Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Mille-feuille brilliance- Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki [Paris]

One of the hardest thing I had to do during my visit to Paris- was to decide on which tantalising creation to purchase from Pâtisserie Sadaharu Aoki.

I know. First world problems eh.

Pâtissier Sadaharu Aoki was trained in Japan and France and is famed for beautifully infusing traditional French pastries with Japanese accents like yuzu, matcha and black sesame. I thought that this marriage of cultures is perfect, especially in desserts. Aoki applies the Japanese sense of intricacy and perfectionist attitude to the rich history of French pastry-making, producing strikingly beautiful works of art using unparalleled ingredients.

The Guardian has rated Sadaharu Aoki as one of the top pâtisseries in Paris, alongside big names like Pierre Hermé, Jean-Paul Hévin and La Pâtisserie des Rêves. Seems like his eclectic take on French pastries have won the hearts of Parisians, who raved about the matcha, wasabi and joyfully tastebud-assaulting violet macarons.

The sleek little boutique at rue de Vaugirard

Facing the neat rows of aesthetically pleasing gateauxs and entrements with colours jumping out at my face. All that's whirring in my mind was: What to choose? 

I wanted to try so many things. 

Shall I opt for the unadultered French classics? Sampling Aoki's interpretation of classic French  pâtisserie like the fraisier (strawberry cake) or the traditional mille-feuille à la vanille, both of which are apparently perfection incarnate?

Oh who am I kidding, being a matcha addict, of course I zeroed in on his array of fabulous matcha infused creations.

Mind you, it was still no easy task despite having narrowed down my choices. 

The Matcha azuki praliné bar
A layered pastry of  matcha and azuki, a classic Japanese sweets combination. There is a layer of praliné at the bottom and nestled on top is an adorable mini matcha macaron.

Zen (left)
Matcha dacquoise and cognac infused sesame cream sandwiched between layers of beautiful off-white chocolate cream.

Bamboo (right)
Aoki's acclaimed matcha rendition of the classic opéra. A neat stack of alternating layers of green tea sponge, chocolate ganache and matcha buttercream. Love love love the cute bamboo motif!

The famous Matcha and Black sesame eclairs, Mille feuilles and Tarte au Citrons.

Matcha croissants (left). Matcha almond croissants (right) - the latter looked so lovely dusted in icing sugar, matcha powder and toasted almonds!

Colourful Chocorons!-Chocolate covered macarons. I really liked the chic polka-dots on top of the brightly coloured chocolate coating.

Every single pastry was incredibly gorgeous and looked delicious. Naturally, I would have liked to buy everything.

Curse you meagre PhD stipend! (indignant fist in the air..)

After a long and difficult deliberation, I chosed the Matcha mille-feuille.

David Lebovitz and Clotilde have lauded Sadaharu Aoki as a Parisian master of buttery, crackly puff pastry. So, a fusion specialty of delicate green Matcha pastry cream and golden mille feuille, one of the most traditional pastry of French origins that Aoki happen to be particularly talented in? I think I made a good choice, no?

Talk about killing two birds with €4.60!

I watched as the friendly and immaculately dressed Japanese salesperson deftly packed my lovely mille feuille into a sleek white box with gloved hands.  As she rang up my purchase, I finally succumbed to temptation and added a matcha croissant. Those spiral babies were really calling out to me!

It was a lovely day, and I decided to take the metro to place de la Concorde for a leisurely stroll through the Tuileries garden (Jardin des Tuileries). This beautiful park is the largest in Paris, at 25.5 hectares and was created as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564 by Catherine de Medicis. With some 20 species of very fine trees that includes mulberry, oak, elm, maple...just to name a few; as well as up to seventy thousand plants and bulbs, this garden must be spectacle to behold in Spring.

I enjoyed my wintry walk no less. There is certainly something whimsical about the intertwined bare branches against the Parisian backdrop.

Also, it does help to have an amazing matcha croissant to nom on along the way!


Ambling along, I was suddenly caught by a strong gust of wind that swung my Sadaharu Aoki bag a full 360 degrees.

Stifling a yelp, I quickly settled on a nearby bench to inspect the damage. My beautiful mille feuille was overturned and the matcha powder was strewn all over.  I cried a little on the inside at the sight of the messed up topography of  matcha powder on the top as I carefully flipped it back upright.

As you can see, pastries are very well packed in Paris to prevent any damage to it while traveling on the cramped metros. But certainly not to withstand erratic strong gusts of wind! Gah!


My mille feuille was oustanding. Truly befitting what it means in French- "thousand leaves". I quivered with excitement at the sound of the light crackle of pastry as I sliced it with my fork. The delicate layers of puff pastry were perfectly thin, flaky and wonderfully buttery. The vivid matcha "crème pâtissière" was light and smooth with just the right touch of sweetness and the thin nougatine topping was delectably crunchy. The best part was the irresistible perfume of good quality matcha, lending its unmistakably exquisite hint of bitterness to the pastry. 

Utter perfection.

So alluring...

Alas, I was down to my last bite. This will no doubt haunt my dreams for awhile.

For sure, I will return to Sadaharu Aoki the next time I am in Paris. Or perhaps visit his flagship boutiques in Tokyo and Taipei. Those lucky gits...

25 rue Pérignon 
+33 (0)1 43 06 02 71
(M10: Segur) 

56 Boulevard de Port-Royal 
+33 (0)1 45 35 36 80

(RER B : Port Royal, M7: Les Gobelins/Censier Daubenton) 

35 rue de vaugirard 
+33 (0)1 45 44 48 90

(M4: St Sulpice / M12 : Rennes) 

Lafayette Gourmet
40 Boulevard Haussmann 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Dutch fish and chips- Kibbeling!

Kibbeling- Dutch version of battered fried fish

Prior to coming to England, I was really looking forward to the experience of standing outside a chippy with my paper wrapped, piping hot portion of crispy battered fish and crunchy thick chips, ready to be doused with salt and vinegar. Just the way Dennis the Menace and his sidekick, Gnasher enjoyed it in The Beano comics.

Having lived here for close to three years now, I am sadden to say that...

I have yet to taste good fish and chips!

After having my fair share of dismal or sometimes abysmal fish and chips. I gave up the search. 

Most of what I've had were often:

1. Overly greasy- with oil-trapped pockets in the batter that let loose tiny burst of oil with each bite

2. Battered too thickly - poor batter to fish ratio

3. Gummy due to undercooked batter *shudders*

3. Flavourless fish fillet

and to top that off,

4. Soggy, limp chips (aka. fries)

If you can't get the fish right, at least serve up some decent chips!

It is likely that I might have unluckily visited lousy chippys for my fish and chips fix. However, since it is one of the national dish of Britain, it shouldn't be that hard to find palatable ones right? For instance, I can easily find hawker stalls that sell pretty decent Laksa or 
Nasi lemak around Malaysia. Even the random Pizza al taglio parlours that I've visited in Rome also served up tasty bites.

During my visit to university city of Groningen, I was introduced to the Dutch version of fish and chips. In the Netherlands, it is known as 'Kibbeling' or 'Lekkerbekje', both of which refer to battered fried cod or whiting. The main difference is that lekkerbekje is served as a whole fillet whereas kibbeling is cut into chunks, much like fish nuggets. These snacks are usually sold by mobile seafood trucks or fishmonger stalls at weekend markets.

As we approached the fish-stand in the central market square, Grote Markt, my dear hosts went ahead and ordered a portion of Kibbeling for me. Because of the tall Dutch population, display counters are ridiculously high for a midget like me. I was excitedly tip-toeing and craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the vendor that was preparing our orders in action. 

I watched hungrily as he coated big juicy chunks of fresh cod fish in a thin layer of batter and then dunked them into the deep fryer. The smell that was emanating as the fish cooked was amazing. My heaping portion of kibbeling looked mouth wateringly lovely, with each piece fried to a perfect light gold. I stabbed my fork into one of the golden nugget and eagerly took a bite. The unmistakable crunch as the crispy and delicately thin batter gave way to reveal sweet and tender fish fillet left me speechless. Among the other spices, I could taste lovely hints of sweet paprika and garlic salt in the well seasoned batter.  

Tender and flaky cod fillet encased in crispy thin batter. 

Kibbeling is usually served with a mayonnaise-based remoulade, much like tartar sauce. I took a second bite of my juicy morsel with the sauce and was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as cloying as I expected. The slight acidity of the sauce gave the fried fish a refreshingly piquant lift.

After 'working' through my portion of kibbeling at lighting speed, I was very glad to find that there was no pool of oil at the bottom of my container. These were indeed fried to perfection! 

You know it is tasty when it makes an Austrian, a Malaysian and a Catalan that happy!

In this particular stall, you can also order a side of crunchy chips, 'Patat frites' to go with your fish. Which apparently is a rarity in The Netherlands because you can't usually buy both fish and chips from the same place, much to the dismay of my British friends. Chips (or Fries) are often sold separately in a Frites stall or shop. 

Aside from other types of fried seafood such as mussels, shrimps and squid, the stand we visited also sold makreel (mackerel), bokking (herring) and gerrokte paling (smoked eel).

Stacks of steamed mackerel (Gestoomde makreel)

What's the best thing to do after a hearty kibbeling snack/meal? 

Take a walk around the city. 

Explore its nook and crannies, people watch a little then head to the roof top cafe for coffee. Since it was a really warm day, we had ice-cold smoothies to sip away whilst enjoying the view.

Random bike wheel contemporary art? (left) and  Goudkantoor (right)

The 'Goudkantoor', known as the Gold Office in English was originally built in 1635 for the tax collector of Groningen. It later housed the office that authenticated gold and silver. Hence the name I guess.. It is now a restaurant.

Which will you opt for? The gas guzzler or the charming bicycle?

Rooftop cafe with 'Martinitoren' (Martini Tower) - The highest church steeple in Groningen in the background

Do yourself a favour and don't forget to grab some tasty Kibbeling the next time you are in The Netherlands!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Eurochocolate 2012- A pilgrimage for chocolate lovers!

Every year, the capital city of Umbria, Perugia, becomes the ultimate destination for chocolate aficionados by hosting one of the largest chocolate festivals in Europe. The city is known locally as the " Costruttori di dolcezze"- designer of sweet things. During the week-long festival, over a million chocolate lovers from all over throng the city to enjoy free chocolate tastings, indulge in all sorts of chocolate delights, attend workshops by chefs and also feast their eyes upon chocolate art displays and huge chocolate sculptures. 

Ling and I were gleeful attendees of Eurochocolate 2012.

Since I only found out about this festival after we've already booked our flights to Rome, it was indeed a stroke of luck that the dates for our trip co-incided with the first 2 days of Eurochocolate 2012 . Instantaneously, a day trip to Perugia became my our top priority.

On the first day of the festival, we set out early in the morning to catch the 2 hour long train ride to Perugia, followed by a bus all the way to the top of the hill where it was held. Upon getting off, I felt as if I was transported into one of the glorious lands on top of The Faraway Tree. The Faraway Tree, written by Enid Blyton was my absolute favourite series of books when I was a child. It is based on the adventures of three children and a gigantic magical tree that is inhabited by a myriad of magical creatures, all set in an enchanted forest, of course.

So the very top of this big S tree was a ladder that leads to a magical land, which changes every time to make way for another land. You get unpleasant lands like the Land of Slaps, but sometimes, there are amazing ones like the Land of Goodies, Land of Take-What-You-Want or my personal favourite, the Land of Presents.

Sorry, I digress.

The point here is, I was in the Land of Chocolates!

The whole place was brimming with festivities. It was really a feast for the senses. I was gobsmacked by the sight of rows and rows of tents with mouth watering chocolate goodies piled up high, the hypnotic aroma of chocolate lingering in the crisp Autumn air, the sounds of the vendors hollering :"Cioccolato! Cioccolato! Cioccolato! with music playing in the background. All these set against the backdrop of the beautiful medieval walled, hill town of Perugia.

Truly Magical!!!

There was chocolate as far as the eye can see! was tempted to hop, skip, and whoop in joy, but my brain intervened just in time, reminding me once again that I am too old to express my excitement in such ways.

We each bought a 5 Euro ChocoCard that entitled us to freebies from several stalls (Including Lindt and Milka!), discounts and also a map of the entire fair. The glorious day was spent walking around and tasting chocolate samples (Mostly by me actually...), drinking/eating thick hot chocolate and buying all sorts of chocolate creations.


From this point forward, reader may suffer from:

1. An insatiable craving for all things chocolate.

2. Uncontrollable drooling- I suggest a protective film for your keyboard
3. May attempt to scratch and sniff computer screen.

This vendor was slicing up squares of Sachertorte, which is actually an Austrian creation of 2 moist layers of chocolate cake with apricot jam in the middle and coated in thick chocolate icing.
Massive dark, milk and white chocolate discs studded with fruits and nuts. The white chocolate with loads of cranberries was divine!

Cork-shaped chocolate truffles and big slabs of pralines.

The first freebie that we claimed with the ChocoCard were espresso cup sized samples of Italian hot chocolate from the Ciobar stand. It was so thick and spoon-lickingly satisfying. I really love that Italian hot chocolate is rich, thick and decadent- a far cry from the run-of-the-mill liquid-y stuff. It has an almost pudding like consistency and packs a really bold chocolate flavor.

Hot chocolate or chocolate pudding? So so good...

More hot chocolate!

I could do with a chocolate horseshoe for some edible luck

Chocolate lego bricks in all sorts of flavours. Build it up and eat away!

My new love. Gianduiotti, which is made of ground hazelnut paste and cocoa. It tastes like a solid version of Nutella!

Cremino rounds. A type of Italian confectionary consisting of three layers of chocolate, usually with a top layer of gianduja (hazelnut praline)

Venchi! One of the most popular Italian gourmet chocolate manufacturer. 

Chocolate covered bananas, fruits and more hazelnut studded bars.

This pretty Italian was serving up samples of chocolate liqueur soaked cherries. I really love the cute dark chocolate cherry booth, which was perpetually surrounded by a huge crowd! It was a struggle to get through the horde of people that were pushing and shoving to get their fill. What a great marketing strategy: An eye-catching booth and a hot girl to serve up boozy chocolate cherries!

Plump and juicy cherry in creamy chocolate liqueur. Decadence.

Chocolate kebab

The chocolate kebab was basically a piece of thinly sliced cake that they topped with ample shavings of white and milk chocolate followed by whip cream.

More lovely nuggets of chocolate truffles. 

Hazelnuts everywhere!

Butchering slabs of chocolate

We came upon a stall manned by a very friendly AND enthusiastic guy who was singing and yelling Cioccolato! Cioccolato! Cioccolato! at the top of his lungs. It was hard to miss.

He spied me clicking away with my camera and immediately flashed a toothy grin and thumbs up for a photo op. I was rewarded handsomely for my "efforts" with several chocolate samples that he handed to me with a cheeky wink.

My favourite chocolatier at the festival
Another lovely sample from him

Chocolate pasta. I really wonder if it should be for a sweet or savoury dish.

Ling bought some chocolate liqueur, which I then used as the star ingredient for his birthday tiramisu upon our return from Italy. It was delicious! The chocolate flavour was so much more intense!

Love the chocolate liqueur bottles

White chocolate spread with nuts. Breakfast indulgence?

Eurochocolate adopts a different theme each year. In 2012 the focus was on social networking and new technologies. That was why they had small gourmet chocolates packaged to resemble smartphones and various gadgets.

"Like" this!
Description of Lindt chocolate bars in Italian somehow make them seem so much yummier. "Intenso e Armonioso"....has such a decadent ring to it.

There were also vendors that were selling Norcia specialties. This city is a 90 minute drive from Perugia and is best known for black truffles and top notch salami and primo sausages. I was delighted to try the various truffle products. Who in their right mind wouldn't be??!! 

The little shavings of black truffles were to-die-for, and the Norcia salami?

Let's just say that I was in foodie heaven.

Truffle infused olive oil, white/black truffles in jars, and salami with truffles. Literally truffle in everything!

Truffle studded cheese

Perugia is a beautiful city on a little hill in Umbria and there is a lot to see apart from the festival. Ling and I tore ourselves away from the hustle and bustle to explore the tiny town with its winding medieval streets and pretty piazzas. The hilltop views are just breathtaking!

Vibrant green trees blending seamlessly into the mountains in the distance
Rows of terracotta roofs stretched out below 

This city is also home to Perugina, the Italian confectionary that is famous for "Baci"-kisses. The Italian "kisses" are filled with hazelnut and wrapped in a multilingual love note. Packaging and taste wise, I have always thought that "Baci" reigned superior to Ferrero Rocher and Hershey's kisses. 

Check out the freebies we got thanks to the ChocoCard. Some of them were already settling well in our tummies well before the photo below was taken!

Our loot, which included Lindt balls!

My favourite freebie of the day. A chocolate bar Iphone pouch that came with an actual chocolate bar in an Iphone-esque box! Truly befitting the Eurochocolate 2012 theme.

I would definitely recommend this festival to anyone who happens to be in Italy during October. It is really a chocoholics dream!