Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ghost Food Has Moved.

I've decided to move Ghost Food to share it with Ghost Walk. This will be the last post that will appear on Ghost Food. For those who enjoyed Ghost Food, please don't fret. You'll still get it but it will be in my other blog.

The reason I'm doing so is that very often my traveling and the food I tried are mixed up together. Thus, it make more sense to write it as one story instead of breaking them into two separate blogs. Also it is easier for me to manage. So go over to Ghost Walk to check for them - http://ighostwalk.blogspot.com

Thank you for being with me so far, hope to see you there in Ghost Walk.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fine Dining In A Bomb Shelter.

Now if you were to taken to an entrance like this, you would not be impressed too. But this was one of the five recommended restaurants in Hamburg given to us by a gourmet. We checked the address to make sure. Yes, the sign says Groninger. We were in the right place.

We stepped in and when our eyes got accustomed to the dark, the interior was just as unimpressive as the main entrance. “Don’t judge the book by its cover” we said and walked into the point of no return.

A whole different world greeted us as we moved deeper into the restaurant. Huge pillars, low ceilings and warm lights gave the whole place a very cozy feeling. We were pleasantly surprised after our low expectation. The restaurant was much larger than its front suggested. The first hall was already packed with diners filling with the room with warm conversations. The chamber was solidly constructed and one of us remarked that this could serve us as a bomb shelter. We liked the idea of dining in the safety of an underground cellar while bombs are dropping overhead. Imaginations can run wild in a totally alien setting. We didn’t know about the food yet but the atmosphere was just great!

The restaurant has its own home brewery producing its unique brand of German beer fresh from the taps served in heavy glasses. Every table seemed to be enjoying that so we ordered the same and was not disappointed.

The restaurant extended very deep in. I was surprised at how far in it went. I walked into sections that are still empty and felt as if I were transported back into time. I can imagined medieval knights clinking glasses and tearing at meats on the long table. I lingered for a while before joining my friends.

The German are famous for their sausage and my well-informed friend told me it is because German sausage must contained a 100% meat by law. Genuine stuff. We called for the house’s special and they placed a wooden stool on our table on which they heaped generous amount of food.

The white stuff you saw in the picture is the famous German sauerkraut which is seasoned cabbage fermented in lactic acid. The crunchy sour cabbage went well with the heavy meats. It helped with the appetite and prevented the feeling of being too satiated with meat. There were several types of sausages and all were excellent. But the thick chunks of roasted pork were really something else. The skin is much thicker and more leathery than the Chinese roasted pork but the thick succulent layers of tender meat layered with fat were out of this world. It was so good that we ordered second helpings. The ham slices were also great. If you looked at the picture carefully, you will see the yellow stuff beneath the meat. Those were the mountain of mashed potatoes. These are all typical German food and a bit heavy for our Asian stomach but they were really good food and went down really well with the home brew beer.

So if you are in Hamburg and you wanted to have a typical German meal in great atmosphere, try the Groninger. You cannot go wrong.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

My Marzipan Memory.

I had my first taste of marzipan at the age of 20 in Manila, the Philippines where I was learning to make bakery products. They were beautiful little things colored and shaped like little fruits. Looked so delicious and tasted like - wax. From that day on, I never had any inclination to ever eat another marzipan. Do not know why but they reminded me of the song “lemon tree, very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet but the fruits of the poor lemon is impossible to eat”.

So when Hendrik told me that the best marzipan shop in the world is in Lubeck, it did not excite me one bit. The marzipans in the shop – Niederegger were lovely and I had expected that. I bought some as gifts but none for my own consumption for I never want to eat another ball of wax. For me, they were all for show. How could anyone, consumed them with relish?

But it seemed to stir fond memories for my friend, how some of his best childhood moments were defined by the receiving and consuming of – wax. When I thought of durian, I forgave him for there was this famous food writer who would gladly chewed at wriggling grubs and rotted meat but balked at what we thought as the closest fruit to God. Except it would be of no use for Adam to cover anything.

As we walked away, Hendrik offered me a piece from the box he eagerly tore up to get at them. He seemed to be badly in need of a marzipan fix. I would rather be addicted to smelly tofu any day. Apprehensively, I took a nibble, then a bite. Then I cried.

It is nothing like the marzipan someone poisoned me with when I was 20! The rich almond flavor combined with the chocolate to give a taste Adam would sin for. I cried because I wanted to murder the guy who showed me that marzipan and wax was the same. He robbed my youth of marzipan memories. I thought of what other gifts to buy so I can reserve the precious few boxes to make up for my loss of innocence.

As the car pulled away, I cried again for how a faulty memory could wreck such great prejudice and injustice. And my mind strayed to the Jews as victims of war, to the black man as victims of slavery and to the weeping woman abandoned on a rainy day due to a misunderstanding. All because of the taste of a marzipan.


(The above was not what I set out to write. It just happened. I found a lot of what I wanted to write could not be blended in so here are some additional facts. Marzipan was believed to originate from Persia but the city of Lubeck had a legend that marzipan was created during a siege where the only food left was stored almond and sugar. Whether that is true or not, Lubeck had a proud tradition stretching back more than 200 years. And manufacturers there still guaranteed their products to contain two-third almond by weight. Their reputation of a quality product is certainly well-deserved. Please go to the Niederegger website if you intend to find more about marzipan -)


I gave this pair of cute marzipan pigs to a friend - she still cannot bring herself to eat them.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Dirty Duck of Ubud #4 – And Licked Our Fingers.

We had to go for a cocktail party by the beach this evening. As food will be served, we have to leave some space in our stomach for the anticipated sumptuous meal. It is already late afternoon so we only cautiously ordered half a duck to be shared by the three of us.

To me duck are better stewed, braised or roasted to retain a bit of moisture and should come with a strong sauce or it will be over-powered by the strong taste. I was concerned that deep fried duck may be too dry, tough or fibrously.

It didn’t look that great but appetizing and smells good. It came with three small side plates of salad, sambal sauce and spicy pickled onions. The main dish itself came with sautéed potatoes. We tear into it with bare hands. And what a taste! Crispy, crunchy, with a mouth-watering spicy (not hot) flavor. It had been well marinated (we later learned for 36 hours) so that the spices had time to leisurely seeped into and blended with the meat so that the rich taste in every part of the duck.

It is unlike any duck I’ve ever tasted. Thus, it is no wonder to receive testimonial from guests such as Chow Yun Fat. There was also a magazine cutting of a famous French chef who said he still dream of “Dirty Duck.” That is a great compliment considering the pride the French had in their skill in preparing duck dishes.

Want proof of how much we loved it? Looked at the before and after pictures. Only the big bones were left. We chewed all the small bones. We looked at each other and said we just had to have another go. We decided to give the chicken a try.

I had a friend with a genius IQ traveling with me. So we let him order. In his affable manner he told the waitress “Can we have half a Bebek Ayam?” The waitress looked at him first in puzzlement, then with an amused smile said “Bebek is duck, Ayam is chicken’. So we should be ordering Ayam Bengil instead. I told the genius I liked him a lot better now for he just proved himself human. The chicken was good but no where as great as the duck. We left the restaurant more than satisfied and secretly wished we did not have another dinner that night.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Dirty Duck of Ubud #3 – We Luv.

We walked to the back enticed by the luscious green padi rippling in the breeze. The darker green of older plants was split by a path. This contrasted beautifully with the lighter green of younger shoots in the distance. All these were framed by tall coconut trees against a bright blue sky with spotted low hanging clouds.

To add to the effect is a stoned fisherman who is happy just to fish, not worrying about catching anything.

A well endowed woman seated so comfortably that the weight on her head seemed as light as a headdress.

This pot of lotus perfectly in place among the padi.

Who could resist walking down this path to the inviting scene?

This was the view when I looked back to the restaurant which looked more like chalets.

No where in the world had I come across a modern restaurant with a back view like this.

To be continued.....

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Dirty Duck of Ubud #2 – We Came, We Saw.

The streets of Ubud are very narrow with no place to park so we decided to walk the short distance from Zen spa. The entrance was rather simply decorated by Bali standard but still have a number of interesting, creative and innovative sculptures.

Like this walkway over the drain that leads into the restaurant. Concrete ducks welcoming you in.

This child seemed to be saying – “the food here is so good that my mouth could not stop watering.” The owner has a sense of humor and is innovative for who would dare to call his restaurant “dirty” anything. Note the hibiscus on the stone sculpture. I love this Balinese touch of bringing life to inanimate objects.

When we walked in, the restaurant opened out to a much larger area than its front suggest. Similar to many Balinese restaurants, decoration is tastefully done with lots of wood. At this stage, I’m not yet overly impressed though I do have a favorable impression. We declined to take a seat and moved deeper into the restaurant which opened to a courtyard garden with lots of surprises.

A curious cat.

The Goddess of Fertility.

We would love to take one of the individual hut where we can sit cross-legged on raised wooden platform enjoying the breeze and unobstructed views but they were all taken.

We have to be satisfied with the solid but comfortable seating of the main dining hall but even then looked how relaxed everyone was. I just loved the very casual atmosphere of the whole place. It is like we are dining at home or among friends.

Once we got our seats, we stood up immediately and explored the place. I tried to present a number of photos to give you an idea of what the massive place look like. In spite of that, it told less than half the story. Which goes to show how artistically rich the place is.

If you think this is impressive, what you’ll see next will blow you away. The next post we will continue with the rest of the restaurant and we haven’t even got to the food yet!

To be continued...

(Please also see "Ghost Walk" for extended blog)

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Unique Flavor of the Giant White Asparagus.

“What would you like to eat in Lubeck?”

“Something typically German.”

“How about something in season?”


“Giant White Asparagus it is then. And we shall have it in the most famous restaurant in Lubeck!”

We stopped in front of the building of the Seaman’s Guild. It housed that famous Schiffer Gesellschaft restaurant and considers itself “the oldest pub in the world”. It is used as a meeting house for seamen from all over the world. Until today, revenues are still used to help needy boatmen and boatment’s widows.

It was dark when we stepped in. Our eyes took some time to accustom to the surrounding. From the solid furniture to the even more solid pillar, beam and ceilings, every thing was dark sturdy oak. Giving it an air of Age and Permanence. The high ceiling added to the grandeur and venerability of this majestic room. Memorabilia from centuries past adorned every corners and replicas of ships that sailed the ancient seas hanged from the ceilings. If not for the waiter/waitresses in white shirts, aprons and a commanding black vest, we would have thought we were transported back in time.

There were quite a lot seats but we were the only guests. I wondered why. We made our order and just before the food came, the whole restaurant was filled in the space of a few minutes. We were just early. Half way through our meal, an old couple not finding any seat wanted to share our table with us. We were happy to oblige but the captain politely informed them that the table had already been booked for the next meal!

I’ve never eaten white asparagus. It was deprived of sunlight during its growing stage to prevent it from turning green. In Germany, it is called spagel and is known as “Konigliches Gemuse” or the Royal Vegetable. White asparagus is milder in taste than in its green counterpart. I had my asparagus steamed or boiled with Hollandaise sauce and thin slices of smoked ham. It is sweet and juicy and a world apart from the tiny green asparagus that we had with oyster sauce. Verdict – loved it! So if you’re in Germany in June, remember to try some white asparagus.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Dirty Duck of Ubud - #1.

The dirty duck of Ubud coming up next. Rather fierce, don’t you think?

Now to tantalize you a bit, here is how the “Dirty Duck” got its name from the owner’s mouth – “One tropical monsoon morning, when the restaurant was very close to being finished (we had the concrete floor down, and the tables in), a flock of ducks from the rice field across the road (yes, there were rice fields all around us then) ran quacking and squawking into the restaurant and across the floor and tables. They left muddy webbed footprints all over the place. They were our first guests - those dirty ducks!”

Don’t you just love a good story? And yes, the padi fields are still there. This has got to be my favorite decoration (its natural – and that is priceless!) for a restaurant. Coming soon or in the local lingo - "Akan Datang". Please go to my Ghost Walk blog for the prequel to Dirty Duck.

To be continued...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sensual Heaven at the Edge of the Spoon.

We were too full for a proper dessert though the captain tried to tempt us with Crème Brulee and Tiramisu. We asked for something light and he gave us the above perfection.

A little sweet. A little sour. A little creamy. Cold, smooth and fruity. When I spooned them into my mouth, it made me wanted to close my eyes and went mmm…. When I sucked on one of the plums and its juiciness awakened my tongue, it felt like something… something… sensual. I opened my eyes, my friends were gawking at me. The neighbour table too. Oops! This dish should come with a warning - enjoyed it in privacy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Lobscouse – The Food of Tough Men.

As promised in the last post on Rauch’s Old Commercial Room, I’ll be talking about what tough men eat. Firstly, pardon the above picture – so keen were we to tug into the food that I forgot to take a shot in its original perfection.

But first let me introduce you to Wiener Schnitzel (the middle plate) which is a thin slice of veal coated in crispy breadcrumbs and fried. In English, it is known as Viennese cutlet and is a traditional Vienna dish. Squeezed a few drops of lemon on it and eat it like that or dab it with cranberry sauce. The crunchy crumbs and tender veal gave a good mouthfeel and as you masticate, brought out a pleasant meaty flavor. It was good though I would have preferred it a bit saltier to better really bring out the meaty flavor. For “like fresh meat loves salt” tragic Cordelia said. And because King Lear did not understand the meaning, he lost his kingdom and his beloved daughter. I sprinkled more salt.

When they told us they are going to serve food for tough men (which of course we were and are), I imagined great chunky lumps of bloodied meat or huge blades of ribs that you held with your hands and tore with your teeth. Ha! Barbarian macho. But what is this bloody pinkish goo with two obscene looking eggs staring at us? A few sad looking pickles and the awesome deep purple bleeding beetroot did nothing to enhance its visual appeal. Tentatively, I flicked a tiny bit from its edge and raised it to my mouth ready to screw up my face. The beer ready, standing by to wash it all down. And….

The sticky mash melted over my tongue. And my Goodness! It is unbelievable! And totally unexpected - the best corned beef I’ve ever tasted. Nothing even came close. While the corned beef is the dominant taste, there are subtleties behind it. Other flavor that I could not quite picked out. What a sensation! I normally hate gooey stuff but not if it is as rich in taste as this. For this, I’ll lick it off the fork.

And to think it used to be called “meal for a rough customer” because they were popular for seamen. Legend has it that when there were nothing left in the kitchen to cook, the chef just threw everything in with corned beef and mashed it all up. Behold! A new dish was created. The sailors loved it. Which reminded me of a saying – “Necessity is the mother of invention” or we are all victims of the cook’s mistakes (in this case, a deliberate and happy one).

Just so you do not think this ghost only eats Western food, next I’ll be writing about “The Dirty Duck of Bali”. Check it out.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Rauch’s Old Commercial Room opposite St. Michaelis Church

A wise ghost once told me “Good dining is not just about food. It is An Experience.” While good food itself is worth the hunt, the right atmosphere with good company makes the occasion unforgettable. Thus, where the ambience is memorable, we savor it as much as the food. Ambience doesn’t have to be classy or posh, I’ve my fair share of roadside eateries. I remembered well that sunny afternoon when we hopped off the bike after rounding half of Phuket. On wooden benches under a makeshift hut and swaying coconut palms with white sandy beach and blue open sea on one side and the highway on the other, grinning shirtless boys barbequed our seafood on wires over charcoal. Those moments are deeply etched for they are magical.

When I stepped in the Old Commercial Room, I can smell the history. It is one of the oldest addresses for Hanseatic cuisine. Mementos covered every wall and every open space, each with a story of its own. Founded in 1795 by an English ship owner, it is decorated in the style of an English pub with lots of mahogany and brass. It is like stepping into a functioning museum. I wished I had the time and space (couldn’t be looking over diners’ shoulders) to take it all in. We got a seat by the window from where we can see the majestic St. Michaelis church with its copper covered bell tower where at the 82 meter high viewing platform, you can see the whole of Hamburg.

I was surprised to learn that Jackie Chan had eaten here. I was even more impressed that past diners included Helmut Schmidt, Willy Brandt, The Beatles, Tom Jones, Bon Jovi, Sting, George Clooney, Don King, Clint Eastwood, Paul Hogan, Sean Connery, Joan Collins, Charles Bronson, Charlie Sheen, John Denver, Kate Hudson, Nana Mouskouri, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Diamond, Franz Beckenbauer, Elke Sommer, Fats Domino among many, many other celebrities. Wow!

The Indian waiter was very professional and friendly and when we asked him to recommend some typical German food, he did not hesitate. He somehow mistaken me for a food writer and when I asked him for information, he gave me a complete photostat menu! Unfortunately it was in German and in our haste to catch the city tour bus, I forgot to ask him to mark down what we have eaten. Anyway, I have some of the details. This post is more about how the ambience can affect one’s appreciation of a restaurant.

The next post I will write about their most famous dish translated as “the food of tough men”.Please check out its website: www.oldcommercialroom.de and see more photos of St. Michealis Church and Jackie Chan memento under my profile.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

A Walk Along Lake Aussenalster

The boats are docked for the evening. Across the calm water, the Atlantic Hotel stands majectically on the other shore.

I saw these ducks swimming in formation. How unafraid they are. Where I came from, they have good reasons to be fearful. But it is difficult to blame the hungry. This however is ideal, there is no reason to fear and there is no reason to hunt. Do the lucky inhabitants of this land know how much this peaceful scene means to some?

We have no leisurely dusk. From a hot afternoon to the rapidly approaching night, there is hardly anything in between. From a searing sun to a pitch dark night that brings out the feeding mosquitoes are just fleeting minutes that drown faster than a sinking ship. A walk for us is almost always in sweat. I love my land because I was born there and I love its imperfection too but at times I wish my land was different. Like the leisure of a creeping dusk and a walk in cool crisp air.

It was after nine p.m. There is still light. It was summer. It was still cool. You know, this is very difficult to explain to my country men if they had never been up North.

Swans on a lake. Our most romantic vision. Our dreams of beauty and grace. Can't think of our equivalent. The peacock? Too showy.

When swans go to sleep, what is their dreams?

In many ways Lake Aussenalter seems like a dream for someone like me. Yet, I know I don't belong or can be happy here for long. But I was happy to be there. And happy to take it back with me. I will probably never be back there again. That's okay for I never leave. I never leave any beautiful places I had been.