Singapore is famous for its hawker food centres: since the government cleared hawkers from plying their trade on the street, they have been moved to what are essentially food courts. However, they're not food courts in the way you might imagine them if what you are used to is European or North American mall food courts. These hawker centres are mostly open air, with a covering roof but no walls, doors or, crucially, air conditioning. The stalls have access to plumbing and there are hygiene certificates prominently displayed (this is Singapore, after all), but they are still decently grimy, hot and chaotic. Kenny and Alan ramped things up by taking us to Chomp Chomp, a hawker centre that's a bit further out and less touristed than the Chinatown ones. The neighbourhood is tony, with gentrified wine bars and posh bakeries nearby, but Chomp Chomp remains unabashedly traditional, and packs in crowds of mostly (but by no means all) young people. Read the rest of this entry »
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I have much food to blog about. So much food. But before I get into the vast meals, let's stop to consider just one dish. Not even a dish really, a simple sweet made of rice flour, coconut, pandan and palm sugar. But as simple as they are, putu piring are one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. They come in packs of five and Kenny tells me he has been known to buy four packs all for himself. He's not an especially greedy person, but these things are like crack. We went to the pasar malam or night market at Geylang Serai that was packed with Ramadan crowds, and then headed to the Haig Road hawker centre. Among the savoury food Kenny picked us up some packs of putu piring from this bright little stall. Somehow we knew this was not something to hold out till dessert. No, in between mouthfuls of soup, we moved in on the fluffy little morsels. With a pandan scent from fresh leaves, and oozing with gula melaka, these steamed rice and coconut cakes are transcendentally good. Read the rest of this entry »
Yes, the Lemur trip to Singapore and Malaysia is underway! We arrived in Singapore yesterday morning after a sleepless thirteen-hour flight, but luckily the energy of being here carried us through, at least till a much-needed afternoon nap. More to the point, our desire to be out and eating won out over tiredness, and we met up with Lemur friend Kenny* for a late breakfast. Our first stop was the Chinatown Hawker centre, which is a sprawling, labyrinthine food hall on the second floor of a concrete mall. It's nominally indoors but open to the elements, not air conditioned, but with breezy balconies around the edges. We wandered a lot, weaving through colour-coded sections, sometimes ending up walking in circles past the same kway teow stall or the same family with a giant fish on their table. It was the perfect introduction to Singapore food and possibly an extension of our feverish jetlagged minds. Eventually, we settled on mixed meat noodles with fish balls and fried wonton. The broth was spicy and tasty, and the tangle of noodles included delicious secrets like little cubes of deep-fried lard. So. Very. Good.
 

Lima-octopus

Mr Lemur had a significant birthday this year, and we’ve been celebrating in our usual half-assed fashion. We’re neither of us very good with marking dates and occasions – for instance, half the time we both forget our wedding anniversary and when people ask us when it is, we literally have to work it out based on other, more important things in our lives. Birthdays are easier to remember but we still don’t do a lot of planning. So when the actual day came around, all we had actually set up was a dinner in London with Lemur pal K. Happily, the universe did a bit of birthday planning for us – a check in with the Crocodiles led us to meet them in a Soho bar and then they ran into another pair of glamorous London friends so the next thing we knew prosecco had been purchased and we had an impromptu birthday party. Hurrah! There was some value to thinking ahead, though, because we scored a table at Lima, Virgilio Martinez’s London outpost. Read the rest of this entry »

mackerel-2

I’ve been very remiss on the blogging front in the last few months, partly in response to a what has been a stressful time on the work front. When I’m too tired to cook interesting things, it doubles down on being too tired to blog: even if I had the energy to write, I couldn’t really make a blog post about my endless diet of rice and dal or beans and greens pasta. But I was given a bit of a nudge by hearing about readers out there who missed the blog. A couple of times people I know (or, indeed, am related to) mentioned that they hadn’t seen updates recently but on one occasion Lemur friend T told me her friends––whom I have never even met––said they’d missed the blog. It was kind of a boost to realise that I have an actual audience out there. I’m not kidding myself that anyone cares significantly about my updates, but still, even knowing that some complete strangers to me are enjoying the blog enough to miss it gave me the impetus to get back to cooking and writing about it. So thanks, readers, and welcome back!

Meanwhile, it is finally, finally summer here in the south of England. I honestly feel like we’ve waited three years for a solid week of warm weather and I am taking full advantage. (Example: I am writing now from a deckchair in my back garden.) So I was thinking about lighter summery fare when I saw a shiny pile of locally caught mackerel in the fishmonger’s display. I love mackerel – its stronger flavour and buttery texture can stand up to some punchy combinations and it’s also easy to cook. I’ve been thinking about Malaysian food a lot recently, and though this recipe isn’t at all Malaysian in overall conception, it uses some of the ingredients of the region to give a summery dish a tasty twist. Read the rest of this entry »

budapest-square

Budapest is full of courtyards, beautiful corners hidden in plain sight and joining magnificence with a bit of romantic decay. I am a sucker for this kind of architectural detail and when a tenant arrived and took an old lift up to one of the upper floors, I imagined living in such dubious splendour. The courtyard was typical of our Budapest trip – although we certainly enjoyed the fancy restaurants and the famously splendid buildings, the best parts were the slightly down-at-heel places and the simpler eateries. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think we uncovered insider’s secrets or got totally off the touristed paths. We were only in the city for a few days and Mama Lemur quite reasonably has less relish for trekking down alleys than I do. If we turned off the main trails, it wasn’t by far. Still, it’s an illustration of how easy it is to find moments of quiet beauty in this city, as well, as it turned out, of sublime meaty enjoyment. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lemurs are in Budapest – rather than have Mama Lemur come visit us at home, we decided it would be more generally splendid to hang out in a European city instead. We picked Budapest partly because I've never been before and also in no small measure because of its reputation as a centre of thermal baths and therapeutic spas. Seriously, after the last few months of work stresses I am more than ready for my mud treatments and hot springs. But it wouldn't be a Lemur vacation without food research. Budapest isn't the first place that springs to mind when you think of culinary excitement and our first night's dinner kind of confirmed whatever prejudices you might be harbouring about East European food. I had ewe's cheese gnocchi with smoked pig's trotter which sounded thrilling but turned out to be just ok. The little dumplings were actually rather nice but on the stodgy and bland side. The trotter was more like smoked ham than the gelatinous treat I had been expecting. But today, we upped the ante by lunching at Onyx – Budapest's second Michelin-starred restaurant and the first with a Hungarian chef. Read the rest of this entry »

ear-salad

Things have been a bit quiet on the blogging front as it has been a busy old time, chez Lemur. Mr Lemur has been finishing a major project and I have been organising a series of events that have eaten up a good deal of my usual cooking time. But we’re finally into Spring break and I thought I should come back with a bit of a culinary experiment. And what’s better to get the juices flowing than pigs’ ears? No, really, you have to trust me on this: pigs’ ears are totally delicious.

I’ve always enjoyed cold pressed pigs’ ears in Sichuan restaurants; the softness of the outside skin followed by a just yielding crunch of cartilage is a pleasing texture sensation and the long slow braising imbues the slices with deep umami flavours. When I was in my lovely local butcher the other day buying some pork shoulder, I noticed his assistant breaking down some pig legs at the back of the store. I remarked how nice it was to see the butchering being done right there and my butcher said, yes, we got three pigs in this morning. Maybe those amazing Sichuan restaurant ears popped into my head, because I asked him, without thinking, ‘do you have ears then?’ ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘how many do you want?’ Then, he went off to the back of the store and came back a few moments later with a some ears wrapped up in paper. He didn’t even charge me for them! So off I went with my little bag of ears: what an adventure! Read the rest of this entry »

sesame beef bowl

I’ve been spending a bunch of time cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop’s fantastic Every Grain of Rice, especially its vegetable and tofu sections, but some of the cold dishes seem a bit labour-intensive for everyday cooking. I was pondering the Sichuan Numbing and Hot Beef, a party dish, really, that requires slowly simmering a whole beef shin before slicing it thinly for a crowd. And even this is Dunlop’s simplified version of an original that featured various cooking methods of tongue, heart and tripe. I love the combination of Sichuan peppercorn, cilantro and sesame but I wanted something for a weeknight dinner for two, not an impressive party platter. It struck me that, because the original is a cold dish, it might be susceptible to transformation into a yam, or Southeast Asian salad. Regular readers will know of my obsession with Thai and Viet main-dish salads, which can be quite hearty meals, but emphasise herbs and bright spicy flavours. I decided to commit what is probably a shameful bastardisation of a classic dish, and to experiment with a bit of fusion. I replaced the beef shin with a nice rare steak and the cooked sauce with a creamy sesame dressing. I think it ultimately turned into something quite different, but the result was  addictive. The recipe could probably do with some revision – knock yourselves out if you have ideas for improvement – but as experiments go, it was pretty successful. Read the rest of this entry »

curry-goat

Ok, the island I’m referring to is Manhattan as much as Jamaica, but still. I have been to Jamaica and I ate really well, but most of my Caribbean-food-as-comfort experiences come from a place on 14th St that the Lemurs used to frequent with our old boss Miss L. With a Jamaican-Cuban background, Miss L knew all the best Caribbean joints and how to charm little extras from the staff. A dumplin here, a plantain there: we gossiped about our workmates in style when we ate with her. Anyway, Caribbean food is sadly no longer part of my everyday routine (although this reminds me I need to get my ass back to the Brixton market soon). I was pretty excited, then, to see a Jamaican storefront had opened near to the Duke of York’s cinema in Brighton and we took the first opportunity to try it out for lunch.

Now, I should say, it’s a takeout place mostly, classic hole in the wall, so it doesn’t look much. More than that, it has a name that strikes me as mildly unfortunate, though it’s probably some Jamaican reference I don’t get. There are two branches in London, too, so it’s kind of a fast food mini-chain. Let’s just say you’re not going to eat here for the aesthetic experience and leave it at that.

jamaican-ext

As soon as we walked in, we knew it was going to be good. Firstly, it smelled delicious, redolent of long-braised meat and allspice. Secondly, there was a little girl behind the counter, arranging home-made cakes. When we came in, she shot in back to alert her grandma or whatever older relative was cooking back there that there were customers. Thirdly, there was a blackboard of specials, offering Jamaican classics like callaloo, saltfish dumplins and veggie rundown. It just felt like a real family business: it might be fast food when you eat it, but it is clearly prepared with love. Looking at the dishes on offer, we decided on a modest repast of curry goat, ackee and saltfish, rice and peas, and saltfish dumplins. It was only lunch after all.

ackee-codfish

Ackee and saltfish is one of those dishes I can never get past on a menu. I love it to an unreasonable degree. I actually ate this for breakfast the entire time I was in Jamaica, probably because it is a savoury breakfast that doesn’t include eggs. Egg eaters tell me that it offers some of the same pleasures as the egg (shudder). It is soft and creamy, custardy even, rich in mouthfeel but mild in flavour. It’s hard to credit that ackee is a fruit, but somehow it is and when sautéed with salt cod it’s just delicious. Mr Lemur is not normally a huge fan of this dish but he thought this version was the best he’d ever eaten and it was actually quite hard to prise the plate away from him.

The curry goat was similarly fab – that’s the picture at the top of the post. The goat wasn’t at all goaty; I actually don’t mind a bit of goatiness but some people find it too strongly flavoured – here it was tempered by loooong slow cooking. The curry looks quite plain but it had layers of flavours, a careful hand with the spicing and all the pleasures of biting choice meat off of bone. A bit of bone marrow too – result!

dumplins

We knew we didn’t really need more food than that, but one of the cooks came out to tell us about his saltfish dumplins and, well, we could hardly say no, could we? When they arrived they were comically enormous, giant fluffy monoliths of dough and fish. They would have been perfect to dip in a coconutty veggie rundown, but as it was we were too full to do them full justice. They were serious dumplins though.

sign-jamaican

Washed down with a glass of Ting (what else?), we left in a state of complete Caribbean food happiness.

Cummin Up, 2A Preston Rd, Brighton BN1 4JQ

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