It’s my birthday.
I used to get secretly mad at my friends over trivial issues that used to seem so important. Those “trivial issues”, just the one really – forgetting my birthday – used to wound me up so much that I felt insecure and ultimately untrusting over my closest circle of friends. But as the years go by, especially after you’ve come out to them (they’ll say they’ll accept you, but their body language: everything they say or don’t say, do or don’t do, betrays them), you learn not to push too hard, and in some heartbreaking cases, to let it fade.
My relationships haven’t been stellar either, if only because I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to experience the extremes. I’ve been cheated upon, betrayed, heart-broken, clinically depressed and suicidal. But I’ve been loved…like no one ever before or since, and that feeling of reciprocation is, well, priceless.
Alas, facts are facts. Here today, I stand without a university degree, without a job, without a great deal of friends, still living with my parents, still living in Singapore, and I’m almost thirty. But it’s not all bad: I’ve seen the world from Shanghai World Financial Centre, I’ve battled the Great Wall, I lived a day in the Forbidden City, I’ve swam in the turquoise clear waters of the Andaman, I’ve come face to face with an Indonesian volcano. I’ve just graduated with a fashion diploma, I’ve enjoyed being a fashion and lifestyle writer for two fine print titles, I’ve been kissed by lips from a special someone who’d have loved me forever, I’ve been thankful for the company of the friends that have remained and the friends that I’ve gained, and I look forward to the days and years to come because I’ve faith they’ll only get better. I choose to focus on the positives, and it’s this optimism that I dedicate my 27th year to.
I’ve always found it interesting that Darren on paper, seemed like a perfect soul mate. Like me, he enjoys the art of dining. Like me, he’s into traveling. Like me, he’s also interested in the commercial aviation industry. Like me, he shares my birthday. But that’s where the similarities end, which is why I’ve never been able to see him as a potential suitor.
This evening, we decided to have a celebratory meal at one of my favorite restaurants in Singapore, Blu Kouzina. I say “one of my favorite” but it’s really “my favorite” restaurant in Singapore…especially after Sun With Moon at CHIJMES closed. I don’t know, Sun With Moon’s other branches haven’t been able to capture that classic “Japanese-ness” that the CHIJMES locale seemed to embody and ooze.
Blu Kouzina, which means “blue kitchen” in Greek, is a Greek restaurant located in Bukit Timah. Greek cuisine, like many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regional cuisines such as Arabic, Jewish, Moroccan, Southern French, Spanish, Turkish and Egyptian, revolves around the same basic ingredients. Unsurprisingly, many dishes are also similarly named across the region.
Some bread (below image) while you wait. Blu Kouzina has no qualms about offering you their brilliantly delicious bread again and again and again but don’t take advantage of it. You’re in for a lot of food, and I mean a lot.
Expect a heavy use of olive oil. Vegetables are typically raw, tossed as light and refreshing salads with the ubiquitous dice of feisty feta cheese. Some, like eggplant (aubergine) and zucchini (courgette) are cooked and often reach a consistency where it can be eaten as a dip with grains and breads like pita. As with any sea-faring land, meats come in the form of regular farmyard grades like lamb, poultry, rabbit and pork, as well as seafood, obviously. The former garnished with rich spices and roasted, the latter often simply grilled with nothing but salt and pepper to maintain its freshness.
Greek meals are loooonnggggg…and they start with appetizers and salads called mezedes or orektiko (appetizer). Mezedes are essentially light snacks, almost in the vein of dim sum and tapas – they compliment socializing sessions and are often paired with wine, ouzo and tsipouro (think of the last two as the Greek version of soju/sake and vodka). Darren and I order the Melitzanosalata (from the Greek base words of Melitzanes [eggplant] Salata [salad]), which is a very typical Greek starter. This smoked eggplant topped with herbs is eaten as a dip with pita bread, which Blu Kouzina has jazzed it up with the addition of organic sea salt and paprika. The lightness of the eggplant contrasted well with the charred aroma and paprika spices of the pita. Simply food of the gods, Olympic gods to be precise.
We also shared a Xoriatiki (top image), meaning Greek Village Salad, which is your typical “Greek Salad”. It’s made with chopped tomatoes, diced cucumbers, sliced onions, sprinkle of olives, green apples, topped with extra virgin olive oil and organic vinegar. Of course, no Greek salad is Greek without feta cheese, which Blu Kouzina serves one whole generous slab. As with the greens of Greek cuisine, it’s all about keeping the salad refreshing and the flavors natural. Everything’s lubricated with olive oil, which gives the whole plate a nice shimmer, but it’s every bit as invigorating and revitalizing.
Initially, the enticing menu inspired a smorgasbord of additional mezedes and more but after consulting the wonderful restaurant associates, they advised that it’d be too much. So we cut back, and went straight for the mains.
I was previously floored by the deceptively simple looking Psari Stin Sxara (Greek Grilled Fish) served on a rustic wooden board at the Apivita media luncheon. It was just the most perfectly cooked fish I ever had in my life – the skin was crisp, the meat inside so deliciously sharp and clean. The seasoning was pretty basic, the preparation simple but it was absolutely delicious, and I loved it. The sea bream (400 grams) costs SGD 42.80 while the sea bass clocks in at SGD 93.80 for a whopping kilogram. Either way, the fishes are imported from Greece… To be honest, what fish isn’t? Your salmon come from Sweden, Norway or Canada; your tuna comes from Australia, Europe, the US… But yeah, the fish are flown from Greece and I suppose, adds to the authenticity of it all. On this occasion, aside from the absent wooden board, it was just perfect.
Darren’s main was the Kalamaki Souvlaki. Technically, Kalamaki, which means “little reed” in Greek is a synonym for Souvlaki although a Souvlaki doesn’t always refer to Kalamaki. A Kalamaki is essentially a skewer where meat is cubed into 1-inch chunks, marinated overnight in a concoction of lemon juice, olive oil and Greek herbs and spices such as oregano and thyme. It’s classically skewed on wooden skewers (little reeds) although in Blu Kouzina’s case, it’s skewed onto modern metal skewers, and broiled over charcoal to cook. This one here is a beef Kalamaki, and it’s served with fresh onions, sliced tomatoes and in-house bread and lemon. The meat was flavorsome and mouth-wateringly tender – red on the inside but never bloody, and the overnight marinate certainly did its job.
Then, it’s time for dessert. Blu Kouzina sold Greek yoghurt way before the supermarkets began stocking them as an upmarket, premium version of yoghurt. Besides being characterized by being served plain and topped with fresh fruits and/or fruit syrup puree, there are health benefits being touted. It’s a good protein alternative and contains less than half of the sodium and carbohydrates of regular yoghurt. So, as much as I loved Blu Kouzina’s Greek yoghurt, we decided to go for something that was a little more unique: baklava.
Okay, baklava isn’t entirely unique, with it being a regular dessert in Albania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. But it’s a little more rare in Singapore, so yeah, we had it. Baklava is essentially a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo pastry filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey. There’s little to differentiate it from the versions made in other countries except the number of dough layers. In Greece, it’s supposed to have 33 dough layers as a nod to the years of Jesus Christ’s life on Earth.
Taste wise, I just don’t know what else to say besides saying that it couldn’t be a more fitting close to such a brilliantly prepared meal. The textures of the filo pastry going in contrast with the soft and grainy filling and complement of syrup was to die for. It’s almost nostalgic really, like how you used to dip your finger into condensed milk and taste it, and repeat…whaaaattt? I’m the only one who used to do that?!!