Monday, 12 December 2011

Chronicling the Courageous Character of Clotted Cream

Some people fear it, others covet it. It is as rich in history and tradition as it is in controversy and calories. The dairy devil presents an air of soft mildness but fears none and stands sturdy on its own solid feet. It has ripped through the crumbs of many a scone and clung like an iron sloth to the back of countless butter knives. The delicate yet treacherous terror of the tea room, I present to you, clotted cream. 

Cream is a common word used in the contemporary languages of today. Whipped cream, ice cream, shower cream, hand cream.  The list goes on. Most conjure up sensations of softness, fluffiness, things that are light and airy and sweet and gentle and moisturising in nature. Not the case for the clotted cream. If all the palatable powers of milk were boiled down into a thick viscus syrup and then encased in the deepest bowels of the Earth to be forged into a solid diamond of epic dairy divinity, that jewel would be clotted cream. 

This cousin of cream concoctions is more solid than liquid. The pale white of milk has given way to a rich gold tinted beige epitomising the colour that is cream. Straight from the tub, it has the grain of frozen ice cream and the sticky viscosity of ice cream that has been slightly thawed. Once agitated, the consistency softens to a few steps harder than a refrigerated honey with less drip and more pull. This stuff will hold its shape at room temperature. Butter will melt and liquify the more you move back and forth over a piece of toast or a split scone slipping easily off the knife and soaking into the crumb of your edible platform. You will most likely have to fight clotted cream and sacrifice the beauty of your baked good if it is your first time dealing with this dairy product. But it is worth it. 

It has the essential velvet creaminess that all good milk produce should have, but amplified into this luscious creme de la creme of creams. Whipped and poured creams have their uses, but they are so easily lost beneath the stronger flavours of whatever they have been paired with. Clotted cream is what you want if you want to taste what dairy is, what milk is, the reason why those gorgeous globules have been floating around in that opaque colloid. Clotted cream has all the delightful silky dairy flavours intensified in a sturdy body that sits with its head held high atop your scone supporting the fruity conserves you have dribbled over it. I encourage you to indulge, but in moderation, or you will end up like me... 

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Monks and Mussels in a Dark Dungeon of Delicious Delights

Belgo is a well-known chain of Belgian restaurants in London and the one that I have frequented through the years is Belgo Centraal in Covent Garden. Tucked away between the cobblestone streets, this quirky dungeon-like basement bistro is brimming with epicurean delights. They are most famous for their mussels which are prepared in a variety of ways and presented to patrons in polished pots by waiters clad in monk-like robes of the middle ages. 

They don't just serve mouthwatering mollusks. On this occasion, along with a pot of provenÇal moules, I ordered the spaghetti with roast artichokes and vegetables in carrot sauce. The portion was generous and I had to marvel at the massive size of the asparagus spears that perched upon my pasta. I was most curious about the carrot sauce, which is what motivated me to order the meal in the first place. It was light, as advertised, and carried the faint sweetness and orange tint of the tapered root. The roasted vegetables were nice and chunky which always makes me happy as it enables you to experience a range of texture and flavour within the same bite of the same vegetable. You get the softer sweeter epidermis of the cooked ingredient followed by the cleaner milder essential fragrances that are locked away inside, which is particularly prevalent with the multi-layered artichoke pieces. It was both fun (copious culinary components to play with!) and satisfying (nice hefty mound of al dente pasta) to eat and the dish complemented the saucy mussels very nicely. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Floudering around a Rocking Plaice to Perch your Soles

When someone is asked to name a signature British dish, what do they usually say? Bangers and mash, toad in the hole, bubble and squeak? More often than not, one answer will trump all others: fish and chips. First time tourist, born and bred local or pub crawler, you are bound to have bite of this British classic when you are in merry England. Some are good, some are bad, some are cheap, some attempt to go gourmet. Salt or ketchup or vinegar, whatever your condiment of choice is, most people are open to munching down on this meal, even those that tend not to like seafood. Hurrah for chippies and their perpetual peddling of plumping provisions! 

We walked down to a well-known chippy near Covent Garden that advertises itself as being the oldest existing chippy in London. The quaintly named Rock and Sole Plaice (get it?) is a standard small and simple shop with a few tables that sprawl out on to the sidewalk. They have freshly fried fillets of cod, haddock, plaice and a few others that have faded from my feeble memory and of course, plenty of chips. Chips meaning real chips. Chunky cuts of deep fried potato. None of that anorexic shoestring nonsense.

I ordered haddock and chips. Service is quick there, as it should be in any plaice (get it?) whose primary means of cooking is a deep fryer (ever thought about the irony of that? I'm more likely to be fat and slow if i frequent fried food franchises but cheap chippies and chippy-like chains have to provide my food fast... and often skinny...shoestrings and such). 

The fillet was generous and encased in a golden brown batter that had a real crunch in its bite. Battering through the barrier of batter revealed a thick slab of succulent white fish flesh. The batter was crisp, and although pack a hefty crunch, was still light and did not weigh down and dull the delicate flavour of the fish meat. The chips were similar in terms of internal structure: crisp coating protecting a moist and fluffy core. The house made tartare sauce was scrumptious but they provide a decent array of condiments for diners to choose from including staples like salt and malt vinegar.

In addition to various fish fillets, the shop also has other humble traditional offerings like spotted dick and steak and kidney pie, which we couldn't help but order. The pie was surprisingly satisfying and well made. Of course, the massive platter of fish and chips was more than filling alone, we wanted to sample the savoury pocket size pastries we spotted in the display case. 

The sturdy little bugger was bigger than I expected. Still a single serve portion, it seemed ever so slightly bigger than other little pies. It held its shape beautifully, round and upright like a mighty colosseum, but still cute and relatively petite. The filling was well seasoned and had just the right viscosity and ratios of ingredients to accompany the flaky pastry crust. Kidney and steak... wee-bull... mmm pie... 

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Stewing in Throngs of Tumultuous Tourists

It is no secret that I adore food that comforts. I am not referring to spray cheese, triple decker burgers, chips or ice cream. When I use the term comfort food, I refer to flavour, texture, history (not just in the worldly sense, but your history as an individual with personal experiences regardless of how old you are), food that conjures up a sense of tradition (again, how ever long-established that may be for you) and familiarity (in a good way!), taking you to that warm safe cosy place in your subconscious where your senses breathe a welcome sigh of relief and you forget all the troubles of the day for the time being. That is what I feel comfort food is, a private culinary refuge through the doors of your taste buds and olfactory senses. 

For me, nothing can get more comforting than a good hearty stew. The textures of the individual components of each stew can vary from carrots with a smooth bite, soft fluffy chunks of potato, tender juicy meat, soft succulent cabbage to the fluid broth that cradles everything in its warm embrace. But the beauty of a slow cooked stew is that all theses textures meld together in one pot within a single broth so that the once isolated flavours and textures are forever bound together in a harmonious household of gastronomic wonder. They may maintain their unique characteristics but they have joined hands in a united accord to stand together for the greater good of the stew. 

This particular encounter came on a day out with my parents in London. We had been walking for a while in central London and were caught in the overflowing throngs of the city's omnipresent tourists. We needed an escape, fast. The next restaurant in our sight was a Garfunkel's. We thought. We dove in. The horror. Every table was packed with cameras, shopping bags, maps, water bottles and foreign multi-accented conversation. Tourists had already invaded the diner. But we weathered the unrelenting xeno-storm and wedged ourselves into a tiny table in front of a till. I needed a way out. One look at the menu and I knew I had one. Irish stew. Overpriced? Yes. Quality? Not that great. But it still did the job. The lamb was tender but lacked the depth of flavour a quality piece of meat carries with it. The pear barley provided the sustenance I required to fight of the flocks of foreigners (I know, I'm not an Anglo-Saxon but I don't consider myself a tourist in the typical sense when I am in the UK). Pearl barley is so fun to eat. Soft and slippery but with an oat-like bite and substantial density like an oversized grain of rice. Also, even though it is great as soaking up other flavours, it never loses its own fragrance of sweet grain. Despite being mass produced from a run of the mill family restaurant chain, the stew was still  a stew, hearty through and through, delivering the smoky delicious depth that one should always encounter when diving into a bowl of satisfying stew.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Ruby Red Rasberries Caught In Suspension

Does jelly have a bad reputation? I'm not sure anymore. I think at one point people seemed to think that gelatin based desserts were a cheap and sugary cop out for a sweet finish to a meal. Perhaps the ridged mountain mould of translucent jiggly red stuff is a bit dated. Truffle terrines, champagne jelly and mango caviar are just some examples of the culinary hydrocolloid at work in our contemporary cuisine. I will still love jelly as a dessert. It is light, soothing, sweet, refreshing whilst retaining that satisfying bite and sensual slippery jiggle that makes it so easy to eat. On a tea break at Marks and Spencer with Mummy dearest, I couldn't help but pick out a petite pot of ruby red raspberry jelly. I think the colour and fruit appeals to people of all ages: if you're a child with no teeth, an adult wanting a treat, if you're a granny with no teeth, it's all good! And who can resist those fat whole red raspberries suspended in their original form in a sea of delicate but supportive and sweet bovine based extracts? Healthy stuff caught in suspension!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Tantalizing Tea Time Tongue Treat

As a child, I never really liked to eat meat. Perhaps my initial encounters with carne were unpleasant and so sparked an extended resentment towards anything meatier than a chicken. Actually it was only quite recently that my taste for flesh has shifted. My carnivorous side seems to have been awakened during my habitation of the land of jellied eels and spotted dick. Honestly, I don't think it was any particular spectacular foogasm over a steak that triggered it, more like a gradual transition from carb-dependency to flesh-friendly feeding. 

This, however, is not what most people would consider the ordinary cut of beef. Even at the Brass Rail, this is kept hidden under the counter until someone asks for it. Ox Tongue. The Brass Rail's main attraction is the salt beef. Salty, soft and beefy. But in my book, there's no way it could stand up against the ox tongue. Don't let the anatomical reference put you off. Ox tongue has all the savoury beef flavours you look for in regular beef but with a lighter cleaner finish. The meat is ridiculously tender you could tuck in to a platter without any teeth. It's also not as salty as the beef, so I find it much easier to shovel down my gullet. Honestly, it's like a softer beef with less sinew or grain to fight through with just as much, if not more, flavour. 

My favourite order is a regular ox tongue on focaccia with mustard and a gherkin on the side. We've been going to the Brass Rail as far back as I can remember, and I was glad to see it still around after they renovated the building a while back. Before my red meat days I would get a plate, a knife and a fork and steal my parents' pickles to munch on whilst everyone else worked on their sandwiches. Now, this sandwich is one of the reasons I am more than happy to return to London every year. That and clotted cream, but that's another story. 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Peter Pan and the Potato Pasta Pie

I love carbs. Did I tell you I love carbs? I love carbs. Always have. I can eat carbs with carbs and have carbs on the side with carbs for dessert. Admittedly, it's probably the primary contributor to my corporeal chub but it has made me happy. I remember reading a children's book that involved a messy little girl who had spaghetti sandwiches for lunch. I was inspired. Since then, almost every time we have spag-bol at home I have to make a spaghetti sammich. Sometimes just a sloppy joe (bread and meat sauce) but a spag-bol-buttie is much more fun. The noodly excitement and saucy goodness with the double whammy comfort punch of starch and starch? Eureka! Tis like magic to my (slightly warped) taste buds! 

Getting more to the point, I was at Hong Kong Disneyland some time ago and just after the parade we went into a bakery on Main Street to sample some of their old time wares. I love nice display cases and Disneyland has yet to disappoint. Cakes, pies, puddings and sandwiches lined the shelves that were bathed in a cosy golden glow. One thing immediately caught my greedy eye. The traditional treat with a quirky twist. The Pasta Bolognese Pie. I had to get it.

After purchasing the potato topped pie we adjourned to an alfresco table to bask in the fairy tale fanfare of the bustling fantasy boulevard. On the surface, the pastry appeared to be nothing more than a petite personal cottage pie. Cute and comforting, I dove into the creamy mash crust. Suddenly there was a burst of texture! Soft, but noodly, the al dente strands sent tempting vibrations up through my plastic spork. The spark of red meaty sauce glistened through the sea of smushed spuds. A golden crust encased all the carb rich calories from beneath. I wanted to eat it. Seasoned mildly, the contrast of silky smooth mash, slippery saucy spaghetti and flaky pastry crust melded together into a celestial carb concoction I still crave for today. It's probably not for everyone, especially since it's the antichrist for Atkins, but for those who dwell in the devilish delights of carbohydrates, indulge in the hot carb-on-carb action! 

The Milky Madness of Street Side Beach Buns

Going to the beach has always been an integral part of our family recreational habits. Whether on a short stay to scout new seaside sites or on a lazy long weekend for lounging around the littoral with the lobsters and limpets... “Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail, “There's a porpoise close behind us and he's treading on my tail!” See how easily the lobsters and the turtles all advance. They are waiting on the shingle, will you come and join the dance? ... :D 

Anyway, we were in Hua Hin in the Gulf of Thailand a while back and after a spicy seafood smorgasbord on the sand we heard the familiar chimes of an ice cream vendor slowly sauntering by. Like Pavlov's dogs we start salivating for our sweet treats. This particular vendor was selling a street stall staple of Thai hawker food. It's basically homemade ice cream (milk or coconut in flavour) with different toppings like corn, peanuts, nata de coco, jellies, condensed milk, evaporated milk, taro, yellow peas, red bean etc and the list goes on. You can choose to have your cold collation served in a plastic cup or, as I thoroughly enjoy being a carbohydrate devotee, in a hotdog bun. The soft fluffy nature of the bread is perfect for soaking up all the sweet goodness of your melting ice cream and makes a great insulator between your fingers and the frozen frostiness it radiates. Results? Your delicious dessert stays contained within itself, your fingers don't freeze, the milky meltwaters are sucked up by the spongy bread thus keeping you dry and you can eat the whole darn thing! And it's DELICIOUS! 

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Spicy Stingray: Stand By For Action!

Back to the streets of KL with this delectable delight for any connoisseurs of colloquial cuisine, particularly those with a preference for pelagic provender or in other words foodies fond of fish. Cod, salmon, tuna, sardine – these are all names that we encounter far too often on supermarket shelves and in restaurant menus of every caliber. Aside from problems with overfishing and sustainability, these poor fishes could really use a break from the fisherman's spotlight just as our taste buds should be given a fresh zephyr of seafaring flavours. 

Whether freshwater or oceanic, we all want a taste of sunshine and fresh flowing water when we dine on fish and other aquatic animals. Stingray provides just that. So it may not share the same visual appearance as a stereotypical snapper on a dinner plate, in fact, its broad flat physique may perplex people as to how one could possibly enjoy eating any part of its discus like form. Let me enlighten those who have yet to experience the delicate wonders of the snow white flesh of the stingray. The spines of cartilage that spread through the fish lay flat and are partially fused forming a stiff ridged platform with full steaks of solid supple without any bony interruptions. Just get whatever your eating utensil is (fork, spoon, chopsticks, fingers) and nudge the flesh from one edge and watch as it slides off like a giant tectonic slab of juicy protein goodness. 

This particular piece has been smothered in spicy chili paste and grilled in a banana leaf. It is then served with sliced okra and a cut calamansi for you to squeeze over everything. The chili paste is crammed with intense flavour. You'll get sucker-punched with salt, your sinuses slapped with scorching heat and a smokey savoriness will scintillate your senses and leave you salivating for more. That little calamansi adds much more than its petite size gives it credit for. The tart sour with a hint of sweet and fresh citrus cuts right through the richness of the chili without breaking a sweat. And let's not forget about the star of the show, the stingray! Don't let the pale opaque flakes of succulent flesh fool you into thinking it is meek and flavourless. It stands up to the seemingly overpowering chaos of the chili. The calm gentle cool compliments the fiery madness perfectly. I really do love my grilled stingray :) Stingray! Stingray! Anything can happen in the next half hour!!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Girigiri Onigiri a.k.a. Bumblebee Tuna

Since I've been on a such a nostalgic emotional trip back to my days in Japan, I was more than happy to explore the aisles of a new Japanese supermarket that opened up in Sukhumvit 49 near Villa and Samitivej Hospital, UFM Fuji Super! It's tiny but provides more than the essentials for those looking for a substitute for an actual Japanese grocers. Just a few steps in (through the wrong door... I walked in through the exit first...) and BAM! Onigiri (rice balls) and bento boxes!! I start raiding the defenseless onigiri and hoard them in my dinky basket. What I am astonished by is the price range. You can get onigiri here for 30 baht!! It's like the convenience stores in Tokyo!! or the 99Yen shop!! Usually, sticking anything under the label of "Japanese" food sends the price through the stratosphere. Admittedly, you can get a lunch box of rice and various Thai toppings from the next counter for the same price, but STILL! I could never bring myself to buy 100 baht onigiri from the high end gourmet markets in town, so this made me very happy.

 This particular one looked special. Most of the onigiri have the ingenious Japanese packaging that keeps the seaweed separate so it remains crisp up until you eat it. This one has the nice translucent paper wrapping. I dropped by after work so it was getting late. The shelves of ready to eat food had clearly been ravaged by earlier hungry hordes. This is an onigiri with raw tuna in soy sauce. 50 baht, kinda pricey, but I wanted to give it a shot anyway.

I've always thought that onigiri are adorable. Even as a child playing with miniature food from my Sylvania collection, before I knew what an onigiri was, I would think these tiny white lumps with the black panels look so cute! Here the seaweed has been in contact with the rice so instead of being crisp, it is very soft and won't fight you when you try to bite through it. I think your roasted seaweed should either be fresh and crisp or delicate and soft, when it is in between, it will fight you to the death.

If you are looking for crazy hyper intense flavours then you are in the wrong place. The humble onigiri provides a comforting full bite of wholesome clean flavours. The rice, the hint of salt, the umami of the seaweed and the burst of flavour from whatever is encased in the soft fluffy white grains. The piece of tuna wasn't particularly big or small, but felt like it was just the right size for the onigiri. Like an intrepid explorer working your way through the mysterious vast unknown, you take a bite after bite of your onigiri, wondering if your teeth will strike the coveted cache of taste bud tingling filling. Onigiri excavation adventure! Fun, cute, delicious and filling! Also cheap and very portable! Onigiri for everybody!!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

How would you like your coffee? BLACK?! Like this syrup!?!

I am a huge fan of squidgy things, especially desserts. Ice cream, meringue, mousse, jelly, panna cotta, custard, pudding – I love them all. There's just something about the silky texture as it spreads over your palette that brings out breadth of flavour within whatever it is you're eating. It's so easy to eat, so forgiving to your mouth that you can't help but feel that comfort. It's sensual, but safe. 

This is another white and squidgy item from Ootoya's menu that I absolutely adore. Soy milk Pudding! a.k.a. tounyuu no buramanje with kuromitsu (black syrup). The pudding is incredibly delicate in flavour, but don't get me wrong, I do not mean it is tasteless. It has the creamy aroma of soy milk which  gives you that richness without that weight of your usual dairy creams. The texture is so lighy and airy yet it retains enough substance not to instantly disappear in your mouth. Like an aerated panna cotta. It is only faintly sweetened so it welcomes the smoky sugars of the kuromitsu. I've always thought that kuromitsu has the distinct taste of Japan and its cuisine. Clean and translucent, it is seemingly simple but carries with it a vast depth and history that you can taste. It's as if you can taste that age, that tradition, yet it feels contemporary and refreshing, like everything else about Japan. If you are unfamiliar with Japanese desserts, this is a great stepping stone. It's mild but still expresses some basic flavours you will encounter in Japanese and Asian sweets and it shares parallels with Western dessert traditions too. Think of it as a white chocolate mousse or souffle with a burnt caramel or brown sugar syrup. Highly recommended. 

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Oh My Omurice!

Ah Japan. My Beloved. I’ve been avoiding most things that stir up all those sensitive memories I have of my time there. Alas, the last couple weeks I have lapsed. So many conflicting and powerful emotions have awoken from their long intentionally induced slumber.  How does this relate to food, you ask? In every way. The experience you have from visiting a country as a tourist is never the same as the experience you have when you live there. When you wake up every morning and breath that air, see that city and walk through its streets. When your mind forgets that you are in a “different” place. When you forget that you are a gaijin, a foreigner, an outsider. You have been sucked in. Absorbed by that environment. The music of your body has become part of the symphony of that is that city, that country. The little things like stopping at a convenience store on your way home to get an onigiri (rice ball) and a piece of fried chicken or going to the 99 yen store to stock up on instant noodles and PET bottle (plastic bottle) drinks for the weekend. You can never prepare for the gaping void that is left behind once you are wrenched out of that world.

Manga and anime were a big part of my introduction to Japan. Food, like in many forms of art or fiction around the world, is often featured to provide everything from basic reflections of everyday life to deep philosophical discussions on society and much more. Aside from all the pocky, purrin (pudding, caramel custard) and ramune, there is another item that frequently appears in the pop arts of Japan that is much closer to my heart. The humble Omurice. Oh-moo-rice. It’s cheap to make, easy to prepare and is very satisfying to almost all your urges when cooking or eating (I like to cook, and it’s fun to make is what I’m basically saying).  It is usually a flavoured fried rice encased in an omelette. Ketchup is the most common sauce of choice but I have had ones made of buttered or curried rice.

I fried some minced onion, garlic and pork belly in some olive oil before tossing in the rice. Fried that up a bit then added Korean barbeque marinade, ketchup and salt. Piled that onto a plate before heating up some more oil to fry the eggs (2 eggs, salt, pepper and a dash of sesame oil) into an fluffy medium omelette (I like it better when the omelette is not well done) and slid it over the orange mound of rice. Garnished with more ketchup and Korean bbq marinade. DEKITA! Done! Delicious!

The caramelised ketchup provides that sweet tang that makes you salivate which is why such a simple dish made out of simple ingredients can pack such a satisfying punch to your taste buds. Frying the ketchup and seasonings in the pan with the rice really draws out a depth of flavour that you wouldn’t usually expect. It’s juicy, tangy, savoury and fragrant. And there’s a big pile of it! And the tender fluffy omelette melds together the mellow richness of fresh eggs with the warm vibrant sharper flavours of the rice. The generosity of this dish (you can’t have a tiny portion!) just adds to the comfort. You feel like you are the one tucked under the protective eggy duvet, nestled snugly amongst the field of plump succulent rice grains. It makes me feel safe. It makes me feel at home. It makes me feel like I still have a little ember of living in Japan glowing in my heart. Sigh. Plus it’s cute.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tonari no Tororo

Ootoya has to be my favourite restaurant chain for Japanese food in Thailand. When I sit down and look at a menu, it's the only place where I can almost feel like I am back in Tokyo (hontouni  kaeritai, Nihon ga daisuki dakara), even if it is only for one second. Aside from the little things like the menu design, I find the food much more akin to what I would encounter at restaurants of a comparable caliber in Japan. 

There is also a particular item that makes me squee like a little piggy with uncontainable joy. It isn't even a main dish or special order. It's a topping option for your rice. The elusive tororo. It features in one or two other menu items too. You will hardly ever see tororo on Japanese restaurant menus here in Bangkok, unless it is one that caters to a large population of Japanese expats. Here it is as expensive as it is controversial. The supermarket of Isetan at CentralWorld carries fresh segments of nagaimo a.k.a. yamaimo that cost around 250 baht, depending on the weight. 

Why is it controversial? When grated, this particular tuber turns into a sticky slimy glob of white goo with the viscosity of ... phlegm or mucus. Such descriptives are often used by those that can't pallet this dividing ingredient. Historically, it was used as a lubricant and it was deemed improper for women to consume due to its near uncanny resemblance to other bodily fluids. 

All negativity aside, I fell in love with tororo when I discovered a neba-neba (sticky-slimy) special at an udon shop in Tokyo. It had seaweed, half boiled egg, okra and of course, tororo. I was sold. There is something really comforting and satisfying about slurping down a big bowl of neba-neba noodles. Think of it as a lighter molten mozzarella atop a fragrant earthy crust. Tororo has a very mild vegetable flavour, much like potato, radish or turnip. It's light and refreshing with a hum of starch that mellows out the overall taste. As a potato lover, I can't help but order this addition every time I visit an Ootoya. 

This set is the fried chicken and potato salad ... salad (There is a mound of potato salad on the salad...) with leek dressing. Although the pieces seem small, the chicken is so juicy and tender that there is plenty of flavour to spare. The tangy sweet and savoury dressing accents the meat perfectly. The potato salad provides the heft and creaminess to balance out the lightness of dressing and greens. If you're going for a low-carb meal then ordering this salad is very satisfying in itself (the batter on the chicken isn't thick enough to count but provides enough flavour to give you that carb fix). If you are hungry or craving something more substantial then order it as a rice set as I usually do. Surprisingly the flavours are strong enough to carry a bowl or rice or two (free refils?! Okawari kudasaiii!). Hungry, want ...ugh. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I like The Hangar. A tiny little breakfast cafe in Seattle (ish?), Washington. It's cosy, but not in the condescending way that realtors describe the claustrophobic confines of an overstuffed flat in London. Perhaps it's because you only go there first thing in the morning, when the fresh morning air brings a wave of hope and brightness wafting through the open space of the little wooden establishment. This refreshing environment is only reflected in their food (and their service, I have to say). Their waffles are light and soft, not too sweet and just pose as a comforting pillow of pleasure between your palette and the piquant of the toppings. What I like about most of the menu is the fact that they don't restrain themselves to the most common everyday American diner flavours (sugar, plus more sugar, with some sugar and corn syrup perhaps?). At the risk of sounding like a pretentious pompous arse, I would usually expect to find such flavour combinations at a cafe in Paris or London. Of course, there are plenty of cafes and bistros in Seattle that offer a culinary complexity above those provided at Burger King, I'm simply saying that The Hangar is one of those. 

I have a soft spot (my entire mid-section, more like...) for panna cotta. I love creams, good creams, and when done right, panna cotta can be a heavenly prize of creamy euphoria. I was a little surprised when this plate was presented in front of me. A soft fluffy waffle drizzled with a dark purple blackberry syrup and ... a milky fluid panna cotta? I had my preconceptions in place and was expecting dollops of thick luscious panna cotta heaped on my petite gaufre, mais sacre bleu! Qu'est-ce que c'est? This pale beige liquid so low in viscosity couldn't possibly be the panna cotta I ordered! I composed myself, and pushed the expectation from my mind. The billowy batter was as soft as a cloud beneath my knife and fork. I pushed a bite on to my fork and soaked up a bit of both sauces. The juicy morsel slid off the prongs and onto my anticipating tongue. Relief. It was delicious. Perhaps not what I was expecting, but delightful nonetheless. The saccharine sweetness of the blackberry was cut perfectly by the sharp tang of the lemon infused cream and both were carried perfectly by that delicate waffle. Nothing like an unexpected foodgasm to start off the day. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Small Sum of Asam

This food stop was at Cafe Mark in One Utama. If I hadn't been taken there by regular diners I might not have noticed the inconspicuous establishment. The modest entrance and decor reflect the simple local style of food served. But don't let the quaint quietude put you off, this cafe is famous for a fragrant fiery feast of Asam Laksa.

Asam is a soup based on the tangy tamarind. It is sour and spicy and packed with fresh fragrant herbs and vegetables for an extra zesty boost. What's great about this style of laksa is that it satisfies your cravings for chili and curry-esque spices without the added richness of coconut milk. The tang of tamarind, menthol of mint and heat of chili all work together in one refreshing noodle bowl. Mark's is also surprisingly generous with the fish meat which soaks up the bold broth.

Keeping with the asam theme, we ordered a plate of Asam Sting Ray. Yes, sting ray. I love sting ray. The flesh is the most moist, delicate, white fish meat you will ever eat. Having a single smooth plane of conjoined cartilage instead of finicky invisible needles is also a plus when diving into a bite of ray. Here they are prepared in an asam sauce and served with okra or ladies fingers to the locals. They also give you a plate of rice and mixed vegetables for an afoordable set lunch price.

Shovelling all the spicy acidic sauces down my throat, I definitely needed a hydrating cooler to quench the would-be stomach ulcer burning its way through my digestive track. Cincau to the rescue! If I am ever hot, thirsty or need a gastronomic fire extinguisher, this cooling grass jelly drink always rises to the challenge. Soothing, smooth and filled with silky strands of jelly. I want one. Now.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sweet and Savoury Singaporean Sensations

On one our trips around the many malls of KL, we stopped for a quick bite at Oriental Cravings. IT's a small cafe in a department store, wedged between clothing and handbag stores. Simple local style food here is served up with a little extra cost for the cool clean air-conditioned atmosphere. Wasn't too hungry at the time but I could not resist having a savoury bite. Glancing through the menu, my usual choices of hot curries and assam based dishes seemed a tad too daunting. So Singapore fried noodles were a welcome option for a light flavourful tea time meal.

Singapore fried noodles is a dish of mee hoon (fine rice noodles or rice vermicelli) and assorted vegetables and proteins. Bean sprouts, onions, bell peppers, spring onions and shallots are common choices for plant portion while prawns, pork, chicken and egg are frequently present as the protein. The noodles are fried dry (meaning without a soup or liquidy gravy) and seasoned to be sweet and salty with a hint of heat. Don't be deterred by the term, dry, as the noodles are anything but. Bold flavours are carried by the soft fluffy strands of noodles making every bite a scrumptious explosion. It's fun and filling enough as a main dish without being heavy. Very satisfying working your way through the plethora of ingredients and textures. It's a really popular item in oriental menus abroad, like Chinatown in London. Cheap too.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Sassy Shelf Selections of Sarsaparilla

A&W Root Beer has been my favourite commercial root beer brand as long as I can remember, probably due to the association with vanilla ice cream floats in big frosty glasses. Damn you Pavlov. There's something special about drinking a beverage from a tinted glass bottle. Nostalgic, if you will. A bridge back to the days before mass-produced aluminium cans and plastic bottles. There's a sense of history every time you wrap your fingers around the cool weight of a glistening glass vessel. This was the first factor that attracted me to this sturdy bottle of root beer. I had never tasted Angus O'Neil's brew before. It was nice. It has a pleasant mellow flavour, less sweet than most commercial brews. You can really taste the subtleties of the various ingredients like ginger and liquorice. Those who are very sensitive to herbal flavours like these should probably avoid this one. For everyone else, it is a very nice alternative to regular root beer. Like any good brew, it goes great with a salty snack. Root beer from Down Under :)

They're bulky, but I consider them carry on

I've never been crazy for chocolate or nuts. As a child, I was more of a Mars bar fan than I was a Snickers one. I love soft and chewy textures which is why nougat and taffy have long been my candies of choice. The supermarkets here in Bangkok have wide range of sugary snacks but they tend not to draw from American influences, unless you are wandering the aisles of Villa (specialty import supermarket), but even they you will often see more Australian or British products. So when trolling through the tantalising trenches of treats back in Malaysia, these little tangerine packets caught my eye. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

I love trying things I don't normally eat. I vaguely recall having these cups of chocolate coated peanut butter before but I wanted a fresh experience. I'm a sucker for retro aesthetics so the packaging was almost enough for me to reach out and grab them.

Tiny food has always been one of my vices. Aren't they adorable? I've always thought they looked like miniature chocolate tarts. The tiny paper cups create that cute connection to the charming cupcake. Even the crappy cardboard tray could pass as a cookie sheet. I would have loved to play with these during one of my childhood cooking game sessions. Pint sized pies anyone?

The milk chocolate is quite mild, which works for my tastes. The only problem with the cocoa casing is that it seems to instantaneously liquify upon human contact. The equatorial climate may have contributed to this, but even in air-conditioned rooms, the chocolate seemed to melt if you breathed on it. Strategic consumption may have to come into play when tacking these candies. Gently pull the paper cup away with your finger tips and scoff the lot. Biting a bit at a time may lead to melty chocolate mess. The thin soluble paper does not provide any structural support whatsoever. Regardless of these issues, the whole point of the peanut butter cup is, of course, the peanut butter. The enclosed nutty goodness is not exactly like it's creamy namesake. The peanut filling is drier in substance but surprisingly more silky on the palette. It's salty as peanuts should be and is just sweet enough to remind you that you are indeed eating junk food. They also seem to be addictive. A few days later I ended up buying a family bag of mini ones and kept munching them on the plane. Miniature tiny food: miniature with the more miniature size. Anybody want a peanut?

Saturday, 2 July 2011

My Milkshake Bringeth All Ye Gentle Folk to the Breakfast Table

I like milkshakes to the point that I drowned out my childhood cow milk allergy in cold creamy goodness. If anyone lives near a GBK (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) you have to try the lime milkshake, it is pure puckering perfection. But let's get back to the breakfast table. The diabetic American one to be more precise. As a child I had heard of these candy coloured pastry treats that you could just pop into a toaster and enjoy. But they were from far away and you could only see them in Archie comics and on TV. A little way down the road and the emergence of import supermarkets gave the bright boxes a place on the shelf. But they were really expensive and look mildly radioactive to adults. Finally in my college years, I shared a dormitory with a notorious candy dealer. She had ample supplies of the elusive rectangular pastry pockets. I got pop tarts.

Now, my first flavour was the classic strawberry. Since I was giving in to the infantile impulses of my food psyche I might as well stick with one of the most child-friendly fruit flavours. I liked my first few bites enough. It may have been my high expectations and excitement that led me to believe that. You soon realise the taste of rainbows tastes like chemicals. I needed a tall glass of milk to help wash it down and desensitise my tongue. Fast-forward to my most recent trip to Malaysia, I was shopping around a Cold Storage (local supermarket chain) looking for local snacks or anything I was not used to seeing in Bangkok. Lo and behold the psychedelic packages were sitting neatly on the shelf. I know I can get pop tarts in Bangkok, but I tend not to go looking for them. Again, my mind likes the idea of such over the top treats more than my taste buds. What caught my attention in this case was the flavour: Strawberry Milkshake. A certain someone had recently sent me a photo of the flavour range for sale in a vending machine. I was baffled as how a product that was already the furthest possible thing from a healthy breakfast could be pushed even further. Ice cream parlour flavours do not equate healthy or breakfast. I needed to know.

It's a sweet cookie pastry stuffed with a sweet filling, iced with a sweet pink icing and decorated with sweet rainbow sprinkles. I can feel my foot falling off as I stare at the pale plank of potential diabetes. But wait! There's 25 percent less sugar! Only 3 cups instead of 4! Yay! Kittens for everyone! Still, this merely meant that you could take a few more bites than usual before needing something to soothe the sweet sugary burn. The pastry and icing were the same as I recalled from previous encounters, clinging to the bleak flavours of white flour and white sugar but strangely satisfying if you're in the right mood.

I am a sucker for sprinkles so seeing the little flecks of colour was a welcome break in the otherwise albino tart. The monotonous colour palette was reiterated once I penetrated the crumbly casing. I preferred the glaring red of strawberry filling peeking out from under a blanket of snow white icing. The tart faintly emanated the fragrance of a strawberry milkshake which was not too unpleasant. The cut in sugar was a welcome adjustment, but overall, if I am in the mood for doping up on kiddie crank, I'd rather have the sweeter sharpness of fructose fruit from a straight strawberry one. Nyan cat, all the way.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

The Grass is Greener at Green View

Malaysia has no shortage of casual family style Chinese restaurants. Round tables are supersized with the addition of giant plywood discs with a lazy susan groaning under the weight of over-ordered meals. Green View’s bright neon sign proudly displays a massive crab in some sort of two-step animation. Honestly, I could not work out what it was supposed to be doing. All I saw was one whole crab with both claws up in the air, followed by a crab slightly to the right with his left claw missing. There was also a king prawn in the corner wearing a little crown. Appropriate. Besides the quaint signage, the restaurant staff are inviting and the air-conditioned room is clean and comfortable. Aside from the sporadic pops of flies exploding on one of the many UV bug zappers mounted from the ceiling, that is. Fly 1: “Don’t go towards the light!!” Fly 2: “I can’t help it, it’s so beautifu-ARGH!”.

The main reason we come back to this restaurant, is the Prawn Noodles. Served up in a massive white dish, these once crispy deep fried egg noodles have been drenched in a gooey prawn-infused gravy and are crowned with some seriously sized shrimpage.

As impressive as the size of these crustaceans are, I find the flesh, despite being well cooked, ever so slightly tough and far too hefty in size for an already rich shellfish. You really have to wrestle with the meat to cut it down to bite sized portions.

The noodles and gravy are another story. Deep frying the egg noodles prior to saucing them makes them much more absorbent and they just suck up and saturate themselves in the flavourful brown gravy. The shellfish have passed on their legacy and that scrumptious seafood flavour is abundant in the saucy noodles even without eating the prawn meat.

We don’t usually order fish done sweet and sour style in Asia, unless it’s a whole one and we aren’t sure how long it has been dead. So having this dish of sweet and sour garoupa was a bit different, though not unwelcome. It’s on my favourites list when dining in Chinese restaurants in Western countries.

The fish pieces are big enough to give you a full bite of white succulent fish meat and not just greasy batter. The sauce was quite typical of any sweet and sour you could find anywhere in the world; jazzed up ketchup. And the typical vegetables (onions, mixed peppers, pineapple, tomato and …cucumber?) were fine in their own right, not over cooked, but they seemed a bit disparate. Overall the dish was quite pleasant. Who can resist the ease of popping solid bite sized pieces of boneless white fish into their greedy mouths?

If you want a full sensory experience, you should order any dish that comes in a clay pot. From the streets of Hong Kong to the alleyways of Bangkok’s Yaowarad (Chinatown) clay pot dishes know how to make an entrance. They have great heat retention which allows any treasures retained within to remain bubbling and sizzling once they are placed on the table. Miniature eruptions of billowing steam and scalding sputters of sauce are all part of the clay pot experience.

This clay pot was filled with braised goat meat, tofu skin and wood ear mushroom. The earthy colours were reflected in the flavours of the dish. The bold aroma of the goat was perfectly complimented by the strong salty hum of the dark sauce. The tofu skin and wood ear mushroom had the textural strength to stand up against the hearty flavours but also provided refuge with milder and lighter flavours. The meat is so juicy and tender it falls off the bone. There is so much warmth in flavour and texture in this dish, you can’t help but love it even if you are not used to eating meats more on the game side.

This one is for all the vegetarians out there. Two types of tofu and loofa brought together by a simple but tasty gravy. It adds a lighter and healthier feeling dynamic to a widely techniflavoured table of Chinese dishes. Textures are abundant in this one. The larger brown structures are wiggly oblongs of egg tofu. Imagine a delicate savoury egg custard encased in golden fried skin. I adore the gentle eggy taste and the soft melt-away texture of egg tofu. Breaking through that once crisp membrane and releasing the soft contents over your palette is as satisfying as it is delicious. The other tofu variety present is one consisting of layered tofu skins. The multiple layers stimulate your tongue and tickle your gums as your teeth ease through them. Tofu skins have a more elastic quality than solid tofu and one might think that compacting so many sheets in these blocks would result in an impenetrable Kevlar mass. It does not. The layers have sucked up the flavours and moisture of the dish into every pore and the body is soft without losing the integrity of each soy leaf.

The third component is the vegetable that most think of as a bathroom utensil rather than a kitchen ingredient. The loofa is a common green vegetable used in Chinese cuisine that often falls under the radar in other parts of the culinary world. It’s like a cross between a cucumber and a zucchini in fibre and flavour. Even when cooked, the loofa has the refreshing characteristics of the cool cucumber with the soft bite of a zucchini or cooked apple. This triad is brought together by a translucent brown gravy which is smooth, silky and savoury scented so as to compliment the calm fragrances emanating from the major ingredients.  Loofa! Fun to say, great to eat and if they get too old, dry them out and use them in the shower.