My Parisian Restaurant Map

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A slice of heaven

Living in Paris for the last couple of years has certainly not left me wanting for much, in terms of food. Almost every week I am lucky to discover something new, whether its an amazing bistro, a special goat cheese that has only now come into season, a little-known wine from a little-known region, or even a simple twist on an original classic, like crème brulee a la rhubarbe.

But there is something that I have missed, although I didnt even know that it was missing from my life until it was served to me at lunch yesterday. I'm not talking so much about a specific food, as I'm talking about a dining experience.

People come to France with preconceived notions about the food; they expect everything to come in a sauce, in small portions, with lavishly garnished plates, decorated with small dots of some sort of bizarre reduction. And in fact, food in Paris is the opposite- most Parisians tend to eat in bistros, and bistros are refreshingly rustic, and homey, and down to earth. But I guess somewhere in the back of my mind I was still waiting for a lavishly decorated plate, with a crazy sauce and a brightly colored swirl of an unidentifiable mousse of some sort.

                                          And yesterday, I got it.

Having decided to go explore a small portion of the undeniably magical Loire region, the first stop was determined to be the spectacularly romantic Chateau de Chenonceau. This castle is one of the most magical places I have ever been. It has been constructed over the Cher river, meaning it stretches across the Cher, from one bank to another, with arched columns that dip into the riverbed. Surrounded by gardens and a labyrinth, no matter where you are in this castle, you constantly catch reflections of the water projected onto the walls, or are presented with the most breathtaking views of the middle of the river.

We arrived around lunchtime, and of course decided that we needed to gather our energy before we visited the castle, so we decided to try out the lavish restaurant that the castle has to offer. We hadn't even sat down yet and I was already happy; dining in a castle on a beautiful autumn day, with trees that look like they are bursting into red and yellow flames, is not something that you get on a typical day in Paris.

The setting of this restaurant is heaven, and the service is old school French. A different waiter for every course, warmed bread rolls in the middle of the table, a vegetable cake and home-made pickled vegetables are all stark contrasts to the usual snarky Parisian waiter and the little bowl of peanuts you get with your aperitif. They even had the little machine that vaccuums up the crumbs between your third course and dessert. Because who wants to have crumbs sticking to their elbows as they glance across the river at a castle bathing in the afternoon autumn sunlight, while sipping on a glass of wine produced two kilometers away and sinking their fork into a warm fondant topped with a strawberry-mint coulis that erupts with molten chocolate? Not me.

The menu regional was a two hour, four course meal that makes your eyes roll back into your head with every bite and necessitates a discreet unbuttoning of your pants to make room for your ever expanding belly.

The entrees we chose were very typical of this region; pork rilletes and salmon rilletes, mixed with both smoked and un-smoked salmon, topped with avocado, cream and chives. 

 For the main course, I chose the Filet de Sandre à la crème d'ortie, a local river fish topped with a creamy nettle sauce. Yes, nettle. And yes, it was heavenly. Its hard to describe the flavor of nettle, but suffice it to say that any herb in a creamy white wine sauce over a delicately flakey fish caught ten meters away is delicious. 

After the main course came the chevre chaud, but of course the cheese served with this cleansing green salad was a local goat cheese produced around the corner. Of course.

And finally, dessert. Although I would not say that chocolate fondant or tarte fine aux pommes are desserts that originate from the Loire, it's safe to say that the apples most certainly did, as did the strawberries and mint that the coulis was made out of, and the white (yes, white!) raspberries that they were topped with. 

But what was so old world about this incredible lunch was the presentation. Small portions, beautifully decorated plates, with several small side dishes served in miniscule glasses or mini-cocottes: a pumpkin veloute served with a mini spoon in a mini glass was a seasonal delight, reminding us that it is autumn. (In case the trees exploding with the most vibrant reds and yellows and greens and browns and oranges had somehow let us forget). Then there was a mini ratatouille, and I emphasize mini, because usually I dont like ratatouille, but for some reason cutting the vegetables into miniscule cubes the size of a pea and serving it in a mini bowl as big as a quail egg somehow took this innocent classic side dish above and beyond.

And last but not least, the wine was so perfect that we were inspired to go visit the chateau that produced it, a family business a mere two kilometers away from the chateau, and bought a case to take home. (After, of course, sampling their other wines too).

On the way home, stuffed and happy with our palettes completely over-saturated and the top of my pants unbuttoned , we stopped at a tiny goat farm with a little grandma making only about three types of fresh goat cheese, using the same recipe that her mother in law taught her. Selle-sur-cher and wine in tow, we started to make our way home. 

Nowadays we fuss so much about eating local, about eating organic, about eating sustainable. But it goes to show that once you leave the big metropoles, the rest of the world is still eating that way. They aren't concerned with 'being green' or their carbon footprint because they simply don't have one and they probably never will. Things haven't changed in these regions for hundreds of years, at least in terms of food production, and I pray to god that they never will.

P.S. There is an amazing collection of Renaissance cookwear in the basement of the castle; complete with stoves, cauldrons, cutting boards and cake moulds. Its a lesson in food history and, for me, was the cherry on the cake.

Here are the addresses if you are interested in going:

1. Chateau de Chenonceau and L'Orangerie restauraunt in the chateau (
2. Les caves du Pere Auguste for some excellent local Touraine wine (try to Gamey and the Cot)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

This little piggy went to the market...

Take a trip down to the Basque region and you will no longer feel like you are in France. Everything here is different, from the colors of the houses, to the way they play boules, to the language they speak, to the food they eat and the wine they drink.

But there are three really amazing things that come 
from this region: ham, cheese and cake. (Not to mention wine and piment d'espelette, and the Lindt factory that's near Pau. Let's just say that I would get really fat if I lived here. )

One of the most well known dishes from this region is probably the gateau basque. There are traditionally two different fillings to this amazing cake, black cherry and frangipane, which is a kind of almond paste mixed with sugar and butter. But one quick look at the landscape around you will reveal that there are indeed no almond trees to be found- which seems to be a clue about which filling is the more authentic one. Look a little closer and you will also notice that black cherry jam is traditionally served with their cheeses, so I think it's safe to say that anything made out of black cherry is probably the more indigenous choice, and that the almond cake filling is probably a more recent addition. 

As for the ham. Well, here is a picture of some very happy little piggies frolicking in the sun in the middle of the Aldudes valley in the Pyrenees mountains. These little piggies, which are black and light pink, or white, are the traditional Basque pigs, which were almost going extinct before a man named Pierre Oteiza decided to revive the race and make amazingly delicious ham and pâtés with them. Oteiza now has boutiques in Paris and exports to the US and Japan.( If you get the chance, buy the black pork pâté with the piment d'espelette, spread it on some crusty bread and drink with a good glass of red and you don't need much else to make you happy.   

So as cute as these little piglets look, they taste even better.

And finally, the cheese. The most commercialized version of their local cheese is the petit basque, a cheese which is frequently found advertised on billboards in the Parisian metro. You can find it anywhere, and I have to say that it never dissapoints. But of course once you visit this region, you realize that in fact, like everywhere in France, there is no 'one definitive cheese,' but instead practically every little village or valley makes its own special cheese. While driving around in the Iraty region, every 500 meters or so there were little hand written signs by the side of the road telling tourists that they are only 200 meters away from amazing, hand made sheep's milk Ossau Iraty cheese. The regional government has tried to standardize these signs by making one big brown sign depicting a sheep's head, a piece of cheese and an arrow, which is actually quite amusing.

So apart from all the amazing produce, the restaurants that I've visited really seem to try to incorporate the local ingredients into their dishes. The salade Iraty that I ate in the Iraty region contained, of course, Iraty cheese, basque pig ham, and local asparagus. For my main dish I continued with the tradition of eating small, cute animals and chose to eat baby mutton cutlets, simply seasoned with rock salt and grilled on a sizzling hot plancha. While gnawing on the bones I could literally see the little baby muttons grazing on a nearby hill. Now that is what I call 'eating local.' 

Oh, and the wine is really good too. 

Monday, September 6, 2010


Foodie is a relatively new term that entered our vocabulary during the mid 1980's. The word is defined as “a person having an enthusiastic interest in the preparation and consumption of good food.”

But when I picture a foodie, I think of a snob. 

Of someone who will turn their nose up at my cheeseburger because it's not made with Kobe beef. Of someone who won't let me eat tuna because it's over-fished. Of someone who sneers at a tomato salad served in winter, the season when they're out of season. When I think of a foodie, more "dont's" come to mind than "do's".

If someone wants to be taken seriously as a foodie, they need to show that they're serious about food. In order to do this, they do in fact need to know what vegetables are in season, which fish are facing extinction and why El Bulli is closing. But this level of purism, knowledgeableness and awareness often times become conservative in its approach and restrictive in its practice. Pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction no longer remain the muses of the foodie; instead, self-righteousness, snobbishness and pretension prevail. Foodies nowadays have started taking themselves too seriously---sometimes I just want to eat a chili-dog or a gyros, not because it's a symbol of local (sometimes immigrant) identity but because it's simply good. It's comfort food, food that I crave in the pit of my stomach, food that once I eat satisfies me in a way only comparable to a warm bubble bath or a sunday afternoon nap in your lover's arms or a good cup of tea. I'm not going to deprive myself of these pleasures simply because of they way that they are labelled- “fast food”, “dirty food”, “hangover food”. We forget that these foods are someone's cultural heritage, even if they have become dumbed down and Americanized for the Western palate. And even if they aren't culturally notable, they still serve an honorable purpose: to nourish. To nourish not only our hunger, but also our bodies, our hearts, our emotions and our souls. I admit that a chili-dog may not be the healthiest thing with which to nourish my body, but in this world of culinary excess and permanent access to any food any way we like, in this world where we no longer need to hunt and gather but can have food delivered to our laps with the click of a button, it's important to remember that the purpose of the chili-dog, despite all of its flaws, is to nourish.

And why should I feel embarrassed to admit that that is what I'm craving? In all honesty, I would never dream of publicly conceding to my guilty pleasures, chili-dogs and gyros included. But pleasures they are, and when did we start living in a world where admitting our pleasures became looked down upon? The answer to that question is probably 'always'.

I do consider myself a foodie, but not one of those foodies. I consider myself a foodie who worships at the altar of pleasure, of satisfaction, and of hedonism. If I'm craving a tomato in January, then by all means I will sink my teeth into that tomato and eat it like an apple. To not do so would be to deny my most primal cravings, which is, quite frankly, a sin. We would not deny ourselves water when we are thirsty, so why do we deny ourselves food when we want it, when we need it?

To me, it's all about balance. If I eat a tomato in January, I eat it because I crave it, but with the full knowledge that it will taste nothing like the blood red beef-heart tomatoes that I eat in Greece in the middle of August, when the heat of the summer sun has practically baked them into a caramelized red the color of blood. The awareness and knowledge of when I should ideally eat this tomato are what make me a foodie.  But the fact that I will ignore that knowledge, close my eyes, and bite into that tomato with the full hope that it will taste like a Greek summer day, is what makes me a hedonist. But perhaps it is this constant search for pleasure, comfort and nourishment that makes me a true foodie, a pure foodie. Because whoever argues that pleasure is not the most important thing when it comes to food can go join Greenpeace and leave the good food for the rest of us.  

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The bouillabaisse fiasco

Off we went on a little mini-vacation to sample the delicacies of Marseilliean cuisine;
I have to say though, things were not exactly as they seemed.

Firstly, for some reason, I thought that aioli would be served as a side dish to everything. So I kid you not when I say that not one spoonful of aioli entered my stomach the whole weekend. Not one. Actually wait, I take that back. One tiny spoonful did, and it turned out to be the only thing that saved my bouillabaisse, although it was too little too late.

Having arrived in the Vieux Port around 2pm, most places had actually stopped serving lunch. No Dorothy, we are not in Paris any more I'm afraid. But luckily we managed to find one cute little place that would still pour us a couple glasses of pastis, a carafe of rose, and grill up some fish. That, coupled with a sunny day and a sea breeze, was good enough for me.


Then came the bouillabaisse fiasco.

Since of course no foodie in their right mind can come to Marseille and not try it. However most slightly broke foodies like myself cannot afford to pay the atrocious asking price, ranging anywhere between 30 and 60 euros. And that's alot of money for some rock fish. But I found a nice little place where they were serving what appeared to be very yummy looking soup, topped with croutons and fresh aioli (finally!). They even threw in a couple of mussels into the soup, and all that for the comparatively low price of about 16 euros.


The soup was not that great. There was some weird brown goop at the bottom, which I was lovingly assured was the remainder of boiled fish guts and eyeballs. They forget the mussels. And they forgot the only thing that I was really looking forward to: the little croutons with the fresh aioli. Once that finally came, (and of course by that time the soup was cold) it did manage to make things a little bit better. And once they took my plate away, and I casually mentioned that the little bowl designated for my mussel shells was in fact empty, and that no, I had not eaten the mussel shells but that they simply had be omitted from my soup, they gave me a little bowl of mussels, right before the dessert course. The mussels were just steamed, served with a little garnish of leftover steaming water in the bottom of the bowl. Barf.

Surprisingly though, the pizza in Marseilles is quite good. And so is the pastis. And the rose. And the little navettes a la fleur d'oranger. But all the rest I must say was a surprising disappointment.

Armenian Pizza

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meat Coma

Sometimes all you really want is a big fat steak.

Having passively watched my friends and loved ones devour massive rib eye steaks, or cote de boeuf, dripping with blood, I finally decided that it was time to get my own. Up until now, the only thing holding me back was that they are usually served for 2, meaning you have to share. The problem is that my lovely French friends look at me with utter disgust when I ask if we could maybe, possibly, please, order it a point. Hence why no one has ever wanted to share one with me, which is how I found myself a couple weeks ago at Le Louchebem, trying out my very own 550 gram cote de boeuf. And boy was it worth the wait.

If you're interested in Parisian history, then this is this place to come. Our lovely waiter kindly explained to us that this restauraunt used to originally be where all the butchers of Les Halles would come to cook their meat after the market was over. It started off just as a bring-your-own-meat kitchen, where butchers could gather together after a hard day of hacking up meat to eat a steak and drink a carafe of red wine. (One of the reasons why Morgon and Bordeaux wines were the most popular in Paris at this time is because this is the wine that the butchers used to drink, so it caught on.) Over the years, it turned into an amazing restaurant specialized in simply done, beautifully cooked meat.

So far I've eaten here twice; the first time I had the enormous cote de boeuf which was one of the most perfectly cooked pieces of meat that I've ever had. Last night I went back, and decided to have a steak tartare. Needless to say, it was absolute heaven. The meat was so fresh and delicate, and the seasoning wasn't too overpowering like it is in some places (when they're trying to cover up the mediocre quality of the meat). In fact, this was the first time in my almost two years in Paris that the chef actually remembered me, and upgraded my order from a tartare L to an XXL (500 grams!!!!), free of charge. It was literally the size of my head, and I did it justice. Needless to say, it always pays off to make friends with the chef.

Oh and if you order an aperitif, they bring you a plate of big chunks of freshly roasted ham. Heaven.

Le Louchebem
01 42 33 12 99
31 Rue Berger
75001 Paris

L'argomuche du Louchebem

Louchebem" signifie "boucher" en argot du quartier des halles de Paris et abattoirs de la Villette au début du siècle...
C'est un peu l'ancêtre du verlan. Ce langage était utilisé pour se faire comprendre
sans être compris !
Il suffit de mettre la première lettre à la fin du mot de la remplacer par un "L" le tout suivi d'une terminaison "em", "ess", "ic", "oc" et autres "muche"...
Louchebem Boucher
Lesieum Monsieur
Lamde Dame
Lamfe Femme
Lorsomic Morceau
Loutomic Mouton
Ligogem Gigot
Lorpicoss Porc
Lovic Veau
Lanchetrem de luisquem de loeubem Tranche de cuisse de boeuf
Lilefem Filet
Loulepem Poulet
Lanarquess Canard
Ligeonpem Pigeon
Lourissoc du Ligogem Souris du gigot
Luiquess Cuit
Lombem Bon
Luridoc Dur
Lombienquess Combien
Liprem Prix
Lombienquess je loide Combien je dois

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Chicken Oyster!

While deciding what to eat last week at a little bistro in Levallois, in the west of Paris, a really bizarre looking word-even for French-caught my attention. On the menu was written:

Salade de sot l'y laisse, facon Cesare.

Now my French is not awful, but I had as much difficulty pronouncing sot l'y laisse as I did the first time I saw the word moelleux. (A moelleux is basically a gooey half-baked chocolate soufflé, and is a word that I use way too often, trust me.)

Feeling rather adventurous, and having been reassured that it's not an innard- phew!- (see my post about riz d'agneau...ahem), I decided to order it. What arrived was a large salad with a creamy dressing, and roundish bits of brown chicken meat, with a thin squiggly line of marbled fat in the middle. I have the impression that it could have been prepared better, and maybe in some other places it's just heavenly, but for now it's probably the most inoffensive piece of French mystery meat that I have tasted so far.

Further research then informed me that sot l'y laisse  literally means 'only idiots leave it behind', with the idiot being the person who is carving the roast chicken. In English people refer to it as the chicken oyster, since it's supposed to be the best kept secret of the chicken, but most idiots don't know it exists so they throw it out with the rest of the bones, and apparently to the French this is so horrifically appalling that they literally named that piece of chicken 'only idiots don't eat me'. How French.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Le Potager

After a brief break to focus on work and get my life on track, I've finally found the time to get back to my writing. Let's hope I can keep it up!

But let me assure you that no break has been taken from eating; on the contrary, many many yummy things been consumed in these past few months!

I have discovered an amazing new bistro in Monmartre, called Le Potager, where they do the most decadent appetizer I have ever had in my life: its an oeuf cocotte (so a runny egg, cooked in a bain marie with some heavy cream until nice and runny) topped with thin slices of foie gras, served with little toasts to dip into the yolk....never in my life have I had something so decadent, so sinful, so luxurious. Once you have eaten this, you can truly say "I have lived!" and die a peaceful death.

Another amazing thing they serve at the same bistro is a simple, elegant chocolate fondant, which is cooked to perfection-which in my book means still gooey on the inside, but with a firm, crunchy crust. But what really takes it to the next level is what they serve it with: two bright fuchsia and orange swirls of a raspberry and mango coulis, with a side of mango sorbet. After I walked out of this place for the first time (actually staggered out ready to collapse under the weight of my own stomach is probably more appropriate!), I felt like I had finally reached the pinnacle of Parisian bistro food.

Go. There. Now.

-Le Potager: 16, rue des Trois Freres, 75018, Paris. Book in advance, since they only have about 6 small tables and are always packed!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Berko Birthday Cupcakes

On Wednesday it was my birthday, and on birthdays we must eat cake. Blowing out candles is not a
necessity for me, but the cake is, no matter its size, shape or flavor. While in search for cake, my cousin
told me about a new cupcake shop that had opened up on the rue Lepic, right next to the Cafe les Deux
Moulins, aka Ameli's cafe. Cupcakes in Paris are truly a rarity, and I almost didn't believe her. So I told
her to take me there immediately so that we could gorge ourselves on some birthday cupcakes.

What awaited me was too good to be true. The window was full with mountains of colorful cupcakes,
bright reds, blues, yellows, greens and purples, of all different sizes and flavors. Oreo, violet,
blueberry, red velvet with cream cheese icing, raspberry and white chocolate, straciatella, chocolate
mousse, mango coconut, and the list goes on and on. Each one available in mini or regular size, each
one individually decorated in the most creative possible way. I was standing in the shop with my mouth open, basking in the glory of the American cupcake. (Something I do not often find myself doing)

But it's surprising to think that these little cousins to the muffin have never caught on in Europe-and
especially in France, where there is such a huge tradition of pastries, cakes, tarts and everything in
between. I think it has something to do with the colors; the French tend to be against adding food
coloring to their food, so their pastries vary in color depending on the fruit that they are made with
(and I can assure you that the color of a strawberry has nothing to do with the color of red food dye

 But then what about the macaron paradox? The range of colors and decorations of those mini cookie-cakes is just never-ending- so I'm assuming that what matters is that the French use only the color of the fruit to influence the color of the pastry. I don't think they even sell food dye in France. And these cupcakes are much more affordable than most French pastries: 2 euros for a mini, 2.80 for a normal size. Thats the price of an eclaire or a mini strawberry tart. But don't get me wrong; it's very rare that I would chose to eat a cupcake over a strawberry tart. But when it comes to birthdays, a tart just isn't exactly the right receptacle for a candle like a mini cupcake is.

31 Rue Lepic, 18th arr. Paris

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pierre Herme

I used to think that LaDuree was the best place to eat macarons in Paris. But I was wrong.

Laduree can be proud of their amazing macarons, with a hundred something years of experience behind
making them. The flagship store on the Champs Elysee is in the most wonderfully pastel green,
lavishly ornate building, perfectly preserved and reflective of what plush Parisian parlors must have
been like in the early 1900's. But its location is also its downfall; being on the Champs means that 99%
of your customers are tourists, and that obviously brings it's image down to another level, making it
lacking in true Parisian sophistication and overflowing with Americans wearing sandals with socks. But
I used to think that this was the mecca and pinacle of the french macaron, and I'm sure that many
people probably think the same.

But walking home one day, I noticed that a brand new colorful, brightly lit shop had opened right around the corner from my house. As I crossed the street, I noticed mounds of colorful little pyramids, made up of hundreds of different colors and patterns. What on earth could they be selling? A closer look at the window revealed the mystery: Pierre Herme had set up shop.
Now these macarons reside in a whole other dimension compared to Laduree's. They're smaller in circumference, but fatter in width, and the array of colors, decorations and flavors is just mind
boggling. Judging the price per kilo (a mere 80 euros), I knew I had to select my three macarons carefully, in order to get the best representation of the diversity of their flavors.

So I chose:

  • magnifique: strawberry wasabi-white with pink speckles, tasting like strawberry shortcake
  • mogador: milk chocolate and passion fruit-orange tops and bottoms, with a light brown filling and a  dusting of cacao powder
  • infiniment vanille: a creamy, off-white macaron, made of vanillas from Tahiti, Mexico and Madagascar. A prime example of brilliance found in simplicity of flavor.

These three little morsels of heaven cost me 1.85 each, 5.55 total. A small price to pay for heaven.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Paris Cookbook Fair, aka Paradise

As I mentioned earlier, this Valentine's Day I had the good fortune to be invited to the Paris Cookbook Fair. And let me tell you, if you're a foodie, then this fair is your heaven.

When you enter the building, you're flanked by cooking demonstrations taking place on your left and right. In the corner, an all day long wine demonstration, or degustation, is taking place. In front of you, a large ramp leads you up towards the mecca of cookbooks, where fittingly bright white lights transform the grey hall into a light flooded paradise, where plates of macarons and glasses of armagnac go floating by, where the white-aproned chefs that mingle through the crowd could easily be mistaken for angles. You can almost hear that 'ahhhhhh' sound that you hear in movies when people walk through the gates of heaven.

One of the really amazing things for me (apart from all the free alcohol tastings) was the chance to see Michael Kalanty, teacher at Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco, demonstrate how to bake petits pains from his award-winning book, How To Bake Bread: The Five Families of Bread. Needless to say, the little bread rolls that we were served at the end of the demo were tiny slices of heaven. I have never, ever tasted bread that good. And to top it off, Kalanty's style of teaching is not only incredibly clear and concise, but also hilariously funny and interactive. If you have the chance to buy his book, I've heard it reads just like he teaches, which means you're in for a laugh and a damn good loaf of bread.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Indian Dinner at the Slow Food Cafe

It's taken me way too long to get around to writing this post, but alas, I was detained at the Paris Cookbook Fair and was having way too much fun to come home and write.

Last weekend, the teacher of a class I'm auditing (about food in Paris) asked me to help her cook an Indian meal for 60 people at the Slow Food Cafe in Bastille. The theme was Indian, and being the only other Indian person in the class, I obliged. (Not to mention that I love doing this kind of stuff)

So I spent the next 12 hours of my Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm, chopping, peeling, stirring, frying, currying, tasting and drinking. It was a wonderful learning experience, especially because the professor is South Indian, which means I knew nothing about the food we were going to be cooking.  I met her equally food crazy students, who were all there to help us turn this idea for a meal into something truly delicious. The metro ride home was particularly embarrassing, as I found out what it means to really be perceived as 'a smelly immigrant'. But I don't blame them; I looked dead tired, reeked of onions and ghee, had pieces of food in my hair and on my clothes...

Thanks to Courtney who was the food paparrazi and documented our entire amazing, tiring, onion-smelling day.

The kitchen

First we made the ghee, the basis of all the dishes. You make this by slowly boiling butter, then skimming off the frothy white bits and saving the clarified, golden syrup that is left at the bottom.

Then we made the raita, a garlicky yogurt dip with grated cucumbers. The purpose of this side dish, which is almost always to be found on an Indian table, is to soothe the palate if the curry is too spicy. 

Then we prepped the veggies for the rice pilau, a rice dish made with vegetables that are first sauteed in the ghee along with various spices, and then added and cooked together with the rice.

Then, the dahl, or lentils. These are yellow lentils, called moong dahl. They should be soaked before hand, and then they don't take too long to cook. This particular type is usually fed to children in India when they have a fever or a cold.

Making the turka for the dahl. This is the spice base for the lentils, made with onions, chilies,cloves, cardamom and mustard, cumin and coriander seeds, all fried slowly in ghee until caramelized, then stirred into the lentils at the very end. 

Then came the curry; chicken, sweet potato and tamarind in a tomato sauce, topped with fresh coriander. 

And last but not least, the dessert: halva, or sooji, is basically semolina fried in ghee, then cooked in water with sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and spices until it turns soft and velvety. Topped with cashews fried in more ghee.

All in all, an amazing experience that culminated in an amazing dinner. (Plus a couple of nice additions to my recipe collection)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Passion Fruit Syrup

Before I left New Caledonia, I went on a little trip to the market to bring back home whatever delicious things I still had space to stuff in my suitcase.

One such thing was a big bag full of yellow and red passion fruit. This was the first time that I'd actually dealt with the fruit...up until now, I've mostly stuck to ordering passion fruit flavored ice cream or drinks, but I've never handled it in its raw state before. Contrary to popular belief, when the fruits look wrinkly, old and soft is when they're actually ripe. So once they start looking like they're rotting, you know they're ready to eat!

I decided to make a syrup out of the passion fruits, which can then be used either as a drink when diluted in water, as a flavoring for natural yoghurt, or better yet, as a way to spice up a traditional margarita. (2 parts tequila, 1 part triple sec, 1 lime and 1 part passion fruit syrup=a slice of tropical paradise in your Parisian living room).

It's really simple to make and a very nice way to get multiple uses out of your fruit.

The first thing you do is cut up the passion fruit (I had about 10 fruits total)

Then you scoop out all the pulp with a spoon, into a medium size saucepan. Add sugar (according to how sweet you want it, I put about 3/4 cup) and water, about 3/4 cup.
Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to medium, so that it slowly simmers.

Simmer until it has reduced by about half, approximately 30 minutes. Then pass through a sieve to get rid of all the crunchy seeds (which ruin the velvety texture of syrup).

Add to a margarita and enjoy!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

New Caledonia and her Food

I'm going to take a small interlude here and step away from my usual location for a moment.

Having left Paris behind, I ventured East for 24 hours in a plane, until I arrived in luscious, tropical New Caledonia.

The cuisine there is very interesting. It's not so much that I tried new dishes that I had never heard of before, as it is about fresh, local ingredients. Like yellow fin tuna that has been fished 10 km away, prepared in a myriad of different ways (half cooked, sashimi, poelee with shrimps, grilled etc etc etc) Personally I had never eaten 'local' tuna before, because until now I had never been in a country where it was the local fish.

New Caledonian shrimps, (which you can actually find at Carrefour in France) are incredibly special. It was like it was the first time I had really tasted shrimp. I think we must have eaten shrimps almost every day, either bbq-ed, grilled, flambeed in pastis, in coconut curry, in chinese style beignets and the list goes on.

Of course there is also lobster, or langouste.  Rock lobster specifically, not the American kind, so it doesnt have any claws. This was the first time I tried lobster, and I had it just like youre supposed to: with you feet in the sand, a beer in your hand, lazily watching the turquoise waves lap against the white sand beach, while the coconut trees sway in the cool pacific breeze. (As per the cooking of the lobster, it was grilled and brushed with butter, garlic and parsley). In another place, they served the lobster cold, and decorated it with beautiful frangipanier flowers.

Then there are all the amazing fruits, like mangos, passion fruit, papayas, guavas, pineapples and green oranges! In the vegetable spectrum however, things were not really inspiring. Im not a big fan of taro, yams, sweet potatoes, potatoes and inyam, usually all served together in the same dish. Its a little too much starch for me.

I tried my best to document all these culinary wonders.
Here are my pictorial efforts.

The cold lobster decorated with frangipanier flowers

The shrimps flambeed in pastis, with curry and creme fraiche

Chou chou, a local vegetable

Red Papaya

Grilled Lobster on the beach

Green baby bananas, yellow baby bananas and mangoes

The most delicious fresh coriander aka persil chinois

Yam and Sweet Potatoes

Shrimps at the Market

Huge langouste at the Market

Local fish called Becs de Cane

Fresh herbs at the Market

Spring onions at the Market

Sprouting coconuts