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Filet Américain

Filet Américain… that’s the Belgian variation and translation (Flemish, Brussels’ natives and Walloons use the same french lingo in this case) to refer to what Frenchies and you  might actually be calling ‘steak tartare’. But it’s different!

Belgian ‘delicatessen/butcher shops’ and ‘traiteur shops’ sell premium ground meat as ” filet américain nature”, meaning no additions (???- Hmm) as well as “filet américain préparé”, meaning with added different herbs and other seasonings. In the end every one has his/her own recipe. However what makes it different from steak tartare is that the meat is minced with a mechanical grinder. Personally (according to my added 5 local ¢) it does not enhance the meat’s flavour, if I’m allowed to write so!  On the contrary.

Not so for the real and only freshly made steak tartare!

steak tartare my way

steak tartare my way

What transforms  filet américain into a real steak tartare is both the seasoning, and more importantly: the freshly knife-chopped meat just before mixing all ingredients before serving. Indeed, the finished product you buy from the chops usually (read: always) has some preserving“E+ a nbr” chemicals added to keep the meat nicely red for a few days. Home made steak tartare, freshly chopped from premium steak needs to be served asap after finishing the dish. Quality will remain for only a few hours when kept in the fridge!

steak tartare

steak tartare

filet mignon or filet pur
egg yolk
mustard, Dijon mustard recommended
onions or spring onions, finely chopped
capers, drained
tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
a minimal amount of freshly hand-made mayonnaise;
parsley finely chopped
salt, pepper, crushed red pepper

I serve this dish with toasted bread slices, tomato & garlic lettuce salad and a Belgian beer: triple Westmalle trappist.

a picture says it better than words

a picture says it better than words

Toasts can be replaced with Belgian french fries or pan baked potatoes.

baked potatoes

baked potatoes


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H.G.Festival - Penang, Malaysia (BBC picture)

H.G.Festival - Penang, Malaysia (BBC picture)

Peng Chau is one of Hong Kong’s smaller outlying islands. Situated west  of Lamma island and east of Lantau island, its todays population is about 6,500 (2011).

Peng Chau viewed from a hill on Lantau

Peng Chau viewed from a hill on Lantau

With an area surface of about 1 km², it is, as said, one of the smaller islands but it comes with a full range of services for the locals: a covered wet market with lots of fresh seafood on offer, a full time police station, super market, bank and ATM service, lots of small chops and even a full branch of the Hong Kong Library.

Besides fresh seafood places (not many) there are also a few bars and restaurants, some ran by… frenchies (???). How about that? We visited this french bar/eating place. The name is referring to a popular song of Georges Brassens. He was a Frenchie born in Sète – southern France and had a great reputation as a post WW2 poet and guitar playing singer and composer. 

Brassens was a bit of an intellectual anarchist, what was considered “bon ton” in those days after the war. Brassens himself said (tongue in cheek): “I’m an anarchist, so much so that I always cross at the zebra crossing to avoid arguing with the police.” – “Les Copains D’ Abord”  has also a decent offer of French wines and Belgian beers.

"Obbao" french restaurant with some Brittany specialties

"Obbao" french restaurant with some Brittany specialties

“Obbao” although using a funny spelling translates as “Full tummy” or so I’ve been told. They have a nice offer of juices, brittany crepes, burgers, home made pizzas and a yummy preparation of steak tartare. (Although I personally prefer my tartare cut a tad more finely.) They have also some wines on offer but probably not as specialised as their neighbours (les copains d’abord). Please,correct me if  I’m wrong.

They also offer a few different beers. Unfortunately  that includes some “yellow dishwasher-fluid stuff” called Heineken.  Alas, C’est la vie! Nobody’s perfect. – Note to Alex & Chris: if you guys read this: don’t shoot me on our next visit please. Wink  🙂

Obbao's new summer menu

Obbao's new summer menu

The overall food quality is, to be honest,  better than in some other parts and more trendy places on HK island!

French bar

French wine & cheese bar with some great Belgian beers also on offer

We haven’t tried “Les Copains d’ Abord” yet but we are going to on the first saturday or sunday of next month. Good fine french wines with great cheeses, cold cuts (sausages, hams, country pate) and quiches really are very tempting, both for my wife and myself.  

However, regarding chinese fresh seafood restaurants, to be completely honest, the variety on offer on Peng Chau is no competition for places on Cheung Chau, Lamma Island or Sai Kung and Lei Yue Mun. (Just google for more info on any of these).

Still, during the week-end breaks the island is popular and visited by numbers of locals, expats and a few tourists alike. Good destination for a day-trip or even for a  half day-trip. Its small island lifestyle is very refreshing. While walking around one forgets that one is only half an hour away from the busy Central district or Kowloon.

And just to be complete, Peng Chau has very small but inviting streets for wandering around with no cars allowed other than official transport like police or ambulance. We locals (sic) walk or use bicycles.

You can reach Peng Chau by different ferries, sailing from Central (HK Island), Mui Wo (Lantau Island), Cheung Chau etc. From Discovery Bay (just across on Lantau) it’s only a few cable-lengths away. It takes the small local and slow Kai-to ferry less than 15 minutes of sailing time to get you to Peng Chau.

 The Hungry Ghost Festival

According to a website about “Chinese culture” :

(Quote): You have probably heard of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Have you also heard about the less well-known Hungry Ghost Festival?

Just as the Americans have Halloween, the Chinese have their version of a ghost festival too. In 2007, the festival of hungry ghost started on the 13th of August to 10th September of the Western Calendar.

(note: this 2011 was during a different period obviously, because the dates of the festival are calculated according to the lunar calender)

Celebrated mostly in South China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and especially in Singapore and Malaysia, the Hungry Ghost festival is a mixed Taoist/ folklore occasion that is taken very seriously by the Chinese. This festival falls on the 7th month of the Lunar Year and it is believed by the Chinese that during this month, the gates of hell are opened to let out the hungry ghosts who then wander to seek food on Earth. (unquote).

More here: http://www.chinese-culture.net/html/hungry_ghost_festival.html

Video beneath was filmed by Jay-P. and his better half on August 20th 2011 during the local Hungry Ghost Festival on Peng Chau. Lots of dragons, lots of drums, lots of incense and other offerings. In short: lots of noise, local folklore and liters of sweat under that bloody hot sun.

Another famous landmark of  L’ Ilot Sacré  for sure is the world-wide-well- known “friture” to savour the real “Mussels from Brussels”, as opposed to the now mature (grin) “Muscles from Brussels”, aka Jean-Claude Van Dam. (Used to be a former Hollywood B-movie star of Belgian origin).

 Adding a little historical gossip: It was said that Van Dam always hated that nickname, for the obvious mussel reasons about his abs and other mussels/muscles. I doubt if he ever ate at Chez Léon.

–  “Chez Léon” -.                    

This is the original  moules-frites restaurant of Brussels. Management is still in the hands of the  founding family (since 1893). Not to be compared to the franchised ones in other places in Belgium, France, the Middle East etc.  The “Leon de Bruxelles” chain was originally started by the family but later sold to international investors. Quality is different and adapted to local taste. As for the original restaurant: very good quality but the service may vary, depending on the number of patrons. It tends sometimes to look like a food factory. My advice: visit outside the holiday season and avoid week-ends.

Their signature plate:

And for starters, I ‘ll suggest the traditional “Tomate Crevettes”. Grey North sea shrimps with butter lettuce, tomato and home made mayonnaise: 

Below their promotional video that will make you hungry: 

Btw, avoid the Italian or Portuguese places in this part of Brussels. There are very good Italian, Spanish and mediterranean restaurants in other parts of town, just not here.

About the addresses and info for the places I suggested: click the pic below and then click Restaurants in the upper red menu bar. It also provides an  interactive link  for  Beer Shops and bars concentrated there – Courtesy “La Commune de l’ Ilot Sacré.”

Brussels Grande Place is of course a must-see;  Manneke Pis  and the less well-known Jeanneke Pis ( Pissing-Jeannie) are also worth a visit when you make a trip to Belgium’s and Europe’s Capital.

 I ‘ll add 2 places not to miss in the area: Galeries St Hubert

and the already mentioned best restaurant of the Sacred Islet:  “Aux Armes de Bruxelles”. Highly recommended, not cheap but really NOT a tourist trap. The mayor of Brussels is a frequent visitor. and that guy is the living definition of an Epicurean.

 Click the above “écusson” pic for a direct link to the interactive map and website for the history of L’ Ilot Sacré.

L’ Ilot Sacré got its name after a battle of the local restaurants, land lords and associations in the 1950-ties against promoters who saw big bucks to be made. Just read the history in the above mentioned website. They wrote it better than I would.

My contribution: just some suggestions about the places where you will get good to excellent quality food or where you can go sniffing the local atmosphere, sipping coffee, enjoying a beer or other drink while watching people. Although it is a popular and touristic area, you still can enjoy the buzz, just be attentive to avoid tourist traps. Just don’t forget the place is prime location and that means pricier than in less popular neighbourhoods. So, no real cheap deals available!

 Two of the most popular streets in  L’ Ilot Sacré are called ‘Rue des Bouchers’ and ‘Petite Rue des Bouchers’. That translates like ‘Butcher street’ and ‘Small Butcher street’. A lot of restaurants are attracting patrons while lots of seafood and vegetables are on display on ice, in front of the resto. A waiter at the door will be soliciting you in any possible language. As my wife and I walk by, it’s all “Ni Hao” from left and right… 

In general these are the places where you take some nice souvenir pictures with your friends and family. Just don’t eat there. They might propose Belgian, French, even Italian, Portuguese or Spanish cuisine. Many of the very young kitchen staff are sometimes not even trained cooks, but people from all over Europe including Eastern Europe, the Balkan, North and Sub-Saharian Africa.  Nothing wrong with that, unless they got declared ‘cook’ after half a day training!

 

Let’s point out some addresses  in  the neighbourhood. For drinks and watching people:

Delirium cafe –

A La Mort Subite-  (translates as: At A Sudden Death) 

Inside "A la Mort Subite" - Click the picture

Inside "A la Mort Subite" - Click the picture

Le Roy d’ Espagne –

Toone estaminet –

Beer shops, restaurants, taverns all over the place – I suggest “Aux Armes de Bruxelles”  – “Restaurant Vincent” – “Scheltema” – “L’ Ogenblik” – “Le Marmiton” etc…

More to follow in Part II, coming soon.

Our latest trip with the airline of Mr Tony Fernandes flew us back to…  Penang, of course.
 A 3 hours 15 minutes flight and a 25 minutes taxi drive later we were ready for FOOD… even if it was close to midnight.
 
Again Penang, you may ask?
Well, yes. I’m considering Penang like a second home after Hong Kong. It is by far the best food place of Malaysia. In fact I consider it the best food place in the whole of SE Asia, although that might be a bit unfair as I have not experienced food from ALL of the nearby regions and countries.
 
Anyway, after the favourite places offering Char Koay Teow, Hokkien Mee, Satay, Loh Bak, Wan Tan Mee, Penang Laksa and having lunch or diner in local restaurants like Heng Kee, Siang Pin Seafood and Goh Huat Seng, we decided to visit a seafood place that we never patronized before.
After all these years, we never had diner at that restoran on Gurney drive, the one with the flashy lights and screaming advertisement billboards.
 
 
 BALI HAI SEAFOOD MARKET
90 ->90D Persiaran Gurney, 10250 Penang
Tel: 04-2288272 / 04-2281272
 

“If it swims, we have it” ???  Oh Right, I swim. Means I may end up in their wok? [Sorry: obvious cheap joke.]  Anyway, during our April 2011 trip,  we decided to give it a try, although personally I was not expecting a lot, even if the restoran was recommended by some local floggers.

I anticipated  it would be expensive without reaching high-end quality service. Right I was unfortunately. On the other hand, their many cooks and chefs’ cooking skills were doing a correct and professional job.  In fact, to be completely honest, Bali Hai is not really a tourist trap like many other places are. It’s a money trap, so, if you agree to pay their prices, food quality is not an issue. Fresh seafood is great and not that difficult to cook. In my book cooking, grilling, ‘wokking’ or steaming some nice garupa, crab, prawns or other seafood has to be done in the simplest way to get the best results.

Perhaps some readers might think I’m too critical. Well, yes I’m getting more critical when the restaurant charges top bucks and pretends to offer top quality. In fact I try to remain very much “feet on earth”. A small kopitiam or a big hawker centre in a loud environment? No problem. But if you want to charge big money, you better  get me state-of-the-art service. Otherwise big no-no. Allow me to explain it this way: If I want to have some food in a small snack bar charging me a few bucks, I can be forgiving about service mistakes and will accept small bloopers. On the other hand, when my wife and I are going to take a bill of a XXX Euros/pounds/dollars in a so-called top end place, everything has to be just as close to perfection as possible,  it’s as simple as that.

Back to Bali Hai: I asked for fresh live fish suggestions. The waitress came with a  seriously declared and confirmed small dead fish of a disputable “brand”, size about 700 grams. Asked about the price:  100 Ringgit !!! Right, so… thanks but no thanks! My guess: if you are a western expat or tourist, price goes up by 25% at least? Anyone to confirm or deny this out there? This Ang Mo is not buying and is not buying fish or crabs from the live aquariums neither, as they sell  at about the price of gold. If I would have ordered the same number of plates we usually order in other local seafood places, we easily would have spent 350+ MYR for food alone! According to what I regard as Penang standards, that is way overpriced, especially for this kind of more or less open-air setting. Those guys are competing in price with the 32Mansion without playing in the same league.

 

Anyway,  finally we ordered some plates from their general menu – mixed fish chunks and veggies; deep-fried squid etc.- Stuff that didn’t need me to take out a second mortgage on our home. Quality wise, it was good and decent food without being exceptional.  … I’m sure the crabs, garupa, sea bass etc would have tasted better. I just was not ready to pay the price.

In short, I made a mental note to myself, not to come back.  I mean, in a place like Penang you can get very fresh and excellent seafood for prices that do not have to compete with Saint-Tropez’ like  jet-set  places. Doh! Doh! Triple doh-lah!!!

Very dead fish yet very expensive

About the Bali Hai Seafood Market itself: it’s a  nice restoran situated along Gurney Drive’s  prime location coast-line . It reminds me in a way of my native Brussels’  “Ilot Sacré”  touristic area near ‘La Grand Place’. Very much an eye-catching place but unfortunately also very much overpriced and good quality only in a few places. Locals know, unfortunately tourists get trapped!

Brussels' Ilot Sacré

Bali Hai employs a lot of friendly service staff ( although their training could be better) and a number of good local chinese cooks and helpers doing a fine job in the kitchen. I understand their system is attractive for tourists to whom it will look like the (real clean) tropical local food paradise. Indeed, I know the “looks” and (lack of) decoration  of  some smaller local restorans tend to put off less adventurous visitors. (Walls not Swiss-like clean-looking, cigarette butts on the floor, very basic tables and seats…) 

Amazing as it sounds: for some of the local penangite clientèle, places like Bali Hai also tend to exert some kind of attraction (???), maybe for a special occasion when making a point (aka showing off) is more important than the price/quality relation. I believe it’s a cultural thing that westerners are not really grasping. I’ve seen the same happening in Hong Kong’s expensive restaurants when local Honky patrons were ordering bottles of Chateau Petrus to impress their guests. Followed then by adding ice cubes to their wine!  Argh …pure and plain blasphemy in my book!!! 

To conclude, Bali Hai Seafood Market is worth a visit if you don’t mind the prices they charge.  If you come by car, you can park along the seaside for a minimal parking fee, or at a parking lot behind the restoran.

Personally, I prefer to patronize the many other good seafood places in and around Georgetown. If not looking as “nice” or trendy, they are [according to my personal taste] more authentic, serve great quality and are very much loved by people who don’t care for todays superficial bling-bling attitude.

 

CHEE CHEONG FUN

Chee cheong fun (*see note below) is widely on offer by Chinese hawkers in Penang. Originally it came from Hong Kong and Guan Dong province in China. That makes it a Cantonese thin (well, sort of?) steamed rice roll. It’s sheets of rice noodles, made from a mixture of glutinous rice flour and water, spread open on a table and wrapped together. This intestine (chee cheong) noodle (fun) is very popular, also in Hawker Paradise Penang.

They are filled with a diversity of ingredients. Pork of course but also beef, shrimps,fish, chicken, bean sprouts or other veggies. When served pour soy sauce over before eating. In Malaysia it is served mostly with a black sweet sauce, a kind of hoisin sauce. (Goooooogle is my friend!). In Penang, I’ve been told it is usually served with a black and sweet shrimp paste sauce or a chilli sauce or a mix of both. And there I was thinking the Penang chee cheong fun was served with just an ordinary soy sauce!

Still, not really my personal favourite as I find it in general a too much slippery noodle with not enough filling. Not well balanced according to my taste.  Then again, as the frenchies say: “Les gouts et les couleurs ne se discutent pas!” And right they are.And then here is another way, also made in Penang:

(*note) Not referring to Sgt Chee Chong FFFUNNN from the Singaporean army as shown in a rather comical series on the National Geographic Channel about “every Singaporean son’s military service”.

LOH BAK

Marinated spiced  pork, then rolled in thin soybean/beancurd sheets, crispy spring rolls with chicken and beansprouts, deep fried beancurd, cuttlefish, prawn cakes, prawn fritters, sausages and much more. Served as a snack or as a main dish they are deep fried and come with 2 sauces: a spicy chilli sauce and a sticky starchy sauce called loh. Bak means meat.

At Kheng Pin Café (since 1971) at the junction of Penang road and Jalan Sri Bahari or 100 meters further at the Ho Ping Café  (corner of Penang road with Lorong kampung Malabar) are two places that in my view offer excellent Loh bak. But then again as it is a very popular dish all over the island, there really is no “bad” loh bak, only the variety on offer may be different from one place to another. The thing to keep in mind is to go as soon as the stall starts its operation, because the fresher the oil, the better the frying for the best yummy results.

 Ho Ping is situated at the junction of Lorong kampung Malabar and Penang road.