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SAaM: gua bao with a twist

My memory of large banquet dinners while growing up: they were noisy affairs, with a menu that was pretty much the same from one dinner to another, in large multi-purpose halls that were too stuffy for a crowd of several hundred, most of whom I did not know nor recognise but they’d all inevitably identified me as my great-grandparents’ great-granddaughter, or my grandparents’ granddaughter. (Ah yes, I was never my own person back then…) One of the messier dish to eat would be braised pig’s trotter, served with pacman-like buns on the side, and we were supposed to make our own bun sandwiches by stuffing the braised meat – or fat, if you were too slow on the uptake – then chomped away.

SAaM buns

SAaM buns

It was an upgraded version of these gua bao which awaited us at SAaM when my friends and I popped over recently for a food- and gab-fest. Five versions of buns were served in this small but quaint eatery, not overly crowded for a Saturday lunch, with four staff holding the fort between the front house and the open kitchen. Each has been given a Korean twist, although still as messy to eat as I remember from all the years gone by. ;)

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Siseng

It appears I’ve been flitting in and out several “hip” eating places lately, and Siseng Asian Food Bar is one of them. Each time, I feel just as awkward as ever besides the stylish folks (although I do question the decision of a man stepping in with a bathrobe from a hotel as his coat – F was there too so he can attest to this!) until the food was set in front of me. Then, all else was forgotten and my taste-buds got to monopolise my thoughts.

Siseng

Siseng

After New York, London and Hong Kong, bao burger has landed in Paris, thanks to Siseng. White, pillowy steamed buns replace the traditional sesame burger buns, and two different versions are available: bao burger kaï – marinated chicken burger with coleslaw, red pepper confit and a sauce of basil and coconut milk, or bao burger 5 épices – 5 spiced-marinated beef steak with rocket, spinach, onion confit, onion rings and a sauce of caramelised tamarind. They were juicy and the Asian-fusion flavour combination hit the right spots for me personally. The mid-week lunch menu comes with a serving of sweet potato fries, which makes a nice change from the usual french fries, and housedrink of the day for €15.

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La Chambre aux Oiseaux

A cosy canteen with a touch of vintage chic, that’s how I’d describe La Chambre aux Oiseaux. Upon S’s suggestion and initiative on making the reservation a couple of weeks in advance, we met on a slightly overcast Saturday afternoon for brunch in this café just off the Canal St Martin. They run two seatings for brunch, at 11.30am and at 1.30pm, and they were busy during both services. Clearly a favourite among many of the crowd of very fashionably dressed Parisians – yours truly not included given how carelessly my wardrobe is put together… – and for good reasons: the service is friendly, the food is delicious, and the ambiance is homey.

La chambre aux oiseaux

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Randomly: rue Bichat

Brunch reservation was 10 minutes away and S hasn’t arrived yet either. Not one to stand outside a café idly, I took a short stroll along rue Bichat and see what may be hidden on this street, in a neighbourhood that I don’t know very well. Not that I got very far though; I didn’t even get to peek into the windows of Helmut Newcake, the only other address I know a bit further along this street.

rue Bichat

rue Bichat

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Randomly: Sentier to Buttes Chaumont

Sometimes – actually, most of the time, in my humble opinion – one simply go for a random walk around Paris to be better acquainted with her. After our lunch at Frenchie To Go on Sunday, that was pretty much what Chloé and I did. We just walked, chatted, took some photos, and walked some more, as we made our way from rue du Nil to Belleville. We even snuck by the windy streets near Buttes Chaumont for some pristine views of the city.

Street sign

National Conservatory

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Project 365 – Week 34

Finally, the works in our neighbour’s apartment terminated so no more loud drilling, hammering, and the likes. Sadly, the traffic is also coming back to the city, so one form of noise replaces another. On the plus side, some of our favourite restaurants are/will be re-opening after being away for several weeks, so I’m looking forward to a break in cooking and baking. Ah, such is the ebb of city life. ;)

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Off Gare de l'Est

19 Aug: We are a couple of days away from the full moon, and this is a significant one in the Chinese calendar. According to the Chinese custom, it marks the height of the Hungry Ghost Festival, and if I was still living with my grandparents, they’d be telling me right now not to stay out late so I won’t encounter any roaming spirit. But hey, I live in Paris, the sun doesn’t set in the early summer evening. I also don’t see various festival-associated offerings and rituals performed, so I don’t get spooked quite as much. Instead, I am out with my friends, and we’re all appreciative of just how big the moon seems tonight.

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Oh yes, do go to Abri

Barely a couple of weeks following its opening, Nico’s brother suggested that we met for lunch at “a sandwicherie near Poissonnière”. It was all rather mysterious and upon arrival, I was confused by the name City Café Sandwich but something clicked – I have just glanced through a café-bistrot recommendation a few days earlier and this was the place! Gourmet sandwicherie on Mondays and Saturdays, and restaurant serving fixed-menus from Tuesday to Friday, there is already quite a buzz surrounding this venture by Japanese chef Katsuaki “Katsy” Okiyama, formerly of Robuchon and l’Agapé.

Despite arriving at noon (it opens on Saturday at 12.30pm, although many articles I’ve seen stated Saturday opening hour at 10am or noon), a queue has started gathering outside Abri and when it came to our turn to be seated, there simply wasn’t a table available for 5 pax. There were only a couple of potential tables for 5-6, except they have been split to accommodate groups of 3-4. The rest which remained were tables for two.

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Day 332: Familiar sculpture?

I don’t normally go to Gare du Nord, at least not for the main train terminal part, but there I was this evening, circa 6.30pm, searching for the arrival information. All I spotted initially were two gigantic departure board, then a teeny tiny screen in a corner somewhere for the arrivals. My friends were arriving in slightly later than expected. Not much, by just 10 minutes.

As I made my way towards the platform they were due in, I saw a large arrival information board (finally) and hey, that was one very familiar looking sculpture up at the mezzanine level! It reminded me of Europe a cœur in Strasbourg, but with multiple rings around it. I was too lazy to go up for a closer look, and in any case, the train from Amsterdam was coming in the platform and I had friends (with luggages) to greet. Welcome back to Paris G!

Day 122: Tip a hat

One thing that you may have noticed by now, is that street art is never just something born out of vandalism. Especially in Paris. Some are works to reclaim the public space for expression of art, some are works to put out a message – political or not – to the public, some are works to provide food for thoughts, some are works to beautify the living space.

This mural which covers the entire side of a building can be found near Gare du Nord (I forgot to mark down the name of the street, but I believe it’s at the fork of rue La Fayette and rue de l’Aqueduc) is striking to me for a couple of reasons. First, the representation of Paris. Just try to see how many monuments you could identify. From the obvious (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Obelisk of Luxor) to the nestled and ambiguous (Assemblée Nationale, the pyramid of the Louvre, Panthéon). Secondly, the depiction of Parisian life and history, all in man’s memory, and you’re just there, at the tiny corner, looking up to all that has come together in this city.

Painted in 1992 (clearly marked) this mural of nearly two decade old still holds true today. Paris is dynamic and ever changing, but the core value within, they are contained and unforgettable.

Day 121: Le monument à la République

Sure, this is no Laetitia Casta (who was voted in 1999 as symbolic representation of French Republic) but Marianne is everywhere, celebrated in form of monumental sculptures, leading lady in paintings, the caricature on the stamps, even carried daily in our pockets as the French euro coins are engraved with her image.

Standing tall – it is 9.5m in height – and dominant at Place de la République, this bronze sculpture of Marianne by Léopold Morice sits above a base of 15m in height with three other sculptures of the allegories to Liberté, Égalité and Fraternité by Charles Morice. The brothers effectively executed a perfect classical monument to represent the state, for the values that her people fought for in the French Revolution.

I’ve tried to photograph this monument in its entirety but at that time of day, with traffic teeming around the square and people everywhere, I couldn’t find a frame that I like, that I’m happy with. Maybe I should try some day really early in the morning?

Day 117: Take me away on a choo choo train

This poor girl is really need a good rest. I have had only a couple of hours of sleep in the past two days, and would love nothing more than just to collapse and catch some shut eyes. But the adrenaline is keeping me going, and I found myself still charged up and not in the least settled. My brain is racing and that’s when I told myself, I need to go somewhere.

Cue – Gare de l’Est. I’ve decided I’m going to visit my friends (pictorial clue to where I’ll be travelling to) and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be at this very same station, catching the train out of town. It is pretty exciting and this marks my first French excursion this year. But of course, Efi has also asked me if I would do a 10K run with her. Hmmm… Can I pull off a 2-weeks training for the run?

Day 107: The new sari

I met Anirudh last week at Obscura Day. At some point, our topic of conversation turned to food (my favourite topic, yay!) and he was a tad surprised that I haven’t yet explored the Indian quarter of Paris near Gare du Nord. This has got to be remedied and today, we headed over to the neighbourhood for some Tamil food chez Saravanaa Bhavan. In case you wondered, the food was delicious and reminded me of Indian food in Malaysia. I will be back here before long!

Walking around, there are also a large number of shops selling all things Indian-related, from Indian sweets (I bought some to go) to Bollywood DVDs to colourful bangles to traditional costumes. Then we spotted these updated look to sari. Very stylish, not to mention, errrm, sheer and skimpy. Not quite the sari I know and worn before. If my previous experience with sari was anything to go by – I was worried the entire evening about people stepping on the hem and unravelled the entire 6 metres of turquoise cloth that I’ve ineptly wrapped around me – the likelihood of me ever trying this modern look would be slim to none…

Day 106: Canal St Martin

It has been a week since I left my apartment with a coat. Instead, tucked in my bag, is a small cardigan, which I haven’t been using either. Really, Paris has become the new California. It also makes it very hard for me – quite torn actually – to either stay in and work (I have a lot on my plate right now with looming deadlines) or to go out and profite-bien le soleil.

In the end, the good old adage of balancing work and fun makes more sense. Instead of just gazing longingly out my window, I steal a couple of hours to be out, walk about, and to soak up some Vitamin D. At Canal St Martin, hundreds of sun lovers obviously have less qualm about spending their time outdoors. They lounged canal-side, with picnic spread and chilled drinks, chatting and laughing. Worry not, I will have my share of fun this evening – piña colada party, here I come!


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