Food Tales

THE STORY OF BOTTEGA

Bottega Wine dinner table setting
All set for the Bottega Wine Dinner

To tell the story of Bottega, let us begin with the sticker. A visit to the vineyard by a commission is the first step in the process followed by wine tastings before the wines are bottled and shipped to various destinations. If the commission finds the taste agreeable, or up to standard, then the seals are issued. All Bottega wines have the D.O.C seal, a ‘sticker’ given by the government of Italy, on the bottles which attest to the vineyard having passed all the requirements set by the government, thus they are not to be sold as regular table wine. Getting the coveted sticker is not a surprise since Bottega is pernickety about making wine which begins with the selection of grapes. Take the Bottega Soave Classico D.O.C 2016, which comes from Soave City. Made from the best gargarega grape, a type sourced from the 355 varieties of local grape in Italy, it has become the quintessential soave with its medium body, flower-peach notes, and a slight bitter aftertaste of almond. Soave has been around and was very popular between the 1950s and 1960s, but the quality was mediocre. Bottega reintroduced it into the market with a taste that breathes quality.

Bottega was in Indonesia on 30 November 2018 for a Bottega Wine Dinner featuring five of their prized wines. Held at Hotel Mulia’s il Mare, it began with a pre-dinner drink of sparkling wine, Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Prosecco D.O.C., complemented by bite-size corn croquettes at the bar. Prosecco is strongly challenging the reign of champagne in the sparkling wine industry as the preferred drink for any occasion. Wine drinkers are now gravitating towards Prosecco for its fruity taste, low acidity, and low alcohol content compared to champagne. The lower alcohol content is due to the short fermentation period of only between 40 and 50 days. It fact, it is because of Prosecco that Italy has been named the largest wine producer in the world for the last three years.  Served in a large wine glass instead of a traditional wine flute, I was told it was to let the aroma waft through the air and tickle the drinker’s nose.

Bottega Prosecco
Prosecco – the national sparkling wine of Italy

Next on the menu was lobster roll with capsicum and heirloom tomatoes paired with Bottega Soave Classico D.O.C. 2016 which whet the appetite for the next dish and wine pairing of ossobuco agnolotti and Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Rosso di Montalcino D.O.C. 2015. Coming from Montalcino where only eight percent, or 24,000 hectares, of land is used as vineyards and the rest are planted with olive trees (think olive oil), grape production is very limited with each vine producing only 1.2 kg of grapes for quality wine.

lobster roll
lobster roll with capsicum and heirloom tomatoes

Close at the heels of Montalcino 2015 is the vintage Bottega il Vino dei Poeti Brunello di Montalcino D.O.C.G. 2010 which went well with the smoked grilled beef short rib with endive and mushroom that my friend had or, being a non-beef eater, the alternative dish of ravioli chicken mushroom I had. Brunello is made from a very sensitive type of grape called santroveza – its quality changes when there are changes to the area of cultivation. It must be aged for two years and resting in a bottle for four months to get that sophisticated taste and good acidity. A bottle of Brunello can be stored between 20 and 30 years.

smoke grilled beef short ribs
smoked grilled beef short rib with endive and mushroom
ravioli chicken with mushroom or what's left of it
half way through the ravioli chicken with mushroom
more Bottega wine
More Bottega wine, please!

Rounding up the wine dinner was the dessert wine Bottega Fragolino rosso and the digestif Grappa d’ Amarone Alexander, which is also produced by Bottega. The strong and smooth grappa helped to make room for the dessert soon to arrive. Fragolino is not new in the history of Italian wines. Produced from a type of grape called Isabella which tastes like strawberry, it was very popular between the 1930s and 1950s, but was banned by the government when wine drinkers decided to be wine makers in their own kitchens. In the 1990s, Bottega reincarnated it as the Bottega Fragolino rosso, a merlot cabernet-based wine infused with strawberry, which is prepared like Sangria, and mostly drank in the summer. But that night it accompanied the delectable dessert of strawberry tart with mascarpone, yoghurt mousse, and coconut snow to end the Bottega story on a sweet, fruity note.

souvenir mask from Venice
souvenir mask from Venice
masquerade vibe
exuding that masquerade vibe
grappa and red wine
grappa and dessert wine to end the meal

 

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Bookcase

YEAR OF BOOKS (2018)

collage

Year 2018 was hectic that even finding time to read posed a great challenge. Still, I persevered and carted a book or two to my reading nooks. I shuttled between fantasy and non-fantasy with the choices I made, which was a concession to brain fog. When brain fogged, I plunged into juvenile fiction, and once the brain fog lifted, I went for new authors.

Anthony Horowitz figured greatly on my 2018 reading list. It started with his slow-paced whodunit novel The Magpie Murders in which I stayed devotedly married to. My devotion paid off. The adagio pacing quickly escalated to a heart-racing ride until the last page. Tempo was fast in Trigger Mortis, his James Bond novel, which, from the get-go, reeled me in with the title’s pun. He didn’t rework Bond’s original milieu of espionage sans highfalutin technology which made it a more interesting read. It truly showed the sagacity of an agent licensed to kill. I then segued to his Sherlock Holmes novels, House of Silk and Moriarty. The former has Holmes and Watson up against a formidable enemy, which upon its conclusion, leaves one musing on the glaring similarities between Holmes’ era and modern society in terms of the depths of men’s iniquities. Moriarty, on the other hand, showcases Holmes’ infamous nemesis up close, detailing his ingenuity that was never tackled before. The Word is Murder, his latest, had an allegro tempo with a soupçon of the vibe of NCIS that I finished it in no time.

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Thanks to Tom Holland’s fans I discovered Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy. I read Books I and II – The Knife of Never Letting Go and The New World – I couldn’t keep my eyes open despite the intentionally ungrammatical speech of Todd Hewitt, which is one of the drawbacks of the novels. However, it was riveting because of the motif: running away from someone who has the uncanny power to speak without speaking only to run away with that someone later. I kept thinking throughout the first two books “What is going to happen to Todd and Viola?”, so I kept reading until I hit a road bump with the last instalment. The Ask and The Answer resembled a soap opera that I put it down for several weeks and picked it up again as I waited for my flight last December.

Chaos Walking Books 1 and 2

In the interim, I went back to mythology. Rick Riordan’s newest The Trials of Apollo focused on a fallen, full-pledged Greek Olympian god banished from Mt Olympus as punishment and now endures life on Earth as a mortal on a quest. The latest addition to his fractured mythology series is juvenile, but funny. The strength lies in the characterization of an Olympian god whose stereotypical self-absorbed personality is mixed with his humanized side providing a plausible, three-dimensional character. Meanwhile, Neil Gaiman’s new book titled simply Norse Mythology tied up loose ends in Bulfinch’s Mythology. Gaiman provided a context, for example, for Loki’s mischievousness, and also established his sagacity which Odin was grateful for. Unknown to most, Loki saved Asgard more than once. Running along the same line of supernatural tales is The Shape of Water by Daniel Kraus and Guillermo del Toro followed by Aaron Mahnke’s The World of Lore. The appeal of The Shape of Water is the aquatic creature – its origin, species, appearance – as well as the mute cleaner he “rescued” from life’s mundanity. The World of Lore is less of fictional stories than a published series of podcasts on the unexplained global supernatural occurrences throughout history that defy logical explanation despite witness accounts. Spooky and intriguing!

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It was back to mystery with new authors: A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri; The Lottery Winner and Where are the Children? by Mary Higgins Clark; The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware; The Builders by Maeve Binchy; and Sleep No More – Six Murderous Tales by P.D. James. Mystery to me had always meant Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, and Agatha Christie. The detectives came in various forms, experienced or not, mired in a kidnapping, disappearance, or murder, or all of the above.

Camilleri’s detective is the opposite of Agatha Christie’s classical detective, Hercule Poirot. His is a hard boiled Italian inspector named Montalban but with Poirot’s appetite and astuteness in solving ordinary murder case unlike the local police force. He is a solitary figure who does not care who he locks horns with which makes his job a lot more difficult. Clark’s detective in the first novel is Alvirah Meehan, a former cleaning lady who struck it rich in a lottery, who solved unofficial police cases with common sense. Her other novel has a criminal TV show vibe to it as a sheriff-turned-detective fight against all odds to save Nancy Harmon, their children, and their marriage when the past and present lives of Nancy collide and explode. On a similar structural plane is The Woman in Cabin 10 with journalist Lo Blacklock fighting for her life when she investigates the disappearance of the woman in cabin 10 while on a press trip on-board the luxury ship Aurora whereas the novella The Builders by Maeve Binchy travels on a more nondescript plot, featuring an unwitting detective named Nan Ryan and her new workman friend who work together to unravel the mystery behind the disappearance of the family next door. Lastly, in the six stories by P.D. James, hailed “Queen of Crime”, the detective remained in the background. With the focus on the crime or mystery behind a death, the reader became an amateur detective trying to figure the mystery crime. The unpredictable revelations were filled with psychological insights into the deep workings of the human mind.

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The Woman in Cabin 10

PD James

The last two books are eclectic, The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette and A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter. Ouellette banishes the intimidating facade of integral calculus and combines it with pop culture and interesting personal vignettes, hoping to draw in people less inclined towards numbers like me. Who would have thought that the plot of Pride and Prejudice Zombies could be an effective way of explaining integral calculus and how fast a zombie infection – any deadly infection – can affect a population? Salter’s book veered away from mathematics diving into sexual love as the reader “listened” to an unnamed narrator relate the affair of American dropout Philip Dean with local girl Anne-Marie while vacationing in France. Eroticism runs the risk of descending into lewdness, but Salter is in full control of his text that it comes across as poignant in the end.

For 2019, Ann Radcliffe’s The Mystery of Udolpho is still part of the reading list. It was the book I intended to begin 2018 with but was derailed by other books. I should have finished with Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber by then.

Food Tales

LUNCH AT THE MARKET

Publik Markette menu
What’s on the menu at Publik Markette?

It was only when I had properly perused the menu and observed the set up did the concept of Publik Markette sink in. Located at the East Mall of Grand Indonesia, Publik Markette is perfect particularly for three hungry friends with diverse culinary tastes. Emphasizing its market concept, the menu presents a variety of cuisine especially the three popular ones in Indonesia, viz. Japanese, Western, and Indonesian, from which diners can choose from just like in a market. The idea is reminiscent of Marché which features a buffet-open kitchen set up except its menu is centered on German-Eastern European cuisine. Publik Markette’s dining space has three areas accessible through one entrance with diners passing through an open kitchen-display of roasted pork, an array of pastries (watch out for the giant chocolate chip cookie), and the cashier’s post. A diner has three options of where to sit – concave booth chairs, picnic benches, or round tables next to faux trees.

For our first appetizer, the unanimous choice was calamari. The presentation was far from the usual with the deep-fried battered squid resembling thick fries; another plus was its crunchiness throughout lunch and the smooth aioli sauce with its balanced garlic and mayo combination. The second appetizer was chicken satay with peanut sauce. Publik Markette is generous with serving size with each stick of chicken satay looking way thicker than the usual skewered scrawny chicken strips.

calamari
crispy and tangy calamari
chicken satay
chicken satay with peanut sauce

The choices for the main course were variegated. My Nori Salmon bowl was huge in portion and flavor. Vegetables – lettuce, Japanese cucumber, edamame, mushroom, squares of seaweed, and strips of nori – cradled the more-than-matchbox-size salmon that was sweetish-salty to the palate. Theresia’s choice of Publik Pork belly, sitting on a bed of baby potatoes topped by arugula and other greens, was a smorgasbord of flavors. Her silence testified to her enjoyment of the seamless melding of flavors of the perfectly roasted, juicy pork belly mixing with the crunchiness of the greens, and soft potatoes. Meanwhile, Anto’s choice of the rich Pasta Beef Ragout was a carb-filled bowl of fettuccine topped with melted cheese and succulent beef ragout guarded by a piece of garlic bread.

nori salmon bowl
something Japanese – Nori Salmon bowl
Publik Markette pork belly
a house specialty – Publik Markette Pork belly
fettuccine beef ragout
fettuccine beef ragout

Conversation flowed from every direction, from serious thoughts on world issues to simple venting out of frustrations, as we polished off our lunches. If we were in Europe, an al fresco setting would have heightened the dining experience a few notches, but Jakarta is too humid to even think of dining without air conditioning, among other things. Fortuitously, Publik Markette has successfully recreated an elegant simulacrum of market dining with its far-from-gaudy setting and a menu that elevates the taste from pedestrian to delectable. Even the escalating din from the growing lunch crowd – a nightmarish, headache-inducing occurrence – didn’t have the same impact as I had imagined it would. Absolutely nothing ruffled the muted promise of Publik Marekette of a wondrous dining experience.

table for three at Publik Markette
table for three
School Days

SCHOOL PLAYS

Although I am not a theatre major and only like to watch plays, I am tasked every year to stage a production for Global Prestasi School (GPS). There is this (mis)perception that, as a literature major, I can automatically turn my students into Broadway thespians in a few months. Fortunately, my school experiences included stage productions in elementary and high school from which I draw from extensively and dovetail it with new knowledge. By new knowledge, I mean the films I have seen and how certain actors create a character such as how Tom Hiddleston created Loki that wasn’t kitsch or two-dimensional; the news I have watched; and the books and stories I have read. Adding to that melange are the GPS students from the Cambridge Preparatory Classes who take to the stage like fish to water. It is a talented pool of students: natural actors who can go from submissive to feisty, from cruel to forgiving; musicians who play the guitar or violin with jaw-dropping dexterity; amateur singers who serenade like pros; artists who make imaginative backdrops and props; and writers with their evocative prose and wit.

Bellator by grade 9 GPS
The Prince is surprised that Ella doesn’t want to dance with him at the ball.

The 2018 production year witnessed the grades seven to nine students lock horns with the world. Through fractured mythologies, fairy tales, and legends, they tackled issues such as gender roles, corruption, racism, and bullying, which they either faced or facing, heard about, or read.  Under the title “Vox Nostra, Voice of the Youth, the Indonesian youth of GPS questioned the atavistic gender roles upheld as unbreakable in “Cinderella” by decimating the stereotyped roles of men and women, and re-establishing the might of women warriors in “Mulan”. They rallied against racism in “Pocahontas” debunking the Eurocentric precept of the white men offering salvation to the “other”, the dark-skinned savages of the wild while squashing another age-old prejudice against people with disabilities and different culture in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. They also vehemently protested against corruption and irreverence in “Malin Kundang” and made a stand against bullies in “Acceptance”.

waltz scene in Bellator
Ella finally agrees to dance with the Prince after learning he also questioned gender roles.

Without a doubt, the production would have been better left to the pros. However, there never any pretence on my part or the students that we were aiming for a Broadway debut. What the students and I create is a verisimilitude of life – what it is like to work with people they like or dislike, thinking on their feet, taking responsibility, how it is to be held accountable for something, solving problems, honouring commitments, being a professional, and having fun at the same time. Through the months spent on putting together the play, I have had a front row seat to clearly see the students becoming better versions of themselves. For example, two brothers have learned to put aside petty differences and work together. Another, both girls and boys have learned to view each other sans the gender glasses, and learn that gender is not – has never been – a hindrance to anything.  Lastly, they have learned to express themselves (in English) in agreement or in disagreement, and offer an advice or solution.

Staging a play is taxing, to say the least, but the lessons learned at the end are invaluable. Amidst the constant bellyaching (parents and students), histrionic outbursts (mine), and occasional spanners (the universe), everyone walks away a little more compassionate, knowledgeable, open-minded, and filled with a feeling of accomplishment, including the non-theatre major teacher.

GPS Producation 2018
a photo op with the stage crew of Vox Nostra before the show starts
Scribbles

SHOPPING MALL CHRISTMAS

The signs are still there that it is still Christmas. Shopping malls are adorned in glittery Christmas decor. Bright, well-designed Christmas lights festoon the islands of affluent Makati. The bus terminals in the capital city are deluged by passengers determined to get a seat on the bus to get back home while others are at the ports hoping to get a seat on a boat against all odds as tropical depression Usman makes landfall in Eastern Samar. Sea travel has been suspended due strong winds and rain brought by Usman. The roads in Manila resemble slow moving lava at night as cars crawl between 10 and 15 mph. Malls are equally packed with shoppers and window shoppers; supermarkets are still selling Christmas hams. Our doorbell is rang intermittently by young kids singing Christmas carols and hoping to be rewarded monetarily for their mediocre efforts. And the airport terminals are heaving with the arriving tourists and Filipinos working overseas. Ah, it is most definitely Christmas in the Philippines.

Christmas tree at Robinsons Magnolia mall
the Christmas tree at the main lobby of Robinsons Magnolia Mall

Yet the Christmas vibe is half vibrant, half fun. That much vaunted “Christmas is fun in the Philippines” is fast becoming a spectre – if it hasn’t already – of itself as it comes wrapped in a mantle of uncertainty. Switch on the news and it is rife with reports about petty thefts committed in the name of Christmas – the thieves didn’t want their children to be disappointed with the absence of gifts or their dining tables empty on Christmas Eve. The whole country, with the exception of the affluent sector of Philippine society who celebrate the holidays as if inflation and unemployment rate were on an all-time low, is actually struggling to keep themselves in one piece. Stretching the Philippine peso is tearing up people’s minds and souls ceaselessly in trying to make ends meet. This is because while prices of goods go up on a regular basis, the salaries of workers are never equally augmented.

Visiting shopping malls like Robinsons Magnolia buffers the harsh reality of Christmas these days. A mall keeps the gore and violence at a safe distance from the tingly feelings of happiness, hope, peace, and joy. One wallows in the comfort of shiny, beautiful things dreamt of, bright lights and fancy signs of aesthetically designed stores, the bustle of people strolling without a care in the world, and the myriad choices in continuous feasting. There is even this wonderfully assembled Christmas tableaux featuring this enormous tree and Tinker Bell appearing and disappearing in a glitter of colourful lights. For two or three hours, with that brief shopping mall Christmas interlude, everything is copacetic in the world and yours.

Christmas tableaux at Robinsons Magnolia mall
view of the Christmas tableaux from the second floor of Robinsons Magnolia Mall
Vignettes

LUNCH WITH TITO

It was the line of Hermes, played by actor Nathan Fillion in the movie Percy Jackson: The Sea of Monsters, which resonated when the idea of family zipped through my mind. It seemed like Hermes was talking to himself, remembering how he shouldn’t give up on his wayward son, Luke. He told Percy, “One never gives up on family.”  Given my naturally sarcastic disposition, I rephrased that into “One never gives up on select family.” Some are, as I conversed with myself, just meant to be at best acknowledged and at worse ignored.

It is quite easy to pontificate about family and how it is the very reason for one’s existence, but the ideal vis-à-vis reality is a different story. More often than not, it is family that is the very first to betray you in the face of adversity, choosing money over kin. Propinquity is automatically expected because of the same blood that runs through the veins, but reality is farther from the truth. Friends act more like family, bonding with you through your joy or empathizing with you in your tribulations, while the Tito, Tita, and pinsan (Tagalog for uncle, auntie, and cousin respectively) are nothing but perfect strangers. Complete strangers, in fact, are easier to deal with because there won’t be any love lost if verbal jousting had to be resorted to. The familial strangers are too outré, complicated even, to lock horns with because of the underlying belief that they would never be spiteful and all that jazz. Again, reality says otherwise. Family members can, in fact, be more acerbic, pointing out bluntly your inadequacies – never mind theirs – such as being single, fat, aged, old fashioned, having a nondescript job, technologically challenged, and penurious.

pancit luglug
pancit luglug by Via Mare Oyster Bar

Fortunately, Lady Serendipity was feeling benevolent and the ideal and reality coalesced. I began hanging out with Tito Ric, my mum’s older brother, who was in and out of my life when I was wee child, but in the recent years have hung out with like a kabarkada (colloquial Tagalog for ‘part of the gang’) whenever I’d be home for a holiday. The meet up would be for lunch at Makati, choosing a restaurant we both liked, and then spend the next few hours chatting away. Tito Ric and I had eaten at Museum Cafe and Razon’s before so Via Mare Oyster Bar in Glorietta was it this time. We ignored the oysters zooming straight for the pancit luglug as our main course and sotong goreng (a hint of Indonesian flavour for the Filipino-Western restaurant) for appetizer. Given that squid is a tad difficult to cook – it becomes tough when overcooked – the sotong goreng was a fantastic choice. The deep-fried battered squid tentacles dipped in chili sauce were crunchy and flavourful even to the last hour of our lunch. The pancit luglug – thick vermicelli noodles in shrimp paste sauce topped with squid rings, boiled egg, and crushed chitsaron (Filipino for pork crackling) – and the sotong goreng danced a mean samba on the palate.

sotong goreng
sotong goreng by Via Mare Oyster Bar

Our chat fest – anything under the sun as one of my former high school Maths teacher always used to say – continued, moving from Via Mare to Coffeebean and Tea Leaf. He had his Americano poured, as he requested, in his Starbucks tumbler while I had a pure double chocolate ice blended. As we sipped our drinks, I saw how the family jigsaw puzzle was getting formed with the pieces coming together with our sides of the “stories” – personal or otherwise – with the personal aspect particularly the blurry episodes in the past now making sense, familial connections and disconnections confirmed, and the family tree clearer.

Lunch with Tito proved how good company and good food will always make for a wonderful experience, and how, giving it time, family ties can only get better. Now, we are deciding where the next lunch is going to be.

lunch with Tito Ric

Here & There

BIRTHDAYS

birthday cake # 1
tiramisu from grade 9B

Birthdays are fun unless you’re a grinch. As a child, you look forward to a big party filled with balloons, a big cake, birthday noodles, party games, and a lot of presents plus a status of the undisputed star of the day. As you get older, the big party is still there, but the games have either disappeared or turned into something less child-friendly, and the soft drinks have been replaced by vodka and its cousins. Presents have become optional, too. As you get much older, the party gets much smaller turning into a tiny party of five or less for dinner at a nice restaurant with colleagues whom you considered your close circle of friends. It is also quieter. Greetings over Messenger, Viber, or WhatsApp come from flooding in from other friends overseas. Again, presents are optional or even non-existent that you are flabbergasted when you receive one.

birthday cake # 2
black forest from grade 9A

Children and birthday gifts are like twins that are inseparable. After all, the point of a birthday is a child having a lot of presents to open after blowing out the candles on the birthday cake. For an adult, the idea of boisterous fun seems a little too noisy for the frazzled nerves and wearied soul, but it does not mean one is too old for birthday cakes and whatnot.

birthday cake # 3
slices of Opera cake by Publik Markette

My birthday celebration this year was extremely low key. It was a simple lunch for three – than the usual big dinner affair – at Publik Markette in Grand Indonesia. I was tickled pink with the birthday platter of Opera cake and the staff singing the birthday song. I thought my gal-pal, Theresia, was preempting the onset of food coma when she kept delaying our short trek to the cake display to choose our desserts. Little did I know that she and Yulianto had something else planned.

A few welcomed birthday surprises landed my way. At school, my grade nine students, 9A and 9B,  surprised me with birthday cakes, so classes were conducted on a sweet note with everyone having a slice of cake. The other came early morning from a friend through WhatsApp which kept me  smiling throughout the day.  I just need for the universe to make our paths get inextricably entwined.

birthday surprise

When the Blues Hit

LOOKING FOR THE QUIET

It becomes clearer as you get older and it comes as an epiphany. Actually, in this case, it was an epiphany that occurred twice. The first epiphany is with age comes this search for the quiet, to escape from the cacophony of sounds that drone on and on like terrible music on loop and jarring your senses.  It sounds easy, but looking for the quiet is akin to locating the elusive chupacabra. Still, one perseveres.

Living in the city, the incessant chatter of people who shout even though they are only centimetres away from each other, the hum of cars marooned in traffic, or the rizz of the drill breaking up the road have inured people to the absence of sound. Today’s students are perfect examples of people who are deafened by silence. To achieve some peace and quiet, I have to raise my voice, coupled with a raised eyebrow, to hush them. Unfortunately, the quiet lasts for a few minutes and the raucous returns full blast. The very idea of tranquillity in the city is an oxymoron or so seemed. It was on a Saturday afternoon when I stumbled upon quiet in the most unexpected places – the cinema. I found myself alone in cinema 9 of Megablitz. I knew I went into the right cinema because the usher said so. It felt surreal as I imagined myself a celebrity in her private cinema at home.

Megablitz cinema 9
BCP Megablitz, cinema 9

It was in the cinema that epiphany two happened. In the midst of the quiet, I was ironically seized with panic tinged by a slight fear. I was all alone in a movie theatre that was deadly silent. It never occurred to me how it would be like alone in silence in my quest for the quiet. The epiphany continued: it was not the eerie kind of silence, but pure stillness. As I looked around half wondering if the other patrons would come, a little wave of serenity intermingled with acceptance of the unknown, of letting life unfold and thinking it will be for the best, washed over me.

It was blissfully quiet until a teenager with his parents entered the cinema. He was telling them loudly that they weren’t alone – he had spotted me among the rows of seats. The fleeting quietude vanished, chased away by his loud voice. It was good while it lasted. Naturally, the search doesn’t end at the cinema.

Food Tales

DINNER WITH CHEF SUN

Chef Sun Kim and the Arts Cafe team
Chef Sun Kim (L) adds the final touches to the dishes.

Dinner is nothing different. It is as mundane as lunch, and alleviating the humdrum of dinner in Bekasi means facing the derrière – numbing, bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to Jakarta. The very thought of traveling is off-putting, but curiosity about Chef Sun Kim spurred me to book a table for one at Arts Café by Raffles. He was cooking dinner that Friday night.

Art Cafe Raffles
a view of the open kitchen and dining space from my table

Chef Sun, head chef of Meta, a Michelin- star rated restaurant on Keong Saik Road, Singapore, opened his dinner with a trio of canapés. Canapé 1: tapioca fritters topped with roe and octopus, and sprinkled with seaweed. Crunchy, juicy two bites! Canapé 2: mushroom tart with broccoli and parmesan cheese. The first-and-only bite had me thinking of pizza except with a tantalizing flavour, and left wishing pizzas tasted like his mushroom tarts. Canapé 3: amaebi with tartar sauce. The cold canapé exploded in a burst of juicy flavours in the mouth punctuated by the garlic-onion toast it was served on. It did the trick of whetting the appetite for Sun’s six-course meal.

tapioca fritters by Chef Sun Kim
canape 1: tapioca fritters
mushroom tart by Chef Sun Kim
canape 2: mushroom tart
amaebi with tartar sauce by Chef Sun Kim
canape 3: amaebi with tartar sauce

Chefs are akin to magicians except they dazzle their audience – seated at their tables – with culinary magic. Sun Kim didn’t disappoint as he pulled one kitchen trick after another with aplomb. His first culinary trick was surreal in plating and taste. Resting in a rock-designed bowl was sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang that offered a unique taste of seafood and pomelo which did a little tug-of-war on the tongue with the freshness of the seafood, zestfulness of pomelo, and a touch of spiciness.

sashimi of kampashi
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang

He followed it with scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar in a warm, glazed, black-and-white cup. The chawanmushi was soft, blending smoothly with the fresh scallop at bottom of the cup. Caviar on chawanmushi is a definite first for me and it elevated the flavour to a luxurious height.

scallop chawanmushi
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar

Sun Kim went for something far from nondescript for his third course. He upped the ante with slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke sitting on a warm, black bowl. It was like unwrapping a parcel with this dish. Lifting the bokchoy leaf (am guessing) revealed the octopus that cut easily into pieces and a succulence commingled with a piquantness that rolled around the tongue. The spiciness of the X.O. sauce slowly creeps up your taste buds which doesn’t numb them but ignite them. A palate-tickling surprise was the puréed artichoke (reminiscent of molecular gastronomy cuisine) in squid ink that added a soupcon of saltiness to the dish.

slow-cooked octopus
Peek-a- boo! Find the slow-cooked octopus with homemade XO sauce and Jerusalem artichoke.

Sun Kim’s fourth dish, grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip taking centre stage on a huge white-black plate, was a new palate teaser. The tender quail tasted similar to chicken teriyaki, but the taste takes a different direction to a new, ineffable yet flavourful taste enhanced by the tangy parsnip.

grilled quail
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip

The guests at the table to my right finally arrived, and I unintentionally caught snippets of their chat. The yarn went something like this: Sun Kim was treated by the male guest to an Indonesian Padang dinner that he enjoyed immensely given its similarity to South Korean cuisine in terms of spiciness. It was not the case with his sous chef Jared who couldn’t handle the chilli, and was sweating buckets.

As the guests to my right started their dinner, I was on my second to the last course which truly showed why Sun Kim is a Michelin-star chef. Called 40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat, the beef, hiding underneath yet another leaf, fell into bite-size pieces with a mere touch of the knife. Sliding the beef, pinned with mushroom and onion bits, across the buckwheat sauce and popping it in your mouth, everything melded into a perfect blend of tenderness, juiciness, and well-prepared beef.

beef short rib
Peek-a-boo 2! Lift the leaf to discover the treasure called 40-hour cooked beef short rib.

Sun Kim’s magical culinary show closed on sweet, fruity note. Sitting prettily in the middle of a chilled bowl was mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint. My notion of dessert is something chocolaty so I was bit sceptical about Kim’s choice, but part of Kim’s magic is making your scepticism fade away and pushing you to embrace confidence in him. Spoon in hand, I glided it from the coconut cream, crowned with mint syrup, down through the sherbet and the mango cubes. It was a beautiful salsa of seamless tanginess and sweetness with every bite.

mango salsa
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint

Dinner with Sun Kim was one amazing experience, and facing Jakarta’s traffic was worth it. There was always a treasure to discover in each dish, unearthing it as you go through the layers of the ingredients aesthetically plated in stunning crockery.

*Standing ovation*

“The Star of Singapore” Wine dinner list

Dish Wine
sashimi of kampachi with pomelo, shiso, and gochujang Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve 2011, Alsace, France
scallop chawanmushi with clam cream, dill, and osetra caviar Chateau Villa Bel Air blanc 2014, Graves Bordeaux, France
slow-cooked octopus with homemade X.O. sauce and Jerusalem artichoke Domaine Anne Gros 50/50 Cotes du Bris 2015, Minervois, France
grilled quail with mushroom ragu and parsnip Louis Jadot Beaune 1er Cru Les Theurons 2012, Burgundy, France
40-hour cooked beef short rib shiitake mushroom purée, pickled shiitake, and buckwheat Chateau Malmaison 2007, Medoc, Bordeaux, France
mango salsa with passion fruit sorbet, coconut, and mint Diel Riesling Kabinett 2012, Nahe, Germany

 

When the Blues Hit

SEARCHING FOR SERENITY

Life has a way of aiming a spanner at you when you are doing your darnedest best to avoid it. A spanner can be a shattered heart that necessitates fleeing from the vicissitudes of life. Another spanner is when you’re pushed to the limit; this is reason enough to escape to somewhere serene. At other times, having a thumb caught in a taxi door for not being in the moment is one spanner that tells you unequivocally that it is time to momentarily walk away from life. Actually, it took a while for it to register that it was my thumb caught in the door, and the pain just exploded in my face when it did. Still, I didn’t get to flee to serenity until after a week or so after that stupid episode.

Serenity finally came in a comfortable corner with two high-back chairs and a low sofa next to the tinted floor-to-ceiling window. The Writers Bar was quiet at 430pm on a Friday afternoon. The sound of soft jazz music wafted through the bar, swirling in the ceiling then dipping into the posh furniture and flying back into the air. The silence was invigorating as it muted the negative thoughts colliding in my mind. It was therapeutic: my breathing became less shallow and agitated as I inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, and with every breath steeling myself against would-be spanners.

The Writers Bar
The Writers Bar at Raffles Jakarta – serenity at 430pm

Sipping genmaicha tea and nibbling on French fries cooked three ways (it is a Raffles Jakarta thing) dipped in either aioli, ketchup, or chili sauce was fantastic. Equally good was to read page after page with mental clarity, and not be doing mental karate with stray thoughts that broke concentration while reading.

tea and fries at The Writers Bar
tea and fries for one

 

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a quiet space to read at The Writers Bar

It is with certainty that spanners will be flying my way again and I would have to flee from them. The question now is when and where shall I go to find interim serenity.