Buntastic

Steamed Chinese pork, chicken and vegetable buns – an everyday snack of Asian communities, poor students and food lovers alike, has seen a recent renaissance with restaurants such as Momofuku and locally Golden Fields breathing new life into this staple.    

Steamed flavoursome buns filled with meat, seafood or vegetables have been a peasant dish in East Asia for hundreds of years. Tracing its history back to post Han Dynasty China, its early cousin Mantou (literally translated to ‘barbarian’s head’) is essentially milled white flour combined with a leavening agent to create a simple 15cm rolled bun that acted as a food staple for the peasants and working men alike. More commonly eaten in the north of China than in the south, these buns along with noodles formed the carbohydrate base for much of the population.

Through immigration and appropriation from other ethnic groups, the base Mantou bun has seen a myriad of variations. One of the most famous is the Bao zi which is often served at Yum Cha. Hailing originally from Hong Kong, this Cantonese staple is often filled with barbecue pork, minced chicken or stir fried chives and shallots – the perfect accompaniment to steamed dumplings or tea. Similarly the Japanese, with their obsession for hand food, convenience stores and food halls have also adopted this dish and made it their own. Called nikkuman or Niku-man, this dish perfectly bridges the gap between high/low, sophisticated/everyday, as it can be found both at the beautiful Isetan Food Hall in Shinjuku or ma & pa street stalls in the back streets of Ikebukuro. Essentially it is the most concise combination of ingredients in one hand full and consequently almost the perfect microcosm of a dish.

Recently this dish has kind of embedded itself in the zeitgeist. New York (and now Sydney’s) Momofuku, created their own version which follows an incredibly simple rule: doughy but not chewy bun + tasty meat + condiment & other = a hand full of amazing goodness. Featuring on the menu in all of David Chang’s establishments this one single dish, besides perhaps Chang’s ramen is the dish that Momofuku is revered for.

Also in New York and just around the corner in the Lower East Side, BaoHaus run by Eddie and Evan Huang has made bao the hero and only item on their menu. How does an unctuous durian dessert bao sound? Or the Uncle Jesse, organic fried tofu, crushed peanut, coriander and Taiwanese red sugar? Delicious right? The Huang brother’s Raison d’etre for this venture was to ‘tear down what people knew about Chinese-Taiwanese food and rebuild it from the ground up…dreaming of elevating this dish from Flushing to Front Street against a soundtrack of Ghostface Killah & Dipset’.

Locally in Australia, the Golden Fields version is a compact closed steamed dumpling filled with a heady soy and vinegar dressing that lathers and moistens the pork belly which lies within. Harking back to his time spent in Hong Kong, Andrew McConnell’s version takes its cue from gua bao buns but less fluffy in texture, this dish has an added level of refinement due to the use of quality ingredients and a considered and deft technique.

Personally, I think it’s a dish that deserves some veneration. For a humble bun to find its way into so many personal food histories from immigrant Asian student’s lunch boxes, to heavenly home made snacks that mother’s feed their adolescent boys to Michelin rated restaurants, it’s a dish that crosses both cultural and socio-economic boundaries and definitely should be celebrated with gusto.

http://www.momofuku.com/

http://www.baohausnyc.com

www.goldenfields.com.au

 

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2012 

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Nike x Undercover

Gyakusou Collection

Springtime often heralds new beginnings and moments of internal reflection. Awaking from a long winter slumber, where dark and foreboding evenings promote hearty soups and good books, Spring is a season of change. It’s the season where you bring out your shorts or that vintage floral dress hidden in the back of your wardrobe, it’s the season where you take the dust cover off your bike for leisurely rides and it’s the season where exercise becomes no longer a chore but a pleasure.

A form of exercise that changes during the season from a pursuit of the hardcore fanatic to an activity of the everyday sloth is running. Running is possibly one of the easiest ways to engage with the natural environment. It enhances you body’s rhythm with its inherent physicality and forces you to utilise all of your senses as you step over obstacles, explore new trails and search for something new. Key to how you engage with the environment is the apparel that you wear. Technical sportswear is all too often led by sports companies whose design approach values function over form. Refreshingly some brands like Nike have been searching for ways to differentiate themselves in a crowded market by collaborating with brands such as cult Japanese fashion label Undercover.

Jun Takahashi creative director of Undercover is a dedicated runner himself and has described running as the most basic and rewarding of physical pursuits. His Gyakusou collection is based around key pieces such as shoes, shorts, tights and all weather jackets and like his fashion items exhibit an interesting take on masculinity juxtaposed with interesting design details. All items in this collection are designed specifically for running, with fabrics used to wick sweat away, stretch in certain panels to enhance more efficient leg turnover and shoes that are light and flat promoting better foot strike. It is the perfect meeting point between function and form.

The Gyakusou Nike x Undercover collection is available April at Incu stores.

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2012

Ramen and Lucky Peach – by McSweeney’s & David Chang

Broadsheet takes a detailed look at ramen as a dish and the new publication by McSweeney’s and David Chang, Lucky Peach.

A bowl of ramen is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s a dish that’s entirely about the sum of its parts. Not overly technical (though some may argue otherwise), or a dish that elicits glowing praise from the food press, essentially it’s about each individual ingredient being treated with respect and care before being placed together to create a cohesive whole.

But perhaps it should be given the praise and reverence that it truly deserves? Its ability to enliven the tastebuds with a multilayered and hearty broth, the perfectly al dente egg noodles and other accoutrements like the pork cutlet and seaweed makes it perhaps the most underrated comfort dish in the world.

The above may seem somewhat fetishistic, but ramen has a long and varied history in Japan. Initially, noodles were brought over from China in the late 1800s, along with the idea of pairing noodles with soup, which infiltrated Japan’s food culture in the early 20th century as a Chinese food craze swept through Japan after the great Kanto earthquake. The dish soon morphed, with miso becoming a popular broth alternative in the 1950s, and creating the perfect flavour profile became – a method that requires a careful blend of both meat and dashi broths – became the focus of the dish’s contemporary incarnations.

The history of its everyday sibling and something that everyone on a tight budget has reached for at the Chinese grocer – instant ramen – is even more inspiring. Rooted solely around the notion of providing very cheap and nutritional food to the masses, Momofuku Ando created instant ramen in the 1950s after he witnessed widespread food shortages in Osaka after World War II. After developing the technique to dry and preserve noodles into cakes, Ando-san travelled to the USA in the 70s where he came across the widespread use of styrofoam cups to drink coffee. Adapting this cup to form a pseudo-bowl, cup-a-noodles was born and Nissin noodles have subsequently sold five billion cup-a-noodles to the world – a truly altruistic and human endeavour at its core.

More recently, at least in Western food circles, ramen has seen a renaissance, particularly in New York. David Chang, owner of the Momofuku restaurants in New York and Sydney, is an unabashed disciple of the dish, having worked for a number of years in Tokyo – a couple of years of which he trained under ramen master Akio-san.

The first issue of Lucky Peach, published quarterly by McSweeney’s and co edited by Chang, is essentially a temple to the dish. Featuring articles that tediously describe the regional variations, a diarised four-day-long Tokyo ramen gorge fest, a conversation with Anthony Bourdain and a wonderfully detailed account of the rise of former New Yorker Ivan Orkin into a ramen celebrity in Tokyo, this issue of Lucky Peach extols the virtues of ramen for both its flavour punch and its ability to warm the soul.

The second issue of Lucky Peach is already available at Magnation and Books For Cooks it discusses food techniques like foam with Ferran Adrià and the sweet and sour flavour sensation that is kimchi.

Finally – and this may cause some contention and is in no way the final word on ramen restaurants – here are some worthy ramen exponents that we think deserve a mention.

Momotaro Ramen
392 Bridge Road, Richmond

Ramen Ya at GPO
Shop 25G Melbourne’s GPO 350 Bourke St, Melbourne

mcsweeneys.net/luckypeach

 

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2012

 

Mis-Design

Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, and multiple off-site venues

24 Aug 2011 to 06 Nov 2011

Curator: Grace McQuilten

Mis-Design was an expansive, multi-layered project with exhibitions occupying the Ian Potter Museum of Art as well as off site venues such as the McDonald’s car park, Collingwood and Alphaville clothing store on Brunswick Street. Curated by Grace McQuilten, Mis-Design ‘maps the potential for critical artistic practice in an environment marked by the design of commodities…and examines the relationship between art and design within the context of the commodification of art’[1] With projects such as Shelter by the Slow Art Collective (Tony Adams, Chaco Kato, Ash Keating and Dylan Martorell), Adam Kalkin’s Tennis Academy and Andrea Zittel’s Smockshop Archive – a slow fashion affront to notions of trend and choice within the fashion industry – Mis-design was reclamation of both conceptual and visual spaces reinforcing art’s ability to confound and critique rather than being slowly ensconced within systems of commerce.

Shelter was embedded within the Collingwood McDonald’s car park – a space that, like many car parks, is foreboding, dark and dank. As built environments, they are constructed purely for the encasement and storage of the tools we utilise to move from point A to point B. And the bland, pre-fabricated concrete panels that frame this site lack any sense of monumentality. It is pure function over form, built to service the fast food consumer culture that permeates our society.

Rupturing this banal environment with its day-glow brightness, appropriated detritus and DIY aesthetic, Shelter read as an affront to its surroundings, its visual punch provoked a reaction in the spectator that was both unexpected and unnerving. The installation was situated in the bowels of the car park – underneath street level – on the central island of the in use drive thru lane. As a visitor, it felt like you had stumbled across a private domestic space made public. Documented and streamed live to the Ian Potter Museum of Art at the University of Melbourne, Shelter explored built spaces in their most rudimentary form, created out of necessity rather than want. Bright milk and bread crates, tin cans and reclaimed advertising placards were appropriated, emptied out of their original use value and haphazardly fashioned into a temporary shelter.

Visual nods to food brands littered the space, from familiar packaging to bright logos – branded accoutrements to our food consumption laid bare. As part of the embedded criticism of the mistreatment and societal disregard for the homeless in the work, the Slow Art Collective empathetically attempted to create a space with a sense of homeliness. A ragged mannequin lay in bed within a roomed off section of the installation, with books on guerrilla gardening and the environment haphazardly strewn about. On opposite ends of the work, totem pole fountains referenced symbols of suburbia and festive fairy lit clusters of bamboo were awkwardly positioned in front of a faux table setting made up of empty bottles and servings of wheatgrass. As the soundtrack of drive thru orders echoed in the background, what became evident was that Shelter was a subversive insertion into the very site that fuelled its existence. It was a valuable and timely critique of contemporary consumption culture and the stratification and social disparities that it creates.

The intermingling of art with commerce was also a conceptual layer in Adam Kalkin’s wonderfully interactive work Adam Kalkin’s Tennis Academy (AKTA). Where Shelter was a subversive insertion, Kalkin’s work was about the act of creating moments of internal reflection through physical acts. Resplendent with tennis paraphernalia, sports branding and fake turf, an artificial tennis sports-scape was set up in the Ian Potter, allowing participants to explore their own physicality within the museum.

The academy was run by the amazingly intense (but lovely) ex-tennis professional Art Lockwood. As I warmed up with Art around the running track, he proceeded to tell me stories from his professional career. What emerged was a remarkable personal narrative, which framed the seismic shift of sport from an ultimate expression of the physical to a pursuit that is tainted by commercial interests. The participant’s experience of the work ultimately rested on the relationship that was formed with Art, however his ability to become entirely focussed on the physical act was infectious. Tennis drills – which ranged from hitting balls into a wall emblazoned with the word GOD, to tiring volleying – were juxtaposed with a cacophony of primal drumbeats and guttural bellows, effectively rendering the act of tennis as conduit for the exploration of self. This convergence of physicality with the primal, along with Art’s intriguing personal history, created a work which proved to be an emphatic counterpoint to the heavily designed capitalist symbols that emblazoned the walls of this faux tennis stadium. Like Shelter, what AKTA resoundingly achieved was an undermining of commerce’s incessant ability to entrench itself within our private and public spaces.


[1] Grace McQuilton, Mis-Design: Art in a Consumer Landscape, Ashgate publishing, Surrey England, 2011, p. 3.

 

Copyright Leon Goh & Un Magazine 2012

A Chat With Brian Wu from Incu

We chat to Incu co-founder Brian Wu about their new women’s focused retail space in QV.

The team at Incu are renowned for their ability to select on-the-mark labels from Australia and abroad. After establishing their presence on the Melbourne landscape with their Flinders Lane store, they’re about to open their first women’s focussed retail space in QV. Featuring the first Topshop range available in Melbourne – which will share rack space with labels like Alexander Wang, Henrik Vibskob and Acne – this store is very much a combination of high and low, fast fashion versus slow design. We chatted with Brian Wu, who founded Incu in 2002 with his brother Vincent.

LG: You guys have been busy with the opening of your online store last year and now the first women’s focussed Incu store in Melbourne about to open in July. Can you tell me a little more about this and what your plans are here?

BW: So Incu women’s store is opening in mid-July in QV where we will be bringing 90 per cent of our women’s lines from Sydney over. There will be small differences between our first fully-fledged women’s store in Melbourne and our Sydney equivalent, but I think it will still exhibit a similar environment and store experience.

For me, Incu have always curated a great selection of labels whilst also fostering local brands such as Lover, Romance was Born and Rittenhouse. Will your team be taking a similar product strategy at the QV women’s store? And if so, what can the Melbourne customer expect?

I think one of the things we try to push is a balance of product. Effectively, you’ve got product that’s a bit more accessible, for example brands like Something Else, mixed with brands that are more exclusive to us like Rag and Bone, Marc by Marc Jacobs and APC. So ultimately I think we like to have customers walk into our store and have them walk out with something, not making them feel that our spaces are monuments to high end and unattainable items. One of our approaches is to always be inclusive instead of exclusive. Rather than enclosing Incu to a particular niche we try to be quite open.

So as you were saying about this accessibility on multiple levels, this is also something that is quite rare in the fashion retail market in Australia. Given that Melbourne fashion historically has inherently been tied to the colour black, and perhaps has quite a distinct identity compared to Sydney, where do you think a store like Incu sits against this?

I think it will be refreshing. I know what you mean about this link to the colour black and I think its slowly changing – we’ve witnessed this in the men’s store. We’ve also really noticed a shift to people dressing a bit more casually and not wanting to dress up all the time. Having said that though, there ultimately will be a balance in our store where, on the one hand, we can satisfy the customer who comes in and just buys black, whilst also offering garments that have a lot more colour. For me, I think it’s about finding the right balance between offering garments that are whimsical and colourful, which also have visible design detail and taste. At Incu we like to really focus on brands that have a strong design sensibility and brands that have interesting stories. While Melbourne and Sydney are inherently different markets, we feel that Incu can stand out and offer something that’s unique.

Have you noticed a difference between your Sydney customer and your Melbourne customer?

Definitely, because of the weather and the climate Melbourne is a lot more dressier and that comes out more in particular items that we sell in our men’s store, like jackets and suiting. I also find that the Melbourne customer walks in and takes more of an interest in what we are selling – they want to find out the stories behind the designers and the garment. We’ve been in Sydney for so long that perhaps our Sydney customers have a level of trust in us, and I guess because of this history they may purchase a brand that is perhaps a little edgier. In Melbourne, however, and because we are still developing and trying to grow and earn people’s trust, we’ve witnessed our male customers in particular buying a little safer and focussing more classic silhouettes, design details and tailoring. We know that women are a lot more knowledgeable in their fashion choices so it will be very interesting to see what happens.

Incu Womens QV will open in mid July.

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2011

Laksa King
6-12 Pin-Oak Crescent
Flemington
It’s safe to say that there’s been a recent love affair with Laksa in Melbourne. Heading into the depths of a Melbourne winter, its heady mixture of spices, coconut milk based broth, noodles and vegetables makes it the perfect dish to warm the heart along with the belly. Laksa King has been a key protagonist in this revolution, serving Laksa alongside other Malaysian favourites like Nasi Lemak and Hainanese chicken rice from its humble shopping centre arcade locale for 12 years now. Recently making the decision to move around the corner to Pin Oak Crescent, this Flemington stalwart has received a new lease on life with the help of Indonesian architect Vian Rosanto and local studio MNE architects.

Now made up of large timber communal tables, pendants which hang languidly from the ceiling, along with some nice industrial touches like exposed brick and steel, it’s a kind of bustling south east Asian restaurant that acts as both favourite local and Melbourne institution. Featuring prominently on the menu is of course Laksa. Serving various incarnations, from the coconut milk based Curry Laksa (which also has a fish head and seafood option) to the distinctly fishy and tamarind based broth of Assam Laksa, it’s an eatery that is well adept at reinterpreting hawker classics. Sticky Pork Belly that combines beautifully tender slithers of belly and a star anise tinged sticky sauce, Char Kway Teow a flat rice fried noodle dish that represents all that is great about Asian street food and Sambal Kang Kong, a tangy chilli paste stir fried with water spinach are all standouts from a large and diverse menu.

Laksa King also represents great value with its rice and noodle dishes rarely exceeding $15.

Copyright Leon Goh & Broadsheet 2011

Dying In Spite of the Miraculous

8th October – 6th November 2010

Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces

200 Gertrude St

Fitzroy, VIC 3065

Dying In Spite of the Miraculous is a group exhibition which explores the various psychological states we inhabit and experience as our lives play out in their very own choreographed moments. It is an investigation of the real and the unknown, it seeks to elucidate how sites play an indelible role in informing our ways of being whilst also exploring the grey conceptual spaces that often emerge between the artist’s concept and the finished work. Curated by Emily Cormack, Alexie Glass-Kantor, Simon Maidment and Brett Sheehy and presented as part of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, this exhibition features the work of artists such as Ulla Von Brandenburg, Jeremy Blake and Meg O’Callaghan.

As you enter Gertrude Contemporary, the front space is shrouded behind a wall of languid fabric draped elegantly from the ceiling. You make your way through this shroud, meandering precariously through visible pathways before stumbling upon the viewing space. It’s an unnerving experience that is mirrored in Ulla Von Brandenburg’s work Singspiel (2009). This video work – shot in black and white and displayed directly onto fabric – documents a selection of staged arbitrary human interactions and intimate moments within the surrounds of Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy. The camera moves slowly and gracefully, using the hallways and rooms of the Villa Savoy as a character in its own right, informing and eavesdropping on each scene from the background. As spectator, you are drawn into these private moments, into scenes of supposed serenity, into realms of the personal which are exposed for all to see – you become aware that these misc en scenes are entirely choreographed with actors playing out pre-empted characters. Overlayed with haunting music which appears to be mimed by the characters in a stream of consciousness loop, this work is entirely unnerving – the vignettes appear to be woven into an elaborate reality, functioning on a plane between the real and allegory.

From blurred realms between performance and the everyday to narratives of fictional fantasy juxtaposed against a backdrop of strange biomorphic hospital interiors, Saskia Olde Wolbers work Interloper (2003) continues this exhibition’s exploration of internal psychological states. Here Wolbers appropriates a narrative which details a doomed relationship between a doctor and a mistress. It is a tale that is haunting and ultimately about the lust for someone against better judgement, as the protagonist spirals further and further out of control. This tale – told by a hypnotic and mesmeric voice – is overlayed against imagery of a sterile white hospital. The interior landscape appears to melt away into the ether no longer resembling the sterile lifeless spaces that we are accustomed to. It is a beguiling backdrop, as glossy white blobs float off hard surfaces morphing into something new and entirely different. These surreal landscapes invite the viewer to peer into their own private worlds, questioning and interrogating the reality that surrounds them.

Fantastical landscapes also featured prominently in O’Callaghan’s work To the End (2007), though this time on an immense scale. Windswept, desolate and harsh, the landscape is situated front and centre in this work as it dwarfs and eventually consumes the lonely male protagonist. Employing filmic techniques to illustrate his futile struggle to find identity in an exiled world, there is a sense of hopelessness that pervades in this video. Appearing as a spaceman in a barren landscape, O’Callaghan’s lonely explorer perilously teeters on the edge of being engulfed by the world that surrounds him – in one sequence he literally sinks into a bubbling bog – which can be read as a metaphor of nature’s predilection to both provide and take away life. Exploring human will and its unwavering search for meaning, O’Callaghan’s work is as much about the articulation of profound loss as it is a visual record of the poetics of place.

More human in scale but nevertheless extending thematically on notions of loss, premonitions of failure and distress, Bas Jan Ader’s work I’m too sad to tell you (1971) adopts a first person perspective in displaying his own emotional journeys extremely close to the surface. In this work – which engenders a more intimate and personal experience for the viewer – Ader appears emotionally vulnerable as he becomes resigned to the anguish he faces. It is sadness that emanates slowly from within and it is an internal grief that that we can empathise with as he cries. As Cindy Loehr argued – when reviewing a retrospective of his work held at the UCR Sweeney gallery in California – Ader remained aware of his ultimate inability to express the sadness he found in the sublime. This failure, which may have deterred him, instead became the focus of his work.[1]

At its core, Dying in Spite of the Miraculous is an exhibition which beautifully navigated the grey spaces between the illusory and reality, between existence and the metaphysical as well as exploring the various psychological states that accompany loss and hopelessness. Also featuring Joachim Koester’s work Morning of the Magicians (2006) which displayed garden imagery in black and white silhouettes slowly morphing into a hallucinatory enveloping darkness and Jeremy Blake’s painterly digital animations which explored Sara Winchester’s gothic mansion ingeniously renovated to ward off the spirits of the people that were killed by Winchester firearms, this exhibition successfully brought to the surface the multitude of internal moments that are repressed in the human condition. As I stepped back onto the footpath on Gertrude St, my surroundings seemed to melt away into the ether as I became preoccupied with thoughts of my own existence – a moment of internal retrospection sparked by this profound exhibition.


[1] Cindy Loehr, “Bas Jan Ader”, New Art Examiner, vol 27, no.6, March (2000)

Copyright Leon Goh & Eyeline Magazine 2011