Smelly and deadly

This may have been reported elsewhere, but I haven't seen it.

New Scientist magazine reports that Durian and booze is worse than a stinking hangover:

ACCORDING to Asian folklore, eating the famously pungent durian - known as the "king of fruits" - along with alcohol can kill you. Now intrepid researchers have confirmed there may be some truth in this supposition. It is the first time combining a fruit with booze has been scientifically linked to an adverse reaction.

One of the strangest signs I've ever seen in a hotel was in Penang, Malaysia.  They kindly requested guests not to bring durian into the hotel.  Why?  Because durian is stinkier than stinky tofu (well, maybe not quite that bad), and certainly less delicious. 

I never knew that one wasn't supposed to drink and durian, but I'll certainly bear it in mind. 

More sandwiches

Gerald Ratner famously compared one of his company's gold earrings to a Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich, saying that it was cheaper "but the sandwich will probably last longer".  When the newspapers reported his attempt at humour, it became a big story and he ended up losing his job and it virtually bankrupted the company.

Well, the Marks & Spencer prawn sandwich has finally come to Hong Kong - along with salads and wraps and a few desserts.  So far they're only in 4 selected stores, but presumably they'll roll it out to a few more if it's successful.  Prices are a bit lower than Pret a Manger (who have a similar range, but make all their sandwiches in each outlet rather than in a central food factory).

I have one free piece of advice for M&S.  The "handwritten" labels look very lovely, but please get some large signs to go on the shelves so we can see clearly what is on offer.

Chicken Tikka...and Masala


According to the SCMP, tonight on ATV World you can watch chef Heston Blumenthal cooking Chicken Tikka & Masala. 

Call me old fashioned, but I think it's usually called "Chicken Tikka Masala", and that is indeed how Heston Blumenthal describes it in the programme. 

As ever, it's entertainingly bizarre - Heston heads off to Delhi to find out how to cook the dish, but of course he knows that it's not really an Indian dish at all.  He also tries building a tandoor, but admits that this may not be practical for most people. 

But, ATV and SCMP please note, the dish is definitely Chicken Tikka Masala.  In search of perfection, indeed.

As luck would have it, I caught part of an episode from the first series on BBC Lifestyle yesterday.  He was making fish and chips, and in true Heston style, he added beer to the batter, put it in the fridge - and then put it into a soda syphon. 

Well, OK, but what on earth do you do with a soda syphon after you've used it to spray batter on your fish? 

Must try harder

When I used to go on holiday to France, the Michelin Guide was essential reading - when you are somewhere unfamiliar you can't go far wrong choosing a restaurant from the Red Guide  Find a place with a red R you are pretty much guaranteed good quality food at a reasonable price, and once you get to the rosettes you are getting exceptional food (albeit at a price to match).

However, the Michelin Guide is a guide to French food in France.  I wouldn't take their recommendations for Indian or Chinese food very seriously, and I don't think any of the overseas editions are quite so authoritative.  Well, OK, it's probably safe to say that French-style restaurants in the UK that get rosettes are going to be pretty good, but I have visited a few Indian restaurants in the UK that are in the Michelin Guide and not been particularly impressed.

Now there's a guide for Hong Kong & Macau, with predictably hilarious results.  They have given three rosettes to one restaurant from Macau and one from Hong Kong, and there are 7 places with two rosettes, and 14 with one rosette (all in Hong Kong).

You can see the list over at Cha Xiu Bao, and frankly I haven't visited enough of the restaurants to make any detailed comments, except to observe that it's a trifle odd to find that two branches from the Lei Garden chain are supposedly in the top 22 restaurants in Hong Kong (a couple more of their branches are also listed).

Perfectly decent Cantonese food (if you like that sort of thing), but nothing exceptional - and I rather doubt that they would be so generous to a restaurant chain in operating in, say, Paris.

As a general rule, I wouldn't ask French people to recommend good restaurants in Hong Kong any more than I would ask a Hong Kong resident for advice on eating in France.  I think there may be a moral here somewhere.

The best stuff on Earth? Really?

Snapple ingredientsRecently I bought a bottle of Snapple Iced Lemon Tea, thinking that it really was natural (as stated on the label). 

Then I read the ingredients.  The second item (after water) is High Fructose Corn Syrup, the ingredient which is widely blamed for making the population of the United States so obese. 

From Wikipedia:

The process by which HFCS is produced was first developed by Richard O. Marshall and Earl R. Kooi in 1957. The industrial production process was refined by Dr. Y. Takasaki at Agency of Industrial Science and Technology of Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Japan in 1965-1970. HFCS was rapidly introduced in many processed foods and soft drinks in the US over the period of about 1975–1985.

So not really very natural at all, then. 

I found this rather amusing chart at GraphJam (see right).

Zero doesn't mean none

I'm still not quite sure what to make about the curious controversy about changes to the food labelling laws in Hong Kong.

Anyone who has been into a Hong Kong supermarket in recent weeks will have noticed the campaign against the new law, on the basis that some food items would be banned from Hong Kong, mainly because they make claims (such as 'zero trans fat' or 'low sodium') that do not conform with Hong Kong standards. 

Last week a government amendment (to exempt products that sell in small volumes) was defeated in Legco (actually the vote was 26-25 in favour, but somehow that isn't good enough).  These products will now have to carry nutrition labels specifying "energy, trans fat plus six core nutrients, namely (i) protein, (ii) carbohydrates, (iii) fat, (iv) saturated fat, (v) sodium and (vi) sugars on their food labels, as well as any nutrient for which a claim is made".  Which really shouldn't be a problem, because the US and Canada already require the same information, and although there is currently no legal requirement in the UK to list trans fats, most manufacturers do provide this information (and most products are now free of trans fats).

I suspect that a lot of the campaigning on this has either been based on a misunderstanding of the new rules.  For example, the SCMP (subscription required) quoted the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, Richard Vuylsteke as saying

"We offer information about the nutrient's percentage by serving size, but Hong Kong requires the percentage by overall size. It is difficult and costly for the US food industry to meet Hong Kong requirements."

That's simply not true, as you can see if you read the original proposals or the new legislation.

Also, I can't find any reference to Omega-3 in the regulations, so it would seem that it is not illegal to claim that a product is "high in Omega-3", although this appears in another SCMP report (subscription still required) based on a claim by 'big retailers'.  Maybe they mean that they would have to tell us how much Omega-3 it contains, but I don't think the claim itself would be illegal.

Continue reading "Zero doesn't mean none" »

Eat, drink and be merry

Two recent studies say that drinking moderately is good for you (and that exercise helps a lot).

The first survey also concludes that it's OK to be overweight as long as you eat your sprouts:

People who adopt four principles for a healthy lifestyle can add as much as 14 years to their lives, a study revealed today.

Researchers found that not smoking, taking exercise, drinking in moderation and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day can have a huge impact on life expectancy.

Academics at Cambridge University monitored the health of 20,000 men and women aged between 45 and 79 from Norfolk between 1993 and 2006.

The study concluded: "The results strongly suggest that these four achievable lifestyle changes could have a marked improvement on the health of middle-aged and older people, which is particularly important given the ageing population in the UK and other European countries."

The research showed that a person's social class or body mass index (BMI) had no role to play in life expectancy.

Moderate drinkers are at 30% lower risk of heart disease than teetotallers, according to a study of nearly 12,000 people. And those who combine a mild tipple with regular exercise are even less likely to die of the disease. Their risk is between 44% and 50% lower than couch potatoes who abstain from alcohol.

The second survey is specifically about heart disease.

The team behind the 20-year study said that previous research has shown that moderate drinking and exercise both lower the risk of heart disease. But this is the first time scientists have quantified the benefits of both together.

"We've known for years that physical activity is good for you and it prevents heart disease. And the same for alcohol - a small amount of alcohol is good for the heart," said Morten Grønbæk, a professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Copenhagen.

"The new thing about our study is that we look at the combined effects of drinking alcohol and being physically active compared to, for instance, only being physically active and not drinking or drinking but not being physically active ... it's the only study on this issue," Grønbæk said.

His team used data from 11,914 people in Copenhagen. Participants were recruited between 1976 and 1978 and were asked questions about alcohol intake, physical activity and other factors that might influence the results, such as whether they smoked, their education and marital status. Over the next two decades 5,901 of the participants died of a variety of causes and 1,242 developed heart disease.


I see that my esteemed colleague Ulaca is recommending Jasmine (a Chinese restaurant in Festival Walk) to unsuspecting readers. 

Perhaps I took against this restaurant because I was quite satisfied with its predecessor, Zen, which upped and left for The Peak one day (one day they cheerfully took our reservation and then called backed a few minutes to enquire whether, er, we knew that they were now at The Peak.  No, we didn't.).

Perhaps I took against it for being wilfully trendy.

Though actually what really annoyed me was Large Plate Small Table syndrome.  OK, I can accept that Maxims group want to pack in as many tables as they can into the smallest area possible.  What I just don't get is how you can do that and then serve dishes on large (and eccentrically-shaped) dishes so that you have to eat each dish before the next one arrives.

Didn't go back.

In Search of Perfection

ATV World are showing Heston Blumenthal's series In Search of Perfection on Tuesday nights.

I've only watched one so far, but it was a wonderfully bizarre program.

When Heston does sausage and mash, you won't be surprised that he goes to great trouble to source the finest organic pork and even travels up to the farm to see the happy pigs.  You probably also won't be surprised that he boils the sausages and then finishes them in a frying pan.

What might surprise you is that he doesn't believe that sausages should be 99% meat, instead preferring to include more 'filler'.  This is a traditional ingredient, and it gave rise to the joke about a German saying how much he likes English bread, but can't understand why we call it "sausage".  Obviously Blumenthal is not including as much filler as those mass-produced sausages, but he does feel that some is required.  And he's probably right.

Still on the bread theme, you might also be surprised that this recipe (which appears in modified form in The Times) calls for mass-produced sliced white bread:

Lay 6 slices of sliced white bread on baking sheets. Place them in the oven and leave for 30–40 minutes, until the bread is an even dark brown colour throughout. Break up the bread and put it into a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cold water and set aside for at least 1 hour.

Drain the soaked oven-baked bread pieces into a colander set over a bowl, then squeeze the bread to extract as much water as possible. Pour 400ml of the toast- flavoured water into the jug containing the spice mix, stir and place in the fridge to chill.

Yes, that's right, the bread is used to make toast-flavoured water.  Not an ingredient that I'd ever have considered....   

You also wouldn't be surprised to learn that he went to great trouble to find the best treacle for Treacle Tart.  What you probably wouldn't have expected was that after all of that he would decide that none of them was as good as Tate & Lyle's Golden Syrup.

I guess he knows what he's doing, but eccentric doesn't even begin to describe his approach to food.