Monthly Archives: May 2011

S is for Sicily….F is for Fun


Kawan kawan, as some of you may have known, I have been away…..on my own, sans enfants and mari.  I took me a little trip to the isle of Sicily, best known for its volcano, Etna and the film, The Godfather featuring its very own Corleone which is a town in the province of Palermo.

Sicily is the biggest island in the Mediterranean boasting a wide range of local flavours, flora and fauna, and architecture.  Her food has been influenced by the people that have inhabited this island from the Greeks, to the Romans, to the Serecens (Arabs) and the Normans.  The Spaniards have passed through and finally the Bourbons before Sicily was united with the rest of Italy under the Monarchy of the Savoys.

In Sicily, I heard the wind singing in the trees, the seagulls calling above me and her people talking in a dialect so musical and quaint.  In Sicily, I felt the sand beneath my feet and the flavours of her spices on my tongue.  In Sicily, I saw the beauty of her land, the colours of her flora and the endless stretch of ocean beyond her shores. In Sicily, I breathed in the salty sea air, the perfume of her many lemon trees.  In Sicily, I tasted the aromas of her various dishes.

For lunch on arrival in Catania where Silvana D met me, we took a drive towards Taourmina.  There we found a little antica trattoria and pizzaria, La Botte, after a short stroll through the town.  Kawan kawan, I was thrilled to be in Italy and extra excited to be in Sicily.  I have heard people waxing lyrical about Sicilian cuisine but have not tried her dishes myself.  Silvana D, a blue blooded Siciliana, did all the ordering, eager for me to sample the cuisine she knows best and is so proud of.  And Mamma Mia, she has every reason to be.

Under a pergola shaded from the Sicilian sun, we started with a buffet of various Sicilian vegetables, such as the Cabonata, a rich vegetable stew made of aubergines, bell peppers and tomatoes, frittered aubergines, a fritata of aubergines.  My personal favourite has the be the melanzane parmiggiana.  It was so good that I had it twice!

Aubergine Sicilian style

Aubergines feature quite a lot in Sicilian cuisine.  It is such a versatile vegetable that one can do almost anything with it.  I’ve had it grilled, fried, stewed, and pickled – all in the 3 days that I was in Sicily.  Look at what was on my plate:

Various Aubergine Antipasti

The main course consisted of two pasta dishes both served on the same plate.  I was advised to sample the ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a creamy pistachio sauce (below on the right). I’ve never had pistachio sauce before so I was very eager to try this.  Let me tell you this:  I was speechless!  The sauce was so delicate yet so flavourful, rich yet still light enough for me to be able to finish the ravioli and go on to the other pasta dish:

Pasta cooked two ways

The other pasta dish:  this was just as good.  Tubular pasta soaked in a tomato sauce made from tomatoes from Pachino, a town in the Province of Syracuse. Sicilians are very proud of these tomatoes because they are famous for their juiciness, sweetness, firmness and generally,  for their flavour.  They are small tomatoes best bought still clinging to its vine.  Cultivated in 1925, these tomatoes did not come into favour until the 1970s and they have been granted the I G P (Indicazione Geografica Protetta) which is similar to the D O C in France.  That simply means that no other tomatoes can be called the Pachino unless they are grown on Pachino soil in Sicily.

The pasta is garnished with grilled aubergines and generous shavings of ricotta. This is Sicilian Ricotta, kawan kawan, unlike the other ricotta that one is used to. The Sicilian version has been sun soaked and dried to a golden hue, its complexion tanned and browned.  This “weathering” causes the ricotta to harden to the consistency of Parmesan so that it can be grated.  This cheese is served mainly in Sicily instead of Parmesan.

Every meal has to end with dessert and this is no exception in Sicily which is famous for her various dolci.  Of course, we had to have Sicilian cakes and this was what they offered:

Sicilian Desserts

Cassata is a cheese cake made from ricotta and filled with candied fruit and soaked in Marsala. It is usually covered in marzipan.  The other favourite is the Sicilian Cannoli – a tube of pastry made of white flour, sugar and butter, deep fried to a golden crunch and filled with sweetened ricotta mixed with a little marsala or rum and candied fruit.

The Sicilians call ancient treasures “trovatura”.  Sicilian cuisine is a type of trovatura, foods enriched by the ancient powers who had ruled this island, changing the way her people ate.  The Sicilians will tell you that from the Greeks, they have learned to grill or barbecue their food and to indulge in honey and wines, from the Normans, they have learnt to eat salt cod and involtini (rolls) and the Spaniards tomato sauces both sweet and sour. From the Arabs, they discovered the aubergine which incidentally went out of favour when they left and was considered poisonous until the Renaissance; it wasn’t until some Carmelite monks who had eaten aubergines in their monasteries in the East and re-introduced this versatile vegetable to Sicily that it became popular again.  The Arabs also brought spices such as saffron and chillis. Sicilian food is both aromatic and colourful reflecting her fusion of cultures, a true trovatura.

This does not end my treasure hunt kawan kawan. This is only my first day in Sicily; stay tuned for other treasures that I will be finding on this trip.

 

La Botte, Antica Trattoria, Pizzaria

4, Piazza Santa Domenica, 98039 Taourmina,

Messina, Sicily.

+39 0942  24198, Closed on Mondays.

NB: Woody Allen has eaten here and so have various other American stars.  For Italian movie buffs, many Italian celebrities have also set foot in this little trattoria….

Welcome to My Humble Country Home


The saga continues following the incident when the FIL got pick pocketed.  The Italian, his son had to make several phone calls to ensure that his father will be able to leave the country sans carte de identité.  Then they had to file a police report.

That done, it was time to head towards Versailles.  The Italian had promised to show his parents the Château de Versailles where once many moons ago, the king and queen of France resided…..before their heads got chopped off, that is.

It was only a 30 minute drive to the Château from our place in the 16th.  Louis 14th moved his court from Paris to Versailles in order to keep a tighter reign on his courtiers, ensuring that they did not form their own regional powers and thwarting the King’s efforts to form an absolute monarchy.

It was a gorgeous day befitting a visit to Royal grounds.  The ticket office had a small line outside but it did not take too long to purchase tickets for the family. But when we got to the main courtyard just before the gate into the Château, there was a long line that snaked itself 3 times round the courtyard:

A Snake in the courtyard

Almost an hour later, we were finally in the Château grounds.  Alas, much to my disappointment, we were not allowed to enter by the golden gate like Louis 14th and his descendants.  Of corse, what was I thinking of, we were common folk! That meant we had to go through security, airport style, where bags had to be put through a scanning machine.  Look at the golden gate to Paradise that I missed out on:

Golden Gate of Paradise

The splendour of the Palace was overshadowed by the sheer numbers of people visiting that day.  Shuffling through each room was not my idea of fun and indeed not the best way to see someone’s home at its height of glamour, especially one that is dated and has been restored to its former glory, still with more restoration to be had.  There was so much gold about, the ostentatiousness glaringly obvious in the wall paper, cornices and furniture.  This made me understand better the root to the French Revolution that finally saw to the beheadings of Louis 16th and his queen, Marie-Antoinette.  How can one person and his family be entitled to this much wealth?

Well, needless to say, the highlight of the day was our lunch at Angelina’s which has a more famous branch on the rue de Rivoli.  I liked it that we were shown to our own little salon which sat about 20 people.  The room was light and airy and the windows gave a view of the courtyard where we had waited in the morning to be let into the Château.  Yes, the line was still there, country people and tourists ever hopeful and eager to catch a glimpse of France’s glory.  From the window, I could see that the line at the ticket office is now 3 times as long and by the size of it, I estimated at least an hour’s wait to be able to purchase tickets.  Let’s not even get me started on the line into the Castle.

I can’t help but think that calling this abode a Château is really understating this grand country home of France’s dethroned royalty.  It is really a grand palais, a castle, so to speak. We saw rooms after rooms where the king slept, ate, held court etc etc. Then we visited the Queen’s Apartments where she and her ladies-in-waiting resided, separately from the King.  God wonders about the logistics of courtly shenanigans in those days. There are just too many rooms to go through before arriving at the necessary chamber where heirs to thrones can be conceived.  Or did the Louis-es just ring a bell to alert their queens?

There was a little chapel where Mass was held daily so that the King can say his prayers….praying for more treasures and more conquests, is my guess.  I overheard a tour guide explaining to his group that Louis 14th wasn’t a terribly religious king, he had to give the impression that he was because he was the sun king and represented the church and state.  He was however, married to a very religious woman who advised him that he had to upkeep the Catholic ritual of attending Mass.  So Mass was held daily for 15 minutes instead of the usual 60 so that the sun king can say that he’s been to Mass and call it a day.  I only heard this fella talking because I was literally squashed next to him by the throng of people trying to exit the room we were in at the same time.

Shuffling on, we found our way to Angelina’s.  I had a Salade Angelina with saumon fumé.  You can have it with foie gras too, if you wish.  It was a rather ordinary salad, nothing to sing home about.  RN had a Croque Monsieur – grilled cheese to some.  It was absolutely delicious.  The best Croque M I’ve had since living in France.  The Gruyere was light and fluffy, different from the rest of the grilled cheeses that usually makes up this common French bistro dish.  I suspect that Angelina had whipped the Gruyere with some crémebefore mixing in the ham and spreading the mixture on a piece of bread and then grilling it.  Look at the fluffiness of the cheese:

Croque M

I had a taste and then finished the bits that she left behind which is a habit that I despise cos that’s a sure way to expand the waistline.  But this was so good, I couldn’t help myself!

Let’s talk afters….the desserts were sublime!  I had a tartelette Eva, my namesake! How could I resist?  This was a dark chocolate tart served with delicate bits of biscuits and vanilla ice cream.  A really rich dessert for me but lovely:

A Tart Named after moi - might not be too much of a compliment afterall

RN and the in-laws had the famous Mont Blanc.  The FIL had to have that, of course.  How could he not?  He can now boast of having climbed it and eaten it:

Mont Blanc

The brown string-like topping are noodles of marron glacé enrobing chantilly so smooth and light that you can’t help eating more.   Some marron Glacé may be sickeningly sweet.  But Angelina’s créme de marron glacé is just stupendous.

SS ordered a mango and passion fruit mousse éclair.  It came with a shard of white chocolate with strips of orangey mango decorations:

Mango Eclaire

The Italian had the Frasier.  I especially loved the “A” for Armando on one of his strawberries:

Frasier

Well, lunch done, it was time to visit the gardens where the King and Queen had garden parties, picnics and probably romantic evening promenades flanked by guards and courtiers.  Maybe that is a figment of my imagination  because what does one do with a garden this size?

My 3000 ft garden

I wondered if the little Louis princes and princesses had a play house at the end of the garden and if they did, was it made of wood or bricks?  And who cleans it? Did the Queen join in their pretend tea parties?

We had a leisurely stroll enjoying the various fountains and listening to the classical music that was played to accompany this promenade.  It was gloriously satisfying.  The sun was shining, a little breeze was blowing and RN delighted to be let out, simply danced, pranced and skipped her way through this enormous garden, like a princess should.  She was just in her princess element, owning the space around her and simply acknowledging that the world is her oyster, like a princess does.

If in Paris, this is surely something to visit next to the Louvre and Tuileries. However, in my books, Chaâteau de Versailles is really over rated and a sore reminder of the gap between the haves and have-nots. But don’t forget to stop by at Angelina for a sit down lunch or a quick bite.

Angelina: 226 rue de Rivoli, 75001; Tél: 01 42 60 82 00

Steak Tartare and Books


The parents-in-law were due for a visit and they came in their usual way, via Italy on AirItalia, fatigued by the trip and relieved the minute they arrived at our humble appartement.  The girls were jumping with joy, RN always visibly excited by their rare and precious visits and SS who has a quiet excitement about her manifested this by a very warm “Ciao Nonni!” and her famous bear hug . In the past 19 months that we’ve been in Paris, the in-laws had visited us twice.

The FIL who loves all things antiqued and smelling of antiquity  was very excited to learn about a Marché that sold antique books.  He had found it through a website linked to an Alpine Association that he is a member of.  Nonno Piero is afterall an alpinist who has scaled K2 and climbed various other mountains in the Italian Alps.  He is also a collector of mountaineering paraphernalia and books.  He was on the hunt for some interesting and valuable livres de montagne.

The said marché is located in the 15th arrondissement, a section that I’ve not been to before.  The 15th is the largest arrondissement in Paris and is very varied in its character and architecture.  To get there, we had to take two métro trains, the last one taking us to a strange crossroad just outside the sortie.  I thought we had traveled a long way and was surprised to learn that we were still in Paris and only in the 15th.

The Marché is in the foyer of what looked like an old train station.  In effect it is a covered walkway where 60 vendors display their wares – ancient and second hand books.  It is opened every Saturday and Sunday come rain or shine.  Although covered, it is in the open, so I guess during the winter months, the vendors must have a hard time fending off the cold.  The 60 odd vendors were selling all sorts of books, from children’s books to out of print coffee table books and even books so old that their pages were yellowed and their spines eaten away by worms.  We browsed each stand leisurely.  This is book paradise where used books wait for their rebirths in the hands of another book lover.  I found myself a cookbook printed in 1942 that charts the journeys and the foods of some pieds noirs families in North Africa, mainly Algeria.  I love finding cookbooks with histories, especially ones charting more histories.  Les Pieds-Noirs are French or European families who have settled in occupied Algeria before the country’s independence in 1962 which saw more than 1 million pieds-noirs of French nationality evacuated to mainland France.

The FIL found his coveted book and then it was time for lunch.  Using an App on my iphone called Places, I found a resto with the delightful name of Les Tontons.

The Uncles’s speciality was Steak Tartare.  For the faint hearted this means raw beef that has been slightly seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of worcestershire sauce (funny that!), marinaded with some capers and served chilled like a beef patty with a side salad.  It can sometimes be served with a raw egg on top and on a piece of rye.

I was glad they had an option for the tartare to be poêlé-d – pan fried.  I am not a raw meat fan having come a long way since Neanderthal Man discovered fire.  I prefer my cuts of beef à point or cooked to a medium/rare.  So I ordered myself a Steak Tartare with Roquefort and Porto poêlé:

Steak Tartare Poêlé

Mixed into the minced beef are pieces of Roquefort cheese and the port was left sitting in a little dent atop the steak.  It was surely an unusual lunch.  For Steak Tartare fans, I recommend this little resto and if you were 6 like us, they may even give you the little coin – corner – at the back of the resto.  It’s good for cosy family bonding but terrible for photography, especially when one is only equipped with an iphone 3.

SS decided on a vegetarian tartine:

Ratatouille Tartine

The vegetable was beautifully displayed atop a piece of pastry so thin that it was almost invisible on the plate.  There were whole roasted tomatoes that gave this dish a nice caramelised flavour.

I was curious that our basket of bread was not the perfunctory baguette.  Instead we were served tranches of Poilâne bread.  This famous bakery, started in 1932 is a renowned for its recipe of soured dough bread, baked in wood ovens.  This renowned baker from Normandie who went against the odds to bake these soured dough breads instead of baguettes gave his name to the creation which has became synonymous with soured dough breads in France.  Let’s get a Poilâne for dinner is heard more often than let’s get some soured dough bread.  Look at what I saw in the baker’s window:

A Round of Poilâne

All done with lunch, we started towards home.  I had also purchased a soup recipe printed on cardboard that I intend to hang on my kitchen wall.  So armed with that and our purchases, we retraced our steps in the métro.

The FIL was happy with his find but alas, when he got home, he discovered that he had been pick pocketed.  The shock of losing all the money that he had in his wallet (nearly 500€) and his identity card, the only travel document he had with him, left a sour aftertaste to this excursion.

Marcheé du Livres ancien et d’occasion:

104 rue Brancion Paris XVe

Les Tontons:  73 Rue Brancion, Paris – 01 45 33 87 22

Comptoir des Gastronomie


Ever been to Les Halles, kawan kawan?  If you’re looking for directions to the Forum Des Halles, a subterranean shopping mall,  you’d better be able to pronounce the name correctly or you’ll be misdirected or even ignored by the staff at the métro stations.   Les (H)alles has a silent H and is never pronounced as one would pronounce the word “Hall” with the “huh” sound in the H. It is also not pronounced with the liaison between the ‘s’ and (h)alles – say lay ull – and you’d be better understood.  It’s just the French way (picture shrug of shoulders here), I didn’t make this up as I went along!

Well, I was there with my friend, Laura G, who sadly will be returning home to Madrid in the summer.  She was looking for the Dutch home ware store Hema; this, one pronounces  with the “huh” sound in the H, methinks.  Hema is akin to Ikea where one can purchase almost anything under the sun, from food stuffs to gardening gloves.  I love their macadamia nuts and butter caramel waffles.  When in Hema, it is really difficult to stop at buying only 2 items.  I usually end up with a big bag full of things that are useful but not necessary.  You know what I mean, don’t you,  kawan kawan? My excuse is that “I’ve come all this way…..”  So yesterday, I bought a whisk, which I do need, 2 boxes of macadamias, debatable if I needed these, bags of waffles for SS’s breakfast, biscuits, in case I have guests for coffee, more nuts for apéritif, forks and spoons for RN’s lunchbox, necessary as she keeps losing the ones I pack for her and tons of stickers for her Arts and Crafts – how can you resist a pack of 100 stickers for only €1.50?  See, I was in trouble already as I now have to lug this shopping bag to school for pick up then on the bus which is usually very crowded armed with my handbag, her lunch and school bag.

Happy with our finds, Laura G and I then headed towards Rue Montmartre, which is just around the corner.  I wanted to show her the bistro where MVO, CB and I had lunch one day.  This little bistro is attached to a delicatessen selling all sorts of delights.

Comptoir des Gastronomie is owned by Dominique Loï, a connoisseur of fine foods and wines.  There, in the deli, you’ll find shelves of bons vins, champagnes, tins and bottles of foie gras, confit de canard, in the frigo, cured meats and smoked fish that have been vacuum packed for easy export.  But if it is lunch or dinner you desire, then find yourselves a table at the resto next door.  Decorated to fit in with the epoch of decadence, 1920s, you’ll find an extensive menu of classic French dishes like escalope de foie gras pan fried and served on a piece of spiced bread or if you prefer, an assiette of saumon mariné gavalax with toast. And that is just the entrées!  For the main course, you can choose from a parmantier de canard de canard, served with a cêpe sauce or you can have the dos de bar with a crusty pesto topping over a lobster sauce with potatoes on the side.  Salivating already, kawan kawan?

These dishes as in all French restos and bistros come accompanied by wines in the bottles or glasses.  The waiters, who are all very charming indeed, can advise you on what wines to have but if you are already a wino, you’ll know what to order.  Their wines are really inexpensive and very good. Of course, you can choose to go without the vino and just have a carafe d’eau or a bottle of San Pe.

Laura G reads the menu carefully.  She pontificates on what to have – the ravioles de foie gras  with a truffle cream or the salad of fresh asparagus for starters. Then for the plat, perhaps, she’ll have the magret de canard rôti or the cassoulet grâtiné.  Hmmmm! Maybe the filet mignon de veau.

All very tempting choices…. but very heavy ones too. The first time there, I had the roasted duck breast served with mashed potatoes and a jus reduction drizzled elegantly over the magret de canard.  That was indeed delicious but also a very big lunch.

This time round, I decided on the Salade Gourmande which consisted of a piece of foie gras, half a boiled egg, pieces of gizzards, slivers of smoked duck breast and a leg of confit de canard, all sitting on a bed of leaves.  This is a rather common salad, I’m afraid, served in rather a lot of French bistros.  But it is a good way to taste every thing to do with the duck, I guess.  The French really waste not and want not when it comes to their ducks.  I really appreciate this very “Chinese” mentality in them although it is not common amongst the Chinese to eat duck livers, chicken and pig’s livers yes.  Besides, the Chinese don’t eat the livers, if they eat them at all, fattened like the foie gras.  I am not a fan of livers myself, so I really haven’t any happy memories of eating them although once, my mom made me consume a clear soup made up entirely of animal innards, in this case of the pig; a clear soup cooked with that pickled mustard I mentioned in Oodles and Oodles of Noodles.  That memory causes anxiety and involuntary reactions to retch.  So I don’t go back there, if you know what I mean!

Look at my beautifully plated salad:

La Salade Gourmande

I love the confit de canard.  This is duck  leg that has ben poached, then preserved in it own fat.  It is really easy to cook, takes only about 20 to 30 minutes in the oven if you like the legs browned and crispy and they marry well with potatoes, green beans and carrots sautéed with the duck fat.  Ma famille loves it when I cook this dish.  I don’t very often, of course because I reckon it can’t be that good for the heart to eat such a hearty (oops, pardon the pun!) meal regularly.

The tradition of poaching and preserving duck legs in this fashion is centuries old.  I guess ducks are treasured and revered for their foie gras which has become a French delicacy. The foie gras is really a by product of a fattened duck or sometimes, goose, in this case this would be mentioned on the receptacle that holds the liver. In order not to waste the bird when the foie is extracted, the French has taken to preserving the duck legs in this fashion.  We don’t  want too many duck legs swarming the marchés, do we?  Besides, the magret is considered the better half of the duck, being the breast.

It’s funny how in the West (a very loose geographic term, indeed), the legs of the birds are almost never eaten, it being considered the inferior part of the bird. Chicken and duck breasts are favoured more.  In South East Asia, the legs of the chicken or duck are preferred, usually reserved for the patriarch or first born son.  An African friend of mine who hails from Cameroon once mentioned to me that the legs of the chicken (not many ducks there in Cameroon) are reserved for the man of the house of the first boy child. The women are left with the worst part of the chicken – the breast, tasteless and tough.  In this way, both the African and Asian cultures concur when it comes to their treatment of boys and girls. Hah! but if you were like me, first born girl child in an Asian family, then the chicken and duck legs will be all reserved for you.  The irony is this: as a child, I only wanted the chicken breasts much to my mother’s chagrin.  She keeps picking out the legs for me which I pass to my dad in exchange for his piece of breast meat. (He gets to have the worst part of the bird. With 3 precious daughters having to share 2 chicken legs, there just isn’t enough to go round, is there?) Maybe it’s got something to do with how I view myself?  Low self esteem, inferiority complex? – all reflected in my choice of chicken parts.  That is another session on the therapist’s couch, kawan kawan.  But I do have a fab recipe for Duck Leg and Pickled Mustard Greens soup.  Tell ya another day!

For afters, we decided on the café gourmand.  Why not? we thought.  We are in a bistro for gourmands, so let’s just go with the theme. Comptoir, which is the French word for counter or bar has a selective dessert menu, all chosen to reflect the typical desserts in a Parisian eatery.  But of course, this bistro is top, so the typical desserts are dressed with very unique condiments like the tonka bean which hails from South America.  This black wrinkly bean has the combined flavours of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves.  It’s the waste not and want not mentality again, my friends.  All these wonderful flavours in just one bean, no need to waste money and time adding these flavourings separately.  I like that! And the tonka bean.  Speaking of vanilla, you must really try the mi-cuit au chocolat with vanilla ice cream, served on the side.  The combination of warm, gooey chocolate and cold vanilla ice cream is truly morish and delicious.

Here’s our dessert:

The Afters

I like the café gourmand because it usually comes with 3 or 4 choices of cakes.  I like having choices, as you can see! The chocolate brownie here was delicious.  To be honest, that would have been sufficient for me as I didn’t  fancy the other two choices all that much.

Bill paid, we wandered into the deli next door.  Look at this Aladdin’s cave of goodies:

The Deli

In the resto, you’ll find a plush vermillion velvet curtain dividing the deli from the eating area.  I guess you can enter this cave of goodies through there.  But we didn’t want to disturb the other diners, so we decided to leave the resto and enter the deli by its main door.  Look at the curtain I mentioned:

The Magic is Behind the Curtains

There we found things that delighted our eyes.  Shelves of wines and champagnes.  More shelves stocked full of cans of terrines, sauces, cassoulets:

Yummy things in a Bottle and Can

Look at the refrigerated section:

Beautiful Things all sous vide

When you’ve made your commandes, the lady in charge will give you a facture and with this bill, you’ll have to go to the lady behind this box for all your purchases:

The Cashier

I guess she gets to sit behind a Fort Knox like counter because she is in charge of the money – very important for any business.

So Kawan kawan, whenever you’ve finished your shopping at Hema; do go to Comptoir des Gastronomie for a quick bite or a relaxing lunch.  I’ve never had to make reservations for both the times I’ve been there.  I’ve been lucky, I guess. But if it’s the weekend you’re going, I advice reserving a table.

Comptoir des Gastronomie: 

34 Rue Montmartre
75001 Paris
01 42 33 31 32

Bring out the Shoga


I just learned a new Japanese word today, kawan kawan – Shoga.  It has such a cute sound, almost mellifluous .  Now if you think of languages as just a series of sounds, the world we live in becomes a musical.  People living their lives, communicating and bonding through songs.  Afterall, Shakespeare did pen that the world is a stage.  Why not consider it a musical stage?

SS recently told me about something that she’d learnt at school to do with a type of communication amongst shepherds in Spain.  In La Gomera, an island in the Spanish Canary isles, a type of whistled language called silbo gomera is still being taught in schools. This musical language consists of at least 4000 words which allows the people of this island, especially the shepherds, to communicate over ravines, narrow valleys and long distances in the island by whistling.   Silbo Gomera has been declared a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2009, making this one of the many protected languages in the world.

Shoga, my friends, is the Japanese name for ginger.  This medicinal root features predominantly in Asian cuisines.  The Chinese use the ginger root to ward off the fishy smell in seafood and to ease bloatedness.  The Japanese use pickled ginger as an accompaniment for sushi.  Sashimi is never eaten with ginger, by the way. In India, ginger is used to spice up curry sauces and added to tea to help digestion.  I love a sauce made of minced or sliced ginger, scallions and salted oil. This was the delicious topping that sat atop one of my sushi pieces in Akasaka. When Debbie K read of this in my post, she immediately told me that this is really a faux pas in Japanese fine dining.  Only Les Americaines eat sushi with shoga, she said. She would know, being American herself.  Well, in this case, the shoga was mixed with scallions. Double faux pas, I would say!

Well, I do love the stuff as some of you already know.  I came across this ginger/scallion sauce in Hong Kong eons ago when I was a slight young girl on my tour to conquer the world.  Oh, this brings back tons of beautiful eating memories, kawan kawan.  This shoga/scallion/salted oil mixture I encountered in HK sat atop the chicken of the Chicken Rice that I’d ordered.  It was in a crowded in-door hawker centre – the air conditioned type that one can find with ease in every corner of Singapore.  I wanted some chicken rice – this was served with the chicken on top of a bowl of rice and sitting so poised atop the chicken chunks was the shoga sauce.  The Cantonese name for this is Kiong Chong meaning “Ginger Spring Onion”, literally translated.  It was a discovery of pure and utter joy.

Inspired by this memory, I decided to cook some Chicken Rice on Monday night. I thought I’d make some Hainanese Chicken Rice, a favourite dish in ma famille. RN loves the rice and boiled chicken drizzled with a sesame oil/soya sauce mix and SS loves this with the special Dark Soya Sauce that accompanies this Singaporean favourite.

Although Hainanese Chicken Rice is eaten throughout Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, where it is known as Khao Man Kai, in Singapore, this dish really originated amongst the Hainanese immigrants who came to the city state at the turn of the century.  This dish is based on WenChang Chicken, a type of chicken akin to the Bresse chicken in France and the chicken dish cooked with this chicken that is eaten in WenChang, a major city in Hainan.

The Hainanese language is a very good example of a musical language. Hainanese is a Min-nan language (a family of Chinese language spoken in Southern Fujian and Taiwan) spoken as the mother tongue amongst these islanders.

Back to the business of food. I boiled the chicken in a pot of water together with a head of garlic, a whole rhizome of ginger (meaning, the whole knobbly thing) for 30 minutes.  Then I turned off the heat and left the chicken in the broth for an hour to cook in its own heat (lid on pot helps keep the heat in the pot).  I read somewhere that this makes the chicken meat tender and moist.

At the end of the hour, I lifted the chicken out and promptly soaked it in cold water.  This is suppose to separate the fat from the skin, again moistening the chicken meat.  When the chicken was cool enough, I proceeded to debone and chop it up.  In Singapore, the chicken rice vendor would have a block of wood where he chops the chicken with a cleaver. He lifts the hand holding the cleaver and brings it down with precision onto the piece of chicken requiring chopping before you can even say ‘Jack Robinson’! It is really fun to watch the man at work, if you’ve never seen anyone use a cleaver before.  I think that’s where the phrase ‘chop chop’ came from because it is really an onomatopoeic word denoting quick quick. That’s how the chicken rice man cuts up his chicken – very fast with his cleaver.  I couldn’t chop chop my chicken.  That would be an accident waiting to happen, besides, I don’t own a cleaver, never having learnt to use one.  I just sliced it up and tore some pieces up with my hands, as you’ll probably detect from the oddly shaped chunks on the plate.

Whilst the chicken was cooking, I made ze sauce.  It is more salad than sauce, actually.  I shredded a piece of ginger with a mandolin, sliced some scallions and mixed the two in oil before finally adding the right amount of salt to taste. Yummms!  I tasted  it to make sure the combination was perfect before spooning a generous amount on my chicken chunks.  More yummms!  Look:

Look what I'v got on me!

This is really not the traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice recipe. I tweaked it a little with this gingery scallion salad. The real one is served with a ginger sauce on the side that is made of minced ginger and oil that has been slightly salted. Because the boiled chicken is rather bland sans sauce, a sesame oil/soya sauce mixture diluted with chicken broth is poured over the meat.  That’s the brown sauce you’re seeing in the photo.

The rice in the chicken rice is really the piéce de la résistance.  Raw rice is cooked with the chicken broth and a piece of fatty chicken skin.  It is supposedly the oil from the chicken that gives the rice its taste.  But I always vote for the healthier option.  I only used the broth which already has some chicken fat anyway. Here, look:

The Piéce de La Résistance

Of course, the accomplices of flavour are also the ginger, garlic and a couple of pinches of salt.

This is my favourite part of the dish – the rice.  I can eat it on its own with chilli, dark soya sauce and of course, the Kiong Chong.

These are the usual suspects in making the Hainanese Chicken Rice such a flavoursome National dish in Singapore:

The Usual Suspects: Dark Soya Sauce, Kiong Chong and Chilli

A note:  the chilli is daddy’s secret recipe.

Kawan kawan, if you ever come across a restaurant in Paris that serves Hainanese Chicken Rice, I want to know about it.  This will give me something to sing about.

Share your Hainanese Chicken Rice finds around the world.  Tell me where you’ve eaten this dish outside of Singapore.

Oodles and Oodles of Noodles


The tour of Le Monde de l’Arabe that took us by foot around the 5th arrondissement of Paris was about to end.  We were appreciating the beautiful symmetry of the garden courtyard in the Mosque of Paris when a low rumble was emitted.  It had nothing to do with the pneumatic drill going off nearby but my tummy signalling that it’s past the lunch hour for me.

Did you know that the Grande Mosquée de Paris is the largest mosque in France and the third largest in Europe?  It was founded after WW1 as a symbol of France’s gratitude to the 100,000 men who sacrificed their lives defending La France against the Germans.  It served as a secret refuge, providing shelter, a safe passage and even fake Muslim certificates for Jewish children.

The tour which was organised by my kawan, MVO took almost 2 and half hours to complete.  I never miss out on a tour that MVO has organised because they are always interesting historic tours that end with luncheon at a resto picked by MVO herself.  She spends copious amounts of time visiting restaurants in the vicinity of the area toured to finally select an apt resto.  For example, today’s tour would have ended with lunch in an Arabic restaurant.

So what does noodles have to do with the Great Mosque of Paris?  I hear you ask. Well, kawan kawan, in effect – rien!  It had nothing to do with the tour, just with the fact that I was famished and had to have lunch asap before rushing off to collect RN.  I would have loved to sink my teeth into some taboulé, hummus, chicken shwarma and have halva or baklava for afters.  But time did not permit this luxury.

So with Christine B, we headed towards the Boulevard St Germain to a noodle house that I’ve eaten at a couple of times.  It was first recommended to me by my friend Ann Mah of Kitchen Chinese fame and la famille and I have been eating there ever since.

Christine B, social butterfly, devoted mother, talented cook and enthusiastic foodie was very excited to join me for lunch.  Gamed to try any new eateries, she was thrilled to learn of Les Pâtes Vivantes.

We were seated almost immediate although the restaurant was at almost full capacity.  The menu had a variety of noodle choices – fried noodles, noodles served with a pouring sauce full of vegetables and meat or shrimp and noodles soaked in broth. There are noodles that you can eat cold served with a salad of shredded carrots, cucumber, scallions and a spicy meat sauce – Ja zhiang mien . For the rice fiends amongst you, they also serve some rice dishes.  But this restaurant’s speciality is really their noodles, hand pulled by the chef behind a glass counter:

watch my handiwork

These noodles are called lah mien in Chinese and is a very popular economic lunch time dish in North-Western China.  The noodles are hand made or pulled (lah meaning pull in Chinese and mien meaning noodles) from a lump of dough, stretched repeatedly until the dough becomes long strands of noodles.

Christine B and I had made the same choice – noodles with prawns and pickled mustard greens (hum choi) in a bisqe-y broth:

Lah Mien with Shrimp and Mustard Greens

These mustard greens are pickled and is a traditional vegetable featured mainly in soups.  My mother makes a delicious duck and hum choi soup which I dream about in the wintery months.  The fresh variety is known as gai choi, a peppery variety of the cabbage family and these can be stir fried with garlic or your choice of meats.  It usually goes very well with pork or shrimps.  Gai Choi is delicious when slow cooked as it becomes meltingly tender.  When using the pickled variety, remember that it has to be soaked in water for a couple of hours to remove the saline and vinegar used to pickle it before cooking.  You can also stir fry these greens with pork and garlic.  In this case, no salt or soya sauce in required. That, is a recipe for another day, my kawan kawan.

The hum choi gives the soup a sourish aftertaste which I actually like.  However, I drizzled black Chinese vinegar over the noodles to further enhance the sourish taste.  This is pure childhood comfort food, kawan kawan.  This brings back memories of the mee pok man, wheeling his mobile stall selling boiled noodles mixed in a sauce of chilli, soya sauce, oil and black vinegar with a heap of minced pork and pig’s liver, dressed with fried shallots.  This mee pok man, dressed in a pair of shorts and vest would come to my grandparent’s home, honking to announce his presence to the neighbourhood whereby we would gather around his mobile cart with bowls brought from our kitchens to await our Tah Mee Pok. Those were the days when hawkers sold their food in mobile carts.  These days, for sanitary purposes, mee pok can be found in the various hawker centres dotted all over the island state of Singapore.

Fearing that the noodle soup will not be sufficient, we ordered a vegetable tempura to share:

Vegetable Tempura

This comes accompanied by a dipping sauce of sweet Thai chilli.  I thought it made the tempura rather tasty although Christine B would have preferred a tempura sauce.  Well with this being an authentic Chinese restaurant, no tempura sauce could be found.

Kawan kawan, this is a must try Chinese eatery or in Singlish, a die-die-also-must- try Chinese eatery.  You’ve been told, so please whenever you find yourself on the Blvd St Germain, locate number 22 where you’ll find yourself surrounded by oodles and oodles of noodles.

Les Pâtes Vivantes, 22 Boulevard St Germain, 75005 or if you’re in the 9th arrondissement, locate them at 46, rue du Faubourg Montmartre, 75009, tél: 01 45 23 10 21.


Salad Days


With the warm weather approaching, salads are the best lunch time options next to sashimi, of course.

I ambled along the Avenue Kleber, window shopped at Gap and then turned right and headed into Carette for a quick lunch.  It was a lovely afternoon and I had the company of Daddy Dave.  He is part of the family being SS’s father and the ex-husband. ‘Huh!’ I hear you say, ‘she’s still talking to the ex?’  Mais oui, pourquoi pas?  It’s all water under the bridge and I’ve let sleeping dogs lie.  Better to ‘make love than war’ so to speak, not literally, of course now that the Italian is my better half.  It’s great for SS to see that the ex and I are on talking terms and wonderful for RN to have someone to call ‘Daddy Dave’.  I’ve got it sorted and covered, I’d like to think! 🙂

I wanted to show Daddy Dave a rather typical French salon de thé where the chic people of the seizième lunch and people watch on the Trocadéro before heading to collect RN in the afternoon.  Well, in reality, I am more the people watcher and he the computer geek person.  He solves all our computer problems and is a great source of information on anything technological.  We have become dependent on him for all our techy problems.  I just hope that he has passed this genetic genius onto SS.

Carette was first opened in 1923 and decorated in the Art Deco style by Hubert de Givenchy, nephew of the Givenchy label.  It is an opulent salon de thé with an extensive salad menu, a variety of macarons and gâteux.  They also serve sandwiches (check out their finger sandwiches) and of course, tea and coffee. What I like best about Carette is that they serve a mean Café Glacé.  I love my iced coffee especially in the summer months.  I love it just as it is – black. I like the bitter after taste of black coffee, diluted by the ice cubes so that the bitterness does not linger like in an expresso.  (Yes, I drink my expressos straight with no sugar but in my old age, I seem to like them better a little sweetened). Iced coffees in Asia are served accompanied by a jug of sugar syrup.  But in Paris, I seem to only get a bottle of sugar whenever I order one. And having said that, it is really faux pas to order iced coffees anyway unless they are listed in the menu. C’est trés Americaine, is what the French think.  Since I don’t take sugar in my coffee, I wouldn’t know the difficulty of having to dissolve the sugar in an icy drink.  But I can imagine that it mustn’t be an easy feat.  Maybe, that’s one way to discourage les étrangers to be less American?  Je ne sais pas.

I scanned the list of salads on offer and decided on this one:

Carette's Salade Niçoise - not called that by the Café. See if you can find it in their menu.

I liked the mélange of the cantaloupe and water melon, both juicy and sucré in my mouth. I love it that the salad came with a variety of légumes, like green beans/french beans otherwise known as haricots verts, shredded carrots and new potatoes. The anchovies married well with the fruit, creating bursts of sweet and salty juices in my mouth. I love anchovies, especially these ones you see here in the salad.  These are marinaded in vinegar and olive oil.   Totally yummms!

This is Carette’s take on the Niçoise, I felt, with the tuna and anchovies mixed in with the salad leaves.

Daddy Dave ordered the Caésar (pronounced Say-zar).  C’est trés important how you pronounce this name.  Spoken with an English accent like that of Daddy Dave’s, you risk the French waitress not understanding you.  Comment?  So, in order to save the ex-husband from having to utter the word Caesar again, I just chipped in Say-zar – et voilâ:

The Say-zar

The chicken breasts were breaded and pan fried leaving the meat moist and soft. I really liked it.  I can’t seem to cook my chicken breasts just right to avoid it being chewy and tough.  Any tips, kawan kawan?

Do taste the sun blushed tomatoes if you ever order this salad.  It was totally yumalicious that I made Daddy Dave give me two of his.  He doesn’t mind sharing, so that worked out well in my favour.

Inspired by the choices of salads that I’d seen on Carette’s menu, I promptly decided to make one of my own.  I had a tin of tuna lying in the cantina, an ante-room attached to my kitchen where I store all my dry goods, bottles of wine and sauces.  Together with a tin of corn I found, I created this:

Tuna Salad à la casa

I had some lamb’s lettuce (mâche) in the fridge and half a cucumber which I diced and promptly threw into the salad.  For a little bit of ‘kick’, I added shallots (eshallots) which I had sliced very thinly.  Alternatively, spring onions/scallions work very well too.  I dressed this salad elegantly with a vinaigrette of olive oil, minced garlic, soya sauce and a drizzle of sesame, all whipped up to give the ingredients a good mix before tossing my leaves in it.

The girls ate the salad with relish and so did the Italian.  I was a happy bunny that evening!

Try it, kawan kawan, it’s really easy to concoct.  By the way, when you’re next in Trocadéro, don’t forget to stop by Carette, Paris 4 Place du Trocadéro 75016, Tél 01 47 27 98 85.  They also have a branch at the Place des Vosges 25, Place des Vosges 75003 Tél 01 48 87 94 07

Akasaka


The day I decided to have Japanese for lunch and was duly turned down by Comme Des Poissons, I walked dazed by the rejection onto Rue Nicolo in the 16th.  There I discovered Akasaka.  Yippee!  I let out a silent ‘Yes!’ with a jab of my fist in the air.  Then I recomposed myself and entered this little Japanese.

The sushi chef, very Japanese was slicing away behind his fish counter. The waitress, another Japanese greeted me politely and warmly in French.  Yes! I thought to myself, what could be more authentic than this? – a real Japanese sushi chef and a real Japanese waitress serving in a Japanese restaurant with a real Japanese name.  I grimaced at the thought that I’d even wanted to eat sushi at a Japanese restaurant with a French name.  You see, kawan kawan, I was hurt, rejected and famished.

I decided on the formule, their set lunch.  I had a choice of pre-starters, starters, main course and dessert – all for the price of 48€.  I was beginning to get very excited.  As soon as I placed my orders, the sweet waitress brought me an amusebouche to titillate my taste buds. Don’t you just love that French word for pre-starters?  I love the metaphor: to amuse one’s mouth.  I nursed my rejection with this palatable dish and immediately felt better:

Go on, Amuse yourself!

I sunk into my seat, sighed with relief to know that the following dishes would hold promise.

I ordered the wakami salad to start with:

La Salade Wakami

to be followed by an assortiment of sashimi:

My Platter of Sashimi

Just look at the slices of fish sitting between the salmon and tuna.  That, kawan kawan is the fatty tuna – the best part of the thon – so fatty that it literally disintegrates in your mouth.  Very bagus!!

For the main course, I ordered the sushi:

Sushi Main Course

Look at the beauty of this platter.  My personal favourite has to be the sushi on the far right garnished with ginger and spring onions/scallions.  Ginger and spring onions go so well together and can be mixed in sun flower or peanut oil with a pinch of salt (or a couple of pinches according to taste) as a dressing or dipping sauce for steamed chicken.

The portions were so generous that I struggled to finish my sushi.  I had to keep a little space for dessert afterall.  This was what I had:

Announcing Mr and Mrs Green Tea/Red Beans

I haven’t had ice cream served with red bean paste like that before.  It was truly, unexpectedly delish!  I would recommend this with green tea ice cream only. Green tea and red beans marry well together.

Kawan kawan, if you ever get turned away by Commes Des Poissions, you’ll know where to go for another truly sedap and authentic Japanese in the 16th.

Akasaka 9 Rue Nicolo 75016, Tél: 01 42 88 77 86

Crêpe Canette


It was Saturday afternoon, 4pm.  RN had just stirred from a long afternoon nap and SS was on her way home from hanging out with her friends.  They went to a movie in VO (English) set in 1930s America about an abused elephant and a pair of star crossed and frustrated lovers.  Nothing very impressive, she reported. She just wanted to hang out with her friends.

The Italian was twiddling his thumbs, ‘We must profiter from the nice weather, let’s go out!’ he said impatiently.   Where?  Where?  I asked.  He furrowed his forehead and cupped his hand over it.  This is the stance of the thinking Italian. ‘St Sulpice in St Germain.’  Well, I couldn’t pass up an offer to go to St Germain.  I love this arrondissement in Paris with its funky retail shops and quiant bistros.

St Sulpice, constructed during the 13th century is dedicated to Sulpicious the Pious and is one of the most beautiful churches in Paris.  It is only slightly smaller than the Notre-Dame and the second largest church in The City Of Light.  I had been on a tour recently and had learnt some very interesting facts about this église.

I just love it that I live in the city that houses the church surrounded by the controversy over the Meridian line, caused by the renaming of it to the Rose Line in Dan Brown’s  “The Da Vinci Code”.  The Meridian Line is a gnomon that charts the positions of the sun in the sky.  There is even a placard to disclaim the existence of a made up sect – the Priory of Sion – which Dan Brown had created in his story.  In fact, the P stands for Peter and the S stands for Sulpice.

Kawan kawan, I got carried away.  I was going to tell you about the highlight of this outing.  And that is the dinner we had at La Crêperie des Canettes on the Rue des Canettes.  This little street was named after a frontispiece depicting some ducks set in a rural scene which sits rather obscurely above a particular door in the middle of the street.  You’d have missed it if you didn’t have a guide to tell you to look up.  Thank goodness for Paristours, run efficiently by a good kawan of mine.

I ordered the Galette Brise which consisted of a tuna salad atop a buckwheat crêpe. Look at this beauty:

The Brise

The iceberg lettuce was sweet and crunchy on the bite and just parfait for warmer weather. What gave this simple salad the umami was the aioli (garlic mayonnaise) dressing that had been drizzled on the top.  I was also pleasantly surprised to discover slivers of fresh raw garlic amongst the leaves of iceberg.  I can’t begin to tell you how much I love garlic.  The more the merrier, in my books.  Garlic has so much medicinal properties like Vitamin C which wards off colds and flu, antioxidants that protect the body from harmful free radicals, thinking anti-aging kawan kawan.  It is even lauded for being a broad spectrum antibiotic that the body does not grow resistant to. Garlic contains a substance called Allicin which has anti-bacterial properties akin to a mild penicillin.  Daddy eats everything with garlic.  Guess where I developed my love for this herb, kawan kawan?  His guarded chilli recipe is infused with the stuff.  He was known to have traveled extensively with a bottle of this magic chilli sauce all over the world, sharing it with friends and colleagues.  Well, daddy has the cholesterol level of a 40 year old man and he just turned 80.

The Italian loved his Sicile being Italian afterall.  Look at it:

The Sicilian

Regardez the generous heaps of mushrooms, onions, olives, tomato slices and jambon.  Yummy! Bagus!

The girls both had a simple pancake, one with only jambon and the other,  jambon and eggs.  Both were very tasty.  RN was thrilled that she could eat her dinner independently, slicing up the thin crêpe toute seule. SS liked hers cos it reminded her of fried eggs and ham.

Ham Pancake

The Galette is a buckwheat pancake that originated in Bretagne.  It is considered a type of fast food or food on the go, easy to order for emporter at a crêperie. One can have a crêpe whilst walking home from work or window shopping along the Rue Faubourg St Honore. There are many recettes for the galette.  One can eat it stuffed like the girls or with the ingredients sitting atop the pancake.

This has brought to mind a trip the family made to Vietnam one year.  It was a family reunion for the Wongs, with the sister from Arizona and her ang moh husband and the sister from Singapore traveling sans enfants and mari.  That was a true sign of independence for this sister.  The parents came in tow too.

The sister from Arizona had a craving for Bahn Xeo, a Vietnamese crêpe like pancake made from rice flour stuffed with slivers of fatty pork, shrimps and bean sprouts.  It is usually eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves with mint and dipped in a sauce made of lime, sugar, garlic and chillies in a base of fish sauce – Nuoc Mâm. Truly sedap!

Look at this picture I found on the internet:

Bahn Xeo

La grande famille tracked all the way to a famous restaurant tucked in a very narrow alley where 2 Vietnamese women sat on low stools making these savoury pancakes.  It was indeed a fabulous eating experience. Well worth the trip that entailed dragging along a 2 and half  year in a poussette and a stroppy soon to be teenager, hot from the equator sun and hungry from a morning of sight seeing.

Making Bahn Xeo

Being in a crêperie meant that dessert would be….crêpes.  The sweet ones are usually made from froment (wheat).  I had mine with caramel buerre salé.  It was really yummy!  I discovered this sweet/savoury mixture in Paris, never having had it before.  I like the combination of sweet and salty.  But look at what SS ordered:

Crêpe with caramel buerre salé and vanilla ice cream

The Italian ordered one that came with calvados, an apple brandy from the region of Basse-Normandie.  It was specially served with a flame on top – flambée:

Crêpe Flambée

Kawan kawan, whenever you find yourself at the St Sulpice near makan time, you can walk over to La Crêperie Des Canettes, 10 rue des Canettes 75006, Tél: 01 43 26 27 65. Remember though, they are closed on Sundays so the chef can return on Mondays, rested and refreshed to make us more wonderful pancakes.

There’s something Fishy here


I recently attended a cooking class with my kawan, CB at a newly refurbished cooking school in the Montmartre area.  Chef Patrick hails from Normandie and has lived in the USA for 30 years where he had a French restaurant in Louisiana.

The class started at 5 pm outside a metro station near the school where we were instructed to rendezvous with man wheeling a green shopping trolley.  Well, we eventually found him surrounded by our bunch of friends who were also there to learn how to cook.  Let’s just say his trolley wasn’t exactly green!

Before cooking, we had to find our ingredients.  Chef Patrick took us down a typical French cobbled street where the marchands, fromageries, boucheries and poissoneries are located.

Being from Normandie, the chef really knew his fish.  We all opted for fish that night, because it came with a promise of learning to filet and skin the fish.  We were advised to purchase the dorade and a type of flat fish akin to the sole. Unfortunately, my old brain does not want to recall the name of this flat fish.  Tolong, kawan kawan, really sorry!  But Chef did say that the sole was the best flat fish to buy in terms of filleting  because there will be less wastage.

So with this new information in mind, I thought I’d cook la famille a fish dinner.

I found myself at a poissonerie in the 16th near the International school where RN attends the Pre-K.  Monsieur Poissonnier advised a bar (seabass) for the dish that I wanted to prepare.  I asked him to filet it because the bar was a huge one and I figured I couldn’t and wouldn’t, even if I wanted to try, be able to filet it myself.  I lacked knives, courage and time.  At the same time, I added 10 raw prawns and 8 cooked crevettes roses.

Kawan kawan, this was the most expensive fish I’ve ever bought.  I won’t even begin to tell you the price, it was so abominable!  Let’s just say that the figure would feed a family of 4 for a week.  Psssst! don’t tell the Italian, though!

Well, after paying the hefty price, I really was under a lot of pressure to make a dinner fit for royalty.  So, I decided to do what Chef Patrick did, pan fry the seabass filets dans la poêle with olive oil.  This was easy enough to do.  I skipped the butter because to be honest, I don’t like to cook with butter too much.  I wanted the fish to taste of fish, to keep its purity.  In Chinese, we have a word for this – ceng – (pronounced cheng) which means clean, clear, pure.  However, a gifted cook told me that butter helps to brown the fish and meat better.

Nonetheless,  I skipped the butter and the fish did brown anyway.  Here, take a look:

Pan Fried Seabass Filet

I salted the filets first before pan frying them with some fleur de sel.  This was set to give the fish a better aroma.  Then I slid them into the pan gently as soon as the pan started to smoke.  This smoking of the pan is important because it means that your oil is hot enough for browning without causing the fish or meat to adhere to your cooking utensil.   Because the filets were rather thick, I fried them for at least 3-4 minutes on each side.  I had to check that the filets were cooked and I did this by seeing if the flesh in the middle would yield to my wooden fish spatula.  If the flesh breaks a little, then it is done.

I tend to cook fish whole, baked or steamed.  I can tell from their eyes whether the whole fish is cooked.  This is learnt from my mom who had learnt it from hers.  She told me that the whites of the fish has to become opaque before the fish is done. But with filets, I had no eyes to judge by!  Chef Patrick shared this tip that I have described above and now I am sharing it with you, kawan kawan

Speaking of eyes, I should have known that there was something fishy about the fishmonger that day when he tried to sell me this bar – he couldn’t look me in the eye.  Then I noticed that he was cross-eyed!  Poor man.  Mais, tant pis!

Nevermind, I just won’t go back there again.  Lesson learnt and cooked.  Here’s the dish:

Bar on a bed of Spinach

I drizzled some soya over the fish with a squeeze of lime. This mélange of liquids combined nicely with the water from the blanched spinach to create a sauce.

The prawns were marinaded with soya sauce, sesame oil, shoashing wine and coriander, then sautéed with a little garlic and set aside.  I sliced two courgettes width wise so that they came out round and proceeded to stir fry these with minced garlic.  Then when the courgettes were done, I added the prawns, both the ready cooked ones and the ones that I’d sautéed earlier.  This is how it looks:

Prawns sautéed with courgettes

kawan kawan, here ends my fishy tale.  Remember this: when a fishmonger does not look you in the eye when attempting to sell you les poissons, he must either be cross-eyed or trying to make a fast buck from an unsuspecting étranger.