In search of produce

One of the things that I really miss about living in Sydney is the availability of good produce.  We were lucky enough to live in the inner west between a hub of asian shops and the heartland of little Italy.  There, you could purchase freshly made cheeses, including the sublime fior de latte and freshly made ricotta (I can still taste the gorgeous flavour and texture of fresh, warm, just made ricotta), rabbits, veal and pork and fennel sausages from the butcher, fresh pasta from not one but two pasta shops, beautiful home grown vegetables and the loveliest tomatoes from Frank’s green grocer (whose son happens to be a very accomplished opera singer!) and smallgoods  and salumi and everything else you could possibly want in a jar or tin from one of the delis.  And of course the bread rolls.  Freshly made each day, the bakery has been for over 50 years, it was  well worthwhile to queue on  Saturday morning for a bag of little crunchy ciabatinni.  No wonder we put on weight!

Short walk in the other direction brought us to the noise and smells of our local Chinatown (home of best ever Shanghai dumpling shop) where I could get almost anything I ever wanted in the way of Asian produce, including really good cheap pork from the butcher (I do think that no-one knows pork better than the Asian butchers).  In that strange little precinct there was also a Polish delicatessen (perfect for jars of sauerkraut and Eastern European sausages) and a little South American/Mexican shop full of exotica such as tins of tomatilloes, hominy*, chipotle in adobe**, and more.  A short drive to the edge of Sydney Central is where all things Thai can be procured.  There, I could always find tiny little pea and apple eggplant, pickled peppercorns and garlic, fresh betel leaves, a range of chillies and all the herbs required for Thai and Vietnamese dishes.

For more exotic spices, Herbie’s was just a few doors down from my yoga studio in Rozelle as was the Essential Ingredient where all manner of wonderful cooking (non) essentials could be had – passionfruit pashmak anyone?

Cooking was never an issue in Sydney, sometimes things required bit more planning but I was always certain of being able to find the produce I needed.

I don’t know why, but I didn’t think that obtaining produce would present such a difficulty here in Noosa, after all, it’s a well-heeled area and people come here from all over the world and the eastern seaboard.  So imagine my shock when I went in search of raddichio only to find – well, not to find it.  Mostly I just got blank looks when I asked for it. I was shocked.   Same thing happened when I went to buy some instant polenta the other day.  It wasn’t in any of the supermarkets and the one place I thought would have it (where eventually I did manage to find raddichio) they were a bit flummoxed that I would want something ‘instant’.  How to explain that in this instance ‘instant’ is not a bad/cheap/reviled thing.  Who wants to stand at the stove stirring polenta for 20 minutes getting burnt with hot splatters?  I’ve been a fan of instant polenta for years and having cooked both, can’t really tell the difference.

A walk along the supermarket aisles should alert you to what kind of place you are in, especially the bread aisle.  If it’s full of fluffy white stuff with not a decent rye to be found and if you can’t find pumpernickel, you know you are in white man territory.  Ah Queensland. Fortunately I have managed to find most of the things I need but the quality isn’t quite the same.  Buying a block of packaged parmesan is not the same as going in to the deli and having a nice wedge cut for you.  Ditto proscuitto:  no-one cuts it and layers it on sheets of paper with such care as the Italians – which is why the queue in the deli takes forever.

I give thanks to Pardon’s Fruit Market- my go-to green grocer near the yoga studio (is that just serendipity?) for providing beautifully fresh bunches of coriander, herbs, galangal, turmeric and freshly sourced fruit and veg as well as stocking a range of Herbie’s spices and some lovely pasta, good bread and the occasional other weird thing.  It’s where I go for my daily cooking needs immediately after a yoga class.  They also happen to do great juices and really good coffee.  So for now, all is manageable.  I just have to send away for food parcels of instant polenta and pea eggplant.

*Hominy is maize that’s been dried, then soaked in an alkaline solution to remove the hull and germ, causing the kernels to swell in the process which not only improves the nutritional content of the corn, but also gives it a more complex flavor and aroma. It can then be ground into masa for tortillas, or sold whole—dried or cooked—as hominy corn, the signature ingredient in traditional Mexican posole***. Cooked hominy is about triple the size of a raw sweet-corn kernel, but has an unmistakably nutty-sweet “corn” flavor.

**Chipotle in adobo is a rich, smoky, spicy Mexican sauce (adobo) of smoke-dried, ripe jalapeno chillies (chipotle). It’s as hot as hell and as smoky as an ashtray, in a good way.

*** Posole  is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico made from hominy, with meat (typically pork but chicken is also good), and seasoned and garnished with chile peppers, onion, garlic, radishes, avocado, salsa and/or limes.