Saturday, December 28, 2013

Sauternes - something sweet

Here's a mighty good intro from Wiki:
Sauternes is a French sweet wine from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux. Sauternes is made from Sémillon, Sauvignon blanc, and Muscadelle grapes that have been affected by Botrytis cinerea, also known as noble rot. This causes the grapes to become partially raisined, resulting in concentrated and distinctively flavored wines. Due to its climate, Sauternes is one of the few wine regions where infection with noble rot is a frequent occurrence. Even so, production is a hit-or-miss proposition, with widely varying harvests from vintage to vintage.
I personally love sweet wine - this has been a bit of a joke with my wine loving friends who prefer drier wines and pretty much think that sweet wines are nothing more than grape juice. But hey, I am all for individuality and I will proudly say, I love sweet wines. I really adore Sauternes. It can be quite hard to find out side of France and most probably it is because wine snobs like my friends are consistently ignoring sweet wines.

While I like cheaper sweet whites (will save this for another post), Sauternes is one which has pedigree. Sauternes' wines have been around for a long time (documented since 17th century) and are extremely expensive to make, hence the end product is not cheap too. Premier Cru Supérieur from the estate of Château d'Yquem is supposedly the most premium you can get. This poor cat has never tried it but what other 'cheap' ones I had was never disappointing. Sauternes typically starts out with a golden, yellow color that becomes progressively darker as it ages - so find the darkest shade that you can and if possible from a good year of harvest that fits your budget. 

Sauternes can be drank as an aperitif to being a dessert wine and whatever is in between. Like other white wines, it is usually served chilled. I (please take this with a pinch of salt as I am no sommelier) would suggest having it with stronger tasting food.. as it is a 'strong' and sweet wine. I feel that it goes especially well with South East Asian food which is heavier on the spices, or spicy food in general as the sweetness work well with the spices. Traditionally food pairing however is - Sauternes with Foie gras. 

Here's a list of the vintages if you are interested... 2007 is a good year it seems a 2008 no so good for instance.. but for me, I justly just go ahead and grab something I fancy that fits the budget. One man's meat is another man's poison and you don't know until you try.. if you don't get it right, try and try again.. mm somehow that sounds like the recipe for alcoholism.

Happy drinking!

Two Days to Touch the Heart of the Inca Culture

It always takes a season to know about a season. But sometimes we just can't afford that. If you are going to Lima, Peru for a business trip but you only have two days (normally a weekend) for spare, you may not be able to go for an Inca trail. However, you still have an opportunity to touch the heart of Inca culture if you plan it well in advance. My two-day-one-night trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu this year may help you on your planning.


I could only leave Lima on the morning of Day 1 and had to come back to Lima on the evening of Day 2. The trip must cover the historic capital of Inca Empire - Cusco, and the "Lost City of the Incas" - Machu Picchu.


The first thing to plan was the flight. The flying duration between Lima and Cusco was about 1.5 hours. And there were frequent daily flights operated by LAN between the two cities. So it was not difficult for me to book a ticket to bound the trip. Based on my situation in Lima, I decided to arrive at Cusco at 8.25am on Day 1 and depart from Cusco at 5.45pm on Day 2.

When I arrived at Cusco, half of the target was met. Then the following question was: when to visit Machu Picchu? I decided to visit Machu Picchu on the early morning of Day 2, because the sun light was best for photos and it was less crowded. There was a limit of 2,500 visitors per day to Machu Picchu. Although the tickets were seldom sold out, I insisted to purchase the entrance tickets on-line in advance because it saved my time for queuing during the trip. The official website to purchase the entrance tickets to Machu Picchu was:

Unfortunately this website was not very user-friendly. Although it provided four languages as displaying options, I could only finish my booking with the default setting - Spanish. When it came to the payment, I had to use a credit card that supports Verified by VISA. I failed to make the payment in IE and Chrome, but finally I made it in Firefox. The price of an adult ticket was about USD 50.

In order to visit Machu Picchu on the early morning of Day 2, I chose to stay near Machu Picchu for the night. Machu Picchu was hidden from the outside world for many years because it was built high on the mountain. As a result, there was only one luxury hotel next to the entrance of Machu Picchu. It was not what I should consider about. At the foot of the mountain there was a village called Aguas Calientes. There were many hotels in this village and most of them were available for booking via Internet agents like Agoda and Since I was going for a business trip, I booked a single room at USD 110.

Between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, there was a long distance, nearly half of which was only accessible by train. There was a direct train between the two places, but the departure time from Cusco was only in the morning and the departure time from Machu Picchu was only in the afternoon, which was not suitable with my schedule above. Fortunately, between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, there was a small town called Ollantaytambo. It was quite common to travel between Cusco and Ollantaytambo by taxi with one-way price of USD 40 in about 2 hours, and the train time table between Ollantaytambo and Aguas Calientes was much more flexible. The train tickets sold very fast. So I had to purchase them on-line at least two weeks in advance. The official website to purchase the train tickets was:

This website was more user-friendly than the previous one. One thing to note was that the train station in Ollantaytambo was named Sacred Valley and the train station in Aguas Calientes was named Machu Picchu. The price of the one-way train ticket was about USD 60 and the travelling duration was about 2 hours. I decided to arrive at Aguas Calientes at 8.43pm on Day 1 and depart from Aguas Calientes at 10.55am on Day 2.

The last thing to plan was the ticket of the shuttle bus between Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu. The tickets were available only in Aguas Calientes. I had to purchase them right after I arrived at Aguas Calientes so that I could take the early morning bus (first bus departed at 5am) up to Machu Picchu before the sunrise. The price of a round-trip bus ticket was about USD 20. And the one-way travel duration was about 30 minutes.

Based on the planning above, I worked out the transportation itinerary as below:

Day 1
Lima 7.05am -> (flight) -> 8.25am Cusco
Cusco 3.30pm -> (taxi in about 2 hours) -> 5.30pm Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo 7pm -> (train) -> 8.43pm Aguas Calientes

Day 2
Aguas Calientes 5.30am -> (shuttle bus in about 30 minutes) -> 6am Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu 9am -> (shuttle bus in about 30 minutes) -> 9.30am Aguas Calientes
Aguas Calientes 10.55am -> (train) -> 12.32pm Ollantaytambo
Ollantaytambo 2pm -> (taxi in about 2 hours) -> 4pm Cusco
Cusco 5.45pm -> (flight) -> 7.10pm Lima

Enough time buffer had been allocated in this itinerary.

The Real Trip

I realized this trip in July 2013. During the journey, I almost followed exactly the itinerary. The transit time was more than enough.

A Glance at Cusco

On the morning of Day 1, I reached Cusco. It was a totally different world for people from Lima as me. Lima was at sea level, while Cusco, whose elevation was 3,400 m, was located at the Andes mountain ridge. The sky was high, the weather was cool and the air was thin. The roof of the houses had the same color as the mountains.

Church of the Society of Jesus

Invaded by Spanish Empire in the 16th Century, the land marks of the city gained typical colonial influence. Located at Plaza de Armas, Church of the Society of Jesus was considered as one of the best examples of colonial baroque style in the Americas.

Alley View in Cusco

However, it was not difficult to touch the Inca culture in its historical capital. From the quiet alleys, from the faces of the local people, from the lovely llamas in the streets, the indigenous culture revealed its vitality.

A Statue at the Centre of Plaza de Armas

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


From the kitchen of

Monday, December 23, 2013

Most beautiful Villages of France - Part 1 Provence

By this post I would like to share with you the beauty of some villages in France. Most of foreigners visit only Paris and the French Riviera but one of the treasure of France is its small beautiful and charming villages.

They are all over the country so it's difficult to make a selection. Hence I decided to focus on region of France, let's start first with the "Provence"as this is most probably one of the place in France where the villages have a special charm.

Note: All pictures in this post are unfortunately not mine and taken from the web. If you have a copyright issue with it, please let me know. I have tried to linked it to the original source though.

First of all, let's see on a map, where we are? Provence is located in south-east France, the main city being Marseille (Circled on this Map).

If we are zooming, we arrive here:

Provence became popular thanks to the impressionist painters such as Paul Cézanne or Vincent Van Gogh, who particularly loved the light and the beauty of landscapes and villages of this area.

One of the part of Provence I prefer is called the "Lubéron" located just few kilometers from Avignon. But let's talk first of Avignon, which is the previous residence of the Pope before Rome. The Pope palace is worthwhile to visit, and the old city itself very beautiful. Avignon can be a good starting point for your journey in Lubéron. Here a view on the Avignon's Pope Palace:

Now take your car and go direction the "Lubéron". This part of France has one of the biggest number of the so-called "plus beaux villages de France" (most beautiful villages of France). You can find more information on these villages all over France here:

One of my favourite place is the village of Roussillon. The particularity of this village is the Ochre colour used for the architecture of the town. The light of Provence on these red walls with the Mount Ventoux (well known by Tour de France fans) in background gives you a feeling of Western.

Not bad isn't it?

Very close from Roussillon you will find the village of Gordes. Here is the feeling totally different even if only 10km away from Roussillon. This time is the architecture  based on white rocks made from limestone. The charm of this village is as well its location on a cliff surrounded by a pine forest, just gorgeous. The village was created during the roman time, and is now one of the main touristic highlight of the area.

Traditional housing and streets of this village:

Homemade Pasta

It started with me wanting to make Mee Hoon Kueh (Hand-pulled noodles). Belle and I were eating and talking about the the best places to eat it. But as I came back to Germany, I thought hey.. why not start with pasta.. that should be easy (??)

So I did. 

Actually, it isn't hard. I use basically this two videos below as guide and instead of the pasta machine just rolled the dough with a rolling pin. 

The recipe basically calls for one egg per 100g of flour and 100g of flour feeds 2. There are many other recipes.. some to add a bit of salt and/or olive oil and others detailed in the type of flour (or flour mix) to use. 

I tried the simplest with egg and flour.

  1. Chuck everything into the food processor or knead by hand..
  2. Some recipe calls for the dough to be rested for 30 min, others say go ahead..
  3. Run it through the pasta machine or use a rolling pin and make it really thin...
  4. Spread some more flour on it so it doesn't stick and cut.
my pasta in the making
So, how was it....? a bit too thick.. I need to roll it more but otherwise OK. Not spectacular but hey, a novice attempt. I think fresh pasta has more 'buoyancy' or is more 'elastic' than the packaged dried ones... and it is not hard to do.. so I will keep it up and maybe invest in a rolling machine too which I can then use to also make other chinese noodles.

Today, I served the pasta with the leg of the rabbit cooked with fresh cream and mustard. You need a cast iron pot or they call it a 'French oven'. I use Le Creuset

1. Brown the meat then 
2. add fresh cream (I use Crème fraîche) and (french) mustard, 
3. turn down the heat to minimum and let it cook slowly. 
4. Serve.

This is a good dish with pasta ;) My boss, Mr. Fred said I didn't put enough mustard though.. but otherwise I should still be able to keep my job as resident cook.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Eternal City - Rome

Rome, Roma.. The Eternal City.. there is not many people who do not know of this city. A number of friends actually asked for recommendation on what to do in Rome and quite a few who were there gave us pointers too. It seems that this is one of those places that most people have on their must visit list.

Rome is one of the most visit cities in Europe, the capital of the Roman empire, the home of the Pope... the impressive list will go on and on and as we all know 'rome was not built in a day'. It took more than two and half thousand years they say... so you can't really do it in a short few days... But here's what you still can do in 3-4 days.

Best time to visit Rome is when the weather is good - late spring, summer, early autumn.. but obvious the crowd and the cost goes exponentially up. We choose to visit in late November 2013 and took our changes. Flight was cheap, accommodation was cheap.. so why not ;) The trip was still really good but it was raining the the whole time! And when you travel in winter it is dark by 5pm, so hours of sight seeing with daylight is much shorter. The first tip on visiting Rome during rainy season. A good pair of water proof shoes and an umbrella! During peak season.. lots of patience because there will be throngs of people and lots of pre-booking ahead to skip the ticketing lines.

Generally Rome can be divided into 4 'main' areas to visit. Depending on your areas of interest, it can be divided into 4 days for a comfortable visit or combine them for a brisk tour of 2-3 days instead. If you are very interested in history or classic art etc... you could easily spend even more days. Here's a short guide on what you can with 3-4 days.

Rome & Vatican City - Area Overview

Area A - Vatican City & around

This would be the must see for any regular tourist. What some people may not know about the 'Holy See' is that it is an independent state. It is not a part of Rome. In fact, Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognized independent state in the world. How does this effect you? The Roma Pass doesn't work here, you need the buy  a pass intended for the Vatican City or you can just but the tickets online for the museum. St Peter's entrance is free anyways but there is a queue.. so do go early and plan your time well. Also, note the dress code: no shorts, miniskirts or bare shoulders. As we were there in winter, we didn't have this problem. On the weekends look out for time which St Peter's is closed for preparation for Mass.

If you want to see Pope Francis, a nice way is to attend his Sunday Angelus at St. Peter’s Square. You need to go early if you want a place to sit, but otherwise you can watch further away and still see him on the big screen.

We wanted to join a guided tour of the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel. Unfortunately if you don't pre-book there was no chance to get an official English tour. There were plenty of other people hawking their own tours but we were not sure of the quality and decided to just give it a miss. If you are interested in taking a tour organised by the museum, do book early with them on their website (link here).

If you like history and renaissance art and such, you could spend easily more than one day just going through the exhibits and the work of many great masters. Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Raphael.. I think all the teenage mutant ninja turtles was there save for Donatello - but I am not too sure.. darn should have taken a guide. Jokes aside, the collection was impressive especially the frescoes. Michelangelo’s frescoes the creation of Adam is perhaps the most well known.. while it was no doubt impressive it was much smaller than I imaged. You practically need to find it amongst a large number of other drawings - it was a strict no photos area with people pushing and swarming all over. Walking while looking up to the ceilings in this condition was not easy.

I'd say spend a whole day here to witness what mankind could so when they set their mind to it. If you are not into this kind of stuff.. 2 - 3 hours will see you brisk walking through everything. At the same time, you could also do Castel Sant'Angelo the fortress and tomb of Emperor Hadrian. Fred said that there is a tunnel from the Vatican for the Pope to escape here if the Vatican City was attacked.

I still say, do it leisurely and take a tour. It is more meaningful if you know the significance of what you are looking at. While it is impressive today, imagine how awe inspiring it was 600 years ago. I guess if I were a peasant and saw for the first time the Vatican City, I would not be able to doubt that God must surely exist to inspire such magnificence. Being an modern day agnostic, I am struck by how much religion can inspire such devotion, fear, love and bring a sense of hope, peace and at the same time cause so much hate, death and destruction of what is perhaps collateral damages for those that got in the way. Rome is incredible in such a way that it offers a brief summary of mankind's religious evolution. The classical Greek gods made way for the classical Roman gods made way for the Christian god - and the Christian church as evolved today as we now know it since what was the beginning of the Catholic faith. How short is our lives compared to what some of these monuments have seen and endured?

Area B - City Landmarks

Around the centre area of the map, you will find the famous landmarks which as mostly made famous because they were in one movie or another. So maybe it is worth watching them before going to Rome :)
Try La Dolce Vita and Roman Holiday.

Everything is walking distance and if you are  fast walker, you can easily cover them in 1/2 day if you want just a touch, snap and go. If you'd like to leisurely walk and shop and eat.. you can also spend a whole day to cover these sights. You will usually see all the usual hot spots highlight on your tourist map, but here are the popular ones once again:

i. Trevi Fountain (Italian: Fontana di Trevi)  

It's the site for many classical films. La Dolce Vita is perhaps was most people know or Roman holiday.
We were told to throw a coin for good luck so that we can return to Rome again someday - but the fountain was so crowded, we just looked around a bit and left. I found this tidbit on Wiki though:

Coins are purportedly meant to be thrown using the right hand over the left shoulder. This was the theme of 1954's Three Coins in the Fountain and the Academy Award-winning song by that name which introduced the picture.

An estimated 3,000 Euros are thrown into the fountain each dayThe money has been used to subsidize a supermarket for Rome's needy; however, there are regular attempts to steal coins from the fountain.

ii. Pantheon

This is the favourite of many history buffs. But if you are not into this kind of thing, you'd be wondering what the buzz is all about! This is a 2000-year-old temple which is now a church, the Pantheon is the best preserved of ancient Roman building. It survived as it was quickly turned into a Church in the 7th century and hence survived to this day. It then became an important burial place for Raphael and some kings. Not too shabby. But look out for the dome. Now that's quite the engineering feat in 120 AD.

iii. Spanish Steps

The 1953 film Roman Holiday made the Spanish Steps famous to audiences. Our host told us that the steps were actually designed by Italians and built by the French - but the Americans started calling it the Spanish steps and the name stuck. The Piazza di Spagna is at the base of the steps and there are some nice frescoes and a poor fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia (Fountain of the ugly Boat), house of the an English poet and lots of high end stores. So if you need to get your fix for some luxury goods, you can start here.

Be prepared for people and more people though... If you want to take good photos, go really really early... otherwise what you get is a loads of people and hardly any view of the steps... :)

Monday, December 9, 2013

Top Nyonya Dishes to Try

 uurrgghh.. a total lack of planning.. I thought I have more pictures than this. It seems that I only have a not so nice picture of one dish.. I'd add them as I go along when I eat them but click on the links if you want to see how they look like! Bon Appétit! ** latest updated: managed to add new photo's from making mum cook!

Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine is something that visitors to Malaysia & Singapore (also Indonesia but I am less familiar with the variety) must try. They comprises of many speciality dishes that you just cannot find anywhere else in the world except these few specific regions. Over the different regions these dishes then vary from each other- Cooking in Penang for example would have differences to Singapore. Even within the same region the dishes will be different as every family will have their own recipe. Hence, the look and taste of these dishes may be some what different from what you see from my pictures.

If done right, real nyonya cooking have these 2 similar traits:

1. It is laborious (time consuming to prepare)
2. It is an explosion of flavours (ingredients are never few or simple)

Early Chinese settlers came in the late 15th and 16th-century to what was major ports in this part of the world- Melaka, Singapore, Penang, Java and married local spouses of local origin. A good spot to learn about the uniqueness of the Peranakan culture is the Peranakan Museum in Singapore

I find the museum well organised and pretty comprehensive. But otherwise - live it.. you can still find its legacy best kept (for me personally) in Melaka. Here is a good wiki entry to explain the Peranakan/ Nyonya Cuisine and as to not reinvent the wheel, I will not write more.

However I must add that the life of the Nyoya (women of the Peranakan communities) are pretty hard. They are stay at home housewives and life is pretty competitive to gain favour with the in-laws (monster-in-laws is a global timeless theme),  husband and the society in general. Women should be stellar cooks, great at needle work as well as all kinds of housework. If you want to marry well, you must first have all these prerequisite of a 'fine lady' (or these days a good house maid). No kidding. Because of this, the nyonya left with them a legacy of fine recipes and impressive needlework. Most of the tradition of needlework are unfortunately gone. There is the nyonya kebaya which endured perhaps thanks to Indonesia but the real hand embroidery work are hardly seen in normal daily life. 

Luckily, Malaysians and Singaporeans remain gluttons. Recipe thrived over the years and there are a number of great Nyonya restaurants around. As most traditional Nyonya dishes are incredibly time consuming to make, most people opted for modified recipes at home or just crawling to the nearest restaurant to get a fix.

The ladies on my grandmother's side comes from a lineage of Nyonya women. My mum has recipes were pass down from my grandma and aunts and friends and my mum is a pretty good cook. So, I will be a bit biased as I will be recommending what I feel are the top 3 must try distinct Nyonya dishes predominantly based on Mummy's cooking. Before you ask, nope. I don't. Plus a short list of other stuff to try which you can also get at other restaurants and street food stalls in Malaysia/Singapore as well as the nyonya version at nyonya restaurants.

Very often people in this region are passionate about their food and would argue who has the best version or where it originated from in the first place. See an example. So it may not be the best topic to discussed with locals. Good food is good food and everyone has their own taste - just try it and find your own favourite version.

1. Kueh Pie Tee

Mum's Kueh Pie Tee
Sometimes called Kueh Pati or Top Hats is a super appetizer/snack. Kueh Pie Tee is a thin and crispy pastry 'shell' filled with  thinly sliced vegetables and prawns. The shells are made of flour and the fillings are similar to popiah - a fujian version of spring rolls but that's another story, there is also the nyonya popiah but it isn't that distinctly different from the Chinese popiah which is why it is not on this list.

Anyways, Mummy's lazy to make the cups these days and they don't taste as good when store bought, so I have been missing it for some time. I will try to give her some pressure and maybe update this post with some pictures. I found this cute youtube video on how you can make the cups.. lots of work for a bite size snack. There are plenty recipes online too. Here's 1. Here's 2. But this is a 'mainstream' favourite.. I don't know anyone that doesn't like it yet.

The dish is usually an appetizer and is garnished with Monya chilli sauce (but of course) and Chinese parsley or some spring onions.. But as I may already be over emphasising everyone has their own recipe and the commonality would be the crispy cup-like shell and the main filling is sliced vegetables.

// update 15.12.13 : Managed to get mum to prepare them! So pictures are duly added. ;)

2. Acar

Acar is basically picked vegetables. Trust the Nyonyas to make it complicated. Much like the family turkey, every family has their own receipe- hence every restaurant will be different. Some spicier, some more sour and ingredients will vary. Acar Nyonya or Acar Awak is the Nyonya version which contains special local spices/sauces which count for the 'secret recipe' part. There are plenty of recipes (1,2) out there and again this is an acquired taste- everyone says their mum or grandma makes it the best.

Acar however is commonly served as a side dish to be eaten with something else. Usually it is the normal plain rice or nasi lemak, nasi kyunit etc. My favourite way of eating it is with the keropok (seafood crackers).

//I thought I have pictures for this, but I must have deleted it... and I have finished our Acar.. *sob*

3. Ayam buah keluak

Mum's Ayam Buah Keluak with rice
The first 2 dishes pale in comparison when it comes to the amount of work needed for this dish. Most people have plenty of short cuts such as buying pre-prepared buah keluak etc. But still this dish is difficult to come by due to the scarcity of its main ingredient the buah kelauk, the hard work needed and it is a bit of an acquired taste. It doesn't look enchanting like the first 2 and the taste is a tad odd.. You'd like it or you'd not.. if you do, you most probably are willing search and to pay top money for it. Like this person or try cooking it like this one.

The dish is made with chicken pieces (ayam in Malay) combined with “keluak” nuts (Pangium edule). Mum removes the fillings of the nuts and combine it with minced pork and stuff it back - but not everyone does it the same way and again cooking method will vary. Again be-warned that the taste may be odd for first timers. The dish is best eaten with plain fragrant rice as it is pretty strong and you don't need much else.

Other  dishes to try:

Nasi Lemak 

I am in love with Nasi Lemak, I like Nasi Kunyit too but again there is such a fine line of it being Malay/Indonesia food as it is to being the nyonya version.  But if you are in a nyonya restaurant, this should not put you off from trying. I always order nasi lemak. How much I like the restaurant will depend largely on its nasi lemak.

In any case Nasi Lemak is the perennial favourite Malaysian dish. You'd find it everywhere.. eaten breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper. You will find that the Malays, Chinese, Indians and Nyonyas all have their won Nasi Lemak.

Otak Otak

The Otak otak is risky... everyone makes it a bit differently again (there is so many versions!!!) and a good fresh fish makes a good otak otak obviously.. so if someone recommends it to you, by all means try - other wise try your luck because you might end up with a substandard dish because substandard ingredients were used . I prefer the grilled to steam version though.. Love the flavour that grilling the leaves leave to the otak otak. I detest those cooked in aluminium foil.. sigh.. it spoils it for me :(

Curry fish head

Mum's Curry Fish Head, cooked with curry and coconut milk

Nothing too surprising for Asians who love to eat the head of the fish- this is another regular favourite. For others it is something interesting to try - I kid you not, there is soft tender meat surrounding the head.

Cooked in curry you'd find the Malay version, Chinese version, Indian version, Nyonya version - in fact it is listed as 25 things you must eat before you die.... I wouldn't go that far though.. but it is not hard to find, so why not give it a try. Mum sometimes cook it without coconut milk, this time it was the creamy version with coconut milk cooked with aubergine and garnished with steamed ladies fingers. 

Salted Vegetable Duck Soup (Itik Tim)

So many versions again.. some are thick, some are light and everything in between.. key ingredients duck and salted vegetables. This dish is even sometimes a bit spicy.. really depending on the receipe.

Chap Chai

Mum's dish with pork meatballs

'chap chye' just literally mean mixed vegetables. So basically this is a vegetable stewed. The common ingredients is the use of fermented soy bean paste. Mum's family family recipe calls for pork meat balls which she claims is the most crucial ingredient in a vegetable dish *shrug*. Here's a nice post/recipe about making your own.

Nyonya Desserts (Nyonya Kuih)

Nyonya desserts are usually colourful cakes(kuih) which are sweet. I am not too big of a fan of sweet sticky cakes but some people swear by it. The Nyonya version is very similar to the javanese kueh though.

So enough for today.. I'd update the post if I think of anything new and definitely try and take some pictures for it! If you have a recommendation or 2 - please share ;)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Weekend in San Diego, California

Note from adelaine: Fred's travelling, so he emailed this in instead - excuse his frenchlish (french english) - I have not altered the terms that he is using and if you need clarifications just leave him a comment. Pardon also his ideas on the 'average Americans' too. Haha.. mm.. everyone knows shamu.. reallYyyy?

If you have the chance to go some days in South California, don’t forget to pass by San Diego !

San Diego is the 7th biggest city in the US with almost 4 Million inhabitant. This is of course a big city but a city which remains easy to enjoy. First of all, what a nice feeling to wake up the morning and not to be worried on the weather forecast…With 25mm rain per year, you have 90% of chance to have sun, blue sky and the beautiful light which goes with it.

Furthermore Californians are very nice and relax. They are respectful of their environment and take care of the quality of their food and beverages.

Being very close to Mexico (40 Km from Tijuana), there is a strong influence from this country in the city. Lots of Mexican restaurant, Tequila Bars… Spanish language is now becoming very usual in south California.

Speaking about foods, some recommendation if you are there :

Try a Mexican restaurant in the old city of San Diego, it is quite typical and traditional. If you prefer Seafood, go to the Fish market restaurant close to the Aircraft Carrier Museum.

As we are in the US, let’s talk about burgers. I am not a « burger fan »  but I have been impressed by the quality of the burgers from the chain « Burger lounge». They prepare succulent « organic burgers », very tasty !

Now let’s talk about sightseeing. San Diego has a lot to offer, so a minimum of 3 Days is required. You can organize your trip in different ways but here are my recommendation :

First Day in Coronado Island and Balboa Park :
Coronada Island is located in the middle of the San Diego Bay. The Island is shared between a military Airport for the US Navy operation, and a Small city for rich Americans. This part is a Small Beverly Hills with a beautiful beach not crowded with a wonderful view on Cabrillo National Park. Coronado Hotel is the major attraction of the area. Here was filmed Marilyn Monroe in « Some like it hot ».  you can have a very nice walk along the beach, so don’t miss it !

Balboa Park is located in the center of San Diego. Balboa Park shares its location with the San Diego Zoo, which is considered as one of the best in the world. The park was created for the Panama-California exposition in 1915-16, and is today the place of culture in San Diego. Several Museums and gardens surround the « Casa de Balboa » which is the main monument of the Park. Have relaxing time in Balboa Park , you will not be disappointed !

"Ugly fish"

Hi, Siew Fong here, with my first post written from Tokyo, eating la vida loca (haha). Nice to meet you all and looking forward to sharing fun stuff here.

For my first post.... tadaaaa... i present to you.... Ugly Fish!!!! No, this is not the official name for this traditional Tokyo delicacy which has delighted Tokyoites since the Edo period.

My colleagues and I went to a famous restaurant in Asakusa, Iida-ya(どぜう飯田屋) which specializes in anything ugly fish related, as this dish is believed to be best eaten in summer and is extremely nutritious during this season. Ugly Fish stars the Dojo Loach (Misgurnus anguillicaudatus), a freshwater fish that live in paddy fields and wetlands all across Japan. The Dojo loach has also been made famous by the previous Prime Minister of Japan, Mr. Noda who likened himself to this bottom-feeding, humble species. Try googling it, and you will see his face plastered all over your screen.

It was not easy to be excited about this dish, as no matter how they tried to decorate and beautify the plate, they still consisted of scrawny black little things. When fried, these flavour-less fishies pick up the salty taste of the batter, and the earthy taste of fried burdock root shavings. I love anything fried and salty, and this is not an exception.

When uncooked though, Ugly Fish is covered in a slimy film, which is said to help them live a little longer even out of water. Resilient little things, these guys! The freshest heroes are served in all their naked glory, their greyish, at times bluish naked glory, a la "hot pot" style. One of the highlights of serving it this way is for one of us to gross out a newbie to this dish, squiggling them fishes to feign life. Of course after a while, it gets stale. Covered with dashi stock, the fire was turned up, and the fishes made their inevitable jumps along with the gurgling stock.

The Ugly Fishes soon lost the twinkle in their eyes, the glisten of their skin. Death descended, and Death became. We enshrouded them with a blanket of thinly-sliced green onions, a yin and yang of flavours. The Dojo nabe (どぜう鍋), as this style is called, was then served sprinkled with Japanese shichimi powder (chili and mixed spice) and a kind of Japanese pepper called Sanshou (山椒). The fishes are to be eaten whole, head, body, bones. Chewing on their softened bones can be a challenge for the uninitiated, and one has to take care not to rush too much and choke. The perk? Calcium.

They are actually pretty good, really, once you deal with your initial reluctance and suspicion. At least, do it for the sake of seasonal traditions, and the experience is well worth it, especially when accompanied by some good warm sake...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Somersby Cider

I love cider.. I usually drown Magners as it is most easily found (called Bulmers in Ireland) mainly because I like the taste and it is the most common cider you can find in Malaysia. I particularly like Magners Pear which will give you an indication that I like them sweet. Not all the time but most of the time. I find that this is the perfect drink for a hot summer day. Which is every day in Malaysia.

I was at a meeting (I kid you not, a proper business meeting) and saw that they sold Somersby Cider - never seen it but again I haven't been out much these days. This means I must try it.

Then I read the label and seems that it is made in Sweden and distributed by Carlsberg. Eh? Swedish cider?

Searched it up on Google and it seems that Carlsberg owns this brand. It has 4.5% abv but because of its sweetness you won't feel a thing. This is the perfect girly drink or one for those that don't like the 'bitter' taste of beer but wants a kick of alcohol. Not a bad at all - taste like apple juice with sprite/7up and a tinge of beer. Be careful though - it still has a fair amount of alcohol so don't gulp it down too quickly.

One small note on serving methods; I find that my Magners/Bulmers usually will come in a pint glass with ice in the UK and Ireland but I don't see this when served local ciders in Germany, France and Italy. Somersby in Malaysia though it came with ice. Hmm... It’s nice that is cold but I feel it gets more and more diluted in the end when you are drinking outdoor in tropical weather - unless you drink very quickly. Maybe it is better to serve it with a big chunk-type of whisky ice cube or just no ice?

Type: Modern cider with 4.5% abv
Where: The Royal Selangor Golf Club
When: A warm evening
Accompaniment: Muruku and peanuts

Conclusion: Love it, will order again. Highly recommended for those that like sweet, light bodied alcoholic drinks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

8 days of Morocco

Morocco, Jul 2013

I made a journey to the Kingdom of Morocco for a wedding with Fred. It gave us a good and valid excuse to travel (again). For me, it was something exotic; first time on the African continent.

You can skip the text too and follow this trip in pictures.

Impressions and travel tips:

First impressions, it was more what you'd imagine of a country in the Middle East than in Africa because of the Arabic culture/background. Morocco has a rich history, so there is plenty to see but preservation works are what you'd expect of a developing nation. What I really liked is its natural wonders. You have the sea, the mountains and the dessert all in one. Though we didn't have enough time to see it all.

What I didn't like about Morocco is consistent with many developing countries around the world, too many people out trying to make a quick buck out of you. People you will offer to bring you around, sell you things, try to over-charge you etc etc and some are very aggressive. The medinas particularly has many kids especially begging and peddling things. If you are a seasoned traveller, you'd know how to walk away from these situations unperturbed. Otherwise, it can spoil your trip. We had someone who tried to rip us of at every city. Puhhh!

Chicken cooked in Tagine
To have a stress-free trip, follow a guided tour. This is one of those countries that where it is best to have a guide from a reputable company to show you around. If you like to travel free and easy, take some trips recommended or organise by the hotel you are staying in and mix and match them. Don't follow just follow someone on the street.

Eat only in places where the prices are stated (we had an experience that they still tried to over-charge us despite the price on the menu- claiming that the servings where different). But don't let this put you off on trying street food though, just be wary of being over charged.

It doesn't mean of course the people of Morocco are not trustworthy, just the few that preys on the tourists really make themselves felt (since you are a tourist). There are 'tourist polices' around but hey, making a living is hard and much harder for countries trying to lift themselves out of poverty. The counter balance of it all is that we also met lots of lovely people. People are warm, friendly and speaks many languages most of the time. Very impressive.

View from a hill
Women at the market
On languages, a treaty between France and Spain regarding Morocco, split it in into a Spanish sphere of influence and a French sphere. It ended in 1956, when both France and Spain recognised Moroccan independence. So you have plenty of people who can speak Spanish around as well a host of Spanish tourist on the 'Spanish side' but most people speaks French all around if case you are wondering which colonial power made the most lasting impressions. The official language is still Moroccan Arabic, so if you speak Arabic you are in luck! However, seems that more and more people are speaking English too as British and American tourist are starting to come in more and at all the tourist places I had no problems with English. Fred did most the other talking in French.

On safety, my feeling is the country is still generally safe. You don't have this feeling that you are in imminent danger and people are not hostile even to tourist.

As a female traveller when going in a Muslim country I always go prepared with a large scarf, cardigans and long pants. Hey, you've gotta be respectful. You'd find that in some cities like Tangier and Tetouan, while it is modern there are hardly any local girls wearing sleeveless shirts. In Casablanca everything got shorter and skimpier. But 'tis better to err on the side of caution when you are not sure how to dress.

A Riad
One another note for female travellers, the tea saloons are mainly for men only, I don't think that they'd chase you away but it is a male domain and you'd be hard pressed to find any females there at all. I heard there are some which are female friendly.. but I don't think it was something I was dying to do- so I didn't make any effort to find one. Seems that the places for local women to mingle is at the Hammam... now that's something I'd like to do! Oh, Mosque too are off-limits to non-Muslims. So do ask before barging in ;) Some place don't let you take pictures.. but these are the 'standard' kind of things. Life also starts late, people and stores start buzzing around 11-ish, people have late dinner and the street crowd is still 'alive' at 10pm. 

One more tit-bit, the word 'riad' comes from the Arabian term for garden, "ryad". A lot of old houses are being renovated as hotels are called riad when they have a garden in the middle. Those without are called "dar". A stay in a nice riad (or a dar which is usually cheaper) is worth your while but read enough reviews to choose a good one and not an 'imposter'. ;)

So now, let's get to it.

Here's our itinerary:

Tangier - Tetouan - Chefchaouen - Fes - Meknes - Rabat - Casablanca


Tangier, Tetoun & Chefchaouen are all a part of the Spanish protectorate, so you could easily see these influences all around.

We flew in to Tangier and rented a car at the airport. If you could drive, this is by far the cheapest option of getting around. Just make sure you rent a GPS too, do not depend on road signs. Other friends who came to the wedding had experiences being stopped by the police in Casablanca to just give you some trouble to get some money. So wear your seat belts and have all your papers (passport, car registration..) in place - don't do anything illegal too. We did not have any problems personally though.

The beach is not the type that I'd swim in (I am a beach snob) but it is pleasant for walks and gives the city an airy feel. There is less tourist and less number of people hassling you which I liked. The city was clean too.

The medina was really rustic, well lived in, rustic - no 'touristic' feeling at all.. you still see people living and working in small little 'stores', making bread, selling stuff.. being just by the coast give it a very nice feeling. One side of the Medina overlooks the ocean and over these ancient walls... lots of development is taking place. Oddly the medina felt undisturbed by what is happening around it.. maybe that's how the Moroccan Medinas managed to survived for centuries.

For the night, Fred has a friend who has a sister who worked in a chain of swanky hotels and got us a room here for free.. connections, this is how things work around here ;) 


When we visited, I remarked how cleaned it was... the reason we soon found out, the King was there for a visit. I am not sure if it's always like that but it was clean and organised.

Again, you don't get much tourist here and many people spoke Spanish and French. There is also a lot of Andalusian influence still in these parts.

Medina of Tétouan is the UNESCO list and most probably has not changed much in the last few hundred years. The royal palace in Tétouan is situated just outside and by one of the entrances to the Medina. The city is easy to discover by foot, with nice public squares and old buildings.  It is a really pleasant place to walk around. Again the city feels more like something you live in rather than something to wow tourist. So depending on if you travel for 'wows' to for the want to experiencing how the locals live, you level of excitement over this city will differ.


Now this place has a 'wow' factor.  First of all, it is in different shades of blue and Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains giving it a surreal landscape suited for picture taking.

We made only a day trip here but it was good enough to get some good pictures and off we go to Fez. Maybe we are not at the peak season because it was not too packed and we like the easy pace of the place. But a large number of hotels and souvenir shops seem to indicate that many tourist do come.By the way, the Chefchaouen region is supposed to be one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco. I didn't.