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Where's Jonny? Care to dine with me? You would think that 11 years of daily food tasting for a living might put me off?......au contraire! Chomp away with me across 6 continents. Seduced like a bloodhound to the scent of good food, I anticipate the misty waft of steaming broths, the satisfying crunch of mudbugs and the vibrant aroma of freshly pulverised lemongrass. Buon appetito

The best YHA in the world?

NEW ZEALAND | Wednesday, 18 July 2007 | Views [2552]

Stale sweat, skids on the bedsheets, threadbare carpets, cheap pasta cooked to death and pot noodles all spring to mind when discussing hostels.  Most follow this business model - but not this one.  True to its name....."Smylies" YHA in Springfield made us smile.

Of all the hostels, in all the towns, in all the world and SPRINGFIELD has the best one!  The best that is, that I have visited in 6 months, touring 12 countries.

The deep fried offerings of New Zealand have so far failed to excite the palate and we've craved simple, REAL, comfort food.

Temperatures are typically sub zero and I've been willing to sell both my kidneys for anything home cooked.  WHY DOES NO-ONE COOK shepherds pie, meatballs, Bangers and mash, roast dinners, bacon butties, chicken curry, coq au vin, Irish stew (I could go on) and/OR ANY pudding with hot custard????????????  Believe me, Maria and I have been fantasising most nights about this stuff.

So, why on earth does Joy at the cafe in Springfield think she's Nigella Lawson because she can cook ciabatta?  I mean she slops BBQ sauce on the top with fatty bacon, cheese and mayo.  Its muck Joy.  Her lasagne looks dried out and no-one has introduced the lady to vegetables.

After 2 days living above a Springfield pub in a room directly adjoined to the kitchen extractor fan we decided to bail out.

Our fleeces impregnated with the stench of chip fat we drove an extra 3 minutes up the straight road towards Smylies YHA.

There were only dorms or motel rooms left so after agreeing to pay the extra cash we were taken to a huge self contained unit with a fully functional kitchen, en suite bathroom, TV etc.  Well at least I could cook us some good food.

The owner mentioned that for an extra 35 dollars they could cook us breakfast and dinner.  He mentioned that there were some Thai guests coming and that if we enjoyed rice dishes there'd be plenty of selection.

I shuddered to think what kind of a mess this would end up.  I mean, his kitchen pe were going to try and cook Thai food for Thai people!!  It could only end in disaster.

Despite my misgivings we did agree to the deal as we'd had very little good food anyway - and how bad could it be?! 

Later that evening we returned to the YHA after a day walking and pretending to be characters from Lord of the Rings.  The owners said there was a spa we could use and some beutifully heated reading rooms.  A spa!  Not your average hostel.

Despite my cold I was detecting a homely tomatoey waft from a side door.  tasty things were being cooked.  It was actually a beef casserole which was to form part of the evenings meal.

We sat down at a wooden table in a large room with an open kitchen.  I could spy an immaculate food preparation area with several flashy gadgets, mixers, bread tins, knives and the like.

Marias slow cooked beef casserole emerged with a long tail of steam whisping behind it like a brides train.  The dark meat was perfectly tender and I watched as Marias fork melted into the large chunks.  It came with rice (mash would have been her first choice) but was eaten none the less quickly. 

I had explained when we checked in that I hadn't eaten beef since the BSE crisis.  The cooking lady was sympathetic and said she'd construct something special for me.  That was nice.  I feared the worst.

Out came a plate.  Upon it lay a freshly cooked omlette containing veggies and pieces of chicken, there were also two fillets of quickly pan fried salmon with oriental spices, some rice and a dressed salad of fine leaves.  Crusty bread was brought to the table with a jug of water.

As we ate we discussed food with the cooking lady.   She explained that along with her Dutch husband they took ownership of the building 18 years ago as they were keen skiers.  She was obviously passionate about food and told me they had travelled Europe over many months.  She had learned how to cook European food and even bake bread.

After a very tasty and totally unexpected main course a dessert of light mousse served in a clear ramekin was delivered with segments of mandarin on top.  We were offered teas of varying nature and we both opted for green tea.

What excellent value by anyones standards we thought.

The following evening it was noodles in a fully flavoured stock of chicken with minced porky pieces. mmmmmm  Dark leaves of pak choi floated around and a half boiled egg sat on top.  There was a seaweed salad and crunchy vegetable accompaniments.  What a balance of harmonious flavours! The comforting sensations we had imagined were becoming a reality. 

The "Thai" people turned out to be in fact Taiwanese but they seemed equally enthralled by the hosts attempts at Asian cooking.

A French style dessert of soft chocolate and poached pears was a grand finale.  On the advice of one Taiwanese chap we took barley tea back to our rooms.  How had we stumbled upon such good luck?

Having been offered English breakfast or Asian we opted for the latter.  Bang on nine O'clock a there was a tap tap on the door and two trays of miso soup, salmon flakes, green teas, rice and seaweed were handed to me.  It was hot, refreshing and ever so cleansing.  I felt a new man especially having passed on the grease.

This lady was clearly able to cook superlative comfort foods and use fresh New Zealand ingredients like no where we'd been before.  

Additionally she could cook the most amazing Asian dishes using knowldge and passion.

We had found a place with someone who wanted to cook and who really cared about food.

Did I mention that she was Japanese?


Tags: Food & eating

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