October 19th, 2012

Morning Coffee: Caffè Elena, Torino

Posted in Europe, Interior Space by Daniel Corbeil

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Marchant dans les pas de Mark Twain, Nietzsche et bien d’autres, je parcours Turin, longeant d’un rythme paresseux ces rues longues et rectilignes, encadrées d’arcades si émouvantes de par leur charme démodés et franchement surannées.

Je trouve quelques chemises, dans une de ces nouvelles boutiques qui pullulent de plus en plus, jouxtant de vieilles échoppes aux façades noircies.

J’entends les pas qui résonnent, amplifiés mille fois par ces voutes qui me surplombent : l’Italie est une patrie où l’élégance est digne d’une dramaturgie grecque.

La perspective bute soudainement sur une vaste place qui forme une sorte de demi-lune étirée sur la longueur. Puis je devine le serpent d’eau que forme la Po, écrasée sous la masse informe des collines alpines. Un pont et une église ronde un peu pompeuse.

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May 3rd, 2012

Au Café in Buenos Aires

Posted in Latin America, Public Space by Christopher Szabla

San Telmo

La Boca

Palermo

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February 12th, 2012

Teahouses of Chengdu

On a bright Sunday morning, the courtyard of the Wenshu Teahouse in Chengdu was bustling. A group of women chattered away noisily as they munched on sunflower seeds, cracking their shells between their teeth and then piling them in a heap on the tabletop.

Nearby, a shaven-headed man peered over his customer before sliding a metal pole down into the latter’s ear. Another man leaned back in his creaking bamboo chair, put his feet up on the table in front, and spread out a big newspaper to read. A large group cried out excitedly as they threw playing cards down onto the table. A white haired waiter came dancing between these different groups, refilling their white porcelain cups of tea with the long spout of large, battered metal teapot.

These are every day scenes at the Chinese teahouses of Chengdu. It is estimated that there are more than 3000 teahouses in the city, the Wenshu temple teahouse being one of the largest. Teahouses play an important role in the city’s society, serving as places to socialise, to meet, to do business, even to look for a husband or wife.

“Few other institutions in the first half of twentieth-century Chengdu were more important in everyday life than teahouses,” says Di Wang, author of The Teahouse: Small Business, Everyday Culture, and Public Politics in Chengdu. “And no other city in China had as many teahouses as Chengdu.”


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October 7th, 2011

Morning Coffee: Caffè Portofino, Roma

Posted in Europe by Daniel Corbeil

Via Cola di Rienzo, Roma, iPhone snapshot, Octobre 2011

Il me semble que rien ne frappe d’aplomb comme le soleil et la vitalité romaine. Et spécialement au départ de Paris, ville qui se cherche une définition, alternant entre la bourgeoise snobinarde et faussement moderne et la bohème pathétique et incohérente, formant une armée de poètes et penseurs qui, cigarette appuyée mollement au bec, s’attaquent farouchement à un système capitaliste que pourtant ils façonnent eux-mêmes et encouragent à chaque instant de leur vie. L’esprit de contradiction !

Je suis arrivé sur Roma ce matin, après une nuit folle passée à errer entre la colère et l’épuisement. Hier, un contrôleur français s’est fait attaqué près de Dijon. Cet horrible évènement – ce qui semblerait complètement farfelue en Amérique – poussa l’ensemble des contrôleurs à user – abusivement il me semble – de leur droit de retrait, faisant des centaines de milliers d’otages – ces clients dont j’étais – prient sur les quais bétonnés de Paris. Et laissez-moi vous dire que de trouver un avion à la dernière minute n’est ni facile ni agréable dans cette cité où l’internet ne se trouve pas à chaque coin de rue, comme à New York ou Montréal.

C’est avec le souvenir – et force de croire quelques courbatures – de la nuit passée justement entre deux fauteuils à l’aéroport d’Orly, que je savoure ce caffè si mérité à la terrasse de ce bar d’une grande via du quartier où j’habite l’instant précieux d’un moment.

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August 31st, 2011

Somewhere to Sit

Posted in Asia Pacific, Interior Space, Public Space by Christopher DeWolf

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As befits a city with a tropical climate, in Kuala Lumpur there is always somewhere to sit and, for a small price, slurp a well-spiced laksa or an earthy teh tarik. Indoors, outdoors, it doesn’t really matter — with restaurants spilling into the street and hawker stalls operating inside restaurants, there’s very little distinction between the two.

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June 26th, 2011

Morning Coffee: Navarino

Posted in Canada, Food, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

Navarino

Eight years ago, I was an undergraduate student in Montreal, living in a two-room apartment that had nice wood floors but no natural light. One morning in early December, I awoke with my girlfriend, who had an end-of-semester exam, and as we left my building we discovered a thick blanket of fresh show that had been deposited on the city overnight. I remember a few things from that day. The first was my fatigue — getting up before eleven o’clock has never been one of my strengths. The second was the sunshine, which was brilliant in a way that it can only be on a cold day immediately after a snowstorm. The third was where we went after we left my apartment and trudged north up Park Avenue: Navarino.

Wedged between a former Banque Nationale and Lipa Klein’s kosher supermarket, Navarino is a Greek bakery-café that has been run by the Tsatoumas family since the early 1960s. Originally, it was just a bakery, but in the economic doldrums of the mid-1990s, when Montreal was still reeling from Quebec’s second referendum on national sovereignty, the younger generation of the Tsatoumas clan installed some tables and started selling coffee. That appealed to the layabout bohemians drawn into the neighbourhood by the cheap rent and good food left behind by departing Jewish, Greek, Portuguese and Italian immigrants.

By the time I moved to the neighbourhood, Navarino had taken on the appearance of a well-worn dive, with a rusted 60s-style sign in French and Greek, on which stood a comely waitress holding up a cake. For years, the staff behind the counter consisted only of young women who were called Les déesses de Navarino, according to a sign taped to the tip jar.

New Navarino

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April 28th, 2011

The Mysterious Origins of Hong Kong Cuisine

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, History, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf


Hong Kong-style pastries for sale in Mongkok

Every day for more than 60 years, the ovens of the Mido Café have churned out dozens of crispy pineapple buns for breakfast tea. Better known by their Chinese name, bolo bau, pineapple buns are the most emblematic of Hong Kong snacks: light, fluffy and filling, with sweet, crunchy crust on top.

But when Mido’s third-generation owner, 59-year-old Wong Sing-fan, is asked where the bolo bau comes from, she looks nonplussed. “It’s from the British,” she says hesitantly, before adding, “They have them in England, right?”

Hong Kong-style cuisine, known for its peculiar marriage of Western and Chinese tastes, is perhaps the city’s most beloved contribution to the world, Cantopop aside. Local staples like bolo bau, milk tea and macaroni soup have followed Hong Kong people wherever they go, from the suburbs of Vancouver to the streets of Shanghai. But for all their notoriety, the origins of these pastries, drinks and dishes are unclear.

“It’s a bit of a mystery,” says Lingnan University historian Lau Chi-pang while nibbling on an egg tart at Honolulu Café in Wan Chai. “Some of us scholars are very interested in knowing where they came from, but it’s quite tricky because their origins are not documented. Basically, we have no idea where to start.”

A large part of the problem is that few bakers or cooks in the past bothered to write down their original recipes. That is especially true in the case of popular cuisine meant for everyday dining. With no food-obsessed TV shows or websites like OpenRice to document their creation, the story of how most dishes came to be has been lost to the fog of time.

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April 12th, 2011

Hanoi’s Sunflower Youth

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, Public Space, Society and Culture by Patrick Donovan

Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi, Vietnam

There’s something different going on next to Saint Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi. This is a popular gathering place for middle-class youth, but they’re not sitting around drinking beer like the kids in the old city. Nor are these western-influenced young Vietnamese sitting around drinking tall mochachino lattés.

Hanoi, Vietnam

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November 14th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Caffe della via, Montreal

Posted in Canada, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

“Caffe latte, please !”, Caffe Della Via, Villeray, Montreal

Un matin à l’aurore, j’étire mes jambes jusqu’au bus 80 Nord, en direction de la bonne vieille gare Jean-Talon, frontière industrielle – le Mile-Ex comme certains le surnomment désormais – où se termine allègrement la longue Avenue du Parc. Nous sommes en novembre et déjà, les feuilles trainent au long des rues, amassées en amas aux pieds de ces arbres dès lors nus et ballotés par un vent frais.

Intensité glaciale.

La lumière timide du soleil traverse par l’oblique cette brume si commune à l’approche de l’hivers. J’ai un frisson qui me parcourt le corps, des pieds à la tête et qui se finit par me faire tressaillir maladroitement au débarcadère de la station.

Des métros Parc à Castelneau, deux courtes minutes qui me propulsent à la frontière Nord de la Petite Italie, et puis je poursuis mon chemin vers l’Est. La rue Castelneau forme un bel ensemble de plex en briques rouges ou brunes, avec au rez-de-chaussée quelques commerces agréables – affichant parfois des noms aux sonorités maghrébines – et à l’offre hétéroclite. Quelques pas de plus, et puis une imposante église, au coeur de ce qui semble être un de ces milliers de petits villages-quartiers qui forment un Montréal cohérent et diversifié.

Face au balourd monument néoclassique, ce café.

Étroite vitrine à l’angle de la rue Henri-Julien, lumières tamisées en ce levé de soleil. Promesse d’intimité.

L’enseigne réclame le Caffe della Via. Trois mots qui parlent des évidences: ce lieu est définitivement le café du quartier.

8h37: une foule se bagarre au comptoir, afin de réclamer un de ces déjà si bien réputés espresso.

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November 3rd, 2010

Il Caffè della solitudine: Montreal, Mile End

Posted in Canada, Fiction, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

Parmi vous, Mile End, Montreal

Un matin de novembre, je suis seul, et pourtant je suis ici, assis, sur la bordure de la fenêtre de ce caffè.

À entendre la rumeur matinale du quartier qui s’éveille, de ces conversations croisées qui m’entourent, qui me surplombent, qui dominent la tendresse de ma tranquillité.

À épier ces passants gelés et transis, qui traversent cette rue d’Est en Ouest, alors que ces voitures filent à toute allure, se dirigeant vers un travail obligé.

Car aujourd’hui je n’avais rien à faire, et que je n’avais pas le désir d’être seul, chez moi, par un matin si froid mais si ensoleillée. Un milieu d’automne coloré, aux arbres resplendissants, caressés par ce jaune soleil, surprenant et lumineux, en ce matin de novembre glacé.

Je traîne avec moi ces livres qui m’isolent des gens qui sont autour de moi. Je suis bien seul, et pourtant, j’ai l’impression d’être en famille. Et cette famille, qui me couvre, composée de visages inconnus, ou parfois aperçus en vitesse, au détour d’une rue, ou d’une allée.

Dans la vie des intellectuelles, le Café joue un rôle en permettant de se sentir en société. Et pourtant, la plupart des gens comme moi, amoureux de la solitude, ne peuvent évoluer en fraternité.

On s’entoure d’inconnus, pour se donner l’impression d’être écouté, complété. Et on réfléchie à nous même, se détendant au goût et à l’arôme d’un café.

Je ferme les yeux.

J’abandonne mon sourire aux caresses du soleil. Un instant d’éternité.

October 19th, 2010

Kaffee Time in Vienna

Posted in Europe, Food, Interior Space, Society and Culture by Daniel Corbeil

Hubertys Bräu, Josefstadt, Vienna

Vienna, Austria: Here, cafés are a part of a culture that respects small moments shared with the city. No one will rush you, since you are a guest, and then they will serve you as long as you wish, even if unwanted, while you discuss and read the news, as they used to do a century ago — or while you blog on your Mac, as we do today.

Innere Stadt

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October 15th, 2010

Morning Coffee: Cappuccino with Salami

Posted in Europe, Food by Daniel Corbeil

Bier und kaffee, Jena

Le matin se lève doucement à Jena, dans une brume lourde, qui flotte au travers de la petite cité universitaire. Dans les rues, le bruit de mes pas donne le rythme, alors que le calme respire aux alentours.

J’habite, l’instant d’une nuité, dans le Quartier des Dames – Damenviertel – où les hautes demeures de la fin du 19e siècle sont, malgré leurs étages, dominées par les collines environnantes, aussi colorées que celles de l’Amérique du Nord. Ces maisons aux couleurs contrastantes – du bleu à l’orangé, jusqu’au jaune, en passant par le vert – sont aglutinées dans un petit quadrilatère, entre le centre-ville et la campagne. De grands appartements, par moment partagés entre cinq ou six locataires étudiants – souvent propriété d’un riche enseignant de la prestigieuse université centenaire de Jena.

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October 12th, 2010

Morning Coffee: It’s the Rats

Posted in Asia Pacific, Food, Public Space, Society and Culture by Christopher DeWolf

The only way to properly explore a city is to walk, walk, walk — and take frequent breaks, especially in a place as hot and humid as Kuala Lumpur. By the time the sun was setting on our meander through Pudu, an old Chinese neighbourhood, we needed a sit down and a nice cup of tea. Emerging from the brilliantly unrenovated, 1970s-style Pudu Plaza shopping mall, we deposited ourselves on the plastic stools of a tea and coffee stall across the street.

Ordering coffee or tea in Malaysia involves venturing far away from the familiar Italian espresso territory of ristrettos and caffè lattes. Do you want kopi (with sugar and milk)? Or kopi o (with sugar only)? Kopi teh? We opted for teh tarik, a mix of black tea and condensed milk not dissimilar to Hong Kong’s milk tea. Instead of being thick and creamy, though, this teh tarik was light and frothy, with earthy undertones from the tea.

A number of other people were sitting around us, sipping a late afternoon tea or coffee: an old man reading a Chinese newspaper, two other older men eyeing passersby as they chatted in Cantonese, a young pair of Tamil guys immersed in conversation. As we sipped our delicious teh tarik, we noticed a commotion nearby as a group of young guys leapt up from their table at the sight of a rat that was scurrying underneath.

“So that’s why the tea here is so good,” said my girlfriend. “It’s the rats!”

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August 9th, 2010

Hong Kong-Style Cafés Revived

Capital Café, part of a new generation of bing sutts in Hong Kong

It looks like any other Starbucks — until you gaze past the espresso machine and notice a scene straight out of a vintage Hong Kong movie. Handwritten menus are taped to the walls, birdcages hang from the ceiling and green-framed windows open onto a landscape of big-character signs.

In a nod to Hong Kong’s original cafe culture, the Duddell Street Starbucks in Central has recreated a vintage bing sutt, an informal kind of restaurant popular in the postwar years that serves eggs, sandwiches, pasta soups and iced drinks, although the Starbucks bing sutt limits itself to coffee-flavored pineapple buns, egg tarts and Swiss rolls.

“We wanted to come up with something unique that could represent Hong Kong’s past,” says Teresa Shum, Starbucks’ public relations manager. “Bing sutts in the past served the same purpose as Starbucks. It was a place for people to connect to each other, to family and friends.”

In the 1950s, 60s and 70s, bing sutts were found throughout Hong Kong, but they have since become a rarity, with no more than a few dozen left in the entire city. Now they seem poised for a comeback. Over the past year, several new bing sutts have opened on Hong Kong Island, drawing interest from a young generation smitten by the romance of nostalgia and fascinated by Hong Kong’s heritage.

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