Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chote Chitr: City walks, part two

After circumnavigating the outer perimeter of Nang Leong market, I chose my path to my next destination, the well reviewed Thai restuarant, Chote Chitr. Based on reviews, it was a short walk from the Democracy Monument, along Thanon Tanao. My walk led me past the Democracy Monument and along a road that hosted a lot of lottery ticket vendors. Quite curious how they work, which as a non-Thai speaker leaves me with endless questions. Why are they all clustered like that along a three block radius? And why do they sell the tickets at different prices? Or were they the winnings?

Passing the landmark and turning left on Tanao, the street turns into a mix of small commercial offices and a few parks. I started to wonder where the small alley of Phraeng Puthon was located, asked a few store owners and was told to keep going. I did see a sign that pointed more to the left than straight ahead but my gut instinct led me straight down the road until another query to a lady in an old shoe shop showed me I wasn't more than a few meters from my destination.

Chote Chitr's been written up in many online posts and reviewed by food critics. What I found true of all the write ups is the simplicity of the place, which hasn't expanded beyond the 6 or 7 tables it has had for probably a generation or two; the presence of the owner's dogs, two shitzus and a chihuahua (who was the real boss of the place, making sure the younger dogs kept to their side of the restaurant several times); and the food! Instead of going through the menu, the owner, Tim Krachoichuli, asked if I would like to try the daily special, a steamed fish curry in pandan leaves, and suggested the famous banana leaf salad. I was happy to let her choose what I'd have. Both dishes were marvelous! The first bite of the fish curry was intense, a red curry with fish and lemongrass and basil. There were three pandan cups of the curry, with cucumbers and tomato slices to cool the tongue. It wasn't fiery, but flavorful. Yes, I was sweating like mad, but I didn't feel uncomfortable with the heat of the curry. The steamed custards are the perfect portion for one person, but wait, there was the salad coming up!

The banana blossoms salad is more like a stirfry with shrimp, chicken and julienned banana blossoms. Non-asians might wonder what exactly a banana blossom is, but we do use it in all sorts of dishes. Locally we cook it with coconut milk and langka, or add it to kare kare. The dish at CC was cooked with fresh banana blossoms, on the verge of crispy, sauced with spices, and the meat. It tasted fresh and relatively light. As it's one of the restaurant's signature dishes, definitely ask for it when you're there. Ms. Krachoichuli suggested I come back for their crispy noodle dish, and if I'm back in Bangkok, I'll make sure to bring friends there to see if their more attuned Thai taste buds agree with me.

Chote Chitr — 146 Soi Phraeng Phuton, a ten minute walk from the Democracy Monument, Bangkok.
Phone: 66-2-221-408

Friday, August 29, 2008

79 out of 100

There was a recent post and survey on Marketmanila about what kind of eater (carnivore, omnivore, vegatarian, etc) one might be. I'm definitely in the omnivore category, can't foreswear meat or vegie or fruit or chocolate. Really wouldn't be much fun left in living if you have to cut out so much of the temptation in life. On the blog "Very Good Taste", the writer has posted a list of 100 foods all good omnivores should consider eating at least once. This tends to be Euro/N.American-centric, or I just think Asians eat from a wider choice of sources. Anyway, here's the challenge, read instructions below and see what kind of an omnivore you might be!

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (I've italicized and bold the ones I have eaten, but they may still be hard to read.)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses - let's be specific, the cheese from Epoisses, not the village itself
17. Black truffle
- shavings count I suppose?
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar - i've had the cognac sans the cigar. Half point?
37. Clotted cream tea - I've had a traditional english tea with clotted cream and scones, but I didn't add the clotted cream to my tea. Yak butter tea, now there's a way out there kind of tea!
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat - hmm, does kalderatang kambing count? It's not a curry, but it is stewed goat.
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips

61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin - this seemed like the weirdest bit on the list, but as I checked, a lot of our fruits and vegetables are sprayed with a wax made of kaolin, plus medicines we take for indigestion have kaolin.
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - I've had a Twinkie and that's all I'm ever going to eat from Hostess.
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict - on one of the blogs that did this list, the writer said they hated eggs ben, I'm the total opposite, I declare my love for the benedict.
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare/rabbit - I added the rabbit, but if you're really picky, then only highlight which bunny you've eaten.
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate - hmm, chocolates from Venezuala, I think I've had a bittersweet from Venezuela but can't be sure it was Criollo....
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Nang Leong Market: city walks, part one

As a tourist, there are places you must see in a particular country or city. You hit the museums, the parks, the sports stadiums, the restaurants, trek out to a volcano or castle, and for food lovers, the markets. If you've been to a place more than once, you have the opportunity to wander down the less travelled path, and peek into the lives of residents in more detail. If you're lucky, a few befriend you on the way, and allow you insight to better understand the context of their lives.

I've been to Bangkok more than a few times over the last ten years. Good friends who live and work there are reason enough to go visit, plus there's the added attraction of great food, crazy shopping, and the spirituality of the wats. When friends T and L announced that their new baby boy was going to be born in August, a few more friends and I decided to celebrate their new addition with a visit. We knew this might be the last time to catch up while they're in Asia, as they will be back in Eastern Europe for another year.

Other than celebrating the new baby (who manages to sleep through any noise level! Such a sweetheart of a boy.), I knew I'd have a couple of mornings, and most of Monday to ramble. What would I do for those spare moments? I've seen every single wat and shopping mall, plus my fair share of the canals, wet markets, and street food. This time around I wanted to walk into more residential neighborhoods and be a nosy passerby. There were two places in particular that I had on my sightseeing periscope - lunch at Chote Chitr and finding the old market of Nang Leong.

One of my favorite food blogs, Eating Asia, is composed of the talented duo of Robyn and Dave, her writing + his photos = magic! They seem like a great couple with an amazing nose for market foods and adventurous eats. They've helped me find food in Manila! Bangkok is a favorite city of theirs and they have many posts about the city's markets. One of their favorites is Nang Leong, a venerable city market that is hidden away in one of the city's many urban neighborhoods. Built in 1899, it was one of the first markets that was not built on the canals. Over the century, it has remained the center of its neighborhood, but it disappeared from the city's travel literature and maps - don't expect to see any markers for it. Reading Eating Asia's tribute to the market on their blog and in an article on the Wall Street Journal, I decided I had to go in search of the market, spend at least an hour wandering around, and finding me some good eats.

I started out later than I had planned, as breakfast at chez Eugene had to be downed properly. My able host, his nephew, and a good friend all pooled their talents to make a homecooked meal, and I wasn't about to be a disrespectful guest. By the time I tore myself away from the comforts of my home away from home, it was 10 am, and the heat was on high. Mental debate ensued - take a cab or walk to the corner-get a motorbike to take me to the skytrain-take train till Victory Monument-then cab it to the Golden Mount?

One straight taxi ride later, I got off at the Golden Mount, a wat built in the shape of a mountain. It was extremely quiet and unburdened by tourists, and I would have spent more time there if I wasn't aware that I didn't know where the market was and had to do a hide and seek walk. I headed in the direction of the Royal Princess Hotel, which was on the corner of the area I had marked as the market's location. I was tempted to duck into the airconditioned hotel lobby to cool off after the short walk, but I persevered, and started to round the corner along the street. I saw a vegetable truck go into an alley, and figured whither goeth the vegies, there lies the market. My instincts proved correct as the tight road wiggled in and around the market. I soon found myself in the middle of Nang Leong, where no more than twenty vendors sold fresh fruits, vegetables, butchered pork and chicken; the rest of the market was taken over by food stalls, and the perimeter of the market was where family diners (for the lack of a better description) sold great bowls of noodle soups, curries, and all manner of thai food. I stopped inside one of the inner market stalls, and bought myself a plate of noodle salad made out of wide rice noodles, dried shrimps, a stew of chinese mushrooms, pork and tofu in a herby soup, topped with fried garlic, chives, and chilli. I ate my second breakfast at one of the metal tables, giving a smile at the older gentleman sitting diagonal to me. He returned the smile and began to chat me up. He was Dang (possible misspell in the name, but that's the closest phonetic rendition of his name), 65 years of age, and a longterm resident of Nang Leong. A retired civil servant, he proudly showed off the newly built market roof, and pointed to a corner diner for the best curries. He offered to get me a bottled water, but what I needed and bought was a glass of manao or slightly salty lime juice, my favorite refreshment after thai iced tea. We were sometimes joined by the beverage stand owner and his personable dog. The dog follows his owner to the market everyday and keeps watch over the tables. Dang helped me buy a guava as I headed off down the road towards the Democracy Monument, and I left Nang Leong happy with my short communion with Thai life.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ganache goodness

I was meeting with my cousin and her husband for dinner in Hong Kong last Wednesday, and wandering around before the dinner, I saw with my little eye that there was a La Maison du Chocolat store in Pacific Place. Oh dear. I could feel my credit card's fear as I approached the store.

I was one of less than five customers in the store, and there were more than enough salesladies per customer. The one who served me was a perky young girl who was happy enough to let me consider which of the many choices I wanted to take home. She asked if I was a nut, fruit, praline fan (no fruits or alcohol centers please!). "I'm a nut." Heehee. Seriously though, I wanted something with coffee or a citrus base, so I choice two of the Guiyaquil, two of the Arneguy, and two of the Bresilien. But that was not the end! For I saw the gift boxes, and scooped up two of those containing a selection of ganache, and a dark chocolate bombe (this humongous ball of chocolate with chopped hazelnuts), and a box of Orangettes, dark chocolate dipped orange peel, and (yes, one more!) a box of macarons. There would have been more, so much more temptation in that little store than in many a department store.

After sharing with family and friends, I finally had time tonight to curl up in bed, have two of the ganache squares, and savor the dark chocolate flavors. Two was not enough, life is short, and there are no more to tempt me from inside the refrigerator. My favorite is the coffee ganache, it floods my mouth with dark chocolate, creamy coffee, a perfect match of flavors. No bitterness even with the dark chocolate. It takes me awhile to finish my selection, I can't rush this kind of enjoyment. One square at a time to respect each ganache.

Address: La Maison du Chocolat, 2nd Floor, Pacific Place 1, Hong Kong.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Four scoops

"You brought good weather!" A proclaimed on Saturday, after I woke up to a sunny day in Bangkok. He told me it had been raining and the days were cloudy for several days; I thought it would be a rainy weekend since it had been drizzling hard when I arrived late Friday evening. The sun decided to follow me from Manila, so I didn't have to use the borrowed umbrella, or worry that my shoe choices would be a waste slogging through muddy streets.

However, there's such a thing as too much sun. And today, after never-ending brilliant days, blue skies, intense sun, I just couldn't take it any more. I was hot, tired, and dusty. I had found the market and the small family run restaurant on my list of things to see, I had walked for what seemed like miles even though it looked like six (maybe 7) blocks from one wat or another. My mind needed airconditioning. I flagged down the first taxi that stopped before me, and headed towards the mall.

Down in the gourmet market of Siam Paragon, it's easy enough to find succor from the heat. There's the basic food court on one side, a Japanese food display touting all sorts of goodies, countless international food options that run the gamut of budgets, and further along the main walkway, more restaurants that weren't terribly busy for the late lunchers. I headed straight to Iberry, where I had two scoops, one of the Italian coffee and pistachio. Friend J raves about iberry's black sesame, but I had just had a wonderfully intense black sesame bun which meant that I needed something else to titillate my taste buds. The pistachio won't win awards, but I must say that the intensity of the coffee ice cream was atmospheric! It was like a frozen ball of espresso, with bitterness in the aftertaste and caramel creaminess. It wasn't a great match with the pistachio, however, so if you opt for the italian coffee have something like the vanilla or the chocolate to go with it. The coffee tends to overwhelm any partner, and the pistachio didn't stand up to it.

After a couple of hours and trying to get my courage back up to face the heat outside, I wandered through the supermarket section and saw a gelato stand near the cashiers. Great positioning SP folks! The fruit gelatos were whipped and decorated in their Carmen Miranda-like glory, but I wanted vanilla, and they had a vanilla bean gelato with a lot of black specks. I don't know what ice cream devil was living in my head at the time I placed my order but instead of getting a fruit flavor with the vanilla, I pointed to the white chocolate container and ended up with this white on white cup. The vanilla was quite pleasant by itself, while the white chocolate was one step away from being frosting. I took my time licking each dewy morsel of both flavors, people watching, wondering what duties took the woman sitting to my right to collapse in an intense snooze out in the middle of the food court, and enjoying the cooling colors of the aquarium. The late afternoon glow told me it was time to head back to my friends' apartment, pack, and catch my flight home to Manila.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stadium fashion

I'm spending a lot of my free time watching the Olympics; if there's ever a reason to quit one's job in August, it's to time it with an Olympics year, so that you can spend hours watching fencing, or synchronized platform diving. It may have been worth spending a wee bit of money to get a season's pass, which would have meant a lot more hours of tv viewing. But then, I'd never get done with all the other sedentary past-times I have planned for my extended vacation.

One online reference I found related to the Olympics is the New York Times video article about the opening ceremonies fashion. I was stuck in an airport at the time of the opening ceremonies, which meant hearing about it second hand from friends over lunch the next day. Seeing close up photos of the teams walking in with a fashion critic giving input helps put some detail on something not too many people think about - what are they wearing when they walk in en masse on that field?

The critic makes a comment about team USA's blazers, that they don't seem well made, and given the location of the games, my first thought was that Ralph Lauren must have had them outsourced in China. I did like the caps they wore, rather jaunty. So many of the large teams chose blazers, and the French team looked quite dapper (no mention of which designer got the job for that outfitting). The Australian team's sports jackets made them look like the watercube arena, perhaps if you have the entire team pose in front of the stadium, they'd be camouflaged.

Today's theme may all be fashion focused, as this article on the Financial Times suggests that pink is not only for girls. I sort of like imagining the Etro dark purple pants, or the extremely tropical look of a lavendar shirt with tangerine linen blazer. Dark suits or earth tones don't have to be the only way of expressing oneself. Live a little. Walk on the fuschia side.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bullet travel points

1. Checkpoint redundancies: why do we need three people to check that my passport and ticket match? At the other international airport, they only have one check at the main door, while at NAIA 3, you go through three! One at the main door, then right after your luggage is scanned, someone else checks that you have your documents, and just before you pay the departure tax, some man come running after you to check your boarding pass. Yeesh.

2. Cebupac still doesn't know which departure gates to print on the boarding pass. So they tell you to hover around three gates till they inform you around half an hour before the flight departs.

3. Sign on the water fountain: Water unsafe for drinking.

4. Ceiling panels continue to heed gravity and lay bare pipes and lighting fixtures. Pillars are unpainted. Sections remain unfinished, with bare bricks and cement floors open for inspection.

There remains a great deal to be done for NAIA 3, so let's remain positive and look forward to the continued improvements.

Finally, for those of us who aren't rushing around when landing in HK, there are free shuttle buses that take you to specific spots on HK island, assuming you get off on the HK side of the Airport (I'm assuming the Kowloon side has the same service). So with a 20 minute wait at the bay, I got a bus to Causeway Bay, and felt a bit better saving some money. Granted the cost of the MTR would have been $4, so maybe it was false economy. Maybe I should have used some of that spendthrift sense buy bringing an insulated bag instead of buying one at the grocery later that afternoon.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

My kingdom for some cheese

HK done, Cebupac worked out. I'll detail some comments about NAIA 3 and Cebupac later, but for now, let me just say that after not living in HK for ten years, there are more reasons to move there, specifically availability of dairy items from all over the world. When I lived in HK in the late 90's, there were gourmet shops, but they were much smaller in scope, City Super hadn't expanded yet, and the EAT section under Seibu was a lovely respite from the otherwise lackluster groceries.
Now, even the basic grocery has enough cheese and yogurt to excite me, and if you do spend a couple of hours in City Super (I was at both the Times Square and IFC branches - kudos and many thanks to their concierge guys who helped me make sure I could pack my dairy goodies for my flight later that evening), then you will have either 1) want to live in the cheese display (much smaller than the cheese caves at Whole Foods in NY or some of the cheese stores in Europe, but who cares? They have a fantastic array for any Asian country), and/or 2) buy every kind of churned, raw, salted with fleur de sel butters - I saw french, welsh, alpine, italian, belgian, irish, vermont, and german. I wanted every one, but chose only two to bring home. And for friends J and M(squared), I brought home a motherlode of greek yogurt.

Addendum: come to think of it, I was the only person who didn't have a check in bag when we flew in to HK, and probably the only one who checked in an insulated bag full of perishable butter, yogurt and cheese on the way back. Clothes, bah; electronics, who needs em. But give me some milk products and I'm a happy camper.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Fear of flying

NAIA 3 is not a month old and all I'm hearing is disastrous news, horribly late flights, cancelled flights, and a general mess. Cebu Pacific has moved all their domestic and international flights to the new terminal. A letter going around by email details the horrible situation with Cebupac flights since they transferred to the new terminal: 24 hour delays, cancelled flights, poor management service, lack of information or basic details like departure gates, and a general sense of mismanagement (that might be like describing Rome burning during Nero's time as a bonfire).

Unfortunately, I have three flights on Cebupac over the next three weeks. This Friday, I have to take a quick trip to Hong Kong, next weekend I head to Mindanao, followed by a short visit to Bangkok. Travelling is so fraught with tension and stress these days, plus rising costs due to the price of oil. I am going to start praying for commonsense to descend upon the Cebupac management and hopefully they will have fixed their mess before Friday.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

She's 100 years young

2008 is the 100th anniversary of the publication of Anne of Green Gables, by LM Montgomery. The first in a series of 8 books, AGG introduced legions of young girls to the life of one Anne Shirley, a spunky 11 year old who changes the life of the people in the town of Avonlea, from the brother and sister who become her foster parents, to her peers like Diana and Gilbert, not to mention the eccentric villagers who are brought to life by Ms. Montgomery. Since the publication in 1908, millions of the books have been published, translated into dozens of languages, and turned Prince Edward Island in Canada into a literary tourism center. Young Japanese women are particularly inclined to go on Anne inspired tours, going as far as dying their hair red, and painting freckles on their faces. Not to mention holding wedding ceremonies near the tomb of the author!

I read Anne of Green Gables as part of an annotated book series as a child, but it was only when I found the entire series available through Penguin that I indulged in escaping in Anne's life. Anne may have been the Canadian version of Pollyana or Heidi, but as one of the few fully fleshed out characters in young adult literature, and one of the few that have managed to last as long, she's in a class of her own. The books have been made into a long running musical, a miniseries, and movies. I enjoy re-reading Anne of Green Gables and the first sequel, Anne of Avonlea, as Ms. Montgomery's ability to evoke scenery and the gentle sweetness of village life makes the books classic.

If anyone is planning to head over to Canada for a bit of touring, considering joining in on the Anne of Green Gables festivities, running till November. For my part, I will dig out my books and imagine myself walking arm in arm with Anne, Diana, and the Cuthberts in the enchanted forest.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The existential cat

Food foraging

Food friends find Manila a frustrating place to live, because of the difficulty in finding consistent purveyors of ingredients. You may end up going to what seems like a million places just to put together a meal. Supermarkets, farmers' markets, specialized delis, and, if you're lucky to know them, importers bringing in the high end goods. There's been a growing interest in exotic food (exotic to the Filipino palate), but if you like something and have marked down a store as a source, there's no guarantee that they'll have it again a few months down the road.

An acquaintance complained that she couldn't find refried beans anymore, and even in places that I know used to stock the items, I couldn't find them. Same with when I had a hankering for edamame, I had to go to three stores to find myself a half kilo of the legumes. And don't get me started on sourcing vanilla extract or vanilla beans.

At a recent visit to the Healthy Options store in Shangri-la Plaza, I did see two things that might interest those friends who share a joy in discovering a new item available in the local market. HO is a higher end store, targetting the growing population of Filipinos and residents who need access to gluten free, sugar free, lactose free and other foods created for health conscious demands. Organic, free range, high fiber.... It's the closest thing to a Whole Foods, in a very small scale.

First find was dried buttermilk powder (Bob's Red Mill label), which you can mix with water for recipes requiring buttermilk. Since I've made replacement buttermilk by adding a bit of vinegar to regular milk, I don't know if I need a pouch of dried buttermilk in my pantry. But hey, I can now make a pancake mix with the dried buttermilk, give it away for gifts.

The other find was at the milk substitute wall. Along with the soy milks, rice milks, almond milks, I came across a small supply of horchata! A rice/almond based drink with a strong milky consistency and cinnamony flavor, it's very popular in Mexican taquerias in LA, plus friend J said she loved them in Spain. All the online references to horchata seem to source it to Spanish conquistadors bringing it over in the heyday of Spain's colonial period in North America. It does seem to have become popular in Mexican society, and it's definitely a favorite and refreshing drink when eating spicy, salsa laden tex-mex munchies. I had my first horchata in LA late last December; finding a box of the drink in a local health food store was exciting (in a food forager fun way).


Food finds at the market can go both ways - heading out early in the morning expecting a fried cruller only to be told they don't cook when it's raining (what???); having lunch with a feast of coffee barbecue ribs, bacalao, and waray adobo over paella (I mostly wanted the tutong, toasted rice bits at the base of the paella) with friends. I coerced a friend to taste the homemade buko-lychee sherbet, and we also tried the japanese pancakes cooked hot and fresh near the roasted calf. So many more inspirational tidbits, and it's always one favorite way to spend a Saturday morning.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies