Tag Archives: Eating out

Haphazard poetry, and Pizzeria Mozza

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.
~ Jack Brooks

Waiting for taxis; trains; lights to go green
as sweat forms patterns on your back
and oozes out of you
like rain
escaping from secret clouds

Taking in the sight of people permanently attached to
everyone (so it appears) via phone, laptop, iPad
Always
There is no separation from technology

From noise

And yet – for such a connected city
I have to ask – what is connection here?
There are people who do not connect, REALLY join in mind and heart,
with another human…
For days. Years. Ever?

A link on your wall is not a conversation

Merging into seas of humans in shopping malls is not filling your love tank

As you meander through people jams
as you take in the charm and madness of this place
as you eat – something amazing
as you walk – in permanent summer
as you glance – eyes stunned – by the tall buildings and shiny cars
as you dance – in wonder
as you spend – this country is not a place for the stingy

It is hot, so hot.

There is time, just a little, to think (briefly) –
to sleep (maybe).

The sky is blue and bright – but life is not a holiday
Time waits for no one

Waxing poetic at 1.00am, just ‘cos I can. I can’t believe I’ve already been here in Singapore for a whole week… it’s gone by so quickly!

I’ve had some great meals which I have blog posts written in my head about – but no time as yet to sit down and write them. Today was a day of amazing food (not a difficult thing to achieve in Singapore, I know full well)… and I want to write about it all, but that would make for a terribly long post so I’ll stick to lunch for now: a trip to Pizzeria Mozza with my aunt and cousin. :-)

Initial thoughts upon entering: I want to smile. The place is cosy and elegant. Wine bottles line the walls, cherry tomatoes and other colourful fruits beam at you from the bar and the ovens make you feel right at home. Smiling staff are at once discreet and ready to assist you immediately.

First to arrive at our table: fried squash blossoms with ricotta – the taste and fragrance of spring encased in light batter which, upon meeting my knife and fork, revealed a warm oozing centre of ricotta… a great start which certainly made us eager to sample the other dishes we ordered.

Calamari al forno with fagioli & oregano – not a combination I would’ve dreamed up on my own, but one I will bear in mind now if I were to try cooking calamari at home. Beautiful flavours…

(From my placemat: indeed a sad thing to read)

Listed as “funghi misti, fontina, taleggio & thyme” in the pizza section of the menu, this was simply the best pizza I’ve had in a LONG while. Everything from the way the mushrooms and cheese mingled on my tongue and the delightful traces of garlic which surprised me as I inched closer to the tasty crust… was yum yum yum – perfect!

I love it that they employ a “piatto del giorno” system for their main dishes. Today’s (Friday) was the pork ribs, cooked with fennel, honey and cider vinegar. Very filling, with lots of strong flavours which I imagine I would have enjoyed more in New Zealand right now (winter blues call for richer meals) – but still, a nice dish. I’d definitely be inclined to stick to pizza and starters on a future visit to this place though.

Pizzeria Mozza – 10 Bayfront Avenue, Singapore – Phone: +65 6688 8522

Back to the sunny island

One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Life has been pretty busy lately and I’ve scarcely been in the kitchen. Whenever I have, I have either been relying heavily on the oven (looks a sight, but this roast beef was quite delicious, if I do say so myself)…

… or whipping up quick things like this poached salmon omelette and these mushrooms with cream and truffle oil (it took less than half an hour in all to prep and cook for us three). Mopped up the mushroom juices with crusty sourdough… mmm.

And now it is nearly 1.00am and I am in a singlet and shorts, relishing summer and marvelling at the way a plane ride transports you across time and distance to a totally different world in mere hours. How good pilots and planes are! Yes, here I am in Singapore again, low on sleep but not too low mood-wise. For dinner tonight I met Brandon, friend-of-a-friend passing through Singapore, and we feasted on thosai, prata, chicken biryani, peppered chicken (all for SGD$12.50) and ice-cold beer somewhere in Little India, Singapore. We walked down several alleys and streets before we settled on an eating place, so I am afraid I have no idea where exactly this was.

And this is all I’ll write for now, my laptop is gasping through the last bars of its battery life and I’m too lazy to unearth the plug from the depths of my suitcase. Good night (or morning!)

A few good places

If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.
~ Dag Hammarskjold

Wishing desperately (fruitlessly) for central heating and/or home insulation to become a priority and norm in New Zealand. I’m in Auckland, warm by comparison to other regions – but for some reason I don’t remember ever feeling this weak or encountering such disgusting germs when I lived in other colder cities. Yes, my brain knows it’s not THAT cold… my body has certainly been saying otherwise.

I have been thawing out in four main ways: overly hot showers, brisk walks, a scalding hot water bottle on my lap, and, on occasion, in cafes. I don’t suppose you’ll want to hear about the first three things, so here’s a post on a few places I visited in recent times:

Ironique

Mount Eden is one area which redeems Auckland for me – primarily because of one funky bookshop and Circus Circus (home to a fun atmosphere and my favourite waiter :-P).

I serendipitously discovered Ironique a few months ago – when a friend and I had no luck trying to get a table at two cafes nearby, and had to find somewhere else to go. At Ironique, we found a relaxed, homely place to hang out; friendly staff; lovely food served with a smile and plenty of care. Recently I visited again with my friend Cam, and we were pleasantly surprised with our personalised (and very delicious) hot chocolates! Little things make ALL the difference :-)

Ironique – 448 Mount Eden Road, Mount Eden, Auckland – Phone: 09 623 3450

Zarbo

This place is always busy, and for good reason – a well-stocked gourmet deli with treats for self or friends, fresh cabinet salads and sweets, and a menu with plenty of options. Recently I found one more thing to like about them: the fireplace!

Zarbo – 24 Morrow Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 520 2721

Savour & Devour

I don’t venture to Grey Lynn much, since it’s quite out of the way for me – but when I next go, I’ll be making a second trip to Savour & Devour to do exactly that to their tasty-looking food. When Tracey and I visited, I restricted myself to just having coffee as I was going to lunch shortly afterwards. Loved the heaters and relaxing atmosphere… a place where you can hang out with your friends and little children (I don’t have the latter, but if I did, I would bring them here).

Savour & Devour – 478 Richmond Road, Grey Lynn, Auckland – Phone: 361 2631

Imperial Lane

I had heard so much about Imperial Lane that I almost didn’t want to go… in the way that I don’t like going to places just because everyone goes there. But I’m glad a few people dragged me there in the end, ‘cos it really is a pretty cool space. Downstairs I feel like I’m in a hidden fancy underground garage, and upstairs I feel like I’m in a lively pop-up dining restaurant somewhere rather foreign – except they’re all speaking in English. Yes, those descriptions make little sense… but you know you’re somewhere special when you can’t quite explain the way being there makes you feel good and somehow transports you to somewhere else. Also, their decaf coffee is excellent.

P.S. The picture above is awful and doesn’t do them justice… you’ll just have to go there now to see the place for yourself.

Imperial Lane – 7 Fort Land or 44 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 929 2703

Little & Friday

This place is a pocket of sunshine! Everything from its mint-infused water in jars, jolly animal-shaped table markers, excellent coffee and wonderful display of treats… spells whimsical fun and delicious comfort. Since attending a talk by the super woman who started it all, Kim Evans, I have also increased in respect for her and the passion and toil she has poured into her work, which now brings so many Aucklanders joy! Kim has also written a great cookbook so people can attempt to recreate some of the Little & Friday magic right in their own homes. Fantastic :-)

Little & Friday – 12 Melrose Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8742

Teed St Larder

I’ve never seen this place empty whenever I’ve passed by. My first trip there, though, did not satisfy – I remember dry bread and a waiter who came so many times to ask if we were okay that I began to wave my hands and shake my head whenever he started to hurry over (again).

I’m glad to say that this impression has now been swiftly replaced by a better one. So good was the food on one recent visit that my friends Carmi, Jacqui, Fi, and I all exclaimed in one way or another… my order of “grilled squid, chorizo, avocado, agria, gremolata” left me satisfied and tempted to lick my plate at the end.

Funny thing about the waiters though – on this trip, our waiter was sooo elusive we were all clamouring for his attention in a manner that reminded me, just lightly, about the time in high school when I made the huge mistake of accompanying a friend to see a boy band… and witnessed in horror the sort of boy-band-crazy-teenage-girl behaviour I am not a natural at.

Teed St Larder – 7 Teed Street, Newmarket, Auckland – Phone: 09 524 8406

P.S. Don’t forget…

A peek into GIAPO’s kitchen

Chefs aren’t made in the kitchen.
Chefs are made from something they have deep inside them –
an inner flame that burns brightly… with purpose, curiosity and passion.
In reality, true chefs pursue the creation of something better than yesterday and when they think they got it, they realise they don’t.
~ Gianpaolo Grazioli

A smiling face opens the door, and we walk through to the area behind the counter. I peek into the cosy kitchen and see that it resembles a laboratory – only it is fitted with stove facilities and edible ingredients. A purple cap finds its way to my head. I take in the sight of 24 cracked eggs caught in a bowl, yolks bobbing in the gloopy pool of whites. I smile at the myriad of utensils, pots, bowls, trays and litres of milk that line the shelves and fridge. I stare out the window at the other humans walking to work (and smile knowing that I will join them soon… BUT not just yet).

Slowly, a sense of unfounded familiarity and tingles of exhilaration wiggle through my toes.

I am in GIAPO’S kitchen.

This morning, Giapo is baking brownies to make brownie gelato. Fresh cream is whipped till it tries escaping from the mixer with violent jerks, and leaves in its wake a beautiful mound of butter. No store-bought chocolate is used (he uses fresh butter, choice cocoa powder and cocoa butter). Giapo gives me a sample of cocoa butter to taste – I am a little put off by its name because it sounds like a lotion, but I am struck by the luxurious quality of it, the way it reminds me of an edible bar of creamy soap – creamy but clean and not sticky in any way (“wow!” is what I want to say). In the course of the morning, he also makes a beautiful batch of dulce de leche and the bit I taste fresh from the pot leaves me feeling a little like I am walking on air.

The way everything whirls, mixes and cooks around me reminds me (just slightly) of one of my favourite Disney moments. I am as intrigued by the beautiful brownie-making process as I am by Giapo’s solid understanding of the science behind food/cooking. (The science of food is not yet my forte. I cook and bake by way of a certain random madness, and without an understanding of why ingredients act the way they do).

So I enjoy myself immensely watching the brownie come together, but I can’t shake off this funny feeling that lingers in my mind the whole time I am in the kitchen… until Giapo tells me he’s going to make a chocolate gelato and combine that with the brownie to make brownie gelato.

This is the moment at which everything feels illogical and marvellous all at once. Questions and answers start flying in and out of my head in rapid succession.

WHAT! WHY! I want to say. How does any of this make sense? Does everyone even really see/understand just how much work goes into this? Couldn’t you take more shortcuts? Couldn’t you use less good (and thus costly) ingredients? Why don’t you let supermarkets/stores etc carry your products? Why do you bake brownie from scratch? Why and how do you invent so many new flavours every single week? Why do you do what you do?

I’ve asked some of these questions before. But even as these questions surface in my mind, everything now makes complete sense in my heart. I already know that yes, GIAPO is a business with overhead costs. Yes, there is nothing to stop them from taking a few time and money-saving shortcuts. Yes, they could easily rely on market knowledge and stick to flavours that have been proven to be popular with the masses (rather than take a chance with experimental flavours). Yes, they could arrange for supermarkets and other stores to stock their gelato.

But the way I see it, GIAPO is not your average business. It’s a people-loving business/”Wonka factory”/thought leader/research lab/innovative centre/delicious gelato parlour and more, rolled into one magic entity. I think it’s less about sticking with the proven, or focusing on profits, or abiding by what some would label as “sense”…

The way I interpret it, it’s about the execution of a mission. Loving food and loving you. Fanning that inner flame. Embarking on a quest to experience life by tasting everything. Combining science, art and passion. Holding strong to values and principles in a society that doesn’t do this as much as they should. Pushing boundaries. Following a dream and vision. Having the courage to go where passion says to go. Making something gobsmackingly delicious, just ‘cos. Revolutionalising gelato, food and eating. Taking pride in their work. Having fun along the way.

And, as they say, giving you food that is as it should be – good for you. With a lot of love, commitment, excellent techniques, quality time and ingredients (no shortcuts or artificial content), and a sparkling dose of genius.

It’s taken me two days to write this post, and still I am not sure I have expressed myself adequately. But thank you for reading my clumsy words. If you’re in Auckland, please visit GIAPO and bring everyone you know. If you are not in New Zealand, well, get here. It’s a thoroughly beautiful country. And go to GIAPO.

Grazie mille Giapo, for the lovely privilege of spending an hour with you in your kitchen!

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677

Recently/random

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
~ T. S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

It’s grey and gloomy outside, perfect blogging weather even though I have nothing concrete to blog about today. Being on holiday does that to you sometimes – makes your writing all unfocused and scattered, because there’s so much important stuff to do. Stuff like lazing around in pyjamas, reading books, starting 2012 projects, catching up with favourite people, lying on the grass and watching the sunset, dancing/prancing around, going on long drives, watching movies… you know? It’s hard to focus.

(Alright, I’ll stop rubbing it in for those of you virtuous folk who have already been back at work for a week or two ;-))

So today’s post is going to take the form of “random”. Hope you enjoy it anyway.

Here’s a photo of our dinner the other night, as prepared by my friend Jacqui – whoever knew that pizza without cheese would still taste so good?! Peaches + smoked chicken slices + spinach + mushrooms + capsicums + apricot chutney atop two of those handy pizza bases (3 for $2.99!) made for a rapid (done in 10 minutes!) and good dinner.

A few of my friends here seem to have developed a sudden penchant for bubble tea. Previously, I only visited Hulucat with a certain trio, and quite sporadically at that. We discovered Hulucat’s second branch near the Civic on Tuesday, a very handy location for a post-movie debrief. I’m still undecided as to whether I like bubble tea, but on occasion I find an original or oatmeal milk tea takes my fancy. Hulucat does a fine job with their bubble tea – easy to drink, sweet and customisable (you can request any crazy combination of tea/toppings and have it hot, cold or less sweet). I now skip the pearls though, so as to avoid feeling crazy full afterwards!

And it’s been more than 24 hours since Grace and I went to Giapo… but frankly I find it difficult to forget the gelato we had this time! Grace got a scoop of earl grey tea gelato – I tried it, it was stunning and captured the flavour perfectly – and a scoop of cherry tart. I went for a scoop of the dark chocolate and porcini mushroom, and a scoop of cherry tart too. I was handed a tub containing a velvet dark chocolate dream, and a summery treat with real cherry bits and topped with shortbread crumbs. Very much an indulgence. Very much enjoyed.

In between, I’ve been eating fresh strawberries, greens, eggs, and one rather unhealthy takeaway dinner (which I ate on the porch with my friend R while the clouds turned pink, so that made up for it)…

Hope you are all having a great day, enjoy it – rain, shine or snow… today only comes once.

Hulucat Tea House – 16 Wellesley Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 377 0307

Giapo – 279-291 Queen Street, Auckland – Phone: 09 550 3677

Food Alley

A smiling face is half the meal.
~ Latvian Proverb

Those who know me may know about my not-so-secret tendency to avoid most food courts in New Zealand. Mostly, food courts here bring to mind stale sushi, artificially-flavoured milkshakes, grease-coated chairs and a collection of brightly coloured, mass produced, scary food.

In other words… bad food.

In my mind, bad food has less to do with dirty seats or cheap food than it has to do with authenticity, freshness and a real love of and respect for food (as opposed to a penchant for overeating/eating anything and everything).

I love hawker centre breakfasts in Singapore, for instance – even those open, humid places where stray cats strut around your feet, seats are slick with other people’s sweat and grease, and Singaporeans do this awful, unreasonable quirky thing of using packets of tissue paper to “reserve a table” while they go and get their food (also known in Singapore as “choping” a table… gotta love it).

Anyway, if you successfully navigate all challenges at a good hawker centre, it’s worth it. Everything will be forgiven and forgotten when you get to sink into that $1.50 mug of warm fresh soybean milk (not to be confused with New Zealand soy milk), and stir fried chai tow kway/char kway (rectangular slabs of daikon cake with eggs, garlic, sauce) or $3 plate of mee siam (thin vermicelli in a spicy, sour and sweet broth complete with dried bean curd, boiled egg, tamarind, chives, spring onion and a squeeze of fresh lime juice)… it’s quite difficult to make it sound as good as it is, but you’ll know what I mean if you’ve tried it!

Anyway. When I first heard about Food Alley in Auckland, I was a little skeptical. Warning bells went off in my head as I contemplated stale sushi and brightly coloured sweet and sour pork.

It turns out that I needn’t have dragged my feet so much the first time I went there with my colleague.

Really, it’s the one food court in Auckland that I won’t say no to going to more than once every month. It gets madly busy at lunchtime, and I can quite see why. A rapid lunch for under $12 on a busy day is a great thing; a spicy flavoursome break from salad and sandwiches is similarly good when you want one.

There’re plenty of choices available – think steamed buns filled with pork/chicken/red bean paste; spicy Thai larb gai (minced chicken salad with chilli and citrus – palate cleansing!) and sticky rice; fried Malaysian char kway teow with chicken, seafood or beef; bento boxes; Indonesian fried rice… they have everything you need for a quick dash to Asia, right in the heart of Auckland Central.

You can expect tasty food cooked to a mostly consistent standard on every visit, with perhaps a little more salt, spice and oil than you’re used to. Freshly cooked food (with the number of people who pass through, you can be reasonably sure that you’re not eating stale reheated stuff). Quick service. A few dirty seats and a sticky floor.

In the unlikely event that Food Alley leaves you outraged and disappointed, though, just remember you’re not spending very much for a very generous lunch.

Food Alley – 9-11 Albert Street, Auckland

Touristy thoughts on Ponsonby Road

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
~ Marcus Aurelius

Do you like being on stage? I used to love the stage. Not for public speaking, mind you, but I can still remember how my heart leaped with fearful exhilaration whenever I got to go on stage at school. I FEARED it and I LOVED it. You could be just you on stage, or you could throw on a cloak, pointe shoes, a paper crown and be someone else – and if everyone joined in the fun, you could all go on marvellous adventures together without leaving the room. I can’t even remember what the physical stage looked like now, but I well remember the experience of being on it… pretty crazy how transforming a stage is, considering that physically it is just a simple elevated platform with curtains, lights and stuff like that.

Relating this to travel – jumping on a plane is kind of like jumping on a stage, isn’t it? You’re still you, and you’re still on planet earth – but at the same time, you’re… not you. And earth looks different.

So this evening I thought about travelling and all the things I love about it. The way I feel when I’m travelling. Experiencing different people, a different way of life, different everything. The way priorities seem to straighten themselves out. The way I expect surprises, and get plenty of surprises (some better than others, admittedly). The way you go so far to peer into a face completely different from yours and find, to your surprise, that they smile and cry just like you do; that deep inside humanity is common to everyone. Travelling is AMAZING.

However! While it is certainly fun to tour foreign countries, and I still mean to visit more places in my lifetime – I realise that it can be just as fun to “tour” your own resident city. ‘Cos let’s face it, money doesn’t grow on trees, NZ is pretty gorgeous and NZ is also pretty far away from everywhere else. Also, what’s the point of living in one place, pining for another and missing life altogether in the process?

So today, arriving 30 minutes early for dinner, I wandered down Ponsonby Road like a tourist. I took pictures. I smiled at strangers. I peeked into shop windows. I noticed different things. I asked questions when they popped into my head.

I relished the fact that I’m not ACTUALLY a real tourist, so when I chanced upon 129 Ponsonby Road, I popped in and bought a bag of spinach and ginger zest muesli (some things don’t change :-))

I walked past some pretty cool spots – Auckland is a big tank of mud with gold nuggets hidden inside. You have to trawl through hideous traffic and buildings but then every time you find a place like Milly’s, for instance, you strike gold.

Ponsonby Road has a few gold nuggets.

So, Auckland: I’ve given up trying to stop myself from thinking this is an ugly city. It is what it is. Ugly. But above that, it’s got spunk. It’ll rise to whatever challenge you care to offer it. Over the last 11 months, it’s wrestled bravely with my will to like it. It’s been a big ugly frog, daring me to kiss it so it can show me the prince he really is. It’s charmed me with the likes of stunning weather and occasional great coffee and pretty surrounding beaches and blooming roses and all the rest of it.

Aside from the wonderful people I’ve met here, I’m still not sure that I’ll be sad to leave (if and when that day should come), but until then… I’ll agree to give you a chance, Auckland.

P.S. On dinner: we went out to celebrate my parents’ recent wedding anniversary (what a reason to celebrate!). We all enjoyed our delicious meals and the kind waiters (grazie mille, Gusto Italiano!). The last picture above is a picture of my dinner tonight: oven roasted duck marinaded with herbs, served with red cabbage cooked with orange and sultana, chestnut and potato mash, and a drizzle of balsamic. And yes, it was as good as it sounds… though I can probably attribute it at least in part to the fact that I had to wait a while for my family to arrive (that’s lovely Auckland traffic for you) ;-)

Gusto Italiano – 263 Ponsonby Road, Auckland – Phone: 09 361 1556