Some of the best food in Australia is also amongst the cheapest. Take the Lebanese food at Jasmin in Lakemba in the south-west of Sydney. We first stumbled across this place on a visit to Sydney a number of years ago and it is always near the top of our list when visiting Sydney. The food is all freshly made and served in a manner that will be instantly recognisable to those of you who have visited the Middle East and ventured outside the international hotels. We have a few favourite Lebanese eating places that we frequent in Melbourne but have not found anything to match the simple freshness and style of Jasmin in Sydney.
If you decide to eat at Jasmin, here are a few suggestions:
- Check the calendar. For the benefit of those who live on another planet (such as Perth), Lakemba has a large Muslim population. If you turn up in daylight hours during Ramadan the main street of Lakemba will be like the Mary Celeste and Jasmin will be closed.
- For the same reason, don’t expect alcohol at Jasmin.
- If you are the type who likes to draw attention to yourself by ostentatiously sending food back or having loud arguments with the waiter, then we suggest you save your performance for another venue. We have never had anything but polite and friendly service from the lads who wait on tables at Jasmin. However they are fit. I suspect if you inadvertently parked in front of their advertising sign out the front, a couple of the lads would go out and politely carry your car to a nearby parking spot. As I said, we always receive polite and friendly service and we always say “please” and “thank you”.
- Take at least one friend. If you are in Sydney on business by yourself, make a friend. Talk to someone on the street, on the bus – it doesn’t matter what – but this food that shouldn’t be eaten alone. Shared platters are the order of the day and eating with the fingers of the right hand is perfectly acceptable provided you have washed in the discreet hand basin at the rear. Take a friend or two and you may find that “Would you like to share a meal at Jasmin?” becomes one of your most successful pickup lines.
During the colder months, when a tribe of you get together there is nothing like having a communal pot on the stove. For instance we have friends with a share in a hut in the snow. The hut has grown over the years and gained amenities but it is still basically a hut with enough rooms to comfortable fit about twelve people. There are usually about 25 of us. The regulars at the various chalets watch our small groups arriving and making their way through the village. You can see the regulars going through their silent checklist. “No designer clothes – that lowers the tone. Thin cross-country skis – they’re probably too lousy to pay for ski-lifts. They’re lugging in their own food – what losers. They must be staying in one of the huts.”
In the centre of the hut is a large slow combustion stove which provides the heating, the hot water for showers and the drying room and of course serves the cooking needs. Placed on one side of the stovetop in a position which must never change because it is at the exact simmering position is a large communal pot half full of water. As each group prepares their individual meal, a share of their vegetables and other ingredients go into the pot. Before going to bed, the Potmeister will taste the brew, add some more ingredients, perform an ancient Druidic ritual usually involving a number of bay leaves and the contents of a hip flask then retire for the night.
Sometimes the pot is removed from the heat so that fat can be skimmed off in the morning. However, most nights it is left to sing its gentle pot song until the Potmeister returns in the morning and, using the accumulated wisdom handed down since time immemorial (circa 1978), adjusts the seasonings.
Now for a day in the snow. If you should run into the Potmeister on the ski fields you should address them with the due respect and deference befitting their station. “Greetings, Potmeister.”
Upon return to the hut in the evening, outer garments are hastily removed and consigned to the drying room then you fill a large chipped mug with contents from the steaming communal pot. Sit clasping the mug and sniffing the aroma while your hands start to thaw out. Then take your first sip and allow yourself to wonder what the poor people in the chalet are having tonight. The circle around the stove clasping their mugs quietly grows until the reverie is broken by a newcomer. “This is wonderful. What’s in . . “ A quick blow to the ribs and a whispered “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow” quickly silences the ingénue. You see, when these people get back to real life there will again be 7 vegetarians, 2 lacto-vegans, one ovo-vegan, 2 lacto-ovo vegans, 4 organics-only, one food-mile-counter, and 3 fair-trade-supporters. But the unspoken Rule Of Fellowship Of The Pot when you’re thawing out is “Nobody asks, nobody tells, and if I wasn’t told then it’s not my fault.”
Although my friends despair of my skiing technique ever improving, I’ll be back to the snow next year because I have reason to believe the position of Assistant Potmeister may become available.
Most of us can set up a kitchen garden of sorts. It can range from a couple of pots on the apartment balcony or windowsill, through a backyard herb and vegetable plot, to an acre of land fenced off from the sheep running down to creek. Below are two of our favourites, and if you live in Melbourne you have a rare opportunity to visit one of them this weekend.
Dame Elisabeth Murdoch is in her hundredth year and is a keen gardener. The gardens at her Cruden Farm were initially designed by Edna Walling and have expanded over the years. They include a wonderful kitchen garden, an ornamental lake and lots of nooks and crannies. They helped feed the growing children - “Come on Rupert, eat up your greens or you’ll never grow up to be the world’s most powerful man” – and provided a wonderful playground for the grandchildren – “Take your little friends outside and run around, and I don’t want to hear that anyone has been playing moguls and models in the summerhouse”.
On Sunday you can go along and wander around the grounds, admire the gardens and, in particular, examine the kitchen garden. None of you would be so rude as to pick the herbs but it is generally acceptable to rub your hands along the leaves then smell your fingers. We recommend that you take a picnic along with your Brideshead Revisited clobber and enjoy a civilised afternoon on the lawns. Details at The White Hat Guide to Private Gardens in Melbourne.
If you can’t make it to Dame E’s open day, there is another wonderful kitchen garden which is freely accessible to the Melbourne public all year round. It was created by Sunday Reid at her home called Heide. John & Sunday Reid were great patrons of emerging artists and their home became a sort of artists’ colony. Sunday Reid had a sudden international ten minutes of fame recently when our Nicole decided to name her child after said lady. I am not sure if Nicole knew of the various games of artists and models (some of which ended quite badly) indulged in by the person who she chose as the role model for her child, but regardless of Sunday's tragic personal life she has left us with a wonderful galley. And a wonderful kitchen garden. You can find details at The White Hat Guide to Heide.
Although admission charges apply for the gallery, there is no charge to wander around the large park, admire the sculptures and examine the kitchen garden which is situated outside the modernist house (a White Hat favourite) called Heide II which the Reids had designed for them.
If you visit either of these gardens you are sure to come home with numbers of ideas and feeling inspired to rearrange the pots on the balcony.
In our last newsletter we mentioned the concept of food miles – the distance your food has travelled to reach your plate. Transporting food generates greenhouse gases and is therefore not environmentally friendly. However, food miles are only one consideration and sometimes not particularly helpful. The apples you buy in your local supermarket may not have travelled far, but how old are they? If you buy them from the supermarket which spends large amounts of money insisting they are the “fresh food people” they could be 10 months old. See for instance this article.
The greenhouse gas created by refrigerating those apples for that period of time far exceeds that generated by their transport. The concept of food miles can be useful but it is only part (and sometimes a very small part) of the total story.
If you want to partially offset the greenhouse gases from your own car travel we have just the book for you. In fact, better still, for dad seeing that fathers’ day is approaching. It is called Manifold Destiny and is a guide to cooking on the hot engine of your car. It is one of our favourite cookbooks. It is great fun to read and was written by a couple of blokes who were both petrol heads and keen cooks. The recipes don’t give the cooking time required – they give the number of miles you need to travel to cook the dish – and you might surprised at some of the insights you pick up along the way. It has long been out of print but you may be able to pick up a copy over the internet. You can try starting atby clicking on the link to the right.
For those of you in Melbourne, September is the Asian Food Festivals with numbers of events and special menus in Asian restaurants throughout the city and suburbs. Details in all the mainstream media.
“Dear White Hat,
During a tea break from carting firewood from the far shed to the near shed, I found my first White Hat Food Guide in my inbox. You really must stop making me laugh so much. I nearly choked on my tuna sandwich and have twice fallen off my chair. I understand from other writers, that discussing food is a serious business!! But, I really must say how much I enjoyed reading your missive, especially the descriptions of lamb etc etc I look forward eagerly to the next newsletter and am glad it can make it all the way to Brisbane.
A new regular farmers’ market has commenced in Sydney outside St Mary’s Cathedral. Details at The White Hat Guide to Farmers' Markets in NSW. This coming weekend in Melbourne, apart from the regular farmers’ markets there is the occasional one at Holmesglen TAFE and a one-off at The Knox School. Details at The White Hat Guide to Farmers' Markets in Victoria.
This section of the newsletter can now be found at White Hat's Brief History of Australian Food
. . . to be continued.
Please note: This section of the newsletter has been removed as it forms part of a forthcoming publication.
This recipe can now be found at Jumbuck Soup/Stew.
I intend to use Jumbuck Soup as my audition piece for the position of Assistant Potmeister.
First to the last quiz - Lamb & mutton.
We had a number of correct responses (except for the last question) and the first came from Paul & Ros in Perth.
Please note: This section of the newsletter has been removed as it forms part of a forthcoming publication.
Now to this week’s quiz.
One pot cooking.
- What is a Pot-au-feu and what can the broth be used for?
- What ingredients might you find in a New England Boiled Dinner?
- Some cultures enjoy food cooked in a communal broth at the table. Name one such dish.
- In some Asian communities stocks are continually topped up, sometimes over generations, and the ancient family stock is jealously protected but generously shared with guests. Some time ago, a delightful film about protecting the family stock was released. What is the name of that film?
- What is your favourite one-pot dish?
Send your answers to email@example.com
No prizes – just glory and a warm inner glow.