As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, restaurants will take ages to FULLY reopen. The alternative is to cook in the comfort of your home. I first began to learn cooking by watching and helping my grandmother from when I was about 7 years old. I was surrounded by parents and a family of great home Cooks capable of whatever level of cooking they set their mind on, which, with time, turned out to be my case as well (not to brag, but to make a point).

However, when it comes to knowledge transfer, in cooking, I am reluctant. Especially, if it has to be done in writing as I do not like writing recipes (what’s the point of a recipe if you do not know what the recipe is supposed to taste like…?? Get my point? ). This current post will be one of the few exceptions to that rule.

01For this write-up, the star ingredient will be the chicken. I will share with you 3  easy non-Western-inspired recipes based on the chicken (you can use chicken breast or chicken thighs). I purposely mentioned “inspired” because the following recipes are voluntarily designed to be inspired by their original versions, but NOT  to be as authentic. I deliberately chose NOT to make them authentic for one very simple reason: they are aimed at people who are interested in a quick introduction to some non-western recipes that can be completed in a few steps. If you are interested in advanced cooking instructions on the “real deal” (aka the authentic versions of those recipes), I will be happy to share with you the relevant step-by-step instructions.

Let’s start! Shall we?

02(1)An Indian-inspired recipe. Marinate your chicken in plain yogurt, turmeric powder, Madras curry powder (or GaramMasala), coriander, fresh thyme, ginger (nowadays, in the West, you can find those ingredients in the ethnic food aisle of any non-ethnic grocery stores). Let it rest for  15 mins in your fridge. Do not try to over-think this recipe…we are not trying to make authentic Indian cuisine here. Just inspiring ourselves from it. Once ready to prepare, take the marinade and a bit of water and heat it in a pot. Add the meat and let it cook for 30 mins over medium heat (halfway into the cooking, taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking). To be served with rice. Cooked rice, of course … That is it! Like many people who are passionate about food, I took advanced courses, a while back, with Indian Grandmas/Grandpas and the method is NOT  as straightforward as exposed in this recipe, obviously. But the idea, here, is to get a newbie (of Indian cuisine) going (later on, you can revisit the recipe with its more elaborate methods).

IMG_1034(2)A Mauritian-inspired recipe. Marinate the chicken in a mixture of onions, garlic, chilly, red wine, tomatoes, salt, pepper, coriander, cinnamon, clove, parsley, thyme, coriander, water. Let it rest for 15 mins. Then, when ready to prepare,  sauté some onion, garlic, and ginger in a pot over medium heat.  Once those ingredients get a bit of color, add the chicken (Only the meat. Set the marinade aside, at this stage) in the pot and cook for 2 mins.  After 2 mins, add the cinnamon, cloves, thyme, parsley, dry chili, pepper, and wine marinade mixture. Well, here, forget the powdered renditions of cloves and cinnamon and use real cloves and cinnamon….it adds more peps to your dish. Just let the dish simmer (in the marinade)  for 25 mins over medium heat. 20 mins before stopping the cooking, add thin slices of potatoes and carrots to the dish and adjust the seasoning to your liking.  To be served with rice.

07(3)Pour 1 cup of water and a can of coconut milk in a pot, add garlic, salt, pepper, a bit of crushed ginger, and marinate the chicken in that mixture for 15 mins. When ready to cook, boil the chicken and its marinade  over medium heat. Around the 3rd  minute of the cooking,  add some bay leaves and 1 tablespoon of butter . Around the 5th minute, add a fresh tomato (to cut into quarters). Let it cook for 15  minutes.  15 minutes later, add peas as well as one teaspoon of tomato paste and let the cooking continue for 5 more minutes (or till your peas have cooked, while still retaining their pop and round shape). Add some coriander and adjust the level of salt to your taste towards the last 3 minutes.  Stop the cooking. Serve it 5 minutes later. Press some fresh juicy lime on the sauce at the time of serving. To be served with rice.

If you want, shred a green (unripe) mango, blend it with some fresh chili, a bit of salt, fresh lime juice and use it as a condiment to recipes #2 and #3.

Be aware of the following: the number of minutes indicated in a recipe is an approximate measuring of the time, so you still have to verify regularly if your chicken needs to cook a bit longer or not. Furthermore, the power of heat can vary from one stove to another, consequently, you may have to adjust the heat along the way.

That’s all for this post. Next time,  the star ingredient will be one of my preferred fish:

The red snapper. I will share with you some ambrosial recipes around this utterly delicious fish. The formula will remain the same: 3 recipes that are easy to make. But instead of focusing solely on sauces, we’ll vary the cooking methods: we will grill the fish, we’ll bake it and we’ll cook it in a sauce, using exquisite seasoning through a journey around the globe with, this time,  stopovers in Africa (Zanzibar), South America (Suriname), and Asia (Laos). Stay safe!

 

While eagerly waiting for the restaurants to reopen, let’s TALK about …MUSIC. What’s your #1 song of all time?

For those who are new to this blog, Yeah…it is a personal blog. It looks and feels like a foodie blog, but it is, above all,
a personal blog. So..the freak behind this blog, well…he does not care. He writes whatever he wants, whenever he wants.
Exactly as on a personal blog.

So, Yeah..we are talking about What’s your #1 song of all time?
Tough question, indeed. On a personal level, I have MANY!
Being African, most of my #1 artists are naturally Africans (as per this post I published earlier on).
But I am opened minded: I listen to Rap, folk, rock, jazz, blues, heavy metal, country and any music from ANY and ALL  parts of the globe. Music is music. It is supposed to please the ears, not the ego or whatever BS we put in our minds. So I do exactly just  that: I appreciate music for what it is, NOT for …what I want it to be!!!…  For me, there is NO music for X type of people , LOL. …There is music for people who love music and BS for people who love…well, ………….BS!

On to our topic, some of my All time favorite songs:

-Dan Bigras “Tue moi“, in my mother tongue, French. Dan (from Quebec)  may pass as a “rebel”, but it is his incredible voice, coupled with the voice of one of my all time favorite singers, Luce Dufault that makes this song, one of my ATFs (all time favorite). The lyrics make lots of sense, as usual, with Dan. Lots of humility, lots of existential meaning. If you can translate what Dan sings (in the lingua of your choice), you will discover an anthem to love and liberty that is as genuine as it gets. But NEVER underestimate Luce…she is the BOMB! Trust me! Luce, Dan, Merci, Merci, Merci. Peu importe, que le MERCI vienne de ce petit blog de MERDE qui est la mienne..peu importe…..on en a rien à foutre…. l’important c’est que … vous en avez séduit des coeurs, hein! Et pas à peu près. ON vous adore, aujourd’hui, demain et pour toujours…!!!!

-Still from Québec, another ATF: Marjo! Marjo, the rocker. A powerful woman with a powerful voice. Québec has world class artists (singers, painters, etc). Abroad, people knew Roch Voisine and Céline Dion. Of course, Roch and Céline are amazing. No doubt about that. But what most people abroad  do not know, is that Québec have / had   plenty of other stellar voices (Gerry Boulet, Michel Rivard, Alys Robi, Robert Charlebois, Rudy Caya, Jean-Pierre Ferland, Daniel Bélanger, Jean Leloup, Marie Denise Pelletier, Kevin Parent, Marie Carmen and many many more). I remember, years ago, Jean-Pierre Ferland had that song “Je reviens chez nous“, a song that was miles away from my reality…and YET, I felt so seduced. Yeah, they are that…skilled, the singers from Québec. Des MONSTRES de la musique, sans blague! World-class, as I said.  In 2021, Québec is still going strong, in that department, with younger artists that are as great as their elders. As the saying goes “Tu l’as ou tu ne l’as pas” (You have it or you do not). And Québec has it! Tu l’as l’affaire, Mon Beau Québec!!!! Et PAS à peu près , mon amour! Québec has artists of incredible talent. One song that I keep listening to, years in, years out is Bohemienne from Marjo. You forbid me from listening to it, and I will bite you! No kidding. This is one of my most “sacred” songs. Merci Marjo pour toutes ces années exceptionnelles d’anthologie, vous êtes un MONUMENT! For me, Marjo’s work was transcendent and will be remembered as long as my memory serves me right:

Last but not least, this time in the language of Shakespeare, another one of my ATF song is Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind.The lyrics of that song are powerful as the rest of the work of Bob in general. Hope you enjoy the deep meaning of his words:

 

This globe is blessed with great food. From Africa to the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia, and plenty of other places, it is hard to pick ONE…  number ONE foodie destination. So if you had to pick one, just one, what would be yours? What is your number one foodie destination?

For me, it is Japan. For many reasons:

1.When they mimic something, they simply do it as great, if not better – as the original. Take the Indian curry, or the Portuguese-inspired castella ….well, the Japanese are doing impressive versions of those. The Japanese curry is not exactly the same as the Indian curry, but a great Indian Chef will still appreciate the Japanese version as a respectable one. Even the pizza can, sometimes,  surprise many. Of course, Japan is not a destination for pizza, obviously, and their pizza chains will not impress most foreigners, and yet a place like Pizza Studio Tamaki Higashiazabu in Tokyo would certainly not leave a serious Italian Pizzaiolo indifferent. And their  Castella is a legendary success,  their ramen (which is inspired by the Chinese) a food staple in and outside of Japan. And wait to see what the Japanese are doing with French pastries! I will conclude this paragraph with a few words about the Kit Kat. So Kit Kat is not originally Japanese, as we all know, but guess what: the best Kit Kat is found in Japan, nowadays, with 300 versions of it! Just another example of how the Japanese can take whatever is in your own yard and elevate it to something you would have never dreamed of.

2.The variety of the food they offer is impressive: oden, sushi, ramen, kaiseki food, tempura, soba, Nattō, Okonomiyaki, Nabe, udon, onigiri, yakitori, unagi, sukiyaki, tonkatsu, the Japanese curry, and many more. Their desserts, cakes, and sweets are also of the highest level with numerous hits such as the Hokkaido Hakodate trappist butter Cookies, Shiroi cake roll,  the trendy fluffy pancake, the Marusei butter cake from Rokkatei, the mochi, the kakigori, the manju, their take on the cheesecake (LeTAO’s Double Fromage coming to mind, as it is known outside of Japan as well as in Japan, and yet in Japan, there is even better than that …. ), etc.

3.In Japan, they do not joke. The competition is fierce between eateries. I remember eating sushi at Narita airport and it was as great as many of the widely touted sushi places outside of Japan. You probably are going to say … yeah, but that is Japan and that is to be expected. But you know, France is known for stellar French fine dining and none of their airports have eateries that can testify to that, Lol. The USA is known for their stellar chophouses, and again…not one single of their airports have eateries capable of feeding you with any evidence of that. Same for Italy and their pizza or pasta, etc. So, yup…if at an airport you can eat world-class food, you can imagine the demanding foodie culture that lies ahead…

4.On the higher end, it shows that the older generations of their Chefs have embraced the kind of obsession for perfection which secret is only known to them. If, as an example, you pick one of Mizutani San’s better pieces, it is packed with the kind of attention to details that can not only be explained by skills, but also by culture, attitude, vision. Here, obviously, the will to sacrifice everything for the “glory of their craft”, the attitude of persevering at all cost, the vision that … to be above, you need to pick one way, just one, and dedicate your entire life to it…is an exceptional state of mind rewarded by some … equally exceptionally great craftmanship. That culture of excellence in Japan’s high-end dining circles is also praised outside of Japan as evidenced by the presence of Japanese multiple-starred Michelin chefs on the soil of Michelin, France:  Ryunosuke Naito (1 star Michelin Pertinence, Paris), Kei Kobayashi (3 star Michelin restaurant Kei, Paris), Ken Kawaski (1 star Michelin Ken Kawaski, Paris), Shinichi Sato (2 star Michelin Passage 53, although that restaurant has closed recently), Takao Takano (2 star Michelin Takao Takano, Lyon), Chef Masafumi Hamano (2 star Michelin, Saint-Amour-Bellevue), Katsuaki Okiyama (1 star Michelin restaurant Abri, Paris), Keisuke Yamagishi (1 star Michelin Étude, Paris).

5.In many countries, street food passes as a joke. In Japan, it is the opportunity to surpass themselves. Their street food is just incredible (clearly, street food for them is not just to make a quick buck, but it is also the playground to showcase their skills and passion). What’s amazing about Japan is that they dominate the high-end dining spectrum (the second country in the world, after France, with the most Michelin star restaurants ..and for those who prefer  Michelin’s competitor San Pellegrino top restaurants listing, they will head to the same conclusion:  San Pellegrino found many high-end gems in Japan!) as much as they nail it on the casual dining actuality   (world-class street food). You know, there are many places around the world with dazzling food…but it is rarely as diverse as in Japan. In India, you have dazzling Indian food. In China, you get dazzling Chinese food. In plenty of African countries, you have dazzling African food, BUT in…Japan, there is dazzling Japanese, French, Chinese, Korean, etc …food! And if a Japanese Chef decides to make French food better than the French, or a Pizza better than an Italian, or a curry as great as an Indian Chef, well, he NAILS IT! Lol. As simple as that. The only other country in the world that is capable of such an extensive variety of dazzling food is the USA. But Japan has the edge.

6.And yep, yep, yep …indeed, their produce is among this globe’s finest. I mean, I grew up with the Indian Ocean at my door, with seafood of such dazzling quality that they remain the ones against which I continue to judge all other seafood, but I have to concede: Japan’s seafood (as well as plenty of their other ingredients such as their remarkable 20th Century pear, benchmark rice, and teas) are up there with the finest.

Do not get me wrong: I am not “blindly” enamored of every single food and ingredient that is Japanese… as an example, I never managed to be as impressed by their WAGYU beef as most seem to have raved about. I would shut down most of the cheapest of their conveyor belt sushi. I would do the same with some of their cheapest Gyudon (Japanese Beef Bowl) chain eateries. Their most fabled strawberries do cost an arm and a leg only to serve me as a reminder that the strawberries of my childhood, in the Indian Ocean, dazzled 10 times more for a fraction of their ridiculous $$$. But at the end of the day, Japan’s food culture is world-class! That is all we need to know. And it certainly does not hurt that it is a country that’s easy on the eyes with boundless natural beauty ( from the gorgeous mountainous Hokkaido to the eye candy white sandy beaches of Okinawa, with fabled sceneries such as the Shinkyo Bridge in  Nikko , the idyllic setting of the  Miyajima Island  or the one the very European Otaru city ),  with plenty to write home about (world heritage sites, their manga, amazing history, world-class traditional arts, architecture, technology, one of the best transportation systems in the world, etc).

In 2020, I did not actively follow the local and  international dining scene, as I had plenty of non-foodie  projects that kept me busy and away  from the dining world.

But as it is customary at the beginning of every new year, I am sharing with you the previous year’s  Top 7  Most Viewed posts according to your hits:

In 2020, the review of Oiji in NYC  was the most popular among you (read by 17.2% of  all of you ). Oiji came on the restaurant scene with a bang and quickly turned into  a hot topic of the food scene in NYC  in the recent years, with some so-called food journalists going  as far as rating Oiji with the same score  they did assign to 3 star Michelin  Per Se…which, as you may have guessed, is …. a bit of a stretch.  Well, to be polite, let’s just say that it did not pan out the flattering way the hype tried to portray it , Lol. As someone who pays his food with his hard earned money, I go to restaurants hoping for the best, obviously. Sadly, my meal  at Oiji did not live up to its billing, and my gut feeling is that this was not an isolated occurence. Given how hyped-up Oiji is on the web, I am not too surprised to see that many, among you, were interested to read about my experience there.

At 2nd  position, the review of Quality Meats in NYC, read by 15.71 % of all of you, and that served as a  reminder  that steakhouses never stop to be popular among food lovers. Year after year, based on your hits, my reviews on steakhouses have been very popular, and QM’s review was no exception. QM was Ok enough, but if  you order their rib eye steak,  then I hope that yours will  be better than the one I had. If  that lacklustre steak was not an isolated situation, then QM really needs to step up their game as we are in NYC,  a city where steak lovers are blessed with plenty of   world class steakhouses, therefore a day off, at a steakhouse,  is not an option in such condition . Furthermore, read the “bottom line” section of that review …..

At  3rd  position, the review of  Torishin – New York City ( 13.48 %  of you all); In its first year, you were not  interested in  this review. But for the 2nd year in a row, it has been a very popular post based on your hits.  Here, I don’t have a great deal to add to what has already been submitted in that review. It was just one of those rare epic dining disappointments  in my long journey as a foodie. Fortunately, this is not representative of the world class dining destination  that  NYC happens to be, but the  exception that proves the rule.

At 4th position, the review of  Docks Oyster House  in Atlantic City (13.21 % of you all). Millions of people flock to Atlantic City every year for its idyllic setting and  iconic boardwalk.  Charming Atlantic City continues to be the lovely resort destination all of us have grown to know and love, albeit not as bustling as it once was. The Missus and myself decided to pay a visit to  Docks Oyster House, one of its most popular restaurants. It turned out to be, for both the Missus and myself,  another one of the few disappointments that we have encountered in our   recent dining years. As the meal progressed, we both felt despondent on the back of what we were eating, at the exception of the gargantuan lobster (the saving grace of our meal). Too bad,  as the service was superb and the lovely sparsely decorated interior did seduce both of us.

At 5th position, the review of  Mizutani in Tokyo, which can be found here. That was read by 11.45% of all of you. Bruce Lee once said “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times“. I could not agree more. REAL Legendary Sushi Masters like Mizutani-San have spent their entire life repeating and perfecting obsessively the same gesture  in a way that is unimaginable by most Western standards. That, ultimately and expectedly, led to some of the most technically accomplished pieces of sushi you would have sampled. Eventhough this shop has closed since a long time, I can see how nostalgia brought you here: Mizutani-San was a giant, indeed. Therefore, it is not hard to understand how the memories of his dazzling craft can transcend time. Especially in a world where making money is far more important than  bothering about the quality of  the supply…

At  6th position,  Kelsey & Kim’s southern cafe, Atlantic City, NJ (read by  10.53 % of you all). K&K SC was a treat, a genuinely delicious treat. At that time, I was a bit upset: I was with the Missus in Atlantic City, as part of a romantic gateway at the Caesars Palace. And when I realized that K&K SC was away from our “romantic nest” (not that far though…perhaps approx 15 mins by car), I kept insisting that we skip K&K SC, especially since there are some fine restaurants inside the hotel (as well as just, nearby ….) -. But she kept insisting that we pay a visit to K&K SC.  In the end, she won, Lol, but  OMG… she was right: K&K SC was no joke, the food was delicious, service was perfect. Nowadays, I am so far away from this gem of a restaurant and do truly miss it, but I heard that they did so well to the point of opening a new venture right where the action happens to be in AC, meaning where you have the city Boardwalk. Good for you, K&K SC. You certainly deserved it. K&K SC, I do not know when I will cross your path again,  but I am looking forward to it, my love!

At  7th position, according to your hits on the current blog, it was the turn of 3 star Michelin Le Calandre in Sameola di Rubano (that post was read by 9.25 % of all of you in 2020). It is the first time that this post features in the top 7 of the posts that you have perused the most. I was not floored by their savory recipes when I ate there, but their desserts  were top class, the risotto will be remembered for a long time  and the overall experience at Le Calandre was highly enjoyable. To top it off, Sameola di Rubano is located not far from  Venice. 40 kms of Venice and 7kms away from the very pretty historical city of  Padua. What’s not to like?

-I was not actively reviewing  food  in 2020, but I ate at some few places and I am seizing the opportunity of this current post to share some of these experiences with you.

In MONTREAL:

I finally tried the  popular Beba which is advertised as cooking Spanish, Italian and South American food (which are, essentially, the logical influences in Argentinian cooking, Argentina being the country that is inspiring the kitchen at Beba). I liked Beba: the food was delicious in a  hearty way , the ambience superb.

Vinette (Addr: 2497 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, Quebec H3J 1N6) is a new venture opened by the folks at Joe Beef, with a focus on seafood  items. Born in the Indian ocean,  I was blessed with some of this globe’s finest seafood, and decades later, miles away from that same ocean, that soft spot for seafood had  not faded. Therefore, Vinette was a place that did boot with the advantage of focusing on what I love the most. Vinette was a pleasant casual seafood spot, with , essentially,  basic but fine  seafood offerings.

Restaurant Alma  — (1231 Avenue Lajoie, Outremont, QC H2V 1P2, Phone: (514) 543-1363 —  cooked, during my visit there, some of the best   Spanish /Mediterranean inspired food that I ever had in a long while in Montreal.

In NEW YORK,

Danny Meyer is one  of the most prolific and important restaurateurs  in NYC. I went to pay a visit to one of his most recent openings, Vini e Fritti. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, with virtually everything that kept coming from the kitchen standing as good  as it gets in NYC. I would have no problem inserting this place in my go-to list of eateries in NYC. Vini e Fritti, Addr: 30 E 30th St, New York, NY 10016, United States Phone: +1 646-747-8626

Kopitiam is marketed as cooking Nyonya cuisine – This was a lovely experience, the cooking remaining as genuine as it gets oceans away from  its place of origin. Kopitiam gained a lot of traction among food lovers in NYC, and I could see why. Kopitiam – Addr: 151 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002, United States Phone: +1 646-609-3785

Equally enjoyable was my time at Noreetuh, a restaurant that is inspired by what is made in Hawai. As argued elsewhere on this blog, it is utterly foolish to expect food to feel and taste exactly as how it feels and tastes   in its birth place, obviously, but Noreetuh is delivering some of the most thoughtful and delicious  Hawaian-inspired food in NYC. Noreetuh – Addr: 128 1st Avenue, New York, NY 10009, United States Phone: +1 646-892-3050

One of the most recent hyped-up eateries in NYC  is Pizzeria Scarr’s. Loved the retro feel of the place. However, the pizza I had there (took a Sicilian slice) was just Ok. When I went there, the line up was way too long for the sort of pizza that I was having. Again, not bad. Just not worth  my time queueing up.  I mean, there are plenty of places in NYC with better pizza and   where you do not have to wait, in line,  for …that long. Scarr’s Pizza – Addr: 22 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002, United States Phone: +1 212-334-3481

In Brooklyn (East Williamsburg), Win son  (Contemporary Taiwanese-american restaurant)  cooked some inspired  food. As ever, remember to always go to  a restaurant with the right expectation: if you need Mom and Pop’s Taiwanese food, go to Taiwan for that. The team at Win Son certainly knows their Taiwanese traditional flavours, there is no doubt about that. But they have clearly advertised their restaurant as being Taiwanese-american and unless you do not understand the basics of the science of food…you cannot get the full traditional taste of Taiwan … oceans and continents away from ..Taiwan, …obviously! At the end of the day, Win son was a great discovery.  I hope they keep those standards as high as I found them during my visit. Win Son – Addr: 159 Graham Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11206, United States. Phone: +1 347-457-6010

Lechonera La Piraña – You may look at the upper-left corner of the current blog and see names of  dining destinations such as 3 star Michelin L’Ambroisie, Pierre Gagnaire, Le Louis XV, L’Arpège and …think that I am a food snob, Lol. Not at all. I just visit those high end restaurants in search of new culinary inspirations. Inspirations that do also come from simple street fares, too, btw. My roots are humble and I am very proud of them. Consequently, the food I like the most is the simple but delicious food of my childhood: straightforward pieces of meat and seafood grilled on wood fire. I prefer a simple wood-fired piece of meat, festive in mouth, to the best food items at any of this globe’s best dining destinations.  Lechonera La Piraña gets me as close to my childhood’s memories as it is possible to experience in New York. It is a tiny roadside trailer delivering simple but delicious Puerto Rican homestyle fares such as the mashed plantains (mofongo), which I love. On one visit, their lechon (roast suckling pig) was exquisitely seasoned, chopped fresh, and served with rice and plantain. On another visit, I did enjoy some freshly made chicken pastelitos (think ‘empanada’ made with  a light pastry dough), a delicious rice with pigeon peas dish (arroz con gandules), . Soul satisfaction, indeed. Here’s a lovely video (compatible with FIREFOX…ie11 and edge seem to be too precious for any normal web link that is legit on the web, since I was not able to access this link from drama queens ie11 and edge…what a bummer…) on this laid back purveyor. Lechonera La Piraña  – When? On saturday and sunday afternoon. Where? on 152nd Street (corner of Wales), Mott Haven, South Bronx, New York.

I also tried Crown Shy in the Financial district with, at their helm, a Chef who used to work at 3 star Michelin Eleven Madison Park and his beautiful skills shone through the technically apt cooking I was enjoying during that visit. I dropped by  for their fabled citrusy, spicy grilled chicken and it certainly deserved a serious mention among the  best dishes I had in 2020. Their charred octopus was another good dish, too. Right now, Crown Shy is one of the well-regarded restaurants of NYC, and, so far, that is justified. Crown Shy – 70 Pine St, New York, NY 10005, United States; Phone: +1 212-517-1932

Here is my top 5 of the best food items I ate in 2020:  (1)The citrusy, spicy grilled chicken at Crown Shy, a position that it shared with the  braised pork  at Win  son.   (2)The lechon (roast suckling pig) at Lechonera La Piraña-   (3) The delicious and well made crab fried rice at Uncle Boons. Sadly, UB closed in Aug 2020 – (4) The monkfish liver torchon at Noreetuh, which shares this position with the Nasi lemak at Kopitiam (5) The pork ribs Calabrian chili honey at Vini E Fritti. –

All those eateries were visited, in 2020, in the small time frame when they were still open  to the public (before the Covid-19 virus forced the restaurant scene in both NYC and MTL to shutdown).

At the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, an unusual  number of people have visited my anonymous blog. Although I appreciate that you took the time to drop by,  kindly remember that food assessment is utterly subjective. No one can help you to find  the perfect dining experience that will reach out to your expectations.

As always, I wish you all a new year of superb food! And do not forget: oftently, a big part of extracting the most out of the pleasure of dining out is to accept things the way they are, and NOT  the way you want them to be!

From where I come (a small fishermen village of the Indian Ocean), the idea of canning seafood would pass as a joke. But oceans and continents away from there, the Spaniards had a different outlook on canned seafood: they turned it into a highly marketable concept. I was curious to see how that would fare.

Recently, I wanted to make some tapas at home and decided to purchase some conservas (canned food) as you came to expect from some of their tapas in Spain.

I did purchase tins of  cockles  and  barnacles canned by Los Peperetes (Municipality of Vilagarcía de Arousa in the Province of Pontevedra, Galicia. Spain). My views on both products:

Canned (Conservas) Goose Neck Barnacles, preserved in brine. Species: Pollicipes from Spain. If, like me, you grew up with fresh seafood all around you, you will be realistic about canned seafood in a way that you will not expect them to be as dazzling as any freshly caught seafood, obviously. Eventhough there will always be a difference between freshly caught seafood that you eat just minutes after the catch vs canned seafood that was freshly caught, then canned as soon as it is possible to be, I found that these barnacles retained as much of a fresh scent and taste of the sea (lovely fresh crustacean scent, I shall concede – barnacles have a taste that is almost identical to crab or lobster) as canned barnacles could deliver.
It remains a luxury, though, because the  barnacles are marketed, by the Spaniards, as caught in difficult conditions. Consequently,  it is pricey and the quantity meager (120g of barnacles is quickly engulfed).

Cockles in brine. I was not lucky with this one, as the canned cockles  I purchased had a bitter upfront taste – which  was hardly going to please someone like me who grew up with the spectacular fresh seafood of the Indian Ocean at his door and who always felt apprehensive about the process of canning seafood. I looked at the expiry date on the can and it showed 12 SEPT 25. Canned on 12 SEPT 20. And I was consuming it in NOV 2020, just few months after it was canned. Therefore, it had couple of years to go before it expires. So, this was just bad luck, I presume, as, based on my experience with the above mentioned barnacles, Los Peperetes is certainly capable of some fine tinned products. Aside from my bad luck, you could see that the seafood was caught freshly and canned as soon as they could,  just by looking at the perfecly well preserved texture of both the cockles and the barnacles (which is, indeed, the best way to can seafood).

Bottom line: I will never be a fan of canned seafood, that is for sure, Lol. Even when I was in Spain enjoying their spectacular tapas (Tapas in Spain are divine, indeed, as I have already submitted here), I remember that the tapas made of  canned seafood were, in general, not my cup of tea. That said,  I have nothing bad to say about such fine products neither (the canned seafood reviewed in this post were  not heavily salted, which is a good thing, and the maritime fragrance was as present as it is possible for a  product preserved in brine).

 

 

Eventhough this blog  has a strong focus on food — obviously..LOL..  — it remains a personal blog where I take the liberty, here and there, to share with you some  non food-related content as well.

Here, I would like to praise two of Africa’s most exciting voices: Winnie Nwagi, the African “Tina Turner” and Mandela Mubark Adams (aka FreeBoy), blessed with a voice that,  at  times, especially on the featuring song, will remind many melomaniacs of the illustrious Jamaican reggae musician “Shaggy“. The energy to be found in their duet ” Kwatu Essimu  ”  is epic, fun  and emotional. Their voices so powerful and enchanting.

Thanks Mama Africa for your endless list of incredible musicians (Sona Jobarteh, Manu Dibango, Mori Kante, Tabu Ley Rochereau, Myriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela , Fela Kuti  and so many other legendary music artists ) !

Et il n’y a pas que ta belle musique qui émerveille, Mère Afrique! T’inquiètes…on en reparlera…in this life or in the next ..comme diraient nos compères Anglos. À suivre…!  I shall never forget  you Mama!!!! Never!!!!

Pursuing this short post, with the amazing voice of one of my ATF music artists, an advocate of …what made   YOUR ..and MY.. EXISTENCE.. POSSIBLE …   (I will let you THINK about that one, IF  YOUR EXISTENCE…GENUINELY.. MATTERS TO YOU……….I mean, LOL………..), Sona Jobarteh:

 

 

 

Cannot stop. Non-stop. And I will not stop. So let’s continue to dance and have fun with the following exquisite rhythms:

This amazing song from Shan’L (Gabon) makes most of my days  (she sings it in French, my mother tongue) :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LfFvIIOPpxg

Zuchu is a young lady from Tanzania, easy on the eyes, but her music (in Swahili)  goes beyond that visual evidence:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCmItvVgn6Qere

It is about the beat, the rhythm, the joy that music is supposed to bring to you. It’s supposed to make you dance, NOT…make you think. If you feel stuck with stupid things such as ………. “I am expecting the lyrics to be intellectual”, it is not music that you should look for. You need to look elsewhere. Music’s intent is to make you dance and have fun. So if you cannot dig that, go elsewhere! Do not get me wrong: I am a fan of Peter Tosh, Annie Lennox, Miriam Makeba, Dexter Holland, Fela Kuti, Alexander Blake Schwarzenbach, Bob Marley, Tom Scholz, Sona Jabarteh and a plethora of singers who are all intellectual and activists..so at the game of the “oh..i prefer the ….intellectual artist”, I can …………hold my own, obviously, Lol………..BUT….at the end of the round, know what you want: it is music…therefore, it is ..entertainment……………………you want to listen to music, then it is entertainment that you should be looking for. You need to play the “intellectual ….”, great, then let us play elsewhere (being intelligent is first and foremost about…….. getting your shit together……….).

Singuila is a bit like what Bobby Brown used to be in his heydays (a chick magnet with the music to match), and I can’t blame him for that, Lol – In this song, Singuila pays tribute to an ex-girlfriend and that echoes with me, as — whatever happened, I have and will always have the highest respect for my ex-girlfriends. Why? Because at some point in their life, I had their attention and I will always be respectful of that. With the only difference being that I let bygones be bygones. Not the case of Singuila in the following exquisite song, though – Lol…..

 

Last but not least, since I am an OLD SCHOOL ROMANTIC, this  duet made of Singuila and Cameroon’s superstar Charlotte Dipanda (as always, in my mother tongue, french):

Charlotte Dipanda feat Singuila – Coeur en Cage [Clip Officiel] – YouTube

Ending this post with an eye-candy video of the  colourful beauty of Africa, featuring two equally beautiful voices, Yemi Alade and Angelique Kidjo:

 

As submitted elsewhere on this blog, I love Japan: their superlative ingredients, dazzling food, world-class traditional arts, architecture, technology, breathtaking sceneries (from the gorgeous mountainous Hokkaido to the eye candy white sandy beaches of Okinawa),  world heritage sites, their manga, amazing history,  etc. Do not get me wrong: I am not “blindly” enamored of every single thing that is Japanese… as an example, I never managed to be as impressed by their WAGYU beef as most seem to have raved about. I am still puzzled by how credit cards are not accepted outside of their major cities. Hey, we are talking about a top 5 industrial superpower in the world, here! Lol. But at the end of the count, Japan ROCKS! And that is all we need to know.

It is one of those rare countries in the world that  I love to visit and would not mind visiting again. They say you know what destination counts for you when that place is worthy of your hard-earned money. Japan is that ONE place, for me…

Given that the Covid-19 situation does not allow me to visit Japan, I had to find a way to keep in touch with Japan. Since I am a foodie, it was logical for me to connect with all things related to Japanese food. Obviously, you cannot order fresh food from Japan (of course, I wish I could get the finest  Donburi, ramen or sushi of Japan right now, as I am writing this post … haha ), therefore purchasing the snacks of  Japan was the sole solution. In that regard, I was looking for snacks that were not just about popular items (popular candies, chocolate bars, etc), but snacks that could be, mostly, as “traditionally” Japanese as it is possible.

There are many companies selling Japanese snacks online (Japan crate, Sakuraco (related to Tokyo Treat), Bokksu, Snakku, etc). I purchased snacks from the different companies I just mentioned and will review them all later on.

My main concern was traceability. We are not anymore in the days of my Grandma when you knew exactly from where the poultry or the seafood you were eating was coming from. Nowadays, any Joe Bloe can be at X location … claiming that he is shipping his goods from whatever Y, Z location he wants to brag about. So, I did not want my supposedly “traditional Japanese” snack to come from anywhere else than Japan. I had no interest in that, Lol. Consequently, I did all of the necessary due diligence to ensure that was not going to be an issue.

My other problem had to do with the unavoidable business tactics of those companies. As with any business, they need to sell. Therefore, they find all ways to get you to buy multiple months subscriptions..which I hate (hey! I just want to buy 1 box..that is it! DO not bother me with saving money on 2,3 or whatever number of months of subscriptions…) –

Current review will be about Bokksu’s snack box (the items will be reviewed in no particular order). How did Bokksu’s snack box fare? I went to find out:

As their snack boxes follow the seasons, and that we are at the end of March, I did purchase the Sakura (Cherry blossom) box, as cherry blossom in Japan usually bloom between mid-March and early May (actually, it starts as early as January in the South of Japan, and ends around early April in some parts of Japan, early May in others). Inside of this box, there was the mention of the word Hanami, which means ” looking at flowers”. Hanami is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the flowering of cherry blossoms.

 

-Edamame Senbei cracker. Edamame is boiled or steamed green soybean in the pod. Senbei are a  type of  Japanese rice cracker. The bits of edamame were baked in the cracker. The flavour of the edamame is subtle because the edamame itself has a natural mild flavour that can vaguely remind you of peas. The edamame’s natural sweet and nutty tones brought to the fore. This cracker is sprinkled with roasted soybean powder. The quality of this item is high, for a packaged snack (superb crunchy texture, enticing fresh flavours, prime ingredients). Excellent.

 

-Uni rice cracker, from Osaka. Uni is Sea urchin. The “Son of the sea” that I am (born and raised with the Indian ocean at his door) happens to be a long-time lover of seafood, therefore of  Sea urchin as well. Online, I saw reviews of this sea urchin rice cracker that did mention a fishy smell. Mine had no fishy smell at all, but a bit of the sweetness expected from the taste of fresh sea urchin. If you have tasted fresh sea urchin, you will understand that it is almost impossible to reproduce that exact fresh ocean fragrance in a snack. Well, in theory, perhaps, Lol…but not in practice. Anyways, any attempt at replicating the flavour of seafood in a snack has always been approximate and there is a reason for that : you CANNOT replicate seafood flavour in a snack!!. As expected, this snack could not fully reproduce it, but it got me as close to fresh sea urchin as it is possible to get from a  cracker  (the fresh creamy tone of sea urchin was there). And..exactly as advertised on its package, it was  “savory and salty without being overly fishy”. The presence of the salt well-judged, IMHO. No strong flavours.  Excellent.

 

-Funwari Meijin Mochi Puffs Kinako – The puffy texture well achieved (as airy as it gets, for a snack). Japanese offer mochi in various textures and this is one example of that. Here, it is transformed into a puffed snack. This was packed with a lovely lingering sweetness. The puffs covered with a dusting of roasted soybean powder, which led to a blend of appetizing nutty and sweet fresh tones on the palate (what’s not to like?). Excellent.

 

-Dondon Yaki. A Japanese rice cracker fried and marinated in tonkatsu sauce. Tonkatsu sauce has a sweet and tangy flavour, and that was expressed in this rice cracker. It tasted exactly as advertised: tangy, peppery, and a little sweet. Very Good.

 

-Black sesame Taiko Kumamon Design – Roasted almonds and sesame seeds mixed with sugar syrup (more accurately Mizuame) . According to its description (with the snack box, you get a booklet with information on every single snack), it is handmade in Kumamoto the hometown of Kumamon, the mascot. Even though  North Americans are familiar with a similar flavour profile (of the snack, not the mascot) — in the same category as your typical sesame seed candy – ,  it remains a tasty and familiar treat that rarely fails to please in and outside of Japan. Good.

 

-Suppa Mucho Plum Potato sticks.  Essentially Sour plum flavoured-potato sticks. Strong focus on blending various notes of flavours: perilla leaves, pickled plum, potatoes. Unusual, for us, this side of the world (North America), ONLY because of the addition of the flavour of the plum (the sourness of the pickled plum is there), obviously…. so it adds some interesting twist to the potato sticks we are used to. Koikeya, the company that makes those chips, does actually sell chips to America, but it was thoughtful of Bokksu to ensure that the chips made for their Sakura snack box are not available in North America at this moment. Good.

 

-Puku Puku Tai chocolate. Essentially a chocolate wafer shaped like a fish (a lucky shape by Japanese traditions). If you have been in Japan (which is my case), you may have sampled a popular fish-shaped cake called Taiyaki and may expect this snack to get as close to that as it is possible, but this is not the Taiyaki. Just a satisfying wafer that is as … satisfying as any …. satisfying chocolate wafer of its kind. Good.

 

-Hokkaido Red Bean doughnuts. Donuts rarely travel well. They just can’t as they will, naturally, lose their fresh taste, and the texture is often …naturally… a bit altered (rarely for the better). With that in mind, these donuts were still in ..relatively …good condition (for a donut that had to travel), the taste of the red bean (azuki beans from Hokkaido) as well as the one of the dough having a mild sweetness. Tasty for sure, but … just condemned to suffer from the inevitable and unfair comparison to its “cooked to order” examples that you will find in Japan. If this is your first time sampling Japanese Red Bean doughnuts, do not think that you have all it takes to assess it. Try its “cooked to order” (that you eat as soon as they have cooked it)  versions in Japan,  first. Then you can do the talk. This snack was genuine, no doubt at all about that, but it came with the inevitable limitations mentioned above. Ok.

 

-Aomori Apple Caramel Yakkoi Sable. North Americans will be in familiar territory, here, as this tastes exactly like your standard apple flavoured soft cookies. The texture is soft and chewy, because of the addition of sweet apple-caramel butter. Nothing to write home about, here, but certainly as satisfying as most apple flavoured soft cookies happen to be. According to the accompanying booklet, Aomori is the region that produces the big majority of the apples of Japan. Ok.

 

-Matcha Chocolate Stick cake (by Nakajima Taishodo in Osaka) has the potential to be a crowd-pleaser in North America, the subtle matcha flavour (using high-quality matcha from the city of Uji ) responding well to the chocolate chips in an exciting way (superlative bitter-sweet richness, the sweetness delicate, the natural bitterness of the matcha is not strong at all and it is of the enjoyable sort). It could have been just another common fine soft cake, tasty as we came to expect from most sponge cakes, but in this particular example, matcha and chocolate is a harmonious match made in heaven. I can’t begin to imagine how spectacular this cake can be when you get to try it when it is cooked to order. Excellent.

 

-Handmade Yuzu Sake Candy. It is made of Yuzu juice and peel, as well as Sake.   The sweet and citrusy tones particularly addictive. Loved the natural sweetness coming from that candy (a world away from the artificial sugary taste of some of the lesser candies). What’s impressive with this candy is the sheer quality of the ingredients that are used. According to Bokksu’s booklet, the candy is hand-crafted by the artisans at Daimonji Ame Honpo, a 100-year-old candy maker in Kyoto. To stay in business that long, they certainly have been doing the right things. All I can say, regarding these candies, is this:  in a fairytale made of candies, this candy would be the main character. It was that spectacular (and YES, like most people, I had my share of dazzling candies, Lol).

 

-Organic Sencha Green Tea from Kagoshima Prefecture. This tea featured grains of roasted brown rice (when green tea is mixed with roasted popped brown rice, it is called Genmaicha). Clearly, some bags of tea (received 2 bags) that did not sit on the shelves for a long time, which is what you are looking for: the green tea and its toasty brown popped rice grains packing a fresh scent of what they are. Sencha tea (which they grow under sunlight, the 1st harvest being the quality Sencha, the leaves that are not oxidized during the steaming process will be green tea, as opposed to black tea or oolong tea)  is the most popular tea in Japan and the one that is the most exported from that country. Kagoshima Prefecture is famous for its tea.  Kagoshima Seicha (the company that does make this tea) has been making tea for more than 130 years. This tasting was a superb example of green tea that was cultivated with the expertise of experienced tea makers.

 

-Mocchan Dango  Mochi. Mochi, for those who do not know, is a Japanese rice cake made by pounding steamed glutinous short-grain japonica rice. As per Bokksu’s booklet “Hanami dango is a variety of sticky rice dumplings commonly enjoyed during the spring hanami (flower viewing) season”. Think mini mochis. They were covered in sugar. As chewy and smooth and elastic as it is supposed to be. It is hard to get a bad Mochi from Japan, and this was no exception to that rule. Good.

 

-White Strawberry  –  In the booklet that came with this snack box, they described this item as “World’s first chocolate-infused strawberry. Fresh strawberries are harvested locally, freeze-dried, and infused with white chocolate, and cooled, for chocolate with all the flavor of fresh strawberry”. On their website, they added … “resulting in the perfect balance of smooth yet crunchy texture.”
Not too sure how this snack does fare when they make it to order (i.e., they make it and serve it to you right away), but when it landed at my place, oceans, and continents away from Japan, it failed to win my heart: first, the “chalky” texture (not the taste. The taste is not chalky. I will get to my impression of the taste in the next sentences), which I am not a fan. Is it as “chalky” (in texture, I meant) when they make it and serve it to you immediately? I do not know and I cannot talk for what I do not know. And to be fair, that is not a fault, just a matter of personal taste (some people love that texture). But then, as far as I am concerned, there was no distinct taste of white chocolate. No distinct taste of strawberry, which was disappointing as I am a huge fan of both white chocolate and strawberries. Taste is subjective, of course, but this was (for me) the weakest item of this tasting.

 

-20th Century Pear Langue de Chat ( Pear Fromage Biscuit). The flavour of this particular pear from Tottori Prefecture —  known as  “20th-century Asian pear” in English,  “nijiseiki-nashi” in Japanese —   making the best qualities of the equally highly satisfying rich cheese and white chocolate flavours all the more noticeable. At a glance, it looked like yet another standard biscuit. But in the mouth,  it tasted unusually great for a biscuit of its kind. Again, half of the battle here is about the sheer quality of the ingredients that are used (the 20th-century Asian pear really one of a kind, the white chocolate, butter, and the cheese excellent). One of the highlights of this snack box.

 

-Seaweed Tempura Setouchi Sudachi Citrus Flavor. Seaweed sheets battered and fried, flavoured with sudachi citrus. Sudachi citrus comes from the region of the Seto Inland Sea. Tangy as expected and as advertised. This is a common snack in the city of Hiroshima. The “tempura” texture in question is exactly as you came to expect from a packaged snack (it is more like a chip,  and not the sort of “tempura” that the tempura Masters of  Japan are known for, haha). I was not floored, but this was “interesting” – I mean it, as somehow, I can definitely see it growing on me (because I generally love seaweed, I love chips, I love all sorts of citrusy flavours, so one day, this item will probably end up being as good as the “sum of its parts” –I am thinking with my head and not with my heart, here  — if that can make sense to you) …- Ok, for now.

 

Bottom line: The market for snack boxes is very popular right now. As with any snack box offering, be familiar with their cancellation policy,   how-to / when to deactivate your subscription (Bokksu’s  FAQ has all the details you need about that ). Make sure you do not end up purchasing a 3 months subscription if all you need is just one snack box (email them if that is not clear).  What appealed to me is that you cannot find those snacks at your mall or at any corner store (at least, not now) in North America (which is where I did order the snack box from). When all things are said and done, what needs to be underlined is this: Yes,  packaged snacks come with the inevitable limitations that we all know  (some snacks do not “travel well”, most cannot compete with “baked to order” food items that you can sample minutes after they were made, etc), and I think that, with regard to this specific box, Bokksu should have better exploited the theme of the cherry blossom other than the looks of the box, the mention of “hanami” inside that same box,  and some sparse references to it (perhaps, some tea with real cherry blossoms …?? some snacks with real cherry blossoms, etc…  ), but the quality of their snacks cannot be denied. I am usually not big on packaged snacks, shall I concede, and I certainly know better ways to spend that money (the cost of this snack box starts at US$39.95/mo ..and that is if you opt for Multi-Month subscriptions …). In spite of that,  if I have to buy some snacks online, again, then  I will happily put my hard-earned money on theirs.

Since I cannot travel to Japan (due to the ongoing Covid-19  strictly enforced travel restrictions) for my fix of great fresh ramen noodles (Ah, the Great Ramen Bowl! One of my all time favorite food), I got some of their instant ramen shipped to me. Obviously,  food that is dried then fried for dehydration  will never match fresh food that is cooked to order. But I was curious to see how far they have raised their game in the instant noodle world.

 

Here, I am reviewing 5 instant ramen I tried recently:

Nakiryu Tantanmen (Tokyo)
Nakiryu is a Michelin-starred ramen shop in Tokyo. I used to be against the idea of Michelin awarding stars to non-French
restaurants (Michelin is from France. Not that you need to be from a specific country in order to judge the food of that specific country. No. Not at all. It would be laughably stupid and pitifully naive to think that way. It is just that, for a long time, I could not respect what Michelin was assessing outside of French cuisine. It does not mean that I am right. It just means that I could not respect it), especially when it came to casual cooking that is not French  (for eg, yakitori which is just grilled food or ramen, the soup). I mean casual is casual. Leave the casual alone, Lol. Great casual food (the best street food in the world, an exceptional soup, a heart-warming simple grilled piece of meat) is far more satisfying than anything that can come from the best restaurants in the globe, anyways…so Michelin, leave the casual alone!  Lol. And, Bonhomme Michelin, pls do not tell me that, you, too, are on the lookout just for … heart-warming superb food. If that was the case, the simple dazzling superb grilled seafood of my childhood in the Indian Ocean would have been awarded some Michelin stars…right? So, you need more than that. You need consistency, you need a certain experience, etc. Good, I am fine with that…….BUT  what the heck are you doing trying to spot a yakitori or a ramen shop??.. You award someone who is grilling pieces of meat or just doing a soup a Michelin star and chances are that he will start taking advantage of that (charging the big $$$ for a simple soup or a simple piece of grilled meat, and turn the whole thing into pomp). I have changed my mind regarding Michelin awards of the non-French restaurants (especially, when you see superb 1 star Michelin restaurants like Sushi Noz , Tempura Matsui or Okuda in NYC). But I am still against the fact that Michelin awards stars to some grilled food (yakitori) and ramen (although, some may argue that I was very happy with the 1 star Michelin noodle restaurant Jeju in NYC — Oh well, the Chef of Jeju is a proper Michelin star Chef, to start with. He is not serving just noodle soups, btw. And, the day I was there, the overall experience was proper 1 star Michelin experience nicely adapted to a casual-chic atmosphere, showcasing high-level cooking, fine service, etc. I do not know if Jeju is always like that, but the Jeju I knew on that evening is a good example of the sort of new-gen of Michelin stars that I can see Michelin embracing as part of the modernization of his image). Of course, the fact that I do not agree with Michelin awarding stars to a ramen shop will not affect my assessment of this instant ramen (I am neutral enough to put that aside, my focus is on the appreciation of what you deliver and not on whatever biased impression I am supposed to pour on it, regardless of the fact that I am sometimes passionate in my reviews).
Tantanmen 担々麺  is generally spicy (as it is actually the Japanese take on the spicy Dandan noodles from China), and this was no exception, its spiciness (present, but not too strong – definitely not “tongue burning”, unless you never had spicy food in your life. A rather refined spiciness) coming from a raiyu chili oil that was of superb quality (I always taste the ingredients on their own before mixing them up). Of equally superb quality, the white sesame paste. Both were of restaurant-quality material. The thin noodles keeping their texture as al dente as it was possible (at some point, in the tasting, I received a phone call. The call took few mins, then when I went back to finish my bowl, the noodles were looking at me with a defiant attitude as in “we are still here, as intact as when you left ” …yeah, they were still al dente, unaltered,  one sign of noodles that are not of the ordinary sort). A controlled level of spiciness that’s perfectly well balanced with an array of complementing flavours (kombu, duck, miso, yeast as well as seafood extract, pork powder,  chicken, black as well as apple vinegar, the expected nutty sweet flavour of the sesame paste, etc). Made by Nissin.

Wakayama Ramen Tonkotsu Pork bone
This bowl is about the heavier style of Wakayama Ramen (as they also have a light version of it). The Pork bone flavour as rich and thick as your instant ramen soup flavour will get.

In this case, an additional  flavouring dimension is brought by the tangy soya sauce (thoughtful in its role to cut the richness of this Pork bone-based soup). The attention to details of the Japanese instant ramen makers is incredible and that could be felt to a tee (the colorful fish cake  — known as Narutomaki’鳴門巻 –, shaped like a flower, in the  picture, above —  is a popular topping of this sort of ramen, and that was not going to be left aside ….it was part of their instant ramen version as well). They even thought about including a tiny piece of  Nibuta” (煮豚) – Aka Chashu, the classic piece of boiled pork (of course, adapted to the reality of instant ramen, meaning that it cannot get close to the real thing, but it rehydrated really well and stood as good as a piece of Chashu can look, feel and taste like … in its instant ramen form) that serves as a ramen’s topping, and so on. The noodles were more or less of the same type as the one mentioned in the previous instant ramen (this not holding its al dente form as long as the previous one, though, but ramen is meant to be slurped quickly, not to be contemplated, lol) , which is fine for a quality instant ramen noodle (you cannot and should never expect instant ramen noodles to be as impressive as freshly-made noodles made in a ramen shop that is making their own ramen, obviously). Made by Nissin.

Nissin Raoh MISO  Ramen
Nissin is a popular brand of instant ramen in Japan. Nissin offers instant ramen noodles in various forms (cups, bowls, etc). In general, Nissin delivers top-shelf instant ramen, however, the version that comes in a bowl is generally more  “upmarket” (as it is the case, in general, with instant ramen that you will find in a bowl).

As expected from a miso flavoured soup, this tasted salty, tangy, and savory. All of that was spiced up with a kick of chili oil, with extra flavouring coming from the addition of sesame seeds, spring onions and minced pork. This time, we are heading to Sapporo, Hokkaido, in the North of Japan, consquently, in typical Sapporo style, you have also corn and other vegetables (cabbage) that are thrown in the mix (of the toppings).  A twist: the noodles are fresh! Not deep-fried, which is common with instant noodles. Thin noodles as all noodles of this review, looking the same at first, but with a somehow enjoyable chewy texture (indeed, somehow closer to the feeling you would get from a fresh noodle you would eat at a ramen shop. Somehow, I said.)  It came with a dried packet of bamboo shoots, green onions and chashu pork as well as some liquid shoyu (soya sauce) soup base. The soya sauce flavour at the fore. As with every single of the quality instant ramen that are mentioned in the current post, the quality of the ingredients (for an instant noodle product, obviously) is undeniable (everything hydrating like a charm).

Hakodate Shio Ramen
Shio is salt. But this is not just water  flavoured with salt: given the widely praised exceptional obsession of the  Japanese food industry with product quality, they were not going to just pour salt in water and be happy about that, Lol.

They use salts of various types, and not just for the fun of blending various types of salt. Count on them to put lots of thoughts and plenty of inspiration in that. They do also add other flavours to enhance the salt flavouring as you would have guessed. Here, pork back fat and different sorts of fish flavours are added to this instant ramen. You also have the flavour of scallops from Hokkaido and kelp. Inspired, they have been, as there was also a piece of fu (wheat gluten) which is a common topping of the real thing in Hakodate. Other ingredients: a piece of simmered/braised pork, bamboo shoots, and green onions. This was fun to eat: the broth light and yet lively. The noodles, thin as the other noodles reviewed in this post, but softer. Beautiful bounce to that noodle, too. It is hard to get the right noodle to match the right soup. Most people do not pay attention to that, and it is not hard to see why: it is just noodles and some liquid. So who cares?? Lol..therefore,  it is easy to take for granted that most noodles and soups will do just fine alongside each other (especially in its instant ramen form). And indeed, we don’t even get to think about that. So when that is something that jumps to your attention, then you know something special is going on. And special, this was: among many highlights, the perfect symbiosis between the texture of the noodle, the quality of the savory and briny broth, how well the noodles responded to the broth, and how well the broth responded to the noodles. As harmonious as ramen gets in its instant noodle form. This took the cake for me. Made by Yamadai.

Bubuka Abura Soba
Abura Soba (油そば) is soupless ramen. Yeah, no liquid (soup). And Bubuka is one of Tokyo’s most famous ramen shops of Abura soba. Their instant ramen does its best to be a faithful reproduction  (as it is possible to be for an instant noodle…) of  the ramen shop’s version (thick oiled seasoning, thick noodles, etc).

Exactly as at the real ramen shop, you have mayonnaise (the mayo having a more inspired tang than what you will get from our usual commercial so-called “real mayo” supermarket products in North America or Europe, though not on the level of what an inspired amateur talented cook can make at home, from scratch, in his prime, Lol), roasted garlic, spices. Abura is actually oil (typically sesame oil). Here, you basically have soy sauce and sesame oil as the leading flavouring ingredients. This ramen did also benefit from the flavours of chicken, pork extracts, and lard. The noodles having a thick texture that’s appropriate for this sort of ramen dish. This was good (for quality instant ramen). Made by Myojo.

Most of the noodles of this review had virtually noodles of the same sort. Which, as long as it is of a quality that surpasses the ordinary instant ramen noodle is an …….. easy pill to swallow (we are talking  … instant noodles, shall I remind us of that). And that was the case, here. Do not waste the extra liquid you could not slurp and freeze it so that you can use it as a soup base for your next soup (it surely will elevate the average ordinary instant ramen found on the shelves of our North American and European groceries)!

I also could not score any of these. I generally score food for the sake of clearly segregating the good from the bad, the average from the benchmark, the excellent from the very good. But for once, I could not do that, in spite of the fact that  I was impressed by the Hakodate Shio Ramen. The reason is very simple: they all were of top-notch level (for instant ramen, I mean). Picking one as better than the next would be, a bit, as if I would tell you that, among all the NFL history’s best quarterbacks, I could assess Dan Marino / Brady / Otto Graham as better or worst than Peyton Manning / Favre / Staubach/Aikman. It would be pure insanity. Folly. And god thanks, I am not there yet. No instant ramen will ever be as “magical” as the stellar performance of those great athletes, that’s for sure, but you got my point: sometimes, in life, some things are so..equally good (at what they are). The case of these instant ramen noodles.

Bottom line: Naturally, it is a lot of sodium, Lol. So slurp moderately (the 5 ramen I tried were sampled across several weeks. I tried one every 2,3 weeks). As expected, the instant ramen I have just reviewed is better than the usual run-of-the-mill instant ramen found in our North American or European supermarkets. I am not here to tell you what is right or wrong. I am not here to discuss the value of things (and NO, I am not rich. Lol, therefore at the game of assessing things for their value, I stand where the average people will stand). I am telling you what things are, and you put whatever value you want on them. That is up to you. I am here to share with you what I believe to count among the best (at what they are). And this post is just about that:  you had  5 examples of what instant Japanese ramen can be at their best, at this point in time. There will always be better, no doubt about that, but these were among the best.  On a side note,  If that can be of any help (I presume that you love ramen if you took the time to click on this post): when on the lookout for some ramen in Japan,  this link will help you better navigate ramendb.supleks (which I recommend to couple with other resources such as the ramen Map application and    Tabelog ). Last but not least, if you are curious to see a documentary on how ramen is taken seriously, do not miss the 2017 movie “Ramenheads“.

Best Restaurants of 2019
IN MONTREAL, Pamika continues to be a genuine little gem I wish I could keep for myself but they already have
hordes of fans flocking there, which sucks as the place is small and that diminishes my chances to grab a seat, under their roof, on a weekend.

Ichigo ichie remains the best Isakaya in Montreal, and they have, next to their door, one of the better ramenyas in town, Yokato Yokabai  (there are plenty of ramenyas in Montreal, true, but rarely of this quality) – both Ichigo Ichie and Yokato Yokabai are owned by the same people.

In 2019, one food item  I particularly liked in Montreal was the fried chicken at  Roch le Coq. I hope Roch Le Coq maintains the  standard of their fried chicken as high as it has been on my last visit there (October 2019).

Also tried: There were some few new openings in Montreal, of which  I found  Le Boulevardier , Provisions Bar à Vin and Le Flamant  quite enjoyable (by our local dining standards).

Last but not least, I found the sunday brunch at the Queen Elizabeth’s hotel (my review here), to be one great value brunch.

IN NEW YORK, Red Hook Tavern is a remarkable bistrot deserving of its popularity.

Gallagher’s Steakhouse offered the best rib eye I ever had in New York city, World’s capital of the North American steak,  which makes it even more remarkable.

I also retried Peter Luger in 2019 and they still have one of the best North American porterhouse steaks money can buy.

Roberta’s Pizza is widely known to have some  of the best pizza in the USA, and all I can say is that it is  not hard to believe that  hype.

The Burger at Emily is a tasty treat not to be missed while you are in NYC and Sorbillo NYC turned out to be my preferred Neapolitan pizza in the Big Apple.

Other  restaurants that I tried in NYC in 2019:  the new restaurant of Chef Alfred Portale (the Chef who turned Gotham Bar & Grill into a legendary dining destination) , called Portale in Chelsea (that was a hit), the highly anticipated Llama San in Greenwich Village (which did not impress me as much as it did for most New York critics, presumably because I was already familiar with superior renditions of what they are doing, and not all ingredient combinations worked for me, but all in all it was enjoyable and  surprisingly “different enough for NYC” to deserve  its  current hype), Kochi (reviewed here – the Chef used to work at 3 star Michelin Per Se before. They were in their initial weeks, when I went there, so give them some time to blossom, as, for now, some food items were superb, indeed, but others were too ordinary and stood as reminders that a bit of fine-tuning would be necessary, which is normal as it is a very young venture). Last, but not least, I did also visit Jeju Noodle bar — my critic here — from another Korean Chef who used to work at Per Se. Jeju takes the instant noodle that we all know, they use a home made version of that as opposed to the commercial version that we all know, and elevates it as a  gourmet dish. And it is doing it extremely well. Some may frown (as in …why am I being served an elevated version of instant noodles?), but doing business is not about emotions (well, buddy, there are elevated versions of burgers and SPAM canned cooked pork, there are elevated versions of  pizza, etc. So why not instant noodles?? ) but about what works, and Jeju gambled and won (it is a very popular restaurant). Jeju has, of course, other offerings aside from their high-end noodles.

Best dishes, food items of 2019
The sea eel nigiri (as well as the cooked items) at Sushi Amane, NYC
The rib eye steak at Gallagher’s Steakhouse, NYC

Biggest dining disappointments of  2019
-Oiji has been a revelation to plenty of food critics in NYC, but their enthusiasm did not square with what I did experience at this restaurant. My meal at Oiji was a disappointment as argued here.
-Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger enjoys an enviable reputation but  I am afraid I have got to question that.
-Quality Meats works hard to position its steak as one of NYC’s best, but my rib eye steak did not live up to its billing.
-Fuku’s Vada Pav was one of the most hyped-up food items in 2019 in NYC, but an epic failure when I went to try it.

To wrap up  this blog’s past year highlights, I will share with you the top 10   reviews that you have perused the most all along the year of 2019: The review on Peter Luger was the most popular among you (read by 15% of  all of you ), the closest second was the one on Docks Oyster House – Atlantic City (10.58% of you all),  then   L’Arpege – Paris (read by 10.44% of  you all),  Dons de La Nature – Tokyo (10.28% of you all),  Torishin – New York City (9.56%  of you all),  Restaurant Damas – Montreal (8.29 % ), Ishikawa – Tokyo (8.23 %  ), Hong Fan Tian – Montreal (7.4 % ) ,  the review of  Le Dôme Café – Paris (5.7% ), the one on Nice (5.28 % ) and the rest is scattered across various restaurant  reviews. For the first time in 5 years, the review about the steakhouses in Montreal is  NOT in the top 10 of the posts  that you have read the most (it used to be #1 year after year).

It is always interesting to opine on what you have decided to be the most popular reviews, from the standpoint of the person who did write them: as an example, I can understand how the reviews on Torishin and Docks Oyster House did appeal to you as I cannot remember any review being that upfront about those two places (most online reviews about those 2 restaurants are romanticized), but there are reviews which popularity  I simply do not get such as the ones on Restaurant Damas – Montreal  as well as Le Dôme Café  – Paris. Particularly Le Dôme Café, which is not really a dining destination. Historical, true, and very pretty in its genre, but not a dining destination. I do not see why people would  read a restaurant review about a historical restaurant. A historical restaurant, you just go and visit it. That is it, Lol.  You do not need to read a restaurant review about it.

What I find interesting is that, based on the  write-ups that are the most popular to you, I will have to observe that some of the better restaurants that I have reviewed continue to slip under your radar (as an example, the current best rib eye steak that money can buy in New York, Gallaghers Steakhouse, had its review  perused by only 0.125 % of you all, the gem that Sushi Azabu is … seems to have been of interest only for  1.37% of the readers of this blog. Not that those places would lose a sleep over that, Lol, but it remains an interesting observation …).

Last but not least, it was nice to see some of the great restaurants of the world that  I have already reviewed here (the column that is on the left of this blog) featuring in the top 50 of La Liste. La Liste  takes  the majority of  the online restaurant reviews, and then ranks restaurants based  on that. Therefore if you take issue with  it, you are potentially  taking issue with  every single restaurant review that you happen to see online and that may concern yours, too. I gather that there is no perfect restaurant ranking guide, obviously, but this is the only system that is basically taking into account the bulk  of the online restaurant reviews and not doing its own ranking based on its own way of appreciating a restaurant. So, in a nutshell, it is the voice of the people, and that voice seems to have expressed plenty of love for the following restaurants that I have reviewed here – On la liste 2020,  L’Ambroisie is #10. I have no doubt that L’Ambroisie is the best classic French restaurant in the world, but I was afraid that its steep prices would never allow it to enjoy such visibility. I was wrong, then. L’Arpege is #5. There too, the surprise was great as L’Arpege is not into fancy food, it uses few ingredients and it is very pricey, but apparently I mistakenly thought that would play against them. Seems like the people did see what I saw there, which is the potential of Passard to blow your mind away with some of the HIGHS you may experience while eating there. Les Prés d’Eugénie are #19 in the world, based on what did result from the majority of all online restaurant reviews and they highly deserved it as this is indeed some of the few  benchmark classic French cooking in the world. Also reviewed here are  L’Auberge du Vieux Puits  at #20 in the world (Great for Chef Goujon, he works so hard to put his restaurant on the map of the gastronomic world and he is  getting the recognition that he deserves …just add more punch  to your amuse-bouches, Chef!) and at #29 in the world, Le Calandre (here,  it was the savoury dishes that lacked sparks, during my meal there, but I trust that it was an isolated situation and that took nothing away from the great dining destination that this place is).  The restaurant that I love the most in the world, Dal Pescatore, is at # 27 (Great! I mean this is classic food, and in this day and age,  I was not expecting the people to love their classics that much, lol).

Before I go, I have to say that I was very impressed by Michelin recently, which does not happen as oftently as the most would expect from someone who named his web blog michelinstarfinedinings.wordpress.com, Lol. Michelin removed the 3 stars that Jiro and Sushi Saito had in Tokyo. Now, you can say whatever you want about Michelin, but they are the only restaurant review sources that refuses to sell to you a “private club” as a normal restaurant. Go on any other restaurant review sources ( crowd-sourced review forums, etc) and they talk about “private clubs” as if those ventures are opened to the public, which consequence is just to fool people.

As ever with food, know what you want: you need authenticity, then go get it where it is supposed to be found. Do not expect genuine Thai, Japanese, African or whatever kind of food oceans and continents away from where it originates. Doing so would be utterly foolish. And remember:  when you read a review about a restaurant, look at the date the review was published! A restaurant was probably great years ago, but a total disaster years later. I know many restaurants that went from hero to zero within  2,3  months. So it is not hard to imagine what a restaurant can morph into across the  years…! Set your expectations accordingly. A big part of enjoying the good things in life is … to be positive, indeed, but to …stay genuinely realistic, too. Wish you all  plenty of great food in 2020!

The Alley is one of Taiwan’s most famous bubble tea (Boba drinks) shops. The ´titans’ of the bubble tea world have long been attracted by NYC with giants such as ‘Kung Fu Tea’ , ´Teado tea shop´, ´Coco’, ´Ten Ren’ as well as ‘Happy lemon’ and ´Gong cha’ having their own locations in the Big Apple. It was about time that the Alley joins this high level competition, which is what they ended up doing recently with the opening of their first shop in NYC. The Alley is already an International success story with effective or projected presence in many  of this globe’s major cities (Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne, etc). The branch in NYC opened on Saturday Sept 7th 2019 in the NoHo neighbourhood. I went there on week 1 post opening.

I picked two of their signature items:

Brown sugar Deeriocca milk tea featured soft and bouncy homemade brown sugar milk tea pearls. Deeriocca is the name they gave to those pearls. If I had to take a guess, I would say that it is with those pearls that the Alley truly stands out as the brown sugar flavour is, indeed, one crowd-pleasing flavour. I found this milk tea — which level of sweetness they do consider as «regular » —– to not have that much sugar. It was not bland, though. Just enough sugar to keep it on the enjoyable side of the spectrum. Also noteworthy was the refined creamy taste coming from the syrup. It is a chain operation, therefore it cannot  have the « exclusive » quality of the bubble Tea you can make yourself at home, but at what it is, it is certainly a Very good bubble Tea. 8/10

Royal No 9 Milk tea
One of their most popular items according to their Facebook page. The house claims to use quality Black Assam tea leaves. This had a pleasant  fragrance coming from the tea element. Not as rich as the previous milk tea, by design, as it is just your basic milk and tea flavour, with, as it seems to be the consistent pattern  here, the sugar input kept in control – for the sweetness level, I basically took the regular one. This was not too sweet, therefore your best bet if you do not have a sweet tooth. Pleasant on the mouth, the delicate fine balance between the milk and the tea elements is technically without any flaw. 7/10

-The Missus ordered the snow lulu strawberry (strawberries, crushed ice in white peach oolong tea base , with a layer of snow velvet cream atop).  I tried a bit of it, and was disappointed: the one we tried had barely any fruity flavour coming from the strawberry. The missus  did not like it at all for the exact same reasons that  I have just raised. She railed  against the absence  of  the  usual fresh aftertaste that she came to expect from the better strawberry -flavoured bubble teas she had elsewhere and that is typical of most organic  strawberry-based liquid,  semi liquid or creamy concoctions. 5/10

The Alley enjoys a fame of the magnitude of the Apple’s Iphone when that device first came out and it is easy to see why: you feel the quality of its ingredients (as an example, the sugar cane syrup is made, onsite, with real sugar cane, which is why one does not get the artificial overwhelming sugar taste that comes from artificially sweetened products), a sense of refinement (well balanced flavours) as well as a well judged control of the sugar input. It is clear that their intent is not to excite you with bold /rich flavours, full-bodied textures, which makes it a product that is aligned with its time (a time of health consciousness). Blown away, I was not, but I did really enjoy the quality of the brown sugar Deerioca milk tea , which is easily one of my favourite milk teas. The Alley Addr: 68 Cooper square, New York, NY, 10003