food and drink

My Summer Vacation, Part II: Food and Stuff

[I made an edit to my last post. Apparently, the video I had didn’t embed, and I didn’t notice until Trisha pointed it out to me. I’ve put a link in the text.]

On one of my days off (it’s always a working vacation), before Typhoon Glenda hit, I went to the Yummy Eats 2014 food festival. I went primarily to pick up handcrafted, thick-cut bacon from Mad Meats, but once you have a bag of meat, there’s a tendency to start a collection. After all, what good is meat if you don’t have cheese? And what good is cheese if you don’t have artisanal crackers? And so on. I didn’t get a lot of good pictures from the festival, but the following are the ones I thought were worth sharing.

Cream Cheeses

Cream cheeses flavors with herbs and garlic. Very good, but we forgot about them and left the jars I bought in the Philippines.

Pouf!

Pouf! Marshmallow Creme. It came in three flavors: original, Oreo, and cookies and cream. I tried the latter, and it was delicious, but I didn’t think I could transport a jar of it safely back to Malaysia in my baggage.

Chicharrones

Chicharrones. Deep fried pork rinds (pork skin). Absolutely delicious.

Game of Thrones Cake

A Game of Thrones cake!

There were many more booths, one with a lasagna that I loved, but alas, I left my festival guide behind, and can’t remember the names of the vendors.

As always, the food in the Philippines was ridiculously good across the board.

Stay tuned for Part III, in which I drop some helpful tips for not being “that person” on an airplane.

The Immortal

My badge is a small plastic square. Every few weeks, it moves a shade toward the next color in the spectrum. Red melts into orange, which blooms into yellow, and then green, and then blue. It has a safety pin on the back, but this is a token of passage from one level of swim lessons to the next, and there’s nowhere to pin it. Yes, I could probably pin it to my flesh, but swim lessons aren’t that hardcore.

The smell of melting cheese, roasting garlic, and baking bread permeates everything in the small pizza parlor. In the back, a large man with sandy blond hair–a man I erroneously call “Big Dog,” mistaking him for a man my father works with at the iron works–flours his hands and tosses pizza dough high into the air, making perfect circles every time. Working behind the counter, impaling receipts on a thin metal spike, is a woman with close-cut, bleach-blonde hair and a number of tattoos ringing her bicep and forearm. Next to her, running the show, is Maria. Her black hair is tied back loosely, and she projects the kind of calm, friendly confidence rarely found in hot, busy kitchens. She is an immortal. Twenty-five years later, she will not have aged a day. One gray strand of hair will be the only indication that she is vulnerable to natural decay.

When our pizza is ready, Maria brings it to us herself.  I’ve progressed from a child’s seat that clamps on to the table to sitting in an adult chair, just able to reach the pizza in the middle, to an adult who drinks too much Chianti and expounds on inappropriate topics too loudly, but she always greets me with a smile. No matter where I’ve been, or how long I’ve been gone, Maria always reminds me that I’m home, even if I’m not.

By the way, the pizza is the best there ever was or will be.

Pancake Lady

Taipei.

The hot griddle causes sweat to bead just below her hairline, but it never seems to collect in enough quantity to come rolling down her slightly wrinkled cheek, so if she even notices it, she ignores the sensation. Her black hair is streaked with a little grey, but no stoop, waddle or limp will betray her age. With a nasally bark in Chinese, she gestures to me with the oiled metal spatula in her right hand while flipping a pancake with an identical spatula in the other. When I’m done stumbling through the wreckage of broken Chinese and mangled, affected English, she barks again in Chinese, this time to the young couple working prep behind her. The woman next to her flips her a couple half finished radish pancakes. Sinewy wrists work the flat circles of cooking batter over and over with lightning speed.

When the toppings are ready, the two metal spatulas blur and gleam in the morning sun, fluffing the pancakes and clinking in rapid staccato against the griddle. The metal and wood are extensions of her arm, and she never lets go, bringing anything she needs to the griddle with a flash and clink. When the pancakes are done, the limber wrists roll them up and slide them into a bag. Finally, she lets go of one spatula and holds the bag out, gripping the handles between an iron thumb and forefinger. When I take it and pay, her eyes dart to the next person in line, and she issues another nasally, high-pitched command.

I walk away, and the rapid-fire clinkity-clinkity-clinkity-clinkity follows me down the block.

For A Character Study

Homemade Pizza!

I made pizza entirely from scratch for the first time–dough and everything. I was going to take pictures as I went, but during the dough-making process, my hands got a bit gooey, and I wasn’t about to touch a camera.

Here are the After pictures.

Homemade Pizza

One quarter impulse, ensign.

and

Red Alert!

Something seems to have fused to the hull, captain. Fascinating….

Aaaaaaand we’re done for today.

Edit: Crap… I probably should have included a recipe or something.

Dough:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp XV olive oil

Add water, yeast and 1 tbsp olive oil to a bowl and stir until Not Lumpy. Let sit until foamy, or about 5 minutes. Get a big-ass mixing bowl and start adding the flour gradually. About half of it to start, and then about a small handful after you’ve made what you have Not Lumpy. Keep adding that flour in until the dough is somewhat tacky (not like a shirt, but like glue). Pull it out of the big-ass bowl and knead it for a few minutes on a lightly floured surface. You don’t need to wail on it, just tender caresses. Either wash out that big-ass bowl or get a second big-ass bowl. Oil it down with the other 1 tbsp of olive oil. Toss that hunk of dough into the oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it sit at room temp. It’s going to grow about 2x its size, so after about an hour and a half, you can do what you want. Toss it into the fridge (still in the bowl), maybe. Some people say to leave it for 16-24 hours after that, but you should be able to use it pretty much right away if you want. If you threw it into the fridge, put it back out on that floured surface and let it get back to room temp. It might be enough for one giant (or two smaller) thin crust pizza(s), or one large-ish thick crust pizza. Make whatever sauce you want. I threw some tomatoes, basil, oregano, salt and pepper into the blender. Top with whatever. Bake at 250-ish Celsius for about 20-ish minutes or until golden brown on the edges.

It’s a treat. Do it.

Long Hot Sausage (Bow Chicka Wow Wow)

I was able to get most of the eighteen inches in me, but it was a tight fit.

I had to clean the creamy sauce off my face.

The length wasn’t the problem; it was the girth.

It took forever to come, but it was totally worth it.

Size isn’t everything, but it sure draws a crowd.

We double teamed this joint.

This was some hot, salty meat.

photo

Photo credit: Overexposed.
I had my mouth full.

This is the “Farmer’s Bratwurst” at Brussels Beer Bar in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur.

(And probably the dumbest post I’ve ever made.)

Phone Monkey: Trifecta

Before I begin this post in earnest, I should probably make it clear that the vast majority of customers are decent and generally know what they’re doing. Online ordering can be tricky, but most people understand the general requirements of doing business on the Internet.

The Holy Trinity of Online Ordering:

  1. Read: Read all of the instructions, and if you’re going to use a coupon, read the fine print. Terms and conditions always apply. The safety and comfort of your home does not excuse laziness.
  2. Double Check: Always, always, always look through your order to make sure you have put down the correct contact information, billing information, and that you’ve ordered what you think you ordered. You wouldn’t rush through booking an airplane flight. Why would you rush through an order for something that you’re going to put in your body.
  3. Be Cool: If something does go wrong, start at #1 and work your way back. If there is still something wrong, your Phone Monkey will be there to help. Accidents happen, and it’s our job to pick up the pieces. Very, very rarely, does anything blatantly malicious ever happen (a fry cook spitting in food, a driver calling a customer a whore, etc), but when it does, we actually have genetically engineered weasels that we can set upon unscrupulous restaurants.

Of course, we rarely hear from people who are satisfied with the service–after all, we’re the complaints department. Still, most people are reasonable, or at least not belligerent. There are people, of course, who are always impossible to deal with, and generally make our workdays a living hell. Almost all of them are unable to grasp #3 in the Trinity. As I mentioned in a previous Phone Monkey post, I attribute most of this to the anonymity of the Internet allowing people to remove the barrier of decency between their brain and their fingers or mouth (email/phone).

The Unholy Trifecta of Customer Service
1. Lawyers, Law Students, and Pedants

We are definitely not ones to holler, “Kill all the lawyers!” from the bell towers. As I mentioned in a pervious post, they keep us safe from you, and the other way around. As a rule, we’re not opposed to dealing with anyone because they come from any specific social group. But when we see an email addressed To Whom It May Concern, there is much muttering and sighing. One time out of a thousand, we’re surprised, and what follows is courteous. All of the other times, the email is a terse demand, usually for “restitution” and almost always employing the words “rendered,” “pursuant,” and “forthwith.” All they’re missing is the “Good day, sir!” at the end.

Why is this not OK? I understand where this comes from. You’re dealing with someone you’ve never met and probably will never meet, and doing so over the Internet, so the temptation is to come in hard and no-nonsense–make known your intentions. But what it actually turns out to be is bullying. In a meat-space service environment, the people who cause the most stress are the ones who can come into the store or office and physically intimidate. When we’re in the realm of black-on-white, we’re like Neo in the Matrix–muscles don’t mean a damn. As a result, those with command of language are at a huge advantage, which is why your phone monkey is likely to be someone who thought they could make a living as a writer, got a master’s degree, and then fell into a deep dark hole of debt, failure, and regret. And while we wind our way through complaints with tact and grace, the cynics come and present the black-on-white version of a gun. Loaded or not, we have to treat it like one, which means that instead of having a cordial service experience, you’re going to be treated like a menace, and we’re going to hate you for it. Working under duress sucks, especially when it’s the calculated threat of legal action. Be cool, not cold.

2. The Atom Bomb

Some of you may know what a chargeback is. For those who don’t, a chargeback is the result of a financial institution reversing a charge made to a credit card. This can be a great thing for the consumer, as anyone who’s ever had their cards or card numbers stolen can tell you. I can attest that our company would never want to keep a charge from someone whose identity was stolen. Unfortunately, this tool, like any tool, can be and is regularly used for evil. On a daily basis, customers use the threat of a chargeback to get their way from us or our vendors. Sometimes, it’s for major things, like food not delivered, but some days, like today, we have people tell us that they will be asking their bank to reverse the charge on the whole order because nachos and guacamole had clearly been fraternizing. But shouldn’t they? Tsk tsk … come now.

Why is this not OK? It should be obvious. As with the legalese, this is again us working under duress and treating the customer like a threat. But it goes a little deeper than that. Even if the bank denies the chargeback, it’s a pain in the neck for us, labor wise. It can also be hard on some of the small businesses we work with, as frivolous and opportunistic chargebacks can put undue strain on an already uncertain financial situation. By letting customers file chargebacks as freely as they do, we’ve essentially given the keys to a financial atom bomb to people (mostly college students) already in debt to their necks.

3. The Righteous Clueless

You’re home late from work, and all you want to do is sit, relax and order some delivery. Maybe you’ll crochet a sweater with cats on it for your friend. You get on the computer and pop in an order for some Chinese food from the best place in town. The thought of dumplings and roasted meats makes your mouth water. Forty-five minutes later, the doorbell rings and you pay and tip your driver, because you’re happy as a clam. As you unpack the bag, the steam fills your nostrils and you tear open the lid to your dumplings and chomp into one. And that’s when it hits you: you’re kosher/halal/vegetarian/vegan/pescetarian/breathairian! How dare the Chinese restaurant give you pork! Get thee to the Better Business Bureau!

Why is this not OK? This mistake happens far more often than it has any right to. After living abroad for some time now, I’ve come to realize that Americans generally don’t have any clue what other people around the world eat. There’s the old dismissal that Chinese food in the States isn’t really Chinese, and to the extent that it’s been molded to an American palate, that’s valid. (You might be surprised, though.) The real concern here is an ignorance of what kinds of things people eat. The quick-and-dirty explanation we got when we came to Malaysia about party etiquette was, “The Muslims don’t eat pork and don’t drink alcohol, so don’t offer them. The Hindus don’t eat beef, so don’t offer it. And the Chinese eat pretty much anything, so go hog wild.” In the States, more people need that kind of brief education before leaving home. That’s not to say that my education in this matter is finished. In Taipei I learned that pork is a vegetable. True fact. So if you’re ordering from the pretty-much-anything restaurant, expect the unexpected.

Above all, be cool.

The De-Cider

Ugh.

Now that we’re past the unpleasantness of that title, I’ll infotain you. Recently, I went to Taps Beer Bar for their first ever cider and food pairing event. It was a good evening for cider, too: rainy and relatively cool, but still warm enough that the imperial stout I had while waiting for the event to start seemed to catch in my throat. We would be having four ciders from three different breweries, and they would be paired with four dishes chosen by the MC.

Menu

 

So, without further ado…

Course 1

Wild Cider Pineapple MangoThe first course was a pineapple-and-mango-infused cider by Australia’s Wild Cider brewery, paired with a three-part salad of smoked salmon with a coconut-lime dressing, a roasted tomato in a tart shell with feta over a bed of caramelized onions, and a simple pear-and-greens salad. The roasted tomato tart was excellently prepared and was fun to eat. The smokiness of the tomato, saltiness of the cheese, and sweetness of the onions blended nicely. The salmon was much the same–salty, sweet, and smoky–and the lack of sensational differentiation made it seem a bit bland. The pear and greens were quite good, and light, and was a good pairing choice for the cider.

The cider itself was quite a bit sweeter than one might expect from a first course pairing. On its own, it is quite good. I mean, it’s pretty hard to screw up pineapple and mango. It was like drinking a less alcoholic mai tai–not exactly in the spirit of cider, but still tasty. Paired with the saltier items, which already had a sweet component added, the sweetness of the pineapple and mango seemed a bit redundant. Overall, however, this was a pretty good first course.

Course 2

Mountain Goat Two Step Apple Cider

Next was the Two Step Apple Cider by Australia’s Mountain Goat Beer. (Alright, so all of these breweries are Australian. You’re not really going to find many apples from Malaysia.) Paired with it was the seared quail on top of a salad of pears and greens and a peppercorn dressing. The quail itself was cooked well, and there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about as far as taste and execution were concerned.

For a second course, however, it felt disjointed, and the pairing was odd. The Two Step cider was good on its own. My companions complained that it barely had any taste and was closer to carbonated water than cider, but I found it to be light and subtly sweet when paired with the meat. The problem was that, instead of a real main course, we were given a second salad. A better pairing for this dish would have been the Gypsy Pear Cider. More about the specifics of the pear cider later, but the Two Step was far too light for a main course pairing, especially with a roasted meat. The pear cider, by contrast, was bold enough to carry the quail and light enough to avoid tainting the salad. The Two Step would have been better paired with the third course.

Course 3

Wild Cider Strawberry VanillaCourse three was another entry from Wild Cider, an extraordinarily sweet cider made with strawberries and vanilla. The MC warned us that it might taste overly sweet or medicinal, and he was not wrong. The sweetness was overpowering and felt almost syrupy at times. Paired with the pear and raspberry crumble, which was also tooth-achingly sweet, the cider was supposed to taste much more mild, or so we were told. In a sense, yes, compared to the crumble, it did seem somewhat more subdued, but it still made our teeth sing. I have tasted dessert wines, ports, sherries, cordials, schnapps, and had the poor taste to drink straight Pucker, and only the latter brings to mind the level of sweetness I found in this pairing.

Paired beverages should compliment the dish served, not necessarily turn it up to eleven. In this case, we had one extremely potent item with another, and the only thing they could do was build sweetness. The berry flavor of the crumble mixed with that of the cider to create a larger berry flavor, but one that was almost completely drowned out by the sugar. In the end, there was no complexity of texture or flavor, just overload. The better pairing, I feel, might have been with the Two Step. The lightness and dryness of that cider would have mellowed some of the crumble’s intense sweetness. There were apparently pears in that dessert, but the reduced berry juices were more like a syrup. If they could have been diluted by a lighter beverage, the taste of the pears may have come out.

Course 4

Gypsy Pear CiderThe last course. Wait. What? More dessert?! Far be it for me to complain, but this is why we needed a real main course. If I’m going to be treated to two sweet courses, I need something a little more substantial than two salads as a buffer.

Anyway, this course was the Gypsy Pear Cider from 2 Brothers Brewery, paired with Fete Artisan Pear Marshmallows. That’s right. Artisan marshmallows. My companions poo-pooed the marshmallows for the most part, but I thought they were actually quite good–and most importantly, they actually tasted like pear. And when they were roasted over flames, they tasted like roasted pears. Mission accomplished. “Artisan,” though? Let’s talk artisan when they get one that tastes like scotch, la?

Fete Artisan Pear Marshmallow

A whole one next to a sad melted one.

(Brief aside: I have a video of our French companion telling a story about how in France they don’t “do” marshmallows, but instead wrap a wheel of camembert in foil and throw it on the grill. I’m not including it, though, partially because I’m not ready to pay $10 a month to upload any occasional video I might have, and because I was kind of a dick to him about it–even though grilled cheese is delicious 100% of the time–and that part’s in the video, too. It’s my party and I can not upload self-incriminating video if I don’t want to.)

While I thought the marshmallows were pretty good, having them after the crumble was a bit much. One dessert, folks. One. Also, the pear cider pairing seemed a bit repetitive, like they were worried that the marshmallows might not taste enough like pear. Thinking of any of the other ciders I’d want to swap out for this one, though, I can’t decide without repeating.

Also, what was with the pears tonight?

Bonus Round: Beer!

Lager sir is regalIt’s a beer bar, so we stayed for beer. The bonus round is also when I stopped keeping track of most everything. I tried some lager, sipped some amber ale, and rambled on about something or another.

I do remember trying an excellent brew by Norway’s Nøgne Ø brewery. (I finally got to use a o-slash thingy in a sentence, and I got a twofer! And here it comes again!) Nøgne Ø’s Saison was excellent–light, a little fruity, and spiced well–and I highly recommend it as a summer brew, if you can find it.

Kitachino Red Rice AleThe last one of the night was an interesting specimen from Japan. Hitachino Nest‘s Red Rice Ale not only was a refreshing take on an Irish red, but also has a kick-ass label. I mean, look at it. It’s fantastic. The beer itself is, as its name implies, made with red rice, and so has a distinctly rice-y flavor, but not one that overwhelms the palate. If I could find a place to buy this in bulk, I’d be a happy camper.

For New Englanders in Malaysia, I did see a sign for Magic Hat, so if you’re homesick, you now know where you can grab a #9. Just don’t put any cigarettes out on anyone. That’s not OK here.