Saturday, 18 August 2012

Craving for Comfort Food of Yesteryears

          Lying in bed last night whilst slowly recovering from an agonizing day at the mercy of a menstrual migraine, my thoughts turned to food. It was a relief to be able to stomach the thought of food after a day of retching and being unable to tolerate even a small cup of Horlicks. My poor tummy rumbled a little as I had hardly eaten anything the whole day long. And I found myself suddenly craving for wan ton.

Kon low wan ton
        This was not surprising as wan ton has always been my #1 Comfort Food since young. I had always preferred my wan ton served in its dry version (meaning minus its soup, tossed in sesame seed oil and lots of dark soya sauce). My favourite wan ton hawker, Ah Fatt, greets me amicably and understands exactly what I want when I place my order, "Kon low wan ton, without mee." There was once when I was under the weather. My dear parents were about to embark on the task of bringing food to the house-bound invalid. Mummy asked what I fancied and I weakly answered, "Wan ton." When she relayed this to Ah Fatt, he was all smiles. And the invalid enjoyed (but struggled a little as her appetite was not in full throttle) slurping down the silky smooth dumplings filled with well-marinated minced pork.

        #2 Comfort Food is Mummy's savoury mini omelettes with minced pork and spring onions (photo to be uploaded when Mummy next makes this). It is one of my favourite dishes and every time she fries this for dinner, I'll have a second helping of rice. This dish holds lots of nostalgia for me. Back in the early 90s when I was studying in a college in Kuala Lumpur, I looked forward to Fridays as I could make the 4-hour bus ride back to Ipoh (this was prior to the completion of the North-South Highway). And on Sundays, a teary-eyed 18-year-old would make the long journey back to Kuala Lumpur. Unpacking in the cold and lonely hostel room, I would take out the flask of dinner that Mummy had lovingly prepared. And the tears would flow once again upon seeing the savoury mini omelettes with minced pork and spring onions --- labour of a Mother's love.

These were the sardine rolls that I baked last December.

       Comfort food is defined as food that "soothes the psyche by reminding us of comforting childhood memories". Comfort food is "far from gourmet and generally epitomize home cooking. They invoke feelings of nostalgia, safety and security". I am not sure if my #3 can be categorized as comfort food, but it definitely is very sentimental to me. Knowing how much I love her baking, my journeys home to Ipoh were often greeted by the aroma of Mummy's freshly baked sardine rolls. She seldom bakes nowadays, claiming that the hassle of baking is too much for her weary bones to bear. So last year, when the baking bug bit me, I decided to try my hand at making her sardine rolls. They were not as nice as the ones she used to make, but I hope that my skills will be improved in time to come.

Cute little quail's eggs in their beautifully-marbled shells
        Back in the good old days of the early 80s, cholesterol was an alien topic. And the egg-lover in me tucked into hard-boiled eggs without a qualm. #4 Comfort Food is...quail's eggs. They were a regular feature in the tuck box that Mummy used to pack for me to take to school. And when the bell rang to herald recess, I would gobble down the eggs in no time.

Putu mayam served with brown sugar
        Although I shy away from all kinds of Indian food as I am averse to the strong smell of their curry, surprisingly #5 Comfort Food is of Indian origin. Putu mayam are vermicelli-like noodles made from flour with water and coconut milk. It is steamed and served with grated coconut and brown sugar. My paternal grandmother introduced me to this dish. She often bought this from the itinerant hawker pedalling past her house. And being a wee toddler at that time, I would sink into the sweet string hoppers with glee.

        Growing up in Grandma's house offered other joys too. I especially loved it when Grandma had returned from the market as she would have invariably bought some Nyonya kuih home. Never one to act shy where food is concerned, I would fling open the doors of the food cupboard and take my pick. My favourite Nyonya kuih in those days was the Kuih Lapis (or Nine Layers Kuih in Cantonese). It is made from rice flour and sago flour with lots of coconut milk and some red and pink colouring. To be honest, the child in me relished the delights of carefully peeling out each of the nine layers more than devouring the tasty dessert. Nevertheless, this is my #6 Comfort Food. Speaking of Nyonya kuih, it conjures up images of itinerant hawkers of yesteryears. I still remember an old uncle who used to sell his Nyonya kuih in tiers of baskets fixed to a long pole, which he precariously balanced on his shoulders.

French toast served with kaya
        Another finger-licking gem from childhood days was the French toast made by Third Aunt. She would coat cut pieces of day-old bread with beaten egg and then fry them till they are crisp on the outside. And while they were still fairly warm, I would happily dip them into the kaya that Third Aunt had brought back from her husband's coffee shop. Old Town Kopitiam now serves this 7th Comfort Food of mine and I do occasionally go for it. But the French toast made by Old Town Kopitiam cannot hold a candle to those that Third Aunt used to make.

        My poor tummy rumbles again. This time, it is not as a weak protest of not having eaten, but it is a reaction to the thought of all these lovely comfort food. Mmm...should I raid the larder now?                                                                     

Saturday, 4 August 2012

De-stressing At The Hot Springs

        I am ashamed to admit that, despite staying literally at the doorstep of the Lost World of Tambun, I'd only been in the theme park once. And that was way back in 2005! It's sad to acknowledge that we often venture far away for scenic sights and thrilling times, only to miss equally exciting experiences right in our own backyards.

        All that changed last Wednesday when my colleagues and I proceeded to the Lost World Hot Springs & Spa after school. We'd been talking about trying it out ever since Elaine, newly transferred to my school from Johor, waxed lyrical about the place. Yes, you read that correctly. It took a non-Ipohan to entice four Ipohans to try out something in our own city. Even more embarrassing was, out of the five of us who went there that evening after taking advantage of the fasting month early school dismissal, Elaine was the one who stays the furthest away while the other four of us stay just five minutes' away.

The ancient-looking facade of the Lost World of Tambun bathed in evening lights

       There were slight initial complaints when we had to pay RM15 for the entrance ticket as well as a refundable RM10 for a magnetic wristband to scan ourselves in. 

        But any morsel of dissatisfaction dissipated upon setting eyes on the beautifully-landscaped hot springs. Covering an area of 80,000 square feet, a whopping RM2 million was required for this latest addition to the theme park. Opened daily from 6 to 10 p.m., the hot springs and spa boasts of several attractions.

Luminous lights at the Saphira's Lair
            After changing into our swimsuits, we excitedly made our way to the first pool, the Saphira's Lair. It was an ideal introduction to the world of hot springs as the temperature of the waters here range from a comfortable 37 degrees to 40 degrees Celsius. Saphira, by the way, is a loyal and wise female dragon from mythology. Soaking legs first, followed by bodies, in the warm waters was most enjoyable. Our aching shoulders and back muscles also benefited a lot from being pounded by the water jets of the numerous gargoyles. 

The Geyser of Tambun erupts every hour over the Infinity Pool with subtle lighting effects and sprouts thermal hot springs water 40 feet up

          Next up on our exploration list was the Infinity Pool, with water temperatures at 40 degrees Celsius. At one end of the Infinity Pool was a pizza, sandwiches and hot dogs kiosk run by Italia Mia (the aromatic smells wafting in made our stomachs rumble a little) and at the other end was a volcanic waterfall. Submerging in the healing waters of the Infinity Pool was truly terrific as we were accompanied by the calming sounds of the cascading waterfall. And at every hour, the Geyser of Tambun erupts (reminded me of the Pohutu Geyser at Rotorua, New Zealand) and treats visitors to a spectacular display of lights. 

Reflexology pebbles fitted to the floor of the Foot Spa
        We adventurous souls then went on to brave pain at the Foot Spa. Walking one round on the reflexology pebbles was not an easy feat and there were sounds of "ouch", "aww" and "aiyah" from time to time. The knowledge that the tormenting pebbles help to reduce stress, cleanse the body of toxins, trigger the release of endorphins and stimulate the lymphatic system steered us to complete the walk. Clap! Clap! Clap!

One of the three massage huts at the Crystal Spa
         The soothing smell of lemongrass beckoned us to check out the Crystal Spa. A range of massages was on the menu. I was quick to note that a 45-minute aromatherapy massage would set one back at RM80! This is a little steep compared to what I would normally pay for a massage. But there may come an occasion (say a birthday self-pampering) when I decide to indulge a little.

The Crystal Pool --- specially designed with crystal tiles that glimmer
         We then stumbled upon the highlight of the evening (and in my opinion, the Jewel of the hot springs) --- the Crystal Pool. Nestled amidst luxuriant greens, the Crystal Pool offered a sense of privacy. Although the waters are supposedly at 40 degrees Celsius, we thought it was a bit hotter than that. But it was incredibly relaxing to lower our bodies into the thermal waters. The gorgeous lights on the trees gave an illusion of shooting stars, adding to the magical atmosphere. We stayed there for quite some time, alternating between enjoying the therapeutic waters and lying on the cool tiles.

         Sadly, soon it was time for us to leave, but not before plans were made to return for another round of relaxation before the fasting month (which equals early school dismissal) ends. For me, the return to the hot springs came even earlier as dearest hubby was jealous that he had been left out so on the following evening, we had a date there.

          It was undeniably romantic to relax under the stars with your loved one. Needless to say, we spent a long time at the Crystal Spa, where we were away from prying eyes and had the "world" to ourselves. Hubby fell in love with the place  :)

The Steam Cave, which acts as a sauna
        With my knight in shining armour holding my hand protectively, we walked below the cascading waterfall at the Infinity Pool to enter the 45 degrees Celsius Steam Cave. The sauna-like steam cave was touted to eliminate toxins from one's body. Being enclosed in the quiet and softly-lit cave was thrilling and romantic at the same time. There was nothing to be feared yet I was most glad for the presence of my hubby. He led me on to the opposite end of the cave which yielded an exit for one to be cooled down by fresh air. Again, there was absolute privacy at that small pool so we were ensconced there for a while, before venturing through the steam cave again and back out to the Infinity Pool. 

           After sweating it out at the Steam Cave, we summoned up our courage to test out the last attraction of the Hot Springs --- the 43 degrees hot Top Of The World Jacuzzi. It was completely deserted as not many can brave the super hot waters. Toes were dipped in, slowly followed by the feet...the waters were really far too hot for my liking...but hubby prodded me to be braver. I inched myself in, and promptly skipped out after a minute. However, the sight of my valiant hero submerging his entire body into the hot hot waters, lured me in again. And this time I made it!!! Once my body had overcome the initial shock of the heat, it relaxed and soon I found the experience quite invigorating. I could literally feel the knots in my muscles melting away. But we were mindful of the advice not to soak in there for more than 5 minutes.

        I really give the Lost World Hot Springs & Spa a big thumbs up and it will definitely be a regular respite for my weary soul. The fact that the thermal waters at the hot springs come from a natural source (minus the pungent smell of sulphur) and that it is not recycled (the waters flow out into the Kopisan River) lays to rest any doubt of the lack of hygiene. It truly is the ultimate relaxing, de-stressing and therapeutic experience!