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Image by Etruscan places.

Another post from the Lemurs’ recent travels in Italy. We drove around Lake Bracciano to Cerveteri, a very nice little town near the coast in Lazio, but one primarily known for its Etruscan necropolis. The necropolis was actually amazing, a vast city of the dead with long streets full of beautiful buildings you can just walk into and explore. If this place were in the UK or the US, there would be guards, cordoned-off walkways, and no way to experience the spaces in an unmediated fashion. But in Italy, there’s a hacked off dude in a portacabin who gives you an illegibly-photocopied map and off you go into what feels like a your very own discovery of an ancient civilisation. Granted, we were mildly worried that small children might fall into an unmarked pit but hey, we didn’t have any small children so all was well.

But you need a good appetite to explore ancient Etruscan sites, and we stopped off in Cerveteri to eat at Antica Locanda le Ginestre. The restaurant is located in the main square and boasts a gorgeous garden for those willing to brave the heat and eat outside. Read the rest of this entry »

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Image by Tichan on Traveljournals.net.

Here’s part 2 of LocAlien’s guest post from Singapore. Thanks again, LocAlien! I will totally go hunting for grimy biryani parlours with you if I ever get the chance…

I suppose that Anthony Bourdain has done more than most to introduce this street food culture to the world. I believe that he honestly tries to find its genuine elements, while evading and even subverting the manufactured gimmickry and antiseptic options that the tourist promotion board pushes on innocent food tourists. But he can unnecessarily overreach, as when he asserts that chicken rice has the strongest claim to being the national dish. (Check out a clip here.) The problems: One, other dishes have more justified claims to the title. Two, ethnic hegemony. The chicken rice he eats on tv is the Chinese version, which you’ll never see Malays or Indians ever eat. The less famous Malay version of chicken rice can be very well executed, especially if you prefer the chicken more roasted-y rather than poached, and the rice drier. Nevertheless, Chinese chicken rice can be superb, especially if the initial thought of boiled chicken served cold grosses you out. The gelatinous skin alone is gold. Three, over-selling it. Telling people that chicken rice is the national dish, convinces them to buy the first plate they see, and they will see it everywhere. Most chicken rice isn’t worth the hassle, and will make you think Bourdain is a moron. Pick the wrong place, and you’ll be gagging on rendered chicken fat. I’d venture that only 40% is decent, and the best handful of sellers would serve you a plate that might just be worth half your airfare. Four, he just plain eats it wrong. Whatever you do, don’t douse it in soy sauce for fuck sake. If you know enough about sushi to know that soy sauce disrespects the chef, you should know that the same about the chicken rice cook. Oh, and fun fact: Pay close attention to the guy chopping your chicken with the cleaver. Count his fingers, and see if you reach 10. If you do, he might not have being doing this for long enough. Read the rest of this entry »

(Image by mailer_diablo, used under CC licence BY-SA 3.0)

I’m just back from Italy with a bunch of amazing food still to post, but first I’m going to hand over to a guest blogger. Lemur friend LocAlien has also been travelling – from the US to his childhood home of Singapore – and he’s been kind enough to write about what’s changed (often for the worse) in Singapore food culture and where you can still find authentic street food. LocAlien is a badass writer and has a real insider’s knowledge of Singaporean culture, so I’m super pleased that he’s written these guest posts. Enjoy…

Ten days in Singapore, and the food situation is dire. Whatever paradigm you use – loss of aura, pastiche, simulacra – they all apply. Neoliberalism has wrought urban renewal and franchising. Many legendary street food vendors are simply history. Malls everywhere, with their food courts modeled after colonial style coffee shops. You can’t walk 100 feet without hitting another, but they’re abominations. I can’t list all the examples, but I can cite one from personal experience. There used to be this cafe in a row of shophouses called the Polar Cafe. It served coffee (I mean real coffee) and a selection of pastries, and only that small selection of pastries. It was cooled by ceiling fans, had marble table tops, wooden-rattan chairs, and mosaic flooring. It was in the colonial downtown area on High Street, and I remember going there with my mother for tea-time snacks before walking over to city hall to ride home with my father. The restaurant is gone, of course. In its place? Franchised outlets that get their food from a central kitchen, which also stocks Polar-labelled display cases in things like the 7-11. I saw one of these glass cases the other day, moved towards it by pure instinct, then remembered the original location, and swiveled away in disgust. The website tracks the death of food culture quite ably, as a matter of fact. Read the rest of this entry »

The lemurs are on a much needed vacation in Italy, kicking off with a weekend in Rome. We've been here 24 hours and so far, my stand out food experience has been cheese. This probably elicits a 'no shit' response from many people but normally I'm not a cheese whore. It's probably the Asian mouth thing – I often find cheese to be a bit much, alarmingly fatty or just unpleasant in texture. I know, it's odd, but anyway, point is, it takes a lot to make me love cheese. And in Rome, the pecorino is transcendent: a generous, excessive, almost pornographic blanketing of sheer happiness on pasta. Read the rest of this entry »

Mr Lemur likes most things but for some reason he is highly skeptical about Korean food. Maybe it’s because of the infamous New York Korean gristle palace, where we managed to order giant plates of chewy tendon with no actual meat, and the waitstaff looked disparagingly at us when we asked for rice? Or maybe he’s scared of the little fishes you usually get in your banchan? I actually think of the Korean vs Japanese food divide as one of those key ones, like Italian vs French, that defines what kind of food lover you are. Everyone likes Japanese food; refined, complex, sophisticated, I get it. But I (often) find Japanese food boring and bland whereas Korean food is rustic, spicy, meaty. Mr Lemur often drags me to Japanese restaurants and I’ve learned to appreciate some aspects of that cuisine, but I rarely manage to get turnabout. It’s got to the point where one of the Crocodiles and I have been threatening to ‘cheat’ on our spouses by going off together for a lunchtime Korean food orgy. Secret Soho kimchee assignations! But this week I somehow talked Mr Lemur into lunch at Binari, the new Korean place in Brighton. Read the rest of this entry »

On my way back from Brittany, I had a couple of hours in Paris before catching the Eurostar home. It wasn’t really enough time to do anything more than have a quick drink and an even quicker dinner, but I was keen to check out Chez Michel, a Breton bistro near the Gare du Nord. I’ve heard good things about it and since I don’t know that part of Paris at all well, a good recommendation was enough to seal the deal. It looks every inch the part, sitting on the corner of a quiet street, slightly prettier than the neighbourhood around it, and with a deeply exciting blackboard menu in the window. Read the rest of this entry »

I spent much of last week in France for work: the medieval chateau de la Bretesche above is where I was working. Yeah, I know, it’s a hard knock life, right? It was absolutely gorgeous, and we walked in the morning from the adjoining 5 star relais hotel across the moat and into a beautifully restored set of apartments in the chateau itself. The Hotel de la Bretesche is pretty stunning, with lush rooms, a gorgeous courtyard, and a breakfast buffet that included a crêpe station. I never stay in places like this and it was a weekend of real luxury. To be fair, I did actually end up working incredibly long days and sadly we didn’t have quite as much time as we might have wanted to explore the surrounding area of Loire Atlantique. In a bit of a comedy of errors, we drove in circles around Guérande looking for the rest of our party and never got to stop off in what I hear is a very pretty medieval town. Similarly, weather that can best be described as typical for the Atlantic coast rendered our tour of the salt flats of Guérande a little perfunctory. Read the rest of this entry »

Last week the Lemurs visited Thrifty Gal in South London, and went to a restaurant I’ve had my eye on in a while: Asmara in Brixton. I love East African food and I used to eat at Ethiopian restaurants in New York and – perhaps surprisingly – in Iowa City. African cuisines have been fashionable in certain upscale food circles for a while, what with the success of Marcus Samuelsson and the emergence of South African food, but most people still haven’t embraced local African restaurants in the same way that East or South Asian cuisines have been popularised. It’s a shame, as Ethiopian and Eritrean food is delicious and healthy, with lots of grains, pulses and greens and sophisticated spicing. Of course, Thifty Gal is ever leery of strange ethnic restaurants and it’s really a sign of her friendship and generosity that she comes along with me on these forays. What she wants are white tablecloths and a nice bottle of wine, but what Asmara offers seemed to me like a fair trade: half the menu is vegetarian so she got a level of choice unprecedented in non-vegetarian restaurants. Read the rest of this entry »

Image Rick Harris, CC Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

Remember I went to Boston and my internet didn’t work? The whole trip felt like a massive technology fail, from my iPhone camera with the scratched lens to the iPad that didn’t want to connect to the hotel wifi. Not to mention that on the way out I missed a plane for the first time in my life and found myself stranded overnight at Logan airport. There was something deeply weird about the whole experience: I used to live in Providence and so I spent quite a lot of time hanging out in Boston. I wouldn’t say I knew the city well, but I did know my way around and had some favourite places to eat. So to spend several days there and be repeatedly lost and disconnected was an odd feeling. I should know Boston but I guess I don’t any more. So there’s something appropriately vague about my eating impressions of the city. I was staying downtown, far from my old haunts in Cambridge or even at the cheaper end of Newbury Street, and so I generally went where people took me. Luckily, I have well-connected friends who hooked me up with some amazing food. Read the rest of this entry »

Mama Lemur had a significant birthday recently and, in a surprise celebration, we went to Tom Kitchin’s highly-regarded Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin. It was a lovely evening with great food in glamorous surroundings, and Tom even came out to talk to my mum and wish her a happy birthday. It was also incredibly good value for such high-end cooking, further proof of my not-very-original thesis that eating out is at its best at either the very low or very high price points, with the mid-range restaurants often giving the worst value for money. Here, the emphasis on Scottish seafood and meat made for some top quality plates, though there was nothing vegetarian on the entire menu as far as I could see, which is really not on in this day and age. In this case, though, I was planning on ordering a seafood-heavy meal to take full advantage of being in Scotland. Read the rest of this entry »

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