Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fruit and a Chocolate Bunny on Lufthansa

Fruit and a chocolate bunny

Here was dessert on today's Lufthansa flight, which included a little chocolate bunny. Actually, I was very happy have finally gotten some fish for a main course after so many meals of non-stop meat. It isn't pictured here, but I gobbled up the filet of pikeperch today with ease, even if the taste of dijon mustard was a bit strong in those mashed potatoes. Next time we should probably plan to include some runs to the coastal regions of Italy.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dinner on Air Dolomiti

Dinner on Air Dolomiti

Our Lufthansa flight out of Italy today was run by Air Dolomiti, and they gave us these snack boxes for dinner. The sandwich was dry and featured a surprisingly salty piece of cured meat, while the wrapped dessert was reminiscent of a Taiwanese pineapple tart. None of this was anything exciting, but it sure was better than what we ate at Rome airport.

Note to self: if you find yourself at FCO again, head over to the area above the D gates to find that canteen from last time rather than the stuff you were eating today near the B gates. And see if you can get a lounge access pass at the check-in counter, seeing how there don't seem to be any Star Alliance lounges to walk into in this SkyTeam-centric airport.

il Mac di McDonald's Italy

McDonald's Italy's il Mac and a Nastro Azzurro beer

It wasn't my choice to come here, despite being so curious about this stuff during the past week. But we needed a quick bite before getting on the train, and I might as well finally give the il Mac and McItaly a try. As it turned out, the McItaly wasn't available anymore, presumably due to all of the backlash? I thus got this il Mac instead, which turned out to be surprisingly dry...both the bread and beef, with nothing but cheese and tomatoes providing some form of moisture. I literally took three bites and left it.

And yes, that is a beer from McDonald's, a la Vincent Vega. But I was surprised that I couldn't find red wine available given how it almost seems unacceptable in this society to have a meal without it. I noticed a McRoyale Deluxe on the menu though - I can only assume that was the Royale with Cheese that they were referring to. Hamburgers - the cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cantinetta del Nonno, San Casciano Val di Pesa

Arista

This cozy trattoria was nearby while we were out in the countryside tonight (Via IV Novembre 18, 055-820570). We made sure to grab a number of local Tuscan dishes, such as this arista roast pork, which was sliced so thinly that it was a bit like Japanese chashu, except that it was seasoned with rosemary and white wine for extra aroma. We also got some pici, which is a thicker version of spaghetti that they did in a surprisingly spicy sauce and also in a surprisingly firm texture.

It was also very relieving after so many heavy meals to get a fava bean soup that wasn't as mushy as bread-thickened ribolitta. Its taste and texture was a bit reminiscent of split pea soup, but topped with olive oil drizzled in the shape of a "C," which is a common practice in these parts. And yes, of course it was Chianti wine that went with that fava bean soup; Hannibal Lecter would have been proud. After all of this meat in the past week or two though, I'm really going to need some fish soon, and that isn't likely to happen while we are inland.

A Picnic Lunch at our Tuscan Villa

Our picnic lunch

Taking it easy in the countryside today, we grabbed a few quick items from the local market for a picnic lunch out on the patio of our villa. And of course such a simple meal was also one of the most delicious, especially on such a nice day. After all, how could one go wrong with wine, olives, and ham? I love this local pecorino stagionato sheep's milk cheese too.

The only thing that I still can't quite get into is the unsalted bread used around here; it just tastes so hollow (unless of course if it's been toasted, rubbed with garlic, and topped with tomatoes and olive oil). In that sense, I'm glad that I grabbed a baguette to go along with this meal instead. Either way, this was a much needed (and refreshing) break from all of the huge meals that we've been eating over the past week.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Antica Macelleria Cecchini, Panzano in Chianti

Pinzimonio di verdure dell'orto

Now that was truly a local experience that we won't forget. We weren't even planning to come here at first. But this morning it dawned on me that Bourdain did an episode in Tuscany a while back, and after some digging around, I realized that he went to see this famous butcher in a very small town called Panzano in Chianti. We were going to be out in the area anyway, so we decided to come here for a Sunday brunch after a long drive through wine country (Via Venti Luglio 2, 055-852020…and Google Maps was wrong at the time of writing, BTW. If it helps, the GPS coordinates should be 43.54457°N by 11.31641°E).

The glob on the right is the beef sushiDario the butcher himself greeted us with a big smile and handshake before opening a secret door in the back of his shop to one of his restaurants above it. We got seated at a long table with a bunch of locals, and suddenly food started coming out, with grilled meat being doled out like a Brazilian churrascaria until you told them to stop. I particularly liked his beef "sushi," which was actually seared rather than being completely raw, but chopped up to be super tender. The requisite bistecca fiorentina was also of much better quality than those that I got back in Florence. Perhaps the most interesting was the cup of lardo di colonnata, or cured pork lard that one smeared onto a baked potato. Contrary to how it might sound, it didn't taste heavily of pork nor lard, but definitely provided a richness that explains why he calls it burro del chianti, or Chianti butter.

This seemingly endless Officina della Bistecca feast for €50 (US$67) wasn't just about food; one got copious amounts of his Chianti wine of course, not to mention post-meal liqueurs like grappa, sambuca, brandy, or an herbal one that tasted a bit like Ibizan Herbias (most diners appeared to be from the town itself and thus were fortunate to be able to stumble home rather than having to stay sober enough to drive out). More than anything though, everyone was so friendly that it was like being with a big family; Dario and several others in his team came to chat with every single diner, even if our lack of Italian reduced our conversations to some simple smiling, grunting, and belly rubbing gestures. He runs other adjacent dining halls that serve cheaper €10 and €20 sets (US$13 and $27), but it depends on the day of the week. Either way, we absolutely loved it, and have eaten so much that we can easily skip dinner now.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Disappointing Bistecca Rendition

Bistecca alla Fiorentina and Spinaci

Given that we are heading out of Florence tomorrow, I figured that I should get another bistecca alla fiorentina in the hopes that it would be of better quality than the one I got last time. Conveniently enough, pretty much every restaurant in this town offers it, so I ordered it from a friendly little neighborhood shop whose menu was very short with reasonable prices. Unfortunately, I was let down. Not only was this one even more difficult to cut, it lacked the aroma that at least helped me forget about the toughness of the meat the other day.

Then again, we will probably still have opportunities to get this out in the Tuscan countryside, regardless if it's in Florence itself or not. I'll need to watch the cholesterol count though; the chicken liver crostini (plus the taster of spaghetti alla carbonara) that I got along with this no doubt just blew my numbers off the charts. Let's hope that all of the olive oil and wine on the side at least helps partially reduce the blow.

Da Nerbone at Florence's Mercato Centrale

Lampredotto

That was awesome. We didn't get a chance to check out these lampredotto tripe sandwiches when we were at the market yesterday, so we finally came down here today to stand 292 in the southeastern corner of the market (055-219-949). Tripe might not sound very appetizing to some people, but one dose of that red piccante sauce extinguishes all hesitation. It was almost like a Mexican salsa, and it just lit the thing up - both in terms of heat and fragrance (you could put that stuff on dog food and it would make it taste good). But the tripe was very tender and tasty on its own, easily making this one of the most memorable things I've eaten on this trip thus far.

Pappardelle al Cinghiale

Actually, they had a lot of other local specialities available today, ranging from artichoke to spinach and even some beef sandwiches whose bread got dipped in its moist juices, similar to French Dip sandwiches in Los Angeles (or Italian Beef in Chicago, which I assume to have no direct relation to these despite the name). We didn't try any of those, but we once again ordered some wild boar pappardelle to see if this shop's version would fare any better than stuff from the past two days. And it did; there was hardly any tomato while the meat was a bit more tender (and the cheese helped provide a lot of richness). Good stuff - the energy and lack of space to eat around this stall made this all the more a unique local experience.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Antica Trattoria da Tito Dal 1913, Florence

Segato di Carcofi Crudi con Grana

As much as I love artichoke, I've never had it raw before. So when this little shop (Via San Gallo 112, 472-475) was offering it on their antipasti menu, I sprung for it just to see what it was like. It turned out to be very thinly shredded, a bit firm, and "greeny" in a Thai papaya salad kind of way. But of course it was seasoned in the usual Italian fashion with nothing but olive oil, salt, and a few shavings of cheese on top, making it delicious.

We grabbed a few other items tonight, including ribollita, a Florentine adaptation of minestrone but mixed together with bread and beans to form a thick mushy paste-like thing rather than soup. I loved how rich it was, especially when assisted by a few bits of fatty bacon inside. I also got something called a franchesina, which was described as a beef stew. If I understood it correctly, this was an old Tuscan dish that basically cooks leftover beef with a bit of tomato and onion. It pretty much tasted like that too.

And with a reference point now available in our heads from last night, we ordered the wild boar pappardelle just to see if it were any different here. They used less tomatoes, thus avoiding the Bolognese sauce comparison. But boar meat just wasn't as exciting as I had imagined it to be. Well, that's just what I get for letting it get carried away in my head; the dish on its own was still fine otherwise.

McDonald's Italy's il Mac

McDonalds il Mac

This just gets weirder and weirder. McDonald's Italy apparently relaunched the so-called il Mac today. And from what I could see, it was separate from the McItaly and the Big Mac. I still did not go in to try one (it just seems like such a waste of a meal opportunity to spend it at McDonalds), but I am very curious, especially in a country where fresh local ingredients are so treasured. Incidentally, restaurants here need to put an asterisk next to any dish on their menu that is made from frozen items - I wish we had that law in other countries.

Florence's San Lorenzo Central Market

Everything from mushrooms to olive oil

Yep - it's market time again, with today's excursion being the result of our cooking class chef taking us out to procure products for today's lesson. Pictured here was a shop providing us with a tasting session of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, some of which were aged 20 years. We also nearly fainted when we smelled the amazing fragrance of dried porcini mushrooms on sale outside.

Attention all K-Mart Shoppers.  There is a blue light special now on all Porky Pig products.

We were told that Italians eat every part of the animal, so this head was on display together with a wide selection of other body parts like penis, testicles, and lungs. Rooster carcasses complete with their combs still on their heads were available too. Of course cured meat was also on sale at other stalls, hanging in all of their glory. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see cross-sections on display in the back.

My version of a Tiffany store

And oh yeah - we learned a number of interesting things during class, like how a proper bruschetta should use sliced tomatoes and have the garlic rubbed on, whereas many restaurants dice their tomatoes in advance for ease of production. Household refrigerators are also very small here since everyone goes to the market every day to buy fresh ingredients rather than storing it over time. Either way, the four course meal we had was delicious - and so huge that we couldn't finish.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Il Giardino di Barbano, Florence, Italy

Finocchiona e carcofi

After finally getting out of Rome for a change in pace, we got into Florence tonight and popped on down to this shop for a quick and cheap but properly local meal (Piazza della Indipendenza 3, 486-752). It didn't look too encouraging from the outside: it almost seemed like a Denny's meets Domino's Pizza counter when I first saw it, complete with American diner booth seating and paper placemats with the menus printed on them. Fortunately, this didn't really have an impact on the food, which turned out to be very enjoyable.

We got a full selection of Florentine specialities, including the cuts of finocchiona sausage above to the requisite bistecca alla fiorentina below with some local white beans on the side. They were all just as good as they looked, if not better. The steak after all was my ultimate objective given how it featured a unique local breed, and I loved the aroma emanating from that seared fatty meat seasoned with nothing but just olive oil and salt. Oddly, it almost reminded me of Morton's meets Original Joe's, but arguably with an even better taste.

Bistecca alla fiorentina and fagioli

The only thing that I was let down with was the pappardelle al cinghiale, another local speciality that we had to get. It wasn't anything bad, but the wild boar meat really didn't taste like anything that special; if anything, the tomato base just made it seem a bit like Bolognese sauce. And frankly the steak here was a bit difficult to cut as well, so I'm assuming that other shops around here might do it a bit differently. But this place was definitely an affordable, friendly, and fast way of getting us started on the Tuscan leg of our journey.

Pastificio on Via Della Croce, Rome

The 1 PM product tasting inclusive of one cup, one fork, and one napkin.  Free water and one glass of booze

Now that was my kind of treasured find. We noticed this pasta shop a few days back (Via Della Croce 8) with a chalkboard written in Italian suggesting some kind of a tasting session for €4 (US$5), but we couldn't quite figure out what the rest of it said aside from something about 1 PM. Today we incidentally happened to pop down here at 12:50 PM and found a bunch of people sitting around as if they were waiting for something. Then, exactly ten minutes later, we found out why.

A guy from the back of the pasta shop came out with a huge tray of cooked pasta, and suddenly everyone got up and formed a line. He went back and got another tray of gnocchi while he was at it, and then he started serving your choice on plastic plates. The tomato sauce-based gnocchi was fine, but the noodles were fantastic thanks to that freshly ground black pepper and bits of pork littered throughout it. It definitely was not for anyone with an aversion toward a heavy swine fat taste, but I gobbled it up with pleasure. Locals clearly knew the routine enough to check out what he was selling today and relaying it to their friends - the tray of noodles sold out within the first 15 minutes.

So what was it that was written on that chalkboard? After a quick check on Google Translate, it looks like it was indeed a product tasting at 1 PM. But the funny thing is that it went so far as to explicitly state that it included one cup, fork, and napkin, which they handed out in little plastic cutlery sets. And the best part? In addition to free water, it included wine. One simply helped himself to a flask up at the front and poured it into that aforementioned plastic cup. Gotta love it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spaghetteria L'Archetto, Rome, Italy

Spaghetti and Chicory

One thing to remember about eating in Italy is that - contrary to common practice outside of the country - pasta is not a meal on its own. If anything, pasta is only the first of at least two courses in a proper meal, and hence portions tend to be fairly small before one gets his second course of meat, fish, etc. Thus, it was rather surprising to come across this place (Via dell' Archetto 26, 678-9064), which focuses on pasta and pizza. Sure, they had a very short list of second courses on the menu if you so wished, but they paled in comparison to the pages upon pages of spaghetti preparations available.

In fact, it was only spaghetti rather than any other types of pasta. Not that I minded - they cooked these noodles to such a perfectly firm texture that I could care less about the shape. The version pictured here was nice and fragrant thanks to the white wine, mushrooms, and cheese that they used. I liked the very well balanced taste of oil in the aglio olio e pepperoncino too. The desserts were a bit peculiar given that they were pulled out of a freezer in packaged form, but overall prices here were low and it did the job.

Ristorante Piperno, Rome, Italy

Insalata di Pomodori

The photo above might not be anything too exciting (it was just a simple salad of sliced tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and basil after all), but we came here because it has been around for over 100 years (Monte de Cenci 9, 6880-6629). We already had our fill of artichokes the other day, so today we focused on zucchini blossoms instead, another seasonal item that this Jewish restaurant specialized in.

They were coated in a lot more batter than I was expecting, thus reminding me a bit of (forgive me for saying this) jalapeño poppers given their deep-fried cylindrical appearance and melted cheese inside. The taste of course was significantly different though, especially with anchovies rather than the heat of a pepper to give it a pungent edge. I’m glad I tried it, but I'd probably like it more if there were just a bit less batter.

Well, I definitely liked the rich and fresh ravioli that we got here, as well as the Roman tripe, which was a bit salty but done to a very tender state in a tomato and wine sauce. The antipasto spread near the front door looked interesting too, even if we didn't get a chance to try them. But prices were a bit high - I suppose that somebody has to pay for those white tuxedos and table linens.

A Few Sights from the Streets of Rome

McItaly Poster

Here were a few random sights from Rome today, the first of which is a poster for a McItaly sandwich featuring local ingredients like olive oil, artichoke, and Asiago cheese. No, I didn't go to McDonald's to eat, but it was interesting given that the invasion of McDonald's into Italy years ago was what spawned the Slow Food movement. I read that this McItaly thing has become a bit controversial given that it was done in conjunction with the government in an effort to try to support local farmers; its opponents would argue that it supports big corporate P&Ls too.

All My Favorite Things

This was something placed outside what I assumed was a restaurant catering to tourists given that it was just a minute away from the Pantheon. We didn't eat at this place either, but I just liked looking at it given how it contains all of the stuff that I like to eat.

Tomatoes for Sale

And finally, here was a shot from the Campo 'de Fiori. All sorts of local produce were on display at various stands, including artichoke, tomatoes, and oranges, not to mention a couple of spice vendors and even a guy selling truffles. It was a small market, but nonetheless always fun to see what kind of local goods are on sale at these sorts of things.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Ristorante Re Degli Amici, Rome

Saltimbocca alla Romana

I'm trying to eat as many things unique to this part of Italy while we're still in Rome. So when we came here tonight (Via della Croce 33, 795-380), I ordered saltimbocca, a local veal and prosciutto dish cooked in butter. It was smaller than I was expecting, but then again, I hardly know this stuff. These thin cuts of veal were so tender and tasty that I wolfed this down pretty easily, even if it was a touch salty and sour. I was also delighted with that plate of mildly spicy chicory that I got along with it, as well as of course the €4 (US$5) carafe of house wine. I could get used to this.

Pizzeria al Leoncino, Rome, Italy

Fagioli

One can already deduce from the name that these guys specialized in Roman wood-fired pizza (Via del Leoncino 28, 687-6306). But what made this place kinda cool was that it was very informal and friendly, and with a very short menu consisting of not much more than pizza and a few random things on the side, like this plate of white beans. It came out of the kitchen very quickly along with a giant bottle of olive oil and a pepper mill, not to mention a little €5 (US$7) carafe of house wine.

Pizza Capricciosa

When we asked for a recommendation on a pizza selection, they suggested the capricciosa, which not only came out unsliced, but also interestingly came with entire olives thrown on top, complete with pits. Not that I minded that - in fact, I was going to see how I could score a plate of olives already. And sure, this round thin-crusted pizza got a little soggy in the middle with all of the ingredients weighing in, but it was fresh and had a dough that I actually wanted to eat more of. That was fun, and the best part was that there was hardly a tourist in sight.

A Roman Breakfast at a Random Cafe

Cream Pastry and Cappucino

Here was my breakfast this morning at a random pastry cafe-type place commonly seen across Rome. Standing at the bar, I got that cream-filled pastry in the back along with a cappucino. I normally don't drink coffee (nor eat pastries), but hey - when in Rome, right?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ristorante Matricianella, Rome, Italy

Tagliolini al Tartufo

At long last. After having frustratingly missed artichoke season on past visits to Rome, we were finally here at the right time of the year. We came down to this cozy place (Via del Leone 4, 683-2100) for a taste without having to head all the way down to the Jewish Ghetto. We kicked off the meal with a couple of pasta dishes, including the obligatory Roman bucatini all'amatriciana, whose thick noodles were pleasantly firm (a welcome relief from that tourist trap earlier today), as well as the truffle-laden tagliolini above, the latter of which was surprisingly affordable at only €15 (US$20).

Carcofi alla Romana

Next came the artichokes that we were really after. We got both the Roman and Jewish versions, the first of which had this tremendously long stem that was braised into such a delicate state that it was a delight to divide up and consume. A couple of the leaves on the outside were still a bit tough, but this was good enough to devour quickly, despite it being a bit loaded up on olive oil and salt.

Carciofi alla Giudia

Actually, what was probably more oily and salty was the Jewish alla giudia version, which was smashed flat and deep fried. The resulting crispy leaves tasted a bit like potato chips, all while still carrying a bit of that natural sweet artichoke aftertaste. But the heart was a bit too firm to really enjoy - thus being the exact opposite of the Roman version. This was definitely the more unique version out of the two, especially given how it looked like something out of Aliens.

Meat Tortellini from a Tourist Trap in Rome

Meat Tortellini

Ugh - we weren't planning to come here. But we needed a quick pitstop after getting into Rome, and this little wine bar's lunch special of bruschetta, pasta, wine, and water sounded like a good deal. But the pasta was surprisingly overcooked. I'm not sure if this was a mistake, or if it was simply because they knew that most of their customer base was tourists (it was near the base of the Spanish Steps after all). Only later did we realize that we could have gone to a bunch of other shops nearby instead.

Another Cheese Sandwich on Lufthansa

Cheese Sandwich in LH Econ Class

Today's cheese sandwich on Lufthansa's intra-Europe flight was sealed in a plastic bag this time. It was also done with dark bread - and filled with a few radish slices too. That worked for me.

Erdinger Sportsbar, Munich Airport

Flügerl Set

With a three hour layover here in Munich, I was hoping that I might be able to sneak in a quick local Weißwurst breakfast at the Terminal 2 outlet of Hofbräuhaus after clearing immigration today. But at 6:30 AM, that was wishful thinking. The airport information counter told me that I could head down to the third floor to the Erdinger Sportsbar though. Great - and I didn't have to wait until 10 AM in town either.

This Flügerl set included the exact three things I wanted: Weißwurst, Weißbier, and Bretzel. I've gotten a better hang of the skin removal process, although I still haven't quite figured out how to separate the two links from each other without the risk of sending one of those bad boys flying. Fortunately, both of these moist and tender little veal sausages went quickly into my stomach. Next time I'm passing through here, I'll remember to head down to the third floor to grab this before going through security.

Penne on Lufthansa Econ Class

Pasta on LH Econ Class

They were serving the duck with rice again on Lufthansa tonight, so I went for the pasta instead. It was bearable for airplane food, even if it was a bit repetitive with the pasta salad that accompanied it. The little profiteroles were a nice surprise though.

Actually, what was more interesting to me was the surprisingly pleasant experience in Lufthansa economy class. Sure, the seats were still uncomfortable for sleeping on a long haul, but they at least had seatback screens installed, and the abundance of drinks awaiting in the galley through the flight was a nice touch.

I didn't realize that their A340-600's had stairways leading down to a set of lavatories on the cargo deck either; it was great at minimizing the disturbances in the main cabin, and all with the bonus of larger-than-usual bathrooms with automatic faucets to boot.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Go! Go! Curry!, 313@Somerset, Singapore

Pork Katsu Curry Healthy Class

When this chain from Japan first setup shop in Singapore at ION Orchard last year, I didn't really find anything too memorable about it. But I was at the new 313@Somerset shopping center today when I noticed that these guys had opened another shop at the food court (#05-01 Stall 24, 6836-6885), and I figured that I'd give it another try.

Apart from being served on Food Republic-emblazoned gear, today's curry seemed a lot richer than the last one for some reason - and I liked it enough to finish it quickly, even if richer also meant greasier. They were also offering gyoza from Gyoza no Tetsujin, as it was run by the En Group. They were disappointingly soggy though; next time I'll just stick to the curry.

A Japanese Melon from New Zealand

Japanese Melon from New Zealand

Paragon Marketplace in Singapore was selling these Japanese melons today for only S$20 (US$14). They were from New Zealand, and hence might not have looked as perfectly shaped, flawless, and poised on the outside as a pricey one from Japan. But when I sliced it open it smelled pretty good, so I was hoping that this might be a cheaper way of getting the same thing for half of the price.

It turned out that you get what you pay for. It was ripe and juicy (and certainly much better than your everyday honeydew or canteloupe), but just wasn't as delightfully sweet and fragrant as a proper one from Japan. Oh well - I guess that I'll just have to keep my eyes open for half melons rather than half prices.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chicken With Potatoes on SQ

Chicken with Potatoes

Our meal choices were given verbally tonight: "fish with rice" or "chicken with potatoes." The meals were also served on square trays rather than the longer rectangular ones, thus eliminating the possibility of SQ's usual salad, cheese and crackers, and ice cream.

Clearly this was done given the very fast flight here, as there wasn't really much time to eat even this meal. I wasn't exactly expecting the chicken to be covered in barbeque sauce either, but somehow it was still edible enough that I was able to finish it quickly.

I'd be interested in giving LH a try on this leg next time, especially since it doesn't seem like SQ is using those A340s with the Executive Economy class seats to Jakarta anymore anyway.

Baso Malang Oasis, Jakarta Airport

Mie Ayam Baso

On the way to the airport tonight, I started thinking about Indonesian soups (especially since I really didn't get a chance to get street food on this very quick business trip), and how it'd be great to get a bowl before getting on the plane. So I found this little stand outside before going in that was surrounded by locals, and figured that it'd be a good bet, even if folks were approaching me with offers to shine my shoes or sell me a fake watch.

I wasn't quite sure what to order, but this mie ayam baso seemed like the right choice. And the right choice it was. It was already pretty tasty on its own, but then it lit up after I figured out that the brown chili sauce wasn't sweet like the red one was. I wolfed this thing down in seconds, even if the soup was a tad salty and the meatballs disturbingly rubbery. It still hit the spot, and reminded me of those bowls of bakso on Kuta Beach.

Gado-Gado Boplo Ratu, Jakarta

Gado-gado

The first time I had gado-gado was ages ago, and I didn't really like it at the time. It was a disappointingly boring mix of blanched vegetables with some peanut sauce, which wasn't exactly something to get me excited. Then again, that was in Bali, which isn't exactly the right place to get it.

Today in Jakarta though, my colleagues took me to this place for lunch, which I found out later to be a chain restaurant. They ordered the gado-gado for me, which was much better than I remembered it. The peanut sauce wasn't too sweet while the variety of vegetables underneath kept it decently interesting (not to mention guilt-free) for me.

I still don't know what a proper gado-gado is supposed to taste like though. My colleague says that each shop makes it differently, and I really don't have enough experience with this to know the difference (they also said that it was supposed to be spicy, which I would hardly use to describe this mild and creamy concoction). Well, one of these days I'll have to visit a shop that another co-worker of mine recommended - I just didn't have enough time to head there on this trip.

A Bowl of Bubur Ayam from the Hotel

Bubur Ayam

This was one of the few local things that I could find in the hotel breakfast spread. At first it just looked like the usual porridge in a bucket that one scooped out into a bowl and topped off with a few trimmings. But there was another heated container on the side containing a yellow sauce, and I wasn't sure what the deal was.

It was then explained to me that the coconut sauce was meant to be poured on top of the porridge, and then one loads on all of the condiments. One local told me that the chili sauce was the most important - and he loaded his bowl up so much that he pretty much had more condiments than rice. It seemed like that would just be overwhelming, so I kept it easy with my selection.

And I'm glad I did it. Even with the few teasers that I put on my bowl, there was more than enough flavor...so much that when I went for seconds, I went even easier on the toppings. I especially had to avoid that thick dark brown sauce, which provided an awkwardly bitter taste that made the first bowl a bit of a turn-off. But the second bowl without the sauce finally hit the spot, especially with those cool little peanuts. I'm not sure how this hotel version compares to a proper one off the streets, but at least this wasn't from McDonald's.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SQ's Chicken Fried Rice to Jakarta

Chicken Fried Rice

I didn't think we were going to get any food on this 1.5 hour flight - really just because there wasn't enough time. I figured that we would just get a standard issue orange juice - and at best, perhaps the added bonus of a pastry or something. So I was a bit surprised to find them serving full hot meals today, like this "chicken [and] fried rice."

I chose it because I figured that it'd be a tad healthier than all of the eggs in the other choice: a frittata. I was wrong on that though, as the chicken was done with coconut, oil, and sugar. Well, the Southeast Asian taste was fitting given the destination, I suppose. And it sure beats the measly boxed meals that United gave last week on a flight lasting twice as long.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Pan Roasted Chicken on SQ

Pan roasted chicken with mushroom onion sauce, mashed pea, buttered vegetables, and rosemary garlic potatoes

This was the economy class meal on SQ tonight, which featured a surprisingly generous slice of chicken breast. It was also encouraging to see a more bearable meal than the last one from the caterer in Taipei.

Some Kind of Chinese Ham and Tofu Sandwich

Some Chinese Sandwich Thing

Despite what the header says, those brown slices on that plate were not ham, nor were the white ones tofu (nor cheese, if that's what it looks like). The white things were steamed mantou-like buns, which one then split open and inserted the deep-fried-till-brown tofu skins inside.

There was more to it though. Behind it was another plate with some strange red goop that completely covered a bunch of sliced ham. One placed the ham into the aforementioned sandwich thing and then proceeded to eat it from there, complete with the mildly sweet red sauce oozing out.

I don't know what this is called, but it was my co-workers ordered it at some random restaurant here in Taipei today. Sure, it was a bit of a novelty, but it wasn't anything to get me too excited.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Ning Chi Spicy Tripe Hot Pot, Taipei

Hot Pot

I guess it's difficult to avoid hot pot in Taiwan, eh? Well, I was told that this was perhaps one of the first places in Taipei to start serving this stuff (9 GuangFu South Road Lane 200, 2772-1912). It in fact has developed such a reputation that it spurned a bunch of knock-offs of the same name. We came down to the original, and it was definitely old school: when we got there, the proprietor was sleeping on a makeshift bed using a bunch of chairs placed side by side. It was worth a chuckle, I suppose.

Yeah, this grimey place was basically the complete antithesis of upscale Ding Wang. They featured a giant bucket of sa cha sauce if you wanted it, and the preparation techniques were very crude: the meat was sliced so thickly (and it was of such low quality) that biting into it was like trying to eat a Persian rug. But the broth worked for me. It had such a pleasantly natural hint of sweetness that I had to reach for a few extra scoops.

Actually, one of my colleagues pointed out to me that the thing to eat here was the namesake tripe. And he was right: it was so tender that I didn't even bother with the meat anymore. Perhaps more interesting was the sliced aorta (yes, that's right - the giant artery), which turned out to be tasteless, but texture-wise was a bit like eating cuttlefish. Gross? Perhaps. But it was good to come here just to check it out, even if I really don't plan to come back.

Yi Xian Yuan Restaurant, Taipei

Steamed Fish Set

For some reason, set meals are a huge thing in Taiwan, and yet I've never really had a good experience with them. So when my colleague brought me to this lunch-only place today (11 YiXian Road, Lane 26, 2729-0217), I shrugged and figured that I'd at least give it a try. They specialized in several kinds of fish, so I grabbed this steamed one.

It was fantastic. Wow - this thing was so tender, moist, and lightly seasoned that I couldn't stop talking about how good it was. Indeed, I got so excited that when I rushed to flip it over to get to the meat on the other side, I clumsily splashed so much of the underlying soy sauce and oil onto myself that my tie was completely ruined, not to mention forcing myself to go to my next meeting smelling like fish and grease (smooth move, slick).

Well, it was worth the loss of the tie...and I sure hope that I can get some rush dry cleaning service for my suit at the hotel tonight. I'm definitely coming back next time - my colleague's deep fried pomfret looked promising too.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Easy House Vegetarian Cuisine, Taipei

Some kind of vegetarian fried rice with truffle oil

Chinese vegetarian cuisine isn't exactly something that I yearn for, but a local colleague took me here as someone recommended it to him (51, Alley 4, Ln 345, Renai Rd Sec 4, 2721-8326). It certainly was eccentric: look closely and you might notice tater tots hiding behind that carrot...and those black things in front were not olives, but rather some kind of sweet beans. At least a hint of truffle oil in the rice helped facilitate the ingestion process. And I suppose that it was healthy.

SQ's Oriental Roast Chicken

Oriental Roast Chicken with Chinese Greens and Fragrant Rice

SQ ran out of the fish that I was going to ask for today, so I got stuck with this "Oriental Roast Chicken" instead. The lime juice and garlic-based chili sauce on the side kinda turned this into Singaporean chicken rice, albeit with shiitake mushrooms on the side and a goopy brown sauce underneath. Either way, it sure was better than Friday night's tuna fish sandwich on UA.

And yes, that is George Clooney on the screen in the corner. I've been meaning to watch Up in the Air for quite a while but only got around to it now. It was better than I thought it would be - and my expectations were already pretty high. Then again, my judgment is no doubt skewed by my personal tendency to similarly "profit my mileage account," as his character put it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A UA Snack Box For Dinner

United Dinner Box

Even though I can understand why United gave out snack boxes for breakfast on the way up, I figured that they would at least provide a hot meal for dinner on the way back, especially since the flight to Singapore takes more than three hours. But they still handed out snack boxes - this time with a tuna fish sandwich. Worse, some lousy Matthew McConaughey movie was playing on the center screen. United has been responsible for force feeding me too many of his lame movies over the years.

Salmon from A. Hereford Beefstouw

Grilled Salmon

Yep, I'm back here again grabbing dinner at the airport. I didn't recall seeing salmon on the menu before, so I gave it a try, figuring that it'd at least be healthier than my usual minced beef. It wasn't really anything to get excited about though - it was just grilled salmon in the end. And it wasn't cheap at HK$238 (US$30) either. Note to self: next time, just stick to the beef.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tsui Wah Restaurant, Hong Kong

Mushroom Noodles

After a number of post-work beers tonight, I needed a quick meal to sit in the belly, and this was pretty much the first place I had come across out on the streets. At a quick glance it seemed like any other local eating establishment where I figured I could get some porridge or other local favorites. But it was only when I sat down did I realize that this was a chain restaurant with an odd menu featuring things like angel hair pasta or even what they called Malaysian curry.

This noodle dish - something they considered to be a signature item - was one of the only things that I could find that was more in line with what I wanted. Actually, it was fine - its crunchy noodles and clear goopy topping were pretty much what was needed, especially with that surprisingly spicy chili oil on the side. But next time I'll probably skip past here and try to find a more grimey place instead.