Category Archives: French food

The Thanksgiving Post

Because I can't not use this photo

Somehow, the sacrifice of many turkeys puts people in the sort of mood to count their blessings. I am one of them (albeit a day later than everyone else). Of course, there is being thankful for my family, and friends, and people who are willing to put up with me for a few hours during the day in general. I can understand your pain, kind people. Thank you for that.

I am also thankful for the many great experiences I have had over the past year — especially the food-based kind. How lucky I’ve been! So here is, pretty much, a slide show of some snippets of my year, which has passed by far too quickly for my liking. Just imagine sitting in a rec room somewhere, wanting desperately to escape while I drone on and on about boring stuff. Ah, Thanksgiving!

1. While in France in the autumn, we escaped from our tour long enough to score a dinner at Alain Chapel for my birthday. It was a great birthday! My choice was simple: a roasted veal kidney, sliced at the table and served with a thick ‘n glossy red wine sauce.

 

 

2. Delicious China. Need I say more? Like many many other people, my favorite dish is the ultimate in Sichuan comfort food: mapo tofu, cubes of jiggly blank goodness coated in chilies and beans and good ol’ oil, one of the more bewitching combinations known to man.

 

3. Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. I look forward to going almost every year, when my husband attends a travel fair and I end up having the entire city to myself. I love that Berlin’s possibilities are endless. There is always something new to discover, and always something I end up missing out on. On my next visit, a trip to the pirate-themed restaurant will be an absolute must!

Here, the beef goulash with spaetzle at the Reinhard’s on Kurfurstendamm, otherwise known as Thai Tourist Central.

 

4. When my family go on holiday together, my dad always ends up being the cook. This might suck for my dad, but it’s a real treat for us, a throwback to when we were kids and dad had to cook dinner after he came home from work.

Quite sensibly, dad tries to shy away from cooking duties now, but sometimes, in a foreign country and surrounded by hungry family members demanding perfectly fried rice or a well-seasoned larb, he cannot say no. Here is his yum nuea, a spicy beef salad made with the local Limousin beef of the Perigord region.

 

5.  Obvious alert: street food. I can’t say I love it in all its permutations and varieties — you may not have guessed, but I’m not the biggest jok (Chinese-style rice porridge) fan in the world, and I actually dislike Thai-style som tum (pounded spicy salad) — but I am truly thankful for the vast range of street food out there right now.

And the variety keeps growing! We are getting Japanese-style okonomiyaki (savory crepes) and pasta sauced with different curries and even, I hear, stabs at Western food. Thai food is at an incredible moment in time when it is figuring out, again, what it really is, expanding and changing its parameters, to the delight or dismay of many. What’s next? I don’t know, but it’s definitely something to be thankful for.

Dry thin noodles (sen lek) with pork, "yum"-style, at Baan Jik in Udon Thani

 

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, Chinese, food, food stalls, France, French food, noodles, restaurant, Thailand

Glutton Abroad: My kind of people

How far would I go to eat a good meal? Far. How far? Three words: River boat cruise.

No, I don’t really like cruises. People with an unlimited range of experiences and perspectives come together into a very limited space, a surefire recipe for driving themselves crazy. This one, on a river in France, for a week, was no exception. People shushed us when our wild ‘n crazy Thai-speaking got too rowdy. Boat boys imitated our “ching chong” language, leading to unwelcome memories of the 8th grade. And the food … oh, the food. It was what you would get if your elementary school lunch lady took on fine dining pretensions. In short: not my kind of people.

France, on the other hand, seems to be full of my kind of people. Marketing campaigns try to tell you that France is about romance, or culture, or blahbladiblahblah zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Seriously, whatever. Whatever forever. We all know it’s actually about food. No French person is without an opinion on food, especially French food. The land is blanketed with a gazillion vineyards. There is a cheese for every day of the year. Come on. France is a food place.

And France in the fall is an especially lovely food place. There’s little wonder why chefs here like to say autumn is their favorite time of year: game is in season, mushrooms start sprouting, fruit and veggies are still in abundance. What could be better than exploring it then, right before a week of BLT sandwiches and “medium-rare” pork slices in a floating cafeteria?

Chestnuts in season at an outdoor market in Paris

So it was a happy, upbeat Glutton buzzing into Burgundy, wedged between a stack of guidebooks and my hand luggage and an empty plastic bag in my purse JUST IN CASE. Like millions of people before us, we were to take part in the great French tradition of grand “hotel-restaurants” — fantastic chefs, many with long cooking pedigrees, in family-run restaurants who just happen to also have well-appointed rooms. These are the guys (and ladies) who, for years, have ruled the local culinary roost from places like Vienne and Saulieu, innovating French food and picking up Michelin stars in the process.

One chef well-regarded by Big Red (he does have 3 stars, after all) is Jean-Michel Lorain, whose La Cote Saint Jacques in Joigny is perched right next to the Yonne, boasting gigantic views over the water and two beautiful, if somewhat subdued, dining rooms. The cooking is equally beautiful, suggesting a sort of jeweler’s temperament (and a fondness for tapioca pearls): meticulous, artistic, a little bit fiddly. Some of the dishes on the menu were inspired by Chef Lorain’s father, Michel, like a terrine featuring oysters suspended in an “ocean” amber, tasting just like the sea. A deceptively simple-sounding “rose” of lobster and hearts of palm comes festooned in tapioca pearls like a Little Mermaid; a hefty blue-collar fish like cod gets gold star treatment when it is perfectly pan-fried and dressed up with more tapioca pearls and a sea urchin sauce.

La Cote Saint Jacques's cod

If Jean-Michel Lorain is an artist, Bernard Loiseau was more of a showman. Gregarious and charming, Chef Loiseau was also very smart; like a writer who understands he lacks the agility of an Updike, Loiseau seemed to understand he wasn’t the greatest technical cook and focused instead on purity and simplicity. It worked — Michelin awarded his “Cote d’Or” in Saulieu three stars, but the stress seemed to take its toll, and Bernard Loiseau took his own life in 2003.

I never got to eat at the Cote d’Or, but entering the rechristened “Bernard Loiseau” is a bit like entering a shrine. His face is everywhere, grinning in countless photos on various sitting room walls, a tireless reminder that, if the name didn’t tip you off first, this is BERNARD LOISEAU’s place, okay?

Not to say the place isn’t stunning. There is a beautiful garden, and THREE lovely dining rooms, and a gigantic staircase with an elevator in the middle — all renovations that Chef Loiseau oversaw. The only place Bernard Loiseau doesn’t seem to be omnipresent is on the menu; aside from three or four of his famous dishes, it’s more about the present chef Patrick Bertron (who has maintained the restaurant at a 3-star level), who is like a closed-mouth smile as opposed to Loiseau’s wide grin. There was a delicate, subtly flavored little duck, perfectly rosy and skin slightly crisped, and a perfectly poached egg (no whiff of vinegar! No chewy, thick egg white!) atop a raft of tiny baby leeks, the yolk just crying to be broken. And yes, we had a Loiseau classic too: juicy squares of skin-on sandre (pike perch) with a shallot marmalade and red wine sauce.

Poached egg on baby leeks vinaigrette

The best thing about French places, particularly the ones adored by Michelin? The great service. These “temples of gastronomy” are actually not supposed to be temples. They are, like everywhere else, meant to be places to relax and enjoy yourself. That means waitstaff are unfailingly, politely affable, like your older brother’s college roommate sophomore year. That means not batting an eye while you are pulling off your moth-eaten black turtleneck sweater while ordering, or making faces at your crusty old jeans when you come in for an unexpected lunch, or expressing dismay when you ask about rose on their wine menus (OK, maybe the last one, a little bit). These guys are my kind of people.

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Filed under celebrity chefs, food, France, French food, restaurant

My lunch at Michel Rostang

Every time I go to Paris, I try to go to at least one nice place a visit. This time, we made it to Michel Rostang, a two Michelin-starred restaurant with a menu that changes seasonally.

My husband and daughter, Nicha, asked for canard au sang, a dish they were initially discouraged from ordering because it was very “special”, a word the French use to describe something that is potentially disgusting. It turned out to be thin slices of very rare duck breast, bathed in a foie gras sauce thickened with blood. The legs are then poached in duck fat, shredded and encased in a razor-thin potato “tower” — a great reminder of why people love French food.

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Filed under cooking, duck, food, France, French food, restaurant

Glutton Abroad: Doing as the French do

sunflowers

Sometimes I am perfectly happy acting like a tourist, out with my big old map and geriatric footwear, embarrassing all and sundry with my lack of knowledge about how to act in public. But once in a while, I’m tired of my day-to-day life in Thailand. Sometimes, I want to spread my wings and travel a bit. That’s when I go abroad — this year, to France. Our trip, via @SpecialKRB’s fantastic photos:

1731

La Vigerie

We stayed in the “Perigord Noir”, so named because of the abundance of prehistoric dwellings in the area and known for its delicious walnuts, lamb, ducks, geese — and, of course, this:

foie gras

Staying in a house allowed us to delude ourselves into thinking we could act just like the locals — zipping to and fro in tiny little cars, wearing berets and making fun of other people just like us (for the record, they really do wear striped shirts!). So we did just that, even after getting back to Paris, using the ample time at our disposal to do Frenchie French things like:

Buy lots of cheese at Barthelemy
Fromagerie Nicole Barthelemy

Pretend to buy expensive macarons at Pierre Herme
Macarons from Pierre Herme

Gorge on lots of lovely meat
steak au poivre at Chez George

Dine on mussels, even though I think they are Belgian
provencale mussels at Leon's

Order delicious escargots at every meal
escargot

Uh, eat lots of frogs
Roger La Grenouille frog legs provencale

Partake of the local fruit and liquor, at the same time
Melon au Port

Appreciate the local art
our shy sexy sculpture

Mess up our recycling
taking out the trash 2

Try out the lovely French squatters (for the record, far more challenging than the Thai ones. The footrests are lower in level than the surrounding basin, ensuring that you will most certainly splash your own feet — lovely.
French squatter toilet

Dislocate your shoulder and visit the hospital (sorry, no photos. FYI, the hospital trip: 23 euros. Excruciating pain: priceless.).

And, finally, sup at one of the most popular restaurants in all of France
obligatory McDonald's meal

Bon appetit!

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Filed under duck, food, France, French food, restaurant

Why Food

The unseasonably wet weather and ensuing traffic snarls have put me into a meditative mood. So indulge me for a moment as I blather on like your 84-year-old great-aunt, the one who doesn’t see people very often and puts SWAT-team-level preparation into “going out”.

Because that is how I feel nowadays. My Thai has never been the greatest — conversations frequently turn into an unwieldy catalogue of what has NOT been said, a litany of all that has NOT been communicated. I am literally two-dimensional; beyond initial remarks on the weather, what to eat and where to go, I am cashed out of words, making do by playing the role of the dim-witted auntie, a role I am getting unnervingly good at.

This is leeching into my English language communication, which is fast becoming a halting negotiation of what to express and what to leave out. Interaction is Thailand is an unspoken deal: say the expected things at the right time and you will have passed. Saying something different means you have not kept up your part of the bargain. This is something that has taken me years to learn, but is somehow understood by Thais who have grown up here — just like everyone knows you don’t eat durian with alcohol, or without mangosteen, or that you don’t transport it on the Skytrain because then people will look at you like you just took a baby, a kitten and a puppy and forced them to listen to the Black Eyed Peas’s latest album. All Thais somehow know these things.

So food is a wonderful oasis for me. When you are cramming your piehole with stuff, you don’t have to talk. When your table is groaning under the weight of tasty food, people around you are happy. When you venture to talk about this dish or that, people are invariably willing to discuss it — food is a fine, happy place, where everyone loves you, as long as your plate is still full.

It’s logical, then, that I would love Restaurants of Bangkok, which offers a nifty monthly program they call “Running Dinners”. Every course — appetizer, main, dessert — is offered at a different restaurant in the same area. Despite the logistical difficulties of herding up to 20 increasingly inebriated people to different places every hour or so, it’s surprisingly well-run, and a great way to feature restaurants that are new or easily overlooked. (In the interests of full disclosure: next month’s dinner includes dessert at Maduzi Hotel, which belongs to my husband’s family.)

Blurry photo of dessert course at Philippe, taken after fourth glass of wine

But I’m an equal-opportunity gobbler (uh, duh). I obviously like to go the opposite end of the spectrum too. Sometimes you need to work a little for your food fix, just sayin (don’t you hate it when people write “just sayin?” Like, didn’t you already just say it? I see it more and more frequently, and it is almost always preceded by something semi-obnoxious — “BLAH BLAH STUPID STUPID MOUTHFART MOUTHFART. JUST SAYIN.” Blech. Okay, rant over.)

So the beef noodles on Sukhumvit Soi 16, across from the Korean restaurant, are also a wonderful refuge for the socially impaired. Beloved by office workers and motorcycle taxi drivers alike, it is the “we are the world” food stall of that particular road, where people can set aside their various color allegiances or complete and total political apathy (I’m lookin at me, Bangkok Glutton) and jostle each other for bowls of delicious beef water instead.

Options are rice vermicelli (sen mee) or thick noodles (sen yai), or no noodles at all (gow low). Open 7am-1pm, closed on Sundays. Call 087-564-9469.

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, dessert, food, food stalls, French food, noodles, restaurant, Thailand

Iron Chef hits Bangkok

Whose cuisine reigns supreme?

Chef Hiroyuki Sakai of “Iron Chef” fame (the one who cooked French food, as opposed to the “Chinese” and “Japanese” Iron Chefs) came to Bangkok to bring his love of delicate flavors and vegetable flans to food-loving Thais. Last night, he held the second of three dinners at Maduzi Hotel (full disclosure: my husband’s family owns this hotel, but that didn’t save me from having to shell out the 7,500++ baht like everybody else.) Needless to say, I was excited; this is the closest I will probably ever get to Iron Chef without donning a poufy wig and cape.

"Seriously, guys--is there something in my teeth?"

And Chef Sakai totally delivered. His persnickety attention to detail, illustrated by his high hygienic standards (the kitchen was cleaned after every single course), was reflected in a series of perfectly turned-out dishes despite his having to cook for 60 covers. This somehow didn’t affect the pacing of the dishes, which reached perfection at around the end of the meal.

It kicked off with a completely smooth crab flan, reminiscent in texture of Japanese chawanmushi (egg custard), paired with a deep-fried crispy scallop and wasabi sauce to cut the fattiness.

crab flan with leek and courgette soup, deep-fried scallop and wasabi sauce

A parcel of foie gras came encased in a mashed potato shell and deep-fried into a golf ball, served atop a pool of truffle sauce and topped with a parmesan tuile.

foie gras croquette with truffle sauce

Sakai’s “signature” dish turned out to be a Thai freshwater prawn tail (the Brittany langoustines shipped to the hotel for the event were unfortunately not up to snuff) wrapped in threads of blanched zucchini, braided Bottega Veneta-style over the lightly poached flesh. 

Langoustine wrapped in courgette

After that, grade 9++ Wagyu beef (apparently the highest grade there is, although I don’t understand why you can’t just suck it up and say “grade 10”) was smoked in the hotel kitchen and arrived to the table wrapped in bamboo skin like a Christmas present. 

Lightly smoked Wagyu beef baked in bamboo skin

Finally, a mango custard came layered with a green tea foam and accompanied by a salty chocolate crepe, garnished with a pinch of candied orange peel.

Mango blanc manger and green tea espuma with chocolate crepe

But the best part of the meal, for me at least, was a cold hors d’oeuvre initially described in a preliminary menu as a dreary-sounding “turnip mousse”. What came out of the kitchen was a beautiful mixed custard of Kabu turnip and sea urchin, topped with Alaskan king crab, abalone, fan lobster and scallop chunks, ringed by turnip rounds and topped with a dollop of caviar. It was among the best dishes I’ve had in a while.

This dish is the bomb.

Final verdict? Totally worth it, even if I have to snack on streetside noodles for the rest of the month. I mean, that’s what I’m supposed to be here for, isn’t it?

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Filed under Asia, Bangkok, beef, celebrity chefs, food, French food, Iron Chef, Japanese, restaurant, seafood, Thailand, TV chefs