Tag Archives: chicken

Bali in the Kitchen

As a kid, the only coconut I was ever exposed to was that horrid dessicated stuff people use to make bunny cakes look fuzzy. Cute, but it tastes horrible, although I might be able to get on board with the bunny butt cake. (Recipe on the Betty Crocker website.) That’s to look at, mind you, not to eat.

bunny butt cakeMy grandmother was a mountain of love who made the best gingerbread men ever but ruined her fruit salad by topping it with desiccated coconut.

Then I moved to Asia. Years ago, on a beach in Thailand, I saw a wizened old lady spend her days using a machete to mince fresh coconut meat that eventually became sweetened squares of heavenly delight. And then I discovered coconut milk curries, which I can’t get enough of. I regularly order green curry at the Thai restaurant in the ‘hood and eat my way around the despised eggplant. Only recently have I discovered the uncountable merits of coconut oil. I decided that coconuts merited more of my attention. I was therefore determined to figure out how to make the Lombok chicken, but the only thing I was sure of was that it had coconut milk in it.

I had my photo of the dish itself as well as my memory of how it tasted.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAI studied the picture of the ingredients we’d used during our day at cooking school in Ubud.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAnd remembered us all laboring together in the midday heat.

all choppingI called on Cutie McHottie’s beautiful smile for inspiration. (He’s the one on the right. I’m not in the group picture because I was off grinding peanuts with Cutie II, the one on the left.)

cutie BBQI studied recipes on the interwebs and then scoured my local supermarkets and veggie stands to find the stuff I’d need. Onions? No problem. Tomatoes? Check. Garlic? Got it. My confidence began to build…too soon. Fresh red chilies…uh…well… Fresh lemon grass…not a chance… Fresh galangal root…ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?????

As an extra kick in the rear, most of the recipes said that these ingredients would be available at my Asian market, which is funny because ALL of my markets are Asian and NONE of them had any of that. Chinese and Korean ingredients are readily available, but except for Nasi Goreng, Japan pretty much ignores Indonesia, at least from a culinary point of view.

I was not going to let that stop me. I am a strong, determined woman. I march into battle with my head held high, my dented armor polished. Like the bravest samurai of yore, I scarf down my rice balls in 30 seconds, retie my topknot, straighten my loincloth and dive back into the fray.

I squared my shoulders and made my way to the import store, where I found some coconut milk and an Indonesian sambal. I even found some jasmine rice to go with the finished masterpiece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

And it was good. Really good. I have no idea whether I did it right. Maybe there is no right or wrong when one is winging it. At any rate, it tasted wonderful.

Isn’t that all that matters?

Advertisements

Lombok Magic

On Lombok island, we stayed at a boutique resort hotel called the Puri Mas. Run by a somewhat crazed Belgian, a former ballroom dance champion, it is made up of small bungalows that follow a winding path down a hill from reception past an open air restaurant to the ocean, where the surf seems to be up around the clock. I didn’t get a garden nor ocean view, but I did have…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

…a private, partially open air meditation space, which was…not unattractive.

Just up the road a piece from the hotel was its spa, where this guy…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

…pointed me toward this room…

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

…where I had my first nekkid full body oil massage.

I lay down on the table. The massage guy touched my right shoulder and whispered, “Wow.” I whispered back, “Yeah.” And he said, “OK, its time for some Lombok magic.”

“Well, all right,” I thought. “I’ve heard variations on that before. We’ll see.”

And then he did. Hocus pocus. Abracadabra. Voila.

I don’t know how he did it. All I can say is he poked and prodded and climbed around on the table and on me until he gently tucked a misplaced muscle back into place. When he was done, I floated off the table and sat on the porch eating slices of papaya and listening to birdsong and feeling bemused. All I could think was, “Well, If that doesn’t beat all.”

Massage guy also recommended a special Lombok chicken dish, which I tried, of course, since he clearly had direct lines of communication with some greater good. There was an outdoor cafe just down the beach from the hotel, the kind where the roof is made of woven leaves and the floor is sand and the tables and chairs are pieces of bamboo lashed together.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERA

Perfectly complimented by a cool bottle of Bintang, it was grilled chicken breast in a spicy sauce similar to Indian butter chicken but made with coconut milk. I have forgotten what it’s called, so If anyone can tell me, or better yet find me a recipe, I will write an ode to the greatness that is you.

I know it will never taste as good in my Tokyo kitchen as it did when I ate it with sand between my toes and a touch of tropical sun on my nose and the lingering touch of Lombok magic on my skin. I learned this from the almighty Mai Tai, which is a delicate kiss from Adonis on a beach in Thailand but a sticky groping by a clumsy teenager in a bar in Roppongi, but I want to try to make it anyway.

I will try almost anything.

lotus poseYoga in the hotel ballroom: surreality at its best.

Rotten Chicken

A classic entry for the Annals of Idiotic Behavior, or What Can Happen When Tokyo Gets Really Hot and Eda Gets Fundamentally Stupid:

On Tuesday, I bought some chicken. On Thursday morning, I was rooting around in the fridge looking for it, but it was nowhere to be found. And then it dawned on me. Had I left it in my gym backpack? The one that sits in the sunny storage room that heats up to about 5000 degrees on summer days?

Alas. I had.

The chicken did not pass Go nor collect $200. Instead I tossed it directly into jail, and then retched for a few minutes. The backpack received great lashings of Febreeze and spent two days hanging in the sunshine.

I still can’t get the smell out of my nose.

As I hang my head in shame, I am seriously considering becoming a vegetarian. Anyone care to join me for some tofu and bean sprouts?

Raw

A friend took us out for a really great sashimi/sushi dinner courtesy of his corporate expense account. (Yay!) It turns out he was quitting that company a few days later, so when he ordered a third cedar box of expensive sake, I asked if we were spending too much money. He just shrugged and said, “What are they going to do? Fire me?” Excellent point. We sat back and enjoyed the feast.

For those who have access, Matsuei is well worth a flutter, preferably when someone else is paying for it. Sukiyabashi Jiro, (watch the video or read the text—they’re the same) despite its three Michelin stars, seems like the Quaker Meeting of sushi bars: no drinking, no laughing, no talking, just eat and get out. I haven’t eaten there, but I think Jiro might be Japan’s equivalent of Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi.

On the other hand, Matsuei has friendly, courteous staff (sometimes too courteous, but this is Japan after all) and a relaxed atmosphere. Even to my inexpert palate, the food is excellent. I ate a bunch of stuff that doesn’t normally pass my lips, and enjoyed almost all of it, which is saying a lot. I still can’t really get my head around uni (sea urchin) but I ate it anyway.

The next day, I had an office job and the nice ladies I was working with kindly invited me to lunch. (Two free meals in a row! Yay!) They asked if there was anything I didn’t want to eat, and I said, “No sashimi or sushi, please. I stuffed myself with that last night.” But we agreed that Japanese food would be fine and went to a teishoku place. Teishoku is a standard meal of rice, miso soup, pickled vegetables and a main dish of meat or fish with a couple of, usually, vegetable-oriented side dishes.

The daily special at the place we ended up at was grilled chicken breast and I was delighted. Grilled chicken in Japan is almost invariably thigh, and being the picky eater that I am, by the time I’ve picked off the skin and fat and other yellow wobbly bits (The Black Adder, Episode 1), there’s not much left.

Four of the five of us ordered the chicken and when the trays arrived, we discovered that the chicken was indeed grilled, but lightly and only on the outside. The inside was stark raving raw. It wasn’t a mistake; all four servings were stark raving raw.

I was tempted to throw it across the room and yell, “Fly! You ain’t hurt that bad!”

My reaction must have shown on my face. One of the nice ladies asked the waiter if they could possibly cook mine a bit more and he said, “Certainly, but it will take 15 minutes.” I knew the nice ladies would wait, as their rice and soup got cold, because they are, after all, nice ladies, so I said, “No, no. That’s OK. It’s fine like this.”

I was not raised in a religious household, but there was one firm commandment:

THOU SHALT NOT EAT PORK OR CHICKEN RAW

I tried. I ate one piece. But not only is raw chicken potentially laced with salmonella, it’s also just plain gross: rubbery, flavorless, worse than the yellow wobbly bits. The nice ladies all ate their chicken. I ate everything else and left the chicken to its fate.

There’s a very good tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) restaurant in my old neighborhood. I once made the mistake of sending my pork back because it was raw in the middle.

Oh, BOY, was the chef angry.

That was years ago, and he still cuts mine in half every time we go there to prove that it’s cooked through. “But…but…” I want to sob:

THOU SHALT NOT EAT PORK OR CHICKEN RAW

Japan is still very much go-with-the-group-and-don’t-make-waves, but there are times when I have to put my little foot down. Did I do the right thing?