Starting again… with one of the best meals of my life.

It’s hard to know where to start. I have not written in three months as the wordpress platform was not available in Shanghai where I was posted for work. It was a busy end to 2012 and I found myself travelling around Asia for the first quarter of 2014. I am not sure where Dishpiglets is going but the focus for this year is going to be on my photography.

I have been wanting to write about one of my most memorable meals of my life.

Whilst we were on our honeymoon in Andalucia last year, we were treated* to a fabulous dinner at Calima, a two Michelin star restaurant located in Marbella, opened by famous Spanish chef Dani Garcia. Located at the luxurious Hotel Gran Melia Don Pepe, we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived and headed down a flight of stairs into the restaurant. When we were greeted by a fabulous view of the beach as the sun sets, we knew we were in for a treat.

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The tasting menu – cocinacontradicion consisted of 20 dishes. What ensued after we ordered was an amazing display of precise service by the waiters and waitresses dressed in black. It is difficult to describe the whole experience but you have to see it to believe it. We have never seen such a performance.

Our Pic-nic at Calima started with little bites in a three part tiffin carrier displaying corn with kimchi, brava potato and Iberian rustic bread. The brava potato was so light and crunchy and sets us off to an amazing start.
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Next up was caviar with dates. Never quite thought of this combination before but this was absolutely delicious!
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The “empanadilla” of my mum was the third dish which we were told to eat using our hands. I recalled reading about chef Dani Garcia’s three key words when working in the kitchen – memory, flavours and high technical excellence. The empanadilla which we tasted, melted in our mouth.
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Iced almond and foie
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Oyster, tomato, beet and orange
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What impressed us the most in terms of detail was the rocky seabed. Crunchy and with smells of the sea, this was like prawn cracker on a ‘godly’ level.
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Scallops in orange/ lemon was next.
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The suckling pig was nowhere near what we imagined given the portion. It was different- served in a wet base but the combination was well executed. I just wished we had a bit more of it.
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Our desserts came in three different course and the banana magu was the most impressive.
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Petit fours
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The restaurant was full that evening. It was clear that people have travelled from all around to visit Calima. Out of the twenty dishes we had, they thrilled, surprised and fulfilled our tummies.

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Being able to meet the talented chef Dani Garcia at the end of the night was such an honour. We had such a great time at Calima – the food, the setting and the service. It was definitely a night to remember.

*Big thank you to our family friends, Andrew & Lisa Smith who kindly bought this dinner as a gift for our wedding.

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A hot day…

On a hot day like today, I thought I would blog about ice cream.

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The dude is a massive fan of ice cream. He always tells the childhood story of how his grandfather used to take him to the freezer after dinner and would always gives him a scoop of cold creamy vanilla ice cream. That’s his reason for being hooked on this dessert.

We were on our honeymoon in Granada when we found this amazing heladeria (aka gelato shop) called Los Italianos.

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Typically in an ice-creamery, you would be able to view the colour/ toppings of the selection but at Los Italianos, you get a list of flavours (in spanish of course) on the wall alongside piled up cones. All the ice cream is tucked away so you can’t exactly drool over what you see. You order your flavours from the servers and then pay a different lady who just sits by the till.

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My favourite flavour is pistachio and I reckon I tasted my favourite so far.
If you ever get to Granada, I recommend a visit(or more) to Los Italianos. This is definitely one of the best ice creameries I have ever been to.

Will you be getting an ice cream or gelato today? What’s your favourite flavour?

Los Italianos
Address: Calle Gran Vía de Colón, 4 18001 Granada Spain‎

Visiting the UNESCO world heritage listed Amsterdam (Part 1)

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A couple of weekends ago, the dude and I headed to Amsterdam to celebrate his birthday. It was his first trip to this beautiful city but a second for me. Whenever you tell people of your trip to Amsterdam, they speak about the red light district and the coffeeshops. However, there is so much more to Amsterdam than that. 

We managed to rent bikes for two days and peddled our way through tiny streets in search of tasty pastries, dutch pancakes, macaroons, rijstafel and okonomiyaki! 

The amazing design sensibility of the people makes this city such a beautiful one. 

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We checked out BurgerMeester on our first day there. The hake burger I had was a treat and even though the dude was very skeptical about a fish burger, it turned out much better than expected. The last time I was in Amsterdam, I had tried a raw herring in a bun at one of the stalls by the canal. I remembered taking a bite and handing it over to my friend straight away. This time round, we didn’t manage to have it but this hake burger tasted really good as compared to my herring experience.

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The dude gave his beef burger royaal a thumbs up but did mention that it was a little too complicated as compared to the Royale with cheese at Lucky Chip, back in London. It was quite a strange experience sitting in the burger shop with photos of moo cows all around us. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t guilty of eating cow.

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That evening, I booked us in for a rice table meal (aka Rijsttafel) at Tempo Doeloe as recommended by a fellow food blogger, Eat Noodles Love. As I don’t eat beef, it proved difficult for the waitress to serve us the full rijsttafel menu and she suggested the mini rice table menu instead so that she could replace some of the beef dishes.

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When we got our food, we were pleased with the quantity though there seemed to be a bit of repetition. We were told to start with the mild dishes and finish at the spicy end as they were placed in order of spiciness. The meal was good but it was a little too ‘meek’ for my taste palette.

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Perhaps it was because we didn’t get the beef rendang, or maybe it was the vegetable dishes that were too similar in taste, that made the meal pleasant but without anything that really stood out. The poor service didn’t help, and we were told that they don’t serve tap water. They also overcharged us on the bill which they quickly amended, when questioned. It’s a pity that we were left disappointed. There are lots of good reviews nevertheless, and if you ever go, let me know if you had a better experience than us!

Tempo Doeloe
Utrechtsestraat 75
1017 VJ Amsterdam
020 625 6718 (booking required)

A few bites of Croatia…

Croatian food is often overshadowed by the likes of Italian, Greek and Turkish food, but from my recent travels to the country I’ve learnt it certainly stands up to the neighbouring competition.  Nestled along the Adriatic, it was no surprise we regularly feasted on seafood. Just-caught seafood platters of octopus, mussels, calamari (often stuffed with cheese and ham), grilled fish, scampi and prawns were an unbeatable lunch after a long session at the beach.

The local dish, “buzzara”, consists of either prawns, mussels or scampi cooked in their shells with tomato, garlic, parsley and lemon juice. It’s a popular choice – but only if you’re willing to get messy and peel and peel for what feels like hours.  Don’t forget to wear a bib!

Another local dish to Croatia is cevapcici (try saying that after a few rakis!) which are skinless spicy sausages.

With Italy in such close proximity, it’s no wonder there’s a heavy Italian influence in Croatian cuisine. During my time in Croatia, I sampled countless tasty seafood pastas and risottos, but of special mention was the Dalmatian pasta.  Such a simple dish which I can’t wait to try out at home. Prosciutto and figs gently sautéed in olive oil, tossed with some al dente spaghetti and scattered with shavings of parmesan and chopped parsley. So simple, but so tasty. The sweet figs were a dream with the salty prosciutto.

Moving away from the grilled seafood and pastas is where I had my most memorable Croatian meal. We’d been sailing around Croatia for a week and our skippers suggested we try a great little restaurant/winery up in the hills of the island Vis, named Roki’s. We were collected from the port by the restaurant owner and embarked on a 20-minute drive along the dramatic coastline and up into the hills. Upon arriving at Roki’s we knew we were in for a treat.  There was no ordering necessary at this restaurant – instead the chefs had been preparing what was to be our dinner since early that morning. As we walked through the grounds of Roki’s we passed the outdoor kitchen and spotted what was to be our dinner – huge ceramic pots nestled on burning hot coals.

After selecting some of their homemade wines for the meal, we settled in for a feast under the beautiful trees outside. A giant local fish was so sweet and juicy it had everyone fighting for seconds (the name of the fish was Croatian and escapes me…). The rice, potatoes and carrots accompanying it were drenched in deliciously juices.

The chicken with aubergine and potatoes showcased slow cooking at it’s best.  So tender and succulent.

Last up was the huge octopus which barely managed to fit in the pot. Cooked for hours, its tenticles were tender and rich with not an ounce of chewiness. The richness of the juices melted into the rice, carrots and tomatoes making them taste fabulous too. What I love about this cooking was how unfussy and homestyle it was. No fancy ingredients, just slow cooking with top quality ingredients.

Ciao to Italian chow…

The last ten days in Italy, while melting under the scorching sun, I have (once again) fallen in love with Italian food. Those Italians know how to do it. Simple flavours done spectacularly well.

First stop was Praiano on the Amalfi Coast.  We spent four days floating between the beaches of Praiano and Postiano. The coastline is beautiful – just like the postcards, but better. We had been given the hot tip to try a restaurant called Da Adolfo. Da Adolfo sits on a small beach a few coves down from Positano.

To get there you catch a little private boat from Positano pier – “lookout for the boat with the red fish on it” we were told.  Despite Da Adolfo having a boho and unpretentious vibe to it, you need to book as the place is rammed everyday in summer. 

It’s casual (waiters are barefoot), has great views and serves authentic Italian food.  What more could you ask for?  After sneaking a few looks at what other tables were eating, we decided to go with the mussels in tomato sauce, marinated octopus, seafood pasta and a Caprese salad.  

The food was insanely good, with a special mention of the mussels in tomato sauce.  I couldn’t let any of the deliciously sweet tomato sauce go to waste, and mopped up every last bit with fresh crusty bread, or as I like to call it, “carpet”.  Simple fresh flavours executed to perfection.

The next culinary highlight was a fabulous dinner in Rome.  

My Roman friend had recommended her favourite authentic pizza place, Da Francesco. The place is nestled in behind Piazza Navona and away from the tourist traps. Packed with locals, we waited outside on the cobblestones for 20 minutes for a table. Super thin crust pizzas with prosciutto, rocket and parmesan, truly al dente spaghetti coated in parmesan, garlic and shavings of crispy bacon and yet another Caprese salad left us very happy campers.  

The pizzas here are – apparently – some of the best in Rome.  It was no surprise to me that when assessing the dessert menu, Chap asked the waiter for another margarita pizza instead of sweets.

Florence saw the GPD (gelato per day) average sky-rocket.  At least one gelato per day was my minimum. Max was three. Oops. When it’s 38 degrees who can resist a refreshing citrus burst? Not me.

The evening saw us consume yet more delicious pizzas and pastas.  Pillowy soft ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach tossed in slow cooked bolognaise really does make me question the vacuum packed fresh pastas in supermarkets.

Our next destination took Italian food to the next level. We were staying with two Italian friends at their home in Cervia, on the north-east coast. We used our time at Cervia as an opportunity to not read menus, and instead ask our friends to order. Night after night, I vowed it was the best Italian meal I had ever eaten. It’s interesting to watch how the Italians do it. Instead of picking up a menu and ordering within 10 minutes, the Italians engage in long conversations about everything on the menu, asking about recipes, ingredients, what’s in season etc., before committing to a dish. Each night was a feast. Certainly no one-pizza-wonder. Instead huge antipasti platters, salads, cheeses, pastas, pizzas, meats, seafood. Washed down with an espresso, limoncello and grappa.

I’ve learnt a lot from my time in Italy. I managed to sustain a PPD (pizza per day) average of at least one a day for ten days and from this extensive research, I’ve realised it’s time to hold up on the ingredients when making pizzas. I’ve long been an ambassador for thin crust, but I’d still pile my bases high with tomato, cheese, prosciutto, mushrooms, onion, capsicum and any other veg that tickled my fancy… From now on, I’ll be adopting the Italian way of less is more.  Tomato, proscuitto, rocket and a few shaving of parmesan is more than enough.  Or if I can get my hands on some brilliant buffalo mozzarella, I’ll be sticking with fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil.  And when it comes to pastas, I’ll be cooking mine even more al dente and instead of making sauce the feature and dumping a packet of store-bought pasta in boiling water, where possible I’ll seek out fresh homemade pasta and make simple sauces to simply coat the pasta. Project for when I arrive back in Melbourne: Find a good Italian cooking class. Does anyone know one?

Sadly I have to say goodbye – or ciao – to Italian food.  I hope to be back in the next couple of years. Tomorrow we depart for Croatia… I know nothing about Croatian food, so I’m looking forward to trying lots of things.  

Stay tuned. Chow.

A place like heaven

I remember someone once told me that Girona in Spain was like heaven, to her. On this particular Greek island which I went to, we met a Greek guy who owns a local bar. He told us of his adventure to one of the Thai islands, and in his own words, described that when he opened the window to their lodge, he thought he was in paradise. I suppose we all have our little get away place, our own kind of heaven or perhaps paradise.

This was my second trip to this Greek island, one which my fellow dishpiglet, Celia has had many visits to.

There are no Michelin star restaurants on this island, just simple tavernas. Not all our meals were great but we did have amazing greek salads, grilled squid and simple Mythos beer.

Nothing could beat this week of bliss and below is a photo diary of my paradise.