Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Asian Garden Market Graze + Giveaway!

Disclaimer: I was invited to this complimentary preview of the Asian Garden Market Graze by Centro

I have been living in Australia for the past 15 years with my family and as my family are passionate about cooking, particularly Asian food, the Box Hill market is a very familiar place to me. Mind you, I've never personally shopped much here myself, especially in the more recent years. My parents still come by, probably once a week at least still! 

So although I am somewhat familiar with Box Hill market, and where things are, I was still quite intrigued when I was offered a preview of the Asian Garden Market Graze event for the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival (which has passed already). A tour and a meal by James Tan, restauranteur extraordinaire? Sign me up!

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We gathered at our little meeting area, set up next to Grain Asian Cafe, one of the busiest cafes in the market. Although that didn't stop the manager trying to come over and tell us to do a write up about them! 

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The itinerary of the day was an hour long tour around the market, before settling down into lunch. 

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It was an absolute pleasure meeting James Tan, soft spoken but smiley and with a lively look in his eyes, he enjoyed nothing more than talking food! And why not? He's got quite a history with it, haven opened a number of restaurants including The Mandarin Duck and Magic City, but also consulted for Mandarin Hotel around South East Asia, showcasing his cooking at numerous 'Chef's Table' promotions. What an honour to be getting served a meal by him!

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James commented that 20 years ago, he would have never shopped at Box Hill, it was a bit seedy, a bit grungy, but now Box Hill Market is one of the busiest food markets in Melbourne! It has 25 million customers every year, and I don't doubt that this number continues to grow. It's the sort of place where shops don't often change hands, and are owned by the same people for many, many years. 

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Box Hill has thrived as a produce market, because the shopkeepers, and their customers, want the top quality produce, but are also incredibly price conscious and therefore, very competitive. Which basically means that it's good for us! 

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We got a peek at everything, from the dried herbs and Chinese medicine stalls, where you can buy things by the kilo, or pre packed if you're a little unsure, to the fresh produce, the meats and even the sweets. I will never cease to be amazed by the things that Asians seem to discover we can eat. Sun dried crocodile meat anybody? 

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I think what I enjoyed most about James taking us around the market, was being able to meet the managers of the stores, find out their stories and the general emphasis on developing a relationship with the people you buy from, which I thought was wonderful. 

I think maybe from having lived in Hong Kong before, my impression of Asian storekeepers was that they're kind loud, maybe a bit brash and to a little kid, a little bit scary. But this trip around Box Hill showed exactly the opposite. All smiles, a little camera shy and entirely accommodating to any requests or questions we had. 

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The manager of Central Meats has been there for 8 years, it's where we got our wagyu for lunch, from Sher wagyu, the first breeders in Australia (Victoria?) to trace the genetics of their cow back to the oldest breed in Japan. 

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Mandy looks after one of the poultry shops, which even stock some crocodile should you be in the mood for that!

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Elaine owns the Fish Market stall and has been in her spot in Box Hill for 30 years, originating from Singapore, before migrating to the states for a bit and then settling in Australia. Whilst there is a beautiful spread of seafood out, with the fish looking all gorgeously fresh, she still keeps some of the higher value stuff out back, so it's always worth asking if you don't see what you're after straight away!

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Although Yang Yang, an Asian grocer, is the highest turning Asian grocer in Victoria, James personally shops at Tan Hung Asian Grocery. It's family run and owned, and he generally finds them more accommodating, turning to them to look for fresh coconuts for us to drink afterwards! 

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If you're looking for something on the run, the food court offerings in Centro are actually pretty decent, with stalls offering freshly made steamed buns, and all sorts of Asian nibbles such as tripe and ox tongue! Or crepes. That's only if offal is not so much your thing. 

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Totally didn't realise I could get tendon on a stick in the food court. Excellent...

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After our market tour, we took our seat back in front of our little demo kitchen, which was an interesting experience. I loved the blatant curiosity that people in the centre had, with many coming up to the table to look at what we were eating, or poking their noses over our shoulders to have a look at the menu. Kind of a weird experience, but kind of cute at the same time!

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Watching James Tan plate and prepare our food was a rather zen like experience. I'm not sure how he was so calm as I'm normally like a hurricane in the kitchen, running around from pantry to stove to computer. However with James, it was a rather tidy and efficient affair. 

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Rock lobster with jellyfish salad, with a bit of palm sugar, chilli and lime was just perfect for the warm summery Saturday it was. Sweet and refreshing, the small handful of rocket underneath gave a nice roundness to the otherwise light flavours. Beautifully balanced.

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We were then teased with beautiful inch thick slabs of Sher wagyu, and drooled over the beautiful marbling. 

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Served with Asian mushrooms and a light dose of sake, soy and truffle oil, our pieces of wagyu were perfectly pink through the middle. Just totally dreamy and tender pieces of meat, with again, delicate and elegant flavours, although earthy and rounded as well. I was honestly amazed at how well balanced James had balanced all the flavours out. 

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I love watching chefs have a good time with whatever it is they're making!

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For dessert we had a black rice pudding with fruits and coconut anglaise. Apparently, or so James tells us, black rice was only served to royalty! Or maybe he's just trying to impress us lady bloggers? Hmmm. 

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Regardless, this is one of James's signature dishes, dating all the way back to the 80s for him. It was served  warm, and whilst I'm quite fond of black rice dessert dishes, I adored this interpretation. The black rice was gorgeously nutty, whilst the abundance of glazed fruits gave it a lovely sweetness. I especially enjoyed the addition of ginger, which gave it an additional warmth. The coconut anglaise was so smooth, not overly sweet or overpowering. 

Some of the other bloggers commented that it tasted like an Asian version of Christmas pudding…that'd be about right!

I very much enjoyed the tour and the meal we had with James Tan, and getting to learn more about the market a little more intimately. Although the event for Melbourne Food and Wine Festival has already passed (the event sold out!), Centro is planning to make this a bi-annual event so keep an eye out for another tour sometime in August at if you'd like to check it out!

Don't forget to check out The Pink Leopard and Second Helping's posts about the tour as well!

In the meantime…I have a little giveaway for you guys! It's been a while since one of these happened, let's see if I remember how this goes!


Centro Box Hill is kindly offering a $100 EFTpos voucher. ONE HUNDRED DOLLA! (I'm Asian, I'm totally allowed to do that.)

This EFTpos voucher can be used in any of the stores in Centro Box Hill that accepts EFTpos, which is just about all the stores and the fresh food market retailers! 

You could spend it on clothes, or maybe just treat yourself to some extra nice produce for a special meal. Sher wagyu anyone…?

To enter, simply leave me a comment before Wednesday the 13th of March midday, and let me know your favourite ingredient to cook with and you'll be in the draw! I like to keep it simple folks! Make sure you leave me a working and active email that you check regularly, as I will need to contact you if you win and get your address so your voucher can be sent to you! 

And with that, happy commenting guys! 

Just a few extra things! This giveaway is limited to residents in Melbourne, one entry per person and more comments does not give extra chances to be in the draw! If you are drawn as winner and do not respond to my email for your address within 3 days I will be contacting the next person drawn to offer the voucher to.


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Ross Shaw! Congrats! Will be in contact with you soon! :)


  1. I've been to Boxhill market so many times, but have never noticed the little bits and bobs that I've learnt from your blog post today! I think I'll be returning again this weekend for that ox tongue skewer I never knew existed. ;)

    Being Asian, my favourite ingredient to cook with is garlic which is also the staple ingredient that I MUST have in my pantry. I use garlic throughout my cooking, be it with Chinese-style stir-fries or even pastas! I love how garlic adds a nice flavour to the dish. Sometimes even I crush them, mix with a bit of dark soy sauce, and use as dipping. There are so many ways to cook with garlic! Although I have to add, I'm not that big a fan of garlic breath. Haha! :P

  2. What a great activity to be a part of. Box Hill Centre (as it was known then) sure has changed in the 14 years since I worked near there!

    1. Of course, I missed the most important part! I am pretty changeable when it comes to a favourite ingredient ... at the moment though it is definitely avocado, although given we've hit the tail end of the season I'm sure it will be something different soon :)

  3. My favorite ingredient to cook with is mushroom. It doesn't matter if it's the standard button mushroom, chanterelle, oyster, shittake, or a hearty portobello. It makes any savour dishy that much more yummy tasting! :)

  4. As a young kid, I followed my parents around Box Hill every Saturday when we went shopping, always looking forward to the fresh soy milk or sugarcane drinks they had, and always sneaking an extra box of Pocky in the basket! I heart Box Hill because it's really the closest thing we have in Melbourne to Hong Kong, another place I dearly love.
    My favourite ingredient: eggplants. You can steam it, fry it, deepfry it, smother it in miso sauce, grill it, put a huge slap in your sandwich, mix it with minced pork and oyster sauce and rice omg, EVERYTHING.
    Actually, I just came back from a visit to Box Hill this afternoon with a bag of eggplants.. :D

    1. oopsies, :)

  5. While I don't do a lot of cooking, other than baking and creating foods as gifts, my favorite ingredient would have to be a splash of rum. The perfect addition to any dessert.

  6. This is seriously like one of the MOST amazing giveaways :) I grew up in the Eastern suburbs and my mum when she was still living here would go to Box Hill at least once a day...if not twice hahaha and there are so many people and store owners that recognise me for being my mother's daughter! It can be super embarassing!

    There are so many ingredients I would love to try...but I'd love to try getting some white woodear fungus and trying to make a version of my grandmas white woodear fungus sweet soup that she use to make for me all the time :D

    Thanks for this wonderful giveaway and for catching up last night enjoy SIngapore and Malaysia xox

    Just in case you don't have my email lol which I doubt hahaha

  7. Hi Ash, I lurve to cook with quinoa!

  8. Man I so do love markets. Asian markets are so much more vibrant and loud :P And you so can say wan hunderad DOLLA! :P I love cooking with discarded scraps actually... like carcasses (for food stock), fish wings (deep fried goodness) and skins.. mmmm crackling!

  9. Bird eye chilli!
    Love a kick of spice.

  10. I put Red Capsicum in everything I cook... stir fries, risotto, curries, BBQs and salads. I love the colour and I especially love how it gives completely different textures and flavours depending on whether it's raw, baked, or charred over an open flame.

    rshaw1961 (at) yahoo (dot) com (dot) au

  11. I love Box Hill Centro, it's where I go to do my weekly grocery shopping and pickup some yummy treats from the food court :)

    My Favourite ingredient to cook with would definitely be eggs! They are so easy to cook with and so versatile not to mention uber delicious!!

  12. My favourite ingredient is dried basil!It brings a really nice and pleasant flavour to finish many dishes!