What on Earth is ‘Australian Crunch’?

….I asked myself while grabbing a quick lunch in a bakery.

The description said: cornflakes, golden syrup, coconut and chocolate.

Nope. Still doesn’t ring a bell. So, of course, I had to buy one.

After I’d asked for the pork and apple pasty, I said, “and we’d like to try to the Australian Crunch please”.

The lady behind the counter gave me a funny look and asked, “is it like anything you have in Australia?”

I looked at the slice again and responded, “well no, that’s why we’d like to try it”.

She laughed and half muttered under her breath, “that’s what most Australians say”.

I just smiled awkwardly.

Once seated, I was adult enough to get through the savoury part of my lunch first. It was the nicest pasty I’d ever had actually. Although, I think there is supposed to be a traditional pasty and the rest are just fakes. Then again, I don’t know a lot about pasties. I’ve had pasties before, but I don’t like the potato in them – always seem to be undercooked.

Anywho, that’s not what this post is about. I’m here to talk about Australian Crunch.

The Australian Crunch was….well, it was bland and not all that crunchy to be honest. I struggled to taste coconut or golden syrup. It didn’t remind me of anything I’d ever eaten as a kid, but it reminded me of a really bad version of chocolate crackles.

Given this odd slice has ‘Australian’ in its name and neither Husband or I had ever heard of it, I wanted to find out a bit more.

I put the slice on Facebook, and then I googled.

Turns out, it might very well be a slice unique to the UK. Plenty of British bloggers and forum participants ate Australian Crunch growing up; often saying they had it a lot at school.

Australian forum participants and friends on Facebook said they had never heard of such a slice. Mel thought her aunt may have made something similar when she was a kid, but wasn’t too sure. I’m wondering if the ‘Australian’ part of the name comes from the cornflakes?

During my search I also found number of recipes – all different of course!

I’m currently staying in a studio apartment with a very small kitchen and not much in the way of baking utensils (yes, it was hard not to pack some and it’s even harder not to buy things whenever I go to the shop), but I’m really keen to give this slice a go. So from my search, here are a few recipes of this strange slice if you’d like to make it and tell me how it goes:

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PS. I regret not taking a photo before I bit into it…sorry about that.

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Helsinki food adventures – part 1

Helsinki isn’t the most ‘touristy’ town, certainly a far cry from what we experienced in Tallinn and would later experience in Prague. Yet, we felt we saw (and ate) a lot during the few days we were there.

My food experiences started with a trip to the supermarket, Prisma. I love going to supermarkets for the first time in a new country. There’s always something different to try (and sometimes you find yourself shaking your head because you have no idea why anyone would want to eat whatever that strange looking thing is). In this case, it was mostly awe that I felt while walking around. So many products I’d never seen before, so many drinks I wanted to try. Not to mention we were pretty hungry; it’s definitely true – you shouldn’t shop while hungry!

My trip to this supermarket reminded me that we have so much growing to do in Australia!

A traditional platter of sorts…

Jess, my friend and tour guide, decided we should start our first day in Finland with some traditional fare. We had quite the spread: pickles (which you buy ‘fresh’ from vats in the vegetable section) with a sour cream and honey ‘dip’; bread cheese (a bit like haloumi in texture) with peach jam – usually this would have been cloudberries, but we couldn’t get any; and Karelian pies (a thin rye crust with a filling of rice) with egg butter (egg, salt, pepper, butter).

They aren’t combinations I’d have thought of back home, I love trying something new! My favourite was the Karelian pie, it was a little like eating an egg sandwich. The pies are also Jess’ favourite and many people obviously enjoy eating them for lunch because they were available with the ‘egg butter’ at most cafes.

Helsinki fun
Karelian pie with egg butter + pickle with sour cream and honey dip + buying pickles at Prisma
Reindeer games…

For dinner that same night, Jess’ husband Juho, cooked us something even more traditional – sauteed reindeer with mashed potato, lingonberries and a pickle for good measure. Juho informed us that Finnish cuisine didn’t tend to use a lot of spices or herbs in the dishes they ate most regularly, so this dish involved thinly sliced reindeer cooked in butter and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. The lingonberries were cooked with a bit of sugar. A note: lingonberries are very tart, even with the addition of sugar, so it does take some getting used to when you put it in your mouth.

Helsinki reindeer
Reindeer with mashed potato, lingonberry compote and a pickle.
It wouldn’t be a holiday without traditional pastries…

We tried a traditional Finnish ‘pastry’, korvapuusti – a cinnamon scroll of sorts. Korvapuusti translates to ‘slapped ears’ because of their shape. They were tasty at room temperature, but even better straight from the oven. Yum!

Helsinki and Korvapuusti
Korvapuusti + some funny little men I found on a walk.
Pour some sugar on me…

Jess had mentioned she wanted to take me to a ‘heavy metal bar’ with great cocktails and I was keen. You can’t say no to cocktails and a venue that didn’t play dance music. While our husbands went to the sauna, we took the opportunity to relax at Sling In bar + cafe; they have a cocktail list so big, it’s stored on a computer and you can search based on name, ingredient or style. Tucked away in what seemed like an odd location (inside a shopping centre), we each took ten minutes to decide on the cocktails we would try. I went with Jess’ recommendation – a blueberry cheese cake cocktail (with actual creamy cheese in it). It was divine and you wouldn’t know you were drinking anything alcoholic….is that good or bad? I don’t know. I guess if you’re in town, you should test it out for yourself.

Helsinki fun
The Sibelius Monument + magnificent blueberry cheesecake cocktail from SlingIn.

 

A little foraging…

One of my favourite outings was to the aptly nicknamed, Squirrel Island (Seurasaari). Not only did we get up close and personal with squirrels and tiny birds, we did some late season berry foraging, finding both blueberries and raspberries. I’d definitely recommend picking up some sunflower seeds and heading over to the island for a couple of hours. You can see one of the squirrels I fed here…so cute!

Foraging in Helsinki
Foraged late-season blueberries and raspberries. Delicious!

We also went to Michelin Starred restaurant, Chef & Sommelier, but that’s a story for another day.

We’ll likely head back to Finland again in the future – apparently it’s better during the summer months. I’d also like to see the Northern Lights in Lapland. Any recommendations for touristy attractions?

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Tallinn, just a boat ride away

I’ve been dying to go to Finland since I was about 15. Something about heavy metal bands, snow and the Northern Lights. Fortuitously, my friend Jess moved there five years ago for love and we’ve always talked about me visiting (read: I invited myself to her place!). That time had come when we decided to take the long route to the UK by way of Vietnam, Finland and Prague. I sent her messages every other day about everything under the sun I was so excited – I honestly wonder now how she didn’t just say, ‘hey, look ummmm I’ve changed my mind’.

Just one little snag, Jess had a big event on the same week we were in town, so she suggested we go to Estonia for a couple of days. She often goes there because it’s much cheaper than Helsinki for quite a few things and it’s just two hours on the ferry to get there. She was our saviour because she even booked our tickets and then bundled us into her car very early in the morning to drop us off at the ferry terminal. Saved us catching train then tram. Thanks Jess!

To give you an idea of what Estonia is like… think small Baltic country, with a population of only 1.3 million, once part of the Soviet Union.Think hearty meals heavy on the carbs, beer and and more beer. I did read that they are one of the top tech countries in Europe though! However, we stayed in Tallinn’s Old Town, the most ‘touristy’ part of the country.

It’s full of stunning historical buildings and cobbled streets. Every now and again as we walked around, I honestly felt like I’d been whisked back in time. The town makes the most of the historical feel, with plenty of medieval style pubs and restaurants offering tourists a chance to go back in time (some more so than others, with costumes and music). We even stayed in a refurbished 15th Century building as recommended by Jess  – Hotel St Olav. I felt like I was at Hogwarts as I walked through the common areas. I’m such a sucker for history and fantasy novels.

Tallinn, Estonia
Poppyseed kringle and a building in Tallinn

We did a lot of walking, racking up more than 15,000 steps each day as we wandered from building to building and cafe to cafe. We even went on a tour of a previously KGB-run hotel just outside the out town’s walls.

All that walking made me feel a lot less guilty about all the food I had put on my Estonia food to do list, which included mostly bread, pastries and meat.

My highlight was stumbling across a restaurant in the basement of a building. Looking it up later, it was on TripAdvisor with great reviews (particularly about the bread, which I totally understand!). I think the lady who owned the restaurant liked having someone who ate what she recommended and asked questions about the food. The food at Vanaema Juures Restoran was really simple fare, a bit heavy and there were definitely some very large portions, but it was the traditional food I was after and I genuinely enjoyed my meal. I felt like I was in a bomb shelter that had been kitted out with my grandmother’s belongings. And the bread! I’ve never tasted bread so delicious before and all I was told is that it’s ‘grandmother’s bread’. Of course, Google yielded nothing useful when I searched later that night. I made my feelings about the bread known and the plate was never empty on our table – that was both good and bad!

Vanaema Juures in Tallinn, Estonia
Traditional Estonian – Slow-cooked pork with roast potatoes, black pudding and cabbage stew + smoked meats and cheese
Traditional food in Tallinn, Estonia
Grandmother’s bread + Grandmother’s roast – braised beef tenderloin slices in mustard sauce, served with roast potatoes and pickles + Kama – a dish prepared from a mixture of rye, oat, barley and pea meal mixed with sour milk

We also tried one of Estonia’s traditional pastries, a kringel with poppy seeds. Crispy, not too sweet and a pleasure to eat at any time of the day.

Elk ham also popped up, so we had sandwiches one day with ‘raw’ elk ham (think prosciutto) and normal elk ham. You could tell it wasn’t pork, but we were looking for differences. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t have noticed a difference I’d say.

Tallinn, Estonia
Elk ham sandwiches + a part of the wall surround Old Tallinn Town + traditional beers

Overall, we had a really nice time in Old Tallinn Town. I’d recommend stopping by for a couple of days if you’re in the area. We decided husband’s parents would love it too, so I hope we get to take them there one day.

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Vietnamese cooking class

As I always do before a trip, I scoured the internet for things to do while traveling. Of course, it just wouldn’t be a holiday for me if it didn’t involve cooking and eating. Luckily, I came across HCM Cooking Class for our time in Vietnam. They offer a full day cooking class (and a few other options) that included a look at their farm and involved cooking nine different dishes for $100USD – talk about bargain! Sounded like heaven to me. I convinced husband that it sounded great. He was a bit grumbly about the whole thing because he doesn’t enjoy cooking as much as I do (though, he does enjoy eating what I make). Once he agreed, I told him we were cooking nine different dishes. He felt like I’d left out a key element in my description of the class. As always when I choose activities he’s dubious about, by the end of the day, he was really enjoying himself and the delicious food.

When I booked, I received an email from Mr Tan to confirm and in closing he said we should ensure we arrive with ‘an empty belly’.

I gave Chef Tan the list of dishes we wanted to cook:

  • Beef wrap with Betel leaves (bo la lot)
  • Special pork spring rolls (cha gio)
  • Banh Mi Thit Nuong
  • Mango Salad with wth BBQ pork (goi xoai)
  • Crispy duck with tamarind sauce
  • Calamari with salt and pepper sauce
  • Stir fry chicken with chilli and lemongrass in special HCM dressing sauce on fresh rice noodle (bun ga)
  • Banana spring rolls with coconut ice cream (cha gio chuoi voi kem dua)

I picked a range of dishes that sounded interesting, but also dishes I knew I’d want to make at home.

We were picked up early in the morning and driven about one hour out of town – for those of you who have been to Ho Chi Minh, it was quite close to the Cu Chi Tunnels. We were shown around part of the farm (unfortunately it had been raining quite a bit so it was too messy and dangerous to visit the animals) and given loads of information about the fragrant herbs and other plants they were growing. We were then instructed to pick the herbs and plants we would later use for our dishes. It was really nice to be part of the process of getting the food from the garden to the plate. The freshness of so many of the ingredients is probably the main thing I love about Vietnamese cuisine. The more herbs the better!

Then we met the fascinating, and perhaps a little larger than life, Chef Tan. We found out over the course of the day that he qualified as a Doctor, then studied accounting and then became a chef, later buying the farm to start a cooking school. He also owns a restaurant in Melbourne called Love Pho. A man of many skills and many jokes.

First up, Chef Tan took us through the basics of making dressings, marinades, dipping sauces and stir-fry sauces. Surprisingly, the methods are really easy and can be applied to so many dishes! Then chopped, fried, rolled and ate the day away. Half way through the day we had a break and they provided hammocks for students to use. I didn’t use one but husband enjoyed a little kip.

The most surprising dish for me was the calamari dish, which actually turned out to be oyster mushrooms – the texture was so similar and for someone who doesn’t much like the taste, smell or texture of mushrooms, I was converted…for this dish only, anyway.

Here are the dishes we cooked (in some cases, husband did a way better job than I did, so I used his dishes for photos haha):

Vietnam
Time in the garden picking fresh herbs

 

Vietnam
Spring rolls before and after cooking

 

Vietnam
Growing oyster mushrooms

 

Vietnam
Bo la lot before and after cooking

 

Vietnam
Green mango salad with chicken

 

Vietnam
Banana spring rolls during preparation and once cooked

 

Vietnam
Tamarind stir fry sauce and finished stir fry with duck

 

Vietnam
Banh mi and preparing pickles for the banh mi

 

Vietnam
Calamari (mushrooms) and clay pot chicken

 

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Bun during preparation and in the bowl

 

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I really enjoyed this class and I’d recommend to anyone, regardless of their skill level.

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Details:
HCM Cooking Class
Web: hochiminhcookingclass.com

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