Sunday 16 February 2020 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Sunday. 16/2/2020

Monocle Weekend
Edition: Sunday


Bombastic plastic

In case you missed it, there’s a war on plastic bags. It’s not exactly a global war just yet because the memo is still jammed in fax machines in some countries, while others have more pressing things to worry about, such as locust invasions, flooding, malnutrition and generally just getting by. In Thailand, the nation’s biggest retailers are doing battle with the single-use plastic bag and many of its cousins (plastic lids, straws and that annoying wrapping that goes around magazines in humid and censor-crazy countries).

If you live in Hong Kong you might notice that our February issue is bundled in plastic because it contains an image that some might find offensive. As Monocle isn’t exactly targeting 12-year-olds (though many clever pre-teens do read it), we felt that it was more than appropriate to run a rather small photo of an art installation featuring mannequins engaging in a sexual act. Is it art? Well, that’s one for the reader to decide but unfortunately many in Hong Kong will never be given the opportunity to judge for themselves because of the menacing shroud that’s been placed over our magazine. I’d like to think that the plastic muzzle makes our title look more exciting and daring. But the plastic bag treatment is not just out of order; it’s also out of step with the war on single-use petro-chemical products. I could go on about Hong Kong’s censors (don’t they have more pressing concerns at the moment?) but let’s get back to the check-out counter at the Bangkok grocery where I’m purchasing some toiletries (all packed in plastic) and listening to the announcement and reading signage about the retailer’s battle against the plastic bag.

As I pile my items onto the conveyor, I notice that I can purchase a reusable bag. Given things are moving rather fast and there’s a growing queue of office workers buying Valentine’s treats behind me, I don’t have much time to scrutinise the composition of the bag before I add it to the purchases. It’s made of that soft fabric that’s loved by airlines for wrapping slippers, headphones and toiletry kits in. You know the stuff I mean: feels soft enough but you wouldn’t want your undies made out of it. (Then again, isn’t this the same material used for the panties that overly PC spas give you when you have a massage? Come to think of it, aren’t most face masks composed of something similar?) Anyway, I place the purchases in the bag and wonder, as I make my way out of the store, if the world is now a better place and also if this bag is headed for a Bangkok rubbish barge in the coming 24 hours. I’m not going to use it again because it’s not all that sturdy and I’m sceptical about how sustainable it is in the first place. Is it spun from discarded Sprite and Evian bottles? And if my hotel room did have recycling bins, which one would I put it in? It’s attempting to appear natural but it’s clearly not. Will it break down within days in the mangrove? Or will it get snaffled up by a hungry manatee and become lodged in its digestive tract? No matter what happens to this bag, the material doesn’t offer much in the way of a second life and has dubious environmental creds at best.

Reusable bags and paper straws are lovely nods to a problem but they tally up to nothing if there’s not a system in place to produce them in a sustainable manner or a process that’s easy for the end user to engage with. If you want to mobilise society to divide up its rubbish, place it outdoors on the appropriate days of the week or walk half a kilometre to sort and dispose of it, you need to make it not only easy but also fun. I’ve become so obsessive about hoarding, dividing and sorting my cardboard, plastic and brown glass bottles and more because it’s such a hoot to go to the depot to smash bottles and watch the enormous compactor devour mountains of boxes. Of course, it does mean getting in my car and driving it all there. Headline: the system’s not perfect, we’re not perfect, so we should aim to do the best we can.


Timely arrival

Alexanderplats proves that Helsinki might be moving away from the foamy, fussy New Nordic trend that has characterised the Finnish capital’s food scene’s new openings for the past few years (writes Petri Burtsov). Drawing inspiration from the time-tested French (but at this point broadly international) brasserie model and the long tradition of hearty food for cold winters in the Nordics, Alexanderplats feels like a step in the right direction for the city. “We serve classic dishes that have history and provenance, and that we don’t need to explain to the customers,” says owner Alexander Gullichsen with a pleasing lack of ceremony.

Highlights from the robust menu – served in a white-washed, pale-wood-bordered dining room with white tablecloths – includes pike quenelles in crayfish sauce and fillets of baltic herring stuffed with mashed potato, beetroot and gribiche sauce (similar to egg mayonnaise). Good news for the peckish: the dishes aren’t served with smoke, emulsions or a lengthy explanation of what you’re eating either. Oh and there’s more, despite the fact that most restaurants in Helsinki insist on closing their kitchens by 22.00, Alexanderplats is open from lunch until late – even on Sundays. Helsinki, it’s about time.


Cut above

Have you ever made deep-fried minced pork and cabbage balls from scratch? How about a steamed crab, egg and tofu custard or sweet and savoury stewed ark shell clams? Neither have I (writes Kenji Hall) but I’m tempted to, having watched the videos on Kurashiru, Japan’s popular recipe website and smartphone app. I might even be persuaded to experiment during the busy work week.

Kurashiru’s slick, easy-to-follow videos for 33,600 recipes – each one lasting about a minute or less – have won over the country’s amateur cooks: the smartphone app has been downloaded 19 million times since it launched in 2016. Nine out of 10 users are women, from students to office workers; most are in their twenties, thirties and forties. Though I fall outside of the target audience I can see why Kurashiru, a relative newcomer in online recipes, is talked about as the upstart rival to industry leader Cookpad, which has been around for more than two decades.

There’s something oddly motivating about Kurashiru’s videos; watching them makes you want to fire up the stove. Maybe it’s the breezy way that detailed instructions are delivered or the fact that preparation seems brisk. It’s enough to make even the most reluctant cooks eager to attempt dishes that should be way out of their league. No doubt that’s behind the site’s huge following and was a big reason why internet portal Yahoo Japan invested in Dely, the Tokyo-based company that runs the site.

Kurashiru’s founder, Yusuke Horie, says that he wants his site to reach and bring happiness to all seven billion people on Earth. It might not be the most realistic goal but I’m hooked. And if he can figure out how to deliver groceries – something that Horie has said he is considering – you can bet that I’ll be making those minced pork and crab, egg and tofu dishes on weekdays.


Real Corker

For more than three decades Darina Allen has been tempting would-be chefs and curious food folk from around the world to her world-famous cookery school Ballymaloe in Ireland’s County Cork. Allen has written numerous cookbooks, made countless television shows and steered the course of international cookery towards fresh ingredients, time-honoured techniques and sensible farming practices. Here she shares her Sunday rituals.

Where do we find you this weekend?
Here in Shanagarry in east Cork, at home on the farm. I’ll be finishing off packing on Sunday as I’m leaving for Morocco.

What’s the ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle start or a jolt?
Usually, I have a nice lie-in. This time of year – we’re fortunate we live in an old house – I’ll light the fire in our bedroom and we’ll sit in bed with a cup of coffee.

Soundtrack of choice?
I listen to the talk shows on BBC Radio 4 quite a lot. I also love listening to any song by Leonard Cohen, or Loch na hEala by Slow Moving Clouds [the Irish-Scandinavian band’s music for Teac Damsa’s Swan Lake interpretation].

What’s for breakfast? I get up, pop some soda bread into the oven, collect some eggs from the chickens, then cook up a great big Irish breakfast for my husband Tim. We have our own pigs, so often it’s our own bacon, along with sausages and smoked black pudding from a butcher called Hugh Maguire. We don’t do baked beans.

News or not?
I listen to the radio a lot. Radio 4 has plenty of news and I enjoy the World Service. We’ll pick up the paper – the Irish edition of The Sunday Times or The Observer – but while Tim reads, I’ll go on a walk with my daughters.

Some exercise to get the blood pumping?
We do a lot of walks around the hills nearby. We make our way through the gardens – during the spring the plants are just waking up. Or else we’ll go for a walk by the sea.

Lunch in or out?
We often have a late breakfast and skip lunch. But if we do have lunch we go to Ballymaloe House, the first country-house hotel in the British Isles. We’ll have some quiche and a salad. I have 11 grandchildren and they often come along.

Larder essentials you can’t do without?
Irish butter, of course, and extra-virgin olive oil. I love sardines, smoked anchovies and Irish cheese: durrus, gubbeen and coolea – a gouda-type cheese with a golden rind.

Sunday culture must (book, film, radio)?
Radio for when I’m cooking. If it’s a wet day I’ll read a book, but if it’s a fine day I’ll really want to get out; we’ll sometimes go to a point-to-point [horse racing].

A glass of something you’d recommend?
I’m a natural-wine convert at this stage – I love orange wines. They’re so interesting and never give you a headache. Pheasant’s Tears Organic Wine does some great bottles.

Who’s joining for dinner?
My husband of 49 years. There will be all the family though, and maybe a couple of guests; there’s always a family table on a Sunday night.

Walk the dog or downward dog?
We have a little border terrier called Maggie who we’ll walk. We also have our cows that we get our milk from.

Sunday evening beauty or betterment routine?
Oh god no! I don’t use any cosmetics at all; organic food is my beauty regime. White hair doesn’t bother me.

Will you lay out your look for Monday? What will you be wearing?
When I work, I wear my chef’s blue denim jacket – that way I don’t have to make any decisions.


Japanese-style Napolitan pasta

A staple of Japanese yoshoku (Western-influenced) fare, Napolitan pasta is the ultimate comfort food but distinctly different from its European forebear. Purportedly invented by a chef at the New Grand Hotel in Yokohama as a riff on a US military ration, the Japanese dish has a sweetish sauce and the pasta is intentionally overcooked and extraordinarily alluring. Enjoy.

Serves 2

2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium-sized onion, sliced (roughly 250g)
4 slices of unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped into 1cm strips
1 green pepper, cut in half lengthways then sliced across into strips
4 button mushrooms, sliced
Salt and white pepper
200g spaghetti
4 tbsps ketchup
2 tbsps tomato purée
½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
20g unsalted butter, cubed

To serve: A sprinkle of parmesan cheese (to be authentically kitsch, you can use the old-school pre-grated kind) Tabasco sauce, to taste


  1. Roughly chop the vegetables.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti for 1 minute longer than the packet instructions suggest – this dish calls for slightly over-cooked pasta.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, place a large frying pan over medium heat and add the olive oil and garlic. Cook it until the garlic releases its aroma; add the onion and cook for 2 minutes; add the bacon and cook for another 2 minutes, then add the green pepper and mushrooms and cook for another 2 minutes. Finally, add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2 minutes.
  4. Now add the ketchup, tomato purée, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the pan. Stir it into the drained pasta until it’s well coated. Then add the butter and mix it through.
  5. Divide the pasta into two bowls. Serve with grated parmesan and a few drops of Tabasco.


Yankee ramble

Distance: 4.9km
Terrain: This romp from the Lower East Side to the West Village includes crossing a few busy roads (so eyes on them, not this newsletter, please).
Notes: Oh, and use the crossings and bring a bag: our itinerary has a few choice shops in which you might want to pick up goodies.

Brunch is a citywide obsession in New York but rise earlyish (before 09.00) and you stand a decent chance of nabbing a booth at Russ & Daughters Café (failing that a perch at the bar is fine). It’s the offshoot of the fêted Jewish deli and cult bagel counter of the same name opened in 1914 (it’s a block north if you wanted to visit it too). Get the Lower Sunny Side (with Gaspe Nova salmon and potato latkes) or the classic bagel board with the same smoked fish plus cream cheese, capers, onion and tomato – plus the whitefish croquettes if you’re famished.

As you leave, cross Delancey Street for a peep at the century-old, family-owned US eyewear firm Moscot’s impressive shop before doubling back and heading north up Orchard Street. Then bear left towards East 1st Street to homeware haven Natala Natala, which is stuffed with tasteful kitchen essentials and crafty one-off finds. One block north on East 2nd Street is Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, a veritable spice rack of specialities dedicated to the culinary arts (note: it’s open 13.00 until 19.00).

Cross over into Nolita and go down Bond Street then south on Broadway until you hit Spring Street where you’ll find the Judd Foundation at number 101. This remarkable five-storey factory building was bought by the artist in 1968 and inhabited by the exacting painter and sculptor before he moved some of his effects and main studio to Marfa, Texas. You’ll need to book ahead for one of the daily tours which includes his scrupulously kept study, kitchen and bedroom. It’s a good way to get some insight into the artist’s life ahead of a Moma exhibition of his work, which opens in March.

Continue east along Spring Street before turning north for a coffee-to-go from the West Village outpost of Jack’s Wife Freda on Carmine Street. Then head north again on 7th Street to peruse the titles and enjoy the bubbly atmosphere at Three Lives & Company, a bookshop that still feels like a neighbourhood staple despite the high footfall in the area. Take West 4th Street north and, if you’re hungry again, nab a table at Café Cluny where waiters in striped jerseys preside over a hearty and eminently affordable prix-fixe meals of French fare without the fuss. Across the road is a newsstand carrying magazines on a scale that most cities couldn’t support: Casa Magazines brims with the best press from around the world and plenty of surprising new launches too. Last up: wander south down Hudson towards Perry Street for a much-deserved glass of wine around a candlelit wooden table at Aria West Village to digest your day and pore over your purchases.


Worn to run

My London Fashion Week started early this season – at 07.30 on Thursday, to be precise (writes Jamie Waters). Clad in a beanie and tights (yes, tights), with natty black trainers on my feet, I set off on a 5km trot with about 20 other industry folk (including editors, stylists and models) who thought it was a good idea to zip along the Thames in near-Arctic temperatures at the crack of dawn. The run was organised by On Running, the Swiss sportswear brand, as a way to get people doing something different during the fashion season. (London Fashion Week runs until Tuesday; then comes Milan and Paris.)

On Running is on to something: early-morning team jogs are becoming increasingly popular among the fashion crowd. Most notably, Dean Cook, the menswear buying manager of London retailer Browns, leads a running group of editors, buyers and designers that gathers during the men’s shows in Florence and Paris and seems to swell in numbers with every season. (Browns also arranges runs throughout the year from its Shoreditch shop.) It’s a good way to get some fresh air and catch up on industry goss while on the road. It’s also not a bad way to burn off that morning croissant and create a routine during the packed show season. So if you pass a group of well-dressed – if a little red-faced – joggers in London, Milan or Paris in the coming days, it’s probably a stressed fashion crew trying to get the blood flowing before a busy day of catwalk shows.

For more from the fashion calendar, keep an eye on our reporting across Monocle 24 and the Monocle Minute.


Dates for your diary

The Rio Carnival will hot foot it through the Brazilian city from Friday for a week of costume, pageantry and music. Centred on a parade and performance at the Sambadrome, the annual event will welcome some 70,000 visitors to the party as well as tens of millions via broadcasts and other colourful coverage of proceedings. At the time of writing, there are no reported cases of coronavirus in South America but the mass movement of people in such close proximity should raise a few red flags. With a population of six million, city authorities insist that they’re prepared and that the event will continue as normal. We hope that the healthcare services, as well as the dancers, have practised their steps.

First held in 1964, the Salon International de l’Agriculture show opens at Paris Expo Porte de Versailles next Saturday and runs until the following Sunday. One of the world’s largest agricultural fairs, it features about 3,000 animals and more than 370 breeds, and includes best-in-show awards for dapper donkeys, cows, dogs, goats, horses, sheep and pigs, plus prizes for young breeders (stop sniggering at the back). The competition recognises France’s best regional products and livestock while also focusing on pressing issues such as sustainability and biodiversity, as well as showcasing the latest farming kit and helping would-be gardeners to get their patches in order.

The future of retail looked rather different back in 1966 when many people had malls on their mind, and there are few better places to chart the industry’s progress than in Düsseldorf this week. Euroshop, the go-to trade show for the retail industry for the past 54 years, opens in the city today and runs until Thursday. What’s more it looks decidedly busier than a lot of high streets today: 2,300 exhibitors from about 38 countries will welcome 110,000 trade visitors who are keen to learn about the latest in everything from shopfitting to visual merchandising as well as many bright ideas on the likes of lighting and retail technology. Although many attendees will be here to shake hands on purchases there’s also a discursive element to proceedings, amounting to 500 lectures across eight stages. Despite a lack of overall confidence in the high street, many attendees will hope the event will be more than just a talking shop. Have a good Sunday.


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