Thursday, August 4, 2011

Married to a Bedouin and a great Swiss dinner

Tonight I spent a wonderful evening at Red, the fine dining restaurant of the Makati Shangri-la for a Swiss dinner that was partly in honor of the Swiss National Day last August 1. For this Swiss week, the hotel invited a very nice Swiss chef named Oskar Marti who owns an excellent restaurant called Moospinte in the villahe of Munchenbuchsee just outside Bern.

When I asked Makati Shangri-la general manager Reto Klauser why he'd picked Oskar out of all the possible Swiss chefs to bring to Manila, he replied: "Many Swiss chefs eventually become famous adopting French cooking styles to Swiss food. Oskar is one of the few who have remained true to real Swiss cooking."

The restaurant was full, and tonight I even saw several Swiss friends partaking of Oskar and his chef Michael Ramseier's great cooking. Oliver Dudler, the Peninsula's Swiss resident manager, for example, crossed Ayala Avenue to have dinner at Red tonight with his wife Cindy.


We had a four-course meal and the soup and main dish were particular standouts. These were incredibly interesting and unique dishes that I'd never had before in Switzerland.

The soup was a Swiss Alps hay soup with poached sweetbreads and air-dried beef. It tasted sour and slightly reeked of yoghurt, but it was so good. The sweetbreads and dried beef went very well with it too. Everyone at the table chose this as their favorite.

"The soup certainly wasn't typical Swiss cuisine," I said to Reto Klauser earlier. But he replied: "On the contrary, it's typical Swiss food but with a twist. The soup reminded me of my childhood because that's how the surroundings around my home smelled when I walked out of the house everyday. It brought back memories."


Meanwhile, the main course was roasted veal fillet wrapped with basil, and served on top of a puff pastry ring with summer vegetables, eggplant caviar and peperonata. Again, this was an incredibly tasty dish and the veal fillet went excellently with the basil.

I also liked it because the meat was very tender. Later, Reto told me that this meat had been specially imported from Switzerland, and it was veal from calf that had never been fed anything but milk.

"That's why the meat is so white and tender," he told me. "And of course, you can't get this meat locally." Indeed, when I cut the veal through, it was a very pale shade of pastel pink.

After dinner, I sat around talking with the chefs, Oskar and Michael. Michael spoke English very well so we talked at length about Swiss food. "Most people think Swiss food is just cheese fondue and raclette," he said. "But actually, Swiss food is very creative, but with using all local ingredients."


Oscar claimed he couldn't speak English as well so he chose to remain quiet. But when he found out that I had a little flat just outside Geneva, he began speaking to me in French. Admittedly, we had pretty simple conversation so it wasn't that hard to follow or to reply -- about the dinner tonight and the village where he owned a restaurant.

"Why did you think I could speak French?" I asked him after we'd conversed for a while. After all, he'd just launched into a conversation in French without warning. He replied: "When you told me about Geneva, I figured you should be able to speak French because everyone who has a connection with Geneva somehow speaks French."


Some people at the dinner were still heading on to M Cafe to party afterwards, but I begged off to head home, get some rest and finish my book. I'd bought a book at a bookstore in Dubai last month called "Married to a Bedouin," and it's about the life of a New Zealand woman who married a Bedouin she met on the tourist trail in Petra -- he sold souvenirs to tourists just outside one of the main monuments of Petra -- and her subsequent life as she proceeded to become completely immersed in Bedouin culture.

She lived in a cave without electricity for decades and she wrote very descriptively about the nomadic way of life: the lack of Western healthcare and reliance on tribal medicine, the simplicity of life, and the close kinship she enjoyed with her husband's family and neighbors. It sounded like a very hard life -- shockingly hard, in fact, is how I'd describe it, as one who is used to all the comforts of modern life -- but it seemed she enjoyed and appreciated every minute.

I'd bought this book and a bunch of other books on Arabic culture during my trip to Dubai precisely because I knew so little about this area; and so far everything I have read has proven to be most fascinating. I can't wait to start my next book: about life in an Arabic royal family, from the viewpoint of one of their Western staff members. There are a couple of books on Middle Eastern culture that provide insights into the lives of the people; but most of them are written not by Arabs themselves but by Westerners who have found themselves immersed in this very special society. I can only surmise that this is because of the language barrier, or the fact that only these types of books make it into the English-speaking world.

Join our Italy events this September.

with Margarita Fores
and the Embassy of Italy & Bacchus Epicerie
September 8 at Whitespace

TRAVELIFE Gastronomic Tour of Italy
September 17-25

For reservations and information, please contact:
Bernice or Rachel at TRAVELIFE
813-8400/ 892-2620


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