Saturday, December 31, 2011

How Happy, Bhutan?

Last day to 2011. WHOA.

One of the most remarkable (and hardest) things done this year had to be our journey to Bhutan. I had to at least say something about it before hotfooting it over to the other side.

Rather than choose to celebrate the aftermath of our marital union the sensible and relaxing way, we decided, to hell with chilling by the beach sipping a Mai Tai, let's blow all our cash and hit Bhutan!

'The jaw-dropping Himalayan stretch greets you in flight even before descent

Of course, we weren't expecting to put our feet up, having done months of research beforehand and thoroughly expecting the bare minimum of creature comforts and rigorous tests to our fitness levels. The truth is, there was no way we could have prepared enough for an experience this different.

Tango Monastery, Thimphu

Any discomfort and the exhorbitant price tag that comes with a trip to Bhutan are all but the negligible price to pay to witness this tiny kingdom at the cusp of major transformation, as its pastoral beauty and way of life makes way for planned development, which had hitherto been firmly controlled.

Closest thing to a traffic light in the entire Kingdom in capital Thimphu

En route to Punakha after descent from Dochula Pass

Apart from the ridiculously picturesque landscape (which remains acutely unnatural to the untrained eye from infinitely uglier cities), the other thing we wanted to get our heads around when we embarked on the trip was Bhutan's acclaimed Gross National Happiness (GNH) concept.

Taktsang Monastery or Tiger's Nest - prevailing myths and legends not withstanding, this is a magnificent piece of architecture.

While there is plenty of literature on GNH's use in measuring Bhutan's sense of well-governance as an indicator of progress, it was difficult for us mere children of capitalism to grasp how it would feature in the average life of a working Bhutanese. Fortunately, our guide Dawa did not shy from sharing his thoughts with us about this.

While Bhutan has gained repute from being the poster child to GNH, a concept that is being studied by academics and politicians alike all over the world, it remains just that - a concept. For an abstract index that claims to measure how secure and happy people feel about governance, it is treading on uncertain grounds, given the development of democracy in Bhutan. For majority of Bhutanese, who have only in recent years seen the introduction of democratic elections, and who still ardently aggrieve the abdication of their former king (the beloved Fourth King passed the crown to his son, now the Fifth King in 2008), GNH does not necessarily assure happiness.

His personal opinion aside, Dawa does feel though, that as the young Fifth King gains his footing and as the country's democracy matures, Bhutanese will reclaim that coveted brand of intellectual progress as a Kingdom.

Since our return, I've also read with interest some other dissenting views on GNH, particularly around the issues of the expulsion of ethnic Nepalese and rise of consumerism. If you're up for some more reading on how the youth of Bhutan features in all this, this paper might be of interest.

In any case, it's an interesting topic that will continue to see plenty of argument, and one on which I will keep close tabs. Our time spent in Bhutan merely scratched the surface but we certainly didn't experience anything other than warmth and friendliness from the government-sanctioned tourist quarters.

The Happy Honeymooners, at Chele La Pass, highest point in Bhutan at 3988m above sea level

Will be thinking more about this for sure. GNH or not, happiness in all its vagueness is too individualistic and personal to dilute into some kinda common denominator report card.

Not the last about Bhutan you'll hear from me! Will definitely be a post on food and drink (most of which didn't quite agree with me!).

Until then, have a Happy New Year, beautiful ones! See you in 2012!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chote Chitr, Bangkok

So much had been said about the legendary Bangkok icon of a hole-in-the-wall eatery Chote Chitr (in recent years, more bad than good) that we didn't know what to expect. We were prepared for the food to be either sublime or disappointing and overpriced; the service was known to be erratic and subjected to some degree of arrogance on the part of the lady owner.

Well, no knocking till we tried it, so after a 15-minute walk from Rambutri area, we were somewhat heartened to like the facade that we saw, on this small road off Tanao Road.

Old but clean and well-kept, the shop was empty when we got there slightly before 6PM. Celebrated lady owner came to take the orders, a commanding air and her equally well-known Shih Tzu in tow. We are no fans of small, yappy dogs but this one was subdued and kept mostly out of our way so we could get down to the eating.

The famed Banana Flower Leaf Salad proved its reputation correct. The nutty dressing drew the subtle bouquet of the banana flower out, inspired feelings of rolling around in grassy splendour. Or one of them Thai beaches.

We decided to venture against lady owner's recommendations (which incited visible annoyance) and picked another starter, Spicy Chicken with Salted Egg paste served with fresh vegetables. This was unusual in its pairing of the flavours - salted egg yolk and a good dose of tamarind? juice. Would go beautifully with mountains of fluffy white rice. No regrets but we would probably skip this in the future.

Finally, the stunning Chu Chee Curry with River Prawns - more sweet than spicy, the fresh crunch of the prawns when drenched in the coconut-based red curry, with the striking scent of kaffir lime leaves, sealed it for us.

Bill was around THB600, not the cheapest given that it's Bangkok, whose streets are teeming with great food at a fraction. But the succulent meal, paired with the opportunity to meet the grand dame (and defy her!) was well worth it!

Chote Chitr
146 Th Phraeng Phuton (off Tanao Road)
Banglamphu, Bangkok

Friday, November 11, 2011

Best Curry Puff from Singapore on Old Klang Road?

Just a quick toe-dip back into the scheme of things:

We were drifting by Bloom Season Bakery at Scott Garden on Old Klang Road after a particularly underwhelming breakfast at Lorong Seratus Tahun when this caught my eye:

Tip Top's claim of offering the best chicken curry puff from Singapore got me all hot and bothered. The average Malaysian would know the feeling - that instant biological reaction to the combination of the words "Best" and "Curry Puff" only savoury curry filling encased in a greasy flaky pocket can mollify. In we went...

The puff came piping hot out from the kitchen (as it was barely 11AM) and certainly very impressive in size. But upon the first bite, the filling punctured my pastry craving, a blow to the gut. Overpowering with curry-powder and not much else. Even the generous quarter of hard-boiled egg failed to lift the package from the league of highway rest stop curry puffs.

Best Curry Puff from Singapore on Old Klang Road? I don't think so!! Keep looking, folks!

Tip Top The Puff Factory
Bloom Season Bakery
Ground Floor (next to Lorong Seratus Tahun)
289 Old Klang Road
58000 Kuala Lumpur

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dynasty Dragon, SS Two Mall

Turned away by Imperial Garden Restaurant's opening hours on a Saturday (we wanted dim sum at 10AM, they were only open at 11.30AM), we drove sulkily around the area for a dim sum joint with the unspoken caveat that it not be a Jin Xuan or a Hong Kee.

Upon reaching the gleaming anterior of SS Two Mall, we spied Dynasty Dragon and swung right in. Open at 10.30AM, with a healthy queue of families lounging about the entrance waiting to be ushered in, we brimmed with profuse confidence and self-praise for having found the place.

Early birds didn't quite get the proverbial worm here though. The orders took forever as most of the staff were actually tucking into early lunch in the main dining area. Big ups to the employer for feeding the staff properly before they tackled the lunch hordes but perhaps, they shouldn't have let the early patrons in until they were absolutely ready.

When the first of our orders finally arrived, we were off to a watery start when the century egg porridge arrived, bland, more gruel than porridge.

The Prawn Dumplings (Har Gau) did much better and reassured us that we would be taken care of, one way or another.

We liked that the Shanghai Dumplings (Siu Long Bao) came in little individual saucers to catch the precious scalding hot soup spilling out upon chopstick contact.

BBQ Pork Buns went down a treat. I'm no connoisseur but anything steaming hot and fluffy with lots of pork within is a no-brainer really.

Now THIS, Deep fried Yam puff with Scallop, variation of the classic Wu Kok, was something else. These were quite the exquisite parcels of seasoned yam with a whole fresh scallop encased, deep fried to a golden crisp and finished with a sprinkle of roe. Luscious!

Ended with a miss though... the Loh Mai Kai was way too sweet and oily to recommend.

So despite a rough start, I guess we didn't do too badly, although we could have done without the initial wait. Fairly priced at around RM46 too.

Dynasty Dragon Seafood Restaurant
Third Floor, SS Two Mall
Petaling Jaya
Tel: 03-79546328

Or their full deets, together with the five other branches' here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gelato Secrets in Ubud, Bali

During our requisite trek down the somewhat stressful terrain of Monkey Forest Road ("up, down, up down") in Bali, we decided to make a random stop at Gelato Secrets.

Pastel-perfect as sweet-sixteen stolen kisses

Drawn to the more unusual specials of the month, we each picked a scoop to make up the triple scoop at Rp45,000.

I picked Avocado & Chocolate, Hui went for Pumpkin Hazelnut and Mei Shean, the Tomato Basil Sorbet.

Crowd favourite was easily the Avocado & Chocolate. 'Twas a beautiful pairing of two contrasting, equally complex flavours, sinfully decadent. Texture was just right too, liquid smooth yet richer than regular ice cream.

The pumpkin went down easily too, being more nutty than fruity but sadly, we couldn't quite get our heads around the novelty star of the day, Tomato & Basil sorbet. Certainly interesting and uplifting enough, just not quite our thing.

They had a gamut of other flavours which we had intended to go back for, but got side-tracked by the pool, Bintang beer and a couple of blond, Dutch boys.

Gelato Secrets
Jalan Monkey Forest
Ubud, Bali

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Soon Kee Hokkien Fried Prawn Noodle

Currently craving:

Hokkien Mee that I was completely oblivious to until recent months, after spending a bit more time in suburban Singapore. This one comes with a generous mix of thick rice vermicelli with yellow noodles, sweetened with the bouquet of the sea in a deceptively light-coloured gravy. For extra punch, hot, hot chilli sauce (at SGD0.50 for an extra tiny dollop), finish with a squeeze of fresh lime.

Soon Kee Hokkien Fried Prawn Noodle, nothing like the Hokkien mee of my origins, or the darker version one found in KL, but I'm extremely close to claiming it as my favourite among all three variants.

I know there are plenty more versions of this dotted bountifully in coffee shops across the island, and by that I don't even mean the sanitized Food Republic sort. In due time, all in due time.

Soon Kee
Block 155
Bukit Batok St 11

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Roast Pork at Wong Mei Kee's, Pudu

Having finally been indoctrinated into KL's brand of roast pork, the task of savouring each cut of pork, fat and skin has assumed utmost gravity, as we scour our way through the great Klang Valley - the vulgar, the sublime, the nasty.

One such that perhaps succintly captures all three is Wong Mei Kee's, off Jalan Pudu, which needs absolutely no introduction. The queues here come noon are legendary, as are the consistently nasty shock at the cost at end of the meal. Prepare to fork out approximately RM20 and above per person.

Arrive around noon and be prepared for a half hour wait for the ceremonious reveal of the day's roast, when the master himself (Chef, Sir Wong?) slow-marches out of the kitchen, carting the still-smoking slab of meat. Quite the showman, he is.

And the reward? On a good day (and yes, unfortunately there are bad ones), you get slices of tender, almost soft, pork belly meat sandwiching just the right sliver of viscous fat, topped with a crunchy golden crust. Hell yeah. The most vulgar type of beauty to date.

The Showman and his Tool

Wong Mei Kee (within Wong Kee Coffee Shop)
Jalan Nyonya
Off Jalan Pudu

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Seeri Authentic Thai, SS2

This post shall serve to remind me to never repeat this recent string of weekends pretty much wasted in recovery from too much of a good time. Spent most days struggling with motion sickness at the slightest movement and remorse. Too much remorse.

Following this maligned period of time, I wanted to reward Fat Tulip for being so patient in my many hours of need, save for a truncated lecture or two about my excesses, and so we checked out Seeri Thai in SS2.

The Sambai petai prawns bowled us both over. The amount of juicy, putrid beans perspiring in perfumed gravy got us good. We couldn't stop even if we knew that the sensible thing to do was to leave some to take away for dinner.

Equally happy with the Tomyam Seafood, a heady, satisfying concoction. One of the better tomyam I've had of late.

Despite it being barely noon, they had apparently "run out" of chicken so we made do with pork to go with its Green Curry. Not disappointing enough to complain but I think they could've done the dish greater justice with fresh(er?) coconut milk.

Pretty happy with this though and well deserving of a repeat, unlike the feeble weekends prior. There is no good EVER to be had from that additional shot of liquor!

Seeri Authentic Thai
Jalan SS2/10 (Same row as Okay kopitiam and Super Kitchen, Chow Yang, SS2)
Petaling Jaya

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hong Cha, OUG

Played house all weekend and was feeling the early symptoms of cabin fever, so off we went for a drive to shake it off.

Lazing around does take its toll - inertia begets inertia. We simply couldn't exert energy to go too far so Fat Tulip's idea of Hong Cha, near-and-dear pork noodles place in OUG, had to do.

For me, OUG's a tough one to get excited about, simply because of the questionable state of hygiene generally - there's so much good food within and if it was maybe half as filthy, we'd be eating there a lot more often.

Rats the size of cats aside, Hong Cha was the best pick that lazy evening - warmed us up plenty, paving the way for even more lying around and catching up on film downloads.

Fat Tulip got the Hong Cha special - liver, minced pork, sliced pork, intestines, seafood, everything but the kitchen sink!

The more modest version of just minced & sliced pork, with a raw golden egg to break up the colour code, perfectly complements nicely blanched noodles drizzled with soy.

Dry Lou Shu Fun

The menu at Hong Cha also featured, oddly enough, some standard Japanese fare. We saw many tables digging into sushi rolls with their steaming bowls of pork noodles - cross-cultural appreciation redefined!

Tonkatsu, with a side of potato salad. Meat was a bit too tough to leave much of an impression. Had to leave this unfinished, even if that goes against every grain of my being.

The mixed vegetable tempura set served its purpose. Ordinary enough to tough it out with the Japanese mom & pops' version around, crunchy enough to add another dimension to the already-hearty meal.

Hong Cha, evidently already well-known and well-loved

And best film of the weekend, by the way, had to be Mike Leigh's Another Year. Sad, funny, scary all at once. Deserves a bigger audience and all the accolades in the world. If you haven't seen it, make it a point to download it via your friendly torrent client!

Hong Cha
Jalan Hujan Rahmat 3
OUG, Kuala Lumpur

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pure Life Organic, Kajang

Suppp Kajang!! I come this lovely Saturday not to ravage your satay supply. Nor have I travelled the distance to appraise the merchandise at Billion. I come to learn to eat and dispose, in the friendliest possible way Mother Earth could wish.

Truth is, we consume a lot of crap outside. What you don't know about the food preparation in the back end won't hurt you, but it sure makes you feel pretty damn nasty after. Pure Life Organic's proposition seems pretty straightforward and hard not to like. No preservatives, no additives, all natural, and as much as possible, they practise the concept of sustainable consumption. The menu varies everyday of the week and Saturday's greets us on the chalkboard as we arrive.

The converted residence makes for a casual cafe setting. We could sit and wonder why our tastebuds respond so differently to our bodies - what may taste like heaven to the tongue may very well be the source of some benign, but nevertheless aggravating, physical reaction in a few hours' time. But instead, we grab a staff member and make sure food is on the way.

Pure Life's organic food store in one separate wing of the establishment is busy and frequented by staunch regulars. The friendly and enigmatic owners appear to know most by name, and are always genuinely ready to engage and help. I'd like a store like this in the neighbourhood very much! Somehow, my current fresh mart/ beer guy opposite where I live isn't scoring high points for customer retention.

We have the deceptively-named Caesar Salad to start. Caesar dressing typically goes down all wrong with me. However, no such worries here because the salad is fresh and crisp and lovely with a balsamic vinegarish dressing. It's anything but Caesar!

The Mee Mamak order is a mild, almost better-groomed version than its original street counterpart. The noodles (of the buckwheat variety, I think) are buoyant to the bite and the abundance of crunchy greens and organic tofu uplifts what would have been a muted affair.

What did stay muted unfortunately was the Curry Pan Mee. It comes across as having tried too hard but missing the mark somewhat. The curry broth was a drab watery concoction and anything submerged in it would have basically failed.

We have to give the banana-leaved triangles of Nasi Lemak a shot, even if the carbs, no matter how pure and unadulterated, were starting to weigh us down. The use of brown rice means Pure Life does end up compromising the fluff factor but if we look past that, everything else, down to the sambal, makes for a decent little package.

We come to the last, and what's probably the most worthwhile part of the experience at Pure Life. Patrons are encouraged to clear their tables and take their plates through a waste-friendly 5-basin washing cycle. It begins with a rinse and scrub in the first basin, containing palm oil and coconut oil, before moving to the second basin of oiltea camelia seed powder, a cleansing agent. You repeat in the third and fourth basin before finishing with a clear water rinse in the fifth and final basin.

We think there's some way to go but Pure Life is doing something right here. It's not that hard for anyone half-sensible to appreciate the many reasons for greater personal involvement in changing the way we consume and dispose.

And guess what, the body feels great after. So great that I even pass up on Fat Tulip's offer to stop by for Kajang satay after!

Pure Life Organic
Jalan 1, Off Jalan Reko,
43000 Kajang
Tel: +603-8733 6189

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Seri Petaling Seafood Village

The Boss decided she would show those willing and able a slice of neighbourhood seafood that was turning into a regular spot for her family.

Seri Petaling Seafood Village is located at an unassuming spot, on the road running somewhat parallel to the back of Carrefour. The place was brightly lit, open air and already nicely filled with diners - we switched our hungry blinkers on and listened, bright-eyed and bushy tailed while munching on peanuts and sweet potato chips and Boss helmed the ordering for feast.

Alas, Devastation befell us! The lady informed us that they had run out of crabs! What kind of seafood restaurant runs out of crabs at 8.30PM? A busy, popular one, evidently! We had to make do, and made do we did.

Green Dragon - as green as our colour, watching a neighbouring table suck down the claws of the last crab of the night. Oh we'll get you one day, just you wait!

Fresh, sumptuous, utterly finger-licking Assam Prawns - we downed two plates of these babies!

The Salt & Pepper Squid disappeared as fast as it came - crunch crunch, gulp, gone!

The Assam Fish is probably the best way to prepare the tilapia (fei chow yu or African fish) here. The second preparation of similar fish which came later revealed that maligned swampy freshwater taste.

Mud - lovely on skin, not so in my fish

And came our favourite part the meal - the Salted Egg sigh, everybody together, now! The prawns gleamed in golden grandeur and the squid shone supreme.

TV snack on its own, totally!

Not a fan of venison so gave the Stir-fried Venison with Ginger a miss. Probably a shade paler than the seafood stars here but the others had no problem wiping this clean whatsoever.

The meal fed seven of us too well, and bill total came to about RM350. A right steal, we felt!

And for those slippery lil' crustaceans, we must be back. To the crabs!

Seri Petaling Seafood Village Restaurant
Lot 24221, Jalan Merah Silu
Bandar Baru Seri Petaling
57000 KL