Sunday, 4 November 2012

PSMC Kathina Festival

Sayadaw U Pannathami
Kathina is a Theravada Buddhist festival that is widely celebrated throughout SE-Asia. The festival marks the end of Vassa, the three-month rainy season retreat for Theravada Buddhists. Kathina provides an opportunity for lay Buddhists to express gratitude to monks; they bring donations to temples, especially new robes for the monks.

The festival originates from a legend that thirty monks were travelling with the intention of spending Vassa with Gautama Buddha. However, Vassa began before they reached their destination and they had to stop. According to Buddha's teachings monks shouldn't travel during Vassa (the rainy season) as they may unintentionally harm crops and/or insects during their journey. Therefore, the monks had to stop their journey.

Afterwards, the Buddha rewarded the monks by demonstrating a way to practice sharing and generosity. A lay disciple had previously donated cloth to the Buddha, so the Buddha now gave that cloth to the group of monks and told them to make it into a robe and then offer it as a gift to one of them. A frame, called a Kathina, was used to spread the robe while it was being made.

The Panditarama Sydney Meditation Centre celebrated Kathina with a festival held on Sunday 4th November 2012 at the Villawood Senior Citizens Centre. Approximately 400 people attended.

The weather was beautiful and there was more than enough food for everyone. Aside from a large crowd of lay people, the event was also attended by Sayadaws (monks) from St Marys, Campsie, Canley Vale and of course the Panditarama Centre’s two resident Sayadaws.

Food was offered to the monks at 11am, this was followed by a luncheon for all the lay people who attended. The formal ceremonies started at 12:30pm with participants paying homage to the Buddha by chanting “Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa” three times. This translates from Pali to English as “Homage to Him, the Blessed One, the Exalted One, the Fully Enlightened One."

The lay people then took the five precepts, which are:
  •  Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami - I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.
  • Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami - I undertake the precept to refrain from taking that which is not given.
  • Kamesu micchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami - I undertake the precept to refrain from sexual misconduct.
  • Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami - I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.
  • Suramerayamajja pamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami - I undertake the precept to refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
  The Sayadaws chanted the Metta Sutta and the Adanatiya Sutta. You can find details of these Suttas and many more at
Robe offering

This was followed by a speech delivered by Ko Min Thein on behalf of PSMC, then Dr Daw Khin Than Kywe spoke on behalf of the Kathina sponsors. The sponsors then offered Kathina robes to the Sayadaws. In total there were 12 groups of sponsors.

Sayadaw U Pannathami gave a Dhamma Talk and told the gathering that when you offer Kathina robes you will receive Five benefits …

  • You will not have any obstacles and you will be free to go anywhere as you wish,
  • You will not have a heavy heart to act or do anything ethical,
  • No matter what you eat it won't have any harm.
  • Your belongings won't get destroyed by the five enemies (water, fire, authorities, thieves or persons who dislike you),
  • Nobody will take anything from you without your permission
  • The merit from these actions is shared with all beings.
The final formality of the day was the opportunity for all lay people to offer robes to the monks.

food offering

food line - worth the wait

robe offering
Robe offering

(Photos courtesy of Myo Win - sadhu, sadhu, sadhu.)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Green Peppercorn Restaurant Fairfield

 Lorenza and I shared a great meal with our friends Terence and Sandar to celebrate both Sandar and my birthdays which are within a few days of each other. We had wanted to find a reason to visit the Green Peppercorn Restaurant at Fairfield since they opened a few months ago.

The promise of some great Lao and Thai food, enjoyed in a contemporary, chic environment was well lived up to. The food was delicious and nicely presented. The service was prompt and friendly. We had to wait a while to get a table because on weekends they only take advance bookings for groups of 10 or more. the wait flew by as we joked with some kids playing on the tuk tuk that is part of the decorations.

We had Lao and Thai style green papaya salads (Tam Mak Hoong and Som Tam), it was fun to compare the two flavours together. The Yum Ped (roast duck salad) with lychees and salad greens was a great mixture of sweet and savoury. "Mum's sauce" was great with the marinated BBQ beef and the Lao sausage, the sauce was a spicy dippy sauce with lots of chilli. The crunchy rice salad (Nem Khao) was tasty too.

For dessert Lorenza and I went with some suggestions made by the staff, and we were glad we went with this. Lorenza had fried ice cream and I tried the pandan creme brulee - yum! Sandar had the sticky rice with durian and Terence the pandan waffles.

By the end of the meal it was hard to get up and leave, we were all full and very happy. You can find full details of the Green Peppercorn restaurant at their website here.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The Monkey Trap

I just got home from a short meditation retreat and wanted to share an anology that I came across ...

In India and Southeast Asia, a traditional way to capture monkeys is to put a tempting fruit in a jar with a narrow mouth and chain or stake the jar to the ground. When a monkey comes along smells the fruit and sticks his hand in the jar to grab the fruit. He can't get his hand out while he is holding the fruit, but he won't let go because he has the fruit he wants so much in his hand.

The monkey will struggle for hours to get his hand out, but he will never let go of the fruit. Even when the men return and throw a net over him, he will scream and struggle frantically but never let go of the fruit. Because he will not let go of the fruit, he loses his freedom.

We can laugh and say, "Stupid monkey! It's obvious! Just let go and you can be free!!" But what about us? Maybe we should spend some time figuring out the things we can't let go of and keep us trapped in our own suffering. Maybe we should learn to let go so we can be free.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

You Do Not Need Many Things - A Poem by Ryokan

My house is buried in the deepest recess of the forest
Every year, ivy vines grow longer than the year before.
Undisturbed by the affairs of the world I live at ease,
Woodmen’s singing rarely reaching me through the trees.
While the sun stays in the sky, I mend my torn clothes
And facing the moon, I read holy texts aloud to myself.
Let me drop a word of advice for believers of my faith.
To enjoy life’s immensity, you do not need many things.

- Ryōkan Taigu - (1758–1831)

Monday, 3 September 2012

Tanya & her Mum shared their Lao Yum Salad recipe with us

All the way from Laos, Tanya and her Mum made their family recipe Lao Yum Salad for us and gave us the instructions. Tanya made notes as her Mum made the salad ....

The dressing ingredients:

  •  Yoke only of 5 hard boiled eggs (put the egg white in the salad)
  • 3 tablespoons of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon of crushed garlic (or amount to taste)
  • MSG 1 spoon if you use it
  • 3 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • sugar to taste
  • 5 tablespoons of oil
  • 200g of pork mince *
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
Blend all the dressing ingredients in a mortar and pound lightly with pestle.

The salad ingredients:

  •  Egg whites from hard boiled eggs
  • Lettuce- use a variety of cos, red leaf, romaine, boston etc.,(use iceberg only if necessary) Cucumbers, red onions, tomatoes, carrots, coriander, and any other herb that you like
  • You could also add some roast peanuts
Pour dressing over salad and mix gently in a bowl.

Aussie Yum Salad
(* A footnote from DJ -  the pork minced is cooked first in oil depending on individual's preference from 2TBS to 4TBS. My aunts in Vientiane and my mother would add crushed garlic in the oil to give that nice aroma.)

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Sushi Making Workshop

Tomoko gives us the tips
Tomoko Oka introduced her sushi making workshop by saying that she loves calligraphy, food and cooking. She told us that she wants to promote the idea that Japanese food can easily be prepared at home and the ingredients can be found in any local supermarket.

The workshop was held at Ryokan Gojyuana, a traditional Japanese style inn located in Balmain.

We spent a fun two hours learning basic sushi making techniques, including how to prepare the rice, assemble the ingredients, rolling the nori (seaweed wrap) and then cutting into sizes ready to be served.

I had no idea that medium grain rice was required and that the regular long grain rice does not get sticky enough to use in sushi. Another great tip we got was to use wasabi powder rather than the paste. Tomoko explained it was a more authentic and has a nicer flavour.

Lots of concentration
Some of the fillings we tried included teriyaki chicken, salmon, tuna and mayonnaise, plus cucumber and carrot. There was also some cream cheese that went great with the salmon. Tomoko gave us some other ideas for ingredients to try at home, plus advice on the best vinegar and seasonings to use.

Once cut, we got to try our sushi creations and they all came up very well. Some were a little over filled with rice, with a bit of practice we all worked out how much rice seemed to make the right diameter roll.

Following our sushi making efforts we were offered two different types of Japanese tea to try. This was a refreshing way to finish the workshop. One of the teas also contained roasted brown rice and it was delicious, with a really nutty aroma.

The venue for the workshop was lovely. Linda who hosted the event told us of her plans for the inn and it sounds like it will be a great place to visit in the very near future. Take a look at their website for more information here..

Tomoko’s love of food and Japan really shone through in her fun and friendly delivery of the workshop. She previewed some future cooking and calligraphy workshops that she is planning. We are really looking forward to seeing her again.
Aside form coooking workshops Tomoko also holds caligraphy workshops and offers Japanese language tuition. We can put you in touch with her if you are need to contact her.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Waso - Rains Retreat

Waso is a period when Theravada Buddhist Monks and Nuns observe a three month “Rains Retreat”. During this time they stay in the same monastery each night and avoid travelling. The Monks and Nuns will also increase the intensity of their meditation practices.

During the Rains Retreat many lay Buddhists spend an increased amount of time contemplating the Dhamma and adhering to more ascetic practices, like longer meditation sessions.

The Rains Retreat is called Waso in Burmese and Vassa in Thai. Both words come from the Pali word “vasso” meaning rain. Some people refer to Waso as “Buddhist Lent”. The timing of Waso is based on the lunar calendar, and also coincides with the wet season in South East Asia. While Sydney may not have a wet season Waso is still observed.

The Panditarama Sydney Meditation Centre (PSMC) celebrates the start of Waso with a Robe Offering Ceremony. The day starts with a luncheon offered by the lay community. Blessings are then offered by the Monks and they lead the lay people in chanting in Pali. A Dhamma talk is also given (a discourse from the teachings of the Buddha) and the lay people renew their will to adhere to the Five Precepts.

New robes and other essentials (like rice) are offered to the Monks, in a ceremony that is similar to alms giving in SE Asia.

Knows Pali better then me!
Well over 200 people attended the event this year. There were also Monks who visited from other Burmese temples located at Campsie, Canley Vale,  St Marys and Yennora. The young children who have been attending weekly classes at the centre did some of the chanting on their own, led by one of the Monks, to show the adults how they are progressing. I must admit the children have a much better grasp of Pali than what I do.

The PSMC will also hold some group meditations and a retreat for lay people over the coming months. Visit their website for more information here.

Dhamma Talk
Wonderful lunch offered to all

Thanks to Min Thein for the photos.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Garden July Onward

Getting ready for Spring
We have been getting our garden ready for spring. Digging in some manure, mulching, weeding and getting some vegetable seeds started. This spring, among other things, we will be planting dakon radish, Japanese turnip, purple chow sum, Paris market carrots, a number of varieties of tomato (including Thai pink egg tomato), plus various types of chilli and also lots of herbs.

We don't have a big block of ground but we try to do our best to produce some vegetables and herbs. We also have some grape vines which produce about 50 litres of wine each year (which we top up with some wine made from grapes we purchase).

Seed starter
I would love to grow more, but with a busy work life time gets a but short. I once read a quote from an Italian gardener that went something like this .... "The three fold imperative = grow your own, eat your own, drink your own" I think this is a nice thing to aim for.
for more herbs already Vietnamese mint

for herbs

Sun's Burmese Kitchen

Pork mince rolls
Last night we had dinner with friends at Sun's Burmese Kitchen in Blacktown. Good food at a good price. We had my favorite Burmese dish - goat curry. Plus, pork curry, 3 coloured rice and chicken, a fish cake salad, pork mince rolls andmore.

The goat curry was one of the best I have tried. The pork mince rolls were delicious and something new for us, with the spicy dipping sauce they sure were a hit.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Schifela - Alsace Roast Pork Shoulder

Sunday lunch with Lorenza, plus my parents was just perfect today. It is getting close to the end of winter. The weather was lovely, about 20 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.

For lunch we cooked up roast pork shoulder, with smoked hock and ham. A great recipe from our ancestral home in Alsace. Perfect washed down with a nice riesling.

Lao VIllage Restaurant, Fairfield

waiting outside for a tab
 On Saturday night we made a spur of the moment decision to go eat Lao food at Fairfield. We sent a text to our Lao friend asking if he knew how good a particular place was, his quick response back was "Why, what's wrong with my families place? What's wrong with food from Ban Hom? Why you not got there?".

We got the message loud and clear, we were going to the place run by our friend's relatives no matter what. It was not really a problem because the Lao Village Restaurant in Anzac Ave Fairfield serves fantastic food. It is a small family run business and is always very, very busy. They have limited seating so you take a ticket and wait outside on the stools provided on the footpath. When your turn comes you get seated and it is down to business .... don't waste too much time with idle chat, quickly study the menu, order and get stuck in.

Crispy quail
Squid & BBQ pork
Rob + Quail
 We had squid salad, BBQ pork, crispy quail and sticky rice. We were very satisfied, the quail is the signature dish and is fantastic, lots of meat for such a small bird and very crispy. We cam, we ate and we said a quick "sabaidee and sok dee" (hello and good bye) to our friend's Aunt and we were out the door.

After dinner we had a drink and listened to a band at the Fairfield RSL supper club bar and then made the trip home. Enjoyable - kob jai  lai lai der (thanks very much) to our friend Sai for insisting we eat at Lao Village again.
RSL Club

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Sushi Making Workshop - Balmain

In my post about the Bankstown Bites food festival, I mentioned that one of the people that joined us on a food tour was organising Japanese cooking classes in Balmain.

Well the next one is a Sushi making workshop on 11th August 2012. See the picture for full details. It sounds like a lot of fun.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

I watch people in the world

This poem by the hermit Zen Buddhist poet Ryokan always serves to remind me to keep things simple ...

Ryōkan Taigu
I watch people in the world
Throw away their lives lusting after things,
Never able to satisfy their desires,
Falling into deeper despair
And torturing themselves.
Even if they get what they want
How long will they be able to enjoy it?
For one heavenly pleasure
They suffer ten torments of hell,
Binding themselves more firmly to the grindstone.
Such people are like monkeys
Frantically grasping for the moon in the water
And then falling into a whirlpool.
How endlessly those caught up in the floating world suffer.
Despite myself, I fret over them all night
And cannot staunch my flow of tears.
Things I have learnt from travel

- Ryōkan Taigu - (1758–1831)

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Can curry cause hallucinations?

Good advice
We attended the Burmese Friendship Association Curry Night at Ermington and had a great evening. The answer to my question in the title of this blog is – yes it can - read on!

Burma Campaign Australia

After an introduction from Dr Malia of the Burmese Friendship Assoc, Zoe from Burma Campaign Australia gave an insightful speech about the importance of not loosing focus on human rights issues in Burma. She emphasised that while there may be a lot of positive signs coming from politicians in Burma there are still a lot of issues that need attention.

Zoe also suggested that while Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party only holds 6% of seats in Burma the “civilian government” are happy to promote feelings of unity and well being, but how will they react after next election when the NLD may take 50% or more of the seats in parliament?

curry time

Curry Time

If you see a sign stating “Tomato Sauce Burmese – Very Hot” you should believed it. If the hosts are warning you about the sauce it is guaranteed to be more than just hot and it was. I noticed every Anglo Aussie who tried it had just a little speck on their spoon and then decided to leave it alone.

The curries on offer were fantastic, goat meat; beef, chicken, seafood and vegetarian varieties were on offer. Plus, pickled vegetables, rice and mohinga (fish soup as a starter). All home cooked and full of flavour. I love a good goat meat curry, and the one on offer was delicious. You have to be careful of the bones, but the taste of a good serving of goat is amazing.


This was when I started hallucinating …

Have you ever seen Burmese line dancing? Was it the tomato sauce or was I really seeing the Burmese John Denver singing “Country roads, take me home. To the place I belong, West Virginia, Mountain Mama Take me home, country roads”. I had to wonder when the Mountains of West Virginia moved to the outskirts of Yangon.

The fun continued when anyone who thought they could sing took to the stage and had go … we heard “Proud Mary” sung by the Burmese John Fogarty, “Fernando” by the Burmese ABBA, and the list went on.

Lorenza and I loved it – these people did not care about anything but having some fun. It was infectious – who could not enjoy themselves in the midst of such a fun and friendly bunch of people. I started believing John Denver really was Burmese!

Was the door prize rigged?

Another fun part of the night was the draw of the lucky door prizes and raffle tickets. The people at the table next to us must be the luckiest family alive – every person at the table won a prize – next time I am sitting with them!

The raffle and door prizes was fun – they made sure lots of people got a small prize which made everyone feel included. I was really touched when some of the people we shared our table with gave their prize away to a kid who had not won anything. It put a smile on the young boys face and made everyone feel warm and fuzzy.

Lovely traditonal dancing

Traditional dancing

Three beautiful young ladies performed some traditional Burmese dances. They told a story in the dance which I must admit I did not really follow. That aside their costumes and dancing were lovely.

Dessert & More Dancing

Dessert line
You can tell from the photo of the line up for dessert that the offerings were delicious. After everyone had tasted the pastries, etc there was more serious dancing done – the Chicken dance, the Macarena, the Bunny Hop, the Hokey Pokey and all those favourite party dances were encouraged plus a conga line through the tables – hell after a good curry why not have some fun!

Thanks for a great night!

Bankstown Bites Food Festival

Saigon Place
Lorenza and I lived in Bankstown before we were married (wow – seems like yesterday). When we heard about “Bankstown Bites” the Bankstown City Council’s food festival we thought we would take a look and see what has changed.

When we moved from Bankstown being adventurous with food in western Sydney was a beef and black bean dish at the local Chinese. Things sure have changed in 20 years or so.

Wide range of foods

The food festival itself was in a small park not far from the station. There was a number of interesting food stalls, with offerings ranging from Middle Eastern to South East Asian cuisines. The Bankstown Arts Centre was also open and you could see demonstrations by local artists and take part in workshops. They also had examples of their work on sale.

When we first arrived we were starving so we headed direct to the gourmet gozleme stall. This was a great starter.

Loved her Pad Thai

Green Papaya, Crab & Sticky Rice

Then we saw the lady at the Thai food stall making green papaya salad - we just had to have some! She put together a spicy, sweet and sour salad for us, plus added some tiny crabs to the mix as well. We also ordered sticky rice with banana from the same stall.

We shared a small table in the park with a friendly Vietnamese guy and his young daughter. She was devouring a great looking Pad Thai and only paused for introductions and a cute smile. He told us his life story while we had our salad.

making our papaya salad
The papaya salad was great. The tiny little crabs were so salty they really added a lot to the dish. You quickly suck the tiny bit of flesh from them, get a zap of salt and discard the shells.

 A Short Stroll to Saigon

One of the highlights of the festival was the short food tours run by the council. The themed tours included the “Fresh Food & Spice Extravaganza”, “Cocktail of Delights”, “Tasty Treats from the Middle East” and a “Taste of Asia”. Plus, the tour we managed to get tickets for a “Short Stroll to Saigon”. The tours were very popular, we called and booked a few days in advance and they had almost booked out.

Our three stops on the tour were:

Pho Vietnamese Cuisine – a restaurant specialising in North Vietnamese dishes (funny it is now in Bankstown’s little “Saigon”). They served up some great examples of traditional food from the north – deep fried spring rolls, fresh beef rice paper rolls (these were fantastic) and crispy chicken. The owners were very friendly and explained which sauces went with what dish, etc.

Pho Vietnamese Cusine
Very tasty dishes and because it is from the north of Vietnam the flavours of the sauces are just a bit different from the southern Vietnamese food we are used to when we visit Cabramatta.

Very friendly people and great food - find them at Shop 15/256 Chapel Rd, Bankstown Ph: 9708 6661.

Banh Mi Bo Ko
Phat Dat Restaurant – specialise in fresh noodle soup, ranging from seafood to spicy beef. They claim to have the best Vietnamese fish sauce in town. The owner greeted us and we soon found he has a great personality for the front of house. At first we thought the owners name was Dat but he did not look too Phat (sorry bad joke).

The place has only been open five months and from what we sampled we hope it lives up to its name which we found translates to “good fortune”.

They served us samples (and they were huge samples) of Pho with pork balls, crispy chicken, spring rolls and then a bonus beef stew which was absolutely delicious. The stew was called “Banh Mi Bo Ko” – it is number 7 on the menu board and well worth a try.

The service was fast and friendly, the prices looked great and the flavours were too. You can find Phat Dat at 303 Chapel Rd, Bankstown Ph: 9790 6401.

Nature Care & Acupuncture Centre – was the last stop on our tour. They sell an endless array of Chinese herbs, tonics, teas and balms. They gave us samples of some teas – some promised to improve our eyesight and sexual function, others to help the flow of Qi and limit belching, while others were claimed to be able to improve thinking and the resistance to infections. They also have an acupuncture clinic.

Herbal shop
I must admit that I have often peeked inside stores like this but felt a bit too daunted to enter because of the huge array of herbs and things that I have no idea about. The owner helped us understand the many uses of the herbs and teas. They were also very happy to do some quick consultations about what would best help relieve various symptoms of our fellow tour participants.

On the owner’s recommendation Lorenza bought some dried chrysanthemum and dried roses to make tea with, which he said would settle her stomach and aid digestion. Interestingly, the English brand name of the dried roses is “Rural Amorous Feelings” so I must take Lorenza for a country drive soon I think.

We spotted a big jar containing …. Mmmm something? And found out it was sea cucumbers – I grilled the owners wife on what they are used for but did not fully understand the answer.

Rural Amorous Feelings?


$5 - what can you get for $5?

The tour went for about 1 hour was cost $5 – yes $5 – what can you get for $5 dollars these days? Some great food and an interesting walk in Bankstown that’s what! Thanks to Bankstown Council and the restaurant owners and herbal shop for helping us enjoy ourselves so much. Our other tour participants were also very happy and friendly making it a lot of fun.

Frank & Tomoko cooking classes soon

Japanese cooking classes

One of our intrepid fellow tourists, Tomoko told us she is planning some Japanese cooking classes in the near future in Balmain so stay tuned for some info on that. She already runs Japanese caligraphy classes so why not some cooking as well!



Sweets & Coffee

To finish our day we had a coffee and some sweets at Chehade El Bahsa & Sons Sweets shop at 288 Chapel Road South. Great coffee and an amazing array of biscuits, pastries and sweets. We have been told that next time we should try the sweet, soft cheese.

Checkers in the park

From the sweet shop we walked to the other side of the rail line, on our way we came across a few groups of Vietnamese folks playing cards and a kind of checkers in a small park. The concentration on the games was intense and I have a feeling there was a lot riding on some of the card games. Looked like fun to me!

See you there next year!

a box of Slivovice anyone?

In 22 years Bankstown has changed a lot – the best it used to offer was Chinese or the roast at the local RSL, now it is like a trip around the world with no passport or visa required.

One thing that has not changed is that Bankstown Cellars are still in the same spot and for a small shop they offer a really interesting range of Greek, Croatian, Russian and a myriad other offerings of wines and spirits from around the globe. We stopped there just before leaving and grabbed a jar of Marrons in liquor for a future dessert.