Tag Archives: food

One fine croissant, and other stories

Do you know on this one block you can buy croissants in five different places? There’s one store called Bonjour Croissant. It makes me want to go to Paris and open up a store called Hello Toast.
~ Fran Lebowitz, journalist

So many things affect our experience of food. Who cooks. Who serves. Where we eat it, and with whom. How we eat it. Our mood and hunger levels at the time of our meal. What we eat. How it’s cooked (or not cooked).

Eating is seldom straightforward – even though, on the surface, it is a direct attempt to satisfy hunger. Every eating experience is a delicate dance between tens and possibly hundreds of hidden questions, thoughts, factors and functions all going on at the same time.

Good food, though, is a lot simpler to define: good food nourishes us. On many levels, or all at the same time if you’re exceptionally lucky. I’ll leave “good eating” for another post, shall I, so this doesn’t become a book stuffed into a blog post?

The topic of “good food” has been on my mind a lot this year, mostly in between dreams, plane rides and everything else. Travelling definitely makes me think about good food a lot. From the time you get on the plane, depending on the airline you’re with – you could be very thankful or very revolted looking at that box of stuff that’s meant to tide you over till you land! And, once at your destination, depending on a range of things like budget, availability, who you’re with and whether you’re the kind to dine in style or in hiding when alone – there’s a whole range of possibilities for meals that are different from and better than (you hope) the options at home. If you have dietary needs, then that adds a layer of stuff to consider and all your options under further examination, too.

I flew to sunny Nelson this last weekend – just a bumpy 30-minute plane ride away from Wellington. My belly was surprisingly unresponsive; I subsisted on three meals over two days despite my best attempts to make myself hungry. (Admittedly, one of the meals was had at none other than Burger King since there was nothing else close by and open, and my mind was too engrossed in work to travel much further in search of food).

But something unexpected did happen to me belly-and-food-brain-wise in Nelson; I was surprised by a croissant.

I had just returned to Nelson city from the airport on Saturday afternoon, slightly miffed that flights to Wellington had been disrupted and I was ‘trapped’ for an additional day in Nelson with a lack of clean clothes. This was probably the only moment in Nelson where I was suddenly attacked by hunger pangs… so I googled a place I had walked past the day before to check their opening hours and find their address, and promptly headed to The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – about half an hour before they closed.

As luck would have it, the only likely lunch options left were whole loaves of bread, or a solo croissant sitting in the cabinet. I wasn’t really in the mood for pastry, though this one was very pretty with its brie and chutney stuffing. And alas, this didn’t look nearly capable of killing off Hungry Monster, which was by now causing my belly some distress. Still, the lady there was so nice that before I thought about what I was saying, I bought it and hurried back to the place I was staying at (after casting a longing look at the pretty items on their shelves which I had to leave there since I had no space in my carry-on to bring anything home).

I warmed it slightly in the microwave, took out a pen to keep working and popped a corner of the warm, oozing croissant into my mouth. I thought I’d do the whole eat-and-work thing which I profess to hate but do anyway so as not to disrupt the crucial flow.

Well, I had to hit pause on work because this croissant was too good to be true.

Perhaps I was just overly hungry and everyone knows that food tastes better when you’re hungry… but I’m pretty sure this is one of the yummiest bakery items I’ve eaten in New Zealand. And NZ has a lot of very talented bakers around. But it’s hard to get everything perfect – a croissant, for instance, can be just a little too flaky (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too soft (meh); or too full of stuffing (so everything falls on you or on the plate); or too salty; or too floury… or something. Not that I can be bothered being so fussy ;-) …… and this croissant was PERFECT. Flaky, without raining flakes on me. Soft, without being limp. Melting cheese. Perfect chutney. Fresh, savoury, flavourful. Yummy! I really enjoyed it. It killed off Hungry Monster, too.

And while it contained neither meat nor veg it really nourished me – sustaining me through an inspirational afternoon at the The World of WearableArt and Classic Cars Museum. :-)

P.S. Not too difficult to see why Lonely Planet put in a good word for them, too!

The Swedish Bakery & Cafe – 54 Bridge Street, Nelson – Phone: 03 546 8685

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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!)

Pine Harbour Fresh Market

The Eskimo has fifty-names for snow because it is important to them; there ought to be as many for love.
~ Margaret Atwood

When you love travel and can’t do it all the time, you find ways to ‘cheat-travel’. Language books, foreign films, exotic foods – there are lots of ways these days to make the world your oyster, wherever you are.

I do it whenever I can. Did some mini cheat-travelling via Pine Harbour Fresh Market today… such a treat :-)

Below is my rough guide to/notes from the (délicieux!) market:

  • Leave ugly city behind for fresh air, delicious stands and smiling faces…

  • Join the flurry of people eagerly pouncing on the croissants, brioches, pastries, breads and other delights. Note: if you want some, be quick.

  • Really. Don’t be shy. Minutes after I photographed these fragrant loaves, they were gone… to happy hands (and I suspect, by now, happy bellies). I was not one of them… boo.

  • While we’re on the subject of bread, I’ll tell you what goes superbly well with bread (especially the crusty kind) – this chicken and duck liver parfait. Handmade by two French men and a dream on crusty bread. $5 per tub.

  • As your eyes and nose take in the sights and smells, your ears and feet will be dancing to music by Edith Piaf et al – interspersed, wonderfully, with tunes from this man! (though he may not be there on non-Bastille-Day Saturdays)

  • If you like something very sweet (I do once in a while), pick up a box of lovely baklava – otherwise known in my books as a flaky, nutty, honeyed song for smiles.

  • If baklava isn’t quite your thing, perhaps some dips will satisfy? Tried three and liked them all – finally settled on a light and creamy tub of cow’s feta + garlic + mint… already thinking of ways to use it up. Yum!

  • Got around to the task of buying breakfast after gawking at various stalls. With tempting menus for both galettes and crêpes, we had some difficulty choosing a flavour but finally settled on lemon and sugar. Lovely to listen to the crêpe chefs speaking in French whilst waiting for our crêpes!

  • If I were to become vegetarian, it would be on the condition that my vege supply came solely from farmers’ markets. Most farmers’ market vegetables I’ve ever laid eyes on are so vibrant and beautiful – and it is such a delight to chat with the farmers and/or sellers whilst shopping for them. We picked up some salad leaves with edible flowers and the very nice man gave us a Jerusalem artichoke to try too (since I said I’d never tried one). Really tempted by the carrots, but we already had one very full bag of goodies by then!

  • After an oh-so-tough morning of shopping and waiting in line for breakfast, you may want to eat while looking at this (we did)…

  • Perhaps pick up some flowers on your way home?

P.S. If you observe Bastille DayBon le quatorze juillet, I hope you had a good one!

Pine Harbour Fresh Market – Jack Lachlan Drive, Pine Harbour, Auckland – open Saturday mornings, 8.00am – 12.00pm

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…

Enter the draw: Groupon voucher giveaway

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air…
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Winter today feels like a long, everlasting tunnel… or perhaps it is the cold that has decided to take up temporary residence in my body. :-( Oh! It is gloooooomy being sick.

BUT… I am not here to tell you about my cold. Perhaps we all need a spot of sunshine, especially in NZ! In light of that, I have one NZD$50 voucher from the lovely team at Groupon NZ to give away. Groupon is a great initiative – lots of things to see, buy, do, EAT – for less than you would usually need to spend. ‘Nuff said, right? (More info about Groupon here).

To enter the draw to win:

  • Put on your artist hat.
  • Sketch or take a photograph to the theme of “scrumptious” (if you choose to draw: paper + scan or computer versions are both welcome – even Paintbrush doodles, see my crazy mousework above!)
  • Please resize it so that it’s not wider than 500px wide.
  • Email it to me by Wednesday, 4 July – 9.00pm (NZ time). Replace [at] with @.

This is open to all New Zealand residents or people who wish to purchase a gift for a NZ-based person. I’ll email the winner, post the entries here with a link to your blog/website if you have one – and announce the winner shortly after the closing date.

And that’s all! I look forward to receiving your entries :-)

Hot food in hot places

All journeys have secret destinations of which the travel[l]er is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sweat in Singapore feels like a second skin, and powerful air conditioners are put to work in most buildings and vehicles to provide welcome relief to drenched humans.

There is something to be said for eating hot food in hot conditions, though – it’s magic. Somehow everything is tastier and more fragrant, and the experience of eating (spicy foods in particular) is heightened as you feel your clothes sticking to your back, sweat hugging your neck and embracing your legs… there’s something true to life about that, you know? It makes me fall in love with the function of eating and with the absolute miracle of being able to taste, smell, hear, touch and see. I enjoy eating ice cream in winter for similar reasons – it makes me feel awake and alive. You may be raising your eyebrows at your screen as you read this, but seriously, try it if you haven’t!

One experience I really love in Singapore is the hawker centre/kopi tiam* (coffee shop – “kopi” meaning coffee and “tiam” meaning shop, in a Chinese dialect) experience. The hawker centre/kopi tiam is no place to wear suits or heels or translucent tops (lest excessive sweat get in the way of keeping yourself modest and your expensive clothes clean) – but it’s a brilliant place to tease your senses and eat delicious food for not very much $$ at all. A meal will likely cost less than SGD$10 in most hawker centres/kopi tiams.

Here is a breakfast tradition that’s been revived in recent years – kaya toast and a cup of hot kopi. Kaya is the jam of my childhood – a sweet concoction infused with the wonderful flavours of pandan and coconut… and I could do a whole post about various ways of having your kopi – the unwritten kopi tiam coffee menu is way more extensive than Starbucks’s! My aunt and I enjoyed this breakfast the other day at a kopi tiam in East Coast:

Though Singapore be a tiny place, there remain many areas which I have never explored – Geylang being one of them! So Paul took me for a lovely bak kut teh lunch at Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh near Lorong 11 in Geylang. Bak kut teh is this heady, aromatic soup infused with the flavours of pork, garlic and peppercorn… for me, it spells warmth and comfort. Peppery soup, pork with dark soya sauce, rice… mmmm! This version came with sheets of dried beancurd skin.

This mee rebus and char siew hor fun came from a hawker centre in Yew Tee – much as I detest food in plastic packaging for environmental and health reasons, seeing that familiar plastic-encased food bundle still causes a sense of nostalgia to ripple through me…

Tau sar pau (red bean paste buns) – still something lovely about biting into warm and fluffy pau dough and finding sweet red bean paste in the middle! It’s a sort of delicate, understated sweetness I miss when in New Zealand (where sweetness derived from the likes of fruit, cake and chocolate is more common).

Here (Rochor Original Beancurd – 2 Short Street, Singapore), Paul, Mich and I had bowls of impossibly silky and refreshing tau huay (otherwise known as dou hua, tau fu fa or tofu pudding – silky tofu served with a clear sweet syrup, though there are other variations available). A perfect light finish, especially after a rather heavy dinner! I really wouldn’t recommend the soy milk here, though…

And finally – this is a place with glorious mee pokJalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok (The Art of Mee Pok Pte Ltd) (308 Bedok Road, Bedok Shopping Centre). Mee pok is a tasty Singaporean staple composed of springy noodles, toppings like fish balls or minced pork and a flavoursome sauce with elements like chilli and vinegar. Not a dish you’d pick for high nutritional value, but one I always have at least once whenever I visit this part of the world!

Delicious Hakka yong tau foo (a medley of tofu, vegetables, etc) and greens with fried shallots from an adjacent stall were wonderful side dishes we enjoyed with the excellent mee pok :-)

The question I’ve most frequently had to answer on this trip is “what do you want to eat?” (yeah, such a hard life, huh?)… the question which has then prompted conversations and visits to places all around Singapore in search of the perfect [insert dish name here]. Ahh… I could get used to this holiday ;-)

And on that note, it amuses me that though many hawker centres and kopi tiams may sell similar fare, I have rarely encountered a Singaporean who does not hold strong opinions about which one sells the BEST [insert local dish here], or a Singaporean who will not endure torturous traffic jams/public transport at peak hours just to get to their favourite food places…

Such a culture of food worship!