Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Halloween goodies!

Amazon.com just had a huuuge home & garden sale the other day (Oct. 23rd) and I convinced the boyf to buy my Christmas present then. Yippee yay yay! I'm gonna get a Kitchenaid stand mixer for Christmas! Woohoo! What's even better is that we got it at a great deal! Yeapz, I'm a suckah for great deals. When grocery shopping, I rarely ever get anything that's full price. If it's not on sale or if I don't have a good coupon for it, I don't put it in my cart 95% of the time. I also try to pay attention to the prices being scanned at the cashier because hey, sometimes computers make mistakes! Whenever I tell the cashier about the mistaken price, I always pay the correct labeled price despite getting dirty looks from both the cashier and the person behind me. Bah! They don't pay my bills *winkz*

Anywayz, with the approach of Halloween, I've been inspired to watch scary movies and bake Halloween-themed goodies. This past weekend, I watched the movie "Halloween" on TV. Yep, I've never watched it before and it wasn't too bad for being the first "slasher" movie ever. As with most other horror movies, I get frustrated with the characters' stupidity. For instance, in the movie, the doctor who was looking for the escaped psychotic murderer psychiatric patient Michael Meiyers, was waiting outside Michael's old home believing that he will eventually go there. It took him about 2 hours of standing around doing nothing outside the old house for him to spot the car that Michael stole before escaping the psychiatric ward. Sheesh!

And then, the main character is even worse! Each time she thinks she has killed Michael, she didn't even confirm that he's dead. She would then leave a weapon (the knife) near him and hang around the house instead of going to a neighbour's for help. Sigh~ I suppose if the characters in horror movies weren't that dumb, no one would be killed and the movie wouldn't be that scary any more.

I'll be attending a friend's Halloween party this Saturday and depending on the weather that afternoon, I'm either going apple-picking or watching "Grudge 2" in the theatres. I'm probably going to bake a super fudgy brownie for the party and I might bake a batch of nutella-kiss cookies to bring to work. I've never baked a brownie from scratch since I've always found the boxed mixes to be super cheap and easy. But I've usually had problems with the mixes. It would turn out charred around the sides a lot and it wouldn't result in the fudgy, thick consistency that I want. Maybe it's the mix or maybe I just baked them too long, we'll see. The nutella-kiss cookies were inspired by an episode of "Everyday Italian" that I recently saw on the Food Network. Besides containing the yummy nutella spread, the batter is then dipped in orange sugar (for a festive Halloween feel) and topped with a Hershey's kiss. I'm looking forward to that! I'll definitely take pictures of those cookies!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Indonesian Feast

Hi friends!

I’ve been back from Indonesian homecoming trip for over a month now and I must say that I’m already home sick, not only because the majority of my family is there but also because of the delicious Indon foods! I hadn’t been back for two years before this trip, so you can bet your bottom dollar that I ate like there’s no tomorrow! I spent a mere two weeks in the Indon capital, Jakarta, and one night in Singapore. As you can imagine, it’s not enough time to sample all the delicacies.

The first thing I craved for was bakmi Gajah Mada (or Gajah Mada noodles). The original restaurant was opened on Gajah Mada (GM) street, and thus, the name. Their specialty is their home-made noodles that is served along with shredded chicken, fried dumpling, meatballs or vegetables (you pick!). The yummy noodles comes with a small bowl or the noodle broth that you’re supposed to drizzle over the noodles before mixing it all up and gobbling it down (along with a squirt of their home-made chili sauce if you like). Bakmi GM has become a cult favorite of sorts among “Jakartians” (who are famed in Indonesia for their passion for noodles). Oftentimes, Jakartians who have been abroad for a long time make a pilgrimage for bakmi Gajah Mada first before other delicious Jakarta eating establishments. I think part of the reason for its popularity is bakmi GM’s comfort food status among Jakartians like me.

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After the scrumptious lunch, I proceeded to get some good old cakes I used to buy along the streets as an elementary student. It’s one of the “jajanan” (snacks) I love from “kaki lima” (literally meaning five feet). Kaki lima basically refers to food peddlers on the streets of Jakarta that cook and store the product on their carts! They are nicknamed kaki lima due to the fact that the combination of the sellers’ feet (2), the cart’s two wheels (2) and the cart’s back stand for balance (1) add up to five “feet”. So anyway, I spotted two carts selling some of my favorite sweet snacks: the sombrero-shaped kue ape, kue bolu cubit (pinching cake) and kue laba-laba (spider cake).

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Another kaki lima dish that I got to eat again is soto Betawi (or Batavian soup; Batavia is an old name for Jakarta). Soto Betawi has a peppery, sweet, soy-curry flavor with a hint of lime, coconut and other spices. It also has shredded chicken, glass noodles (or other kinds of noodles) and is served with fragrant, fried shallots sprinkled on top.

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Another good old favorite of mine and my family’s is sweet martabak Surabaya style. It is sold in open restaurants with open kitchens along the streets of Indonesia. Martabak is a round, thick pancake with a thin, crispy crust around it. When the middle is a little more than halfway cooked (think firm but soft and creamy texture), it is then generously buttered and then sprinkled with toppings of your choice. Toppings include crushed peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, shredded cheese and sesame seeds. I know what you must be thinking: cheese in a sweet dessert pancake? The kind of cheese that martabak makers use is one that is made in Indonesia. It is less salty and pungent, but sweeter and milder.

Batter preparation with an old-school mixer. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
It is then poured onto a special heavy pan. They then spread a thin later of the batter on the sides of the skillet to achieve a crispy crust surrounding the pancake. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The cooked martabak is then transferred to a chopping board for generous buttering and sprinkling of the various toppings. You can “harass” the cook to give you more toppings. Yippee! More peanuts for moi! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
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It is then cut into smaller pieces in case you want to munch on them in the car. The man in the foreground is my father, who as you can see, just couldn’t wait to get his hands on our ooey-gooey, buttery, cheesy, nutty martabak.

Besides the sweet martabak, there’s also the salty martabak. They’re completely different not only in the way they taste but also in the way they’re prepared! The sweet martabak is grilled on a pan while the salty martabak is deep fried. Fortunately, the stall we go to makes both sweet and salty martabaks. Bonus! The salty martabak is filled with either sautéed vaggies, ground meat (lamb, beef or chicken) and/or eggs. The salty martabak starts with a really thin dough that has been tossed around skillfully by this cool guy.
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It is then deep fried in oil, where the cook turns the martabak around continuously (for maybe, faster cooking?) and at the same time tries to keep the martabak flat by pressing a large flat spatula on it.
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It can be eaten with a special soy sauce that the store gives. The alternating layers of filling and fried dough drizzled with the special sauce was heavenly. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Another “street” food of my childhood is called ronde. They’re basically balls of glutinous rice flour filled with crushed peanuts. The ronde are cooked in a ginger-laced broth along with barley. It is kind of like the popular mochi ice cream except that the mochi skin is thicker and it is filled with nuts instead of ice cream. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Besides delicious snacks, Jakarta’s streets are also chock filled with vendors selling delicious “ethnic” foods. Indonesia is such a big country that comprises of thousands of islands. There are about 300 different ethnic groups that contribute to Indonesia’s rich cultural fabric. I had the fortune the enjoy food from a street stall that makes Javanese food. The stall’s specialties are plain steamed chicken and bubur ayam (or chicken porridge), both of which I tried. The different regions of Indonesia enjoy their porridges in slightly different fashions. For instance, the Aceh people prepare bubur in chicken broth with shrimp and several spices. It is supposed to be good for restoring energy after a whole day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadhan. The Javanese Islam prepare bubur Suro, a porridge named after the 10th day of the month of Suro on the Muslim calendar. Bubur suro is served with Indonesian chicken curry sauce (also known as “opor ayam”) and a handful of pomegranates.

So anyway, our food was prepared in an open kitchen right next to the road and you can pick whichever chicken pieces you want. Unhygienic, I know. If there was such a place in the US, it would be closed down on its opening day *Har*Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The chosen pieces of chicken were then shredded and served with a drizzling of a sesame oil, soy sauce combination and sliced cucumbers. The porridge can be eaten with their yummylicious home-made chili sauce and fried dough fritters (otherwise known as “cakwe” or “youtiao” in Mandarin). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Chinese influence also exists in the food scene of Indonesia, especially Jakarta. My family and I made a pilgrimage to a family friend-owned restaurant in the “puncak” (or mountain areas of Bogor for a day trip. It’s approximately a 2.5 hours drive through snakey roads that wind in the mountains. The restaurant is named “Pada Senang” which translates to “Everyone is Happy”. And that much is true when my whole family used to come here. When I was a young child, my grandfather used to own a villa in the Bogor mountains and the whole nuclear family would often spend weekends with my grandparents. Pleasing everyone was no small task when the whole family consists of 2 elderly grandparents, 14 uncles/aunts/parents and 17 cousins (including my sis and me). But there is something for everyone at Pada Senang. It now has a second branch in Jakarta but my parents are convinced that it doesn’t even come close to the food in Bogor.

The menu is written in Chinese on a blackboard. They serve favorites and occasionally have specials that use seasonal ingredients. The restaurant is sparse and still has about twenty copies of this year’s calendar on its walls as its main decoration, which is quite funny. They must really have a very short-term memory if they need a calendar in their face wherever they go J So we ordered our old favorites, including bihun ayam (rice noodles with chicken), sautéed tofu with pork, kuluyuk (or sweet and sour chicken), and fish head soup.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Isn't it weird that they sell bottled Guinness in hot, hot Indonesia?
The bihun ayam was as I remembered: perfectly seasoned, and there is no shortage of shrimp, eggs, chicken pieces and fresh vegetables! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I forgot the Indonesian name for this dish. This tofu dish was delicious even though it almost had the mushy consistency of porridge (almost!). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The piping hot sweet and sour chicken was topped with sliced sautéed onions and was not (thank God!) completely covered in the sweet and sour sauce, which is the way I like it. It allows each person to add as much sauce as he/she wants to and I happen to prefer mine with just a few drops. The fried chicken did not taste excessively greasy and I loved that the breading just right: not too thick, not too thin. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
The fish head soup, as you can imagine, was rather fishy. I tasted a tinge of allspice, which mellowed out the soup. However, the fish was cooked very well: it wasn’t too tough and it wasn’t mushy. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We then ended this heavenly meal with a “gemblong” that we bought from a traveling vendor. Gemblong is basically spheres of fried dough that is filled with grated coconut. It is also then dipped in a combination of sugar and gula Jawa (also known as dark palm sugar). As you can imagine, it tastes very sweet. The gemblong consistency is quite chewy and while it also melts in your mouth. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The biggest meal (literally) that I had during my homecoming was in Eka Ria, a quintessentially Chinese restaurant near Jakarta’s Chinatown in central Jakarta. My late maternal grandfather loved to go there for special occasions. So we ate there for my lovely mother’s birthday celebration and boy, what a feast it was! So this is the menu written in Chinese. It was an 8-course dinner (not including the birthday cakes) served family style. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

We started with “ee foo mee” (or Ee Foo noodles) that is both crispy and soft at the same time. It is served with fried egg yolks, chicken and vegetables. As you can see from the glistening noodles, it is pretty greasy, and man, was it delish! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Next, came the 7-colored (or rainbow) platter heaped with (what else?) seven types of Chinese delicacies. In the middle of the picture is a pile of stringy, crunchy, spiced jellyfish with sesame seeds. On top of the pile are quartered century eggs (that are normally served with rice porridge). To the left corner, the white, creamy-looking stuff is shrimp with mayonaisse (my favorite of the seven); going clockwise to its right, is some fried tofu skin, followed by chopped braised liver; the light colored item closest to the camera is steamed chicken. To the left is some sliced duck meat and deep-fried Chinese style chicken fingers. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The following course was one of Eka Ria’s specialties, their famed fried pigeons! They were super salty (too salty for me). Their skin is very crispy and rich, the meat was tender and it literally melted in my mouth. However, I didn’t think all that work (tearing the wings and legs off, trying to tease out the meat) was worth it just because these pigeons didn’t have much meat on them. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As if this meal wasn’t rich enough, the next course was Peking Duck (argh! My arteries … are … blocked …). The crispy duck skin is served with sliced bread (Eka Ria style), sliced Chinese ham and sprigs of green onion with little bowls of special plum sauce. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The next dish, fried super jumbo shrimp is my favorite! I think they were steamed and then stir-fried in their house chili sauce. The super jumbo shrimps were so meaty and nicely tender (not overcooked, joy!). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

It was then followed by winter melon soup (lower bowl in picture) that also contains beans, shredded meat (pork, I think?) and of course, winter melons. It was a perfectly mellow counterpoint to the spicy fried lobster. The upper bowl in the picture is the fish course of the night. I’m not sure what kind of fish it is but I know it was steamed in a mix of sesame oil, soy sauce and topped with green onions. Again, this matches very well with the winter melon soup, providing a salty contrast to the winter melon’s mild taste. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I didn’t take a picture of the other soup course we had, Eka Ria’s famed seafood shark’s fin soup. I was too busy devouring the succulent chunks of crab and fin. However, check out one of the cakes that we had for my mum’s birthday. It's a rich chocolate cake that had 3 layers. In between the layers were raspberries and raspberry jam. Pretty choco-licious! Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Jakarta also has a growing Korean population and with it, an increase in Korean restaurants. I had a wonderful barbecue at a Korean restaurant in Jakarta named “22”. “22” was the only thing on its sign that I know, the rest was written in Korean. So anyway, like many Korean barbecue places, the meat or kalbi is cooked on the table, in front of you on a grill. The cool thing about “22” is that not only does the waitress do the cooking for us, the meat was cooked on a coal grill. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The kalbi was tender and delicious. Besides the meat, we also had the various Korean appetizers in small dishes. The appetizers include the customary kimchi, spicy mussels (or are they clams?), mini egg pancakes and steamed vegetables among others. We also ordered kimchi ji gae (kimchi soup with tofu) and chap jae. I must say that the chap jae was the best chap jae I’ve tasted and everything was authentic (after all the owner is Korean). Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The spiciest meal I had was at a streetside restaurant that specializes in grilled fish. I forgot the name already but I think it might’ve been Batu Tulis and is located near Jakarta’s Chinatown. My parents were pretty regular customers here, so before we even sat, my mum did the ordering. Since, it has an outdoor kitchen, we had to walk by the kitchen before reaching the seating area. You can pick and choose your own fish and vegetables, which my mum did. Their specialty item is grilled fish, which we had. My mum also ordered some spicy clams and stir-fried kang kong (I don’t know what this vegetable is called in English. I think it might be … water spinach?).

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Being a fish retard (I can only identify salmon, tuna and bass by sight), again, I don’t know or recall what kind of fish it was but it sure tasted good. It was served with belacan, a shrimpy chili paste, of which we had the original belacan and a mango belacan. The original belacan has a deliciously overpowering spicy taste that is perfect with the mild, flaky grilled fish. The mangi belacan is less pungent and sweeter, also nice with the fish. The chili clams were also yummy. The clam shells were perfect to hold some of the spicy broth that they were cooked in so that when slurping down the clam, you’d also get a taste of the spicy broth. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The kang kong was also spicy and delicious. It wasn’t overly soft and it still retained a little bit of its crispiness. The kang kong leaves also absorbed a lot of the chili broth that it was cooked in. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Even after all that culinary debauchery in Jakarta, I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to eat in Singapore when I was just transiting for one night. I spent my early till late teens in Singapore and the one thing I missed the most was “yong tau foo”, a tofu noodle soup. I especially adored one hawker stall on the basement level of Takashimaya, a shopping mall in the heart of Orchard Road, Singapore’s main shopping district. I loved it because anyone could literally pick out the fillings he/she wanted to go into the soup and they offered such a huge variety of them, ranging from meatballs, shrimp balls, fried tofu, an assortment of vegetables, wontons, fish pastes and mushrooms, etc. You then hand over the bowl full of goodies to the person behind the counter, after which, he will cut the goodies in to small, bite-size pieces before plunging them all in hot boiling broth along with noodles of your choice (egg, rice or glass noodles). Additional toppings include green onion, fried shallot and the divine home-made chili sauce.Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
My favorite item of the “yong tau foo”, a special tofu flown in from Japan. It is pretty firm and is quite chewy with a slightly sweet taste to it. Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

As you can imagine, after two weeks of being spoiled with delicious Indonesian food, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms from it and I’m still squirting the Indonesian chili sauce (that I smuggled back) on everything. I really miss the food, but here’s the reason I miss it even more … Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting ... only the cutest, most adorable, most huggable nephew in the whole wide world!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

London adventure

During my two-and-a-half week hiatus from school, besides going home to Indonesia, I had a mini 4-day long adventure with my little sis in London. She was there for the summer for an internship and I thought it would be a grrreat opportunity to explore London before going home. Hey, having a guide who knows where she's going doesn't hurt at all! So anyway, I was totally dreading the eating experience there because England is not exactly known for its wonderful cuisine. However, I found London to be such a melting pot of delicious restaurants!

I know that London's Indian food scene is pretty good, with the large amount of South Asian immigrants. One of the nights, my sis and I made our way to Brick Lane, also known as the city's Banglatown. It is a neighbourhood populated with many South Asians and a plethora of Indian restaurants. We could smell the curry and rich spices once we emerged from the underground station, making my mouth water. My sis brought me to a place she had been to before with her friends. I don't remember the name unfortunately. Our samosas were overly greasy and disappointing. However the chicken curry was superb and I loved the Indian bread, or roti, which was garlic-flavored. The curry was a bit too hot for my sis and we had to order some mango lassi to counter its spiciness.

There is so much competition among the Indian restaurants in Brick Lane that you cannot lose. The restaurants usually hire a person to stand in front of their establishment and "invite" customers. They can be rather aggressive but with competition at an all-time high, the customer always wins. This is one of the few places in London where you can get great-tasting food for very reasonable prices.

Besides the Indian food, I also love love, absolutely love the cafe scene in London. In particular, there's is this chain of French-based cafe, called "Paul" that serves very high-quality coffee and delicious, pretty pastries. It is in one of Paul cafes in Kensington that I had the best latte ever (yes, THE best)! Paul's croissants are perfectly flaky and buttery; the tarts were adequately fruity and creamy; and oh ... the macaroons were to-die-for! I looked up the company and found out that in Paris, Paul is like the French version of Au bon Pain in America.

Another cafe my sis brought me to is Cafe Deco, also in Kensington. It is a charming little coffee shop along Gloucester Road, a street that has many small cafes and charming shops. We decided to lunch at this place and had sandwiches for lunch with a dessert after that. Our respective sandwiches were quite delicious but not particularly memorable. In fact, I can't even remember what they were now. Our desserts were very beautiful. My sister had a chocolate mousse cake that is wrapped with a pretty sky-blue ribbon and I had a luscious-looking raspberry tart. Despite their wonderful presentation, they tasted pretty average. The highlight of my tart was the fresh fruit (raspberries); the crust was hard and tasteless, the custard was heavy and overly sweet. My sister's mousse cake also tasted pretty average.

Raspberry tart- Cafe Deco
Choc mousse cake- Cafe Deco

So anyway, one can't visit England without having tea at least once, right? My sis wanted to bring me to Sotheby's for high tea. When we got there, the tea room was unfortunately being renovated and was thus, closed for the season. So we asked the very friendly receptionist for an alternative and she suggested Liberty, the ultra-exclusive London department store (yes, more exclusive than Harrod's). It was first opened in 1875 and it is known for the Tudor-style building that it occupies.

The ultra-exclusive Liberty Department Store (London)

Liberty has two restaurants: the Tea Room and the Art Bar Cafe. We went to the latter and was pleasantly surprised. The cafe was decorated with tables and chairs that don't quite match, but don't clash. Most of the furniture is wood and I especially adored the intricate curtains. I loved the decor because it made me feel like I'm walking into a friend's home. High tea at Liberty is not exactly cheap. It starts at 10.75GBP per person. However, one of the "bigger" after tea "sets" would be perfect to share with a friend, which is what I did with my sister. We had the Liberty champagne tea, which cost us 19.50GBP. They were kind enough to let us share it and check out what consists of the set!

High tea at Liberty

Not only is there an endless pot of wonderful Earl Grey, they also served a flute of champagne. On top is a delicious gigantic scone studded with raisins.
Giant SCONE!

It was served with clotted cream, organic gooseberry, rose petal and strawberry preserves. A biteful of scone with a dollop of clotted cream was simply marvellous: rich, crumbly and comforting. The preserves were all delicious: not to sweet, not too sour. My absolute favorite was the rose petal preserve. Not only was it unique, it was very fragrant and tasty. It was so good that I just had to ask the waiter if it was for sale! Unfortunately, it wasn't because the chef makes it fresh, from scratch in his kitchen. Oh well, I tried!

Other sweet stuff we had with the tea were a slice of chocolate cake, a macaroon and a strawberry tartlet. The chocolate cake was rich and delicious. The macaroon was snappy and crisp. The strawberry tartlet was simply perfect! The fruits were fresh, the custard was creamy and smooth, and the crust was buttery and melt-in-your-mouth type of crumbly. As if there's not sufficient decadence, we were also served a few types of yummy-licous sandwiches. They include cucumber, smoked salmon and ham'n'cheese. How English!
Fun at high tea

Besides afternoon tea, the cafe at Liberty also serves breakfast and lunch. You can find an eclectic selection of breakfast items ranging from Welsh rarebit and toasted crumpets to eggs bendict and smoked salmon. The lunch menu is also equally cool. Offerings include wild Scottish salmon served with Thai asparagus and hollandaise, chicken liver and brandy parfait, roast artichoke and ricotta ravioli, and poached lobster. We didn't try any of these items, but judging from the homemade baked goods and sandwiches we had with tea, I'm sure the breakfast and lunch dishes is delicious too! Good bakers are almost always good cooks!

Anyway, being in London, of course we just had to visit Harrod's! The department store exuded wealth and exclusivity. But I felt right at home in their famous food hall. Harrod's food hall is simply awesome! Its tea section alone is astounding (so are the prices!). Being a bit of a tea fanatic, I just had to buy a tin of their Earl Grey. Situated adjacent to the tea and coffee area is the chocolate and candy area, which is also equally, if not more magnificent. Chocolate offerings include the high-end Valrhona, the (relatively) mainstream Godiva and other brands I've never heard of. Naturally, they also have a section dedicated to Middle Eastern goodies such as mahmouls and baklava. My sis and I tried some of their Turkish delights and boy, oh boy, were they delightful! Our favorite was the nutty pistachio Turkish delight!

Harrod's food hall also sells groceries, such as fruits and vegetables and meats (at an exclusive price, of course). It is said that the royal family's groceries are from Harrod's! *Ooooooooh* *Aaaaaaah* My sis and I decided to share a two-scoop sundae of sorts at Harrod's gelato bar, Morrelli's Gelato:one scoop hazelnut (I luuuuuuurve Nuttela) and white chocolate rose (my sis' choice, very sweet!). The hazelnut ice cream was nutty, the way I like it, and the white chocolate rose had nice white chocolate chunks and a flowery fragrance of rose syrup. It reminded me a lot of an Indonesian drink called Bandung, which is a creamy rose syrup drink. We also loved that the sundae came with these cute Harrod's bears wafers!

The cutest sundae in the whole wide world! (at Harrod's)
Aren't they just the cutest? They had a mild nutty flavor and a crisp bite and yet a tender texture. Being a big fan of cute food stuff, I just had to ask (again) whether they sold these biscuits. Of course, second time unlucky, they weren't for sale. In fact, our server told us that the wafers were exclusively made for Harrod's in Italy. Our server was sweet enough to give us a few more of these adorable wafers without our asking! Talk about superb service!

The only expensive meal my sis and I had was at Jamie Oliver's restaurant, called fifteen. It is so named because in the beginning, Jamie Oliver gave an opportunity to 15 disadvantaged youngsters who are interested in the restaurant business to work in this place. It is located in north London in Westland Place. It occupies an old loft which looks like a former factory. The decor is modern and minimalist. the menu changes daily, which is pretty cool. It means that the team cares about the freshness of the ingredient. Service was friendly but rather uninformed. We asked for the waiter's opinion about the dishes and he just gave us a generic answer of "Oh, I like everything. Everything here's good".

We started out with an appetizer of prosciutto with melon. The melon was soft, sweet and ripe, and it was perfectly accompanied by the saltiness and smokiness of our prosciutto. My sis and I then shared two entrees: lamb with roasted bell peppers and creamy mushroom rissotto with a dash of truffle oil. The lamb with the roasted peppers partnered beautifully. The light sweetness of the roasted peppers gave a counterpoint to the lamb's richness.
Succulent lamb dish at fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant.

The rissotto was wonderfully rich and creamy. The rice was cooked perfectly: not too soft, not too hard, and I loved the mushrooms with a whiff of truffle. Rich, creamy rissotto at fifteen, Jamie Oliver's restaurant.

My sis ended the meal with a chocolate fondue-like cake and I chose the cheese platter. The chocolate cake was too soft (think liquid-y) but its presentation was adorable. It was basically baked in a tea cup and it rose a little bit like a fondue. It is topped with whipped cream (I think?). My cheese platter consisted of a raisin-studded baguette and two unpasteurized cheeses: one is a Cheddar and the second is the famed French brie de meaux. I didn't like the Cheddar so much: its texture is too hard and it is overly pungent. But ohhhh, the brie de meaux was heaven in my mouth. Touted as French cheese's king of kings, it is rich and creamy with deliciously nutty undertones. Even with a 45% fat content, it was 100% worth it! Now, if only the American government will loosen its regulations on unpasteurized cheese. Sigh~

Another great (but cheap) meal we had was a chicken meal in Cambridge, at a Portuguese fast food chicken place called Nando's, introduced to us by our cousin Jessy. Unlike the typical grease-drenched fast food, Nando's chicken is flame-grilled and doused with their special peri-peri chili sauce. You can also add the different heat-levels of peri-peri sauce to your own liking. Portuguese explorers were introduced by the African Mozambiques to the African Bird's eye chili, which they called pili-pili. Unable to pronounce it properly, the Portuguese called it peri-peri and subsequently experimented cooking with it. Not only does Nando's have peri-peri chicken combinations, they also offer burgers and vegetarian options. Sides include coleslaw, corn and spicy rice. One thing I regret not trying is their peri-peri but appetizer. Yummm...

Besides all the debauchery, we actually did a considerable amount of sightseeing. But London in 4 days is just not enough. I loved the hustle and bustle of London. It is not like New York in that it felt less hostile somehow. Not that Londoners are the friendliest people in the world, but I felt very comfortable there despite a heightened state of alert due to terrorism. Terrorism is such a concern that trash cans are not to be found anywhere in underground train or railway stations for fear that someone could drop a bomb into one of these trash cans. Still, there are many friendly Londoners we encountered, such as the smiley Sainsbury grocery store security guard and a very helpful stranger who helped me with my luggage at the airport underground station. Besides the excitement of trying new things at new places, it is the opportunity to encounter kindness and compassion in strangers that keeps me travelling! enjoy the pics!

Westminster Abbey In the Great Hall of the wonderful British Museum. I spy with my London's Eye... Harry Potter, here I come! Singin' in the rain by London's trademark phone booths!