October 26, 2011 § 1 Comment
But listen. Listen – My fruit tart is singing! Please don’t say it was just a fruit tart – for fruit tarts don’t normally make me smile stupid like this. The strawberries, the kiwis, the rasberries and mandarines were mindblowingly fresh, and the custard – my god, an edible swimming pool in august. The whole thing was exactly what a garden on a swimming pool would taste like if it is translated into a dessert.
Hark the harold my cake sings.
Listen, going to Pastiche, is frankly the closest thing I’ve done to a pilgrimage in my life. It’s like going to church, but instead of bread and wine, you get cake. We worship at the altar of the old fashion coconut cake, and whisper prayers of faith into the depths of the banana cream pie. Our sermon? The beautiful crack sound that forms itself as the spoon hits the golden, caramelized surface of the butterscotch creme brulee.
I would travel 4 hours to Providence, trek over the supposedly famous river which I’ve forgotten the name of, pass street after street of Mafia operated restaurants – and behold, there it is – Pastiche.
Pastiche. Pas – teeeee – chhhhhhhhh. I would articulate Pastiche’s name like Humbert Humbert does Lolita’s.
Cakeism. My religion of the day.
August 8, 2011 § 3 Comments
E arrived in Shanghai on Saturday afternoon and we decided to go for afternoon tea. I am obsessed with Sichuan food lately, so I did that intense online restaurant hunting thing again, going on Dianping (Shanghai verson of Menupages in NYC or Openrice in HK) and finally settling down on this restaurant near People’s Square.
Shanghai is so LARGE. Do you know, that it is the largest city in the world? There are TWENTY exits for the metro at People’s Square and we sort of (I think) got out at the right exit and found the Mall where the restaurant is. But turned out, the mall has about 10 entrances, 5 sets of lifts that go to different floors and sections and you could imagine the ecstasy on my face when we, after looping back and forth on the ground floor, suddenly saw a sign to the restaurant somewhere far off.
I decided to be exceptionally organized and obsessive that morning when I did my restaurant research, so I had a picture with me on my iphone of all their signature dishes:
and we ended up ordering the 钵钵鸡 (chicken) and 水煮鲶鱼 (literal translation: water cooked fish. In reality…. well you’ll see in a second)
Then E and I started catching up for a bit while we waited for food. It always makes me so happy to catch up with LPC kids, there’s just something… something about us…
Nah, just kidding. It’s just that I ran out of vocabularies.
And then suddenly, E’s eyes widened and she let out an almost horrified whisper ‘Oh…’
I turned, and towards us, loomed a GINORMOUS china bowl – actually more like a lake of chili oil in a water tank made of China. It was so large, I swear you could bathe in it. Note that we were having afternoon tea at that time – the dainty little scones and tarts from Brown Hotel’s high tea tower could drown themselves like sweet babies in this abyss if they wish.
Our immediate reaction: Gawk at pot for the longest time, hear it settle with a bang on our table, look at each other and then slo-o-o-o-oowly reach for our cameras. I swear we were like a mirror image.
Nevermind the shock of the new. I picked up a slice of catfish with my chopsticks and waited a few seconds for it to drip free of excess liquid. I call it liquid because the ‘lake’ is not oil and not water – but somewhere in between.
Bite. Chew. Swallow.
The flavors …. were truly…. INSANE.
INSANE. It’s like introducing spicy fireworks to your tastebuds. Only, it couldn’t be described as ‘spicy’, because it is much, much more than that. There’s also a herb in it, very much resembling hybrid between a peppercorn and a caper, that when you bite down on it, releases a most mind blowing circus performance in your mouth. It’s numbs your tongue for the first few seconds, then it turns tart… and then I don’t even know how to begin explaining the rest of the journey. People often generalize Sichaun food as ‘spicy’. But spicy is a single, straightforward adjective – it could be used to describe a fraction of this dish, as well as KFC wings, or your sauce of choice at Subway. But this is like… like an orchestra playing in your mouth – no, like you’re doing a live DJ set and you’re mixing and meshing the sickest tracks with one hand and punching the air with another. And by god, the crowd is dancing. They’re dancing my friend!
… which calls to mind a memorable quote. From the 1997 Julia Roberts movie My Best Friend’s Wedding:
‘Suddenly, a familiar song. And, you’re off your chair in one, exquisite movement… wondering, searching, sniffing the wind like a dapple deer. Has God heard your little prayer? Will Cinderella dance again? And then, suddenly, the crowds part and there he is: sleek, stylish… radiant with charisma. Bizarrely, he’s on the telephone. But then, so are you. And then he comes towards you… the moves of a jungle cat. Although you quite correctly sense that he is… gay… like most devastatingly handsome single men of his age are, you think… what the hell. Life goes on. Maybe there won’t be marriage… maybe there won’t be sex… but, by God, there’ll be dancing.’
And there will sure be.
In short, what I am trying to say is: This is the beginning of an obsession with Sichuan food. And guess where I’m flying to in a few hours to join the rents? CHONGQING. Land of Sichuan food.
Excuse the title. You’d expect me to apologize and say I ran out of ideas but believe it or not, Sichuan food does make me feel that way. *Big Smile*
July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment
If anyone happened to walk out of the Hongqiao Road station Exit 4 at 1pm this afternoon, they would have seen a girl in a dull blue cotton dress, cinched a little below the waist, facing the wall and doing what apparently seems to be furiously flinging some noodles from a paper bowl into her mouth.
(If they stay a little longer, they would also see her looking sketchily left and right, before taking out a bottle of mineral water and washing her hands with it.)
That is a stratrgy i’ve learned from Discovery Channel since I was a young girl. The Ostrich Rule of Thumb. If you can’t see them, they can’t see you.
Really, this is the thing I’ve come to adore about Shanghai – no matter how stupid I look on the streets, no matter how much of a tramp I look like eating while walking, no matter how badly I eff up, anywhere, anytime… No one would know after a month .
Eating that bowl of 面皮 (soupless rice noodles mixed with…. read on) – was like experincing that Macho Nachos high one certain midnight in East Village. It’s like I was sent on to a platform of infinite euphoria and there was no stopping me from going on and on and on and on… I’m never a big carb fan (… I mean rice and noodles and pasta specifically), but Oh… My… LJU)W*RU(*SDUIHSDJHFN()&#)… this one was SO GOOD. The sesame oil, infused with the thread thin cumcumbers and the red spices and the occasional peanuts and every little irregular bump and imperfection of the hand made noodles … Made it just so, SO perfect.
And then when you figured out there’s nothing left in the bowl, you just look up, pause and think: oh, the rest of the world actually exists.
And crap, I don’t have tissue napkins.
I bought thirty packs of Kleenex and ten packs of wet wipes (spent literally half an hour choosing which scent to buy so now I have aloe vera, tree oil, mint and lemon… pick?) after that. Promise you it’d be a neater job next time round.
Also some morning blabs…
Given that my mandarin is truly kinda, exceptionally, you know… bad,this conversation happened as I ran pass a street vendor, spun my head around, and doubled back.
Me: ‘what is that?’
‘………[some accented mando that I dont understand]’
‘Oh, I see….. Can I have one? Is there ‘rou’ [meat] in there?’
‘Um….Rou… Roll… Like *Flap hands around.* Chicken, lamb, beef… Roll’
‘Nevermind. Can I have one?’
‘Okay. 4 dollars. Do you want sausage in it?’
After a while, we conversed a bit more and he got to know that I’m from Hong Kong.
Me: ‘Hong Kong is very crowded!.’
Him: ‘What? Yea.. Lots of people go to Hong Kong.’
Me: ‘I’m doing a summer job in Shanghai for a month. But I study in New York.’
Him: ‘Oh really. Hey [name of friend]. She’s from hong kong.’
Friend: ‘Oh. Student?’
Him: ‘No she’s working already.’
After a while more….. pancake’s almost ready…
Friend: ‘What are you up to today?’
Me: ‘Oh i’m heading to this … this… (I wanted to say art square, but I didn’t know how to say ‘art’ in mando) … Ahh I’m so bad at speaking mandarin!’
Friend: *Laugh and babble somehing for 5 minutes
Me: ‘Ohh hahahahhahaaaa yes.’
Friend: ‘Yes? Of courrrse.. Hong kong blah blah China blah blah . Yes?’
Friend: ‘Yes of course hahahhaa’
Me: ‘Yes! Hahahahahaa’
The joy of not knowing a language too well.
I walked away and passed by the skinny, tanned middle-aged woman at the next stall. Her black hair, with loose hints of grey, were as usual, tied in a low ponytail. She has a slightly broken tooth and today she’s wearing a loose dark blue tshirt that was torn at the collar. I waved at her. She smiled back at me and said ‘ay!’ I would pass by there every morning and grab the best meat buns in the world before rushing to the heart of the city.
It’s hardly a week and I’ve already become buddies buddies with 70% of ah yees and suk suks at restaurants or food stalls on the road outside… home.
Yes. Somehow, I feel surprisingly at home.
And can someone please enlighten me? Did I pronounce ‘meat’ wrong? It should be somewhat like ‘roll’ right?
张阿姨面皮 Auntie Cheung’s Noodles, near Hongqiao Road Station, Shanghai.
Vendor that is usually there on Saturdays and Sundays, selling some sorta pancaky thing.
July 20, 2011 § 2 Comments
If there is once in my life when I feel like fainting from the richness of a meal before sundown, it would be this time. The other time was perhaps some seven, eight years ago, when I was 11. We were in Macau, at Westin (still my favorite place to stay at in the region after all these years despite the bloom of many new hotels that often stink slightly of newfound money). I was in love with their buffet breakfast back then – I loved the variety, I loved the freshness of everything, I loved the tinkling sound of glassware and silverware against the sunlit marble of the hotel lobby. So one morning, I decided I would eat a portion of everything and not bother eating for the rest of the day. I remember mom had to stay behind to wait for me to finish while dad goes up and freshen up or something. I had croissants, danishes, sunny-side-ups, dim sum, fruits, cereal, yoghurt, sausages, smoked salmon, bagels, muffins, a mixture of different fresh juices which I fancied to call my signature morning cocktail, cold cuts of every shade of pink…
By the end of it… I felt like a juvenile mom whose fetus mutated into a meteorite.
The story did not end there. Two hours later, we went to Dad’s favorite spot for suckling pig, Fernando, a down to earth restaurant on the beachside. It was that period when my parents would insist on me having a healthy diet and a regular eating pattern, so when Dad heard that I was skipping lunch, he looked as if I just asked if I could be a prostitute when graduate. Braving the situation with a smile and slowly, slowly swallowing one chunk of pork after another (which normally tastes drop dead excellent), I could honestly feel some brain cells dying.
And that, for me, was the start of a life-long resentment towards the anything that has the word ‘buffet’ associated with it.
But back to lunch in question. Have you seen heart attacks in pyramidal forms?
So it starts off like this…
And ends up like this.
DO YOU GET IT???? IT’S BACON STACKED INTO A PYRAMID.
Okay, wait. Before Chinese chef’s start an uproar and the rest of the world faint from visual shock, let me clarify something. In chinese, it is called ‘扣肉’ – pork belly. It is one of the most famous dishes in Wei Zhou (惠州) cuisine, and is always a terrible guilty pleasure of mine at Guangdong restaurants. The choice of pork is of utmost importance – it is called 五花肉 (literal translation: five flower meat… but literal translations never make sense), and should have a perfect proportion of skin, subcutaneous fat and lean meat. When placed in the mouth, it should not disgust you, but instead should melt instantly into a fragrant liquid and marry beautifully with the sauce, the herbs and the pillow of bun that usually comes along with it.
To prepare it, the chunk of meat is first deep fried. Then it is sliced up and steamed under a bed of herbs and dried vegetables (梅菜) before being topped off with a typical red sauce. In ‘normal’ circumstances, it looks like this:
In this case, the meat is sliced into JAW-DROPPINGLY thin strips, constructed into a pyramid, and in the hollow center – a stuffing of fungi and dried vegetables and lean meat that was apparently slow-cooked in the broth of the meat.
I actually felt some christmas lights lighting up at the roof of my mouth. It didn’t taste fattening and nor oily at all. It just tastes… like an extramarital affair.
I don’t know… but isn’t this a bit more elegant than its American diner counterpart? (Big Toothy Smile)
Jumping back to the first dish. I know this post would end up a bit long, but the pork and the following dish – a roast duck – are so, so SINFUL I just have moast (moan + boast) them out like Sylvia Plath writes about her attempted suicides. The duck was first glazed with oil and roasted in a stone oven. Then it is rushed to the table as quickly as possible and sliced in front of five hungry audiences. No time spared, come along duck, come along…
You know we force feed birds too? Yes, unfortunately, it’s not just a Frenchie thing…
Again one of the China’s national dishes – the Peking Roast Duck, but served in a never-seen-before manner – in three ways: the skin, the lean meat, and the combination of the two. The browned skin, (this time sprinkled with crystals of sugar instead of with the usual hoisin sauce), glistening hot and crispy, practically dissolves upon landing on the tongue.
So. Ridiculously. Good.
You know I was nicknamed hamster in junior secondary school? I am still not too sure of the physical resemblance, but there is one thing that probably explains it – hamsters never know how to stop eating. They would actually die from getting overfed, that’s why you are not supposed to put a huge dish of food in its cage – it would actually not stop eating.
And so yes, I came close to fainting today.
One more thing, pretty irrelevant to food.
You know how painful it is to not get on Facebook properly? Save for one or two odd pages at random times?
Well, I do. So does the girl who has 27 more odd days on the dark side.
Shanghai’s looking bright otherwise.
Xindalu, China Kitchen – Hyatt On The Bund, 199 Huang Pu Road, Shanghai, People’s Republic Of China 200080
Five years from now, I’m going to remember: The Beijing Duck, The Pork Tower.
July 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
And here to your left, lads and ladettes, is a classic example of…. pretty skin, rotten soul.
So mom and I started having these ambitious food adventures since I got back, and on saturday morning, I found myself crouched in front of my computer, getting increasingly stressed as the minutes tickled by and I still haven’t found a lunch spot. I don’t know which online food guide to trust anymore. Openrice? (Free signups, hence a great abundance of people who think they know what they’re talking about. I understand because hello – I am one of them.) Lifestyleasia? Timeout? Tatler? I started getting more and more confused as the number of choices increased exponentially until I suddenly just bounced away from my desk and landed with a poooooouuuuff on my bed.
Felt delicious that way.
And then mom suddenly pointed me away from the Causeway to Central stretch. How about the peak?
And then it suddenly seemed simple. Pearl On The Peak – I remember seeing it pop up for the first time around two years ago. Some sleek sort of place. I checked online – it’s still around! Must be doing pretty good. And so, we drove our way up there.
Readers, BEWARE: Please politely reject any reflex thoughts along the lines of ‘Mmmmm yummmmm’ while viewing the following pictures. It is an illusion created by my camera, not the chef. It is called food propaganda.
First off, I could sense that there was something off when one of the courses on the lunch menu was… ‘eggs’. But then I kind of dismissed that because I had some of the best eggs in my life in the past week or so, so I thought this could turn out being something exciting.
As to why I ordered scrambled eggs as an appetizer, I still have no idea as of today. I will blame it on that post-i-ate-the-best-egg-in-my-life syndrome.
But SCRAMBLED EGGS as an appetizer? REALLY? It really was, true to word, a lump of scrambled eggs, over-cooked, glistening with oil. The specks of black bug like things were truffles. But telling you that was probably unnecessary because they were really closer to black bugs than to truffles. And that truffle shaving on top – was kind of like this sad, floppy, transparent film of black plastic. The foie gras tasted like cheap butter. Maybe a bit goose-ified than cheap butter. But still.
I will not comment on the toast.
Okay, the soup was alright. But foam – haven’t we seen enough foam? Do we still think foam – one magnificent puddle of cream that I could whip up at home in 5 seconds with an electrical cappucino stirrer – could distract us from the fact that this is just a regular, unimpressive bowl of grey soup? Let’s bow our heads for a minute and reflect upon this grave, grave matter…
Let’s look at the above picture. Isn’t it gorgeous? The contrast of colors, the harmony between the king of the sea and the beast of the earth, the –
The sauce was cold.
Do I need to start preaching to waiters every time I visit a restaurant and tell them that something as black and white as serving what is meant to be hot – hot, makes burnt beef taste like Disneyland on speed?
(At least for the first few bites. Maybe.)
Dessert was not bad. Nothing spectacular either.
I just wish an end to all injustice in the world, including restaurants like this which has been sitting smugly like a giant buddha at one of the most scenic spots in Hong Kong for two years and is… well, still sitting smugly there. The plating arrangements could have been more elaborate, the view more amazing, the service better – but at the end of the day, my tongue and my tummy (who are both blind, deaf and dumb, by the way) give the final verdict.
Pearl On The Peak, Shop 2, Level 1, The Peak Tower, The Peak, Hong Kong
Price/head: 300 HKD (lunch)
Five years from now, I’m going to remember: The sauce…. was cold.
(all aspects rated with reference to price)
July 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
I realized, out of the blue today, that I haven’t had ketchup in a while.
Actually, quite a long while.
This is momentous as I remember that when we did dorm clearance, five minutes before the whole building was to shut down, I threw out everything in our fridge….. except for my bottle of ketchup.
That was towards the end of a phase in recent history when food… meant almost nothing to me for a while – a few weeks, maybe even a few months with spare moments of exceptions. Is this what art school has done to me? Plus living alone in Manhattan with a student budget? My allowance wasn’t a very large one, it wasn’t an entirely meager one either.
I guess It just so happened that under the influence of… stick-skinny-i-dress-only-in-black folks and chain-smoking-word-slurring-i’m-just-cool-like-that ladettes, the choice is easy – I’d rather shell out a healthy chunk of my wallet for a pair of shoes than a 3-star dinner. (‘Food just…. goes! Shoes stay.’)
Eating becomes a necessity, rather than something, more than necessary – 2 minute microwaved affair laced with ketchup (a must in homemade fast food, makes cow shit taste like gourmet burgers) between sewing that last stitch and running 4 avenues to print out a presentation board.
During the past school-year, I always use ketchup. I barely ever use it before coming to America. Now I think it’s genius. It’s like aspirin. I put it on everything — unless it is something really good, ‘mmmmmmmm’-worthy.
I promise you, I would throw myself off a cliff and hug on as tightly as I could to the cross in ‘Piss Christ’ twice before letting a molecule of that red semi-liquid touch my plate at Pierre. That means, most times when I am not sitting down for a ‘proper meal’, as in most school times, I run to the nearest Macdos or ask the Chinese deli-man to give me five packs of those things.
It tells me ‘You are not exactly having the best meal of your life, so? Suck it up, deal with it.
Oh come on. Move over. I’LL HELP.’
And that, is all I have to say about ketchup.
One more thing, I apologize, Mr. Gagnaire, if it offends you that I mentioned your name and ketchup in the same sentence.