I've been traveling Asia for the majority of the past year and I think I might be starting to feel like the continent is somehow entering my being.
Gin & tonic. Looks good, doesn't it?
Growing up in America, we used to do this thing as young kids where we would stretch our eyes out to the side and say we were Japanese, then stretch our eyes out slightly differently and say we were Chinese. I think that was probably the limit of our knowledge of Asian countries at that age or I'm sure the game would go on and on until all of the Eastern population was accounted for (and blatantly misrepresented).
Now last night, Nini and I were joking around a bit, recalling this silly and completely racist game from childhood. She, having had grown up in Thailand, used to make incredibly similar faces as a kid with her friends, only they would include quite a bit more nearby countries.
"Japanese," I said, stretching the skin near my eyes to the side.
"Korean," she demanded, doing the same to her face.
Then I moved my fingers away and asked her, "So how do I do Thai?"
"Just like that," she said, referring to my face at rest. "I think you're starting to look like us."
The view from my balcony in Bangkok
With that comment on my mind, I made my daily run through Bangkok this morning and, unavoidably, took in the smell of the city. The whole of Asia, as I frequently point out, has its own unique and enticing smell. This varies, of course, depending on where on the continent you are, but generally, to me, its foundations remains the same. I think it's a combination of the local fauna, the food, the exhaust from the 2-stroke engines, the moisture coming in from the Eastern seas, and basically the aroma of the earth at 7,000 miles from where I grew up. But one thing I paid attention to while I ran was my eerie familiarity. Not long ago, it all smelled so foreign and exotic every day, despite how many times the multitude of scents entered my nose. Today I noticed exactly how accustomed I had become to the scent of Asia. It was normal to me now, habitual, perhaps even a part of me. What striked me was that it wasn't the smells that changed; it was, clearly, me.
Nini, candidly shot on the beach
Of course, in my travels and adventures, I have developed some favorites. I have my favorite Asian cuisine, my favorite sights of Asia, my favorite Asian beaches, and, of course, favorite bars in Asia. One that tops the list is a small Japanese spot in Hong Kong. I've been trying to decide whether I should blog it or not, fearing that spreading the word of its existence might spoil its allure. Part of its charm is its usual clientele of late-night Japanese businessmen and women sharing a whiskey or martini after a long workday. This is a place where people truly appreciate a well-crafted drink.
The view of HK as a backdrop behind the bar
Ichiro is the bar's "director", but his customers know of him as the barkeep. Seldom does one experience such precision, exacting skill, and determined perfection behind the bar. To him, the cocktail—whether one of his signature creations or a single-malt on the rocks—begins with the ice. This is one of the things that comes through with Ichiro's high standards.
Frozen water, perfected
He is the sole creator of all of his ice, making containers of it in freezers behind the bar. He has coffee ice and flavored ice for cocktails, large solid ice cubes for shaking and stirring (which he individually carefully choses for each drink), and his incredible hand-made ball ice.
Ichiro's ice ball
On my first visit to his bar, Ichiro demonstrated the painstakingly exacting procedure he goes through to make one of his gorgeous spheres of ice. The process, totaling 9 minutes per ball to complete, begins with a bin of ice that he froze himself a day prior. He carefully cuts the large rectangle into equal cubes and then, his hands protected from the cold by rubber kitchen gloves, hacks away at them, one at a time, with a meat clever, breaking of small pieces while rotating it in his hand to create the shape of the sphere. He does this with such precision and speed, that it's quite the spectacle to view. Once this step is complete, he trades the cleaver with a razor-sharp Japanese chef's knife, with which he uses to shave the ball clean. This is also quite a sight. He then carefully places the ball back in the freezer to harden overnight. When Ichiro is ready to use one of his carefully created ice balls, he once again takes out his chef's knife and perfects the smoothness prior to placing it perfectly in the glass.
Ichiro builds a drink at the other end of the bar
Ichiro's ice makes a great whiskey or a well-made martini so much exceptionally better.
Enjoy life. Thanks for reading. And, as always, sip slowly.