10 November 2011

feasting in south east asia

Thought I'd start with a night shot of Singapore.  I arrived at 6.40am and by 11pm that first night, I was in Ku Dé Ta, up on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands, enjoying some Kiwi vino (of course!) with a Kiwi expat.  And getting very very trollied.  I blame my friend and jet lag.  This shot was taken as I was hanging over the glass ledge - remember, 57th floor and drunk!

My first few days in Singapore passed by in a blur.  I was super busy catching up with friends - friends whom I went to primary school with (appx 30 years ago!) and friends I worked with in various places whom I haven't seen in like 15+ years.  So as it turned out, I didn't get too many photos in - was too busy catching up.  And to be honest, was so excited about being able to eat so many foods that I've missed terribly that whenever dishes were put in front of me, I only had one thought in mind - EAT!!!

I did finally snap out of my food stupor and was able to take a few photos...

Nonya kuehs (Nonya cakes and pastries) - there are dozens and dozens of different types of Nonya kuehs and these are my maternal grandmother's heritage.  I bought a selection from a store called Bengawan Solo, a chain store that specialises in Nonya kuehs.  Being a chain store, their kuehs are not the best or most authentic.  But when you've been hanging out for these for 6 years (yep, that's how long its been), these chain store kuehs are manna from heaven!

Chilli Crab - look and weep.  Yes, I had Chilli Crab.  My stepmother asked for a list of foods I wanted to eat when I got to Singapore and this was amongst the top in the list.  Just look at it.  The magnificence...*wiping off mental drool here*

See the brown balls to the left of the Chilli Crab? Those are fried sweet buns and is what you mop the chilli gravy up with.  So simple and yet so genius.  Sometimes the buns are steamed, but this time we ordered fried ones.  Why go healthy when you're going to indulge in a dish you haven't had for 6 years or so?  I say go for it!

The other side dishes we ordered were chinese veg and tofu with prawns and broccoli.  These may be simple to look at, but trust me, they were de-li-cious!!  The to fu were sitting in this flavoursome gravy and yet the skin on the to fu was crispy and the insides all soft and silky.  I love this difference in taste and texture.

After madcap days in Singapore, I headed to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Here's an obligatory shot of a Thai wat (temple) - taken at a night market.

Chiang Mai had been in recent times in the media for all the wrong reasons - tourists poisoning and deaths, etc.  And then there was the flood.  In fact, the floods only receded the day before I arrived.  Finally enough, when I left Thailand via Bangkok, I left the day before the floods hit Bangkok.

When I got to Chiang Mai, a well-meaning family friend who lives there warned me not to eat at hawker stalls or backlane restaurants - the floods meant that some people may be washing and cooking food in less than hygienic water.  That, plus the stories about seafood poisoning amongst tourists in the media, got me a tad worried.  Do I eat and risk getting sick?  Or do I err on the side of caution?

After...oh, what was a mere few minutes of deliberation, I decided to take the risk and eat.  Afterall, I was with my Dad and he frequents Chiang Mai quite a bit due to business.  It would be unlikely that he'd take me to some backlane restaurant and expose me to food poisoning.  I also had my trusted pack of Imodium.  You know, for just in case. :-))

I'm so glad I chose to close a gastronomic eye and plunge in.  'Cos if I hadn't, I wouldn't have these to share with you.  Food in Thailand is ridiculously fresh, often a kaleidoscope of flavours in your mouth and absurdly cheap.  A food heaven for foodie blogger!

I have NO idea what these dishes are called.  The menu was in Thai and we had a Thai friend who ordered for us.  I was told however that this amazing spread was Vietnamese-Thai food.  Almost every dish came with a different dipping sauce.  I'm so in love with all the different types of Thai dipping sauces - such a riot of flavours in my mouth.  My favourite dish was the roll-your-own rolls.  Love interactive food!

My bestfriend Amanda loves Thai food and one of her favourite dish is Tom Kha Gai (Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup).  We've both had this dish in almost every Thai restaurant in Wellington, and we're often disappointed.  The broth is often either so watery and insipid that all you're drinking is a bit of flavoured watery coconut milk, or someone's been too heavy handed with the lime, or chilli, or salt.  So when I saw Tom Kha Gai on the menu on my 2nd day, I knew I had to have it.  Now I'm sure there are some awful Tom Ka Gai served in Thailand, but the Tom Kha Gai Gods must have been smiling at me that night.  The broth was just the right balance of sweet, salty, sour and bitter.  I believe this is what is termed as umami.  Everyone else at the table (and there were only 3 of us) had one bowl each.  I happily polished off the rest.

Why am I showing you a plate full of mushrooms, you ask?  Well that's because that entire plate of mushrooms only costed NZ$4 and was one of the dishes of fresh ingredients we ordered for out Thai-style steam boat.  I've seen Enoki mushrooms (middle of the plate) sold in NZ for almost $10 for only 100g.  So you can see how the mushroom fiend in me was absolutely delighted!  I was in mushroom heaven...

I personally think it's sacrilegious not to eat Tom Yum Gong at least once if you visit Thailand.  Check out the chillis swimming in the one I had!  Again, I was the one at the table that polished off most of it.  It was very good Tom Yum Gong - serious.  Although, I'm more of a Tom Kha Gai fan. But I told you that already, right?

This is simply crispy fried whole fish - scales and all.  Strangely enough, once fried to a crisp like this, the scales are rather yummy!  It's like crunching on fish crisps.  Just about every restaurant will serve this dish.  Some with a dipping sauce on the side and some with sauce drizzled over (never drenched).

Now these are what I call PRAWNS.  Enough said.

This is something I never let pass whenever I go back to South East Asia.  Growing up, this was my favourite fruit.  Some of you might recognise it, some of you not.  And although you might have not eaten it before, you are likely to have read or heard about this fruit before.

Yes, yes- it's the 'gloriously smelly' (as described by Mika of milliemirepoix) Durian.  The following words have been known to be associated with this King of fruits - stinky, strong odour, disgusting, rotten onions, gym socks, stale vomit, etc etc.

However, for the fearless and adventurous - there's no going back once you've had a taste of the flesh that surrounds a Durian seed.  It's like the heavens opening.  A revelation.  Seriously - I kid you not.  How do I describe the taste and texture?  Well to me, it's the custard-liest, creamiest, sumptuously silkiest fruit pulp, flavoured with hints of almond, rich but not cloyingly sweet (actually some types have a slight bitterness that balances the sweet).  If I was allowed only fruit on my death bed, I would have Durian.

Just thought I'd share this with all of you - I visited an elephant sanctuary and by chance, captured this quiet and tender moment between a mahout and his charge.

Oh - and by the way - if you're ever holidaying in Thailand, please try not to go on those tourist elephant rides or pay any attention to the touts with baby elephants on the streets begging.  Nor visit elephant parks that feature elephants painting.  Why?  Well, the internet is full of information on why not. Google some of it.  And if you're not convinced, check out some documentaries already posted up on Youtube.  Basically - it's not natural for elephants to paint.  Nor is it natural for a baby elephant to be WITHOUT it's mother, nor is it natural for it to be walking on the streets begging.  Just simply think about the kind of 'training' the elephants get put through, so that they can entertain tourists by painting and allowing themselves to be ridden daily.  And think about what methods would have been used to separate mother and baby.

So, please, please. Read up on whether it really is a sanctuary or not, before visiting any animal parks!

And if you're wondring...the sanctuary I visited was the Elephant Nature Park.  And here's an article on Huffington Post you might be interested in. :-)

Oh.  Those are my feet, relaxing in the hotel spa after my indulgent Javanese massage.  Just thought you'd like to know.  After leaving Thailand, my next stop was Bintan Island, Indonesia.  Which is where I got my Javanese massage.

And that's the hotel and stretch of beach that Brenda (my other bestfriend) and I had our girlie weekend away...err...from my holiday.  Angsana Bintan Resort, Bintan, Indonesia.  The photo doesn't truly represent the gloriously sunny days we had there - it was taken towards the end of the day, as the sun was setting.

I digress.

Now back to more important things...

Soup Buntut (or more accurately: Sup Buntut) - Indonesian Oxtail Soup.  Lip-smacking, drool worthy, can I have more than one serving, kinda dish.  Brenda introduced me to this dish.  See, that's why I love her and we've been friends for 25 years.

Example of a VERY badly taken photo. But had to share - a selection of different satays wrapped around .... sticks, served with a plate of katupat (rice packed in palm leaves casing and boiled), shallots, the nuttiest and spiciest satay sauce (not a hint of peanut butter in sight - yusss!) and fried lobster rolls.  Just a simple entree.

Friends from waaaay back.  When I got back from Bintan to Singapore, there was another raft of catch ups with old friends.  I've known a few of these girls for almost 18 years and have not seen most for just as long.  A few of them have children ranging from 2 to 4 children each.  And none of them look a day older than when I first knew them all those years ago!  (That's me on the far left).

And if you must know - we had a continuous flow of lychee martini that night.  T'was a good night.

And this is the main reason why I was back in Singapore.  Brenda married Paul.  Have I said that I've known Brenda since I was 15 and Paul since we were 13?  Fabulous things do happen to fabulous people... :-) X.


  1. a vacation with lots of eating is my kind of trip! food, family, and friends...is there anything better? congrats to your friends!

  2. Cindy - can't wait to go on my next trip! It'll be summer in the southern hemisphere over the Christmas and New Year holidays and we've got mini road trip planned. Yay!

  3. Yes looking ,wanting,weeping,fantasising.Wow;))

  4. Sounds like a great trip!

    Also, I got pretty homesick after reading your post... I kept looking at flights though I probably can't take time off from work any time soon! Sadness.

  5. Mel - summer holidays coming up soon! And as you know, Christmas in asia can often be even more festive than in NZ. Carry on keeping an eye out for cheap deals. Flight centre always has them. The food alone is worth the 10+ hour flight! :-))

  6. I am drooling! All that wonderful food. I am with you on the Thai food....I just ate everything & it was all so fresh & delicious. Sooo good to finally meet you on the weekend & I hope to catch up again soon...Thinking a wee trip to Wellington must be on the cards :)

  7. Ah, I enjoyed this post... I miss all the food in Singapore! And yes! Durian - so glorious, so stinky. Lovely to see you again this weekend :)

  8. Dzoli - book your next holiday to Thailand! :-)

    Mairi - Yes! Yes! Come down to Welly. We'll get the Welly crew together and do drinkies and a meal. :-)

    Milka - Always nice to catch up with you. We need to do Little Penang soon to get our fix! :-)


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