A glass of Champagne

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Hautvillers

In late summer 2017, I had the honor to attend a friend’s wedding on the west coast of France, an hour away from Bordeaux city and right border the Medoc region. It came as a surprise to many of my friend as that was the first time I visited a vineyard. The time spent with friends, exploring the French culture, cuisine and especially the wine of Bordeaux was merry and certainly fulfilling.

I would share about my wonderful experience in Bordeaux in another more mellow note. Today, as another year draws to a close and comes the moment to raise a glass, waving goodbye to 2018 with cherish and reflection as well as opening the door to welcome 2019 with plans and hopes, I’d like to share my humble encounter in Champagne region this past summer. There are a few things this region is famous of, the most famous of all bears its name – Champagne.

I took the Euro Star train from London to Paris in late June and connected to the city of Reims, the biggest city in the region. The city is a holy place in France, whose cathedral winessed the cororation of many French emperors for over 8 centuries till the collapse of the monarchy. As I have been to many places in Europe and visited many catherals, this is the most beautiful one in my opinion. The cathedral stands high and grandeurin the city centre, drawing attention to its exquisite, expensive and sophisticated architecture and decoration. its bell tower and the long history that connected to the rise and fall of the mornachy. I picked a small airbnb right near one of the city bakery, Andre Boulanger Patisserie, where I bought a baguette and pastries every morning,  as well as Cul de Poule restaurant, where I dined at awe every evening.

 

 

Of course I tasted and drank way too much Champagne. The summer was bright, warm and breezy. The time stood still. I was enjoying my time.

My humble knowledge of champagne came mostly from my first cellar visit, the Veuve Cliquot, which I stepped foot in nerely an hour after arriving in Reims. It’s cold and beautiful inside, millions of bottles nesting next to each other, dozen of km of domed cellars all connected, hundred years of history in the making.

Champagne is simply sparkling wine, strictly coming from the Champagne region of France. Unlike other wine which is fermented and ages once in wood barrows, metal tanks or urns (the case of traditional wine from Georgia) before being bottles, Champagne wine goes through 2 fermentations blah blah until it fills our glasses of joy.

To my abundance of neglected memories, I remembered 2 names standing out in the history of champagne. The first is Dom Perignon, considered the inventor. Long before, sparkling wine was said to be “haunted” by evils, due to the fact that during the aging,  sometimes explosion of bottled happened. Dom Perignon lived in the abbey of Hautvillers, who tested out and finessed the technique of champagne making, including the underground aging to sustain the need to humidity and temperature. In the region of Champagne, there are no fewer than 200km of tunnels/cellar protecting millions and millions of bottle of champagne underground. The calcium carbonate rich soil give the ideal humidity for the aging and storage of wine.

 

Another name that tied to the history of Champagne is madame Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin, the extraordinary business woman, a young widow who overcame her grief at the age of 26 and grew her husband family’s small house of Champagne Cliquot-Muiron et fils (“Cliquot-Muiron and sons) into the second largest house of champagne in the world. Veuve means the widow in French and her name is kept in every single bottles of Veuve Cliquot Champagne – VCP. She invented the riddling board and started the export of vast quantity of champagne out of France, including sneaking out boats of champagne to Russia during a shiping blockage under Napoleon (who favoured house of Moet-Chandon). At the defeat of Napoleon, Russia was toasting Veuve Cliquot champagne.

Do you know how rose champagne was made in Champagne? Only here it’s allowed for mix red wine with champagne to create the jolly colour for this marketing hoax. Elsewhere, the colour is made from pressing process.

img_9692Aside from visiting the big houses and venturing into their massive system of cellars and history, I took a half day vineyard visit, tasting remarkable champagne from boutique producers and taking in the beauty of this land. One of the house we visited produced the limited edition champagne for Formula 1 – those big bottles that the F1 racers shook and wasted in their victorious moments. The trip took us, a Vietnamese, an American couple & an Australian couple to  the beginning of it all, Abbey d’Hautvillers where Dom Perignon lived, made wine and rested in peace. The place was so humble as compared to the luxury and cheerful image of the wine, as compared to the long Avenue of Champagne in Epernay, the capital of the regions where house of Moet-Chandon places its headquarter.

Truth to be told, most of the productions from the big house were exported to the world and people of France, especially people of Champagne, rarely buy those. “Well, why paying 50 euro a bottle while you can get 5 bottles for that much, equally good quality?”. Very true and very fair. I tasted from vintage of the big houses to a random bottle from supermarket and I couldn’t agree more.

Once you get a real Champagne glass, you are ensured the ultimate experience of bubbliness!

Well, let’s raise a glass!

Happy New Year to you all.

 

Love,

 

Kate

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When in Rome, eat like the Romans

Let’s talk about how Italian eat.

img_2070As I observed, Italian did not seem to think “Breakfast is the most important meal” of the day. It’s normal to skip breakfast (Colazione)  and only have a quick caffe (simply espresso). Having an espresso at a bar in Italy took less than 5 minutes. Order, coffee out, drink and pay. The coffee is not scorching hot and an Italian would just down a whole espresso right when it touches his/her hands. When they have the chance, it’s still rather a quick affair. Simple caffe or milky drink (cappuccino, latte, macchiato) and some pastries. In my post “Forgetting the checklist in Italy”, I noted my wonderful experience at those little bars, where you could brush shoulder with the locals over a a an espresso, breakfast or had some wine after work. It’s a social place, not a drinking place. In fact I opine it’s all go down to socialization for Italians.

Italian also have meranda (afternoon snack) like kids in all school. They eat meranda similar to breakfast.

Then we have Pranzo (Lunch) and Cena (Dinner), the main meals. First you have il primo (first course), typically involving carb (rice, pasta). Then you have your Il secondi (the main course), with meat or fish and a side dish (“contorno” – typically salad – this can be a a separate dish as well). Then you can choose to have dolce (dessert). Then absolutely an espresso to finish. Wine is optional too. This is a normal meal structure.

In a more formal way, you will have Aperitivo (light appetizer) and Antipasto (heavier appetizer) before Il primo and also Insalata (salad, can be skipped if contorno is a salad) and Fromaggi e Frutta (cheese and fruit – easily skipped) after il secondi and prior to dessert and caffe. . Aperitivo is some simple stuff like olives, sauces, cheese, nuts, tiny little quiche. Antipasto is my favourite – it has antipasti! Prosciutto, salami, ham, charcuterie, cheese, bread-base dish (think Bruscheta – which pronounce brus-ket-ta not brus-Shet-a), vegie, salmon or prawn. I like this so much that so often I fill up myself with this. All these would end with a digestivo (grappa, limoncello, etc) to ease your digestion of  an absolute feast!

Pranzo is seen as the most important meals of the day for Italian. These days, it often comes down to pizza and panini with the young due to the work hours. Talking of pizza, you eat a pizza freshly made at a pizzeria, full stop. Only a few restaurants offer pizzas. A fancy pizzeria in Florence cost you 10-12euro each. A top pizzeria in Salerno cost you 4-5 euro (the southern region of Italy is poorer than the north, hence the price). An average pizza in Capri would cost you 15-20 euro. A slide of pizza can cost as little as 50 cents. If you have the whole pizza, you eat with fork and knife and you can excuse that and use hands with a slide of pizza.

Do you know pizza is NOT originally from Italy? The flat bread was brought first to Napoli (a main port) by Greek merchants. The locals , mostly poor workers, then added tomato sauce on top. Gradually, more delicacies are added and the dishes become popular in all classes!

So that’s how you eat in Italy, in theory. I really don’t understand how Italian and eat all that and still look so doped! during my few weeks in Italy, as i must have dessert (such sweet tooth!), I normally have either il primo or il secondi. When I can resist to order both, I would skip the next meal. In fact, toward the last week in Capri and Salerno, I have dinner every other day!

So how do Italian eat at home? If you have guests, all hells break loose! At my airbnb experience in San Miniato, we started with champagne (to celebrate a newly wed couple), aperitivo, MANY antipasti (a few dishes), pasta, 2 desserts, endless wine and limoncello! In a normal day, as Gabriele showed me, just simple pasta would do for dinner.

And at last, Italian are very proud of their seasons local products. Cinque Terre for the pesto, San Miniato for white truffle, campania for lemons, Tuscany for its wine and wild boar, Napoli for pizza, Ischia for rabbits and biancoella, Bologna for bolognese sauce, Capri for caprese (both salad and pasta!) and the list go on. Everywhere you find incredible olive oil, tomatoes and GELATO!

There, that’s how Italian eat. Remember when in Rome, act like the Romans.

Love,

Kate

 

 

 

Consciously forgetting the checklist in Italy

I know most people go to Italy with checklist ( I did on my first trip to Italy and I checked every single things off!). Here is probably the most popular-

  1. Roma – visting Christine Chapel, wandering Colosseum, people watching at Spanish Steps, testing Mouth of Truth (thank to the classic and graceful Audrey Hepburn), throwing a coin at Trevi fountains and making too many wishes, checking out Pantheons, walking Castello Angelo and putting a damn lock on the bridge).
  2. Venezia (Venice) – taking the overpriced romantic boat ride admiring and speculating stories about the Ponte dei Sospiri, visiting the basillica and bell tower, getting lost in the city (you don’t need to try, you will!), hopping on a river taxi to Murano and Burano, hoping to see wonderful yachts.
  3. Firenze (Florence) – seeing all legacy of the Medici family (Literally the entire city!), walking across Ponte Vecchio and admiring the local vendor, climb up the hill to see David and watch the sun setting over the city, etc. These plus day trip to Cinque terra, seeing Pisa leaning tower, tasting wine. Some people expressed to do Florence and Chianti in a day.
  4. Capri – I actually not sure about this one.

All the above are wonderful things and you need to know you are fortunate enough to see them, however, you can enjoy all that if you have at least a week in each city. And Italy is not just Rome – Venice – Florence. Also, mind you all these beautiful cities and sites are carefully preserved so that 10, 20, 50, 100 years from now, they still look great (and pretty much the same). For me, the entire city of Florence is a museum itself. So calm the h*** down!

Having been to Italy numerous times (I love it!), I’m speaking this from my own experience.

My first time in Italy back in 2009, I spent 10 days in the 3 cities above and crossed around 50% of the above. My 2nd time in 2013, I spent a week only in Chianti region (still didn’t do a vineyard visit!). The most recent, this summer, i spent 2 weeks. the first half lazing in Florence (My favourite city) and then a bit of running around south Ischia – Capri – Salerno. I didn’t cross many “must do”, but I collected some very fond memories and some good friends.

So here is 10 bullet buttons:

  • ARRIVAL – Try to arrive between 4pm and 7pm to ensure the best greetings at hotels or especially homestay/airbnb. Italians doesn’t really work in the morning, go on lunch break between 12-4pm and then off to fiesta at 7pm. It’s like God’s times to them so be respectful and don’t expect too much. People give you the most attention and most helpful from 4-7pm I found.
  • ATTENTIOn – If you want your host or the hotel to pick you up, call them the day before and as you arrive (even if you have told them through the booking, on messages, all black and white in writing). Italians love attention but they will leave you alone after check in. Love it!
  • BAR – If you are paying more than 1 euro for an espresso, you’re in a very touristy area. Try to look for though small local water holes which are cafe by day and bar by night. It’s the same word in Italians’ world – BAR. Go there in the morning and see those Italian order an espresso, talking to a stranger while waiting, drinking the coffee straight away, leaving a coin and off on his vespa. Those with mostly local are the best!
  • ROAM – Walk around, a lot, and try things out – whether its pizza, spaghetti, local beer, another Aperol spritz or some local made leather sandals. Some of these are at the bottom of Trip Advisor list because the shopkeeper don’t speak English or maybe only boring people leave reviews. Don’t bother to call taxi (and there is no Uber!).
  • LOST. Seriously get lost. Google Map doesn’t show little alleys in Italy so well and there are many walking/running trail that only the local knows. On a random turn during my morning run in Oltrano, I passed Galileo’s house and a small fort where you can have some very good sunset cocktails! I found the best restaurant i have ever been to in Ischia just by playing with my google map and roam around.
  • LOCALS – buy from them, I meant the street vendors who sell freshly picked fruits and vegetable, the local vineyard who only make a thousand bottles a years, the one at the corner with no sign.
  • WINE – Make time for wine tasting at a vineyard. Italian in the countryside exude this fountain of hospitality and share with you their most incredible wine and salami and olives and bruschettas.
  • TRAIN – don’t bother anything else – this is the one thing that is efficient in Italy. Go everywhere, on time, affordable.
  • MEDICI – Read about the Medici family. I was amazed at the rise and fall of this family and how far their power and money had stretched in the past.
  • EAT ALL YOU CAN. – amazing gelato, pizzas to die for, fresh pasta, so many condiments and cold cuts, cheese, sweet desserts ….

I have come to Italy to consciously see why Italians are being the way they are – fun, exuberant, talkative, gossipy, proud, trendy and very particular about coffee.

I hope you can start planning a fun trip.

Love,

Kate

On African time

England, 2 September 2018


“African apprehend time differently. (…) Time appears as a result of our actions and vanishes when we neglect or ignore it. It is something that springs to life under our influence, but falls into a state of hibernation, even non-existence if we do not direct our energy toward it. It is subservient, passive essence and most importantly, one dependent on men.”

– Ryszard Kapuscinski, 2001 – 

Often we failed to understand the different ways of life in a foreign land. In his book On China, Henry Kissinger  depicted how the separate world the Chinese believed they were living in shaped the whole nation ideology and hence, modern behaviors of our neighbour that we might observe and often judge. Kapuscinski put the African’s ideas of time in perspectives – it’s not that they don’t have any sense of time, theirs are simple different from ours.

I still remembered my sister’s encounter in Burma on the way to Golden Rock. 2 buses both heading to Golden Rock stationed side by side in Yangon, waiting patiently to fill their seats. “The bus will leave when it’s full”. Africans practice this, too. A three-hour wait would make no sense to anyone that is under the spell of European definition of time – one that we have no control over. However in this incredibly diverse continent, instead of be crushed under the definite measurement of time, men create time, manifest time and in their own way stay in harmony with time.

In an earlier post, I mentioned Kenyan did not seem to apprehend “anger”, either. Whether it is stuck in traffic for 2 hours, very late for a meeting or waiting indefinitely for a train to come, they maintain this serenely calm and harmonic manner, with smiles even. We, influenced by European ideology, connect time and the universe, a force we are frustrated to have such little understanding of and influence over. Meanwhile, in Africa, one seems to be so as one with his surrounding that waiting becomes a norm, probably the most activities in one’s life. There is no such thing like “rush hours” or “being late” or “deadline” – why would you do that to yourself when you can make time?

In places where everyone runs against the clock, say New York City (my recent habitat) for instance, we lose it the moment we feel the threat of being defeated by time. We are in constant worry, under pressure to finish some longest to-do list and the world is collapsing if the subway is 5′ late (which happens every single day). Any event that may hinder the physical speed of human being is a serious threat and source of utmost annoyance. In Singapore, it’s small enough of a country to make pretty much everything punctual and assure the minimum waiting time. In Japan, the national railway sent an official apology as one of its train was a 20 second late. Trust me I love and praise punctuality, however, I feel like we are rather in an abusive relationship with time. We are constantly beaten up and at the same time feel so sorry for ourselves.

I really want to learn the secret of the African on their relationship with time!

Here is the thing though – after only a week in Kenya, i feel slightly transformed. If someone tell me 2 years ago that I’d patiently wait 3 hours at the airport for my ticket to get sorted and then happily wait another 24 hours for my flight, I’d had told him a fool. But I did. I was shocked at myself. I’m sure this is partially a result of the last 3 idling resting months that I have got. Maybe African is permanently in resting mode?

“The only ones that try to honk their cars through Nairobi traffic are most likely German diplomats.”

-D.S-

In this part of the world, you see all possible contradictions – where a road makes a nation but no-one can read map; where there was one of the first humans on earth but now a collection of some of the youngest nations; where once lived thousands of tribes scattering around in peace but were forced through  “Scramble of Africa” by the European imperial powers, followed by the independence movement into the now 54 states; where there was told to be so behind the rest of the world but have the most number of countries that totally or partially ban plastic bags, where we see desert and savannah and dryness but one of the biggest flower export in the world, where pizzas are luxury treat but organic kale is an inexpensive stable of every meal. Through evolution and development, Africa is slowly changing.

But one thing I doubt if it would change anytime soon – their ingrained interpretation of time.

Korean TED!

my fav

It has been a week since my last post and I know that it’s time for the next one. Well, to be honest I’m little disappointed with the interview this morning when people asked me all the same old same old questions that might actually be not so old them coz they just asked me those 2 days ago. C’mon people be creative! Here I am, a lil sad and bored and need someone to talk to and my little particular someone is just accidentally NOT ONLINE. Nice.

And of course I’m not here to tell you about a TED talk in Korea. I’m saying TALK-EAT-DRINK!

In Korea we talked, we listened to people talking, we sang, we had quite a few drinks and well we ate. There’re just way too many things that you can do with your mouth!!!!!!

Firstly, if you want to visit Korea, do it right away. The reason is the Koreans who can speak English, they do it fantastically and yay, there are not so many of them. So here’s the scene- You walk down to the busy street in a lazy afternoon. You stop. You look around. Nothing familiar. Nothing even close to what you are looking for. Gotcha! “hello, can you please show me the way to blah blah blah?” – “난 그게 뭔지 모르겠어요. 저는 Google 번역에서 찾았다!”.  Then you point at your map and show the person the place you want to get to. And right away, you are hand in hand with a Korean stranger who is literally taking you to wherever you want to go. Or if he’s in a hurry, he will speak some cute Korean and get someone who can speak English to help you. How nice! In our first night in Korea, we were struggling following the direction to our hostel while some people just stopped by and helped us without us asking them. All the trying-to-figure-it-out and phone calls they made for us were just like the very first sips of love for the country.

We were such an attraction. Everyone looked at us. Everyone took photos with us. Everyone talked to us, even the guy from Jeju-do we met for about 10 minutes on the metro in Busan, not the mention the whole group of students who just bought us so many soju in Daejeon. That’s crazy.

with cute Korean girls in Gyeongbukgung

And Korean talks well when they are drunk. We kept talking on and on about the lady at the hostel office. In the frustration of finding the hostel, we made it to the office, which was the whole world from the hostel to get a map to get there. Greeting us was a small lady in a black long-sleeve shirt, just short enough for me to notify her black rocky lace skirt. Watch out people, 40 –something lady, with the ignition of some soju *we found out a moment later when we got in*, can definitely turn into a chic. I love her fashion. It’s so WILD! And she not only gave us a map but also a whole story of any single corner that appeared in that map. And Ollie got his first hug in Korea oh so adorable you were Pfleger 😀

It may be a tradition to drink every meal in Korea. Anytime will do. And the guys were just in love. That’s such a relief after the alcohol diet in Singapore. After all the drinks you will be very very exhausted and you just moan the whole way “C’mon soju and beer go so well together. And it’s tender. Then what is this headache?????”. That’s my line!

oh that embarrassing night!

Noraebang is another job for your mouth. It’s nothing new but karaoke. Yet you got free ice-cream and that’s how I love Korea. It’s cold and it’s sweet.  Coldstones and baskin Robins rock!

The thing with Korean cuisine is that if you don’t know it, you’re tricked at the first time because before you even order anything, there have already a lot of something in front of you. Kimchi. More kimchi. And more kimchi. Insects. Sweet potatoes. Peas. Some thin fish cakes. Even pancake. Calm down and wait for the main dish! In my last note I did mention my favourite snack with its lux version in Busan and its amazing seafood bbq, so skip it, I’ll tell you more about my other favourite and some Vietnamese-like food.

side dishes

There are so many Korean BBQ restaurants now in Hanoi and really now I know why people still feel so hot with the fever from the kimchi land. It’s just so good! We got BBQ with lean pork and beef, simple and fulfilled. Grill your meat and some mushroom, place them in a fresh lectuce, add some shredded carrot, some pickle or just kimchi, roll it up, dip in in and go your way. It goes more than just a dish. And when you’re tired with meat, bean sprout or kimchi jigae is served, maybe some rice to balance. All  will be well digested with one or two beer and soju.

Toppoki. How many of you know it? I know it. I have an obsession with that reddish spicy mysterious street food every now and then I see a group of high school girls screaming after their classes when they see the magic stall. My first and my best toppoki was by Sam last semester. My second and my third toppoki came only 30 minutes away from each other, right the first meal in Seoul. It is, basically and wholefully, rice cake cooked in chilli sauce. Serious! What the fuss about it! Yeah it’s chewy and it’s kinda hot but something is just wrong with toppoki love. So I chose not to, even with the cheesy toppoki pizza we had in Daejeon. So chic!

toppoki

Korean people keep a very nice habit of cooking rice. They add in a lot of little nuts inside and cook together. It’s so tasty and exciting to eat rice because at some point you “wow, they put it in here”.

My all time favourite are bibimbap and kimchi jigae, the latter I will make it together with haemul pajeon and kimchijeon real soon. Bibimbap is mixed rice with vegetable, meat, sesame oil and chilli sauce. We did bibimbap on hot stone in quite a nice restaurant near Gwangnammun station. It was raining and it’s freezingly cold. We was shivering and wet. The bibimbap appeared at the table sounding the most joyful as rice was getting fried in a lil oil and sauce on the hot stone. Next to that was a bowl of smoky bean sprout soup. Imagine how pleased we were in that place. I didn’t need anything else.

Korean eats dog meat. Korean eats insect (the one in the life cycle of a butterfly). Korea eats sundae (Pig intestines stuffed with noodles, livers, lungs, …). Korea drinks soju. Korean drinks maekgolli (the extract liquid from brewed rice which is 80% similar to “ruou nep” of Vietnam). HOW VIETNAMESE KOREANS ARE!

Bottom line for you hungry traveller: Gwang Jang market for Seoul delights!

First post

Never before do I see time flying as fast as this time. A lot of things has happened, something’s good, and of course something’s bad … and happy … and sad.

Sometimes people enter your life and soon after that they leave, perhaps forever. And what we have about them are vague but obsessed images. Sometimes you need to be strong enough to suppress their images deep in your mind, deep in your heart, leave them there and don’t forget. I have learned how to  live with such kind of memory and how to make them my own fortune. They are all part of me which marked some moments, some points in my path and maybe one day when I’m old and look back to my life, I can find my will in them.

With every face I have met in life, I try to remember and store them in my mind with the hope that in some beautiful day, I would meet them again. It’s a very personal happiness that I feel every time  I recognize someone I have come across, and even some satisfaction when I recall the first time I saw them. Somehow I call it my hobby of memorization and recall, something that I played day by day with my father as a little girl. Those days, I was in my father’s arms, safe and sound, playing around saying nonsense things that only he could understand. He’s big and I am  always so small, but we are great friends. Those days I clung to my mother, trying to use a rice cooker to make my very first rice without pouring some water in. Those days I climbed out of my house almost everyday with my sister and hanged out with the kids I even knew for the first time, along the rice field.

Things start becoming different and difficult when we grow up. It’s no longer a bright and pink sky everyday. Sometimes it’s just cloudy and gloomy. Father said that the more people I met and could remember, the richer I would be. I caved it in my heart and believed in every single word of it. But these days, such kind of thing tortured me a lot. I saw him the first time some and we had very short conversation just enough to know each other’s name. An the second time I was rushing to his place, I was standing there besides him saying goodbye. It’s always hard when you know someone will leave you for good, no matter how well and how long you know them. I have a feeling that I accompanied him to his new journey without any action to pull his back to this chaotic but beautiful world. “Life is short, but this time it’s bigger …”

The more we witness, the more we experience, the more we know … the harder our own shell becomes …

People said the day I saw him leave this world was the day I grew up ….