Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy 1-year Anniversary & the official announcement

It’s been about a month since I’ve officially moved to Singapore.  There has been some guesswork as to why:

Opening a new resto? No, not yet;
Full-time blogger? Never;
A certain live music venue investor? No, not financially invested anyway;
Got engaged? No lah!; 
Freelance writing? Close, but no.

I was poking around  when I was visiting Singapore 2-3 months ago, casually feeling out what was out there and not quite expecting to actually move to the Lion City.  But somehow, someway, fate determined I should be here for now.  I love New York with all my heart—it was no easy task getting acclimated to Singapore the first 2ish weeks, considering how often I’ve visited this city the past.  I was terribly homesick for my life and friends back in Manhattan and Strong Island.  And I still miss New York, but I’m starting to settle into Singapore.  It helps that Singapore and Hong Kong are big destinations and my fellow jet setting friends visit often.    

As for what I’m doing now, I’m on as a writer for Appetite Magazine.  I can actually distinctly remember my first experience with the magazine.  Two years ago when I was visiting Singapore, I was waiting at TCC for the ever-tardy Adrian and was presented with a selection of food magazines.  Appetite and Delicious out shined the other magazines with their beautiful covers and attractive photo spreads.  But as they say, never judge by its cover.  So I was soon pleased to find that the content held equally to the high standards of the photos and styling. I’ve recently come across the issue again while I was flipping through old copies: issue nineteen, August 2008 Appetite

I was pretty excited about the two magazines back then, even pointing them out to Adrian.  I was impressed (and admittedly surprised) to find out that Appetite was a home-grown magazine.  Two thumbs up!  From then on, I always found myself flipping through Appetite and Delicious whenever I was visiting Singapore and had time to myself.

Fast forward two years.  Never did I consider that I would be brushing off dust from the ol’ journo degree and leaving F&B to write full-time!..especially for Appetite magazine.  (Sheesh, I feel sort of like LeBron… just going on and on with a one-hour special, when I could just say what I need to say in a one-liner update.)

As for Gastronommy, earlier this week, I received an email reminder asking whether or not I want to renew this domain.  Heck yes! But wow, has it really been only a year already?  I feel like I've been doing this for much longer!  And I mean that in the best way possible.

 How appropriate that this July issue should be the first issue my articles appear in.

So Happy 1 Year to Gastronommy!  And Happy relaunch of Appetite!  Beginning September check out the new site at and check out the magazine’s new look on shelves soon.

On the question of conflict of interest...  I’d like to think that I have a few shreds of common sense and I try my best not to overlap anything and always put work first.  To reiterate this blog’s function, it serves as a personal journal of my food related travel, work, eat and play.  It serves a very different purpose than most publications.  The only real drawback is that I might not have as much time to regularly update for a while... but you can just grab a copy of Appetite from the shelves in the meantime!

To celebrate Gastronommy's first anniversary, here's a joke for you.
Why did Han Solo cry at the dinner table?  
Because the meat was chewie.

As a reminder, at 1,000 Likes on facebook, there will be a gift giveaway to randomly selected fans!  Of course, I'd rather you "Like" the page because you actually feel some sort of fondness for Gastronommy than just for the freebies. :)

Writing for somebody else

After almost a year of this yammering on Gastronommy, I’ve realized that I’ve forgotten that elsewhere you can’t just write about whatever suits your mood. On the other hand, as you know, professionally writing means you pitch your piece or you get assigned them.

It’s one thing to write about my journey through local Singaporean cuisine(s) for a casual blog with a majority of non-Singaporean readers, but it’s quite another when I have to hash out a piece on a particular local cuisine for local readers that I’m not necessarily well-versed in!  I’m learning a lot in the process, but there’s this undeniable nervousness I get whenever I open my Word document and stare at my notes, wondering how to weave it into an informative and inspiring read.  These articles (thankfully) aren’t about working off press releases, but with nothing to guide me with for these new topics, I dread not emphasizing the right bits of the cuisine and culture due to my relative novice experience with it.  I don’t want to end up writing only the obvious, or worse (and unlikely actually): factual errors!  Of course, my fantastic and patient editor would catch any such nonsense before it went out to print, but I’d still rather save her and everyone else that trouble.

Let's see how this September article turns out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Beans, beans, they TASTE like fart?

As some of you know, I am now based in Singapore and have taken on a new job as a writer for a food magazine here (more on that in a later entry).
For an assignment that you will see published in the September issue, a few weeks ago I had to take on a Malay tour with one local and one expat chef.  I’m not exactly all-knowledgeable when it comes to Malay cuisine, but there’s no way anything could have surprised me.  Or so I thought.

Meet the petai bean.

To put it elegantly, they taste GNARLY.

When you first bite into them, it tastes and feels something reminiscent of a lima bean.  Then as you chew through, it begins to start emitting a certain pungency.  It's not exactly distasteful since it reminds me of raw garlic at this point.  By then, you think that's going to be all there is to it.

But no, as you come around to finish chewing through the single bean, it suddenly spikes up with a grimace-worthy level of bitterness.  And upon swallowing, it disappeared into the depths of my stomach with a grand finale: I have never known the experience of tasting fart in your mouth until now.  And it will leave a very very very long lingering aftertaste of exactly that too.

That experience, my friends, was only after a SINGLE cooked petai bean.

Yet, they're strangely addicting.  I have yet to have the courage to take sambal petai by entire spoonfuls, but I do like the initial pungency and texture.  I've discovered today through knowledgeable local food writer Christopher Tan, that petai beans supposedly have many health benefits and are found in Thai cuisine too (strange that I've never eaten it before, as I have family in Bangkok and visit often).

Beans, beans, they're good for your heart,
Beans, beans, they make you fart.

Three cheers for new discoveries and funny tasting beans!

See the story on the Malay and petai bean experience in the upcoming September issue of Appetite magazine.

*photo source unknown.  Please contact me if you are the owner of this photo.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Surprise package from Cookyn with Mervyn

Amanda from Cookyn with Mervyn emailed me last week asking where she could deliver a special package for me.  The only hint she would give me is that it was something pretty.  Now, who am I to turn down anything pretty or edible? 

The package arrived with ingredients like strawberries, lemon, cream, and gelatin...

(pardon the spill on my note!)

Cookyn with Mervyn delivered a "Box of Gourmet Surprises" and suggested a Panna cotta recipe.  Seeing how I've never made panna cotta before and was short on time (panna cotta basics are pretty easy), I eagerly threw it together before heading to TAB to watch that night's performances.

I borrowed my friend's kitchen, but couldn't find a blender, so chunky strawberry coulis had to make do.  The results?

A great way to spend a half hour before heading out (and returning home to eat the finished product for a midnight dessert!), here's Mervyn's panna cotta recipe:

Cookyn with Mervyn's Strawberry panna cotta
serves 6

panna cotta
500 ml cream
500 ml full cream milk
3/4 tsp vanilla paste
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup sugar
15 gm powdered gelatin

strawberry coulis
250 gm fresh strawberries, washed and quartered
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon of water

  1. In a pot, gently simmer ingredients for strawberry coulis.  Remove from heat immediately and blend with a hand held blender.  Set aside to cool and refrigerate.
  2. Simmer cream, milk, vanilla paste, sugar and lemon (do not let it boil).  Remove from heat.
  3. Soften the gelatin powder with a little cold water.
  4. Add the soft gelatin into the cream mixture and stir till well incorporated.
  5. Sieve the mixture into cups or ramekins.
  6. Refrigerate once cooled for at least 4 hours.
  7. Top with the strawberry coulis before serving.
Thanks Mervyn and Amanda!  Visit their site for more information on their private or group cooking classes at Cookyn Inc.

See here for previous entries about Cookyn with Mervyn.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Welcome to Seoul [by Guest Contributor]

How timely of Zach to produce his take on real Seoul food after my recent bad experience with Korean cuisine in Singapore.  Zach Hooker, fellow New Yorker and Gastronommy's first guest contributor, will be doing a short series until September about his gastronomic endeavors in South Korea.  I am nothing short of envious.  - Victoria

NOMing on the Peninsula: Welcome to Seoul
by Zach Hooker

In the middle of the city, Seoul’s Mapo district is well known for its varied culinary offerings. Unlike Korea’s regional locales, it’s not a place tied to a specific dish, such as Chuncheon’s dalk-kalbi (sliced chicken stir-fried with pepper paste, vegetable, and rice cakes) or Jeonju’s bibimbap. It simply offers alley after alley of reliable, no-frills restaurants that take visible pride in their craft. And by “visible pride” I most definitely mean that you can see things like old women hacking at beef ribs as you wander past resto after resto.

Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity when Joe McPherson (of ZenKimchi) threw out an invite to chow with him and a couple others at Mapo Jeong Daepo, a grilling spot just a few short blocks from Kongdeok Station. Mapo Jeong Daepo has all the qualities you look for in a fantastic grill joint. First, it’s perpetually busy, with all kinds of customers – families, large after-work parties, college kids, etc. Second, simplicity – concrete floor, plastic stools, restrained menu. When a member of our party asked for an ashtray, the owner simply pointed to the ground. Don’t worry though; this place successfully maintains a pleasant lack of pretension without making you second-guess the hygiene level. Third and finally, they put nice little spin on the grilling experience… but I will get to that later.

We ordered two servings of galmaegisal (samgyupsal’s less fatty cousin, a diaphragm-area cut) and another two of standard deiji-kalbi (thinly sliced marinated pork rib). A standard array of panchan (side dishes) came our way, and we cracked open two bottles of makgeolli (unfiltered rice wine). Amongst the panchan, the kimchi was particularly sour, with a crispy, spicy bite – not your beginner’s kimchi, but quite enjoyable for those who’ve been around the block with fermented foods.

As our meat cooked, Mapo Jeong Daepo introduced a wonderful little tweak to the experience that completely sold me on Joe’s recommendation: using the grill plate’s circular grease well to cook scrambled eggs in. Our waiter came by after some grease had started to collect, poured the well full of egg, and then added garlic slices, wild greens, and kimchi. The result: spicy Korean omelet slowly cooked in rendered pork fat. Brilliant! The meat, of course, was also a delight. Pairing half galmaegisal and half deiji-kalbi is a smart move; galmaegisal features distinct layers of fat and pork, without much marbling between the two, while deiji-kalbi is more thoroughly marbled, the fat much less ‘in your face.’
Mapo Jeong Daepo’s pork-fat scramble is an excellent example of one method by which Korean food establishments differentiate themselves. The Korean restaurant scene can seem very peculiar to a first-time visitor. Seeing three or four (or more) of the same type of restaurant – say grilled pork or naengmyeon (cold noodle soup) – on the same block is commonplace. You’re likely to think, “How in the world do these places stay in business?” Well, no doubt closer examination reveals a lot of fine differences between each spot – the alcohol selection, the panchan, little additions like the Mapo Jeong Daepo’s scramble, etc. And on top of that, patrons might have personal reasons – family or business connections – for choosing one noodle joint over the other next door. It’s a fun world to explore, a bit more socially complex than the (almost) purely competitive restaurant world in the United States, for example.

After being sated with pork and egg, we wandered down the street to Bongpyeong Me-Mil Makguksu, a restaurant specializing in all things me-mil (buckwheat). Accordingly ‘Round Two’ included a shared buckwheat pancake, some me-mil guksu (cold buckwheat noodle soup), and me-mil kkotsul (buckwheat flower alcohol).

I found the me-mil jeon (pancake) too dense and heavy. The dish’s standard cousin, a Korean staple, pajeon, is made with a standard white flour mix that at is much lighter, letting the onions, seafood, and other additions stand out. The buckwheat’s overwhelming chewiness erased the presence of most of the pancake’s other vegetable additions, on the levels of both texture and flavor. The me-mil guksu, however, was a delight. The broth was deliciously beefy, almost consomm√© in quality. Joe pointed out that the incredibly small, translucent flakes you could discern on the surface of the broth indicated it was a homemade stock, the flakes likely being remnants of beef bones stewed for countless hours. The weight of the buckwheat worked in its favor with the noodles, adding substance to noodles that in a standard naengmyeon or similar soup can sometimes be mushy.  A variety of wild greens, dried seaweed, pepper paste, and sesame seeds garnished the noodles. Atop sat the standard half of a boiled egg. The buckwheat flower liquor was also a treat. It was a lighter, smoother version of the mass-market makgeolli we had consumed at the previous restaurant. A specialty of Kangwon province, the improved flavor was no doubt imparted by the addition of buckwheat flowers.

The group disbanded after our exploration of all things buckwheat, some to head home, some to seek out one final round elsewhere. The Mapo restaurant district proved yet again a reliable bet for a fun and delicious night in Seoul. It’s perfect for both the adventurous tourist as well as the seasoned expat, and Mapo Jeong Daepo is an excellent point of departure.

All photos courtesy of Stafford Lumsden (of The Chosun Bimbo)

Zachary Hooker is currently working on a doctoral dissertation in the Department of Anthropology at Columbia University in NYC. When not in the library, he is a tireless home chef, avid home-brewer, and determined gourmand.

Zachary has previously written for the arts and culture quarterly Bidoun, as well as some arcane academic journals, but is just beginning to explore the world of food & drink bloggery. Keep up with him (@zhooker) on Twitter.


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