Thursday, September 27, 2012

Malaysia: Jaya

CK and I arrived in Penang with no idea where we were going to stay.  Based on the recommendations of others and online forums, we went door to door until we finally settled on the Star Lodge.  

I like to think that part of the reason why we decided to stay at the Star Lodge was Mr. Fang.  Okay, so that's not his real name, but hear me out.  Mr. Fang was the sweetest little old Chinese man who manned the front desk of the Star Lodge.  I dubbed him Mr. Fang because of his single snaggletooth.  Out of utmost respect, of course.  

I eventually asked him for his name (CK forced me to).  It's Robert.  How disappointing.  He'll forever be Mr. Fang to me.  

Anyway, after unloading our luggage in our room, we wandered out to find lunch.  We didn't actually get really far before we came across Jaya:

The array of food displayed quickly drew us in:

And the tables full of locals:

We were so hot and thirsty that the first thing we did was flip to the beverage section of the menu.  CK ordered a mango juice while I opted for pineapple:

Somehow CK managed to order the one juice on the entire menu that wasn't made from fresh fruit.  Sucka.

One drink simply wasn't enough.  There's no shame in double fisting when one fist is occupied by teh tarik or pulled tea:

Teh tarik is milk tea but on crack.  It's so damn good.

We'd gone so long without food that we went kind of crazy with the ordering.  CK wanted to try their samosas and she didn't want to share, so we ordered 2:

Interesting filling:

Rather tomato-y.  Interesting.

We also got a mutton murtabak:

Lamb is so yummy:

We were pretty full by this point, but we still  wanted to try the roti canai chicken roll:

Very delicious and super cheap (both the murtabak and the roti roll were less than $2 each):

As we were paying our bill at the counter, we noticed a freezer with ice cream bars and popsicles.

Helloooo lychee bar:

The perfect refreshing end to the perfect start of our stay in Penang, food capital of Malaysia:

What's so awesome about Malaysian cuisine is the blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian flavors.  CK and I spent our entire time in Malaysia trying to figure it out.  Sometimes it's easy to identify the distinct influences, but other times the fusion is so seamless that we're left scratching our heads.

Penang was probably my favorite part of the entire trip.  You'll see why as I continue to struggle to catch up on my posts.  Patience, friends.

Thailand: The Cook

Our departure from Thailand was simultaneously dramatic and rather unexciting.  

Dramatic in that it took us 2 separate buses (including an overnight bus that was like something out of a horror movie) and almost 24 hours to get to Penang, Malaysia.  Unexciting in that the bulk of those 24 hours was spent waiting around at bus stations.  

Our bus out of Phuket was at 9:00pm, but we arrived at the bus station around 2:00.  Yea.  Do the math.  It's not like we wanted to sit around for hours.  But AG's taxi to the airport picked him up at 1:00pm and to save money, CK and I hitched a ride with him to the Phuket bus station.  Being cheap has its drawbacks.  

What we didn't know was that there are multiple bus stations in Phuket.  The one we were supposed to leave from was at the edge of town with no restaurants in sight.  Since we had 7 hours to kill, CK and I jumped on a shuttle to the main Phuket bus station and then strolled down to The Cook for lunch:

It was a pretty quiet afternoon:

The chicken and basil CK ordered wasn't quite what she expected:

Whereas I had no expectations regarding my pork dish:

We both agreed that the pork was better than the chicken.

The highlight of our meal was actually our smoothies (lemon and watermelon):

We were also pleasantly surprised to get a dish of fruit at the end:

Unfortunately, the rest of our day wasn't nearly s pleasant.  Our journey from Thailand to Malaysia was probably one of the lowest points of our trip (as the hours went by our tempers started to fray), but as a result, it was also one of the most memorable.  Makes for a good story, that's for sure.

The Cook
101 Phang Nga Rd
Phuket Town, Phuket, Thailand

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thailand: Sea Cicadas

CK made it clear from the get-go that she was in Phuket for one thing and one thing only: sea cicadas.  She saw them on Andrew Zimmern's show and she absolutely had to have them.

We actually found them all over Patong Beach our first day in Phuket.  You couldn't take 2 steps without the little critters being washed over your feet by the waves.  

We kept thinking that we would be able to find them in a restaurant, so we weren't in a rush until all of a sudden we only had one day left and we'd yet to have them.  Then we learned something that nearly crushed CK.  According to the receptionists at our hotel, restaurants don't serve sea cicadas in Patong.  Say what?  The only way to eat them is to catch them yourself and then bring them to a restaurant.  

Guess where we went?  The beach.

Aaaaaand what do you know?  The little buggers were nowhere in sight.  CK was devastated.  I swear I saw tears shimmering in her eyes.  

So when AG asked me to head back to the hotel first without them, I assumed he wanted to comfort CK.  

I waited at the hotel for hours, watching the Olympics by myself.  Just when I was going to give up on dinner and go to bed, CK crashed through our door and shoved this bottle in my face:

SEA CICADAS!!  It was a miracle!

But before I could get properly excited, CK jerked her knee up and all I could see was a bloody mess.  And once again before my brain could catch up, CK threw me for a loop by thrusting the giant rock on her left hand into my face.

Giant rock.

Left hand.



I was still squealing when we arrived at the same food stand we ate at the night before:

The young man at the stand was kind enough to wash and fry our sea cicadas for us:

The finished product:

The texture and taste kinda resembled a soft shell crab:

So how did AG and CK make it happen, you ask?  The Lord heard CK's prayers and sent an angel in the form of a chubby little Thai boy who seemingly was able to pluck sea cicadas out of nowhere.  He tried to teach them how to look for sea cicada whiskers in the sand, but they just weren't getting it.  In the end, CK and AG paid the kid 100 baht for his bottle of sea cicadas.

And that, my friends, is how we got to eat sea cicadas on our last day in Phuket.  Praise Him.

We didn't stop there though.  The night before, we couldn't help but notice that the stand next to us had continuous traffic.  The menu was completely in Thai, so we sent AG to check it out:

He managed to figure out that most of the people were ordering catfish:

Wow.  Just wow.  The first one we ordered was non-spicy in consideration of me.  AG wasn't satisfied, so he ordered another one.  Spicy.  And boy, was it spicy.

This just proves that when traveling, always observe what the locals are eating.

And before I sign off, congrats again to AG and CK!!

Thailand: Food Stand

We were the last ones to be dropped off at our hotel after the Phang Nga Bay tour.  On our way back, I spotted a cluster of food stands:

Apparently AG saw the same thing I did because when we were discussing what to eat for dinner, we both immediately brought up the food stands.

Upon arrival, we noticed right away that the tables were filled with locals:

That's always a good sign.

We had no clue which stand was the best one, so we chose one randomly.  Well, not so randomly.  We were so hot and thirsty that we went straight for the first stand that obviously offered juice, which turned out to be the stand at the far end.

I got myself a mango juice:

Nothing beats fresh fruit juice.  Nothing.  (Except maybe chicken butt.)

CK got some kind of pork stir fry:

I kept it simple with a pad see ew:

Though it cost almost double what it would've been in Bangkok, we were so excited about finding actual Thai food in Phuket that it didn't really matter.

Plus the stand was run by the sweetest young man and perhaps his sister.  So cute!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thailand: Andaman Seafood

We barely made any plans in Phuket beyond our hotel before we arrived.  We thought we wanted to go snorkeling (I even bought an underwater camera case just for that purpose), but a quick call to a couple of tour groups quickly killed that idea.  Apparently people book their tours well in advance.  Well, boo on them.  Is there no spontaneity left in the world?  No whimsy? 

We did manage to book a Phang Nga Bay tour with Phuket Easy Tour (formerly Woody Travel & Tour) for our second day.  No snorkeling, but fantastic scenery.  The highlight is supposedly James Bond Island, but as I'm not a huge fan, it wasn't that big of a deal to me.  Thank goodness the view was so breathtaking because the food wasn't that great.  

For lunch, our trusty speedboat and Polish tour guide brought us to the floating village of Koh Panyi:

From the dock we walked up the gangplank to Andaman Seafood:

A set meal was all prepared for us:

The good news was that everything was refillable.  The bad news was that everything was kind of flavorless and catered to foreigners.

If you don't believe me, get this.  When we finished picking at the food (we being our group of 3, a British couple, and a French couple), someone brought us a plate of...wait for it...fries.

That's right.  Fries.  Cold, soggy fries.

Then came the final blow.  The tables next to us were reserved for a tour group from China.  Guess what was on their tables.  Crabs.  Clams.  Giant shrimp.

What.  The.  Hell.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thailand: Mama Cup

Today was my first day of work and for those who don't get the implications of that, let me spell it out for you: I might not be posting as often as you may want me to.  Sorry?  It's not by choice!  I want to catch up too!

Anyway, since it's a commercial break during The Voice, I bring you cup noodles from Phuket.  That's right.  First McDonald's, now cup noodles.  We were obviously ballin in Phuket.

Seriously now.  We were just so discouraged by how expensive food was and nothing looked appealing enough to be worth the expense.  So after lounging on the beach until the sun set well beyond the horizon, we dropped by the Family Mart across the street from our hotel and picked up some cup noodles.

Cup noodle flavors are so much more interesting in Asia.

Case in point, behold Mama tom yum noodles:

We freaked out a little when we realized we forgot to grab chopsticks, but Mama came through for us.  Hooray for fold-able plastic forks!  Here's one keeping my moo nam tok (pork) noodles cooking properly:

I picked the pork flavor because it looked less spicy.  Hah.  How naive of me.  I almost died trying to eat those noodles.  I couldn't even touch the soup.  Thank goodness for those plastic forks because our backup plan was to eat the noodled by slurping straight from the cup.  I probably would've died.

For real.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Thailand: McDonald's

Okay, wait!  WAIT!  Before you start throwing stuff, let me explain why I'm posting about McDonald's.  (Not that I should feel guilty about it because McD's is AWESOME.  Big mac, anyone?)  

After Bangkok, we took an early morning flight to Phuket.  Dr. Chu's secretary had booked us a boutique hotel in Patong called Nicky's Handlebar.  While I could spend an entire post describing our biker-themed accommodations, that's not what this blog is about, so I'll move on.

We spent the bulk of the first day just exploring the area around the hotel.  We strolled along the beach, checked out the shops, and looked for places to eat.  What we learned is that food in Patong is predominantly western and ridiculously more expensive than what you usually find in Bangkok.  Preposterous!  

Affronted, we went to the only place we felt was reasonably priced.  You guessed it, McDonald's: 

The double big mac was very tempting (imagine a regular big mac and double the hamburger patties), but while I was contemplating it, CK lobbed a bomb at me that shook my world to its very foundation.

I commented on how dumb it is that the double big mac only has 1 slice of cheese when the regular big mac has 2 and CK responded that the regular big mac has always only had 1 slice of cheese.  ONLY ONE SLICE OF CHEESE?  I always thought it had 2.  That would make more sense, no?  2 layers, 2 slices of cheese.  McD's, why must you betray me so?

Thoroughly put off, I glumly ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, the tuna pie:

Even though it was the cheapest thing on the menu, I still felt a little dirty forking over the money.  At 50 baht (slightly under $2), the tuna pie seems reasonably priced by American standards, but you have to understand that in Bangkok, we were able to get full meals for under that price.

Once I got over the price tag, however, I found myself really enjoying the pie.  Rather than baked like in American McD's, the pie was FRIED.  Freshly fried.  And the filling was made of a creamy tuna combined with sweet corn kernels:

Color me impressed.  So much so that when we visited McDonald's again on our last day in Phuket, I ordered another one.

Now aren't you glad you gave this post a chance?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thailand: Terminal 21

On our last day in Bangkok, AG's cousin took us around town.  She asked us what kind of shopping we were interested in and we told her honestly that all we were interested in was food.  She laughed and then brought us to Terminal 21, a giant shopping center.

Our first stop was the food court.  As we rode the escalator to the top floor, I noticed something very familiar to me:

Helloooooo San Francisco!  Besides the obvious giant replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, I also spotted the iconic Fisherman's Wharf sign and pier numbers.

I cracked up on the spot.  I couldn't help it.  Then I took a picture.

CK and AG weren't as amused.  They humored me by making all the appropriate noises, but headed straight for the food court itself:

Not that I blame them.  So many stations, each serving up something different.  To get your food court on, you have to buy coupons at the coupon counter.  (Don't worry about buying too many coupons.  You can sell them back later.)

Despite being a fancy shmancy food court in a posh shopping center, the food remained surprisingly cheap (generally about $2 per dish).  Thailand is awesome that way.

AG's cousin brought back some pan fried chive cakes:

Or at least I think they were chive.  I really enjoyed them, especially in the fragrant soy sauce they came with.

CK and I split a oyster omelette:

I thought oyster omelettes were a Taiwanese thing, but it turns out I found oyster omelettes throughout my travels in SE Asia.  The Thai version wasn't as...gooey as the Taiwanese one, but had a crispy edge.  And instead of a tangy red sauce, it came with fish sauce.  Completely different from the oyster omelettes I'm used to, but delicious all the same.

We also split a pad thai:

Maybe it's the Thai water, but pad thai tastes so much better in Thailand.

AG's cousin also let us try her fried fish:

Juice is a must in Thailand:

Super cheap and just about always fresh.  I got a coconut smoothie while CK got some kind of pineapple and kiwi mix (if I remember correctly).  I think a part of me was still expecting the typical coconut flavor, so I was a bit surprised when it tasted like straight coconut water.  Dumb, I know.  But I think I learned on this trip that I'm not a huge fan of fresh coconut water.

Our last meal in Thailand was a huge family reunion with AG's father's side of the family.  It felt socially inappropriate to bust out my camera during the meal, so you'll just have to take my word that dinner was great.

There was a fried minced catfish dish that blew my mind.  All I tasted was fried crispiness and I actually had to ask where the fish was.  Apparently the fish is so finely minced that it IS the fried crispiness.  So cool.

And as I mentioned in a previous post, AG felt that dinner wasn't enough, so we ended the night with AG's cousin and her husband at After You, eating honey toast.

Terminal 21
2,88 Sukhumvit Soi 19 (Wattana) Sukhumvit Rd
North Klongtoei, Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand

Thailand: Oceanside Restaurant

Not only did the hospital shuttle take us to the floating market, it also brought us to a restaurant by the ocean for lunch.

That's right.  The hospital shuttle took us to the ocean.  Here was the view from our table:

It was low tide so all we could see was endless sand, pockets of water, and millions upon millions of tiny crabs.  I would hate to take a walk down there.

Once again, Dr. Chu handled all the ordering.  Tom yum kung was a no-brainer:

There was also crab fried rice:

Then came 2 dishes that changed my life.  First was this crab curry:

The crab was good, yadda yadda yadda, but the SAUCE.  Omygawd the sauce.  I was basically drinking it straight from the bowl by the spoonful.  Coconut-y and slightly sweet and holy moly I want some now!

Next was a steamed fish in tom kha soup:

Say wut?!  Condensed tom kha soup?  Wow.  That fish was just ridiculous.  So ridiculous that all fish should be cooked in tom kha soup.  And served in a fish-shaped platter.

Next to the crab curry and the fish, everything else kinda paled in comparison.  Like this sea squirt dish:

There was something about a special Thai herb, but I honestly don't remember.  I think I was too busy stuffing my face (chopsticks in one hand picking up fish, spoon in the other scooping up crab curry) to pay attention to Dr. Chu.  (Sorry, Dr. Chu!)

I don't even remember there being a som tam (papaya salad):

Since I have a photo of it, it must have been there.  I just don't remember eating it.  It certainly looks pretty though, doesn't it?

After lunch, the hospital shuttle took us back to Bangkok.  Don't ask me about the car ride.  All of us conked out from food coma, even Dr. Chu.  Luckily for us, AG's family took pity on us and dinner was a quiet, light meal at home.  Finally, a break.
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