Places: Out & About

Pied à Terre

Heya folks, it’s good to be back at home. And have a purpose in life besides eating and sleeping. Even if I’m returning to dirty laundry and dusty apartment.

Snowfall in Touls
If I can sum up my trip, February is not the month to visit France, more so Paris. It’s gloomy, wet, half raining, half snowing, strong winds and very chilly. Not the weather to walk around apartment hunting and checking out the ‘hood. Unless you ski, then it makes perfect sense.

Good Morning ToulsLe Chat
We spent half of our time in Toulouse, H’s home town in south of France and half in Paris. Good news is we found an apartment we think we’ll like, in an area that we also think we’ll like. It’s not gonna be ready until next year. We are quite excited although choosing the tiles and parquet and kitchen stuff are driving us crazy. After awhile, everything looks the same.

Pied a Terre
In addition, our flight has also been confirmed. We are set to say goodbye to Luanda, Angola and friends on 30 April. Eight weeks to go, it seems.

Anyway, a little about Toulouse..
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When In Rome

Like Turkey is for Thanksgiving, Bacalhau is what Angolans (and Portuguese) eat for Christmas or any other important events. Mind you, not the fresh cod fish version. But the salted and dried version. One cannot miss seeing bacalhau on the menu when one attends weddings. Bacalhau à Brás (Cod a la Bras), Bacalhau com natas (Cod with cream) or Bolinhos de bacalhau (Cod balls) are probably the most common ones. But say, if you order Bacalhau grelhado in restaurant, you’ll get a fresh cod fish grilled. So yeah, things can be quite confusing at times.


My favourite Bacalhau dish is a soup, Sopa de Bacalhau, not surprising because I love soup, but H loves Bacalhau com natas. It is salted, dried cod fish with potatoes, onions and bechamel sauce, then baked in the oven. In Portugal, it is said there are 365 ways to prepare bacalhau, one for each day.

So I’m going to introduce the simplest and one of the most well known dishes in the Portuguese/Angolan culinary repertoire. Bacalhau à Brás is created by a person named Brás, who kept a tavern in Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighbourhood. I like the dish because of how simple it is, and because the restaurant version is almost always very heavy, very oily, too salty for my liking and sleep-inducing. But first, how do you get the salted, dried cod fish to the dish on the table?


First, soak the salted fish anytime from 24 to 48 hrs. Change the water as often as you can. Cover with a cling wrap if necessary, because it stinks. If you can’t change the water, say every 6-7 hours, soak it longer. To get rid of the salt as much as possible.

Next is to sear the fish. Remove the skin, bones and crumble the flesh. I occasionally use a tweezer to dislodge a particularly stubborn bone. But I read somewhere, the easier method is actually to boil the fish till cooked, then shred. Either way (boiled or not), once shredded, the fish is now ready to be used.


A present from my mother-in-law, my source of all cod-fish dishes.


BACALHAU A BRAS
(From Traditional Portuguese Dishes)
Serve 2

200g shredded cod
250 g potato – about 1 large potato, cut into matchsticks
3 eggs, whisked
1.5 medium onions, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tbsp OO
Oil for frying the potatoes
Black olives, to garnish
Parsley
, to garnish
Salt
Pepper

  • Heat oil in a frying pan and fry the potatoes until they begin to become golden. Drain on paper towel and set aside.
  • In a pan, over medium heat, lightly fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil.
  • When the onion starts to become transparent, add the cod and mix with wooden spoon. Simmer in low heat over a few minutes.
  • Add the potatoes and the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Stir carefully until the mixture takes on a creamy texture. Cover the pan if needed.
  • Garnish with chopped parsley and black olives. Serve immediately.

Lastly, if you ever visit Portugal, don’t just stay in Lisbon or Porto. You are so close to Fatima, an important city for Catholic pilgrimage, where Mother Mary appeared to three children several times in 1917.

Then drive down to Nazare. This seaside village is simply picturesque.

A Coda

There aren’t enough things said about Cape Town. Nobody’s fault, it is one of those places that no words can describe. Cape Town means different things to different people, but for me, it is synonymous to cute accent, warm people and great sense of humor. Drive or walk around the city, and you’ll easily find advertisement such as “Chuck Norris used to have a cough” for a cough medicine to “Your shit is my bread and butter” for a cleaning company.

Cape Town is one of those places that warrant returns. You have to return, because there is just so much things to do, from lazying on the beach to hiking on Table Mountain. From bread making in Franschhoek to whale spotting in Hermanus. From waking up at a vineyard to waking up to seals at the wharf. This place also reminds me of Singapore, a melting pot of some sort and how quickly different cultures take roots. Cape Town is one of those places where the older ladies call you “my dear” and people wishes each other “have a great day.”

Life is short so you might as well have desserts first. Or go to Cape Town.





It Was Great To Be Outdoor

My father in law is kind of a walking encyclopedia. His love for nature is evident. He could tell one tree from another and call each by its name. One day after H returned to Angola and I was entrusted in their care, we drove up to St Fereol. He wanted to show me Canal du Midi, the canal that connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterannean Sea. A pride and joy for many french. Apparently long long time ago, it was used as a short cut to commute and avoid (dangerous) long sea travels. From what I could gather in my broken french, there were some historical and engineering importance of this canal.

We went up there for a picnic by the St Fereol Lake, but the wind was too strong. Some brave souls tried, the kids giggled playing catch to whatever is flying. But we tucked ourselves at a nice cafe overlooking the lake. It was great to be outdoor.



Prague

Back in June, my girlfriends and I went to visit Prague. We spent 5 days there. The city is beautiful. Grand and at times, majestic. Many people love Prague, I think my two girlfriends enjoyed themselves but I’m not sure I ever found the connection with the city. Maybe because I don’t know much about the history and the people. H also speculated because I didn’t enjoy their food. Ha! Possible.. After all, eating is a big part of me.

We saw many things, dutifully did the touristy things: Charles Bridge, Alfons Mucha, Salvatore Dali, Jewish Quarter, Old Town Square. We even went to Kutna Hora and saw a Catholic Church full of skeletons. This was a mass grave, legend says that it was the most wanted burial site throughout Europe. We unfortunately miss Kafka.

Of all, I think it was the Lenon Wall that leaves the deepest impression for me. Originally a normal wall that covered with grafitti’s of John Lenon’s lyric, has become a full blown art. And you know the locks couples put together to symbol a long union (very popular sightings in Pont Neuf, Paris) can also be seen here. And according to my tour-mate, she found it in Germany too.



So yeah, I don’t know what to make out of this trip, this city or this country. Not even on the most superficial level. I now know Wenceslas was the good king. I know many Jewish died during WW II. I now know the father behind Art Nouveau. I know their ghoulash and dumplings. But honestly speaking, nothing else stick on my mind. Tsk, disappointing. A Bosnian friend who adores Prague asked me what I learned. I simply grinned.

You know, some people like to read a book (novel, roman or even literature) before visiting a city or a country. It’s too late for me to read up on Prague or Czech, but if you know any good ones, do shout out.

In the meanwhile, if you’re visiting
* Florence and Rome: read The Agony and The Ecstasy. A Biographical Novel of Michaelangelo. Next time you’re in Uffizi, Sistine Chapel or when looking at The David statue, you know the pain behind a single masterpiece.
* Paris : read Sarah’s Key. You’ll never see Le Marais the same way ever again.

From The Land of Cuteness.. to The Future

Hello world! I’ve just arrived yesterday in Toulouse and I already have a strong need to speak English. We’re back from The Land of Cuteness Japan to Toulouse and greeted by lasagna and cherries. Gosh, I love my mother in law.

H and I have been reminiscing to go back to Japan for awhile and we postponed our trip last year when the tsunami happened. And when we found out that Etihad offered tickets to Tokyo for two at a price of 1 ticket by AirFrance, we jumped in joy. It was such a great bargain and we were extremely happy with the flights (just not the airport, but hey who can beat Changi Airport eh?). Hey Singapore Airline, if you’re not continuously progressing, you’re gonna be seriously lagging behind.

In a nutshell, Japan was full of mixed emotions. It was so GREAT to be back in a country where everyone follows the rules. The same rules. As compared to Angola where there really is no rule, it is such a relief to lower your guards. And looking at how women carry their handbags: they are such an easy prey to theft. Teenagers left their bags and mobile phones on the table and went downstairs to order food! It is also great to be in a country where people are so polite! Aggressiveness is so tiring some times.

“I’m bringing you to the future,” that’s what H chanted throughout the trip. We spent a lot of time in the Panasonic Showroom, Sony Showroom, BIC and Akihabara. And this is where the not so good started. Either the euro is too weak or Japan is just too expensive, all the dreams and hopes to upgrade our camera and buy electronic toys dissipate into thin air. Really. Tsk. The Panasonic model we wanted is not sold for non-Japanese market. The Sony model we wanted is bundled with another lens. The Canon model we wanted.. after playing with it several times, I don’t want it anymore. All these cameras, assuming ceteris paribus are sold exactly the same price in France as in Japan. The difference is you can claim 19% tax refund in France while in Japan it’s only 5%, making the final cost is cheaper in France.

I also wanted to buy some Japanese tea cups and plates but H refused to pay 5 euro for one tea cup and it’s already on 50% discount. H wanted to buy some polo but not at the price that’s 50% more expensive than in France, especially when it is the same products. In Takayama, H finally found what he’s been searching for: a tshirt of Japan’s baseball team. Only to be not allowed to try it on (store’s policy).

But other than our big failure on the shopping front, we really enjoyed ourselves in Japan, especially in Takayama. The view while on the train itself is worthy enough to warrant a visit. In China, Guilin is seen as the most picturesque place under the heaven because you typically have mountains and rivers in one single view. Well, the train ride to Gero & Takayama is a lot like this.

In Kyoto, we went to visit Nijo Castle, and amazingly beautiful castle with its garden. But I can’t help to feel disappointed because the main castle is rarely open for exhibitions and all we could see is the murals on the walls and how big the various halls and rooms are. I went to Chateau Versailles just before going to Japan and at the very least, even if I’m not a history buff, I get to see how they lived. From Marie Antoinette’s hair combs to where the children sat on the dinner table. From the porcelains and their secret passages. Certain things like beds and cushions are wrapped in thick plastics and hence look ugly, but you know.. the visit wasn’t just for nothing.

But the best of all, the one we can’t stop commenting is how good the Japanese chain Freshness burger is (I had the best Tofu burger I’ve ever tasted) and how much we miss their hi-tech toilets especially the one with a seat warmer. Imagine that for winter! We also love how seamless suica card is. We got our Tokyo hotel to forward our luggage to airport and store it for 5 days, all for less than 20 euro. I had a little trip down the memory lane when we were in Manga Museum. H enjoyed a lot traveling with Shinkansen and everything in Japan fascinated him. Even he wanted to bring Panasonic Massage Chair back to Angola! Unlike the other massage chair, this one actually measures your body while you’re seated hence it is able to exactly massage at the right muscle point. Panasonic also has its own kitchen counter top, which when you’ve seen enough kitchen, you know it is made out of special material. I’m also eyeing its new induction stove. You can tell we had a blast at Panasonic Showroom.. 😉

Truly, Japan is really 5 years ahead the rest of us, if not 10 years ahead. A new system of flushing the toilet that uses less water, a new definition of 3D viewing, sightings of hybrid cars and the blue logo of Toyota, electronic gadgets that’s ahead of Apple. This is where the future is heading. And when you travel out of Tokyo, pass Nagoya, Gero and Takayama.. you see more traditional houses, then you look closer to the house details. Even the roof is made to last.

We finally tried the big hooha about Orangina in Japan. This fizzy drink came to Japan not too long ago with a different recipe than the one in France. As a starter, it doesn’t come with pulp and a much smaller bubbles. The taste is also less citrusy. The french complained about how not-so-good it is, but  guess what.. the Japan Orangina met its 6-months sales target within 2 weeks. And in France, they recently introduced a new variant called Orangina Samurai, which is extremely good in my opinion. I really need to find out what’s up between France and Japan, why this so strong love relationship with each other. Lastly, what I would love to see more is Japanese speaking English, especially if he/she works in a McDonald or in Airport Duty Free.

Anyway, time to go now.. I have a big task of picking up the cherries from the backyard 😉 They have gathered about 15 kg of cherries last week, so I’m gonna try to beat that record without falling off and breaking my arms of course.