November 30, 2010

Introducing the Pig

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My friend Amy at the Wall Street Journal was doing something on bloggers in Asia, and asked us to name one dish that we would recommend above others.  It took me all of 15 seconds to come up with my choice...

So I sent over a couple of pictures, a description of the Kimberley Pig, and the link to the video I posted on YouTube where one can hear the crackling sound as the cleaver goes through - what else? - the crackling.

You can see the full list from Asian bloggers here.

November 29, 2010

Mr. Hsu and Mrs. Smith

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I received a call on Saturday, after finishing mom's braised pig trotters for lunch at home.  I couple of friends were nearby and wanted to know if I could join them for tea.  I remember reading about smith&hsu in Taipei from a recent post by Nanamoose, and quickly went over to check it out.

I arrived to find a surprisingly large selection of tea - 47 of them numbered 1 to 69.  In addition to seeing being listed on the menu, the staff also brought over a large tray with small jars containing the teas.  You are invited to take a whiff and see which combination you prefer, before ordering a pot.  Certainly a very good idea!

I figured I could always use something to decompress, so I ordered No. 59 - Stress reliever (檸香舒壓花草茶).  This is an herbal combination with rooibos, St. John's wort, lemongrass and other leaves and pods.  Very soothing, and exactly what I needed.

My friends ordered the tea and scone set.  Nanamoose had stated in her blog that she thought this place served the best scones in the world.  That's a pretty bold statement.  I took half a scone only when it had gone cold, and I thought it was pretty good.  Then again, I'm not a scone connoisseur...  One has a choice of scones, and we had them with cranberries.  The lemon jam was very delicious.

Later we ordered the home-made cookies, which were also made with cranberries.  These were really, really good... with so much butter you can feel it on your lips after the cookies are gone.  Yum.

I went back to smith&hsu again on Monday, this time at another of their four locations.  I was in a very different mood today, and decided to order No. 30 - Lavande Sur Le Déclin (日落花草茶).  This floral combination of lavender, chamomile, orange blossom, rose petals, mint leaves...etc was perfect.

I did have another half of a scone again, this time while it was still warm.  Still pretty good, I thought.  The apricot jam was also pretty delicious.

I'm happy that we have places like smith&hsu for tea.  In an age with the ubiquitous Starbucks and other coffee chains, it's important to have alternatives where people take tea very seriously.  I think I'll be going back to these guys on future visits to Taipei.

November 27, 2010

Reaching adulthood, politically-speaking

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I got to vote in an election for the first time today, which I guess makes me a pretty late bloomer.  I remember my freshman year in college, when all my friends around me were excited about being able to vote in their first presidential election - Bush vs. Mondale.  I could only watch the action from the sidelines, as I'm not a US citizen.

When I became a permanent resident in Hong Kong some years back, I registered to be a voter.  Unfortunately, I moved to Singapore a short time after, and never bothered to change my registered address when I returned to Hong Kong 6 months later.  With the rigged political system in place, I soon lost interest in taking part of the political process.

I finally re-established my residency in Taiwan more than a year ago, which means I missed out on voting in the last presidential election that brought Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to power.  So the mayoral election today is actually the first time I'm eligible to vote.

My residency was moved to Sanchung (三重) following my new apartment purchase, which means my voting district is Xinbei Municipality (新北市), not Taipei Municipality.  My choices for mayor were between Eric Chu (朱立倫), the KMT candidate, and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the DPP candidate.

Honestly it's choosing the lesser of two evils.  I heard Eric Chu at an investor conference a couple of years ago, and haven't had much respect for him ever since.  I am naturally inclined to vote for a KMT candidate - actually more like inclined to vote against any DPP candidate - but I just can't find a lot of reason to support this guy...

It's almost unthinkable for me to vote for a DPP candidate, although Tsai Ing-wen has, in my mind, been one of the more rational politicians from that camp.  That all changed last night, after the assassination attempt on Sean Lien (連勝文).  In a press conference, Tsai paid lip service in wishing Sean a speedy recovery, then shocked many by blaming the incident on the KMT.  She basically said that the incident was evidence of the poor level of  public safety in Xinbei Municipality, and that the incumbent KMT was to blame for their poor governance record.

She basically turned the shocking incident into yet another political campaigning opportunity.  Was there even a shred of compassion / human decency in this person?  I was furious.  I was determined, more than ever, to cast a vote against her.  We don't need people like her running our lives.

Dad picked me up from the airport and we headed straight for the polling station.  Turns out it's just right next to my new apartment complex.  I spent about 20 minutes looking over the candidates for municipal councilors (市議員) as well as ward chiefs (里長) while riding in the car.  There was a lot of BS and empty campaign promises, and I finally decided to cast my councilor's vote for an old geezer whose political views seemed more agreeable.  As for ward chief... both candidates were poorly educated and looked like thugs - and I know most ward chiefs are incredibly corrupt.  I decided not to cast my vote for either of them.

In the end Eric Chu did win the election, and Tsai Ing-wen was defeated.  I was pretty satisfied with this outcome.  The old geezer did not fare so well... Out of 21 candidates in my voting district, he wasn't one of the top 9 to be elected.

November 26, 2010

A very MNSC wedding banquet

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Another one bites the dust.  Yesterday another member of MNSC got himself married, and Dayliao hosted a black-tie wedding banquet at the Four Seasons Macau tonight.  So I dusted off the ol' penguin suit and boarded the early evening ferry to Macau, looking like I was ready for some James Bond-ish action...

I must applaud Mr and Mrs Dayliao for their choice of menu.  There was a conspicuous absence of the perennial banquet staple - shark's fin.  Instead the item was replaced with bird's nest, which is far more environmentally friendly.  The banquet menu was as follows:

Whole barbecued suckling pig (大紅乳豬全體)

Baked stuffed sea whelk with diced abalone and minced pork (鮑粒焗釀響螺) - I could have sworn there were bits of chopped liver...  Pretty tasty.

Seafood soup with bird's nest (燕窩龍皇帶子羹)

Braised fish maw and goose web in abalone sauce (鮑汁花膠鵝掌)

Steamed star garoupa in soya broth (清蒸東星斑) - always found the ones at banquets to be overdone, but in all honestly it's tough to steam 30 of these perfectly simultaneously...

Deep-fried crispy chicken (脆皮龍崗雞)

Fried rice with diced abalone and ham (鮑魚煙肉粒炒飯) - didn't seem to have any abalone in mine, but the smoked bacon was pretty tasty.

Shrimp dumplings with noodles in superior soup (上湯鮮蝦水餃麵) - the dumpling was very tasty.

Red bean soup with glutinous rice dumplings (紅豆沙湯圓)

This being the wedding of an MNSC member, of course there would be an impressive list of wines being served at the wedding banquet.  Not surprisingly, the wines were supplied by Altaya Wines.  Knowing there'd be a lot of wines tonight, I decided to skip the 2000 Lenoble Cuvée Gentilhomme and started with the white wine.

2005 Marquis d'Angerville Meursault 1er Cru Santenots - I had tasted the fantastic 2009 vintage of this wine just two weeks ago at the domaine in Burgundy.  This was of course another lovely wine from a stellar vintage.  Nose of minerals, toast, a bit of sweet corn and a little ripeness.  Very well-balanced on the palate.

2003 Pichon-Lalande en magnum - another fantastic wine.  Very ripe, sweet fruit, jammy, forest, smoky, exotic, coconut butter and toffee notes.  Like many of its peers in the same vintage, one may well guess this to be a Californian Cab in a blind tasting...  Decanted 3 hours before cocktails started.

Pineapple has a penchant (or is it reputation?) for bringing his own wines to other people's wedding banquets, and tonight would be no exception.  The only difference was that he had organized for each of us at the "MNSC table" - which the groom had strategically placed at the back corner of the ball room, as far away from the head table as possible - to also bring a bottle.  The theme for the night was '82 Bordeaux, with an enviable line-up despite the absence of First Growths.  All the wines showed extremely well - not one of them was remotely off.  It became difficult to pick a favorite.

1982 Canon - this ex-château bottle drank beautifully.  Lovely and open nose with sweet grass, smoke, lead pencil, fruit and smoke duck notes.  Smooth and soft on the palate.  My contribution to the group.

1982 Le Gay - a tribute to Mr. Pineapple himself.  Sweeter nose with ripe fruit, a little smoky.  There are still some tannins here.

1982 Léoville Poyferré - sweet grass, fruit, smoke, caramel and a hint of green pepper.  Very soft on the palate.

1982 Léoville Barton - sweet fruit, smoke, sweet grass and smoked meats.  A lovely wine.

1982 Grand-Puy-Lacoste - a classic example of this wine.  Smoke, lead pencil and mineral nose.  Actually still got a good amount of tannins.

1982 Gruaud-Larose - sweet fruit and smoked meats.  Very smooth and silky.  A lovely wine.

1982 Ducru-Beaucaillou - we ended up with two bottles of this wine.  Beautiful, soft and elegant.  Sweet fruit, smoke, a hint of grass and leather.  Still some tannins here.  Absolutely beautiful, and my favorite wine of the evening since I'm partial to Ducru.

The souvenir from the bride and groom was a lovely touch.  A "cake" of Puer tea, freshly packed some 10 days before the banquet, was placed at each table setting.  I think the idea's pretty romantic - the tea will mature, age, and grow old along with the bride and groom.  I look forward to drinking it with them in 25 years' time!

P.S. Halfway through the banquet, we received news about an assassination attempt targeted at Sean Lien (連勝文), who is a friend of some of the members.  He was shot in the head at point blank range by someone who has known association with organized crime.  This distressed many of us and put a damper on the celebrations.  My best wishes to Sean and family, and may he have a speedy and full recovery.

November 25, 2010

Italian wines and white truffles

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I met up with some fellow wine lovers tonight for dinner at Otto e Mezzo.  After my recent trip to Burgundy I was suffering from OD on wines from the region, so we settled on bringing  Italian wines for the evening.  Of course, someone insisted on bringing wines from her favorite regions - which are not in Italy - and they turned out to be the best wines of the evening.

The amuse bouche was almost like a meat and cheese pastry roll, served over a thin slice of ham.

Egg in raviolo, ricotta cheese and spinach, hazelnut butter and white truffle - this was a classic from Chef Bombana's days at Toscana. Made using Japanese Taiyoran eggs (太陽卵), the orange-colored yolk is clearly distinguishable.  Chef Bombana came and gave us very generous shavings of white truffle.  The fragrance of the truffles is just amazing.  Throughout the evening as diners in the restaurant are served their truffle courses, the lovely scent would be floating my way again and again.  I was tempted to get the traditional risotto or fettucine, but opted for something that took us less stomach space...  The combination of the egg yolk, spinach and cheese was delicious.

Colorado rack of lamb, artichoke purée, black olive and lamb jus - the last time I had this was 5 months ago, and I just couldn't resist the temptation to have it again.  It was soooooo goooood...  The meat was pink, tender and juicy.  There was delicious lamb fat around the edges, which were perfectly charred and smoky.  As usual I picked up the bones to strip them of any leftover meat, but I noticed a distinct look of disapproval from one of my fellow diners...  Well, I'm uncouth like that.  I gnaw on my bones when I find them delicious, and I'm not giving that up for anyone.

Chocolate Mille-feuille, pistachio cream and mandarin sorbet - once again I picked this dessert because of the mandarin sorbet.  It was just really, really good... with bits of mandarin rind confit at the bottom with the cream.  Millefeuille was excellent, too.

There was a lot of wine... so much that I - once again - left "early" as I could not finish everything in the glasses in front of me.  9 bottles was a lot for the 6 us of, methinks...

Jacques Selosse V.O. - there isn't anything that Anselme Selosse makes that I don't like.  This had a yeasty, sweet caramel nose.  A lively and lovely wine.  I could drink this all day...

2007 Clos des Papes - nose was very alcoholic and sharp, metallic, sweet with tropical fruits like lychee.  Really hot and sweet on the palate.  A little too much for me.  Probably needs another 10 years to soften up.

1985 Gaja Darmagi - classic Bordeaux-blend nose, with lots of grass, smoke, a little brett, mint and green peppers.  Medium acidity.

1985 Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore - this was not decanted, and smelled a little "dusty".  Huge toasty and smoky nose with grilled corn, black pepper, green and vegetal.  There was sweet fruit underneath but took some time to reveal itself.

1997 Hubert Lignier Clos de la Roche - I joked that I was "Burg'ed out" and wouldn't be drinking anything from Burgundy this evening, but I got a pour from the waiter anyway...  Sweet, very floral, violet, with ripe fruit, game meat, leather and bacon fat.  Soft and lovely.  What an amazing wine!  Certainly my favorite wine tonight.

1997 Lamborghini Campoleone - I've been waiting to open this bottle for a long, long time, and finally had the occasion to do so.  Initially I thought the nose was very muted while my friends all thought the nose was open and lovely.  There were notes of mint, a bit of smoke and a hint of licorice.  Very concentrated on the palate and surprisingly tannic.  My second pour ended up being spilled on the tablecloth, and my third pour was much better.  Nose was much more open with additional notes of herbs and coffee grounds.  This is an interesting blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese.

1997 Soldera Brunello di Montalcino Riserva - sweet and clean, with a little herbs at first.  Later on overripe honeydew notes emerged, almost turning into turpentine and very alcoholic.  A little more tannic than one would expect from the color of the wine.  Also needs another 10 years of cellaring.

2004 Gaja Camarcanda - sweet and ripe fruit, mint, a bit smoky, honeydew, sharp and alcoholic, herbs and pine needle.  Pretty tannic as the wine is still young.

2005 Bruno Giacosa Barolo Le Rocce del Falletto di Serralunga d'Alba - alcoholic and hot, a hint of medicine, herbs and smoke.  Just a little too young to drink now.

November 23, 2010

Another totally offal day

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It's no secret that I like offal - the internal organs of animals.  I find many of them absolutely delicious, and whenever they show up on a menu they are often the first things that catch my attention.  And I've gone around looking for some of these things in the past...

A Korean friend had brought Joon Ko House to our attention, and mentioned a particularly delectable dish.  I had called ahead last week, and confirmed that the item is usually available starting on Tuesdays until they run out.  So I made plans to go for lunch today.

After waiting for a table for a little while - and I rarely wait for tables at restaurants - I sat down and asked for soondaeguk (순대국).  It's a family-run restaurant and the service was excruciatingly slow, so I waited patiently for my food.  It took them a while just to bring out the banchan.

I did a double-take when my soondaeguk arrived.  It was red.  I had always had it as a milky broth without a trace of chili, so I was puzzled when my pot looked like kimchi jigae.  But there were plenty of goodies from a pig inside the bowl, though...  Delicious pieces of soondae (순대), liver, small intestine, stomach, large intestine...  It was a bit too spicy for my taste, but still good.

For dinner I met up with a couple of friends at Hakata Ichome Horumon (博多一丁目ホルモン).  I was pretty happy with my first time here a couple of months ago, so I jumped at the chance to come back.

We were greedy, and decided to order a whole bunch of stuff - almost the entire beef offal selection.  In fact, we ordered the entire digestive tract of the animal... For once, I was able to have all four chambers of a cow's stomach:

rumen (上ミノ) - stomach #1.  Pretty chewy, and we added some onion relish on top while grilling.

reticulum (千枚) - stomach #2, commonly known as manyplies.  Lovely as always, and marinated in miso.

omasum (ハチノス) - stomach #3, commonly known as honeycomb.  Deliciously marinated in miso.

abomasum (ギャラ) - supposedly unusual to find this as the fourth stomach is typically not eaten.  Pretty chewy, too.

large intestine

small intestine - our favorite, since it was oozing fat and other goodies during the grilling process.

skirt steak - actually the diaphram muscle.  I have to say that this wasn't the freshest beef... tasted like it's been around for a few days...

beef tongue

beef liver - noticeably tougher veins compared to calf's liver. 

We also enjoyed some pork belly from some Japanese pigs which fed on sweet potatoes.  My friend was very excited about seeing this on the menu, and made reference to the Japanese movie Tampopo (タンポポ).

Finally, we had the beef offal hotpot that I had last time.  It was really delicious, as the milky fat of the intestines slowly cooked into the broth.  It was also a welcome change as the pot was full of vegetables, something that was glaringly missing from the first part of our meal.  Once again the thinly sliced chili peppers made the dish by providing the spicy side of flavors.

The three of us were pretty stuffed... that was an impressive line-up of offal - one that isn't likely to be repeated in the near future.

November 22, 2010

Chinese Ghost Story meets French pop music

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Part of the goodies I brought back with me from France when I returned a week ago was a stack of DVDs I bought at the Virgin Megastore on Champs-Élysées.  It hasn't been easy to find music and concert videos of my favorite French pop singer - Mylène Farmer - outside of France.  I decided it was time for me to just go and grab everything I didn't already own...

Mid-way through the series of music videos I came across one that caught my attention.  L'Âme-stram-gram is a song I've listened to numerous times, and here I was watching the video for the first time, surprised by the image of Mylène dressing up in what looked like Chinese period costume, running around a set that resembled the great wall.  Later on in the video, Mylène's character and her twin were flying around and extending their long, snake-like (or lizard-like) tongues...

My first thought was that this was a reference to the Legend of the White Snake (白蛇傳), but once I watched the "making of" clip entitled "Les 5 Jours de Pekin" I realized how far off I was.  The music video was actually directed by Ching Siu Tong (程小東), the director behind A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂).  In the back of my mind, I had kinda known that the movie was somewhat popular in the West, but this was anecdotal evidence of how far the influence has reached.  To have a major French pop star seek out a Chinese director to work on her video... that doesn't happen every day.

By the way, I love Mylène... just in case it's not clear.  She's one of my favorite performers.

November 20, 2010

Succulent turkey and runny cheese

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It's that time of the year again, and some of us gathered at the Dyson residence for another feast.  Grandma Dyson had recently returned from a prolonged absence, and we were all happy to see her once again take charge of the kitchen.

Of course I didn't put in any effort in the preparation and cooking... although I suppose I could have shown up earlier to help prep the salads or something.  Next time...  I showed up a little bit before the turkey was brought out, just in time for Dyson 1000 to start clamoring for the big bird as she got hungry.  She waited by the table, arm stretched with a spoon in hand, wondering when she was gonna get her turkey...

Finally Grandma Dyson came to carve the turkey, displaying her expert knife skills.  This was a pretty big bird, which had been immersed in salt water to prep, then injected with collagen by Dr. Elf.  The result?  An amazing turkey.  I only had a couple of slices of the breast, and that had to be the most succulent turkey breast ever.  The gravy was heavenly, as was the onion confit made from more than a dozen onions.  The sweet potatoes, both red and purple, were also lovely.

There was also plenty of kalbi, cooked in a new contraption freshly imported from Korea which apparently announces when things are not being done correctly...  

I was pretty disciplined and didn't eat too much of the savory bits.  I was saving stomach space for what was to come later.  I also went back to my "detox" program and didn't drink any wine...

When it was time for dessert, I took small slices of the pumpkin pie as well as the pecan pie.  The color of the pumpkin pie was dark and brown from the molasses.  Very yummy. The pecan pie had barely enough filling to "glue" all the pieces of pecan together.  The pecans were well-roasted, and I could taste the Scotch that was used.  Of course, the best thing about these pies was the crust... unbelievably yummy.  The number that was quoted as the butter content percentage was staggering...

Much later on in the evening, when most guests have already departed, I broke out the bag that I had carried back from Paris.  Tonight was always going to be the night we indulge in the cheese from Andruoet.  

Cabri Ariégois - this was always going to be the one I looked forward to the most, and I think Froggie felt the same way.  It was so ripe that the top caved in, and it was a lot more runny than what we were used to having at Caprice.  Absolutely awesome.  Nothing better than raw milk goat cheese.

Vacherin-Mont d'Or - this was also lovely... viscous, runny and creamy.  I think everyone really enjoyed it.  I know I loved licking it off my fingers...

Next came the 30-month Comté.  This had warmed up a little over the last few hours and began to "sweat".  But still pretty nice... Salt crystals have formed but there was still some sweetness here.

Finally we get to the Epoisses from Gaugry.  It was definitely ripe enough, and was already pretty elastic and stretchy.  Flavors were really strong here, and there was no escape from that ammonia.

This was a good way to conclude our annual feast.  Now what am I going to do with all that leftover cheese?

November 19, 2010

Spicy French

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An impromptu dinner with friends.  After ruling out the first couple of venues for one reason or another, I suggested we meet at On Lot 10.  Even though I wasn't thinking about it at the time, my subconscious must have been steering me towards this place... since I know there's a little hare waiting for me.

I chatted with David a little before my friends arrived.  He had been reading the recent posts and knows about my misadventures in Burgundy, and even mentioned on Facebook that a certain dish I missed out on in France is on his menu.

I started with some Boudin Basque, which I had gotten a taste of on my first visit.  I could never resist any type of blood sausage, so this was an obvious choice for me.  The sausage was actually a little caramelized and sweet.  I scooped aside the mustard and just concentrated on the sausage itself, although the onsen egg on top wasn't bad.  I was a little surprised by the liberal use of some chili powder on the egg...

The ladies had an extra stuffed conch so I had a chance to taste it.  Kinda weird to have chopped conch meat mixed in with pork and stuffed back into the shell.  There was also liberal use of pepper which made it spicy.

The kitchen sent out some bouillabaisse.  Plenty of yummy flavors here, and I could taste the fennel which I never knew was part of the recipe.  But once again it was a little more spicy than I expected, with some "Indian powder" (so were told by the wait staff...).

Finally, my lièvre à la royale arrived.  My first experience of this dish - a refined version at that - was at Philippe Rochat 2 years ago.  It's game season and the one regret I have about my recent trip to France was that I never got around to having this dish.  Here it was... a big hunk in the middle of the dish made of wild hare, offal and foie gras.  It was heavy.  Not that I didn't expect it, but by this time I had consumed extra portions of food I did not plan for, and I struggled a little to finish the dish.   The penne with shaved Parmesan on the side helped to balance out the dish.

The ladies started us off with a bottle of 1999 Tattinger Comte de Champagne.  I could smell the yeasty nose from across the table, as it was poured into the flutes.  Toasty with a bit of caramel on the nose.  Medium acidity on the palate but finished rather dry.

I knew that I didn't have anything in the office that the ladies would want to drink, so I brought what I thought was the next best thing - a bottle of 2002 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard.  Oops!  This was so... Californian!  I couldn't have found a more "Californian" bottle if I tried.  Nose was really sweet, almost bubble gum-like, with pine needle, a bit of chalk and vanilla.  Very sweet on the palate, which later turned to be hot and orange on the finish.  With additional aeration, coffee and coconut butter notes emerged.  I might as well have been drinking a bottle of Pride Cabernet!  After a week drinking some of the best Burgundy reds, even I couldn't bear to drink much of this wine.  The ladies very politely sipped the wine, and left the remainder of the bottle to me...

Not bad for an impromptu evening, but I'll remember to bring better wine next time...


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