The old Shamrock Hotel Chinatown in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley Circa 2013View looking down Brunswick Street from St. Pauls Terrace, Fortitude Valley. On the left is the original Shamrock Hotel. I don't know the year this picture portrays, but it would be a long time ago.
My love affair with home preparation of Chinese food commenced, in earnest, in the early Seventies around about the time I discovered Mr. Sou San’s Chinese grocery store in Fortitude Valley, Brisbane.
The company I was employed by had its offices, showrooms and warehouse in Fortitude Valley. Every time I ventured into The Valley’s main shopping hub I walked past Mr. Sou San’s small, hole-in-the-wall store. The little Asian grocery shop was situated at the top end of Brunswick Street, just a couple of yards down around the corner from the old Shamrock Hotel that guarded the corner of St. Paul's Terrace and Brunswick Street. In fact, I rarely walked by without entering the shop to have a friendly chat with its mild-mannered keeper. I enjoyed picking Mr. Sou San’s brain. He was a cooperative victim who always welcomed my presence. Never minding my inquisitiveness, he generously shared his knowledge.
Through the course of my visits, along with food items, I purchased a load of Chinese hand-painted porcelain soup/rice bowls, spoons, sauce dishes, an inexpensive, no-frills carbon steel wok, chopsticks, ladle and spatula. I also bought a recipe book of authentic Chinese recipes written by Mr. Sou San to add to my cookbook library.
The old wok remains in my possession. It’s travelled far and wide with me. Over the years it’s seen the workings of quite a few restaurant kitchens. It has also traversed the ocean to reside upon a couple of islands. Since I purchased the wok all those years ago many tasty meals have been prepared in the round-bottomed cooking vessel.
Back in the Sixties and early Seventies two of the most popular Chinese restaurants in Brisbane were The Oriental in The Valley and The Lotus Room in Elizabeth Street in the CBD. The Valley’s Chinatown as it is today didn’t exist back then. However, myriad Chinese restaurants and take-away shops were dotted throughout the city and suburbs. Some were good; some not so good.
Tennyson Lau, a Chinese-Australian, bought the block of units in which I lived, and also managed, at Toowong. I continued as manager under Tennyson’s ownership. Tennyson was born and raised in Charters Towers; and attended boarding school in Southport. When I met him he lived in Goroka, PNG, where he ran a trading company.
On a visit to Brisbane in search of further property investments Tennyson and his family were joined by a friend, Cedric Che. Cedric, the owner/operator of Che Airlines in PNG, a domestic airline that flew around and over the ruggedly treacherous New Guinea Highlands had just won a sizeable amount of money in the lottery. Cedric, a rotund,vertically-challenged Chinese fellow arrived in Brisbane eager to spend his winnings. As the saying goes – “money begets money”. In celebration of his win, I was invited to join Cedric, the Lau family and some of their business associates for dinner at The Lotus Room.
Our party arrived at the restaurant at 7.30 pm. After midnight we mutually called a halt to the evening. Three courses were yet to be served, but because of the lateness of the hour on a week night, and with each of us facing a busy tomorrow, we decided to relinquish the balance of our dinner.
Cedric, our host, had left the menu in the hands of the chefs. No orders were placed with the waiters. Our dinner consisted of a variety of many diverse, delicious dishes presented to our table at relaxed intervals. Only when a course was eaten did the next follow.
Dining in style, Chinese-style with Chinese friends; I was told it’s the Chinese way - good manners- to always leave a morsel of food on the serving platter.
Prawns Kung Pao: Mix together 500g peeled green prawns, 1tsp cornflour, 1tsp water, 2tsp soy sauce and 2tsp rice wine; marinate 10-20mins. Heat 1tsp peanut oil in wok; add 10 dried, halved red chillies (or to taste) and 1tsp toasted Sichuan peppercorns (or to taste). Fry 1min; add prawns; sauté 1min; add sliced white part of 5 shallots, 1tbs chopped garlic and 1tbs grated ginger. Add 1tsp each dark and light soy sauce, 1tsp sesame oil, 3tsp Chinese black vinegar (or un-aged balsamic), 1tbs chicken stock, 2tsp sugar and 1tsp cornflour; cook until prawns about 2mins and sauce has thickened. Garnish with handful of roasted, roughly-chopped peanuts and sliced greens of shallots.
Mapo Pork & Tofu: Brown 500g minced pork in wok; set aside. Heat 1tsp sesame oil in wok. Add 2tbs each chopped garlic and chopped ginger; sauté about 1min. Add 1tbs fermented black beans (soaked in water, 20mins and chopped), 2tbs each chilli bean paste and chilli sauce, or to taste, 1tbs toasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns, 2tbs soy sauce and 1/2c chicken stock; simmer 5-7mins. Add 500g firm tofu, cut into ½-inch cubes; cook about 2mins; garnish with chopped shallots. Replace the tofu with eggplant if you like. Sauté 1kg bite-sized pieces of eggplant with the garlic, ginger etc.
Char Siu Pork: Combine 5tbs light soy sauce, 3tbs dark soy sauce, 5tbs runny honey, 3tbs sugar, 1tsp five spice powder, ½ glass Chinese rice wine or sherry, 3tbs hoisin sauce, 1x2-inch piece of ginger, crushed and 4 crushed garlic cloves; warm until sugar dissolves. Pour warm marinade over 1 pork fillet; marinate overnight. Place pork, basted with some marinade, on rack over roasting pan with a little water in bottom. Roast in 210C oven, 20mins. Baste again on both sides; turn meat; reduce heat to 180C; roast 10mins; baste again; roast further 10mins. Remove from oven; place pork on foil-lined tray; baste with mixture of 2tbs honey, 1tbs each dark soy and vegetable oil. Place under grill, 5mins; turn pork; glaze again; put under grill until glossy and caramelized.