The Butcher of Panzano, Dario Cecchini

Posted in breakfast, chianti, food, holidays, Italy, meat, pig fat, tuscany by expatatlarge on July 29, 2012

Tuscan morning sun, we’re under its power. Danijel is feeling burnt before breakfast. We’ve walked to the table on the lawn and set down the dishes – cheeses, fresh Roma tomatoes – my god they taste of tomatoes! – and green peppers, and scrambled eggs with caramelised onions and a lot more of those tomatoes, chopped into the mix.

Then we rest…


No, hang on, that was yesterday. For today’s breakfast Izzy (so domesticated these days) has set the table and is bringing some brewed coffee (Bosnian style – boil water, put in coffee, boil again. Sludge.) Vicoo has a plate of those tarts we purchased at the market yesterday The tarts are vanilla with almonds, wild forrest berries, lemon and powdered sugar. They are delicious.


E@L had never heard of this place, Panzano-in-Chianti. Why would you? Look at it. It’s tiny.

But Izzy and Danijel had seen something on an episode of an Anthony Bourdain show about an amazing butcher in this tiny town just past Greve-in-Chianti. Butcher? We’re going to a see a butcher? (E@L checks online and makes a booking at the Solociccia [trans: only meat] restaurant for a pig-fat Tuscan degustation.)

We drive along the country roads of course, view after view, this is not on the A1. The Tuscan countryside is not spectacular, it is older, gentle, comforting, calming* – reminds me of Colac. Greve is perhaps the biggest town we drive through, and that takes two minutes to negotiate in and out of – turn left here. The smaller towns are not much more than a haphazard collection of towers, castles, churches, and houses that narrow the road down drastically. The houses encroach on, sometimes replace, the footpath; bottle-necking the traffic with blind corners, and then there are the dozing animals, on-coming traffic, rickety bicycles, grandmothers (not wearing scarves, thankfully it’s not that clichéd) walking oblivious, men in singlets (OK, little bit cliché) and children playing unconcerned. E@L has to slow down to 20km to get around these safely – he is a cautious driver. Terrible, but cautious.

As we start to wind around another hill, vineyards, cypress trees, stone houses, roofs the color of flower pots below us on the right, the gentle uphill rise on our left, there are parked cars by the roadside. Lots of parked cars, cramped together under trees for shade, a dozen cars here, around the next bend two dozen more. We still haven’t seen anything like a town yet. “Should we park,” asks Izzy. “Why?” But then the first few houses appear and the cars are parked thick along the road shoulder. Suddenly we are in the centre of town. An intersection and a market up a lane way – “that’s it,” calls Iz. “Up there!” But place is jammed, we have to drive on, we can’t stop here, and we’ve passed. And immediately we are out of town.

We have to keep going a bit further, there is nowhere to turn. Around the bend there is a new housing estate up the hill on our left. We turn up, get lost, turn back once, turn uphill once more into more narrow streets, and hey, we find the last vacant parking spot in town, no shade of course, and sit for a moment. “This is it, I think,” says E@L. This way? That way? Fuck it’s hot. The sun, so bright and E@L has no hat. Luckily, the ozone hole is over Sydney and not Panazano. We walk up over a crest, and it slopes down again, directly into the market that we had seen. Perfecto.

The market is small, really, it’s not a fresh produce market, but there are jars of sauces and condiments, cakes and cheeky tarts, lots of wines, schlongs of salami, rounds of cheese, perfect. But there are lots of people milling, as people do when they get the chance, by the stalls. Look at them: mill, mill, mill.

(beware – LOUD music)

The market stalls concentrate in front of his shop and restaurants, where else would you place them. His shop is rocking, seriously rocking, It is crowded, dense-packed with people holding up small glasses of chianti or or of grappa, pinching bread with lard between thumb and fingers, holding greasy chunks of pig fat from fresh roasted rolled pork stuffed with rosemary.

And Dario is an amazing person, a celebrity butcher who stands tall amongst celebrity chefs.

E@L can hardly get in to the shop, but they have a reservation at the restaurant in 5 minutes. Is it in this shop, at the back maybe? He squeezes through, shouting to Danijel over the blaring music and the heads of the young and old people taking all that bounty on offer, free and gratis. Incredibly loud A/DC is pumping, Angus’s guitar ripping, so inappropriate, but it isn’t it always and is there any other way to play it but as loud as possible? He calls again to Danijel to wait, but the others have already picked up a Chianti, bread, pig fat, and are bopping, lost down somewhere in the crowd (OK, E@L can see Danijel, he’s 6’7″ and has a pony-tail.) Up high in the corner in a shelf over above the butchers’ display, there is a large valve-powered amplifier.

Dario is bopping behind the meat counter, and his associates are cutting more pork, scooping out more lardo. Dario has a huge grin, he is sharpening his knives to the beat of the music. There is a large statue of the Minotaur standing at one end and looming over one of the feast-loaded tables…

E@L manage to find a lady in a white (blood smeared) apron who seems to know what she is doing right at the back of the store. She understands English well enough (Dario, doesn’t speak English) and tells me that we are booked at the “other” restaurant. A wave of worry rises up (E@L panics easily) – OMG are we in the wrong place? But no, she says, it’s just across the street, past the wine stall. E@L, claustrophobic (pig-fat-phobic? NEVER!), squeezes back out to check if ha can find it.

Outside, blazing sun still. Is this perfect weather ever going to stop? Another of those ladies who seems to belong there is being interviewed on the ramp by a sweaty chubby guy whose hair is a suspiciously deep shade of black, holding an iPhone up betweeen their faces. Vicoo is sitting on the edge of the ramp with a glass of chianti, listening in, grinning at E@L, who stands with her to grab some of the sound bites… She is perhaps Dario’s wife, and he is praising the hell out of the place, she is agreeing, what more can she do? Did someone say that Wolfgang Puck was here last week?

There is a door. Unmarked. E@L asks the women there, “Is this…?”

“Yes,” she answers, before he has finished his question. “Do you have a booking?” She is checking her watch, like a school ma’am.

It’s time, we just made it, 1pm on the dinger. E@L has to drag Danijel and Izzy away from all that free Chianti, grappa and pig-fat in the butcher shop as we have seats over here where we have paid for Chinanti, grappa and pig-fat. A cheery waiter, experienced judging by his age, very experienced, takes us down two flights of steps
into a stone cellar where several others are already seated around a large table and the meal has already begun. We squeeze past – it is a tight package. A mature (maybe a little older than E@L) English couple from Gigglesoworth (IKYN), an hungry English man and his Irish wife with two kids, two young (hipster?) Italians, blend with an Australian, a Bosnian and two Singaporeans. Don’t mention the war. Which war,? Any war.

At first we are all shy, but as the dishes keep coming down, carried by our ever cheerful, overly generous waiter and we pass them around, we gradually open up. Theres plenty of wine and chilled water as well as the food. Simple peasant fare, fresh ingredients, simply handled and presented, nothing flashy, lots of it. Just meat and more meat, lots of meat. But first just some crudités and (stale, oh well) foccacia with olive oil, balsamic and the most amazing spiced salt (Danijel bought some jars of that, but E@L didn’t get to take any home – see another blog post).

Then thick slices of roast beef, grilled, fried meat balls with frittered vegetables, rosemary up your bum (lightly seared tartare nuggets with a sprig of rosemary insterted in a red and juicy hole. The table has way too many plates of food on it, we can’t eat all this, but it keeps coming. Slow stewed beef shanks, with the meat on one plate and the fatty skins and tendon on another. It’s floating in the jus with soft potatoes slices (it took a few bites to recognize them!) and onions. This last one sounds terrible (it also looked dubious), but for those who braved it (on bursting stomachs) it was an wonderfully rich and satisfying dish that would have been devoured completely and exclusively by E@L if it had been brought out first. The chianti kept flowing, but as E@L was the designated driver for th week he could only take a sip or several – he watered it down, the Italian way.

The feast continued for two hours and then we were, reluctantly (there was still wine), kicked out so they could prepare for the next sitting in the evening, We rolled up the stairs with bloating bellies and greasy, satisfied smiles.

Back across the street now, Dario’s butcher shop was much less crowded even though the music was still on full rocking mode. Dario was out mixing it with us, a bottle of grappa in his hands and that radiant smile on his face. We saw now that he was wearing a trousers in the Italian colours (Italy lost the EC later that night) he was rocking his sholder in a happy dance. He poured E@L a shot of grappa even though E@L indicated he was driving. We all took photos with him, he loved to pose with Izzy and Vicoo in particular, funny that, and for everything was fun and games.

Giving away wine and food, just giving it away, heaps of it. The man is genius, we all love him, he loves to love us all back and this is just a ball. Get moderately pissed, put on AC/DC blast your walls into powder and dance with a bootle a grappa in your hand – maybe then you’ll get an idea of this place.

Danijel was wondering if anyone could be as happy in his work as Dario obviously is. He doesn’t (seem to) give a fuck about micromanaging and monitoring the margins, money is coming in, everyone ends up buying something, small or large, lots or a little and he gets back what he gives away tenfold. Brilliant. “He doesn’t use SAP I’ll bet,” says E@L.

What he gets back is more than money, he thrives on the fun that he is bringing to all his customers. I can’t describe this, it’s mind-blowing. We love this guy, he is best person E@L has ever met. He can’t speak English, we can’t speak Italian, but we know what we all mean, and so much more than the general symbiosis of proprietor and patron: There’s instant camaraderie thanks to the obvious honesty in his enormous generosity. Either that or he’s faking it pretty fucking well.

We head back to the car, our arms full of meats and cheeses and those tarts for breakfast tomorrow, and a few bottles of Chianti to make up for the drinks E@L had to forego. The thermometer in the car reads 46degrees. Yes, it is hot. It takes 5 minutes for the air-con to fight against the stifling air in oven/car. We stand around, raving about this afternoon.

Then, sated and thrilled in equal portions, we wind back through the Tuscan hills back to our villa (also overlooking rolling hills and vineyards) and jump into the infinity pool (so Tuscan), laughing and splashing.

Brilliant day, one of the best, thanks to the big smiles of Dario Cecchini.


* Where there is Nature, there is meaning. Robert Walser.

What To Do In HK – An Expat-Tempore List

Posted in beach, expats, food, hiking, Hong Kong, tourists by expatatlarge on May 20, 2012

A friend asked E@L to suggest some things for a buddy to do while he was in Hong Kong. E@L has no idea how long, if not forever, his buddy would be there.

This prompted a quick thought and an even quicker burst of the automatic writing that E@L used to think he used to be infamous for… Gods of Blog Spontaneity be damned, there has been quite a bit of editing from the original e-mail, for obsfucational clarificational purposes in the vain hope of making it more understandable/coherent.

This means that while there are still plenty of errors, distortions, misrepresentations, exaggerations and arguably hypocritical opinions and comments in this list – not to mention geographical fuck-up – E@L holds these truths be evidence of his experiences there.

E@L apologizes in advance to local experts and tourist-guides for making the wrong call on so many things, but this is how he remembers it… Many of the local bloggers would scoff at and deride E@L for this superficial list, but as they don’t follow him anyway, eh, who really cares?


Hey friend, person of ill-repute,

An embarrassingly incomplete list of gwailo/tourist things to do in Hong Kong for your buddy – not in any order. Choose any four.

The Peak – make sure it is clear weather (i.e. winter) or forget it. This time of year, dodgy. Take the funicular tram up. It is steep, about 45deg. Goes past my old place. If you want to have a baby, Matilda Hospital up here has the best views of anywhere on the island.

Walking/Jogging Path – Bowen Rd path on Midlevels (where I used to live – merely coincidence that my first two recommendations are for nearby). There is a 4km track level path straight across the hills above Wanchai to Causeway Bay. Goes past the enormous mansion of Feng Shui master guy who earned (cough!) billions from “eccentric heiress” (batshit crazy rich bitch) Nina Wang by a) telling her where she should put his water spout to best effect, and b) forging her will. Great story there, someone should write a novel. About 0.5km along, climb up to look at Lover’s Rock. Rock, yeah, right, bit of mis-spelling there. But first, look down over the fence to see if the heroin addict guy who tends the rock still lives there. Keep an eye out for some little statues and joss sticks every now and then along the path. Forest gods, IKYN. The jogging path around The Peak is also nice (when the weather is clear!!!)

ICC building – The 100th floor viewing platform on the big fucking building over Kowloon MRT (118 stories!) Same weather warning. When it is clear you can see the other big fucking building (IFC2) quite well from here. My buddy Spike, former Wanchai Vortex ™ surfer and now camera geek, has taken some great nighttime pictures of HK, btw.

South African Food (wtf?) – The Stoep on Cheung Sha beach Lantau island is something of a hazing ritual for tourists / new recruits. The lamb shanks, what can I say? There might be time for this after checking out the Big Buddha. Ditto warnings with the weather.

Hong Kong fishing village restaurants – There are plenty, all equally toxic exotic. Lamma island or Cheung Chau island. The Lamma one needs you to walk a bit (or you can if you want… not 100% on this?). Get the scallops with garlic – sorry I mean garlic with scallops. Also razor clams. (And WTF are those giant penis things?) Haven’t had cholera there for years now. Nah, seriously, great food. You’re more likely to get ill eating in your hotel.

Junk Trip – absolutely a must – you get seasick easily? This is the ride for you! They’re all good. Take a bunch of buddies of course, these are communal affairs, plus it’s affordable if you share.

Swimming – Are you crazy? Head out to Tai Long Wan beach way out past Sai Kung (take the junk trip!) if you want to avoid the majority of the shipping lane effluent.

Crap “Local” Food – Lan Kwai Fong’s Rat Alley is famous for its… rats. Seriously. Unbelievably bad, yet popular, like most blockbuster movies. A favorite for back-packers and poorly paid F.I.L.T.H.

Sai Kung – well worth a visit while you’re at it, as you can take a long hike to Tai Long Wan as well, if you are feeling suicidal in this heat. Or jump across to play golf on Kau Sai Chau – bring plenty of balls, it can swallow three per hole, easy. (This is not a metaphor, or do I mean not a double entrendre?)

Stanley Market – the most amazing part of this trip is the ride on the No 6X bus. Take the top deck and sit at the very front. Your worst roller coaster ride will seem dull after this. Some things are OK in the market, but a market is a market is a market. Buy books, if you must, at the Dymocks [if it is still there] that I was going to set up before I came to Singapore.

Portugese Food (wtf?) – ferry to Macau, tell the taxi driver “Fernandos” – it’s on the arse end of the other island, Coloane, past the Venetian. You’ll get just as good if not better chicken and potatoes in town but, hey, you’re a gwailo, a tourist, you have no common sense.

Chinese Noodles, etc… – the first place you come to anywhere is bound to be brilliant. OK try the Honolulu Coffee Shop in Stanley St near Lan Kwai Fong. Recommended by insert name of common friend. Unlike many of the eateries in this great former British colony [founded by and for heartless drug-runners] they have an English menu.

Dim Sum – man I love this Cantonese junk food. Noisy and very noisy are your choices for restaurants. Everybody likes the ancient, sullen aunties and their steaming trollies at the City Hall in Central, where the Star Ferry and Queens pier used to be… (gone, sad.) Get there before 10 or you’re screwed. Not the best, but hey, you’re a tourist! [Most locally patronized yum cha places are upstairs in mold-scarred buildings that certainly don’t look like restaurants from the outside. They are gate-kept at the bottom of the stairs by harsh women who speak into tiny microphones and never tell you anything. No, no English, what were you thinking! Even your Cantonese friends are scared of these women.]

Spa/Massage Parlour – the only legit spa/massage place that I know the expats go to is Sunny Paradise, in Lockhart Rd conveniently. At least that is where it used to be. Get a pork bun or two. This is not a metaphor.

Hiking – weather permitting, must walk the Dragon’s Back on HK island. It’s not a hard climb – steps all the way, great views (what did I say about weather?) and bring water, it’s frackin’ hot this time of year. Finish at Shek O and eat and drink (you’ll need a San Mig or fifteen – bottle only, never can) at the Thai/Chinese restaurant there on the left of the carpark as you enter, an excellent gwailo tradition best upheld in the partaking.

Sleazy Fat Old Men – No visit to Asia is complete without checking out the sex-tourism – oh that’s right, these are local expats, not tourists. Ah, Wanchai… (eyes go dreamy…) Want to see some feeeelthy old expats leering at local (Philippines is nearby, right?) girls? Try the Old China Hand on Lockhart Rd, there or the new Queen Victoria Pub a few bars up. However, while these are “normal” bars, yet somehow the genuine girly/stripper, feel-my-tits if you buy-me-drink bars, or the meet-market clubs at Laguna and Fenwicks along this strip seem somehow less sleazy than these two places. [Say hello to Bruce and E@L while you are there… Sleazy is fine if you are drunk, and who isn’t drunk in Wanchai?] If you pass the girly bars early in the evening, you will see (and smell) mamasan burning Monopoly money and joss-sticks in an orison for a good night.

Legit Wanchai – right next to the girly bars and sleazy old men joints are some nice bars and restaurants. Do not eat at the American Chinese Restaurant – it’s another gwailo tradition to mock it. Good rock music at Amazonia. Free mike night at The Wanch. Dance on the bar at Carnegies. Have a whisey at The Stag. Have a 3am 4am kebab at Ebeneezers.

3rd Gen Entertainment – in the hills above the tourist crowd in LKF on pissing up on Friday night, you will find Wyndham St, now the Friday night piss-up place for Execs and bankers-wankers. Don’t expect Cantonese to be spoken here. Eat somewhere near Staunton St, up The Escalator (note the capitals) to SOHO (south of Hollywood Rd). Around here [E@L is too old to have ever found out where, exactly] locally born but still expat (3rd Gen) brats hang at bars, or so I believe. Walk all the way down to Jaspa’s Restaurant, don’t eat there FFS, and turn right. There are some tiny makeshift bars here, not far at all away from the great unwashed tourists. Don’t expect English.

“Real” Hong Kong – anywhere, just not near Wanchai, LKF, Central or TST.

“Antiques” – walk along Hollywood Rd under the escalator and order antiques to your exact specifications. Interestingly, some of these places do sell genuine antiques. Those antique porcelain horses which look like they have been sprayed with mud, are really brand-new plaster horses that have been sprayed with mud. If they have these in the windows, move on.

The Dark Side – (Tsim Sha Tsui – TST) – high tea at The Peninsula (book now). Dinner of brilliant Indian somewhere in Chunking Mansions on Nathan Rd. Do not buy cameras in this area though (head back to Stanley St in LKF). After dinner drinks at the Wooloomooloo bar at The One on Nathan/Granville/Carnavon Rd, just up a bit. Awesome views at night (weather permitting), but closes at midnight. Spend lots.

More Beaches – Past Repulse Bay (get off the 6A or 260 bus on the way back from Stanley and walk or taxi the 2km down to South Bay Beach. Gay friendly, which means all the homophobic obnoxious gwailos steer clear – you’re comfortable with your sexuality, yeah? Drink four million Coronas under the faded umbrellas in the restaurant above the change rooms – just grab the beers from the fridge yourself or you’ll die of thirst. Make sure you shower if you go swimming. The water in the beach is relatively OK (shudder, for HK) but the shower is nice place to make new friends.

That is all – too much already, yeah? Geez, I miss Hong Kong.




Carry That Weight

Posted in alcohol, beer, diet, food, overweight by expatatlarge on April 21, 2012

The Singaporean Chinese owner/manager (which? both?) of a certain riverside bar in Singapore was sitting with The BiTP* at one of the aluminium (or are they wood?) outdoor tables, sporting a blue baseball cap that he kept adjusting on his head, and wearing a pale tee-shirt with a small Manchester City FC logo just above the left breast. The BiTP (Bruce and E@L in this instance) were closing the place, as they say, at just after 3am.

E@L didn’t take in all the initial conversation, not completely (it was 3am after all), but he believes insert name, (also forgotten) splits his time between here and, was it Toronto? [Jesus, did E@L get anything?] The manager, let’s call him Terry, didn’t seemed fazed by the time, so Bruce and E@L were able to cadge yet another last G&T before the bar-staff pulled the shutters completely down and all left. (Bruce was on the verge of getting one bar girl’s phone number, but another had him well pinned for the cad he can be [is].) The bar manager, a narrow thing who always wears a bikini top under her dark singlet, was languidly perched on the back of a chair she had reversed on the fourth side of the table. She was listening in and laughing at Bruce’s lines and rejoinders to Terry’s, and, with that bright grin and attentive nod and conspiratorial eyebrow raise, E@L was in no doubt she was wishing that we would all just shut the fuck and go home. But as Terry was with us, she had no option but to join and wait it out.

They kept chatting about things E@L has no knowledge of, nor opinion on, such as English football (soccer!) and, with Bruce being a mad Manchester United fanatic, and with ManU and City fighting it out over top spot in EFL… When he says ‘they were chatting’, E@L really means Bruce and Terry were good-heartedly (but teeth-clenchedly) jousting with each other about the season’s up and down, highlighting the other’s Downs and promoting their own Ups.

Maybe, at one point, the topic had turned to the FnB business, because something roused E@L enough for him to interject a line on how he is poised to become a squidillionare, if his private shares in Wooloomooloo (opening soon in Singapore, folks) keep capitalizing up. This turned Terry’s attention to him for the first time. Terry paused.

(Fat chance of E@L becoming disgustingly rich. Some may consider him halfway there already – he’s got the disgusting part down nicely.)

“Look at that belly, man!” says Terry, reaching from where he was perched – fit, alert (maybe a little bit pissed) and erect – on his aluminium (or are they wood?) chair to where E@L could barely maintain any plane approaching the vertical on his, and he patted the protuberant magnificence of the legendary E@L paunch, thrice. “You gotta do something about that belly.

“You gotta lose some weight. You are carrying too much weight. It’s bad for you. Man! You gotta lose a lot!”

E@L knows what you are all thinking, that this is going to be a blog post about the difficulties of disposing of the bucket of crunchy pulp that was all that remained of Terry after E@L responded to his comments, but rest assured. E@L is used to this stuff. It’s water of a fat duck‘s back now.**

(T’was not always thus. E@L is not going to rehash the arguments and elaborations and the multiple diversions in that post. OK maybe a bit…)

So E@L just nodded and smiled and said, “Yes, don’t I know it!”

Yeah, of course E@L knows. As if E@L wasn’t told a hundred fucking times a fucking day in a fucking hundred different fucking ways. Get over it, E@L thinks. I’m fat, I know, I know I’m fat and I know you know I’m fat. Just shut the fuck up about it. You have terrible teeth. You have a tic whereby you can’t stop touching your baseball cap. Shut the fuck up.


Do you know why E@L mentioned this incident, and the one linked to above, among the many others like them in his eight (8, count ’em) years here? Before he be accused of being specifically anti-Singaporean let it be known that the only place no-one comments on his weight and/or shape in is America, and not because Americans are inherently more polite. But because they are FUCKING FAT SLOBS, like E@L.

Why mention it? Because it contrasts quite well with the comments he has been hearing from his friends in the last few weeks.

“You’re looking good E@L, You lost weight, yeah?”

Girlfriend says you are looking well, and wants to know if you have lost weight.”

Three or four times, with slight variations, on that theme. Yes, E@L has lost weight. Quite a substantial amount. Well, ‘substantial’ is a relative term.


Jan 2 2011. That’s kgs folks, not lbs.

Always a peak period, post Xmas, etc… but scarey enough to set E@L on a something of a mission. He has spoken to you guys about negative incentives before. Not disincentives, which necessarily demotivate you, but incentives which are stimulated by a tangible, painful, negative outcome.

“Lose weight or you’ll die”, might be considered to be one? Right? No.

“Yeah, sure Doc, fatty liver, yada yada, heard that one before.” But it is too vague and generalised a threat. The empirical cause-effect link, while undeniably there, is just not specific enough.

Lose weight or you will die, but of what? Of old age? Of necrotising fasciitis? Of your car getting stuck in the middle of a level crossing as a train approaches and a flaming plane plummets from the sky right at you carrying Al Queda terrorists, one of whom unbeknownst to his terrorist allies, not to mention the crew and passengers, accidentally contracted Ebola virus while training the Congolese Rebel Army only last week… Yeah, OK, I’ll watch out for that, says E@L. Thinks: and so those people all had to die because E@L didn’t lose weight? Oh the humanity!

Stay the same weight, get heavier, lose weight, watch Final Destination III, and guess what? You’re still going to die. Everyone dies in the long jog, no news there.

However, “Lose 15kgs by the end of April or I’ll kill you with this formidably large weapon”, that is more what E@L is talking about. It sets a specific goal and ties it to a specific, um, reward – brains splattered everywhere.

In his present case, the less violent negative incentive is some cash, currently held by Bruce, and if E@L fails to loose those 15kgs, that cash, S$5,000, will go to a Traditional Chinese Medicine hospital or university of Bruce’s choice.


The prospect of such a heinous anti-Enlightenment forfeit has sent E@L running moving quickly to his cupboards and fridge in order to discard everything vaguely carbohydrate-based into the recyclable waste disposal bins, conveniently located for E@L to increase his activity quotient in the car-park down two flights of steps – good exercise. No rice, no spuds, no white bread (he never eats white bread anyway, soft and mushy – yuck!) and, shudder, no alcohol.

No white rice, and E@L lives in Asia? Tough, yes, it is tough. Some places do serve brown rice as an alternative to, well, to none.

No alcohol, and E@L is an Expat? Tough in-fucking-deed!


The date for this 15kg loss has pushed back to his birthday, late June, on the not unreasonable grounds that too rapid a weight-loss might reflect an unsustainable period of deprivation and starvation that would quickly end and the weight would yo-yo back up, and even higher.

Whereas a six-month plan could promote a more moderate and sustainable change of life-style.

E@L spend most of February on a zero-alcohol binge. March, a few wines here and there, April, not so much on the wagon and running behind it, but hand on the rail, ready to jump back on at any time. It was in this period that E@L realised a strong association with alcohol and some gastrointestinal problems which, unlike his normal oversharing attitude, he is unwilling to explain – not time for the gory details. He was pleasantly surprised to find these chronic issues disappear for the period in question. Okay, E@L is allergic to alcohol. His intestines don’t like it. Lesson there. Can E@L learn it?

The knowledge that he will suffer more than just a hangover has had a considerable impact on his ability to keep the frequency of boozing with the BiTP down. It has helped immensely that many of the other BiTP were on a quiet February as well. E@L generally doesn’t drink spirits, beyond the “I’m too distended for more beer, I’ll have a G&T” stage (such as 3am. Hey, we’ve all been there) so even though he has a duty-free store full of spirits in his Antique(tm) Chinese ™ shelves, these offered no great temptation. Wine? Well, he’s just come back from a Barossa wine splurge, so this was tough, wine fridge full to bursting with amazing old vine Shiraz’s and GSMs, and you name it. Let them age a bit more, let’s pick one every now and then, for a special occasion.

And he has stood his ground. Running behind the wagon while standing his ground, note, and not running to the loo.

So was E@L taking commercial so-called diet-drinks for his social fluids instead? When his former flatmate Izzy send him a link about the counter-intuitive dangers of his favorite low-calorie, non-alcoholic imbibement, Coke Zero (and its ilk), he has gone off that sort of stuff as well. More tea, (green, ginger, English Breakfast), coffee no change, and at the pub it was lemon, lime and bitters with soda water. To drink at night, lime and bitters in soda water.


And Mademoiselle, the envelope please…

April 21 2011

Yeah, the other scales died in the interim (did not break apart, smart-arse!) so one can’t be too exact about the delta here, but the irrefutable fact is that E@L is down close enough to 12kgs. That’s 26lbs for the two readers E@L has in the States. Another way of looking at it is that he is down by 10% on his previous weight. This is lowest he has been since a drastic reduction (to 114.5kgs) for his 30 year school reunion in 2005. He was still told he was fucking fat though, by someone who was a fatty at school, now thin – rudeness is not exclusively Singapore thing after all.)

Probably that loss is bit faster than the revised plan, but he has plateaued for a while, so it remains encouraging that, come “all the fives”, E@L might be able to purchase some clothes off the rack.

E@L won’t bore you with any more details of what he is eating more of and less of, but one of the big surprises for E@L in all of this, is that he does have the will-power after all to do something… something at all.

He just has to make the decision, finally, then believe that he made the decision. So often it is a pretend decision, one he knows he will break (write that novel) like a traditional New Years Resolution.

But anything he wants to do, he can, if he does, as they say, set his mind to it. And now he knows he can follow through on it. This is not Tony Robbins bullshit here, this is E@L learning the hard (and cheaper) way of what great achievements he is capable if he could just shut the fuck up and do them.

Two months to go.



* BiTP = Boys in The Pub. One of Indy’s. Remember Indy?

** His favorite incident was back in 1998. E@L was probably the largest man in Vietnam at the time. As he got out of the taxi at the gate of his designated hospital, he saw that an old man, who had been sitting down doing nothing (maybe playing checkers with bottle tops) like the twenty thousand other people along the streets they had driven, was looking back at him in the car window. The man arose from his stunted, square, blue-plastic stool (you know the ones, right?) and, still in a slight arthritic stoop, opened E@L’s door for him. He was smiling toothlessly. E@L thanked thanked the man as best he could: “Cah-mon, cah-mon, thank you.” But that is not the incident…

A woman and her children were negotiating the path of chairs and old men and irregular paving as E@L alighted, when one of the children stopped. In awe, his face a picture of wonder and disbelief, he instinctively moved towards E@L as if in a trance, with his right hand forward… he rubbed E@L’s belly in a circle two times before his mother dragged him away by his other arm. He must have thought E@L was the Buddha made incarnate. 5555!

Cash Cow Shit

Posted in food, getting rich slowly, Hong Kong, Singapore, wine tasting by expatatlarge on April 17, 2012

Those of you with your fingers on the pulse, your noses to the grindstone, your feet on the ground, your heads in the clouds, your eyes on the the prize, your tongues kept civil in your heads and yours heads not halfway up your arse will be aware that E@L has a controlling small interest in a steakhouse restaurant group in Hong Kong called Wooloomooloo. This is not a party political broadcast, whoof, me?, but please go to the restaurants and bars there and spend your entire life savings at your earliest convenience. Take a loan, spend more. Speak to our financial consultant.

Anyway, point of story. (Anyway, any sentence that begins with “anyway” shows sloppy, sloppy, sloppy thinking. AKA: too much red wine.) Point of story.

E@L was in Hong Kong last week (working hard, hush your mouth) and enjoyed himself immensely. Please don’t start E@L on his preferences between Hongkers and Singapore. (Ten blogposts started and abandoned in frustration already this week.) On any given hour of any given day, the answer might be 180deg from what it was last time you asked. So what did he do?

He had a quiet night in Wanchai with Bruce(!)…

He took a stroll up the gweilo, ahem, friendly region Queens Rd West in of Sai Wan (did anyone even notice there was Westerner there? No. – c.f. The Glamour, Christopher Priest, 1984) and took in some the hectic, hectic, no-time-to-think ambiance of that part of town.



Anyway (oops), he visited several (3/4) of the Woolies (as we affectionately call the money-spinning cash cow) over the course of his five day stay on the barren little rock (as we affectionately call Hong Kong) and has some more photos to share…

View from the rooftop at Woolies at Wanchai, on Hennessy.

View across to Hong Kong from Woolies Prime in The One, Nathan Rd – E@L and an old HK friend, MJ. View is bit misty, you can’t see the top of IFC2, but still, pretty frackin’ awesome, what? Fireworks and light-show every night at 8pm. The bar area, with it’s jaw-dropping balcony view seems very popular for some reason, and we couldn’t get a seat there after our meal. Great! Spend more money!


Anyway (FUCK!), we they are opening a Singapore Woolies in June, our their first international venture. Tell your friends. E@L went today to the third floor at the Swissotel (The Stamford), at Raffles City (not Raffles hotel, not Raffles Shopping Arcade, not Raffles Hospital, not Raffles Place) to observe the current state of affairs. At the moment, it’s an area of concrete and brick and steel pipes and open windows. (Thankfully it doesn’t rain much in Singapore… Yeah, right.) But mid-June or so… look out!

Here are some shots out of the window. Mmm, not bad.

That road you can see next to the sports ground transforms into part of the racing circuit for the Singapore F1 GP every September. (Damn. Was hoping for a nice quiet venue. Bummer. And no, we are not taking booking yet, even for the ownersshareholders.)

That crazy what’s-that-on-top-of-those-three-buildings thing is part of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, next to the casino integrated resort on, well, Marina Bay. Fireworks and light-show every now and then. Theatre complex, convention centre, 2,000 plus hotel rooms, etc… all right there or just a small walk away. Very good spot in other words.

OK, good view but it’s not as spectacularly brilliant as the view from TST to Hong Kong Island, even so it’s not that bad. For Singapore.


So anyway, after all this, E@L heads out for dinner at another restaurant to meet up with some friends, Jennifer and David (real names, to indict the innocent). We went to Balzac, new place in The Rendezvous. French place. Absinthe cocktails sort of place. Beef cheeks in red wine jus sort of place. Incomprehensible French word for soufflé (already a French word!) sort of place.

We knock back our cheap Côtes du Rhône vin ordinaire (still quite nice, Grenache/Syrah) and chat with each other and with the staff (quiet night). Jennifer is in Singapore for the Food and Hotel Association expo at Changi and she notices that the chef (walking past) has a halyard around his neck from that very same FHA exhibition. She calls him over for une petite conversaysheon and things start rolling from there. A little bit of extra service, some more bread, please try the absinthe cocktail, have the unpronounceable chocolate soufflé…

Then David gets a phone call – “Yeah, sure, bring them over…” A friend of his, who doesn’t drink, has been at a French wine thingummie. He drops by a few minutes later with three bottles of already opened but barely tasted French wine – St Julien, etc… Not crap at all. Well into three figures, each bottle.

The sommelier, after seeing this impressive delivery, and noting that we hadn’t fallen over unconscious after several of those absinthe (they were 99% cognac, it turned out, pfft!) cocktails, opts to bring over three clean glasses for us. But wait, there’s more. With the first bottle done, the St Julein, the sommelier tempts us with a taste of some of his biodynamic French wine as a comparison.

In fact, fuck it, he leaves the remaining 3/4 of the bottle with us. This wine is from the biodynamic Rhone vineyard of the dynamic M. Chapoutier. Last time E@L tasted one of these was at a degustation at the way expensive but impressive Andre restaurant with the Asia manager of M.Chapoutier, Stephane, sitting at the table next to us. (One of the drops we had that night was $750 a bottle, E@L found out later!)



E@L thought, like you, that this is some fancy way of saying organic. Right? Sure, I’ll drink, thought E@L. They finished the free bottle, David was leaving with the other two (also Bordeaux or that ilk) bottles to take home as some of us (not E@L obviously) have to work on the morrow, so we settled the bill and left.


Biodynamic: 9 points…

1: Bury cowshit in a cow’s horn in the soil over winter. Add to compost.
2: Bury ground quartz in a cow’s horn over summer. Add to compost.
3: Hang yarrow flowers in a stag’s bladder though summer and bury them over winter.
4: Chamomille, ditto in cow intestine.
5: Stinging nettles, bury in summer.
6: Bury oak bark the skull of a farm animal over winter.
7: Hang dandelion flowers in cow mesentry over summer, bury over winter, dig up in spring.
8: Spray valerian flower juice into the compost.
9: Give vines a nice cup of tea. Put fermented common horsetail (equisetum arvense) directly on to the vines or use a manure.



Heard enough?

E@L’s opinion of this bioinsanity and its biodymaniacs? Have a guess. Why not have the vines do yoga? Why not give them coffee high-colonics? Why not allow them to discover themselves in an ashram in Goa?

Take E@L back to the plain old vinodiversity of the Barossa, please, please, please.

Fucking bionutters. Wine was OK, but fuck, do you really need this bullshit to wash down the cowshit?


p.s. eat at Wooloomooloo any chance you get. E@L wants to be a money-spun cash-cowshitillionaire!


Posted in food, top 1%, way to rich, wine tasting by expatatlarge on November 25, 2011

The butter. It was superb: unsalted, unpasteurized, from contented cows basking in the sun and grazing on organic grass just south of Alsace (in France, you ignorant cochons!), and it was hand-churned. IKYN. E@L doesn’t know which he was more impressed by, the butter itself or the twenty(ish) minutes of description that came with it – but you had to ask about it to get Stepan (we have his card), our Czech waiter, to start spouting forth. And he was thrilled to exposit; he’d been keeping this knowledge in his head and not sharing it until someone like E@L was inquisitive enough to ask.

Why/who would you ask about the butter? Someone like E@L? That would be no-one.

Because Andre is not the type of guy who would merely toss some freshly shaved truffle into a pan of warming (organic, etc…) butter and pour them both over some perfectly al dente spaghetti. No no no, he is the guy who would seep the butter in said shaved Tasmanian – off season in Europe – truffles for two weeks prior pouring that warmed, aromatic butter over the hot pasta. Then he’d come out himself and shave more truffle on top.

Butter. Lots of people, not just Andre, are genuinely pernickety about their emulsified triglycerides. In E@L’s cholesterol-rich days of his head-strong youth, his family always used Western Star butter; giant impersonal machinery-churned from the giant machinery-sucked teats of grumpy, kick-you-if-they-could cows, huddled in the chilly breezes, grazing on the organic (50% cow shit) grass in the environs of Colac and the Western District of Victoria. E@L’s flatmate eats New Zealand butter – he is an escapee from the East Isles of Australia. Some people like Danish butter, there’s a lot of it in the supermarket.

Butter. Important.

The bread rolls were nice too. E@L won’t start.


Stepan, by the way, used to work with Gordon fucking Ramsay.


Andre Chiang, Taiwanese, married to a stunning Singaporean(?) lady who officiated on our seat placements, is obviously food-obsessed to a degree well beyond sanity. His molecular-food (as opposed to atomic-food? elementary-particle food?) restaurant is in the Hotel Majestic, in fucked-if-the-taxidriver-can-find-it Bukit Pasoh (ah, pronounced PAY-so, not PAR-so), near to Maxwell Rd, Duxton Hill, that area…

He offered a ten-course degustation dinner last night for Amex card-holders who needed to max out their cards on the one evening.

Yes, dinner cost the equivalent of Greece’s national debt and it was allegedly wine matched to various drops from a French vineyard that best remain nameless. (E@L has the marketing manager’s card. He is called Stephane, no wonder E@L was confused). The buzz word here is biodynamic (antonym: biostatic?). Only a short time in oak, none of this micro-oxygenation bullsheeeet. Just the grape, the terroir and the wine-maker. Baumé? Why the fuck? We have winemakers with tongues, palates, with noses. Get them to blow them clear, thinks E@L.

Three different types of shiraz. One was called a Syrah, one a Hermitage and the last one an ‘Ermitage thank you very much, and this last one decanted. Stephane informed us that to decant the other wines would make them – purses lips, raises eyebrows, rolls hand over hand, shrugs – change too quickly (into a more potent poison one assumes). A little bit of oenological engineering might have helped these ones, they were nice, they were OK, but… The viognier (that’d be white wine) was a more interesting drop, but the 100% Grenache could have done with some shiraz and mondeuse. Sweet red at the end, Hungarian style. Tattinger champagne at the start, that was nice. Somelier Ken-san was, E@L thinks, a tad stingy, but luckily, as we are all quite aware of having had some drink by the end, so he was a wise uncle to us unruly kids. Kids who had paid a shitload of money to get drunk…

Not a completely bad set of wines, but was there any one that stood out as stunning, exceptional, memorable? No way.


As is to be expected in the El Bulli, chemically-inspired restaurants, things were never quite as they seem: what looked like ice-cream was once tomato, the crisp-breads were previously mushroom, that clear gel was once a strawberry or two… That thing poking out what seems to be earth is a carrot-shaped carved fish, wrapped in its skin and quickly fried (E@L thinks) – it was called deconstructed fish and chips. That earthy stuff the fish and the “chips” were sitting in was made of garlic and grated chocolate – OMG, E@L could eat that all night. Already forgotten a lot of the other stuff, oh, yeah, is that popcorn asks E@L – Yes! was the surprised answer, good guess seeing as how you are not wearing your glasses, sir – vanilla mousse and coarsely chopped popcorn. But the truffle spaghetti was E@L’s highlight. (btw, what is an octaphilosophy? – check the website.)

Small servings of course: like bikinis, the less material, the more they charge. The steak, about the size of a meat chunk you might get in a Four-And-Twenty pie, was paired to the decanted ‘Ermitage. E@L didn’t mention it last night, but Andre did managed to squeeze a small chewy bit of gristle into his thumbnail of meat. The fourteen grains of mustard were exquisitely placed however, IKYN. Meh. The single flat spot of the food menu was the unfortunate piece of gristle – E@L was expecting butter-soft wagyu meat, but, OK, move on…

Coffee or tea? Latte for E@L. Black sambucca, no only Pastis, ok, all around. Green tea and a hot chocolate, please, say the others. Hot chocolate? (What the hell is E@L doing with these people? Just accept what’s on the menu, FGS.)

Hot chocolate? Stepan hesitated for a second. But when the cogs linked in, he smiled, sweet boy that he is. We shall find some hot chocolate for you sir, he says, certain that this can done. Somebody downstairs (Andre was chatting with Stephane and his guests on their table) grated some of that chocolate used in the earth mixture (not with the garlic hopefully), melted it in warming milk and brought it up in a wonky-shaped cup. You gotta try this guys, says our mate Wally. Bruce and E@L ordered our own wonky cups. Good move. It was sublime. We were, naturally enough, the last to leave.

Change the highlight – not the truffle spaghetti, it was the ex-tempore hot chocolate!


Would E@L go back? Not for a quick, greasy brunch as a Saturday morning hangover cure ($180 for lunch), but for a special occasion, sure. Really, really special.

Bruce had been on the verge of ringing in to ask if he might bring a bottle of his own plonk in (it was a )Relic), but E@L talked him out of making such a fool of himself. Now he wishes he had let Bruce bring it.

He didn’t see a wine menu (obviously, this was a pairing) but E@L would be interested to see if anything better, biodynamic or not, was on offer.

Brilliantly interesting food; Andre is a complete wizard and it is not without good reason that this place always rates in the top restaurants in Asia. There is no Michelin ratings in Singapore (Miele Guide -#4 in Asia), but if there was…

Last night, sadly, Stephane’s wines let it down – they were just too… pedestrian? Boring? What a pity.


Tonight E@L might whip up some vegemite on toast with a poached egg on top and crack a bottle of Hill of Grace.

Quickly becoming a foodie/wino, what?



We had some of the fancy dishes photographed here, but certainly not all as Andre cooks/deconstructs whatever he fancies each time.


Posted in food, insects, Thailand by expatatlarge on August 15, 2010

One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed into E@L’s dinner…

These were just (just!!) some fried locusts but cockroaches, the supposed insect/vermin/bug of K’s story, were also available. Yep, had a few of the above beauties. Yummy to the Max! Crunchy and salty, like a small peanut with legs and wings.

Uttaradit. Never heard of it either.

Travel: it broadens your horizons. And leaves parasites in your intestines.


Ko Samui Grub

Posted in food, Ko Samui, Thailand by expatatlarge on June 24, 2010

One of the surprising things about this un-taken-leave soaking-up trip to Ko Samui has been the presence of so many girlie bars quality of the cuisine and, um, cookin’.

Four standouts, only one of which is Thai.

1. Red Pepper Schnapper Bar and Grill. Just a few doors down from where I was staying. Amazing high class charcuterie, open grill area. Even more amazing is how empty it was. a) The BEST pumpkin and cinnamon soup, with a coriander foam on top. b) Steak perfecto. c) Red-pepper (duh!) and strawberry creme brulee with basil ice-cream and crunchy peanuts. Drooling still… Awesome. They made an off-menu (why?) Black Russian for me too. Only complaints, the salad bar is mediocre and the steak came too promptly after the soup – what’s the rush?

2: Duomo Italian. Just another almost empty Italian place I thought, until I heard the bald waiter speaking Italiano to the lone pair of diners. Free crosti and a delicious tomato sauce hit the table first. The Napoletana pizza was just terrific, not overdone with excess ingredients like a family restaurant or underdone like some art-house place, just some stylishly laid out anchovies and a few olives. The thin base was crisp and non-greasy all the way though the meal. The only Hefeweizen Bier I could find on the island (not that I’ve looked that much) was the perfect accompaniment to a long day of frustrating golf on my birthday, seeing as how I don’t particularly think champagne goes with pizza.

3: Mad Greek. The best Greek food I’ve had for ages, certainly better than that place I went to in Little Bourke St. in Melbourne earlier this year – at about 25% the price. For once the food was handle with relative subtlety too. I took the mezze plate. The standout on this was the marinated squid – a just wonderful spicy, sweet marinade and squid like you only get in the best sushi bars. The pita bread was freshly baked, crisp yet… soft – ‘yielding’ is the word I’d use – if I was fucking nutter. Lamb kebabs, flamed in ouzo, with the marination and nice herb flavour preserved through the grilling, something that rarely happens – tender, juicy, just superb.

All of these are within a stone’s throw of each other on the main strip of Chawaeng Beach Rd, towards the west end of town.

4: Santiburi Golf Course: for golf course grub, this has to take the (prawn) cake. The sweet-chili dipping sauce for the donut-shaped(!) tod mun goong (the prawn cakes) was top notch. Typically for Thai it was both simple and sophisticated. I could see how it was done too. Take your boring sweet chili sauce from a bottle in the supermarket, add small wedges of super-thin sliced cucumber and some red-onion, add small bites of extra red chilies and top with finely chopped peanuts. Taste is out of this world. The plate of potentially boring sate sticks were well laid out, some lying down, some vertical in a small glass (amazing how these small touches make the difference) with an excellent peanut sauce. I waited the rain-storm out with this. I wish I could say the rest of my golf was up to par with the food.

Compared to Phuket, I’d have to rate Ko Samui tops for farang food. MomTri’s in Kata Beach is the closest to Red Pepper in food style, but this was both cheaper and more adventurous! Plus, I didn’t see anywhere in Chawaeng that looked like it would treat the local food the way the chef at the golf-course did.


p.s. Best if you Google these places yourself, my internet connection may not last long enough for the tedious task…

Call Me Jeffrey Bernard

Posted in food, poisoning, the runs, Vietnam by expatatlarge on April 26, 2010

E@L is unwell.

A nibble on a tepid char sui bau, which I complained about, in Legends restaurant at the BigC supermarket (not my choice) in Hanoi and three days (so far) of gastro-intestinal flushing have ensued.

Now I know The Eagles meant by, “Don’t look back, you should never look back.”

My daily dose of medications has risen to 22.  (Not counting Cialis as that is not daily.)  I’d rattle if it wasn’t for what else is in my jejunem, ileum and colon.

We won’t even mention what happened in my trousers when I was walking back to my Hanoi hotel from my first coffee in 3 weeks…


Currently in Macau, groaning.  And not from the special pleasure of those special massages you can get here, allegedly.


Unedited Vietnam

Posted in food, traffic, Vietnam by expatatlarge on April 21, 2010

(From iPhone Notes)

Tri Than Trang Bong. Vietnam road sign.

Rice paper wraps enormous heaps of herbs they keep coming.

Getting comfortable in car? Cannot.

Why are we driving at 35km/hr on country road? Ah… Everywhere along the road for 100km are villages conjoined into one long strip of impoverished, restful (hammocks) and yet suicidal motorcycle riding humanity. 

Mattress on back of motorcycle, no time to take photo.

Graves in middle of rice paddies. (more in the North than in the South)

Girls, old women in horrible colours pant-suits,  pyjama style

Rows and rows maybe 50yds of large soft toys.  In Tay Ninh provence = mid-nowhere. WTF?

“Tough white noodle soup.”

“Laydy’s Fashion”

Furniture street in Hanoi, shop-ladies sitting silent, still, disconsolate on their glossy chairs, staring at nothing, waiting for customers that come only so often and not today.

Traffic chaos, insane density of motorcycles interweaving but not crashing, makes you believe in selfish altruism.

Sushi two nights in a row. WTF?


On Floyd

Posted in dead celebrities, food, old blog, Phuket by expatatlarge on September 16, 2009

Oh shit, I shout,
Floyd has died!
Pickled, no doubt,
Or stir and fried.

What a start!
This pommy cook
Was all heart.
He had what it took –

Wine in one hand,
The other a fish –
Had no plan –
Out came a dish

Fit for a king.
Cheeky as sauce,
Wit was his thing:
It was his main course.



When I get well, sigh, I must go back for a feed at Floyd’s Brasserie in Phuket. By twenty skillions of miles the best feed and service to be had in Patong Beach.


p.s. Was trying to find references to Floyd’s in my old blog, but couldn’t. However I have had an entirely pleasant 90 minutes reading through some of my old posts. Fuck, I used to be REALLY funny.

I should put some of them together sometime, somewhere. Sell it. Make money – everyone knows writers are rich.