Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Malaysia, Truly Asia!!!

I am not proud of taking this long to post these pictures, especially since I am closer to the anniversary of my maiden voyage to KL than the voyage itself, in late February this year. :P

This delay is particularly unforgivable as I had the honour of meeting someone I consider blogger royalty - the charming Lyrical Lemongrass who so kindly took the time out to come to my hotel with her usual makan kakis to pick me up and give me exactly the kind of meal I was looking for - roadside hawker fare that places taste over hygiene! :) (Thanks, babe! I owe you one!!!)

Hawkers on Peel Road, Kuala Lumpur

In no particular order: Mixed satays, pork noodles, BBQ chicken wings, sugarcane juice,
stir-fried noodles, popiah, minced beef noodles

There were only 4 of us, but as you can see, this was enough for 6! My only regret was that I couldn't stay hungry longer! :(

Nonetheless, if I couldn't fit more food into my belly, I remained thirsty, and so after dropping off the friendly folks from her Makan Club, Lyrical Lemongrass and I headed for Palate Palette, a quaint little bar where we waited for Bald Eagle.. :)

What we drank - too bad it was so long ago I don't remember their fancy names!

This being my first time to KL and my first trip to Malaysia in possibly a decade, Lyrical Lemongrass and Bald Eagle really made me feel completely at ease, that it was sad having to say goodbye even though we're not at all far from each other... :(

To backtrack from my meeting with these wonderful folks, a couple of pictures in chronological order...

The comfy coach I took from Singapore to KL

Saw this on my way out of the coach:

fortunately I was travelling alone :)

The inescapable Petronas Towers by night:

On Day Two of my stay, after waking up too late for breakfast at my hotel, I wandered across the street into a traditional Malay restaurant that has permanently raised my expectations of buffets and Malay food in general!

Gateway to rempah heaven!

Laksa Utara - nothing like the nonya laksa as I know it!

A trolley offering some curries that I shouldn't be finding exotic, but did...

Spread of other traditional Malay dishes

Surprisingly, fewer than 5 tables were occupied when I was there, which I have difficulty explaining off. The buffet cost 38 ringgit (SGD 16) before taxes, was in a central location and by its variety and quality alone, offered something for all preferences...

I'm bad at buffets since I always tend to discover the better things too late, but as I was led to my table, I did not fail to see the dessert spread, for which I tried my best to save some stomach space:

Little wonder why weight loss is such an uphill task!!!

Friday, 8 August 2008

What Wat? - Part 3

I come from a family that habitually makes strange requests of their kin travelling abroad and if such a thing could be measured, has possibly the most eclectic baggage contents as far as I know.

No longer contented with just Duty Free liquor, my mom took the cake months ago when I first hinted at a trip to Bangkok with Boy Scout! When her eyes started to sparkle, mine rolled, in preparation for her request for unreasonable quantities of something edible. I wasn't completely off course of course, but this time her primary desire from Bangkok was something she saw but didn't dare buy last year when we went to Bangkok together for fear of trouble with customs.

Oh, right, so I get it, it's OK for Boy Scout and me to get slapped with a fine or jail term if worse came to worst, but it's not OK if it was her! Neat, what a great mom! ;-)

This said, I minded much less potential trouble with customs (she'd promised to pay the fine if there was one to be paid) than I minded the complications behind transporting AN ASSORTMENT OF CACTI, which is what my mom asked for from Chatuchak Market!

Boy Scout had seen a horizon-widening documentary on TV about Chatuchak and I was intending to show him the little I'd seen of it anyway, so for the last leg of our Bangkok trip, I chose a neat little hotel in the Sukhumvit area, by the name of Citi Chic, which pretty much looked like what it did in the photos on their site. Good start!

What a relief upon check-in to see that this wouldn't be a hotel I'd have to endure like the previous one! :) Furthermore, it was a scenic 10 minutes or so from the BTS line that would take us to Chatuchak and the famous MBK Center, so bye bye transport touts! :) It also had free internet that I never managed to use, not only because there were always other guests hogging both terminals, but also for one intimidating little detail:

Since there were only two room types - with or without terrace - I decided the 200-baht difference wasn't much to scrimp on, so we had a small cozy terrace that we found so conducive to relaxation we spontaneously reverted to our indolent ways and decided to order room service (which both previous hotels didn't have) practically as soon as our eyes fell on the room service menu, in part to satisfy a joint craving for something NOT Thai:

When we were done, we didn't know what to do with the tray, as leaving it outside our room would have meant our neighbour tripping over our dirty dishes, so when Boy Scout dutifully took the tray back to the restaurant, the hotel manager happened to be on duty and was so embarrassed his eyes nearly popped out, haha! It turned out we were supposed to call for someone to pick up the tray.. ;-)

It is easy to get accustomed to being on holiday, so when we finally found an iota of will to step outdoors, we failed to realise it would be rush hour for most other mortals, hee hee...

We'd only managed a tour of MBK Center, which was sufficiently fatiguing:

It wasn't only until the next day that we trudged to Chatuchak for the cacti, but with all the lanes looking alike and most of the shops closed, our tour didn't last long and it didn't quite fit what Boy Scout saw on TV:

Unbelievably, I found myself squatting compliantly before the various troughs in the plant section looking for species I'd expect my mom to nod at approvingly, and got pricked and shed a few drops of blood in the process.

Besides shopping, I'd circled a number of parks to visit on my maps, in particular Lumphini, but with the oppressive heat as an excuse, we never made it there... ;-) Due to Boy Scout's development of a strange unwavering dependence on Starbucks' iced caffe mocha, though, we found ourselves sipping in various parts of town.

When our time in Bangkok was up, I thought we'd successfully managed to escape getting ripped off this time around, but our final taxi ride to the airport made me question the real motives behind the "I love farang" stickers seen on taxi windows:

When we'd checked out, the sweet porter helped us get a "Taxi-Meter", which has to charge according to the meter, and indeed, the jerk of a driver had his meter running when the porter was with us. But the moment we were alone with him and turned the street corner, he claimed that his meter wasn't working properly and asked us what we'd intended to pay him.

Oh boy. I should have seen it coming! I was in an irritable mood and didn't want to miss our plane, so I asked the creep what he wanted. He said 400 baht, and I said no more than 300. He said OK, but 300 excluding toll charges. I knew that was still rather generous, but I quickly realised I could beat him at his game. ;-)

With a wink, I showed Boy Scout in the backseat a couple of bills that amounted to 250 baht that I'd give the driver (which I know is still more than what the meter would have displayed), and made him agree that if the driver made a fuss, we'd tell him that's all the baht we had left. :)

So when I slipped the driver the folded bills and he trustingly slipped them into his breast pocket without checking, I felt a minor pang of guilt, but well, if he'd just been honest in the first place, I'd have gladly given him what I really had left in baht! ;-)

Friday, 25 July 2008

What Wat? - Part 2

If there were a few qualities I had to laud about the second hotel we stayed in (Boonsiri Place) during our week in Bangkok, it would be their imaginative photography that concealed their otherwise modest capacity for enticement.

A pretty telling indicator of my discomfort with this hotel was the speed with which I snapped out of our collective Park 9 lethargy, and the constant desire to go out and see lots of attractions! :) That we managed to wake up in time for breakfast for both mornings we were there, was further proof! I know I'm just being harsh, as there were really lots of other factors for us finally doing some sightseeing - proximity to seeable sights, milder weather, guilt and urgency over the rapidly diminishing time left in Bangkok, etc...

First, it must be said that all the late nights I'd spent studying, comparing and superimposing my 3 maps of Bangkok prior to the trip (errr, there must be some kind of international cabby code about all foreigners being easy prey, that I'd aimed to thwart) weren't in vain, although some minor roads not being reflected on the maps created a few tiny headaches at certain intersections. Fortunately it soon became apparent that I was in the company of a former Boy Scout with an innate compass, and he ended up being more reliable than my maps and me combined! :)

On my list: The Forensic Museum at the Siriraj Hospital on the other bank of the Chao Phraya, Khao San Road, a dinner cruise, the Giant Swing and several of the legendary temples you'd see on postcards, such as Wat Arun, Wat Traimit and Wat Phra Kaew.

Giant Swing - check!

Khao San Road - check!

Finally, for the first time in my trips to Bangkok, I'm seeing the fabled fried winged things!

I wasn't game enough to try any of those, but managed to coax Boy Scout into sharing a box of pad thai with me even though neither of us was really hungry :

I was truly delighted that he was willing to try lots of foreign (to him!) stuff in Singapore and in Bangkok, but like me, he could not ignore the inviting smells! I was also swayed by the sight of the different mounds of noodles (my favourite form of carbs!) and the dexterity of the pad thai peddlers! Taste-wise, the noodles turned out to be fantastic, and at 25 baht (SGD 1), if I remember correctly, little wonder why I want to live there!

We had to call it a night after our tour of Khao San Road, as I was bent on waking up early to make it to the Forensic Museum the next morning! What a bummer, though, upon arrival, to learn that photography was not allowed! :(

What I did get to snap, though, was Wat Arun from the ferry that took us across the Chao Phraya:

Never did enter it or even venture close to it, though! How embarrassing! Same goes for Wat Traimit and its general vicinity (Chinatown/Yaowarat).

As for Wat Phra Kaew, as Boy Scout and I were about to cross the street to peer in, well-worn map in hand, a genial geriatric came up to offer us help to get to our destination. We could pretty well see it from where we were, but he was insistent, and when he started suggesting other temples to visit and a certain type of tuk-tuk to take at a certain price, I knew it was time to get dismissive, heh heh, something Boy Scout was reluctant to be. :) With a sweeping "It's almost 5pm, I'll see all those temples tomorrow", I managed to send Genial Geriatric on his way. I felt bad about it, but I'd been taken for an idiot tourist enough times in Bangkok and I was just too tired to entertain anymore of it.

Thanks to Genial Geriatric's history lesson in decent English, I could better appreciate these pictures I managed to take over the wall surrounding the temple:

How sad, really. I'd certainly have enjoyed going in and taking pictures of its interior, but I feared the worst - more touts with more convincing causes, and the idiot in me parting with my life savings out of sympathy.

Dinner cruise - almost didn't make it! Whew! What an adventure! I'd noted down from this site the addresses and operating hours of several dinner cruise operators and opted for the Khanam Nab Restaurant. When we'd left our hotel, we decided to take a tuk-tuk for a change to the Krung Thon bridge, but less than a kilometre away from the hotel, our tuk-tuk broke down! The poor driver kept telling us to take another one while he sought help, but it was hard telling him we weren't in a hurry and so we stuck around until another tuk-tuk driver came by and helped him restart his vehicle.

I'd been telling Boy Scout for ages about my awe of the Thai art of driving (he used to work diagonally across from me when I lived in France and so was familiar with my driving perils), part of the reason I wanted us to take a tuk-tuk, but no acrobatics were to be witnessed that day. :( The driver seemed versed in the Highway Code and not once swerved or took the lane for oncoming traffic to overtake other motorists, that I actually was quite disappointed with all that courtesy and road safety! ;-)

What did annoy me slightly, though, was his repeated advice about there being "nothing to see" at Krung Thon, followed by a suggestion to take us to the Rama IX bridge instead. When in doubt, ignore.

Ignore we did and we got to our destination, but we were on the wrong side of the bridge and as we crossed it, we could only marvel at the majestic Rama IX bridge that the tuk-tuk driver kept wanting us to see:

As it turned out, Khanab Nam no longer did dinner cruises and so we almost sprinted to Riverside Hotel, whose cruises started at 8, and were in the nick of time! We boarded so quickly neither of us managed to take a picture of the cruise ship, but what we did manage to make up for what we missed because of the touts:

Wat Phra Kaew by night

Wat Arun by night

In between casting admiring glances at Boy Scout and at the monuments, there was not much left for me to do... nonetheless, a parting shot from him, what he thinks would make the perfect Thai postcard:

part 3 to be written soon

Thursday, 17 July 2008

What Wat? - Part 1

What can I say? I have this growing belief that I could seriously live in Bangkok! (and I'm willing - abillity to be determined at some indeterminate future date - to learn Thai just to fit in)

It is dangerously naïve to equate a holiday experience with the sinister unknown of actually living in another country, and one whose language I can hardly decipher, but it's only 2 hours from here (make that 48 by rail via Malaysia!)! So I can run home anytime, can't I? ;-)

Still on a high from my recent trip there - my third and longest there in more years than I care to admit - I still have that nagging sehnsucht I don't seem to get with other holiday destinations! All this despite the clingy touts, mosquitoes, incomplete sidewalks and lack of good Bloody Marys!

Maybe it was the company I had this time, or the places we managed to visit, but definitely no small part of it was thanks to the fortunate choice of hotels!!! :) My back (and upper arms) are still sore from all the self-congratulatory motions, but it was well worth it!

The weeks leading up to the Bangkok trip were packed with lots of work, tension, excitement and fatigue, so checking into The Park 9 upon arrival was just such a treat...

Tough decision between shopping and lounging around in the hotel pool and jacuzzi!

It was far from central Bangkok and the main touristy attractions, and indeed, not even close to the nearest BTS station, so that just added to our list of excuses to not step out before sundown, heh heh..

Our sloth was further encouraged by the little hotel buggy that would take us to the nearest mall for free:

For someone whose only capacity for a green thumb is a gangrenous one, the lush greenery absolutely helped me forget the concept of "work"... how soothing to watch koi being fed!

Suffice it to say that when we had to check out 4 short days after our arrival in Bangkok, we realised that we'd only seen the interior of 2 shopping malls and a few random streets, not even a single wat!

Everything was to change with the next hotel, though... an abundance of wats and the removal of luxury, that's what!

to be continued...

Friday, 9 May 2008

So near and yet so far...

My luck positively sucks, I'm fully convinced of it right now.. :(

When I saw this about a month back, very soon after I became friends with the owner of a travel agency who told me she could get me great deals to Bangkok, I was jumping for joy and already looking at flights and hotels:

And indeed, everything seemed to fall in place, until today... :( I'd been expecting another visit from France for the month of June, but I learned today that apparently the visit wouldn't be before the middle of June when all my favourite stars would already have left and gotten over the awards!!! :(

Bangkok is a definite destination with my June visitor, but going there twice within the same month is indulgence, despite the profound affection I have for Bangkok, so a very tough choice had to be made - that of foregoing the IIFAs despite their proximity.. :( :( :(

My only consolation is that if my beloved Sonu had not been nominated for a single song, then the awards had to be flawed... ;-)

Sigh sigh...

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Ack, it's happening AGAIN!!!

I'm not officially holding a full-time job at the moment, but with my hands full the way they are right now with assorted tasks expected of a major readjustment, in between dinners with long-lost friends (and a week-long visit from one I hadn't lost sight of that long ago), I dread to think how little "me" time I'd get once I start leafing through the classifieds!

I'd been meaning to and will eventually write about my enchanting encounter with the lovely Lyrical Lemongrass way back in late February when I made a short trek to Kuala Lumpur, so forgive me, gal, if you're reading this. :)

Thanks to my "clan" back in France, who I had yet to thank publicly for their generous farewell gift of a Lumix digital camera, the pictures in the last post were made possible, and permitted me to take many more fabulous ones since. In fact, I'd been taking so many, choosing just a handful for each post becomes a challenge! ;-)

So I'll sign off for now with this one I took from inside my capsule when I went up the Singapore Flyer 2 weeks ago. I am now pretty certain that I do not suffer from acrophobia! ;-)

Monday, 17 March 2008

Tussles with mussels

Island life has its privileges!

Right, right, so I'm probably stretching it by associating the image of an idyllic hammock and coconut-sipping existence with the teeming concrete jungle more Singaporeans are familiar with, but no matter where you are on this island, you're never more than 30km from the sea. With some imagination and some very useful friends, remembering that we're living on an island is rather easy! :)

A childhood friend of my mom's, formerly a sailor and living less than a 100 metres away from us now, recently retired, and thus indulges regularly in one of his favourite hobbies - fishing. Upon interrogation when I saw him yesterday, I'd found out that he wasn't dabbling in some wimpy tentative fishing from a jetty, but actual braving of waves on a flimsy canoe with real nets and all! Impressive! On top of that, he catches enough for his own family and even has lots to spare for ours (there are 4 of us now - my mom, her mom, her caretaker and myself)!

And so it was 2 weeks ago when he came knocking on our door with his catch of the day - severely barnacle-crusted mussels. The last time I'd seen him prior to the mussel delivery must've been when I was 12, so we of course did not recognise each other, and I was particularly wary about opening the gate to some strange guy foisting free mussels on us (what's the catch? mwahaha, sorry for the lousy pun!). It almost took a comical turn when I was about to look for my wallet and pay him for them until T, my grandmother's caretaker came by and told me that he's safe, heh heh! ;-)

My, my, he had practically a whole BUCKET of fresh lovely mussels to give, and I gladly accepted what looked like 2 1/2 kilos of them, which T said could be split with our next-door neighbour if necessary. Of course, if I'd known then that I had to assume the consumption of more than a kilo of mussels on my own, I would have given more to my neighbour... (eye roll)

my share of the mussels, after removing the barnacles

T and I immediately got down to splitting our share and chiselling off the barnacles with knives of various sizes and it got kinda fun when my mom also joined in the chiselling. Mussels were practically a staple where I'd lived in France, and I took them for granted without ever having bought any to cook at home, having as a result only theoretical knowledge of how to clean and prepare them. When it got down to actually handling them, ulp, I fumbled more than anything.

After having gotten rid of the barnacles, T asked me how I intended to cook them, and I realised, ugh, these poor mussels were still alive and that I'd be personally responsible for their slow steamy death. Maybe due to the fact that they don't have eyes that would stare back at me accusingly, I was able to go on with the "deed", but after seeing all the work involved, I doubt I'd accept live mussels again anytime soon!

I remembered seeing a chapter on mussels when reading one of my cookbooks by Joel Robuchon, so went and dug it out from my boxes which had just arrived two days earlier. Nice. I immediately went out to get ingredients for these herby breadcrumbed baked mussels:

I had more mussels than this trayful!

How to
: (for about 1kg of mussels) Heat mussels until the shells are ajar, remove upper shell (do not overcook).
Fry 5-6 chopped cloves of garlic in butter and olive oil, add 150g of breadcrumbs until golden brown, set aside to cool. Add salt and pepper to taste, 3 tbsp of grated parmesan, and 2tbps each of several chopped fresh herbs (I used thyme, parsley and chives). Top each mussel with a spoonful of breadcrumb mixture, bake for about 20 mins at 180°C. Serve with a wedge of lemon.

I'd initially intended to prepare all the mussels in this way, but after realising they wouldn't fit onto a single tray, I was too tired with heating them and struggling to pry them open and wiping up all the drool (despite T being such great help, without whom I might've ended up eating at midnight), so chopped up some mange-tout, asparagus and garlic chives and stir-fried the remaining mussels with them and some garlic and oyster sauce.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

Pardesi no more

The degree of Pardesi-ness is really arguable... :) I am finally back in the place where I was born, but does that really make me feel finally at home?

After having lived for more than 6 years in Lille, in Northern France, my most common sentiment was that of being misunderstood or plain anonymous. But in the fashion typical of the way true happiness often escapes me (the Sonu Nigam concert is a perfect example), towards the end of my stay in Lille, I found new reasons to appreciate France and was showered with so much love, attention and affection from the people I least expected to that it broke my heart to leave them behind. Sigh.

Nonetheless, I have a whole life ahead of me and aspire to make the best of it... right now, I am only planning on taking it easy (take it easy, Urvasi, as I used to say to another friend... ;-) ) for a while until I get my cards in order...

Friday, 4 January 2008

New Year, old habits

What a year it has been for me and my blog, which turns 1 today!

When I exclaim "Times flies!" I usually mean it with a healthy dose of incredulity, but in looking through some of my older posts yesterday, I was compelled to reflect upon the milestones (and millstones) that have dotted the past year of my life, and for once, it seemed to me realistic that a whole year had gone by, and indeed, for so much to have taken place, unreal that only a year had gone by!

Many a lesson I have learnt in such a short time, for which I am thankful, and short of being brainwashed, my mindset has undergone several transformations, for the better, at least to me. I have emerged from the chrysalis that was my youthful lack of confidence, I have strove to denounce negativity, I have learned that no matter how cheesy or clichéd the adage, there is much truth and wisdom to be milked from it. Most of all, I have resolved to live life on my terms. Of course, few things happen overnight and there are still teething problems, but as this new year unfurls, I am filled with an inexorable sense of hope and optimism, and I hope the same goes for you, too.

I'm tempted to expand on my inner growth and all but it's hard to do so without mentioning names, so I'll save it.. in a nutshell, a new "me" is in the making, but at the same time, my comfort foods remain constant:

Match the word to the ingredient:
Sale, pepe, aglio, olio

Where's the salt? you may wonder. OK, that was a tricky one, but it was the green mound of powder, matcha salt to be exact, by Mariage Frères. I'd bought it some time back for its snob appeal but never quite knew what to do with it until I'd equated green tea with a herb.

How to: Coarsely crush or mill mixed peppercorns, crush several cloves of garlic, stir in a few generous pinches of matcha salt and cover with good quality olive oil. Let steep for about an hour. Good as a variation of the typical aglio-olio pasta dressing, or simply mopped up with fresh soft warm bread, the only way I know how to enjoy it.

Just look at that gorgeous deep green!