Sunday, April 30, 2017

Recipe for Vietnamese savoury crepe: bánh xèo

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to experience a Vietnamese cooking lesson organised by Betoaji and the participation fee was incredibly cheap! Only costs 1,500 yen per person which includes the cost for ingredients and you get to sample your own cooking. Best thing about this cooking lesson is part of your participation fee goes to charity helping to sponsor the under-privileged school kids in villages and remote areas in Vietnam. 

But I digress. In this post I'm going to share with you all the recipe of making the Vietnamese savoury crepe, also known as bánh xèo in the Vietnamese language.

It is incredibly fun and easy to make as well as interactive, as it's best to eat it piping hot straight from the frying pan, one could easily cook this bánh xèo in a party and serve it right away, trust me bánh xèo makes a great party food or even to be shared amongst family members :)

Interesting fact:  The "xèo" in bánh xèo literally translates into "sizzling" which refers to the sizzling and hissing sound when the batter is cooking up in a pan.


Aren't they gorgeous? Let's get started!

Ingredients (for 8 persons):

For the batter, you will need:

9 ounces rice flour
3 ounces all-purpose wheat flour
(optional: You could also use the pre-mix bánh xèo powder, if available)
Turmeric powder; 2-3 teaspoons (Note: turmeric powder is already included in the pre-mix powder)
Coconut milk 100ml
Spring onions/scallion - 1 pack (according to your own preferences)
Beer 200ml (optional)
Water 500ml

Ingredients for the filling:

Deshelled and deveined shrimps, 400g
Pork belly, thinly sliced 600g
2 White onions 
Bean sprouts 2 packs (Approx. 30g)

Dipping sauce:

Vietnamese fish sauce 6 cups
Water 320ml
Granulated sugar 1 tablespoon
Garlic 3 cloves
Lemon 

Vegetables (for wrapping, optional):
Lettuce
Coriander
Mint

Method of preparation:


1. Prepare the batter:
- Add the bánh xèo powder, turmeric, water, coconut milk and beer in a big bowl and mix everything well.
- After the batter is well-mixed through, add in the chopped spring onions/scallions and mix well.
- Let the batter rest for about 30 mins.

2. Making the dipping sauce:
- Finely chop the garlic
- Combine all the ingredients listed above (dipping sauce section) in a small bowl and mix well until the sugar dissolves.

3. Prepare the ingredients for the filling:
- Deshell and devein the shrimps and cut into halves.
- Chop onions into thin juliennes.
- Wash lettuce and bean sprouts.

4. Making bánh xèo:
- On medium-high heat, add oil and onions into frying pan, fry till fragrant.
- Add in few pieces of thinly sliced pork belly, shrimps, lightly saute until slightly browned.
- For presentation purposes, push the ingredients to one side of the pan. Pour in some batter and immediately rotate and tilt the pan so that the batter covers the entire pan evenly. If the batter wasn't enough to cover the pan, add more batter.
- Add in bean sprouts and cover the pan with a lid for about 3-4 minutes, let it steam on medium-low heat. 
- Remove lid, and let it cook for a further one minute. The edges of the batter should be transparent and the batter should solidify and lightly browned for now.
- Turn off heat and fold in half. Transfer and serve on a plate.
- Best served piping hot!

How to eat it?

Cut it up in bite-sizes. You could either eat it straight away with or without dipping sauce.
Best eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves for extra crunch and fibre and dipped in dipping sauce for that extra tanginess and flavour.

Verdict

I really like making and eating this dish. Making it wasn't hard at all, but I found cooking the batter and controlling the heat to get the perfect texture requires a little bit of practice. I personally think it's a healthy and wholesome dish as you have all the greens, the vegetables, onions and proteins in a crepe; and that dipping sauce adds a refreshing flavour to it. Highly recommend this dish for parties and family gatherings.



Mixing the batter

Done prepping the ingredients, time to cook the batter!

First up, frying the pork belly slices


Cooking the batter by covering the pan with a lid


Voila!There you have it! Serve immediately for optimal taste and texture.

We prepared desserts as well!




Final ensemble!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Osaka Food Guide: Top 3 Ethnic Foods and Where to Find Them


If you are on a holiday in Osaka and you are growing tired of Japanese food after eating it for a few days in a row. And if you are looking for alternatives, why not try "ethnic food"? 

Ethnic food has been on the rise and is growing more and more popular in recent years due to the influx of foreigners and tourists into Japan, and it's not surprising to see Osaka is slowly catching up and joining in the ethnic food trend.

So, in this food guide blog, unlike other Osaka food guides, I'm going to share with you my absolute favourite ethnic foods in Osaka and then share restaurants where you can try them.

Disclaimer: I'm not endorsing for any of the restaurants, the recommendations below are based on my personal dining experiences.

1. Vietnamese food

Known for its use of fresh and simple ingredients and abundant use of fresh herbs and greens, Vietnamese food offers a refreshing break from the greasy Tonkotsu or Kushikatsu that you've been having for the past few days.

Most notable Vietnamese dish that comes to mind for most people is of course Pho, it's hard to go wrong with that big hearty bowl of meat broth and silky smooth rice noodles.

Bia Ho'i (ベトナム酒場 ビアホイ ) Chengkou Building B1, 2-15, Kakudacho, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka 530-0017 (a stone's throw away from the building Hep5 with a big ferris wheel on top of it)

This has to be one of the most popular places for Osakans as it's always packed regardless of lunch or dinner time. It's hard not to see why. This place offers a huge variety of Vietnamese food, ranging from Pho to the dessert Che. They offer really affordable lunch sets. for example, a lunch set consisting of Beef Pho and a small bowl of pork belly stew rice would set you back for less than 1000 yen (it's considered pretty cheap looking at the amount of meat!). And if you are up for some Vietnamese dessert, just add-on a dessert all-you-can-eat for merely a few hundred yen! 

I personally think I've had better Phos elsewhere but it's a great place where you can try wide variety of Vietnamese dishes (lesser known) which are usually not available in other restaurants. My personal favourite is Banh Beo (picture below) - little steamed rice cakes with dried shrimps garnished with coriander and served with sweet savoury fish sauce, every bite explodes with the sweetness of the dried shrimp and fish sauce combined with the smooth, chewy steamed rice cakes. 

Another thing I like about this restaurant is that it's got great ambience and atmosphere, with tiny wooden tables and stools, and Vietnamese oldies playing in the background, you do feel like you are transported to the bustling street of Vietnamese for a minute. So, if you happen to be around Umeda area (which you are likely to be) and craving for some Vietnamese food, why not pop by this cute lil' restaurant (located in the basement of a building)? 

Lunch set of Beef Pho and pork rice

Vietnamese dessert Che all-you-can-eat, you could add anything you like!

Banh Beo - steamed rice cakes with dried shrimp

These are great as canapes I think!

Vietnamese hot pot - tastes kind of like Tom Yum

2. Tibetan Food

Tibet is a land far away from me, from the first time I heard or know about it from watching TV or from the Internet, it became one of my dream destinations.

So, imagine I was bursting with excitement when I found out that there is a Tibetan restaurant in Osaka. Yeah sure Osaka is full of Indian restaurants, but I believe this is the one and only Tibetan restaurant in the entire Kansai! Of course I wouldn't miss this opportunity of paying a visit to this restaurant for an exotic culinary adventure.

Snow Lion Tibet restaurant and cafe gallery (https://www.facebook.com/snowlion88/)

This restaurant is a real treasure trove which houses authentic Tibetan Buddha statues, antique furniture, archives of Buddhism books and precious Buddhist paintings, which gave me a real taste of Tibet on my first visit. I was already looking forward to taste the food.

We ordered a number of dishes: Stir-fried mutton, Lamb Momos, garlic and cheese naans, Tibetan butter tea, and Tibetan soupy curry.

I wished the meat filling of their Momos was more moist as it was a little too dry to my liking, otherwise the seasoning was pretty decent. I have to say the chilli dipping sauce was really good, fragrant and well-balanced on heat and flavour, really enhances the flavour of the Momos.

Moving on, we tried the Cheese naan and garlic naan (these are two separate naans). The cheese naan is definitely one of the best that I've had in my life! The naan is cut into well-sized triangles and is thick and fluffy giving it a great texture. They are very generous on the cheese which oozes out with every single bite and combined with its crispy outer crust, it's a very addicting naan. We ended up ordering another serving. Aside from eating the naan on its own, we also ordered two curries to go with the naans: the Tibetan curry and Indian spinach curry (Saag Aloo). While my friends preferred the much creamier spinach curry, I personally like the Tibetan curry better. It's very watery almost like a curry soup, with potatos, spinach and chunks of lamb in it, I find its mild flavours very refreshing from the usual creamy Indian curries.

Overall, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone who is interested to try Tibetan food and want to understand more about its food culture. Atmosphere is excellent with authentic, intricate interior designs and furnishings.

Stir-fried mutton - Very chewy and tough (wouldn't recommend)

Lamb Momos with the delicious chilli dipping sauce


Garlic naan with two types of curries on the side


Tibetan butter tea in beautiful Tibetan ceramic cups

Fried chicken - nothing special

Cheesy naan (highly recommended) and Tibetan curry

Momos

3. Mexican Food

Mexican is one of the most popular ethnic foods in Japan, probably thanks to the huge American military bases here and huge cultural influence from the US. There are quite a number of Mexican restaurants which offer affordable and scrumptious meals sprawling all over Osaka.

Bokkoku Kaiten Tori Ryori (墨国回転鶏料理) - franchise chain store which could be found throughout Osaka - there is one in Lucua B2F in Osaka Station

Literally means rotating grilled chicken cuisine (or rotisserie chicken), this place specialises in grilled chicken dishes along with the usual Mexican Tacos and quesadillas. I recommend dining here during lunch time as they offer really cheap and affordable lunch set options for under 900 yen! If you have a few friends, I highly recommend getting a whole chicken set meal (pictured below) which would only set you back for about 2300 yen! The whole chicken set meal comes with a whole grilled chicken topped with sour cream, slices of ham, cheese sticks, avocados (I wish they gave us more), cilantro, tomato salsa sauce, pickled cactus (tastes like any other pickled vegetables), pickled jalapenos, and tacos for sharing (choose from plain or corn).

It's messy, sloppy but finger-licking good. You gotta use your hands to pick any ingredients that you like and assemble them on your taco, wrap it up and pop it in your mouth. Sauces and juices would be dripping all over and some ingredients would even fall from your taco wrapper, if you were being too greedy trying to squeeze too much in the wrapper. 

Nonetheless, it is an utterly gratifying meal, biting into the juicy tender chicken, tasting the heat from the pickled jalapenos, the butteriness of the avocados and the sweet, tangy salsa sauce, all in one bite, resulting in an explosion and marriage of contrasting flavours and one can only conclude that it's delicious.

To be honest, don't bother trying other dishes, because they are quite plain and mediocre at best.

Whole chicken set

Beef Taco Rice (nothing special)
Next up, introducing....

El Pancho (1 Chome-10-1 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0085)
https://www.facebook.com/pages/El-Pancho/151422704889015

Truth to be told, this place is literally a hole in a wall, with dingy interior, graffiti-filled walls and mariachi music, it's like a scene from downtown Mexico City. If you come during weekend nights and if you are lucky, there are live performances on a tiny corner of the restaurant where you can enjoy yourself to some oldies while dining. 

While I'm not an expert in Mexican cuisines, according to some of my American friends, it's the closest thing to Mexican food that you could find in Osaka. So, that coming from people who have tasted American Mexican food, I've gotta take their word for it (with a pinch of salt, I mean).  

So we ended up ordering the cheese quesadillas (sorry, forgot to take picture), burrito with beef mince drenched in salsa sauce, and some "traditional" chicken dish, which I believe it's grilled chicken in chocolate mole sauce.

First up, I've gotta say the cheese quesadillas is one of the best I've tried ever (I've eaten in quite a few Mexican restaurants abroad). Its thin crispy crust compliments the cheesy filling really well and it comes with some mashed chickpeas (or some beans) on the side. Crispy on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, mindbogglingly delicious is all I can say.

Next up, we moved on to the "suspicious-looking" chicken dish. I couldn't remember the name of the dish but it's described in the menu as a "traditional" Mexican dish made from cocoa and Mexican spices. Sounds interesting.  

So, the dish comes with a huge serving of grilled chicken covered in dark-coloured sauce made from dark chocolate and Mexican spices including chillies), and garnished with roast almond chips and chickpeas. 

I remember watching a short documentary about the origin of chocolates and it mentioned about how the ancient Mayans utilised cocoa and chillies to brew up a concoction. Perhaps, this sauce is indeed one of the ancient recipes coming from the Mayan civilisations (who knows?). 

I tried the dark sauce first, it doesn't really taste like anything I had before, pretty interesting or I should say bizarre. It's savoury, slight heat coming through from the spices but not too strong, and lastly I could taste a hint of bitterness towards the end of my tongue. The roast almond chips and chickpeas add a bit of crunch and texture to it; and the baked/roast banana is just plain weird, to me at least. 

Would I try it again? No. But it's a good experience for me to taste something that I'm not accustomed to.  




Beef burrito

Grilled chicken with chocolate mole sauce
So, there you have it, my recommendations of ethnic food in Osaka. Of course, there are many other ethnic foods available there, but these are just my top 3 favourite ethnic cuisines along with my restaurant recommendations.




Monday, April 17, 2017

Food Hunting in Georgetown, Penang

I'm a true-blue, die-hard foodie. On a shitty day, nothing but good food would cheer my soul up. So, of course when I had the chance to return to Penang aka the food paradise, I wouldn't miss any chances!

Touted as one of the top 5 food destinations in the world, Penang's food scene hardly disappoints. Walking down the old Georgetown streets, which was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, one would quickly spot many other tourists walking around with their smartphones and maps looking and hunting for the next place to dine at. Unsurprisingly, given its reputation as a food heaven, many foodies from the all over the world flock to Penang to have a taste of what Malaysia's best has to offer. What I find interesting is that most vendors manning a stall in an old-style Chinese coffee shops (which also serves as hawker centres housing a few food stalls at the same time) only sell very few dishes, often only one dish, in which they have spent years perfecting the recipes and improvising their skills; it's no wonder Penang's street food is hard to beat!

Below is a compilation of the food that I've tried in Penang:

1) Restoran Kimberly - Duck Kuey Chap at Lebuh Kimberly (汕头街权记鸭粥粿汁专卖店)

I came to know what Kuey Chap is from a food TV show many years ago, but have not had the chance to try it out myself. So, just imagine my euphoria and excitement when I chanced upon this famous stall known for its duck kuey chap on a random stroll outside my hotel (which happened to be in the vicinity of Kimberly Street where all the food action takes place). To those who are unfamiliar with the dish, Kuey Chap is a traditional Chinese, Teochew specifically, noodle soup consisting of flat wide rice noodles cut into small squares or triangles, served in a meat broth. And this stall at Kimberly Street serves their own version of Kuey Chap, which I heard is one of its kind, as Kuey Chap is usually served with pork.






So, I immediately dragged my parents to the stall and told them "I saw this stall from a TV food show, it is a must-try!". When you are at the stall to get your orders down, you basically just tell the staff whether you want it big (RM10) or small (RM8) and whether you want it with Kuey Chap (rolled rice noodle) or with rice. As I'm always gamed to try new foods, I quickly decided on Kuey Chap.

The bowl of noodles came with a generous amount of duck meat and pig innards and its signature rich, aromatic dark broth. Of special note, I personally think the broth was exceptional, bursting with wondrous flavours of duck and pork, braised over slow fire for long hours, as well as other spices like peppercorn, star anise, cinnamon, etc; it was marriage of all sorts of flavours, the sweet, the salty, the spice all combined wonderfully with every bite, peppered with the occasional bits of deep fried pork lard which added an extra crunch and aroma to it. One of the star ingredients of this dish is the braised pig intestines which were amazingly flavourful and delicious; slow cooked to perfection for hours until they were soft and tender, these intestines were bursting with flavours and aromatic juices from the broth as you bite into them. 

Judging from the size of the crowd and the queues, it's not hard to see why this is one of the best eateries in Georgetown, serving traditional Kuey Chap which has been passed from generation to generation, preserving their family recipes that is slowly gaining following and recognition from foodies locally and globally. This definitely tops my to-eat list in Penang, along with Teochew Cendol and Char Kuey Tiao. 

Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 9/10

2) Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendol (chain stores which could be found in main shopping malls in Penang)


How can one resist this???

Insanely long queue!

So, you must be wondering why it's called Teochew Chendol? Why not Hokkien, Hainanese or even Peranakan Chendol? It all began when its founder, a first-generation Chinese immigrant of Teochew descent in Malaysia learned the ropes of making chendol and started selling it at a road side stall. That was in 1936. So the family recipe got passed down from generation to generation and it's still continually being perfected. The business slowly and progressively grew and now they have expanded their business to a franchise and they are even selling other Penang's signature dishes like Penang laksa, rojak, etc. I've tried them and I can testify that they are of good quality (history adapted from the Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul website http://www.chendul.my/html/ourhistory.html#3). 

Ehem enough on history and let's get back to chendol. Nothing beats a bowl of chilled chendol on a typical hot, humid day in Malaysia, this is definitely one of Malaysians' favourite desserts. Its rich and creamy coconut milk broth sweetened with coconut sugar, red beans and chendol (green strips made of glutinous rice flour flavoured with pandan) make it so addictingly smooth and delicious. What I like about Teochew Chendol is that it is not overpoweringly sweet like the chendols that I had at other stalls elsewhere, the combination of sweetness from the coconut sugar blends perfectly with the saltiness and creaminess of the coconut milk; also, it's served with generous amounts of red beans and the chendol is thicker and more chewy than the other stalls, which gives it a nice texture to each bite. It is definitely one of the best chendols that I've had!

Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 9.5/10

3) Line Clear Nasi Kandar (Penang Road)

Nasi Kandar - a home-grown dish which originated from Penang and is probably one of the most well-known dishes in Penang. In the olden days, traders would carry a huge bamboo pole balanced on their shoulders carrying bamboo-weaven baskets containing rice and dishes, hence the name "Nasi Kandar", namesake of the act of carrying the bamboo pole on one's shoulders. 

You might be wondering "So, what's so special about this dish?" 

Lemme tell you, the best part of this dish is that it's not just one dish, you can have as many dishes as you like in ONE plate! That's right, it's all about food customisation, you order according to your preference and you pay according to what you ordered and the portion of your order, sounds like a fair deal right? 

Another great thing about Nasi Kandar is you can have multiple types of curries on your rice and it still tastes great no matter what the combinations are, they make your rice taste even more flavourful! When it comes to eating Nasi Kandar, you can leave your cutlery aside and dig in with your bare (washed, of course) hands and eat to your heart's content. So yeah, there you have it, THREE great reasons among many reasons what make Nasi Kandar so irresistible. 

Update: Apparently Line Clear and the store next door were ordered to close down for two weeks after failed a health and hygiene inspection. So yeah, that's one of the downsides of eating street food in Malaysia as many simply don't comply with the hygiene regulations. 
Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/03/14/line-clear-and-another-nasi-kandar-outlet-ordered-shut/

A chicken thigh, some veges and curries cost us about RM10 


Wide varieties of curries and dishes
Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 7.5/10

4) Prawn noodles (Ah Soon Kor Har Mee) (Apparently it's now moved to 80, Jalan Perak 10450 Penang (Near Tua Pek Kong Temple according to Tripadvisor)

Prawn noodles (what the KL people call it) vs. Hokkien mee (what Penangites call it). And don't you get confused with the Singaporean version of Hokkien mee, it's an entirely different dish :)

Regardless of what it's called, it combines the best of both worlds. What do I mean by that? I'm talking about the broth, it is made of the ingenious combination of pork bones and prawn shells slow cooked for hours and the end-result is a savoury, flavourful broth with a hint of the natural sweetness from the prawns and the bone marrow of the pork ribs. 

The prawn noodles from Ah Soon Kor is definitely an elevated, artisan version of prawn noodles. The broth is beautiful, well-balanced on heat and flavours, not overly spicy (unless you mix in all the sambal, adjust the spiciness as you like). Topped with barbecue pork belly (char siu), boiled prawns, sliced hard-boiled egg, blanched greens, deep fried shallots and pork lard. It's a beautiful work of art that's so tasty it will make you cry (also partly because of the spicy sambal lah).

Photo cannot do its justice! Lip-smacking good!
Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 9.5/10 (I was gonna give it 10/10 but you know there is always room for improvement, wished that char siu is more crispy to give it a contrast in texture)

5) Moh Teng Pheow Kuih Nyonya (off 10200, Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls, Lorong Chulia, George Town, 10450 George Town, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia)

Let me be honest with you, I didn't know about this shop before coming to Penang. My parents and I were wandering on Chulia Street in the blistering heat looking for food. So, I suggested using Google Maps since food places are sometimes shown on the map, and then I found this cute little shop tucked away in a dead-end alleyway away from the busy main street of Lebuh Chulia.

For those of you who don't know what Nyonya Kuihs are, I will give you a crash course. Basically, centuries ago, Chinese merchants and traders sailed the South China Sea and ended up settling in Malaya. Slowly, the influx of Chinese immigrants created a subculture or clan which identify themselves as "Peranakan" (can be of Chinese ethnicity or mixed parentage) to differentiate themselves from those who were born in Mainland China. So, the guys are called "Baba" and the women are called "Nyonya" and kuihs (dessert or bite-sized snack) made by these "Nyonyas" are known as "Kuih Nyonya". 



Once you found the shop, you will be greeted by two wall murals depicting vendors selling Kuih Nyonya; these murals do accurately display the intricate designs of the Peranakan food baskets which the vendors used to contain their food items for sale. As you entered the "shop" (it's actually more like someone's backyard) you will go through the kitchen/production site where all the behind-the-scene action happens. As you walked further into the shop, you would come to the cafe/dining area where there is a tiny display section where you can choose and order your "kuihs". The interior of the shop definitely oozes the nostalgic setting of a traditional Peranakan house with all the old-school, retro Chinese New Year stickers on the walls, the portrait of the founder nicely framed up on the counter, numerous paintings of vendors selling Kuih Nyonyas, long wooden tables and hard stools which you could find in school canteens back in the old days.

As you can see, I was too hungry at that time that I forgot to take a picture of my order when the food was served to me. But luckily I took a snapshot of what's available on display. I highly recommend Sri Muka which is the best Sri Muka that I've had in my entire life IMO! It comes in such small portion that it's gone in ONE bite, but it's so worth it though!

The Sri Muka consists of two layers: top green layer and bottom white layer. The top green layer is made of coconut milk, palm sugar and glutinous rice flour, giving it a creamy and bouncy texture; the bottom white layer is made of savoury glutinous rice (not flour) cooked in savoury coconut milk. The combination of the sweet top layer and the bottom savoury layer is not weird at all, surprisingly and the two layers blend harmoniously well together complementing each other in terms of taste and texture. Definitely blew my mind away. Who would have known, Kuih Nyonya can be so elegant like an English afternoon tea.

Awesome Sri Muka!



The founder - Moh Teng Pheow

One of the numerous wall paintings. This one depicts a vendor selling Kuihs on the street back in the olden days.



Peranakan food baskets with some Chinese influence to it, usually it's used during festive seasons like Chinese New Year or weddings, etc.

Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 9.5/10

6) Goh Thew Chik Hainan Chicken Rice (338-A Chulia StreetGeorge Town, Penang Island 10200 Georgetown)

I grew up with a Hainanese grandma whose father worked as a chef for the British government in Singapore during the British rule and my grandma's speciality is Hainanese chicken rice. So my standards for chicken rice is pretty high: the rice has to aromatic and fragrant, the chilli dipping sauce has to be perfect with the right combination of heat, ginger, saltiness and subtle sweetness from the chicken broth, and last but not least, the chicken has to be succulent and tender.

I was quite surprised to discover this shop which sells amazingly delicious Hainanese chicken rice because Penang is predominantly Hokkien and they are not known for the chicken rice. I was very delighted when I found out that this shop is literally a few steps from my hotel, what a bliss to stay around Chulia Street where food heaven is literally a few steps away from your doorstep!

What I really like about it is the rice, it's not too oily, the grains were well-fluffed and separate from each other and not clumpy at all, rice is well-seasoned and really fragrant from the ginger, garlic and chicken stock. The chicken is the bomb! We ordered two types of chicken, one is the classic steamed chicken and the other soy-roast chicken. Both were good, succulent, fall-off-the-bone tender and the light-soy dressing really elevates the flavour of the chicken and goes well with the chicken rice. One can finish off a big plateful of rice with that sauce. It also comes with a complimentary clear vege chicken broth, which was quite refreshing to the palate from all the greasiness from the chicken. Overall, it was a great and hearty meal, good option for a quick lunch for the entire family.






Ho-chiak/Yummylicious rating: 9/10

The Verdict: 

My favourite dish was the Duck Kuey Chap because to me it is an exotic dish which could not be easily found elsewhere. The flavour was great, on-point, the sprinkles of deep fried pork lard and shallots further elevated the taste and added some crunchiness to every bite. The Kuey Chap (rolled rice noodles) itself was very well-made, not clumpy or sticky, goes really well with the dark broth. The other dishes were great as well, it was really hard to choose the best from the best. 


Such is the strength and preservation of traditional cuisines as it is the identity and pride of a family, a tribe, an ethnicity and a lineage. And it is what defines the nation too, a melting pot of cultures and traditions where most of our ancestors originated from foreign lands who later on migrated to Malaysia, bringing with them part of their knowledge and traditions back home. Thus, all of these are what contribute to the rich heritage and diverse food culture we have here in Malaysia. 


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Hitchhiking from the UK to Morocco (Throwback)

Flashback to nearly 6 years ago, I had one of the most epic and amazing adventures of my life when I signed up for a hitchhiking trip from the UK to Morocco (Charity Hitch by Link Community Development UK), which takes place at most of the major universities all over the UK, and among the pre-requisites of participating in this charity hitchhike is that you need to raise over £350 on own initiative (otherwise you need to pay out of the pocket), and you need to have at least a male partner in the team. We would be tracked by the organising committee via us sending them SMS everyday to report our location etc. To make it more challenging, we only had 7 days to reach Morocco from the UK via hitchhiking, which at first seemed to us an impossible and daunting feat.

It wasn't all smooth-sailing for me and my hitchhiking partner. On our first day, we took a train from Edinburgh to London, which we would then proceed to Portsmouth to catch the ferry to Caen Port, France (if memory served me right haha). Due to some technical error with the trains (what shit timing right), we had to stay put in Newcastle for one night and that means we had less time to complete the feat. Nevertheless, we pulled ourselves together and continued on to catching the ferry from Portsmouth. On the ferry, we were proactively (in other words, desperately, lol) asking around the passengers and scouting for potential drivers who would be willing to give us a ride. I seemed to have much better luck than my partner, managed to find an old couple who agreed to take us in. Anyway, once the ferry docked at Caen Port, we followed the couple to their car and off we went to the French countryside. 

To be honest, throughout the hitchhiking trip, I didn't get to see much of the touristy spots nor the big cities of the countries that we've been to except for the countryside and highway roads. We spent most of the time standing and waiting by the road side in blistering cold weather or under the hot blazing sun. In fact, when we were somewhere in France, it had been raining for few days, the weather was really cold, and my clothes and shoes were soaked through and I was shivering pretty bad :( 

Language barrier was another hindering factor for us to get rides from strangers. But that didn't stop me from trying, I jotted down a list of useful Spanish and French expressions in a notebook, and I tried relentlessly to get their attention, and patiently asking everyone at a gas station or parking lot. Most people just shook their heads and drove away, some didn't even bother to stop for us; and surprisingly, all truck drivers that I had asked refused to offer us rides outright noting that it's now illegal or against their company policies to pick up hitchhikers (what a bummer). 

The language barrier also got us into some trouble on one occasion. It was a Sunday, and we were in the middle of nowhere in Spain, if I remember correctly, we were somewhere south of Tarragona, near to Amposta. Cars were few and far between and I suspect it was due to it being a Sunday or public holiday. At that time, we were really anxious that we would have to spend the night at a deserted-looking gas station. After loitering around the gas station for what seemed like an eternity, a car pulled over. A man (wearing make up and wig) rolled down the window and took a glance at me. Loud Spanish disco music blasting in the background, I politely asked for a ride to anywhere as long as they are headed south. To avoid any confusion, I showed him the map as well. He seemed to understand what I was trying to say and hesitated for a few seconds, and finally he said to hop on. It was quite a bizarre experience sharing a car with a few cross-dressing guys with full-on mascara and fake eyelashes, and the Spanish version of Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor" was playing on the car stereo in the background. And then suddenly the car came to a stop after what seemed like a 15-minute drive, and he just kicked us out of his car in the middle of nowhere. We were utterly flabbergasted that the driver actually dropped us in a small town called "Peniscola"after about a 10-km ride. We then desperately tried to look for any kind souls who would give us a ride, but it was such a small town, it was damn difficult to even spot a car passing us by. As the night approached, we felt like giving up and were thinking to look for a place to stay put for the night. Then, something miraculous happened. Out of the blue, a car pulled over and it turned out that two English-speaking tour guides were in it! What are the odds of finding someone who's willing to give you a free ride at 8pm, and what more English-speaking guides who are headed to Valencia! We couldn't have asked for more. That came timely because we were running out of time as we had already booked the ferry ride to Morocco, and we only had 1 day to make it to Algeciras.

Long story cut short, in the end, we did cheat a little bit (OK, we cheated big time), we ended up taking a 12-hour bus ride from Valencia to Algeciras, simply because we were tight on time, and on the other hand, we were simply tired and exhausted from all the hitchhiking. Boy, we were so relieved when we were able to catch our pre-booked ferry to Tangier; that marked the end of our hitchhiking trip and the beginning of yet another epic adventure in Morocco for the following 8 days.

If you were to ask me "would I do it again?", the short answer is "No". 

But you were to ask me "Did I regret hitchhiking?"

No, I never regretted a single bit. In fact, it was one of the craziest and most adventurous things I had ever done in my life, I really learnt and grew a lot throughout the whole journey. I learnt that there are many kind people out there who are willing to help without asking or expecting anything in return even when there is a huge communication barrier between us. Body language, hand gestures and smile go a long way breaking those barriers down. This whole experience also taught me to persevere and not give up easily even when things do not go the way you wanted it to be. 

I'm actually surprised that I could vividly remember the whole trip in such details even after 6 years had passed since the trip. I guess I really treasured every second and moment of this hitchhiking trip: from raising money by selling cakes in front of the library all by myself to waiting in the blistering cold for hours. When I looked back, I could proudly regale people with interesting account of my experiences and stories from this hitchhiking trip. 

If any one of you are thinking about doing something bold and adventurous like hiking Mt. Everest or even something as simple as backpacking solo in Thailand, if your heart tells you to do so, don't second guess yourself and just do it because YOLO (you only live once)!  

Photo credits to Yee Siang Lim