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I love weekends.  Aside from getting all those pesky chores done, they are a time when you can kick back and enjoy a leisurely breakfast.

An often prepared dish at ours is pancakes with the ubiquitous maple syrup.

Maple syrup is a syrup usually made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees, although syrup can also be made from other maple species such as the Bigleaf Maple.  In cold climate areas, these trees store starch in their stems and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar and rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped and the exuded sap collected and concentrated by heating to evaporate the water.  Traditionally, the sap starts to run in March, but with this years harsh winter, things have slowed down somewhat.

It turns out that most of the world’s maple syrup is from Canada. But I don’t think they have yet to export the amazing creations from Ninutik.

Coco - hand painted maple chocolates

Elegant, modern, distinctive – these are the words that describe the spirit of Ninutik design. Their intent is to present maple syrup – a Canadian cultural icon – through the lens of design, art and sugarmaking. Ninutik products are designed by Dianne Croteau and Richard Brault, the founding partners of Studio Innova.

For several years Dianne, Richard and their young son Andre made small quantities of syrup from majestic sugar maples on protected land along the Niagara Escarpment. What started as a personal harvest soon evolved into a design exploration featuring maple syrup and sugar as the medium.

BOUQUET 6 is a bouquet of sweet maple sugar lollies

Their design process begins with an idea followed by a simple sketch for discussion. When moulds are needed, a drawing is prepared and sent to a master mouldmaker. Samples are created in their studio kitchen, and tested and tasted for flavour and texture. Packaging is made to exacting specifications to ensure that every gift is presented with quality and elegance.

Cube 57

Cube 57 is inspired by Canada’s First Nations who kept their maple sugar in hard cakes. NINUTIK revisits this early tradition by offering a hefty handcrafted cube of pure maple sugar. As delicious as it is stately, each Cube 57 is unique in colour and texture with marbled veins, small bubbles or white flecks.  The delicate flavour of maple sugar enhances sweet and savoury dishes alike. Cube 57 can be grated like a fresh parmigiano reggiano cheese. It comes presented in a solid maple finger-joint box with hand-rubbed beeswax finish, made in Canada. 

Bubble 80

BUBBLE 80 is an exceptional limited-edition gift that marries the mastery of glass artist Brad Sherwood with the purity of maple syrup. Ninutik commissioned Sherwood to create these precious bubbles by hand, and in small quantities. Each is blown from borosilicate glass, a special high-temperature glass commonly used for scientific purposes. Presented in a solid maple finger-joint cube with hand rubbed beeswax finish.

A bright idea

Taste Lab has partnered with In Square Lab to bring a new light installation into the space at Harvey Nichols.

The team, led by Jackson Tan, created a flexible plug in ceiling installation that will transform correspondingly with the pop up space underneath.

Made up of hundreds of glass test tubes, the installation can cast a coloured glow according to the filter applied and is designed to show off food to its best advantage.

Light installation at Taste Lab. Photographed by Tom Mallion

Lighting food presents unique challenges unlike other domestic situations, since you generally eat with your eyes first. When you simply turn up the lights in order to display fresh foods to best advantage, commonly used commercial lamps are often too bright and produce washed out colours by emphasizing strong yellow and green portions of the visible spectrum.  They also do not display white or red colours accurately.

Store lighting often causes surface fading of cured and processed deli meats such as ham, bacon, salami, pastrami, and pepperoni. Deli ham exposed to merchandiser lighting can become faded, while those protected from the light remain bright pink. Sliced cheese and fresh salads exposed to light are especially susceptible to drying and fading and quickly lose their appeal sitting in the display case.

So how do retailers get around this problem?

The answer is through using specialist lighting companies, such as Promolux or Baro.

Promolux lights are balanced spectrum low radiation merchandising lights designed to showcase merchandise in the most appealing light. They use a proprietary blend of phosphors and coatings, designed to reduce the damaging effects of lighting upon perishable food displays.  The results? Well see for yourself. Images are from Promolux, and no, they’re not clients:)

Fresh fruit under normal fluorescent lighting

Fresh fruit under Promolux lighting

Gaggan is a new restaurant in Bangkok that has taken molecular gastronomy and brought it to Thailand.

The restaurant opened in Bangkok in December.  32-year-old Chef Gaggan Anand was inspired to open when he became the first Indian to intern with the research team at Spain’s El Bulli restaurant, home of the Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adrià.

Peas - Gaggan style

Dishes at Gaggan are designed to use science to improve food, while not deviating too far from traditional practices.

Creations include a spherification in which a dollop of yogurt with cumin and black salt is transformed into a disk with a gel-like exterior and a spicy, liquid interior, as well as oysters with a chutney ginger foam; foie gras with a freeze-dried raspberry sauce; mushroom risotto with Kashmiri morel juice; and a chicken tikka with green chilies, peppercorn and chutney foam.

 

 

Additional dishes on offer at Gaggan include sous vide Scottish wild salmon with Bengali-style mustard, a freeze-dried

Foie gras with a freeze dried raspberry sauce

corn salad with tomatoes and Guntur chilies, and mutton brain with coriander leaves, sour cream and cumin.

The two-story restaurant is in a traditional Thai-style house, set back from a central Bangkok thoroughfare in a leafy courtyard. While the dishes are elaborately prepared, the interior is decorated simply, with white walls, chairs, and tables.

First floor of Gaggans

Gaggan, 68/1 Soi Langsuan, Bangkok, across from Soi 3. Tel: 66-2-652-1700.

The beauty about food markets the world over, is that (generally) food is very fresh, locally sourced and doesn’t hang around for very long, since there isn’t that much room for refridgeration or freezing.

Giant freshwater prawns

This was certainly true at Aor Tor Kor Market, which is opposite the southern entrance to Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok.

The market is run by the Agricultural Market Organization, and is spacious and clean.  We were very lucky to be taken round by Chef David Thomson, Executive Chef of Nahm.  David runs two restaurants – one here in Bangkok, and the other in London.  Unlike London, David sources the majority of his produce from this market, and he took us on a whistle stop tour of some of his favourite stalls.

Chef David Thompson takes our group around the market

Aor Tor Kor has all the usual stalls of vegetables, seafood, meat, fruit and other products such as dried shrimp, chilli pastes and prepared food.   At one end of the market you will find a food court and a number of stalls selling Thai desserts.

 

Gradum Maew - like a cross between a plum and apricot

Oyster Omelette

David showed us some of his favourite ingredients and what could be done with them, and then it was on to tasting: traditional pork sausages, sugar cane juice, oyster omelette, smoked duck breast and of course the infamous durian.

There was a huge wealth of produce to choose from, and it nice to see independent traders still thriving, despite the march of retailers such as 7 11 and supermarkets.

 

Boiling coconut palm sap to produce sugar

My first full day in Thailand has been action packed: in the morning, we visited the local village of Samut Songkram to see how coconut sugar is produced, and then journeyed to Klong Klone, a small fishing village in the heart of a community mangrove conservation programme.

Monkey in the mangrove

The mangroves support a huge abundance of wildlife from monkeys and birds, to an array of fish which use their roots as a nursery for their young.

We toured the mangroves and were then taken out to sea where we were provided with a fascinating insight into the lives of the local fishermen, who not only farm oysters and clams, but catch a variety of sea life, particularly shrimp, which are used to make one of the best Kapi (shrimp paste) in the country.

Netting shrimp at sea

Made from tiny transparent shrimp, they are netted, then brought to shore, unloaded, rinsed, laid out to drain before salting (approximately 1 cup sea salt to two pounds of shrimp), then filled into earthenware jars overnight.

The next morning, they are spread out on plastic sheets on the ground next to the fishermen’s home to dry in the hot sun. Late in the day, they are gathered and re-stored in the jars for the night, to be laid out again the next day when the sun burns hot.

This goes on for three or more days, until the shrimp disintegrates and turns from pink to a dark purplish brown. When the shrimp are no longer recognizable and completely turned into dense paste, the kabi is ready for use. If properly dried, the paste can keep for several months without refrigeration.

Fresh shrimp being laid out to dry

Klong Klone’s kapi is particularly prized for its aroma and flavour, and although I declined to try some (our local fisherman guide took great joy in breaking off a piece and popping it into his mouth like fudge), I know it’s an essential for Thai specialities such as Nam Prik and of course curry pastes.

I wasn’t told how much they sold the finished product for, but tellingly, where fishermen used to be able to fill their boats full of shrimp in one day, the gentleman we met and photographed had only managed to catch half a kilo, despite having been out at sea for five hours.

Following on from our visit to Klong Klone, we drove on to visit the vineyards of Hua Hin.

Hua Hin Vineyard

Hua Hin is the favoured resort town of Bangkok, being only 3 hours drive from the city centre. The town is also known for its pineapples, and as we drove to the winery, we passed acres and acres of the crop.

I hadn’t realised Thailand produced and exported wine, but Prauchuab Kiri Khan province is on the same latitude as some of the world’s newest wine producing areas, including China, Brazil and India, and as such, they are called New Latitude Wines.

For years, in wine terms, two bands existed around the globe, roughly between latitudes 30 and 50, to denote those parts of it deemed suitable for viticulture.  However all this is changing:  advances in refrigeration and irrigation techniques, not to mention much greater control over how and when vines grow, have opened up the possibilities for viticulture.

Hua Hin Hills Vineyard benefits from a Mediterranean-like breeze and produces a range of wines for the export and

The Sala housing the bistro and wine tasting area

domestic market.

At the beautiful and majestic Sala, designed by Sylvia Soh, we not only enjoyed a fine dinner, but also a tutored wine tasting of Monsoon Valley wines.

Premium Monsoon Valley wines on tasting

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the wines tasted were from their premium range.  My personal favourite was their 2010 Muscat.  Served ice cold and a salmon pink colour, it was smooth and velvety, with hints of rose and cherry blossom.

 

 

The next few posts will be from Thailand, where I’m currently travelling.

My colleague summed it up perfectly when she said that it’s amazing how in just 10 hours, you can be in a completely different world. And if you’ve never been to Thailand, Bangkok certainly feels that way: old and new jostle side by side – historic temples and palaces are just as common as glistening skyscrapers and the neon lights of the famous Khaosan Road.

Currently, our world is revolving around the Praya Palazzo Hotel in Bangkok. It’s the perfect mix of old world glamour and modern luxury.

Only recently opened, it’s a 17 room mansion that has been converted into a boutique hotel.  Situated in the heart of Bangkok on the banks of the Chaopraya River, access is mainly by boat. This is one of many gems that are on Surreal holidays books.

Thai owned, and specialising only in bespoke tours of Thailand, they have very kindly put together the itinerary that I’ll be talking about.  Next post will be a trip to the oyster and clam farms of Samut Songkram.