Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Psychogeography and Peanut Chicken San Choy Bau

In the last issue of the lovely Frankie Magazine, Eleanor Robertson pondered the art of wandering through your own urban habitat. She writes, 'Psychogeography is best described as bushwalking in cities. Bushwalking is satisfying because nature is beautiful, and with attention and some luck you can experience cool things happening… The same is true for cities, with buildings and architecture creating the landscape, and people creating the interest and drama'.In a time where no one has enough of it, she recognizes the importance of taking the leisure of appreciating urban space by just being there, as opposed to just passing through.

So yesterday, as the First Official Monday of the School Holidays, Mum, Dad and I did just that. We took a trip into the Auckland CBD and experienced it with fresh eyes, made new discoveries. First stop was breakfast, at a bagel-ry named Best Ugly. The topping combinations were nothing new, but just a little outrageous - cold smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, red onion and a little sprig of dill on mine and Mum's poppy seed bagels, a sesame-crusted one topped with hot mustard, pastrami, melted swiss cheese and gherkin for Dad. This was good food, done superbly.

Full and content of buttery bagel goodness, we wandered down to Wynyard Quarter, which is one of the best places to be a local tourist as any in Auckland, and it's a space that is truly inspiring to be in. one of the coolest recent additions to the Quarter is a 1920's tram and tramline. A 15-minute ride around the block and you are taken into the rich history of the area, plus are let in on the exciting plans for its future.

By this time, we were all pretty peckish for lunch, and found it at Imperial Lane. This is not your average cafe, and is built into what was formerly a carpark - but you would never have guessed it. We each had a hotdog, made right in front of us with artisan sausages, warm buttery buns and inspired flavor combinations. Dad particularly enjoyed his.

Our last little adventure took us to the Auckland Art Gallery. Mum rested in the lobby while Dad and I marveled at an exhibition which housed 'Early European Art in New Zealand Public Collections' - the likes of Raphael, Brueghel the younger, portraits, sculptures of Madonna and Child, still life, symbolic and accurate depictions of those who could afford them. It was like physically walking through a 'Early European Art' book, carefully turning each page to reveal, with every painting, a part of our own heritage.

At the end of our gallery visit, everyone was pretty ready to go home. But my day wasn't done - I was on dinner. I made a fresh and tasty peanut Chicken San Choy Bau from Kate Gibbs' cookbook 'for aspiring cooks' After Toast. This book is easy to fall in love with - beautiful photography, design, and recipes are just the right combination of simple and stunning. This dish would be ideal as a starter or part of a tapas/finger pod type of party, or a light lunch.

Peanut Chicken San Choy Bau

Makes about 30 balls

600g (1 lb 5 oz) free-range or organic minced chicken
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ cup (45 g/1½ oz) water chestnuts, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, finely chopped
1 small iceberg lettuce, leaves carefully removed (be careful not to tear them!)
½ cup (65 g/2¼ oz)  peanuts, roasted and roughly chopped

Peanut butter and lime dressing

½ cup (140 g/5 oz) smooth peanut butter
juice 1 lime
⅓ cup (80 ml) good-quality chicken stock
2 chillies, seeds removed, finely sliced.


  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC (350ºF). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. In a little serving bowl, mix together ingredients for peanut butter and lime dressing. Set aside.
  3. In another bowl, combine chicken, oil, water chestnuts, garlic, egg, lime leaves and lemongrass. Mix together well, until mixture binds together - add a little more oil and another egg if needed.
  4. Roll mixture into walnut-sized balls and place on baking tray. Roast for 20 minutes, turning once or twice with tongs during cooking.
  5. Meanwhile, lay lettuce cups out on a serving platter, trimming any ratty lettuce edges with scissors.
  6. When meatballs are cooked, remove them from the oven, divide amount lettuce cups and drizzle with dressing. In a final flourish, scatter with peanuts and serve immediately.
Tip: This one's too messy for words, so offer plates and paper napkins.

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