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gsquared

eG Foodblog: GSquared - An Innkeeper in Eden

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My name is Gerhard and I live in Wilderness in Eden.

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Two years ago I decided to retire and do nothing for a while. The problem with doing nothing is that it is difficult to know when you are done. That is probably the main reason why I decided to buy a guest house. The Artist's prodding did play a role. Her version was that I interfered with the creative process and was a nuisance around the house. Mine was that I was merely offering support by way of constructive criticism. Be that as it may, I woke up one morning with the thought that we should up stakes in Johannesburg and move to the coast. If we could find a large house, we could convert it into a guest house. I could keep myself busy looking after guests and cooking. The artist always had a yen to live at the seaside and I got enthusiastic support for the idea. She would paint and I would be the innkeeper.

Two weeks later we bought Mes Amis in Wilderness, an existing, somewhat dilapidated guest house. 9 guest bedrooms and a large 2 bedroom apartment for us. The location is terrific: right on the beach with a splendid view of the Indian Ocean.

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Wilderness is an area of rivers, lakes, wetlands, mountains, forests and the Indian Ocean. Perhaps slightly overdeveloped, but still a quiet, bucolic village where the main economic activity is tourism and life proceeds at a gentle pace.

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We have a temperate climate, with an average min/max of 17/25 in summer (Oct-April) and 8/18 in winter.

In May 2004, we relocated. The artist,

sissy

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tutu

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and I.

I made the mistake of visiting our local animal shelter shortly after arriving, and the result was two new additions to the menagerie, Bibi and Becky.

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This will be mainly a breakfast blog. That is where most of my culinary creative energy is spent these days and it may just be mildly interesting for you to follow me through a few days of cooking for the guests. (And, of course, for the artist and myself). Breakfast is served a la carte in our breakfast room:

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It is now just after 11am and breakfast service is done. We had 13 in, a table for 8, two for two and one single. As always seem to happen when we have a large table, the whole lot sat down at the same time.

Here is today's menu:

The front and back

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and the inside

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Between helping Miki with table service, giving Veronica a hand with cooking and smooching the guests, I did not have time to take pics, other than the fresh fruit:

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I'll do better tomorrow morning. The 8 Italian guests checked out and service should be easier. Voluble bunch, the table for 8. The shy young Swiss couple in the corner were somewhat bemused. Every time I headed for their table to discuss their plans for the day, and advise where I can, I was waylaid by the Italians.

Time to take it easy. I intended watching the cricket test, but we are (again) getting soundly beaten by the Aussies. I have a large pot of duck legs on the stove and may as well start preparing the jars for the confit.

The rest of the day will proceed placidly. Patricia will draw up the list of stuff that we need to order – groceries, fruit, veggies, meat, toiletries, cleaning materials and so on and place the orders for delivery tomorrow after I've checked the list and added my two bits.

Time then to take the dogs for a walk on the beach, have a short siesta and then get ready to receive guests. That involves checking the reservations book and memorizing new guest names. It is often very easy to guess names correctly when the guests arrive. Tonight we have a German couple, two ladies from the UK, a businessman from Johannesburg and a repeat couple from Cape Town checking in, so I should be able to greet them all by name.

I will, if you will allow me, tell more about my innkeeping day tomorrow.

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I can't tell you how thrilled I am to see you blogging, Gerhard!

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As a person who nurtured a secret desire to be a B&B owner for a few years but has since returned to her senses, I look forward to hearing the wonderful, the mundane, and the awful about your life!

Questions:

1. Did you have previous experience? How did you learn how to do this?

2. Do you find it difficult to have a sense of privacy and a life apart from meeting the needs of your guests?

3. Have you always been a morning person? At what time must you start your day? Do you have days when you'd like to just hand all the guests a glass of milk and a Poptart and call it good?

4. What do most of your guests prefer, culinarily speaking: familiar food or the new and the daring?

5. Could you tell us about your best ever guest and also your too-awful-to-be-believed guest?

6. How do you procure your ingredients? Do you grow anything yourself? Does your climate have distinct seasons, and therefore seasonal foods?

7. Have I asked enough questions? :biggrin:


Edited by Lori in PA (log)

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Gerhard,

I remember fondly your mini-blog while you were hunting for what is now Mes Amis. Such gorgeous scenery. The dining room looks smashing. I am looking forward to seeing how the renovations went.

Cheers,

Johnnyd

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Lori,

1.  Did you have previous experience?  How did you learn how to do this?

I did, in a previous life and more years ago than I like to remember, run a hotel for a while. That is so long ago, though, that it hardly counts as experience. In some respects no experience is a good thing: I could bring a fresh eye and my own ideas to the guest house. It really is not difficult. Common sense, planning, a good sense of what guests would like and not like takes one far. Add to that a sense of contentedness that comes later in life.....

2.  Do you find it difficult to have a sense of privacy and a life apart from meeting the needs of your guests?

Our living space is separate from that of the guests, so we do not share lounges etc. and have our own piece of garden. More than sufficient privacy. The guests occupy all my attention until 10-11am with breakfast and checkout, and again from 4pm-about 6pm with checkin. In between there is the occasional soul that needs advice, a table booking, more wine or something, but there is ample non-guest time. We have to be here evenings, of course, unless we arrange one of the staff to house-sit, or one of the kids when we want to go away for a few days. But then, I'd rather be here than anywhere else in any event.

3.  Have you always been a morning person?  At what time must you start your day?  Do you have days when you'd like to just hand all the guests a glass of milk and a Poptart and call it good?

Mornings are the best time of the day. I always used to be up and about at around 5am, which is when the innkeeping day starts. No hardship there. There is a feeling almost of supriority being up when most other people are still abed - the world, somehow, seems to belong to only me. It has been two years now, and although my enthusiasm for the work at hand does not always run at 100%, I have never had a problem getting going. The dogs get up with me and help with breakfast prep by keeping the kitchen floor clean!

4.  What do most of your guests prefer, culinarily speaking:  familiar food or the new and the daring?

Most people seem to expect the mundane but accept the unusual happily.

5.  Could you tell us about your best ever guest and also your too-awful-to-be-believed guest?

Best ever guest has to be the French honeymoon couple that sent us 6 bottles of Pierre Gosset as a thank you. The worst guest I have yet to encounter.

6.  How do you procure your ingredients?  Do you grow anything yourself?  Does your climate have distinct seasons, and therefore seasonal foods?

Everything except fruit and veggies is delivered from various specialist suppliers. I have tried getting a herb garden going, but nothing seems to grow, except for rosemary:

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Although we have a very mild winter, most fruit and veggies are seasonal to some extent, especially fruit. The seasonality of produce is blurred to by off-season hothouse cultivation and imports. Fruit is our main problem, as we do not require a huge variety of veggies to make breakfast work.

7.  Have I asked enough questions?

As away - I did say that I have plenty of spare time :biggrin:

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I can tell immediately that this will be a thrillingly beautiful blog. I love your dining room, your view, and the life plan of running that sort of place in retirement. Oh, and did I mention that your menu is charming to the extreme?

I want a Mes Amis Scotsman. I mean that literally, in that I want one right now. Please tell me how the whiskey figures into the oatmeal. Is it cooked in a sauce, poured straight over the top, or served in a shot glass, as in, "Here's your brekkie shot of whiskey, ma'am." (The last being a perfectly suitable option, though I'd like to hear any other preparations described.)

I'd most likely want that, and I'd want a companion to get the eggs with the ostrich steak, cooked very rare. Is it easy to procure ostrich meat where you live? Do people eat it often enough that it's fairly common?

Thank you for blogging, and I really hope you enjoy this week! :smile:

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I remember fondly your mini-blog while you were hunting for what is now Mes Amis.  Such gorgeous scenery.  The dining room looks smashing.  I am looking forward to seeing how the renovations went.

Thanks for remembering! The renovations went well, although there was a lot to learn. Thread count, cotton v polycotton, cut pile v threaded pile, 18/10 v 18/8... It was so damn frustrating, because all I wanted to do was get to the FOOD!

Typical bedroom:

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Formal guest lounge:

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Informal breakfast lounge:

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I want a Mes Amis Scotsman. I mean that literally, in that I want one right now. Please tell me how the whiskey figures into the oatmeal. Is it cooked in a sauce, poured straight over the top, or served in a shot glass, as in, "Here's your brekkie shot of whiskey, ma'am." (The last being a perfectly suitable option, though I'd like to hear any other preparations described.)

A scoop of oats porridge (large ice cream scoop) is put into a hot porridge bowl, cream is poured over, a drizzle of honey and then the shot (about a single tot) of whiskey is drizzled into the cream around the edges of the porridge. We cook the porridge slightly firmer than usual. The assumption is that, if you order the Scotsman, you are ok with the whiskey. The important thing is that the whiskey needs to mingle with the cream.

I'd most likely want that, and I'd want a companion to get the eggs with the ostrich steak, cooked very rare. Is it easy to procure ostrich meat where you live? Do people eat it often enough that it's fairly common?

Wilderness is about 70Km from Oudtshoorn, the centre of ostrich farming in S.A. The Klein Karoo Ostrich Co-op markets ostrich meat very actively, and it is available in most supermarkets thoughout the country. Ostrich fillet is a misnomer, of course, as an ostrich does not have a fillet in the usual sense of the word. All the meat comes from the thigh. The inside and outside strips from the thigh are the most tender and usually referred to as fillet.

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Boy, oh boy - have I ever been looking forward to this!

Gerhard knows that I sometimes act as relief breakfast chef/innkeeper at a bed and breakfast, so it'll be cool to see how it's done half the world away.

At the Inn where I work, the owners long ago decided to do away with an ala carte menu and just offer the same thing to everyone each day (with exceptions cheerfully made if requested). That made my life easier - but I still wish we had the manpower to do a choice of two or three. And a printed menu every day! My stars!

Gerhard, if you don't mind - what's the cost of a double for a night (and then can someone convert that into US$ for us Yanks)?

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I was just musing last night on that delicious line, "I had a FAAAAHM in Africa," and here you are, bright and early this morning. What a delicious present!!

The teasing picture last week set my imagination soaring, and your words and pictures have already fulfilled expectations. A visit to your place would be heaven, and I doubt that I'd spend much time in that charming dining room---I'd be out there beyond the big windows, mug of coffee in hand, wandering just down there near the water, soaking in the sound of the faraway waves come home.

Proceed slowly, tell much, show all.

And I take my coffee with skim, please.

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Gerhard, if you don't mind - what's the cost of a double for a night (and then can someone convert that into US$ for us Yanks)?

$120, breakfast included. In off season (May-Sept) down to $100.

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Gerhard, if you don't mind - what's the cost of a double for a night (and then can someone convert that into US$ for us Yanks)?

$120, breakfast included. In off season (May-Sept) down to $100.

Typical for the Wilderness area? Seems extremely reasonable. Especially if it includes ostrich filet for breakfast!

I noticed you said "more wine" in one paragraph. Do you provide a bottle with the room?

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Beautiful place, and I can see that this blog will be unique and full of gorgeous moments. Smoked crocodile? Wow. Thank you.

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Wow.

Every room (And View) took my breath away, but your breakfast room, Words fail me!

Is the weather always that beautiful? What do your guests do for dinner?

Thanks for sharing all those wonderful pictures. :wub:

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Typical for the Wilderness area? Seems extremely reasonable.  Especially if it includes ostrich filet for breakfast!

I noticed you said "more wine" in one paragraph.  Do you provide a bottle with the room?

We are probably cheaper than the norm, but our price is on a level where I am comfortable with it, and comfortable with the profitability of the business. For the moment at least, I am focused on bums in beds.

The minibar is stocked with one red and one white wine. Depending on when you open the red, you may find yourself in dire need of more by early evening. :biggrin:

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Good to see you blogging.

Innkeeping to me implies a bar...and probably substantial evening meals. Any plans?

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Wow.

Every room (And View) took my breath away, but your breakfast room, Words fail me!

Is the weather always that beautiful? What do your guests do for dinner?

Thanks for sharing all those wonderful pictures. :wub:

Thanks!

We have an average of 320 days sunshine per year. Having said that, it is cloudy and rainy today with a strong southeaster. The guests (at least those on holiday) are not amused......

Dinner. Perhaps the easiest is to quote that part of our in-room brochure devoted to Wilderness restaurants:

There are in all 14 restaurants in and around Wilderness. Some of these should be avoided. Bad food and indifferent service are generally the norm.  There are, however, exceptions. We have compiled a list of those establishments that offer reasonable value for money. Our selections are made based on our own experience and on feedback from our guests.

Mulligan Grill Co is a grill-style restaurant located in Wilderness village. They provide standard grill fare with an emphasis on matured steak. Most offerings other than the steak are rather ho-hum. The ambience is sparse and devoid of warmth.  Do not expect fine food here, but if you need to feed the carnivore in you, this is the place to go. Try for a table outside under the Milkwood trees.

Mes Amis rating:

food  * *

ambiance    * 

service  * * *

Wilderness Grill is another grill-style restaurant in Wilderness. No great ambience and their service often leaves a lot to be desired, especially in high season when they seem to employ temporary waiting staff with very little training. They do, however, have a varied menu that offers something for every taste. A reasonable selection of seafood, although you should stick to the crustaceans – the "fresh" fish is inevitably frozen. A limited and rather expensive wine list.

Mes Amis rating:

food  * *

ambiance * *

service  *

Pomodoro is one of those ubiquitous Italian eateries. The usual pasta suspects are present:- carbonara, pescatori, vongole and so on. The pasta is not totally horrendous, but it does not set the pulse racing either. Their pizzas, prepared in a wood-burning pizza oven, are, however, reasonable and they do provide take-away. Service can be spotty and at times downright terrible. A limited but inexpensive wine list. 

Mes Amis rating:

food  *

ambiance * *

service  *

The Riverside Kitchen is located on the Touws River and offers an a la carte menu in an informal setting. Good value for money. The food is more bistro-style than fine dining, but is generally palatable. Avoid the fish. Service is good to excellent.  Closed Mondays.

Mes Amis rating:

food  * *

ambiance * *

service  * *

The Albatross promotes itself as a seafood restaurant. You may well have a great meal here. On the other hand, if you do not tread carefully, you could be served really ghastly food. Most of their seafood is frozen and therefore far inferior to the fresh product and frequently dry with a distinct resemblance to airline food. Even if they say it is fresh, it probably is not – fresh fish is, curiously enough, scarce in this region. That said, they do cook well and the Albatross is a good venue for crustaceans. A limited wine list. 

Mes Amis rating:

food  * *

ambiance * *

service  * *

Serendipity is a Moet Chandon top 100 restaurant that offers a 4 course set menu with a distinctly African accent. If I could visit only one restaurant in Wilderness, Serendipity would be it. The food is inventive, at best marvelous and always excellent. A good but expensive wine list. If you value fine food, Serendipity is an excellent choice. The ambience is great, the service superb and the food can sometimes knock your socks off. 

Booking is essential and normally at least the day before: we can arrange that for you. Closed Sundays.

Mes Amis rating:

food  * * * * *

ambiance * * * * *

service  * * * * *

The Palms. It is a guest lodge that has a well deserved reputation for their restaurant. The ambience is somewhat monastic, but the quality of the food and service more than compensates. Since the departure of their Swiss chef the food has become a tad more pedestrian, but is still a notch above the others (except for Serendipity). If the evening is fine, weather-wise, ask for a table on the veranda:- the view is only of the garden, but is in any event better than that inside. A good but expensive wine list.  In addition to an a la carte menu, they have a daily 4 course tasting menu. The service is superb.

Booking is essential: we can arrange that for you.

Closed June – mid July and Sundays.

Mes Amis rating:

food  * * *

ambiance * * *

service  * * * *

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Innkeeping to me implies a bar...and probably substantial evening meals. Any plans?

Jack,

You must remember that I am retired. Running a bar and cooking dinner sounds suspiciously like hard work, something to be strenuously avoided. We do have an "honesty" self-help bar in each lounge. For the substantial evening meals I defer to the local eateries. We also have a restaurant delivery service from George (about 15Km from us) that has about 15 restaurants on their delivery list.

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Time to start thinking about dinner. I fear that my efforts this week will pale by comparison to all those of the previous bloggers. The artists and I eat a late breakfast, at around 10:30 when all the guests have been fed. For lunch we keep a bowl of fruit around, some cheese, olives and so on and snack when we feel peckish. Dinner therefore has to be a tad more substantial, but I tend to keep it simple. I find it interesting that we now have a renewed appetite for the comfort foods of our younger days. For the past two evenings I had a yen for cornmeal grits with spicy ground beef in a rich gravy. So we indulged. Tonight the artist wants a vegetarian curry. She says that she is now off meat for a few days. Must be that spicy ground beef. I am going to try my hand at basing a curry around gram flour dumplings. Maybe some yoghurt. And spinach. Forgiving thing, a curry, so for the rest I'll wing it and let you know later how it turns out. It is still cloudy outside, so we'll eat inside in our dining area:

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For the wine, we'll have a 2003 Allesverloren Cab ($10):

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Better make that curry really robust. Is that a valid approach - first select the wine and then adjust the food to match? Sort of the reverse of a wine pairing - a food pairing?

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The curry turned out reasonably well. I was chuffed with the dumplings which for once was light and not stodgy. I added some tinned chickpeas which was, in retrospect, not a great idea. No fatal, but wounded the end product. Served over basmati rice.

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Gerhard-Gsquared!! I am so happy to see you blogging. You don't know how many times in the past two years I've wondered how you were doing. I'm so pleased to see you are alive, well and your dream a reality. :biggrin:

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Ok. Time to get to work. It is 9pm and the menu awaits.

We try to have one cereal that is a bit less boring than the usual suspects. Tomorrow it will be "The Mes Amis Breakfast Brulee" : muesli soaked in muscadel, covered with layers of fruit (probably apple slices) and topped with bruleed yoghurt.

Bread was a problem right from the start. As one grows older, you realize that there are certain things you will never be:- a baker of really good bread I never was and never will be. I simply do not have a rapport with dough and yeast. I have tried. Oh dear, how I have tried! My past is littered with a string of dense loaves, overproofed boules and ghastly baguettes. All suitable only for feeding to the seagulls. I think that I am genetically yeast-challenged. Yeast see me coming and immediately subside into a fit of giggles. We do, however, need to serve decent bread. I found a recipe for a baking powder leavened whole grain and bran seed bread that after some experiments came out really well, so that became a standard. When I realized that non-yeast leavening is the way to go, I added muffins and scones to the repertoire and that is where we are today – seed bread and two or three versions of muffins is the daily bread offering. I did experiment with buying in frozen croissants, but, strangely enough, did not get sufficient enthusiasm to warrant the cost - $1 a croissant as against $1-50 for 12 muffins. In a fit of misplaced confidence I will on the odd occasion bake brioches. Every now and then they actually turn out edible. I buy bread dough from a local supermarket and use that for beignets. For tomorrow, cheese muffins and bran and peanut butter muffins.

We have a plentiful supply of venison (The Little Karoo, an ancient inland sea dotted with game and ostrich farms lies just over the Outeniqua mountains), and I decided early on to make extensive use of good cuts of Impala, Kudu, Springbok, Gemsbuck, Blesbuck, Ostrich and crocodile. I thought that we could use the venison to produce breakfast dishes that are different and would in time become a sort of signature. Especially as venison does not normally feature as a breakfast dish. The cost is reasonable – around $15 a kilo for a fillet or loin. The bigger animals such as Kudu yield a decent fillet. We use the loin of the smaller ones such as Springbok. I have used Crocodile tail but found the meat to be rather bland, aside from the awful thick strip of fat that runs through each segment of tail meat. My supplier has come up with thinly sliced smoked tail which is great.

First thing is to check the reservations book to see who has been in the house for a few days, and look over the menus they have had. I try not to repeat any dish during a guest's stay. Only two who had breakfast this morning, the rest are new. Check the book for dietary requirements- we enquire when guests book. None for tomorrow, thank goodness! Dietary requirements are sometimes difficult, but dealing with them and dealing with them well is part of getting people to pay to stay at your establishment.

We have Impala loins in the freezer, so one hot dish can be eggs prepared to choice with Impala loin kebabs tossed in sesame oil and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Sesame and game are a good match. A sweet corn and chilli fritter should go well with that. Add a grilled tomato topped with seared mozzarella. Mozarella acquires an interesting flavour when you zap it with a blowtorch. Note to self: remember to take the Impala loin from the freezer….

For the second hot dish I try to be a wee bit more adventurous. Still have to select something that the staff have been taught to cook. (More about the staff later). I have defrosted chicken breasts that cannot last much longer. A cheese omelette with tea smoked chicken breasts and a mango salsa, I think. Means I have to go and smoke the chicken breasts, but that will only take 30 minutes or so. I'll go and do that right away, and then to bed.

Goodnight.

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Is that a valid approach - first select the wine and then adjust the food to match? Sort of the reverse of a wine pairing - a food pairing?

Perfectly valid! Looking forward to your blog. If you could share info on indigenous foods and what culinary peculiarities the various peoples of South Africa bring to the table, that would be fabulous.

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Oh good, a blog from a place about which I know virtually nothing. I love that. Will you show us your market, and all the fruits and vegetables that are unique to your area? Give us some typical local recipes? It certainly looks gorgeous where you are!

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Better make that curry really robust. Is that a valid approach - first select the wine and then adjust the food to match? Sort of the reverse of a wine pairing - a food pairing?

Great blog!! I'm so interested in this completely foreign part of the world (to me!)

We pick wines and the cook around them all the time. In fact I have a cookbook that is sectioned by wines instead of appetizers, soups, etc.

Do you ever make hash for your breakfasts? A few restaurants here in Seattle make venison hash.

Your inn looks very nice.....maybe I'll be a guest in it one day!

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      Basically all Indonesians speak Indonesian, or what they call Bahasa Indonesia, or just Bahasa, which, anyone who has read my prior foodblogs wouldn't be surprised to hear that I learned a little bit just before the trip.  Unfortunately, I didn't get to use any of it, except a couple times which were totally unnecessary.  When speaking with each other, most people in Bali speak Balinese (totally different from bahasa) - many times when I tried using my bahasa, they smiled and replied, and then tried to teach me the same phrase in Balinese!  As time went on, and I used some of the Balinese, I got lots of surprised smiles and laughs - who is this white guy speaking Balinese?!?  Seriously though, tourism has been in Bali for a very long time, so just about everyone we encountered spoke English to some degree.  Some people spoke German as well, as they supposedly get lots of tourists from Germany.  As one of our drivers was telling us, Bali is heavily dependent on tourism as they have no real industry other than agriculture, which doesn't pay nearly as well as tourism does.
       
      While there are beaches all around the island, most of the popular beach areas are in the south of the island, and those areas are the most highly touristed.  We spent very little time in the south as we are not really beach people (we get really bored) and during planning, decided to stay in less touristed areas so we'd have more opportunities for local food... this didn't work out, as you'll see later.
       
      So, it wouldn't be a KennethT foodblog without photos in the Taipei airport and I-Mei Dim Sum, which we called home for about 4 hours before our connection to Bali...
       
      Beef noodle soup:

       
      The interior:

       
      This was the same as always - huge pieces of beef were meltingly tender.  Good bite to the thick chewy noodles.
       
      Xie long bao (soup dumplings) and char siu bao (fluffy barbeque pork buns):

    • By KennethT
      Recently, there was a thread about stir frying over charcoal, which immediately brought to mind memories of eating in Bangkok in July 2013.  At that time, I hadn't gotten into the habit of writing food blogs, and considering that I had some spare time this weekend (a rarity) I figured I would put some of those memories down on paper, so to speak.  Back then, neither my wife nor I were in the habit of taking tons of photos like we do nowadays, but I think I can cobble something together that would be interesting to folks reading it.
       
      In the spirit of memories, I'll first go back to 2006 when my wife and I took our honeymoon to Thailand (Krabi, Bangkok and Chiang Mai), Singapore and Hanoi.  That was our first time to Asia, and to be honest, I was a little nervous about it.  I was worried the language barrier would be too difficult to transcend, or that we'd have no idea where we were going.  So, to help mitigate my slight anxiety, I decided to book some guides for a few of the locations.  Our guides were great, but we realized that they really aren't necessary, and nowadays with internet access so much more prevalent, even less necessary.
       
      Prior to the trip, when emailing with our guide in Bangkok to finalize plans, I mentioned that we wanted to be continuously eating (local food, I thought was implied!)  When we got there, I realized the misunderstanding when she opened her trunk to show us many bags of chips and other snack foods.. whoops...  Anyway, once the misconception was cleared up, she took us to a noodle soup vendor:


      On the right is our guide, Tong, who is now a very famous and highly sought after guide in BKK.... at the time, we were among here first customers.  I had a chicken broth based noodle soup with fish ball, fish cake and pork meatball, and my wife had yen ta fo, which is odd because it is bright pink with seafood.  I have a lime juice, and my wife had a longan juice.
       
      This is what a lot of local food places look like:

       
       
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