oops, i did it again

IMG_2279I swear I had the best of intentions, and yet this morning I managed to find myself a flaneur in Les Halles – outside E. Dehillerin (la specialiste du materiel de cuisine, depuis 1820!) like a homing pigeon returned to the roost. Who am I to argue with serendipity? Rest assured my tradition of hauling copper pots across multiple countries remains intact.

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chef’s market

banzaan

Ok, I lied. After lazing around for two days I needed to get off my duff and do something, so I hijacked the chef from Paresa to take me on her morning rounds to the local market in neighboring Patong. And what a far cry from Siem Reap it was! The banzaan, or fresh market, is a contemporary two-story affair with specific sections for meat, seafood, vegetables, flowers, and a bizarre-looking selection of fruits. Everything is neatly presented – even the pigs hanging upside down are artistically arranged – and more importantly, nobody is scaling fish or beheading chickens in their bare feet. It was like Citarella, albeit with a more herbaceous, Asian flair.

black crab

half chicken

strange fruit

curry paste

super squid

sorting herbs & chilis

sweets

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live blog: morning dilemma

Built on the west recesses of Mirabello Bay, Aghios Nikolaos is one of the most picturesque harbors in Crete. The circular shaped Lake Voulismeni is its most prominent – and charming – feature. (Legend suggests the goddesses Athena and Artemis bathed in its waters.) Connected to the sea by a straight channel, it’s surrounded by a horseshoe of red rocks, feathery pine trees, and rumor has it really good shopping. All of which leaves me with a pressing dilemma: to eat or to shop?

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the stare on the square

Another revitalized area of Belfast’s city center city is Victoria Square, the site of a tasteful multi-story shopping mall. Parallel to the downtown shopping area it hasn’t so much supplanted Royal Avenue as the main drag as provided a high-end complement to the High Street. The structure is semi-enclosed, like a giant breezeway with levels of restaurants and movie theaters sandwiched between the retail raison d’etre. Crowned by a central geodesic dome the public spaces are flooded with the rarest of Irish commodities: natural light. That alone would be enough to warrant a round of applause yet the designers did something really clever with what could have easily been wasted negative space: utilizing the practical aesthetics of the dome toward a civic end. From the top-level of the shopping center the public can ascend a circular staircase to a sheltered viewing platform. And while Belfast doesn’t come close to having a skyline that warrants a Top of the Rock, the Stare on the Square – public monuments in Ireland requires a mellifluous moniker if you hadn’t heard; the sculpture at the entrance might officially be known as The Spirit of Belfast but to locals it will always be Onion Rings – is an ideal height for views out to the Harland & Wolf shipyards, where Titanic was built, and Napoleon’s Nose, the inspiration for Swift’s tales of Lilliput. Shopping, it seems, really can qualify as a cultural pursuit. Double-click the panoramic image at the bottom for greater detail.

 

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born in a trunk

Maybe it’s the dandy in me but I could easily spend all my money – and then some – shopping my way across London. (Is there another city in the world that takes its waistcoats and collar stays half as seriously? I think not.) Luckily the concierge at The Langham didn’t put me on to Trunk Clothiers, a recently-opened menswear store in Marylebone, until I was halfway out the door for Heathrow. Swedish-born Mats Klingberg is behind the impeccably curated boutique at 8 Chiltern Street where only a few of the handmade modern classics are well-known labels, with highlights including Japanese label Tabio and Porter, Boglioli jackets and suits, Edwin jeans and very appealing flat caps from Wigéns. They say good things come to those who wait. Good thing I’ve got a plane to catch.

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a dickens of a christmas

What better Christmas prezzie to myself than a quick weekend mileage grab to London. Old friends, fun times, and oh, the shopping. With apologies: “I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”

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crowd surfing

Only a few blocks away for the casino district and the atmosphere changes dramatically. Macao turns from a town of extreme order and almost ritualistic security to a rippling mass of people jostling each other down narrow, cramped streets towards some unseen goal. It’s dense, suffocating – made worse by the feeling that I’ve  quite literally traded the frying pan for the fire. I am crowd surfing a heaving wave of humanity – stopping for a photo is almost impossible, like standing against the rip tide.

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i know why the yuen po bird sings

A pleasant surprise on this morning’s stroll came along Yuen Po Street and the charming vest pocket garden situated there. It’s a gathering place for songbird owners, who carry their pets around in intricately carved cages. It also houses a few dozen stalls selling all manner of beautiful birds and their paraphernalia – including one vendor with varying sizes of live crickets: medium, large, and run-for-your-life-jumbo. Just keep in mind that whole avian flu scare a few years ago and keep your hands to yourself.

 

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temple street night market

The Temple Street night market is ordered chaos on a grand scale – and the perfect place to pick up a few irregular bargains. Rows of brightly lit stalls crowd the pavement, hawking an astonishing variety of tchotchkes, gadgets, electronics, luggage, and clothing of dubious provenance. Fortune tellers cluster at the Yau Ma Tei end of the street – as do Chinese opera enthusiasts in search of kindred spirits for their impromptu performances. Busy food stalls open out into come-what-may cafeteria with everything from fresh seafood to hotpot dishes. Absorbing the free-for-all is a memorable, nocturnally fleeting experience. By day it could be any block in Mongkok. Only after sundown does the market spring to life.

 

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skyscrapers and smog

Hong Kong is a city of skyscrapers – and morning smog. So much so that even this jaded New Yorker finds himself constantly looking up to marvel at the shifting geometry of the skyline. Even better: densely packed, Hong Kong is well aware of its vertical nature so the opportunities to take in the view are a daily occurrence not limited to the craning necks of tourists. From dining out to shopping to commuting (not to mention sleeping) the heights are always on display – once the smog lifts, that is.

 

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at the wet market

Fresh food – the fresher the better – is a basic tenet of Chinese cooking. For the majority of people that entails a daily visit to the wet market; so-called because much of the product is still wet, as it were: the produce is fresh out of the ground, the seafood is still alive. Graham Street on Hong Kong island is home to one of the oldest local wet markets – an assembly of small individual stalls selling most anything the daily cook might need. My timing turns out to be fortuitous, too.  In an act of urban renewal the entire area will soon be razed.

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live blog: paris booty

The great Paris booty hunt led me through a handful of my favorite shops around Les Halles in search of elusive, yet essential, ingredients as well interesting bits of kitchenalia unavailable back home. Starting at the mothership, E. Dehillerin, I picked up a covered terrine that will make a great butter dish that’s large enough to hold an oversized brick of European butter.  Somehow I restrained myself from indulging in a cast iron pâte mold and escargot plates; however, at the last minute I did succumb to a neat device for making julienne vegetables in addition to a good, solid chef’s knife. Around the corner at La Bovida I stocked up on ramekins for myself as well as for cool small gifts. Next it was on to G. Detou, across the street, where the mustard gods were smiling down upon me and I picked up the last giant pail of Fallot’s – the most authentic of the traditional Dijon mustards out there, I think. Then something unexpected happened.  While loitering down the block at Mora, I noticed the curved Art Nouveau windows of a shop I’d never seen before:  Comptoir de la Gastronomie.  It was fortuitous; inside I found bags of hard to find haricots Tarbais, vacuum packed duck confit, confiture l’onion, and logs of fresh Toulouse saucisson. I judiciously passed on the saucisson.  Something told me that I was already sneaking enough contraband into my luggage – I didn’t need fresh garlic sausage to set the dog tails wagging, too.  The rest of the goodies, however, were quickly shoved into a bag.  Together they’ll be making a reappearance this weekend in a cassoulet, as I test the theory that I’m an even better cook than I am smuggler.

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