Friday, December 31, 2010

Auld lang syne

May you have a festive, memorable, and joyous end to 2011 and beginning of -- oy gevalt -- 2011.

Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eating Singapore: Best of the Best (and an Intro to the Rest)

Singapore is my birthplace, so it's with not an ounce of bias that I say it's one of the most boring places on the face of the planet: the shopping is overpriced and generic (Chanel across the street from Chanel!), the heat and humidity are unbearable, and everything is intolerably clean and hygienic.  But it's also with not an ounce of bias when I say that it's probably got the best food on earth.

Chendol Ice at Blue Ginger Restaurant

Okay, perhaps I should limit my claim just to saying that Singapore has the best street food culture on earth; when I'm back in Singapore, all I want to do is hover around the covered hawker centers -- the food courts in which the cheapest, most traditional of food vendors ply their goodies -- so I can't tell you what the haute cuisine is like there.  But who needs molecular gastronomy when the most perfect bowl of wonton noodles can be had for less than the price of a Happy Meal?

Toa Payoh Rojak at Old Airport Rd. Food Centre

Singapore's food culture is so rich because it is influenced by European, Malay, Chinese, Indonesian, and Indian cuisines.  Singaporean food is somehow all of these and yet not any one of them in particular.  It's each of these cuisines amped up: more spicy, more savory, more unami, more sweet, and more delicious.

Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Food Centre

I had two gastronomic goals for this trip: (1) eat only "classic" dishes, the ones of my youth, the ones that my mom will not stop talking about, and (2) attempt to find the best -- the most "authentic," flavorful, famous, well-tested . . . however one wants to define "best" -- of each type of dish.  We definitely succeeded in the first.  And I'm fairly sure we came close to achieving the second.  Either that or even the not-so-great in Singapore is pretty fantastic.

Fried Banana Fritters with Kaya Fondue at Makansutra Gluttons Bay

Precisely because there's so little to do in Singapore, my family and I spent literally all day, every day eating.  We could barely start one meal without thinking about where we were going to eat next.  We're talking at least five meals a day -- so much food that I could scarcely fit into my clothes after three days of exhausting and happy gluttony.

Hua Kee Hougang Famous Wonton Mee at Old Airport Road Food Centre

There's a Singaporean expression, "shiok," which means "really delicious."  I can't wait to share with you the food I ate on this trip; it was awesomely, ridiculously shiok.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Greetings from Singapore!

Three days of nonstop feasting awaits . . . .


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chic DSLR Camera Bags, Pt. 4: My Kelly Moore B-Hobo

Among the funnest aspects of traveling through Asia this winter is getting to capture all my foodie experiences through the lens of my new dslr.  My neophyte photography skills may be wonkie, but what makes me feel less like a bumbling idiot of a tourist and more like the  chic visual raconteur I aspire to be is my Kelly Moore B-Hobo bag.

As you might remember, I researched dslr carrying bags quite extensively.  I needed something that would be stylish, roomy, and comfortable, and something that preferably wouldn't scream "camera inside! steal me!"  The B-Hobo bag ended up being perfect.

The bag is well-constructed.  The tough, water-resistant leather exterior has two front pockets (good for extra memory cards) and a back pocket (nicely situated for carrying maps or cash close to your body).  There are also small pockets on the sides of the bag; I keep my iPhone in one and my lens cap in the other.  

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The zippered main body features a padded interior with three resizeable compartments.  The dividers are attached to the inside of the bag with velcro, so it's easy to reposition them to accommodate a larger camera body or to keep an expensive lens tightly ensconced.  On a regular day, I carry my camera in the center compartment, and I store a second lens and extra battery in the right compartment and my wallet and small cosmetic bag in the left compartment.  And when I'm traveling, I store my Slik mini-pro III tripod in the left compartment instead.

No wooden reindeers were harmed in the creation of this photo.

Most importantly, even with all that gear, the bag is still fairly comfortable when worn cross-body messenger style.  (The bag also comes with a short strap so you can wear it like a shoulder bag if desired.)  And as camera bags go, it's pretty sassy: not only is the gray a nice neutral, the distressed leather finish means you don't have to baby the exterior.  

My only complaint is that the cross-body strap digs a bit into my shoulder.  There's a shoulder pad, but the strap buckle happens to hit right at my shoulder, and the pad isn't able to fit over the buckle.  This probably wouldn't happen to anyone who is a taller than I am, as they would be able to wear a longer strap.

All in all, I'm really happy with my purchase.  The B-Hobo bag has made it possible to take my camera with me everywhere.  And at the end of the day, the only way I am going to improve on my photography is with lots and lots of practice, right?!

Do you travel with your dslr?  What's your bag of choice?


Monday, December 27, 2010

Eating Hong Kong: Good Food Fast, Not Fast Food

Everything in Hong Kong moves fast: the elderly walk fast, escalators run fast, and people eat fast.  But grabbing something to eat quickly in Hong Kong doesn't mean stopping off at McDonald's or KFC. More often than not, going for a quick bite means stopping off at a cha tzan tang (literally, "tea cafe") or getting a fan hup ("rice box").

One of the oldest cha tzan tangs still in operation is Lan Fong Yuen, a literal hole in the wall located in an alley under the Mid-level Escalators.  In the olden days, the "restaurant" would only be able to serve two patrons at a time, on those wooden stools you see on top of the green bench in the photo above.  Nowadays, you can still eat your meals on those stools, but the cafe has extended behind the old storefront to accommodate more diners.  Note, though, that this is not the kind of place where you comfortably chill with your laptop for hours.  You sit down at whatever seat is available, sharing the table with whomever else happens to fit there, and you stay only as long as it takes you to order, eat, and get the hell out.

The menu at a classic cha tzan tang is pretty standard: various kinds of sandwiches, including savories like egg and cheese and sweets like French toast (I have "kaya," or coconut jam, toast above); macaroni in soup with egg or Spam; and limited meat choices like "Portuguese" pork cutlets served in a crispy bun.  Drinks include Coke with lemon (sometimes served hot), iced tea, Horlicks, or coffee with condensed milk.

The most typical drink, though, is tea (iced or hot) with evaporated milk and lots of sugar, otherwise known as "Hong Kong-style" milk tea or "pantyhose" tea.  Lan Fong Yuen claims to have invented "pantyhose" tea, so named because the filter used to brew the tea (always Lipton, always looseleaf) looks a lot like pantyhose.  As the video above (courtesy of Wokwithnana) shows, brewing a good cup of pantyhose tea is a practiced art/tradition.  When in the U.S., I always crave milk tea, and I can never get a cup that tastes authentic.

While a cha tzan tang is where you'd go for a snack, to get a proper meal fast, you'd grab a fan hup at a roast place.  There's practically one of these roast places on every corner -- you'll know these restaurants by the roast chicken, barbecue pork, and other roasted goodies hanging in the front window -- but the very best one is Tai Hing.

If instead of taking your meal to go in a fan hup, you choose to eat in, seating is no more comfortable and the service is no less brusque here than at the cha tzan tangs.  You sit down at whatever seat is available, again sharing a table when necessary.  You reach into the drawer on the side of the table to fetch a pair of chopsticks and a spoon, which you wash in the cup of weak tea that the server rudely shoves at you.

Then you wait . . . for scarcely a minute . . . before a plate of awesomeness appears before you, like this plate of barbecue pork (cha siu) and crispy suckling pig (siu yok).  At Tai Hing, you generally choose one type of starch (rice or glass noodles called lai fun) and pair it with two or three types of roasted meats.

And you finish your meal with -- what else? -- Hong Kong-style milk tea, for which Tai Hing has won awards.  (Tai Hing is so serious about the taste of its tea that it never adds ice to the tea itself, but rather sets the cup in ice to keep it cool.)

I could use a large cup of that tea right now.

What do you crave when looking for "fast food"?


Sunday, December 26, 2010

So You Wish You Could Dance Sundays

This is a dynamic, gorgeous contemporary piece by Chicago choreography Kate Jablonski.  It feels like a deep breath.


Happy Boxing Day!

May you have found all that you desire under the tree (or Hanukkah bush)!

Here's what I hoped for:

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Lots of joy.

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A little beauty.

A bit of sweetness.

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Just a smidgeon of sassyness.

Much togetherness.

And oodles of love.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Seasons greetings!

Whether you've been naughty

or nice,

may your holiday be joyful and bright!


Shopping Hong Kong: Laduree Pop-up Shop at Joyce

In honor of Joyce boutique's fortieth anniversary, Laduree set up a pop-up shop at the boutique's main location in Central.

I was so incredibly giddy to get my hands on bona fide Laduree macarons and confections that I totally neglected to take photos of the shop and cart set-up at Joyce.  Suffice to say, it was tres adorable: the rainbow macarons were displayed in a pistachio green cart, imported from France, and with the shelves filled with Laduree tea canisters, boxes, and bags, Joyce's foyer looked like a mini version of the real thing.

My extravagant purchases -- a box of fresh macarons, a box of chocolate-covered macarons, and a tiny box of nougats -- were packaged for transport in special "Laduree for Joyce" bags.

Cedric Rivrain created the ethereal, whimsical illustrations for the carry-out boxes.

The boutique was out of chocolate-flavored macarons, but I got an array of the others, including citron, raspberry, rose ginger, praline, pistachio, and my favorite, salted caramel.

Thanks to the kindness of my friend Martha, I've had Laduree's macarons before, but there's something about a fresh macaron that is transcendent.

The shells were so, so crisp and airy, and the fillings were perfect: intensely flavored and with just the right amount in each one.

But the boxes . . . oh the boxes are what I love most.  I can't wait to repurpose them for jewelry and other knick-knacks.

If you're in Hong Kong for the holidays, make sure to drop by the Joyce boutique in Central for the Laduree experience.  Unfortunately, the pop-up shop is only open until the end of December, so you'll have to dash there asap.  And while you're there, pick me up a few extra salted caramel macarons, please.  They are heavenly.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Chrismukkah to Me!

I must have been very, very good this year, because look what I got for myself:

More macaron and packaging porn to come . . . .


Scenes from Central

It was a warm, sunny day in Hong Kong -- perfect weather for a stroll down the waterfront.

Financial District Skyline

Looking toward Kowloon

Looking toward the Convention Center

Looking toward Wan Chai

And here are some scenes taken from the Mid-levels Escalators, which my research assistant Wikipedia says is the longest covered escalator system in the world.  (If you blab to my students that I did my research on Wiki, I will deny it.)

Old Residential Bldgs. from Mid-level Escalator

"Part Massage"?  (I wonder which part?!)


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Eating Hong Kong: Fu's Kitchen (or Why I Can't Really Be a Food Blogger)

Ostensibly, this post is about Fu's Kitchen, a chic little dim sum bistro in Causeway Bay.  But -- cue tiny violin -- I'd actually like to take the opportunity to whine about how hard it is to blog about food.  You're hungry -- hell, everyone at your table is starving -- and the food arrives, all steamy and delicious, and what do you do?  You have to yell at everyone, including yourself, not to touch the food until you photograph it.

Steamed scallop dumplings

Then in your eagerness to get to the actual business of eating the food, you take crazy shots with your camera.

Shots that are out-of-focus,

Stir-fried Eggwhites with Crab Meat and Dried Scallops

terribly styled and composed (ew that broccoli and eggwhite look egregious),

Baked Barbecue Pork Pastries

and terribly lit.

Garlic Tofu

And in the process, you do the food an awful disservice, making even the most delicious of foods (like those fried tofu cubes above) look sad.

Braised Noodles

Sigh.  I might have to abandon this line of posting and leave the photos and commentary to the pros.

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