Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Araluen's Fremantle Chilli Festival roundup

The Araluen Chilli Festival just keeps getting better! Continuous cooking demonstrations in the big tent featured talented local chefs, including Russell Blaikie of Must Wine Bar and Marianne Kemps of Gala, with freelance chef Dale Sniffen presiding over the order of events.

Being somewhat of a Chilli Festival veteran, I sample some of the foods first before heading down purgatory lane for the chilli tastings. There's a great variety of foods to suit all and sundry, from Turkish gozlemes and honey-drenched sweets, to a bratwurst stall, Spanish paella, to various curry places, and even a Mexican tortilla joint. The tortillas are simple, but tasty, with 3 sauces to choose from - spicy, hot and extra hot. You can of course sample the sauces before choosing. Bucking Hot Chilli Con Carne was there again, and doing a roaring trade. I enjoyed that last year (and did sweat a lot as a result), so I decided to save my stomach space for new experiences. I have to say, though, that one of the best food stalls must have been the Indian joint selling pies with curry fillings. Once again, there are huge bowls of fillings for the punters to sample before making a purchase. The butter chicken pie was clearly the standout. After all, who doesn't love butter chicken? Surprisingly, the crust on the pie was not bad - crusty to start with, then a pleasant chewiness.

A little tip for all you food vendors out there: offer free samples, and you're sure to sell more, provided the food is up to scratch, of course. And a little tip for visitors: in the last hour of the Araluen Chilli Festival on Sunday, many of the food stalls will be offering an attractive discount on their offerings. I picked up 2 curry pies for $5, nearly half price; and a box of freshly roasted peanuts for $3 (I probably wouldn't have paid the original $5 asking price).  Despite being there at 4pm on the Sunday, the place was still bustling.

Another tip - do yourself a favour and buy a mango lassi before you start on your tasting journey. The yoghurt in the lassi will help ease the chilli burn when you inevitably sample and injudiciously large sample of taste bud killing chilli paste, as I did many times, since I skipped all the mild stuff and went straight for the 3 or 4 hottest sauces at each stall. Many of the usual suspects were there, including the stall selling Arson Fire (love the clever wordplay), and Armanda's African sauces, made by Armanda herself (I picked up a bottle of the Piri Piri sauce, which is deliciously flavorsome). A couple of newcomers quite impressed me with some of their offering. Scorpion Chilli with their not-so-subtly named Rectal Tears which was hot but not searingly so, and Hot Mama's Celyta's Sauce, slightly heavy on the vinegar but still a tasty sweet and spicy mixture. I also snared a bottle of Heatseeker's Smokey Jolokia 2, a deliciously smokey flavoured sauce made from the bhut jolokia - not for the faint hearted! The highlight of my acquisitions was a little tube of pure bhut jolokia powder. All i can say is beware if you're coming around to my place for a curry ...

Alas, I am embarrassed to admit that I got done in by a swifty - looking for a suitable barbecue marinade for my kangaroo steaks sitting in the fridge at home, I bought a likely looking bottle. But it wasn't until I got home and looked more closely that I discovered it was made by Kraft, and expired in January 2011! You implicitly expect the fare on offer to be handmade artisanal stuff, but I guess that's not always the case. Oh well, let's see how it goes with the kangaroo - for $12 a bottle, you didn't think I was just going to throw it away, did you?

An unexpected highlight was a Chinese tea stall, selling high end stuff. I spoke to the unlikely looking blonde proprietor, Simon, who operates out of a Chinese medicine shop in Fremantle. An earnest chap who had lived in China for many years, Simon buys his teas directly from the farmers in China, and most of them are organic. I bought a few things, including a Tie Guanyin (or Iron Goddess), picked in Autumn 2009 and partially fermented. I'm no tea expert, but this was a delightful tea, aromatic with a delicate flavour, and a pale gold-green rather than a dark brown or black you would get from your tea-bagged stuff. High Mountain Tea Co.. Check it out for yourself!

This year's Chilli Festival attracted 17,000 people, not as big as last year's event, but still pretty impressive, given that you had 3 mega cruise ships (including the Queen Mary on its maiden voyage) and an AFL Derby match, all in Fremantle that weekend!

Another great Chilli Festival, with some old favourites, new favourites, and unexpected delights!

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