This crispy pork mince stir fry is very loosely based on the Thai dish Pad Kra Pao, but now I have kids I tone it down a bit. I’m not cooking multiple meals if I don’t have to! They love this one…so delicious…

1 tablespoon vegetable oil (you can use less if you like)

6 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2-1 large red chilli (or more if you want it more authentic)

500g pork mince

1 packet silken tofu 250g ish

1-2 tablespoons fish sauce

2-3 tablespoons kecap manis

1/2 green Savoy cabbage, sliced (use any veg, wombok is great, red capsicum etc)

Fresh lime juice or lemon juice

1 bunch Thai basil, or coriander, to serve

Fried egg, jasmine rice, crispy chilli sauce to serve, optional


Heat a wok until very hot, add vegetable oil, swirl to coat, add garlic and chilli (these days it is only 1/2-1…it used to be 2-3) and stir for a few seconds only as it will burn quickly, then add pork mince all at once. I use 500g and it feeds 4 of us plus some leftover for lunch the next day. Stir a little to avoid sticking then leave it to brown a bit. Then break up with a wooden spoon. I like a flat-edged one, it is better for scraping. It needs to be hot enough so it doesn’t stew…it should be on the hottest burner.

If you can, get pork mince with some fat in it, from a butcher, it will taste much better and cook better too. Beware supermarket mince that looks like worms, I always find that turns out dry.

While mince is cooking bring a small saucepan of water to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and use a large spoon to slide tofu into water. Careful not to splash yourself. Turn off heat and leave to warm through while mince cooks.

Once the mince has lost its pink colour, add fish sauce, stir until it evaporates, then add kecap manis and cook until deeply golden brown. If it goes extra crispy that is extra delicious. Add cabbage or whatever veg you have on hand and stir through until just starting to soften but still green and a bit crisp. If you have a lot of veg you can put a lid on and let it steam for 30 seconds to a minute. If you add a lot of veg you’ll probably need to add extra fish sauce and kecap manis. 

Remove tofu from water with a slotted spoon to a bowl or the wok.

Taste, check seasoning, add lime or lemon and adjust salt/fish sauce/kecap manis as desired. Plunge herbs in a bowl of water to clean thoroughly, then shake off and roughly chop, stir through stir fry at last minute off the heat. Serve with jasmine rice and silken tofu.

Thursday: Mindil (Indigenous art, food stalls, light and breezy summer clothing by Gita
Saturday: Parap (food stalls, fruit and veg, clothing)
Sunday: Rapid Creek (fresh food and specialty fruit and vegetables) and Mindil

Parap Markets

The queue for som tam (green papaya salad)
Iced coffee
A little French busking to set the mood…

As soon as the balmy sea air at Mindil Beach hit my face, I relaxed. Sustained by treats from the stalls at the Mindil Markets, there was too much to choose from; Indonesian, Thai, Malaysian, and Roadkill stalls all competed for my attention. Do try the Ice Kachang dessert if you can find it.
Enthralled by the hard-to-find-in-Sydney Thai vegetables at Rapid Creek Markets, along with a great selection of meat and other ingredients at the Greenie’s real food store that I visited far too many times than a 10 day trip justifies.
Thai Massage, an Iyengar yoga class outdoors that bordered on Bikram’s style, local Indigenous art and music, the Darwin festival, and my new favourite clothing designer, Gita.
I can’t wait to go back to Darwin, if only to recapture that breezy vibe.
Sunset at Mindil Beach Markets
Even in the dry season, Darwin gives you a nice sweaty glow…
The view from The Wharf, a great place for dinner
Fish & Chips, Laksa and Som Tam at the Wharf
John Butler rocked the Darwin Festival
Deliciously cooling pools at Buley Rockhole
Florence Falls, a deep black pool beneath a waterfall filled with amorous fish

Always on the hunt for good takeaway options, and since a trip to Thailand last year, I’ve been somewhat obsessed with trying to find an authentic Thai restaurant. There are seventeen Thai restaurants listed in the 2009 good food guide, Spice I Am being one of them, and a favourite of mine when I am passing through the city. Unfortunately none of them are within a 5km radius of my place as the crow flies (that’s for you Lauren).
This may also be a good time to mention the cluster of Thai grocery stores near the Capitol Theatre sometimes referred to as Thainatown. I did not make that up. One famous one is called Pontip, and if you’re searching for that elusive holy basil, or pea sized bitter eggplant for your Thai curry, you’ll find them here.
My favourite cheap takeaway meal is also from near here, the sandstone building on the corner of  Pitt St and Hay St in Haymarket. They sell supplies but also pre-made meals like chicken or pork larb ( a minced meat salad, heavily seasoned with lime, fish sauce, roasted rice and chilli-  for lovers of authentic Thai cuisine only), or a curry of catfish and baby eggplant. For $7- $8 each, they are a bargain. Just cook some rice at home and a few dishes will set you back around $15. Considering Thai takeaway often costs $30-$50, it is a fantastic deal. I must look a bit soft as I get warned every time ‘It’s spicy!’.
Anyway, so I found a decent Thai takeaway place in Parramatta and thought I’d share. There are so many and this one is my favourite so far. Let me know if you have a different one.
Saute Thai Restaurant
Thai green chicken curryI think it’s their best dish on the menu. It has a bit of heat but not too much and is really moreish.
The spring rolls are vegetarian; also nice and crunchy.
The Som Tam (green papaya salad) with soft shell crab is delicious. The som tam is nowhere near authentic, it is mild and sweet instead of hot, salty, sweet and sour in a perfect balance, however, for an ‘Aussie’ version, it’s not bad. I  am nearly always disappointed with Australian versions of som tam, because when it is done right it is so addictive.
N.B. Make your own mind up about the massaman beef curry and the pad thai. I’ve had better so I tend to stick with other choices, but the stir fries are pretty good and if you want something different, the BBQ beef is really fantastic. Thinnish steaks marinated in a sweet marinade and then cooked on a char grill. It has a tender chewiness and a smoky sweetness that is so good.
Saute Thai Restaurant

18 Phillip St Parramatta
9687 0778/ 9635 7378
The first number is often busy so try the second if you can’t get through in peak times

This is the real deal: Som Tam and sticky rice in a food court in Bangkok, Thailand
I still have vivid memories of eating it in a spotlessly clean food court in Bangkok, with a side of sticky rice and tears streaming down my cheeks it was so hot. But it was also so good I couldn’t stop. A kindly looking man carrying a toddler stopped nearby and chuckled at this westerner chowing down on his national dish with gusto. I looked up and smiled and we had a moment. Food really is the way to the heart. I shouldn’t complain so much though, I am always just happy when I see this dish on a menu, as it takes a bit more effort to prepare, and lots of restaurants won’t make it as there is not always the demand for it.

Khao Soy- a thick curry soup with fresh egg noodles, bite size pieces of chicken thigh and tender massamun-style beef, topped with deep fried crispy noodles and sliced shallots. It is unbelievable how tasty this is.
You can get this dish all over Chiang Mai, but I had it several times at Aroon Rai and it was consistently good. The Tuk Tuk drivers all know this place so you should be able to get there for 40-60 Thai Baht from most locations in town.

There is no shortage of cooking classes in Thailand, especially in Bangkok. What appealed to me about The Blue Elephant School was the tour of the Thai food market before the morning session. This is not the cheapest class you could do in Bangkok but it is good value in my opinion if you haven’t been to a Thai food market before. The tour was fascinating and the quality of the teaching was on par with good cooking classes in Sydney.
The School is located right near the Surasek skytrain stop, in the Southern area of Bangkok. The skytrain quickly became my favourite mode of transport as it is clean, fast and most of all air conditioned. It got me from my hotel in Siam Square to Surasek in five minutes.
Despite my quick journey and arriving on time, I was one of the last to arrive. Our young modern host offered me a seat and I was brought a tall glass of ginger and lemongrass iced tea. The perfect remedy for Bangkok’s stifling humidity.
Once we’d all arrived and had a drink we all hopped on the skytrain and were at the Markets in less than ten minutes. We first had the option of iced tea or coffee, I chose tea and it was served in a small plastic bag with a straw. Looked strange but tasted delicious. Then on to fresh noodles, an expert rice paper maker in action and a thorough explanation of which fish sauce to buy and the special paste for the tom yum soup we’ll be making later.

The bamboo shoots look abundant as do the array of dried and preserved fish. The herbs are the freshest I’ve seen. The fresh fish being gutted is a bit messy and certain parts of the market make me appreciate the fact that we are going back to the nice clean Blue Elephant to make our lunch. My enthusiasm for local food in Bangkok is always met halfway with an innate streak of self preservation.

Once back at the school we get another iced tea and are then straight into the first of four dishes- Green Chicken Curry (Keang Keaw Wan Kai). We first learn how to make the paste, with a tip being if the paste is not looking green enough for your liking, add a paste of fresh coriander and thai basil leaves to enhance the green colour. The combination of tiny green chillis, garlic, eschallots, galangal, kaffir lime, lemongrass, cumin and coriander combine with the heady savouryness of shrimp paste to make a killer curry paste that fills the room and makes our mouths water.
This is then cooked up with chicken, thai eggplant and coconut cream and a few other things to make the curry. Then we taste. It is delicious, balanced, hot but not so much that you can’t appreciate the flavour. I want to replicate this.

The kitchens are stainless steel and each station has a tray of small pyrex dishes with freshly prepared ingredients. This is cooking heaven. All the hard work done, now I just need to check my notes to make sure I get this right…but there are plenty of staff around to point helpfully to the next ingredient to be added, or peer curiously into my pan to check how I’m doing.

I am reasonably happy with the end result and as I put my number ’12’ on my dish (this is so we eat our own food for lunch later) my area is already being cleaned up by the efficient crew.
Next on the Menu is Sour & Spicy Prawn Soup (Tom Yam Koong, also called Tom Yum). Possibly my favourite Thai dish, at least when I’m feeling a little run down anyway. The most vital part is the prawn or seafood stock which adds most of the base flavour. To this is added coriander roots and stems, galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime and button mushrooms. The prawns are added near the end and the lime juice is added at the end to retain the tang. This is after all a sour and spicy soup. This is where the small jar of ‘magic paste’ shown to us at the markets is used ‘Nam Prik Phao’ or chilli paste in oil. It contains shrimp paste and plenty of other tasty bits too, so chilli alone does not give the same roundness of flavour. This is a quick recipe but it is all about the balance. Mine turns out a bit too sour as I get a bit excited with the lime juice, but then I like my soup on the sour end of the scale.

Third is Pad Thai Noodles, which is my favourite dish of the day if only because we have been taught to make such a popular dish but so that it sings. The softened noodles take on the smoky tastiness of the wok with a few pieces bordering on crispy. These are the most flavoursome bits. It is really the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had, and yes I was very hungry when I tried it. Nothing should be left out, from the prawns, eggs and tofu to the dried shrimp powder, bean sprouts and spring onions, it is the sauce that really makes the dish. I promise to make this when I come home, and I know I will be held to that 🙂

Last we make a Pomelo Salad which is meant to come with wing beans but they are not available at the markets so we’ve left them out today. The pomelo is similar to a grapefruit but less sour and with larger pulpy sacs that are quite firm and you can break up quite easily in your fingers to make a base for a salad. Sort of like shredding cooked chicken, which we also add along with a little cooked prawn. The dressing is garlic, chilli, magic paste, tamarind, palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice. It is thick and dark and is mixed into the chicken and prawn meat until all is covered and then the pomelo segments are gently tossed through with finely sliced eschallots and sprinkled with deep fried shallots, dried chill and a few hard boiled quail eggs. Divine. This is not just any salad. It is a meal in itself and was surprisingly moreish.

While the crew clean up our last attempt at culinary excellence we move downstairs to the school’s dining room where paying guests are in for lunch.

After we sit down to feast on our wonderful creations and all the photos have been happily snapped we get a surprise, dessert. Homemade coconut ice cream. Heaven.