Travel: Our Macau/Hong Kong Getaway (6D/6N)!

Follow our 6 day, 6 night adventure in these lands of amazing food, awesome culture and astounding sights. See how we ate, shopped and laughed our way through Macau and Hong Kong! :)

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Travel: Hanoi Day #1 - Bún Chả Đắc Kim @ Hang Manh, Old Quarter, Hanoi

Previous post: Exploring Old Quarter Hanoi, brilliant view of Hoan Kiem Lake and drinks at Avalon Cafe

After a scorching afternoon exploring some of the nooks and crannies of the Old Quarter, we went back to our hotel on Au Trieu St for some unpacking and sat around in the air-conditioning a little. We had already bought tickets for a water puppet show that night at 8pm, so at about 6-ish we headed out to the streets again for quick bite.

Just a constant whizzing by.

To our surprise, the day was already fast dimming by the time we went out, due to the winter month approaching. In November though, the temperature was still really hot in the afternoon, but a pleasant cool in the night. Nothing that calls for warm clothing though.

6pm is a time where their rush hour starts, so there was a mad influx of motorcycles and cars in the Old Quarter! Just a constant symphony of honks and flashing lights.

It still doesn't fail to amaze me when I look back on these pictures... do you see four people on that motorbike? It's crazy!

Plus he's trying to cut through the traffic...

Anyway, we soon made our way to Hang Manh street on foot, which didn't take us too long. It's an approximately 15 minute walk from our hotel near St Joseph's Cathedral, and I suppose it would have taken us a lot quicker if we weren't so scared of crossing the roads :p

The destination in mind? Bún Chả Đắc Kim, located on the end of Hang Manh with a distinct blue and white striped awning.

Bún Chả is a popular Vietnamese dish consisting of noodle and grilled pork and is thought to have originated from Hanoi. Something similar you get in Vietnamese restaurants here would be the bowls of vermicelli that's served with various meat, like lemongrass chicken or spring roll served with raw lettuce and crushed peanuts. That day though, we were about to try some authentic bún chả.

Not quite knowing what to do, we entered the small, cramped restaurant and perched ourselves on some tiny stools right opposite the "kitchen". There's only about 6-8 small seats where we were, but you can either sit outside or make your way upstairs for more seats.

Halved limes and chopped chillies and garlic

We ordered four portions, one for the each of us and soon lots of bowls starting making their way over to our table. You're just supposed to mix and match everything according to your liking, which was handy because the four of us all have different preferences and spice tolerance levels. :p

The bún (thin white rice noodles, or vermicelli) was served to us on a large plate and basically, you're supposed to take a serving of noodles and dip it into their prepared dipping sauce.

Each person gets their own bowl of dipping sauce, an already flavourful concoction of fish sauce and vinegar,  with floating pieces of green papaya (like those used in Thai papaya salad - som tam) and chilli. In here, is where you can add in some lime, or even more chilli and garlic to adjust the flavours to your liking. The result is something sweet, umami yet tangy all at once, a fusion of flavours that the Vietnamese seem to have perfected.

An extremely generous serving of raw vegetables and herbs was also plopped down on our table, a common sight in Vietnamese eateries. We couldn't quite place our finger on all that was served, but I think we counted basil, mint and some cilantro.

If the bún is the noodles, then what's the chả, I hear you ask? The chả is a mixture of pork in this case - grilled slices of thin pork belly, some fattier than others, and some small juicy minced pork patties, all quickly grilled upon order. The serving was extremely large for a person, and so you should consider sharing portions if the ladyboss allows it. Otherwise, it'll be massive meat and grease overload, like us. :D

I think this was one of my favourite meals in Hanoi. Add a mouthful of herbs and some grilled pork to your vermicelli and dip it everything into the fish and vinegar sauce for a lovely marriage of flavours and satisfying textures. 

I found the minced pork very tasty, with a nice hint of charring and lemongrass. That got dashed pretty quickly when Adam & Zhen Han started dubiously questioning the actual meat that was in the patty. -__- If you can look beyond that question mark, then you'll have no issues here.

Bún Chả Đắc Kim also does a mean serving of nem cua be. These were delicious and straight out of the frying pan and onto our table. Piping hot, the nem had been stuffed full of crab meat, lean pork, egg white, rice noodles and chopped carrots and mushrooms, a very yummy, slightly sweet-ish combination which I think is due to the crab flesh and carrots. The rice paper rolls are also deep-fried till really crispy.

The grilling happens outside of the shop

Bún chả and some nem are definitely street food must-tries when you visit Hanoi. The flavours are very appetizing and downright tasty! Just remember, portions per person are very large, so do try to share. Dinner for the four of us (four portions of bun cha and nem) and drinks came up to a total of VND 390,000 which works out to be approxmately RM 60/US$ 20 or RM 15/US$ 5 per head. 

Bun Cha Dac Kim 
No. 1, Hang Manh Street,
Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam
Tel: 3828 5022

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Food: Private Kitchen 私人厨房 @ Damansara Uptown

Some time back, we made our way to Damansara Uptown pretty late on a Sunday night for dinner. The location in point? Private Kitchen, a modest restaurant at a corner of Uptown specializing in Cantonese-Hong Kong fare.

The decor is simple and warmly-lit, an ideal location for a simple, unpretentious sit-down dinner with the family.

We started things off with servings of the Long Boiled Soup of the Day (RM6) which was pork and watercress. We certainly got off on the right foot with this one, piping hot and gloriously satisfying.

When we went, the Hong Kong Style Sand Ginger Chicken (RM 25 for half bird) wasn't yet on their regular menu (we spotted it off the sign outside). We enjoyed the meat tons, retaining a firm yet smooth texture, no doubt efforts of long hours of preparation. The accompanying ginger dip was also very well done, and appetizing!


The Stir-Fried Prime Beef Fillet in Strawberry & Black Pepper Sauce (RM 28) may raise some eyebrows because we rarely see the sweet-sour palette being used on red meat, beef in this case. And black pepper too! Thankfully, the chef has successfully worked out a lovely marriage of flavours here; you'll have to try it to believe it. The beef used was also very tender.

Now for some more common sweet & sour combinations - Pork Ribs with Longan, something you can't certainly go wrong with. The pork ribs were deep-fried to a crispy exterior and well-coated with a nice honey glaze. Something both kids and adults alike will enjoy!

Enough of meat, on to the greens... or well in the case of the Stir Fried Lotus Roots and Celery with Macadamia Nuts (RM16), it's earthy browns. I liked that the lotus root pieces were thinly sliced and still retained a very satisfying crunch. There also wasn't much celery used, making it tolerable for every those who detest the pungent vegetable. The addition of macadamia nuts were also a nice touch (although at RM 16, don't expect too many of these macadamias!)

I don't usually really fancy chives and will only eat a little but I found myself enjoying the Sauteed Chinese Chives with Pork Belly in XO Sauce (RM 18). I put it down to the addition of XO sauce and pork belly (nothing can go wrong with pork belly, right?), making this a rich, sinful affair. It was a bit oily for our liking though.

We found dinner at Private Kitchen to be very enjoyable, food was excellent, and we got to try some new Chinese-style dishes we've yet to see anywhere else. The restaurant was already emptying out when we got there so I guess we really did get our very own "Private" Kitchen in the end. Haha!

The only gripe would be that the restaurant does echo quite a lot, all the stacking of cutlery and plates by the staff at the end of the night created quite a din which the lady boss politely acknowledged and apologized for. Other than that, it was all good. Do try to carpool if you're coming in big groups because parking is frankly, a pain. I would find myself returning the next time I'm craving for some good Chinese food, in a comfortable environment.  :)

Private Kitchen 私人厨房 | Facebook
103, Jalan SS21/37,
Damansara Utama (Uptown),
47400 Petaling Jaya, Malaysia
Tel: 03-7728 8399
Email: [email protected]
Opening Hours: Tues-Sun, 12pm-3pm & 6pm-11pm (closed on Mon)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Food: PlateCulture & authentic Incredible Indian Cuisine at Kala's

PlateCulture - Connecting people through food, sharing cultures over plates... - authentic home cooked food

So a week ago we were looking for a place to celebrate Dom's belated birthday. Bored with all the usual restaurant haunts, but without any other ideas, we were nearly confined to another year of simple dinner and drinks. Thankfully, we had an invitation from PlateCulture, so we took the opportunity to kill 2 birds with 1 stone - review a PlateCulture dinner, while dragging 2 friends in tow to celebrate a birthday! =D

Us with our lovely hosts for the night - Kala & Guna

Honestly before the kind invitation from Audra, the founder of PlateCulture, we'd never heard of PlateCulture. We wish we had earlier though!

PlateCulture serves as the middleman between hospitable people who like to cook and host dinners, and outgoing adventurers not afraid to try some authentic home cooking! Just go to their website, see who is hosting lunch / dinner on a particular date and the price, book your seat at least 48 hours in advance, and you're good to go!

There's an excellent range of different cuisines, from our local Malaysian to Mauritian. That Saturday night we paid a visit to the home of Kala and Guna for a taste of Kala's authentic Indian cooking. =D

Kala's profile on PlateCulture

The PlateCulture website is a breeze to browse. Each host has a small profile page detailing the types of dishes they cook, style of cooking, inspirations... it's a pretty neat section that gives you some insight on the host before you make your selection.

If you're interested, just click on the Book It button and you'll be prompted to fill up your personal details. For those with dietary restrictions, do not fret. Here, registrants are allowed to specify any dietary restrictions (only vegetarian, or halal food for example) when booking for a dinner. Got a particular dish you'd like to try? No problem! Just put it into the remarks box and the hosts will try their best to accommodate.

We didn't add in any special requests, because we thought it'd seem a bit pretentious to have demands. But it turns out Kala would have preferred us to give some suggestions, since then she'd have a rough idea what our preferences are. A good reminder for future reference. =)

For those looking for a specific date, you can also search by date and PlateCulture gives you a list of still-available lunches or dinners for the particular day.

Kala and her husband Guna are well-travelled people, and it shows in their decorations around their lovely home. There are plenty of souvenirs from their travels and their time in India, making it easy to just strike up a conversation about any interesting mantelpiece. What caught our attention the most though, was the indoor koi pond with a partially open ceiling that allows rain to come in! As if that's not cool enough, there's a water feature that allows water to flow down from the top of the wall to create a sort of waterfall effect, which is extremely calming and pleasant to watch. Zhen Han in particular had the time of his life just staring at the fishes. =D

It was only Kala's 2nd or 3rd time hosting a PlateCulture dinner, and we'd never been to one before, so everything was still quite new for us. Everything went along very smoothly though; all the food got lined up in a buffet style, and all of us just came and went getting as much food as we liked. =D

We won't delve too much into the food, since this is not a restaurant review per se. Some might wonder whether the food served will be worth the cost paid per person, and from this experience I'd say most definitely yes! Since the hosts volunteer to be a part of PlateCulture out of their own passion for cooking, rest assured they are not out to shortchange anyone or turn a quick profit. 

Take our rice for example; perfectly fluffy grains of rice mixed with plenty of shallot and grated carrots & beetroot for the lovely bright colour.

Indian cooking is all about the spices, and we got plenty of it at Kala's house that night! We had a chicken dish, fragrant with chilli and tamarind. It tasted slightly spicy, and was a dry dish without much sauce while hint of tamarind really complemented the chicken well. Everyone liked this, as proven by the empty bowl left behind after the 4 of us were through with dinner. =D

The highlight of the night was the crab curry! We usually wouldn't think of ordering a crab curry at an Indian restaurant, so we'd never experienced eating crab Indian style. Now we're a bit cautious of trying it again outside in restaurants, because we doubt we'll be able to find another that is as good as the one we had here.

Kala buys everything fresh from the market in the morning before cooking for dinner, and since we hadn't specified what we wanted to eat, she had a free hand to choose. She found some big-ish sea crabs that morning, so we were in for a real treat! Even without the crab, the sauce / gravy alone was more than tasty enough to just eat with rice. The crab just made it better, as the meat had that lovely sweetness and had absorbed some of the fragrant spices in the curry. Kala definitely didn't scrimp on the spices; since it was impossible not to bite into an aniseed at some point during the meal!

At first, we were wondering how to attempt the crab at first, as we didn't spot any pincers or hammers at the dining table, but the crab shells were pretty soft - we had a great time watching our friend Dom try cracking the soft crab shells with his teeth for the first time!

Finally, to round up the spread for the night, we had a simple cabbage and carrot dish. A simple home-cooked vegetable dish lightly cooked to balance out the heavy meats. =)

The final treat for the night - rasam, a special drink said to aid in digestion. This was a lovely rich broth Kala made with some crab and sprigs of coriander, amongst a host of many other special ingredients. She also thoughtfully strained it before we arrived, to rid it of any shells or leaves. The result? A flavourful savoury-sweet broth that we kept on having more of during the meal.

So after helping ourselves to hearty portions, we gathered round the table and tucked in! We (well, us guys) probably polished off close to 5 helpings each that look just like the picture above! 

But dinner didn't just end at the main courses! Dessert came in the form of a yummy sago pudding, and we dare say this could be one of the best and most adeptly-prepared sago we have ever had.

The sago pudding itself was loosely held together, easily coming apart with a few firm prods of the spoon. The sago pearls still retained a nice firm bite to them, and was free from the usual starch. Again, this is thanks to the extra care that Kala put in to strain and restrain the pearls before serving. And with an unlimited supply of coconut milk and brown sugar, guess who was a happy camper? =D

We had told Kala beforehand that we wanted to celebrate our friend Dom's birthday and they were very accommodating and great sports about the whole thing. Of course, it was impossible to finish that cake after all that sago! Even though Wendy bought a relatively small Chocolate Cheese Cake from Just Heavenly, we only managed a quarter of it before total surrender. =D

A birthday song for Dom

But like what I mentioned above, while the food was really authentic and excellent, I think the other half of the experience is really the great time we had chatting with Kala & Guna, learning more about their lives and culture over the dining table, and also getting some food recommendations from Guna! They have a lovely house which they welcomed us in with open arms. (I think Wendy also managed to pick up some tips on Indian cooking from Kala, heh.)

Most of the time, we are rewarded whenever we step out of our comfort zone. With PlateCulture, we dare say that whoever takes a chance to try out the concept, will not be disappointed! One day we hope to head back to Kala's house for more of her cooking, but now we also wonder when our next PlateCulture event will be... =D

PlateCulture | Site
*Link to Kala's Incredible Indian Cuisine profile is here
*Fellow blogger Kelly Siew is also a host at PlateCulture here :)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Travel: Bandung Day #2 Itinerary - Going Up Tangkuban Perahu!

Previous post on Bandung: Massage @ Mariaty's and dinner at Paskal Food Market

(Yep, still chugging away on our Bandung posts, slowly but surely! :D)

Tangkuban Perahu is a popular destination for Bandung visitors. Located some 30km north of Bandung city, this dormant volcano can be reached by car or tourist bus. 

The folk story behind this volcano is the stuff of our Malay literature we studied back in school, like Puteri Gunung Ledang or the sort.

Legend has it that there used to be a beauty named Dayang Sumbi in West Java, who had a son, Sangkuriang. Sangkuriang was disobedient and Dayang Sumbi decided to send him away. In return for her gesture, she was gifted with eternal youth by the gods. Long after, their paths crossed again and not recognizing each other, fell in love. (Yes, son fell in love with his mother :s).

One day before the wedding, Dayang Sumbi recognized Sangkuriang's birthmark and finally came to the realization that he was her son which she had banished years ago. To stop the wedding, she told him she was only marry him if he could build a great lake and a boat for them to sail away in before dawn broke. 

With the help of some spirits, Sangkuriang was almost about to succeed - he had caused landslides on several rivers causing the water to fill up the entire valley like a lake, and had built a boat from a giant tree. Seeing this, Dayang Sumbi quickly summoned some flashes of light across the horizon, and thinking it was dawn, Sangkuriang fell into great despair. In anger, he kicked over the boat he had built. Folklore has it that Mount Tangkuban Perahu is that overturned boat from the Legend of Sangkuriang (Tangkuban meaning upside down and Perahu meaning boat).

Sights on the way up to Tangkuban Perahu - lots of lovely terraced slopes

Our driver, Pak Dodi had forewarned that traffic would be bad, and that we should leave our hotel as early as 8am. The journey took nearly 2 hours to the highlands of Tangkuban Perahu. While the location itself isn't far, the journey time largely depends on traffic (we spent more than 2 hours jamming down!) as there's only one lane up and down respectively. As luck would have it, it was also a long weekend in Indonesia and there was an influx of tourists from neighbouring Jakarta. Massive crowd!

Though we had left early, the parking lot was full and a-buzzing when we got there. Pak Dodi created his own parking spot, #likeaboss, and we unloaded ourselves from the van, ready to sightsee. The skies were very blue when we arrived, and we were so near the clouds! Very breathtaking.

The air was quite crisp and dry, no trees or flowers in bloom. It was really crowded and the atmosphere quite lively, with people trying to sell you scarves and hats, or horse rides!

Of course, the customary "we were here" picture! :D

This is the biggest crater, Kawah Ratu (loosely translated to 'Queen's Crater'). The view is amazing, because it's so large. Really one of those times I wish I had gotten a wider-angle lens. Bigger than a football field, even. Here you'll also get a whiff of the sulphur fumes from the crater which can get quite overpowering.

A closer look at the crater - can you see some a small puff of smoke rising from the crater from the top right picture?

Other tourists attempting the trek.
Walking around the diameter of Kawah Ratu will bring you to the second crater of Kawah Upas after about 20 minutes. We saw a lot of tourists attempt the trail, which looked quite steep in certain parts. There's also a third crater called Kawah Domas which we hear is a better sight than Kawah Ratu. Being lazy, we attempted neither. :p

We were still really amazed at those clouds - they were so large and billow-y and they looked like they could engulf us at any moment. Haha.

Playing with my DigiEye Wide Converter lens add on for this shot - but nothing can beat the real thing.

Looking over the shops and the constant arrival of tourists

You can escape off the trail through these narrow alleys to get to the shops below

The weather was scorching when we first arrived, but after half an hour, it got very cloudy and that's when it got cool and lovely.

There are lots of little stalls selling trinkets, from wooden figurines, snacks, to postcards and even bottles of rocks (apparently hailing from the crater). We made our way down to some huts to take a break and got tempted by some of the food there.

The bakso in particular, turned out to be the best bakso we had! The broth was bursting with flavour, and the addition of the chilli (just a dash!) was a great kick for the cool morning.

We also enjoyed the fritters from a mak cik peddling drinks and fried snacks, these were lightly battered and freshly fried when we ordered. We went back for seconds of the banana fritters (pisang goreng) and vegetable fritters (like cucur bawang, very tasty!). Definitely a good time basking in the cool air and resting our feet while having some hot warm food.

After our meal, we finally decided to look for Pak Dodi and head back down. If we had known it would take us more than 2 hours being stuck in traffic down the hill, I would've taken away more fritters to eat in the van :p If you have small children with you, you might want to consider food and/or games to keep them occupied throughout.

Some more sights on our journey (jamming) down Tangkuban Perahu:
L-R, top:
1. Right to Bandung, and left to Subang?
2. Fields of healthy looking crops
3. Some tourists hitching a horse ride

L-R, bottom:
1. The blue skies were back as we made our journey down! Beautiful scenery
2. What do you suppose Mie Tek-Tek is?
3. You can't really see it due to the reflection from our van window, but it's advertising "Fiber Semen Elephant, lebih kuat dan awet" (Loose translation - Elephant semen fibre, more strong and durable") o_O

Though the journey to Tangkuban Perahu was a pain, I don't suppose you could say you've rightfully visited Bandung without a visit. Kawah Ratu was a rather breathtaking sight and if you're adventurous, you could visit the other two craters.

Other items you could do nearby Tangkuban Perahu: take a visit to nearby Ciater for the hot springs, or have a meal at Kampung Daun Restaurant. Apparently Kampung Daun is lovely at night (from pictures it looks a bit like our Subak Restaurant in Bukit Lanjan).

Up next: Paris van Java and another massage!

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