Six foods that are all the rage in Sydney

1. Halloumi. 

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Picture from foodytwoshoes.com

This salty, springy cheese hails from Cyprus and has been popular in the area encompassing Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan since the Byzantine era.  Wikipedia notes “Halloumi has recently become very popular in the United Kingdom.” Yup, an article in the BBC this past September attempts to address how halloumi took over the UK, elevating itself from a niche grocery store product to a staple at summer BBQs.

Add Sydney to the list.  Wherever you go, you’ll delight at spotting this salty, squeaky cheese on Sydney menus — whether in place of meat in burgers and sandwiches, as an ingredient in fresh salads (especially with watermelon) or on its own, as a side, grilled and dripping with flavour. My favourite halloumi in the city is in the form of Bondi Massive’s delectable pesto and halloumi sammy.

2. Muesli

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Picture from thekitchn.com

I’ve written about muesli a couple of times but it bears noting as a staple in Sydney.  Whether you’re in line for your morning cuppa or you’re browsing your local supermarket, muesli jumps out at you from every corner.  As in England, muesli is the king of breakfast here, beating back the efforts of that sugary sweet poster child for American healthy eating, otherwise known as granola.  Just so we’re on the same page, here’s the difference:

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Picture from Livestrong.com
  • Muesli and granola were both developed in the late 1800s in different parts of the world.  Muesli was developed by Swiss-German physician and nutritionist Max Bircher-Benner as a natural, raw food to help his patients during convalescence.  Granola was developed by Dr. James Caleb Jackson at the Jackson Sanitarium in New York.
  • Muesli is unbaked and doesn’t contain sweetener or oil.  Granola on the other hand usually contains one or more of maple syrup, brown sugar or honey as well as vegetable oil or butter.
  • Granola is typically harder than muesli.  The sweeteners in granola cause the oats, seeds and other goodies to clump together and, harden into sugary clusters.  While this gives granola that satisfying crunch and pretty glaze, it also gives it that tendency to get stuck in our teeth.
  • In other words, compared cup for cup as an average of all brands, muesli has 289 calories whereas granola has a whopping 500+ calories. A few interesting reports from Livestrong and Shape.

If that isn’t enough reason to switch, check out this delicious bircher muesli recipe by My New Roots.

3. Chia Seeds

I first came across chia seeds a few blocks from my old New York apartment in the West Village.  There is a deliciously quaint store on Carmine Street called Victory Garden that specializes in locally sourced goats milk, mastic and chia seed products.  They’re better known for their goat’s milk soft serve ice cream (check out their foursquare photo feed) but Victory Garden makes a to-die-for chia seed parfait that I’ve indulged in after many a morning workout, despite lingering doubts about where it falls on the healthy breakfast vs. dessert pudding spectrum.  The parfait is made with cashew milk and sweetened with a hint of agave.

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Victory Garden’s delicious chia seed parfait.  Pic by seriouseats.com

Anyway, I was intrigued to learn that chia seeds have had quite the impact on the Sydney food scene, with a conspicuous presence in breakfast foods, desserts and the ubiquitous grocery aisle.  I’m still figuring out how to reconstruct that delicious parfait, but in the meantime, I’ve incorporated this uber super food into my weekend breakfast drinks.

4. Passionfruit

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Passiflora Edulis: the other worldly flower of the passionfruit

Sydney, or Australia really, has an abundance of passionfruit.  You can buy three fresh passionfruit for $2 at Harris Farms (Sydney’s answer to Whole Foods) and any crunchy grocery store will have its own version of homemade yoghurt with fresh passionfruit. You’ll also encounter passionfruit in Sydney desserts (especially pavlova) and cocktails.

Coming from the US, where passionfruit sits squarely in the exotic category alongside mangoes (also somewhat more common here) it’s been a real treat to indulge in them here.

5. Laksa

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Get the recipe at taste.com.au

The first time I had laksa in New York, I was at Double Crown, sampling, what can only be described with political incorrectness, as their colonial British menu. It was tangy, spicy, smooth and delicious.  I loved it.  Funny then how you can find laksa on every street corner in Sydney’s CBD.  It’s so mainstream that the popular Aussie salad bar chain “Sumo Salad” offers it on their health-conscious menu.  Laksa is popular in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and comes in a variety of preparations.  The kind I’ve sampled in Sydney is a rich coconut-based soup with thick noodles, prawns and a dollop of sambal.  It’s probably more popular with chicken.

While Laksa is an example of a popular Asian dish here in Sydney that isn’t (or doesn’t seem to have made it) big in the States, I could replace this point with an entire category of Asian food.  Central Sydney is an Asian food lover’s paradise with everything from fresh dumplings, “yum cha” (dim sum) and hand pulled noodles to elaborate duck and seafood preparations.  Thai, Malay, and Singaporean dishes, in particular, have more of a representation here than in New York.

6. Spices

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Dukkah-crusted salmon, recipe at taste.com.au

A bit broad and not technically “a food”, but I’m not sure how to put this other than to say Sydneysiders are the kings of spice.  Harissa, DukkahChermoula and Sambal are all fairly mainstream here and, again, feature prominently on both restaurant menus as well as in supermarket aisles.  Dukkah crusted salmon, in particular, is a popular dish that springs to mind.  I’m not complaining.  Although our small fridge coupled with my husband’s love for collecting condiments may soon lead to some challenges…

Double Crown, NoHo, NYC

The Legendary Daikon Fries @ Double Crown

Double Crown and I have a love-hate relationship. At the best of times, we’re comrades in arms, partners in a Hendricks and cucumber crime, curious mashups of Brit love and commonwealth character… at the worst of times, we’re the most unpleasant kind of neighbours – civil, but wholly indifferent. Living, as we do, two floors apart, it’s hard for me not to have an opinion on Double Crown. Unfortunately though, it’s not an entirely consistent one.

Menu: First off, I love the menu.  Executive Chef Brad Farmerie has done an outstanding job and his blog is well worth a visit.  The broad theme has been described as “Colonial inspired South East Asian” and if you think that’s a mouthful, you should try the food. Imagine a bold collection of flavors, colors, textures and cultures, artfully tied together in a fusion of the familiar and the unknown – it’s truly an adventure for the palate. The menu draws influences from a number of different cuisines, including Indian, Cantonese, Japanese, Singaporean, Szechuan and yes, British. The result is a surprisingly fantastic ensemble of creative and beautifully executed dishes.

The Delicious Laksa at Double Crown

I’ve enjoyed many a dinner party, devoured multiple brunches, downed countless cocktails and even nommed several afternoon appetizers at Double Crown.  My top three favorite dishes are the Singapore Laksa, the Roast Pork Belly and the Duck Steamed Buns. These easy-to-make, tough-to-master dishes are flawlessly prepared at Double Crown and are garnished, enhanced and flavored with an amazing set of herbs, spices and other touches that make them uniquely outstanding.

Ambience: The second big thing to note about Double Crown (and this could be a plus or a minus, depending on your mood) is that it is incredibly trendy. The AvroKO designed restaurant space oozes edgy character.  An outdoor “garden” of white picket tables and planters decorate the entrance and work perfectly with the crazy busy, but also crazy beautiful, Bowery sidewalk to create a gastropub feel. Step inside and you’re greeted by a gleaming bar to your left and a maze of beautiful mahogany tables to your right.

On a typical evening, the dark interior is punctuated by splashes of candlelight, glowing lanterns and Robin Hood-esque chandeliers. The effect is a mix of intrigue, romance and edgy glamour. Walk further into the large recesses of Double Crown and you’ll come to an ante room with more tables and a “secret door” that leads to Madame Geneva, the bar next door.

Double Crown’s gorgeous interior
The Streetside Garden

So with all this awesomeness, why the debate? Well, the vibe is refreshing, the place is gorgeous. The food is good, yes, the menu creative. But really, Double Crown is kind of like REALLY overpriced. The dishes are pretty tiny and by the time you’ve ordered a few of them plus a drink, you’ve easily spent $70. I’m all for a fantastic dining experience, but just stepping into this place will burn a hole in your pocket.

Spicy Apple, Lotus Root and Lily Bulb Salad

Besides that, Double Crown can be really inconsistent on the actual food. Sometimes the fantastic ideas don’t follow through on the execution. Sometimes, they fail miserably. Like the spicy apple, lotus root, and lily bulb salad I had the other day. It just didn’t taste as cool as it looked. You have to be careful about what you order because there are a lot of artfully worded red herrings on this menu.

And one more thing, the service here can be really iffy. The waiters and waitresses are slow, forgetful and yknow what, they’re really just kind of snobby. That’s not the kind of service you should be getting at $70 per head. So.. the verdict is out. I want to love you Double Crown but there are still a few things holding me back.

Details: http://www.yelp.com/biz/double-crown-new-york Damage: $50-$70 for dinner with a drink. $30 per head for brunch.

Disclaimer: I actually eat here relatively often and my intention is not to poo-pooh it.  If reading this has piqued your palate or even if you’re just slightly intrigued, I would encourage you to check it out. Brunch is a lot more reasonable, with a fantastic $20 pre-fixe ($32 with bloody marys), so consider grabbing a outdoor table and re-connecting with your inner hipster at Double Crown.