A very very belated happy 2007 to all. I can only apologize for not
writing in my journal since the 10th of December. My excuse is that I still
cook a lot, and give numerous dinner parties. The latest one was on
22 January. I haven't had a chance yet to say anything here, even
about this very succesful occasion, until today. It was a kind of
rehearsal for a sit-down lunch I'll be cooking for members of Asia
House in London (http://www.asiahouse.org) on 27 March 2007. This
lunch for 40 people will be preceded by my talk on Curry - in fact
the title of the event is 'CURRY AND PROSECCO', the prosecco being
donated by my wine producer friend in the Veneto, Gianluca Bisol
(http://www.bisol.it). As soon as the Asia House Programme for March
and April comes out I will post the Curry Talk programme on this
website also. I'll be donating 10 copies of my book "New Wave Asian"
for sale on 27 March by Asia House. And as the talk is partly based
on my contribution to a new book called 'Curry', published by Dorling
Kindersley, this book will be also on sale there. I am only one of
the contributors to 'Curry', the others being David Thompson on Thai
Curry; Corinne Trang on the curry dishes of Laos, Cambodia and
Vietnam; Vivek Singh, of the Cinnamon Club in London, on the curries
of North India; Das Sreedharan on South India; Mahmood Akbar on
Pakistan; Roopa Gulati on the 'Outposts', including curry in Britain;
and Yasuko Fukuoka, who has written a short chapter on Japanese
curries. I find all the Indian and Thai recipes by all these top
restaurant chefs are incredibly good, while the other three writers,
who are not chefs, are also very readable and their recipes, too, are
very good. I should not be shy to say that my part of the writing,
which includes recipes from Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, the
Philippines and Indonesia, is as good as the others!
For the lunch at Asia House on 27 March I will include a
recipe or two from Myanmar and the Philippines, but naturally I'll cook
more Indonesian dishes. After all, as I've said in this website of
mine, (see About Me), I remain true to my original purpose when I
wrote my first cookery book: my mission is to show everybody in the
west how to cook Indonesian food properly. I will write more about
this forthcoming lunch at Asia House in the next few days.
Now, still on the subject of Asia House, I would like to post here an
announcement about the Yan Kit So Memorial Award. Do read this, and
send your comments or questions if you wish - especially if you are
setting out to write a cookery book for the first time. The bursary
you can win from Asia House is indeed quite generous!
Sri Owen's web page
A very very belated happy 2007 to all. I can only apologize for not
A few days ago, another dinner party - this time among my guests were some of the trustees of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery. I have been a trustee myself for the past year, and it was partly a welcome dinner for a trustee who lives abroad and had come to visit Oxford and London for a few days. Naturally we talked about next year's Symposium, which will be held on 8 and 9 September 2007. We agreed that we should tell as many of our friends as possible about the dates and the theme for this Symposium - you'll find all the details on the website. At the moment I'm just starting to test new recipes for my forthcoming book on Indonesian food. So I took this opportunity to serve my foodie guests with some of my planned recipes. I started the menu with an old Indonesian recipe made with tofu (beancurd). The Javanese name for this dish is gadon tahu, and traditionally it is cooked wrapped in banana leaf. But for this dinner I cooked the tofu mixture in individual ramekins. I won't go into all the details of the menu, but I was rather pleased with the soup I made for my guests, and I asked them to tell me what its two main ingredients were. All I would say was that the soup combined one fruit and one vegetable.
The prize for the person who gave the correct answer would be one of my published books. I like to serve this soup in coffee cups; it is spiced very lightly with the seeds of one green cardamon, a pinch of mustard seed, and a teaspoon of chopped ginger. I took a quick snap of one of the cups before I served them. The green bits on the top are chopped Chinese chive. Each of the five guests tasted the soup as if it had been a fine wine, and each gave a different answer to my question. I wasn't surprised when the only correct answer - parsnip and apple - came from one whose day job is as a consultant engineer in the oil industry, but who spends most of his spare time in his garden, growing fine and unusual vegetables and fruit - like this splendid turban squash, for example, that he brought me as a present.
Of course I wasn't surprised when he said he would wait for my new Indonesian Food Book for his prize. I do hope now that I can meet the deadline for the delivery of the manuscript, and that the publisher will publish it in the autumn of 2008. Naturally I won't print any of the 'new' recipes in this weblog, but I will talk about the book and print some snippets of the text from time to time to whet my readers' appetites. As well as recipes, there will be plenty of background material about social and cultural life in Indonesia, and other interesting stories about some of the unusual ingredients.
Two days ago, I cooked dinner for four new friends who I met recently at Asia House in London. Three of them were Indonesians, like myself, and the fourth was an Englishman - they were two married couples, in fact. It was a very enjoyable and very busy evening, and we went on eating and talking until quite late. I took a couple of pictures of the dishes when all the food was laid out on the table, ready for everyone to help themselves. (This is how we always do dinner parties and feasts: there are no courses, the guests just keep coming back for more.)
Now, this is not the best way to do food photography, but I can name the dishes and quickly describe each so you can get an idea of what an Indonesian meal for guests looks like. Starting at the top: the white chunks are lontong, rice which has been boiled for 75 minutes or so in a bag so that the grains are pressed into a solid mass which is left to cool, then cut into cubes. Next, in the square white dish, there are cubes of cooked beancurd or tofu (tahu in Indonesian). Middle row: on the left, tempe goreng - a 'cake' of fermented soy beans, cut up, marinaded in tamarind water with garlic and shallots, and fried. In the large square dish: beef rendang, one of the Indonesian and Malaysian classics. The big round bowl near it contains peanut sauce, which we call sambal kacang or bumbu sate - in this case, intended to go with the slices of stuffed chicken on the large oval platter. On the left of the chicken, a glass dish of bitter melons, cut into thick slices and stuffed. Bitter melons (paria) are expensive in London because they have to be flown from Thailand, but bitter tastes are essential for any Southeast Asian meal, to balance the hot, salty, and sweet tastes of other dishes - I'll say more about this balance of tastes on my Recipe page soon.
Here, you can see the satay sauce on the left. To the right of it, top, is an oval plate of a cooked salad of bean sprouts, with a few lightly-boiled green beans and julienned carrot to give it some colour. Right of that, a blue bowl with fried krupuk or prawn crackers, which are like the 'shrimp slices' you get in Chinese restaurants, but larger, pinker, and more tasty. Bottom row: another cooked salad of sliced green sweet peppers, more bitter melon, and green beans. Nearest the camera, a big bowl of plain boiled rice (Thai jasmine: this is the nearest I can find in England to the Sumatran and Javanese rices that I was brought up on).
You can see now that it might take six hungry people quite a while to get through that lot, especially as we were all talking the whole time! And what about dessert? you ask. Well, one of my Indonesian guests brought with her a huge dish of tiramisu, and that made us very happy. Tiramisu is popular, I think, all over Asia, and especially in Japan - indeed, some (non-Japanese) people think 'tiramisu' is a Japanese word. In fact, of course, it's Italian - for me, further proof that Italy and Indonesia have much in common, foodwise anyway - and it goes beyond pasta and noodles.
I remind you that you can find the peanut sauce recipe in my Recipes section. I'll be adding recipes for more of these dishes quite soon.
Somebody has reminded me that this website or blog is supposed to be about Southeast Asian food, and don't worry, I'm coming to that. I just want to say a few things more about our recent Italian trip and the places we stayed at and the food we ate - if I run out of restaurants to talk about, I might give you the recipes for some of the good things I cooked in our foresteria (see 27 November).
One restaurant I have to mention is Gigetto. It's in a small town called Miane, on the road from Vittorio Veneto to Valdobbiadene. (Even if you don't speak Italian, you score points with friends there if you pronounce that name with the stress in the right place - it's val-do-BYA-de-ne.) This road is so fascinating that it deserves a page to itself: it winds between, around, occasionally up onto, the steep foothills of the Dolomites, often with sweeping views towards the plain and the sea - from one or two high spots, on a clear day, you should be able to see the towers of Venice. These hills are almost completely given over to the cultivation of the prosecco grape, and most of their inhabitants seem to make a good living from it, as growers or winemakers.
Fittingly, Gigetto offers not only excellent food but a magnificent cellar, a catacomb of wine that wriggles away under the various small and large dining-rooms of the restaurant and out, by my reckoning, beneath the roots of the vines and deep into the hillside. On the website that I linked to above, you can see a picture of just one little corner, twist, or possibly dead-end, in this labyrinth of a cellar, its walls lined and its floor stacked high with fine vintages, wines from all over the world, brandies, grappa, single-malt Scotch from every distillery, it seems to go on and on...
There is so much to be said about Venice, and would-be writers keep on saying it over and over, so I think I'll stick to the food. First, of course, the market - the amazing Rialto - street theatre newly invented every weekday morning, thronged with people, as filled with action as it must have been when Shakespeare imagined that dodgy loan negotiated between Antonio and Shylock. But nowadays they don't fix business deals on the Rialto, and the tourists and the locals mingle happily as they buy fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and seafood, all brought in (one supposes) from the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea and the great Venetian plain that spreads from here to the foot of the Dolomites. In fact, the lagoon is probably too polluted to give much of a living to any fish, and the plain is heavily urbanised, much of it under concrete. Still, there's quality here, some of it brought from a long way away: fish from the Indian Ocean, tropical fruits, vegetables flown in from Africa. Never mind - the quality is high, the choosing and buying theatrically noisy.
Here I am, choosing fish (with some help from a Venetian friend who is also a cookery teacher) among the stone columns of the fish market. And look at these chillies and artichokes - I don't think I've ever seen stuff as good as this in England.
But soon it was lunch time ... A friend had given me the name of a small restaurant called Vecio Fritolin, and the street address. Except that there aren't any street addresses in Venice; the city is divided into six segments, called sestriere, and in each sestier the buildings are simply numbered 1,2,3 .. up to however many there are - usually over 2000. After asking various shopkeepers, and their assistants and customers and passers-by (in Venice, everyone joins in), and after an outburst of mild panic in case we missed lunch altogether, we found it ... but don't ask me to find my way there again. I can only assure you it is well worth the effort, and the fun, of re-discovery (in the Calle della Regina). It's in a long tradition of Venetian fried fish restaurants, and both the setting and the cooking are quietly perfect.
These soft-shell crabs might perhaps have been the same ones that I'd watched, an hour or two earlier, scrambling hopefully around on a market stall while they waited for someone to buy them. The man who was selling them just picked them up in handfuls, like wriggling chestnuts, and popped them into a bag. Roger went for the mixed fried fish, which actually arrived on a sheet of paper, just as they were served in the old days for people to take away and eat in the street.