Monday, July 23, 2007

Two weddings and a full belly (second wedding in Singapore)

The Chinese bash in the evening was decided different from the opulent Indian fair earlier in the day. For starter, people were much much louder. Drinks, not of the mango lassie variety, were free flowing. The non-religious couple had no formal ceremony. They simply started the celebration with an elaborate champagne pour. The groom, ever the jester, specially ordered formally-dressed servers, bearing large trays of expensive appetizers such as abalone and lobster, to march into the ballroom under flashing lights and to disco tunes. All the guests went from looking slightly puzzled to laughing out loud as the servers broke out dance moves in unison with the large platters parked on their shoulders. How could anyone not love a couple with a great sense of humor. They will surely weather life's twists and turns well.

I expected the food to be okay, but not as good as it turned out to be. The couple swapped white gloved service for big sharing platters. We hardly had a miss in eight courses (Chinese lucky number). The braised abalone was tender, not chewy. The pickled jelly fish supplied a great dose of flavor without being laden with MSG. Not being a fan of the dirty bird (chicken), I almost didn't try the Chinese fried chicken in a sticky hoisen-based sauce until my neighbor served me a piece, which forced me to eat it out of proper Chinese etiquette. It was awesome. The crispy skin perfectly set off the tenderness of the au point meat underneath. I almost went for another piece, almost. That's saying a lot.

I also wasn't attracted to the homely looking scallops. But a surprising wonderful bite absent mindedly ingested while watching the hilarious baby picture slide show changed my mind. Maybe laughing enhanced the taste because I was doing a great deal of it. The too cute photos included captions such as "chicks dig it" accompanying photos of the groom wearing the most dorky black-rimmed glasses in primary school. The artfully edited slide show sent the room into fits of laughter.

Many more dishes flowed out of the kitchen as the night progressed. We wrapped Peking duck in fluffy bun pillows and tangled our chopsticks in yards of tender fried Cantonese noodles. My taste buds worked into frenzies while my stomach steadily expanded. Many times through the night, I patted myself on the back for having had the good sense to pick an empire waisted dress that left plenty of room in the middle section for spontaneous growth.

My favorite of the night, "taro mud," rounded out a terrific meal. The purple taro mush coated the mouth in a silky and fragrant layer. The nuggets of ginkgo nuts studded throughout the mush provided pleasant textual contrast. Pools of sweet coconut milk added the quintessential southeast Asian flare and contributed to the sticky mouth feel. I loved this stuff and this intimate wedding.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Two weddings and one full belly

How much wedding food can this girl handle? Apparently A LOT!

The wedding tour began with an elaborate northern Indian celebration at the Ritz. As soon as we stepped into the great hall, energetic costumed bongo dancers greeted us with songs while servers passed around mango lassies and Indian snacks. Our late arrival scored me a prime spot near the elevator bay when the most decked out bride I've ever seen emerged to meet her groom. The bride had so much gold and gem draped all over, around, and behind her, I was surprised that she could move at all. Once I got pass the sparkles, it was obvious that our friend's wife was quite the beauty with or without the blings.
Her grand entrance was followed by a slew of complicated wedding rituals involving both families and a spiritual man under a flower-covered tent in the ballroom. We couldn't understand much of it, but could still gather that some sort of negotiation took place between the families for the hand of the bride. Once a "deal" was struck, yards of threads were tied around the new couple, who were made to circle a fire pit quite a few times. This was no easy task, I assure you. Both the bride and groom were draped in so much fabric and jewelry, one misstep could start a fire in the Ritz ballroom that I am sure cost an arm and a leg to secure.
The most exciting portion of the wedding began soon after more rings were exchanged between the newly wed couple. The couple already had so many on, the poor justice of the peace even got confused as to where the new additions should go and said something to the effect of "please put the ring on the third finger of the left finger"??? No one minded the little mistake though as the couple looked head over heels in love with each other and we could smell the buffet in the adjacent banquet hall.
Wedding food was definitely not bad food at this wedding. The Ritz chefs set out arrangements of enormous buffets on each side of the large banquet room and a long table of desserts at the center. The buffets were divided multi-culturally into Chinese dim sum, Indian curries, and tempura. How cool is it to have a made-on-the-spot tempura station at a wedding buffet - too cool! I passed on all the Chinese offerings, thinking that I'd be getting my share at the other wedding that we were to attend in a few hours, and went straight for the curries. Everything was tasty, especially the spinach and Indian cheese combo. The only disappointment was the nann. This usual favorite of mine was lifeless and rubbery thanks to the long hours spent on the steam table. Desserts were hit or miss, which was fine by me since I got one of everything to try in my usual style. The mango pudding was way too watery while the white chocolate cake failed in the way that most Asian cakes do - it simply lacked the butteriness of. . . well . . . butter. The creme brulee had a very flavorful custard portion with a hint of orange essence, but the sugar crust was pitiful. All in all, the best desserts were the exotic fruits that included J's favorite jackfruit. A little tart, a little sweet, and very crunchy, it provided a very refreshing ending to a spice heavy meal.

We left the wedding party at around 4 pm, enough time to do a bit of quick shopping before having to get ready for the next big bash in the evening.

To be continued.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The best jet lag cure - Mangosteen!

Twenty six hours, three plane rides, and one elbow fight with an annoying neighbor who insisted on sleeping in my lap later, I emerged into the suffocatingly moist Singapore night. Raccoon eyed and smelling like stale airplanes, I was in no condition to partake in the first of the three wedding festivities that had brought me here. Instead, J cranked up the AC and drove me to his home.

I had all but given up on the idea of a midnight snack, my usual ritual in Singapore, when J came out of the kitchen with a plastic bag and a mischievous smile. "It's mangosteen season you know..." Before he could finish the sentence, I had already ripped the bag from his hands.

Adorable little guys they were. Perfectly chubby and round with cute little green caps, these babies were almost too beautiful to eat, almost. A hungry girl can only admire looks for so long, she must first answer to the call of the belly! No peeling or even washing required here. A bit of pressure put to the chubby cheeks was sufficient to force the skin apart to reveal the snowy white flesh within. All that left to do was to slurp/suck out the juicy tenderness with flourish. Mega mega yum!!! The segments burst in my mouth with a gentle coolness followed by an intense sweet/tartness somewhere between a ripe lychee and a white peach. If I didn't know better, I would have swallowed the few seeds in my haste to get to the next one.

Ten minutes and many mangosteens later, I had all but forgotten the horrid trip over and was ready to get some sleep in preparation for a long day of fooding to come.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Authentic "Moo Shu Pork" found in North Carolina!

Contrary to what the food authorities tell us, they DO make "Moo Shu Pork" in China! I discovered this authentic version at a hole in the wall somewhere along the trails of the smoky mountains. There is no question that it is made in China. Trust me, I checked the tag. :)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Way beyond big (Bakery: Pastries A Go Go)

I don't share my lemon bar. . . normally. The sentence would have stopped in front of the dots had I not met "this" lemon bar from Pastries A Go Go in Decatur. The fateful meeting happened after my usual Morningside farmer's market excursion. I had a desire for something sweet to nibble on, but didn't feel like settling for something familiar at Alon's. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, so I decided to take the drive to Decatur.

I still remember passing the cute sliver of a storefront Pastries A Go Go used to have on the main stretch of W. Ponce. Sadly, I never made it in. The bakery's new location across the street seemed a bit less cozy. I did, however, like the inviting and airy outdoor seating area among the plants. I knew PAGG had a big breakfast business. What I didn't realize was that the breakfast service almost completely overshadowed their bakery function. For a place with pastry in its name, the pastry case was surprisingly small with less than a dozen selections. But before I could start to feel disappointed, the lemon bar on the top shelf jumped out at me . . . because it was ginormous!

Almost three quarters the length of a regular dinner fork, the bar made an impressive thud when it hit the bottom of my take away bag. You can still see the dent from the fall at the lower left corner in the photo above. I also got a croissant at a server's suggestion. The croissant was also respectable in size, but when put in the same bag, merely appeared to float on top of the lemon bar.

I drove the both of them home on the seat of my mini like real passengers and dug in at the kitchen bar. The lemon bar had an interestingly chewy crust that I can't quite put my finger on. It was an almost rice cakey texture like mochi skin. The body yielded to the fork easily, but did not part like a custard. The crust, however, required a good bit of poking as it was quite hard and did not crumble as I would have liked. The lemon bar innards tasted creamy and refreshing. Perhaps leaning just a tad too much to the sweet rather than tangy side. The crust, as expected, was pretty hard and a bit dry - quite discardable. Overall, the bar was fine, just not one to induce any late night cravings. The croissant, on the other hand, was one to impress. It had a nicely toasted shell. There was a bit of crunch, but not too much to cause crumb spillage all over my lap. The innards had a balanced ratio of holeyness to dougheyness, so it gave a very nice chew. Best of all, it wasn't so dainty as to leave me wanting after the last buttery bite was gone.