Friday, November 26, 2010

Culinary Treats I'm Thankful For {Thanksgiving Ed.}

Durian. I know. A little bit intimidating, ehh?

Thanksgiving weekend has always been exhausting for me. The dinner part, the gathering part, and the part where we all religiously participate in a glorified commercial conspiracy by purchasing goods that we're not even sure we need - called Black Friday. So I think it's always nice to step back and count our blessings.

As for me, I'm immensely thankful for the strong network of support I have. Personally and professionally. Be it my family, friends, mentors, or professional acquaintances, I truly am grateful for the inspiration and comfort they have provided me. Without them I would be nowhere near where I am today.

Now that I'm done with the sarcastic and the mellow part, here are the twelve most amazing culinary treats ever created in this world (that I was lucky enough to have tasted) that have constituted a gastronomic euphoria in my dictionary. I am thankful for the very existence of:

1. Roasted Peking Duck. This one needs no introduction. With its crispy skin sheltering a generous layer of melts-in-your mouth fat, supported by a vulnerable bed of succulent meat on the bottom, this one is a true winner.

2.Chasiu/Barbecued pork meat. It's an undoubtedly pure form of beauty.

3. Bakut Teh/Pork Bone Tea Soup. Great-tasting, traditional ingredients nurtured by long hours of labor and love. This dish is very comforting - almost sacred - to me.

4. Kepiting Saus Padang/Crab in Padang Chilli Sauce. Hot and spicy. This one's pretty similar to Singaporean Chilli Crab.

5. Nasi Padang. A traditional Indonesian rice dish accompanied by a myriad variety of options: ayam pop (chicken cooked with coconut water, ginger, lemongrass, etc), gulai ayam (chicken curry), telor balado (eggs cooked with chili and shrimp paste), rendang, krecek (gelatinous crackers made of cow skin), daun singkong (cassava leaves), cabe ijo (green chili), etc. I also take pleasure in having a generous pour of the curry sauce all over my rice.

6. Sharkfin Soup. Oh gosh, don't even get me started on this one.

7. Chinese-style Seafood Hotpot. A piping hot claypot of fried Japanese silky soft tofu with squid, sea cucumber, shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, fish, and vegetables swimming in a very tasty, thick broth.

8. Fresh, glistening slivers of sashimi. The list includes sake/salmon, toro/fatty tuna, awabi/abalone, mirugai/geoduck/giant clam, hotate/scallop, uni/sea urchin, and ikura/salmon roe. And a side order of ankimo/monkfish liver, please.

9. I love veal, especially when cooked with good wine. And its leg, loin, shank, brisket, cheek, rack, liver, and chops. Not so much of the scallopini, though. Braised, stewed, sauteed, stuffed, you name it. And oh- did I mention braised? A phrase delivered by a server at one of my favorite Italian restaurants that immediately won my heart was: "Anything that can be done to veal, we can do it for you."

10. Bouncy, good- looking sea scallops. Grilled, sauteed, in a hot pot, or simply raw.

11. Martabak Manis. My favorite dessert of all time, with its crunchy crust and indulgent, shiny butter gushing out from the middle when you put pressure on the top. No mousse, souffle, cheesecake, flan, or tart can beat this.

12. Durian. So Andrew Zimmern can't stand it, so what? If they sell durian scent in a form of air freshener, I'd get one. Or three.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cakwe: Fried Little Goodness Filled with Memories

If I were a Southerner, these would be my precious little hush puppies.

I'm fully aware that by this time of the year, I should be writing about fried turkeys already. But nope, I decided to defy the norm. Besides, I've never really been a big fan of turkey. Definitely not compared to honey-glazed ham. Or roasted Peking ducks for that matter. I do love stuffings though. Anyways, last week I stopped by at a Chinese restaurant nestled in the strip of Atlanta's mecca of ethnic food, Buford Hwy, called Bobo Garden. And that's when I spotted these little guys. They bring back a lot of remarkable childhood memories. These are the things that I grew up eating almost every single day long before the days my taste buds got acquainted to zucchini, eggs benedict, or even pizza! They are a great complementary to what I call comfort food, a weighty fragment of my family's Sunday brunch rituals and the street food culture of Jakarta.

They're called you tiao (Mandarin) or yau ja gwai (Cantonese) - very common in Chinese cuisine especially to be eaten with rice congee or soy milk. They're also called by a bunch of different names here in the U.S such as chinese crullers, chinese doughnuts, fried bread stick, fried dough, etc. Oh well. The Indonesians call it cakwe. On another note, it always amuses me how the Indonesian language tends to try adapting foreign languages and sort of adding their own twist to it (read: butcher savagely). I take great pleasure in eating my cakwe Indonesian style though: drenched in peanut sauce.

Of course, the quality of these cakwe that I had at Bobo Garden was far from those that pretty much summed up my childhood. The skin should boast some satisfying crunch like it just comes out of the fryer, and the inside part should be pillowy soft. There are also some stuffed versions out there. The original shape is supposed to look like they're made of two pieces joined in the middle. Read this Wikipedia entry under folk etymology to find out the myth behind the shape.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Le Triskell Creperie - A Strong Blend of Nurture and Culture

It was a lazy Saturday and I was looking for a brunch place. Like many people, I turned to Yelp for this kind of guidance. Not that I have so much faith in Yelpers, but at least they can give me ideas of places to go. I found a place called Le Triskell Creperie and decided to give it a try. This little place is located in Buckhead, inside a building called Tuxedo Atrium. And it's tiny. As in it looks like a little cafeteria where you just go in to grab your sandwich for lunch, pay at the register, and take it to go. But something drew me in right from the very moment the French lady smiled at me. Her name is Rose- Marie, by the way. She and her husband, Michel, run this place - just the two of them. I could feel the love already. Plus, hearing them speak French made me feel like I was in the set of Amélie.

Their crepes are called galettes, a type of pancake made of gluten-free buckwheat flour. You know how Michel sold it to me? He said, "The French love it, you should give it a try." There. I'm sold. So I went ahead and got the La Bastille, which had eggs, ham, and Swiss cheese. The eggs were a little bit too runny for my taste, but it might just be me. Truth is, it's not bad at all. The slightly-melting cheese added a nice texture to the merriness of the savory ham and the eggs . The galette itself was crunchy and gave you a familiar taste of wheat flour. It's not as tasty as anything that's made of all-purpose flour - a little bit more on the humble side - and definitely would do a lot more good to your body. My friend got La Pacifique which had smoked salmon, soft white cheese, lemon, and dill in it. The cheese was rich and the dill added some kind of kick to it.

Our visit there was full of surprises. It started when I asked Rose- Marie where in France she's from. She calmly answered, "Paris. And you?" Normally when I'm not so thrilled in carrying further conversation with a person, I'd say Bay Area, California, which holds some truth to it. But I decided to give her an honest answer instead. Hearing that, her eyes lit up right away. She said "Terima Kasih" and yelled "Indonésien" to Michel who was standing in the kitchen at the time. He responded by screaming something in French that I can only tell by its elevated tone that it was indeed full of excitement. Then he came out of the kitchen and started telling us all these stories of how they've been to Indonesia, had stayed in Hong Kong for almost 13 years, and the fact that they're both musicians. How cool is that?

Michel sat with us the whole time and we had a great chat about a lot of eye-widening, heart-warming things. From how the Southern part of France, including the French Riviera, would be one of the best places to go due to its friendly weather and breathtaking scenery, to how the French and the Chinese bear some similarities when it comes to their cooking and how they treat their meat.

Sometimes I think the world is just way too small. Michel was telling me about the hotel that they stayed at in Jakarta. I asked him if he noticed there's an all-girls school right across from it. He went, "I saw them all the time getting out of their cars." Imagine his surprise when I said I was one of those girls wearing the green-checkered uniform skirt and knee-high socks. That I went to the very same school for 6 years. This time it's him screaming some high-pitched, full-of-excitement phrases in French to his wife.

Ahh, it was wonderful meeting them. To top it off, they insisted on treating us to some sweet crepes to-go: the caramel and chocolat maison (homemade chocolate) crepes. Wow. At the time I must have looked like a 5-year-old being treated to her first cotton candy. Or as we Indonesians call it, gulali.