhere.

Coffee in MalaysiaPenang Coffee in a Bag


Is Posh Porridge the Next Big Thing?

I love this article written by Annie Stevens in the  April Edition of Australias’  Delicious Magazine. Just sums up all my thoughts about AMAZING PORRIDGE.

‘Topped with everything from violet sugar to mulled wine, porridge has never been better.
Here are some of my earliest memories of porridge. The watery slop served at a swimming camp that still somehow reminds me of the smell of chlorine, and the perfect steel cut oats that dad lovingly prepared each morning. The ones that my brother and I sulked about because we were pretty certain that every other kid in the world got to have Coco Pops and why were stuck with boring old porridge? Oh how things change (sorry Dad).

Because now my thoughts often turn to creamy porridge topped with a glug of cream, sliced banana and brown sugar. Or if I’m feeling virtuous, porridge made with quinoa flakes and almond milk, with a dollop of nut butter and berries.

I’m not alone. Porridge is now a sexy food. Which seems rather incongruous given its general colour and texture. But scan the breakfast menu of cafes such as Edition Roasters in Darlinghurst and spot the bowl of grött and glögg, Danish porridge with house mulled wine, decorated with rehydrated fruit, honeycomb and lavender (just TRY and resist ‘gramming that), or the oat porridge strewn with strawberry and rhubarb compote, violet sugar and pistachios at Richmond’s Top Paddock.

We’re not even talking about things like Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge when we say porridge is getting posh, it’s just that after 32, 000 years (yep, the ancient people were said to eat porridge for breakfast) we’ve maybe hit porridge nirvana.”

Brent Savage, co-owner and chef at Sydney’s Yellow says that the “yellow-bix” oats, fruit, maple and buttermilk dish remains a popular choice on his weekend brunch menu. Partly, says Savage, because people choose porridge because of the mood they’re in.
“Porridge is surprisingly popular these days, especially now that we are coming into Autumn. People seem to be nostalgic about their childhood experiences of eating porridge at home…sometimes good, sometimes bad,” says Savage.
“I love the feeling of satisfaction after you eat it.”

“Porridge is also bang on the clean eating trend, given that plain old oats are high in fibre, protein and the low GI factor keeps you full longer. Plus, there’s the fact that you could swap in other health-conscious grains such as quinoa or amaranth instead. For Corie Sutherland, co-owner of Edition Roasters, the versatility of porridge is a key factor in its appeal.

“Porridge is getting fancier per se, because it’s such a plain staple. There are so many possibilities and creative things you can do with oats and other various ways to cook them, and why stop there – there are other wonderful grains that we can turn into porridge … its versatility is astounding as a culinary premise,” he says, adding that at home he tends to make okayu – Japanese rice porridge.

Another facet of porridge’s rise is due to it being an unlikely winner on Instagram. Indeed, in a direct competition to avocado toast, you can’t scroll too far without coming across a snap of someone’s bowl of porridge lovingly decorated with symmetrical lines of banana slices or oats sitting pretty in a puddle of syrup, often hashtagged with #porridgeporn or #porridgelovers.

It seems porridge lovers are a tribe, with leaders that include the likes of food blogger and cookbook writer Ella Woodward from deliciouslyella who flies the flag for porridge addicts with her regular porridge ‘grams. She describes her love of porridge on her blog as like “eating a giant hug,” which is not inaccurate. Plus, it might even help you to live longer.

All of which adds up to porridge pretty much being the ideal food for the finicky times we’re living in. The inherent customisation that porridge offers is endless – from Jamie Oliver’s recipe for quinoa, oat and linseed porridge topped in his new book, to model Chrissy Teigen’s mum’s “hangover curing” rice porridge in her book Cravings. As for what’s next in porridge? For Sutherland at least it might just involve “something fermented” on the menu at Edition Roasters.

There are, however a few cardinal rules of porridge. Namely, that you must use decent, chunky oats, get the liquid to grain ratio right (purists use only water, but experiment to find your own preference), consistent stirring is essential for creaminess, and as any Scotsman would tell you – don’t forget the salt.

Oh and there’s probably one more porridge rule for the modern day fan to abide – don’t take too long Instagramming your bowl. Because it doesn’t matter how you make your porridge or how many roasted nuts and seasonal berries you sprinkle on top, it remains a truth that there’s nothing sexy about a cold, solidified bowl of oats.”

Five bowls of porridge to try in Sydney.

1.  The foxy spring porridge at Bread and Circus – organic oats with toasted coconut, banana, blueberry and a dollop of organic clotted cream (optional but recommended).
2.  Grött and glögg at Edition Roasters – Danish porridge with house mulled wine, decorated with rehydrated fruit, honeycomb and lavender.
3. Yellow-Bix oats at Yellow – oats, fruit and buttermilk.
4. Polenta porridge at Kettle Black – burnt maple, textures of strawberry and basil
5. Brown rice and sweet miso porridge at Bills – coconut yoghurt, mango and lime

And, as a last link for my posts on porridge have a look at one of my favourites from The First Mess, an award winning food blog by Canadian Laura Wright. Laura’s beautiful photography tantalizes the taste buds and all her recipes are created from plant based and seasonal food.

Vanilla Bean Millet Porridge with Lavender Strawbs & Superseeds

Millet Porridge
Photo Courtesy of The First Mess


Amazing Porridge

Weekend Notes is a great way to find out what’s happening in Melbourne and surrounding areas and when I read that various cafes serve up a great porridge I just had to check them out. The Patient Partner LOVES his porridge. I think secretly he loves it because it’s the only time he puts lashings of sugar on anything. Admittedly I’ve weaned him onto using coconut sugar which is an improvement on the mounds of regular brown sugar he was using. This type of porridge made with oats is our quick breakfast for when we have to leave the house really early as on days when we drive into the city to do our farmer’s market shopping.

But on weekdays our porridge is made with millet, quinoa or amaranth, topped with a mixture of fruit, nuts,  yoghurt or kefir and perhaps a drizzle of coconut nectar.

Millet & Amaranth PorridgeMy Millet & Amaranth Porridge

It’s my job to make the porridge while The Patient Partner makes our salad for lunch at work. And it’s all finished off with a cup of filtered coffee made quickly with the Aeropress using freshly ground coffee beans from any one of our favorite Melbourne Cafes.

Its a good way to start the day. Plenty of quality protein to provide energy, probiotics for a healthy gut, fruit for vitamins and the caffeine hit to get us out the door!!

The Big Wave Cafe in Newhaven Phillip Island was recommended by Weekend Notes and as we needed to visit the Patient Partner’s Mum in Cowes we decided to leave early and give their porridge a try.

My PP’s lovely Mum nearly fell off her chair when we told her we paid $14.50 for a bowl of porridge. Had Uncle Toby’s rolled oats gone up that much she asked!    She still wasn’t  convinced when we told her that this was a delicious breakfast bowl of quinoa and black rice, topped with banana, rhubarb, stawberries, passionfruit, coconut milk, mint leaves and pure maple syrup to finish it off.

The Big Wave Porridge Phillip IslandThe Big Wave Porridge

I particularly liked the addition of the fresh  mint leaves and as I now have a huge pot of it growing in my garden I have been adding it to my  own millet or quinoa porridge. Lavender flowers are another tasty  sprinkle from our garden. The beauty with porridge is that you can be as creative as you want. It’s come a long way from plain boiled oats.

I have rather horrible memories of my time in Scotland as a teenager many many years ago.   It was my first job out of school and I was staying in digs run by an incredibly tall landlady with an incredibly short temper. I don’t think she liked having lodgers because it seemed to me that she did everything in her power to make sure no one would ever return.One of these was to serve bowls of stodgy porridge for us every morning for the duration of our stay. Not only was it thick and almost cold it was drenched in enough salt to give us  early onset of heart disease. Thinking back, apart from the obvious taste difference it possibly was no worse for health than the porridge my Mum made for us as kids with spoonfuls of  cream and brown sugar.

Scottish Porridge OatsScots Porridge Oats with Salt

Now the search is on for more porridge options from around world.
Much of our year is spent in Malaysia and there porridge is a savoury. Most often a tasteless boiled rice or congee spruced up by the addition of chicken or fish head and lots of salt. Not a healthy option maybe but really good if you have a dodgy stomach. It seems to help just like chicken soup does when you’re not feeling great.
In China this same rice porridge/congee is served up for breakfast and unless you are a local its hard to eat it without adding some fruit.

Just found a great porridge online from NourishbyAshlyn. An awesome site for those with fructose malabsorption, but also for anyone wanting some healthier options. She writes well too so her website is entertaining as well as informative.
Her Banana Porridge is delicious and you can be as creative as you want with the toppings. I used Loving Earth Choc Hazelnut Butter instead of Peanut and a mixture of bluberries and raspberries. Every mouthful a taste sensation.

Banana PorridgeAshlyn’s Banana Porridge

When in Malaysia we have a bit of an in joke with fellow expats about porridge days. Usually its the day of the week when we cant be bothered making anything more elaborate than the quick Scots type of oats with some added tropical fruit, but I had no idea until recently that there is actually a WORLD PORRIDGE DAY.

If you would like a list of amazing porridges, sweet and savoury and feel you could make a difference to the lives of poor children in various countries around the world then click here.

 Happy Porridging Everyone!!

For the Love of Coffee

I love a great coffee. A real coffee. A knock you for six coffee. A coffee that has you believing you have found God in your cup.
There is nothing better than the first taste of that heavenly aroma that awakens the senses and prepares you to breathe life into another day.

Yes, I love it. But not just for that smooth silky latte or double shot espresso but for everything that loving a great coffee has added to my life.

Years ago I was about to give it up. Ordinary coffee from a very ordinary coffee chain was my lot where I worked and I was over it. Then one day after visiting Serge Videl, my hairdresser in Hawthorn I noticed a new cafe around the corner. That one coffee at Axil in Burwood Rd changed my life.

The next day I purchased an espresso machine. A lovely shiny stainless steel monster now took pride of place on my kitchen bench, squeezed in between a motley array of appliances aimed at making my culinary experiments a whole heap easier.
The following months saw our milk purchases skyrocket as I diligently practised the intricacies of latte art. Unsuspecting friends & family who even half crossed our threshold had a coffee thrust into their hands with another Rosetta design etched into their crema.

Latte Art

Melbourne has some of the best cafes in the world. The coffee is amazing and the cafe owners and baristas are more than happy to share their passion with the general public. Over the years I have had no end of conversations with cafe staff who were genuinely eager to pass on their knowledge to me however busy they might be.   On our various travels my Patient Partner and I have drunk many coffees at many cafes but none yet have the amazing customer service that we find in Melbourne.

Perhaps this is due to the competition here. With the ever increasing number of cafes customers can pick and choose, but I rather think its because the top cafes have just got the formula right with smart, passionate staff, good food, a comfortable trendy venue and brilliant coffee.  The fact is that on the weekend in these great cafes it is nothing to have to queue for 30 or 40 minutes to get a table, and so, for the love of a great coffee we do!

Waiting for a great coffeeQueuing for a great coffee at THREE BAGS FULL in Collingwood

It’s impossible to list them all as Melbourne’s city and inner suburbs are becoming saturated with great cafes offering  1st class food and coffee, but here’s a few of our favourites, all tried and tested many times.

Axil – Burwood Rd, Hawthorn,

Three Bags Full– Cnr Nicholson St & Mollinson St Abbotsford

Proud Mary– 172 Oxford St Collingwood

Auction Room103 Errol St North Melbourne

Di Bella- 19-21 Leveson  St North Melbourne

St Ali 12-18 Yarra Place South Melbourne

Barry85 High St Northcote

All of the above have brilliant food and  consistently  awesome coffee

Padre – Several locations but our regular one is at South Melbourne Market where they have great coffee, pastries, and muffins that are to die for, especially the ones with fresh raspberries and dark chocolate. They do not serve meals here. Open Wed, Fri, Sat & Sun 8am – 4pm.

Market Lane Coffee – Prahran Market ( open Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sun and Mon for sale of equipment & beans) They are also at various other locations including the Queen Victoria Market.  No meals but wonderful coffee and pastries

My list could go on forever so I’ll leave it here with just a handful of those we always enjoy, where the coffee and food is consistently good and the service is impeccable.

And if you’re love of a great coffee has you searching for the best then a must visit is to the International Coffee Expo which takes place in Melbourne each year. Here you can find out everything you need to know as well as sampling some magnificent beans. It’s also fun to sit and watch the competitions that are going on during the Expo. It’s a real eye opener to see what it takes to become a great Barista, and to understand everything that goes into making what is the end result of a long journey from Crop to Cup.

Click on the above “Crop to Cup” to see an interview with Sasa Sestic, World Barista Champion 2015, and a short of the movie that was made documenting his journey to become  ‘The Coffee Man’