Category Archives: Kai

Food Cravings: Wellington Edition

Summer in Aotearoa, Winter in China…

It’s around this time each year, Kiwese gets homesick for the beach, friends and whanau, and home food…


Don’t get me wrong, I love the food in Chengdu. But sometimes, it’s like faaa I’d smash a potato top pie…

From what I’ve heard, the food landscape of Wellington has changed a lot over the past year or so. There’s a big Mexican presence in town now? And like, a New York café or something? Also the pizza at Goose Shack in Berhampore sounds legit.

Without further ado, in perhaps the most futile article ever published on this website, here is a list of shit I wanna eat in Welly.


KC Cafe, Courtenay Place
(HK/Cantonese)

Hong Kong style faux-leather booths, iron woks and screaming Cantonese orders, free lemon water – fuck yeah, KCs.

“This is HANDS DOWN my favourite restaurant in Wellington,” I will pronounce to any given dining companion, slamming my hands on the table for added emphasis and neatly laying the groundwork for mooting an ordered ratio of 1:2 dishes per person.

Beef brisket clay pot, my one true love. Also go in for BBQ pork buns, salt pepper prawns, wonton noodle soup, grilled dumplings, roast duck if we being fancy, pork congee, spicy tofu, et al. As with every successful eatery, there’s a take-no-prisoners matriarch running the till who does not have time for your indecision.

This place rocks late-nights harder than anywhere else on Courtenay Place – the kitchen pumps till the early hours seven days a week. The best nights in town either begin, end, or simply take place at KCs.


The Lotus, Mount Victoria
(Vietnamese)

Banh Xeo – Saigon Crispy Rice Crepe. Get in my mouth. Chicken curry also off the chain at this place – has cherry tomatoes in.


KK Malaysia, Ghuznee Street
(Malaysian)

KK all dae. Would happily demolish anything on the menu. Namely:

– Deep Fried Tofu (Vegetarian) Deep fried tofu served with beansprouts, cucumbers and carrots sprinkled with peanuts and sweet chilli sauce. (not always available, but so good when it is.)
– Mee Goreng Stir fried egg noodles flavoured with Malaysian spices. Choice of chicken or seafood (get mixed.)
– Sin Chew Mee Hoon Stir fried rice noodles with chicken, shrimps, cabbages, carrots, tomatoes and onions (Hoon-ed many of these.)

KK by night.
KK by night.

When KK’s got a long wait and your mate suggests Satay Kingdom:


The Regal, Courtenay Place
(HK/Canton Yum Cha)

If you ask a friend to yum cha and they say “which one?” you probably need to find better friends. The Regal is law.

Even though I’m in China, I’m 1000s of kilometres from the yum cha vibes of HK. Cravings for the joy of steamed dumplings that I don’t even know the Cantonese name of, that salty soy sauce, the sweet, puffy cloud aura of light embodied within the Coconut Jellies.

Miss the days of hogging out at The Regal and remaining in tea-drinking whale state until they start vacuuming around your feet.


Fidel’s, Cuba Street
(Café)

Staple Wellington.

My dreams of a Vege Feast with poached eggs and multigrain toast were crushed last time I was in Welly after discovering it had been AXED FROM THE MENU?? Even so, I still crave it and pray for its descent from the heavens to join us mortal beings once more.

Also tautoko the Eggs Benedict, evening pizza/beer deal, wedges with sour cream, chocolate brownies and vibes. Also, buying a $3.50 tea and hogging a table for hours: Since Forever.

You’ll find me out back.

Fidel's on a sunny day.


Sushi B, Willis Street
(Japanese)

I like a da sushi wiiiiith: slabs of salmon and avocado, chicken, green seaweed stuff, and those fat, long ones with salmon and sweet sauce on top that they blast with a flamethrower (can you tell I’m really savvy with Japanese culinary terms?)

Purists and actual Japanese people may call Sushi B an abomination to the art of Japanese cuisine, but back in my iSentia days I’d be queuing up for that half price goodness on a regular basis.

Shout out for not being stingy with the ginger, pile that shit up.

It's amazing what you can find in your photo harddrive...
It’s amazing what photos can be found on old harddrives…

Hobart Takeaways, Miramar
(Chinese/Fish and Chips)

Hand cut chips, massive menu, sunbaked leather chairs outside – this is home. My go to is x1 scoop of chips w/ chicken salt, x1 egg burger, x1 extra thick strawberry milkshake and maybe a deep fried Moro Bar depending on how hungus I’m feeling.

Ivan’s whanau have been an extension of my whanau for as long as I can remember. They are a Miramar institution – others have come and gone but Hobart have stayed in the game for over 30 years. They still have an epic old-school till with hammer keys.

Paper bag option for chips, delivery to your car, like five potato fritters for the price of one, the friendly ding of the slide door bell – I’m getting all weepy inside just thinking about it. A+ Hobart, love ya.

Got this pic from a review on Zomato, omg the other pic of the chairs inside, SO NOSTALGIC!!
Screen Shot 2016-02-12 at 9.46.01 pm


Fisherman’s Plate, Bond Street
(Vietnamese/Fish and Chips)

Yo chicken pad thai. Yo beef pho. Yo you can even get a scoop of chips with that. And they even have the Viggo Mortensen tick of approval. If it’s good enough for the King of Gondor, it’s good enough for us mere plebs.


Planet Spice + Curry Heaven, Newtown
(Indian)

Newtowners tend to side with either Team PS or Team CH. I can’t decide. Planet Spice have real buzzy mural on the wall of some human chilis dining on the rings of Saturn. Curry Heaven have cute photo display starring their ‘Heavenly Customers.’ I like. Yum as.

Would kill for a Chicken Jalfrezi with some garlic naan right now.


Other shit I want:

  • Avocado avocado avocado
  • Potato top pie did I say that already
  • Vogel’s with Marmite and avocado
  • Salt and vinegar chips
  • Six pack of mock cream buns
  • Apricots
  • Rotisserie chicken and sandwich stuff from the supermarket
  • Orange juice with the pulp
  • A slice or five of berry cheesecake from Espressoholic
  • TBH a sausage sizzle sausage with onions and tomato sauce
  • Chocolate milk
  • Falafel from Phoenician on Cuba

COFFEE. GAHHHHHHH. LONG BLACK. From any of these cafés, in no particular order:

  • Raglan Roast
  • Duke Carvell’s
  • Memphis Belle
  • Velox
  • Deluxe
  • People’s Newtown
  • Baobab
  • Milk Crate
  • Quilters

Appreciate your Welly. Welly is good. I should be back next summer. Let’s eat, drink and be merry!

Why Being a Home Tutor In China Will Lead to Obesity

Andi has just turned four-years-old. She likes Barbie, Hello Kitty and rabbits. I teach her at her home twice a week for two hours. Dinner is included.

I somehow knew January would be the month I’d find a job. January has been a buzzy one, as Januarys tend to be. Bowie died. Rickman died. The dude from The Eagles died. Taiwan elected a pro-independent Prime Minister. It’s really fucking cold. Air pollution and construction is rampant. And I’ve been scuttling about absorbing the vacated classes of Chengdu’s white teachers.

You gotta start somewhere in China, and 9 times out of 10, that start is English teaching. Cash money.

“I’m from New Zealand and majored in English Literature at university!” I thought, scrolling the WeChat haunts of Chengdu’s unemployed foreigners, “this will be sweeeeeet.”

Native speakers wanted, experience preferred – send your CV and photo.*

It’s the photo that ends it.

*(for Asians, a quick rundown of your family bloodline and immigration history may also be a requirement.)

Job op white
This is basically the situation is. Some people cut straight to the chase.
job op white 2
#needawhitegirl #supermarket

So I knew January would be the month I’d find a job. Because the white people have gone home. Lol.


Teaching a kindergartener English was not the line of work I was looking for. In fact, besides waitressing at Jellyfish (the Estab of Chengdu), it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Bowie had just died, I hadn’t worn real clothes in at least a week, and I needed money to fuel my Taobao addiction. (check out this article by Zaomengshe about how to set up an Alipay, then say goodbye to your expendable income forever).

A friend sent me a contact of someone looking specifically for a New Zealander – so I had to follow it up.


Andi turned four last November. Her father does business in Shanghai. Her mother works in investment. Her grandparents are retired and live with her in the south of the city (the glam end). Her parents have big dreams for her, she is going to go to Stanford one day. In fact, she’s already visited the campus.

I was originally led to believe there was a lady wanting to learn English because she was immigrating to New Zealand. Upon arrival at the designated meeting spot (next to the grand piano in a five-star hotel), it became clear the parents were just looking for an in-house English tutor for their kid. The New Zealand link became more and more tenuous and I was getting nervous beneath my guise a supremely likeable, sensible person.

“She miiiight attend high school in New Zealand,” the father mentioned, discussing Andi’s future like a twenty year business plan, “before going to the US for university.”

“Oh,” I managed, realising my entrapment, “I see.”

Andi giggled, clambering about on the sofa like a drunk starfish and tugging at her mum’s hair.

Seen as the vast amount of revenue earned at Kiwese HQ has not yet satisfied my ability to pay rent, I took the job at the offered rate of 300RMB for two hours. Realising it is a little low for private tutoring on the other side of town, I tried to angle for more using my bumbling, still-trying-to-be-polite-and-likeable Mandarin. Chinese businesspeople 1, fresh out of university language student 0.


Their four-story villa is in a gated community, home to dozens of other wealthy families and their only-child offspring. The household employs an Ayi to cook their dinner every night. She is a friendly lady that cooks damn good Sichuan-style food. She sometimes gives me a ride on her e-bike to the subway station after doing the dishes. Her name on WeChat is 开心就好 (Happy Enough.)

Meal time happens at 6pm on the dot, coinciding with the end of Andi’s two hour lesson, a.k.a. bouncing around the lounge pretending to be rabbits and singing ABCs with a ukulele.

As the guest and honoured teacher, both grandparents chopstick endless supplies of meat (not vegetables) into my rice bowl with Chinese New Year like intensity.

Day 1:

  • Twice fried pork 火锅肉
  • Shredded fried potato 土豆丝
  • Husband and wife lung slices 夫妻肺片
  • Spicy pork sausage 麻辣麻辣
  • Guangdong pork sausage 广味香肠
  • Stir fried cabbage 炒白菜
  • Meatball soup w/ tomato, vermicelli 圆子汤

Dinner2


Day 2:

  • Lamb and radish soup 羊肉萝卜汤
  • Steamed fish 蒸鱼
  • Dried tofu and chives 韭菜豆腐干
  • Stir-fried prawns 炒虾
  • Pork sausage 香肠
  • Twice fried pork 火锅肉

Dinner1


Day 3:

  • Steamed fish 蒸鱼
  • Red braised beef 红烧牛肉
  • Tomato and egg 番茄炒蛋
  • Stir fried spinach 炒菠菜
  • Lamb and yam soup 羊肉山药汤

Dinner3.pic


Day 4:

  • Sweet skin roast duck 甜皮鸭
  • Braised beef 红烧牛肉
  • Twice fried pork 回锅肉
  • Meatball soup 圆子汤
  • Fried cabbage 炒白菜
  • Dried tofu 豆腐干

Dinner4

Dinner time is interesting.

“吃多一点” (eat more), everyone tells me.

Ayi – who has just cooked the food, sits in front of the vegetable dishes and barely eats a thing. The meat and fish is placed at my end of the table, or pronged directly into my bowl. Grandpa, healthy and fit at 82 years old, used to work as a P.E. teacher at a university in Chongqing. He enthusiastically educates me about the role of the teacher according to Confucius and Mengzi, flecks of rice flying from his mouth. I nod politely. Grandma, a tiny grey-haired woman, shovels rice into Andi’s mouth while chanting “要不要肉 要不要肉 要不要肉?” (do you want meat? do you want meat? do you want meat?) with automated precision. Mum takes business calls with one hand and chopsticks slices of meat into my bowl with the other.

“吃饱了!” (I’m full!) I entreat. Ayi has already discreetly refilled my bowl with rice.

I’m gonna need to move up a dress size. Oh wait, already have. We’re two weeks in now, let’s see how it plays out.

Kiwese Prize Pack Giveaway!!

One year ago, amidst the panoramic plume of grey sky and uncontrollable heating units of Beijing, over a tenuous VPN connection in a dank, cramped dorm room at BLCU, Kiwese was born. 

To celebrate this milestone, Kiwese has a prize pack to giveaway to one lucky winner!

Room 210, Jiu Hao Lou, December 2013. The birthplace of Kiwese.
Room 210,  九号楼, December 2013. The birthplace of Kiwese.

This is a bunch of original notes I hacked out while thinking about what I wanted Kiwese to be:

  • Rehumanising the way NZ and China interact with each other
  • Dodging stereotypes, modernizing perceptions, increasing awareness, avoiding awkward hakas and martial arts displays
  • Giving voice to those in the NZ and Chinese communities who are doing awesome shit that no one knows about
  • Not specialised towards an ethnic group. For all who are interested in the topic.
  • He tangata he tangata he tangata
  • Celebrating difference, bonding over similarities, acknowledging the ugly
  • Making China a topic for discussion instead of target of judgment. An alternate dialogue to trade/milk/real estate/etc
  • Foster the dialogue, enter the lounge

I think there is now a stronger need than ever for more fresh perspectives from China and New Zealand – we need to remind ourselves that New Zealand is not this utopian paradise of photogenic mountains and equality for all, likewise, China is not just a sprawling mass of polluted cities and internet censorship.

I hope that you have all enjoyed the journey so far as much as I have. The New Year holds plans for an updated format to make the site more accessible and shareable with our friends in China.

Thanks to all people who have been a part of this blog so far and to the bands, artists, photographers, poets and spicers for generously contributing their work to this birthday giveaway!

The exxxtremely limited edition (ie. one) prize pack includes:

  • x 1 God Bows to Math (AKL) and Pairs (上海) split “7
  • x 1 Carb on Carb (AKL) China Tour poster
  • x 2 ‘Permanent Vacation’ 1 & 2 zines, stickers and badges from Kerry Ann Lee (WGN)
  • x 1 ‘New Kiwi Women Write Their Stories’ poetry collection, edited by Renee Liang (AKL)
  • x 1 CD of ‘1984’ by P.K 14 (北京)
  • x 1 CD of ‘Mechatronics’ by the All Seeing Hand (WGN)
  • x 1 CD of ‘Elephant’ 《象》by the Hormones (成都)
  • x 1 CD of ‘Sacrifice Mountain Hills’ by Skip Skip Ben Ben (北京)
  • x 1 Jar of X-Claw Chilli Oil & t-shirt from Sichuan Spice (WGN)
  • x 1 UP THE PUNKS zine and photograph by John Lake (WGN)
  • x 1 signed Flat3 poster (AKL)
  • x 1 Nova Heart sticker (北京)
  • x 1 I HEART BJ t-shirt
  • x 1 Pack of Zhongnanhai 8s
  • Stickers from 少城 Shaocheng NUART Festival (成都)

The tour poster. Art by Nicole.

Sound checking at Wave Livehouse in Suzhou on a v. high stage

Tightly Wound at Mao Livehouse

Thanks, God Bows to Math and Carb on Carb! READ: God Bows to Math Make Some Noise in China, Carb on Carb, Rice on Rice

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 10.40.31 amScreen Shot 2014-07-28 at 10.07.53 pmThanks to KAL! READ: Enter the Lounge with Kerry Ann LeePerforming poetry at WOMAD. Image from The Big Idea.Thanks, Renee! READ: The Literary Blossom: Renee Liang

IMG_5915

IMG_5675

IMG_5686Thanks to the Hormones 荷尔蒙小姐! READ: Not Just a Girl Band: Interview with Ming Ming from the Hormones

Yum yum yum yum Sichuan Street Noodles.

Can you take the heat? Sichuan:Spice's notorious X Claw chilli oil in the middle.

Thanks to Brad and Jing at Sichuan Spice! READ: Spice Up Your Life

Hard copies!

IMG_6510Thanks, John Lake! READ: Quit Punkin’ Around

Skip Skip Ben Ben and P.K 14 featured in Some TING! 听 #003 and Some TING! 听 #004 this year. Both out on Maybe Mars. READ: Haere Mai Nevin Domer: Getting Maybe Mars to NZ. 

"It's for our non-wedding photo album, of all the guests holding different fruits,"

flat3 posterThanks Perlina and the Flat3 crew! READ: Flat3 in the Super City

The All Seeing Hand as THE BLOB. Image from undertheradar.co.nz.

The All Seeing Hand and that all seeing eyeball at Valhalla 5 July 2014. With Orchestra of Spheres and Seth Frightening.

Thanks Jonny, David and Ben from the All Seeing Hand! READ: High Fiving the All Seeing Hand

A shirt for all those who love BJ.
A shirt for all those who love BJ.

To be in to win, simply like Kiwese and share the link on Facebook, then send your name and address to hellokiwese@gmail.com.

This competition is open to all Kiwese readers!

The lucky winner will be drawn on Monday 5 January and the prizes will be sent from Wellington and Chengdu!

Good luck, happy holidays and thanks for reading.

Kristen

xo

Recipe for Egg & Tomato Soup 西红柿鸡蛋汤

The Kiwese take on a classic Chinese breakfast; egg and tomato soup, xīhóngshì jīdàn tāng 西红柿鸡蛋汤 ! An easy, tasty way to kick off the day with eggs, vegetables and warmth.

This recipe serves one person, just double it for two, etc.

Add whatever green veges you like.
Add whatever green veges you like.
  • Eggs
  • Tomato
  • Garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • Spring onion
  • Vegetable stock or OXO vegetable or chicken stock cube
  • Water
  • Spinach
  • Ginger (optional)
  • Sichuan Spice chilli oil (optional) (but vital, really!)

IMG_6612

Preparation and cooking time: 8 ish minutes ish

  1. Add chopped garlic and tomatoes to a hot saucepan with cooking oil. Fry till fragrant. (finely grated ginger if you want, too)
  2. Dissolve an OXO cube in a cup of hot water. Add to the saucepan.
  3. Add salt. Bring to the boil and down again.
  4. Beat two eggs in a bowl and slowly pour into the soup while stirring, to create a poached/scrambled texture.
  5. Add the chopped spinach or whatever greens.
  6. Immediately serve.
  7. Top with spring onions and a spoon of Sichuan Spice chilli oil.
  8. Eat and be merry!

Super easy! The classic Chinese soup does not usually include other vegetables, but if you’ve got ’em why not jazz it up. I’ve used celery, bok choy, sprouts, kale and broccoli (chopped up small for quick cooking) and they’ve all been great.

Enjoy! 吃吃吃!

Spice Up Your Life! Interview with Brad and Jing

While most of us are repeatedly hitting the snooze button on a Sunday morning, the duo behind Wellington’s first Sichuan street food enterprise are firing up the woks down at Chaffers Market. Kiwese caught up with Jing and Brad from Sichuan:Spice in their nifty Panda trailer for a chat and some deliciously spicy street food!

Sichuan:Spice
Sichuan:Spice

Hey guys, what’s on the menu tonight? *salivates excessively*

  • Panda Pockets: 猪肉韭菜饺子 zhūròu jiǔcài jiǎozi, our handmade pork and chive dumplings.
  • Panda Mian: Sichuan Street Noodles, a wheat noodle with pork and a soya-based sauce.
  • Panda Sheets: 酸辣粉 suān là fěn,  which is glass noodles made of sweet potato starch in a sour and spicy soup!
Yum yum yum yum Sichuan Street Noodles.
Yum yum yum yum Sichuan Street Noodles.

The Panda trailer looks great! How long have you had it now?

This is the third week we have had it now. We got it made from scratch, its pretty special. We used to do everything with a gazebo down at the market on Sunday, which was just so fucking horrible with the wind! One time Jing was trying to pour food into a bowl and she was having to face the wind for the fire cooker to work, then noodles just went all down her front… It has been so much better and easier with the trailer, we are really pleased with it so far!

Spot the panda! Warming up Egmont Street every Wednesday night.
Spot the panda! Warming up Egmont Street every Wednesday night.

Have you guys got a regular schedule each week? 

We rent the parking space here from Ideal Electrical, they are really good people and its not so expensive. That way we don’t have to go through Council. In the summer we’d like to get some tables and stools out the front too!

What got you interested in food and cooking?

Jing: I’m from Mianyang, Sichuan, its really close to Chengdu. I taught myself how to cook and had never really cooked for people other than my family and friends before coming to New Zealand. When we got to Wellington, I really missed the flavours of home. Being brought up in a restaurant environment, I ate a lot of stuff – so I find I can just recall these flavours in my memory while I am cooking.

Boom. Malatang. Fresh glass noodles, vegetables and pork with a spicy kick. Delicious.
Boom. Fresh glass noodles, vegetables and pork with a spicy kick. Delicious.

What was the inspiration for starting Sichuan Spice?

Brad: I spent 12 months in Sichuan. When Jing and I came back here, we found there was nothing in the way of Sichuan food in Wellington, and definitely no real Sichuan street food. We are lucky that Jing can cook it! Her family in China are involved with restaurants, they know a thing or two about food! We just started out at the Friday Night Market on Left Bank for the first twelve months and had a much better response than we expected.

What were you two doing in China and how did you meet?

Jing: I had graduated from University with an accounting major, then I went to Shanghai for six months, but it didn’t work out so well for me so I moved back to Mianyang. It was really tough to find a job as new graduate with no experience. I was working crazy shifts as a hotel receptionist, but it got pretty boring and I felt had no direction, so I started using my spare time to study English and sit the IELTS [International English Language Testing System] test, then see what would happen from there. Even though you have to study English the first two years of uni in China, its not really properly learning it in a way… “老师的口音很重!” “the teacher had a really strong accent” [laughs].

Brad: At the same time, I was teaching English to little kids in Mianyang, which was heaps of fun. I left NZ in 2009 and stayed for six months in South East Asia before running out of money! Both my parents were teachers so I swore never ever to be a teacher, but the teaching job was a fun, easy way to stay out of New Zealand and explore China. I was gonna go have dinner with this other girl [everyone laughs] and then an American guy happened to give me Jing’s email address. Well one thing lead to another and now we are here selling Sichuan food!

Panda at Chaffers Market. Wind no longer an issue!
Panda trailer at Chaffers Market – wind is no longer an issue!

What is the ethos of Sichuan:Spice?

Sichuan food the way it should be. We want our dishes to taste the same as they do in China. We’ve been doing it for two years now and every time we set up we’ll have some of the food, its still just as good now as when we started. Between the two of us they are all dishes we like to eat. If we can’t make something we wanna eat then why bother selling it? First and foremost its about sharing the food with people and getting all that sort of thing across, then of course we gotta try make a profit too.

Can you take the heat? Sichuan:Spice's notorious X Claw chilli oil in the middle.
Can you take the heat? Sichuan:Spice’s notorious X Claw chilli oil in the middle.

Can you tell us a bit about your chilli oils?

Jing: We make them all ourselves in a commercial kitchen across the road from Briscoes, its hidden in the back and no one knows its there! I infuse the oil, then infuse the chilli into the oil. The mildest one has one type of chilli while X Claw has three different types. They all have a málà 麻辣 spice, a lot of that flavour comes from the Sichuan peppercorn which is part of the sauce. Pretty much everyone in Sichuan has a chilli oil at home that they’ve made themselves, so you wouldn’t see many people selling it there. It’s such a big part of our diet – everything from noodles to dumplings involves this chilli oil.

Brad: The biggest difference between our food and the food in Sichuan is that we offer different degrees of spiciness through the chilli oils to make it more accessible. Over there it is either spicy or not spicy.

Some visitors from China enjoying some noodles at the Chaffers Market. Their verdict: "挺好的" ("it's really good")
Some people from China enjoying Sichuan:Spice noodles at the Chaffers Market. Their verdict: “挺好的!” (“it’s really good!”)

How have Wellingtonians responded to your food?

Brad: We thought 70-90% of our customers would be Chinese or Asian, but it’s the other way round! We love getting people to try something a little different and introducing them to the Sichuan flavour. Our cold noodle Panda Sheets 菜凉面 cài liáng miàn are amazingly awesome and have been really popular. People are pretty keen on the Panda Hat wontons we do on Fridays – that really motivated us to keep going with the business. People come back and tell us about how they have developed their own recipes with our chilli oil, one guy did a hot pot with chilli oil on top, its really nice for us to have people enjoying it and experimenting with it at home.

Breakfast time at the Harbourside Market
Breakfast time at the Harbourside Market

What do you think about the street food scene in Wellington?

Brad: Its kind of lacking at the moment, but the quality of the stalls that exist are all pretty good. I think Kiwis don’t really have the same attitude to eating as in Asia, where people eat lots of little bits all throughout the day. Kiwis are often more accustomed to just sitting down for lunch and dinner, although there are definitely more and more people that are getting keen on street food now. That’s what I miss about Asia. There is something different about sitting in a restaurant with a window between you and the outside, and sitting on the street and watching the world go by. It has a push and immediacy that restaurant dining doesn’t have.

What’s next on the cards for Sichuan:Spice?

We are always looking for ways to improve, pick the right dishes for the menu and just grow and develop the business. It’s really fun. We are working towards a Wednesday-Sunday week, but that will need some time to organize. We have lots of people asking for lunch times so we are sorting out the right spot on either Cuba Street, up Courtenay Place end or even somewhere around uni. The trailer makes us a lot more portable, so its all pretty exciting!

Thanks guys! sichuan spice logo

Follow the Panda on Twitter and Facebook for updates. Dishing up the real deal three times a week in Wellington:

Wednesdays: Outside Ideal Electrical on Egmont Street, off Ghuznee Street, 6pm till late

Fridays: Left Bank Night Market, 5pm – 11pm

Sundays: Chaffers Harbourside Market, early till 2pm

 

Flat White Cafe and the Rickshaw Roasters: a Wellington-Beijing Coffee Crew

To live in Beijing is to give oneself to the incredible push and pull of constant human traffic. For a Wellingtonian, sometimes you just need a form of escapism from the urban madness of a city home to 20 million people… and the Flat White Cafes and Rickshaw Roasters coffee havens provide just that.

I visited the Flat White Cafés in Beijing’s 798 Art District [七九八qī jǐu bā, pron. ‘chee jyuw bar’], an area characterised by a short-lived but legendary period of local artists, who squatted and exhibited in the abandoned grid of industrial factories in the late 1990s, laying the grungy foundations for the current underground art scene in China. Nowadays, the area has been vastly commercialised by tourism and private galleries, with the original artists migrating east to Songzhuang in Tongzhou, a district now known in some circles for art, baijiu and punk rock. They are in the 798 though, Line 10 down to Sanyuanqiao then the bus to Dashanzi Qiao, lets be honest, for those who live in Wudaokou, ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat!

798 consumers are thirsty for coffee
798 consumers are thirsty for coffee

But what a glorious thing it is to walk into the Flat White and have one’s senses overwhelmed by familiarities – a cabbage tree, the hum of the coffee grinder, colour prints of Whangamata beaches, pohutakawa trees and white sands, Moog keys, brass and Joe Dukie vocals, Havana, Supreme and Fidel’s posters hung proudly on the walls. The cafés feel cozy and warm – though tapered to a slightly more cashed up type of consumer, it lacks the rugged appeal of Fidel’s. The coffee however, is out of this world.

Michael Hongfu 洪夫

Founder/Boss, Flat White, Rickshaw Roasters

Last month I caught up with original Beijing rén [北京人, Beijinger], Flat White founder and lǎobǎn [老板, boss] and coffee addict Michael Hongfu 洪夫 over a flat white on Cuba Street, during one of his annual trips to New Zealand.

Michael on the buzz
Michael on the coffee buzz. Photo courtesy of Michael.

Ni Hao Michael! So when did you first come to New Zealand?

I first came to New Zealand in December, 1989, to study English. At the time, getting a student visa was the only way we could leave China, and they were limited in number too. In fact, I originally studied to become a fencing instructor at Beijing Physical Education University [北京体育大学, Běijīng Tǐyù Dàxué]. I studied at the Capital Language School on the corner of Taranaki Street and Courtenay Place, lived in Wellington for 12 years, then moved to Auckland in 2002. Wellington is so windy!

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The Flat White 798 Art District Store. Killer Eggs Benedict, though it ain't cheap.
The Flat White 798 Art District Store. Killer Eggs Benedict, though it ain’t cheap.

Where did the idea come from to start a kiwi-style cafe in Beijing?

The reason I started the Flat White was so my friends and I could have good coffee in Beijing [laughs], so we opened the café on Silk Road in 2006. Roger Young from Fidel’s and Geoff Marsland from Havana Coffee have given us really strong support from the very beginning. At the time, we would use Havana beans from Wellington and it had to be sent to China every week. We did it that way for three years. Then we started Rickshaw Roasters in 2009. We have two or three people from Fidel’s come to Beijing each year to help us with technical support. Every time the staff come they really enjoy it, Beijing has a totally different lifestyle to Wellington.

I went into an indescribable nostalgia overload upon seeing this hanging in the cafe
I went into an indescribable nostalgia overload upon seeing this hanging in the cafe

How’s business in Beijing? Are more local people becoming accustomed to drinking coffee?

Some other cafes have started making flat whites, but we are the pioneers of this New Zealand / Australia coffee style in Beijing. All our cafes have WiFi, its important to customers here. The coffee business in Beijing started 20 years ago with the arrival of Starbucks [星巴克, xīng bā kè]. Over the years people’s standards of coffee has been changing, maybe to the point where they never want to drink Starbucks again…

Happy customers in the 798
One happy  customer in the 798! Photo courtesy of Michael.

Are there any further plans to expand the Flat White chain? Students in Wudaokou would lap it up.

We have plans to expand to Shanghai and Guangzhou, as well as other parts of Beijing like Wudaokou. Around five years ago we tried to start one at Beijing Language and Culture University [北京语言大学, Běijīng Yǔyán Dàxué], but it didn’t work out. We actually have a small café at Beijing Foreign Studies University [北京外国语大学, Běijīng Wàiguóyǔ Dàxué], in addition to the one’s in Sanlitun, the Diplomatic Compound, 798 and Chaoyang.

Where do you like to go for coffee in Beijing, apart from the Rickshaw Roasters cafes!

That cafe in Wudaokou, Sculpting in Time 雕刻时光 was really good when it first opened, I would drive there from Chaoyang.

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A divine Flat White. 'Super' beans from Rickshaw Roasters and fresh Wondermilk.
A divine flat white. ‘Super’ beans from Rickshaw Roasters and fresh Wondermilk.

Leo Cush

Espresso Technician, General Manager, Flat White

Back before chūnjié [Chinese New Year] in January, I met Leo at the 751 branch, past the old railroad tracks near the end of D-Park in the 798. The short black he poured me had more kick to it that the past eleven months of ‘měishì kāfēi’ [美式咖啡, American style coffees] at Bridge combined.

Mr Leo Cush
Introducing Mr Leo Cush – traded the Wellington coffee scene for the challenges of Beijing business

Kia Ora Leo! What originally brought you to Beijing?

Travel and coffee brings me here – I was keen to go somewhere a little different and see more of the world. I never intended to come to Beijing, but I heard through the grapevine that Roger was involved with setting up a roastery. I knocked on his door and said “I’m your guy.” So a couple of meetings with Roger and a Skype with Michael on the Chinese side, here we are.

Can you speak any Mandarin?

“我会说一点点!” [wǒ huì shuō yi diǎndiǎn, “I can speak a little bit!”]

Mural in the 798. The buildings were built by the Germans in the 1950s.
Mural in the 798. The buildings were built by the Germans in the 1950s.

What kind of involvement did you have with the coffee scene back in Wellington?

I worked for Coffee Supreme for eight years. So I knew a lot of people, heard about it and had the skill set to do a bit of everything. Matt Trow from Havana Coffee came over and was in charge of roasting, then I was in charge of everything else. I gave Matt Lamason from People’s Coffee his Coffee Supreme certification test years ago, back when he used to work at the Chocolate Fish. He’s done really well – gone pure organic coffee, I don’t know if there’s anyone else doing that today. I gave Nick Clark from Memphis Bell and Flight some training too – I think that was back in Palmerston North!

I thought the coffee labels were quite competitive?

It’s healthy competition. One time a few years back with L’afarre, Havana and Supreme, we went out and had a bowling competition –which Havana won. The next day there was an ad in the paper saying, “Havana is the winning coffee company!” with no mention of bowling [laughs]. Everyone there is really good and talks to each other, help each other out, it’s a really good culture.

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Cuba Street - the coffee and cafe hub of Wellington
Cuba Street – the coffee and cafe hub of Wellington

What ‘s it like over here?

Over at our roastery you can see the coffee and roasting process, it is quite an open door policy, which is both good and bad. One day the President of the China Coffee Association bought some guys from out of town around, he is a really good friend and helps us out a lot  –but these guys had a lot of money, were photographing everything and writing it all down, clearly to go and open a roastery back home. In China people will build an exact copy. In New Zealand we are from a culture where you might take a bit here and there and build your own thing, out of pride.

The Rickshaw Roasters Hall of Fame
The Rickshaw Roasters Hall of Fame

What makes Rickshaw Roasters so special?

It’s basically a slice of home. It’s a New Zealand style roastery dumped in the middle of Beijing. So the coffee is delivered fresh each week, you can get coffee training with us and the coffee is really good. It’s trustworthy  – an honest brand. People that understand that we are serious about the product, we are not filling the coffee out with cheap beans. We have a different ethos compared to other companies here. We’re small – we’re hands on.  Matt left to set up his own café in Qingdao. Beijing is a crazy place to live so he’s gone for the beach, any New Zealander can understand that!

Freshly roasted beans getting a cool off at the roastery
Freshly roasted beans getting a cool down at the Rickshaw Roastery

How has Rickshaw Roasters managed to spread to other cafes over in Gulou and Yonghegong?

Once we really started going a lot of people were giving us good support, like Jade Gray from Gung Ho, who put us in touch with Will from Vineyard Café. There’s no Yellow Pages, you rely on your friends to tell you whose found the good stuff. There are a lot of cheap coffees, and if you’re not passionate about coffee then the whole package falls down. If you spend a bit more, people will buy that second cup and make sure they go to that café for their coffee in future – but that mentality is not so common with a Chinese café owners, more with the foreigners and people who have come home after being overseas for a few years.

The famously fattening full English Breakfast at Vineyard Cafe, with a Rickshaw Roasters flat white
The famously fattening full English Breakfast at Vineyard Cafe, with a Rickshaw Roasters flat white

For the coffee nerds, what kind of gear do Flat White and Rickshaw Roasters use?

WEGA and La Marzocco machines with Mazzer grinders. And for the roaster, Probat have an office here in Shanghai so you have to buy locally through them.

Nice pour
Coffee U Feel: pouring shots at the 751 branch

Flat White Cafe 在那儿?? Many branches all round Beijing, with more to come this year!

See where you can get your fix of Rickshaw Roasters in Beijing. Beiluo Bread Bar is my fave.

NB : The Beijing cafes are not associated with the ‘Famous in New Zealand’ Flat White cafes in London.

NZ-China crema. Image from Rickshaw Roasters.
NZ-China crema. Image from Rickshaw Roasters.

xx Peace and caffeine.