Posts tagged ‘Food’

Heading out to Hanoi

1534. So here I am at Terminal 3 of Changi Airport, being, for the first and possibly the only time in my life, the first person through the boarding gate. I must admit to feeling just a tad lonely because I am taking this flight sans companions, and that is why my trusty little Asus Eee is seeing some use now. It’s either this or watch a local soap rerun of some fifteen years’ vintage.

Have I ever mentioned here that I hate flying? Love travelling, but hate the process of getting there. It’s partly because I have the most heinous tendency toward motion-sickness, and partly because I dislike having to sit in limbo, being transported with a herd of other human beings. Also, as far as today is concerned, it’s partly because it’s that time of the month. Arrgh.

2331, Hanoi time. As with the Bali trip, the start of this one was unpromising. It consisted of sitting in the plane for a whole hour, waiting for air traffic to clear so that we could actually leave. It was a full flight and I remember thinking that it was a good thing that most of it was made up of Vietnamese people, who tend to be small, light and wiry in build. They also have fine, clean-cut features. Wedoryn would blend in quite well here.

Once I had cleared customs (a process infinitely less painful than in Bali– I must have had my worried expression on because the officers were really quite nice), it was plain sailing. There was a lady who was holding up a sign just for me, and after I got my suitcase, I was led to a swanky black Mercedes (whee!), complete with moon roof, refreshments and Wi-Fi (whee!), as well as shades on the back windows to impart the cool-mysterious-passenger look, which ferried me in high style to the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake.

Checking in was equally painless, and, after doing that, I was surprised for a minute when I was led outside the main building, to a golf buggy. Then I realized that the place was actually bloody immense, hence the subsequent whiz around on said buggy. There are separate blocks of rooms, each one standing on stilts in a huge lake, far apart from one another, so as I write this, I feel like I am practically inVenice. It helps that the weather is absolutely perfect, something like 16 – 18 degrees Celsius.

I met my friends, who had arrived on the preceding flight, in the lobby so that we could go and have our first bowl of pho and our first glass of Hanoi beer. You can see some of both in this picture:

The pho was very, very good.

And now, full and happy, I am waiting for my pillow selection to be delivered to my room before I go and have a nice bath and hit the bed. I am a lucky bug, I know.    


December 2, 2011 at 15:34 Leave a comment

Just one more post on Bali…

… and then I’ll be done with the topic. This one is short, I promise.

Technically speaking, it is also about food, provided you are, like me, one of those beings who do consider things like this food:

Momogi corn stick snacks! Thanks to Nefatari Villas for making sure that there were always six packs of the stuff in our room every day. Gratis.

I have nursed an absolute weakness for savoury empty-calorie snacks for about as long as I have had teeth, particularly if said snacks are made out of things like sliced potatoes, monosodium glutamate, mushed corn, salt, monosodium glutamate, cheese powder, oil and monosodium glutamate. 

Each pack contains two square-ended, hollow, fake-cheese-flavoured, oily, crunchy-then-melt-in-your-mouth sticks of goodness (this last word being purely subjective). Yum yum.

It was just like being a kid again.

November 27, 2011 at 09:58 Leave a comment

Balinese food: Lobong cooking class

When Mr. Manx and I visited Paris last year, we had an unexpected whale of a time at O Chateau’s wine appreciation class, so I signed us up for for another class in Bali – a cooking class, which, if I may say so, was very brave of me because my cooking skills are beyond words. The ones that come closest are “terrible”, “dreadful” and “abysmal”, sometimes in partnership with “gut-wrenchingly”.

Choosing the class was really easy – I simply went on Tripadvisor and picked the top attraction (correct at time of writing). Booking was really easy too because Lobong Cooking Class has its own website – you can make a reservation there and then you’ll receive a confirmatory email. Payment is only made in person, in cash, after the whole event. They even pick you up in a nice van at your hotel! We chose the morning class and were on our way to the market (the name of which escapes me, sorry) by 8a.m., and there we met Sang De, our guide for the day. We were the only Asians in the class; the rest were couples from Australia, the US and Canada.

This is the market that Sang De brought us to. He is the guy in the bottom left picture, giving us a tutorial on chillies. Don't be fooled by his traditional attire - he speaks near-perfect English and manages the online bookings via Blackberry. The picture on top shows a typical fruit and veg stall and the right bottom picture shows a lady spreading cacao beans out to dry.

The next picture, showing an industrious lad obviously unused to Chinese women pointing cameras at him, is perhaps my favourite of the ones I took that day, so it gets its own space.

We didn’t buy anything at the market as everything was already prepared at the venue of the cooking class, which turned out to be the ancestral home of Sang De and his family. It turns out that the class is a family business, from guide to chef to chauffeurs, on board for only the past ten months but already thriving.

Here Sang De is giving us a crash course on Balinese culture as we have coffee and pisang goreng (fried bananas) in a corner of the sprawling grounds of his home. He's telling us about the significance of the various structures, down to the human placentas ceremonially buried under stones placed outside the door of the family elder. He's also telling us interesting facts, like the way many Balinese share the same name because naming is done according to birth order - Wayan for the firstborn, Made for the second, then Nyoman, then Ketut (and then if Number Five comes along, s/he is Wayan all over again).

After the lecture, we trooped to the kitchen area to put on aprons and towels, and then we met:

The man on the left is Dewa, the chef and our tutor for the day. For a moment the class looks like the Balinese version of Hell's Kitchen, but this is just a front, as Dewa is actually affable and funny, and a really good teacher. The second picture shows three chef-wannabes. They are very cheerful identical triplets.

Then we were put to work.

These peanuts, for example, were deep-fried in homemade coconut oil with spices. Then we all took turns grinding them to pulp and later cooked the mush with palm sugar syrup and lots of coconut milk to make the world's best peanut sauce. It's advisable to not think about the calories. And look! The cheerful triplets turn out to be septuplets!

Thus we bumbled our way through, if you will believe it, to produce a beautiful nine-course Balinese meal. The truth was, of course, that the brains and skills of the cooking came from Dewa, and all us participants really did was stuff like chopping, mixing and stirring, but that suited us well and it was fun.

After the cooking was done, the food was plated and laid out, but before anything else could be done to it, offerings had to be made because that's what the Balinese do to give thanks for each meal. We didn't have to make the offerings ourselves; Sang De got his mum to do it for us. Thanks, Sang De's mum!

And yes, we got to eat all that good food for lunch. I particularly liked the peanut sauce and the ayam bakar bumbu bali, which is baby chicken in spicy yellow coconut sauce. At the end of the meal, we were each given a recipe booklet and a small bottle (thoughtfully sized at 100ml so that it can cross Customs) of homemade coconut oil as souvenirs, and then we were ferried back to our respective hotels.

It was a fantastic way to spend a morning in Bali.

November 26, 2011 at 01:27 2 comments

Our Bali base: Nefatari Villas

Mr. Manx and I are back from Ubud in Bali, fat as a couple of pigs from all the good eating, and peppered with more mozzie bites than we’ve had all the rest of the year combined.

Arriving at Denpasar airport was a nightmare because several planes touched down at about the same time and the signage at Customs was frankly lousy. We witnessed much queue-cutting and selective blindness to fellow humans (nice to know that this is not restricted to Singaporeans), and the airport officials were either pathologically slow or outright rude.

The nice thing about an unprepossessing start is that things generally get better from there. Faith shaken, we were slightly nervous about whether our ride from the airport would show up, but our chauffeur was practically the first thing we laid our eyes on upon leaving the building, and events improved markedly from then on. This pickup was a much-appreciated service from Nefatari Villas, which was recommended by Orange (the first thing he raved about was the ability to swim nuddies as each villa comes with its own private pool). My rave would be how you can ask for transport to and from anywhere in central Ubud, up till ten at night (wow!), and at no additional charge (wow wow!). It’s not as if the transport vehicle is some half-assed motorbike either; the villa runs six vans at the level of the Toyota Innova for this purpose. 

Here’s a quickfire gallery of Villa Jepun, one of Nefatari’s nine villas, which we stayed at for two nights:

With reference to the middle picture, the shower, tub and toilet bowl (which is not shown for aesthetic reasons) were all outdoors - a truly novel experience for us. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Manx was once attacked by a wasp while utilizing said toilet bowl. Much screaming ensued.

 The food provided at Nefatari was good too:

The first picture shows a funky little pot containing black-as-sin Balinese coffee. The middle picture shows Nefatari's famous banana pancakes, topped with palm sugar syrup, which you can order delivered to your villa for breakfast and are totally yummy. The right-most picture shows a platter of bebek betutu, an evil-looking mutilated duck carcass that has been slow-smoked in spices and is utterly delicious, and very good with the local Bintang beer.

Speaking of food, do you remember learning about food webs in school? The mash-up of arrows showing who gets to eat who if everyone finds themselves in the same room? This is what I consider the predominant food web in Bali:

We saw a huge gecko in our villa trying to bite the head off another gecko one-tenth its size, so, yeah, I reckon that geckos eat geckos. Also, they are bullies.

They even got into our sugar bowl:

Kidding! You gotta give it to whoever designed this sugar bowl. Perhaps they reasoned that a ferocious-looking, pre-occupying statuette would keep the real McCoys away. After all, bullies are insecure at heart, right?

Coming up on the next Bali installment: the REAL reason we went. Stay tuned.

November 23, 2011 at 20:43 Leave a comment

Memories of Paris: possibly the best macaroons ever

Anyone’s who’s halfway serious about macaroons (or macarons, if you want to be really Frenchy) will know that the best ones are to be found in Paris. Moi, I am not serious about macaroons at all as a rule. I first tried some in Taipei, out of a neighbourhood bakery, which was a big mistake because they weren’t much different from pastel-coloured biscuits – two floury, crunchy slabs sandwiching a squirt of randomly flavoured buttercream – not impressive at all. I did not know what was the big deal with them bloody macaroons.

In the course of my pre-trip prep, I was trawling Tripadvisor for places to eat in Paris when I realized that Pierre Herme ranked in the top ten of >6000 restaurants there, and technically, it is not even a restaurant, but a patisserie. Thus it was decided. I told Mr. Manx, “Mr. Manx, we shall visit Pierre Herme when we are in Paris.”

He replied, “As you wish, my love. Is it one of those steak tartare places?”

I said, “No. It sells macaroons.”

He said, “Macaroons? Those pastel-coloured biscuits? You hate those pastel-coloured biscuits. I hate those pastel-coloured biscuits.”

I said, “I have reason to believe that the pastel-coloured biscuits we had in Taipei do not qualify as macaroons. I think it may be that macaroons and pastel-coloured biscuits are two different things. In fact, these are so different that they are spelt ‘macarons’.”

And so it was.

Please pardon the lighting in our Paris apartment. It turns everything yellow when it was really a bright, lovely assortment of colours.

This is a box of seven and these fellas cost something like €2 apiece. Here’s what I remember of them. From bottom upwards:

#1 is Mogador, which means passionfruit with chocolate. I think it must be a point of pride with M. Herme to create taste combinations that are unintuitive and therefore intriguing. This one pairs the bright acidity of passionfruit with the tongue-coating creaminess of milk chocolate. Clever and tasty, but, as Johnny Depp says in Chocolat, “Not my favourite.” Also, I find bright yellow an unappetising colour, unless it’s on Cheetos.

#2 and #4 are the same – caramel with fleur de sel. This one turned out to be my favourite, so I’m really glad I went with my gut and got two.  This one has it all – the heavy, burnt lushness of caramel and then the surprising zing of the pinch of salt that lets you keep tasting the caramel again, over and over. This is the one that pops into my head when I think about macaroons macarons at all.

#3 is pistachio. I’m afraid I don’t have much recollection of pistachio. It was good, certainly, but didn’t stand out.

#5 is ispahan, which is rose with raspberry and lychee. It was my second favourite in the bunch, because eating it was such a pleasant surprise from beginning to end. If you nibble a little bit of it, you get the light, airy flavour of lychee-tinged rose, which somehow you don’t taste as much as smell. Then if you take a bigger bite, you get a hit of tart raspberry jam that brings you back to earth in much the same way as filling your lungs with the first breath of air on a cold morning.

#6 is chocolate, which always has an unfair advantage with me, because as long as there’s plenty of good strong chocolate in it, and not too sweet, I will like it. This had plenty of good strong chocolate in it, and was not too sweet. My third favourite.

As a fitting counterpart to #1, #7 is chocolate and cassis, which explains its purple tinge. Like #1, this was an unusual combination, but I found this pairing of dark choc and sweet berry rather more appealing.

The lighting in the bathroom was much better for photo-taking, though not so good for eating in

Here’s a close-up of a semi-eaten #6. You can see how thin and crisp the outer shell is. You have to be careful just picking up these babies because they’re so delicate. When your teeth meet the shell, it shatters gently and immediately. The fluffy part inside is cool, sweet and airy, and you can’t always differentiate it from the filling, which is very thick and plentiful, and very fresh. When it’s in your mouth, you’re never quite sure if you should chew or just let it melt. I tend to chew, which brings the textures together beautifully, but then the experience doesn’t last so long. 

It’s a testament to how good these were that, after our return, Mr. Manx has, upon passing certain shops, said things to the effect of, “Oh, they sell macaroons here – shall we get some? Should we get six, or ten?”

I hear that Pierre Herme can now also be found in London, so, Kel, since you’re coming along in my suitcase, we can go pig out some day.

December 9, 2010 at 10:49 2 comments

Memories of Paris: Steak Tartare

I still think of my aborted Europe trip with sadness. Not just because of the missed sights, but also because there’s this association now between that lovely place and my personal loss. I still want to go to England and visit some old churches and light a candle in each one specifically for my grandma.

Till that happens, I remain in possession of some beautiful memories of three days in Paris, and I’d like to share them here. Today’s memory is: raw meat.

Seldom is a picture this repulsive and mouthwatering at the exact same time, yes? 

I had this hunk of steak tartare, palm-sized and inch-thick, all to my greedy little self. You can see the chopped onion, chives, capers, and, best of all, enough raw meat to distract the average vampire long enough for you to run away, unless, of course, you are a Twilight fan who would prefer to regard this as a simple appetizer.

(Raw meat is a childhood memory for me. I love the taste of bloody meat. As a small child, dinner preparation was one of the highlights of the day. I’d wait for my grandma to turn to the stove before pinching a mouthful of uncooked mincemeat or a slice of dripping liver. I ascribe the strength of my gastrointestinal system today to this practice.) 

I’m glad we found this place – a completely random occurrence based on the fact that it was one of the rare restaurants open on Sunday midday. The staff could barely understand Mr. Manx and me (and, I’m quite sure, took us for Japanese, because I heard one of them practice saying “arigatou gozaimasu“) but did their best and even kindly asked if I wanted my steak tartare boiled (to which the only correct response is a loud scream, but this would have been unacceptable in civilized society).

Clearly, though, boiling did not happen and an enjoyable meal was made of this raw beef, together with Mr. Manx’s entrecote (a perfectly done rib steak topped with smoking thyme), a cheese board and half a bottle of rose wine. I think we paid about 25-30 Euros per person, which is not expensive by Parisian standards.

This was eaten at a restaurant called Bo Zinc, which is at 59 Avenue Mozart, 75016 Paris. I don’t think they have a website, otherwise I’d link to it.

November 30, 2010 at 17:13 4 comments

Katie’s hangover cures

‘Tis the season for Oktoberfest and, consequently, vast quantities of beer. I don’t know about you, but among the variants of alcohol I have sampled, beer has consistently emerged as the main culprit that gets me buzzy in the immediate setting and mealy-headed the next day. Maybe it’s because of the fizziness and volume of the stuff.

I got invited to an ad-hoc drinks session last night with some colleagues, and although sobering it is when you realize you’re the most senior person at the table (vanity compels me to add that seniority was not measured by age in this situation), that didn’t prevent me from having 1) a pint of Kilkenny, 2) a bottle of Magner’s cider, 3) a bottle of Asahi, and 4) a shot of 12-year Macallan, in addition to bits of Erdinger (not my favourite tipple).

(OK, objectively listing things like that has a way of making them look pretty bad) 

As a result, well, I think it an appropriate occasion to share my favourite hangover cures.

At third place stands my home pharmacy. Yes, I admit I have an unfair advantage over most folks because I know what meds to get. My regime (disclaimer: personal, not prescriptive!) comprises paracetamol for the headache, mefenemic acid for stubborn headache, prochlorperazine or metoclopromide for nausea, cinnarazine or betahistine for giddiness, and definitely multivitamins and some of those chewable orange vitamin C tablets. 

Runner-up goes to stinky food, such as soft cheese. My latest cheese crush is the indisputably stinky and marvellously yummy Brie de Meaux, which I buy in slabs whenever I happen to pop into Paragon. The obvious drawbacks to this remedy include calorie overdose and semipermanent halitosis. Another option is natto with soy sauce, wasabi and a raw egg mixed in. I probably shouldn’t elaborate.

The best and safest remedy in my book goes to Bovril. I put a big teaspoon of it into a mug filled with two-thirds hot water and one-third fresh milk, and add a bit of coarse ground black pepper and maybe a pinch of dried mixed herbs. One mug immediately upon returning home and one mug the morning after, and most of my problems disappear.

I hit upon the stinky food and Bovril remedies purely by indulging my post-drink food cravings, which I realized were pretty consistent with the occasion. It was only later that I figured out that they all have high salt and vitamin B contents; perhaps that’s why I craved them. I have no solid scientific explanation as to why they work. Alcohol certainly impairs vitamin B absorption but that takes more time than just one night of drinks. The salt bit doesn’t even make sense because alcohol dehydrates the body, and adding extra salt shouldn’t help at all. But hey, whatever works, right?

I shall end by sheepishly mumbling that I’m heading out for an Oktoberfest celebration tonight. I think I need to get more Bovril.

October 2, 2010 at 17:25 Leave a comment

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Welcome to my blog!

My blog-name is Katie but I will not respond if you call me that in real life because it's not my real name. Yes, I do practise virtual-world paranoia. No, I do not enjoy stalkers. But I do enjoy writing and having folks reading said writing, so welcome to my world. It's nice to meet you.

Playing in my head over and over again argh

I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song (Jim Croce)

Book(s) of the moment

Hogfather (Terry Pratchett)

Books read in 2010 and 2011

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) - 'cos the movie's coming out!
Frankenstein: Lost Souls (Dean Koontz) - ah, bugger, it's part of a series! Now I hafta find all the books...
Dismantled (Jennifer McMahon) - oh, good one
Tigerlily's Orchids (Ruth Rendell)
Shutter Island (Dennis LeHane) - reminds me too much of work
Holy Fools (Joanne Harris) - it's official: I prefer her scary books
A Series of Unfortunate Events; The Unauthorized Autobiography; The Beatrice Letters (Lemony Snicket)
The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)
The main books - 11 so far - of the Southern Vampire series; the Aurora Teagarden series except for A Fool & His Honey - that makes it 7; Sweet & Deadly (Charlaine Harris)
The Woman in Black (Susan Hill)
Full Dark, No Stars (Stephen King)
Room: A Novel (Emma Donaghue)
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)
The Bachman Books (Stephen King)
Men At Arms (Terry Pratchett)
Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett)
The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)
Beauty (Robin McKinley)
The Sandman, Vol 1 (Neil Gaiman)
The Burden (Agatha Christie) - her crime novels are waaay better
Snuff (Terry Pratchett)

Visit my photoblog!

I started my first photoblog on 3 May, 2009. Each post features one picture, with a little story of how it came about. Do take a look by clicking on: Manx Pictures
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Disclaimers: 1) I cannot help but bitch about work sometimes, but everything here comes under the realm of personal remarks, and nothing here is said in my professional capacity. Nor does anything here reflect the opinion of the institutions that employ me. This is just me shooting off. 2) Most identities have been anonymized, particularly those of folks I know on a personal basis. Same goes for my workplaces. However, commercial and public places and figures remain named. Otherwise some things just wouldn't make sense. 3) Links and sources have been provided where appropriate and possible. They are not meant to challenge anyone's ownership. If this causes any discomfort or offence, please let me know.


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