Biscuits, bifana and bowls of noodles
On the food I ate in Sydney, a newly-released survey of hospitality workers, plus a dairy mocktail discovery.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
It’s been three weeks since I was mooching around Sydney. And like every other time I venture out of Auckland, my trip away was framed entirely by kai. With my ordinary routines suspended for a week, each day was shaped by a hungry rhythm that moved from eatery to eatery as I made my way through the impossibly long list of restaurants, cafes, bars and bakeries I’d promised myself to visit. To be specific, 31 places in six days. There were no museums, galleries or landmarks for me. Just food and drink spots plus the necessary public transport and walking in between them. And while that might seem excruciatingly gluttonous to some, to me, it’s heaven and it’s the only way I like to travel.
I’d planned to share some of the highlights on my return, but the last two weeks have brought about other kai focuses that were far more important. However, I’ve decided today is the day that I recount three of my favourite kai experiences in Sydney.
Pastéis de bacalhau and bifana from Costa Do Sol: I’ve done enough self-interrogation of the food I eat to know that I’m drawn to kai that has a certain “grandad” quality about it. And the food of Portugal, my favourite cuisine, certainly has that characteristic. It’s food that’s practical, languid and almost always paired with an accessibly-priced bistro glass of wine. On my first day in Sydney, post-flight, alone and wearing a drenched raincoat, I took shelter in this quiet restaurant in Petersham, a suburb brimming with Portuguese delis, butchers, bakeries and restaurants. Accompanied by an essential glass of house red, I ate bifana (marinated pork sandwiches) and a singular pastéis de bacalhau (cod cake). Both were as salty as they were comforting. After, I ducked into a deli for a bottle of ginja (a Portuguese sour cherry liqueur, that despite best efforts I’ve never been able to source in Aotearoa) and a scoop of olives freckled with chilli flakes that were so aged they were almost candied.
A bowl of noodles from A Bowl of Noodles: I didn’t plan to eat Shanghainese food in Sydney. But the allure of a lavish $42.80 bowl of noodles for lunch inspired a detour from my own list, to this narrow restaurant in Haymarket. And I’m so glad. These weren’t just any noodles, the dish arrived in three parts: a crab meat, crab roe and crayfish gravy, poured and stirred through another bowl of chewy scallion noodles with a dinky bowl of ginger flecked black vinegar to pour on top. This was quite possibly one of the most luxurious midday meals I’ve ever eaten.
Kourabiedes from Hellenic Patisserie and Gelato Bar: To be completely honest, from the outside, this place in Marrickville looked extremely unremarkable. I noticed it as I sat in the restaurant across the road eating a bowl of pho. A constant stream of older women and men seemed to enter the place empty handed, and then exit, clutching heaving plastic bags. And yet, its decor had neither the air of “cool” or of rustic “authenticity” that people who are into food in the way I am tend to be drawn to. In fact, if anything, it looked remarkably middlebrow and slightly rundown. I went in despite my (naive) reservations, and was entirely taken aback by the cabinets piled high with an array of Greek pastries and cookies – as well as the warm energy of the women behind the counter who told me that the place had been there since the 70s. I sat outside, among what seemed mostly like mothers and their middle-aged sons eating morning tea, and ate my first ever kourabiedes, a not-too-sweet crescent-shaped buttery almond biscuit topped with a hefty dusting of icing sugar. On my last night in Sydney, the friend I was staying with asked what the best thing I’d eaten that week was. I thought for a moment and answered honestly: “the kourabiedes I had yesterday”. She looked horrified. “A biscuit?”. “Yep,” I replied, after a week of extravagant meals, beautiful wine and fanciful snacks, “a biscuit.”
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A new survey of hospitality and tourism sector workers conducted by AUT was released this week, and it’s shown some concerning trends when it comes to pay, working conditions, bullying and harassment and more generally, “significant levels of non-compliance with basic employment law”. The survey, called He Tangata, showed that 9% had not signed employment agreements before starting work and 29% did not get paid correct holiday pay. A figure that startled me, more because it’s something most people who work in hospitality know anecdotally, reflected in numerical terms, is that 42% did not always get rest breaks. With 902 employees involved, the study, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and carried out in mid-2022, is one of the largest ever surveys of hospitality and tourism sector employees in Aotearoa, according to the researchers.
It’s absurd that a country of 5 million, producing enough food to feed 40 million people each year, also seems to suffer from routinely bare supermarket shelves, ever-increasing food prices and a growing number of its population facing food insecurity. It’s against that backdrop that discussion around an alternative framework has been sparked. This Stuff article looks at a potential solution: a national food plan that would essentially guide the country’s food-related decisions in order to ensure everyone has access to good kai. It’s not a totally newfangled idea either. Other countries have similar frameworks around food, and in 2020, Eat NZ CEO Angela Clifford proposed the concept in an article on The Spinoff.
Salli boti is one of the stars of a traditional Parsi wedding feast, writes Perzen Patel on The Spinoff. She shares her family recipe for the delectable dish of lamb slow-cooked in a sweet, sour and spicy tomato gravy that’s then topped with fried potato sticks – or, as a substitute, crushed salt and vinegar chips. If there’s anything I’m raring to cook at the moment, it’s this.
Disturbingly, more than 100 child migrant workers were spoken to for a New York Times investigation published last week that delved into the exploitation of migrant children in industries across the US, including within the food industry. Unsurprisingly, the investigative piece is a harrowing read, with children working dangerous jobs and 12-hour shifts. Some are as young as 13. Children working for Hearthside Food Solution, a food manufacturer, described how the “spicy dust from immense batches of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos made their lungs sting”, while others spoke of how “moving heavy pallets of cereal all night made their backs ache”. Already, the piece has sparked a crackdown on migrant child labour by the Biden administration, with the Department of Labour investigating many of the implicated companies.
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The weekly snack
Fresh Up Big Fizz Feijoa Burst and Warheads Sour Black Cherry Soda, $3.50 each from State Dairy in Onehunga: I spent a good portion of summer (if that’s what we’re still calling this season) cradling these mammoth cans of feijoa-laced Fresh Up. Enveloped in nostalgic branding, perfectly effervescent and just elusive enough among dairy offerings: to me at least, this is the drink of summer. And yet, even perfection can be improved upon. Something I learned as I strolled down Onehunga Mall recently, with a can of Feijoa Burst in one hand, and a can of this frightening-looking sour cherry soda – a drinkable adaptation of the famed lollies – in the other. I wondered how they’d fare in fusion. I took a swig of the feijoa, followed immediately with a swig of the cherry, and drank. Embarrassing public behaviour aside, what resulted was wonderful: the ridiculous sharpness of sour cherry was tempered by the more rounded tartness of the feijoa, and the florals of the feijoa lifted with the hit of acid. All in all a delicious albeit stupid-looking way to rehydrate. 10/10
Big thanks to those members who helped us celebrate the premiere of our new documentary, Elements of Truth, in Wellington last week. It was an amazing evening and wouldn't have been possible without your support.
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Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte