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HomeComing Queen

I’ve been waiting a long time to write this post. As I sit before my Mac, a torrent of emotions go through my mind. Where do I begin?


I’ve come home, kawan kawan. It’s raining outside as I write and I can smell that old familiar scent of the rain mixed with the heat emanating from the concrete floors below. That smell evokes so many pent up memories in me. When I was little, I looked forward to the respite that rain would bring. It’s always hot in Singapore. Just before a storm, there would a breeze that spreads through the island I call home. In that breeze, sweet remembrances are evoked.

I sit with my right side to the glass verandah door, listening to rain as it falls

on the palm trees that grow around the courtyard below. There is a pervading calm around and for the first time in many months, I feel a sense of tranquility spreading inside me.

Home evokes many emotions for different people at different stages in their lives. Home gives the feeling of security, of familiarity, of warmth and friendship. “Hearth and Home” are two potent associations in the English language and acts as a  metaphor for the heart where one’s psychological home resides. “Home is where the heart is”, completes that metaphor in a full sentence.  Home is a place of refuge, of acceptance, a “sanctuary of belonging” as one commentator has put it.

You will remember that whilst living in Paris, I embarked on a journey to hunt down the veritable tastes of Asia that would satiate my then impending loss of the sense of home.


This lobster noodle dish was devoured in Singapore, 2016. The Italian was looking for a resto where we can savour that old familiar taste of Mandarin-Kitchen-lobster-noodles. He did some screen swiping and keyboard tapping and voila!

Even he is starting to feel a little homesick for London City which was home for 15 years before we moved to Paris.

You may not know this but since starting my food blog in Paris, I’ve relocated once more, this time repatriating to Singapore. I said I’ve come home, kawan kawan at the start of this post. But have I?

It’s been four and half years since returning home. I am now in the midst of writing a memoir and I’m thinking of calling this memoir – My Home not my Country.

How did I come from being the Homecoming Queen to now feeling a sense of displacement in my own “country?” I guess you’ll have to stay tuned for more.


How many sides are there to an Apple?

An inspirational man has recently left us, kawan kawan.  I assume everyone knows who he is.  Switching on my Apple computer on that sad day, the image of Steve Jobs in his iconic black polo and metal framed spectacles, with the years 1955- 2011 caught my eye.  He was only 56. But in his short life, he has revolutionised how the world would use the computer, listen to music, talk to friends and family and watch movies.  True to his philosophy, his obituary page on the Apple site only had his picture and the years of his birth and death.  A picture speaks a thousand words, Jobs would have told you.

This adage and concept is what made Apple so user friendly even amongst toddlers.  Ask my 5 year old how to get into any Application on my iphone and she’ll tap the relevant image.

There are very few inspirational people in this world that really make a difference.  I guess it is in the différence that make these people inspirational.

I also really admire Nigel Slater.  Slater influenced how British ate and still eat. He even made food sexy.  Toast, the movie, starring Helena Bonham Carter as Slater’s step-mother and arch rival, depicts his life story. Here, watch the trailer:

Today’s post isn’t about food, kawan kawan.  I will make this an exception. Today’s post is about sharing my sadness that one very important man has passed.  I would like to share with you a speech he made to students at Stanford University.

I am so inspired by this man who lived every day of his life as if it were his last. What a way to live because then every moment is precious, every moment is lived in love and every moment in inspiration.

I would like to make a toast to both Jobs and Slater for being the inspiration in my life…. Salut les fils!

Plenty of Polenta

Your Honour, I bring to your attention Exhibit A in the the case of Nava vs Polenta.

Exhibit A

You will see before you the photo of the victim, La Polenta.  She has been the property of i Nonni Nava for some years, enslaved in their mountain home that is perched on a hill in the village of Verrand just a kilometre from Courmayeur.

The Mountain Home

La Polenta has been at the disposal of many a Nava grandchildren who fight incessantly at each meal time to rest their little Nava bottoms on her soft cottony fabric.

This yellow cushion has been named after the most popular dish in the Italian Alps. Polenta is a staple in the mountainous regions of Italy, a dish that the Italian has grown up savouring.  Polenta is cornmeal, kawan kawan.  It is eaten accompanied by various stews, both vegetarian and meat filled.  Polenta is to North Italy what noodles are to Northern China.

Polenta is a word borrowed from the Italian language, referring to a dish which consists of boiled cornmeal*.  Before corn was introduced from the New World, grain mush, a gruel like dish from which polenta derived and commonly eaten in the Roman times and after, was usually made with either millet, faro, spelt and also chickpeas.  These starches were subsequently replaced by  ground corn.

Polenta is usually classified as a peasant dish but more and more Italian restaurants are now adding it to their menus.  There are virtually no restaurants in the Italian Alps or Piedmont region that do not serve up a dish of polenta with accompanying sauces and accoutrements.  Some fancy restaurants have even deconstructed the dish and serve polenta beautifully plated with the polenta moulded into a neat mound served as an accompanying side instead of potatoes.

In Bergamo, where the Italian hails from, polenta is accompanied by a side dish of small birds that have been oven baked.  In Courmayeur, I had polenta with roast lamb, sausages cooked in a tomato sauce, grilled sausages, oven baked trout, ratatouille and finally, cheese.

One of the best things to do food wise in Italy is to visit a restaurant that has been set up in the owner’s home.  Agriturismo as this is referred to in Italian is an agriculturally based enterprise that brings people to farms for activities such as fruit picking, wine tasting or horse back riding and last but not least, food tasting. In our case, we drove half an hour up the mountains to stuff our faces with polenta and stew with no activities whatsoever except to sit in the sun after a hefty meal.  What bliss! 🙂

This was what we had:

Polenta with slow cooked lamb

The meal was eaten at about 1500 m above sea level, at a small holding with their own goats, sheep, geese, ducks and chickens.  They even had a shetland pony thrown in for entertainment and a sheep dog that herds the pony back down the hill when it so much as dares to saunter up to the fountain for a drink. The meat of the day depends on what the chef decides to prepare.  The pony was off the menu by the way. That day, we had lamb that had been slaughtered and left to hang for 3 days to ensure that the meat becomes tender.  The tenderised meat is then marinated with olive oil, herbs, salt and tomatoes and then oven baked slowly on a low temperature setting until the meat yields easily with a tug between your fingers and teeth.  A dream dish and well worth the bumpy ride up the mountains for.

The Italian showed me how to eat polenta the proper way.  You make a dent with your serving spoon to make a well whilst simultaneously tipping the spoon ever so slightly to allow the liquid to slide into the said well.

A Polenta Well of Sauce

For good measure, I added a bit of tomato and a piece of meat that had fallen off the bone.  Yums!

Polenta can also be eaten with this:

Wild Boar Stew

This stew is made from wild boar cooked its own stock and flavoured by red wine bottled in the Aosta Valley.  The sauce is rich and flavoursome and best eaten with polenta nature or plain.  The types of meat served with Polenta are usually gamey meats.  SS ordered a rabbit stew once .  The meat was bathed in a creamy curry sauce, flavoured with fresh herbs.  There were hints of curry when I had a taste so if you are thinking curry like creamy Korma Chicken, rest assured that it is not.  Although I don’t see why that can’t be eaten with Polenta either.  Hmmm, might be worth a look into.

Stewed Rabbit

RN likes her polenta oven baked with layers of Fontina, a type of medium hard cheese eaten in the Aosta Valley.  Polenta Concia can be eaten on its own or with the stews mentioned above.

Polenta Concia

Occasionally, she would ask for an accompanying dish of sausages stewed in tomato sauce.

On another occasion, I decided to eat my polenta with trout grilled in a sage infused butter.

The Splayed Trout

This came with a dish of ratatouille.

Ra Ra Ratatouille

Needless to say, it was very sedap, my friends!  I am, as you know, a firm believer in 5 fruits and veg a day. I can’t call a meal complete unless it has some fibre in it. This was indeed un repas complet, kawan kawan.

Polenta is a heavy side dish, I concur.  However, it does not engorge my stomach like pasta or rice.  I discovered this only about 3 years ago whilst on a ski trip to the mountains.  Eaten after a morning of skiing, it both helps to regain your energy and to fuel you for the rest of the afternoon on the slopes. And all this with no bloated feeling.  I feel as light as a feather even after a heavy polenta lunch.

Polenta flour comes either finely ground or coarsely ground.  It all depends on your preference.  Polenta is usually prepared slowly over a low fire.  It requires plenty of stirring and can take up to 3 or 4 hours.  Italian women in the mountains have benefitted from generations of cooking polenta.  They have formed arms strong enough to carry hoards of grandchildren up and down mountain trails.  Usually cooked in copper pots and stirred with wooden spoons, restaurants have taken to cooking their polenta in a pot that has a mechanised stirrer. This saves on the manual labour and leaves another pair of hands available to help in the kitchen.  Very practical, indeed.

Keep Stirring the Polenta

Instant polenta flour can be purchased in the supermarkets for those who lack the time but do not want to miss out on the dish.  This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to prepare.   However, I’ve been told that this type of polenta, although serving its function, is not as tasty as the slow cooked one.  That does make sense because no effort usually equates to no gain, for me, anyway.

Your Honour, I rest my case.  Polenta remains the staple food in the Italian Alps and La Polenta remains a fought after favourite butt rest amongst the Nava hoard.

* Courmayeur and the Aosta Valley is bilingual in Italian and French.

*Polenta is also eaten in the American South, Spain, and various other parts of      Europe.

What are they Eating in America Today?

Browsing through the myriad of food blogs on the internet, I came across one that reported Ruth Reichl having said Korean is the next American. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been eating and enjoying Korean way before she mustered the authority to categorise Korean as the next American. Suffice it to say, I think her statement is really rather passé.  But none the less, she is a revered American food writer and critique and as all people who predict and set trends, be it in fashion or food, what she says goes.  Don’t be surprised that the next American who you may have the chance to speak to is singing about Korean food.

Reichl’s statement has put Korean food on the map for lots of people who haven’t tasted this country’s spicy cuisine.

Korean food is very unlike their neighbouring Japan’s.  Firstly, it is very spicy for those with a delicate palate.  Secondly, Korean food contains a variety of vegetables and can be almost vegetarian although meats like beef, pork and chicken do feature in the cuisine, along with fish.  There is a lot more usage of sesame oil which in my observation, douses all their little dishes. Sesame oil can be detrimental for people with nut allergies, so beware, if you’re one of them. And speaking of little dishes, the Koreans do like serving small dishes of vegetables, pickled with a spicy red chilli paste called gochujang or simply dressed with sesame oil and salt.

These little dishes, known as banchan, are side dishes, usually served with rice. The most common banchan is kimchi, which is served with every meal.  There are many varieties of kimchi, the most common being made with napa cabbage. This fermented spicy vegetable side dish is also the main ingredient in many popular Korean dishes, like the kimchi stew, kimchi fried rice, which is incidentally very scrumptious and kimchi soup, which is similar to the tom yam, only less sour.

I wanted to spice up my day and the natural choice of cuisine could only be Korean. It had been a long morning.  I had errands to run because we were expecting some guests and I had just finished counting up the money that we had made for Save Japan Day at school.  All the addition and sorting out the float which consisted of lots of centimes made me hungry. Fortunately for me, down the road from the secondary school where SS attends, there is a Korean.

I needed some carbs today and settled very quickly for the bibimbap.  This dish has such a cute ring to it.  It sounds exotic and musical to my ears because I don’t speak Korean as all foreign words tend to sound to the ear of a stranger.  I learnt later that bibimbap really is a rather prosaic and ordinary word in Korean which means mixed meal.  This signature dish is served as a bowl of white rice crowned with sautéed vegetables and  gochujang, a hot chilli paste.  Topping the vegetables and rice is an egg fried sunny side up, with the yolk still runny.  Slivers of bulgogi beef can be added too, if one fancies a little red meat.  The bibimbap is served in a stone bowl, directly from the fire to your table, it is so hot that you can hear the ingredients sizzling.

The Stone bowl of Rice

As soon as the bowl is served, the attendant/waiting staff mixes the rice, vegetables and egg up for you.  Usually this version of bibimbap which is called dolsot bibimbap is served with a raw egg that gets cooked very quickly in the mixing against the hot stone bowl.

All Mixed Up

It was totally sedap, kawan kawan.  The gochujang gave it that right amount of heat and spice. The sesame oil left a film of nuttiness so redolent of childhood meals for me.  I love eating plain rice congee flavoured with sesame oil and soya sauce on rainy days or when the weather turns from summer to autumn.

The bibimbap is really a meal in itself as the name suggests.  But my eyes being  substantially bigger than my stomach saw on the menu a side order of kimchi which I of course asked for.  The banchan of kimchi came in a variety of legumes, some pickled in a spicy viniagrette and others sautéed with sesame oil and salt. These little dishes were great accompaniments to white rice and as I was savouring each dish, I also thought that they would go great with plain white rice congee or chook as they say in Cantonese.

Those on the Side

Well, kawan kawan, I really recommend that you try Korean, if you haven’t already.  You don’t want to miss out on the next American trend, do you?


Maki Making

Cooking classes abound in Paris.  Debbie K, a kawan of mine and fellow food enthusiast orgnized one at her favourite sushi bar, Comme des Poissons.  I was very excited to be included in her mailing list because a cooking class at this prestigious sushi bar is trés difficile to come by.  I was told that there is a long waiting list amongst the Japanese housewives in Paris, dying to learn how to make sushi rolls the right way.  Yes, even Japanese housewives are eager to learn from this sushi chef.  What more honour can there be than for Kino san to welcome gaijins like me to his humble resto?

Apron in hand and eager to start, I head off to the rue de La Tour in the seizieme for a 10 o’clock start.  No sooner had I arrived, I saw Kino san bounding up the road to open his sushi bar ready for today’s lesson.  His sushi bar only sits 10 pax at a go and Mondays are when he does some R and R.  This Monday though, he unlocked his resto/bar for the ladies of the ISP (International School of Paris).

The lesson begins full swing in Japanese with Debbie K san translating.  Kino san says a mouthful in Japanese and Debbie K san says two words in translation and so this goes on until end of class.

The first and  most crucial thing we learnt that morning is that the gohan in any sushi roll is the most important ingredient.  Mais oui, I thought, sushi is rolled rice, n’est ce pas? But what Kino san meant was this:  the rice and the sushi vinegar that goes into the rice has to be made fresh just before the sushi is rolled. He would rather be complimented on his rice than on the ingredients that he puts in the rice – his words.  Of course, the ingredients have to be fresh too especially the fish that goes into the sushi.

The rice has to be Japanese short grain rice and this can be purchased in any Japanese grocery store or at the Chinese supermarket, Tang Fréres in Paris. He recommended this brand:

Premium Japanese Rice

This rice is grown in California, incidentally, where the soil and climate are conducive for rice harvesting.

Rice harvested in the autumnal months are more moist than that harvested in the spring/summer months, Kino san explained and this knowledge is crucial in determining the amount of water to be used when cooking the gohan.  Rice is the staple food in Asia and features predominantly in every meal much like potatoes are in Europe and America.  My mother taught me that the correct amount of water to add to washed rice is up to the first knuckle of your index finger and no more.  So if you divide your index finger into thirds, it is the first third from the base of your finger nail.

The rice kernels have to washed very well. That means that the water has to be clear before the rice can be cooked in the rice cooker. Look at the water at the start of the rice washing process:

Cloudy Water

Stir vigourously whilst washing to release the starch from the kernels.  Then pour out the cloudy water and start all over again.  Some people have a special number that they stop at, like my mother who counts up to 6 times. But really, if you’re not too number obsessed, then wash the kernels til the water runs clear:

Clear Water

This works for any type of rice you’ll be washing in future.  Basmati and Thai Jasmine rice have lesser starch content and do not require that much washing. Rice is ready to be cooked once the water in which it is washed runs clear.  Then measure your water as explained above or if you prefer, 4 cups of rice requires 4.4 cups of water (amount of rice x 1.1).  As you know, I am not one for exact measurements because cooking is all about trial and error.  My family has cooked the aghak-aghak (guess-guess in Malay) for generations and the recipes that my parents have shared with me are mostly based on this way of cooking…and our rice is always cooked just right with the first-knuckle-of-your-index-finger measurement.

The rice cooker:  Kino san advised a Japanese made one but in reality, the one I have that has been manufactured in China works just as fine.

Sushi rice has to be cooled before sushi making. Here, you’ll see Kino san fanning his rice after he has added his secret potion of rice vinegar mix:

Fanning the Rice

Of course, he declined to name the proportions of sugar to mirin to rice vinegar and simply advised us to buy this:

The secret potion

Mixing the rice is very important to ensure that it is thoroughly coated with sushi vinegar.  The Japanese word for this action is cutting.  As I watched Kino san, I realized that he was slicing through the mountain of rice several times.  It is important not to break the cooked rice kernel.  Then he waits:

Waiting by the Rice

I love how patient the Japanese people are.  They understand the beauty of the adage that Rome was not built in a day and that grace and patience achieve results.

When the rice was at the right temperature, maki making begun.  First, it is important to surround wrap your mat.  This prevents any excess rice from sticking to the grooves in the mat and makes for easy washing.  I wish someone had told me that before…. but you learn something new everyday.

Then place a piece of nori at the edge of the mat nearest you and wet your hands in a bowl of water that you should have already prepared next to you along with a wet tea towel.  This is to ensure that the rice does not stick to your hands and that you don’t waste any rice by wiping your hands with the wet tea towel and throwing the excess rice back into the rice bowl or trough.  Kino san explained that much respect and regard have to be shown to the number of days that it takes to grow rice which is 88.  The kanji for rice and also the chinese symbol for rice can be pulled apart to make up the number 88 in Japanese and Chinese characters.

Rice equals 88

So “waste not and want not” was what he meant.  It was humbling to see this great sushi chef savouring every grain of rice not wanting to waste even a single kernel whilst showing us how to make maki.

Did you know that nori has a dull side and a shiny one?  Well, Japanese people eat with their eyes it has been said.  Presentation and plating is very important in Japanese dining.  So the shiny side is what you see when the sushi is rolled with the seaweed facing you.

Kino san showed us how to make the expert sushi, that is, with the rice enveloping the nori.  First, spread the gohan on the dull side of the seaweed, then nudge it towards you gently with your fingertips until the rice reaches the base of the nori square.

Nudging the rice towards the sushi chef

Then you do a flip of the nori/rice parchment and voilâ, the seaweed side is now facing you.  Spread a thin film of wasabi in the middle of the nori

The Green Stripe

and then begin placing your filling.

The Filling

When that is done, it is time to start rolling.  Place your thumbs at the base of your mat and push both mat and sushi towards the middle of the mat over the ingredients.

Like So desu

Press gently but firmly down to secure the filling and then roll once more to the end of the nori.  Dahdum!  you have your first maki made!

To say that it is difficult would be lying and to say that it is easy would also be fibbing.  Practice makes perfect is what I can say….. Correct practice, that is. Don’t be put off by the stickiness of the gohan, with time, the rice will no longer be sticking to your hands.  Just look at those perfect sushi hands of Kino san in the picture – sans riz!

I’ve purchased my sushi making ingredients and mat and tonnes of surround wrap.  I’ll be trying this out with the kids.  I bet, they’ll appreciate better the sushi that they’ve made themselves and I don’t have to be ordering livraison from the local non-Japanese Japanese anymore….

Japanese Grocery Shops

Kioko, 35 rue des Petits Chaps 75002

Jujiya, 46 rue St Anne 75002

Nanaya, 81 Ave Mozart 75116

Kanae, 118 rue Lecourbe 75015


Easy Like Sunday Morning

This gallery contains 8 photos.

It’s Sunday morning in Sicily.  When in Rome, do as the Romans do and when in Sicily, do as the Sicilians.  That is, take your time to awaken, listening to the waves roll gently onto the shore.  Listen again and … Continue reading

Say Cheeeeeeese!

Ricotta makes an appearance in quite a lot of Sicilian dishes, both savoury and sweet.  Silvana D had the genius of taking me to a ricotta farm nestled in the hills of Messina.  We had an early start because the artisan of this smooth silky cheese commences everyday at the stroke of dawn.  He apprenticed at 14, learning the art of ricotta making from his father and has been making ricotta ever since.

This is really a small holding where a manageable amount of ricotta is made daily to be sold to small  fromageries in the town centre.  Owners of such small holdings tend to also make the cheese for their own consumption.  This one is no exception.

Ricotta is made by bringing the whey left over from cheese making to a boiling point and then made to curdle with a little vinegar or lemon juice. Whey is a low fat, nutritious and limpid liquid that is a by-product of cheese making.  In effect, ricotta is freshly curdled whey.  Therefore, highly perishable and it is advised that ricotta be consumed within a day or two.

The curdling process is easily achieved, usually with vinegar or lemon juice.  But in the case of this cheese maker, he curdled the milk with the sap from a fig branch that he had picked from his garden.  This is a fine example of living off the land, kawan kawan.  The milk comes from the sheep and goats that are kept by the farmer and these are let to roam freely in the hills munching on grass that grow there.  Sicilians will tell you that sheep’s milk makes the best flavoured and textured ricotta that is perfect for the desserts that they are so well known for – Cassata and Cannoli.

Look at the fig branch soaking in the bucket.  The sap is harnessed by cutting off the leaves and makings incisions in the bark.  The sap infused water is then poured into the vat of whey that has been brought to a boil.

Sappy Water

The chemical effect is extraordinary – the whey curdled before my very eyes.

Freshly curdled milk

It is important to remove the froth whilst vigourously stirring the mixture. As soon as all the froth is removed, the whey is allowed to set and is then scooped into plastic ricotta shaped moulds which act also as sieves to let the excess water drain.  When cooled, the ricotta is then refrigerated and transported to be sold in the town.

Ricotta in its rightful mould

Italian Ricotta is usually made with sheep, goat, cow or water buffalo milk. This ricotta, however, is made from a mélange of milk from the sheep and goat. The cheese maker feels that this gives his ricotta a better flavour than that made from one type of milk.

Having had an early start, Silvana D and I had missed out on breakfast.  But that was no matter because we were offered the freshest ricotta that one can possibly dream of eating, right from the cheese maker’s vat.

Freshly made Ricotta - breakfast from heaven

Who would have thought an insipid looking white cheese could taste this good?  A sprinkle of salt and a handful of bread crumbs from the bread Sicilians call pane duro did the job for me.  The ricotta still warm was so smooth and silky that it simply glided down my oesophagus. No chewing was required even of the bread crumbs since these have been moistened by the liquid from the ricotta.

Funny enough, this actually reminded me of breakfast in Singapore as a child. My mother would purchase from the market a soya bean milk curd that is sweetened with palm sugar syrup which has exactly the same consistency as this ricotta – smooth and silky.  This soya bean curd is called Taufu Fa and can be eaten chilled or warm.

Taufu Fa

Funny also how the world seems to have come full circle.  In Sicily, I discovered fresh ricotta that reminded me of a memorable childhood eating experience. What more could I have asked for, kawan kawan?  But wait, there is more to come….

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….

I’m on A Seafood Diet

Kawan kawan, if you’ve been following my last post on whether we let a teenager dictate what we had for lunch in Honfleur, the answer is apparent in today’s post. SS wanted to have crêpes for lunch, not being a big seafood fan and I wanted seafood.  We went to survey the crêperie/pub that we had passed by earlier on in our promenade only to discover that it was full – full of English taking the opportunity of the Easter and Royal Wedding weekends, taking 3 days in between the two to make it a 10 or 11 day holiday across the Channel.  How the English love their pubs, aye?  Well, who can blame them since Honfleur is a commune in the Calvados region famous for its Calvados Brandy and also cider. So what can be more delectable for an Englishmen than a savoury French pancake washed down with a pint of cider?  It would have been parfait for me too since I am partial to cider myself.  But, but, the place was full to the brim with at least two other families waiting in line.  I was too impatient to wait and to be honest would much rather have seafood.

So we headed towards the bistro that the Italian had seen earlier near the car park.  No luck there either, mateys!  Finally, after another round of surveying, my little eye spied this:  Le Bistrot du Port la Grenouille.  How I love this name!  How quaint that in English we say frog and in French they say grenouille.  I like it that the second part of le mot has the word for noodle in French.  I just can’t help myself, kawan kawan.

I wanted to treat the Italian, it being his birthday on the 23rd of April, so I said, “Order what you fancy, but mind you, food, not the French waitress!”  And this is what he picked:

Chilled Crab

A crab lover, he tucked in with gusto cleaning every pincer, every leg and digging into the intricate bits of the legs with his crab eating utensils.  It was a joy to watch someone taking their time eating what they truly liked.

I was greedy, kawan kawan and wanted to maximise every centimes and this is what I ordered:

Seafood Platter

For the price of 38€ I had all this to myself.  In Paris, a platter like this would have set me back at least 65€.  I was thrilled to dig in.  Look at the oysters, kawan kawan, I had six of them to myself.  The clams were so fresh and tasted of the sea that I couldn’t stop at one.  Fortunately, for me, there was a generous heap of them tucked under the oysters.  Those langoustines were truly out of this world, moist and soft, the meat melting in my mouth.  I was wonderfully surprised by the crevettes gris sitting in a scallop shell.  They were so small you could eat them whole – head, shells and all.  These little prawns were really tasty.  My friend, CB likes hers de-shelled,  sprinkled over a bed of salad drizzled with mayonnaise.

And best of all, I had one and a half crab to myself.  Yes, all to moi!  Oh, I was in seafood heaven.  It took a while to eat the entire platter, of course, given the amount of shell fish.  But I did share a couple of oysters with the Italian.

RN, who discovered les moules for lunch yesterday, wanted more of the same. Here’s the pot of mussels she had:

Moules Marinieres

She had worked out how to use an empty mussel shell as a pincer to extract the meat from the other shells.  She had fun playing and eating.

The best value for money deal had to be SS’s choice.  She wanted to try the menu St Jacques which consisted of a starter made with scallops, a main course of something concocted with scallops and a choice of dessert from the à la carte menu.  All for the hefty price of 30€.

She chose the Soupe de St Jacque which came beautifully plated, the soup in a jug that you had to pour over an entire scallop.  Look at this:

La Soupe de St Jacque

For her main course, she had a creamy risotto served with 4 scallops of a rather generous proportion:

Risotto St Jacque

This came with a chargrilled endive as an accompaniment.  Remember how I have taught my kids to question any dishes that aren’t accompanied by greens? Well, this SS remembered well and promptly ate her endive before starting on the risotto.  I am so proud of her!  And, wasn’t this dish beautifully presented?

And the dessert to top all desserts had to be the bistro’s version of tiramisu:


It was simply whipped cream with a sprinkling of speculaas crumbs and a caramel base.  It is the simple things in life that bring pure joy!

Regretfully, I don’t have the address for this restaurant.  But I do have the telephone numbers: 02 31 14 11 14 or 02 31 89 04 24.  So anytime that you are down Honfleur way, be sure to check them out – Le Bistro du Port La Grenouille.

To Market, To Market…

The best thing about being in France, if you are a foodie, is going to the fresh food markets.  J’aime bien ça!  It kinda reminds of the fresh food markets in Singapore that I used to go to with my mother when I was a child, only wet markets in the days of ole Singapore were not as orderly as the ones here in France and definitely also not as quiet.  Asian markets tend to be very noisy, with stall owners shouting out their wares and prices, housewives elbowing each other out of the way and haggling down prices.  That of course was how I remember markets to be when I was a child.  But, of course, the prices are now fixed and vendors no longer encourage haggling of any sorts.

In Honfleur, Normandie, not far from Deauville, we arrived into town, greeted by the usual tourists and unusual glorious weather for April.  It didn’t take the Italian long to find a parking area where we left the car and contents of last night’s stay over at Deauville.   We’d spent the day at the beach yesterday, soaking in the sun, eating moules et frites in a seafood restaurant right on the promenades des planches, taking a stroll up and down the said promenade lined with cabins where the French store all their beach paraphernalia.

It being Saturday the day we arrived in Honfleur, the market was in town.  French marchés are not daily occurrences, some markets are opened on Wednesdays and Saturdays or Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Vendors tend to move around to optimise sales and serve different towns and villages.  But Saturdays are very common market days.  And we were very fortunate to be in Honfleur that Saturday.  The town centre is situated on the southern bank of the estuary of the river Seine in the Calvados region of Normandy.  The port of Honfleur is flanked by picturesque houses with slate covered fronts.  Many artists have painted this port, one being Claude Monet.  Look at this:


We took a leisurely stroll along the marina soaking up the sunshine and taking photographs.  RN with her camera, the Italianwith his and me, with my iphone. SS had decided to let her heart take the pictures because her camera had run out of batteries.  As a child, she and I used to play this game – “take a picture with your heart” as digital cameras were not yet the accessories to have.  If I remember correctly, if they were available, they were very expensive or they haven’t been invented yet.  In any case, SS and I would take a picture with our hearts whenever we saw something we wanted etched into our memories.  So on that very lovely sunny day, we both did exactly that.  Only I cheated every now and then, and whipped my iphone out.  Here’s a pic I took of a slate fronted house:

An Honfleurais Pharmacy

The previous pharmacist in the days of yore had used the front of his practice to advertise the remedy for sea sickness.  I thought it added an extra element of quaintness to this already pretty and quaintly unique town.

Walking up the street where this pharmacy was located, we found yet another market – this time where the vendors were selling fruit and veg, meat and fish.  It seems that the market in Honfleur extends from the marina, where one can buy stripy sailor T-shirts, shoes and sandals and all things not related to food, up along the hill towards the old church.

The food market was buzzing.  Smelly cheeses assaulted my nose.  Colourful vegetables and fruits met my eyes.  I saw a woman with only a table for a stall, selling oyster mushrooms that came attached to a very big sponge:


I thought of creamy mushroom risotto, a mélange of mushrooms stir fried with oyster sauce.  I could go on but my eyes caught something else – white asparagus. These ones sat beautifully bundled up in a crate and they had purple tips:

Asperges Blanches

I love white asparagus.  The season only lasts a very short time and I like the milder taste of the white ones compared to their green cousins.  Unfortunately, I didn’t purchase any this time because we still had the whole day ahead of us.  I held this sight in my heart, even though I’d taken a photo of it.  And when we returned to Paris, the first thing I did was to head off to the green grocers to get some white asparagus, totally inspired by the purple tipped ones I had seen.  This was what I cooked:

White Asparagus with a sauce of citron vert and olive oil

I am not a fan of hollandaise sauce which is the natural condiment accompanying this vegetable.  So I whipped up a sauce of olive oil, white balsamic vinegar and lime.  To balance out the flavour, I also added sugar to the mixture, making the vinaigrette somewhat sour/sweet.  This took away the tartness caused by the lime juice (I used only half a lime).  I grated some lime zest over the asparagus before pouring the sauce over them.  Yummmmms!!!  And they went so well with the stew I had made for dinner that night.

Back to Honfleur.  It was nearing lunch time and the kids were hungry.  We were fired up to look for a restaurant asap – hungry kids have to be fed promptly before grumpiness and temper tantrums set in causing much grief to the parents. Luckily for us, the saucisson man came to our rescue, providing the respite that we needed.  Here we bought the girls some petites saucissons to keep their hunger at bay.  These dried sausages came in the width and length of a pencil, easy to hold and eat and can be consumed immediately –  the perfect snack for hungry children fast approaching grouchy levels.   Monsieur Saucisson said that they were flavoured with walnut.

Walnut Flavoured Saucissons

Personally, I couldn’t taste the walnut although the Italian did on the third time. Perhaps it was his excuse to eat another one, kawan kawan since salami are his favourite most things to eat next to pizzas.  Nonetheless, these saucissons were goooood!  The meat was dry cured, not greasy or chewy and pas trop fort in taste.  I liked them, like I like Lap Cheong – Chinese dried sausages – which are sweeter and waxier but very tasty in Fried Rice.  When I was little, my mom used to add them to omelettes.  Those were good dried-sausage eating days, kawan kawan.  How I miss them.

The kids happier, we then took our time to find a perfect restaurant.  I wanted seafood but SS wanted crêpes.  Oh, what to do?  What to do?  Do I do the self less mother thing and let a teenager dictate what we eat or do I do the selfish mother- knows-best thing and choose seafood?  Stay tuned for more, kawan kawan!