the hinata diaries

Monday, August 28, 2006

Food bloggers' dinner!

Loads of trip updating to do, but first things first... thanks to everyone who made last Friday's food bloggers' dinner at Sage so fabulous and fun!

Or so we called it a food bloggers' dinner. The other guests at Sage may have guessed differently, possibly surmising that our gathering was in fact a support group for People Who Cannot Eat Without First Photographing Their Food Under Various Lighting Combinations And From Several Different Angles.

The whipping out of cameras, the frantic setting adjustments, the contortionist-like angling, all set against the backdrop of frequent yet resigned sighs from loved ones watching their food turn cold... these were all symptoms that we'd previously suffered in silence. But now, such company!
It's like that scene in Ice Age 2 when Manny finds out he's not the only mammoth around and his species isn't going extinct - enough to make me bawl into my SQ hot towel (in-flight movie lah) really.

As you can imagine, the dinner is now the most documented event in the Singapore food blogosphere this week. I don't have much to add to the wonderfully detailed write-ups (with pics! such a gorgeous lot we are) at
Only Slightly Pretentious Food, Recent Runes and Kitchen Crazy Daffy (amongst others), so will skip straight to the Oscar thank yous:

Colin, for organizing. I think we've all run out of superlatives to describe the evening

To the good folks at
Sage, (for me at least) a previously undiscovered gem to which I now swear eternal loyalty. Note to the curious: the poached eggs/escargots dish aka Fricassee of Burgundy Escargot with Lentil du Puy and Field Mushrooms, Poached Egg and Italian Parsley Cream as well as the beef short ribs aka US Corn Fed Beef Shortribs Braised in Red Wine Topped with Slices of Foie Gras and Bone Marrow, Glazed Root Vegetables and a Mousseline of Butternut Pumpkin are on the regular menu, and you'd be doing yourself a great disservice if you don't try them soon.

Razor Sharp, for the seriously sexy Kasumi knife; Staub for the lucky draw prizes (next year, dammit!) and to Chubby Hubby and Daffy for organizing and distributing the above.

Julius Truffles, for the lovely truffles. The pyramid-shaped cognac ones were amazingly creamy and rich, while being terribly addictive and pop-able. I want more!!!

Gryphon, for the very sophisticated looking box of Straits Chai tea. I haven't tried it yet simply because I intend to keep the box (which says that it's meant for the IMF/World Bank Board of Governors' Meeting) in the vain hopes of convincing people that I am in fact on the IMF/World Bank Board of Governors and hence deserve VIP treatment at every major hotel/restaurant/spa across the island from 10-20 September. Heck, if I'm even stuck in a traffic jam during that time, I'm gonna wave the box out my window as an excuse to overtake irresponsibly.

To Ivan of
Recent Runes, for making us feel like celebrities with his paparazzi-like photo taking, and for attempting to get us suitably celebrity wasted with limoncello and grappa shots. For a brief moment, I even fancied myself as Paris Hilton and developed a strong urge to record an album.

Likewise, to
Umami, for the yummy wines that never seemed to stop flowing.

And to my immediate dining companions - Joone of
Nibble & Scribble, ST of Cheat Eat, Lavender Cupcaker, Cindy of Cinheartlife, Charmaine (hope I spelt that right) of ILoveMyPaddington - it was really a pleasure to meet you. Look forward to keeping up with all of you through your blogs! (Except ST: we have some jade shopping to do together soon!)

It was also great fun to chat with (albeit briefly) bloggers whose sites I enjoy reading -
Dim Sum Dolly, Only Slightly Pretentious Food, Skinny Epicurean, Kitchen Crazy Daffy and Umami in particular. It's pretty bizarre to introduce yourself to someone, then realize that you know so many details of his or her life without ever having met him/her in person. Happy to report though that this was a much more dignified affair than teenage fan club days - those embarassing high pitch squeals at a Color Me Badd autograph session, or even the awkward stammering in front of Mark Richmond at 98.7FM sponsored Zouk event (yes, it didn't take much in those days).

For those who couldn't make Friday (
Shaz!) do hope to meet you soon at next year's dinner... or how about organizing one before? ;)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Still alive

Hallo all! Just a quick post to say I'm still alive despite the blogging silence :) Travelling's been insane the last few weeks - vacation took us from Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia (pit stop), Egypt and finally Istanbul, got back in the wee hours of Monday morning only to fly off to HK on Tues morning for work and Bangkok the day after... really glad to have both feet back on the ground again! Nicking hotel soaps does lose its novelty after a while :)

Will hopefully be updating massively over the next few days so do stop by soon!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Day 8 - And we're off!

Wanted to post pics from our stay in Kandalama - the sights there were really the most fabulous of our trip so far, with ancient ruined cities, stunning rockscapes, and loads of elephant safari photos. But of course Blogger's photo upload is mucked up again, so I guess it will have to be a while.

We're finally going to board our ship today - the CMA CGM LILAC - which had been delayed for a couple of days. From here we've got 8 days before we reach our first stop - the Suez Canal. The copy of the Economist that I grabbed at Changi Airport just before we left actually had a special report of the Suez Crisis of 197[6?] and I'm looking forward to re-reading it again just before we arrive to imagine all the drama and tension of the period. I vaguely remember studying it for 'A' Level History but nothing like seeing the actual place, right?

I'm guessing we're gonna be pretty cut off from the rest of the world while on the ship. There will of course be basic satellite communication that we can access, but I'm guessing it's not quite unlimited broadband. Will try to update once we stopover on shore.

Oh, and family and friends update - the shipping company assures us that our stopover in Beirut has been cancelled and we'll sail right by instead. Hopefully out of missile range - will confirm this with the captain as soon as we get on board! And of course will try to call whenever possible.

Fellow Singapore food bloggers - look forward to catching up with all of you soon, thanks Colin for organizing!

See y'all in a few!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Day 3 - Kandy

Our morning view from Villa Rosa. The road it’s on is definitely not an easy one, but now I understand why they went through all the effort to build a hotel here. Below is the Mahaweli River, Sri Lanka’s longest, and the town of Kandy.

Local mineral water – Dingle’s! But who is Dingle and how did he produce this water? Hopefully it’s not some kind of Sri Lankan Newater-type joke. Scary.

Morning was spent visiting the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, the private gardens of the last Sinhalese king until the British imprisoned him (no explanation why) and subsequently expanded the gardens.

What a nice leafy tree. Oh wait, those aren’t leaves, those are giant bats! Ooh. Garden stroll = haunted house of horrors.

Random shot of giant bamboo, just loved the burnt colour of the old leaves.

The evening saw the highlight of our trip to Kandy, the start of the annual Esala Perahera festival. The parade, which honours Kandy’s prized relic – a tooth of Buddha’s – is considered to be the world’s oldest parade and is celebrated with dancing, drumming, and the procession of numerous elephants, the last of which is tasked with carrying a replica of said tooth. The picture doesn’t show much, but you can just make out elephants covered in decorative cloths spotted with lightbulbs. Will try to post a video up when back in Singapore.

The parade was really very impressive. To attend the first day of the festival is considered particularly auspicious, and the main street of Kandy was lined with little old ladies sitting on makeshift mats since early afternoon. As it seems with most events in Sri Lanka, joy and celebration are always underpinned by security concerns given the country’s turbulent past (and indeed present), and we saw more than our fair share of the reported 7,000 armed police who had turned up to monitor the event. (Although this had probably to do with our vantage point as well - a makeshift spectator gallery outside Kandy's one and only Pizza Hut. A note: Sri Lankan Super Supreme is NASTY.)

The parade had a pretty simple structure – a group of musicians or dancers, followed by a troupe of elephants, repeat several times. But the atmosphere was certainly intense, the clash of tambourines or banging of drums filling the jungle sky, the throngs of locals and visitors alike pushing in for a closer look, the solemn eeriness of these majestic elephants swaying along in progress, their thoughts as they survey the magical scene a complete mystery.

Day 3 - Kandy (missing elephant)

My elephant pic somehow got lost in the previous post, so re-posting. Yah I know, you didn't miss much.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Day 2 part 1 - Colombo

Instead of a dishy lifeguard, machine guns overlook the pool. Great. Fortunately no-one ever appeared at the top of the tower, so I’ll assume the guns are just there for their aesthetic value.

After the chaos of yesterday, our only venture back into the city was for lunch at the Elephant Walk’s Mahout Café. Elephant Walk is a haven for home accessories of assorted jewel colours and sparkly embellishments, while the courtyard Mahout Café was a perfectly tranquil spot to catch up on the news (cover page of the local daily: “Sex-themed arts festival in Sydney showcases man who paints with penis!”)

Lunch was roasted tomato soup and a Greek salad. Spot the hidden elephant in the last photo!

We met our driver, guide and otherwise companion for the next 6 days, and set off on the 4 hour ride to Kandy, the old Sinhalese hillside capital. The ride was fairly uneventful, the scenery reminiscent of Bali most of the time, and the drivers generally less suicidal than expected.

Arrived just after sunset at the homey Villa Rosa, and in time for our first local meal. From left to right: cashew nuts in a milky gravy, eggplant with green peppers, chicken curry, vegetable salsa, freshly fried pappadums and mango jam. Yum. Dessert was jaggery pudding, something I’d seen on a couple of menus in Colombo already and was keen to try. After inquiring from our German host, it turns out that jaggery, for its strange name, is actually something familiar to all us Southeast Asians – gula melaka or palm sugar. While the pudding was exactly the same taste and consistency as agar-agar. So jaggery pudding = gula melaka agar-agar. Not so exotic after all but good nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Holiday blog - Day 1 - Colombo

“Greetings from sunny Sri Lanka!”

… came the e-mail header confirming our hotel reservation.

And now here we are in Colombo, at the start of our first long vacation in over a year. The next three weeks will see us heading from Sri Lanka, through the Middle East, to finally arrive in Istanbul. Needless to say, in this short period we’ll only scratch the surface of what these exotic and historical regions have to offer, but the key purpose of the trip actually wasn’t just where we’d visit but how we’d get there – in our case, via the cargo ship CMA CGM LILAC.

But that’s next week. For now, we’ve got a week to spend in Sri Lanka before we board the ship at the port of Colombo. It’s Philippe’s and my first time in Sri Lanka, and even only after a day in Colombo, we’re pretty sure there will be more trips here to come.

Most guide books are quick to dismiss Colombo as little more than a necessary transit point to the real gems of Sri Lanka – the beautiful and expansive coast, the exotic hillside temples, the glamorous colonial fort, the serene, mist-covered tea estates.

I can see where they’re coming from. The city is dusty, hot and chaotic. There are few sights to see if you’re even remotely familiar with the hallmarks of British colonialism – parliament buildings, the old railway station… in fact the whole city looks uncannily like Penang, it just smells of a different blend of spices.

Highlights from Day 1, see what you think:

- Our visit to Odel’s, Colombo’s leading discount designer retailer and apparently a must-stop on the tourist circuit, lasted a full 20 minutes. It would’ve actually been much shorter if it wasn’t for the air-conditioning. Sure, you can find decent designer togs at a fraction of the price, but are you really going to buy Hugo Boss suits and Armani ties on vacation (and when it’s 30 degrees outside)?

- Likewise, while the highly lauded Paradise Road Studio housed shelves of chic tableware and the like, we just weren’t prepared to lug entire china dinner sets around with us the rest of our trip. Plus risk the possibility of seeing the exact same set on a future trip to Bangkok or Bali (elephants, elephants, and more elephants).

- (Alert: Food blog starts now!) The Paradise Road Café, however, was a lovely little lunch haven in the same décor and cuisine vein as Singapore’s Blood Café. Here’s lunch – Philippe’s Mexican beef pita pocket (my spinach and ricotta ravioli tasted good but wasn’t terribly photogenic), followed by our dessert of passion fruit meringue pie. Very local I know, but, hey, we’ll be journeying to the Sri Lanka heartlands tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities, by choice or circumstance, to sample local cuisine. Right now, it’s just too hot to even contemplate curry.

- Our first attempt of the trip to play historical tourist led us via a white knuckle tuk-tuk ride to the old lighthouse at the north end of Galle Face Green, overlooking the Indian Ocean. According to our driver, the area used to be a popular al fresco seafood dinner destination until the Presidential Secretariat was established here. While the southern end of the Green is still bustling with strolling young couples, gossiping old-timers and kite-flying children, the north end is starkly desolate, even hostile. Our only companions during that 20 minute stroll were rifle carrying soldiers and hundreds of gigantic black crows, fighting over stubs of stale bread, circling silently overhead, or simply lined up in statue-like stillness on the seaside walls, staring out at the ocean like a scene out of a Vertigo comic book. Not quite Tourist Promotion Board material.

- Next, we tried exploring the pettah. In a word, this place is madness, quite worthy of the warning in our Luxe Guide to avoid at all costs. Narrow streets crammed with stalls selling everything from cheap shoes to outdated electronics to gems of dubious origins branch out in every direction from the main arterial street. Not that you could actually enter the shops even if you wanted to – the pavements are packed with parked tuk-tuks and mobile food stalls. Shoppers are thus left to jostle for passageway with cars, trucks, carts, motorcycles and tuk-tuks on the street itself, with each form of transportation gloriously issuing its own unique combination of exhaust fumes, horn blaring and reckless overtaking technique. Add to this the blazing sun overhead, and you soon realize that the best the pettah has to offer is its numerous bake shops.

- I guess as a result of its various colonial influences (Dutch, Portugese and British), Sri Lankans really love their bread, and it’s hard to find a street that doesn’t house at least a bake shop or two. We sat down at an empty table near the kitchen door, and watched an endless stream of fresh baked bread emerge, the variety of which was worthy of any European bakery.

- Through this afternoon, we constantly wondered where the other tourists were. We finally found them all by the pool of our hotel, the charming colonial Galle Face Hotel, engaged in an amusing game of musical deckchairs – Caucasians chasing the sun, Asians running away from it.

- Dinner was at Number 18 (food blog time again!), Colombo’s latest haven for the young and beautiful dining crowd. Helmed expertly by an Australian chef, it offers excellent modern Italian/Australian cuisine in a stylish courtyard setting, and is the perfect place to get the grime and chaos of daytime Colombo off your mind. My starter was squid and tomato petals with papardelle tossed in lemon oil and parsley, main was grilled rack of lamb with a caponata and mint jus, and dessert was passionfruit pavlova with butterscotch ice cream. Add to that a glass of crisp sauvignon blanc and chilled lounge music, and you’ve got a happy end to a long day.