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 ...now ...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.