Monday, October 17, 2011

Being Comfortable in My Own Skin. Diet Cafe, Cheras Business Centre, KL.


Each of us is several, is many, is a profusion of selves. So that the self who disdains his surroundings is not the same self who suffers or takes joy in them. In the vast colony of our being there are many species of people who think and feel in different ways. 
~Pessoa, from the Book of Disquiet~

Diet. Do I Eat Today?

“It’s your Birthday!” the Bank Teller proclaimed loudly as she returned my identity card, which was held hostage during my application for a new account.

I forced an insincere smile and hurried her along and muttered an expletive under my breath. 


I never celebrate them voluntarily. At least not in the conventional way. The last birthday bash I had, was in Bangkok. A merit making ceremony by donating food early in the morning as the Monks from a nearby Buddhist temple walked around my neighborhood to collect alms followed by lunch at an orphanage where kids are treated to fried chicken and ice cream plus toys.

No boozing, no gifts, no expensive dinners for friends who can jolly well afford to feed themselves better than I can feed them, and none of the obligatory social canoodling and the superficial niceness that reeks of hypocrisy and affectedness. Laugh if you may, at the thought of a cynical, irritable yet servile android being dragged by friends to kneel and offer alms to a monk. The ultimate snigger will be the thought of a torpid me, spending lunch in a room filled with screaming kids trying to blend in with the spartan furniture in an orphanage.

It seemed like a brilliant idea at that time. Shamanism is rampant in Thailand, attested by the ubiquitous Spirit Houses. Maybe a benevolent Spirit possessed me at that time, or I just wanted to please my two Thai friends who always celebrated their birthdays that way. The lunch ended with a repeating chant playing in my head, which said, “Next time, just give cash.” My friends of course had a good laugh when I told them how uncomfortable I felt throughout the ordeal. It could be worse than that. In an effort to blend in with friends during schooldays, I couldn’t say I want to keep my birth date a secret. That would be termed “antisocial”, (a misnomer actually, because the proper term for is actually asocial). 

Apple Crumble

After a miserable 21st birthday spent with a lot of people I didn’t like but was obliged to invite to my birthday because they were a part of my “social circle”, I made a firm resolve not to divulge my birthday except to those who reside in my sanctus sanctorum of my heart, a pledge I kept from the day I graduated from University until now. 

My birthday has only been celebrated with a few people in my lifetime. I celebrated some birthdays with my family mainly out of obligation too, but that stopped following the death of my mother. Even then, with my own family, I felt a bit embarrassed by the cake and candles and the usual rites and rituals associated with birthdays. I suppose I could tolerate the discomfort of being the center of attention for my Mum, who used the occasion to show me how much she loved me. She had done so much for me, and that was the least I could do for her and would love to endure many, many more hours more uncomfortable cake blowing if she could still be around.

I guarded my birth date like a national secret and hate it if somebody tried to pry this bit of privy information from me.

Unfortunately, this is the least of my peculiarities. 

Bread and Butter Pudding

There is always some music running in the background in my head, and my favorite past time is matching music to some situation that I am facing, living my life in a soundtrack of my own creation. I am obsessive about my books. A crease in a page or the cover of my book gives me goose bumps just like listening to someone scratching on a blackboard. I hate yellowing pages in my novels and have given away and re bought many copies of my favorite books. 

I am fixated on Tristan und Isolde and currently have 5 versions of it in my collection. 

Snakes and reptiles give me nausea and vertigo.

I hate having my photograph taken; I hate to be recognized in the streets or anywhere else. My mobile numbers are seldom given out, and if I give it out, I would expect it never to be divulged before my consent.

My fork and spoon has to match, likewise for chopsticks, otherwise I will be suffering from agitation throughout the meal, fearing something awful will happen that day.

If you think that I am weird, rest assured that you are not alone. I think I am weird too. It took me a long time to come to terms with who I am and what I am.  And if you think I am a difficult person to live with, do consider the fact that I have to live with myself 24 hours a day.  This is compounded by the fact that I am aware of what I am and how difficult it is for me to fit in with others.

I was only truly free after the death of my mother. I no longer had to fulfill her expectations of what I should be, how I should behave and whom I should be nice to. I only have to live for myself and became a total Prick. But I am happy. I no longer had to stifle my annoyance and am ready to snap back at anybody I had hated last time, but kept timid out of respect for my mother.

Outside my working life, I was no longer milquetoast and embarked on a new project to mundify my life of all its annoyances. 

I started with people who had unrealistic expectations on how I had to behave, dress, drive, live and eat. They were not there during my most turbulent period in life. They should not have any expectations from me as I never expected them to be there for me too. They had NO right to judge me or criticize me. I showed them my Middle Finger and purged them from my life.

Warm Chocolate Cake

To them, I will be the chimeral chronic underachiever, the impulsive and eccentric bachelor who dresses shabbily, mixes with the wrong company and curses like a dockyard coolie. But I am happy, and that’s what matters most.  The only place I tried to fit in is only at work. The only reason why I am doing what I am doing is out of gratitude for my Boss, who had been a real brick during my mother’s illness, convalescence and ultimately her death.

I knew after her death, I will not have the drive I once had to excel, to conform and to compete because that was never what I wanted. Previously, I just wanted to live up to my mother’s expectation of me. To be as iconic as my Boss and to be recognized and lose my privacy would mean the eventual loss of my sanity as well.

I wore a mask at work, and I wore it well. I serviced my Bosses and their clients like a whore who utilizes every trick in her book to satisfy her clients, and like the whore, they can have my body, but they will never have my heart. Everyday I battled with my conscience and suppressed my desire to do what I like best, to be free and unencumbered with the constraints of normalcy and redundancy. Nobody noticed that everything I did was rote and passionless and I trudged on until this day.

Next on my list to expunge from my life were people in my contact list that contacted me when they needed something and then leaves the conversation hanging after obtaining the information they require. People who do not even bother to respond to a simple “Hi!”. I don’t know why social interaction behind an electronic screen seems to make people forget the common courtesies. You wouldn’t turn your face away when an acquaintance says, “Hi” to you on the street to you. I used to be almost apologetic when some people ask me why they have been deleted from my Blackberry and try to make up some lame excuse like a change in Blackberry Device or something similar. Nowadays I am more direct. I just tell them straight in the face that I think they are rude, and just do not wish to interact with them via Blackberry.

Mama Panna Cotta

I live my life fully compartmentalized, like separate sets in a Venn diagram. Work, Family and Social. Only rarely and for certain individuals I absolutely trust, are they allowed to come into the intersections between the sets. Social Order in my little obsessive world meant keeping my little circle of contacts in confined, separate mobile phones, separate email accounts and separate Facebook accounts.

After a long while, I started to feel comfortable in my own skin. I learned to accept and even embrace some of my peculiarities. Like most people, when I feel comfortable, I let my guard down and started to feel snug and secure. I felt confident enough to blog and allowed the exposure some of my thoughts and feelings in the big, bad www.

I knew that it would open up another sphere of people and my neat little circles with its beautiful microscopic Reuleaux Triangle residing in the centre would be in dire jeopardy. I took the proverbial plunge and exposed my identity like the virgin exposing her neck to be corrupted by Nosferatu, seduced by the promise of eternal life or in my case, damned to an eternity of bits and bytes in a remote server.

Club Sandwich

Friendship is polysemous. To some, it is an avenue to show off, to gloat, a scratching post or worse still, as something to be used for personal gain. I am unable to define precisely what it means to me, but it has to be something more than that. I was rewarded by my foray into blogging with meeting with some of the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life, but have also gotten to know and meet some of the most soulless, superficial, narcissistic and shameless hacks on the face of earth. Like Malaysian Politics, these hacks will one day will be the big names in cybersphere.  I bear no animosity with them, and treat them like an occasional annoyance that I can swat away by logging out from twitter.

Nothing prepared me to get to know some of the unkindest specimens of mankind. The Time Wasters.

I was invited to a dinner recently but there was a last minute change in the time. It was rescheduled to the next day and the person who changed the day informed everybody but me. Most of you would think that this is just a small matter, and I shouldn’t have gone apeshit. Well, first of all, being the precise, punctilious, obsessive worrier, I had to drive to Hartamas a day before, which is way off where I usually hang out. I arrived early and armed with two bags full of laptop, tablet, phones, gadgets and photography equipment, I sat down and waited in a hot pot restaurant. (Another OCD trait that I posses is I will not leave home without my gadgets, otherwise I will be thinking about them, and I am currently obsessed with Crumpler Bags.)

The 40 Minutes spent waiting at the restaurant was unnerving. I felt that the whole restaurant was staring at me. I felt eyes gnawing into my heart, and exposed the desolate bareness of my internal milleu.  Every laughter emanating from other diners obviously having a good time there, seemed to mock me, and like the percolating soup boiling in the hot pot, my mind was in a raging turmoil. Hurt, anger, dismay and betrayal just like the multiple sauces offered in the restaurant was heaped onto my empty plate and empty stomach, the perfect condiments for an outburst. I called up one of my fellow diners and was surprised to hear that the date has been changed and the person who changed it had told her she would be informing me. I paid up and left and sought comfort with my Burmese Migrant worker friends.

Sauteed Button Mushroom

I awaited for an apology for three days. None came, except for a small little message saying that she changed the date and knew I will not be free and therefor did not inform me. A statement that is very flawed logically. Even if she considers herself to be the Queen of the Fucking Universe, but this little minion is not gonna go down without shoving his middle finger up her nose.

If friendship was going to be my weltschmerz, to hell with it. The suppression of my anger and the desire to give her a shelling on the phone wore me down for days. It would be pointless to confront an idiot. I did the next best thing. I nuked her from my life, starting with emails and trashed and blocked her address. I deleted her from my BB. Entered her phone number into Call Blocker and threw away anything that reminded me of her. It felt good. I was free. If there is something I can do well, is to love and hate something with the equal amount of intensity. 

I can never be sure if it was a sin of commission or omission. All that I knew was that she did send a message on my BB one hour before I left home for the restaurant, yet she didn’t mention anything about canceling the dinner. Either way, death by disembowelment with a dessert fork would be an option to consider as just punishment.

I was jolted out of my comfort zone again. I was feeling out of sorts and started to think if I had made a big mistake by blogging, by sharing my unconventional thoughts with so many strangers.

I remembered a meal I had at Diet Cafe.

Cajun Prawn Sandwich

The interior of Diet Cafe is a bizarre mishmash of bric a bracs, from lights that resembles alien flying saucers to small little kitschy object d’arts that hardly conforms to functional minimalism. Despite the hodgepodge, a sense of calmness prevails especially when one has experienced the harrowing traffic along Jalan Pudu and Jalan Cheras. The menu is fairly extensive for a restaurant that size and a few items stand out.

I have praised their beautiful Risotto which was satisfyingly rich with the prefect texture in another post. Their pesto was youthful and fresh which saved it from being drowned in oleaginous slick like John Travolta’s mop of hair in Grease being saved by the vigorous exuberance of his dance. In this case, the verdant freshness of the Basil did the trick.

Spaghetti with Pesto (Off Menu)

The statuesque Club Sandwich was gloriously thick and could do with a denser bread, though it was slightly overdressed to kill.

Diet Cafe's working class roots was reflected by it’s offering of Bangers and Mash which is usualy only as good as the sausages. Although Diet Cafe uses premium Chicken Sausage, it can never replace the more endowed Cumbria Sausages sheathed sinfully in Pork Intestine and filled with ground Pork Loin and seasonings. The onion gravy was abnormally sweet although the texture of the mash was lovely. Apparently, I was told by my British friend, that the name “Banger” interestingly came up during the Second World War. Food rationing was imposed in Britain, and as a result, sausages had a higher content of water than usual, resulting in the sausages exploding when fried at a high temperature.

Bangers and Mash 

The Chicken Parmaggiana was moist and tender. The effort was commendable but one can only do so much with a piece of breast. 

The entrees were perfunctory. Prawns in Spicy Tomato Sauce was served on a piece of bread that had just ran a marathon through the desert and did nothing much to elevate the juicy, bouncy prawns that just got off a trampoline. The Sauteed Mushrooms were blissfully doing a backstroke in a light, garlicky sauce.

Desserts were more pedestrian but managed to satisfy our desire for a post meal sugar rush.


The most captivating quality of Diet Cafe was it lack of pretense and is confident to offer what it does best. Reasonably priced food that is well prepared and served at very welcoming hours. It does not boast to indulge you in fine dining nor boast of using the finest ingredients. The desire to please is evident, service is cheerful and ebullient. Any imperfections or flaws are easily overlooked. This was clearly a restaurant with a character of it's own and the owners and chef are really comfortable being what they are and realistic enough to know what they can offer.

I used to view the world with askance, and isolated and limited myself to interacting with the barest minimum amount of people. Thanks to this unpleasant episode, I am returning back to my little shell. Do forgive me if I insist on asking to the point of paranoia about who is going to be there for our meals. I am just comfortable with knowing the few people I have already known and you know who you are. At this juncture, I have completely no desire to meet anybody new. You are free to disavow me, and unlike the vengeful Abrahamic God, I promise no retribution in this world or in the afterlife.

I am also taking a break from blogging, and may not be updating much here, not that I have been diligent. I have however, started a new neurotic blog to spare all of you from having to read my tiresome descriptions of my neurotic life here. And if I do blog here, it will be to share about food and much happier things. I wish to regain my anonymity.

I love observing people and how they behave, recording their conversation in my mind and observing the little nuances, their accent, their gestures and then form little vignettes of their life on my own and imagining a soundtrack to accompany it. It is as if by silently observing others that I can fill up the gaps in my own life, by experiencing some of the things that I will never encounter. To be a successful voyeur, one has to remain anonymous. 

To those of you who do not know me, I want to be the owner of the pair of slitted Chinky eyes training you from a dark corner in a decrepit coffee shop. Looking at you as you receive a break up text message from your boyfriend, with my eyes tearing, possibly irritated the thick veil of nicotine smoke that separates me from you.

However, I can never put my arms around your shoulder to offer you solace, for it is not me to do so. I am not wired that way. I take a long, long time to warm up to people and some of you are just probably feeling that I am friendlier now after knowing me for 2 years. I will never, never again trust anyone without knowing them for a length of time.

Light Fixture

Some people may think that I am seeking attention by being different, by being aloof. I can assure you, I am not. I can't help being what I am and if you think you know me, you are wrong. I don't even know myself.

When you see me, you will just see fragments of a mutilated me. The government demands me to be lobotomized , my vocal cords cut out and my heels nailed to my butts. Forever forced into a supplicant kneel in gratitude to my oppressors. At work, the corners of my mouth are stitched to my ears to deform my mouth into giving everybody who sees me a macabre smile, my heart ripped from my chest to be a compliant robot. I'll be damned if I need to mutilate myself when I am with friends.

Picking up my own fragments and reassembling myself like a jigsaw puzzle to fit into the mould of what others deem to be sociable is getting to be quite a chore. So is repressing the desire to kick thoughtless buffoons.

All I know is I have to accept who I am, what I am capable of and what I am not, with all my neurosis, my obsessions and flaws. More than a 13 inches macbook air with 256 Gigs of flash drive upgraded with i7 processor, more than owning a complete set of Fellini or a copy of Ulysses signed by Joyce himself, I just want to be myself and  be comfortable in my own skin.

Just like Diet Cafe.

Diet Cafe
27, Jalan 3/101c, Cheras Business Centre,
Cheras, 56100
Kuala Lumpur

Tel: +

Hours: Mon-Fri 10–12am; Sat-Sun 8–12am

Friday, September 2, 2011

Civilized Savagery. Chef Choi, Jalan Ampang, KL. Sage, Gardens Mid Valley.

(Rated "R" for Rambling)

Smoked Trout with Ikura and Wasabi Mayonnaise, Sage.

There is a gentle civility that makes Sage one of my favourite places for lunch. The beautifully pristine slabs of protein ornamented with small little leaves of Japanese herbs, form the little notes of a melismatic passage. Together with the accompaniment of resolute pearls Ikura with it's bold briny flavour and the gentle whisper of Wasabi Mayonnaise, it became a thunderous, beautiful symphonic chant to the Sea.

I am resigned to forget I am actually tearing into a piece of meat, a piece of now decaying flesh that used to be a part of the muscle that propels the graceful sway of the beautiful ocean trout as it swims in the ocean.

Home Made Tagliolini Pasta with Seafood and Flat Leaf Parsley. Sage.

Seafood served at Sage with the exception of Oysters are usually filleted or de-shelled, leaving one to eat in comfort without the hassle of having to deal with the mess that usually accompanies a Chinese Seafood Dinner. And their pastas are usually light, rolled into small spools with Oriental inspired sauces.

Civilised Posh Nosh in beautifully assembled morsel sized bites.

Not having to deal with bones means that while imbibing and smacking my lips to a delicious meal, I would not have to be reminded that what I was chewing is something that used to be alive.

Duck with Foie and Daikon, Sage.

The harsh reality is that animal carcasses abound in any kitchen. Eviscerated, decapitated, hacked and skinned prior to be cooked and served, it is a scene right out of a medieval torture chamber . Disguised by beautiful garnishing and excellent plating, the odious idea that a sentient being has been killed and tortured to satisfy my craving is pushed right to the narrow recesses of my mind and lessens the guilt of having to grapple with the ethics of being an omnivore.

It's not that I find indulging in meat particularly objectionable , nor could I find any convincing philosophical arguments that manage to convince me to be a  Vegetarian. As hypocritical as seems, I just don't like to be reminded that what I am chewing was once alive.

Fresh Cherry Fruit with Champagne Sabayon and Vanilla Ice Cream, Sage

Perhaps it is the cartoons I have watched as an impressionable youngster that bestowed emotions, rationality and feelings to animals. Somehow or another I feel uncomfortable with the thought of massacre of animals as a necessity for my pleasure and sustenance. I was never comfortable eating meat with bones stuck on them, and my preferred cut of poultry is still the breast, where there is a minimal chance of confronting fresh blood oozing from the marrow.

I suppose the rest of the English speaking world share some of my queasiness. Pork is never referred to as Pig and Beef never as Cow.

This was my narrow view of what civilized posh nosh should be. Beautifully presented food with minimal reminder of the original state of the victim and it's merciless termination of life.

When it comes to humans, who do we consider to be a civilized person? What are the qualities we deem as pre requisites to be considered civilized?

N's Tattoo

"Is it painful?" I asked N as the Tattooist stroked his skin with a tattooing needle to the accompanying high pitched whir that resembles a Dentist's drill humming in the background. There were splotches of bright red blood on his skin as the needle broke through the epidermal layer of his skin. (Those who follow my misadventures on twitter may recall that he puked and passed out after that.)

I have been asked the same question by him when I visited him and his friends in their mess, invited over for impromptu dinners. Sometimes after a long day at work would leave my neck in spasm and if I arrived with a stooped head or wince slightly while reaching out for something, he would ask, "Pain?". I would just smile.

After dinner, while I read amidst the hive of post dinner activities of migrant foreign workers in the background that involves strumming the guitar, a loud telephone conversation in a foreign language back home or the gentle blare of soap opera from the TV, I will get a pat on my back. This will be followed by a warm towel on my neck and N or H will give me a neck massage. There is no use protesting, they will be adamant and will only stop when they feel that the neck muscles are soft and pliable again.

H's Tattoo

N and his friends are from Myanmar. N is tall, lanky with dry, dark skin marred by splotches of eczema due to chronic exposure to industrial solvents. He is heavily tattooed and pierced. He would be the least likely person one would consider to be civilized. Foreign workers are not very well regarded in Malaysia, especially the semi skilled workers.

It was a chance encounter. I needed to some independent fact checking on Moulmein (known as Mawlamyine now), and asked my friend if he had any workers from that region. He had two, he said and I could meet them. N and H are ethnically Mon, with a distinctive language and script of it's own. Together with V, a Karen tribesman and T, a Shan tribesman, they share the largest room in a double storey terraced house my friend owned and used as a hostel for his Myamar workers.

All four of them have a unique story to tell, and I shall start with the story of N. His father passed away when he was 12, and he left home to work illegally in Thailand with his elder brother at the age of 16 because he did not want to burden his mother who had to take care of 2 other younger siblings. He hasn't used a single dime from home since then.


Working in Thailand was not easy. Thailand shared a long history of warfare with Burma in the olden days. The Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya was ended with the sacking and looting of Ayuttaya by the second King of the Burmese Konbaung Dysnasty, Hsinbyushin. Ayutthaya was razed to the ground. Golden statues of the Buddha was melted and more than 90,000 Thais were taken as slaves back to Burma.

The event has been long rallied as a sore point in Thailand's history and many migrant Burmese workers to Thailand face some prejudice from the authorities. After saving enough money to obtain a Visa to Malaysia, N finally escaped the intimidation of Thai Police and made his way to KL.

The past 3 years had been kind to N. With a monthly salary of more than RM1,300 and plus some overtime allowance, he has managed to send approximately RM500 home every month. One of his brothers is attending University in Rangoon and another one to follow suit next summer. But still, his material possessions till today is compared paltry by any standards. 6 t-shirts, 5 pairs of jeans, a mobile phone and his most expensive possession, his tattoos.

I have asked him many times if he needed any financial help. I could easily do without one or two lunches and would be more than glad to help out, obligation free. But the answer was always the same. A squeeze on my shoulder, no, he can manage and if the time comes, he will let me know and every single cent will be paid back in due time.

Skull Motif on H's Arms. The Tattoo has yet to be completed.

Finances are managed prudently. Lunch is taken care of by their factory. Breakfast is simple, bread and coffee and dinners are home cooked. Cigarettes are usually communal, shared out in the room and the last stick belongs to the person who bought the pack. This is their unwritten rule. Read magazines and newsletters from Myanmar are taken out to the living room to be shared out.

Is it easier to share when one has less, while relative wealth makes another hoard and be possessive?

Their only indulgence is to spend about RM50 to 70 each on their weekends, Beer and Myanmar Food at their hangout at Jalan Cheng Lock. Coincidently, that area was also the place where Chinese immigrants like my grandfather congregated at the turn of the 20th century.

If somebody falls asleep in the room, any conversation will be carried out in the living room or the balcony outside as not to disturb the one sleeping.

Tattoo on H's back

What is most amazing about N is despite having gone through so many traumas in life, he is not bitter about life. Our friendship is easy. Minimalist. No superficial hello hugs, no callous "take cares". He does not pretend to understand my job, in fact he never once asked what I do for a living, nor try to estimate my salary. All he knows is I work horrendously long hours and I am usually dead tired at the end of the day.

Messages are always answered all be it in broken English. Calls are always returned, unlike some lofty friends who claim that they are always too busy with their work and family but find time to write a long email or text message when they require some information and advice.

I never fear that I will be taken advantage of. Loans are short term, settled within the same day, after the shopping trip. The cost meals are shared out, unless it is specified that it will be a treat before the meal.

The care and concern is genuine. Although I am sometimes pissed that he and his friends text me at night when I am working and insist I have dinner with them because they cooked something I liked, I always find out later that it is always for my own good. I do need that break and usually leave their house happier and less tired. Freer days are spent reading to their ambient chatter and answering their questions about what I am reading. If I am less chatty, they will know that I am not in the mood and just leave me be for a while. Occasionally, when I am extra quiet and caught up in my own world, they will bring out the guitar and start playing the only Myanmar song I can sing after 4 months of attempting to learn the language. That usually breaks down my wall of ice.

Once a week I have my Myanmar lessons, writing and vocabulary. More about my adventures attempting to learn a polytonal language later. Invariably, the lessons will end up with learning some really wicked curse words and hysterical laughter.

Perfect Tattoo on Imperfect Skin

N does not pretend to be clever or intelligent. He does not pretend to know how tired I am. He is not interested in who my friends are. Life for him is lived at the present. We share a lot of similarities, but he was not as lucky as I was in obtaining some formal education.

He may not fit into one's image of a civilized man, and some may call him a savage. But to me, he is a gentleman and I am proud to call him my friend. Sometimes we want to get to know somebody because of the persona they project, especially through social media. But that is just good marketing skills. I can count with one hand the number of people I have met that lives up to that image.

Many times I have gone through my life with this preconceived notion of how a person should behave and food be presented. I dread to think how many people I have shut out from my life through this fault. This is one unforgettable lesson that N has taught me.

Both N and H will be going back to Myanmar in 5 days time for six weeks. It will be their first time seeing their family members after 3 years. I sincerely wish them Bon Voyage and a safe trip home.

Seafood Paella from Chef Choi

In the same vein, I was quick to dismiss Chef Choi's as an uninteresting restaurant serving the same, uninspiring Chinese Cuisine found elsewhere in KL. I was wrong. It is a gem, helmed by an enthusiastic Chef with an encyclopaedic knowledge of food and culinary arts.

When a friend invited me over for dinner, I was thrilled to find one of the most perfect paella in KL. Beautiful plump slightly al dente Arborio rice soaked with a generous amount of Saffron in the stock and served with prawns, squid, mussels and bits of Serrano ham, it was a delightful paella, much better than I have tasted in some Spanish Restaurants in KL.

Perfect Paella in a Chinese Restaurant. Almost unimaginable.

Roasted Pork Belly

The theme for dinner was Barbecue. It is such a primitive way of cooking meat. I could imagine cavemen huddling together in a cave while they roast their catch from the forest in an open fire. Worse of all, body parts abound, complete with bones and the form of carcass.

It was an invite that was very hard to refuse. CS had been so generous and is a treasure trove of culinary knowledge. Gregarious and witty, she could rattle on about food for hours and had been exposed to some of the most famous restaurants in the world.

I prepared myself for a bit of blood, gore and carnage as I made it to Chef Choi's.

Spaghetti Vongole

The traffic was mercifully light during the fasting month. This was not the first time I was at Chef Choi's. I was there a few months back for a noodles inspired dinner. I saw glimpses of Chef Choi's creativity and skill back then, but was not prepared for his versatility in the kitchen.

If the Paella was magnificent, but the Spaghetti Vongole was subdued and meek in comparison. It just couldn't compete with the resolute saffron. The attraction of the day was the meat in all it's bloody gory. Humongous slabs of meat with crimson blood trickling by the side with bloodied marrow like a scene out of a B grade horror movie.

I cringed.

Steak Florentine

It was precisely the moment when the Barbecued Lamb Shank was served that I received a text message from N. My car battery had stalled after I arrived at Chef Choi's and I had texted N informing him that I will be late for our weekly Burmese Lesson. N wanted to come over with his friends to keep watch over my car while the mechanic from AAM replaced the battery. He was worried that I wouldn't be able to enjoy my meal while worrying about my car.

This was followed by another text message from H asking if I needed help from his cousin who is a mechanic at Chan Sow Lin, a skip away from Jalan Ampang. T called and wanted to preform CPR on the car. He just attended a CPR demonstration at his factory.

After a flurry of text messages reassuring them that everything was fine and taken care of and their text messages were distracting me from my meal more than my stalled car, my moment of epiphany arrived.

Yorkshire Pudding

If I was able to enjoy their friendship in the most primitive form without the trappings of superficiality and decorum as society expects, why should I be distracted by garnishing and beautiful plating when I am enjoying a piece of meat?

I tore into into the lamb with relish.

It was one of the most beautiful piece of lamb meat I have ever tasted. The texture was tender, almost creamy with the wonderful aroma of Rosemary and garlic steeped into every fibre of the meat. The most basic cooking technique had rendered the meat perfect.

One does not need anything else to enjoy meat. Just a really good piece of meat, marinated well and cook at the right temperature for the correct duration of time.

Fried Fan Pei

The meal kicked off with some basic salad to balance out the meat, interestingly served with the slightly salty shoyu sesame dressing and the wonderfully tart and fragrant lemon cilantro dressing.

The roasted pork belly came with the crackling detached. I am not a big fan of pork and perhaps not qualified to pass any comments on it, but thought that the meat was tender and juicy though I found the crackling slightly too chewy.

Pan Fried Matsusaka Beef on Glutinous Rice

Bovine indulgence came in two forms, Roasted Prime Rib on Bone and Steak Florentine. Both were exemplary in both the meat texture and taste. I couldn't decide which was better as I have eaten more red meat in that meal than I have for the entire year.

 Carbohydrate relief was Potato Boulangre and Yorkshire Pudding which had the weight watchers commiting the sin of wanton stuffing with carbohydrate without feeling a single ounce of remorse.

Boston Lobster Yee Mee

That dinner was not my virginal experience of being seduced by Chef Choi's food. On a previous occasion, another palate orgy was organised and involved lashings with strands of noodles and scalding with almond milk with giant lobster pincers creatively used to induce orgasm.

Almond Milk with Papaya

Chef Choi is also a dessert genius. The gorgeous Almond Milk with papaya is a work of sheer genius. I am not sure if any of you are partial towards Almond Milk like I am because if you do, then Chef Choi's is the promised land and this beautiful dish will be the Manna from heaven.

Lush and thick, with the distinctive taste of ground almond, it was served warm with bits of papaya and lotus seed.

His "western" desserts are equally delectable. The tart tartin was praiseworthy, served with fresh cream with crushed vanilla pods inside.

Apple Tartin

Sometimes I do need a good slap of honesty to wake me up. Meat is meat and no amount of dressing up can hide the fact that I am chewing into a piece of flesh. What I thought was savagery in devouring a prey with the body parts intact at a barbecue was just enjoying meat in it's purest form and Chef Choi was an excellent place to be introduced to it.

Like wise in my personal life. The boys remind me that one does not need much to be happy, and they are indeed some of the happiest people I have met in life. Much happier than morose intellectual wannabes trying to rationalize through their empty lives molly cuddled by a false sense of being superior to everyone around them.

Happier than some bloggers competing for hits and beautiful photos and bragging about their lives when all they expose is a empty hole where the brain is supposed to be and a huge emptiness in their soul trying to live out the persona they try to portray.

Much happier than the handsomely paid executives in multinationals who live in the fear of making a wrong decision and being stabbed in the back.

Much much happier than I am, stuck in a job that I loath, but happen to do be competent in.


They boys live their lives devoid of pretence and they are completely comfortable with who they are. The sure as hell will not pick up a passage from Proust, looking it up in wikipedia and try to impress me. It's unimaginable.

They have never stood me up and in fact provide relief for me when I am left dangling from last minute dinner cancellations. There were always there for me when I needed some comic relief.

After spending more than 12 hours of a working day pretending to fit in to a job that demands that I forsake my entire persona and ideals, the last thing I need is more pretence. I just want to enjoy my time being who I really am in the company of people who are being their real selves.

Just like biting into some juicy unadorned barbecued meat at Chef Choi's.

Snow Skin Mooncake

Pictures at Sage (no pork served) is from their daily lunch sets at RM 100.

Barbecue Dinner available at Chef Choi (non halal) is available upon advanced order. Please call +60 3 2163 5866 for reservation and prices. It is located at 159, Jalan Ampang, in between the MCA building and Pelita Nasi Kandar.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

When The Heart Yearns For Something Simple. Tanjung Bunga Nyonya Cuisine, SS2, PJ.

"Dedicated to people who has the tenacity to consider me a friend despite my inadequacies and eccentricity, I humbly seek forgiveness for my failings. 

To workaholics who forge on, in the hope that you will attain your goals in life someday.

And finally to weirdos who persevere on with their unconventionality. It is you who add colour and charm to my dreary life."

(non halal)

Nasi Ulam
Living in a heartless city can be reassuring. Sometimes. Moving along as a bustling herd of humanity like a swarm of assiduous spermatozoa, I feign being preoccupied, being lost in my little world of make believe. But in reality, I am in a state of non purposeful industriousness. Spermatozoa do not stop to make small talk with each other as they race to fertilize the ovum, and neither do have to bow to this ritual of pretending to be interested in the lives of people I encounter daily as a necessity, not a desire. I suspect others feel the same about me too, I am but another potential human to take some advantage of in a heartless city whose soul is corrupted to the core either by economic necessity or greed.

It suits me fine being an anonymous. Putting on a nameless face means I can go through life here with minimal distractions. It is easier to be nasty and uncaring if you do not know the other person. I drift with no fixed purpose except to work and the ultimate goal of fulfilling my desire for material comfort as a compensation for a life devoid of romantic emotional attachment which is an abstract concept to me having experienced it vicariously through books, movies and opera.

Work. A four letter word that takes up more than half of my time for the last couple of years, sometimes more.

Work. A monosyllabic grunt, a vulgar and fractious word that begins with a gentle W, pronounced lips puckered like kissing and ends with a sneer and a smirk of a death mask as the final K is pronounced.

Work. My ovum. My farcical ovum, which instead of giving me life, destroys my essence and purpose.

Sambal Petai Udang
It is only when I am unfettered by work a strange yearning overcomes me. An unexplained feeling of melancholia that unseats reason and practicality which I foolishly hold as the master of my cerebrum. My external facade of feigned aloofness crumbles in the early hours of morning when my bed turns into a wide and deep dark chasm that engulfs me.

A biting cold loneliness that permeates through every cell of my body. My resilience crumbles and for a few fleeting seconds I would feel lonely, the vulnerability exposed seems to feed on the darkness of the night before a toss on the bed dispels it into the deepest recesses of my memory before being summoned out again by periods of emotional vulnerability.

My unrelenting working hours does offer me some refuge from these pangs of emptiness, but it is discomforting for me to admit the irony of finding find solace in the very thing that saps up my zest for life.

I have chosen to be alone and fault nobody for my predicament, if I am allowed to call it so. Sharing a bed with someone means baring my soul, my entire being, my paranoia and eccentricity which will scare the average red blooded human. Something I can never do, and never am proud of.

I have sought a compromise by attempts to forge friendships which offers some temporary respite in which I attempt to be normal. Friends are not with me every moment of the day and I can choose what to share with them.

Inchi Kabin
I have been blessed with many caring people in my life and part of the fun in hunting for good food is hunting for dining companions to share little adventures with which comes from all walks of life. Fellow weirdos who understand me without having to explain myself. People who shower me with love and attention.

Take for instance, M whom I met through blogging. After a particular two months of harrowing workload, we finally met for lunch almost at her insistence. I gave her a free hand to decide the venue and she instinctively chose this little quaint but plain restaurant to dine.

The tacky decor is nothing to shout about with some kitschy Dutch windows hanging on the wall. Food is served on cheap melamine and dining was under almost bare energy saving bulbs that cast a strange jaundiced glow to our complexion. But it was just what a tired soul needed. Not Foie, not truffles nor fancy desserts.

Their Nasi Ulam may not be the best that I have ever had but the effort was commendable, with slivers of the usual herbal condiments. Mint, Daun Kantan, Basil and Kerisik adorned the rice that was served strangely with some chips.

Their Inchi-Kabin was perfectly double fried and crispy with hints of cumin, shallots and corriander powder. It came with the traditional syrupy dip that was redolent of Worcester Sauce.

I loved their Joo Hoo Char which is julliened slivers of Sengkuang, Carrot and Dried Mushroom with Grilled Dried Cuttlefish hiding in between the strips to lend the dish an tantalizing aroma. Place them in a piece of Lettuce leaf and roll it like a spring roll with a dab of Sambal Belacan and you will be biting on pieces of heaven.

Their Sambal Petai Udang was an interesting break for intermission but the spotlight shined on the Nyonya Fried fish with was ravishing. Perfectly fried fish in a beguiling mix of tart Tamarind with nuances of spices, Daun Limau Purut and Preserved Leek.

Desserts were limited to 3 choices.

Nyonya Fried Fish
The meal was not perfect but genuine. It did not use expensive exotic ingredients but the love and pride of the Chef in it's Nyonya Heritage was almost palpable.

It's just like friendship, where once accept and maybe even treasure flaws and imperfections of others as long as it is genuine.

I have been accused of being an elitist, a pseudo intellectual and a snob so many times in life, I've lost count.

I don't just hang out with people who fine dine. The quantum of satisfaction I get from beautifully prepared nyonya fish and a perfect piece of Toro is probably the same.

Nor do I hang around elitists who quote Sartre and discuss post modernist art over salmon and cocktails all the time.

If there is one thing that either amuses me is the superficiality of some people I meet and their inane desire to impress or show off usually with hilarious consequences. Wealth and power does not impress me, for I know the people who posses them will never part with it without me doing something for them in return. I have to recall something very funny that happened a few weeks back.

I stumbled across an acquaintance from my College days whom I have not met for years and after the preliminary how do you do's he proceeded to ask me "What car are you driving now?".

I replied, "Why? Is your job so bad that you have to sell cars to supplement your income?". That ended our conversation pretty quickly and each of us probably think the other is a dickhead. At least I do.

I guess he does not know that the owner of Ikea drives a 20 year old Volvo and some of the slimiest Bankrupts in town whizz around in Porsche SUVs. I suppose a lot of people are trained to asses a person by the car he drives, the handbag she owns and where their family goes for holidays.

Even more irritating are meeting people who try to impress me with their intellectual prowess when they clearly have none. They claim to have read books that they haven't and try to critique movies when they have absolutely no inkling about. But things do break out into a comical farce when they dig deeper into their own grave when they are unable to stop talking.

The the species that deserves the vilest contempt will be those who put themselves on a pedestal for some unknown reason. Sharing a meal with them is just like suppressing a bad case of jock itch. I am just dying to bare it all on the table and give it a good scratch.

Joo Hoo Char
Life is not a competition. Meeting up with acquaintances in a social event is not a job interview or a sales pitch. There is no point competing, to brag and to impress. If there is anything that impresses me at all, it will be your honesty and genuine warmth. There is no need to put on a front and be kissy wissy with every one and the moment they turn their back, start the ritual of gossip and back stabbing. I find it juvenile, petty and revolting.

Some evenings and weekends, I hang out with some migrant factory workers at their quarters and their Restaurants at Jalan Silang. Their lives are simple and uncomplicated but lived with dignity and quiet perseverance. Never on any occasion have they taken advantage of me nor used me for for their personal gain. We spend out time together teaching each other to cook, with them teaching me reading and writing Burmese and me teaching them English and Facebook. Strangely enough, our lingua franca is Bahasa Melayu (go figure) which I seldom use with my Malaysian friends. One day, I may blog about them.

A lot of people who consider themselves hoity toity could learn a thing or two about leading their life from these migrant workers.

I can only agree if anybody comments that I am very selective with friends. This is how I am.

But then again, not everybody can be like M. She knows I will never be cheerful ebullient and accepts my mood swings and I am sure she would let me know immediately if I cross the line. And as a treat for all my sleepless nights and midnight travel, she brought me to a place that she instinctively knew would cheer me up. She knew I was yearning for a simple uncomplicated meal. A meal served in a place unadorned by the trappings of materialism, where genuine food is served with pride and a heart.

Just like a good friendship.

Tanjung Bunga (same row as Chow Yang)
117 Jalan SS 2/6
47300 Petaling Jaya, Taman Sea, Malaysia

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Curtis Duffy at Senses. A Beautiful Dinner from a 2 Star Michelin Chef.

(no pork served)

Sea Urchin with Rhubarb Anise Hyssop Blooms Frozen Hojo Santa
When Aly asked if me I were willing to fork RM 398 for a dinner cooked by Curtis Duffy at Senses, I have to admit I was a little bit intimidated. Coming from a lineage that includes Grant Achatz from the famed Alinea Restaurant in Chicago, I was afraid that Curtis Duffy's menu would be too "molecular", too derivative. I have not always been a big fan of Molecular Gastronomy, having believe that test tubes should stay in labs and some over enthusiastic Chefs place too much emphasis on form over function.

Bubbles, smoke and pyrotechnic theatrics distract me from the pleasure of dining and some chefs would be guilty  of what Santi Santamaria (who passed away in Singapore in Feb 2011) cautioned against. Quoting directly from Santi's book, "one of the greatest challenges faced by today’s chefs is to avoid becoming the court jesters of the snobs and the posh.", a direct jibe directed against the vanguards of Avante Garde Cuisine.

Olive Oil Poached Faroe Island Salmon with Favors of Fennel, Black Olive and Absinthe
When the amuse bouche arrived, I realized that my fears were unfounded. What was served was a beautiful intersection of the beautiful curve of creative cuisine, the linear severity of physical science and the hyperbole of creativity and playfulness. A beautiful, edible three dimensional post modern art installation to be admired and savoured.

The tart and sourish Rhubarb Jelly played with the rich smoothness of Sea Urchin amidst the cold backdrop of minty frozen Hojo Santa peppered with the liquorice flavoured Hyssop blossoms. It was tantalizingly imaginative and fresh and heart achingly beautiful. It is evident that this was not some whimsical dish and a lot of thought have been given to create such beautiful flavours and contrasts.

Olive Oil Poached Faroe Island Salmon, emphasizing the Absinthe Foam.

The Silky Smooth Flesh of the Salmon
The Olive Oil Poached  Faroe Island Salmon was also outstanding. The flesh mantained it's firmness and flavours like a sous vide dish and the gentle poaching in olive oil rendered it's texture unctuously smooth. It came accompanied with all the parts of Fennel, the bulb, the fronds, the stem and it's blossom together with Red Sorrel and chopped black olives. The black dressing that came with it was not Balsamic Vinaigrette, but seems to be a combination of mustards and black olive. The absinthe foam lent the dish a delightfully gentle aniseed flavour.

The dish evoked beautiful memories of walking through a herb garden in Spring with it's haunting scents.

Nantucket Bay Scallop with Romaine Lettuce Marmalade, Nasturtium Leaves and Their Flowers with White Poppy Seed Milk.
The Nantucket Bay Scallop was overtly sensual. Beautifully luscious slices of thick scallops felt like moist lips kissing me, bathed in delightful ambrosial cool milk that Cleopatra was rumoured to bath in. The Nasturtium Leaves and Petals lent it an exotic peppery flavour that was swathed in herbaceous Romaine Marmalade with bits of sweet Poppy Seeds that thrilled the palate.

Long after the plate was removed, I could still imagine the beautiful flavours of this beautiful ensemble.

Barley Risotto with Amaranth and Grains
Sunflower Seed Consomme being poured into the Risotto
Compared to the overt sensuality of the scallops, the complex, earthy and grainy Barley Risotto was an intellectual enigma. I could discern Barley and Quinoa and Amarnth and saw some Sultanas in the mix, but there was an added complexity to it, sweet and nutty, with unidentified herbs and even a tangy citrusy dimension to it. It came served with a cube of Crème Fraiche.

I could sit all day trying to dissect the flavours and mull over the enigma of incompatibility of quantum physics with relativity and space.

Grilled Wagyu Beef Ribeye with Smoked Cocunut Pudding, preserved Kumquats and Basil Notes
There is a disconcerting masculine savagery to the next dish which was the Wagyu Beef Ribeye. It was red to the point of appearing raw. Fortunately, one just requires table cutlery to tear through this really soft, smooth and succulent piece of almost rare meat thanks to the ingenuity of the Chef. The meat was cooked sous vide, with all the flavours sealed in before being grilled.

Exciting tropical flavours were scattered on the plate, camphor like basil notes with tangy kumquats and even some passion fruit puree(?) which jostled with the coconut pudding for attention. The combination of flavours were unsual, but lent an air of exquisite civility to the meat.

Science meets playful culinary invention in this pristine little mouth sized ball. I did not attend Duffy's Masterclass, but I perhaps can deduce that frozen Sudachi Juice was wrapped with Cocoa Butter and White Chocolate and left to thaw in a referigerator. Due to the different melting points in the Chocolate and Frozen liquid, popping one in the mouth will melt the chocolate and release the Sudachi Juice in an explosion of tart tangy sourness that was counterbalanced by the chocolate's creamy sweetness.

All of us squealed in delight after popping it into our mouths.

Bittersweet Chocolate with Huckleberries, Cassia Caramel, Brown Butter Powder, Chamomile and Stevia
The Dessert was strands of Manjari ganache, served on a plate splattered with Blueberry and Lemon Puree, Cassia Buds and Huckelberries. It came topped with a scoop of Mandarin Sorbet garnished with Dill. Although the flavours were exciting, I can't help feeling like the chocolate was a bit too distracted by the mischievous garnishing and perhaps should just be like the old woman who lived in shoe, whipped the rascals and just send them to bed.

The Maestro Himself, Chef Curtis Duffy

Assisted by his friend, Chef Steven D Greene who together, whipped up a stupendous dinner
I felt like a voyeur during the beautiful dinner as I sat and admired the beautiful plating and partook in one of the most refreshingly original meal I have had this year. Curtis Duffy has an obsession with imaginative usage of herbs and flowers in his food which elevated the dishes to almost an ethereal romantic dimension. If this is Modern American Cuisine, it is time the world sat up and took notice.

The Management of Senses should be congratulated for managing to bring in Curtis and his team to showcase their remarkable talent here.

KL Hilton.

Paranoid Android's Spec Sheet

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Unless stated otherwise, all the posts and food here is paid for by the Paranoid Android. He dose not receive any financial compensation for posting in this blog. The views expressed here are an opinion and as usual, taste is subjective and varies among people, time and mood as well! Please feel free to contact me at humanist dot philo at gmail dot com. Unless otherwise stated, the photos here belong to the owner of this blog. You are free to use it for any non commercial purpose. As courtesy, just drop me an email and credit the photo to the blog. Thanks for dropping by!

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