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Southern Migration

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve left China.

After forty odd years of swearing I could never live in a big city, then a good year or so of swearing that if I was going to live in a big city, it certainly wouldn’t be bloody Shanghai of all places, I sort of caved in, little by little, and fell in love with the damn place. With its gorgeous old houses. With its parks and trees. With its completely fascinating street life. With its dumplings.

Tree exercises. No fancy lycra exercise gear or gym memberships required, all you need is a tree and a healthy dose of self-confidence.
Xiaolongbao. Shanghai’s contribution to culinary world heritage.
And if Shanghai wasn’t enough China for all of us, after three years of living, breathing, exploring and eating our way around Shanghai we suddenly felt the rest of China deserved the same amount of in-depth attention we had lavished on its most vibrant city (Beijingers, hold yourselves back) and so we trundled for six months around China in the most inconvenient vehicle ever invented for getting from A to B, Mr Chen’s campervan, observing every minute detail of every corner of China.
Far from putting us off the country for life, we fell utterly and completely in love with China, all its good bits, all its bad bits, and all its weird Chinglishy bits
And then last week we left. Back to the land of big blue skies, clean air, and so-bright-they-hurt-your-eyes colours – Australia.
It almost broke my heart actually. I started crying in front of one of the ladies at the wet market, explaining that I couldn’t buy any dry goods today because I was leaving.
There’s that mad foreigner weeping all over the dried soybeans again….Perhaps if I just smile politely she’ll bugger off….
But left China we did, handing Mr Chen’s campervan back to the wily Mr Chen and holding our breath for the itemised damages bill which I imagine will go something like this:

Item 97: Clean ashtray. Cost of returning ashtray to original cigarette stub-encrusted ash-filled condition: 488 yuan
Item 98: Clean refrigerator. Cost of regrowing black mold: 488 yuan 
We packed up our house and three and a half years of our lives and said long goodbyes to wonderful friends, and stepped onto the plane. I only cried some of the way home so as not to upset the children.
There were lots of reasons to come back – the pollution, the traffic, the soaring cost of schooling, the stinky tofu – but in the end those things mattered little and it all came down to a promise we made to our children – we would return to Australia by the time our eldest began high school, a response to the girls’ homesickness and our desire to give them stability after dragging them around a strange country for years.

The girls started school on January 29th, 2013, a date that had for several years seemed so unlikely to find us still in China that it came as something of an affront when it did, looming out of the start of this year like a bad omen.

The initial weeks here have been rugged and quite difficult, which explains my silence for the last two weeks. A frenzy of unpacking, of starting school, of the tail end of a tropical cyclone that brought power cuts and flooding, of me starting work again at my old hospital. Of tears and unexpected homesickness for Shanghai (the children) and very expected homesickness for Shanghai (me). We’ve all hit the ground with an audible thud.

Rather than feeling like I had arrived home, I felt like we had migrated to another country, where everything was so much the same and yet so, so different – a feeling I’m sure is shared by anyone who’s been away from home for a long, long time. Suddenly all that was familiar seemed foreign again, and more than a little strange. I imagine us like birds migrating south for the winter, and flying back again when the summer comes. I guess we’ll get used to it.
What about Life on Nanchang Lu? Is it over?
No, absolutely no!

I knew I would feel bereft when I left Shanghai, but I also knew the one thing that would keep me connected to China was this – writing about it. Life on Nanchang Lu will continue to bring you great stories of food, people and travel in China with lovely pictures. Posting will be weekly rather than twice weekly from now on (yes, I know it’s been two weeks since my last post, but moving house is kind of frantic, not to mention moving countries too).

I’ve taken my lead from my lovely friend Sally at Unbrave Girl, who went home for the first time in a long time last year. Now her wonderful travel blog is full of couches and unicorns and experiments in waffle-eating. Which is to say, it hasn’t changed a bit, except for the background location.
So I’ll still be writing about China and Chinese food and adventures in eating, it’s just that I’ll be writing it from my back deck in the sunshine overlooking the swimming pool. (Sorry, did I write that out loud?)

I already have big plans to make 2013 my official Year of Fermentation and Curdling where I learn to make traditional Chinese pickles and my own tofu. Those amazing pickles in twenty-five varieties you can buy in every market in China? Can’t get those in Australia, so I’m going to have to make my own. Should be interesting to see how that turns out.

I’ll continue visiting Shanghai regularly, now a place I regard as my ‘other’ home, to stock up on essential food items and eat my body weight in dumplings. I’ve just confirmed my first trip back to Shanghai in only seven weeks’ time, which will help a lot with the homesickness I’m suffering.

The other big news is that I’ve finally decided to get brave and write a book about our travels. It’s daunting, terrifying, and at the same time terrifically exciting to work on a project as big as a book, so here goes. I’ll let you know how it’s progressing.

But a blog, and for that matter a book, is nothing without readers. So again, thanks each and every one of you for following our travels, our adventures, and our disasters. I love hearing from you and have loved getting to know you all through the last three years.

I hope you’ll continue to love reading about China, a place that is truly amazing. And also how my pickles are going.

3 of 3 Quirky Cafes: Willow & Spoon

I’ve found it – the third cafe in my perfect trifecta of quirky Brisbane cafes – and just in time too, because I leave for Shanghai tomorrow – these last three weeks have flown by and it’s hard to believe I’ll be packing my bags tonight.
If you missed the first two of the trifecta, you can read about the incredible cakes and friendly sisters at Sisco, and the extraordinary coffee and 70s decor at Shucked.
Willow & Spoon reminds me at every turn of exactly what I’ll be missing in twenty-four hours’ time – a perfectly brewed cup of coffee, top notch cooking with bright fresh flavours, and most importantly, a chat and a smile to brighten your day and send you on your way feeling well-fed and happy. Shouldn’t that be what all cafes aspire to? Apparently this philosophy is alive and well in Brisbane but yet to hit the shores of China, although I live in hope. 
Willow & Spoon is not what you might expect to find in suburban Alderley. Sitting in a row of old shopfronts, the cheery red walls and friendly lounge on the footpath welcome you in to an interior that looks uncannily like the weatherboard house I grew up in, although we kept our bouclé lounge suite (yes, it was called a suite) inside the house at all times. There’s a checkered red and white linoleum floor, an old white kitchen dresser with leadlight glass doors, and a cabinet housing a collection of Australian souvenir spoons. Owners Tracey Mooney and Keith Nunns want the place to feel just like home, and as they sit you down with a smile you feel instantly relaxed, and quite peckish.

It’s an incredibly gorgeous sunny Brisbane day, so we decide to walk through the cafe’s front room to the back of the house, and here’s where I get an intense case of deja vu looking at the car parked in the driveway underneath the house and the grassy garden with Hill’s Hoist. It is really just like the house I lived in at the age of seven.
But there’s where the similarities with my childhood home end, because we never ate dishes like those served at Willow & Spoon. Chef Adam Starr has taken a mind bursting to the brim with imaginative ideas and translated them into a menu full of dishes you can’t wait to taste. I haven’t been this excited about reading a breakfast menu in years.
We begin with Forbidden Fruit and the Garden of Eden – never was a bowl of muesli and fruit more enticingly named! A whole apple poached with spices is filled with creamy mousse, joined on the plate by fresh edible flowers and fruits all resting on a bed of oats roasted in Manuka honey with dried figs and walnuts. Quite superb.
We follow with Sleeping Beauty – a herby original take on Eggs Benedict with poached eggs wobbling on wilted spinach and a square of mushroom and tarragon ‘muffin’. The eggs, topped with fresh garden pea sauce, are runny and golden-yolky, served alongside sweet roast tomato honey. How can I ever go back to regular Eggs Benedict after a tasting this?
The menu treasures go on and on – The Harlequin – rich smoked cod with house-made brioche, avocado, tomato and green onion salsa and an artichoke veloute is creamy and soft, and next time I want to try Pigs in Zen – pork jowl braised in an asian master stock with enoki mushrooms, quinoa and cucumber with parsnip puree, or The Diabolical Pact – banana, date and roasted green chili loaf with kalamata labna, ricotta and confit of pineapple. 
The dishes could run the risk of overly unusual flavour combinations, but all are thoughtfully, carefully and cleverly executed by Starr and are, simply, totally more-ish. Is there another breakfast menu in Brisbane with this much imagination or care in execution? And it doesn’t stop with the adult menu – children are equally well placed with a plate of Dinosaur Eggs or fresh fruit and mango sorbet.

As I move on to my second coffee, children from nearby tables are running in the open space of the grassy garden, and customers are arriving for morning cake and coffee. I bet they all leave with a smile on their faces, as I did. 
 Shop 2, 28 Samford Road
Alderley, Brisbane
Open Tuesday to Friday 7am to 3pm, Saturday 7.30am to 2pm, Sunday 7.30am to 1pm
Ph +617 3113 3810

2 of 3 Quirky Cafes: Shucked

Here’s my second of three great and quirky Brisbane cafes for your delight!  
This one, Shucked – named for shucked coffee beans – is like walking into your cool best friend’s living room and unexpectedly finding a bunch of top barrista coffee nerds hanging out there, nonchalantly whizzing up cups of coffee with a perfect crema every two minutes. Totally relaxed. 
Shucked is tucked into a lane in the previously coffee-poor suburb of Newstead, rendering the original hole-in-the-wall outlet an instant success and necessitating expansion into a larger, lighter, high-ceilinged brick space. Owners Naomi Mawson and Mark Ferguson opened a year ago, with the aim of creating a cafe with ‘great coffee, great food and great service’ similar to their favourite haunts in Melbourne, and now find themselves running one of Brisbane’s best and most popular coffee stops.
The place has an instantly laid back feel, furnished with a high long communal table graced with mismatched wooden stools and a delicate glass cold-filtered coffee apparatus that drips away slowly all day, filling the pot below with smooth, clean-flavoured black coffee. There are couches too, for lounging, and smaller tables if you don’t feel like being communal.
I love the walls – lined with contrasting panels of original rolls of 70s wallpaper (shipped all the way from New York), in geometrics, florals and mustard tones, and I really get a kick out of the pheasant, poodle and red cat salt and pepper shakers, and the lace doileys, all secondhand finds that make Shucked totally original and take me straight back to my seventies childhood.
And the coffee – a unique blend from local coffee roasters Blackstar – is smooth, full-bodied and packed with flavour. I’m no coffee expert but this coffee is great, and a second cup is practically a given as soon as you take your first sip. They even stock legendary Aeropress coffee presses, and I am now the proud owner of an amazing device I’ll be taking back to China to brighten up my otherwise dark coffee days in Shanghai.
Even more excitingly, the Mawson’s have just appointed a new chef who is adding some amazing dishes to their breakfast and lunch menu – smoked trout with shaved fennel and pear salad, sardines on toast with beetroot mash and fennel flowers, along with sweet favourites like melting moments and the triumphant warm banana and walnut cake served with a shot glass of maple syrup and espresso ricotta. 
Shucked is just a great addition to Brisbane’s coffee scene, and well worth a trip to Newstead’s little back streets to spend an enjoyable hour or two sipping top quality. You’ll feel instantly 15% cooler the minute you walk in the door. Guaranteed. 


9 Creswell Street, Newstead

Open seven days for breakfast and lunch
Weekdays from 6am, weekends from 7am

Ph +617 32574567

1 of 3 Quirky Cafes: Sisco

I flew out of Shanghai with the words of a good friend in my ear: 
“Enjoy the coffee” she said, as she wished me well on my way back to Australia for a flying visit. It’s no secret that, as much as I miss dumplings and noodles while I’m away from China, what I miss even more in Shanghai is good cake and coffee. Preferably together. 
What my friend was jealous of, and rightly so, were the dozens upon dozens of cups of good coffee I was planning to fit in between shifts at the hospital (where I hope to earn enough money to pay for that crazy Chinese campervan scheme of mine), in the hope of stockpiling enough coffee experiences to see me through the lean Chinese coffee-filled months ahead, without developing a caffeine-induced arrhythmia in the process. 
Since arriving in Brisbane the weather has been uncommonly unfriendly with non-stop rain and grey skies, but for me it’s the perfect excuse to sit inside one of the inner city’s many gorgeous cafes sipping coffee expertly made by the hands of an experienced barrista, rather than a twenty year old Starbuck’s apprentice named Cyanide.
Time away from the place has made me realise that one of Brisbane’s essential charms, for those lucky enough to live here, is the city’s culture of very individual, independent cafes, spurning the insipid global coffee chains for a charming combination of quirk, personality, excellent coffee, freshly baked cakes and great service. Brisbane is overflowing with them.
I’m starting with Sisco, in the inner city suburb of Spring Hill, and this week will bring you two more of my new favourite coffee and cake spots.
Sisco sits in a narrow old wooden shopfront on the sunny side of the street in inner city Spring Hill, and is one of the friendliest places in town. 
My waitress, who has an impressive tattoo of The Tiger Who Came To Tea on her arm, takes my coffee order (flat white, no melamine) and tells me the apple doughnut cakes are really good today, served with double cream. The combination of the words ‘apple/doughnut/cake/double cream’ seem inseparable with the word ‘good’ in my head, so I order one.

And what comes next is a kind of heavenly cake epiphany. 
Imagine, if you will, all the things you love about a cinnamon doughnut – the crisp outside, the scent of cinnamon and yeast, the grainy sugar crystals that stick to your lips and the corners of your mouth, and the warm soft inside. Now think of all the things you love about your grandmother’s apple sponge cake – soft sweet pieces of apple in a light crumb cake. Now top that, in your imagination, with a dollop of thick fresh double cream. Pretty damn good, huh?
There are other incredible home-made temptations to eat with your coffee, like the strawberry, rosewater, and pistachio syrup cake, or the lemon curd tarts topped with strawberries, or the pink and white striped coconut ice (a nostalgic Australian childhood classic). The cakes change daily and are always fresh, interesting and delicious (chocolate beetroot cake comes to mind).
I believe Sisco also make a mean breakfast and tasty lunches, and next time I’m there before morning tea time I’m going to order the poached tamarillos with french toast and chocolate ricotta.

The quirk and passion behind Sisco comes from sister owners Kelly (pictured) and Vicky Jones, who dreamed of opening the sort of cafe they and their friends would love to eat at, then just went ahead and did it. Love their attitude! Vicky is the mistress of the menu and comes up with cake masterpieces daily, and Kelly runs front of house, taming the queue of customers lining up at the street-side coffee window for their daily fix.

The pair seem to know every customer by name, favourite coffee, and preferred seat, and Sisco is exactly the sort of place where I dream of becoming a regular, with the sisters sitting me down by the window and seconds later delivering me a creamy flat white, and an enormous slab of the daily cake special with double cream.

Sisco Cafe
500 Boundary Street Spring Hill
Open Monday to Friday 7-3
Saturday and Sunday 7-2
for breakfast, coffee and lunch
Ph +61 7 3839 4995

What’s The Most Exciting Meal You’ve Eaten in the Last Year?

For me, it has to be this one, from extraordinary wine bar and restaurant Garagistes in Hobart. I’ve eaten hundreds of lip-smacking meals this past year, but this one was by far the most exciting. Why? Well, for a start, other than the egg yolk (duck, free-range) how many of the other ingredients on the plate do you even recognize?  There were grilled spring onions topped with shaved kohlrabi ribbons, nettle sauce, lovage and toasted quinoa. A sensation of tastes and textures.
Chef Luke Burgess (ex Tetsuya’s, Sydney and Noma, Copenhagen) and partners Katrina Birchmeier and Kirk Richardson ‘celebrate produce sourced from many local growers, fishermen and farmers’, including wild and native Australian ingredients sourced very locally and cooked in combinations of flavour and texture that will have you applauding their harmony. 
I read about Garagistes some months ago and mentally filed it away for future reference, not thinking for a second I would get there from Shanghai. Then a Christmas invitation to Bruny Island turned up and a flight scheduling glitch just before New Year meant we had a whole free evening to ourselves in Hobart – clearly, it was a meal that was meant to be!
Arriving at the airy converted garage space, we took the last seats at one of four long communal heavy wooden tables and waited to see what had been prepared for the night – the menu varies according to what’s good, local, fresh and tasty. 
The meal began with an exquisite flower-scattered potato crostini with braised onion, smoked potato mousse, and herbs and flowers – shiso leaves, and a tiny spray of fennel leaves. The aniseed flavour of the fennel with the smoky potato, combined with the fragile crunch of the crisp potato crostini was a delightful start to the meal.

At Garagistes they do all their own curing and smoking, like the slivers of eel in this dish of quivering quail eggs, onion fondue, crispbread and potato, with oxalis leaves. I had no idea the oxalis leaves, something growing in every Australian backyard, had the most intense lemon flavour, a great contrast to the rich smoky oiliness of the eel. 
All the dishes are designed to be part of a shared meal, communal style, so you can choose five or six dishes (or seven or eight!) and enjoy a taste, a glass, a carafe or bottle of wine from the exhaustive list of natural and organic wines from Tasmania and beyond. Not a wine drinker? There’s a whole lot of interesting sake to choose from. The only small disappointment of the night was the lack of non-alcoholic drinks for the non-drinkers and younger diners. 
The next dish, a salad of raw bonito, salted courgettes, sea urchin and pinenut emulsion with plump sweet currants, had a deep briney flavour lent by the sea-urchin emulsion.
And this plate. It fills me with vegetable delight! A forest of baby heirloom carrots with fresh young almonds, wild olives, saffron, and caramelised yoghurt. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? The caramelised yoghurt was sensational, rich and creamy, with a slick of olive oil and the soft crunch of the sweet white almonds.  

At the recommendation of our waiter we also tried the daily special, a dish of the most spankingly fresh grilled flathead tails served simply with pesto. Salty, sweet, with crunchy grilled skin, it was so fresh it must have presented itself straight from the ocean to the door of Garagiste’s kitchen. There’s no photograph because the fish was already gone before the plate hit the table.

Desert can sometimes be a disappointment when the menu runs to only two choices, but at Garagistes we had already had so much spectacular food we trusted the deserts would be equally good. We ordered both. The first to arrive was a melange of kunzea (an Australian native plant) ice cream, strawberries, raspberries, pepper meringue, and lemon basil cream. It sounds like a mash-up but there was a beatiful symphony between the lemon basil ice-cream and the slight peppery, minty flavour of the kunzea.
The last dish to arrive was the absolute standout of the night. Burnt cream, buttery shortcake, citrus meringue, rhubarb granita and gooseberry jelly with tiny leaves and flowers. The sharp shards of the rhubarb granita melted instantly in the mouth with a burst of rhubarb acidity, along with the soft, sweet and sour gooseberry jelly. It was wonderful. I have an intense taste memory of this dish and I hope to get the chance to eat it again someday. To me, it tasted of Tasmania’s summer.
In short, Garagistes was everything an exciting meal should be. The service, relaxed and attentive, meant all your senses could focus on the food, with its sublime combinations, innovative wild ingredients and contrasting textures. It’s worth a trip to Tasmania to eat there. 

Where did you eat your most exciting meal of the last year? Details!

103 Murray Street
Phone +61 3 6231 0558

Beachcombing, Rockhopping, Freewheeling

Sea urchins are an amazing piece of natural architecture, arent they? These beautiful photos were taken while beach-combing on Bruny Island, jumping from rock to rock and discovering tiny hidden worlds within a single rock pool. I’d planned a lovely post to go with them about going slow and taking time to get lost in the small, beautiful things in life…..but instead I’m cramming like crazy for my last Chinese exam tomorrow morning. I’ll let you know how I go. In the meanwhile, the sentiment is here in pictures……

Bruny Legends

I may be back in Shanghai but I haven’t quite finished with Tasmania yet – I have a couple more fantastic posts to bring to you from this gorgeous place in Australia bursting with good food! Today, let me introduce Bruny Island’s most interesting couple, John and Penny Smith.
Sometimes life throws you an amazing coincidence and you just need to make of it what you will. A few weeks back I received an email from a reader, Penny, who had recently travelled through China and asked if she could use some photographs from my Xian Street Food posts for her own blog, BrunyFirePower. That’s a coincidence, I thought, we’re off to Bruny in a few weeks – I wonder whether her website has anything to do with Australia’s Bruny Island? 
A few clicks later and it became clear this was one and the same Bruny Island. A few emails later and it emerged there were only three degrees of separation between us, with many friends and colleagues in common in the world of public art my husband inhabits. I don’t inhabit that world, being rather poorly equipped on the art side of things, but it transpired Penny was also a passionate foodie(of course!) and environmentalist.
Being the lovely person she is, Penny invited us to visit her Bruny Island home when we were there last week for a cup of tea and some fruit mince pies. Yes please! 
Blogging, as fellow bloggers will know, can be quite a solitary process, and it’s always exciting to meet someone in person you have connected with through your blog. I know all my readers are hugely interesting people (you are!) with a deep passion for food and wide-ranging interests in the world at large, and it’s great to meet someone who embodies all of that. Penny is an incredibly talented ceramic artist, with works in major galleries and private collections around Australia, and was previously head of the Ceramics Studio and the Ceramic Research Unit at the University of Tasmania, but she also has fosters a passion for clay cooking techniques and cooking vessels from around the world. 
She and her husband John live in an idyllic corner of Bruny Island, right on the water and surrounded by towering gumtrees. Their incredible dome house, designed and built entirely themselves, resembles a lunar module resting gently on the earth, but in fact this dome dwelling is in perfect tune with its surroundings. Fully ‘off-grid’, it has solar power, rainwater tanks to supply their own needs and extra for fighting bushfires, and has a completely self-contained waste system. 

The inside of the house is as compact as a ship with every single feature beautifully designed and handcrafted, from the clever roll-away ladder to the loft, to the compact upstairs kitchen under the dome. Shelves are laden with clay cooking vessels from all over the world – Thaoland, South America, China and beyond.
John, a talented craftsman and accomplished furniture designer (he was previously Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre for Furniture Design at the University of Tasmania), has shown his skill in every clever detail.  Outside is a deck with an amazing view over the bay, and a garden dotted with artworks like the View Finder, above, created for Sculpture by the Sea
The thing I’m most jealous of though, is the outdoor kitchen, where roasts, wood-fired pizzas and more come out of the oven, and the nearby fire pit where Penny indulges her passion for cooking with clay. Penny explains that she has always been besotted with clay and with cooking.
“Cooking with clay came together gradually.  Cooking food and cooking clay are both magical processes, whereby the alchemical changes that occur in both, render, in the case of food – the often poisonous to the palatable and in the case of clay from the porous to the permanent. “

On her recent travels through China Penny found “several regions….that have very distinctive clay pot making and cooking traditions that reflect the region through its pots and its food.  One of these days, I intend to return and visit them…..” 
In the meantime, Penny recently tackled Hangzhou’ famous but difficult Beggar’s Chicken, a whole chicken stuffed with herbs and ham, wrapped in a lotus leaf then in a layer of clay and slow-cooked in its hardening clay ‘pot’ until it falls apart, all the delicious juices remaining trapped inside. When you read Penny’s Bruny version of making this dish, you begin to realize the depth of her interest in cooking with clay. For starters, she digs the clay herself from the ground and tends the fire for hours until the chicken is cooked just so!

I found over the course of a long sunny afternoon, tea and fruit mince pies followed by local Tasmanian beer and cheese from the Bruny Island Cheese Company, that Penny and I share many of the same views about the joys of regional and seasonal food. 
She says “what is really inspirational is that cooking with clay and cooking food both reflect the seasons – making pots (particularly in the traditional vlllages that still make clay pots to cook in on an open fire) require the right weather conditions and the foods that are cooked in them reflect what is available at the time.” It’s what we’re all thinking – food is always best when it’s in season, and cooked close to the source.
Catch Penny’s further adventures in cooking with fire and clay at BrunyFirePower

See John Smith’s exquisite furniture at

And to my Penny and all my other readers – I look forward to sharing tea and dumplings with you anytime you’re passing through Shanghai!

Bruny Island Providores: Four of the Best

Bruny Island, pristine and unspoilt, has been an incredible wild haven for the last week, but you might be surprised to find that it’s home to foodie treasures too, with an increasing number of great food destinations dotted around the island. Here are four of the best – I hope you have a chance to enjoy their produce as much as I have!

Get Shucked Oysters
The roadside sign pointing to Bruny Island’s Get Shucked Oyster Shack points you down a dirt road to a humble caravan sitting under the shade of a towering eucalypt. Just opposite the sparkling waters of Great Bay, where the oysters are grown and presumably live a happy life reaching plump loveliness in preparation for being eaten, the caravan sells shucked or un-shucked oysters ($12/dozen) and they don’t come any fresher than this.
You can sit under the eucalypt and eat them straight from the shell, or take them home and arrange them on a plate before eating them straight from the shell. Either way, make no mistake, these oysters make for very, very good eating and need no acconpaniment other than fresh air and a hearty appetite. Thanks little oysters. I love you, I really do. 

Bruny Island Cheese Company

What a find the Bruny Island Cheese Company turned out to be! I really didn’t expect to come all the way from Shanghai to find artisanal cheeses in a pristine wilderness, but those are exactly the sort of pleasant surprises Tasmania has the habit of dealing you every day.
Cheesemaker Nick Haddow makes seven types of cheese, all from Tasmanian cows’ milk. Tasmania has incredibly luscious, rich milk (as an aside, in the 1930s the Cadbury Chocolate Company decided on Tasmania, from the entirety of Australia, for their factory because of the superior quality of the milk) and the resulting cheeses are all excellent.
The cheese house has a light-filled indoor area (for cold days) and a broad verandah (for warmer days) where you can sit with a bottle of good Tasmanian wine, and a sampling of cheeses with bread from the wood-fired oven, or even a wood-fired pizza. It’s a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon.
I really enjoyed their ‘saint’ cheese, a soft surface-ripened brie style with creamy full flavour, and the ‘tom’ (seen ripening in the cheese room above),  a five months ripened hard cheese. But they’re all good, including the soft and light-flavoured o.d.o. (one day old) cheese, a baby steeped in olive oil to keep it soft and perfect with crusty bread, herbs, and prosciutto.
Bruny Island Berry Farm

Pick-your-own? Yes please, and berries are always a favourite. Sadly, the day we visited the Bruny Island Berry Farm it was absolutely clean out of berries because everyone else holidaying on the island had the same idea. Instead, I had to make do with a creamy raspberry and strawberry ice-cream from Tasmania’s Valhalla icecreams followed by an excellent piece of berry cake. Small consolation.

The farm sits in an indescribably beautiful location opposite a tiny cove of Adventure Bay with aquamarine waters and silver sands, and serves coffees, pancakes, and home-made cakes as well as jams and berry sauces.

They grow a number of interesting berry varieties including Tasmanian pepperberries, blackberries, and raspberries, all in full season right now, so I returned today to try a few more ice-cream flavours (in the interests of quality research I’m happy to report they are all, including the sorbets, superb) and buy some plump ripe sweet raspberries ($10 for 500g) for dessert. A rare treat.

Bruny Island Smoke House

I have occasional dreams of setting up my own smokehouse, rows of oily fish hanging deliciously from the smokehouse roof ready for eating. Until I get round to that highly unlikely pipedream I can visit the Bruny Island Smokehouse, who smoke their own Tasmanian salmon, ocean trout, rainbow trout, sardines and meats, including wallaby from Bruny Island Game Meats.

The smoked ocean trout from nearby McQuarry Harbour is soft, luscious and lightly smokes, and pairs well with a glass of reisling sitting overlooking Sykes Bay. The wallaby, sliced finely, was less game-flavoured than I expected, and was delicious with crusty bread and pickles. I could imagine using tossing it through fresh orrechiete with mushrooms, herbs and olive oil.

The Smokehouse’s prizewinning produce extends to smoked Pomegranate quail, Leatherwood duck, home-made pomegranate syrup (I’m taking a bottle of that rarity back to China) and spiced preserves and pickles, and they deliver anywhere in Australia.

The Details:
Get Shucked Oysters
Bruny Island Main Road, Great Bay
Bruny Island
Bruny Island Cheese Company
1807 Main Road, Great Bay
Bruny Island
Bruny Island Berry Farm
Two Tree Point, Adventure Bay
South Bruny
Bruny Island Smokehouse 
Lennon Road
North Bruny

My True Love Gave to Me: Oysters Straight From the Rocks….

My husband, badly jet-lagged, searches his hand luggage for a small knife, or screwdriver, or some kind of tool, but there’s nothing even remotely suitable for the task of levering rock oysters from their beds in a bag of stuff brought from Shanghai. Frantic at the site of hundreds of oyster-covered rocks before him he opts for the only tool available – the edge of a flat rock picked from the shore.  
The oyster cleaves messily from the rock, fractured bits of shell flying everywhere. He cracks it open with more care, revealing a plump creamy oyster inside, and rinses it gently in the cold, clear indigo water before handing it to me to eat. Unbelievably delicious. There are hundreds more on every rock around us as we wait for the ferry to Bruny Island, off the coast of Tasmania. 
Bruny sits off Tasmania’s south-east coast (Tasmania being that very large and beautiful isand off Australia’s southern tip), and from China it’s an almost twenty-four hour trip – two flights, a longish drive, a ferry ride, and yet another drive – to get to the house we’ve rented for Christmas. It’s a pretty traditional Australian way to spend Christmas – pack the entire extended family, in-laws included, off to a waterside destination for Christmas complete with decorations, ham, and plenty of beer in the back of the car.
It’s a little out of the way unless you already live in Tasmania, but that is exactly the point – it has few people but is literally heaving with animal life, in the water, in the air, and on the land. Mother Nature’s abundance is never more obvious than here. Within the first twenty four hours of arriving, I’ve caught eight wrasse (threw seven back – no-one can eat that many!) and a flathead from the seat of a kayak by literally tossing a line over the side, and watched my talented brother-in-law snorkel for fresh abalone which he removes from the rocks with a dessert spoon. Shanghai couldn’t be further away. Different season, different hemisphere, different eco-system.

Our first afternoon is spent at Adventure Bay climbing amongst the rockpools. There are enormous swathes of kelp and tendrils of seaweed fringing the pools, and as I look down I shout to everyone to ‘look!’ at the orange starfish I see. A starfish! We sit and stare for a moment in rapt wonder before one of the children yells ‘Here’s another one! and another!’
There are around thirty fat, healthy starfish n every single rockpool. Even here in Australia, a place kind of overflowing with wildlife, I’ve never seen anything like it. Bloody marvellous!

As for the abalone, Tasmania is one of the places where they grow wild. As long as you’re happy to brave the cold waters and the sharks, they are just sitting on the rocks ready to be scooped off with a spoon. Or a butter knife. 
My marine biologist brother-in-law tells me that they can be too easily damaged with a sharp knife, and the key to collecting them is surprise – the sligtest touch or advance warning of your intentions and their thick muscular foot will clamp down tightly onto the surface of the rock below it, making them completely un-removable. So the best thing is to use something blunt, and slide it quickly under the shell before the abalone knows what’s coming. Oh – and wear rubber gloves to protect your hands from the sharp edges of the shell.

I wish all of you near and far a very happy Christmas, and thanks for following my adventures on Life on Nanchang Lu over the last year. It’s been another fantastic year of food and travels, from Dragon’s Backbone rice terraces near Guilin, to ancient Miao village festivals, distant Kashgar and everywhere in between, and along the way I’ve met some of you in person and got to know others online, always a joy and one of the greatest rewards of blogging!
I hope your day is filled with family and friends and of course, good food! What Christmas would be complete without it? As for me, I’m having champagne and abalone. What a combination! 
I’ll bring you some more of the beauty of Bruny Island soon.

Roll up, Roll up, The EKKA is in Town!

What the hell is an EKKA? Only the biggest, noisiest, country fair in the city! I’m sitting writing this, the last of my posts from Australia, waiting for a midnight flight to Shanghai, looking at these photos of sunshine, blue sky and the bright, bright colours of Australia. I have mixed feelings about going back to the heavy polluted skies of China, but here I go. It’s been a wonderful long holiday, long enough to see family and friends not just once but many times, making it all the more bittersweet to leave.
According to the younger members of my family the highlight of our trip was, without a doubt, People’s Day at the Ekka. The Brisbane Exhibition began life as an agricultural show, a small country fair for the best producers in the state to compete and show the prowess of their bulls, dairy cows, and chickens. Along the way it’s become a crazy bright neon lights novelty show with fairground rides, sideshow alley, fireworks, stunt cars and two hundred ways to part with your cash!
Only in Australia would the government consider an agricultural fair so important they declare a public holiday for everyone, but that’s exactly what happens on the second Wednesday in August each year for People’s Day, a kind of Ekka endurance test of absolutely Chinese proportions. If you love Brisbane, if you love your fellow Brisbane-ites, and the more of them the better, then you’ll love People’s Day. Thousands of people cram the gates from early morning to night, as we all jostle each other from the wood-chop to the sheep dog trials, to sideshow alley, and we all queue impatiently for strawberry icecreams, dagwood dogs, toffee apples, fairy floss, hot chips and coffee. We love each other slightly less by the end of the day…..
For kids, the most exciting part of their Ekka experience is the Showbag Pavilion, a shrine to the cheap, tacky, sweet and sticky. Showbags were originally small bags of free merchandise samples, given away to punters. Now you have to pay for them, and produce samples have given way to confectionary and cheap plastic toys, but kids love it, and for five dollars they can get enough gum, chocolate and brightly coloured stuff to keep them enaptured for hours. We had planned our showbag purchases from the online Ekka Guide back in Shanghai, I mean, it was that seriously anticipated.

After the melee in the Showbag Pavilion it’s time to get back out into the neon craziness of Sideshow Alley and drop some serious cash on bumper cars, the ferris wheel, and twenty vertiginous rides like The Hangover, The Claw, Disco Cars, and The Crazy Coaster. Don’t eat first.

Then before you know it, night has fallen and it’s nearly time to go home. They’re calling my flight now…..see you back in Shanghai!