Monday, December 26

Pandan sighting!

Frangelico and I were at the Singapore Botanic Gardens this afternoon. Walking around the Orchid Garden, I said to him that I could suddenly smell pandan in the air. That reminded me that I'd tried to describe the fragrance of pandan to you guys by saying that it's what a South East Asian rainforest smells like after the rain. (Part of the grounds of the Botanic Gardens, incidentally, consists of 6 hectares of rainforest. Singapore is home to one of only two urban, city centre rainforests in the world. The other one's in Brazil.) Just as I'd made the pandan remark, I spotted this!

So now I finally know what pandan leaves look like as they're emerging from the ground. I was seriously excited by the find and wanted to share it with you guys. (Yes, I'm a geek. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'd already know that.)

This makes me think that a South East Asian rainforest probably smells of pandan after the rain, because there is a lot of fragrant pandan growing in it... Caught in a circularity trap, I am.

Anyway, here are pictures of some of the stunning rare cultivars in the Orchid Garden. Don't say we only ever talk to y'all about food. :)



Monday, December 5

Brilliant Savarin

I just had to emerge from my silence and share this with everyone. I've been reading a food writing classic, 'The Pleasures of the Table' by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. First published in 1825, it's a collection of writings on all things foodie, and it reads like a series of lectures that a visiting French philosopher might have delivered in Exam Schools in the 19th century. One can only dream...

Anyway, there is much in this book that's humorous and has literally made me laugh out loud (cf. the account given by a lady who is left alone with her husband's friend, one night after everyone had feasted on truffles at dinner). The part I wanted to share, though, is this.

"Are Truffles Indigestible?

It only remains for us to discover whether the truffle is indigestible. 

Our answer will be in the negative. 

This official and final decision is founded:

1. On the nature of the actual subject of our inquiry (the truffle is easy to masticate, weighs very little, and is neither hard nor tough);

2. On our own observations, conducted over more than fifty years, in the course of which we have never seen a single truffle-eater suffering from indigestion;

3. On the evidence of the most famous practitioners in Paris, which is a city of gourmands, and eminently trufflivorous;

4. And lastly, on the daily conduct of the legal fraternity, who, all things being equal, consume more truffles than any other class of citizens; witness, among others, Doctor Malouet, who used to eat enough of them to give an elephant indigestion, but who nevertheless lived to the age of eighty-six."


Sadly, Brillat-Savarin wasn't able to make his inquiry really thorough, by asking the question: does the daily conduct of the legal fraternity give Truffle indigestion? Responses on a postcard. (No prizes for the correct answer.)

If you fancy reading about Madame Name Unknown and Monsieur Verseuil, have a look at page 38 of the book.



Thursday, November 3

Ocean Commotion, a book for children

Sometime last year, I wrote about food wastage in hotels. It does pain me to see a lot of food served to people who couldn't possibly eat that much, only to be thrown in the bin. Our society seems to want to see abundance all around us in every shape and form, as some sort of marker of our success. Restaurants often want to show diners large quantities on their plates (or, if they're following the 'small plates' trend, they want to give you lots of those plates). Watching cooking programmes on TV, it's not unusual (and indeed we expect) to see over-stuffed larders, and tables packed with a mosaic of colourful dishes and pretty plates. 

In the supermarket, there are so many shelves of fresh, packaged fish, meat and chicken. The shelves seem to want to be full all of the time. But does all of that actually get sold? WRAP, an organisation working to reduce food wastage, estimates that, in supermarkets and convenience stores in the UK alone, 3.6 million tonnes of food product was wasted in 2009. To put that immense figure in perspective, it's roughly equivalent to the weight of 13 double-decker Airbus A380s, without passengers and luggage. (Given that food product is not going to be as dense as the material that goes into making an aircraft, I can't imagine what volume 3.6 million tonnes would take up.)

That seems to me to be such a pity. If people are not buying it, why are shops stocking it? Why is this stuff making it into the supply chain at all, if we're supposed to be operating in free markets? (Yep, loaded question.) I can't help feeling that nature yields such beauteous creations to nourish us with, but that it's a bit of a slap in the face, the way we greedily grab as much as we can of all of that and use it so callously.

This is why I'd like to share a book published by a dear friend of ours. Titled 'Ocean Commotion', the book is a story for children written by Aruna Khanzada and beautifully illustrated with photographs of craft-work fish (all of which was made by children at a recent event at the Chalk Farm Library). I don't want to give away the story, but you can preview it (and buy a copy if you like) here. Aruna is, in my humble opinion, one of those positive-energy-people spinning in the Universe, and I'm so glad that she's channelled some of her energy into this book.

Over-fishing, together with food wastage more generally, is a problem. And as with many problems, I think awareness is the first step.



Monday, October 17

Plusixfive Seafood Feast

Last night, Frangelico, my sister Rice Krispie, her pal JC and I were at the plusixfive supper club again. This was only my second time there, and we looked forward to it with all the excitement of visiting an old friend's home.

The theme this time around was seafood, and the club featured the creations of guest chef Yolanda Augustin. Yolanda is half-Malaysian - of Eurasian descent, she explained, hence the Portuguese surname 'Augustin' - and half-English. She grew up in Malaysia with a maternal grandmother who was one of those amazing-cook-matriarchs that South East Asians will know well. Moving to England for her 'A' Levels, she realised how much she missed the food from home, and she started trying her hand at some dishes. The rest is cooking history. Yolanda, an oncologist by day, is in now the process of setting up her own supper club in London, called Wild Serai, and plusixfive was hosting her first foray into the genre.

We started off with pork belly satay from Goz, chef and founder of plusixfive (day-job: private equity lawyer). If you're in Singapore or Malaysia, you're unlikely to find pork belly satay in a restaurant or hawker centre. Reason being, satay originated in the Malay-Muslim community. Chinese communities in Singapore, however, engineered an alternative that would yield satay as tender and melting as the traditional chicken and lamb. Frangelico described Goz's satay as 'superlative'. I need not say any more, except that the peanut sauce that the satay came dressed in was better than anything I can recall having tried in Singapore: chunky and studded with peanut, limey and aromatic, sweet and sour. If any sommeliers are reading, I challenge you to find a wine pairing for Goz's superlative peanut sauce!

Wednesday, September 28

Le hide, Paris

Le hide, Table d'étoile, Koba's Bistro

Frangelico and I were in Paris a few weeks ago, and it was a great opportunity to meet up with a friend from my school days. I've known Ratatouille since I was seven years old, and we were at the same school until we were 16. That's a mighty long time, and many years of birthday parties! 

One of the best memories from my childhood is of the birthday parties each of us would have every year. These were the highlights of our school years - fabulous gatherings of school friends just running around in the garden, playing home-made games planned and run by my sisters (Pass the Parcel, Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Newspaper Dance, Musical Chairs). And there was, of course, the food. All home-made, except for the cake. My mother's special pizza was always in demand, and my friends still reminisce about them. (Amma's pizzas and her later dosai diplomacy are still paying dividends to this day.)

Tuesday, August 30

Relish, Singapore

Eating all that South East Asian food in Singapore is great, but sometimes you get a craving for something not so spicy. Yes, I'll admit it, I want some relatively bland food, in the same way my dad needs a regular fix of chili when he's traveling in Europe.

To this end, Frangelico, my dad and I visited a new burger bistro in the city. (It's apparently been there for 3 years, but hey it's new to me.) Owned by the same group that gave us Wild Rocket - a rockin' Modern Singaporean experience - Relish features burgers, shakes, rings, fries and pastas.

Spam fries - because just spam wasn't good enough

Monday, August 22

The Yin and Yang of Mangosteen and Durian

Frangelico and I have just returned from a trip to Singapore, where we were visiting my dad. We tried to fit in as much feasting as possible in the one week (all in the interests of the blog, of course). Here's the first course...

August in Singapore is the time when mooncakes start making an appearance. These treats are a staple of the Mid-Autumn Festival, which is a harvest festival celebrated on the 15th month of the Chinese Lunar calendar. The festival usually falls in September or October, but hotel delis and restaurants start stocking mooncakes well before that. Traditional fillings consist of red bean or lotus paste, but the offerings are getting more and more interesting by the year. A recent article in a Singaporean paper mentions, amongst other concoctions, purple potato with cranberry jelly, and champagne truffle with ganache.

Snowskin durian mooncakes

This year, our dear Uncle G gave us a gift of durian mooncakes. The durian, hailed as the King of Fruit in South East Asia, leaves no one indifferent - you either love it or you hate it. Happily, Frangelico (despite never having sighted this prickly green dinosaur of a fruit until a few years ago) loves it. Its aroma is strong (and that's putting it mildly), which means the fruit is banned in public transport on the island, and in the cabin of Singapore Airlines. To me, it's magnificent - with a heavy scent of forests and leaves, deep and sulphurous. The flesh of the fruit is a light yellow, and it's thick and gooey, like condensed milk would be if you concentrated it even further. The taste is rounded sweetness, with just a twinge of sharpness.

Thursday, August 11

A Skylight in London

Just another sunny day in East London

Wherever you may be in the world, if you have an internet connection and are reading this blog, you would no doubt have heard about the recent events in London. It's been a trying time, to say the least. Frangelico and I have been thinking and talking about almost nothing but. Yesterday evening, we expected the looting and vandalism to worsen, but in London it was mostly quiet. Sadly, the same can't be said for other parts of the UK, and worse things happened last night than shops being broken into. This morning, as has been the case over the past few mornings, I started waking up feeling unsettled and disturbed. The world was spinning, and I was struggling to find something to hold on to. In that space of time when I was surfacing from sleep into wakefulness, a few of the pieces that were swirling around my mind came together and fit alongside one another like the embryonic beginnings of a puzzle.

After running some errands in the morning, Frangelico (who was on holiday today) and I took the tube to Aldgate East. Here in East London, about 10 minutes north of the tube station and not far from Spitalfields Market, we found the Crisis Skylight Café. The blackboards behind the broad counter offered for lunch a warm soup, tempting hot dishes, and a variety of jacket potato options. On the counter itself were large white dishes with fresh salads, a feta and vegetable frittata, an egg tortilla with bacon and onions, and various cakes and pastries.

Service with a smile

Both of us went for the sweetcorn chowder to start with, followed by the roasted vegetable dal with rice and tzatziki. Having placed our orders at the counter, the food was delivered to the table. Everything came together, and Frangelico and I leapt in without hesitating.

The chowder was properly steaming and hot, unlike soups you get in most London cafés. It was full of plump and sweet kernels, which had a delightful crunch to them still. The chowder base had the perfect consistency for a summer soup: light, yet fulfilling without being creamy. There was also some chili in the mix, giving the whole flavour profile a stronger dimension. 

Roasted vegetable dal with rice and tzatziki

Next up was the dal and rice dish. Now, I know my South Asian food, and my experience of eating dal in restaurants has either been of the pretty-bland-and-stodgy variety or the over-spiced-and-swimming-in-oil type. The Crisis Skylight Café's dal knocked my socks off. I'd never tasted one as flavourful, healthful, and comfortingly homemade in a restaurant. I loved the tzatziki accompaniment, rather than the usual cucumber raita, because the tzatziki was thicker. Its texture stood up to the dal's complexity of lentils and roasted butternut squash and aubergine, whereas raitas tend to get runny because of the thinner yoghurt and the cucumber.

The ones that got away

The meal was very filling, and we didn't have space for dessert. Just check out what we missed! Triple chocolate muffins, cookies, flapjacks, pain au chocolat, pain au raisin, almond croissant, and cherry and almond croissant.

We enjoyed the ambience a great deal too. There were plenty of smooth wooden tables (with elevated seating by the window at the front), and throughout the two hours or so that we spent there, we witnessed brisk business taking place. The customers seemed to be a mix of local suits, office workers, fashion students, and retired couples. At the height of trade (at around 1.30pm), the queue was all the way to the door.

The fresh décor and comfortable interior

Union hand-roasted coffee and a sofa to enjoy it on

After lunch, I asked to speak to someone about the café, and I first met Eki, the front-of-house manager, and then Carrie-Ann, the head chef. Eki and Carrie-Ann are two of the 4 or 5 members of staff employed by the café. All of the others who work there are their trainees, who are either on the 'front-of-house journey' or the 'kitchen journey'. And who are the trainees, the most important part of the café? The trainees can come from two groups: the first is a group of young offenders working with Switchback, a charity that supports 18-24 year olds to build on skills learnt in prison kitchens; and the second is a group of people working with Crisis, a charity providing education, training and employment services to single homeless people.

Eki talked me through the front-of-house training they undertake: everything from food hygiene,  customer service, barista skills, to managing basic accounting. Each trainee spends roughly 6 months on the programme, working in the café 2 or 3 times a week. At any one time, they are working with roughly 10 to 12 trainees.

Head chef Carrie-Ann, a sparkling Scotswoman from Edinburgh, works on the kitchen training together with the sous-chef Ross. Kitchen trainees are taught everything they need to know in order to operate in a professional kitchen, and the trainees who go on to be placed successfully in employment find jobs as kitchen porters or commis chefs (responsible for basic food preparation). She told us that the dal and rice we'd enjoyed so much that afternoon had been prepared by one of the trainees working with her, Steve. He was familiar with Caribbean cuisine, and so she had given him the task of preparing the dal as a means of introducing him to a different cuisine using different spices.

I was then given the honour of being able to look around the kitchen and photograph the chefs and trainees in action! Sous-chef Ross was busy zipping around preparing some takeaway orders that were coming through, now that it was past the lunch hour. (In fact, he was moving so fast, I didn't get a single shot of him that wasn't blurred.) There was a cake-making lesson going on in the corner too, with Mary and Eric stirring demerara sugar and butter in large bowls. 

Eric, a trainee, is taken through the paces of a ginger cake by Mary

Following on from the events of the past few days, I've been thinking today of something Mahatma Gandhi said: "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." I'm not quoting this because I'm a communist, a leftist, a liberal, politically correct, or suited to any other label. I think the reason is that I'm human. And although I (as much as anyone else) find it difficult to deal with other people a lot of the time, I don't want to see parts of my human family crash and burn when it's within my power, and the power of so many others, to try to do something about it. Even if this perspective isn't for everyone, at the end of the day no man is an island, and unless the prospect of living in a self-sufficient nuclear bunker is particularly attractive, I suspect that only when all of us are doing well, will each of us individually too.

Back row: Eki (front-of-house manager), Carrie-Ann (head chef), Alana (café manager), Eric (trainee), Ross (sous-chef)
Front row: Mo (trainee) , Jo (regional manager), Steve (trainee)

To the teams at Switchback and Crisis: hats off to you guys. You're carrying out tremendous work that not all of us have the emotional strength to do, and you're out there fighting to make a difference to the city I call home and beyond. For this, I thank you and wish you all the very best for your projects.

Crisis Skylight Café
64 Commercial Street
E1 6LT
020 7426 3867

The café is open from Mondays to Fridays, 8am to 3pm (covering breakfast, elevenses, lunch and tea). Their catering services are also available to companies and for events, and the café space may be hired for private events.



Monday, August 8

One great tip for espresso lovers

Coffee? No, thanks. But a croissant, on the other hand...

I'm not a coffee drinker, but a good friend has just given me a fabulous espresso tip, and I have to share it. The tip comes courtesy of Ftira, a lovely and exuberant Londoner who grew up in Malta. She's originally Chilli Padi's friend from their MBA days, but she's adopted Rice Krispie and me as her sisters.

Ftira is a coffee connoisseur, and at dinner last night she was talking about the virtues of Starbucks. (Please note, this is not Truffle's endorsement of Starbucks. I boycotted them for a lengthy period of time following their takeover of my beloved Seattle Coffee Company!) If you want to get the perfect espresso from the baristas at Starbucks, remind them when you place your order to extract/brew the coffee for no more than 19 seconds. Apparently they're trained, during their induction, to brew for exactly 19.5 seconds, but they forget...

So, don't forget the magic number: 19. And if it works for you, come back and tell us!



Monday, July 25

Hammade Homeware

I don't know about the rest of the country, but London's been having a truly beautiful and hot day today. The last seriously warm day we had (before all the rain arrived), Truffle here had the pleasure of being invited to a pop-up shop in Kingly Court in the West End. Given the weather, the media types and teenaged Continental tourists were out in force on Carnaby Street. Kingly Court is a relatively new development that seems to have landed like a space ship into the folds of Soho. Restaurants and cafés surround a courtyard on the ground floor, indie boutiques are scattered throughout the building, and there's a smart yoga studio on an upper floor.

I was at Kingly Court that warm Thursday to check out Ham, a gift and homeware brand started up by Jo Robinson (née Ham). I know Jo from school, as she was Head Girl the year before my sister Rice Krispie was. (That's right, Rice Krispie was Head Girl at my school. Her sisters' pride regarding this fact never fails to embarrass her. So I thought I'd mention it on our blog.) After school, Jo trained as a fine artist at The Ruskin School in Oxford. She then worked in marketing, before leaving last year to start up Ham.

The concept behind Ham is the capture of unexpected moments in the contented lives of a pig, a horse and a rabbit. Jo's designs have taken these moments and finished them on premium cotton, fine bone china, and foil-blocked gift cards. There is much to adorn the home, but my kitchenware antenna specifically picked up on the delightful apron, tea towels and mugs.

Monday, July 18

Cinnamon Goes to Singapore

Hello! We are back from Singapore! We went on a quick one week trip to see my parents, to vacation, to attend my 20th high school reunion and to eat lots of Singaporean food. I had my fill of Mee Pok, Satay, Kueh Pie Tee, Chwee Kueh, Mee Siam, Chilli Crab and Chicken Rice. I am now back, reminiscing about our trip.

You know, I always thought I was the one going through all the change, living in different countries, experiencing different cultures, and developing in complex ways as a person. I expected Singapore to remain the same all through these years. But it too has changed.

My first experience of change came on day 2, when Prince Charming and I left the kids at home with my parents and went to Ann Siang Hill, the trendy hot spot for bars and restaurants. There we had dinner at Cugini's - an Italian restaurant. We were very excited when we got there as the ambience was great and the place was filled with Italians! No better endorsement of restaurants than to have its ethnicity filling its tables, I say. But, we were a little disappointed with the food and the wine. The shocker of the evening came when the bill came at the end....US$350! We had even shared the appetizer and dessert!

We had a similar shocking experience when we lunched at PS Cafe on Harding Road. This time the food was five-star and the ambience hard to beat. It is set in an old colonial building surrounded by trees of dense rainforests. But, my parents waited for an hour for the table and each main course was no less than $23!! What had happened to my inexpensive Singapore!

Friday, July 15

Churros y Chocolate

Frangelico and I were at the Marylebone Summer Fayre a few weeks ago. This is an annual event along Marylebone High Street and its environs, featuring food, drink, live music, massages, indie shops, and estate agents using children as mobile advertising units by planting balloons on them. It's organised by the Howard de Walden Estate, and one could look at the Fayre either as an attempt to create a villagey feel in the area, or as a way of getting more people desirous of living in Marylebone, so that the rents can go up with the influx of demand. All about managing your assets, right?

On the food front, some of the areas' restaurants pitched a tent and presented their favourites. Many of the usual suspects doing the rounds of London's markets were there too - the paella guys, the churros girls, the hog roasts, the sausages, etc. (It's amazing how fried meat can sell.) The Arancini Brothers were there too, and Rice Krispie startled one of them by bounding up and saying: "Hi! You must be Dave!"

Here is some of what we sampled. First up, we have the ever-popular churros y chocolate. This is, I have been assured, the breakfast of champions. Deep-fried dough - crisp and crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside - with sugar, cinnamon and a pot of molten chocolate to dip into.

Looks like Christmas

Sunday, July 3

A Taste of France (and India and Spain)

An American in Paris

Paris is an interesting place when it comes to food. It's harder than you might think to find something really good to eat. Like many other European cities, it too has busy people who want to feed their families quickly. Yes, there are those who take lengthy lunch breaks, but there are also those who eat plain sandwiches. And you'd be surprised by the number of teenagers who, when they're hanging out with friends and catching a movie, do a poll of the group and decide on McDo for dinner. It's not all farmers with live chickens and unpasteurised cheeses.

This makes it hard for the visitor to stumble around and find good quality food. Just like in any other city, if you don't know where you're going, you could end up somewhere less than scintillating (much less). But when you do make a find in Paris, it can be stellar. And it is this which makes treasure-hunting in the City of Light totally worth it.

On a recent trip to Paris, Frangelico and I stumbled upon Lafayette Gourmet. It was a Monday, dinner was a long way away, and the markets were closed, but we wanted to have a tapas-style pick-and-choose snack. Galleries Lafayette is a big department store in the city, located on one of the famous Parisian boulevards, Boulevard Hausmann. The brand is a familiar name in South East Asia too. (Well, it was in 1980s Singapore anyway, and that's where all the South East Asians came to shop in those days).

I'd heard a mention of a food hall in this place and we decided to investigate. We rushed along to Boulevard Hausmann, thinking: "This is Paris, the place would have shut at 5pm". As we came up to the building, we saw a sign announcing that Lafayette Gourmet would be open until 9pm. Allez, les Bleus!

Monday, June 27

Gazpacho Season

Today, we have a special guest post from Rachel over at Mañana Mama. Rachel shares with us her family recipe of gazpacho, perfect for the weather we're having here in England.

Truffle and Frangelico - brave souls that they are - had Chaos HQ over to lunch recently. It was such a hot day that Londoners spilled into the streets, laughing and eating with unrestrained joy.

We four grown-ups drank cold coronas and ate a delicious meal courtesy of Truffle and Jamie: lime-chilli chicken, rocket, sweet potato mash with feta and coriander, followed by the famous C&T crème brulée. In the background, Chaos and Destruction methodically ransacked Trungelico's beautiful grown-up flat.

Ali scaled furnature, headbutted the table, then casually tried to toss the TV remote out the window. Ana ran in circles, and squares, and any other shapes she could think of. Amid all this activity, Truffle and I managed a brief chat about that pinnacle of summertime eats: gazpacho. And I was reminded of Great-grandma Barbara's famous recipe, which is a seasonal staple in our house. Belatedly, but as promised that afternoon, I am passing it on here.

Tomatoes for gazpacho

Sunday, June 19

Cinnamon Goes to New York

I was in New York last week on a seminar and as a major food maniac, I had organized weeks ahead to meet with my cousin and a friend for the two nights I was to spend there. My cousin, a young man of 27 with many corporate talents, was coming in from Pennsylvania and had suggested we dine his style - hitting a couple of bars, a Indian-Kebab-roll hole-in-the-wall, followed by another bar and finally a food truck on 57th and something. I very enthusiastically agreed in a vain attempt at wanting to be 27 again but when I landed in NY and got to my hotel at 6pm, I got a little worried.

I am a good deal older and further along life in terms of children and gastric-wall deterioration. As I knew I had at least two hours before I was to meet with him, I sneaked out to a sushi restaurant, Monster Sushi, a very decent chain close to the hotel. I thought I'd get a small platter, but it turned out a little bit more generous than I thought. It was very good... And yes, I was pretty full when I met him, but he doesn't know that!

My cousin arrived at my hotel at 8:30pm and off we went to the Village!  It was crawling with the young life of New York. We drank a couple of beers and went quite quickly to Kati Roll.

Saturday, June 18

Taste of London, Regent's Park

Look at the steam rising from this one (my friend says I have it in for the pigs this week)

Another year, another Taste of London in the rain. Must be something about festivals, that they require mud, wellies and waterproofs as proof of concept. There were snatches of sunshine too, though, and the park would become really warm. So the whole thing called for summer dress and slip-ons, spring jacket and cardigan, sunglasses, an umbrella, and an autumn knit rolled up in the back-pack. How to negotiate a food festival in a city centre park (if that city is London).

The Taste of London food and restaurant festival takes place in Regents Park every year. For four days, some of the capital's best restaurants (plus some others) set up temporary kitchens fronted by counters, which are then mobbed by greedy Londoners. Oh yes, the elbows were out today. My Singaporean training stood me in good stead for dealing with kiasus, though, and I weaved in and out like a Mazda on the ECP, finding my way to the front of the herd very quickly. 

The front-of-house teams dealt with all of it very well, each in their own way. Asia de Cuba had a thumping stereo going, and the waiters had a little disco between the kitchen and their counter. Small paper plates somehow wound their way from the chef's hands to the customers', following the rhythm of a hip-hop beat. The Hart brothers' trio of Barrafina, Fino and Quo Vadis displayed discipline and focus, yet were as vibrant as their actual restaurants' kitchens. It was order that, to an outsider's eyes, could look deceptively like chaos.

Thursday, June 16

Don't read this if you're vegetarian

The Singapore Takeout lunch on the South Bank was heavily rained upon. Thankfully, the event was taking place in a marquee, so all we had to contend with were icy, blustery winds blowing in from the Thames. (If you can't stand the heat in the kitchen...) After lunch - by which point the rain had stopped - I took a walk past the Royal Festival Hall. The rain had scattered most people, so it was a pleasant walk in the cool, slightly humid environs of the South Bank.

I must have some sort of homing device that leads me straight to food. Frangelico has remarked on my uncanny ability to be walking around, guided by some indefinable inner sense, and happen upon a high-quality food phenomenon. (Another thing I can find this way is bookshops. Drop me in some unfamiliar territory, and I'll walk in a straight line to a bookshop in less than twenty minutes.)

On this occasion, walking around the Royal Festival Hall, I realised that I'd been led straight to a food market! The Real Food Market, a recent initiate to the London market scene, runs every weekend (Friday to Sunday) in the southern courtyard of the RFH. It brings together selected food and drink producers in a bid, they say, to "offer a completely different experience to soulless supermarkets".

Arancini with mayo

Monday, June 13


Photo credit:

Frangelico prepared some strawberries for dessert this evening. (It usually starts with me thinking out loud: "I feel like something sweet". And before my craving for something generally sweet turns into a craving for something specifically pastry, Frangelico quietly starts rinsing and hulling fruit.)

While enjoying the strawberries, I couldn't help but be startled by just how miraculous it is, that something so bright and red and sweet comes from unremarkable, heavy, grainy clods of earth. The natural world is full of magic and miracles.



Sunday, June 12

Tex Mex Brisket - PBAB

The weekend is over and I am still reminiscing about the fabulous dinner party Prince Charming and I attended on Friday night. My good friend Fruit Salad and her husband Tex Mex hosted our tight circle of friends over at their place in our neighborhood. Tex Mex is an ex-hedge fund manager from New York and like most hedge fund managers knows a lot about wines. Why is that? Do all hedge fund managers have to attend a wine course as part of their orientation? "Hey, before you short that stock, better learn which French blends from the Languedoc region include Cab Franc!" Prince Charming and I have benefited from his knowledge and their generosity as they always bring fabulous wines to our house when we have hosted them in the past. The responsibility of bringing a good bottle of wine to their dinner party was on me.

On the way back from work, I headed directly to our country club to see if I could purchase a bottle directly from them. I called the club's wine expert as I drove in, and was told that he was out on vacation, and the F&B director was kind enough to help me out. She actually took me down to the wine cellar with the wine list! I was thrilled to be there but wished I knew more about wines to have enjoyed the experience more.

Saturday, June 11

Singapore Takeout

This is going to be a quick post, because if you're kicking around London this afternoon, you might want to hot-foot it to the South Bank, instead of spending too long in front of your computer.

Truffle here was recently invited along to preview a taste fest called 'Singapore Takeout'. Singapore Takeout is kind of like mobile food - except that the 'mobile' is a shipping container, the 'food' is Modern Singaporean cuisine, and it's free. It's an event showcasing the best of Singaporean cuisine in 9 cities around the world, including Paris, Moscow, New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Dubai and Sydney. You can find dates for your city here.

The first stop is London (of course). Each city is treated to the delights of one Singapore chef working with one local hero. Londoners have Janice Wong - chef of the 2am Dessert Bar - and Peter Gordon. Peter Gordon needs no introduction in this city, but for the benefit of our international readers, he's a New Zealand-born fusion chef and entrepreneur who started off Notting Hill's Sugar Club, and who's now behind The Providores and Tapa Room in Marylebone, and new Covent Garden arrival Kopapa.

Janice Wong and Peter Gordon

The event ends at 8pm tonight, so I'm going to get to it!

Thursday, June 2

Kueh Pie Tee! I am coming home!

Did you read my sister's post on that fabulous Singaporean meal in London? OMG, it has caused much turbulence here in Charlotte. I have been craving Kueh Pie Tee, Satay, Beef Rendang, and all things Singaporean ever since and am deeply frustrated by my lack of options.

As a result, I am dragging my friends, Swiss Chocolate and Rhoshogolla, to Cuisine Malaya in Uptown Charlotte tomorrow for lunch where I am going to declare that I am Singaporean and that they better serve me some authentic Beef Rendang!  If not, they are going to be dealing with one grouchy and hungry Singaporean!

I also sent my mother an email this morning. My little family and I are going to Singapore to visit my parents at the end of the month, with our friend Kohlrabi and her little ones for our summer break. I will also be attending my 20-year reunion at RJ.... (wah lau, 20 years!).  My mother had already informed me that she will be putting together an Excel spreadsheet for our 7 days there so that we squeeze in as much as possible during our stay. You know, Monday - Singapore Zoo, Tuesday - Botanic Gardens, Wednesday - that big ferris wheel that looks like the London Eye, so on and so forth. "You sure you don't want to take Kohlrabi to the Night Safari?" "No need, Amma! Zoo enough already!" The email I sent my mother this morning was a request to add another column to that spreadsheet specifying what we will be having for lunch and dinner that week. Tuesday - Botanic Gardens plus Dhoby Ghaut Popiah on the way back, Friday - Hindu Temple plus Maxwell Road Food Center etc.

Tuesday, May 31

A call from home: the Singapore supper club in London

Last week, I got a call from home. Stumbling around the internet, I came across a Singaporean supper club right here in London. I contacted them immediately, but found out that places were already full for their inaugural dinner. I gave them my number (in case spaces came up), feeling that I just might hear from them again. The Universe works in mysterious ways. As Frangelico and I were having a late brunch on Sunday afternoon, I got a text telling me that they'd moved the furniture around and found spaces for us!

For our international readers, supper clubs have been a popular dining option in London since around 2009. They're basically dinner parties, hosted by dedicated foodies out of their own kitchens. Paying guests attend, with their own drinks, and are seated at shared tables in the host's living room. It can be a great way to have an informal evening out, while discovering new styles of cooking and meeting new people who are also into food.

The +(65)/plusixfive supper club (named after Singapore's international dialling code) features Goz as head chef and Wen, writer of Going with my Gut, at front-of-house (she also made a dish of her own). One of their aims is to show Londoners that there is more to Singaporean food than the 'fictitious dish of Singapore Fried Noodles'. (That's right, people, there is no such thing. The turmeric-covered, thin rice noodles, with prawn or pork or whatever, was invented on this Continent. Probably by Marks & Sparks.)

Before telling you much more about +(65)/plusixfive, I'm going to get straight to the food. We started with one of my favourite Singaporean dishes: kueh pie tee.

Kueh pie tee shells, newly fried and waiting for fillings

Friday, May 27

Maybe a little something sweet?

A few days ago, I posted a picture of what I thought was a pretty tasty-looking crab. I'd taken that photo at a Chinese restaurant in San Francisco, R&G Lounge. Frangelico and I pretty much demolished everything they put on our table at R&G, and merely looking at that photo makes me crave the salty, peppery, garlicky crunchiness of the exterior and the white tenderness of the crab-meat.

I sort of didn't think about it, and I assumed the crab would have universal appeal. But one of our regulars, the wonderful Frau Fancy (of I'm So Fancy) didn't particularly ... fancy the crab pic. This really piqued my interest. And it opened my eyes to something I guess I already knew, but perhaps didn't appreciate fully until now: food is a matter of personal taste.

Thanks, Frau Fancy, for the development opportunity. I'm wondering if these cinnamon buns from the fabulous Nordic Bakery are more to your liking? ;)

Cinnamon buns from the Nordic Bakery

How about the rest of you guys out there - crab or cinnamon buns? (Or neither? In which case I'm posting a picture of a salad the next time.)



Tuesday, May 24

A taste of things to come

Someone said a few weeks ago that our blog always makes them hungry. Well, here's a little something for ya! The story about this Dungeness crab is still in the back-log (it's from way back when, from San Francisco), and it'll make its way through to your screen in due course...



Monday, May 23

New Look

Hello, everyone!

As you can see, we've decided to update the look of our blog a little bit.

If you'd like to share your thoughts on the new look, please drop us a note by leaving a comment on this post (click 'Post a Comment' or 'Comments' below. (We won't publish your comment - we just figured it'd be an easy way for readers to send us a message without needing to fire up e-mail.)


Cinnamon and Truffle

Sunday, May 22

Dinner at NASCAR

While my sister dines at très chic restaurants off Regent Street in London, I have dinner at the races in Charlotte. Nope, not of the Ascot type but more of the Nascar kind.

My husband and I recently came to be in possession of two tickets to a corporate suite at the All Star Nascar Race last night. I had been to a race five years ago, but we were in the stands. The culture shock of severe mullets, beer hats, back-of-the-truck barbeques, and drunken rednecks was too much for me (all due respect to rednecks....) and I had sworn that I would never return to a Nascar race. The fact is that the face of Nascar had changed over time here in Charlotte to a more civilized one (or I have localized quite a bit over five years) and if I was going to enjoy it, it was going to be from a corporate suite.

Dinner was served in the suite and I had been looking forward to it. It was Southern barbeque - pulled pork, Southern-fried chicken, beans, sweet potato and buns. I usually enjoy a good pulled pork, when it is seasoned well and tangy with vinegar. It was a decent meal.

I did enjoy the cucumber and fennel salad. Fresh and crunchy with both the fennel root as well as the feathery leaves, it had the overtones of summer and was simply delightful. It actually had a yogurt base and reminded me of an Indian raita.

Friday, May 20

Pollen Street Social, London

Frangelico and I recently had lunch at Jason Atherton’s new venture, Pollen Street Social. Jason Atherton was previously Executive Chef at Maze, part of the Ramsay chain. My experience with the Ramsay brand had made me hesitant to try Maze and, to be honest, Pollen Street Social. But I’m glad I overcame my resistance, because the experience was a unique one – and nothing like my previous Ramsay nightmares.

Located on a quiet lane near Regent Street, the restaurant occupies a site that formerly housed a Pitcher & Piano. Pollen Street Social has done a wholesale refit of the place, bringing in a warm, welcoming and tasteful décor with plenty of light. And, of course, the team has installed a fun and quality dining experience.

Sunday, May 15

Bad Combinations

I’m a fan of Kate Takes 5’s Listography, but I’m not a frequent contributor, as I can’t always find a food angle to squeeze into the topics.  This one was easy peasy: Bad Combinations.  There are plenty of those in the food industry, so here goes…

Thursday, May 12

Feeding the Soul

Frangelico and I were in Portugal recently, to visit my sister, Chili Padi, and her husband, Mr Dessert. Their youngest was being baptised, and Frangelico had been asked to be the godfather.

The ceremony took place in the modern church in Sagres, the town closest to Martinhal. Officiating was the young Padre, thin and focused. Also assembled were some of Mr Dessert’s family from Switzerland, and friends from London and Portugal. It was a lovely service, where the baby tested his resonant voice in the acoustics of the open church for the first half, and slept through the second half (opening his eyes briefly as the holy water was poured on his head).

The sermon was in Portuguese, and I tried to pick up whatever I could, extrapolating from my elementary Spanish. It was thoughtful stuff that this young Padre had to share with us, our assembled crew of Catholics, Hindus, Taoists and non-believers. He spoke about the role of religion in one’s life, of our relationship with ourselves, each other and God, and on the duty of the parents and godparents to ensure that the baby developed not only physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.

Tuesday, April 26

Pandan whatio?

In my post on Bubbleology last week, I mentioned an ingredient called 'pandan' but failed to elaborate on what it was. In case you were wondering, I fortunately happen to have secured a bunch of pandan leaves to show you.

Pandan leaves

Meet pandanus amaryllifolius, a well-known face in the South East Asian food circuit. Usually appearing at foodie taste parties alongside coconut milk, pandan's role is to give dishes a heady scent and flavours a long finish. It's very distinct as a flavour, though, so it escapes comparisons to other foods. I can't say it's anything like basil or coriander or curry leaf or lemongrass. However, if you try to imagine an open field or a forest in South East Asia with lush vegetation, you might be able to guess at the taste of pandan. In fact, the closest I can get to describing pandan's scent is this: it's what the tropical rainforest in Singapore smells like after a heavy rain shower.

Friday, April 22

Bruegger's Soup

I have been having a lot of soup for lunch lately. Why? Because at the over-ripe age of 37, I am going through orthodontic treatment with braces. Mid-life crisis, you ask? Perhaps. Truffle is worried that it is a form of gateway treatment for other cosmetic adjustments. I have assured her that I will not be having a boob job any time soon, though I might consider Botox in my 50s. Heck, by then, everyone will be self-administering the stuff!

Thursday, April 21

Bubbleology, Soho

On some nights, I wish Central London had an alternative evening-drink locale to the stinky pub (featuring sticky floors and faded upholstery) or the flashy bar (featuring ladies of the night). You know, a nice place where you can just kick back with friends, dress casually, and not be surrounded by bodies pressing into you with their lager-breath or women's voices getting screechier as the alcohol absorption increases. (Admit it, sometimes we all want an alternative to that sort of evening!)

In many Asian cities, this 'alternative' is actually a well-developed genre, and there are hosts of coffee chains, local tea shops and ice-cream parlours staying open late (even well past midnight on weekends), offering young people a relaxed, civilised place to get out of the house. One such place is the bubble tea café.

Bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and is named for the bubbles that develop on the surface when shaken. It comes in black or fruit tea combos and can feature plump tapioca pearls at the bottom of the cup, slurped up through wide straws. For me, bubble tea means shopping in a hot tropical climate and stopping for some cool refreshment, or hanging out with friends after a movie with no one getting drunk around you.

This is why I was especially pleased to be invited to the launch of Bubbleology, a new bubble tea café in Soho. Co-founder, Assad Khan, worked in a New York City investment bank for a few years before returning to the UK. Along with that infectious NYC enthusiasm for commerce, he brought back with him the idea for a chain of bubble tea cafés. Aware of the drink's Taiwanese origins, he approached that country's representation to the UK and was soon dispatched to Taipei, where he learned how to make bubble tea from the masters and identified the best suppliers for the specialist equipment he needed. Back in London, he approached Dan Einzig, designer of the successful chain of young, fun and family-friendly Giraffe restaurants. Not having cash to give him upfront, Assad offered Dan Einzig an equity stake in the idea (the two later brought in angel investors). All in all, from putting the idea in motion to opening the first café in Soho, the process took just 10 months. I don't think anyone can fail to be impressed by that.

Wednesday, April 20

Koya, Soho

Sorry for the long absence, peeps. I've been working on an interesting piece, which still needs some attention. In the mean time, Frangelico and I were in Soho last night, for a press launch of a place I can't talk about yet (online press embargo until Thursday, you see). After the event-that-shall-not-be-named, we thought we'd head to nearby Koya, a Japanese restaurant that's become hugely popular in a very short space of time.

Koya's specialty is udon, which is made fresh in-store every day. You can get it atsu-atsu (hot udon with hot soup - the dashi is made fresh daily too), hiya-atsu (cold udon with hot soup on the side), or hiya-hiya (you work it out). It's very hard to find good udon in London, so I'm not surprised at how this place has taken off. The quality of the udon's texture rivals my previous best-find at Defune (although the taste at Defune remains unbeaten).

Wednesday, April 13

Transatlantic Food Tasting

One of the many benefits of being a food blogger is that people take your tasting skills rather seriously. Within a span of two weeks, I was invited not to one, but to two food tastings - one in Portugal (see earlier post on trip to Martinhal) and the other right here in the country club in our little town of Davidson, NC.  Martinhal was looking to expand their lunch menu for their casual beach and pool restaurant and our country club was looking to hire a new chef. Both food committees were small (10-14 people) and I was honored to have been invited to both.

I was expecting both experiences to be vastly different. I expected the tasting in Martinhal  to include intricate hues of sophisticated tastes and did not expect as much complexity here in Davidson. I was surprised. In Europe, there seemed to be a return to refined simplicity, with basic herbs and simple flavors of garlic and olive oil bringing out the best in high quality seafood and meat. In the US, there is a burning desire to encompass the entire world of taste in one sitting. "Make it pop!  Where is the burn? I want a full flavored meal! What is so creative about this dish?" Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed and cherished both tastings, like one would cherish two very different children.

There was one overarching theme though, the folks who organize these tastings don't necessarily want to know if YOU like the food, they want to know if you think everyone ELSE will. In Martinhal, the one question that was asked a few times was, "but will the Portuguese like it?" The answer? "60% of our clientele are British..."  The question raised here in Davidson was,"yeah, this guy makes excellent seafood.  But how many club members enjoy seafood?" I love seafood, so I swiftly changed the subject both times this question was asked.

Here are some of the highlights of the food tasting in Martinhal.

Tender, fresh from the sea, succulent Portuguese sardines in vinegar and olive oil with slices of garlic.

Medium rare steak with clams - plenty of garlic, olive oil and rosemary. Fan-bloody-tastic! A nice red to wash it down! (Chilli Padi, please send me the name of the wine...)

Shrimp. Whoo boy. Garlic, garlic, garlic, olive oil, olive oil, flavor flavor flavor! Yumm.

Superb lobster dressed in a cotton dress to show its true beauty. So no heavy white sauce with melted cheese to cover it all up!

What were we served in North Carolina?

Top rate sushi! This Mexican chef of Japanese and Italian descent had driven 120 miles to the NC coast to get the best fish for our tasting.

He was indeed creative. This was a lunch salad with a grilled cheese sandwich and fried egg as the main components. One of the best salads I have ever had.

Steak with prosciutto and tomato dressed with a vanilla-bean sauce. I have only had this type of sauteed tomatoes in Indian food. This was the winner that night.

Rack of lamb served Osso Bucco style. Hmmm, I would rather have rack of lamb grilled or real Osso Bucco... But it looked good and it made a statement about his creativity.

My final favorite - Salmon Made Three Ways.

So, that's all folks! If you would like to invite us to other tastings, Cinnamon and Truffle would be happy to oblige!


Sunday, April 3

Martinhal - The Benefits of Being a Sister of a Hotelier

Truffle and I are two sisters out of four. Truffle and I have written about sister number 4, Rice Krispie, but have yet to mention sister Premier, Chilli Padi. The reason is that I had been waiting to visit her in Portugal, which I recently did.

Chilli Padi and I are only three years apart. We grew up together as a pair and Truffle and Rice Krispie, much younger than us were the other pair. Chilli and I fought and argued like typical sisters, but she took care of me too. She always looked out for me at school, took me to her friends' birthday parties and she was my go-to person for homework. There was no way I could compete with her and I knew early on not to bother. She was stronger, smarter, and more outgoing. Teachers, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins were all very impressed with her and always commented on how intelligent she was as a child. My fifth grade Chinese teacher once said to me, "Your sister is so smart!  Her Mandarin is so good! What happened to you?" Mind you, I did have a couple of things going for me too. I was the cute one. I had chubby cheeks and a mean pout. I'd also like to think that I had an artistic flair - I was good at drawing, I was pretty good at school plays, and could always make Chilli laugh. 

We also had very different tastes. She liked chocolate ice-cream, I liked strawberry. She liked savory, I liked sweet. She liked meat, I liked fruit. We might have been different then, but not anymore. I loved all the food at her hotel and resort in Portugal.

Err, yes, you read correctly. My sister continued on that stellar path and she and her husband, Mr. Dessert, have developed, built and now run Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel.  Not only that, they managed to pop out four lovely children while building a business. We visited them recently for Spring Break and had the best family holiday ever! The hotel and resort is gorgeous!  The architecture and design is modern-contemporary and just stunning. The place is filled with great art and the spa is top notch. The most memorable for yours truly? The cuisine at Martinhal.

Here are just a few highlights:
As Dunas restaurant (The Sand Dunes). Their more casual restaurant by the beach with the best seafood in the region. Portugal is known for fresh seafood served grilled with a side of potatoes and salad/vegetables.

Seafood lunch platter. You can't have this combo unless you sister runs the place!

 Garlic shrimp! Yum. You have to peel them with your hands which means you get extra flavor on your fingers.

Grilled fish, Portuguese style, but taken a few levels up Martinhal-style. 

Clams with garlic and cilantro/coriander. Would you believe my American kids loved this dish!  

 Portuguese coffee to wash it down.

O Terraco (The Terrace) restaurant where breakfast and dinner are served.

Breakfast. A picture tells a thousand words...

 Porto Branco. Pre-dinner drink in lounge.

I have more pictures but not enough time. Chilli and Mr. Dessert were kind enough to invite us to a food tasting for As Dunas restaurant. So, much more in my next post!

Chilli Padi and Mr Dessert, congratulations on Martinhal. We are very proud of you. Chilli Padi, I expected and will continue to expect nothing less from you. Love you!



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