Monday, March 30, 2015

Pho better or pho worse

The day started out simple.

The search for the best pho at 46 Bat Dan according to a travel web post.

And to our dismay, it was already closed for the day.

So pho better or pho worse, we decided to settle for a chicken pho at the road junction that we had passed on our pho search.

We took our seats on these tiny plastic chairs that threatened to break under our hefty bottoms. Or so it felt like. And no, we don't actually have hefty butts.

The lower the chairs are to the ground, the better the food's gonna taste. Right?

Eating like the locals do, we made our order for two bowls of chicken pho and looked upon the dishes of cut chilli and parsley exposed to all the elements and impartial to all diners. Coming from the city, it's gotta be a tough call not worrying about stomach upsets.

But since we were here, ditch those thoughts and live and eat like the locals do. The food's gotta be good for people to squash themselves at junction of a busy road (as all roads are in Hanoi).

When this arrived? The reason was clear for the crowds.

Heaven in the form of a bowl of piping hot chicken pho :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew - Time Nor Tide

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had been admitted to Singapore General Hospital on February 5th 2015 for severe pneumonia at the age of 91. For many, we understood the grim implications of such a news release. The Lunar New Year came two weeks after and in the course of the festivities, many had pushed this piece of news to the back of their minds till the next update came about from the Prime Minister's Office. And from then forth, with Mr Lee in critical condition and a deterioration of his health, Singaporeans waited with bated breath and hoped upon hope that there would be a miracle. Somehow. 
That he would fight back, that he would live. 

But on March 23rd 2015, this was not to be. And the man who was the hero of our times, had slipped away peacefully at 3.18am in the wee hours of the morning to be reunited with the love of his life. For the minutes that felt like hours, and days that felt like years, it was a long time in waiting, for his ashes to finally be mixed with his wife so that they could be united even in death. His attention to detail was not lost on the people around him and you would expect even more so for his wife, Mdm Kwa. His love story has made its rounds in the news from the time of Mrs Lee's departure but here, at his final parting, we again relive through the anecdotes of how indeed, a true measure of a man is in his capacity to love. 

The Just In Time package for schools arrived yesterday and was to be disseminated by the next morning. The assembly this morning was a 15 minute video of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's life and legacy produced by Mediacorp. Even after the massive media suspension and overload from the past couple of days, many of us were reduced to tears. And how were we to teach for the next two periods? I steeled myself for a torrent of tears, if I cried, then so be it. But I bore in mind that what I had to say, had far more impact on the students than my tears. I made it through, but only barely so. I can now speak eloquently and wax lyrical about the man, his life and his legacy but yet, I'm reduced to tears, touched by what he has devoted his entire life to- the land I call home. 
The place called Singapore. 

For him to call this my people, my country, my home. Only he qualifies to speak as such. Some people have wrote on how they have found the term 'founding' floundering for Mr Lee Kuan Yew but for this generation of Singapore, the man we have met and seen what he has done for us as a nation, was Mr Lee Kuan Yew, not Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. And really, that was that. I'm heartened to see that at this time, many have poured out their hearts for their gratitude towards Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Growing up, I heard unhappiness and discontent in the coffeeshop talks of many a taxi driver and the older generation about Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the People's Action Party. And who are the ones who are sending their love and tributes willingly now? These very same people I do believe. In the course of Singapore's growth as a nation, they have seen and enjoyed the fruits of his labour. We put aside our differences, we stop fighting and we are united in our mourning of this great leader's passing.
"Could I have lived my life differently?" Mr Lee once reflected.
"Maybe yes, but probably not. At each stage I made what was then the best choice. Having taken that decision, I changed direction and there was no turning back."

These Hard Truths that kept Singapore growing, I may not have agreed in all of the man's beliefs but for his decisions, to have born the weight of a country on his shoulders for all of his adult life, it is true and I salute that he has, at that time, made the best choice possible for us all. 

And in closing, and I have changed the gender of the character in the words of Tim Rice as lyrics for Madonna's Lament in Evita.

 I could have any prize that I desired
I could burn with the splendor of the brightest fire
Or else or else I could choose time
Remember I was very young then
And a year was forever and a day
So what use could fifty, sixty, seventy be?
I saw the lights and I was on my way

And how I lived! How they shone!
But how soon the lights were gone!

The choice was yours and no one else's
You can cry for a body in despair
Hang your head because he is no longer there
To shine, or dazzle, or betray.
How he lived, how he shined
But how soon the lights were gone

Eyes, hair, face, image
All must be preserved
Still life displayed forever
No less than he deserved

These words were so aptly written, for the man, who indeed, deserved no less. 
Thank you.
Thank you, Sir.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

My Little Tapas Bar

It was a little intimidating at first.

The usual sight merrymakers gathered in the al fresco dining areas, drink in hand and a delicate tapas in the other.

It looked like a perfect night out with the mates.
Except. I had my mum with me.

But of course, that wasn't an issue at all. 

The warm lights within My Little Tapas Bar and the rustic and simplistic interior decor of their indoor dining area was very welcoming. And it was the 5th day of the lunar new year. It felt like I was doing a chinese new year visitation to someone's house.

And you know what? That. Was exactly the kind of experience they wanted to recreate for the diners. 'Mi casa es su casa - my house is also your house', Maria Sevillano says, as she shares about their concept for this homely diner. 

And the warm welcome continues with their house sangria.
I've an allergy to alcohol but the royal red brandy with the chopped fruits was intriguing enough for me to take a sip.
Strong. But resplendent with fruity notes.

Being the only Spanish restaurant with 5 legs of Jamon on offer, their next sampler plate gave us a taste of two of the five Jamons available.
The darker red Jabugo jamon from the well known 10 Vetas, was a crowd favourite.
It went perfectly well together with a cut of the Manchengo cheese and Jenga style baguette sticks.
Pop an olive in to complete the experience.
And rosemary baked almonds to cleanse your palate before the next round.

The Croquetas de Jamon were deep fried morsels of addiction.
Don't bother with half pieces.
It really was just for the camera effect.
I took a full one for myself after. :)
These croquettes are made the traditional Spanish way, with no potatoes.
No potatoes you say?
Yes, that's what they said.
Bechamel and Jamon stuffings, encrusted in a delicate shell. 
On a bed of garlic aioli.
Once you pop, you can't stop!

The next dish was a yet another Spanish tradition- the flatbread.
With the most amazing colors and flavours on every single piece.
I feared a strong fishy taste associated with the anchovies but the sweet peppers, slightly bitter taste of the rocket and the sweet sour reduction of balsamic vinegar drizzled atop put my fears to rest, and sent my tastebuds into overdrive.

We were also treated to their lamb rack.
Yet another fear of its gamey taste that I cannot stomach.
But Chef Director Edward Esmero gives his word that the gamey smell would be non-existent.
And one would be hard pressed to doubt a man who speaks with great passion about his food and his kitchen.

And indeed,
the tender racks of lamb had just a tinge of that gamey smell and the juices of the meat created an explosion of sense in the mouth. The proportions of fat made it all the more tender and still retaining a certain bite.
And while the potato chunks at the side looked like an overload on the calorie counter, these were amazingly worth the tipping of the scales.
A crisp exterior with a moist fluffy interior.
Do not put me on a no-carb diet.
Move over truffle fries.
I'd like a whole bucket of these.
The chickpeas were also a nice complement this main course.

And what's a dinner without dessert?

Tarteleta de Chocolate.
Chef Edward's entry for an International Culinary Competition while he was still an amateur in his home country of the Phillipines.
With this dessert, he beat his better known competitors from hotels and culinary schools.
Simply made.
It was a dish close to his heart, and made with the purest form of sincerity and passion.

This was a buttery tart, slightly bitter from the cocoa powder with a truffle chocolate interior which was described as chocolate ice cream but I'd think it'd be closer to a thick mousse made with 68% chocolate, topped with salted caramel almond bits.
The scoop of strawberry ice cream was made with the Magimix, using milk and egg with fresh strawberries. Forget your creamy strawberry ice creams, this was a much less creamy ice cream with an icy texture that bore truth to its rudimentary homemade processes. This was a tasting portion and the most perfect way to end the night. The regular sized portions I'd expect to be entirely indulgent and better shared due to its richness. 

So while I haven't yet been to Spain, this cosy experience has already created a wanderlust in me to explore the traditions and soak in their hospitable culture. 

But of course, till then, when the craving hits for some authentic Spanish fare, I know where to be at! :)

Thanks to Reka and Opensnap for this tasting invite jointly organised by Charles from FoodCult and also to the gracious hosts, Maria and Edward of The Little Tapas Bar.
All opinions are of the author's own.