Sydney’s best foodie experience

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Getting fishy with it at the Sydney Seafood School

Yes it’s a big claim but I’m calling it.

To me a great foodie experience needs to be engaging, immersive, authentic, and above all, tasty.

There’s one experience that ticks all the boxes in my book and that’s a class at the Sydney Seafood School. I’ve now racked up about five or six classes over the years, so consider myself somewhat of a veteran.

Anyone who has spent some time in Sydney will be familiar with the Sydney Fish Market but the Sydney Seafood School takes the experience one step further

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Our expert seafood instructor

A stroll through the fish market and past the silent auction halls will most certainly put you in a fishy mood as you enter the school and take a seat in the cosy theatrette. In front of you is a demonstration kitchen that puts Masterchef to shame, with cameras capturing the action from every angle on overhead screens. The walls around you are covered in ‘leather’ wallpaper, made from dried Icelandic salmon skins. The designers really took the brief to heart.

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Raised screens capture all the action

Either a well versed home economist or high profile local chef will demonstrate 3-4 recipes which all use supremely fresh seafood, straight from the market floor. Classes cover everything from tapas and paella to how to barbeque seafood.

I most recently experienced the crab double act: Singapore Chilli Crab & Black Pepper Crab, over a three hour class. The heady mix of salty, sweet and hot flavours in these two dishes works beautifully with fresh green blue swimmer crabs.

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Fresh green blue swimmer crabs straight from the market floor

Everyone working at the markets is an expert on seafood so you always get the backstory on the ingredients being used. In this case we learn how to prepare various crabs (who knew crabs had a flap?) and the distinction between varieties and their provenance. Each dish is broken down into steps and we watch the process intently from start to finish.

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Our studious kitchen team

Then it’s time to step next door and put the lesson into practice. We form groups of 4-6 and congregate around our own free standing kitchen. Each person is armed with a recipe booklet and allocated a task so the prep moves at lightning speed. I don’t often cook with crustaceans so I get a thrill from cleaning and segmenting them, knowing I won’t have to clean up the mess. It’s fiddly business. Read More

The Singapore sojourn every foodie must make

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Bright purple aubergine

If you only have one day in Singapore (like I did on this occasion) and you want a local foodie experience (as I always do), then hightail it to Tekka Wet Market in Little India, preferably with an empty stomach.

It’s lauded as Singapore’s most culturally rich market for a reason. Ethnic communities from Mandarin and Malay to Hokkien and Tamil come here to preserve their culinary cultures.

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Dragon fruit

A wet market refers to a fresh meat and produce market, differentiating it from a dry market which sells durable goods. With 284 stalls, Tekka Market is the largest wet market in Singapore and I doubt there would be anything on your shopping list that you couldn’t find here. Having been renovated in 2009 it’s also extremely organised and clean. How very Singapore.

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Banana flowers

After a long stint in the northern hemisphere I was ecstatic to be presented with sky high piles of brightly coloured tropical fruits. Jackfruit, rambutans, dragon fruit, guava, starfruit, longans, mangosteens and even (hold your nose) durians.

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Ginger or rojak flowers

Banana flowers and ginger flowers were stacked up next to their fruit offspring. Ginger flowers are called rojak flowers in Singapore because of their use in fruit rojak – a traditional spicy fruit and vegetable salad that also includes cucumber, pineapple, turnip, fried tofu and fritters mixed with a sweet peanut sauce.

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A section of aloe vera plant

I also spotted a thick and fleshy leaf from an aloe vera plant which would have come in handy a few days before as a soothing remedy when I burnt my hand in the kitchen.

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Freshly cut tuna steaks

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Green-lipped mussels

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Whole baby sharks

The fish section was another favourite of mine, the sea creatures seeming a tad more dramatic than what you usually see at fish markets. Giant slabs of tuna sat next to green-lipped mussels, huge Sri Lankan crabs and baby sharks. There was also a massive meat section where butchers were happy to cut and prepare the meat to order.

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Coconut grating machine

I’d never come across a coconut grating machine before and unfortunately it wasn’t in action while I was there. The white floss that comes out of the machine looks like desiccated coconut but is used to create coconut milk by being soaked in warm water and sieved.

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The place for prata

Next to the wet market is a big food court with a mix of Chinese, Indian, Muslim and Western food stalls. As much as I wanted to go crazy and try everything, I knew we had impending lunch plans so I struck a deal with my friend Alex and her son Callum to pick one thing and share.

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Mr Zulkifli is a prata maestro

I think it was Callum who made the call to choose prata from the Prata Saga stall. Winning decision Callum. Owner and chef Mr Zulkifli from Kerala was not only super friendly, he took the time to give me the low down on how he makes his prata, a fried flour-based pancake cooked over a flat grill.

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Prata making, step by step

His secrets are to make the dough the night before and once it’s cooked, to fluff up the finished product with your hands. Considering he has taught at the CIA (that’s the Culinary Institute of American not the Central Intelligence Agency) I believed every word.

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Plain prata with curry sauce

There were plenty of filling options but we stuck with the classic unadorned prata, accompanied with a delicious curry sauce for dipping. The prata was crispy on the outside and airy in the middle (no doubt a result of the hand fluffing technique). Mr Zulkifli makes 400 prata a day and has been doing this for 30 years. That works out to be something like 3 million pratas!

With a flight that evening I was forced to walk away from the markets empty handed rather than with bags overflowing with fresh produce. So I’ll be back again Singapore, just you wait.