Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tales from the banana frond

The earliest memories I have of food are the smells of gently frying onion, garlic and ginger wafting from our Grandmothers' kitchen and watching her stir the onion/garlic/ginger 'paste' which forms the basis of Burmese hin, or curry (not strictly speaking a curry, but similar). I can imagine the smell right now as I type this, the smell slightly sweet as often in her hin she used some tomato paste or fresh tomatoes. My Grandmother's (bless her soul) cooking was heavily influenced by Indian cuisine as she spent many of her formative years in India, having made the long and deadly trek from Rangoon to India during WWII. The smells from her kitchen were often tinged with curry leaves and cumin seeds, especially if she was making her famous pepperwater (rasam) soup which was one of my favorites.

Other notable dishes of hers were; her pilau rice with Duck curry; her mince fry with rice (made all the more special as she made crispy potato triangles to sprinkle over the mince rice); her kala hin (Indian-style curry) with tamarind and vegetables; her meeshay (rice noodles with chicken hin)...the list goes on! Her cooking was a pseudo Burmese-Indian hybrid cuisine which I imagine is a similar style for any Anglo-Burmese of my generation anywhere in the world. If you haven't had Burmese food before, a lot of people say it's like Thai/Chinese/Indian food - I agree to an extent, but Burmese cuisine has a taste unlike any other. The mixture of saltiness (usually from fish sauce or ngapi - fish paste), tanginess (from lime, lemon or tamarind) and spice (fresh or dried chilli) are the cornerstone of most Burmese dishes and what makes it unique. There is a paucity of Burmese restaurants in most places in the world so most non-Burmese people would either have to befriend a Burmese family or travel to Burma (Myanmar these days) in order to get a taste of real Burmese food.

If either of those options are not likely and you just can't wait, here is a pretty straightforward recipe based on my Mother's Amehnat, or tender/stewed beef. There are many variations of this dish (As can be seen at any one of our family gatherings) but the basics remain the same - stewed tender beef in a rich gravy. Serve with steamed jasmine rice for a nice alternative to a curry night.

Amehnat - Tender beef (Lemongrass/beef curry)

1kg Chuck Beef, cubed (doesn't have to be a good cut of meat due to the slow cook)
5 peeled cloves garlic
2 large onions or 8-10 shallots
5 cm piece fresh ginger, skin removed
3 stalks lemongrass, bruised
3 tbsp Oil - canola/sunflower
2 tbsp Paprika
2-3 tbsp Fish sauce - good quality (Squid brand/Tiparos/Tra Chang)
Splash dark soy sauce(optional)
1 cup water

(1) Pound the garlic, onion and ginger in a mortar and pestle (or food processor if you can't be bothered)
till a smooth paste.
(2) Place the garlic, onion, ginger paste plus beef, lemongrass, oil, paprika, fish sauce and water all together
in a large pot. Give it a good stir so all the ingredients are well mixed.
(3) Place the pot with lid-on on stovetop on slow-medium heat for 1-2 hours (till meat is tender). There should
be a rich, brown/red sauce remaining in the pot. If the sauce dries out before the beef is tender, add water.
If too watery, leave lid off and reduce for 10-15 mins.
(4) Optional - add a splash of dark soy sauce towards the end of cooking process. This gives the dish a nice
molasses colour and a kick of flavor.
(5) Serve hot with jasmine rice and a vegetable dish.

NB. I have done tests (as have many of my Aunts) and this style of "all in the pot" cooking produces more tender beef than frying the onion/ginger/garlic paste separately and then browning the meat.

Be brave and give it a try and let me know how it turns out! If you're keen on learning more Burmese dishes go to this excellent site.

For a more in-depth treaty on Burmese cuisine go here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Era ending

It is with great sadness I announce what we heard two days ago, that our show ZAiA at the Venetian Macau will be having its' final show on the evening of 19 February 2011. After over 1000 shows, 3.5yrs of blood, sweat and tears we will prepare to see it all finish - gone, vanish, become no more. It's been a tumultuous time for sure - we've come close to closing numerous times before, but nobody was expecting it this time around. The partner, Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS) and Cirque du Soleil had just invested millions in a show relaunch months ago, a new advertising campaign attempting to inject life into flagging ticket sales and disappointing houses. But it was all in vain.

The hardest thing for me is saying goodbye - to all the people; peers, colleagues, friends, comrades, pengyoumen, amigos, artists. All stand-up people, from 25 or so different countries around the world - all brought together for this common purpose, this show, this event that will be all but a memory in less than 2-weeks time. But I know my comrades, my friends will not let this keep them down. I think we've all come to Macau with a commonality, a trait that makes us different to the rest: we love a challenge. We came to Macau for that in the first place - an experience, something that tests the soul. This will test our souls for sure, our spirits, our very nature. But when the finale rings out, for us it marks the signal of a new beginning. A rebirth from our experience. We'll show them. We won't let them beat us down. I know you guys won't disappoint me. Love you all.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


"We're hoping to succeed; we're okay with failure. We just don't want to land in between."

David Chang
Founder of momofuku restaurant empire

If you've read my last two posts you're probably thinking - yeah, where's this screenplay, huh? Your last post was about Tony Bourdain and friggin're full of $#!t Trevor!!... Well, this may be true but I read somewhere (I know, I know..don't believe everything you read...) that after completing something that you've spent a decent amount of time on, you should take some space and lock it away in that bottom drawer for some weeks before you attempt editing/revising/reviewing it. Makes sense to me. You spend countless hours each day looking/making/creating this screenplay/novel/article/thesis for weeks on end, it becomes an extension of you; you think about it day and night. I don't think you could work on that thing honestly again without some breathing space.

At first I found myself trying to read every book on 'How to write a Screenplay' I could get my hands on but in the end I realized; if you want to attempt to get good at something, just do it. A good analogy I could draw would be the ability to do a chin-up: you can do lat pulldowns and rows as much as you like but when it comes to the crunch, just do chin-ups! Sure, you may need to do negative reps and other variations to get your chin up over the bar the first time, but just do it! So I just started writing. Routine is hard to establish at first. They say you should try to write a set goal, say 500 words or 1000 words per day; set periods of the day that you should write whether it be AM or PM. I found it easier to write in the morning, just being that my work schedule tends to be the PM hours; it was (1) when I had the time and (2) I just found it worked better for me than the wee hours of the morning.

Here are some notes taken from my notepad early November 2011:

4 Oct – 4 Nov 2011 – completed 80 pages of ____________

Finding writing outside of the house is much less distracting; coffee shops are good, just put in the headphones and write away. I don’t use wifi when I’m out and writing so I don’t get distracted, at home it’s too easy to do non-productive things like check email, Facebook and Gmail. If there’s anything I need to research for my script I write it down and look it up later. Good albums I’m listening to right now are; Common – Be; and various Erykah Badu – the beats are conducive to quiet writing and thinking. I’m certainly not prolific by any means but the slow grind is the way to get things done; I try to write a little every day. If I miss a day I try not to beat myself up too much and just start again the next day. Well, writing this is fun but I should get back to my real writing….

So I'm not super strict with my schedule; I try to write when I can and at a few pages at a time. My rewrite is looking daunting, my story has more holes than a block of swiss. But I guess that's part of the fun. Following Seth Godin's blog I came across David Chang who is the owner and founder of the momofuku Korean restaurant chain which he started in New York and has now expanded across to Sydney. His ideas on business I find interesting; and I like the name momofuku which also happens to be the name of the guy that invented instant noodles, Momofuku Ando. One day maybe I can actually eat at a momofuku somewhere. I think the quote at the beginning of today's blog sums it up nicely - give it a shot. Why not? I also like this gem which I came across initially on Ross Enamait's site, but from the mouth of motivational guru Zig Ziglar

"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great"

Go on, get started!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


"Just because you like Jimi Hendrix doesn't mean you can play like Jimi Hendrix"
Anthony Bourdain

“I don't have to agree with you to like you or respect you.”
Anthony Bourdain

I discovered Anthony Bourdain quite late; I've watched most episodes of No Reservations but am only now reading (and loving) Kitchen Confidential, released in 2000, which made Anthony Bourdain the rockstar of the culinary world. My brother sent me the Youtube link for the HK episode of his new show, The Layover, a few weeks back but it seemed to me just an origami'ed version of No Reservations. Sure I love more Tony but it didn't really do it for me. I did like the fact that he visited Lamma Island in HK (we were just there a couple months back) so it was nice to see places I recognized; and I have to definitely get a new cleaver from the shop he visits in The Layover - Chan Chi Kee cutlery in Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon.

Their cleavers are the real deal - highly prized around the world for being economical in both usage and price. After a bit of research I found a whole sub-culture of cleaver fanatics; people that buy these CCK cleavers and then add custom handles to them. I love my cleaver (sharp blades in general) but this cleaver-love was a bit over the top even for me! Sugimoto cleavers - the Rolls Royce of the cutting world - go for around $400 USD a pop. To see what damage one man can do with a cleaver, watch the video below of Martin Yan (of Yan can Cook!) - jump to 1:40 for the action..

But I digress...

Tony Bourdain came to popularity interestingly around the same time as UK chef Gordon Ramsay; another no-holds barred, F-bomb dropping chain smoking culinary auteur. What impresses me is the fact that Bourdain's shows are not scripted and he can be so grandiosely eloquent while funny. Bourdain can effortlessly spout off about anything and everything. Tony to me is what I need to have more of - the ability to say what I want, when I want. To literally have no reservations in life, to be able to act and speak without thinking too much. Life like that must be sweet; unexpected and spontaneous. Sure, you might get the $#!t kicked out of you from time to time but... c'mon! Live a little.

In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain talks of his love of home cooking vs high cuisine; the shenanigans that go on behind the counters of your favorite restaurant; of trying anything remotely edible at least once. From seal eyeballs to warthog rectum, Bourdain has tried it. Guess the most adventurous I've been is eating skewered balut (chicken fetus) in Xian, China. Can't say I went for seconds... But trying anything once in life is a good motto to have - we are only of this mortal vice for a finite period of time; maybe better to have lived and eaten eyeball/rectum/balut than not?