Saturday, December 14, 2013

’Twas the night before Christmas

I USED TO BELIEVE IN SANTA. Christmas was the most magical time of the year. My parents made sure of that as they covertly prepared for Santa to arrive and leave gifts for us.
   By early December, the anticipation of the imminent arrival of Santa Claus would start building. Mum would put up a modest tree and I was enchanted by the home-made decorations and baubles. Later on I would take over this role and we always used a tree with twisted wire over green bristles. I would make some of the decorations and the treasured boxes of painted baubles, snowflakes and angels would be unwrapped again. The tree would be topped with a star and lit with wondrous flickering lights. I couldn’t wait for it to get dark so the lights could be turned on and I would sit on the rattan chair and take in this whole magical tableau.
   The Carmelite nuns would present the family a Nativity crib and that would be placed under the tree. The nuns would create the scene from cut-out Christmas cards. The crib would be thatched and the scene completed with straw in the manger where the baby Jesus lay.
   The anticipation would get too much and I would hang up my stocking (a woven rattan bag or a batik sarong hooked up against the door knob of my bedroom door. I would examine the stocking at various times to see if Santa had come for a reconnoitre. Mum and Dad kept on telling me not to be over-anxious, I would scare Santa away.

YES, I WAS SO EXCITED ON CHRISTMAS EVE! I was told to go to bed early as we had a big day ahead in the morning. Mum and Dad would get ready to go to Midnight Mass. I would climb into bed under the mosquito net. Mum and Dad had left the bedroom door open and through the mosquito net, I could see the lights on the Christmas tree flickering away as I tried to count how many phases it went through.
   Mum and Dad made sure that I knew they had left out a glass of beer (for Santa) and milk (for the reindeer). As I drifted into Christmas slumberland, I could hear faint scrapping outside. I was too nervous to get up and peek out the window as  didn’t wish to scare the reindeer crew away and miss out on Christmas presents. I found out later it was Dad who would brush the rough bristles of the big broom over the rough concrete.

’Twas the Night Before Christmas
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And mamma in her kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter's nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name...

and so the poem by Clement Clarke Moore continues.
IT WAS LIKE AWAKENING from the best childhood dream. It’s barely half past five on Christmas morning and I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The Christmas tree lights were still flickering. I could make out my covering mosquito net looked different! I gazed up and there it was, Christmas presents and toys hanging from the mosquito net.
   I would yelp with delight and started calling out to Mum and Dad, “Santa has been! Santa has been!” Mum and Dad would come rushing in, and shared in my excitement, though I’m sure they would have preferred some more kip as they returned from Midnight Mass just before 2am.
  I would take in the wonderland I was in and instead of tearing down the mosquito net, I unhooked each toy one by one, excited and happy beyond belief. I didn’t want Mum and Dad to help, I wanted to savour the moment. My parents just watched me, they had given their son the best Christmas ever, until the next Christmas of course, until one of my older cousins told me that Santa didn’t exist. Childhood innocence died that fateful day.
   But there’s more, the stocking sarong hanging on the doorknob was filled with presents as well, chocolates and confectionary that couldn’t be hung up inside the mosquito net.
   Mum and Dad would indulge me as I darted from door to under the mosquito net. I began to take in all the gifts I had been given and I didn’t want that moment to end, ever.
   Of course no scene would be complete without confirming the fact Santa and his team of reindeer had been. The beer glass would be half full, all the milk was gone because there was Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem and of course the leader of the pack, Rudolf!

THIS IS THE FIRST CHRISTMAS we will spend without my Dad. It will be all the more poignant this Christmas as we remember him, and what Mum and Dad has done for us as the best parents you could ever wish for. I will always treasure my most precious Christmas memory, and yearn for the times when the world was less brutal than what life has thrown up for some of us now.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Geraldine Johns reviews L’oeuf

You sometimes have to wonder: why would anybody set up a new café. And why would anyone visit? Clearly, people on both sides of that equation are still prepared to take the plunge. And on this occasion, at least, we are all the better for it
   L’oeuf sits in a nondescript bit just off Mt Albert Road. It has as neighbours a Chinese takeaway, a Mobil Mart and the Sound Hope Chinese Clinic. It is not Ponsonby or Grey Lynn, but it’s evident some inner-city habitues have already claimed this place as their own. For very good reason.
   L’oeuf has a nice and simple fit-out offering a space of enveloping welcome. It’s only new, but the cvs of chef-sibling owners Jasper and Ludovic Maignot, together with Jasper’s partner Celeste Thornley offer an assurance you are in experienced and safe hands.

   There are a few cake and pastry delicacies at the counter – all made on site and all of come-hither proportions, but it’s the menu we’re interested in. The dishes have names – which makes my heart go clunk (why can’t they just describe them?). It will swiftly be lifted. Consider the Cambodian (sweet black banana rice on salted coconut cream); the Russian (lemon vodka-cured salmon tartare on thick toast with poached egg and cream cheese) and the Geisha (noodles, cabbage, daikon, pickled ginger, with options of tofu or chicken).
   In my own case the title is self-evident. This is the Nest: walnut-crumbed soft boiled eggs sitting in a filo nest – true – sitting pretty on a beetroot ketchup, rocket salad and feta base. It is truly a picture to behold. “Too gorgeous to eat,” says a new-found friend at another table who has independently chosen the same. She is wise to persevere, however; it’s a rewarding medley of both harmony and contrast.

   My patron wants the simple stuff: Soldiers. Herein lies an exercise in how something that doesn’t work out right can in fact be effortlessly amended. The eggs are not soft-boiled as  promised; the dish is removed sans quibble, but with apology. They get it right the second time round, and deduct the price of the tea off the menu. 
   Simple, lovely and good. That’s all we wanted – and on this occasion, that’s what we get. L’oeuf earns more points for being devoid of the pretensions of some addresses closer to the city while still delivering tastes and service of upper-end proportions.
   The coffee is Atomic. That means it may be to your liking. Or you might have been so spoilt elsewhere you may have another preference. The tea is leaf, which is creditable.
   The brothers Maignot are doing a very good job here. Their efforts are mirrored on the floor by competent wait staff. There lies ample reward in an address of this ilk. It just goes to prove that sometimes you can have all your, er, eggs in one basket. 
✪ Geraldine Johns

4a Owairaka Avenue, Mt Albert.
Phone (09) 971 4155
Hours: Weekdays 7am – 4pm; Saturday and Sunday 8am to 4pm. 
Closed Tuesday.

Bring a plate, it’s Christmas!

IT’S BECOME a pre-Christmas tradition, a gathering of like-minded friends. Now the grown-up children come with their parents, and that is testament to the fact that they still think it’s cool to hang out with us oldies but more importantly, the food is as good as you can get.
   The menu is planned a month ahead, there is an email thread of culinary proportions as we suggest what we would like to cook for ho-ho-ho. As we all hail from shores afar like Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and China, the menu reflects our counry of origin but then there’s always some who have been here so long they are more comfortable with the local cuisine. For someone who doesn’t cook much or worried the cooking would mess-up their minimalist pristine kitchen, they subtefuge and sneak in a dish from a restaurant (the pak thong ko being the case in point). Or they are banished to culinary backwater by making a fruit platter. The men this year surprised everyone by making dishes of considerable aplomb. Fred cooked a mee goreng that’s as good as KK Malaysia. He must have a really hot wok! With help from parents, Frances produced a roast duck to rival Grand Harbour.
  The young ones made bruschetta (with salmon and cucumber topping). We had been snacking on kwa-chi (melon seeds) and peanuts in shell. No gathering is complete without JJ’s crispy roast pork. She’s never been allowed not to make it.
   YHL’s pineapple salad is another favourite, the ingredient that makes it is the salted preserved plum, a singboi that many expectant mothers crave. Rosemary’s salmon had an Asian twist, julienne ginger and spring onions. Such a great idea to use ginger.
   As mentioned earlier, Fred’s Mee Goreng was one of the star turns. It had all the ingredients, prawn, taupok and the mee cooked to fragrant perfection in a very hot wok. Vegetable dishes included a stir-fried eggplant and a seaweed cucumber salad.
   The hit of the evening was cooked by one of the young ones, Frances. Dad carved it to a very appreciative audience. It was stuffed with glutinous rice, cashew nuts and salted duck eggs. Genius! What’s not to love? It was the first dish to go as everyone wanted to try it.
   Fred’s knowledge of Taiwanese cuisine had seen him produce this bean, tofu and carrot salad. No gathering is complete without a curry.This chicken rending was made by nonya specialist YHL. Rendangs are notoriously labour intensive to make and this is truly the defining nonya dish.
   Georgia made a Thai beef salad with a fish-sauce dressing, topped with chopped peanuts and sliced fresh chilli. By the time the dessert dishes were unveiled, there wasn't much room to fit in the sweeties. But the fruit kebabs eased us into the sweet treats coming up.
   There was pak thong ko (white honeycomb steamed cake made with rice flour, sugar and yeast ), a sticky lemon tart, and a nonya sago cake, abuk-abuk, made from sago pearls, made green with pandan flavour and sprinkled with grated coconut.
   JL produced her speciality, strawberries with mascarpone and watermelon granita and JJ a Malaysian favourite, sago pudding with palm sugar and topped with coconut cream. We just had to try all the desserts.
   As our host said, the evening was better than anything you can have in any restaurant. I have to agree. There will be another get-together coming up for Chinese New Year. We can’t wait!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Ponsonby Central turns One

YES, hard to imagine that a year ago The Blue Breeze Inn was just being planned. Andy Davies' dream of Ponsonby Central was officially opened on 10 November 2012. A year on, there was a celebration in the Sapphire Room (upstairs). Kit Perera (of Kit’s Kitchen) catered for the function and the following is a a selection of the Sri Lankan food served.
We celebrate the establishment and success of the food outlets and other stores at Ponsonby Central including: The Blue Breeze Inn, Tokyo Club, Jimmy The Fish, Meldito Mendez
Cafes: Eighthirty, Toru, Foxtrot Parlour
Food: Ceres Fresh Market, The Dairy
Services: Duct Tape Workshop (We Repair Anything Digital)

v The Sapphire Room, Ponsonby Central upstairs; Pan-fried King Prawns

v Pan-fried King Prawns with Sweet Chilli. Lime & Coriander

v Savoury Doughnuts with Coconut Chutney
v Aubergine Pahi with Okra & Shallots; Tandoori Chicken Sliders with Lime & Coriander Slaw

v Baked Monkfish with Chilli Caper Tartar; Goat Ceylon (served with Coconut Sambal
& Godamba Roti)

v Lamb Pan Rolls with Tangy Mint Yoghurt

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sunday ritual

WE LEAVE HOME by 6.10am on a Sunday for 1st Mass at St Joseph's Cathedral. Mum and Dad always sat at the same pew at the end of the east wing of the church. So much so the church wardens put 2 hymn books on the bench to reserve the seats. Woe betide anyone who dares sit here as Mum has a stern stare or she will edge the intruders off the end of the pew. If I'm home now, I take over the spot vacated by our late Dad. Old friends nodd in our direction. I have to ask Mum who they are. When it comes to the part of the Eucharistic service where we offer each other the sign of peace, we are showered by many wishes of peace and goodwill.

   After service, Mum and Dad would treat my brother, nephews and nieces to breakfast. They will join other friends at different food centres or kopitiams. So this Sunday, the tradition continues and we would go to a current favourite, Kwong Hup Cafe which houses over half a dozen stalls.
   We would always reminisce about what Dad used to like to order and this morning we remember him and Mum ordered what he used to love, fish congee. It 1s also her favourite and she pronounced it the best by finishing the whole bowl. She said it had the freshest fish pieces, topped with you tiao, dried seaweed strips, and garnished with kien phang (fried shallots) and spring onions.
  I had the chicken laksa which was a good blast, my brother Gerard had kolo mee. All breakfast favourites, interspersed with the best popiah around with a luscious sweet plum dip of hoisin sauce. The popiah is made to order so freshness is guaranteed.
   As there is a nonya kuih stall here too, there is an array of Peranakan-inspired snacks and kuihs on offer. Of course they reminded me of my earlier years growing up in Kuching where as a treat we would buy a kuih or two, and savour their absolute freshness. Today we had ham chin peng, chai kuih and bee pau bee, followed by chai tau kuih and yam cake.
   We left our most favourite till last, the declectable kuih pai tee (top hats). This is a labour of love, seldom found in any of the major koptitiam food centres. A little fluted holder is made from a mould dipped in the batter mix. When deep fried, it comes loose from the mould. It is filled with a mix of bangkuang (jicama), julienned, carrot (julienned), shallots, shelled and deveined trump chopped into small pieces, shallots white pepper and dash of oyster sauce. This mixture is quickly stir fried and popped into the pie tee then garnished with chopped spring onions. I did request a non-prawn mix for mine. We had Teh C to go with our food extravaganza.
   Today Mum visited our uncle Father Peter. We ta pau for him kolo mee and char kway tiaw. When were arrive we sit around the mahjong table and start eating again. My brother had brought kong pia which Father Peter loves, since he grew up with this Foochow specialty from Sibu. I recently visited a kong pia maker 400km from the house. It's a Foochow version of the bagel, the cooking process is the same as the dough with a hole punched in the middle and stuck to the inside wall of a hot earthen oven. Best eaten while it's still warm, people (like Al Brown) have been making fillings for it - spicy minced pork or beef is most popular. My uncle had it with butter and a cup of green tea. One of the Aunties had made nori seaweed chips. It was irresistible.
   Mum and Father Peter decided to go for a bit of shopping so I joined my other Uncle on a trip to retrieve some iron frames. It was hot hard work (for them) so before we unloaded, we stopped at King's Centre for lunch - 2 types of roast pork and duck and barbecued pork. The meats were perfectly roasted/barbecued. A rojak also appeared, a salad of bangkuang (jicama), raw sweet potato, pineapple and taupok, mixed with hay ko (prawn paste) and topped with crushed roasted peanuts. It looked very delicious, tempting even but I couldn't battle The Prawn Factor.
   So I waited until we dropped off the goods and sat down for a cuppa and Korean moochi buns that was crispy on the outside, chewy and milky on the inside. This was another Sibu speciality, hand-delivered at the request of 2nd aunty.
   That was breakfast that morphed into lunch. I wonder what Vero is cooking for dinner.

Kwong Hup Cafe (廣合茶餐室)
Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce (formerly Jalan Kereta Api)
93300 Kuching

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Let’s go for ABC!

ABC is Ais Batu Campur (Malay for shaved ice). It's the most famous Malaysian dessert. Not quite a sorbet but there is nothing else to compare it with. It's the top cooling treat we all grew up with and we respond without a second thought to the usual catchcry "Let's go for ABC!"

   I'm waxing nostalgic again. Our eternal fondness of Shaved Iced desserts stem from our growing up  in the tropics where afternoon temperatures reach 35℃. We had a Kopitiam nearby our house and we always hung out around there, buying lollies, sweet and sour preserved fruit and nibbles. We had to restrict ourselves to our most favorite item Kantong as our pocket money didn't stretch that far. Kantong is shaved ice clumped around a stick, with syrups added. You will have colourlful patches of orange, yellows, reds and greens. Sarsaparilla was my favourite flavour. Then the sweetest splash of all, a good dousing of atap sugar (palm sugar syrup). So you start sucking on the clumped ice shavings, leaving your favourite spots to last! Most times you'd end up like The Joker in Superman with red stains all around your mouth. A certain giveaway as to what you have been up to when you get home.
   You don't see much of Kantong anymore, nor the ice-cream sandwich slider-style in a heavenly soft, fresh and very slightly sweet bun. ABC has surpassed the humble kantong, more akin to the humble muffin being replaced by cupcakes buried in frou-frou toppings and accoutrements.

   Chang Ling said Tang Cold Drink Centre served the the best ABC in Miri. She took Towkay Neo and I to the residential area of Pujut. Apart from ABC, you can order Cendol, Ice Kacang, Rojak (Malaysain prawn paste salad), Cucur, Keladi Ubi (yam fritter) or Udang Tauhu (shrimp tofu), Sotong Kangkong or just a stick or two of fish balls.
   You can say the ABC from Tangs are like soft, luscious Matterhorns, crowned with fruit and coloured agar agar and lovingly drizzled with evaporated milk or coconut cream/milk (santan) and rose syrup. The basic ABC is Ang Tau Cendol, sweet red bean and corn green starched noodles with pandan flavouring and palm sugar (gula melaka). Grass jelly (suan chow) is also a favourite ingredient. Then you move into the combinations of fruit: lychee, kiwifruit, soursop, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries, sadly none used fresh. You can also have Peanut Ice Kachang, crushed peanuts scattered on top of the shaved ice with sweet corn and red beans. If you are feeling adventurous, there's nothing to stop you from having a durian flavoured ABC with slices of banana.

   The days of manually producing shaved iced over a shaving board (akin to razor blades) is over. You now position a block of ice in the ice machine and churn out shaved ice mechanically, like snow flakes falling onto the bowl of ABC mix below.
  Have to stop chatting and have the ABC before the shaved ice melts!

Pujut 2C Jalan Berlian

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Fresh beginnings

IT TAKES a major change in 
your life to make you determined 
to change the surrounds of where 
you live, to rid the ghosts of the past 
and reminders of what you used to 
think was important. Photographer 
Ken Downie captured the changes, Geraldine Johns wrote about it and Your Home and Garden featured it in their latest issue, 
out now.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Vietnam comes to Surrey Crescent

VIETNAMESE FOOD CONNOISSEUR Aunty Jenny spied on a new eatery Café Viet in Surrey Crescent, Grey Lynn and rang up from there. As the Warriors were performing under par even though their whole final 8 hopes were pinned on a win, I decided to pre-empt the disappointment and venture out to try a Vietnamese restaurant that might end the dearth of any Vietnamese restaurant of note. And what a better way than try the cuisine with a Vietnamese food expert.

   Café Viet is a welcoming place. Chef Joni Hong Hoang said I looked familiar before I sat down. "Are you a film star?" she enquired. I was rather flummoxed and muttered that in my previous life, I could have claimed some vestiges of printed fame. Joni's mother Dap Nguyen has been brought in to assist in the kitchen. She does instill a sense of comfort and confidence that we will not be served pseudo-Vietnamese with lashings of nouc mam, as if that is a panacea for indifferent food that claims Vietnamese rite of cuisine.
   Hoang and her partner Darryn Bell started with an an empty shell with white walls. Their concept was to re-create an old Vietnamese alley with broken window, cheap advertisements on the wall and an overall rustic look. The look is achieved, best experienced in the evening when the warm lights lend a glow to the culinary delights that is to descend on the table.
   Aunty ordered 2 dishes. Bánh Xéo and Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà. I left the choices to Aunty as she knows best, but only on the proviso that prawns and beef be left out. The Bánh Xéo is a crisp Rice Flour Crepe with mung beans traditional from southern Vietnam, stuffed with braised pork, prawns, sprouts and fresh herbs, served with nuoc cham. Instead of prawns, chef substituted with seared tofu. And a lemon, garlic, chilli and salt dressing with a hint of sweet as a alternative to the dreaded fish sauce. I was well pleased. Even Aunty was impressed by this dipping sauce. Her only reservation, the crepe should have been crisper.

   The Thịt Kho Hǭt Gà  is caramelised pork hotpot, pork belly with free-range deep-fried boiled egg, served with crunchy sprout salad and steamed rice. The pork belly was perfectly cooked, and the texture fell away as you eat it. Only reservation was that it should have been rewarded with more kick in flavours as it was predominantly soya-based with the traditional sweetness.

   The Café Viet Durian Ice-cream Sundae looked tempting but we had been well sated. You can also have the Café Viet coffee, served with condensed milk.
   Aunty was well pleased with her find. I can only concur with her. Lately only Café Hanoi has been serving Vietnamese food worth noting but it suffers from a lack of kick in their flavours. The new Mekong Baby is more fusion and has other Southeast Asian influences. Hansan disappoints with their bland approach to a vibrant cuisine, and the Vietnamese joints in Otahuhu like Samwoo and Vietnam Café has not moved on from the days when Vietnamese food meant pho, nuoc mam, bean sprouts and petite deep-fried spring rolls.
   Café Viet is promising. It's more homely Vietnamese, though the presentation is top notch. Tonight, there are a few family groups, a testament to it's approach to cooking. And it's a cuisine where you can add the accompaniments, be it in the fresh herbs and sauces that are nouc mam-based. We also noted some diners who just order a dish for themselves. All Asian cuisine should be shared dishes, if you have a table of 3, you can easily share 3 different dishes.
   We left Café Viet happy. But on the car radio, I learn the Warriors had lost their must-win match to the Dragons. Drat! But the All Blacks would end up beating the Pumas but it wasn't the trouncing that was expected.

2 Surrey Crescent
Grey Lynn
Ph: (09) 3788738

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Then and Now

APAI WAS ON THE HUNT for fresh fish for a dinner party. He said they were going to the coast via Batu Kawa. I jumped at the opportunity to re-visit childhood places. You drive to Batu Kawa without having to cross Sungai Sarawak by ferry. The more I move around Sarawak on my trips home, villages that used to be accessable by boat are only a drive away. But then you bemoan the loss of lush primary forest to oil palm plantations. The scourge of so called development, without environmental and social conscience.
   The shophouses at Batu Kawa are your typical terraced rows. Apai of course knows the best stall for lunch. This is a Hakka community and I was well pleased. My father is Hakka and I'm the only one of my siblings who can speak Hakka well as I used to converse in Hakka with Dad. I have noticed lately that if I speak Hakka to him, he would reply in Hokkien or as a surprise, add a fast quip in English!*

   Hakka cuisine is rather robust, a throwback to days when the Hakka worked hard and had to be nourished with food that does not have time for niceties. They cook a lot of pork (usually fatty), used a lot of carbohydrates like yams and sweet potato. Sugar and soya sauce were used liberally. 5-spice is the seasoning of choice. Leafy vegetables and mustard greens were preserved in times of plenty. Yong Tau Foo is a popular Hakka dish. Kiu Nyuk (fatty pork like pork belly) is cooked with soya sauce. Everything seemed to come in chunks.
   But not today at Batu Kawa. This stall specialised in Kolo Mee and soups with sliced lean pork, offal and other spare parts. The stock was made with pork bones and presrved mustard greens. The Kolo Mee was made with great care, the char siew sliced thin and fine and the noodles curly and al dente. Perfect! I digress, not a typical Hakka selection.
   After a chinwag in Hakka (the louder the better), we departed on our drive to Kampung Telaga Air. The trip was fast, the road well sealed. The Padawan Municipal Council (formerly Kuching Rural District Council) has built a food and drink complex (in Malay architectural style) at Kampung Telaga and the outlook across the Sungai Sibu to Sibu Laut was as serene as the pace of life. We had drinks as temperature was nudging 34°C. Nothing better than ABC of shaved iced or Limau Kasturi with ice.

   I had Teh Tarik because Apai had bought cookies and local cakes and that was the best drink combination. The Pisang Goreng was freshly deep-fried, same with the Cucur Udang and Curry Puffs.  Mix that with the sesame balls and Kuih Sepit (Love Letters), this was a decadent mid afternoon tea. I resisted sticking the Kuih Sepit on my fingers as we used to do when young. Kuih Sipit makes it's appearance at Chinese New Year and Hari Raya but now you get them all year round. They are either rolled into a cylinder after being picked up from the heated patterned mould clamp or they can be folded twice from it's circular shape. The Sarawak home-made Kuih Sepit uses santan (coconut milk) to impart a lemak flavour and taste.

  Time to head across the river to Rambungan. The ferry took us across the Sungai Sibu and we passed through the nipah palm groves growing out of the coastal waters. There are a lot of small tributaries and in days old I once accompanied Grandad on his visit to his mates who had a provisions store in Rambungan. The whole trip was by boat and as we got nearer to Rambungan, the waterways became narrower and narrower. So much so the boatmen had to use poles to push off from the nipah groves. Then the heavens opened after a prolonged spell of lightning and thunder of the tropical kind. I had to stay inside the claustophic boat, dark, airless and laden with charcoal and prompted fainted.
   This was turniing into a break I didn't need. A series of wooden walkways led us to the store which was built on stilts. This was extremely low lying land, just above sea level. As with Chinese hospitality, all kinds of seafood was cooked, from scaly ones to shell and crab. None of which I wanted to eat so I had to request for fried egg with a touch of soya sauce on rice.
   Back to the future. The drive to the fishing kampung is picturesque. Most of the houses are freshly painted and had more than 5 colours in the Malay tradition. Picture perfect. The roads and lanes are recently sealed, an election special to garner votes. There were a few fish stalls but none of them could sell the fish to Apai as they had been pre-sold to restarants in Kuching.
   Life has certainly changed.

* Since this blog was posted, my Dad passed away on 6 August 2013, coincidentally my birthday. His was a long life well-lived, the best Dad you could ever wish for. He never ever raised his voice at any of his children and we have never heard him utter an adverse word about  anyone. When he was able, there was nothing he wouldn't do for us
or his grandchildren. On this Father's Day, I posted on Facebook my most favourite photograph of him, paddling a canoe with Mum on the flooded surrounds of the old family house at Jalan Green. It flooded
regularly after heavy tropical downpours.
Of our Dad, we miss him very much.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Oh yes, Paradise!

SHUK AND ELLIOT were back in town. They dream of Paradise as soon as they land. We can see why this is their favourite Indian restaurant in Auckland, and the number of diners here attests to this fact. It's the best. Chef/owner Salah came to Auckland via Sydney 7 years ago where he had a similar restaurant.
   Paradise is cricket-themed, with signed photographs of Indian cricketing stars like Sachin Tendulkar adorning the walls (albeit taken at their Sydney restaurant) with a series of signed cricket bats, appropriately framed and labelled. Classic Indian Tests are shown on the big screen, on a continuous loop but in the many times we have been to Paradise, we haven't yet encountered India v Black Caps Tests which has been few and far between of late.

   Chef Salah and his team mainly cook cuisine from Hyderabad but the menu encompasses influences from all over India and neighbouring countries from ancestral trade routes. Hence there are Moghul-style food and even Manchurian Chicken (cooked in soya sauce and coriander).
   Elliot knows the menu well and tonight, ordered Biryani Chicken and Tandoori Baked fish (pomfret). I wanted to try the Chicken Kandai. It didn't disappoint us when it was served in a medium-sized kwali, spicy and creamy but no cream or coconut were used. Chef used cashew nuts to achieve this creamy consistency.
   Biryani is one of the the most popular dishes here. You can have it either with lamb or chicken. The Biryani is slowed cooked with rice to bring out the full depth of flavours. The rice is perfectly fluffy and is served topped with a boiled egg. There is yoghurt to cool down the spicy hot.

   Salah says pomfret is his favourite fish. It's a flat fish so it's easy to marinate and the flavours permeate through. It's twice-cooked, first in the tandoor and them panfried with the spice-mix paste on top, served garnished with raw onion rings and lemon. We had naan bread to go with dinner, as well as plain basmati rice. Eating with fingers is encouraged. We can see why, food of this kind tastes so much better when you engage the fingers to combine the flavours.
   Elliot introduced us to a fizzy Indian cola called Thums Up. They call it the the taste of thunder. I thought they should stop the description right there but it degenerates into saying 'it's confident, mature and uniquely masculine attitude. The Thums Up brand clearly seeks to separate the men from the boys'. Obviously targeting the cricketer in some of us, methinks!
   Paradise serves halal food. They have a new outlet next door for takeaways. It's the month of Ramadan now and for Salah and his team, there is the added pressure of having to fast during daylight hours. But we can think of no better way to break the fast than have the food they cook and serve here.

591 Sandringham Road
Ph 09-8451144

Saturday, July 13, 2013


ILLUMINATE was unleashed overnight at Chan Andreassend Studios, the first production of the Arts Menagerie. The group launches its first exhibition with the question: 'Who are you? How would you express the artist within you as an illuminated artwork?'
The artists have answered this called with light shows of many divervse origins and approach, the results of some of which are shown in this photo montage.

✪ Threads by Ronald Andreassend, a personal image show of family history projected onto a large white paper lantern (from Wah Lee)
✪ Front sign post ✪ Smoking Kills by FarZah Zamani

✪ Untitled by Jude Nye (foreground) ✪ Augenblick by Nils Blumreiter ✪ Art Menagerie group installion at the entrance
✪ Flowers, installation by Didier Ng ✪ String in Black Light Study by Sinn-Mae Chung ✪ Lanterns by Neha Malhotra

The Arts Menagerie is a collaborative initiative with a diverse collection of committed creatives, artists, collaborators, brain stormers, and experimenters who are passionate about expressing creativity through an assortment of avenues.