Review: Yi Pin Ju (Yummy Number 1), Box Hill

A couple of years ago, my aunt started becoming a lot more active in the Melbourne Chinese Community. She started going to neighbourhood centres in areas like Box Hill and Clayton where there are concentrated numbers of Australians with an Asian background, and took up activities like line-dancing and tai chi. And now…well I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I was to say that she has a more active social life than I do!

During my period of unemployment after our long European trip as a ‘lady of leisure’ (I was actually stressing out and furiously job-hunting), my brother and I took my aunt and uncle out for lunch one weekday. We drove to Box Hill, where my aunt decided to go to Yi Pin Ju or Yummy No. 1.

yipinju-01

“I come here with my tai chi friends all the time,” my aunt said. “You know they serve tasty and cheap food, otherwise twenty older Chinese ladies wouldn’t come here every week!”

You won’t find Yi Pin Ju in any online restaurant directories as they’re a bit old-school in that regard. Just make a note of the fact that it’s next to Po Hong on Station St, the Chinese book and newspaper store that’s been around for at least three decades. I can still remember visiting Po Hong as a toddler, and my mum buying the latest issue of the Hong Kong gossip magazine “#1 Weekly” every week.

Fried Glutinous Rice
Fried Glutinous Rice

We ordered a number of dishes to share, exclusively off the cheaper lunch menu. Dishes ranged from $8 to $12 on the lunch menu, whereas you can generally add an extra 50% on top for the fancier dinner menu. You can also indulge in their set banquets for four or more people in the evening, with lobsters and crabs on the menu!

We started with the Fried Glutinous Rice, a specialty of the restaurant. I thought the rice was quite delicious, though my aunt was a bit disappointed as it wasn’t as good as she remembered. I think the main difference is that I was expecting it to be quite wet and glutinous not unlike steamed zongzi at yumcha, but my aunt was wanting a proper fried rice with crispier bits and more ingredients.

Pork and Bean Shoots on Crispy Noodles
Pork and Bean Shoots on Crispy Noodles

Our next dish was a stir-fried Pork Strips and Bean Shoots on Crispy Fried Noodles. I loved the rich and savoury soy sauce used in the stir-fry, and the noodles were fried to crispy perfection. What I particularly liked about this dish was how the bean shoots still remained quite crunchy and fresh, demonstrating that the chefs knew how to treat particular ingredients and cook them with care.

Beef Brisket on Noodles
Beef Brisket on Noodles

After seeing another table order this dish and getting a particular sense of FOMO, my aunt ordered the Beef Brisket on Noodles. I have to say that I was a little bit disappointed with this dish as there was much more in the way of ngau gun, or beef tendon, than there was of actual beef brisket. I like a bit of tendon or tripe every now and again, but not when I order brisket!

Pineapple and Seafood Fried Rice
Pineapple and Seafood Fried Rice

We finished up with a strange Pineapple and Seafood Fried Rice, a choice by my brother who has a more Westernised palate. It was quite plain in overall flavour as far as fried rice goes, relying primarily on the occasional burst of sweet pineapple or fishy seafood for a kick. I wouldn’t bother ordering a fried rice again here – I think their noodle dishes are done much better!

The one outstanding feature of Yi Pin Ju is that their meals seem to be cooked with more care when compared to other Chinese kitchens in the same area. They use less oil overall resulting in a cleaner mouth-feel, and seem to use less MSG as well, which means you don’t leave feeling particularly thirsty.

Overall, Yi Pin Ju serves up a pretty decent feed at a good price. I paid only about $42 for these four dishes, and the four of us actually had plenty left over – enough to fill a takeaway box for lunch the next day. I’d go back – I think my dad was disappointed that he missed out, so I’ll probably go back with him!

Yi Pin Ju is located on Station St in Box Hill, Melbourne.

Chanoy Honeymoon: Istanbul, December 2015

A week after we flew out of Istanbul, we heard news of the terrorist attacks of 12 January where 10 people were killed and more injured. I posted on Facebook not long after: “Thinking of the people of Istanbul after the latest tragedy. We were there just a week ago, and it’s a beautiful city rich with history, culture and tradition. We also joined a week-long tour around Turkey and it gave us some wonderful experiences, including a balloon flight over otherworldly Cappadocia. Our guide told us that tourism in Turkey is dropping, and the local economy is struggling as a result. Don’t let terror scare you away from visiting Istanbul – they need the support of international travellers now more than ever.”

I still believe this to be true. We can’t let terrorism stop us from visiting beautiful cities like Istanbul, Brussels, or Paris, where there’s so much on offer for foreign tourists. Consider this blog post my appeal to you world travellers – consider making Istanbul your next holiday destination for the following five reasons.

1. Istanbul is a cheap holiday destination.

Even with our dollar doing as poorly as it is, Istanbul and Turkey as a whole is still an extremely cheap holiday destination for Australians. A luxurious meal out for two people will cost you on average $20 per couple, while a doner kebab from a street stall will only cost you about $3. Buy yourself a large cup of fresh orange or pomegranate juice for $2.50 (or a bottle of water for 75 cents), and taking public transport will only cost you about $5 per day, per couple. Our Airbnb accommodation was only $55 a night, and when K got sick, we got over-the-counter Nurofen cold medicine for $4. While it’s not as cheap as going to Bali, it’s still much cheaper than many other popular holiday destinations!

2. Istanbul is a city dating back more than a millennium.

The Hagia Sophia and the Basilica Cistern (both in photos below, both sites open to foreign tourists) both date back to the time of the Roman Emperor Justinian (circa 500 AD), while the city of Istanbul / Constantinople itself dates back to 300AD. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, structures such as the impressively decorated Topkapi Palace and colourfully tiled Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) were built in the 14th and 15th centuries, and city institutions such as the Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets were first conceived and built. If you’re vaguely interested in history, no matter what era, Istanbul has something to offer.

3. Istanbul is a city with amazing food.

While cheap street stalls selling doners and kebaps rule supreme in terms of square footage in the city, there’s a lot more on offer in Istanbul. We visited sit-down kebap joints like Ortaklar Iskender Kebap, cafes like Marmara Cafe, gozleme restaurants like Hala Manti ve Ev Yemekleri Salonu, and even Russian restaurants like Cagri Restaurant. Pizza and Italian is a popular ‘foreign’ cuisine here, though you will find it harder to find a good Chinese restaurant or British pub.

Who needs ‘foreign’ food though, when you have a million and one different Turkish desserts to choose from? There’s specialists like Hakki Zade where we bought a great selection of baklava, Meshur Beyoglu Cikolatacisi where we bought some excellent chocolate with the largest hazelnuts I’ve ever seen, or you could visit one of the many places around the city that sell home-made Turkish Delight (in a million and one flavours, not just rosewater!) and dondurma, Turkish pulled ice-cream.

4. Istanbul is a city of pampering and luxury.

You can’t visit Istanbul without visiting a Turkish bath, or hamam. We went to Aga Hamami as it was located conveniently close to our accommodation and was also a unisex hamam. Many hamams are single-sex only or else segregate guests so if you’re visiting Istanbul as a mixed-sex couple, make sure you find one that allows both men and women! Paying only $115 for both of us, we spent a whole afternoon at Aga Hamami and enjoyed their marble bath room, sauna, a foam bath, oil massage and facial. We lounged around in Turkish bath towels sipping apple tea and relaxing in their comfortable lounge areas.

It really is an experience to be remembered – as long as you’re not shy about showing your body! As I said on Facebook: “Nothing quite like having a topless middle-aged Turkish woman whipping your towel off you, manoeuvring you onto a marble slab and into various exposing positions while she scrubs your naked body raw, her pendulous breasts resting on your back every so often.”

5. Istanbul is a city for animal lovers.

Paranoid people will try to convince you to stay away from the thousands of stray cats and dogs around the city as they’ll believe that they have fleas. Contrary to popular opinion though, they’re all very well looked after. It wasn’t uncommon to see a cat waiting patiently by a street doner stall for the seller to throw him some scraps (which they usually do!), or a dog waiting outside a restaurant for people to give him scraps off their plate. Many people also put out bowls of water for strays on their doorsteps, some even provide dry pet food in a bowl as well. In addition to that, the city keeps a close eye on them and have a Trap Tag and Release program, where dogs are tagged, vaccinated, and desexed before being released. I’m not sure if cats are managed in the same way, but dogs certainly are!

Many of the photos in the album below are of stray cats and dogs who will come up to you looking for a treat – they’re very friendly and I never once came across an aggressive stray. Carry some dry pet food in a little plastic bag with you when you go around Istanbul, and feed some strays – you’ll make some animal friends along the way!

What do you think? Will you go and visit Istanbul?

Review: Cagri Restaurant, Istanbul Turkey

For our last meal in Istanbul, we naturally went to a Russian restaurant. Naturally. To be honest, it’s because it was the closest restaurant to our single-night-stay hotel in the Aksaray region, and we didn’t fancy going any further in the rain and snow to search for other options! Laziness, warmth and comfort won out over finding a more ‘genuine’ Turkish dining experience. Cagri Restaurant it was!

Fresh Orange Juice, 10 Turkish Lira each
Fresh Orange Juice, 10 Turkish Lira each

A week and a half after he first got sick, K was still feeling the effects of his cold and worst of all, my immune system was finally giving up and I was starting to feel it as well. A Fresh Orange Juice each to help us get the vitamins we needed to heal ourselves. This proved to be one of the final fresh orange juices we would have for a few weeks on our trip – after we left Istanbul, we headed onto the Balkans where it definitely wasn’t offered at every restaurant and street stall!

Lentil Soup, 8 Turkish Lira
Lentil Soup, 8 Turkish Lira

K continued with his trend of ordering the Lentil Soup, this one significantly more expensive than other restaurants who were charging 4-5 Lira. The higher price point certainly didn’t seem justified as the soup wasn’t any tastier than other variations – it wasn’t spicier, creamier, or thicker.

cagrirestaurant-03

At least we got these delicious freshly-baked Turkish bread rolls to go with the soup. They were wonderfully light and not doughy or heavy at all, instead almost deflating like a balloon when you pierced the wonderfully crispy crust. The liberal use of butter on top of the bread roll as a glaze definitely helped with the taste as well…

Vegetable Casserole, 23 Turkish Lira
Vegetable Casserole, 23 Turkish Lira

I wanted to stock up on my vegetables, so I ordered the Vegetable Casserole. While it was visually quite spectacular in being served on a sizzling hotplate, the vegetables themselves were less than impressive. With the exceptions of the tomatoes which were still quite raw, nearly everything else had been cooked until limp, while also suffering the indignity of being over-salted and over-oily. Not quite the healthy, hearty, vitamin-rich vegetable casserole that I’d been hoping for.

Omelette, 15 Turkish Lira
Omelette, 15 Turkish Lira

K also ordered an Omelette to finish off his meal, which was very simple with just the lightest bit of cheese inside for some extra flavour. Not the best omelette K’s ever had as it lacked that extra punch that some black pepper or chilli flakes could have provided – I’m afraid that we can cook better omelettes at home ourselves! Still, you can’t go too wrong with an omelette if you’re looking for a simple meal that won’t irritate an unsettled stomach.

I wasn’t that impressed with Cagri Restaurant, despite its relatively high rating on TripAdvisor in the top 3% of restaurants in Istanbul. This may be partially our fault – we tried to order healthier meals off the menu rather than the stereotypical heavier Russian meals available which are the restaurant’s actual specialty. While I wouldn’t actively discourage people from visiting Cagri Restaurant, I would encourage you to consider ordering a Russian dish off the menu instead of a healthier choice – a beef stroganoff perhaps?

Cagri Restaurant is located at 49 Aksaray Caddesi, Istanbul Turkey.