Band rehearsal just finished, and the four clarinet nerds are aimless as to where to go for their weekly dining ritual. Larissa doesn’t want tapas. Ye-Gon doesn’t feel like anything fancy. Sam unsuccessfully suggests Italian. Francis has a crisis of faith as to whether jellyfish is vegetarian or not. They decide to check out the new night market that’s open on Fridays at The Base. After a long consultation process, they eventually agree on who’s driving.
They arrive at The Base. Ye-Gon takes the wrong turn more than once before finally settling on a parking spot. They spend an embarrassing amount of time working out the logistics of withdrawing money from an ATM and assembling at an agreed spot. They notice the set-up is smaller than the Saturday market that opens under K-Mart, and that it’s exclusively food – no knock-off label wholesalers or Jehovah’s Witnesses around. It’s also uncovered, which doesn’t concern them just yet. The place isn’t too quiet, but at the same time there won’t be a problem finding an empty table and seating, unlike the Saturday gigs.
The four complete their rounds, having picked out their targets. Larissa starts with the pork dumplings ($5 for 10) while Sam gets some pork buns from the same stall ($2 each). The dumplings are served with vinegar and soy sauce mixture, and it’s nicely crispy all around. Ye-Gon remarks it’s in between the two dumplings he recently tried, with an overall milder flavour. There’s no strong aroma of herbs or spices.
The steamed pork buns look really nice with a swirling scoring pattern on the otherwise smooth and glossy top, but the flavours don’t impress Sam too much. He thinks the fillings have an unpleasant malty taste akin to Vegemite combined with unfamiliar spices that doesn’t resemble the usual hoisin-based sauce much. Ye-Gon agrees, and the outside buns need more seasoning and sweetness.
Ye-Gon returns to the same vendor to pick up a xiangchang, ($2) the Taiwanese sausage. It’s meaty with a heavy cinnamon and black pepper aroma, and an intense sweetness rounds it all out. A couple of drops of rain bring to the gang’s attention the lack of marquees or any cover, but it seems to clear back up almost instantly.
Francis ventures to the Hungarian fried bread stall. They serve lángos with all kinds of topping, and he settles on the pesto, tomato and feta. ($8) It’s delicious, but it’s pesto, so of course it’s going to be. The bread itself is well seasoned, heavy on the salt to cut through the oil from the deep-frying, but it’s not overly greasy either. It’s reasonably warm and crispy, but it would have been even better if they had sat under a heat lamp or went for a quick swim back in the oil for a few seconds.
A gregarious young chap stops Ye-Gon and tries to flog off the last “ugly hotdog” on a stick ($5) they have left. He reluctantly hands over a Sir Hillary, but is about to discover he’s made one of the best decisions of the night. As Larissa wonders off to find a can of drink, ($2) he takes a bite into the hotdog, and immediately recognises the flavour as almost the very same snack that’s found in every street corner in Seoul, where he grew up. He’s now weirdly emotional inside. It’s probably the most nostalgia someone could experience with a battered sausage in their mouth. They weren’t kidding when they said it’s ugly, and he’s still not sure if it was actually a good hotdog, but it doesn’t matter, because he’s getting another one next time regardless. Sam likes the crispy breading with a hint of sweetness.
The ladies in the Vietnamese stall were busy packing up, when they were rudely interrupted by an order of beef bánh mì. ($8) Now the electric frying pan comes back out, and they start reheating the sweet soy beef. Soon, Ye-Gon and Sam are sharing the sandwich like an old married couple, which is filled with the aforementioned beef, pickled vegetables, and coriander. (The sandwich, not the old married couple.) They don’t see any signs of pâté. The beef marinade is quite strong, so it does overpower the rest of the ingredients somewhat, but all around, it’s a nice sandwich, and the bread is hardy and crusty, just the way it should be. The value seems to be pretty good for what you get.
The rain returns, and this time it’s looking heavy. It seems like the perfect excuse for a number of the vendors, who start packing up their tents and equipment.
Larissa retreats to find cover. The Three Stooges remain to pick up some churros ($6 for 3) and stir-fried ice cream rolls. ($6) Ye-Gon’s only seen videos of it on YouTube. The other two haven’t heard of it before. While the old married couple (who are now filled with the aforementioned beef, pickled vegetables, and coriander) hangs about the ice cream stall, Francis dashes back with an order of churros. They are fantastic, as always; crispy and chewy on the outside, sweet and spongy on the inside. The chocolate drizzle and cinnamon sugar is always a great accompaniment, but it wouldn’t be a problem if they decided to get a bit more creative with a range of toppings as well.
At this point, the stir-fried ice cream truck is as much a shelter from the rain as it is performance art. The ice cream itself is lighter and more ice-y than regular ice cream, and it’s simply the nature of such preparation that requires this thinner, more watery formulation. There’s no churning in the traditional sense that takes place, and the texture mainly comes from the carving of the ice cream into thin sheets that curl up into rolls. The mouthfeel is best described as between ice cream and sorbet, and with the flavours dispersed throughout nicely. The two blokes that run the joint are just now going out to jog out to get some dinner. Good luck, Ye-Gon thinks, with half the stalls now wound down. Time for the three of them to also make a dash back to the car; just need to find Larissa first.
Stay tuned for Part 2, where we brave the depths of the K-Mart carpark to try out more cheap, exotic eats.