Macarons!

I caved in to temptation in Tokyo and bought macarons. Yes, I know, I have mentioned before, somewhere, that I don’t particularly fancy sweet things and in all my memories of macarons, they are sweet. What else can we expect from these small meringue-like discs that are made from ingredients that count eggs and icing sugar among its main ingredients?

But the recent hype over the opening of well-known French patisserie Ladurée in Singapore at Ngee Ann City, with its apparent snaking queues to lay hands on those meringue cookies sandwiched with a layer of cream of various flavours, kind of stirred a sweet craving in me. Perhaps. It also helped of course, that the little cafe and counter near the South-east Gate of JR Shinjuku (on the ground floor of Lumine 2) is usually empty. They even have a take-away ice-cream counter but on this trip I still hadn’t given their glaces a try. Maybe the next time. 🙂

I only bought two pieces, since these things don’t keep too long and I don’t think I want to eat 5 pieces of these on my own, though I could. They are that light and easy to consume that you won’t even know if you had just eaten many of them.

From my friend’s post about the ones she got, I decided to try the two flavours she raved about, Chocolate Yuzu and Caramel with Salted Butter. Since it was just two pieces I got, the staff put them in a paper bag, packed them with a small ice-pack of sorts and presented it in this huge plastic carrier. 20130429-101217.jpg

I have seen the nice box packaging they have, which I suppose comes at an extra cost (I’m not sure) or perhaps they are the “reward” for buying more pieces. They would make a great and pretty gift I guess but these are purely for my own consumption and satiation of my sweet tooth so let’s skip the box for now. Incidentally, I bought them on the last day of my trip, all the while deliberating about getting them so it only happened during my last few hours in Tokyo. I ended up not eating them until I got back to Singapore, and a day had passed, but they were still pretty fresh (since I got back in the wee hours of the morning and deposited them into the fridge immediately). 20130429-101232.jpg

The Chocolate Yuzu was slightly smashed so I hid it behind the other piece in the picture. I shared these two with my mum and our conclusion was that we liked the Chocolate Yuzu because we both don’t have too sweet a tooth. Haha. The Chocolate Yuzu, by its name alone, suggests that the macaron probably wouldn’t be too sweet. I like the mixture of the chocolate taste with the citrusy yuzu and the shell was so soft and still crunchy! It’s so easy to eat and enjoy I can totally understand why everyone is raving about them. But at more than S$3 a pop (costs 270 yen per piece), I think it won’t be a regular sweet that I’d buy, so thank goodness that I don’t always have a sweet craving!

While I instagrammed/Facebooked about the Ladurée macarons, my friend suggested that I should check out Pierre Hermé too since they are supposed to be good (according to her) and aren’t available in Singapore, yet. I would admit that where macarons are concerned, or in any case, good food, I am one of the last persons you go to, because I am the sort who eat to live, at least that is what I think of myself now, so I don’t know what is good or not. I thought I wouldn’t have the time, since I checked that the nearest Pierre Hermé to me then was at Isetan and I wasn’t that near with sufficient time. Still, at the last minute, I decided to make a dash to the food hall in Isetan Shinjuku and left with these. 

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The packaging wasn’t fabulous, as compared to what I got at Ladurée. Initially they packed my macarons into a red box but when I stopped at three pieces, the server took them out and put them instead into this clear plastic bag. Bleah. This was then put into a nice white paper carrier but I think they already lost out on the packaging somewhat. Haha, yes I know it’s superficial but a lot of these are about packaging! The Pierre Hermé macarons had a slightly longer shelf life, according to what the label read, and I consumed these only a day after the supposed expiry date. They were still good actually, but honestly, between the two brands I tried, I don’t know which was better. Maybe I should have picked flavours that are the same in order to compare, but my verdict was that they are both good! Sorry!

The three pieces I got were Chocolate Ganache, which I liked very much because it had a slight hint of bitterness and wasn’t sweet, Infiniment Citron (which I didn’t try because I gave it to my mum), and I think the last was Mosaic, apparently not a regular item they had. The last contained cherry and pistachio, and as I was eating it, I thought it seemed to be laced with rum? As I looked for the flavour online I realised that what I thought were raisins were perhaps cherry bits, and it reminded me a little of rum and raisin ice-cream.

This was only the second time I tried Ladurée, the first being in Zurich last year when I chanced upon the shop and bought these two pieces, chocolate and pistachio, because I asked for something “not so sweet”. Yummy.20130429-101515.jpg

And since we are on the topic of macarons, this is a picture of mini macarons, known as Luxemburgerli, from Swiss patisserie Sprungli, that I bought last year to share with my friends! 20130429-101526.jpg

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chase the rainblown fields away

Last month when I arrived in Zurich, it was raining and chilly. At that point I wished I had brought more warmer clothing. Then a few days into the dreariness, the weather got decidedly sunny and warm and I even complained about it being too warm to be outdoors. It was. In the sun, you feel like your skin burned the moment any part of it was exposed to the sun’s rays.

But sunny weather lends itself to pictures that look wonderful. I hoped for better weather and indeed the weather got better, a bit too good until it got so scorching. Then after that it cooled slightly but it didn’t really matter anymore since I was anyway heading home.

It is amazing that I will ever be thankful to see the sun. In Singapore I will grimace whenever I see sunlight that is too bright because it frequently equates to extremely hot temperatures that coupled with the infamous humidity, are just not best friends with me. Where I am now, whenever I see a glimpse of sunlight I’d be so thankful. I can’t imagine that it is supposed to be summer and the temperatures hover just above 10 deg C. Temperatures aside, the gloominess just kills everything else. I can understand how people get suicidal with extended periods of bad weather.

I got reminded of what someone told me recently about being careful what you wish for. Maybe. Maybe not. I guess there will always be a silver lining somewhere, maybe just not now and not here.

i never meant to start a war

Sometimes when I travel I always try to find something to bring home, something that is supposedly unique to the place that I visit. Although I think I have cut down significantly on buying gifts from abroad because there are times I feel like it’s becoming a chore, I thought Zurich would still be a good place to get something. I wanted to check out Bally but chickened out the last minute. Of course, going to Bally would be getting a ‘souvenir’ of sorts for myself but I knew I don’t need another bag. While I was at the airport, I almost caved in to a hefty purchase of a watch but again the pain that already wrenched my heart when I imagined seeing my credit card bill the following month made me walk away. I think I have improved tremendously in self-control! Well, probably reality plays a part.

Anyhow, that weekend when I was out I bought and tried a couple of macarons from world-famous (I think they are… aren’t they) Laduree that hailed from Paris. I am never a big fan of such sweet stuff even if I exercise double standards occasionally but I bought two from a very nice sales lady in the shop and absolutely loved them! The only other times I had macarons were probably those from Canele in Singapore, and those were like just sugar sacks that burst in your mouth. Ok maybe I exaggerate but most flavours were so sweet. The only ones that were more edible according to me were the coffee-flavoured types.

But, as this was Zurich, I decided to bring back something that is Swiss-made. Plus, the macarons from Laduree probably wouldn’t be able to keep till I could get to share them with whoever. I chose Spruengli instead, which is supposedly a famous Swiss brand of confectionery, chocolates and mini macarons that are known as Luxemburgerli. I wanted to get them from a shop downtown on Friday evening before I left but I was told they had stores in the airport so I thought I’d get them there instead, thinking it might be easier that way for me to just buy then bring them onto the plane back home.

I didn’t know that when you are at the airport, the two counters they had in the departure areas don’t let you choose the flavours. In the shops downtown, you can handpick what flavours you wanted in your choice of box-size. At the airport, they are pre-packed and come in only one size.

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The good thing is that you get a rather good mix of flavours. The downside is that, as with all pre-packed items, there is bound to be some inevitable ‘unliked’ flavour. I don’t know if they keep well but it was about a week after coming back home that I got to meet up with some friends and so brought along this box of sweets to share with them! I popped the box into the fridge though, and I think after a week they still taste ok but not as awesome as when they were freshly-made. I tried one at the store downtown too when I walked in to inquire, and it’s also really soft and chewy like the Laduree ones!

20120711-204110.jpgThis is how they look like without the plastic cover, cheery and colourful!

20120711-204119.jpgI hope my friends enjoyed them!

will the walls start caving in

This was taken on a weekend out to Zurich while I was there for work last month. I was walking in the old town part of the city when I chanced upon this mural and I thought it was rather interesting, and how it added a whimsical touch to the area that I was at. So I wondered, if this was not commissioned by the people who owned the building whose wall was painted on, will it be construed as vandalism?

Feeling quite shitty as usual. I think more and more, each trip just starts to feel worse. And it’s not like anybody can understand or begin to empathise. I don’t want to share more than I should and could anymore. We all have choices. But what will our choices bring us to? Unless I don’t mind sleeping on the streets, then this is an inevitable choice that I have to make. It’s still a choice but whether it is voluntary or not, that’s a different question altogether.

keep one eye open at night

Besides Henrici, the only other cafe (not counting Starbucks) that I visited while in Zurich was Babu’s Bakery and Coffeehouse, that is also within the city centre, but on the other side of the Bahnhofstrasse. In fact, this is much closer to the train station as compared to Henrici, and also closer to the main shopping area. I was sort of expecting to see a more traditional-looking cafe but then after a while I realised that Lowenstrasse (near where this cafe was) belongs to the newer part of Zurich. Niederdorfstrasse on the other side of the shopping area is where the old town is, and it’s also the part that I think is more beautiful. As much as I am totally a city and skyscrapers kind of person, I think I am also easily captivated by the old world charm when I see it.

It was still very warm when Sunday swung about that weekend, so it was an effort that I made to trek all the way to this place. As I was still rather full from breakfast in the hotel I thought I’d walk around before heading to some place for coffee/lunch, so I went to the old part of Zurich first and took in some sights and pictures along the way before I finally made my way here. Initially I was tempted to just snuck into Starbucks but I resolved to check out some place new, so here it is!

When I got there, the brunch crowds were just starting to clear out. I was rather lucky to get this table near the counter, a small table that was just perfect for one or two (table for one as usual), but after I sat there for a while the crowd started to thin out after they were done with their breakfast/brunch. The menu was all in Swiss-German, but thankfully the big chalkboard that hung above the counter had some familiar words I could read. Coffee names can’t be that hard right? So I ordered myself a mocha.

As for food, yes I can’t read German so the brunch menu they gave me was essentially useless. Since I wasn’t going to order a big meal anyway, sitting next to the display meant I could easily see what other stuff they have available. The concept here is that you look at the menu and after deciding what you want, go to the cashier to order and pay and the food and drinks will be sent to your table.

This was what I ordered. A lemon sponge cake that they called a pie. Again, this isn’t very sweet and I liked it because it was soft and freshly-baked. I love the smell of fresh bread and pastries and coupled with aromatic coffee, it can only be bliss.

The mocha I ordered also was not really that strong, perhaps having that amount of milk in it explained this. But it was still chocolatey goodness with a tinge of coffee bitterness. It was not bad. Babu’s was also a place I read about in the tourist information I got from the airport, and it is really worth a try with their wide selection of pastries and breads. The brunch I saw on the other tables looked great too, and the interior decor of the place had a country focus which somehow made the breakfast feel stronger. Maybe it’s just me but I always feel that breakfast/brunch places should have this country feel about them? Haha. The staff there were also friendly and courteous, even to a foreigner like me who spoke not a word of German, maybe except for Danke.

After coming out from the cafe, it seemed as though I had walked out into another dimension because from what I thought might be the country whilst in the cafe, outside was just modern buildings and cars all shining under the bright sunlight. For this, I actually prefered it if I were in the old town side and could come out to cobblerstoned sidewalks, still thinking that I am part of the dream I’d woven, instead of straightaway being thrown back into reality.

Perhaps this was the best part of Zurich, whatever free time I had, and of course meeting up with the friend I hadn’t met in years! Zurich had given me a lot to be unhappy about and I am glad to be home, but the cafes are always something I look forward to when I travel.

times when we question the things we know

If you ever happen to be in Zurich and can steer yourself away from the Bahnhofstrasse where all the shopping happens, you may want to check out this street called Niederdorfstrasse. Basically, upon coming out of the main train station, also known as Zurich HB, there is a river of sorts that is pretty hard to miss. Niederdorfstrasse is to your left if you are facing the city, a nice stretch of shops and restaurants behind the main road. Bahnhofstrasse is more towards the right side. Anyway, besides the main shopping street, there are shops all over the smaller streets, but it takes some walking around to explore the area, and if the weather is great, you can really spend hours walking on the cobblerstone streets, so pack along your walking shoes and leave your pointy stilettoes at home.

I got myself some tourist information at the airport when I was waiting in line to inquire about the hotel shuttle so I picked up some maps and stuff (that I conveniently left behind in the hotel) and read about what there is in Zurich. I had friends telling me how costly this place is, and also that I could consider visiting the Rhine Falls and etc., which I didn’t of course. I am lazy to travel too far out when I am on business trips because it takes too much effort and energy when mostly I just want to chill during the weekends and rest as much as I can possibly do.

So I read that there were some nice cafes about and during the weekend I headed to one of them for a coffee break. Henrici supposedly boasts to have one of the city’s best coffee so of course it would only make me want to check them out.

I got myself a seat indoors even though it was a really warm day and most patrons chose to sit outside under the tented verandah. After being in the shade for a while it did start to feel cooler, as long as I was out of reach of the sun’s merciless rays. It seemed pretty much like a hole-in-the-wall kind of cafe from the outside but turns out to be a rather big hole. The indoor seating area was quite large and comfortable and the counter and cake-display showcased an array of delectable-looking bites, from sandwiches to pastries.

Since I already had breakfast in the hotel and due to the persistent pain in my jaw (that still hasn’t healed) I couldn’t really order something that would require me to use my jaw too much. A soft cake is fine since the fork can cut it into tiny morsels and it is easy to shove it into the small space that is now called my open-jaw. I cannot recall if there were muffins, something that I often order when I have coffee, but this raspberry swiss-roll thing (swiss!) caught my eye instead.

The cake was not bad, because it was really soft like I expected so it was so easy to eat though still not without pain, and it was not overloading on the sugar content. Finally, let’s come to the coffee. I won’t say it’s the best coffee that I’ve had but it definitely is better than your regular stuff from Starbucks and the chains. Maybe it’s just a psychological thing but I always prefer to have coffees in such independent cafes because my opinion is that they have a larger vested interest to make sure they serve up the best roast that they can get to earn that niche rather than commercial chains who would probably be content to have acceptable coffee that they can get at a good price. Personal bias perhaps? Still it was a great hour or so spent idling in the cafe while seeking refuge from the sunshine.

Coffee in Zurich doesn’t come cheap either. For this tea-break it easier set me back by I think it was CHF 13, which translates to slightly less than SGD 18. Cost of living is high there is no doubt about that.

gravity always wins

Before I went to Switzerland, I hadn’t actually thought of what I would do there. Aside from knowing that the Alps is what Switzerland is famous for, as well as Ricola and the yodelling and yes of course Swiss chocolates, what else do we know? Ok, maybe Swiss army knives? And oh yes, Freitag. Initially I had wanted to check out the shop and maybe bag something but it was a little out of the way, and in the kind of heat that was in Zurich over the only weekend I was there, the last thing I wanted to do was to look for a shop under the scorching sun that doesn’t really set until past 9pm.

I heard from friends that it is a very expensive place, and indeed it is. I think I talked about that enough already, but really, each proper meal costs about 20 CHF (which is approximately SGD 27) and that is just having a main, no drinks, no tips, no appetisers, desserts, whatsoever.

On the last night, since the colleagues had already left, I had some hours to spare. Way before setting foot in Zurich, I already contacted a friend who is living now in Switzerland and tried to make plans to meet up. I requested to meet in Zurich city because I wanted to do some last-minute shopping (more about that later maybe), although half of me really wanted to make the trip to Zug to meet her; that’s where she stays and I had wanted to explore more instead of just Zurich and the areas I stayed and worked at.

Her friends had recommended her this eatery that was along Niederdorfstrasse, a street that I had walked a few times on the days I had been in town. This is somewhat of a back alley, mainly for pedestrians, and lined on either side by cafes, bars and restaurants. The street is really long, and as you progress towards the old town (which I didn’t get to) or the Grossmunster (the huge church), the mix of shops become more retail than F&B.

So Johanniter was where we went for dinner. As Euro 2012 was ongoing, most places were screening the live matches. I wonder if it was free-to-air or was that cable, because I had it on so many channels in the hotel room and even in the hotel lobby, but obviously I wasn’t interested and did not catch even a single match despite the timing being perfect – 8:45pm kick-off, which is usually the time I get back to the hotel from work.

Enough talking. Swiss food! It was too warm for cheese fondue, so I chose roesti and sausage instead. It was similar to the roesti that I have tried before in Marche in Singapore but this wasn’t as dry and there was no sour cream. I can’t recall when the last time I had roesti was, but this was really good!

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My friend chose the Cordon Bleu chicken with fries and she didn’t really touch the fries! What travesty! Ok that’s just me, being a potato fan, speaking. A lot of people I’ve dined with don’t finish their french fries. Sometimes I try to choose mains that do not come with fries so that I will not have that temptation to clean off the plate.

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It had been years since I’ve last seen and spoken to her so we just talked and time passed so fast! Oh while we were there, a match was going on and one side scored and the entire street started cheering. It reminded of how in Singapore when there is some big match on-going, and you hear some loud ruckus within the HDB estate it usually meant someone scored a goal. This was similar, just louder and nearer because the tables around us were all cheering.

As much as I complained a lot about the trip and wasn’t feeling too great, the final night was wonderfully spent catching up. The weather that evening was also superb and then I got to see Zurich by night, and to top it off my nice friend gave me a treat! I hope I get a chance to give my friends a treat when they are in Singapore because when I travel and meet up with people overseas they are always buying me meals and I feel bad about it.