Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Apocalyptic Film Dishes

This post is inspired by a series of photographs by Dinah Fried whose ‘fictitious dishes’ re-create food scenes from a range of classic books.

Over the past few weeks I have watched 12 apocalyptic films, they ranged from doomsday scenarios - either the end of the world or a prelude to such an end, zombies, viral infections and post-apocalyptic wasteland settings.

Here are the films that I chose to do an Apocalyptic Film Dish on. The concept for the dish may have featured in the film and/or be inspired by the film. 



Surprise… meatloaf for dinner

"It tastes like ashes..."


An underground basement is discovered.

What is all this stuff?....food… it’s food…
What do you want for breakfast?
Is it ok for us to take all this?
Yeah, they want us to.
Shouldn’t we thank them?
Yeah, go ahead.
Umm…Thank you for soup and Cheetos and all this stuff people


Jackson Curtis drops off his kids at his ex-wife’s house after a camping trip. The kids are served pancakes for breakfast as Jackson returns to work as a part-time limo driver for his Russian billionaire boss. Seismic activity is increasing and Jackson grows concerned over the 2012 phenomenon that is predicted to occur and rents a plane to rescue his family. 

Last meal sighted in movie before the earth’s crust becomes destablised and everything erupts around them as Jackson drives his family to the airport…


John: “But it’s Dad’s Famous Sunday night hot dogs on the run”

Caleb: “I can’t consume that, I’ve decided to become a vegetarian”


Fight, Fight

 …rage virus...

[Disclaimer: No one was harmed in the taking of this photo]


Photo design, production and editing by Blue Apocalypse.

(Bonus Material - Behind the Scenes of the Making of Apocalyptic Film Dishes)

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Umami Flood Apocalypse

Mushroom Dumpling Island

Humans have fives senses – taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. 

The question “Which one of your senses are you willing to give up?” is often asked. For most, it’s just a hypothetical, but for some it’s a reality of life. Many people are blind or deaf. As someone who is lucky enough to have all five senses fully functioning, I cannot imagine what life would be without one of them. 

In an apocalypse, which sense would be the most integral to our survival?

There are only a few things that humans need in order to survive – shelter, water and food.

How long you can survive depends on a number of factors but here is a simple “Rule of 3” as a guide - 

1. Humans cannot survive more than 3 hours exposed to extremely high or low temperatures.
2. Humans cannot survive more than 3 days without water.
3. Humans cannot survive more than 3 weeks without food.

We will probably seek shelter underground in bunkers and find ways to filter our water or maybe end up drinking our own urine. But what about food? How will we know what to eat and what not to eat?

What if you were left with the choice of only having one sense to maintain survival in an apocalypse?

Which sense would you choose?


Having taste is a matter of survival.

Really? You might be thinking – what about the ability to hear or see? It is easy to take the sense of taste for granted up against all the other senses we have but have you thought about what the sense of taste provides us?

The sense of taste is crucial because it drives us to select foods that we need for survival.

The consumption of food does not happen in isolation though, as the sense of taste functions in coordination with the sense of smell, where ‘taste’ allows us to detect sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami; and ‘smell’ allows us to take in the aroma of food and indicate its flavour. But taste is the building block. For example, if you have a vanilla milkshake you would be able to smell the vanilla flavour, but if you had no taste you would not be able to taste its sweetness and all it would be is a thick creamy texture in your mouth. It might smell good but it would taste like nothing. Without your sense of smell, you would lose a lot of flavour but you would still be able to perceive the basic tastes.

A morsel of umami – seared scallop on a bed of caramelized star anise onions with bacon crumble on top and alfalfa

The five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami) allow us to distinguish between safe and harmful food, and directs us towards the types of foods that we need to eat to survive. We find bitter and sour foods unpleasant which indicates that food may not be safe to eat. A sour taste signals over-ripe fruit, rotten meat and other spoiled foods which can make us ill. A bitter taste is a warning of toxicity and helps us to avoid digesting poisonous substances. Salty and sweet foods are pleasant and safe to eat. A sweet taste signals the presence of calorie rich carbohydrates which are an essential energy source. It would be important to be able to detect and consume high-caloric foods as in an apocalypse we won’t know when our next meal will be. Saltiness indicates the presence of sodium which is a necessary mineral for survival as its important to vital processes within the body, such as transmitting nerve signals, helping muscles contract and regulating blood volume. I guess this explains why we are so drawn to the taste of salty and sugary foods. The umami taste gives us sustenance as it is found in amino acid rich foods which have a lot of protein. The presence of umami is also a sign of deliciousness which encourages the intake of protein. Protein is a nutrient needed by the human body for growth and maintenance, it is used to form blood cells, build muscles and organs, and transport molecules, antibodies and enzymes. 

As you can see, all our basic tastes have a built-in survival reflex, providing valuable information about the nature and quality of the food that we eat. Through our sense of taste we reject foods that could be harmful and enjoy eating foods that provide us with energy and nutrients. 

But more importantly, taste is pleasurable sensation. The enjoyment that comes with consuming food is not just about filling up your stomach so that you are no longer hungry, but the pleasure that you gain from the taste of it. I’m sure that everyone would have experienced at some point in their life, temporarily loosing their sense of taste like when you are sick or I remember a time when after a breakup, I was in such a sad and depressed state that everything I ate tasted like cardboard. My state of mind rendered everything tasteless, I loss my appetite, I didn't feel like eating anything. As bad as living in the apocalypse will be, I don’t want to have to live it feeling like I’m suffering from depression every day because I can’t taste anything that I eat! I would feel disconnected from my food and I would loose my interest in eating, and probably starve to death. Taste is significant to the health and quality of our lives. If I lost my sense of taste living in an apocalypse, it would remove not only a means of survival but also a sense of joy in my life, so would it even be worth living at all? 

The idea for my next apocalypse inspired dish is a tribute to my favourite taste – umami, where I try to incorporate as many different umami rich foods into a dish as possible because in my opinion it’s the most important taste for our survival. Dishes containing umami also taste better and are satisfying to eat as it provides a richer and more rounded taste, and enhances the flavour of other the foods it’s cooked with. This dish is a delicious apocalypse!

The umami taste was first detected in 1907 by a Japanese chemistry professor named Kikunae Ikeda in a bowl of dashi soup. Dashi is one of the purest expressions of umami containing kelp and bonito flakes, so I wanted to make dashi but not just the standard dashi. I made bacon dashi using a recipe from the Momofuku cookbook. Cured pork products like bacon and ham are also rich in umami. 

As dashi was going to be central to my dish, the first apocalyptic scenario that came to my head was floodwaters. In myths and theology, floods often symbolize destruction that ends civilization, the cleansing of humanity and the beginning of a new period, a rebirth.

The 21st of December 2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar and some believe that it may mark the end of civilization. A galactic alignment is predicted to occur where the Sun will align with the center of the Milky Way galaxy for the first time in about 26,000 years which has the potential to create a shift in the Earth's poles and cause a series of disastrous environmental events. Mayan prophecies do allude to flooding and the potential for a flood apocalypse is a real concern to some, especially in the Netherlands where much of the country is below sea level and there have been reports that many have been stocking up on emergency supplies including life rafts. The idea of a flood apocalypse was the subject of the 2009 apocalyptic film 2012 which references the Mayan predictions and pushes the idea that the world will be destroyed by a catastrophic flood in 2012.

So here I present to you my third apocalypse inspired dish - it is an “Umami Flood Apocalypse” 

Before Floods
After Flooding
Flood Destruction
Umami Flood Apocalypse!

My Umami Arsenal 

•    bacon dashi (umami double trouble with bacon and kombu)
•    shiitake mushrooms and tofu pot sticker dumplings (umami quadruple hit with shiitake, soy sauce, fish sauce and oyster sauce)
•    star anise caramelized onions (the star anise intensifies meaty/savoury notes of a dish to complement other umami elements)
•    bacon crumble (more bacon)
•    seared scallops (bivalves are rich sources of natural glutamate)
•    asparagus (asparagus is an umami intensifier)
•    Hon-shimeji mushrooms (more mushrooms)


Mushroom and Tofu Pot Sticker Dumplings 

(An original recipe by Blue Apocalypse)


•    packet of dumpling wrappers (filling mixture makes around 25)
•    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
•    500g of firm tofu
•    ½ cup (5-6) shittake mushrooms, rehydrated and finely diced
•    2/3 cup (70g) of Chinese flat leaf garlic chives, roughly chopped into 1cm lengths
•    1 teaspoon ginger, minced (use microfilm/grater)
•    2 cloves garlic, minced (use garlic crusher)
•    ½ tablespoon light soy sauce
•    ½ tablespoon fish sauce
•    1 tablespoon oyster sauce
•    salt and pepper to taste
•    ¼ teaspoon of sesame oil
•    1 egg, lightly beaten
•    1 ½ teaspoon cornflour mixed with a little water

Chinese Garlic Chives
Remove the excess water from the tofu by putting between paper towels and weighing down with a heavy plate for about an hour. Then crumble the tofu.

Heat wok or pan with oil and fry the minced garlic and ginger for 30 seconds, then add in diced shiitake mushrooms and fry for a few minutes until the mushrooms brown a little. Add crumbled tofu, chopped garlic chives and seasonings – soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper to taste. Stir fry to combine and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool. Then add in egg and cornflour, and mix through.

Mushroom and Tofu Dumpling Filling
Place about 1 tablespoon of the mushroom and tofu filling mixture on a dumpling wrapper and moisten the edges with water. Fold over in half and make pleats to seal. 

To cook the dumplings, heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan to medium high. Add dumplings so that they sit flat in a single layer. Cook for ~2 minutes or until the bottoms are browned and crisp. Add ½ cup water into the pan and cover, lower the heat to medium-low and let the dumplings simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the water has evaporated. Uncover the dumplings and if necessary cook for another 1-2 minutes.

Bacon Dashi 

(Adapted from Momofuku cookbook)

•    two 15x8cm pieces of kombu
•    2 litres of water
•    225g smoky bacon
Plus I added in soy sauce for colour

Using scissors, make a few snips into the kombu to help release the flavours. Place water and kombu in a pot and soak for at least 30 minutes (the kombu will soften and expand).
Place the pan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Just before it reaches boiling point, turn off the heat and let steep for 10 minutes.
Remove the kombu from the pot and add the bacon. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the bacon and chill the dashi until the fat separates and hardens. Remove and discard the fat.
Reheat the dashi before using. Add some soy sauce to taste for colour.

Caramelised Onion with Star Anise


•    2 tablespoons olive oil
•    3 brown onions, thinly sliced
•    1 star anise
•    2 tablespoons brown sugar

Heat oil in frying pan and add sliced onion and star anise. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, when it starts to brown, add in the sugar and continue cooking for about an hour on a low heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and caramelized. 

Bacon Crumble
Finely dice bacon and fry in a pan until crisp and brown.

Asparagus, Hon-shimeji mushrooms
Lightly blanched for 30 seconds in simmering bacon dashi and then remove.

Related Posts

Apocalyptic Film Dishes

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spring Onion Soy Sauce

Spring Onion Soy Sauce on Steamed Tofu

What’s your favourite sauce?

Sauces play an important role in food – it adds flavour, moisture, and visual appeal to a dish. If there is sauce for a dish, I’m someone that loves to have lots of the sauce. Every cuisine is also known for a sauce. Italian food would commonly be associated with a tomato pasta sauce, think of a British roast dinner and gravy comes to mind, get Mexican with a mole, Spanish are salsas and what would French food be without its sauces? There are five mother sauces (also called grand sauces) that make up the cornerstone of classic French cuisine – sauce bĂ©chamel, sauce espagnole, sauce veloutĂ©, sauce hollandaise and sauce tomate.

One of the key and most widely used sauces in Chinese cooking is soy sauce. It’s an all-purpose liquid seasoning which is often used in place of salt. It’s added to stir fries, braising dishes and used as a dipping sauce. I am quite content with a bowl of hot steamed rice with a drizzle of soy sauce on top and I love having scrambled eggs with soy sauce.

The two main types of soy sauce used in Chinese cooking are light and dark. Light soy sauce is lighter in colour and texture, saltier than dark soy sauce and used more often than dark soy sauce. Please note that light does not mean that it contains less salt, it’s low fat or some healthier variety. Always use light soy sauce in a recipe unless dark is specified. Dark soy sauce is aged much longer than light soy giving it a brownish-black colour and thicker texture.  Dark soy sauce has a mellower, less salty flavour, and is used more as a colouring agent than for flavour. If you ever wondered how a meat dish got its brown colour, it’s from dark soy sauce. When I first started learning to cook I remember watching my mum in the kitchen and asking her how the meat changes colour. I thought that the longer you cook it, the browner it will get but the answer was the use of dark soy sauce, just keep adding dark soy sauce until you get the desired colour. You can add as much dark soy sauce as necessary to a dish without fear of it becoming too salty. Dark soy sauce is used in Chinese red cooking where you slowly braise meat so that it imparts a rich dark red-brown colour, which is a result of the caramelisation process from the interaction of the sugar and dark soy sauce, and aromatics are provided by ingredients such as chillies, star anise and cinnamon (for example see my Hong Shao Rou dish).

I use Pearl River Bridge brand of soy sauces. You can just get dark soy sauce but I like my dark soy sauce infused with a little mushrooms flavour.

I generally use a combination of light and dark soy sauce, varying the quantities depending on what I am cooking to achieve the right balance of flavour and colour for the dish. But if a dish requires soy sauce and doesn’t need a dark colour like a stir fry, I will only use light soy sauce. The soy sauces may be added at different stages of the cooking process, where if you are slow braising/cooking/stewing, dark soy sauce may be added at the beginning to develop the colour and then season to taste with the light soy sauce for flavour at the end.

What’s the best thing to make with soy sauce?

Try this spring onion soy sauce recipe that my dad taught me. It requires only a few ingredients and can be made in a matter of minutes. Pour it over some steamed tofu or poached chicken and you have a great simple meal.  

Spring Onion Soy Sauce on Slices of Steamed Chicken

Spring Onion Soy Sauce

(An original recipe Blue Apocalypse learnt from her dad)

(makes about 1 cup)


  •     4 tablespoons water
  •     2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  •     ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
  •     a few drops of sesame oil
  •     2 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
  •     pinch of white pepper
  •     pinch of salt
  •     1 teaspoon grated ginger
  •     1 cup of spring onion, finely diced
  •     ~ ½ - 1 teaspoons of cornflour (mixed with a little water)

Heat the water, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, pepper in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolves. Then add in the ginger and spring onion and cook until the spring onion is soft, don't overcook it (30-60 seconds). Stir in some cornflour mixed with a little water to thicken the sauce, just add in a little at a time and stir until you get desired consistency.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Making Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancake) at home

When you travel to a country, I think that one of the defining moments (you know that moment when you realize that shit, I am actually here and I can’t believe it) is when you have a dish that is specific to the country and you wouldn’t normally have at home. A country’s cuisine and culture are so intertwined that you couldn’t really say that you have experienced a country unless you have eaten its food. Food is like the gateway a country…

For me in Japan, that dish was okonomiyaki.

I traveled to Japan for the first time in 2010 with my friends Karen and Crispin. We flew into Osaka from Cairns and arrived late in the night. After a long flight, we were tired and hungry, but somehow managed to navigate our way through the spider web of train and subway lines to get the right one to our guesthouse. Then all we wanted to do was eat some food. For a momentary lapse, I was in a state of panic, as it was late and I thought that there would be nothing open and we’d be eating meat pies that had been in the warmer for a questionable number of hours from a petrol station. But right away I was reminded that we were in Japan, not Perth, and Japan is a 24/7 economy. There was a 24 hour supermarket nearby, a 7-Eleven on every street corner and a vending machine everywhere I looked. I was never going to starve here, no matter what time of day.

We asked our guesthouse where we could eat nearby and a late night okonomiyaki place was recommended to us. Okonomyaki is a savoury pancake and a dish that Osaka is famous for. I had never eaten it before. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. In Australia, Japanese is famous for teriyaki everything, which I would later find out isn’t an actual Japanese dish but a way of cooking, where ‘teri’ refers to the shine on the meat from a glaze given by the ‘yaki’ which means grilling or broiling. In Australia, teriyaki has been appropriated as a dish consisting of a sweet soy sauce that is slapped on top of meats and often drowns it. Teriyaki is a cooking technique, not a sauce! You will not be about to order a teriyaki chicken in Japan, it doesn’t exist, well not in the form that would be familiar to people from Western countries. It’s always eye-opening to visit a country and realize that this is what you should be eating and to learn how cuisines have been adapted (or bastardised) overseas.

 (First okonomiyaki experience in Japan 2010)

I remember eating okonomiyaki for the first time and thinking that it was the most delicious thing I had ever eaten, all my senses were awakened and I no longer felt tired. It’s that feeling that you get when you are drunk and/or hungover and eating a kebab at 2am in the morning, and it feels like you are having the best meal ever, except I was totally sober. Maybe it was a case of me being so hungry that anything which hit my taste buds would have received A+ but on the other occasions I ate okonomiyaki, it still had the same affect.  It's a damn good pancake.

As my first meal in Japan, okonomiyaki set the bar pretty high and was an indication of the general awesomeness that I would continually experience during my trip in Japan. It confirmed for me why Japan is so highly regarded for their food and consistently features as one of the top food travel destinations.

Okonomiyaki is made up of a batter consisting of flour, grated yam, water or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage, and you can add in any other ingredients you want such as meat (pork or beef), various seafoods (like octopus, squid, shrimp) and vegetables. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "what you like" or "what you want", and yaki meaning "grilled" or "cooked". So okonomiyaki literally means “grilled as you like it” and this makes sense there are many different things you can put into it. The batter is fried on both sides and the cooked okonomiyaki is topped with Japanese mayonnaise, an otafuku/okonomiyaki sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce but thicker and sweeter), katsuobushi (bonito flakes), aonori (seaweed flakes) and pickled ginger (beni shoga).

Since Japan I have eaten okonomiyaki on one other occasion at the Twilight Hawker Markets from Fumi’s Japanese Pancake and Noodle stall which was pretty decent but didn’t reach the heights of the one that I had in Japan. I haven’t seen okonomiyaki on many menus in Perth although I am aware that Izakaya Sukara have it, but when I am there I seem to order everything on their menu except the okonomiyaki…maybe I just don’t know if anything I order can live up to my expectations so I subconsciously avoid it…

I have always wanted to try making okonomiyaki at home. Looking through recipes on the internet I found that many made the pancake batter by mixing flour with some water or dashi stock and then gave some comment that it’s similar but not quite there, it’s good enough, or it’s some healthier version. Nagaimo (a Japanese starchy yam) is required for texture, to give it a glutinous/gelatinous quality, but most omitted this. I have not being convinced enough by the recipes I have seen to try it. I wanted to be able to recreate the closest possible version of okonomiyaki that I had in Japan as I could.

One day I saw okonomiyaki kits for sale at an Asian supermarket that I frequent, it contained all the required ingredients – special okonomiyaki flour, tenkasu and seasonings. All I had to do was add egg, vegetables and meat. I was curious to try it to see what it would be like, even though it was a packet mix. 

So I made okonomiyaki from a packet and it was delicious, it was better than I thought it would be, it was so good that it brought back memories of the first time that I ate okonomiyaki in Japan.

I read the packet to see what was contained in the mix and I found monosodium glumamate (aka MSG) listed in the ingredients. It all made sense now, no wonder it tasted so good. It's like the kicker that sweetens the deal.

Growing up in an Asian family, MSG is considered just another seasoning amongst many, but it is generally viewed negatively and is forever linked with Chinese Restaurant Syndrome even though there is no evidence that it exists. MSG is a flavour enhancer, much like salt or sugar. Maybe this is where its death sentence lies because MSG is not some magical powder that will make your cooking taste good. Its problem isn’t that it’s used, but that it’s overused and without much thought. Salt and sugar are also victims of been excessively used to make foods taste good, with some known side effects, where overly salty foods can make you thirsty and too much sugar gives you a sugar high. I generally don't use MSG because I cook with a lot of amino acid rich foods which contain glutamates and are naturally rich in umami. I don’t have a problem with MSG but strive to work with natural ingredients as much as possible. The key to cooking is being judicious in the use of ingredients and achieving balance, so when natural glutamates are used, it is unnecessary to add any additional forms like MSG as more won’t make a difference or can lead to a decline in flavour.

The interesting thing that I found out which many people might not be aware of it is that what constitutes MSG occurs naturally in many foods that people eat all the time. Glutamate causes the taste sensation umami and the glutamate in MSG confers the same taste of glutamate found in other foods, so 'natural' and 'industrially produced' glutamate are chemically the same, and treated by the body similarly. The body does not distinguish between the naturally occurring glutamate in tomatoes, cheese or mushrooms and the glutamate from MSG added to foods.

I will definitely be making okonomiyaki using a packet mix again. I was really happy with the result and sometimes it’s just nice to have something that is handy and convenient to cook up. Maybe it’s the hit of MSG sealing the deal for me, but some things should be enjoyed as it is, without too much though. Sometimes the things that might just be a little bit bad for you are what you deserve…like a packet of Mi Goreng every now and then because you know why you ate it religiously during the times you were a poor arsed uni student and it wasn’t because it was cheap.

Making Okonomiyaki at home

My interpretation of the packet instructions which were in Japanese and accompanied with pictures (note: I don’t know any Japanese). Plus I added in prawns and a mix of vegetables, and tried a pancake with yakisoba noodles.


Otafuku Okonomiyaki Kodawari Set – makes 2 pancakes

•    100g okonomiyaki flour
•    packet of dashi powder/seasoning
•    160ml water
•    tenkasu (fried tempura bits) about  ½ cup
•    ~ 300g vegetables (150g shredded cabbage, 100g julienned zucchini, 50g grated carrot, 1 spring onion, sliced diagonally)
•    2 eggs
•    1 cup of raw prawns, cut into 1 cm chunks
•    thin slices of pork belly/bacon (3 pieces for one pancake)
•    Japanese yakisoba noodles (~ 1 cup for one pancake)
•    Otafuku Okonomi Sauce
•    Kewpie mayonnaise
•    Aonori (green nori)
•    Bonito flakes


In a large bowl, whisk the flour, powder and water together until smooth. Add the vegetables, eggs and mix to coat with batter (don’t overmix as gluten forms and will make the pancake chewy). Add tenkasu and prawns, and mix through.

Add some oil in a frying pan on medium heat. Add in half of the okonomiyaki batter mixture, flatten and shape to form a pancake. Add pork slices on top of the pancake. Cook for about 3 minutes, flip over and cook for 4 minutes (pork side down). Flip pancake over again (pork side up) and cook for another 3 minutes or until cooked through and well browned. Add a bit more oil throughout cooking process as necessary.

*If using yakisoba noodles, add them in place of the pork.

When the okonomiyaki has finished cooking, slide it onto a plate and top with okonomi sauce, kewpie mayonnaise, aonori and bonito flakes. 

(Left - Okonomiyaki with pork slices, Right - Okonomiyaki with Japanese noodles underneath aka Modanyaki)