Monthly Archives: January 2013

Laos -the Land of a Million Elephants

Getting a Laos visa could not have been easier: I went in yesterday and returned today. For some extra euros I could have waited to receive it immediately. You may be wondering whether it can be obtained upon arrival and the answer is yes. But I did not go to the Embassy solely for the visa, I went also for that very important “first impression”. I believe embassies are like mirrors (or telescopes?): they give you a hint of what to expect when your actual journey begins.

So, based on my brief stay at the Embassy, what can I predict that the upcoming Laos journey brings me? The answer is Delicious Food!! I arrived at the Embassy just before the lunch break and the entire court yard was filled with exotic, divine aromas. I was prepared to do some serious chit chatting and try to get an invitation for the lunch, but in vain I returned home in rain…

The photo you see is my Laos visa. To take a photo of it, I needed something a bit heavier to hold the passport pages open and the first thing that came to my mind were the elephant statues from Kerala, India. After taking a couple of shots I realized the coincidence: the elephants have been used for centuries to help people with heavy stuff, and there they were for me too when I needed them! Secondly, in the early history of Laos there was a Kingdom called Lao Xang (established in the mid 14th century), and a translation of those two words brings us to the “A Million Elephants”.

Algerian restaurant l’Atlantide in Paris

The moment we decided to have North African food for dinner on Friday night the puzzle begun. Where to go? Even if we know plenty of North African restaurants in Paris, the beauty of eating out is also about discovering new things. My husband had read Le Figaro‘s review of Paris’s top ten couscous restaurants and we used it as our compass. Direction: L’Atlantide, Parc Buttes Chaumont, the 19th arrondissement! L'AtlantideI discovered North African dishes when I moved to Paris in 1999 and deepened my knowledge while working in Algeria. My husband used to eat couscous in his childhood once a month. Together we did an amazing trip across the Algerian Sahara some years ago and every night by the fire we were served the most delicious lamb couscous, prepared by our Tuareg guides. So, as you can imagine, a lot of wonderful memories associated with couscous!

Upon our arrival at L’Atlantide I felt right away that the restaurant may be Algerian. The nomad-like style (in comparison to the more common Mauresque-like architecture) reminded me of one of the couscous restaurants in Algiers. The menu pointed toward Kabylie: it is not in many restaurants that one can find a typical Kabylie couscous dish called Ameqful where semolina is steam-cooked with seven different types of vegetables and mixed with olive oil in the end. And my intuition was right: the server confirmed that the restaurant is Kabylie, and specifically from Tizi Ouzou.L'AtlantideMy husband promised to taste Ameqful the next time and opted instead for Seksu, which is a more common couscous dish of vegetable stew served with lamb, grilled chicken and merguez sausages. I hesitated between a fresh vegetable tajine and a dried fruit tajine, and chose the latter. The accompanying grilled almonds, onion confit, dried raisins and prunes married well with the lamb, and the Moroccan red Guerrouane, Les Trois Domaines 2011, had a hint of the Mediterranean sun in it. Everything was very, very good, and on the top of everything, L’Atlantide is one of the least-expensive top couscous (and tajine) restaurants in the central Paris.

L’Atlantide: 7 Avenue de Laumière, 75019 Paris. Tel. 01-42450981. Metro: Laumière

Le Figaro review:

The Michelin review:


Previous posts about eating North African food in Paris are:

L’Alcôve: finest meat of Paris (also serves couscous and tajine, but the house specialty is grilled meat –delicious!)
L’Homme Bleu: Berber hospitality in the center of Paris (reputable couscous and tajine restaurant but I was disappointed during my last visit)
Le Tipaza: refined Moroccan food (a good address near the Eiffel Tower)

Saturday night Paris


Full day of shopping in Paris. This is what it looked like when returning home. Now preparing a big Indian meal of chicken tikka & tandoori, korma vegetables, samosas and palak paneer. Will be washed down with a bottle of Château la Sauvageonne Cuvée Pica Broca 2009 (Coteaux du Languedoc). Namaste!

PS The tajine restaurant yesterday was DELICIOUS, so more about that tomorrow…

Bolivar: South American Fusion Food in Miami Beach

Those who have visited have maybe noticed a photo of a delicious-looking ceviche dish. It was taken in Miami Beach at a restaurant called Bolivar. Bolivar became our usual lunch place during our US holidays in May and June last year and the food and service were always tip top. At that time of the year the weather was already hot and humid, and to eat something so fresh, healthy-tasting yet filling felt like a miracle. We loved Bolivar!

Super delicious Peruvian-Colombian “Bolivar Ceviche”

Paris is an excellent place to taste many different types of food but what it lacks is Latin American cuisine! If I could, I would like to return to Bolivar tonight and have the Peruvian-Colombian Bolivar Ceviche as a starter and for the main course I would choose Lomo Saltado, a Peruvian dish that my husband really liked that consists of diced beef sauteed with onions and tomatoes. Instead, I will have to stick to what Paris is excellent at: couscous and tajine. I think we will head to a North African restaurant tonight for lamb tajine with figs and almonds!

"Lomo Saltado", another dish from heaven.

“Lomo Saltado”, another dish from heaven.

BOLIVAR: 661 Washington Ave, Miami Beach. Tel. +1 305-305-0801

Air Asia: Making flight reservation fun

Have you ever flown with Air Asia? If yes, then you know that the fun begins with making a reservation (and no, I am not getting paid to write this)!

The closest destination this Malaysia-based low-cost airline flies to Europe is Saudi Arabia, so it comes as no surprise that many Europeans are not very familiar with it. Besides the fact that Air Asia is Asia’s largest low-cost airline, it has been named the World’s Best Low-Cost Airline in four consecutive years (2009-2012).

When I started planning our Southeast Asia trip (Cambodia, Laos and Thailand), I only knew we will depart Paris with our usual airline, Emirates (I love their A380, my favorite airplane, and we like flying via Dubai). It was the arrival point in Southeast Asia that we were not sure about. Bangkok seemed like an obvious entry point, but I soon realized that flights from Bangkok are rather expensive (maybe because of the arrival timing: Chinese new year). So, I unfolded a map in front of me and started wondering what other options we may have? Flying via China seemed like soooo far away. Vietnam will be a trip of its own, we decided. Singapore? I suddenly had this flashback of reading about an airline called Air Asia, so I googled it. Wow. Kuala Lumpur Siem Reap (one-way) around 80€ per person (the prices can go as low as 33.51€ or 44.61USD in February). All hesitations were gone.

Yesterday I bought two one-way tickets (KUL -> REP) and after providing the usual contact information, the fun begun: choosing our in-flight meals! Bukhara chicken briyani combo, fried rice with satay combo, tandoori chicken tortilla wrap combo, black pepper chicken combo, spaghetti bolognaise combo for those craving Italian cuisine, and many more. We had 19 options to choose from, and honestly, how wrong can you go when prices are around 2-3€? We will see soon!







Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur

Most of us living according to the Western calendar made (or at least thought of making!) new year wishes just three weeks and one day ago. I have always liked the timing of the Chinese New Year –just some weeks after the Western new year– because it takes us back to those promises, wishes, hopes and dreams that occupied our mind not so long ago. It was in Auckland, New Zealand, when I was first introduced to the Chinese new year and the delicious dishes associated with it. Since then, I have celebrated this festival in London, New York, Havana and Paris.

This year the Chinese new year falls on February 10 and the Year of the Snake will begin. My husband and I arrive in Kuala Lumpur the night before and even if many Chinese plan to  return home and spend time with the loved ones, I am sure Kuala Lumpur will present its most frightening dragons to us!

Highlighs of Paris weekend

Highlighs of Paris weekend

It was Jour de Fête, or should I rather say Week-end de Fête?

On Saturday we had a Berlin-based friend over for an apéritif. From our apartment we continued to a very Parisian bistro called Chez Janou in the 3rd arrondissement ( I know this bistro gets mixed reviews, the quality of food is not always consistent and the waiters can be a bit brusque, but we keep going there (and taking foreign friends there) for the following reasons:

1. It has that vieux Paris atmosphere and you would not be surprised if Édith Piaf sat next to you. Almost like in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris!

2. Food is Mediterranean flavored and really, what can I say: tomato chèvre starter immediately brought sun shine to our evening, the duck tasted like any duck that has had a happy life, my husband’s entrecôte was very tender and the mousse au chocolat the table next to us ordered was HUGE!

3. Their kitchen is open until midnight (unlike most French kitchen that close around ten in the evening), so keep this in mind the next time you are in Paris and wonder where to dine…

On Sunday evening we were invited to a collection preview of a Paris-based Finnish designer, Petteri Hemmilä. The collection was displayed in a beautiful, edgy atelier of a Corsican-born artist, and while the Eiffel Tower was blinking, we sipped wine and learned about Petteri’s new adventures. As he merits a separate post on his work, I will be doing it very soon.

As we left the atelier, got out to the snow and rented the Autolib, we suddenly felt like visiting the South India again and started driving toward the Gare du Nord. The weekend ended with a South Indian thali and an onion rava masala dosa. Saravana Bhavan ( is an international chain that started in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in 1981, and since then they have expanded to Muscat, Dubai, Ontario, New York and many other cities around the world. In Paris they opened in 2010 and since our first trip to the South India (December 2011-January 2012) we have been regular, very happy customers!

Voila. A new week has started and at least one party is scheduled. Paris is a city of surprises and every day often becomes Jour de Fête, so stay tuned!

Alvar Aalto bell lamps from 1937 find a new home in Paris

Alvar Aalto bell lamps from 1937 find a new home in Paris

The apartment we bought in Paris (75004) last year has amazing moldings and we were really afraid that they would get damaged during the four-month-long renovation. We hesitated about installing pendant lamps because drilling into the moldings would certainly damage them, or worse, the moldings could simply fall to pieces!!

This said, there was one exception: we wanted to buy two of these famous Alvar Aalto lamps, designed in 1937, and have them above the dining table. So, as the electrician started drilling, I stopped breathing and watched. And prayed. The moldings got damaged a tiny bit (there was no other way to install the electricity cables), but nothing dramatic happened. During the recent Christmas holidays we went to one of our favorite design stores in Helsinki called Artek, and bought two of these beautiful lamps. Today the lamps got a new life as my husband fixed them on the ceiling. We like them a lot, and having a good 20cm of snow in the balcony makes the day feel very Finnish!

Link to the lamps and ARTEK design store:

Another link to the online Finnish (+Scandinavian) design shop: