Friday, 31 March 2017

Getting Hooked On Penang Food

        Good food beckons in Penang and so, during our 4-day stay at the Pearl of the Orient, we went on a food trail. As we were staying in a homestay between Jalan Burma (a 3.7km long major thoroughfare) and Gurney Drive, our food trail was focused around that area.
     Upon the recommendation of our homestay host, we walked to the nearby Chang Senr coffee shop for lunch. Hubby could not resist the lure of the chicken rice, which he said was good but still could not beat his favourite chicken rice in Ipoh. I, on the other hand, opted for assam laksa. Mmm...this Penang Road assam laksa with its generous serving of "bunga kantan" sure does beat those in Ipoh. The soup has the right degree of spiciness but if the tangy level could be kicked up a notch, it would have been perfect.
Colourful bowl of "assam laksa"

RM4.50 for a small bowl of tantalising "assam laksa"

This corner coffee shop is located at 304, Jalan Burma, opposite Maybank and Domino's Pizza

     On our first evening in Penang, we decided to have an early dinner so that hubby could pursue his sunset photography. We were delighted to find that Restoran 77 Curry Fish Head, located between Gurney Paragon and Evergreen Laurel Hotel, opens from 11a.m. up to 10 p.m., with no break in between. Perfect for an early dinner! It is a small and simple restaurant, but their signature curry fish is incredibly yummy. It is cooked with lots of onions, lady's fingers, mint leaves, lemongrass and torch ginger flower ("bunga kantan"). In addition to the curry grouper slices, we also ordered their famous fried "belacan" chicken and stir-fried "siew pak choy". All in, the meal came up to RM86.60, which we thought was fairly reasonble.
Restoran 77 Famous Curry Fish Head is located at the intersection of Lorong Burma and Persiaran Gurney.

Come closer and venture in for a truly tasty meal.

This pot of curry grouper slices was immensely sumptuous.
Tempting grouper slices peek out from the pot

Fried "belacan" chicken

Stir-fried "siew pak choy"

     After hubby's sunset photography and some fruitful shopping for me, we headed to the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre for supper. This hugely popular open-air food paradise is the icon of the seafront promenade. I threw caution to the wind and gobbled down an entire plate of duck egg oyster omelette, while hubby went for a bowl of "koay teow thng", which he said was excellent. Although my "or chien" was tasty, I still hankered for the one sold at Macalister Road. 
Fresh succulent oysters tossed in a gooey mixture of eggs and starch 

     For breakfast on the following morning, we decided to try another coffee shop recommended by our homestay host. Apparently, this New Cathay Coffee Shop has a famous "char koay kak" (fried rice cakes) but sadly, the stall was closed on the day of our visit. I settled for "char koay teow" while hubby went for Hokkien prawn mee. Having spotted the equally famous Mr. & Mrs. Ravi's "apom manis" (pancake with soft spongy middle and crisp edges), I couldn't resist ordering 5 pieces (RM4) to share with hubby. 
Trio of delights for a late breakfast

     Before setting out to survey prospective photography sites, hubby and I braved the congested clan jetties along Weld Quay to feast on our favourite "hae chee" (prawn fritters) and "lor bak" (five spice pork rolls) at Tan Jetty. This stall is a hidden gem, tucked away behind the main road. According to a blogger, this stall is also the wholesale supplier to food stalls around Penang.
Head to 90-A, Tan Jetty, Pengkalan Weld for these awesome prawn fritters

Who would have thought an unassuming stall can yield such delights?

The "lor bak" is bursting with well-marinated meat

     Wishing for something lighter and less greasy following the afternoon's oil overdose, "assam laksa" at the Gurney Drive Hawker Centre (Stall no. 11) was my best option for dinner. It turned out to be a prudent decision as it was one of the best I've ever tasted. I like my "assam laksa" really tangy and this one hit all the right notes. The robust soup was so flavoursome that I almost slurped it all up. Hubby was so impressed with the previous night's "koay teow thng", with a smorgasbord of pig's innards thrown in, that he had the same thing again, this time ordering a portion fit for two.
Presentation wise, this "assam laksa" may not  be as attractive as the one at Chang Senr coffee shop, but in terms of taste, this one wins hands down!

Hubby's "koay teow thng" is filled to the brim with additional goodies.

Innards swimming in the pot to entice a pork lover like hubby

     Our homestay host had strongly recommended the "wan ton" noodles at Chang Senr coffee shop but the stall was not open on our first visit. So on the third day of our stay in Penang, I decided to try my luck again. Boy, I was blown away by this superb Hong Kong shrimp noodles. The  noodles were extremely springy, the shrimp roe scattered liberally over the noodles lent a delightful seafood taste to the noodles and the three larger-than-usual "wan tons" hiding beneath the noodles were packed with flavourful meat. I was informed that the secret to their springy noodles lies in the kneading of the dough. A man straddles a long bamboo pole to press down the dough repeatedly...hence the name "bamboo wan ton noodles".
The focus is on the springy noodles with shrimp roe dusting, perhaps that's why the "wan tons" are hiding beneath the noodles
This is a branch of the famous Hong Kee Bamboo Noodles at Lebuh Campbell.

     Back in 2014, hubby and I were wowed by the "koay teow thng" at a roadside stall along Chulia Street so we ventured there for dinner on our third night. Most of the stalls were busy in operation by the time we arrived at a quarter past seven, but the "koay teow thng" stall was nowhere to be seen. Swallowing our disappointment, we proceeded to give other stalls a try. Hubby's curry mee was mediocre but my "char koay teow" from the stall just outside Mugshot Cafe was fairly impressive with its sidekicks of "lor bak" pieces and additional fried egg.
Succumbed to the allure of the sinfully greasy "char koay teow"
As we were leaving the area, we saw the "koay teow thng" uncle setting up his stall. I suppose we would have to return on another occasion and remember to make it a late dinner. Click on this link to read my previous post on Penang and a mention of the "koay teow thng" stall :     
Look out for this stall, which I believe is the only "koay teow thng" stall there.

     Crepes have always been one of my favourite desserts and upon learning that a modest creperie along Gurney Drive has been garnering great reviews, I could not resist the temptation. Hubby and I first shared a Mango Crepe (RM13). It was incredibly scrumptious, and I just had to have more. We next shared an Espresso Crepe (RM11), which I loved even more because the coffee-based crepe rendered it less sweet. I can now understand why this no-frills eatery ranks high on places to eat in Georgetown.
Crepe Cottage (77-A, Gurney Drive) is situated two doors away from Restoran 77 Famous Curry Fish Head

Very eager to start eating my Mango Crepe

Nicely fanned out, decorated with mango slices and topped with a scoop of mango ice cream

The very mouth-watering Espresso Crepe (coffee ice cream on a bed of coffee-based crepe)

     I was not going to leave Penang without having my fill of "koay teow thng" so on our last morning, we tried the one sold at another coffee shop along Jalan Burma. We enjoyed it too but should we return to Seng Lee coffee shop, I will undoubtedly give the Indian "mi goreng" a try. Throughout our breakfast there, the Indian uncle was frying non-stop and the aroma of his fried noodles permeated the air.
Seng Lee Coffee Shop is located at 270, Jalan Burma (intersection of Bangkok Lane and Jalan Burma).

Even in looks, Penang "koay teow thng" is more attractive than Ipoh's version.

     After we checked out of our homestay, we met up with Jason, hubby's cousin. Having a nose for good food, Jason took us to the Super Tanker food court at Lip Sin Garden. He had taken us there on a previous visit and I remember it was another food paradise. Again, I ordered the fried "mi sua" and was pleased that it was as good as I remembered it to be.
This Super Tanker food court is located in Lengkok Nipah 2, Bayan Lepas.

Fried "mi sua" with a dash of "sambal"

     With that plate of fried vermicelli, our March 2017 Penang food trip drew to its conclusion. Now it's time to burn off the calories. And the first workout was lots of walking at the newly-opened Design Village, Malaysia's biggest outlet mall.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Gorging On Crabs In Hokkaido

     Unlike the two men in my life, I do not have a penchant for crabs. But when I visited Hokkaido, the juicy, succulent and plump crabs were a delight to partake. Famous for its high quality and fresh seafood, Hokkaido especially excels in crabs. It would be a sacrilege not to feast on the specialty of the place that you are visiting.
     On my second night in Hokkaido, I was staying at Mombetsu Prince Hotel, which is fairly near Abashiri. This is on the northeastern coast of Hokkaido and touted to be the best place to eat the Red King Crab. A Deluxe Crab Meal was served at the hotel and I literally stuffed myself with the crustacean fellas. There were crab tofus, sashimi from Okhotsk Sea, Zuwai Crab shabu-shabu (raw crabs to be cooked in a pot of boiling soup), steamed crab meat dumpling, crab tempura, Japanese rice cooked with crabs and the piece de resistance of the meal had to be the steamed Snow Crabs! The crabs were so meaty, sweet and luscious. 
Our Deluxe Crab Meal, with all its different courses, was beautifully laid out  for us.

Cooked and ready to be devoured

Poised to begin the arduous task of digging in

Simple pot of rice but it was so sweet because of the crab meat

Crabs in sauna
     Crab-san and I met again on the penultimate day of my Hokkaido trip. At the Kitanogurume wholesale market in Sapporo, there were crabs galore for photo-taking, shopping and feasting. As part of the Gala Seafood Lunch, which included abalone, scallops and salmon, the enormous Red King Crab was also served. He eyed me from his station on the table, taunting to say that a crab novice like me would have a tough time prising open his thick shell and scooping out his tender flesh. How wrong Crab-san was! In addition to the crab cracker, scissors and long-stemmed fork that had been provided, the attentive waiter took pity on me and helped to rip apart Crab-san, exposing his wondrous flesh in its full glory! Oishii!
Catching my 3.5kg crab worth RM800!

Tempting array of crabs to be bought

Can't wait to gorge on this gigantic King Crab

     In addition to these two main crab meals, I encountered them at the buffet spread and BBQ dinner on other occasions during that Hokkaido trip. Had my dad and my hubby been with me in Hokkaido, they would have been over the moon gorging on the crabs.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Savouring A Hainanese Breakfast

        The latest fad to take interior decor by storm is the rustic, old school look. It is fairly common these days to find new restaurants and cafes sprouting the vintage look. But when you walk into Vintage Coffee & Bread, Ipoh, you'll know that you're getting the authentic deal. Located at the end of Jalan Theatre (with the new Octagon serviced apartments at the other end), Vintage Coffee & Bread is part of the Hong Loke Hotel building. Entrance into the cafe is via the side of the hotel, which is due to re-open after being given a new lease of life. It is a true blue Hainanese cafe that has retained its original facade but has been given a new coat of paint and is peppered with vintage decor.
Picture of Vintage Coffee & Bread (111, Jalan Theatre) taken from their Facebook page

Entrance to the cafe is at the side of the hotel building

Interesting corner at the cafe with vintage artefacts

This was once used to brew those aromatic Hainanese coffee

        Inheriting their father's hotel, the Lee sisters have decided to continue his legacy of the hotel and cafe. Prices are reasonable at the cafe and the food served is simple yet tasty. The ambience is cozy and laid-back. On Sunday mornings after church where jostling with the masses seems to be the sport at Ipoh eateries, savouring a leisurely breakfast here at Vintage Coffee & Bread is a treat.
        Today, Mummy and I shared an All-Day Breakfast (RM13), which consists of chicken ham, chicken sausage, fried egg, bread & butter, fruit salad and coffee. We also tried their Tuna French Toast (RM6.50), which Mummy especially loved. It was neither greasy nor laden with egg coating. 
Our All-Day Breakfast

Delicious Tuna French Toast

The very tantalising Hainanese Chicken Chop (pic taken from their Facebook page)
        I was excited to spot Signature Hainanese Chicken Chop (RM14) in their menu but that's only available after 11 a.m. They also serve the usual Hainanese toast with butter and kaya (RM2.50), pasta (RM10-RM12) and waffles. In addition, they have homemade buns, puffs and cakes. I was told that their specialties include their crispy cream puff, parmesan cheesy sponge cake and signature yam puff. Yum!

        This is definitely another eatery that Mummy and I will frequent.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Taking The Plunge In Hokkaido

        My roommate, Cheng, refers to it as "the highlight of our trip" and I find myself agreeing with her, despite delighting in other aspects of our holiday in Hokkaido. Even though it has now been 6 months since we got back, we find ourselves reminiscing about our onsen moments.

        An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, immensely popular among locals and tourists. Being a volcanically active country, Japan abounds in onsens. They are a central feature of tourism in Japan and are definitely high in the list of must-dos for any tourist interested in immersing himself in Japanese culture. It's listed as #4 out of 102 things to try in Japan. Indulging in a soak in the onsen, however, requires overcoming one's inhibition. You see, one has to be completely in the buff!

        Onsen etiquette dictates that bathers have to shed all clothing at the changing room and cleanse themselves  thoroughly before entering the hot springs. It can be a mighty long walk from the changing room to the shower area and then on to the hot springs, which can be indoors as well as outdoors. So the catwalk to parade your nudity can be a long one. And you are only permitted one minuscule towel for modesty. Male bathers, admittedly, require only one towel, but what about female bathers?

        Cheng and I braved ourselves to take the plunge on our very first night in Hokkaido. We convinced each other that we were quite blind without our spectacles and contact lenses so  any perusal of the other's naked body would be a mere blur. We were initially extremely hesitant to remove our yukatas and valiantly tried to cover some unmentionables. Also, we were conscious of possible prying eyes, even though we were in an all-female onsen. Boy, were we relieved to finally be able to ease our bodies into the hot springs!

        And the fun began! It was incredibly relaxing to submerge ourselves in the hot waters, which range from 40 degrees to 43 degrees Celsius. I could feel my muscles unknotting, especially after being pounded by some jets of water. We left the first hot spring pool to venture to another pool outdoors, which was even more enjoyable as the crisp night air helped to balance the hot temperature of the pool.

        Once we overcame the initial shyness, there was no looking back. We tried out the onsens at all the different hotels that we stayed in. By the time we reached the end of our Hokkaido holiday, we were confidently striding from the changing room to the shower area and finally to the hot springs, without being self-conscious of our nudity. It is really so true what people say, life is too short to be ashamed of your body, regardless of size or shape. And honestly, no one even glances your way! I am so glad Cheng and I gave each other the courage to brave the first hurdle.
Dressed in our yukatas, which we wore to dinner as well as to the onsen

Outdoor onsen with a view of Lake Akan (photo taken from the Web)

Two beauties (not us) in an onsen (photo taken from the Web)


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Remembering Ben

     During our 2014 trip to Scotland, I met and fell in love with Ben. He is named after Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Before I raise anyone's hackles, especially friends of Derrick's, let me be quick to clarify that Ben is a lovable West Highland terrier, or fondly known as a Westie. Ben and I became great pals during our stay at Stanton Villa B&B, near Fort William. He loves a good cuddle, and I could sit there for ages, giving him lots of cuddles and kisses. It was painfully difficult to tear myself away from him when it was time for us to leave the b&b.
Ben and I, with scenic Loch Eil in the background

Ben welcomes us to Stanton Villa B&B

Darling Ben

Cuddling up to each other

     I was very soon reminded of Ben when we visited Glen Nevis, where climbers start making their way up Ben Nevis. I stumbled upon a packet of Walkers shortbread in the form of mini Scottie dogs. Both Westies (West Highland terrier) and Scotties (Scottish terrier) are short-legged Scotland terriers. They share the same ancestry but are classified as separate breeds. To me, they are both equally lovable.
Yum yum!

     Truth be told, the mini Scottie dog shortbread was far too adorable to be eaten. I was behind the wheels, and could not protest when Derrick kept popping them into my mouth. And mmm...they were absolutely scrumptious!
     Although we can find Walkers shortbread in the form of rounds, fingers and triangles in Malaysian supermarkets, no Scottie dogs are to be sighted. When my sister-in-law, who lives in the United Kingdom, learned of my predilection for them, she bought a box of them for me during her recent trip home. Thanks a million, Emma. It was sheer joy to be reunited with my delightful Scottie dogs.
The Walkers Shortbread Scottie Dogs that Emma got for me

9 scottie dogs happy to be out of the box

Wonderful tea time with Earl Grey and Scottie dogs

     Best eaten with a hot cup of Earl Grey tea, these finger-licking good shortbread doggies are so crisp and buttery. You can admire the perfect shape of the Scottie dogs, inhale the rich scent of butter and slowly indulge in its melt-in-the-mouth texture. And I'm reminded of Ben again.