Thursday, June 28, 2007

Having Sex in the Kitchen

I know I promised to write about Thailand next, and that post is in progress. But something caught my eye this morning, and I can't stop thinking about it with a half smile on my face.

In yesterday's New York Times food section, there is quite the little gem of an article on female TV chefs. Is it about their domination of the airwaves, their rising celebrity status, their awesome skills (or lack thereof)? Is it even just about their looks and sex appeal? No, it's about their T-shirts.

I'm not saying I'm offended; I was entertained and amused by the article. Of course, it really is about sex, and that's what snags readers, but the T-shirt focus makes this piece either, A) an irrelevant puff piece on female TV-chef fashion, or B) an extremely clever analysis and tongue-in-cheek ribbing of cooking shows recast as soft porn.

The article credits Nigella Lawson with being the first TV chef to whip up titillation along with her cakes and curries. And I know you remember when Rachel Ray posed for lad mag, FHM. Cat Cora did the same sort of pictorial fairly recently. And now the New York Times is distilling this curious cultural phenomenon of the sexy female chef down to a T-shirt/sweater/knit top.

Cheers to writer, Elaine Louie, for giving us such an incisive little nugget of pop culture analysis among the otherwise earnest reportage of the food section. Do give it a read and leave your two cents in the comments.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Food-Focused Singapore Top 10

These are not in order. That would be too difficult.

1) Black Pepper Crab- It's found in restaurants all over the city, but the best place to eat it is at the East Coast Seafood Center. This cluster of restaurants faces the calm Straits of Singapore. Malaysia is off in the distance, and when it gets dark the boats and cargo ships on the water are lit up like a floating city. As for the crab, it sounds pretty simple, but it is not. It's the freshest, meatiest crab (the black pepper crab is in the background of the photo above; the one in front is chile crab that's very nearly as good as the other) that has been soaked through with a light, peppery sauce that flavors every bite. Before our crabs got cooked and peppered, a server carried them over to our table to make sure they met with our approval.

2) Chicken Rice- This Singapore specialty (above) is simplicity itself: the rice is cooked in a flavorful chicken broth, and the skinless breast meat is poached to produce moist, tasty chicken. There's spicy chili sauce on the side and a smattering of crisp cucumbers and green onions for color and texture, and that's it. The best place to get this are the hawker centers, collections of food stalls selling their incredibly delicious and cheap specialties.

3) Hawker Centers- Whether you find them in the shopping centers or in busy neighborhoods like Chinatown, these funhouses for foodies will dazzle you with their efficiency, their array of mouth-watering options, and their low prices. Most stalls specialize in just a few dishes with variations, but many just do one thing really well. Above is something Mike picked up even though he didn't have a clue what it was. Tasting proved it to be sweet bean paste in a light, crispy sesame dough. We didn't know it was a dessert until we took the first bite. A lot of signs are not in English, so you just go by the pictures and trust that whatever you pick is likely to be great.

4) Carrot Cake- Yet another hawker center winner. I read about this dish (above) in Gourmet (there is a recipe in the May issue here) just a few weeks before the trip, so I was on the lookout for it. The name is what caught my eye, although this dish is actually neither carrot nor cake. It's stir fried daikon (the Chinese word for daikon is very similar to the word for carrot) mixed with rice flour and steamed to form a cake of sorts which is then stir fried with eggs, garlic and green onion. It's fantastic, and definitely something we will try at home.

5) Chinatown- Over 75% of Singaporeans are of Chinese descent, so you might say that the whole city is Chinatown. Still, this wonderful area in the middle of downtown is pretty special. There's plenty of good shopping from clothes to art and souvenirs to shops selling the strange dried seafood products in the picture above. You'll see dried whole squid all over Southeast Asia, but I'm still not sure just what people do with it. You will also find unique Chinese shop house architecture, a great little museum, and a Hindu temple with a psychedelic aesthetic. And I'm pretty sure this Chinatown is the place to go if you need to pick up some foot of toad or eye of newt.

6) The Singapore Zoological Gardens- This is a world class zoo that is not to be missed. Even if you don't love zoos, there's a good chance you'll like this. It's not just that there are loads of creatures you haven't seen before, it's that most of them are kept in open areas with just a low fence or a small moat separating you from them. This komodo dragon was well removed from spectators, but giraffes, zebras and kangaroos are in wide open areas several yards from the footpaths and orangutans and chimps climb in their playgrounds overhead. I took about 12 pics of that komodo...see how he's eyeing me?

7) Boat Quay- This is the place to have dinner along Singapore's downtown waterfront area. Every cuisine is represented and you can sit outside and enjoy a great view and lively atmosphere. The surrounding streets are packed with great bars including a lovely little Irish pub called Molly Malone's.

8) Little India- After the Chinese, Indians make up the next largest ethnic group. This means there is a ton of great food to be had, from just about any region of India you like. We had fabulous Chicken Tikka and Chicken Saag at Delhi, a Punjabi restaurant. With bustling, colorful streets and vendors selling tons of new-to-you produce, it's a great place to wander.

9) Raffles Hotel- Named for Sir Thomas Raffles who arrived in 1819 and made Singapore a major trade hub of the British Empire, this is one of the city's premier luxury hotels and one of those tourist stops that you'll really enjoy. The hotel's Long Bar is the home of the Singapore Sling, a sweet yet strong pinkish-red cocktail that is rumored to contain gin. I tasted the Sling, but ordered a gin and tonic which was served to gorgeous effect: the gin was measured into a highball glass on the rocks, and the tonic was served separately in a miniature carafe, allowing the drinker to mix the cocktail to her liking...fabulous.

10) Chez Herndon- While in Singapore, Mike and I stayed in an airy, three-story, modern colonial-style private home in the quiet Bishan neighborhood. We had a kitchen, washer and dryer, free internet access, bikes and two knowledgeable guides. Thank you so, so much to Mike's Aunt Kate and Uncle Bill who took incredibly good care of us and who were not only a fountain of help and information, but a lot of fun to hang out with. We are so glad they recently became expats, since they are the main reason we ever entertained the idea of taking this trip!

Anything else you've always wanted to know about Singapore? Leave a comment!

Up Next: Thailand

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Back in the U.S.A.

Do you shabu-shabu? This was one of our many favorite meals.

I can't believe it's been almost a month since I was able to blog! We are now back in the United States, but stuck in San Francisco. Getting back to Fort Lauderdale flying stand-by was a little challenging yesterday. My husband's dad was a pilot for United, so we were able to use his stand-by tickets for most of this trip.

Here's the summary of what we did:
  • 3 days in Seattle with Mike's family
  • 3 days in Singapore with his aunt and uncle
  • 7 days in Thailand (Bangkok and Ayuthaya)
  • 6 days in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang)
  • stopover in Singapore
  • 5 days in Tokyo
I didn't have my laptop for most of the trip, and with technical challenges, blogging wasn't as easy as I thought it might be. It also just so happens that my first blog-iversary passed on June 14!

Now if we could just get home, I can share some pictures and talk about the food. It was incredible, and I can't even name favorites right now. This is going to take some thought...

I've missed things around here, especially all my favorite food blogs!