Friday, December 20, 2013

A Star Is Born

Tucked away on a road parallel to the Mekong, just west of the city core is a magical kingdom.

Kong Khao

This is its latest incarnation.

Pierre, Isa and Valentin have brought the poetry and calm of the Great French South West to this little corner of Indochina.

The food. The food! Pierre is an executive chef from a village tucked in the French Department of Tarn et Garonne, an area famous for its duck confits and heady wines, perfumed cheeses and damning deserts. It is an area I know well and in all my days of travelling outside the French Southwest – even to Paris – I have found it impossible to find a good confit de canard. But here, somehow, miraculously, Pierre makes it happen.

On the day they opened I had a concoction of local mushrooms called a declanation de champignons laos and an ominous sounding confit de joue de porc aux épices. I have rarely eaten better in France and certainly have never eaten better outside of France. Sitting there, in that garden, I could close my eyes and allow the taste-bud memories flow through me, evoking the rolling vineyards and ancient castles of the French Southwest, her gentle rivers and little stone houses. The mushrooms were just that perfect texture where fry meets fresh; biting into them was like taking a sensorial voyage through all dimensions of mother earth. The pork jowls were sinful – deep and rich and cunning in the way the flavours blended and danced in my mouth. Dessert was lemon pie, home made; tangy, tarty, vibrant fresh and alive.

One detail many restaurants outside the Métropole miss time and again is an inexpensive house wine and I have had to avoid some otherwise good restaurants here because of it, but these guys have managed to find a fabulous red, a dry baby with just the body and soul needed to espouse the cuisine.

The garden is beautiful, the colours satisfying, the music is wonderful and not too loud ... And the prices are painless.

To reserve call Pierre at 020 54 67 60 65, or Isa at 020 54 75 86 45

Open from lunch on Wednesday till brunch on Sunday. Credit cards not accepted.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

עבודה זרה

After you've lived here for a while there's all kinds of stuff you take for granted. I guess you can say that at some point some of the freshness wears off and you've got to take a leap back to where you came from to remember that you are indeed a stranger is a strange land.

For example.

Here we are building this house, and so we've got a team of workers who are living on the property in a hut they built, cooking in a makeshift kitchen and shitting in a hole in the ground outhouse they dug.

In other words, Tony is not going home every evening to his wife and kids in Stony Creek.

Also, at one point the workers will absolutely refuse to work unless a group of monks come and bless the construction work. The ceremony was very touching. This is how it went:

The Shaman comes and sets everything up. Candles and flowers and a little box with different compartments to represent the house and all the rooms. The people who will live in the house are measured with strips of candle, an arm's length, around the head and from the sternum to the navel.

Then all these candle lengths are squeezed and woven together to make one big thick yellow candle like a havdalah candle. Because the land is on a lake and because naga monsters can surge from the lake like medieval dragons, extra care and prayers have to be applied.

The monks arrive in dignified procession, their robes shining, and they take up their place in the workers' living quarters to recite incantations, drink Pepsi and check their messages on their smart-phones.

Remember, if we don't do this, the workers will simply strike. It would be the Canadian equivalent of Tony fetching a priest to bless a construction site and refusing to work until the last drop of holy water was sprinkled.

Stones with mystical incantations representing each member of the family are placed in the four corners of the house and a bamboo fish net filled with cash and other symbols of happiness is affixed to the “mother pillar”.

In the end, a white cotton thread was strung all around the house and the monks place a miniature pagoda at the base of every corner pillar.

I have to admit that I found the ceremony to be very moving; almost as moving as our wedding ceremony. The thought that Marie-Do and I had later that day was that in any of the monotheistic religions the priest or rabbi would require all kinds of understanding and commitments before doing a ceremony, especially for people from outside the tribe in question. Nowadays priests in Québec, for example, are refusing to marry people in a church unless they go to mass every Sunday.

Here, the experience was quite the opposite. Our understanding or belonging counted not one bit. We were told what to do and where to sit and that was all that was required of us. Like any thinking people we are invited by Reality to understand or question whatever we want. We can accept blindly or just go through the motions ... it matters not one bit. The Shaman did what he had to do, the monks did what they had to do, we did what we had to do. The workers for whom this ceremony was of such capital importance totally ignored its existence: they kept on working or sat around smoking cigarettes not at all concerned by the placated spirits or swimming naga.

We are not in Kansas any more.

Pour lire un récit écrit par Marie-Do en français :