Category Archives: Paris Makan

Trusting in the Process


The little girl tugs at her mother’s sleeve.

“You”re not listening to me, mummy,” she says imploringly with a sense of urgency.

The mother looks up from her work and asks again for the little girl to repeat what she had said.

The little girl continues, “If Sophie has 2 more friends come to stay, we will not have enough chairs.”

“Oh, we will, we will, don’t worry,” the mother says absent mindedly, trying to steer the little girl away from the conversation. The little girl is adamant to finish her story.

“But mummy! Listen please!  Sophie and me makes 2, Ayaka and Emma makes 4, so if Sophie has 2 more friends over, that will make 6. But we only have 5 chairs in the kitchen. Where will I sit for dinner?”

It took me a few seconds to register what she had said. (For those of you who know me well, kawan kawan, numbers are really not my forte.)  She’s right, I remember thinking to myself. Hmmm! It took me some more seconds to realise that my little girl was doing mental maths. She’s right…. of course, she’s right, we have only 5 chairs at the dining table in the kitchen, so, indeed, where would she sit if Sophie had 4 friends over for dinner?

By the way, RN is only 6. She is still adding with her fingers and toes. How she understood this difficult concept of addition and subtraction within the context mentioned above is beyond me. But she was right in that if 2 more of Sophie’s friends came, we would have one chair too few. Indeed, where would she be sitting for dinner? Even if this mental gymnastic was based on selfish motives, I had to applaud RN. She was actually worried enough about her stomach to bring up the subject! Hahahahahaha!!! Is she my kid or what?

Why am I recounting this story, you ask. Well, this has something to do with me trusting in the process of my daughter’s education. She may not always get 2+2=4 or that 5+6=11 because she has only 10 fingers but she has understood that 6 people and 5 chairs just don’t add up. She has managed to work out that there will be 6 children by simple mental addition within a specific context. Okay, okay, she may have used her fingers to help….. but….

Mamma is soooooooo proud!

RN has had a good year at school. Apart from an apparition in the form of a  little blond girl who torments her from time to time, RN has grown taller, she has found her voice, learnt to take her friendships with certain individuals in her own stride, learnt to read and write, can add and subtract numbers up to 10 and can communicate her likes and dislikes. She can articulate the PYP Programmes of Inquiry by saying that she prefers Units to Maths Workshop and she can tell you why.

Mamma is soooooooo proud! Mamma is trusting in the process.

Mamma is also trusting in the process with regards to the teenager.  The teenager has blossomed into a more agreeable young lady with lesser tendencies towards severe mood swings. She is now pleasant to converse with and even has lots of interesting things to say.

I trusted in the process and left it to take its natural course. It was a difficult year for the mother and teenage daughter but they overcame it. That dark brooding cloud of lack – lack in self confidence, lack in self believe, lack in self worth – has finally drifted away into the far, far distance…. and may it always hover over there far, far away.

The teenage daughter bagged the first prize in her year group for a writing competition. Her story was about a dying artist fighting a relapse in memory who wants to capture the essence of his first love. His impending amnesia impedes his recollection and all he remembers of her is the colour red and all he manages to do is streak a white canvas scarlet. Entitled Scarlet, the story delves into the head of an old man capturing his frustration and anguish as he leaves this world torn between an impressionable experience and trying to recapture it through a fading memory.

The MYP has really contributed to a great l’anee scolaire for SS.  She is embracing the Learner Profile with each passing year and I can see that her learning is evidently becoming more inquiry based.

 Mamma is sooooooo proud once more. Mamma is trusting in the process.

 

When I first arrived in Paris and tasted my first morsel of Chinese food, I felt a sense of depression slowly seeping into my bones between mouthfuls of riz cantonnais.  How would I survive on such low quality Asian food?

You see, kawan kawan, I grew up in Singapore with the best quality street food in the world, in my opinion. Then I moved to London where Cantonese Roast Duck is even better than what you’ll get in Hong Kong. Oodles of noodles served with a whole lobster chopped up to make shelling easier and soaked in a ginger and spring onion sauce is so mouth wateringly delicious and affordable that I developed a craving for it during my second pregnancy and eating lobster noodles at the Mandarin Kitchen at Bayswater became a religious fortnightly ritual.

Yet I trusted in the process in Paris, kept an open mind and three years into my sojourn here, I will report that I’ve managed to find Thai food so authentic it’s like dining in Bangkok. Korean food tops any that I’ve tasted outside of Seoul and Japanese Ramen eateries galore serve up the best soup noodles in a broth so tasty that I look forward to my next bowl for the coming winter. Chinese food still has some catching up to do. However, if you are fan of rustic Chinese cuisine, there are plenty of eateries here in Paris to be found.

Kawan kawan, I’m no longer depressed when it comes to eating Asian in Paris. I trusted in the process and the process has given me eating buddies in the newly formed Lunching Ladies by mny. Through this group of gourmandes, I’ve discovered hidden gems where gastronomic treasures are prepared to outstanding quality.

I would like to end this academic year on a sweet note, kawan kawan. Today, I discovered Toraya, the japanese dessert chain store. Lunching there with the beautiful Jayde, blooming with pregnancy hormones and looking chic in her robe en noir and Chanel bag, I bit into my petite bouche size sesame filled mochi and was immediately transported to heaven. Teamed with sencha so pure and clean, I relaxed into my leather bound bench and sighed with immense pleasure. Sometimes, the best things in life are just so simple, just trust in the process.

Simple Pleasures

Kawan kawan, thank you for your support and for following my blog posts in the past year. I hope that I’ve managed to entertain where entertainment was necessary.  I hope that for many kawan kawan far away, it was a way for all of you to catch a glimpse into my Parisian life.

I will be back in full force at La Rentrée, energised by the sun in S.E. Asia and raring to discover more places to chow away in the City of Light.

Two for Pho


In my veritable search for all food Asian in Paris, I came across this unique eatery in the 3rd, just off the rue Turbigo. Actually, it was Christine B who suggested we schlepp there to taste some Vietnamese Pho that mny had recommended on her Facebook page.

Nothing beats a bowl of steaming hot soup on a cold winter’s day.  And nothing beats a bowl of hot clear broth packed with complex flavours from a stock made with beef, herbs and spices.  This broth, kawan kawan is called Pho. I thank the day that I discovered this tasty soup garnished with beef slices, onions, bean sprouts and coriander (cilantro). Mmmm, coriander! That day was way back in the late 80s in San Francisco. Late 80s? I hear you exclaim.  Well, I’m no spring chicken, kawan kawan. And yes, I waited until the late 80s to discover Pho in America when I’ve been living half my life in SE Asia in a country that is practically a neighbour to the birth place of this delicious soup – Vietnam. When I was younger and living in Singapore, one just didn’t go to Vietnam unless you were a journalist, politician or a local returning home, let alone holiday there……for reasons quite obvious to many people.

My first visit to Ho Chi Min City (former Saigon), Vietnam was in 2007  with my sister from Arizona and her American husband, together with my sister from Singapore and both my parents who didn’t quite understand what the fuss about going to Vietnam was for us younger folk.  I had RN in a stroller, she was a little over a year old and SS was a little over 9 – they were both very excited to be on this adventure.  The trip was significant for its many memories.  For daddy, it brought back bittersweet remembrances of growing up in rural Malaysia and as a young man in Singapore from the late 50s, into and after independence in 1965.  Back then, Singapore was very similar to Ho Chi Min City in 2007.

For my American brother-in-law, it was in the visit to the Ku Chi Tunnels where we were shown propagandistic video tapes of the war from the Vietnamese perspective.  Mitchy M heard Americans being referred to as ‘red devils’ who invaded the land of the Viet Cong. He tasted cakes made from the cassava root, cakes so dry and tasteless, that were consumed by the Viet Cong soldiers, men and women, during their hide out in the jungles.  Mitchy M even crawled through a tunnel so small -“Vietnamese size, not American” as our guide explained – and just about made it back up through the trap door that snugly fitted around him.  Just as well that  Mitchy M is not of the larger build that most Americans are associated with.

For SS, it was the motorcycles that swarmed the streets of the city, beeping their way through them, some with washing machines and various other household goods strapped to the pillion seat. We were told by our very experienced tour guide that we should keep on moving while crossing the road: “No stopping or you’ll cause an accident!” She went on to explain that the motorcyclists will dodge us and there was nothing to worry about. And indeed, true to her words, if we just kept on moving, nothing untoward happened, except for the one time that daddy hesitated and got grazed by a very irate man with his pillion carrying empty industrial size water bottles, one under each arm and one in each hand. Daddy’s hesitance caused the driver to almost lose that very delicate balance that he’s worked out with his pillion and her empty bottles.  I’ll leave you to picture this sight in your head.  Crossing the road in this manner with a 9 year old and a toddler in a stroller was very hairy, kawan kawan but we survived to tell the tale.

For my sisters and me, our memories were of the city’s covered market  where food and goods were sold.  Here we witnessed bottles of alcohol preserved insects, mostly scorpions and the odd snake.  The insects garnished the alcohol, a type of home brewed whisky, meant to induce virility in men.  We bought fruits that we munched on and chewed along the way, discarding their skins and seeds as we went along, like the locals did, leaving behind us a Hansel and Gretel trail of pips and stones. Then we bargained to lower the prices of Vietnamese hats and other souvenirs to take home.  Haggling or bargaining is an Asian past time that a traveller sojourning in Asia has to learn and retain as part of his/her repertoire of life skills. Once equipped with this skill, one can travel in Mexico, Turkey and Africa, armed to purchase any souvenirs at the best price.

The Italian simply took very beautiful photographs.

Then we discovered Pho 101! This was an air-conditioned, sanitised eatery that served the nation’s speciality.

Its Parisian counterpart is a hole in the wall version that sits 24 people intimately.  Christine B and I arrived a little past 12 noon and there were only 2 places left, enough for us.  We sat next to two fresh faced French girls, eagerly waiting for their Vietnamese noodles.  The dry version of Pho is called Bo Bun, served with the same accoutrements and an additional nem, a Vietnamese spring roll.  So, if like these French girls, soup noodles are not your thing, don’t despair!

By the time we had finished, there was a long line of very hungry people, rubbing their hands either to keep warm or in anticipation of their imminent lunch.

When looking for this little eatery, don’t be tricked by two other Asian eateries that come before.  One even has a sign that says Pho.  Persist like we did and walk a couple of doors down to the end of the street and you will find Pho 3, the real McCoy.  You will not regret it.  And come early to avoid the queue.

Pho

Pho 3

5 Rue Volta, 75003

Metro: Arts et Metiers or Temple

The night I saw stars


My iphone buzzes, signalling the reception of a new text message.  I was in yet another Parent and Teacher Association (PTA) meeting. I read through the message quickly and was charmed by the content.  The Italian is asking me to book the babysitter because he’s proposing a night out.  A night out!  How can I refuse that?  I type a quick text to manny Ted to make sure that I’ve got him booked.

The night out would involve dinner, I was later told and that it will take place at the Hotel Balzac, a typical Parisian hotel just off the Champs Elysée.  Hidden in the Hotel Balzac is Pierre Gagnaire, a 3 star Michelin French restaurant.

Imagine my excitement, kawan kawan – a 3 star Michelin, let me repeat it, in case the significance of the stars haven’t caught on!  This is the highest accolade a restaurant gets!

We start with un coup de champagne, mais bien sûr.  How can you not, being in Paris, France? This flute of the best house champagne recommended by the sommelier was followed by dishes of amuse bouche so delicately and creatively presented that I actually found them difficult to tuck into.

There were the fairy size macarons with confit de framboise, so light and airy that they practically melted on my tongue upon immediate contact.  The slivers of crunchy bread sticks dunked in rosemary infused olive oil and a celery stick that has been slightly cooked smeared with an anchovy jam – all absolutely too good to be true.

Amuse bouche, ma cherie?

We chose the ménu degustation – the tasting menu.  I think that a tasting menu is the best way to taste a variety of dishes in a restaurant – at least the popular dishes anyway.

La spectacle begun with the lobster accompanied by a truffle sauce with a side of spinach enrobing a chestnut.  Most interesting, I thought but not mind blowing yet.  I awaited in anticipation for the next course.  There were 7 courses in all. Too many to dissect and discuss here.  So I will share with you a few of my personal favourites, in terms of presentation, creativity and taste.

The St Jacques cooked three ways I thought was superb.  If you like scallops, you’ll find this a very interesting choice. The course started with a whole scallop served with gnocchi that looked like mini scallops themselves. This was served with a purée of broccoli. Presumably, the scallop is to form the shell of an escargot with the purée as its body and the broccoli tree for its head.  The little snail is following a trail of gnocchi stones found in the enchanted forest of gastronomie.

St Jacque and scallops of Gnocchi

The next dimension to this course was the scallop sashimi served with a chilled cucumber soup, very much like a  gazpacho.Scallop Gazpacho

Now that my palate has been teased with something hot and something cold. What next?  The third dimension came in a version of thinly sliced St Jacque with a cream of cauliflower sauce that looked like this:Scallops - the third dimension

We were presented with a box of truffles sitting regally on a bed of rice. The Truffles

This had nothing to do with the courses that were to come, but merely part of the show that chez Pierre Gagnaire had put on for its guests.  The Italian told me that this restaurant is usually shut on Saturdays but for the festive season, they have opened their doors for Holiday makers.  He also told me that the tartufo is to accompany some dish on the à la carte menu and just for the hell of it, I asked the price because he had the menu with the listings.  It was a whopping 160€ for this truffle infused dish.  The love birds next to us ordered it and I was witness to an elaborate platter of something (I guess some sort of long pasta) and the waiter coming with the said box of truffle and a grater.  He systematically and officiously gave the dish of long-something-that-looked-like-pasta two very prominent and important shavings of truffle and bade the lady of the table “bon appetit” and swiftly retreated.  For that, the male love bird would have to pay the price.  His female had better return some good favours there!

I must add that I’m not that in favour of truffle.  I actually don’t see what the fuss is about although from a glutton’s, erm, I mean, gastronome’s  point of view, I do understand the taste factor. Truffles are one of those things that one has to be very careful about.  It can be an overkill if there is too much of it and nothing but tasteless if there is too little.  And there’s the price of it too……. no matter how good it is, I just cannot justify paying that much money for two shavings of fungi! But that’s just me!

The next dish has to be something for the gods. It is a turbot delicately cooked served on a soup of black rice.  This dish brought back childhood memories of eating a coconut milk based dessert made with black glutinous rice or bubur pulut hitam.  In Malay, this dish is simply called black rice porridge.  It is served in many Peranakan homes as well as in homes that are predominantly Hokkien speaking.

Turbot in Soup of Black Rice

I loved the textures of this dish, succulent turbot against a palate of semi-crunchy root vegetables.  The soup was exceptionally creamy without the coconut added. It was truly yums!

The most interesting dish by far for me has to be this:

It's all very interesting so far....

Served in a glass dish, it exudes a sense of sang froid.  The reds in the dish lend it a strange aura of monstrosity.  This dish is an abstract piece of creation in itself, a combination of the sea and land.  It is foie gras served with two oysters hidden by the sliced cabbage salad. It’s hard to ascertain the flavours of this dish, both delicate and strong all at once.  This is a very daring dish to create.  Oysters and foie gras are not typical marriage partners but I think that chez Pierre match-made them rather well.

The piéce de la resistancehas to be the venison and cochon.  A silver pan with two bite sized pieces of suckling belly pork was presented.  Then our personal waiter retreats and returns with this:

Game anyone?

The caramelised cochon sits prettily on the side to be eaten with a tender piece of roasted venison accompanied by a sliver of crunchy lotus root and a chestnut paste you see at the far end of the plate.

After copious versions of seafood, it was refreshing to have some meat. Then when I thought that I couldn’t eat anymore, we were served desserts. And let me tell you, there were  quite a few.

I really liked this trail of wild berries and meringue.

Follow that Trail

There was just way too much to eat.  The experience was unforgettable.  The ambiance was intimate and romantic. My companion was extremely charming.

After dropping hints for at least 2 years the Italian’s way, it finally struck him that I would actually like to eat at a proper Michelin star French resto instead of only reading  about them.  Bless his cotton socks, he actually pulled it off.  I have a good husband……

Well, for the grand finale!  The room spun, the fireworks were set off and I swear I could see the stars of the night sky swirl around me! The bill was a booming star spangled banner in 3-digit figures and if I had to round it up, it would be closer to a 4-digit sum.  For the sick of discretion, let’s just say that it would have bought me a very nice Fendi tote that I’ve had my eye on for a while.  This tote comes in various limited editions of city skylines embossed on the bag’s leather and I wanted the one of Roma. I guess this will be a miss for 2011.  But who cares about Fendi when my personal Italian, all naturally tanned and bronzy is the best arm candy of all!

Lunch at Ralph’s


I was invited to lunch at Ralph’s on Thursday, kawan kawan.  It was really Erica J’s idea and she organised a ladies luncheon for a bevy of 9 beauties in the courtyard of Le restaurant Ralph Lauren.  Rather, it was really a bevy of 10 beauties, if I count little Sara J who was fast asleep in her poussette so her mama could eat.  Now, that is a well trained baby!  Hmm, this makes me wonder what I did wrong as a mom when my girls were little.  SS is too old now (she’s 13 going on 14) for me to remember what she did when she was 10 months old at lunch hour when we were out and about. I have lost plenty of brain cells since having 2 children. RN was mon pire cauchmar! She was a nightmare to take out because not only would she require lots of attention (I mean 110 %), she would not sit in her poussette and let me get on with my meal.  I would be juggling baby in one arm and trying to cut up my meat with a fork in the other hand.  Not an easy feat, let me tell ya!  It came to a point when the Italian had to cut my meat up for me so that I could juggle baby in one arm and stab said meat with the fork in the other hand.  It was fine when RN was a little baby and asleep or feeding at my boobs most of the time while I ate. I figured she had to eat too so what better than direct transfusion of vitamins and minerals from my mouth to the breast milk  and to her. Things got hairy when she started to be more active and required even more attention. It was then that I really had to juggle or rather jiggle her up and down with one arm and still try to feed myself with the one free hand I had.

I had to play this role of one-arm bandit for some time until RN learnt to sit in her highchair and play with the pieces of meat or veg we threw at her.  It was such a relief to be able to eat normally again – with two hands.  During those one-arm-bandit days, I learnt to fully appreciate the fact that I have two healthy limbs on my upper body and their functions.  Imagine trying to change nappies with only one hand?

Anyway, I digress…..Excusez-moi!

Back to lunching at Ralph’s.  We were all so excited, especially me!  I’ve never dined at Ralph’s before although I’ve heard so much about it.  Being unprecedentedly warm for November, we were able to dine al fresco.  This is not something I would do usually in November.  Je préfère être à l’intérieur  at this time of the year.  So  I positioned myself under the heat lamp next to Christine B. I figured and hedged my bets that between the sunny and warm personality of Christine B and the heat lamp, I would be cosy and all warmed up.

We perused the menu between sips of red wine (Californian) and munchies of nuts and fried olives.  Now, these wine nuts and olives do top all wine nuts and olives.  The nuts which consisted of a mixture of walnuts, almonds, pecans, peanuts and hazelnuts, I seem to remember, were roasted in olive oil and rosemary, served warm and garnished with salt crystals. They were truly deeee-licious!  I heard that the Barefoot Contessa has a recipe for this.  I will have to check it out.

The wine nuts I went nutty about

It was a reasonably well selected menu with a variety of choices from starters to desserts.  The beef is airflown from America, apparently from Ralph’s own ranch.  I was very tempted by the steak and frites American style but the prices held me back.  60€ for a steak is just way too much to pay.  I just couldn’t justify the cost. I mean, what would the Italian say to that?  To him, les vaches are les vaches, whether they graze on grass in Ralph’s ranch in America or l’herbe in La Belle France!  As a compromise, I had the cheese burger instead which was good but not great!  I’m glad I didn’t order the steak then.

But I really want to tell you about 2 starters that caused a ripple of delight in my stomach.  Firstly, the shrimps with Montauk sauce.

Shrimp Cocktail with Red Sauce

I had to ask what Montauk sauce was, of course.  It was really a simple tomato base sauce, kind of a cross between ketchup and barbecue sauce. I know the Americans are as famous for their sauces as the French and personally I like cocktail and thousand island sauces.

What wowed me were the prawns (as we call them in England and Singapore). The shrimps that Americans refer to are really not shrimps as I know them to be. Shrimps are tiny little prawns whereas prawns are huge shrimps.  That’s when things get lost in translation here and we are both speaking English…..nevermind when you have to translate shrimps into crevettes and prawns into gambas….and at the end of the day, it is all a matter of size.  Where was I again?

Right, shrimp cocktail with Montauk sauce.  The shrimps were truly mums! They were cooked just right, therefore firm and crunchy and  served chilled on a bed of crushed ice.  They went very well with the Montauk.  They were such large shrimps that after 3 of them, I was actually rather full. Then again, I had plenty of delicious rosemary infused nuts and fried olives before.

Christine B shared the Sante Fe soup with her friend who was visiting from America.  Now, this soup is simply out of this world.  What was even more amazing was that in a truly American restaurant, the concept of sharing is very well understood.  The waiter served this bowl of soup portioned out in 2 small bowls, one for Christine B and the other for her friend. (The said waiter must be American trained!)  I was that impressed that I forgot to take a picture of it. Actually, I was that impressed that I was even thinking that these American visitors had better not get used to this.  It ain’t gonna happen in a French bistro, I betchya!

So, on the record, and I have proclaimed, if you ever want to share a bowl of soup properly, go to Ralph’s. No such thing as passing over the bowl with the last few spoonfuls to your friend when it’s her turn.  It is proper sharing here with the soup portioned out in two separate bowls.  There, I know you get it now…. I had to reiterate this for my own sake!  The same thing works for the burger too….. half a burger each, properly served in two separate plates….

Katie K had the Sante Fe soup too. I had asked if she wanted to share it with me but I guess she thought that it involved passing over the plate after a few spoonfuls and considered it too cumbersome to do so. She had her own!  Katie, although being American and after having lived in Paris for the past year, had simply forgotten what service really is.  I bet she was just as wowed by the separate soup bowls as I was.   Here’s her soup:

The Sante Fe Soup

The Sante Fe soup is really a bean soup made from black beans, red and pinto beans.  There are several versions of this soup but the main ingredients are these black beans that one can only find in America. The original recipe (or those that I’ve researched anyway) has ground beef in.  I guess, the vegetarians can remove that.  Ralph’s version of this New Mexican dish is served with a ball of avocado stuffed with cheddar cheese in its hollow in a base of chopped tomatoes and olive oil.  I really loved this soup.  Christine B was kind enough to let me have more than 3 spoonfuls and Katie K kindly took a picture of her version.

I’ll be making this soup, kawan kawan in the near future.  If I can’t find black beans (and they are not black eyed beans either) I may have to find me a substitute.  Kawan kawan, do any of you know what beans I can substitute for the black ones?

Ralph Lauren

173 Boulevard Saint-Germain
Paris
01 44 77 76 00

 

Cooking Thai with Jazz


Jazz has to be the most relaxing music to my ears next to Classical.  I often cook with Wynton Marsalis blowing his trumpet in the background or with Mozart’s ephemeral tunes floating into the kitchen, sometimes Maria Callas sings her arias keeping me company.

But kawan kawan, I’ve never cooked Thai with Jazz before, until I met Kochapan, that is.  She is one very jazzy (excuse the pun) Thai cook and teacher.  I had the pleasure of joining some Asian women on a Thai cooking experience in the humble abode of Kochapan M.  Her home is in the 18th arrondissement with easy access to not one but 4 Asian supermarkets.  How lucky is that?  For me to get my Asian supplies, I have to traipse all the to the 13th and back with shopping trolley and bags of Chinese greens by métro!  That is not an easy feat kawan kawan, trust me!  Bottles of soya sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil, not to forget, oyster sauce all weigh quite a bit if you are like me and cannot stop at 4 of each!  I buy in bulk, my friends, economies of scales and all that, plus I don’t have to go back to the 13th again until I run out of supplies, and at the rate that I stock up, it’s about every 6 months or so, it seems, or until I fancy fresher stuff like bak choy, kai lan and garlic shoots.

I digress, back to cooking Thai with Jazz.  Well, I signed up with AWAP for this course, organised by our very own efficient and knowledgable Shella M.  We met at the métro Marx Dormoy by the MacDonalds, all 6 ladies in anticipation of learning how to cook Phad Thai, Saté Kai and Som Tam, all dishes that we order and eat with relish in Thai restos in Paris and abroad.

Kochapan takes us on a tour of her arrondissement, showing us the Asian markets where she buys her supplies for her home and also for her cookery school.  I learnt a few new vegetables that day, discovering the stem of the lotus flower that Thai people add into their curries because its spongy flesh soaks up the sauce and becomes delectable.  But cleaning and washing this plant is difficile, cautioned Kochapan. I like it that in Asia, due to many reasons and one of them being economics, Asian people eat everything.  Who would have thought of eating the stem of the lotus flower? And bamboo shoots?  Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

At her beautiful spa like appartement, Kochapan appears, from behind a typically Thai crafted wooden door that I thought was only decorative, in her uniform.  She is wearing the generic Thai costume of somebody from central Thailand.  Her movements are graceful and elegant.

Our Host and Teacher

She gestures us to the living room where we are offered a Thai coconut, chilled with a decorative flower sitting atop a black olive.  I was in heaven, kawan kawan.  I had no desire to move back to Asia anymore.  I mentally took note that Kochapan’s husband is a French architect and can easily create this Asian haven for me, if I wish it to be, and abracadabra, I’m back in SE Asia.  I have to run that pass the Italian, for sure. We’d save tons of money on our yearly pilgrimage back to the East, if only I had an appartement like Kochapan.  Oh, and did I mention that she has a sauna too?  She’s working on the next part of her business plan where she’ll be offering a spa package including Thai massage, sauna and followed by a lunch of Thai inspired health food. You’ve heard it first from me, kawan kawan!

Welcome Drink

I’m so excited to be making Phad Thai.  This national dish of Thailand is eaten worldwide and has become the symbol of Thai cuisine.  It was first introduced and made popular by Thailand’s Prime Minister, Luang Phibunsongkhram, in his reign during the second World War.  He wanted to reduce rice consumption amongst the people of Thailand and to encourage a healthy but economical way of eating.  Phad Thai is a simple noodle dish made mainly with bean sprouts, tofu and eggs.  As food was rationed during the war, this dish provided ordinary families with a cheap and healthy option.  Through the years, this dish has been de-constructed, re-invented and spiced up with other ingredients like prawns and chicken.

We had the jazzed up version of Phad Thai at Kochapan’s.  Prawns seasoned first in garlic, soya sauce and olive oil were added, after being separately cooked, over the bed of noodles.

We each took turns to chop, mince, pound and cut the ingredients for the Phad Thai, working with Jazz tunes emanating from her CD player. There seems to be a lot of work that goes into this dish.  But the Jazz helped us relax and the chin wagging that went on whilst we all cooked created an ambience of community and sisterhood amongst us 6 Asian ladies.  We shared anecdotes from our own countries, families and cultures – one Asian/Canadian, one Filipina/Canadian, one Filipina, 2 Koreans and a Singaporean with our Thai host.

Phad Thai Sauce:

1 tbsp red onions slices

2 tomatoes

2 tbsp crushed roasted peanuts

2 tbsp tamarind juice (this is made with tamarind fruit paste that you can buy in any Asian supermarket.  Soak a handful of this paste in warm water which will become tamarind juice)

1/2 tbsp of sugar

1/2 tbsp of soya sauce

Method: Sauté the red onions and tomatoes, then mix everything in the food processor until smooth.

Thai Salted Radish

Phad Thai ingredients:

3 tbsp red onions chopped

1 piece of hard tofu, cubed

1 tbsp of salted radish, chopped. (Buy the Thai version as it is a little more sweet than salted)

1/2 pack of rice noodles.  (I buy the thicker version, the next size up from vermicelles, which are very thin rice noodles)

1 tbsp of dried shrimps, already soaked in warm water for 10 minutes

10 pieces of fresh king prawns seasoned in garlic and oil, cooked separately

2 tbsp sliced carrots

3 tbsp spring onions and chinese chives, all cut into 1 inch length

2 tbsp of crushed roasted peanuts

2 cups of bean sprouts

1/2 tbsp of garlic minced

1/2 tbsp of soya sauce

1 egg

Phad Thai ingredients

method: In a wok or frying pan on high heat, fry the red onions, followed soon after by the tofu pieces until slightly brown on each side; lastly, add the minced radish and fry some more.

In a pot of boiling water, add the noodles for about 1 minute, quickly removing them with a slotted spoon to be added directly into the mixture of red onion, tofu and salted radish.

Add 2 – 3 tbsp of Phad Thai sauce whilst mixing the noodles, making sure that the they are thoroughly coated in the sauce.

Crack an egg and add into the pan on one side. Then mix it into the noodles and the rest of the ingredients already in the pan.

Add the dried shrimps, spring onions and Chinese chives  and carrots and stir fry for 5 minutes, giving everything a good stir.

Add bean sprouts and crushed peanuts, stir fry for another 2 minutes.

Place Phad Thai in a serving dish and dress with pre-prepared king prawns and its juices to be eaten immediately with a fresh sprinkling of peanut, fresh bean sprouts and a squeeze of  lime or lemon juice.

Phad Thai with King Prawns

This can also be served with fresh cut chillis in nam plaa.

The accompaniment

And whilst you’re at it, you can also carve roses from firm tomatoes and decorate your personal dishes with them.

Rosettes for you?

Now that I can cook Phad Thai, kawan kawan, I don’t have to order it at Thai restaurants anymore.  I can now order other types of Thai noodle dishes instead. My eating weltanshauung will soon be expanded.  That keeps me happy, my friends, what about you?

aRoÏ Personalised Thaï Cooking

http://www.aroi-thaicooking.com

How about Thai tonight, honey?


I wonder what is it about Thai food that gets most people’s gastric juices churning?  Is it the nam plaa (fish sauce), the spicy taste of red chillis or the mixture of sweet, tangy and spice all mingled together?

I had the pleasure of dining with a friend,  passionate foodie and fellow blogger mny at a Thai eatery of her choice.  Kawan kawan, let me tell you this: I was so very excited that the pavlovian tendency to salivate was immediately activated with the memory of eating dishes like Phad Thai and Tom Yam Kung as soon as I alighted at Montparnasse métro on my way to Thai Panthong.

It was a hot and humid day, one of the record hottest days in Paris since the late 1800s, I was told.  The air around the Montparnasse area was stifling.  It almost reminded me of being back in Asia.  I was sweaty, hungry and terribly lost.  For those of you who’ve been to Montparnasse, you’ll know what I mean.  When you exit the grey monstrosity of  le station Montparnasse-Bienvenue, you’re faced with an open space that almost causes one to be a little agoraphobic.  You’re basically in a square with roads going in every direction, left, right and centre. Added to that, there are about one hundred people moving at super sonic speeds on their way to somewhere else, whilst you are looking lost and deserted.  Which way do you turn?  I knew that I had to get onto the Aveneu du Maine in order to find rue de l’Ouest, number 37 (or was it 28?)  but the Ave de Maine is a very long street as most streets in Paris are. Do I take a left or a right to get onto rue de l’Ouest?  My imap for some reason didn’t help that day, so I took a risk and asked a Parisian news vendor for directions.  Well, as you may have guessed, his answer was the proverbial shrug of his Parisian shoulders which left me nonetheless wiser.  I should have bought a magazine, it occurred to me later, maybe then, he’d have pointed me the right way.  Haven’t I learnt that in order to get my back scratched I have to scratch the scratcher’s back in return?

All my hard work at finding the resto paid off when I finally ran into Panthong to find mny seated zen-like waiting for me.  The perfume of Asia arrested my attention and I was immediately at peace.  Familiar aromas of spices, wok-fried ingredients and the fragrance of rice assaulted my nostrils.  What a place! I knew it would be authentic just from all the smells mixed in the hot humid air.

We perused the menu and settled on Som Tam Poo for starters.  I’m a fan of green papaya although not of the mature variety.  This salad is a NE Thai dish made with nam plaa, chillis and lime juice mixed with dried shrimps so small you hardly notice they’re there.  I wanted to try the version with crab as I’ve not had that before.

Som Tam - So yum!

The crab was really a baby one marinated in nam plaa.  It’s so tiny that it was served still in its shell.  Those little beige puffy things were deep fried pork crackling, dehydrated so that they kept their crunchiness.  It was so divine that I had 3 of them. I know it’s not great for cardiac conditions but what the heck! It was too sedap to stop at one…. and besides, pork fat is meant to give one shiny smooth skin as the mainland Chinese girls will tell you.

I wanted some sort of Thai curry for the main course and veered between the Green Thai Duck Curry and the Red King Prawn Curry.  It was a difficult choice but I decided to stay on the seafood theme and ordered the Chou Chi Kung  – a dry red curry with King Prawns.

Chou Chi Kung

The dish tasted every bit as vibrant as it looked.  Creamy coconut sauce over barbecued King prawns garnished with cilantro (coriander) and chives.  It married well with the Khao Niew served in a bamboo basket.

Sticky Glutinous Rice

Mny fancied something spicy.  She settled for phad khii mao.  This simple but flavoursome noodle is wok fried with minced pork (chicken will work too) snow peas, sliced chillis and whole pepper corns.  It’s so easy to magic up even a drunkard can make it, so the story goes.  And so the name of this dish stuck for khii mao means drunk in Thai.

Funny,  I thought, the Italians have spaghetti alio olio– long pasta tossed in olive oil infused with garlic – and the brits have the kebab.  In Britain, drunken nights out are followed by a naan or pitta bread wrapped with slivers of grilled lamb smothered with chilli and garlic sauce eaten en-route home.  One is so drunk and hungry that this rather generous parcel of yumminess is devoured before the key even gets through the key hole or one’s tongue starts to smart from the heat of the chilli sauce.

Drunkard tossed noodles

If the phad is still not fiery enough, you can always accompany it with this:

Nam Plaa with Chilli and lime juice

All good things are sugared coated, a favourite saying I’ve often heard.  So it is only natural that our lunch ended with dessert.  I had bananas in a sesame flavoured coconut milk.  This is really one of my favourite Thai desserts, next to mango with sticky rice.  I had to forego that since I’ve already had quite a bit of glutinous rice.  The coconut cream was both savoury and sweet, akin to the beurre salé, so famous in Paris patisseries.

Creamy Coconut milk with Bananas

My partner in crime ordered the bualoy sarm see – little taro balls in 3 colours immersed in coconut milk.  This was equally delicious.

Bualoy Sarm See

During lunch, the conversation veered from events happening in and around Paris, what our children were up to at school and the recent floods in Thailand that caused many to be homeless and the rice fields to be ruined.

Mny had a brainstorm that night.  She decided to organise a Charity Luncheon at a Thai resto to raise funds for her country folk.  This luncheon will take place on November 14th, just after the Toussaint holidays.

Kawan kawan, if you can, please come and support this good cause.  All the proceeds will go towards helping the needy in Thailand.  We will eat Thai, drink wines that have been specifically selected by a resident wine connoisseur that pair with Thai flavours and be in the company of friends.  Place your reservations in the comments box below.

Thai Panthong Restaurant (closed Sundays)

37 rue de l’Ouest, 75014 

01 43 22 03 25

Charity Luncheon:

Date: Monday, November 14th from 12:30pm
Venue: Im Thai Restaurant
8 Rue de Port Mahon 75002
Metro Opera

Too posh to chew? Have a Quenelle


kawan kawan, for those of you who’ve been following me, you’ve realized that I’ve been out of commission for a bit… it was not because I’ve abandoned you or the blog – I would never do that. 🙂  It was due more to the shortage of time that I’ve not been blogging of late.  But the dust of La Rentrée has just about settled. I’ve ja-ust about got the girls and me back to our daily routine of school runs, homework, violin practice and all the little things that keep me from finding the right moment to blog.  But I am back again, no worries because part of my daily routine is to find the time for myself, non?!?

I’ve been active again at L’atelier des chefs.  It is wonderful to catch up with Debbie K and Mrs M, my usual partners at French cookery school.  On this occasion, Silva D came along too.  She’d been wanting to join L’atelier for quite some time but just haven’t managed to find the right time to do so. What propelled her this time round to find a slot in her busy schedule was  this:  she will be leaving us for Milan, her hometown, shortly and she really wanted to profiter from a L’atelier class. So, voilâ, here we all were to learn how to cook quenelles de cabillaud.  I’ve never cooked this dish before so I was very excited to learn.

Basically quenelles are tear drop shaped pieces of minced meat or fish, in this case, poached in milk or water until done.  Some would call it egg shaped. In any case, it is not so much the shape but the preparation and cooking process that make a quenelle a quenelle.  The binding factor is egg white which is added to the fish and cream to be blended until smooth.  Lyon and Nantua are two places famous for their pike quenelle usually served with a creamy sauce. Pike is a fish with many small bones so the best way to cook this fish without the hassle of removing the bones whilst you are eating it is to churn it in a blender before cooking. Of course, if you were a “real” chef, you would use a tamis, a cylindrical sieve invented in the Middle Ages to strain, grate and mill food.

A tamis sifts and grates ingredients finer than any other utensil, and the texture of the strained material is evenly consistent.  Modern kitchens have blenders or Magimixes which does the same job with a push of the button.

Quenelles are very easy to eat, kawan kawan. It hardly needs chewing since it is so finely blended and poached just right that all you need to do is shuffle spoonfuls into your mouth and swallow. Watch how a toddler with no teeth eats and you’ll see what I mean.  The quenelle is really posh baby food with a lot of flavour.

After chopping, blending and poaching, it was time to serve up.  We were shown how to dress the plate with the quenelle sitting atop a bed of sauce de champignons.  The mushrooms were stir fried in a little olive oil with one minced shallot and a whole clove of garlic still in its peel, then blended with a little cream and some milk used to poach the cod.

Posh baby Food - Quenelles de cabillaud

The experience was…how shall I put it?…. interesting, I suppose.  I haven’t made pureed baby food in a while, considering that RN who is now 5 had stopped eating purées since  she was 7 months old.  The only mush I make in the house in mash and even that, RN doesn’t fancy too much….strange child, I know 🙂

The quenelles tasted delicious for the amount of cream and salt that went into it albeit a little bland. I would have preferred it made with spices like turmeric, chilli and curry powder, mixed with coconut milk instead of thick cream, then steamed wrapped up in a banana leaf or stuffed in aforementioned banana leaf and grilled (see photo below).  This would fire the fish up a bit, multiply its flavour by a 100 percent and transform the quenelle  magically into an otak otak, a fish mousse widely eaten in SE Asia.

Spiced up Quenelles - Otak Otak

Unless you have a baby who eats spices at 6 months, this is highly NOT recommended as baby food, posh as it also is.

I would go for the quenelle in this case.  Seriously, if I knew of this recipe when I was weaning my girls, I.would.have.made.it, served with champignon sauce over a bed of rice porridge.  If I had done that, perhaps SS would just adore mushrooms now and I wouldn’t have to pick out any mushrooms that she can see thrown surreptitiously into her food or avoid the mushroom section altogether, because why bother? no one accept except the Italian and I eat those fun-guys anyway!

Try kawan kawan this recipe for quenelle.  Just follow the link above.  If I were to make it again, I would jazz it up with a little more herbs and spices, although not chillies, since the girls don’t like spicy stuff (I know, I know, and they are half Singaporean and don’t eat spice nor speak Mandarin.  I’ve been through all that with the Mother!)  Let me know how it turns out. Bon apétit!

Beggars Can’t be Choosers


When I first arrived in Paris, I was very surprised to see in every corner of my neighbourhood, a community of homeless people.  Some have come to stay and are a permanent fixture to the landscape, making their ‘living’ from the centimes that many kind Parisians or tourists hand out to them.  Some are transitory, here only for a day or two before moving on to greener pastures.  The old timers I have come to recognise, like the lady with a bandaged foot who sits across the Cocteau Society.  RN and I see her every morning on our to the métro at Trocadéro.

Then there is the ‘shaking man’ as RN likes to refer to him as.  He can be found within the métro Trocadéro when it rains and on dry days just a few metres from the entrance of the métro, outside one of the many bistros, kneeling and shaking profusely, hat in hand, asking for a centime or two.  RN was pretty impressed (by his performance) when she first came across the ‘shaking man’ but now she is just as immuned by the sight of him as the many residents of the neighbourhood.

Here is a link I found on a blog about poverty in Paris and indeed France:

http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com/2006/07/homeless-in-paris.html 

 

Legend has it that a beggar in the Qing Dynasty fell upon a chicken due to his good luck.  The stolen bird was then hidden, feathers and all, in mud found by a muddy riverbank, to be retrieved once the beggar had managed to steer clear from his pursuers.  His captors allayed, the beggar  then placed the mud caked chicken whole into the fire that he had made for this purpose.  The fire caused the mud to form into a clay crust which cooked the chicken so well that upon breaking the crust, its feathers and bones came away and the meat was tender and juicy.  The aroma emitted from the chicken attracted the attention of Qing Emperor who was travelling incognito (as all Chinese Emperors tend to do) and he stopped to dine with the beggar who kindly shared his precious loot with this stranger. Just as well as he did, because the Emperor was so impressed by the dish that he elevated the beggar’s status to that of court chef, specialising in cooking Beggar’s Chicken.

Through time, the dish has evolved to become more kingly.  Inside the carcass of the chicken, one can find a filling of various ingredients from chestnuts, to shrimps to bamboo shoots, minced pork and Yunnan ham.

It takes a good 8 hours to cook this special bird.  The chicken is firstly boiled to remove any impurities.  This has to be done without cooking the chicken. It is then stuffed with the above ingredients mentioned and then wrapped tightly in lotus leaves, to be steamed before being encased in a non-toxic clay crust and finally baked in the oven.  The baking process helps to retain the juices within the lotus leaves, thus preserving the aroma of the spices and herbs.

That Crusty old Thing

This was how Beggar’s Chicken is served in Shang Palace where I discovered this royal dish, courtesy of AB (MD of Shangri-La Paris) and CB, friend and fellow blogger and wife of AB.  (You can find her blog in my blog roll.)  Note the surgical instruments accompanying the dish.

Of course, in order to taste the tender morsels of chicken, someone had to have the honour of breaking the clay crust….. and the honour fell on……AB.

I'm Gonna smash you in the Crust, I am

Once broken, the crust was removed piece by piece to reveal a layer of lotus leaves.  This was then delicately cut open to reveal the chicken resting within it. The aroma was intoxicating, kawan kawan.  I had the honour of standing next to the waitress who was in charge of the operation.  Whilst she was peeling the leaves back one by one, she also explained to me where Beggar’s Chicken originated.

Beggar’s Chicken hails from the Hangzhou area in Zhejiang province.  There, you will find many restaurants serving beggar’s chicken.  Due to its lengthy cooking process, many restaurants ask that you pre-order the dish at least a day before.

This is what it looks like once the leaves and bones have been removed:

Et Voilâ! The encrusted bird

In researching this dish, I found many blogs teaching one how to cook it. Some recipes call for only a couple of hours cooking time. However, I believe that the flavours of the chicken is retained in slow cooking it under a low heat, as any advocate of slow cooking will tell you.

Kawan kawan, if you are ever in Paris, you must go to the Shang Palace for this dish.  It is really worth it.  Trust me! 🙂 But remember, you may have to call in advance if you are after this bird.

Beggar's Chicken

 

Footnote:  Daddy actually cooks this chicken dish chez lui.  He wraps the bird that has been marinated in a herby wine with chinese red dates, goji berries and gingko nuts in tin foil or lotus leaves, if he can find any, to be steamed on a low heat for about an hour and half.  The funny thing is I never knew that it was called Beggar’s Chicken because daddy calls his dish, Herbal Steamed Chicken.  lol!!!

Shang Palace, Shagri-La Paris, 10 avenue d’Iéna
75116 Paris

 

Let’s make it a Date night


The Italian asked me out the other day, much to my surprise!  Since the birth of RN, we’ve not had much time or energy to do the couple dating thing.  Of course, we’ve been out a few times, only when people have done the inviting or when we’ve organised a night out with friends, which by the way is really rather rare too! So what a rare treat it was for me when my husband of 6 years asked me out on a date!  I was starting to forget just how romantic he could be!

Well, I’ve been wanting to eat at Joël Robuchon for a long time.  The Italian surprised me by taking me to L’atelier de Joël Robochon  on the Champs-élysées. The dinner reservation was for 9:30 which for me is rather a late one but it was the only time slot available on a Saturday night.  We were early since the babysitter arrived at 8.  Champs-élysées is only a ten minute walk from our appartement so we grabbed the opportunity (or as the French would say, il faut profiter des bons moments) to have an aperitif at the bar next to the L’atelier which is located in the basement of a hip drug store over looking the arc de triomphe.

The summer evening was bright and the sun was still shining even way after 8 pm. However, it was a rather chilly evening for July though and I was glad that I had my Marni overcoat on me.  I dressed for the occasion, as you would expect. I dragged out my 20 year old orange and lime green Christian Lacroix summer dress; the one I wore to a friend’s wedding in Singapore many moons ago and I remember being looked twice over by the folks because this frock is really rather risqué to be seen in at a conservative church wedding.  This dress has a sash that you tie at the back which leaves some flesh showing – trés sexy, if you ask me! But maybe not appropriate for a church wedding, peut-être.

We were seated by the very friendly maitre’d and the Italian was surprised to be placed at the bar because the last time that he was there with 6 other people, they were shown to a room with tables. I quite liked being seated at the bar really because there we were right in the middle of the action.

In the Middle of the Action - the Kitchen island

I could see how the chefs prepared the dishes, all orderly and neatly with no one flapping anxiously like you sometimes see on some cooking programs.  The kitchen consisted of an island where the meat/fish/foie gras is pan fried.  They call this the tepanyaki after the Japanese style of cooking. There are heat lamps which are used to keep the dishes warm whilst they are waiting to be served.  I could also see how the dishes are plated and decorated with one leaf of salad here, a dash of sauce there, a drizzle of oil on the corner and a sprinkle of pepper here and there. The chefs were like artists, I thought, painting beautiful looking dishes with their bare hands.

Here is how our first dish looked – Le Caviar Imperial.  This consisted of a velvety chilled soup made of sweet corn accompanied by a jelly of beef stock and topped with crispy golden breadcrumbs.  I really loved this soup and the adjectives that were used to describe the ingredients, for example, the beef jelly was described as la geléé tremblotante which means, quivering jelly. It rather resembles the way the Chinese would describe their kung fu strokes or dishes – “fist of the crowning crane” or “buddha jumps over the wall soup”.

This soup was refreshing and strangely odd at the same time because I didn’t expect how chilled and sweet it actually was.  The quivering gelatinous beef stock married well with the sweet soup, leaving a mélange of sucrée/salée on one’s tongue, a taste sensation that the French absolutely love. The caviar which crowns a dollop of créme frâiche added a savoury crunchiness on the bite when combined with the thick sweet corn soup. This crunchy goodness was further enhanced by the 3 croûtons purposefully placed inches apart to decorate the soup ensemble.

Le Caviar Imperial

Our next dish was named Le Crabe which as the name suggests consisted of a portion of minced white crab meat accompanied by a bunch of crunchy French green beans. The plate is decorated with 3 dollops of wasabi flavoured sauce and a path of minced boiled eggs.

Le Crabe

A sliver of parmiggiano sits by the side of the haricots verts and this when eaten with the sliver of radish was absolutely delicious.  Just look at the chapeâu shaped potato crisp lending this dish a picture perfect perfection. It looked almost too good to be eaten.  But no regrets there – the dish also tasted as good as it looked – perfect.

La Girolle came soon after.  This is again another absolutely delightful dish. The pan fried mushrooms were served in a martini shaped glass sitting atop a frothy parsley mousse.

La Girolle

Now, this has to be my favourite dish – Le Foie Gras. This is a thick piece of pan fried  foie gras de canard served with 2 poached apricot halves and fresh almonds.  The combination of the warm  foie gras and apricots were simply sublime.  Then take a bite of the fresh almonds and you are at once in food heaven. If you’ve never tried fresh almonds before, you must! The oleaginous aftertaste of the almonds when masticated leaves you coming back for more.

Le Foie Gras

After this highlight, the next dish had much to live up to.  Le Bar was rather unexciting for me, malheureusement.  I thought that the sea bass, although very fresh, was a little on the bland side.  I am not a fan of pea soup so this dish didn’t do very much for me. The Italian felt the same way.

Le Bar

Next was a choice between the lamb  or la caille which is a type of small bird. I chose l’agneau de lait since the Italian had the bird.  The lamb cutlets were minuscule and sat in a circle enclosing a sprig of thyme and a clove of roasted garlic. These were really baby lamb chops as suggested by the name l’agneau de lait– milk lamb.  So the meat was sweet and tender with no traces of lamb at all.

L'agneau de Lait

We had two servings of dessert which I thought was one too many.  But still, we persevered and ate them even though by then both of us were really quite full. Dessert number one is aptly named le mango-mango.

Le Mango-Mango

Look, they even had a special Perspex dish made for serving this sweet.  The dessert was principally a dressed up mango mousse with a coulis of yellow fruits. I couldn’t make out what the ‘fruits jaunes’ were but I wasn’t thrilled by this dish. I thought it was very well plated and a delight to the eye more than the tongue.  I especially liked the sprig of gold leave covered chocolate that stood in for a fruit stem sitting in the scoop of mango sorbet made to look like a peach or apricot.

The second dessert – Habillé Rouge– was a meringue enrobed in a gold dusted red hue sitting on an island of wild strawberries surrounded by a caramel chocolate sauce. The crimson meringue resembled a toadstool usually found in the woods, only a prettier one.  I loved the strawberry flavoured chocolate twirl that sat on the left side of the dessert bowl.  If you’ve never had wild strawberries before, you have to try them.  They are usually hand picked and have a very intense strawberriness to their taste.  I love them immensely accompanied by chocolate.

Habillé Rouge

We’ve come full circle in terms of the colour theme at Robuchon.  As soon as we had  placed our order for the dégustation menu and our bottle of wine, we were served an amuse-bouche that consisted of a gazpacho of cherries.  It was very appetite whetting, if it did anything by way of amusing my mouth, which is the principal function of the amuse-bouche.

L'amuse Bouche

I love this L’atelier, kawan kawan.  It is really aptly named because the kitchen is opened planned where customers can see the chefs at work.  This is a fine example of a workshop and a wonderfully romantic place to go on a date night.

What about the Hummus?


I was wondering about the chickpea today.  This nutritious legume is high in protein and has been around for a very long time.  In fact, I read somewhere that remains of the chickpea have been found in the Middle East dating as far back as 7500 years.

La famille went for a little stroll in the Marais today.  I love this quartier of Paris because it is always very lively there on a Sunday.  It is easy to get lost in the Marais because the area called the Marais is actually pretty big. I wanted to explore the part where the shop windows display pretty funky things and where there is always a long line outside a particular falafel eatery. This part of the Marais is predominantly Jewish, I was told and the food is a mix of Lebanese and Middle Eastern.  It is rather difficult to define the Middle East and for the sake of ease, the Middle East consists topographically of the countries in Western Asia and North Africa.  This makes it a fairly large area geographically.

I was fascinated by a dish known as Humous/Hummus/Humus.  It doesn’t matter how you spell it, the names all mean the same thing – a Levantine dip made of mashed chick peas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.  This dish is eaten from Greece to Syria to Israel to Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon.  In fact, in October 2008, a group of industrialists in Lebanon filed a petition to the Lebanese Ministry of Economy asking them to seek permission from the European Commission totypify humus as a uniquely Lebanese food much like the Pachino tomatoes of Sicily or the Camembert from Normandie, thus creating a huge controversy around this ancient recipe.  The Lebanese felt that their national dish has been usurped by their neighbouring country, Israel.  This caused Shooky Galili  an Israeli journalist and food blogger with an entire blog dedicated to the hummus to say that this is really preposterous as the dish belongs to the region and cannot be claimed by one country as their own.  I tend to agree with this statement because it would be just as preposterous for me to claim Laksa as a uniquely Singaporean dish when it is eaten in various forms in Malaysia and to a lesser extent in Indonesia.  It is a unique dish, no doubt, in that it derived from the Peranakan culture which is a marriage of Malay and Chinese elements.

Humous is eaten, it seems to me, in all the regions where the Ottoman Turks have had the pleasure to claim their own.

Today, I discovered Humous again.  I’ve been eating humous for a long time in London without paying much attention to the historical background of this ancient dip.  In London, the Humous I’ve had the pleasure of tasting seems to have come from mainly Lebanese eateries where it is sometimes served warm with slivers of moist and aromatic lamb or chicken and a generous drizzle of olive oil.  This is known as Humous Shwarma and is yummy spread into pitta bread pockets.  I’ve had Humous in Greek restos and this is usually just a smooth paste that is eaten as a dip with pitta bread.  I’ve bought Israeli Humous in the supermarkets and this normally has whole chickpeas in the paste.

At Chez Marianne, I fell in love once more with this creamy, unctuous dip.  I ordered a grande assiette consisting of a choice of 6 dips from the buffet.  I chose the Humous, of course, Tahini which is similar in consistency to the Humous except that this dip is made from sesame. I had a caviar of aubergines marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs, a Tzasiki dip, made with cucumber and mint mixed in yogurt and a tuna and tomato spread.   And let’s not forget the vine leaves and tuna.

Plenty of Dips

For 16€, I had my fill of a typical Middle Eastern spread.  Then the lady of the house, Marianne herself came over to say hello and shook her head at my choice. She despaired at the over selection of creamy dips and promptly brought over, gratuit, a dish that consisted of aubergines baked with tomatoes, a sweet pepper and tomato stew which reminded me of the caponata in Sicily, and a brik, a filo pastry parcel filled with minced beef.  I’ve only ever had brik in Tunisia where it is served with an egg enrobed in filo pastry thins.

Brik and Veg

This was truly sumptuous.  I wish I had the word in Arabic for yummy!

As dips are thus defined, they all must be eaten with something that you can dip into.  We were served a basket of bread and to try the house specialities, we ordered a bagel, pitta and an onion bread.

The Bread Basket

The breads were all fresh and delicious.  The consistency of the bagel wasn’t what I had expected.  It was soft, slightly sweet and fluffier that the bagels I am used to. In fact, this bagel really reminded me of the challah, a  typical festive Jewish bread. Very sedap, my friends!

For dessert, for all things nice must end with all things even nicer, I had my favourite – halva.

Heavenly Halva

Don’t let this insipid looking sweet trick you, kawan kawan.  Sometimes, plain Janes have more to them than meets the eye. This sesame based dessert disintegrates in your mouth, leaving a creamy after taste of sesame and honey. It was no wonder that I ate so much of it during my second pregnancy.  RN is partly made of halva, is the running family joke. In fact, halva is a generic Arabic word that refers to a dense and sweet confection made either from flour, typically semolina or tahini which is a sesame paste.

Try!  Then tell me what you think, kawan kawan.  You can’t miss Chez Marianne, it is an ivy covered cottage on the Rue des hospitaliére st Gervais in the Marais district.

Chez Marianne

Don’t forget the Humous and the various cream based dips.  That was how we got to eat the other stuff for free!