Sunday, January 29, 2006


Gong Xi Fa Cai
  • A pair of mandarin oranges (called "kum" in Cantonese, which also means "gold") with lots of wishes to one and all for wealth and prosperity!
  • Some really cute angpows (red packets) with cut-out/flip-up cartoon characters - the young ones should be fairly amused with these.
  • Multi-colored melon seeds, the first time I've seen the same hit the streets and homes of Singapore - the brown ones are coffee-flavored, the lilac ones are lavender-flavored, the green ones are of course green tea-flavored... the ingenuity of retailers!
Red Peony
The peony, a symbol of Spring and also of good fortune, prosperity and wealth. It is rare to find a real peony in Singapore and so we make do with lovely silk reproductions, which can then last the whole year through!

Wishing one and all Chinese readers GONG XI FA CAI (wishes of prosperity) and XIN NIAN KUAI LE (happy new year) for this 4704th Lunar New Year of the Dog!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Have a Cuppa

St Joseph's Church
In case you're wondering whether we did any form of sightseeing while in Hanoi, the above picture is evidence of our diligence. St Joseph's Church to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake has been standing since 1886, which makes it at least 119-years old (definitely a grand dame not to be messed about). The Catholic church is a lovely example of gothic architecture, which I found to be very reminiscent of the Notre Dame in Paris, don't you think so? Heard that it has lovely stained glass within but alas, we did not make it in time for mass that morning and with the church doors locked, had to be content with some exterior shots. The church is an extremely old and gray stone building and I have desaturated the photo and tinted it slightly, in order to make a more dramatic statement and increase the 'gothic' mood.

With our 10-minute sightseeing completed, Robert (our local guide) brought us for a coffee-break. The Vietnamese love their coffee, an extremely robust dark thick liquid which is sweetened by large amounts of condensed milk. To the uninitiated, the dark-roasted local coffee is like a 'triple-shot expresso and hold the water'! 3 to 4 heaped tablespoons of ground coffee powder are placed in a stainless steel cup with a perforated bottom standing over another cup. Pour less than one small cup of hot water over the coffee powder, and let the drip begin its slow slow journey towards coffee heaven. If you're the highly impatient type, order something else as coffee prepared this way takes a minimum of 10 minutes or more - in any case, caffeine is probably bad for the likes of you!
aliculi coffee
For the daring and the fearless, try the Ca phe Chon. Forget Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee, which the locals would probably consider quite 'wussy' in comparison. Ca phe Chon (or weasel-shit coffee, "chon" in Vietnamese means "weasel") is top-of-the-line coffee and only found in a few specialty coffee-shops in this city. According to urban legend, the weasel (which happens to be a coffeebean connoisseur) eats the coffee fruit, and excretes the undigested coffee beans, which are subsequently collected by workers, washed and processed before being roasted. This may have been true at some prior time in history, but I seriously doubt that current-day 'weasel-shit coffee' is still sourced the same way - can you just imagine the armies of weasels required and the shit-load of coffeebeans to be consumed by these poor fellows to get the beans that are sold by the kilos in the cafes? Heard instead that nowadays, the coffee producer processes the beans with acids or enzymes to simulate the environment in the weasel's stomach in order to produce that special flavor.

Cafe MaiDoes Ca phe Chon really taste different? It certainly does not taste like Starbucks, Spinelli or CoffeeBean & TeaLeaf coffee, nor like shit (or more accurately, what I think shit should taste like). Instead, it's like a really thick chocolate-flavored version of our local 'kopi kao'. The coffee-beans which are roasted in butter, are fragrant and reminds me of our own local 'black' coffee roast (i.e. coffeebeans usually roasted with sugar and margarine or butter resulting in a darker roast).

The Cafe Mai we went to is at 52 Nguyen Du (and it has branches at 96 and 79 Le Van Huu). The coffee beans are sold by the kilo ranging from 80,000VND (approx. SGD8) for normal coffee, 140,000VND for arabica coffee, mocha goes for 160,000VND, espresso for 22o,000VND, and aliculi coffee (another name for weasel-shit coffee) retails for 180,000VND. This is cheap if you compare against the going price of approximately US$300 per pound for the Indonesian 'cafe luwak' (civet-cat shit coffee) - same modus operandi in production (but maybe, it truly is sourced from civet cat poop to account for that huge price differential).

If you're in the mood for some 'capoopccino' or 'pooppresso', try Cafe Mai or the local Starbucks' equivalent, Trung Nguyen cafe chain. Having brought an entire kilo of aliculi home with me and savouring it every weekend (using a French-press plunger), I'm a 'poop' convert.

Motorbike City Motorbikes Valet
Hanoi is a city of motorbikes with apparently little or no traffic rules or if there are, the happy motorbikers are completely ignorant of them. Crossing the street for the first time is really daunting with the cavalcade of motorbikes whooshing past us on both sides with barely inches to spare. Looking left and right only served to confuse and scare the hell out of us poor souls. Eventually, we noticed that their brakes are in excellent condition, and figured that they probably had quicker reflexes than us and are unlikely to want to damage their bikes by hitting us. So, the trick is to step off the curb and walk purposefully and quickly in the direction of the opposite curb and pray hard that they will avoid you.
Qualifying Statement: This method does NOT work with cars, vans, buses or trucks, which unfortunately are not as nimble as the motorbikes.

Sidewalks in Hanoi are not meant to serve the pedestrians solely. They serve as parking areas for motorbikes, dining areas for the local populace with low tables and stools next to the food-stalls, and even as areas for a bit of entrepreneur activity (eg. setting up your own barber-shop). By the way, the above photo on the right is actually a Vietnamese-style 'valet' service for motorbikes provided by Cafe Mai - park your bike at the front of the cafe, grab one of these tags with corresponding numbers and the coffee-shop attendant will keep a look out for your bike while you drink your coffee in peace!
Street Barber

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Wild Rice

Window Hanoi is really big on food. For a couple thousand Dong, one can savor good honest local fare on its street-walks, sitting at low tables and on stools. But if you care to spend a little more, the food experience in Hanoi's wave of new and trendy restaurants can be truly orgasmic (going by the oohs and ahhs of the 6 Gorge(ou)s each time we sat down to a meal at one of these places).

Before flying into Hanoi, some of us did a bit of homework and we found it tough to plan our 'meals itinerary'! With so many recommendations for good local fare, from street-walks to high-end restaurants, it was extremely difficult to narrow down one's dining options, especially when we only had a couple of days in the city (this explains why we ended up sometimes having more than just 3 meals a day, to our guide's horror).

Our first restaurant target was WILD RICE at 6, Ngo Thi Nham Street, Hanoi [Tel: (84-4) 943-8896]. It is sited in a lovely colonial style building, with white walls and dark-framed window-shutters and doorways. Beautiful local Vietnamese art lined its walls and our dining room on the ground floor had a striking lighted long wall with bamboo artistically placed. Turn your head, and you see a lovely bamboo rock garden within a glass walled enclosure just next to the dining room. Contemporary eastern design, very easy on the senses. The menu - Vietnamese food with a delicate touch.

Fresh Spring Rolls First up, Fresh Spring Rolls (neon chuon sang) filled with steamed fish pieces, rice noodles and fresh green herbs, each neatly strung together with a sprig of spring onion. The clean flavors of the rolls are perfectly accompanied by the 'nuoc nam cham' dipping sauce (fish sauce dip).

Next, we had a plate of Green Papaya and Prawn Salad (goi du du tom) - fresh tasting, lovely crunch from the chopped peanuts and shredded papaya tossed in a fish-based dressing that stirred the appetite for more to come. This salad I liked A LOT :)
Green Papaya & Prawn Salad
Tamarind Prawns
Saute Prawns with Peanut and Tamarind Sauce (tom rang me) - a delicious seafood dish richly flavored with tamarind sauce with lots of fried minced garlic and chopped peanuts, which is not too different from our own local assam prawns save for the addition of fish sauce.
Braised Eggplant
By the way, fish sauce to the Vietnamese is just like soya sauce to the Chinese - its presence felt in almost every other dish.

Pan-fried Eggplant with Peppered Fish Sauce, this dish is done quite well, with the right seasoning to match the sweetness from the eggplant. I don't generally like eggplants and the fact that I had second helpings say quite a lot for this humble vegetable.

Grilled Tuna The Grilled Tuna in Banana Leaves (ca thu nuong la chuoi) which came on a bed of grilled red peppers and eggplants was well-grilled - unfortunately, I was not particularly enthused as the grilled fish-steak was a tad drier than I thought it should be.

We also had BBQ Squid with Lemongrass and Chilli, which fared a little bit better, especially for those portions that had not been over-grilled.

Pan Fried Beef with Coconut-Milk Sauce
The Pan-fried Beef with Coconut Milk Sauce, on the other hand, was tender and succulent on the inside but fried to a crisp on the outside. Already tasty by itself (due to it being well-seasoned), dipped into a fragrant yellow-colored coconut sauce, another dimension of this dish surfaces - well-balanced sweetness from both meat and coconut flavors. Verry nice!
Wild Rice Desserts
And of course, no meal is truly complete until dessert is served. Young Baby Corn "Che", Young Sticky rice "Che", Grilled Banana with Yogurt and Orange Juice Sauce and Coconut Ice-Cream. The corn 'che' (like a thickened corn cream sweetened soup) is not too bad, with the taste of fresh corn. Overall though, Vietnamese desserts are really nothing much to shout about - better off ordering an extra plate of salad or rice rolls.

With a total of 9 dishes (which included 2 plates of salads and a plate of stir-fried vegetables), desserts and tea all around, dinner came up to about 910,000VND (approx. SGD91) - averaging about SGD15 per person. A little bit more expensive than your average street-food but the ambience is lovely, and the food quality and presentation a couple of notches higher (at least, we didn't discover any parts of insects in our dishes).

During our stay in Hanoi, we tried two other top-end Vietnamese restaurants (which I will share with you soon) but I will say for now, that our oohs and ahhs increased at the next restaurant and culminated in a crescendo at the last restaurant.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Dinner Cross-Legged or Otherwise

Flying by Tiger Airways (a budget airline) direct from Singapore to Hanoi can really work up an appetite. The no-frills flight does not come with complimentary drinks or meals and a hungry passenger will have to part with a couple of dollars for either a cold-looking sandwich, a cup of instant noodles, or maybe a packet of pretzels. Since the flight was only about 3 hours and ETA at Hanoi would be approximately between 7.30 - 8 pm (Hanoi time), our group of six made do with two very small packets of pretzels (not highly recommended and only to be taken if you really have to munch on something for want of in-flight entertainment or anything else to occupy your time).

We touched down at Noi Bai Airport, cleared immigration, located our local guide with placard, made the intros and the first unanimous request of the 6 Gorge(ou)s - "we are very very hungrryyy.... can we have dinner first?". I'm very certain that we did not leave Robert (our local Vietnamese guide) with any first impression of dainty proper behaviour. In fact I'm now wondering whether he had any inkling then that this very first question had set the stage for our culinary adventures which eventually earned us that moniker.

Robert's first recommendation that night was Highway 4, at 5 Hang Tre, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi - a restaurant serving traditional Vietnamese food and liquor located in an old colonial 3-storey shophouse (somewhat like our old long and narrow-in-width coffeeshops along Killiney Road and in Chinatown, Singapore). Entering the ground floor, we saw a couple of empty tables and chairs and only one seated couple - hmm.. not a good sign. Ushered up the winding stairs to the first floor, we discovered where the real action was. Low bamboo tables made two parallel lines (cutting the room in half) and straw floor mats with cushion seats were strewn on the floor. Diners were seated cross-legged (with their shoes off) and some lounging against the side walls, with quite a nice din of merry-making underway.

Ordering was easy as the menu is bilingual, Vietnamese and English. Sitting down cross-legged for the duration of dinner required a tad more effort - do stretch and lightly thump the legs once in awhile to ensure they haven't gone to sleep on you, or you may end up with pins and needles!

Catfish Spring Rolls
We started with the Catfish Spring Rolls (a Highway 4 specialty) (Nem Ca Xa Lo4) at 48,000 VND (or SGD4.80). I didn't know it then, but it was actually almost like miniature Cha Ca (grilled fish, which we had the next day) wrapped in rice paper together with some herbs and rice vermicelli. Being my first rice paper rolls for the trip, I did like the combination of meaty fish with fragrant fresh herbs and the light fresh rice paper.

Caramelised Pork in Claypot
Caramelized Pork simmered in fish sauce in mini-claypot (Thit Kho Tau) 28,000 VND (or SGD2.80) was not too bad either (portion good for no more than 3 pax if light meat-eaters). The pork cubes were tender and flavorful and the sauce went quite well with rice - have no idea what's in the sauce though other than the obvious fish sauce and palm sugar, and maybe a touch of coconut milk or evaporated milk for that milky texture. A very traditional Vietnamese dish, I'm told.

Morning Glory (kangkong)
At this juncture, I have to say that the Vietnamese do a splendid job with their vegetables. Apart from their creative fresh salads, their cooked vegetables are never cooked to death until totally wilted and limp. Back home in Singapore, ordering a dish of stir-fried kangkong (water spinach or water convolvulus) can be a 'hit or miss' experience as the kangkong may be cooked too long, or if tender shoots are not used, may end up being quite fibrous. Simple stir-fried morning glory (which is what kangkong is called in Vietnam) or any other green vegetables is beautifully done here, the cooked vegetables retain their lovely green color, tender in texture with a slight crunch and sometimes, one plate is just not enough. Should you have the chance to visit this beautiful country, one piece of advice - do NOT pass on the vegetables even if you are a die-hard meat-lover.

Dinner (which included a couple more dishes) plus juices for 6 pax did not exceed 500,000 VND (SGD 50) in total.

And if you have the time, stay awhile longer, stretch out your legs, order the Son Tinh traditional Vietnamese liquor (comes in various flavors) produced from rice wine (which we tried later back at our hotel, compliments of our most hospitable local guide - a nice warm kick to end the evening) and make friends with your fellow diners at the next bamboo table.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The City is Yellow!

No, I'm not talking about yellow journalism or even 'yellow movies' (the Chinese equivalent to 'blue movies') in the city of Hanoi. I'm referring to the walls of Hanoi. A first-time visitor to this city will definitely be pleasantly surprised (as was I) by the generous use of bright cheery yellow paint throughout this city - on the walls of stately colonial and government buildings, cafes, restaurants and the villas and houses on tree-lined avenues, especially around the Ba Dinh District and the area surrounding the Old Quarter.
Homely Shades of Yellow (3)
This lovely example, near the Ba Dinh Square, had shades of French Provence (complete with blue window shutters), but ironically sited halfway across the world in Hanoi. Asked our local guide about the prevalent use of the color 'yellow', and he shrugged and said, "we like yellow, nice color, yes?" - a definite under-statement, considering that the country's national flag has only two colors and one of them is yellow.

Regally Yellow (2)Travelling through the city, I was truly glad that the city's favourite color wasn't purple or horror of horrors, hot pink - instead I was met by warm splashes of yellow brightening up the usual drab and grey concrete structures of a city.

The President's residence is brick yellow as well, with huge ornate grey-blue gates. I'm reminded of a mini-version of the Palace at Versailles, and let's not forget also the possible influences from the imperial colors of the Forbidden City in Beijing - after all Hanoi isn't that far off from the borders of China.

Dramatic Yellow (1)
A young man sits and waits on the steps of the Hanoi Opera Theatre, modelled after the Paris Opera House (the Palais Garnier). With such a serious expression, who's to know whether he is pondering his future and that of his city or whether he, just like the 6 Gorge(ou)s, is wondering where to have his lunch today?

By the way, yellow is my favourite color as well!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Hanoi, better late than never!

Vietnam's National Star The yellow star fluttered furiously in the windy morning at Ba Dinh Square, site of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi. A bunch of six women from Singapore wrapped in their parkas gathered around their young and enthusiastic Vietnamese guide as he ventured forth on his country's history. They appeared to be listening quite intently but at least one of them (if not more) was already thinking of the lunch ahead. Hey, I was after all in VIETNAM, land of pho bo and salads galore, sometimes touted as one of Asia's best kept culinary secrets.

Cha Ca La VongIt's a good thing that lunch starts at around 11 am in this city, and being 'efficiently economical' in our city sight-seeing, it was not too long before we brought our ravenous appetites to our first lunch-stop at Cha Ca La Vong, a more than 100-year old Hanoi food institution. Featured in Patricia Schultz's "1000 places to see before you die", I'm told that no tourist should ever leave Hanoi without trying the grilled fish (cha ca) served in this little two-storey shophouse found in the Old Quarter at 14 Cha Ca (yup, this restaurant is so famous that they actually changed the street name many many years ago to 'grilled fish' street).

Climbing a set of narrow stairs up number 14, we are immediately ushered into a corner booth and like clockwork, bowls of bun (rice vermicelli), plates of mint, dill and spring onions, roasted peanuts and little bowls of fish sauce are placed on the table.
Cha-Ca Spread
No smiling waitresses, no menu - they know what you want and they serve nothing else - which makes ordering easy for the non-Vietnamese speaking tourist, i.e. you need not utter a single word. Soon, a hot charcoal stove is brought to the table together with a frying pan filled with turmeric-rubbed chunky pieces of already cooked white fish (found out later, that the fish is Ca Loc or snake-head fish) in sizzling, bubbling and steaming hot turmeric-infused oil.
Cha Ca Up Close
First, bunches of dill and spring onion are placed in the fish-filled pan to heat through but not for too long. Stir-fry at the table a mere few seconds and lunch begins. Spoon some fish with herb mixture and a bit of the oil onto a bowl of rice vermicelli, and top with mint, roasted peanuts and fish sauce. I loved the use of dill in this dish and discovered during the course of my trip in Hanoi that the Vietnamese-culinary style uses huge bunches of raw herbs (e.g. dill, mint and basil) - more so than any other South-east Asian-style of cooking. The boneless chunks of fish were delicious (care to be taken not to cook the fish too long at the table to prevent toughening the fish - not a problem in our case with 6 voracious appetites). Although a tad concerned with the amount of oil used, we couldn't stop ourselves from spooning the fragrant turmeric-infused oil to coat and heat the vermicelli. The herbs and the fish sauce were a good combination though, helping to cut through the oiliness of the dish. At about 70,000VND (approximately SGD7) per person, it was a good start to our Hanoi dining-experience.
Cha-Ca with Herbs
Spotting a French-style deli-bakery opposite Cha Ca La Vong, the six of us adjourned over for coffee and desserts. At Baguette & Chocolat (11 Cha Ca street), a warm and cosy little cafe run by the Hoa Sua School for Disadvantaged Youth, we went a little bit amok, ordering every single variety of tart, from the lovely bright citron (lemon) tart, the dual white and dark chocolate tart, the pear tart, almond tart and chocolate brownie. We unanimously agreed that French pastries are done quite well in Hanoi, probably one of the better vestiges of French colonialism.
French Pastries

Banh Cuon Stall on Cha Ca While sipping tea with our local guide, he innocently mentioned that barely a few doors away on this particular Cha Ca street was a famous stall for Banh Cuon, steamed rice-flour rolls (not unlike our local Chee Cheong Fun), a favourite for breakfast in north Vietnam due to its light nature. Instantly, six pairs of eyes lit up, and notwithstanding the oil-laden lunch and sugar-rich desserts just barely partaken, we moved three shophouses down the road and came upon Banh Cuon Cha Ca, Tinh Ca Cuong Con Nguyen Chat at 17 Cha Ca. In order not to appear too greedy, we requested our local guide to order one plate (20,000 VND or approximately SGD2 per plate) for all of us to share.

Banh Cuon
The plate of delicate steamed rice-flour rolls arrived immediately, rolled with a mixture of stir-fried minced mushrooms and minced pork, topped with fried shallots, garnished with coriander leaves and served with a bowl of sauce (fish-based) with chunks of the local Vietnam ham. Without even bothering to take our seats at the table, the six of us stood elbow to elbow and in a single fell swoop, six pairs of chopsticks came down on that little plate. Resistance to the smooth, white, thin and shiny rice rolls was useless and another plate was soon ordered up. [Methinks the Vietnamese guide and stall operator were a bit taken aback by our hungry-ghost display.]

That Special Ingredient Quite disgusted with our own hungry-ghost display, we returned to this stall a couple of days later to redeem our tattered reputation and sat down lady-like, each with our own plate of banh cuon and accompanying sauce. Without the chopsticks fight, each of us could savor in full the extremely light rolls and very tasty dipping sauce, and that's when we discovered this little flattened brown stuff in the dipping sauce that looked like it had legs. Yikes, it was part of an insect! [Take a peek at the right-hand corner of the bowl of dipping sauce in the picture above, and you will see this pointy tail-like thingy.]

At this point, the stall-owner proudly produced a little plastic box in which he kept the dried bug specimens, and our naughty local guide then informed us that he had ordered that special ingredient for added punch to our dipping sauce. This particular stall flavors its dipping sauce with belostomatid essence, i.e. the essence extracted from this particular genus of giant water-bug. The slightly pungent belostomatid essence (ca cuong - will definitely be on the alert for this word in all future Vietnamese menus) complements very well the fish sauce (nuoc nam) and when mixed with a little water, sugar, vinegar and pepper creates an unusually tasty dipping sauce, quite quite popular with the locals. To be fair, we thought it to be very tasty indeed until we discovered the reason - *sigh* sometimes, ignorance is bliss!

Banh Cuon Expert To make the light rice-flour rolls, a ladle of rice-flour mixture (rice flour, water and salt) is spread in a thin layer over a taut muslin cloth that has been stretched over the mouth of a steamer filled with boiling water. The steamer is then covered.

Lift-off for the Banh Cuon After a few minutes, the steamed layer is then lifted with a long chopstick in a single unbroken piece (that takes a fair amount of skill) and placed on a plate for rolling of the banh cuon ingredients within. Our banh cuon lady expert sits at her chair all day long using only her right hand to ladle and lift the rice-flour roll and her left hand to lift the cover for the steamer, while another lady rolls the hot rice-flour roll. A specialist indeed!

At the end of my 6-day sojourn in this gastronomic city, I'm kicking myself for not having discovered this beautiful country earlier. I must however thank heartily my five other travelling companions for their uninhibited and adventurous quest for food (apart from shopping), the endless discussion in our tour-van on the next meal-stop, the constant barrage faced by our patient local guide for recommendations on the best places to eat... we kinda *blushed* when he asked quite quite sincerely whether it is a practice for us to eat 6 meals a day in Singapore! With such 'tarnished' reputations, we do think the moniker "the six Gorge(ou)s" fitted us quite aptly.

More posts to come on the variety of culinary delights encountered by these six Gorge(ou)s :-)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Wine Exploration

Open up a bottle, pour a glass and the time has come "to talk of many things: of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax - of cabbages - and kings - and why the sea is boiling hot - and whether pigs have wings."


Monday, January 02, 2006

Need those Two Front Teeth

At a recent Christmas family gathering, a little relative of mine came up smiling ever so sweetly that the angelic smile called to be captured for posterity.
I'm Pretty
Isn't that just the sweetest smile ever, with the innocence of childhood reflected in her eyes? Just looking at her, I wished I could recapture some of that innocence and carefree spirit, unbothered by all the various pretensions of the world.

But little relative had a problem and a big wish for Christmas...
Need my Two Front Teeth
Yup, she proudly showed me her two missing front teeth and sure enough, got teased mercilously for being 'boh-geh' (that's hokkien slang for 'no teeth').

And if Santa Clause, for whatever reason, fails to deliver those two front teeth pronto-quick, then the poor man will have to face the wrath of this little relative of mine, such wrath and rage that even the Hulk will shudder at.
Madder than the Hulk

Hope the photos brought a smile to your day... and remember these little ones will one day rule the world, so do be nice to each one that comes along your way!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Marble Cake Like No Other

This is the first day of 2006, and I will start the new year with something familiar to everyone. Most of us have at one time or another (whether as part of home-economics classes, baked by mum, grandma or an aunt or even bought from the local bakery) partaken of a slice of marble cake, which is basically a light pound cake made from two different colored cake mixtures (usually a vanilla-based pale mixture contrasted against a chocolate-based dark mixture).
Marble Cake

Today's marble cake though is different.
  • First, the recipe originates from Alice Medrich's BitterSweet (and in the book, the cake is named "Tiger Cake", for its alternating stripes).
  • Second, no butter is used in the cake at all, instead it is replaced by 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil to 3 cups of plain flour. The lovely yellow shade of the lighter portion of the cake reflects the hue imparted by the extra-virgin olive oil. Although delighted that the cake would contain healthy olive oil, I was a little concerned as to whether it would turn out oily or too strong in olive oil aromas or flavors. If you are equally concerned, you can rest assured that the baked result is moist without being in the least oily.
  • Third, half a teaspoon of ground white pepper is added to the ingredients - did a double-take, didn't you? - Me too, as I was reading the recipe! Ms Medrich recommends it "to accentuate the olive oil flavor" and who am I to cast doubt on the same.
  • Fourth, again following Ms Medrich's instructions NOT to use Dutch-process cocoa powder as it reacts negatively with the 2 teaspoons of baking powder and olive oil used in the recipe, I used half a cup of Valrhona's 100% Gastronomie Cocoa Powder (unsweetened) mixed with half a cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of water blended into a chocolate paste. I can only add that using good quality cocoa makes a whole lot of difference and results in an incredible chocolate flavor when you taste that forkful of cake.
The results of this unorthodox marble cake is most satisfying. Even without butter, the cake is nicely moist with a light pound-cake texture, and the pepper adds just that tad of 'kick' while staying in the background most of the time.

This cake batter is however quite 'wet' in that it comprises a cup of olive oil, 5 cold large eggs and a cup of cold milk, which accounts for the instructions to bake in a tube or bundt pan or to split into 2 loaf pans. I used a single large loaf pan and the center of my cake took much longer than the one hour and 10 minutes recommended in a 175C (350F) oven - thus, the browned crust for the cake.

Plain as it may look, this is one of the best marble cakes I've made and tasted, and I can't wait to try it toasted for breakfast tomorrow morning (strongly recommended by Ms Medrich as toasting intensifies the flavors).

Happy new year 2006 to one and all, and here's to new things including familiar ones with new twists!