Thursday, 26 November 2009
On a recent trip to Singapore, I was fortunate enough to experience one of the hottest and tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten. Far different from the Lancashire dish of the same name, this spicy treat made me smile for days (although I was probably high on chilli). Known to some as Hot Pot and others as Chinese Fondue or Steamboat, this delicious and sociable (yes, sociable) dinner is something to behold.
We stumbled upon Chuan Jiang Hao Zi Restaurant in the China Town district of Singapore, jet lagged and suffering from the sudden shock of humidity. We’d just left a pretty typical British Summer: rain, ninja clouds, and approximately two days of sunshine in which everyone eagerly turns into a lobster. So what better way to get utterly sweltering than sit in front of a boiling cauldron of deliciousness. Uncertain of the correct protocol for eating a Hot Pot, we attempted to make sense of the pictures around the restaurant. Alas, they were not much help, but luckily the proprietors seemed well used to confused tourists and graciously smiled at any broaches of tradition we may have committed.
A metal pot was brought to the table in front of us and lowered into a pit at the centre. Underneath a flame was lit and the liquid within began to heat. There were two types of liquid in the pot: a chicken broth and a chilli broth, intended to cook the raw ingredients which we then chose. Our selection consisted of very thinly sliced chicken, beef and pork, enormous king prawns, kelp, dumplings, broccoli, bean sprouts and various other treats. We lowered these into the Hot Pot and waited for them to cook through, scooping them up eagerly with the ladles provided. The finished result was beyond lovely. Burningly hot, thoroughly moreish and provided us with lots of entertainment as well as nourishment. My dining partner was perspiring so much from the humidity and the chilli that the burning spread from his lips over the rest of his face, something which apparently didn’t detract from the experience, but rather proved to him that it was the best thing he’d ever eaten.
Since returning to Brighton I’ve discovered a little Szechuan restaurant near the station which does Hot Pots and I can’t wait to try it again, though I may attempt a very straight forward recipe from the BBC Food website first. Either way, I know I’ll end up deliriously happy.
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
For a long time I have been utterly convinced that baking was not for me. Many a cake has not risen, burnt, turned into liquid sugar, exploded and travelled backwards in time… well not quite, but nearly (one unfortunate sponge travelled all the way to the neighbour’s garden at high velocity). So imagine my joy at discovering that it was not my fault after all, but really down to pathetic ovens and decrepit scales. Pah! I hear you say. A good workman never blames his tools etc. Well, this workman is actually a worklady and you haven’t tasted my lemon cupcakes, so zip it.
And it’s all thanks to a lovely little place in London called The Hummingbird Bakery. The talented people there have published a book which details their amazing cakes and has instilled in me the joy of baking. If you’re lucky enough to live near one of their shops, I am terribly, terribly envious.
Since reading their recipes I’ve been inspired and if it weren’t for the waistline, I’d be baking every weekend. Alas, I can’t afford a new wardrobe in a larger size so I’ll have to stick to the occasional pecan pie (served warm with vanilla ice cream). I like to add a touch of cinnamon to the proceedings, especially at this time of year, but I’m not sure if that’s bad etiquette when it comes to the real American version. I'll have to consult one of my friends from across the pond - here's hoping I avoid a wide-eyed stare and a pumpkin pie in the face.