Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Ramazan Bayrami - Experiencing Ramadan in Southern Turkey

My friends and I were travelling in Turkey during the tail end of Ramadan in 2010 where we started in Istanbul and then headed south towards – Sanliurfa, Yuvacali and then to Gaziantep. We were concerned if food was going to be available or if we were able to get around. Somehow we managed and what we thought was going to a difficult situation turned out to be a rich experience.

Istanbul has the majestic blue mosque and the charm of the east and the west but down in the South, closer to Syria, where traditions and religiosity runs deeper, we experienced a different environment and sincere hospitality and through the Ramazan period in Turkey.


pool of sacred fish, Sanliurfa

On the days leading up to Bayram, we headed off from Istanbul to Sanliufa, where we wandered around the romantic narrow and dusty streets. Like most of the locals headed down to the bazaar in ancient town in preparation for Bayram to shop around for new clothes and sweets, we went down to pick up some Turkish delights for our host and then pulled away and from the crowds to lull away the time away. For some part of the afternoon, we sat by the pool of sacred fish in the cool of the shade, people-watched and fed the fish and then slowly made our way back to Aslan Guest House as the sun started to set.



Back in the guest house, Özcan Aslan, an English teacher who runs it, invited us to break fast with his family and to enjoy the food that had been prepared by his wife during the course of the day. We gathered with his family and sat in the courtyard around the dinner tables and silently observed sunset; once the sun disappeared from sight, the feasting started. They first broke fast with by drinking a lot of water and then proceeded to the food laid out on the table. The lahmacun – spicy minced lamb on flat bread – the Turkish version of pizza, was surprisingly very spicy and delicious with a squeeze of lemon. Served with a variety of vegetables, I favoured the soft eggplant and the yoghurt coated vegetables to take some edge off that intense heat. And to finish it all, the ayran was lightly salted refreshing and felt cleansing to that heat that was still burning in my mouth. The meal that we shared was simple but it was a great way to experience Ramazan in Turkey. Where food and cooking become more difficult without the ability to taste, breaking fast with a family made it all more special.

Pero and Halil

On the eve of Bayram, we headed off Yuvacali where we stayed with Pero and Halil, a Kurdish couple and enjoyed the silence, stillness and slower pace of things. We hid in the shade from the afternoon sun, hiked and learnt a little about archaeology and then waited for the right time to feast again. We slept on the roof, safe under mosquito nets and under the watch of the stars above. It was so beautiful.

The morning of Bayram started with me making unleaven bread whilst the boys were still snoring but once everyone got up and everyone was fed, we got ready for Bayram!

The adults were armed with sweet and smiles and the children with their well wishes and their empty candy bags. The children started to arrive. Amongst the first to arrive was Pero and Halil’s daughter, who returned from a sleepover at her cousin’s all dolled up in her new clothes and kissed and wished their elders a happy Bayram in return received colourful and a variety sweets and candy. She chatted quickly with her mother, waved and was off to the next house for more sweets. We stayed a short while just as the visiting was starting but then had to move on, so we thanked hugged Pero and Halil for their hospitality were headed off to Gaziantep.

We had grand plans for Gaziantep. We were headed for Turkey’s gastronomic capital to feast but we failed to factor in Ramazan. We expected pistachios and baklava shops to line the streets but we were greeted by empty streets and closed doors but it was the first day of Bayram. Nonetheless, we were hopeful and tried to see if İmam Çağdaş was open for us to stuff ourselves silly on kebabs and baklava where we heard they were the best but all we saw was the front door. So that was our alternative food tour of Gaziantep, the gastronomic capital - where we witnessed how the city shuts down for Ramazan, where the streets were empty and unfortunately İmam Çağdaş was not open for us.

Closed, :(

We experience Ramazan Bayram in Turkey with some inconveniences but the warmth shared at the table and the simplicity of rustic food that we were given – really nothing fancy but laced with a lot of love, we were really happy at that.

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Adam Road Soto Ayam Stall #9

As the rain falls outside, I’m craving some Soto Ayam with a begedil from Adam Road.

I remember headed over there on a Saturday afternoon for a bowl but we arrived half an hour too early and had to wait in anticipation. So we lingered and sipped on teh teriks, waiting…as the chicken and spices mingled in the boiling pot, well on it is on its way to becoming a fragrant broth that is light but big in flavour.

Whilst the chicken broth is comforting, it is the other components that make the soup sing. The dark sauced ‘sandy’ chilli packs a good punch of heat and flavour that can be used as a dipping sauce or stirred into the soup. I also don’t particularly enjoy having noodles in this dish. I usually substitute it for a begedil (fried potato cutlet), and break it up into chunks and let it slowly disintegrate in my soup.

Amirah & N’ur Aniqah
(Mee Soto & Mee Rebus)
Better known as Adam Road Soto Ayam Stall #9
Stall 9 Adam Rd food centre

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Learning Chinese: 你吃了吗?

Even though I’ve been eating Chinese food all my life, I feel like I barely know anything about it. I’ve spent a few brief weekend getaways in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the past 18 months and I’ve been eating a discovering the larger world of Chinese food.

In fact, the more I eat, the more I realise how much I don’t know. And this is what I’ve been learning …

Perhaps the reason why we can’t taste the range of dishes anymore is s
imply because there are just some ingredients that aren’t available anymore! I remember going to the wet markets as a child and staring wide-eyed at those cubes of coagulated pigs’ blood and not so nasty bits of brain and lung which I haven’t seen in last 10 years or longer!

In Hong Kong, I was introduced to Almond and Pig’s Lung soup. I slurped down on a delicious version at Luk Yu Teahouse, one that has been popular and approved by the locals for many years. The almond soup is delicately flavoured with mandarin peels and is creamy and has a gentle grainy texture from the almond puree that gives it a good richness. The pig lungs were a lot milder than I expected. They looked a little strange but they had an airy and spongy texture that was pleasant to eat.

Shrimp with Longjing tea

fishballs with watershield

I’ve also lea
rn about Zhejiang cuisine at a recent meal at Hongzhou Restaurant and I was surprised at the delicateness. We ordered shrimp with Longjing tea unfortunately was a little lightly flavoured for me. It sounded wonderful but it was a little bland, so I suspect I was just served a poor version of it. The homemade fishballs served with water shield, were very seductive. Pillow soft, they danced around my mouth as I chewed down on them. As for the accompanying water shield, I’ve yet to learn to appreciate.

I was never a fan of Sichuan food and I never quite understood the draw of the mouth numbing experience. But that is starting to change. I think part of the draw and thrill of it is that it is a mild form of extreme eating. It is about eating and being at the edge and not falling over and surrendering to those chillies and peppercorns.

Fuschia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, has made me reconsider sweating and it out for a full spicy meal.

The shui zhu yu at San Xi Lou pushed me further in that direction.

The name, “water cooked fish”, evokes images grease-free, health and weight conscious cooking but the actual dish is far from it. In fact, oil is used in cooking the fish. And not just oil, but a lot of it. And don’t be alarmed by the chillies, there are only about...a hundred of them in the bowl? But they will remove most of it before you dive in with your chopsticks, and they are large enough to avoid. What you need to watch out for are those peppercorns. I crunched down on the first one and it really kicked me in the face. I was unprepared. Overwhelmed, I had to put my chopstick down. Then as I was recovering, “crunch”, I bite into the second one, and I had to stop eating again but the sensation of pain and pleasure that started on opposing ends started to inch closer to each other. And before I knew it, I found myself loving and hating those sensational little bastards. Oh, and the fish licked with the fragrant oil was very tender.

So I’ve been exploring and re-discovering a whole new world of Chinese food. Other than that, I’ve also been really fortunately in meeting local foodies whose wealth of knowledge I’ve learnt a lot from. I feel really humbled by this whole experience and in awe of this old and diverse cuisine.

Luk Yu Teahouse
24-26 Stanley St

Tel: +852-25235464

Hong Zhou Restaurant
1/F,Chinachem Johnston Plaza
178-188 Johnston Road
Tel: +852-25911898

San Xi Lou
7/F, Coda Plaza
51 Garden Road
Tel: +852-28388811

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Trolley Service Lunch at Robuchon, Macau

Far from airplane lunch trolley service that only offers a chicken or fish option, that’s not what I’m referring to. Instead, I’m reminiscing about a Lunch back in February in Robuchon a Gelara, Macau that involved multiple trolleys and trolley service that I adore.

I don't think I've ever seen so many trolleys during one lunch. I really liked it. With every trolley rolled and stop at our table that makes the whole idea of dining entertaining and also about celebrating the time spent around the table through the spectacle of service.

Once we were tucked into our seats, the champagne trolley came, along with the admirable but rather ridiculous wine folder, which thanks to technology and perhaps through popular vote has been condensed into 10 pdf pages in an ipad. Once the bottle was decided and the bottle retrieved, on to our next trolley.

The butter trolley, this is my favourite of them all. Say no more, the only question that really matters is - salted or unsalted?

Bread Basket

The set lunch was classic, technical and well refined – everything that I expected from a Robuchon establishment. The fine tarte of mushrooms with foie gras was exceptionally yummy and his legendary pomme puree was really silky smooth and perfection.

oyster with seaweed buttered toast

Crab with Couscous

Fine Tarte of mushrooms with Foie Gras

artichoke veloute with duck breast and truffle infused floating island

scallop, squid farci and pearl vegetables

Seabass with truffle butter

Quail stuffed with foie gras

Pork with blood sausage

The dessert trolley, the ice cream trolley and then the cheese trolley, where there is the element of choice and opportunity cost. Should I have dessert, cheese, or both? And if I only have dessert, what should I have? I think that there is a big difference when the dessert menu comes on a piece of paper and when it is laid in front of you like with ceremony. It is almost like you need a different set of skills in making a choice – as opposed to deciding off a piece of paper and imagining how it would turn out. From all our choices from the trolley, the winner for me was the lemon tart.

I really enjoyed the service and food during my lunch here, it was value for money and a great treat. I think this will be on my eat list on my return trip to Macau.

Robuchon a Galera
Hotel Lisboa
3/F, Lisboa Tower
Tel: +853-8803-7878

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