After Giovanni

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Platinum Pork Leg Stew on Rice, Pratunam, Bangkok

This Khao Kha Moo (Pork leg stew on rice) was a gem of a find stumbling around Pratunam while on lunch break from Death Shopper 2.0 at Platinum Shopping Mall. The dish itself is quintessentially Thai, and they're everywhere on the streets of Bangkok. I've tasted many wonderful versions of this dish, yet this remains by far the most impressionable.

The local lunch crowd packed this place to the rafters, but service didn't miss a beat. Within a minute or two, we had our orders taken and drinks served, and shortly after that, this beauty arrived...

...melt-in-your-mouth pork, laced with buttery fat, served on top of rice drenched with pork-infused gravy with the requisite stewed hard-boiled egg and chunks of preserved vegetables. Out of this world!

The Khao Kha Moo stall shares the limelight here with a wantan mee stall, which appeared to be just as popular. Can't miss it, don't miss it!

4/32-33 Soi Petchburi 19
Pratunam, Bangkok

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Sundays at Sassorosso, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng

Sassorosso, a not-so-new, cute little Italian joint, is tucked in Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, a bit unassuming on the outside but lovely once you enter. The good folks here (who also run Giovino's) have a Sunday lunch deal that we finally got around to trying.

We went for the semi-buffet deal (includes appetiser & soup buffet, ala carte mains and dessert). Had a hard night prior so sadly, the booze option was wasted on us (top-up RM50++ for free flow of prosecco and wines).

Here's what we missed. If you're thirsty and you know it, clap your hands!

Buffet spread of salad...

... tortilla, pasta, clams in wine broth...

...cold cuts, grilled vegetables and fresh greens. We were well stuffed by the time we worked through this. Missing in the pic was a steaming cauldron of fresh green pea soup.

Hui's Grilled Jumbo Tiger Prawns. Jumbo awright!

My Pan Fried Sea Bass with potato crust. Truffle butter sauce was a lil' weak but not a complaint really. This was well-executed.

Mei Shean's main, Pan-seared calf-liver, was a formidable deposit of vitality, oozing juice, blood on a bed of mash. Too rich for a single sitting and half of this had to go back to the kitchen.

The sweets, (clockwise from top: Millefuille, Pannacotta and Creme Brulee) went largely under-appreciated as we simply were sated beyond negotiation.

Enjoyed our afternoon at Sassorosso, and during this time, eyed plenty of families enjoying a slow, lazy ala carte lunch. The deal does come in huge portions, with great service at RM118++ per head (without the booze but with free flow of fresh juices; RM168++ with the booze, totally recommended!)

Sassorosso Italian Restaurant & Wine Retailer
9 Lorong Yap Kwan Seng
50450 KL
Tel: +603-21166 6428

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Eating in Bhutan

Culinary Bhutan is defined by simplicity, in its most primitive form. Being visitors of the government-sanctioned variety, however, we had to put up with tourist-standard fare throughout the trip. We relied on our guide to bring us to eateries that catered to tourists, and these were not always the most riveting of ventures.

Our first meal, upon touchdown in Paro, was a preface of what was to come.
Clockwise from left: Ema datshi (national chilli & cheese dish), chicken curry, fried potatoes, red rice, buttered vegetables.

Ema (chilli of a pudgier variety, looks like chilli pepper), ennobled ingredient in the Land of the Dragon. The Bhutanese love their chillies, make no mistake.

We saw Ema everywhere - on the rooftops of homes, by the road, and most extensively, in our food. I'd dare say most meals, this was the only ingredient to which our surfeited palates, used to overpowering flavours at home,
responded with gusto.

There were a couple of notable meals. At Bhutan Kitchen, a local restaurant in the heart of capital Thimphu, the standard tourist buffet is fresher and tastier than most.

Upon request, our guide goes one step further and orders us Phaksha laphu (dried pork fat slices with turnip and of course, chillies). Dried pork is a staple in Bhutan and while it requires some heavy-duty gnawing, it adds a different flavourful dimension to the meal.

Up over at Phobjika Valley, about 3,000m above, where we drove hours to catch a glimpse of the revered black-necked cranes , we were treated to a delicious, spartan home-cooked meal of white rice, red rice, Ema Datshi and a dried pork and dried/cured vegetable dish.

On our last day, en route the drive to and from Haa Valley (worth omitting from your itinerary, by the way), we stopped for a picnic which neatly wrapped up our Bhutanese food experience. A caterer had prepared mountains of rice to go with (from top left): fried hard boiled eggs, spiced potatoes, Ema Datshi and a beautiful, milky sliced pork curry.

For those hoping to visit Bhutan and eat well, here are a few tips:
  • Research and figure out what's on offer. Unfortunately, there aren't that many good, visual sites (or last I checked anyway) but this is as good a place to start as any.
  • Be forthcoming and vocal from the start to your guide on your food preferences and what you hope to try. The daily tariff (which is no cheap ticket by any travel standards) that covers your meals should enable your guide to work around those.
  • Manage your own expectations. Bhutan is a once-in-a-lifetime journey that requires some personal effort and investment on the visitor's part. Be prepared to embrace whatever comes your way, utterly-tasteless-meal-enroute-excruciating Tiger's Nest hike or otherwise!
  • If you don't like chillies or cheese, learn to deal! Both these ingredients anchor Bhutanese cuisine and you could do a lot worse than to digest them with relish!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cod Fish Hash & Full English Breakfast, Oriole Cafe & Bar

So how did the start of your 2012 feasting go? Mine got off with a gentle Singaporean nudge in the right direction, a quiet breakfast at Oriole, nestled within Somerset.

Just what the doctor ordered after one beer tower too many on the first day of the new year - Cod Fish Hash. Of course, any combination of potatoes and eggs would have done the job, but to do a magnificent one, you need to pair them with beautifully smoked fish. I need to find a place to procure smoked cod in KL; requires a bit of work, but this is something the most austere of kitchens could and should attempt to whip up.

Full English Breakfast was good, not great, but good. Crispy bacon lent this some star power, because for some reason, bacon has ceased to be crispy at all pork-friendly joints in KL. Bacon is not bacon if it ain't crispy. Understand, muppets?

Easy breezy beautiful

New Year, ya got me eating out of your hands already!

Oriole Cafe & Bar
Pan Pacific Serviced Suites
Somerset Road

Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Happy, Bhutan?

Last day to 2011. WHOA.

One of the most remarkable (and hardest) things done this year had to be our journey to Bhutan. I had to at least say something about it before hotfooting it over to the other side.

Rather than choose to celebrate the aftermath of our marital union the sensible and relaxing way, we decided, to hell with chilling by the beach sipping a Mai Tai, let's blow all our cash and hit Bhutan!

'The jaw-dropping Himalayan stretch greets you in flight even before descent

Of course, we weren't expecting to put our feet up, having done months of research beforehand and thoroughly expecting the bare minimum of creature comforts and rigorous tests to our fitness levels. The truth is, there was no way we could have prepared enough for an experience this different.

Tango Monastery, Thimphu

Any discomfort and the exhorbitant price tag that comes with a trip to Bhutan are all but the negligible price to pay to witness this tiny kingdom at the cusp of major transformation, as its pastoral beauty and way of life makes way for planned development, which had hitherto been firmly controlled.

Closest thing to a traffic light in the entire Kingdom in capital Thimphu

En route to Punakha after descent from Dochula Pass

Apart from the ridiculously picturesque landscape (which remains acutely unnatural to the untrained eye from infinitely uglier cities), the other thing we wanted to get our heads around when we embarked on the trip was Bhutan's acclaimed Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept.

Taktsang Monastery or Tiger's Nest - prevailing myths and legends not withstanding, this is a magnificent piece of architecture.

While there is plenty of literature on GNH's use in measuring Bhutan's sense of well-governance as an indicator of progress, it was difficult for us mere children of capitalism to grasp how it would feature in the average life of a working Bhutanese. Fortunately, our guide Dawa did not shy from sharing his thoughts with us about this.

While Bhutan has gained repute from being the poster child to GNH, a concept that is being studied by academics and politicians alike all over the world, it remains just that - a concept. For an abstract index that claims to measure how secure and happy people feel about governance, it is treading on uncertain grounds, given the development of democracy in Bhutan. For majority of Bhutanese, who have only in recent years seen the introduction of democratic elections, and who still ardently aggrieve the abdication of their former king (the beloved Fourth King passed the crown to his son, now the Fifth King in 2008), GNH does not necessarily assure happiness.

His personal opinion aside, Dawa does feel though, that as the young Fifth King gains his footing and as the country's democracy matures, Bhutanese will reclaim that coveted brand of intellectual progress as a Kingdom.

Since our return, I've also read with interest some other dissenting views on GNH, particularly around the issues of the expulsion of ethnic Nepalese and rise of consumerism. If you're up for some more reading on how the youth of Bhutan features in all this, this paper might be of interest.

In any case, it's an interesting topic that will continue to see plenty of argument, and one on which I will keep close tabs. Our time spent in Bhutan merely scratched the surface but we certainly didn't experience anything other than warmth and friendliness from the government-sanctioned tourist quarters.

The Happy Honeymooners, at Chele La Pass, highest point in Bhutan at 3988m above sea level

Will be thinking more about this for sure. GNH or not, happiness in all its vagueness is too individualistic and personal to dilute into some kinda common denominator report card.

Not the last about Bhutan you'll hear from me! Will definitely be a post on food and drink (most of which didn't quite agree with me!).

Until then, have a Happy New Year, beautiful ones! See you in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chote Chitr, Bangkok

So much had been said about the legendary Bangkok icon of a hole-in-the-wall eatery Chote Chitr (in recent years, more bad than good) that we didn't know what to expect. We were prepared for the food to be either sublime or disappointing and overpriced; the service was known to be erratic and subjected to some degree of arrogance on the part of the lady owner.

Well, no knocking till we tried it, so after a 15-minute walk from Rambutri area, we were somewhat heartened to like the facade that we saw, on this small road off Tanao Road.

Old but clean and well-kept, the shop was empty when we got there slightly before 6PM. Celebrated lady owner came to take the orders, a commanding air and her equally well-known Shih Tzu in tow. We are no fans of small, yappy dogs but this one was subdued and kept mostly out of our way so we could get down to the eating.

The famed Banana Flower Leaf Salad proved its reputation correct. The nutty dressing drew the subtle bouquet of the banana flower out, inspired feelings of rolling around in grassy splendour. Or one of them Thai beaches.

We decided to venture against lady owner's recommendations (which incited visible annoyance) and picked another starter, Spicy Chicken with Salted Egg paste served with fresh vegetables. This was unusual in its pairing of the flavours - salted egg yolk and a good dose of tamarind? juice. Would go beautifully with mountains of fluffy white rice. No regrets but we would probably skip this in the future.

Finally, the stunning Chu Chee Curry with River Prawns - more sweet than spicy, the fresh crunch of the prawns when drenched in the coconut-based red curry, with the striking scent of kaffir lime leaves, sealed it for us.

Bill was around THB600, not the cheapest given that it's Bangkok, whose streets are teeming with great food at a fraction. But the succulent meal, paired with the opportunity to meet the grand dame (and defy her!) was well worth it!

Chote Chitr
146 Th Phraeng Phuton (off Tanao Road)
Banglamphu, Bangkok

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best Curry Puff from Singapore on Old Klang Road?

Just a quick toe-dip back into the scheme of things:

We were drifting by Bloom Season Bakery at Scott Garden on Old Klang Road after a particularly underwhelming breakfast at Lorong Seratus Tahun when this caught my eye:

Tip Top's claim of offering the best chicken curry puff from Singapore got me all hot and bothered. The average Malaysian would know the feeling - that instant biological reaction to the combination of the words "Best" and "Curry Puff" only savoury curry filling encased in a greasy flaky pocket can mollify. In we went...

The puff came piping hot out from the kitchen (as it was barely 11AM) and certainly very impressive in size. But upon the first bite, the filling punctured my pastry craving, a blow to the gut. Overpowering with curry-powder and not much else. Even the generous quarter of hard-boiled egg failed to lift the package from the league of highway rest stop curry puffs.

Best Curry Puff from Singapore on Old Klang Road? I don't think so!! Keep looking, folks!

Tip Top The Puff Factory
Bloom Season Bakery
Ground Floor (next to Lorong Seratus Tahun)
289 Old Klang Road
58000 Kuala Lumpur