Tag Archives: holiday

A reason to love

This post was written as an assignment for a writing course I am currently doing (and enjoying): 15 Days of Writing True.

Category: A reason to love

This photo of my husband and I was a ‘selfie’ snapped on a recent trip to Thailand, on a khlong boat en route to Pratunam in Bangkok.

I hadn’t wanted to travel by boat. It was hot, muggy, and I wished my husband would just hop into a cab with me. I resented our different views around money and convenience in that moment.

We were in Bangkok, where I’d spent some time in previously. It was my husband’s first visit to the city. I hadn’t seen *everything*, but I thought I knew something about getting around.

On this day we had just checked in to this apartment, with a few hours to go before we were due to go for dinner on a boat. I had made a reservation online and was anxious that we get there on time. At the apartment, I realised the BTS (train) station was further away than I’d thought it would be. I sent a message to the guy who owned the Airbnb apartment we were staying at to ask him what the best way to get to our destination was. He made a few suggestions, including catching a ‘ferry’ behind our condo.

I’d never heard of any other boat service which operated outside of the ones on the Chao Phraya River, and looking around it seemed unlikely to me that there would be boats of any sort around where we were.

But we walked out to find it, and we found it quicker than I expected us to. It was a little dirty and confusing. I saw no clear signs, certainly not for English speakers. No staff. No foreigners. No ticketing system. I looked online for answers which I did not find. A boat arrived, and then another … from the opposite direction. The boats were so speedy, the people who got on and off so nimble. A lady we approached told us in halting English the direction that we should take and that it would take roughly 40 minutes to get to where we wanted to go (after which we would still have to transit to other mediums of transport).

It felt too hard and unnecessary – so I suggested trying out the boat another time. (Secretly, I didn’t mind if we didn’t).

We took a taxi to the BTS station that night.

The next day, my husband suggested a walk by the water. So after breakfast we walked back there, passing a live fire drill (complete with real fire and extinguishers) on the way. This time we crossed the bridge to the other side and kept walking alongside the canal.

My ears felt strange. Then I realised it was quiet and peaceful. Just across the road were tall skyscrapers, luxurious condos, the sound of traffic … here, life by the river followed an entirely different rhythm. We walked past a few street hawkers, who didn’t interact with us as hawkers in more touristy areas do – they simply stood by their stalls without trying to sell us anything. We saw men working with electrical equipment, efficiently but seemingly totally relaxed – some had no safety goggles on. Every few steps we experienced something else. A plant garden which took me by surprise. Beautiful graffiti. Rubbish floating in the canal. Little eateries, with delicious aromas. Makeshift homes.

I think now of the best word to describe it all, and unexpectedly the word that emerges is ‘harmony’, which is not to say that I don’t think people there struggle or face challenges. But somehow, the air carried no feeling of tension or strife.

I saw people who lived and worked peacefully, quietly, hidden away in a corner of this huge metropolis. I wondered about them, and I wondered about what I’d do, how I’d live, in their shoes. I gazed at the lovely bunches of pink bougainvillea which someone had thought to line the sides of the smelly canal with.

Beauty in the midst of imperfection.

I walked on, next to my husband. I was enjoying the walk by this stage, but I knew that if I’d come alone, I wouldn’t have had the courage to keep walking on.

Eventually, we got to the next jetty, diagonally across the road from the one we’d walked to the day before. When our boat arrived, it was surprisingly easy to get on. It was entirely fuss-free, despite the clear fact that no one here spoke fluent English, and neither of us spoke Thai beyond a few very basic phrases. The boat was fast, yet calming. Most on the boat appeared to be locals, and accepting of us as foreigners. Whenever the water level got high, people at the sides pulled on ropes to raise plastic sheets on both sides of the boat up, keeping us all dry. I marvelled yet again at the resourcefulness and simplicity in this city. We got to the central area in 15 minutes. The ride had cost us, in our local currency, 50 cents.

My husband grinned quite a lot. He loved it. And I realised what we had almost missed out on when I was focusing on convenience, what I thought was best, pride, etc. I realised I had enjoyed the boat experience too … a little adventure I would never have discovered and experienced without him.

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Our week in Phuket: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Here is part two of our trip (click here for part one).

We had enjoyed a week of urban living and shopping in Bangkok – and were now ready for a week of winding down in Phuket. Cleaner air, slower pace, greener landscape!

Well … there’s just one thing you have to get through before you can relax in Phuket, in my opinion. It’s slightly chaotic (by NZ standards) when you exit the airport in search of a cab. In my experience people seemed gruff, and I was sharply reminded that here I was, foremost, a paying tourist. :-$

That said, once we located a suitable cabbie and arrived at our base for the week, those stressful minutes were forgotten :-) We stayed at Mangosteen Resort for the duration of our visit.

Our room and en suite bathroom were spacious yet cosy and relaxing – and there was a jacuzzi area attached.

Dinner at Rawai Beach

Our top highlight would be having dinner at Rawai Beach while the sun set behind us. It was absolutely beautiful (and personally I think it is a great spot for romance ♥). We ordered our dishes from a restaurant named ‘Nong Pla’, sharing sticky rice, som tum (papaya salad), some gorgeous fried scallops, chips, pineapple rice, tom-yum-goong (spicy soup with lemongrass and shrimp, one of my all-time favourites). Everything arrived hot and promptly, and we enjoyed our delicious dinner.

I rather like the unique system the restaurants on this stretch of the beach use – running their kitchens and restaurants on one side of the road, and setting up an ‘al fresco’ extension of their dining area across the road right next to the beach. Staff take your orders at your table, then whiz them over from the kitchen across the road when they are ready. Genius! All you need to take along is your appetite and a can of mozzie repellent :-)

After this we took our full bellies across the road to Baan Kanom to get cold drinks before heading back (highly recommend their chocolate frappe).

Songkran

Songkran is Thai New Year, and takes place in April each year. This year we both experienced it for the first time. Google “Songkran” and you will find many great photos and write-ups about it and its origins online. Basically we were quite blessed indeed as we rode through the local area on our little rental scooter and got thoroughly soaked by both locals and tourists standing on both sides of the road fully equipped with buckets and hoses. We were both glad to have experienced this, and also to have experienced a ‘tamer’ version of it than we might have at a more ‘touristy’ location.

Altogether a novel experience, one that will have you laughing and shrieking and, indeed, letting go of ‘bad luck’ to embrace the harvest of the present moment.

Breakfast

We ventured out most mornings on our rental scooter to eat. Most places cater both to the Thai and Western palate, which I love.

Amongst our favourites: Arlecchino, Boulangerie Chez Nous, Rawai Beach (right corner when you are facing the row of eateries), Baan Kanom. A very decent breakfast (along the lines of fresh juice, coffee / tea, a main dish such as muesli or eggs and bacon on toast, and fresh fruit) costs approximately NZD$10. A Thai-style breakfast (e.g. rice or congee with condiments) is approximately NZD$4-5 – worth every savoury, flavourful bite.

If you aren’t an early riser in Thailand it doesn’t matter either, for there is never a shortage of food and restaurants seem to be ever open for business. And if a big breakfast ain’t your thing – you can always opt for a fresh coconut instead (swoon!)

Massage

You’ll find it hard to escape massage places in Thailand – we had mostly positive experiences, bar one where I drifted off to sleep in the gentle hands of my masseuse while Jarred reported feeling like he had been “mauled by a toothless bear” … maybe what you get when you look too strong ;-)

While a full body massage feels and is luxurious, and a good cure for heavy shoulders and a stressed mind, I think targeted massages are often underrated. A foot massage in particular is quite rejuvenating and works wonders for tired feet, and is much more convenient!

It pays to (1) check for cleanliness and respectability, if those things are important to you; (2) decide if you wish to receive a Thai massage – including contorting and twisting; (3) tell your masseuse if you’d like your massage to be strong, medium or soft. And of course don’t forget to give a little tip directly to your masseuse before you go :-)

Phuket Fantasea

See, eat, watch, and experience it for yourself. Reviewers online seem to love it or hate it, and having visited (we got the buffet, show and pick up package) I understand why. Definitely an Experience!

None of the photos below are touched up – it really is as cool and lovely to look at in real life :-)

Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai

On our last trip we really enjoyed visiting Phuket Walking Street / Lardyai so we went there again on our last night (a Saturday) in Phuket. Alas the market was a Sunday market, not a weekend market, so we were slightly disappointed. However we still enjoyed a brief stroll through the very quaint and charming street.

We went to another market after this, on the recommendation of a shopkeeper – Naka Market. A loud, sprawling market which for this introvert woman is stimulating enough to keep one up for hours without a sip of caffeine, so Lardyai remains my (and our) favourite so far :-)

Below are some pictures taken on our last trip:

Travel by scooter

There are many places which offer scooter rental in Phuket, most we’ve seen price them at approximately 250-300 baht (NZD $10-12) per day. We opted to hire one through our hotel as other places wanted to hold on to our passports while we had the scooter. They likely have good reasons for this but I wouldn’t recommend handing over your passport!

Phuket has its potholes and quirky driving antics but all in all we enjoyed exploring the place via scooter and would recommend this over taxi, especially in the neck of the woods we were in.

Beach time

I’m sure no one needs to be told to spend some time at the beach! Warm, lovely water and plenty of Vit D are gifts for the soul :-)

Two other places we visited on our last trip (but not on this one) are:

Pum’s Cooking School

When looking up cooking classes last year I came across a recommendation for Pum’s Cooking School on the popular travel website Nomadic Matt (which by the way is an excellent resource for travellers).

We did “Pum’s Little Wok” class last year and were not disappointed – Pum made cooking easy and fun, introduced us to the basic principles of Thai flavours, and we had a little tour through a nearby market and a delicious shared lunch of our creations afterwards.

Market visit:

Yes, I almost lost my appetite for a moment there …

Jarred gets top marks from me for presentation and taste.

Wat Chalong

There is a strong Buddhist culture and influence in Thailand, and their many temples are testament to that. A few I’ve seen are exquisite in their attention to detail and design, including the well-known Wat Chalong

If you’re lucky you might get to witness the firecrackers:

And that sums up our highlights … hope you enjoyed reading it and that it gives you some inspiration to visit amazing Thailand!

Our week in Bangkok: highlights

Sawasdee-ka! Recently we spent two weeks in Amazing Thailand – spending a week each in Bangkok and Phuket. Thailand is a popular tourist destination for so many reasons … my personal favourite things about Thailand are its tropical weather, exciting food, unpredictability and zany style. I’ve spent a few months in Bangkok previously so it was nice to return and show my husband Jarred a few spots I knew – and also explore a few new ones with him.

Since we’ve been asked more than a few times by family & friends what to do / eat / see in Thailand – I thought I’d compile a few of our highlights:

Chatuchak / JJ Market

Someone told me Chatuchak is home to 4,000 stalls – the official website though claims it hosts 15,000 stalls. Who knows how many there really are, but one thing is for certain: it is huge. You can spend hours here and not run out of new stalls to peruse. We came here by tuk-tuk on our first morning in Bangkok (you can also catch the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet MRT Station). One gets a little hot and dizzy exploring Chatuchak but you can always get a cold drink and explore the sheltered bits when you get tired of walking in the outdoor area. It is well known for being a market in which pickpockets operate – so ladies, wear a bag with a thick strap and which you can keep very close to you at all times; men, no wallets in back pockets! No thick wads of cash! Leave your passport and valuables in the safe at your hotel if you can.

If you’d rather visit a night market – try Asiatique The Riverfront (free shuttle boat service provided from Saphan Taksin BTS Station). There are many options there for stylish souvenirs, dinner and more. You can also enjoy a view of the city from their ferris wheel (which we didn’t take on this occasion).

Malls

If you’re not looking forward to having to trawl through the malls with your wife who’s eager to shop (not that I imposed such a thing on Jarred) – you may change your mind when you’re in Bangkok because they are good places to escape the heat and also to grab a bite in air-conditioned and clean surroundings. Bangkok is full of comprehensive and well-designed malls – the most beautiful ones are to be found in the city centre in the vicinity of the Siam BTS station.

 On this trip we spent most of our shopping time at Platinum Mall which you can access via BTS or by taking the khlong boat to Pratunam. Hubby bought more than me … haha! I didn’t take photographs at Platinum but it’s basically a fashion-focused mall where you can get anything from wigs to belts, cosmetic jewellery, handbags and elaborate gowns … some for close to wholesale prices. Vendors are accustomed to interacting with tourists. I find it best to just enjoy the experience of bargaining and try to strike a deal which is fair for both, or be willing to walk away as the next good buy is never far away!

Pictured below: Central Embassy mall

While we’re on the subject of malls … Siam Paragon (right next to Siam BTS Station) is a luxe mall, where you can enjoy delicious food and window shop for cars (check out Coffee Beans by Dao on G. Floor – relatively upmarket by Thai standards but always reliably great food, along with the luxury cars upstairs … )

We came here with my friend Håvard – good to catch up again :-)

Embassy Diplomat Screens by AIS

I wanted to surprise my movie-buff husband – and I was in luck, as Bangkok is home to the Embassy Diplomat Screens … a cinema which doubles as a pampering experience. You can book your tickets online as we did. Located on level 6 of the Central Embassy mall (close to Phloen Chit BTS Station) – arrive at least 30 minutes before your movie is scheduled to start if you can, so you can enjoy the lounge experience before you snuggle up in your cocoon seat or daybed for the movie. Best to pick a engaging movie to watch or you may find yourself waking up at the end with drool trailing off the edge of your open mouth ;-)

This is not the cheapest cinema ticket you’ll ever get – but in my opinion it is worth experiencing at least once, and preferably on a date with someone you like!

Waterways

Bangkok is the Venice of Asia, and one can easily forget it when catching the comfortable BTS train, feeling stuck in horrendous traffic or attempting to bargain with a tuk-tuk driver … but don’t miss the chance to explore the city via its waterways. Not only is it picturesque and refreshing, it is also a very inexpensive way to get around.

Khlong Saen Saep

For part of our trip we stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Thong Lo area which was conveniently located right next to the Thong Lo pier. We loved it that we were able to catch a khlong boat to Pratunam (city centre) each day for 15 baht (approximately NZD$0.50), and arrive in 15 minutes!

Some find the smell and occasional splash of canal water offensive (though they have a good system in place to deal with sprays) less than appealing, but if you can get past that it is well worth it!

Chao Phraya Express Boat

One thing about the boats: they are speedy and great, but the system can be a little hard to figure out when you first get there. The easiest option is to purchase an all-day pass for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat from Sathorn pier (close to Shangri-La Hotel / Saphan Taksin BTS Station). It costs just 150 baht (approximately NZD$6) and you can hop on and off as you wish at piers located very close to a few of Bangkok’s key attractions including Yaowaraj (Chinatown), Khao San Road, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.

If you do hop on this for a day … don’t miss …

Farm to Table

Get off at Pak Khlong Talad pier and take a look at ICP Flower Market en route to Farm to Table Organic Cafe, a 5-minute walk from the pier (use Google Maps). This little treasure serving delicious fare and handmade gelato is well worth a stop for lunch (and leave room for dessert).

Supanniga Cruise

Still on the subject of water and food (two of the best things in the world, no?) – there is a yummy way to enjoy the Chao Phraya River at a leisurely pace. I signed us up for dinner on a Supanniga Cruise … where we got to enjoy some Thai delicacies over a 2.5 hour cruise along the river. We got a perfect sunset and evening – and as a bonus, albeit to my embarrassment as well, we were the only passengers on board that evening with about 9 crew members attending to us! We had more than enough to eat (and the food was swoon-worthy!), the boat was nice and new, the crew took photos of us all evening on my camera, and we enjoyed our evening with them.

The verdict is also that I will probably not ever opt to privately charter a boat with a substantial crew as I simply feel too embarrassed ;-)

Street food

Bangkok’s street food is truly an attraction in itself. Hygiene isn’t always on the top of the list at some of these places, so choose carefully (or be willing to put up with the consequences) – on this trip I took us to Convent Road (a stone’s throw away from Sala Daeng BTS Station). Incidentally it is also very close to BNH Hospital should you require quality medical attention for anything.

We had some delicious chicken rice, a delectable banana and nutella crêpe (so crisp, sweet and hot!) and spicy chicken (not pictured).

Moon Bar

If you’re still in the vicinity of Sala Daeng BTS Station in the evening and it’s fine weather, enjoy a 10-minute stroll to Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree for a drink 61 storeys above ground level. There is an option to dine too at Vertigo (the adjoining restaurant). Dress code is smart casual – in our case we were unprepared, but they graciously provided a perfectly fitting pair of trousers for Jarred and a wraparound skirt for me. Seats are limited but it didn’t take us long to find a cosy spot. The view was breathtaking and our drinks were delicious (I recommend the Thai Sabai!)

Soi Thonglor / Sukhumvit Soi 55

Our Airbnb apartment was located very close to Sukhumvit Soi 55, which seemed like a very vibrant street from what I read about it through my Google research. We certainly enjoyed walking down it one night, taking in the sight of all the colours and exciting-looking restaurants, though we had unfortunately already had dinner that night. We did, however, take our time to explore a few gems …

theCOMMONS

We had our morning drinks at Roast – I can wholeheartedly recommend their iced espresso latte, a very creative and delicious way to enjoy iced coffee! We hung out for a little while afterwards downstairs in the common area, just people-watching and chatting. Enjoyed the concept and visual layout of this place – a thoughtfully designed community hub.

It also turned out to be a ‘beauty day’ for both of us … Jarred went to a hairdresser then chilled in the nail parlour while I had my nails done :-D

Later still after a dinner interlude, we returned to Thong Lo to visit the much talked about Iron Fairies bar. It was too dark to take good photos, but we liked the design and creativity in the place, the calm atmosphere, the great live music and how it felt like we had disappeared down a rabbit hole into another world :-) I hear the food and cocktails are good – perhaps something to try next time (this time we just had beer for him and Perrier for her, after a huge dinner!)

Sorabol

The aforementioned big dinner we had was at Sorabol with my friend from uni, Nam, and her boyfriend Trust. We took a cab there from where we were staying (if catching a cab and your cabbie needs more details around where it is, say it is close to K-Village). We had a great time catching up over Korean BBQ … seriously there are few better ways to feed a hungry tummy!

Thai fruit

Obviously eating out lots can leave one hungering for simpler, home cooked fare. For our days spent at our Airbnb Jarred made us delicious oatmeal in the morning which we enjoyed with fresh mangoes bought from a street vendor. Seems we had arrived in good time for the annual mango season … mmmmm … they were so ripe and juicy, almost sexy!

Uma

When we were planning our trip we were faced with a somewhat pleasant problem: WHERE to stay with the plethora of options available online! In the end we decided to pick a place each in Bangkok, where we would spend half the week. Jarred’s pick was Uma Residence which was very affordable at NZD$162.40 for 4 nights including a daily breakfast at the time we booked. Our room wasn’t huge, but it was very tidy, comfortable, well ventilated (something which we really appreciated when we got to our Airbnb apartment), and we really enjoyed hanging out by the pool before we headed out each day and when we got back in the evenings. They also had a complimentary cookie and coffee station which was a very lovely touch for guests.

In terms of location it is situated in the older Dusit area of Bangkok, very lovely and local, tuk-tuks and taxis easily available a few minutes’ walk from the front door, 9 minutes’ walk from a boat pier (which we only discovered towards the end of our stay). We’d love to stay at Uma again on a future trip to Bangkok.

It’s easy to spend a week or more in Bangkok with so much to explore – next time I’d love to take a cooking or massage class, visit the Floating Markets, Wat Pho, islands and other attractions in the vicinity of Bangkok, and re-visit Dasa Books, Lumphini Park and Talad Rot Fai … :-)

Have you been to Bangkok? What are your favourite spots / activities?

S.T.A.Y. on a Michelin star

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.
~ Thomas Jefferson

Hello from Beijing! I’m here visiting my friend Jane – and we have been functioning on an average of three hours’ sleep a night, but we’re pretty happy.

Initial impressions of this city: DUSTY! BUSY! Dust descends daily on me like an army of microscopic aliens – and people are gruff, cab drivers especially so (though I guess I wouldn’t like to be spending my days driving random people around in Beijing traffic either). Personal space doesn’t appear to exist as a concept here.

Yet, for all its smog and busy-ness, Beijing possesses a tangible charm amid all the chaos – I feel safe on her streets and pleasure fills my pockets as I gaze at street stalls boasting luscious fruit and street food like jian bing; people playing chess under bridges; the beauty of faces on the subway, on bikes, at the market…

It’s been wonderful exploring Beijing via subway, ‘tin can cars’ and taxis with Jane as my personal unpaid tour guide ;-) I’ve loved everything from hearing Mandarin all around me, fumbling with my own questionable command of Mandarin, to meeting the people who make up Jane’s China world…

One highlight was going to S.T.A.Y. last night, a restaurant championed by Michelin-award-winning chef Yannick Alléno.

Does one need a good reason for a special dinner? Yes and no – the simple joy of a great friendship is reason enough for me… but on this occasion we also had Jane’s birthday to celebrate (she terms it as “the 26th anniversary of her expulsion from her mother’s womb”). We spent a few hours on Google trying to decide where to go, and when at last Jane rang them to make a booking our eyes held a matching gleam. :-D

And so it is that we spent an hour travelling via tin can car (see first picture), taxi and subway to get to S.T.A.Y. where we very happily stayed for three hours! We had an outstanding waiter and sommelier who made us feel at once like old friends and like royalty – and who arranged for us to have champagne on the house (for Jane’s birthday)!

We began our evening with a generous selection of amuse-bouches including: cherry-coloured radishes brushed with butter; cubed tomato with parmigiano (these held their shape on the plate but collapsed immediately upon meeting our tongues); fish fingers served with a paprika dip; a bread basket with butter checkered with creamy ham.

We opted for the four-course meal (with two options per course, RMB528 per person).

Course 1: both of us had spanner crab cakes rolled in sesame seeds, served alongside fresh broad beans and greens with a beautiful shallot/ginger/garlic sauce. This was a light course, and I enjoyed the way the individual sweet strands of crab meat mingled with the fragrance of the sesame seeds and the savoury sauce… mmm.

Course 2: Jane had the chicken consommé, a clear, refined soup with mushrooms and carrot – and garnished with toasted crostini spread with foie gras and chicken liver pâte. My cream of cauliflower arrived as a bed of crispy croutons, delicate seaweed strands and cauliflower to which the waiter added a warm, delicious cream…

Hmm… you’ll have to trust me on this, but it really looked much better in real life than it does here:

Course 3: The black pepper Angus beef fillet with cafe de paris and gratin dauphinois floored her… she was speechless for some time and I wondered if her face could split from smiling. When I took a bite of her meal, though, I understood :-) And I was well pleased with my red snapper with clams – the dish was awash with the sweetness of clam juice – and the zucchini, tomato marmalade and basil leaves added texture and flavour that was really complementary to the fish and clams.

Course 4: And finally, dessert – a stroll through Pastry Library wonderland! Here we were treated to a visual feast of treats in glass cabinets and left to select our sweet of choice. Jane opted for a vanilla tart, which arrived at our table topped with gold-dusted caramelised pistachio nuts – and I had a passionfruit cream-filled biscuit cigar reminiscent of a brandy snap, topped with a passionfruit/chocolate mousse and almonds. Of course, we were also given an additional complimentary platter of other sweets (including meringue cigars, mini pistachio balls, etc)… ah lovely staff.

As I ate, I thought “everything stands out but nothing sticks out”… it was a moving portrait of harmonious perfection, flawless yet welcoming. I loved the way food and joy met on every dish and meandered through our bodies and minds as we ate.

Something else I found remarkable – that they served such food and waited on us with such style as if it were everyday fare – as if this was the only way to eat. Special turned Ordinary… amazing :-) 2am now and I want to continue waxing lyrical about S.T.A.Y. but frankly, my mind is turning to custard with lack of sleep so I’m going to sign off for now!

I look forward to many more privileged years of being your friend, Janey! (And thanks for coming up with the somewhat clever title of this blog post).

S.T.A.Y. – 29 Zizhuyuan Road, Beijing, 100089, China – Phone: +86 10 6841 2211

Hot food in hot places

All journeys have secret destinations of which the travel[l]er is unaware.
~ Martin Buber

Sweat in Singapore feels like a second skin, and powerful air conditioners are put to work in most buildings and vehicles to provide welcome relief to drenched humans.

There is something to be said for eating hot food in hot conditions, though – it’s magic. Somehow everything is tastier and more fragrant, and the experience of eating (spicy foods in particular) is heightened as you feel your clothes sticking to your back, sweat hugging your neck and embracing your legs… there’s something true to life about that, you know? It makes me fall in love with the function of eating and with the absolute miracle of being able to taste, smell, hear, touch and see. I enjoy eating ice cream in winter for similar reasons – it makes me feel awake and alive. You may be raising your eyebrows at your screen as you read this, but seriously, try it if you haven’t!

One experience I really love in Singapore is the hawker centre/kopi tiam* (coffee shop – “kopi” meaning coffee and “tiam” meaning shop, in a Chinese dialect) experience. The hawker centre/kopi tiam is no place to wear suits or heels or translucent tops (lest excessive sweat get in the way of keeping yourself modest and your expensive clothes clean) – but it’s a brilliant place to tease your senses and eat delicious food for not very much $$ at all. A meal will likely cost less than SGD$10 in most hawker centres/kopi tiams.

Here is a breakfast tradition that’s been revived in recent years – kaya toast and a cup of hot kopi. Kaya is the jam of my childhood – a sweet concoction infused with the wonderful flavours of pandan and coconut… and I could do a whole post about various ways of having your kopi – the unwritten kopi tiam coffee menu is way more extensive than Starbucks’s! My aunt and I enjoyed this breakfast the other day at a kopi tiam in East Coast:

Though Singapore be a tiny place, there remain many areas which I have never explored – Geylang being one of them! So Paul took me for a lovely bak kut teh lunch at Leong Kee (Klang) Bak Kut Teh near Lorong 11 in Geylang. Bak kut teh is this heady, aromatic soup infused with the flavours of pork, garlic and peppercorn… for me, it spells warmth and comfort. Peppery soup, pork with dark soya sauce, rice… mmmm! This version came with sheets of dried beancurd skin.

This mee rebus and char siew hor fun came from a hawker centre in Yew Tee – much as I detest food in plastic packaging for environmental and health reasons, seeing that familiar plastic-encased food bundle still causes a sense of nostalgia to ripple through me…

Tau sar pau (red bean paste buns) – still something lovely about biting into warm and fluffy pau dough and finding sweet red bean paste in the middle! It’s a sort of delicate, understated sweetness I miss when in New Zealand (where sweetness derived from the likes of fruit, cake and chocolate is more common).

Here (Rochor Original Beancurd – 2 Short Street, Singapore), Paul, Mich and I had bowls of impossibly silky and refreshing tau huay (otherwise known as dou hua, tau fu fa or tofu pudding – silky tofu served with a clear sweet syrup, though there are other variations available). A perfect light finish, especially after a rather heavy dinner! I really wouldn’t recommend the soy milk here, though…

And finally – this is a place with glorious mee pokJalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok (The Art of Mee Pok Pte Ltd) (308 Bedok Road, Bedok Shopping Centre). Mee pok is a tasty Singaporean staple composed of springy noodles, toppings like fish balls or minced pork and a flavoursome sauce with elements like chilli and vinegar. Not a dish you’d pick for high nutritional value, but one I always have at least once whenever I visit this part of the world!

Delicious Hakka yong tau foo (a medley of tofu, vegetables, etc) and greens with fried shallots from an adjacent stall were wonderful side dishes we enjoyed with the excellent mee pok :-)

The question I’ve most frequently had to answer on this trip is “what do you want to eat?” (yeah, such a hard life, huh?)… the question which has then prompted conversations and visits to places all around Singapore in search of the perfect [insert dish name here]. Ahh… I could get used to this holiday ;-)

And on that note, it amuses me that though many hawker centres and kopi tiams may sell similar fare, I have rarely encountered a Singaporean who does not hold strong opinions about which one sells the BEST [insert local dish here], or a Singaporean who will not endure torturous traffic jams/public transport at peak hours just to get to their favourite food places…

Such a culture of food worship!