Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fresh Fruitiness Frolicking Over Lusciously Milky Lamellae

I’ve been craving thick heavy silky smooth dairy products for a while now. Craving like a starved dehydrated dog in the middle of a barren desert staring up a thorny cactus at a fat juicy house cat fanning itself beneath a golden parasol sipping a Moroccan mint tea frappe though an oversized bendy straw from a tall frosted glass. So my friend suggested a quick stop at the Amor kiosk as we foraged the walkways of Central Bangna.
Her suggestion was the neatly assembled Mille Crepe with Strawberry Sauce. The pale yellow of the wafer thin crepes set off the clean milky white of the cream delicately sandwiched between each layer. The slice was not particularly large. I would say it was a sensible size though. I ordered one slice to go and was thrilled to see the generous pot of deep red strawberry sauce taped to the top of the slice box.

The slice lifted out very easily. The delicacy of the crepes and cream beguiled the seemingly absent structural sturdiness. Even unwrapping the protective plastic film from around the perimeter left little lickable residue upon its see-through surface. After taking a moment to admire the soft cleanliness if the alternating white and yellow stripes, it was time to ramp up the volume with the viciously vivid rich red strawberry sauce. It was the foodgasm-inducing food porn money shot. The seed-speckled pulpy coulis of fresh ripe strawberries poured out beautifully from the petit plastic pot. It was not a cheap corn starch concoction of coloured gloop devoid of any sign of actual fruit. It had the naturally sweet fragrance of fresh strawberries and it tasted even better. It was smooth and sweet but not too sweet. The fresh flavour washed over and cleansed your pallet so it was the perfect accompaniment to the creamy crepes. There were about 20 neatly stacked crepes held together by a fluffy Chantilly cream. The crepes themselves may have been ever so slightly underdone, so they could have been too soft if they were meant to stand on their own. But with safety in numbers, the multi-layered culinary construction created a titillating texture for your tongue to play with and the thinly spread cream was sparse enough to let each crepe to be fully experienced in every bite. Some mille crepes are assembled with fewer crepes and thicker layers of cream slathered between them to create greater height with less effort. I must say that Amor has done a delightful deed by deciding to deal with the trouble it takes to stack each crepe upon one another with the optimum amount of subtly sweetened cream without sacrificing structural or textural integrity. Soft and light but still sinfully satisfying, the sharp sweet strawberry sauce and the delectable crepe cake slice are highly recommended for anyone seeking a scrumptious treat.

Friday, 15 June 2012

The Sultry Silk Road to Bracing Ant Bites

Most people out there have had nightmares or seen or heard horror stories about creepy crawly critters so it is fairly understandable that many would find the prospect of putting these petite partitioned pests into their protected pie holes. Of course, your environment plays a big part in your tolerance for unique ingredients. If you’re in Seattle, you’ve got Starbucks. If you live by the sea, you’ve got seafood. If you’re in the forests of South East Asia, you’ve seen silk worms and red ants.

Both dishes were brought down to Bangkok from North East Thailand. These miniature morsels have been lightly seasoned and fried. The silk worms are, as the name suggests, the cute chubby worms that spin cocoons of pure silk which are processed to make your silky soft shirts, skirts and ties. They also make a dainty delectable dinner. The fat and soft contents are encased in a thin crisp capsule that bursts with a lighter force than that of salmon caviar. The flavour is very comparable to prawn, or more specifically prawn heads. They have a savoury sweet shellfish umami swirled in with the musty hums of tiny dried shrimp. I would even describe their texture as akin to a dried shrimp that has been soaked or rehydrated in a cooking process.

These red ants have been cooked, dressed and tossed into a simple Thai style salad. Their tough exteriors have been softened but still provide texture when you bite through their soft bellies, much like a soft boiled pea. The delicate body structures have taken on a lot of the flavours of the salad dressing which is rich with the fragrant flavours of South East Asia. The ants themselves were sweet, salty and savoury with the freshness of lemongrass and the herbal hum of aniseed and nutmeg. You may have to overcome the visual challenge of placing a bug you would usually beat with a baseball bat between your teeth and swallowing but I assure you, the flavour experience is not something to be feared. The textures on your tongue and between your teeth are very much like eating peas, beans or pulses and the flavours provide a welcome wake-up call, interesting but not offensive, to your palette.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Chicken goes Cluck-Cluck, Camel goes Moo

Recently came back from a trip to Abu Dhabi. It was my first time in the Middle East and I was looking forward to stuffing my face with ample array of Arabic eats. For me, the reason why travelling is worth the effort of packing up a boiled-down reduction of the essentials in your life and subjecting yourself to the torturous turmoil of commercial air travel and the moody bipolar whims of airport staff and those who supposedly enforce security by not looking at their screen when a passenger puts their bag through a scanner and forgot to discard her bottle of water and subsequently has a neat souvenir from the UAE that also provided some needed hydration in the car on the way home in Thailand, is the fact that we can experience first-hand a fundamental fragment of a foreign culture by simply sampling the local food.

Extending this idea further, you can find the basic building blocks of a cuisine and culture by looking at the base products and ingredients on hand which is why I love exploring supermarkets to see what the locals favour. I must say, walking the isles of a big supermarket somewhere in Abu Dhabi, the one section that made my jaw drop was the cheese counter. Or counters I should say. Never in my life have I seen such a large and varied selection of cheese on a commercial level. I am certain their repertoire could rival many specialty cheese stores out there. Of course I am still speaking on a commercial scale, so if you want that one type of homemade cheese they make in that one place in the world, by definition, you will not be able to find it anywhere including this vast library of cultured cow juice creations. Cows –now we come to the main subject of this particular post. We are no longer talking about cheese. We are going back one more step and talking about that primal provider of life for all of us mammals: milk.

Step back for a moment and recall where we are in the world. We have landed in the United Arab Emirates. Aside from the ridiculously indulgent 7 star hotels and the most expensive, tall, large, ornate (etc. etc…) structures in the world, what do we think of? Sand dunes, endless desert, sand storms, sand surfing, sand skiing, sandy beaches, sand, sand and sand. And what do we envision ourselves riding across these surreal sand swept landscapes? Jerboas! … Ok, I didn’t have the opportunity to go camping and encounter these adorable desert mice as they bombard you during the night, but I am determined to meet them next time. But seriously, we are talking about the iconic camel. If you have cows, you have cow milk. If you have goats, you have goat milk. So if you have camels, yep, you have camel milk. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to sample some fresh camel milk plucked off a fluorescent-lit supermarket shelf next to the comparatively boring basic bovine variety.

The inconspicuous plastic packaging in a sense diffused some of the exotic mystery but it also emphasised that wonderful feeling of being somewhere new. I could not walk into a Big C in Bangkok or a Sainsbury’s in London or a QFC in Seattle and grab a petite plastic bottle of camel milk from the refrigerated shelves. Before cracking it open, you can already see that the colour looks like most varieties of milk. A clean opaque pearly white peeks up at you when you pop off the top. It has the faintest blush of a rich cream. Putting it up to my nose, I could smell a rich dairy scent with only a very light hint of a fresh game protein. This experience was reflected in the flavour. I was anxious and excited as I brought it to my lips and took a sip. I let the liquid spread across my tongue and slowly inhaled through my nose to try and experience as much of the taste as possible. It was a rich and heavy milk, akin to the thicker cow milks you find in England, but still not crossing over in to the consistency of cream. The initial hit is a luscious creamy dairy that morphs from a familiar milky taste as it enters your mouth to a grassy game meat scent as it slides down. As you swallow, you notice a salty savouriness which is the stronger flavour in the yoghurt culture finish. The salted yoghurt taste lingers and melds with that fresh grass fragrance to create a unique aftertaste. It was quite an intense experience so I was more than satisfied with the small portion. It is highly recommended for those who are fond of goat, ewe or alternative milk sources but also for anyone curious or wanting to step out of their box, or in this case, milk carton.