Category Archives: Food & Restaurant Investigations

Charleston South Carolina

They call it the low country, what the demarcation line is i have no idea. I spent the weekend with some old friends in Charleston South Carolina, founded in 1670 this beautiful city on the east coast of the United States has the cultural scene covered along with the some of the best food around.

Arthur Ravenel Bridge leading into the city

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St Michael’s

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Waterfront Park

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St. John…. A lot of churches Charleston-49 St johnSt. Philips

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Washington Park…. Ha! I’ll be there!!!!rebeca-64

Magnolias on E. Bay St. Upscale Southern food.

Curtsy of the TravelChannel

Courtesy of the TravelChannel

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Saigon, they hate us here…

It is the early 1970’s, a young Richard sits on the living room floor watching a live broadcast on TV, it’s the American Draft Board pulling birth dates which will determine who goes to war, his mother sobs quietly behind on the couch. All birthdays assigned to a number 200 or less have to go to war, Richard’s birth date is assigned to the number 195. Richard has one week to report to the recruitment center, eight weeks later he is fighting and killing communists in Vietnam.

Fast-forward forty-five years later and I am traveling with that same Richard back to Vietnam on business, this is my first trip to Saigon and this is Richard’s second trip to what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

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We duck into a small bar, Richard still remembers some of his Vietnamese and orders us a beer. The Waitress asks where are we from. Richard holds up his hand to me and replies, “We are from Canada.” I didn’t say anything at first and just waited. The beers will do the talking.

“They hate us here.” Richard finally said. “They hate all Americans.”

After a few more beers we walk outside, Richard points out some of the sites and places he remembers when this city use to be called Saigon. Richard told me how he use to count his verified kills, he stopped after 22, said it was a stupid insane way of trying to maintain his sanity.

“That park over there.” Richard points. “Spent my last days protecting helicopters as they came flying in like dragonflies air lifting American solders to safety, we left thousands of women and children behind.” Richard pauses for a second. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed to tell these people I’m an American.”

I had to think about that for a while.

The Vietnamese called it the American War, the US called it the Vietnam War and in 1975 the US abandoned the South Vietnamese to end the US involvement in the war that lasted nearly 10 years. North Vietnam troops quickly over took the south and killed and tortured millions.

Today Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City is a beautiful place, the people are friendly and a visit here is well worth the effort.

For the next several days and on several occasions people did ask where I was from, I didn’t experience any resentment when I told them I was from the US but at times I continued to keep up the pretense that I was from Canada. Most people just smiled and nodded and nothing more.

Am I ashamed or embarrassed of being an American? I have to think about that for a while…

Ho Chi Minh City is a modern city and although a Communist country it has poised itself ready and able for the 21st century.

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But i like the old, the local and the gritty….

The Food

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Mango salad

Vietnamese Crepes Quảng Hoa (Bánh Xèo Quảng Hòa)

Vietnamese Crepes Quảng Hoa (Bánh Xèo Quảng Hòa)

Fresh spring rolls stacked high

Fresh spring rolls stacked high

Pho soup

Pho soup

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Curbside meal

Curbside meal

Curbside meal

Curbside meal

Market stuff

Market stuff

The Place

One of the oldest hotels, the Grand Hotel

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City Hall

Opera House

Opera House

Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral

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Post Office

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Notre Dame Cathedral at night

The People I meet

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Motor Bike vendors

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Waitress

Young girl peddling key-chains
Young girl peddling key-chains, of course i bought one.

Prayer time at the Cathedral

Late night prayer at the Cathedral

Young woman waiting for a taxi.

Young woman waiting for a taxi.

Next a Vietnam wedding…

She thinks i’m a chef…

You got to try this…Dutch Baby or German Pancakes …This puffy pastry kind of thing is usually for breakfast, although I made this at 3 in the afternoon. It is easy to make and so good, add fruit, jam, butter, syrup, smoked fish, just about anything you want, you can’t go wrong and it looks great on the table.

DutchBaby-3 DutchBaby-6 Ingredients: 4 eggs, 1cup of flour, tablespoon of sugar, 1 cup milk, dash of vanilla, cinnamon. Butter a cast iron skillet or a non-stick pan and bake at 450 degrees.

So my partner Ms. E thinks I’m some kind of super chef, little does she know I’m just winging it, yeah faking it, no professional education, so we won’t tell her about my shortcomings but i think it has wooed her to my dark side….

For some time now and without my knowledge, Ms. E has been taking pictures (Mobile phone pics) of the meals I/we have prepared and then she posts them on her FB page!!! Hmmm, Well bless her heart… here is a month’s worth of cooking…

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Finally got my visa to Vietnam. Next Saigon…

Stingray, it’s whats for dinner…

One of the local delicacies in Malaysia and SE Asia for that matter is Stingray. Local groceries have them stacked high packed in ice next to the shrimp and fish, but you can get them at any local food court. Stingray-7

I”ll take that one …

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Here we are, this guy cooks a good one. He wraps the stingray pieces in foil with some cabbage and onion, adds his special sauce and bakes it for a few minutes.

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Put a wing piece over rice, oh so good. The meat is white, delicate, and similar to flounder, a little bony so be careful.

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So good …

Curry Fish Head with sautéed lettuce…

This is our bill from dinner the other night, cannot read a damn word of it, more on the meal in a minute.

BillOne of my favorite buildings in downtown Kuala Lumpur is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. Built in 1897 and designed by A.C. Norman in the style of the Mughal, Persian architecture, the building housed British government offices until after World War II.

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Curry Fish head

Thirty minutes drive south of Kuala Lumpur (KL) through the back streets of the city, away from the upscale hotels and modern neighborhoods is a borough known as Puchong where we are about to experience a local delicacy, Fish-head curry.

FishHeadSoup-13 FishHeadSoup-11-2Puchong is mostly a Chinese community with a myriad of local restaurants that rarely see any foreigners. This restaurant is known for good Fish Head, it’s not a fancy place, plastic chairs, open to the outside, with a queue quickly forming it’s an indication this place is good.

FishHeadSoup-3One thing I noticed when I moved here to Malaysia is that there is no salad, as we know it in the West. The Malaysian’s do eat lettuce, it’s just sautéed, steamed, and mixed with oyster sauce, very good.

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Whenever I go to Puchong children point at me because I look so out-of-place, restaurant owners ask my companion Ms. E if I need a fork and spoon, and some places dust off the English menu, if they have one, and set it in front of me. As awkward as all this is and as culturally different as it can get, this is why people love to travel.

Giant Shrimp and what to do with them…

These are the biggest shrimp I have ever seen, ridiculous Frank-en-shrimp. I’m at a local night market in Kuala Lumpur and I come across these baby’s, Penaeus monodon, or Giant Tiger Prawns. Indigenous to SE Asia waters they grow to about 14 inch in length, these are only about 9 inches and for scale, I put a normal shrimp next to them.

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Best shrimp recipe…

  • Garlic sautéed in olive oil
  • Add breadcrumbs
  • Add Parsley
  • Pepper, Salt, splash of white wine. Reduce.
  • Drizzle on split shrimp
  • Sprinkle on Parmesan and Mozzarella
  • Broil for 3-5 minutes

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Southern Food in NC

People with refined or discriminating taste may not realize or even enjoy the thought of eating what one may consider as “Southern Food”, they are missing out. In many fine restaurants, excessive refinement and deconstruction of well-known dishes leave’s you wondering what you just consumed.

Undeniably enjoying a meal with an elaborate presentation of balanced flavors and contrasting elements, rare ingredients harvested from remote locations melded together with obscure parts of an animal’s anatomy have proved quite unforgettable, even though the equivalent to a house payment exchanged hands, I enjoyed ever minute.

Fine meals come in all forms and recently several were enjoyed visiting Donna and her husband Brooks, some dear friends in NC. There is no elaborate presentation here however some of the finest meals come out of Chef Brook’s kitchen.

We start with breakfast of soft fried eggs, grits, non-nitrate bacon, homemade jelly, and strong coffee. Grits, for those who are not familiar with the item is ground up corn, simmered with some added butter salt, and pepper. The creamy texture of the grits mingled with the yellow yolk and the sweet, saltines of the bacon just complements each other, add a side of Donna’s organic homemade jelly, yum!!!!!

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For dinner, pork chops, collard greens, and lima beans. The pork chop is marinade with a secret BBQ sauces and charcoal over a hickory wood fire. Until this day my friend Brooks will not let go of the recipe for this wonderful BBQ sauce, it is a tomato-vinegar base (NC style), sweet, sour, and tangy. The hickory smoke from the fire and sweetness of the sauce make the chop one to remember for some time.

Brooks-5However, the star of the show, and always has been for myself, are the collard greens. Collards are a large deep green leafy vegetable with a texture similar to cabbage and a nutritional value equal to none. Chef Brooks simmer them with a little sugar (I think), salt, pepper, and a smoked ham hock. The ham flavor permeates the green and no words can describe how good this is.Brooks-8

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Combine this meal with a fine California Zinfandel and the companionship of good company and it is just an extraordinary Southern Meal! Oh, of course every NC home has a bottle of Texas Pete on the table, the local hot sauce.

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Back to Malaysia, i’m craving some curry fish head soup ;)