Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year! A time to look back...

For the past few years, it has become our tradition to send out holiday e-card with a collage of some wonderful food we had during the year, as a way to count our blessing with memories of wonderful meals and wonderful company we have enjoyed.

As I browsed through the folders with all the food pictures I have taken in 2012, it's hard not to notice the many unforgettable moments or awesome food that didn't make it to the blog at all, for one reason or another. So guess this is also a good time to capture those here.

Singapore's Hawker Fare - It's hard to believe I stayed in Singapore for six times during the year 2012, and I absolutely fell in love with Tiong Bahru neighborhood. I wouldn't even think about staying there as a tourist as it's nowhere near to any touristy spot or even MRT station, but the food I found in that hood absolutely blown my mind off - from the best cafe in town, to French bistro serving wonderful comfort food, to numerous stalls in Tiong Bahru hawker center to some of the best neighborhood seafood restaurants, the choices are limitless. Haven't been there more than I thought I would during the last 12 months, I doubt I will ever make it back there as a tourist any time soon, but if and when I do, I will definitely go back.

More in Tokyo - In my 2 trips to Tokyo this year I was lucky to have time to check out some of the very best restaurants there. Of course, the Michelin 3-starred Sushi Yoshitake and 2-starred Sukiyabashi Jiro Roppongi topped the list, but also many lesser-known restaurants that were almost as good and definitely worth mentioning. Somehow they didn't make it to my blog. Among them, two immediately came to mind - Unagi Kabuto in Ikebukuro serving head-to-tail eel cuisine and the legendary Sushi Kyubey in Ginza.

How about Hong Kong? - Quite a number of new restaurants opened in town throughout the year, but we only managed to try a few, and none was particularly impressive, with Sushi Yoshitake Hong Kong being the only exception (I guess I should stop talking about it - otherwise people might think I got paid by them. Ha ha!) Other than that, I suppose a couple of meals we had at Otto e Mezzo Bombana (in March and again in July) were probably the best we had in Hong Kong this year.

And here are some of my other favorites:

Favorite New Kitchen Toy - I am lucky to be able to pick up 2 excellent knives in my trips to Japan. First my santoku knife from the legendary Kyoto blacksmith Aritsugu, then I bought another one - a yanagiba (commonly used by sushi chef) from Kikuchimonji, another famous blacksmith just a block behind Aritsugu. This time I had it engraved with my name in Chinese. Both are gorgeous tools which I enjoy using every day now. Only that I need to improve my knife skills to make better use of them.

Favorite Dish - Chef Yoshitake-san's abalone with liver sauce is hands down the winner. And I was blessed to be able to try this twice - first in his Ginza restaurant in March, second time in his new restaurant in Hong Kong in October. I was almost down to tears when I tried this the first time... especially with the white asparagus to mop the liver sauce that was left behind. So simple, yet such a genius creation.

Favorite Meal: I went through month by month tracing back the many memorable meals I had this year - some glamorous, some in a more humble settings; some with friends, some dining alone; some cost me a fortune, some didn't cost a dime - and I must say my favorite meal of 2012 came to a random dinner when we were in Tuscany that we cooked at the rented villa. That was the morning we went to the market at Siena, picked up any fresh veggies in sight, off the farmers' truck, got a big piece of steak at the butcher's, went back to our place in the evening, started the fire at the stone oven outside our place, and just threw everything at it.

With basically just salt, pepper and olive oil, we turned the ingredients into numerous dishes - grilled zucchini, asparagus and peppers, bruschetta made with heirloom tomatoes. sauteed ceps, roasted artichokes, red wine-poached pears and of course, Bistecca alla Fiorentina. That evening, we sat by the pool under the moonlight with gentle breeze, with a glass of fine brunello in hand, and just enjoyed the nature and the freshest and tastiest food right in the middle of the Tuscan countryside. This is the time I truly grasped what a dream vacation should be like - and any life trouble and stress and pressure seemed miles away. And without any Michelin stars to show forth, or days and months in anticipation or planning or calling for reservation, or fancy silverware or high-tech equipment or avant garde techniques, that turned out to be my unexpected favorite meal of the year.

Well to me, food memories are not just about the flavors, or how dishes are presented, or how many stars a restaurant got, or how hard it is to score a reservation; it goes much deeper, into our state of minds, feelings and emotions, and as 2012 is drawing to a close, we also think about and appreciate those who made our meals enjoyable - people who prepared the food, who served us, who ate and laughed with us, and who brought us to those wonderful restaurants and places, and recommended us great places to eat. And even people - friends or random strangers who read my blog as I mumbled and shared about food and meals and travel adventure (among other stuff) - yes, that's you I am talking about. For that, I thank you all and let me wish you all a delicious year of 2013! Eat on and be happy!


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