Balmoral Chinese Food Tour
I was invited to join this tour, I had heard so much great stuff about it, that I couldn't wait!! Absolute best thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon (double bonus of not having to cook dinner when you get home).
Both tour guides - Silvia and Shannon were originally from China, and grew up only eating food distinct to their own region, which is fascinating, the next thought to flash through my mind was 'imagine if I had never had a bluff oyster' what a travesty!!! But it really is a modern thing to know the foods from other regions and cultures as well as we do now (and that still is just a drop in the ocean) So it wasn't surprising that this 'tour group' was full of curious food lovers - interested in knowing more about the regions of China in 200m of Dominion Road.
I want to share all the little stories, chinese fables and anecdotes that we were told as we ventured around, and I will share a few, but it was the 'making' of the tour - take the food being 'legit' as a given!!
Shaolin Kung Fu Noodles - first stop... so a brief intro with our guides, quick overview which included the stops on our walk that had the best 'facilities' I may have giggled, but seriously we drank tea at every stop, so pay attention!! Here were tasting dumplings two ways, steamed and snowflake, followed by Xinjiang hand pulled noodles. Incredible skill pulling noodles by hand and I am going to add 'making them' (or trying to) to my foodie bucket list. My nugget of knowledge from hhere - I have always associated Chinese food with Soy Sauce, but had never realised they also use a vinegar (for dipping) to cut through the richer / fattier choices. (the bottle in the picture)
Xi'an - Xi'an Chinese Burgers - really like a burger, but with pulled lamb, (pork, or beef) slow cooked in spices like cumin - not necessarily hot like chill pepper (but can be if you choose), but slow warm heat spice that you would expect from moroccan food. Super tasty.
My highlights were unexpected - Chinese Medical Shop and the Tekkoon Tea Shop. Both stores I wouldn't have ventured in on my own, but was very curious about. I always feel just a little too awkward venturing in places that I know have centuries worth of rituals attached to them. We tried the Chinese Date - not like the dates that I am used to, similar - the skin is a little like a passionfruit, but not as tough, the texture is less dense than a date, and sweet but a lighter sweetness. From what I could gather it has a raft of health benefits.
Spicy house - was a Tofu stop.... both silky tofu and pressed tofu - both very different, and delish for different reasons, discussion with my neighbours at the table was favouring the pressed tofu and its potential in their everyday cooking at home... stirfrys seemed a popular choice.
Next up was the Bun Hut - for Jian Bing Guo Zi and Chinese Pancakes. The Jian Bing Guo Zi is like a thin egg crepe with a layer of a spicy (chilli perhaps) paste smeared on it and then folded over crispy fried wonton wrappers. So a perfect breakfast egg wrap. The Chinese Pancake - is slightly more like a pancake filled with scallion.
The Tekkoon Tea shop was an aladdins cave - we tasted some teas, with varying health benefits and tins of tea were opened and passed between us, the most incredible variations of aromas, from sweet jasmine, vanilla to more citrus or ginger scents. I bought a 'Blooming Tea' - which is made from green tea and natural blooms by master tea makers - it is mindfulness in a teacup, as the water steeps the tea a bloom opens....
Here I was introduced to 'tea pets' never even knew they existed, but some examples in the pictures... Tea (Cha) is always a ceremony, even when drinking tea on your own - you share a little of your tea with your tea pet, tipping a little hot tea over him.
Honestly having Silvia and Shannon with us to translate the questions was priceless, especially in these stores.
Okashi House Sweet & Snack Shop - from sweets to little cakes and breads, green tea kitkats, sweet shredded fish (not unrelated to beef jerky), bamboo shoots, really endless. Our guide asked everyone what they would like to try and bought a mixed bag of goodies to share around.
Hulu Cat - Bubble Tea, this is becoming very popular in Auckland and has Taiwanese origin. The teas are milk of fruit based and have 'bubbles' slightly chewy tapioca balls or 'jellies' a kind of jelly cubes in them. Quite sweet, the fruit ones were refreshing and would be perfect hot summer day material!!!
Last stop - Flavour House for Shanghai Dumplings and Sugared Kumara. The steamed Xiaolongbao filled with pork and soup - perfectly delicious. One of the more familiar favourites of mine - not to be missed. The Sugared Kumara on the other hand, I had never tried - served with a bowl of water to dip in... the sugar is still hot hand almost liquid, so dipping in the cold water creates a sugar 'shell' around the kumara - buying into it is similar to the crack experienced on biting into a toffee apple.