Tag Archives: Asian

3 Days / 2 Nights in Penang, Malaysia

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Burma Lane

The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the name “Burma Lane” is a small road in George Town, Penang. It is a popular destination with tourists and local Buddhist worshippers. There is the historical Burmese temple built in the 1800s called Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple and the Penang Reclining Buddha Temple, a Thai temple directly across the Dhammikarama Burmese temple.  Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Buddhist Temple or more famously known in the Penang as the Reclining Buddha Temple is a Thai temple built after the Burmese temple in the late 1800s.

Flashback to my present time. Here in Melbourne.

When I came across a place with a shopfront sign “Burma Lane” as I was walking down a Melbourne lane way – Alfred Place – from Collins Street I was curious to find out what it is. The shop was directly across a T-junction at the end of Alfred Place and Little Collins Street. It was set a bit elevated from the street level. I had to stretch my neck slightly to see what’s inside through the glass wall. That was 4 weeks ago. It looked interesting and stylish with hanging lanterns. It doesn’t take much to guess it is going to be a new restaurant. A modern take on the Burmese food – a less known South East Asian cuisine in Melbourne, unlike Thai and Vietnamese. There is a website – burmalane.com.au. I stood in front of the shop with my iPhone handy in my hand started punching in the web address. There was not much at the time. The website was launched but only with a front page advertising the name and a special soft opening promotion by registering online – a 50% discount on the food.  It didn’t take me long to register my interest and “Like” their FB page. Crazy but it’s true! I bet there are a lot of food bloggers still didn’t know about this latest restaurant in Melbourne.

3 weeks later, I received an email from the restaurant announcing their soft opening date on Monday 11th November. To redeem the promotion voucher, it needs to be used during their soft opening. So my partner and I went there last night for dinner. We were there for a 7pm dinner. I was expecting the place to be packed. But it wasn’t. Probably still early.

On entering the restaurant, there was a lot to take in. It has a large open atrium dining space with soaring high ceilings to the second level and hanging lanterns and streams of down lights. A stylish renovation with glass wall on one side with beautiful framed pictures and the other side a concrete wall with a large painted portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, where a flight of stairs lead to the second floor dining area. The place is dark and stylish with very loud music to create the ambience of a latest and hype Melbournian restaurant.

We were given a table upstairs which is quieter for dining couples. At the far end of the room was a row of tables set up only for two people. I thought that was a nice thought. The menu was just right. Not too extensive and not too small. It was printed on an A3 size white paper used as a table mat with a round brown glazed dining plate set on top.P1140228

The menus is easy to read and sectioned into Small Bites, Salad, Noodles, Bigger Bites and Desserts. The description on each of the dishes is simple to understand, making it easier to choose and order. We chose a couple of Small Bites – Kun Sar Thi and Soft Shell Crab, Salad – Rakhine style shredded chicken salad with banana flowers, Bigger Bites – Mohinga Rockling and Goat Curry. Drinks – my partner ordered a Sample Pale Ale to start with and a couple of red wine by the glass. I had a cocktail – Thai Dai, which has kaffir lime leaves infused into the drink.

I have never been to Burma so I can’t really say that I know anything about a Burmese food. However, Burma Lane impresses me. The food was good. It was  delicate and subtle in flavours. The dishes were presented well, except for the soft shell crab which was our least favourite. The idea of having 3 side condiments to accompany the food was great – from a mild, sweet chilli paste to the traditional “balachaung” – the Burmese dried shrimp relish. I was really surprised with the taste and texture of the balachaung, which is similar to how my mum would have made it at home. Interesting as Burma and Penang are thousands of kilometres apart with the Thai borders in between. I can only guess that during the spice trade in the 1700s, the Burmese came and settled in Penang and brought their culture and food (and also built the only one and oldest Dhammikarama Burmese Temple in Burma Lane, Penang). The Penang version of balachaung is a nonya take on the balachaung called “sambal har bee” which is a spicier version. It is a popular accompaniment with rice or spread over a white bread and folded into a sandwich. Sadly to say, this dried spicy relish is slowing disappearing from the culinary food scene in Penang. P1140235

Our favourite dish at Burma Lane was the Goat Curry with pumpkin. The gravy was rich, thick and mildly spiced. The goat meat was tender. P1140241My next favourite dish for the night was the chicken wrapped in betel leaf. The chicken was mixed through with shallots, green mango and lightly spiced with sichuan pepper. It went well with the 3 different types of side condiments. I ate the mixture wrapped in a single betel leaf and in one mouthful to get the full impact of the different texture and flavour in one bite. It was very nice.P1140237The shredded chicken salad with banana flower was simple and delicate in flavour. I would have prefer to taste more of the banana flower but there wasn’t much of that. P1140238The Rockling in a mild turmeric and lemongrass based gravy was light and a bit strong on the turmeric after taste. It was accompanied by some vermicelli noodles, hard boiled eggs and the preserved asian mustard green. I thought the fish was a bit overcooked and tough.P1140240One thing that I have found with the food was that it was not overly sweet, salty and spicy. That is good as the food should focus on each of the different produces that come together to give the flavour, texture and uniqueness on each of the dishes. I hate it when a dish is over seasoned with too much sugar and salt which kills the goodness of the delicate flavour of a fresh ingredient.

 

I can’t help but to compare Burma Lane with Chin Chin – similar in food style and restaurant concept. Burma Lane has larger rooms, feels less cramped, less crowded and less noise. It is nicer to dine at Burma Lane without feeling like you have to yell to have a conversation. Food wise, they are quite different depending on taste. Burma Lane dishes are on a subtle and less complex side whereas Chin Chin delivers a big punch to the taste and flavours. Personally I love the food at Chin Chin but I prefer the ambience and classier feel of Burma Lane.

Bangkok Floating Market

There were two things that I wanted to do on my last trip to Bangkok. One is “Wat Arun” or Temple of the Dawn in English. The other is the Floating Market. Bangkok is a fascinating city with a population exceeding $10 million people. It is massive and sprawling like no other city in Southeast Asia countries, except probably Jakarta and Manila.

The last time I have been to a Bangkok floating market was in 1989. I was seconded to Bangkok to work for IBM Thailand by a Malaysian IBM Business Partner, Sunway Computer Services. That was a long time ago. But the memory is still with me because it was a good few months experience living and working in Bangkok until I had a viral infection due to food poisoning. It left me sick for several weeks unable to work and almost had to be hospitalised. That was a frightening experience. Bangkok at that time was nothing like today. The public transport system is dependent either on the bus, “tuk-tuk” or the motorcyles. The road traffic jam was like a carpark and the air pollution quality was very poor. The food hygiene was not regulated and the drinking water quality was not recommended to drink off the tap.

In today’s Bangkok, modernisation has seen Bangkok quality of life improved significantly with a better public transport network system – the “Skytrain” monorail, underground subway train, elevated pedestrian bridges connecting several mega building complexes and hotel river boats transporting the tourists from a riverside hotel to the Skytrain station at Sapak Taksin Pier. It is much easier for the tourists to move around without getting stuck on the notorious peak hour traffic jam.

In 1989, one of my Thai IBM colleagues was showing me around Thailand. Thai people are very hospitable and gentle. They spoke eloquently in a soft melodies tone of voice. Their language is as enchanting as their culture and country. They are mesmerising. This is the beautiful and true side of Thailand. Not the other side – the sex industry – that many foreign male tourists are accustomed to – like “Patpong”, the Go-Go Bars and “Lady Boy”.

My Thai colleague took me to the ancient ruined kingdom of Ayutthaya and the floating market. It was one of the best experiences I had while living in Thailand. It was a living and breathing culture on the canals with boat vendors floating gently on the water selling their fresh produces and “make to order” cooked food. That was a true Thai floating market. There was hardly any tourist around except the locals.

Tourism is a big industry in Thailand. The floating market is no exception. It is touristy – the one nearest to Bangkok. It is easy to get to from the Chao Phraya River. There are canal tour services by the hours at the Sapak Taksin Pier. Before I left Bangkok and headed back to Penang for a few more days, I thought it was a nice idea to go on the canal riverboat tour to the floating market. I hired one of the longtail boat for 1½ hours trip to the floating market for 1, 600 Thai Baht for two of us. The weather was overcast and windy. The river was choppy and rough. There were intermittent stopped when the very dark and brown Chao Phraya river got too rough. It was thrilling and nerve racking at the same. I would hate to think what would happened if the boat got overturned into the brown river! After twenty minutes from Sapak Taksin Pier, we came to an opening leading to a narrow canal snaking through several brick walled houses and stilt wooden houses.P1130823P1130808There were other longtail boats along the way. Around a narrow bend, our driver yelled out to us, “floating market!” and pointed towards a tiny boat vendor in front of us. We laughed. I was astonished thinking that, “is that it?!”. Then our boat pulled alongside the tiny boat. The boat vendor smiled, the usual Thai charm, and said, “Buy Beer nah?…” “…only 100 Baht” “…buy for your driver nah.” “…he can drink after finish work.” I said no. Then, she took out a small canned coffee. “How about Ca-Fey?..” “…only 30 Baht.” “…buy for your driver nah.” I said no again. She was very persistent. Then she said something in Thai to our driver. Probably cursing us. We moved on. Thank god! That was an ordeal, but funny.P1130834We finally arrived at the real floating market. There were so many tourists and boats pulled alongside the wooden platform to let the tourist on and off. Our boat driver said twenty minutes. We hopped off the boat. It was like a Hollywood film set except this was real as it gets in Bangkok – with tourists and the odd numbers of boat vendors parked alongside the wooden structures platforms for people to sit and eat. There were boat vendors selling grilled seafood, satay, noodle soup and “Som Tam” (green papaya salad). The place felt authentic and rustic without making the place looked new or modern. The wooden platform was an extension of a solid ground where there are more stalls selling different kinds of Thai street food and drinks, fresh fruits, plants, kitchenware and souvenirs.P1130848P1130895P1130861 P1130859P1130911 P1130905 P1130897 P1130871 P1130869 P1130847I bought a block of ‘coconut sugar’ for 45 Baht, which I initially thought it was ‘palm sugar’ until the vendor corrected me. Hopefully I can take into Australia. I have never tried a coconut sugar in my drink or cooking. This will be interesting and a new food experiment when I get home to Melbourne.P1130875This Bangkok floating market is vastly different from my experience in 1989, which was truly an authentic Thai floating market with the boat vendors floating gently on the canal river selling their fresh vegetables and fruits or serving their boat food to early morning market goers and village homes along the canal. Nevertheless, the Bangkok version of the floating market is still a good experience for many tourists.

My Last Hour in Singapore

How would you spend your last hour in a hotel before rushing to the airport, bus or train station for that next leg of the journey? Most travellers will leave their packing to the last hour. What if the hotel granted you a late checkout at 1 pm? That means, you have some extra time. Most travellers, like me, hate rushing to check out by 10 am. I always ask for a late check out – an extra hour or two helps.

In an earlier post, I wrote about how I spent my last morning in Singapore. After a nice long walk, I had my shower and packed my luggage. I took my time. The hotel granted my request for a 1:30 pm late check out. I even have time to write that last post while I was still in my room. I have another two hours to kill. After reading a comment posted by a friend of mine – Mr Dillon in Facebook – a passionate food lover and a great cook, he was sharing his “foodie” experience eating Hainanese chicken rice at Purvis Street.

Purvis Street is only 2 blocks or a 5 minutes walk from the Fairmont Hotel. I have walked past the street but not along the street. I didn’t realised there are some eating places along Purvis street, and that there are a couple of places specialising in Hainanese-style Chicken Rice. I am always a big fan of Hainanese chicken rice. I have heard so much that the Singaporean version is better than the Malaysian version. And, I think they are right. I have tried one stall a few years ago in Chinatown at the famed Maxwell Road Food Court. It was the best chicken rice I have ever had and I still remember that very moment at the Tian Tian Chicken Rice stand.P1130230I found one of the chicken rice cafe, “Chin Chin Eating House”. It looks popular and busy with local Singaporeans. There was a menu with a few Hainan-style dishes. I ordered a mixture of “white chicken” and roasted chicken. The white chicken is actually a poached chicken. Once cooked, it is blanched in ice water to create the jelly like skin finishing, giving it a nice and silky smooth texture. I ordered a Hainan- style mixed vegetables – cabbage, black fungus, button mushroom, glass noodles and bean curd skin. The side condiments on the table include freshly grated ginger and chilli sauce. They go hand in hand and best eaten with the rice and chicken to get the full punch in the mouth!P1130226 P1130221 P1130220 P1130218 P1130217Next door to Chin Chin is another Chicken Rice cafe – YY Cafe, at the corner of Purvis Street and Ocean Road. I ate at YY for lunch a day before. Both YY and Chin Chin are good. There wasn’t much “white chicken” in my plate at Chin Chin, which made it hard to compare with YY. The “white chicken” at YY was lovely, silky smooth and tasty. But, the rice at Chin Chin was probably better which was loose by the grains, fluffy and oily as should be. The extra condiment of freshly grated ginger delivered a wholesome experience of a complete chicken rice dish with full, rounded and robust flavour. And, the Hainan style mixed vegetable was delightful.P1120952 P1130229After my chicken rice lunch at Chin Chin, I made my way back to the hotel with a side detour. I stopped at The Raffles, which was directly across from the Fairmont Hotel. I leisurely  strolled through the opulent hotel’s retail shops and internal courtyard.P1130257 P1130256 P1130239P1130244A great contrast to the outside world of The Raffles was a block of flat with hanging laundries from some of the units. This was a rare sighting – reminiscent of the bygone era when flat was built with no space for drying clothes. Hence, the long bamboo pole protruding from a window of the unit. It makes a colourful change from the otherwise sterile and clean Singapore.P1130234

OHM – Open House Melbourne Day 2

I thought I will be more prepared for my day 2 OHM after yesterday viewing of two of the newest office buildings in Melbourne – Aurecon Centre with its occupants moved in just a month ago, and the Lifestyle Working Collins Street which is very new and yet to be occupied by its tenants. Both of these new buildings are eco-friendly with stunning architectural design, and strategically located in front a Tram stop.

Before I left my apartment, I surfed the OHM 2013 website to see which buildings are opened in Day 2. I narrowed down to the following buildings;

The first 3 buildings are within the vicinity of each other on the eastern side of the CBD. The fourth buidling Southbank theatre is across the south side of the Yarra River and finally the last building Forte is across the Yarra River from where I live. The plan is to “Go East” first, then south across the Yarra River and then back across north side of the river and “Go West” of the CBD on the way home. Sounds like a good plan.

An early start to the morning will be good. But nothing stay to plan. By the time I finished ironing all our shirts for the week – yes, included my partner’s shirts – it was almost late morning. I quickly got changed, left the apartment and headed east on the city tram, and got off at the Collins Street / Spring Street intersection. Directly across Spring Street is the Old Treasury Building. I saw the familiar sky blue teardrop with a middle white dot symbol of OHM outside The Old Treasury Building and people were walking into the building. This building was outside the scope of my itinerary. The organised side of me was telling me to stick to my itinerary. But, the inquisitive side was telling me to seek and explore the history behind this old historical building built between 1858 and 1862.P1120618As I walked up the stairs to the entrance, I could hear someone beside me asking a OHM volunteer if the lower ground floor Gold Vaults is opened for viewing.  He was excited when told that it was opened. He got me excited as well. I was glad that my impromptu visit to this building was not regretted.

The lower ground floor Gold Vaults has a very long and narrow corridor with its brick wall painted white. The gold bullion was once stored in here. There are several individual rooms hosting a multimedia exhibition, Built on Gold, which follows the journey of gold from the Victorian diggings, as it passed through the hands of gold buyers, escort troopers and occasional bushrangers.P1120628P1120635 P1120630The gold bullion encased on the ground covered with glass. I wonder if they are real gold.P1120636Next was the Parliament building – a short 2-3 minutes walk on the same side of the road. Directly across from the Parliament building is the heritage listed Hotel Windsor.P1120643

There was a long queue when I got to the Parliament building. It was an hour wait in the queue. The OHM included a 1-hour guided tour taking through the Queen’s Hall, Upper House, Lower House and the Library. It was my first experience visiting a parliament, sat in the Upper and Lower House chamber, listened to our guide explaining the running of each of the House, and the librarian explaining the function of the parliament’s library and collections. It was also fascinating listening to the history of the Queen Victoria in the Queen’s Hall.P1120656 P1120650P1120713 P1120701I was getting hungry by the time I finished at the Parliament Building. It was almost 2pm. I went searching for a place to eat. Something Asian. The Parliament building overlooks the east end of Bourke Street.P1120666I walked down Bourke Street. There is the Midtown Arcade with a few small Asian cafes – there is Sichuan, Japanese, Chinese and the most well known dumpling place raved by food bloggers and food critics called Shandong Mama. I have been there once but I still prefer my “Shanghai Street” dumplings on Little Bourke Street. The thing with foodies and bloggers and food critics is that if one of them started raving about a new place, the others have to follow. It is like a swamp of ants or bees attracted to some honey. Across from Shandong Mama in the small arcade is the Pancake Dessert House.  I am not sure why it’s called a “pancake” or a “dessert”. The food is nothing like the name. I have looked at the shop a few times and the menu on the window. I have also noticed each time I walked past, it was always busy. I have decided to try it this time, and I was very hungry. The menu is a street style food ranging from stir fried noodles, soup noodles, fried rice to small dishes to accompany steamed rice. I chose the Beef Brisket Noodle Soup for $9.60. It was as expected delicious for a cold winter day. I will definitely go back again to try the stir fried noodle dishes.P1120725 P1120724 P1120723By the time I finished my bowl of noodle soup, I have enough of the OHM and decided to head home. I was exhausted by the time I finished at the Parliament Building and the long 1 hour wait standing in the cold winter weather. There is always next year for the other buildings.

Sweet Potatoes – a “Nyonya” Sweet Delight

Last weekend my partner suggested that we take a drive to Springvale, a southeast suburb 20 km from Melbourne CBD. It is a diverse community, a cornucopia of rich and colourful blend of cultural background – Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Sri Lankan, Greek. I have noticed some Africans as well. The main shopping district is huge in comparison to Richmond and Footscray – the other Melbourne suburbs with a large Vietnamese ethnicity background.

Walking around Springvale township is like stepping into a different world – a world of Asia. It is interesting and may look a bit daunting for those posh nosh who has never been to Asia. The streets and a couple of the new shopping centres are a bit chaotic and seem out of place. We went there with no preempt on what to expect. We stumbled into a newish Shopping Centre where there were lots of Asian people. It is a Centre with fresh produce stalls with no boundaries selling fresh meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits and other Asian produce. At the middle of the Shopping Centre is an open atrium. We took an escalator up to the first level for a single purpose. Our tummy is rumbling. We saw a familiar restaurant signage outside the building – “Gold Leaf“. It is our favourite Yum-Cha place in Melbourne, located at Harbour Town, Docklands. We were both delighted to find a Gold Leaf branch in front of us as we walked into the Centre.

There was a small queue outside the restaurant.  A spectacled maitre’d stood in front of a wooden podium. “Next! Name? How Many? Please wait there until your name is called.” One after another before we were next. The turnover was quick among the die-hard Yum Cha fan.

While waiting for our name to be called, I looked down the open atrium and saw a group of middle age Asian men playing Chinese Chess “Xiangqi“. Sitting and facing each other on a long stretch of tables joined together, each of them looking intense to make the next move, with spectators crowding around their back anxiously waiting to see who will triumph in the end. I find this interesting, not because they were playing Xiangqi, but because this is actually happening here in Australia. It is multiculturalism at its core in Springvale.

After a satisfying yum-cha at Gold Leaf, we took the escalator back to the ground floor and did some grocery shopping. I was browsing through the different type of fresh produce wondering to myself what vegetables should I get. Then, something caught my eyes. It was the purple skin sweet potatoes. This was the first time I have seen a purple skin sweet potatoes. I was tempted to buy one, but wasn’t too tempted. I walked further down. Then I saw the pale “off white” skin sweet potatoes. I could not believed my find. And, next to this variety of sweet potatoes was the more common copper orange skin sweet potatoes which we see all the time in a grocery supermarket. What came next to my mind was I have to buy each one of this sweet potato variety. Each variety is quite different in its colour (skin and flesh), texture, flavour and intensity of “sweetness”.

P1120402I have always cooked with the most common bright orange variety sweet potatoes, which was nice as a savoury vegetable dish baked in the oven or mashed.

My take on the 3 types of sweet potato is a “Nyonya” style sweet dessert served warm in a coconut soup. The last time I have tasted this coconut rich warm soup of sweet potatoes was back in Penang when I was boy. It was a long forgotten dessert rarely served in a restaurant, but popular with the Straits Chinese “Peranakan” food culture.

This recipe is simple to make and if you are a coconut and sweet potato lover, you will find this warm dessert perfect for a cold winter chill next to a fire place.

Ingredients

1 purple skin sweet potato

1 pale “off white” skin sweet potato

1 copper orange skin sweet potato

1 banana

2 pandan leaves (optional for added aromatic fragrance)

1 cup coconut cream

4 – 5 lumps of crystallised rock sugar

1/2 cup pearl sago

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Preparation and Cooking

1. Remove the potato skins. Cut into cubes and soak in water to prevent discolouration. When ready to cook, place in a steamer and steamed for 10 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are cooked.

2. Wash sago a few times in a pot. Fill the pot with water and bring to slow boil to cook the sago. Continue to stir the sago until sago turns translucent. Rinse and soak in cold water.

3. Combine the pandan leaves and crystallised rock sugar in 4 cups of water in a medium size pot. Bring to simmer until rock sugar has completely melted. Remove and discard the pandan leaves.

4. Place the cooked sweet potatoes into the sugar water. Mixed in 1 cup coconut cream. Mix through then add the cooked sago. Slice 1 banana into 2 cm thick and add into the soup. Adjust the coconut soup to taste. Add more water, coconut cream or sugar if needed.

5. Scoop a combination of different sweet potatoes and coconut soup into a small bowl. Sit next to the TV or in front of a fire place. Enjoy the sweet warm delight of sweet potatoes in coconut soup.

It is a Sweet of a Smile – My take on Sweet Potatoes in a Warm Coconut Soup 🙂 

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Kong Xi Fatt Chai

Kong Xi Fatt Chai! Kong Hey Fatt Choy! Keong Hee Huat Chai! and Chuc Mung Nam Moi!…wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous Chinese New Year (and Vietnamese New Year) of the Snake. May the year 2013 of the water snake brings you and your family an abundance of happiness, good health, success and fortune!

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This weekend Melbourne celebrated the year of the snake with over 40 stalls at the Crown Riverwalk with food and cultural performances – from Beijing opera to the all girls Lotus Flower Dragon Dance. But, the highlight for me was the sensational Chinese Soprano Shu-Cheen Yu who sang traditional Chinese folk songs to Ave Maria her all time favourite. I even had one of her CD – Lotus Moon from years back.  P1100338P1100339 P1100358P1100371

Some video clips from the Crown Riverwalk’s Chinese New Year 2013 Hawker Bazaar festival….

Chinese Soprano Shu-Cheen Yu and The Dragon Tenors

The All Girls Lotus Flower Dragon

Beijing Opera

Breathtaking Pyrotechnic Show