Month: December, 2006

Organic burgers and banned films

Friday, December 8th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Film

Back at Chelsea Market for dinner before Asian Cinevisions 2006 at the MoMA.

Chelsea Market Arches

Food Network

Amys Bread

The Green Table‘s wonderful hamburger, made with Lewis Waite grass-fed beef on an Amy’s roll (natch — see bakery photo above), served with housemade tomato relish and pickled onions:

Green Table Burger

Lelaki Komunis Terakhir (The Last Communist) is the latest film by Amir Muhammad, one of Malaysia’s leading independent filmmakers. He has described the unconventional work as a “semi-musical road movie documentary,” based on the life of onetime leader of the outlawed Malayan Communist Party Chin Peng, tracing the towns in which he lived from birth until national independence in 1957. The Last Communist was to have been the first local documentary slated for theatrical release in Malaysia. Instead, two weeks before its May 2006 opening, after conservative Malay-language daily Berita Harian published a series of articles denouncing the film as a glorification of Communism, it became the first Malaysian film to be banned by the Malaysian Home Ministry.

Previous bans had earned the censorship board a reputation for being overzealous: Daredevil was banned for its satanic-sounding title; Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers for seeming to promote an illicit (if naturally occuring) drug. (Never mind that both were wretched films anyway.)  Episodes of Friends  have been censored for portraying “casual sex, promiscuity amongst youth, pregnancy outside the institution of marriage and prostitution.”

Three months earlier, the Malaysian Film Censorship Board had passed The Last Communist without cuts, despite the potentially problematic title; the subject of communism is taboo in Malaysia, a legacy of the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), when British, British Commonwealth and Malay forces battled the army of the Malayan Communist Party. One Malaysian government minister defended the ban, claiming the film was not violent enough and therefore, a misleading representation of both Chin Peng and the period. The saga was the subject of much media coverage, including the New York Times feature story, “Your Film Is Banned. There’s Not Enough Violence.

Amir published a long and detailed defense of his film, including a summary of the campaign that was launched against him, on the film’s blog. While local production company Red Films and the filmmaker have attempted to appeal the Home Ministry’s decision, the ban remains enforced in Malaysia, where possession of the film constitutes a criminal offense.

Lost in all of the controversy is whether The Last Communist  is actually any good. Certainly as a “multilingual documentary that explores the diversity and plurality of contemporary Malaysia” (Amir’s words), it shows a facet of the country that few get to see in the KL-centric media. The specially-composed cheery songs about such topics as malarial renal failure and government issued identification cards are an amusing parody of popular propaganda anthems. Chin Peng himself is conspicuously absent — never appearing in film or photograph, and mentioned by name only once. What remains behind is a quirky (and until the end, not particularly political) record, offering a slice-of-life portrait of how ordinary people live in modern-day Malaysia.

New Treo

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More cupcakes

Thursday, December 7th, 2006 | All Things, Eats

First late-night Thursday. But before heading uptown, I stopped in for the grand opening of the Crumbs Bake Shop flagship store on 8th Street, between Broadway and University — deep in the heart of NYU territory.

The new shop is touted as more of a café than its other three NYC locations — there’s a fourth in East Hampton — with ample seating, late night hours, Wi-Fi access and a tapas dessert menu.

After a writeup in everyone’s favorite NYC blog touting “Free Cupcakes!” on opening day, I was half-expecting a mob scene among the baked goods. The atmosphere inside, though, was remarkably civilized — perhaps due in part to the late-ish hour, or the very mini nature of the mini-cupcake samples.

I recognized some of the offerings from the shop on the Upper West Side, including the elusive Red Velvet cupcake.

Crumbs Cupcakes

Crumbs Cupcakes

The proliferation of cupcake shops around town predates the New York Times feature from 2003, the year Crumbs hit the scene. Thank (or blame) Sex and the City for the renaissance.

And although Crumbs was not a player, all this calls to mind the New York Magazine piece on the “Cupcake Wars” that came out a year later, focusing on the lawsuit between Jennifer Appel, owner of Buttercup Bakeshop (and former co-owner of West Village bane Magnolia Bakery) and her former Buttercup manager, Mark Libertini, over the opening of his copycat Little Cupcake Bakeshop in Bay Ridge. Oh the drama!

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Natural tofu at Seoul Garden

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Friends

One of my favorite things is Doufu fa, which translates literally (if somewhat inexplicably) to “tofu flower” or less poetically, to “bean curd dessert.” The silken soy-based dessert — similar in texture to a very soft, creamy gelatin — spooned fresh from a deep, steaming steel or wooden pot and served with a slick of sweet ginger syrup seems to me one of life’s great, simple pleasures. Of late, I’ve been getting my fix from the Tofu Man — for lack of a better descriptor — who sets up shop(ping cart) on the West side of Centre Street, just South of Canal. Tofu Woman runs a similar operation at Chrystie and Grand Streets, in front of the B/D subway entrance.

On the savory front, I like the quintessential Sichuan dish Mapo Doufu — silky chunks of creamy tofu with a scattering of ground pork in a spicy, peppercorn sauce. (When are we going back to Spicy & Tasty?) The New York Times ran a piece on fresh tofu last year in which Julia Moskin described what struck me as a Korean iteration of this dish in soupier form: the Soon Dubu. Since then, I’ve been a bit obsessed with sampling the different versions from the Koreatown purveyors along 32nd and 35th Streets.After spending the day holed up in the apartment, a big bowl of steaming spiciness sounded like a perfect remedy on this chilly day. I met the B brothers at Seoul Garden, a 24-hour restaurant whose signature dish, “natural tofu” soup (on the menu as Soon Tofu ) is available in 4 levels of spiciness.

Small Plates

Kun Mandoo (Fried Beef dumplings):

Dumplings

Tofu Dol Sot BiBimBap:

Tofu BiBimBop

Seoul Garden’s pride: the Soon Tofu — which arrived bubbling and bursting with steam in its stone pot (dol sot).

Soon Dubu

Stomach-warming and sinus-clearing, if not cancer-preventing. Thanks, HYB!

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