the hinata diaries

Monday, May 07, 2007

Picks of the week

After what seems like an age and a half of sticking to comfort zone restaurants, finally ventured out last week to catch up on much belated eating. Here's what I discovered:

I'm surprised Brasserie Wolf isn't a more popular Sunday lunch destination. The neighbourhood is quiet and breezy, the big Dedan sofas look made for lounging, broad tables are perfect for spreading out the weekend paper. Oh and the food is pretty good. I had a ridiculously crispy confit de canard that was mostly moist on the inside, and Philippe the Frenchman gave a satisfied thumbs up to the coq au vin. The crepes suzette had a nice touch - a liberal sprinkling of orange zest in the crepe mix itself created a citrus flavour that was fresh instead of cloying. Service was hit and miss, but on a lazy Sunday I'm not complaining.

Artz Pizza, now known as Baraounda, serves in my opinion the best pizza in the East Coast, easily knocking the socks off Al Forno. Like Brasserie Wolf, I thought this was a lovely weekend lunch location with the non-stop sea breeze and view of the beach. Biting into their incredibly gooey pizzas feels all the more sinful when you're watching people painfully jog or cycle by :) We tried the Mike Pizza (i-heart-anchovies-and-garlic-in-pizza) and a standard prosciutto e funghi, both of which were excellent. Service was faultless thanks to a particularly friendly and obliging young server.

Finally made the pilgrimage to Eng Seng. Their black pepper crabs were worth my year long wait (I had always feared the queues) - the tarlike sauce burst with (of course) black pepper but also hints of coffee and burnt caramel. But it was the meat that surprised me more, firm and thick and so sweet you can't help but be reminded the crab had been alive barely minutes ago. Am plotting my return already. Wonder if you can tapao the leftover sauce? Black pepper ribs, black pepper beef, black pepper fried rice...

So there you go, my eating highlights for the week! What were yours?

Brasserie Wolf
80 Mohammed Sultan
#01-13 The Pier at Robertson
(Robertson Walk, between Brussel Sprouts and River Cafe)
Tel: 6835-7818

920 East Coast Parkway
(Inside Parkland Golf Driving Range, and next to Singa Inn Restaurant)
Tel: 6344-0900

Eng Seng Restaurant
247 Joo Chiat Place

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sign of life

Hallo to whoever is still visiting and thanks for all the comments!

As you might've guessed from the silence over the last few months, my blog's been going through a bit of an existential crisis, primarily centered around the question "To eat or to blog?" given that work travel hasn't accommodated both in recent times. An upcoming job change (hooray!) isn't going to help either - blogging at work doesn't seem such a good idea when I'll be seated right next to my new boss.

So a faint pulse, slow, steady breathing... but hey, onto the food and let's see how things go.

Food blogging lite - what's been good in the last couple of months:

The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival featured a Bill Granger designed dinner executed by Broth. This was definitely one of the best meals I've had in a long time - typically Australian freshness, crisp flavours, excellent service, and all for a fairly reasonable price (c. $100 including 5 different glasses of wine). I've not dined at bills so I'll give the credit to the team at Broth - I'm sure we all know how easy it is to stuff up a menu that sounds good on paper.

Good in another way, the Thierry Marx dinner organized as part of the Raffles Hotel Wine, Food and Arts Experience served up rather traditional French fare heavy on sauces and flavours. Surprisingly, the food took a distant backseat to the wine - while the representative from Chateau Lynch-Bages was given the mic between each serving, all we got to see from the kitchen were backstage scenes played on television screens scattered across the Raffles Grill. Not a peep or hello from the chef. The wine was often exceptional but equally often mediocre, with the real highlight of the night being seeing well-heeled men and elegantly coiffured women, straight from the Tatler pages, drunkenly staggering to the restroom.

The last Paris trip helped me rediscover modern French cuisine. I highly recommend L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - although I found his famed mashed potatoes quite disappointing (my mashed potatoes would be silky too if I'd used 90% butter), Philippe's starter of macaroni topped with cepes and foie gras, accompanied by white asparagus were fabulous. The wines were also exceptionally good with spot-on recommendations by the sommelier. The dramatic red and black interior and modern counter seating is more fun than intimidating, and the restaurant takes on the atmosphere of a chic neighbourhood hangout, where servers ply regulars with free tasting samples of new dishes and wines.

Helene Darroz was also loads of fun, serving up modern French food in tapas-sized portions. Sit in the lower priced salon, a chic yet cozy drawing room with a view of the open kitchen. I had an amazing first course of toast topped with beef marrow and slices of the season's last black truffles, which came accompanied by an asparagus veloute. This is now my ideal breakfast, all I need is a crateload of truffles. Anyone?

Also have some great food recommendations for Fukuoka. If anyone is heading there anytime soon, email me!

Closer to home, Dian Xiao Er at Vivocity was great food, great view, fun retro teahouse decor. I've been dreaming about their Mongolian spare ribs since I ate there last Friday. Their roast duck also proved worthy of its reputation - we had the ginseng based gravy which was wonderful slathered over rice. Next door at Red, White and Pure's boutique, their chocolate truffles filled with wolfberry, ginseng, red dates etc. were surprisingly subtle - no joke candies here - but my favourite discovery was the Japanese tomato and lime dessert vinegar recommended by the staff. Promptly brought a bottle back to the office where it was universally (if a universe can consist of 7 people) declared "hao he" (i.e. yummy).

A visit to San Marco post the arrival of its new chef was also extremely enjoyable save for the snotty service from the maitre d' and female hostess. Our group of six, three of which were funky media people in sneakers and ripped tees, clearly stuck out from their ideal customer type as evidenced by the suits and couples that dominated the room. That said, we enjoyed the food thoroughly and the local waitstaff were incredibly friendly and efficient. The kurobuta pork, in particular, was outstanding.

And old favourites revisited - I still love Min Jiang for its Peking duck and Sichuan food, Sin Huat for everything they put on the table.

So thanks for listening. This was pretty fun after all (especially without the stress of fiddling with photos and all), so hopefully that means we'll see each other again here soon. Ciao till then!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Picture shamelessly lifted from without permission. Don't scold, hor?

Every Singaporean has them.
No, not the Esso tiger tail.
No, nor the pile of individually paper-wrapped toothpicks lifted from your favourite restaurant.
By them, I mean those distant and not-so-different relatives who you only meet once a year at Chinese New Year, at the odd wedding or granny's birthday bash. You greet each other with the usual questions - "how's the spouse", "how're the kids", "how is school" - all designed to enable the questioned to respond politely yet generically, and for the questioner to nod equally politely and generically in return, a timeless and well-rehearsed ritual that generates no pain, but often affords little pleasure as well.

What most Singaporeans would readily admit is rarer though, is finding the family member that you enjoy catching up with at such occasions, each conversation rekindling memories of shared friends and experiences, or resulting in the discovery of new interests in common.

It was thus that my cousin (or specifically, our parents are cousins) and I both discovered the other was a closet foodie. Hoong An spotted my grinning mug on Chubby Hubby's site, in the photos from the food bloggers' dinner at Sage, and in turn revealed that he was embarking on a great foodie project in a professional capacity.

Fast forward to today, the offical launch date of

At first glance, is one of those "why didn't I think of that before???" sites. It offers a respository of member-contributed food reviews, a search function to help you find your grub of choice in your neighbourhood of choice, and an online list of all the credit card promotions offered by restaurants. Plus cool interviews (currently with local theatre personality Jonathan Lim) and a really cute Ask Auntie section. Sign up as a member and you'll be alerted of dining promotions over email, and can also contribute reviews for a chance to win a weekly cash prize. You'll also be able to login to your account, create a profile, list your credit cards (and so have an instant overview of all promotions applicable to you), access your list of favourite places, and read bookmarked reviews from your friends, favourite reviewers or even (ahem, ego bloating now) your own personal admirers.

In our little island, where people are either always calling up their friends for dining recommendations, or being called by their friends for the same, may just reduce everyone's phone bill (Singtel, M1 and StarHub beware!) and make discovering a new eating place that much easier.

Functionality (and there's plenty of it) aside, I love for its honest approach to commercialism. It aims to help food establishments get their promotions across to a hungry and often cost-conscious public while refraining from endorsement disguised as objectivity. (We all know sites like these, yah? When you only realize that upon the third reading that the product being reviewed as God's gift to foodies is mysteriously stocked only by the site's advertising sponsor.)

Reviews are instead contributed by members and are both fun and interactive. As a member, if you were impressed by the review and want to try the restaurant, you can add it to your list of favourite places for future reference. You can give the reviewer props, or even add him or her as a food buddy.

So hope you guys will check the site out! It's not every day that three young professionals quit their jobs to serve the greater purpose of food and feeding, so support support yah? :) I'm personally really excited about the prospect of a new online food community and am looking forward to reading the various user reviews.

To Hoong An and your team, congrats and all the best!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Christmas flog exchange meet-up


Once again, a very belated post. Excuses this time: business trips (the usual, except for a first trip to freezing cold and miserable Wuhan) and also my beloved Casio Exilim has suicided *moment of silence*.

Tried taking photos with my new and not so beloved Nokia N73, have to say the macro is fairly impressive, but uploading photos is a super bitch. All the supplied software only works with Windows PC, so I literally spent an entire night attempting all these fancy technology tricks that up till then I'd only heard of and never imagined as being practically relevant. Eventually managed to Bluetooth the pics to Philippe's laptop, then spent another 2 hours trying to upload photos to Flickr. Even then, my pics came out different sizes, of funny orientation and with these weird blue borders around them, please bear with me while I figure all this stuff out!

This is why I am a mere food blogger and not a Google billionaire.

Anyway, here are pics from our Christmas flog exchange get-together! In attendance: Jasmine, Leroy, Callen, Ivan, Joone, SuperFineFeline and Mia. Venue was Tea Bone Zen Mind Cafe on Seah Street, a charming and homely place recommended by Umami for its tea eggs.

My wishee, Brenda, had wished for "Jewish or Mexican delights", but couldn't make it at the last moment, so she kindly gave us permission to share her gift - a store bought bag of tortilla chips with homemade salsa, guacamole and Mexican wedding cakes. I'd gotten the recipes from Epicurious, which I strongly recommend as a repository for great recipes of various cuisines. I especially like their feature whereby cooks who have tried the recipe can post comments - often, following their recommendations leads to quite a few surprising discoveries.

The salsa was a fairly standard mix of fresh chopped tomatoes, white onions, garlic, red chilli and cilantro, flavoured with sugar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Nothing terribly original but definitely much more enjoyable freshly made.


The guacamole, on the other hand, was far from any guacamole I've ever tried, and, as proclaimed by many of the Epicurious reviewers, possibly the best (and prettiest looking) guacamole ever. This was cos, in addition to the usual hand mashed avocado and chopped onions and chillies, this guacamole also contains halved green seedless grapes, finely diced pear and loads of scarlet red and delightfully crunchy pomegranate seeds. Some coarse salt and lime juice is all you need for flavouring.


As for the Mexican wedding cakes, these were also quite simple, and fun to make on account of being able to play with all the icing sugar. The shortbread-like cookies, studded with chopped nuts, have a very basic, "didn't I make that in Home Econs" sort of taste, but the icing sugar lends some elegance and keeps them incredibly addictive. Brenda - sorry couldn't share them with you this time, will definitely start on a Jewish cooking project for you soon!


As for my wish of Japanese mochi desserts, Leroy brought a box from Minamoto Kitchoan in the Takashimaya basement that had all the girls cooing over the gorgeous packaging:

The wrapped box

The unwrapped box

The desserts!

The assortment was hand selected by Leroy, and contained several special items for the new year (in particular, the two wrapped ones in the top right hand corner of the photo).

Each piece was a beautifully shaped and coloured combination of two or more of the following ingredients: mochi, red bean, green tea, white chocolate, chestnut paste and sakura, and felt like such an absolute treat. We managed to finish about half the box as a group, surreptitiously dividing each piece into 6 and devouring when the proprietress wasn't around (no outside food lah). The rest of the box was quickly finished the next day at home in front of the computer in true pig-out form.

Thanks Leroy for the wonderful gift!!!!!!!

As for Tea Bone Zen Mind cafe itself, we each had ordered a pot of tea and a tea egg to earn our squatting rights.

The cafe's tea variety is quite impressive, as is the delicate presentation on a fern-lined wooden tray with a dish of dried dates on the side. The extra tea leaves were even wrapped in an elegant brown sleeve for taking home. That said, it was rather on the pricey side at $10 upwards for a pot of tea - ok if you plan on spending a long lazy afternoon at the cafe, but a bit much if you only have time for a quick pop-in.


The tea egg that Umami had recommended likewise came beautifully presented, and surprised in being soft-boiled. The advantage is that the runny egg then mixes effortlessly with the herbal tea steeping mixture, which gives you much more flavour than just a dry egg. Again the pricing was on the high side though at $3.50 an egg, which is gone in a couple of spoonfuls.


All in, it was a fun afternoon seeing regular food blogger friends again and meeting new ones. Giving and receiving presents in mid-January also extended the Christmas joy a bit longer. It was, presumably, high on guacamole and visions of strawberry shortcake, that Jasmine volunteered to organize the next get-together. Jasmine, here's a little reminder *nudge nudge* :)

Hope everyone else who was there that day had a great time as well. And thanks to Joone for helping organize the exchange, sort out pairings and send e-mails, it was fun being your buddy-in-crime :) 11 more months till the next flog exchange!

Professor Ivan

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Kaisan 3


Why Kaisan 3? Cos that's the number of times I had to upload my mobile phone photos onto Flickr to in turn get them on to Blogger (tech retard). It's also probably the number of weeks I'm late posting this restaurant note. Bah. So in case you're wondering why all these dishes sound familiar, it's probably cos you read them on Mia, Karen or Ivan's blogs weeks ago.

The upside to my blogging this late (i.e. my big excuse) is that by this time I've forgotten many of the minor details and technicalities that I'd stored in my head with the intention of dedicating a full paragraph of long unpunctuated sentences to. What's left for me to report is that warm fuzzy feeling that stays in your tummy long after a great meal, indistinct but pleasurable memories that make you just... want more.

So that was Kaisan. The ambience on a weekday evening was clean, crisp, refined and relaxed, without the hustle and booming voices of the business suited lunchtime crowd. The chefs looked laid back and welcoming, sharing about the day's specialties with quiet pride and a cold beer on hand.


The sashimi was faultless; still, in my biased mind, one step short of Akane's orgasm on a plate, but perfectly fresh and beautifully presented. Even the smallest, trickiest river fish was deftly sliced to almost physically impossible levels of thinness with notable precision and uniformity. The variety, including many seasonal specials and several off-menu secrets, is sufficient to melt even the most jaded sashimi lover's heart.


As tempting as it was to stick with just sashimi, we ventured to try some hot foods and sushi at the chef's behest. All were enjoyable and provided an extra dimension (i.e. hot and rice) to the meal.


My only gripe was that, although the sushi is perfectly formed (large strip of fish, small mound of rice, proportions and texture primed to show off the quality of the fish), the sushi rice vinegar was sometimes a bit strong and competed for attention with a couple of the more delicate fishes. A minor gripe compared to everything that went so well that night. Honestly, who cares when you have this monstrous otoro sitting in front of you?


We were also fortunate to have been received with such hospitality. Upon the realization that we were a group of food bloggers (one person angles the dish, four people take photos, pass down and repeat. Chef says must eat this one quick and everyone screams "nooooo, must take photo first!!!" We're a pretty obvious bunch), the chef pulled out all the stops, accompanying each dish with a description of its origins, how to appreciate it, and so on. And far from getting the sense that this was being done for a good review, it seemed more that he was keen to share his passion for his craft and show off his treasure chest of secrets.

So yes, admittedly, we did benefit from a lot of chef love that night. But my suspicions that this is just a pretty damn good Japanese restaurant was independently verified by Philippe yesterday. He'd brought some colleagues for a weekday lunch and was very impressed with the quality of the food, especially the sashimi. His only gripe was that he'd asked the waitress to organize a mini-omakase with an emphasis on crab. Everything that came was very good, but no crab ever appeared, which the waitress explained at the end of the meal was because it didn't fit into his budget. Clearly a communication problem that is quite inexcusable, but, five minutes after telling me this, Philippe was back to musing "but that beef was amazing... that sashimi was so fresh... I do want to give it one more try..."

And that's my Kaisan story. For sashimi it's now #3 on my list after Akane and Nogawa, but its convenient location at Raffles Hotel and slightly lower price tag means I'll probably be back more often. Great place to suggest for a business lunch, or for a quiet catch-up night with a couple of good girlfriends.

Just to end off, here's my little tribute to Umami and her husband. They were the ones who recommended Kaisan to us in the first place, and chef Thomas immediately recalled their personal favourites. So here are their initials, painstakingly sculpted out of onion slices, next to their faves. Guys, we're thinking of you!


#01-21 Raffles Hotel Arcade
T: 6339 4929

P.S. Chef Thomas mentioned that his daughter is an avid food blog reader and a passionate baker. Didn't catch her name but, if by any chance, his daugher is reading this... you're one lucky girl if you get to eat like this at home :) Hope to read about your baking exploits on a blog some day!

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Monday, January 08, 2007

The Great Pork Knuckle Quest

Gonna try and keep this short(ish) to get back to regular blogging...

Spent 3 days of our Christmas holiday in Hamburg, a 10-hour drive from the in-laws' in France. I hadn't been terribly keen on visiting Germany, picturing only humourless crewcut blondes (male and female), rows of cold industrial warehouses and drug-filled rave parties, but the chance to visit old friends and sample some pork knuckle won over in the end.

Turned out to be a great suggestion on Philippe's part. Hamburg is a charming, cosmopolitan city with well-preserved storybook architecture (it managed to avoid most of the wartime bombs), a bustling port, elegant, tree-lined shopping streets, picturesque canals ("the Venice of the North" said the guidebook) and best of all, heaps of good food. Because of the port, many of the city's specialties are seafood dishes, a far cry from the stereotypical sausages and sauerkraut.

A trip to Hamburg also has the added benefit of snickers (the laugh, not the candy bar) every time you see the descriptive Hamburger, meaning "from Hamburg". Example:

Hamburger Hof is the name of a shopping mall.

A local football team is called Hamburger SV.

There's even a dessert that begins with Hamburger (Hamburger Rote Grutze), which had us confused on menus to no end.

This works in Frankfurt too but Hamburger still sounds funnier than Frankfurter.

Anyway, the flip side of Hamburg being such an international city is that German food is decidedly untypical daily fare. A quick call to our friend Lam to ask for recommendations yielded a puzzling "German food? I've only eaten that once in my life."

This from a guy who was born and raised in Germany.

Surely enough, a wander around several of the more popular eating neighbourhoods in Munich, such as Grosse Neumarkt, uncovered only Irish pubs, Italian pizzerias, sushi joints, even Mexican hole-in-the-walls. The first lunch that Gloria and Lam took us to too, while supposedly very German and packed to the brim with locals, turned out to be a bonafide fish and chips restaurant in the English tradition, down to the Pakistani guy manning the newspaper wrapped takeaway service.

But eventually Lam came through on our pleas for a REAL German place, and off we went for dinner at the still-not-so-German-sounding Old Commercial Room.

And here you go, genuine Hamburg specialties!


A sweet-and-sour version of minestrone filled with assorted veggies, stewed fruits and slices of eel. According to the good folks at Wikipedia, the eel was never an original ingredient in the soup. Rather, the name aalsuppe is literally soup with all in it, i.e. a toss-everything-in-and-clear-the-fridge kinda soup, but after many confused people ordered it expecting to see aallool or eel in it, the eel came to be a staple.

This was really fun. I'm a big fan of all things vinegary, so enjoyed this very much as a 'kai wei' opening to what I (rightly) anticipated was a heavy meal. The stewed fruits also seemed appropriately festive with the snow falling outside.

This was also the closest thing I'd be getting to Asian food for a while (giam chye soup?!) and so was deserving of a fair amount of lingering and licking of spoons.

My queries to Gloria and Lam on true Hamburg food earlier in the day engendered a fit of childish giggles from Gloria. "The Vomit!" she cried to Lam, "they must eat The Vomit!" She then admitted there was a very traditional dish from Hamburg called labskaus, which neither of them had yet dared to try (Lam in his almost 40 years of being a German, and Gloria in her 10 years of being married to one), on account of its uncanny resemblance to, you guessed it, vomit.

So, at dinner, we ordered The Vomit. Here it is, oozing out, swamp-creature like, the colour of exposed flesh, from under the fried egg.

The Vomit turned out to be a fairly tasty but aesthetically unappealing ladle of mushy corned beef (imagine creamed corned beef without cream, if that makes sense. Or regurgitated corned beef without Grandma's false teeth in them). Served with beetroot and mashed potatoes, it seemed like something you'd make for yourself in college when the funds run out - thrown together from tinned cans, nothing fancy or delicate, but still digestible and pretty filling.

This was fun from a tourist perspective ("Look Ma, Germans eat puke!"), but not sure if I'd voluntarily order it again or attempt to make it at home.


Our mains turned out to be more generically pan-European than German. I had duck breast with braised red cabbage and potato hash balls; Lam had a highly recommended fish and Philippe pork medallions with tagliatelle. All were very well prepared and had us eagerly swopping samples across the table. Still, it was hard to get past the mental block of "I'm in Germany and I want pork knuckle dammit!", despite Lam and our server's gentle protests that these dishes are truly Hamburgian.

Hamburger Rote Grutze

At least there was no denying that dessert was authentically local - after all, it did bear the Hamburger appellation. This turned out to be an innocuous plate of mixed berries in cream, oddly summery in the midst of bleak winter, but deliciously tart and cheerily coloured.

Our meal was accompanied (for me at least) with glass after glass of Spezi, a popular localsoft drink which is really a mix of Fanta Orange and Coke. Caramel brown and tepid, it brought back guilty childhood memories of the Kickapoo-Sarsi-Cherryade combinations my primary school drink stall aunty would allow us to concoct for 20 cents a pop.

I'd highly recommend the Old Commercial Room if you're in Hamburg looking for a good meal. The restaurant is very much a local institution, and a first encounter with one of the formally dressed, silver-haired servers is enough to impart that "hallowed hall" feeling. It's also a great place to gain insight on Hamburg's people and its development as a city, with newpaper clippings and photos covering every available inch of wall space. Oh, plus they have some kick-ass looking booze hanging around.

P.S. I finally got my pork knuckle on the way back to France during a one night stopover in Frankfurt. Nice looking city with impressive office towers and cool sculptures dotting the streets, but completely dead during the holidays. We ended up finding my precious schweinhaxe at a restaurant in the middle of the Markt with more tourist than gastronomic value. Nothing worth recommending but it looked impressive and I'm just glad I finally got it. Here's the baby!

Back to local blogging next!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Christmas in France

Just got back from a short but good Christmas trip to France, my first Christmas back in three years.

Quite a bit's changed since the last time I was back in my in-laws' hometown, a 3 hour train ride to the east of Paris. The nieces are, I suppose understandably, much bigger - Jade at 6 has lost most of her baby fat, and now has the vocabulary befitting her cheeky precociousness (a more recent gem being her indignant reply, when asked if she had good girlfriends in her new primary school, that "I'm not a lesbian you know!"); Camille and Manon are towering fashion plates traipsing around mid-winter in patent pumps; and Justine, who I'd hoped would be impressed by my young funky aunt wannabe pink highlights, turned out to have a head of blonde-streaked hair herself, and sniffed that my own colour was closer to orange than pink (despite my protest that it was simply the poor lighting).

I'd also forgotten how indifferent my French family is to my earnest attempts to display good Confucian filial piety. Shooed out of the kitchen, banned from food preparation or cleaning up, I felt useless... betrayed. Didn't my in-laws know that I'm supposed to willingly chop off my own arm to boil them medicinal soup in times of ill health? Bah. A perfectly nutritious arm (slim and nicely tanned at that!), wasted.

Having reluctantly hunkered down to the realization that my dusty skills of friendship-bracelet weaving (for the nieces) and table setting (for the in-laws) just wouldn't cut it any more, I decided to stick to what I do best in France - eating.

This started with a 6am chocolat chaud and pain au chocolat, my usual arrival foods, while killing time at the Gare de L'Est station waiting for the train. Unfortunately, in the freezing cold, I was done with both in about 30 seconds, and eventually yielded my much sought after counter space after many purposeful glares in my direction. This led to 45 minutes of sitting perched on my suitcase in the middle of the station, a magnet for crazy old ladies who seemed to enjoy nothing more than (1) pushing their suitcase trolleys at me full speed, and getting a good laugh as I started up off my seat, (2) admonishing me with repeated utterances of "c'est grave, c'est grave" and finally (3) I suspect, tapping me on the top of my head with an umbrella. I say I suspect because I had a stiff hoodie on, and turning my neck to look behind me only resulted in my seeing the interior of my hoodie back. By the time I'd exerted the considerable effort needed to turn my entire person around, said crazy old lady was nowhere to be seen. But I'm sure it happened. That or the insanity is contagious.

Anyway, on to Christmas foods. Being a tech dummy, I still haven't figured out how to make those fancy collages that seem to come from Flickr, so here they are, old skool.

Christmas Eve dinner at Philippe's sister's started with fresh oysters, followed by foie gras, fresh figs and onion confit.

Then an entree of coquilles Saint Jacques with caramelized endives in cream. The endives were fascinating - crisp yet soft, bitterly sweet. The cream is added later but quickly takes on the flavours, making it a rich and fitting complement to the coquilles.

The main dish was Philippe's mom's traditional capon, a castrated rooster. Little did baby Jesus know that his birth would be celebrated centuries later by Frenchmen enthusiastically lopping the balls of hapless male chicks, albeit that said balls are innocently "the size and colour of a kernel of corn". Nonetheless, the capon was delicious, served with sides of stewed apples and chestnuts (Patrick from Azhang notes that French chestnuts are a completely different breed from Chinese chestnuts and therefore more appropriate for cooking, no innuendo intended.)

The kids got to eat the severed rooster testicles, breaded and baked, a popular TV time snack apparently.

Nah, ok, so they're just pommes noisettes. I've been reading Ivan's blog too much methinks, the mind's getting fouled up. I took the pic cos growing up pommes noisettes were my favourite dinner side (peel the skin then eat the centers), and I was surprised to find out that kids in France eat them too. (Another surprising note, did anyone know that Bata, trusty manufacturer of cardboard white school shoes, is also French? As is the Ayam Tuna brand?)

Cheese plate for dessert, then homemade log cake! Philippe's dad is quite the baker, and proudly insisted that I spend a good 5 minutes snapping photos of his cakes before he carved them up (this is the chocolate version, there was a similar vanilla one as well).

Lastly, a pic of the lemonade bottle that now serves as water pitcher, cos I thought it was cute and also because it served as my beacon of salvation through the endless bottles of wine we went through (more on that later).

Christmas day lunch with my brother-in-law's family at the surprisingly nautical themed (we're hours from the nearest ocean) L'Hippocampe (aka The Seahorse). The meal turned out non-traditional in the Christmas sense, but good.

Turns out that the owner/chef is a certified disciple of Monsieur August Escoffier himself, which puffed me up no end with a false sense of pride. I married the man who is brother to the woman who married the man who organized lunch at an Escoffier restaurant! It's as if The Man cooked a special meal for me himself! My hands got quite sore from patting myself on the back.

The Man and his disciple

The cute handpainted lamps. Note that at any French family celebration, it is de rigeur to scatter little bits of sparkly paper across the length of the table.

Folding boat-shaped serviettes. Ahoy!

Starter: Foie gras (again), with toasted baguette, a smattering of loose spices, and an apricot chutney

Main: trio of fish with pasta

Dessert: a Bomb Alaska (which failed to spectacularly ignite, but tasted good anyway)

Fast forward to New Year's Eve as this post is getting way too long.

End of the day, festive holidays in France are not more exotic than anywhere else in the world. There's the countdown TV specials featuring the best of "Candid Camera" type gag shows and champion ice skating, kids still run off between courses to ping friends on MSN, and when mom finally gets tired of cooking, you order home delivery.

Fortunately, French home delivery from the local traiteur, albeit ordered in advance, is still way snazzier than anywhere else in the world. Take a look:

Foie gras (yes again) with spiced bread and onion and ginger confit (or to be atas, confiture des oignons et du/de la gingembre - is gingembre masculine or feminine?)

A kind of bouillabaisse of coquilles and ecrivisses (shrimp, the little-ish ones), served in individual copper pots (provided by the traiteur. To use the phrase my nieces just taught me, "c'est classe!")

Poulet bresse with a morels and cream sauce, with a slice of potato hash

Unfortunately, that was as far as I lasted on New Year's Eve. Having held my own in finishing, between 4 adults, a bottle of champagne, two bottles of white and a bottle of red in the span of just over an hour, I excused myself during the cheese course, ostensibly to visit the bathroom, but in reality passed out on the bed with a dustbin by my side for good measure, visions of cream, foie gras and wine spinning in my head and churning in my stomach.

I can only imagine that I missed some pretty good cheese, two cakes (I saw them on the table earlier - one pistachio, one mandarin) and about 2 hours of hilarious footage of people falling down at weddings (the gag special continued in the background).

Here are some of the culprits by the way:

As an aside, the two nieces who joined us for dinner at the last minute decided to bring their own. Their food of choice? Cantonese from the local supermarket freezer section! To be specific, frighteningy large and soggy spring rolls and a mystery box of microwavable riz du cantonais, or white rice with carrots, peas and corn. I was sitting on my hands trying not to grab the rice, fling it into a wok and at least top it up with egg, scraps of meat, anything, ANYTHING! that would at least add some flavour, colour to that flagrant insult to fried rice.

Last meal of the trip, promise! Lunch on New Year's day was raclette, a kind of upside down fondue where you melt little pans of cheese over an electric hotplate till it gets bubbly and runny, then pour the cheese on your plate over potatoes and various hams. Fun for the winter, and it seems to arouse the same nostalgic, communal, comfort food feelings as a good steamboat does here at home.

Tipple of choice this time was a 1982 bottle of Bordeaux that came from the same Chateau that supplied our wedding wine. We'd had a 150 bottles of reds and whites (albeit not from 1982) from this Chateau shipped to Singapore for our wedding here, and since the dinner was a fairly intimate affair by local standards, ended up with about 50 bottles leftover which we spent the better part of a year finishing. Was fun to see the bottle again, especially the day after our 5th wedding anniversary (child bride, me).

And then a little something something to keep us intoxicated through the train ride back to Paris - home made alcohol! Eau de vie if you want to be snooty about it. Note the handwritten labels/post-it pads - the one on the left is mirabelle, the one on the right prune. Plus some nasty chartreuse unpictured - 55% alcohol made from a secret blend of vegetables. v8 left unattended. But I was told it was good for me, so no choice (just like the night before, when I warned my in-laws that I would soon be drunk if they didn't stop pouring all that wine, their only reply was "so what else do you have to do anyway?"). Gan bei!

Thanks for putting up with (yet another) marathon post. In case you're observant/really bored, you might've noticed a few days missing in between Christmas and New Year's. We spent those driving up to Germany to visit some friends and hunt down some pork knuckle. Will post on how that went shortly!

In the meantime, happy new year all! May 2007 be full of good eats!

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