Thursday, 27 December 2012

badam ka sharbat (almond cordial)

edible gift for christmas: badam ka sharbat
fruity and syrup like sweet sharbat’s are a staple refreshment in pakistan. from the mid-80s commercial companies like mitchell’s brought forth a range of fruit squashes the most popular flavours of which are mango, guava and mixed fruit. when guests would come mama would leave me in charge of making a ice-cold jug of squash with plenty of ice and a pinch of salt. a more traditional sharbat was rooh afza and jam-e-shirin. both of these are pink-red syrups that are made from a combination of fruits, herbs and flower essences believed to refresh and cool in the deepest days of summer. a hint of lemon and a generous pinch of salt really do make a refreshing drink.

Friday, 21 December 2012

l'as du fallafel, paris

l'as du fallafel
mark bittman on l'as du fallafel in the new york times "although you may find it done better in the southern or eastern mediterranean (i haven't yet), this is the falafel destination in paris, indeed in europe."

in paris’ fourth arrondissement on rue des rosiers in the heart of the jewish quarter is l’as du fallafel. l’as du fallfel has somewhat of a cult following with falafel aficionados that not only span the globe but also include celebrities and politicians alike. i will tell you more about the pita-wich in a moment but not before an important note – firstly, l’as du fallafel is not for the queue averse especially on a sunny sunday when the queue extended well down rue des rosiers with a minimum waiting time of forty-five minutes. secondly, it is not the place to bring a hungry spouse especially one whose hunger makes him stroppy. fortunately there are plenty of bakeries in the neighbourhood and so i got o a little something to line his tummy during the wait. 

edible paris: sweet

fouquet, artisan confectionery
o indulged his sweet tooth with careless abandon particularly on hot chocolate. that of course is natural given that paris is the land of patisserie, confectionery, bonbons and so forth. i treated him to hot chocolate and a chocolate degustation at jacques genin whom i came across on david lebovitz’s ‘living the sweet life in paris’. it goes without saying that french hot chocolate is thick. jacques genin’s was outstanding, a kin to a dark chocolate bar in melted form. the chocolate degustation was arranged in the order that they should be partaken off. i will always remember the grapefruit and vanilla truffle. the latter was assertive and strong in a way that i have never had before. it was what vanilla would be in a masculine form. i had never had grapefruit with chocolate. it is a delicate flavour and quite floral. the little squares of truffle were works of art having been decorated with fine geometric, filigree and floral lines. the pate du fruit were the essence of the fruits themselves. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

la bague du kenza, pâtisserie orientale, paris

the counter at la bague du kenza
do you like middle eastern or north african pâtisserie like buttery, honeyed and nutty baklava, makrout diamonds of syrup soaked semolina with a layer of dates and marzipan? if this is the case and you are in paris i would urge you to dispatch yourself to la bague du kenza. these sticky, sweet and fragrant delights are known as ‘pâtisserie orientale’ in french parlance but in fact bague du kenza is associated with algerian style patisserie. i walked the length of rue saint honore for a box of these delicacies (and some bread from julien).

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

edible paris: bistro dining

profiteroles concluded at cafe constant
the bistrot is a parisian essential. there is some contention to its history especially in nomenclature but as i discovered on this trip they are the place to enjoy simple and yet excellent lunches and suppers. this of course is to be qualified as not all bistrots are alike. my recommendations are drawn from food loving friends s and s. but do not despair if you have no friends like that as ‘paris by mouth’ has a very concise list of restaurants, bakeries, confectionary and pastry shops to assist you in your edible adventures. its mouths include my favourite parisian food blogger clotilde dusolier and dorrie greenspan.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

leon's sweet potato falafel revisted

leon's sweet potato falafel revisited
leon’s baked sweet potato falafel are a favourite at thirty-two. i am not entirely sure how they are ‘falafel’ in the true sense as they are far removed from the deep fried chickpea balls of the middle east. but whatever you call them they are real delight. i’ve played around with the recipe several times and this last version hit just the right spot. the sumac and the lemon give a double citrus note and the black sesame seeds are crunchier than their white siblings. 

Monday, 19 November 2012

a middle eastern diner called honey and co.

honey and co. food from the middle east
there is this humble little middle eastern diner on warren street. it’s not the kind of place i’d expect to find something as special as honey and co. but in london something new opens every day in the most improbable of places (think sushi of shiori on drummond street). i saw it a couple of months ago and put it on my list of ‘places i want to eat’, but then i have a list for so many things that this got buried until marina o’loughlin’s piece in the guardian. 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

nutella makes hot chocolate

nutella and dark chocolate melted together

in my little girl days mama would make hot cocoa with a local cocoa powder called rossmoor. rossmoor smelt like cocoa but its strength was a fraction of the imported kind and although cadbury’s cocoa, drinking chocolate or bournville cocoa were available in pakistan, they were quite expensive and were better used in chocolate cakes or fudge sauces. rossmoor hot cocoa therefore was the comforting and bland kind, the kind one associates with children. mama would use a little bit of corn flour to thicken the milk. years later when i had my first taste of italian and french hot chocolate, their thickness reminded me of mama’s mugs of hot cocoa. 

curried sweet potato soup with feta and roasted grapes

curried sweet potato soup with feta and roasted grapes
autumn produce brings with it the promise of substantial soups in colours that celebrate the changing leaves. the kitchen at thirty-two has been romancing soup. we have had autumn gold soups made from the flesh of roasted squash, pumpkin and sweet potatoes or the pink-maroon of knobbly beetroots and the pale cream parsnips. roasting these vegetables emphasises their sweetness but it is just this quality which makes them suited to pungent and sharp cheeses like goat cheese, blue cheese and feta. a much loved spice by most of these vegetables is british curry powder that culls south asian flavours. i will sometimes use a handful of grains like bulghur or quinoa in soups extended with broth as this makes them more substantial. at others i lengthen pureed roast vegetables with milk or cream giving a more lush soup. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

babcia's chicken and leeks in white sauce

chicken and leeks in white sauce
this dinner summons all the comfort necessary on a cold winter night. there is not much to it except an unblemished white sauce. its colours reflect winter as both the sauce and the contents bound by it have a pale palette. the heat here is meant only to cook the chicken and leeks, not colour it. although pale it is not a nursery like white sauce as a combination of spices such as white pepper, chilli flakes and a little whole grain mustard give it a sharp warmth. a little bit of parsley checks the bleached colours. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

i do give a fig

fig and pomegranate jam
fresh figs have always been somewhat of a novelty food for me. i cannot remember when i had my first fresh fig but the dried ones were a plenty especially in pakistan. my memory of these are of bone chilling winter afternoons made toasty and warm with gas heaters, because i would usually eat then as a snack at that hour. the dried figs were threaded on a rough textured rope. their skins were were coarse and wrinkled like the calloused hands of labourers and could sometimes be tough. but the flesh on the inside was crunchy with the seeds with a toffee like softness. mama’s friend used to make a lovely warm winter salad by macerating the figs with other dried fruits in juice. the hydration would refresh the skin and plump the flesh.

Monday, 29 October 2012

edible prague

meat in the kitchen at cestr
i wonder how a city like prague with beautiful and delicate architecture can produce such hefty cuisine. my abiding memory of eating in prague is of meat with veins of fat running through it, accompanied by large coins of bread dumplings that tasted like untoasted toast. it was the kind of food that endears itself to discomfort resting in the belly like stone. but there is one dinner worth talking about and that was at cestr. cestr is a modern czech canteen and is a mecca for red meat lovers. it is about uncomplicated and simple food executed to near perfection. the menu is cleverly designed like an invitation. when you lift the sticker to reveal it, there is a postcard detailing the ethos of canteen along with a cattle shaped guide detailing twenty-seven different cuts of meat. o chose the three course and i picked two first courses. to drink we had a czech wine called zweigeltrebe cepage that o had picked. it had a peppery bouquet that mellowed as it breathed. 

downton supper: pearl couscous casserole with preserved lemon & harissa

autumn in london has found itself suspended by a cold snap. outside the window of our flat a tree with yellow leaves sways gracefully in the wind. its grace is surprising as the winds are fairly strong and very cold, but it appears to be taking a stand for autumn saying it will not be hurried along. for me this is time to make casseroles or stews. such gentle cooking with spices and aromatics is good for the soul. it was only when i had finished cooking that i realised that the spectrum of yellow echoed the yellowing leaves outside. a garnish of roughly chopped parsley breathes freshness and is a reminder that the natural course of seasons will bring re-growth, even if it takes a while. 

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

culture kitchen at the london review of books

culture kitchen
you will forgive me for beginning at the end of lunch at sunday’s ‘culture kitchen’. it is because the brownie with a thick stroke of pumpkin and white chocolate ganache and a crest of corn flakes toasted in butter was one of the cleverest flavour combinations i have eaten in a while. the pumpkin smoothes the aching sweetness of white chocolate and the cornflake crunch balances the soft textures. 

Thursday, 18 October 2012

a pakistani downton supper: chicken hara masala

chicken hara masala

green is the colour of renewal, of beginning afresh. i associate it with bright slices of foliage that cropped from the rock mountains in gilgit, the tentative appearance of spring in london - pale shoots and soft carpet of grass in the parks. green is the glossy growth of trees in the margalla’s refreshed by monsoon rain. green are the pine needles in nathia gali. this recipe is the colour of coriander, albeit slightly subdued in its brightness as it is lightened with yoghurt and cream. the heat also affects the shade. it is best with chicken on the bone as it intensifies the flavour of the masala. but in the interest of time and this being a downton supper i used boneless. i served it on a bed of steamed basmati. a sesame studded naan would be equally good.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

downton suppers: keema and channa pilau

keema and channa pilau
pilau is one of my favourite one-pot recipes. it’s the pakistani equivalent of a casserole and summons comfort and nourishment. i do believe that pilau is a genre of rice dishes given its many versions. my curiosity about its origins prompted a consultation with alan davidson’s oxford companion to food. apparently pilaf or pilau is a method of cooking ‘so that every grain remains separate, and the name of the resulting dish’. pilau can be plain but its popular renditions include flavouring from meat or vegetables.

Monday, 8 October 2012

baba's dry beef with chillies; a dinner ritual

ginger, chilli and garlic paste
the ritual of dry beef with chillies as the concluding dinner of my trips to pakistan began when i left to attend university in twenty o one in the united kingdom. the ritual established itself without baba or i making a conscious decision. it is still very much alive a decade later, the only break in the pattern being the year i got married. that was the first time i had left pakistan without a last dinner of dry beef with chillies cooked by baba. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

an afternoon tea from diana henry's salt sugar smoke

salt sugar smoke signed for me
i discovered the world of food writing in the late nineties but it wasn’t until nigel slater’s toast that i seriously started drawing up lists of food writing that i wanted to read. over the last few years my food book rolls have come to include cookery books as well. this is because cookery books today are as much a pleasure to read, as they are to cook from. their prologues and prefaces hold much promise and often reveal the personality of the chef. 

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

eating pakistan

my annual trips to pakistan include an evolving list of things i want to eat. there are some constants. the first breakfast is always several cups of tapal tea with quarters of toasted roghni naan. the final dinner is always baba’s beef chilli dry with boiled rice. the space between is filled with homemade shami kebabs especially on toast with a slick of mitchell’s chilli garlic sauce and draped with adam’s cheese, afghani kebabs and mantu at kabul restaurant in jinnah, samosa chaat at mashallah chaat house in super market and kulfi from jamil. 

baba's beef chilli dry

Sunday, 30 September 2012

downton suppers: curried leek and chickpea soup

curried leek and chickpea soup
i had planned tartines of fried figs tossed in pomegranate molasses and thick slices of grilled halloumi for tonight’s downton supper. however o who does not usually comment on my choice of cooking firmly disagreed. for him downton suppers must always be bowl food. so here i was on sunday afternoon faced with little more than several leeks and some sad looking chillies in my vegetable compartment and no inclination to wander as i was feeling under the weather. i usually use leeks to make risotto or pilaf. however, i did not fancy standing over the hob for a risotto and did not enough herbs to make a fragrant pilaf. it was the half eaten remains of a pot of creme fraiche that came to my rescue as it inspired this soup. i love soups like spinach or tomatoes with chickpeas with a stir of creme fraiche. but we never ended up using it as the leeks were silky enough on their own. 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

a weekend in nathia gali

governor house walk

in nathia gali the air still remains crisp although it does not have the clarity is used to. the smell of the pines is a mere whiff. it doesn’t retain the pungency of my childhood but then recollections are always more vivid than real life itself. my memories of this hill resort are of pakoras smeared with a thick chutney made from anar dana, desperately yellow pound cake and peppery chicken sandwiches made with bread that was soggy in the middle and dry around the edges. in summer nathia gali provides a welcome respite from the heat of the plains and at a time when pakistan is in the throes of dire energy crisis, it was just what we all needed. my favourite season to visit though is towards autumn when the mist settles amidst the trees softening the sharpness of the pine needles. mama has images of this season on her blog. it makes me wistful.

a breakfast pudding fit for the breakfast club

this recipe is being re-posted as part of the breakfast club. i am a breakfast stickler. as i write i am trying out a recipe for a coffee and almond granola. it could all go very wrong but if it goes right you will find a recipe by the by.

the breakfast club

Thursday, 27 September 2012

making mama's chappal kababs

mama's kachay keemay kay kabab
last week i posted mama's kabab diaries on the blog. i wanted to maintain her recipes the way they had been written but she and i have rather different styles of writing them. i also figured that there would be some variation in the recipe when i make it in london. so we comapred notes on some of the ingredients that were likely to change. we went back and forth over the kind of cottage cheese to use as the one that you get in london is not a creamy crumbly one like you have in pakistan. after much deliberation i decided to make the recipe without the cottage cheese. the most important part of this recipe is the mince. if you are not using the cottage cheese use mince that is at least twenty per cent fat. i used aberdeen angus mince beef from waitrose and it worked perfectly. we both agreed that i should use more onion than the recipe calls for to maintain softness as that is what the cheese is meant to do. here are my notes on ilona's chappal kebab recipe. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

downton suppers: orecchiette with spinach crème fraiche

orecchiette with spinach creme fraiche
it’s nine pm on sunday evening and thirty-two is getting ready for a downton supper. tv buffs will know that i am talking about downton abbey, the award winning period drama whose first series aired in twenty-ten. o and i have our pet favourites in the crawley family and its household and were looking forward to the return of the dowager duchess and her witticisms. 

ilona's kabab diaries with recipes

a year or so ago i tried to get mama to write for my blog. it seemed logical to do so not only because she is an excellent writer but also because i thought it was a smart way of getting her to pen recipes that i needed. as you can see it never worked. despite feeling a little peeved about it i understand why. she runs a creative business called atelier ilona lighting. this is a line of bespoke lighting. she also does a range of projects that include furniture design and embellishment with decoupage, photography and printmaking. she is a published poet, contributes regularly to nukta art magazine and when she isn’t too busy doing all that, cooks up culinary creations for human beings and cats and also paints handmade sari’s and block printed scarves for me.


plums, a poem, a recipe for rosemary marsala syrup

plums and nectarines with rosemary marsala syrup
i didn’t drink alcohol until my early twenties. my first memory of a screwdriver is far from endearing. but that wasn’t the case for boozy puddings and cakes or chocolate with liqueur. my first brush with the latter was with cherries surrounded by a thin and sharp kirsch sealed in a shell of chocolate. many years later when i met o i discovered that love tastes bittersweet like the memory of those kirsch chocolates. since then i have had many chocolate liqueur loves like contrieau, rum, champagne truffles and squares of milk chocolate with a capsule like centre of pear liqueur. 

Friday, 14 September 2012

a brownie birthday cake with a rescue mission

brownie cake with crumb frosting
i have become the unofficial birthday cake baker for the family i have married into, and for my friends too. most of the time i do this willingly because what can be better than a home baked cake with a flourish of irregular frosting. it is very rarely that my baking efforts  go pear shaped and where they have i’ve been able to bandage them. but this isn’t the story of a cake like that. this is the story of a birthday cake that needed a rescue operation that enlisted the support of the hoover, a tub of cream cheese, plenty of oven cleaner and 'trying to stay calm when all you want to do is scream'. the end result was a cake that was every bit what i had wanted it to be but its passage, just like life was far from smooth.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

a september curry made with chickpeas, spinach and coconut

chickpea, spinach and coconut curry
september is a month of transition. it is on the cusp of two of my favourite seasons, summer and autumn. the morning sunshine is soft like custard. london often sees a last gasp of summer with a sticky and hot day or two interspersed with slightly cooler ones.  a hot day will return me to a colourful salad that celebrates the vibrant colours of berries and stone fruits. on days when there is a whiff of autumn i want something warm with autumnal tones. this curry is that kind of a day in a bowl.  

Sunday, 2 September 2012

ginger's comfort emporium and thoughts on food for 'grown-ups'

king's cross ice cream festival
i have often heard of food and flavours being described as ‘for grown-ups’. i have on occasion used the description myself but it never ceases to puzzle me. mostly because when i was growing up i liked a lot of foods that most children didn’t. i ate stuffed bitter gourds gently steamed in a masala of lentils or minced meat. i loved vegetables such as courgettes, turnips and squash and i loved hummus only when it had the real assertive tahina flavour. i ate the stuff with a fork rather than pita when i was around eight years old. so you can understand why i find this description a little confusing. 

but on saturday, after queuing for an incredible forty-six minutes at ginger’s comfort emporium at the king's cross ice cream festival i finally realised that there are foods that are for grown-ups only. ginger’s comfort emporium hits the nail on the head when she describes her iced confections as being for ‘grown-ups’. her ice-cream van is colourful and quirky. it looks like a confection itself, as its body is pastel pink and plum brown with gold writing. i had a really hard time choosing my flavours as my hubby had abandoned me and gone home. 

banhmi11 and the architecture of a sandwich

op la di beef banh mi
over the recent months i have become quite concerned with the architecture of sandwiches. this concern was brought on by a encounter with a sandwich that had a delightful filling. however, the bread that held it together was so crumbly that it kept falling apart. in his trusty oxford companion to food davidson writes of the sandwich in its classic formulation as ‘two pieces of bread either side of a filling’. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

eid + a recipe for milky vermicelli (dhood seviyan)

dhood seviyan
now that we are grown up there is no eidi, the extra money that would fatten my pocket money. i spent most of it on customised collections of songs recorded by radio city or off beat. nor are there those family outings on chand raat to get stamps of inky henna on my palms and to buy churiyan. the glittery ones were rough, the glitter from them clinging tenaciously to skin and clothing. the plain glass ones had a blackened joint, a mark of the sear of the flame to close the circle. i remember the crudely made boxes holding an array of multicoloured glitter, matte and plain kinds. they were illuminated by naked light bulbs suspended on a slim wire. gone too are the multiple trips to the darzi to retrieve clothes never stitched on time. 

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

keema simla mirch - pakistani mince beef with green peppers

keema simla mirch
i remember angst and myself having many midnight conversations in my early twenties. they often took place over keema sandwiches and were a product of post-graduation jitters, readjusting to living with the parents and juggling multiple jobs. there was something particularly comforting about just warm keema held between slices of very soft white bread. if the keema had aloo in it, the chunks would have to be made manageable by a rough smash. a lacquer of mitchell’s chilli garlic sauce would pick up the heat. this was a sandwich to be eaten with care, as the infrastructure of the bread was frail against its contents. i loved the marriage of soft sweet bread with a meaty centre and the heat of the chilli sauce. 

Friday, 10 August 2012

warm spring onion salad

warm spring onion salad
a bright and hot summer day calls for a salad with lightness. it speaks to crisp leaves like radicchio or a tangle of peppery leaves like rocket. slices of stone fruit or summer berries should go in for colour and contrast of flavour. play around with the ingredients in the vinaigrette with fruity vinegars that have a gentle acidity. i always add a little zest to brighten the salad.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

breakfast pudding

o is a creature of habit. until recently his weekday breakfast was a bowl of bran flakes and a small cafetiere of fresh coffee. i coaxed him out of eating boxed sawdust with a bowl of homemade granola, a sliced banana and some milk. on the weekend brunch is always some manner of eggs – poached, fried or scrambled. i am his polar opposite as the only constant about my breakfast habit is that it varies very often. there are some constants like greek yoghurt, soft cheeses like ricotta and cream cheese and nut butters. for sweeteners there are homemade jams, honey and molasses. 

Thursday, 2 August 2012

besan ki roti - pakistani roti made with gram flour

besan ki roti with spinach yoghurt
many years have passed since i ate besan ki roti so i decided to take it from the preserve of memory by making it for dinner. in my house it was my dadi (paternal grandmother) who made it, usually for sunday brunch. the mustard yellow gram flour was made lively with lots of chopped coriander, finely diced red onion and fresh chillies. pomegranate seeds provided tartness and crunch. large pats of butter would be glided across the surface leaving melted trails in its wake. it was eaten with kunday wallah dahi - that loose and watery yoghurt set in shallow earthenware dishes. mama and baba bought it by the kilo in rana market. the dahi wallah would scoop it in quick precision using a metal utensil that looked like half a bowl into clear plastic bags before knotting it tightly. i have never been a fan of that dahi preferring prime or nestle yoghurt for its more substantial consistency.

Monday, 30 July 2012

a salad of peaches and grilled avocado

a salad of peaches and grilled avocado
there are some fruits that benefit from a little heat – brief moments on the grill, roasting in the oven or a gentle simmer. the heat coaxes their subtle flavours like those of apricots. then there are others like peaches (yellow and white flesh alike) whose honey-scented sweetness seduces you. a little char from the grill or a roast that caramelises the corners ups the ante but in summer i like these stone fruits just as they are.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

murree brewery: pakistan's true brew

the brewery's logo in the whisky maturation cellars

as a little girl growing up in pakistan, i thought doctor’s brandy was so named because it could only be obtained by prescription.  this naiveté can be explained by a combination of facts – a teetotaller uncle who would consume brandy for stubborn coughs, and bhutto’s prohibition, which provoked the local population to use medical certificates to secure alcohol. so it was with much surprise that i recently discovered that doctor’s brandy is actually a french brandy, produced under licence by murree brewery in pakistan.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Monday, 23 July 2012

maltby street revisited

the rope walk, maltby street market
a week of summer has come to britain. in celebration o, s and i made our way to maltby street market, that collective of food traders that sees itself removed from the now more commercial borough market. the landscape is distinctly altered from my last trip in january. the shard looms as a constant both near and afar and borough market has experienced a facelift of steel and glass.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

thoughts on the great british washout and a recipe for english apple cake

the summer of twenty-twelve will be preserved in my memory as ‘the great british wash-out’. the only constant thus far has been a weepy sky whose sobs vary to the tune of a sub-continental monsoon and the more traditional sheath of moisture that is british rain. my appetite vacillates between foods that comfort and salads that are a riot of bright colours. it is therefore not surprising that last night’s supper was a salad of feta, arugula and baby spinach brightened by the sunny disposition of strawberries, their sweetness pronounced by cubes of salty feta. i scattered over some roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts to add a little bite.

Monday, 2 July 2012

kin bin tin on two unforgettable bars in sydney

- note -
my other half was in sydney in june. these are his musings on bay eighty-eight in sydney. he tweets @kinbintin

after a long day in the blue mountains and a cruise back into sydney harbour, mk and i stumbled across the redoak beer boutique. what promised to be an eventful lager experience also turned out to be the most fascinating gastro wonder. we had one look at the food menu and decided it had to be tried.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

kin bin tin on bay eighty-eight in the land down under

- note -
my other half was in sydney in june. these are his musings on bay eighty-eight in sydney. he tweets @kinbintin

an eclectic self-composed breakfast
on a wintery sydney afternoon the perfect place to sip a flat white or a long black is bay 88. mk and i stumbled across it the day we arrived in sydney. it is located on rushcutters bay not far from where we were staying in kings cross. kings cross is an eclectic area of strip clubs and dubious looking establishments. the culinary options seem not too impressive at first with greasy glaring fast food outlets. but look around the back streets and you might come across a place like bay 88

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

e5 bakehouse

e5 bakehouse
e5 bakehouse is to be found under the railway arches of london fields station. the arch itself is cavernous but manages to maintain an air of cosiness. no doubt the ovens are what warm the space but the real charm is the yeasty smell of slowly fermented and baked bread. on my first visit i bought half a loaf of the quintessential hackney wild. it is beautifully crafted with a flour dusted rim and a light sheen on its surface.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

sumac and hazelnut croccante

roasted and skinned hazelnuts
nuts suspended in a hard caramel are a popular candy. mama would buy irregular rectangles of peanut brittle from united bakery in islamabad. these little jaw-breakers had to be bitten down upon at the back of the mouth. the knowledge that they were bad for our teeth did nothing to deter us from eating them. the brittle itself was slightly cloudy and had an oily sheen that must have come from the addition of butter or cream into the caramel.

Monday, 14 May 2012

geylang serai, singapore

peranakan houses near joo chiat street
rempah udang are one of many kinds of nyonya kuih (snack). they are cylinders of glutinous rice stained orange from their filling and are wrapped in banana leaves and secured with toothpicks. the rempah filling constitutes a spice paste with protein in the form of fresh and dried shrimp and ikan bilis (dried anchovies). 

nyonya is a honorific title used to refer to peranakan women. the pernakan were chinese settlers in the straits area. they married local non-muslim women and developed their own cuisine that is a cusp of chinese and malay flavours and techniques. they say that making rempah is an art as well as an essential skill for marriageable girls. as per tradition girl children learnt the art of cooking from an early age and it is said that nyonya’s can gauge a prospective daughter-in-laws rempah making skills merely by the sound of pounding.

nyonya kuih
i unwrap the lightly greasy banana leaf and bite into the cylinder. the coconut rice has a gentle sweetness and moistness. i can detect the citrusy fragrance of the lemongrass. it is unlike anything i have tasted before. there is texture from the two types of prawns, the unmistakable salty sharpness of anchovy and a soft heat from the chilli. i was sad to have left trying these to the last day and really wish i had eaten more peranakan food in singapore.

aside from its cuisine the peranakan pride themselves for their bright textiles, intricate beadwork, china and colourful houses with woodwork. there are plenty of these to be seen around geylang. i visited rumah bebe, a heritage home that gives insight into peranakan culture.

peranakan lace textiles 
peranakan china
peranakan china
after rumah bebe, i retraced my steps to  the geylang serai, one of many large wet markets in singapore. this one has been recently refurbished and is consequently much better organised than places like tekka market in little india. the design itself is quintessentially malay echoing old kampong houses. it incorporates wooden beams and latticework. the markets are busiest in the morning when the produce is fresh. geylang serai announces its strong muslim flavour through the attire of the women shoppers many of whom wear scarves. there are plenty of bright dried red chillies and ikan bilis along with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. i bought myself discs of gula melaka (coconut palm sugar) from one of the vendors. it is evident that the shopkeepers and shoppers have an established relationship and i am told that many have open accounts as a sign of trust and loyalty. it reminded me of the time when mama would shop in bazaari (our local market in pindi) and in rana market. up until the nineties we had an open account with our local shopkeeper. what this meant was that if we were short of money or picking up items in a hurry, the shopkeeper would note the purchase in his register and tally the payment at a later day. this tradition still persists in singapore despite the rise of  supermarket and mall culture. i do wonder how long it will survive though given singapore’s journey into hyper-modernity.

stalls at geylang serai
women shopping at geylang serai
shopkeeper at geylang serai
entrance to geylang serai
as always, there is a brisk trade in the food centre and various makkan places. i pass a number of bakeries stacked with curry puffs. these popular malay snacks are a kin to savoury patties in pakistan. flaky fried pastry stuffed with fillings like mutton or spiced potato are taken with teh (pulled tea). the sweetness of the tea exaggerates the heat of the chilli. i make a brief stop at hjh maimunah restaurant. the queue extends outward from the door. a large sign announces that you should find yourself a seat before ordering, but the warning is too late as it is near the ordering area. i get a small portion of beef rendang to go.  in singapore rendang is retailed by the piece so i get a large chunk of beef. a reduction of spiced gravy redolent with coconut clings to the surface of the meat.

geylang serai was my last outing in singapore as the next day i caught a flight back to london. i do wish i had spent more time exploring the area especially by night given that it is well known as singapore’s red light district. i also wish that the heat had not dulled my appetite so much. it was hard for me to muster the ability to eat nasi padang (spicy curries with coconut rice) and other rich dishes like laksa. i have always associated these with cooler temperatures and spent most of my trip eating dim sum, a smattering of sushi and soba and indian vegetables.