Archive for the ‘Sarawakian’ Category

It has been a bit more than a month ago when we had an exclusive all-girl weekend getaway. It was meant to be a fun-filled and stress-free weekend for 7 girls for a getaway with great food, quality bonding, lots of laughs and just having the best time ever. Oooops… forgot baby Z, the only XY-chromosome in our girly group! 😀

On 5th Nov, I have posted Part 1 of our weekend getaway to (O)Porto, the second largest city in Portugal after Lisbon. By the way, Portugal’s famous port wine is named for Porto, and Portugal, is one of the world’s most beautiful countries! 

Oh dear, it has been 3 weeks since, and Part 2 was still not out … hmmmm

I’m sure the girls were wondering, and I was right. Last week I met up with X for lunch and here’s our conversation:

X (curious): When is part 2 of our trip going to be ready, or have you decided to stop…?

D: Definitely not stopping. In the pipeline … 😉

X: Ha ha …. I thought you have decided to stop !

D (smiling): Nope, am collating the photos first and that’s one big hold-up! The App I’m using jumbled up my photos and they are not in chronological order anymore and mind you, I have more than 10k photos on my iPhone! Argghhh …

X: My condolences to you, then …

D (grinning): Humph! 

Pre-Mortem 

With the majority of us working and/or travelling, AO volunteered to do a research on Porto a week before our ETD. She had BIG plans for us 7 girls and her baby. It sounded just too good, but was it doable? The main point of discussion was whether Duoro Valley was a go or no go in our Weekend getaway. Places of interests and links were attached in an email for us to revert with our feedback.

While X and G had replied, here was my feedback –

Hi ya’ll !

Hey AO, a massive thanks for the great research, indeed. Well done, charbor! I was re-reading your message and noted that getting to the villages would take at least 2.5 hours. That means to and from the villages would take 5 hours and that’s just the travel part and not taking into account the actual time spent there. We would easily lose three-quarters of a day just to get there and back. It’s a pity because I would love to visit the breathtaking Duoro Valley, but due to time pressure (short weekend et al), with a heavy heart, I’ll give this visit a miss. I’m sure Porto city has a lot to offer especially so when it’s a first time for most of us. Oh by the way, I just checked the weather forecast and it’s not looking great, It’ll be 17 to 18 deg C with 60% to 70% chance of rain!!! Hope the forecast is wrong ! So it looks like X, G and I are saying “no” to Duoro Valley. Not sure about C, O and AM. Anyway, since you and AM will be staying a day longer, hence, am assuming you girls will be going on Sunday, if we’re not going in a group, right?. And if you’re going, don’t forget to share your experience with us after the trip, k? 

Cheers and counting down to our Porto trip!!

D

So the road trip plan to Duoro Valley was dumped, as C and O were also not keen, due to time constraints. That meant, AO and AM, the last girls to leave Porto, would be going on Sunday, right?

Erm … afraid not… 

Just a day or two before our departure, AO, the littlest, but feistiest girl in our group (Lolz!) decided a last minute change in plan, i.e. to go on with the trip to Duoro Valley, with or without the group not on Sunday but on the day of our ETA in Porto! The reason for the change in schedule was because of …

 …This !!!

Sunday, 23rd Oct was to be the bleakest of all days. Cold and wet at 14 deg C! Driving along the winding roads to Duoro Valley under a heavy downpour would appear to be too dangerous, so it would definitely be a no go on Sunday to Duoro Valley … BUT… feisty AO was determined to make that trip!

Now the question(s): Did AO go to Duoro Valley or not and if she did, who came along? 

I left the office at almost 9 pm the evening before the trip. I was absolutely knackered and dog-tired; hence I was 100% looking forward to an easy and stress-free weekend with the girls and a baby …

Bem-vindo ao porto! Welcome to Porto!

We left Brussels Airport at 10:50 and arrived at Francisco Sá Carneiro Airport at 12:20. As soon as we touched down, our group had to split into two! Yup, the trip to Duoro Valley was decided at the last minute and AO managed to ‘lure’ a victim and who izzit?

The group that left to Duoro Valley took a rented car whilst the group that headed straight for the city took the Metro. Before we said our temporary goodbyes, we wanted everyone to meet for dinner together. We suggested and agreed to meet at the hotel lobby around 7pm, all 7 girls and a baby!

Did we make it? That’s the question … 😉

By the way, it was C who volunteered to accompany AO and baby Z and she was happy to be the ‘chauffeur’ for the entire journey up the wine growing valley of Duoro

The 5 of us had initially wanted to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel. We queued on the taxi stand, but it was just hopeless because there were 5 of us. The cabbie allowed max 4 passengers per trip. A minivan-type taxi would be perfect but they didn’t appear very often, so we changed our strategy and went for the Metro instead. 

The journey to the city centre took about 35 minutes and a single fare was Eur 1.80. For the first time, we needed to buy the Andante ticket which included the 0.60 cent rechargeable Andante card

Taking the metro is by far the cheapest and quickest way to get to the city but I remembered well we had to wait for about 40 minutes for the metro train to start moving. We had lost precious time playing the waiting game .. 

Porto Trindade Hotel

Trindade station is the 15th stop from the airport. The hotel was not an obvious find as the sign was virtually non-existent. We had to cross the road from the Metro and walked uphill all the way to the hotel while at the same time, dragging our luggage. It was probably a blessing in disguise that AO and baby Z didn’t have to go through the gruelling walk that afternoon. 

Goodness gracious!  It was almost 3 pm and we had not had our lunch. Before we checked in our rooms, X asked the receptionist where we could eat the famous Porto signature dish, francesinha. Without a smile on his face, he gave us the name of the restaurant (Café Santiago) and to remember the landmark “Coliseu do Porto“. The restaurant’s just opposite the theatre which is a local landmark and a leading venue for music and cultural events in Porto. Oh-Kay… with a landmark in mind, we shouldn’t get lost, right? 

If I remembered well, I didn’t recall we being greeted by a friendly receptionist. I would describe the staff as professional rather than friendly, except for one super friendly barman, whom we got acquainted with that evening when we redeemed our welcome drink at the bar. He was very helpful and went the extra mile to give us tips on places to visit during our stay in Porto.

When we checked-in into our rooms, we had only 10 minutes to orientate ourselves in our respective room, after which we had  to gather at the lobby and left the hotel in search for that mysterious francesinha

It was not an easy peasy search for that specific Café because we still had to acquaint and orientate ourselves with the city and her surroundings. 

Avenida dos Aliados

From our hotel, we started at the monumental central avenue, Avenida dos Aliados, aka Porto’s ‘reception room’ right in the heart of the city.

It’s a lively avenue during the day, but what a pity the skies were quite grey and it was quite chilly that afternoon as well. The avenue would have been a great place for a relaxing promenade, but of course we did not miss a photo opportunity next to the statue of D. Pedro IV on a horse. He was a symbol of courage and affection for the people of Porto. Behind us in the distance was the City Hall of Porto, situated at the top of Aliados Avenue, at the heart of downtown.


We could not dilly-dally too long there as time was the essence. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that our group was splitted into two. We came as one and we should have stayed as one. With two splitted groups, timing became a challenge. We hadn’t the clue if C, AO and baby Z had the rented car and/ or if they had started the journey direction Duoro. We could only hope and pray that the 2 girls and a baby were danger-free and fine. Therefore, the only right way to do was to respect our agreed timeline prior to our going separate ways. 

And by the way, we still have not found the landmark the hotel receptionist was directing us to, so we walked and we walked and we walked …

The Quest For Francesinha 

In order not to have too many people doing the same thing, G and X were the map readers or navigators.  Girls being girls, little arguments and banterings were the norm. One said north, the other said south. So we walked and walked and walked until we came to Porto’s lively shopping street, Rua Santa Catarina. Part of the street is closed to traffic, making it a mostly-pedestrianised shopping street. Well of course we did not stop there to shop (not yet) BUT we had a closed glimpse of the most renowned “Harry Potter‘s” Café Majestic.  

Harry Potter

Yup! Will talk about that in a bit, because the priority quest then was to monitor the landmark, Coliseu do Porto and our francesinha !!!!

And we finally found the landmark!!!

Yay!!


Café Santiago 

If this café was recommended by staff at our hotel, then it must be good. It was full house when we arrived, so it’s a good sign that it must be more than good 😉

We had to wait for a vacant table. What made it more difficult was we were with 5 people. First of all, 5 is an odd number and 5 were too many to get a table in a packed café, so we waited …

We finally got a table meant for 4, so we had to squeeze one of the girls. When the waiter brought the menu card to us, I goggled at the photos of the menu. Only 2 shades of colours: yellow/brown and orange! Where are the greens? Reds? Purples? Whites?


I suddenly felt constipated gawking at the photos. To be honest, that’s not my kind of food, but, hey we walked more than 10,000 steps just to experience a typical Porto dish, so game on!

Francesinha is one of the most typical dishes in Porto. It’s a type of sandwich (toasted bread) stuffed with different layers of meats (cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage, beef steak) and covered with cheeses and then oven-grilled until the cheeses just slightly melted. The sandwich sits on a spicy tomato-beer sauce, which secret recipe will never be revealed… well, that did not bother me, because I would not be craving for francesinha in a long while …

We ordered 3 different items on the menu and shared those amongst the 5 of us. We had to be careful not to eat too much as we promised to meet for dinner, all 7 girls and a baby that evening.

By the way, I was glad I got to try the infamous francesinha. For me, it’s once bitten, twice shy. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tasty dish, but it was way too heavy for my liking. I think the other girls shared the same sentiment as I did, right charbors? 😉

São Bento Railway Station

After the heavy late ‘lunch’ of francesinha, we were in dire need of more walks. Our next stop was worth the stop. It was a railway station but it was not just an ordinary one. São Bento is the oldest and is claimed to be the most beautiful railway station with its 20,000 dazzling blue-and-white Moorish tile panels, known as azulejos. The painted tiles on the walls illustrate the evolution of transport in the area, as well as depicting scenes of the history of Portugal. 

Oh by the way, we were lucky to be entertained by the local military orchestra that afternoon 😀



Churches and Cathedrals 

It’s amazing to see how many churches and cathedrals in quite close proximity with each other in the centre of the city. We have probably been to most of the churches, which looked amazing on the façade as well as the interior. 

It was good to have those peaceful and silent moments once in a while after the fast pacings and stresses of the day to recharge our batteries 😉


Birthday Girl

The clock ticked and we were wondering about AO, C and baby Z. Before we headed back to our hotel, we stopped at a pastry shop in the hope of buying a cake for birthday girl, AO, as a surprise, however, the cake shop ran out of cakes. Instead, we agreed unanimously to go for 7 mini cakes (mix of chocolate, passion fruits, raspberries and mangos) at a Specialty Cake Shop on the way back to our hotel. 

Two weeks before our departure to Porto, 6 girls were discussing about giving AO a birthday surprise. In a way, it was good that AO was not around when we planned the small do later in one of our rooms. 

Going back to the hotel was more civilised as we had internet connection and free wifi. X and AO were in contact with one another to get more information about their ETA at the hotel. 

When the 2 girls and the baby finally arrived, the 7 mini cakes were lighted from the candles which G brought with her, and we sang the birthday song in unison while greeting the birthday girl. 

Happy (belated) birthday, AO


2 Girls And A Baby

We were glad to see C, AO and baby Z again after 6 hours or so of separation. Surely there were lots of stories to tell. If not, then what happened in Duoro remained in Duoro 😉

And most certainly the 2 girls managed to know each other a bit more, too. What those 2 girls had gone through were completely different than what the 5 of us had experienced that afternoon. It’s like the clash of 5 ‘city’ girls vs 2 ‘country’ lasses. Lol

However, when C shared with us some of the photos, we could see why the Duoro Valley is called the enchanted valley with her magical landscapes. There’s no wonder why this cultural landscape is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO

While the 5 ‘city’ girls had their tastes of francesinha, the 2 ‘country’ lasses had a go with Portugal’s most renowned pastry, pastel de nata (Portuguese egg tart pastry). C, with the golden heart, bought some grapes and a bottle of local Duoro red wine that she would later share with us. Obrigada, C!


Full Quorum Dinner @ Restaurant Antunes

Like Café Santiago, Restaurant Antunes was recommended by staff at our hotel. According to the receptionist, the restaurant served local Portuguese cuisines, hence, were not to be missed. Booking was essential, so the hotel staff made a reservation for us. 

The restaurant’s located behind the Metro Station (across from our hotel). It didn’t look much from the street, however, when we got inside, it was packed to full capacity as the locals patronise the restaurant daily. 

Oh boy, it was 8 pm and the francesinha and the mini birthday cake were not fully digested in my tummy and there we were, dining again! I ordered for a fish menu (grilled hake with baked potatoes … yes, boring …) and so did C, G, O and AM whilst X and AO eyed for the roasted pork shank. 

And guess what? THE star of the evening was actually the roasted pork shank, the iconic Pernil de Porco, which was the house specialty. It was unlike anything I have ever seen. The pork shank was HUGE, man!  It was actually very good, 100 times better than my tasteless hake 😦

Good choice, X and AO (Y)

We ordered sardines as starter, which were excellent and we also enjoyed the couvert. I’m glad we were recommended Restaurant Antunes because for me, it was a Portuguese eating experience. The service was fast and excellent even though the waiter spoke limited English. Somehow we managed to understand and communicate with no problem 😀

If I were to go to Restaurant Antunes again, I would go there with an empty stomach and order their Pernil de Porco

Good thing that there’s someone in our group who’s a meat eater, so we could see what’s on each other’s plate. The culprit will know who I am referring to here 😉

After dinner, we walked back to the hotel and went straight to the bar to redeem our welcome drink. I had their red Port Wine. What else ?! 😀

I think we must have hit the sack at almost 1 am. It was going to be another long day the next day …

Mercado do Bolhão (Porto’s Colorful Market)

After a stuffed and almost dog-tired day the day before, we gathered at the hotel lobby at 9.30 am (after a scrumptious buffet brekkie with a fair choice of cold and warm dishes). AO and baby Z missed the headcount that morning as AO had to return the 24-hour rented car that brought the 2 girls and a baby to Duoro Valley. While waiting for AO, the 6 of us walked to the nearby Trindade Church to have a peaceful and quiet moment. 

When we got out of the church, G, the ‘navigator’ and timekeeper, shepherded us to Mercado do Bolhão, which is considered to be Porto’s most colourful market located in the heart of the city. The exuberant market is found in a 2-tier, rather old building. The market opens daily from 7am until 5pm except Saturday when the traders called it a day at 1pm. Sunday is a day of rest.

The Bolhão market is not a very big market, unlike the markets I have been to in the Provence (South of France). Nevertheless, it has its own charm as everything traded at the market was locally produced from fresh fruits, breads to household items. 

All of us bought some souvenirs to remind us of our stay in Porto. AM was, undoubtedly, the happiest girl on the planet as she bought oodles of fridge magnets to add on to her colossal collection of magnets. Lol


We adjourned to a Café in the marketplace spotted by G, of course 😉

In less than 30 minutes, AO and baby Z joined us. And we were full quorum again …

Now off we strode to the meeting point of the Yellow Bus!

Hurry girls ….!!!

Yellow Bus Hop-On-Hop-Off (HOHO)

A week before our ETD from Brussels to Porto, AO volunteered to order 7 HOHO Porto Vintage tickets online for us. It’s cheaper buying online at Eur 11.70 per tix as opposed to Eur 13 buying at location. 

Our tickets were valid for a day and we could HOHO in Porto as many times we wanted anywhere along the Porto bus tour routes, which were either the Purple or the Orange route/ line. The Porto Vintage included free access with wine tasting to Espaço Porto Cruz, which, unfortunately we did not use, due to a few non-drinkers in our group plus time constraints. 

By the way, we were supposed to take the Purple Line that morning with the aim to go to Matosinhos, but somehow, we boarded the wrong line, the Orange route. 

Wrong line or not, I thought that was a blessing in disguise. To be honest, I’m not a sea person so I did not mind missing the trip to Matosinhos, although one or two girls might be disappointed… Well, we knew when travelling in a group of 7 double X-chromosomes, there’re bound to be some ‘negotiable’ contretemps. Anywhow, Matosinhos was the less recommended place than the other side of the riverbank, Vila Nova de Gaia, or simply Gaia by the friendly barman at our hotel. That, I remembered 😉

For me, I know I would be back to Porto and I could visit all the places I have missed. It’s not the end of the world 😉

Ribeira and Porto River Bank

It was 12.30 pm and the stop at Ribeira was just perfect. Excellent timing for our midday lunch. 

The old town, centered at Ribeira, was built on the hills overlooking the Douro River. I absolutely adore the long promenade along the Duoro riverbank. In fact, the site is listed as World Heritage protected by UNESCO, and represents the famous postcard image of the city. 

The Cais da Ribeira (the Quay of Ribeira) is the soul of Porto, where one can climb aboard one of the many typical boats and take a mini cruise down the river. We had thought of taking a cruise but had to quit the idea because of time pressure. 

I loved the look of the charming pastel houses stacked like blocks of Lego and the narrow medieval streets and seedy alleyways, and of course the spellbinding Dom Luis Bridge. 


We found a nice restaurant on a hilly slope but with 7 and a half people, finding a table was almost near to impossible in a touristic area if pre-booking was not done. Anyway we waited like predators 😀

C double-checked with the waiter and he promised to set up a table for us as soon as a group of people left. 

When we finally got a table after waiting for some 15 to 20 minutes, everyone sighed with relief.

Phew

After the more than positive review of the sardines we had at Restaurant Antunes, we ordered them again as our starter. They were so moreish and finger lickin’ good 🙂

Before the Porto trip, I have heard a lot about Bacalhau (dried and salted cod) dishes, which are common in Portugal, but have never tried it. Out of curiosity, 5 girls went for the house specialty bacalhau dish, recommended by the waiter. AO went for the squid dish with tomato rice and X, for the pan-fried salmon. 

The verdict? 

I would rather have 20 sardines on my plate than that one piece of bloody hard, chewy and salty cod fish! I was totally disappointed, and so were some of the girls…

In hindsight, I should have ordered that salmon 😦  Drooling …! 

X, I want you as my personal food advisor. Lol!


On the other side of the riverbank, I saw the famous Sandeman Porto Wine Cellars, which wine I have used in my cooking or just drink it as apéritif. Too bad, we did not do the wine tasting tour. Well, I’m even more determined now to return to Porto 😉

Palácio da Bolsa

After the amazing time we had at Ribeira and the riverbank, we took a walk to Palácio da Bolsa, literally translated as Stock Exchange Palace.

Our visit to the Palace was probably one of the most memorable and flattering moments. 7 girls and a baby were standing at the cashier counter waiting to pay the entrance tickets and guided tour. Guess what? The friendly Portuguese girl thought we were students and charged us student rate which had a 50% discount! Wow! That’s amazing innit … we looked like students *feeling flattered*

When the 40-minute tour started, we met the girl again. She was our bi-lingual guide who spoke in both Portuguese and English.  

I’m not sure about the rest of the girls, but I wasn’t really paying attention to the guide’s stories.

I was busy taking photos, of the floors, ceilings, walls, doors, pillars and what have you. I could see there’s a great mix of architectural styles and decorative arts and the highlight of the Palace was undoubtedly, the Arab Room. I felt as if I was transported into One Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The room is decorated in exotic Moorish Revival style. It was breathtakingly spectacular with all the golds and glitters! Simply Wow!


Porto Cathedral (Se Catedral)

After the Arabian Nights’ tour, the girls were debating to either climb the 240 steps of the 75.6 metres high Torre dos Clérigos (Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower) adjacent to Igreja dos Clérigos (Church of the Clergymen) or climbed a few steps up to Porto Cathedral. 

We agreed to go for the latter, as some of the girls were showing signs of exhaustion. Porto is a very hilly city, by the way. Which reminded me of Rome.

With Romanesque roots, the Porto Cathedral has undergone many changes throughout the centuries. What’s lovely from the square in front of the Cathedral was the panoramic views of the city. There you could view in a distance the Torre dos Clérigos, which we had to forego, most unfortunately…


Livraria Lello – Finding Harry Potter in Porto

We did not climb the Clérigos‘ tall bell Tower, but we definitely walked across the plaza to the most enchanting bookstore in the world, the Livraria Lello Porto. Does it remind you of a scene in a Harry Potter movie? 

Did you know that this spellbinding and unique bookstore inspired the Harry Potter’s library in Hogwarts?

Did you know that J.K Rowling lived in Porto teaching English in the early 1990s and that rumor has it that her inspiration to write Harry Potter began at Livraria Lello?

I did not, until I entered the bookstore. Wow!!

It’s not a big bookstore but the stunning interior and the exquisite swirling stairway with its red-carpeted steps and banisters, impressive mouldings and wooden walls did not prevent tourists from taking non-stop photos. It’s simply dreamy and eye-catching!

Oh by the way, there’s an entrance fee of Eur 3 which is fully redeemable if you buy a book. I bought 2 books, not Harry Potter. Ha ha ha …


Remember Café Majestic which I linked to Harry Potter earlier in this post? 

J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone while spending countless hours in local cafés, one of which was Café Majestic along the lively and busy Rua de Santa Catarina.

Ponte de Dom Luís I (The Dom Luís I Bridge)

It had been a very, very long day for all of us: walking, a bit of shopping, window shopping, sightseeing, eating, more walkings, etc. Poor baby Z  was in dire need of a nappy change, hence, AO and baby Z returned to the hotel whilst the 6 of us adjourned for coffee/tea at a nearby Café in the vicinity of the magnificent bookstore. 

And then, it started to rain! 

We had planned to meet for dinner on the other side of Duoro River, all 7 of us and a baby. In order for the 6 of us to get to the other side of the riverbank, we had to crossover walking the double-decked metal arch bridge, the Dom Luis I bridge, that spans the Douro River between the cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. 

Due to time constraints, 6 very headstrong girls braved the heavy downpour and walked the bridge’s top deck from Porto to Vila Nova de Gaia. It was a 5 km walk. None of us thought of stopping or thinking of giving up and going back to the hotel. We just walked on wearing the skimpiest and most lightweight disposable ponchos. Only G and AM had umbrellas with them. I could feel my shoes ‘flooded’ with water. It was an uncomfortable feeling; wet and squidgy, and my pants from knee down were totally drenched. So was my hair. I just hoped not to get sick, that’s all.

And we walked on and on and on …

It was a blessing in disguise (again) for AO and baby Z. It would definitely not be a comfortable walk for both mama and baby, that’s for sure.

 

The night scenes of the bridge and the views of the Duoro River dividing Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia were breathtakingly magnificent. 

By the way, Porto’s iconic bridge was completed in 1886 by a student of Gustave Eiffel, best known for the world-famous Eiffel Tower in Paris.

After the seemingly long and unending walk to the other side of the bridge, we were not famished but we just wanted to sit down in a dry place and enjoy some light and fresh seafood.

We found a lively seafood restaurant, Duoro Velho


AO and baby Z uber’d their way comfortably from the hotel to meet us at the restaurant. It was good to see them again and gorgeous baby Z slept through the entire evening at the restaurant closed to his mama’s chest swaddled in his baby carrier.

We spoiled ourselves rotten, stuffed with barbecued seafood and chicken dishes; our last meal together in Porto. Oh by the way, the sardines were huge and not as nice as the tiny ones we had at Restaurant Antunes and Ribeira

We had probably spent a good deal of time at the restaurant because I could feel my pants gotten drier as well as my hair, except for my feet and shoes!  Couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel, though. 

With 7 of us, we took 2 taxis, while AO did a test check on prices of the one uber’d and the other normal. AO, baby Z, X and D uber’d their way back to the hotel in one cab paying a total of Eur 3.80 which was almost 50% cheaper than the normal taxi taken by G, C, AM and O.

Good to know (Y)

Pyjama Party @ Room 702

It was good to be back in the hotel, or to be more precise, my hotel room.  I’m sure the other girls felt the same way. It has been a while and my room was so immaculate, meaning the presence of housekeeping was there. Brilliant!

C invited us for a nightcap of one of Duoro’s local red wines which she got while spending time at the wine growing valley of Duoro on the first day with AO and baby Z

It was a good wine. Thanks heaps, C! Thanks for sharing the wine with us. Hugs xxx


No worries, no one was tipsy. There was only one bottle and 7 glasses of whom 2 had to decline the offer for obvious reasons 😉

The evening was still young and we played a ‘game’ initiated by C.

And the game went like this …


Nah …. what happened in Room 702 remained in Room 702…

Hint: We got to know each other (even) better  and thanks heaps, O, for sharing with us the ‘scary’ story 😉

And for the … Erm … sorry, my lips are sealed . Shhhh…!!!

It was our last night in Porto together, all 7 girls and a baby, and we hit the sack at 2 am in the morning !

Blue-Black: The Winning Colour!

Sunday, 23rd Oct. 5 girls were flying back to Brussels.

Strange but true, 5 girls met that morning at the buffet breakfast wearing, uncannily, the same colour tops. Blue! And – honestly – it wasn’t  pre-planned.

That colour was to become the magic moment of the day!


X‘s son, DJC is a professional footballer playing for one of Belgium’s First Division Pro League decorated clubs, Club Brugge that dons the  Blue-Black home kit. 

And even stranger and truer, the team had a match while we were flying that afternoon, against one of their major rivals, Anderlecht. 

And the result? 2 – 1 for Club Brugge. Awesome! 

The Last 2 Girls And A Baby

The girls said their goodbyes at the hotel, leaving 2 girls and a baby behind. 

It was a lovely Sunday day and Matosinhos was explored and the girls’ boxes were ticked.

And I made sure to buy a port wine at the airport. It was a 20-year old Tawny Port. One of the finests 😀

Goodbye Porto, see you next time!

The 5 girls parted ways at Brussels airport only to be reunited for quick lunches at work weeks.

And life goes on as usual …

Carpe Diem, girls! 

Cheers!

1st November this year fell on a Tuesday. I could have made a bridge for a longer “weekend”, but could not due to my workload at work 😦

I was glad to break off work for that one day that week for a yearly family reunion, hosted by one of my SIL’s. While driving to my SIL’s, we stopped at a friend’s house. I received a text message from F that she was giving away some of her ‘harvests’ in her garden. 

Guess what? I hand-picked the chillies in her garden. They were so, very, very fresh! She wanted only the red ones, so I helped myself to the green chillies. I didn’t mind the ‘raw version’ at all, because I knew if I left the chillies wrapped in absorbent paper in the lower drawer of the fridge, the chillies would ripen. 

And I was right!

10 days later, some of the birds’ eye chillies had turned to a lovely bright orange-crimson colour. And I knew exactly where some of the chillies would end up into 😉

Thai Chef vs Me

There was one Wednesday that I took a day off and brought my 2 sons out for lunch (Note, both boys had half-day school / Univ on a Wednesday). We went to a Thai resto near our place. 

For starter, I ordered Tom Yum Goong (TYG) for us. It was a good TYG, but I missed that Oomph in their soup. It was a wee bit too lame. 

Saturday came, and TYG was in the pipeline for our lunch menu.

So here it was, my version vs the Thai Chef’s. 


And not only that, I made my TYG in my thermomix! 


To be honest, I could eat my TYG all day without anything else that day, because it had been a while since I last made the soup! I looked back at a post I wrote; it was in March this year when I had friends over. You can read it all … Here 🙂

Because I love bold-tasting soups, I thought of a way to totally infuse the aromatics in the soup first before proceeding further. Be warned! It’s a highly seasoned soup that hits the palate and warms the heart without burning, if you know what I meant 😉

(Note: This is my own recipe using my preferred method – tried and tested – after a few trials and errors).  

Please be aware that some measurements are not given as only you will know how much or how little you want to put in the dish. Remember, “Ut quod ali cibus est aliis fuat acre venenum” or what is food for one man may be bitter poison to others. 

Ingredients A

  • 2 cm piece galangal
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 lemongrass
  • 2 coriander roots

Ingredient B

  • 5 g cooking oil / coconut oil

Ingredient C

  • 1,500 g water

Ingredients D

  • Lemongrass, bruised and halved
  • Shallots, halved 
  • Galangal, sliced
  • Bird’s eye chillies, lightly bruised
  • Kaffir lime leaves, lightly bruised with the fingers

Ingredients E

  • Fish sauce, to taste
  • Homemade chilli paste, eyeball for colour, taste and flavour
  • Salt, to taste 

Ingredients F

  • Prawns, shelled 
  • Mushrooms, sliced 

Ingredient G

  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Cherry tomatoes, halved or whole

Ingredient H

  • Fresh coriander 

Steps –

  • Place A in the TM bowl. Grind 5 sec/ sp 10  * 2

  • Add B. Sauté for 3 mins/100C/ sp 2 
  • Place D in SB and add C. Cook for 15 mins/ 120C/ sp1


  • Remove the SB and tip the aromatics in a bowl. Set aside for garnish later.

  • Transfer F in the SB. Cook for 4 mins/120C/ sp 1 or until the prawns are cooked. 

  • Remove the SB and set aside the cooked prawns, mushrooms, etc
  • Add E. Cook further for 5 mins/ 120C/ sp 2


  • Add G. Stir for 1 min/ R/ spoon
  • Assemble a serving bowl with prawns, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, some slices of galangal, bird’s eye chillies, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. Garnish with H.
  • Done!


Happy 1st Anniversary!

I made the TYG to go with my Nasi Ulam and baked spiced chicken. Our Saturday lunch was the bomb, by the way, with full-blown explosion of flavours. Yup, my kind of food 🙂


There’s no better way to celebrate my first year anniversary of owning the thermomix than sharing with you some of the dishes I have conjured the past 12 months using my most used kitchen gadget today!

And as they say, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words‘ …


IMPORTANT NOTICE : Please be aware that I’m neither a Consultant/ Advisor nor an employee of Thermomix.  I am NOT paid anything from any parties. I just happened to own a thermomix and love doing what I’m doing and will continue doing so. 

Happy Mid-Week ya’ll!

Cheers!

There is a saying, “You can take a Sarawakian out of Sarawak, but you can’t take Sarawak out of a Sarawakian“. It’s a quaint way of saying that you are bound to remember your roots wherever you are 🙂

This is so true in my case, where food is concerned, of course. I’m sure many people fall in the same boat as I do *wink*  

Moving to Belgium some two decades ago, revisiting and reminiscing childhood memories in any shapes and forms become a norm. The dish that I often re-visit time and time again is none other than the murky-looking green dish called Ka Chang Ma (KCM) where chicken meat is the main protein ingredient in the recipe. This dish is undisputably renowed (only) in Sarawak, especially in Kuching. It’s not everyone’s favourite dish, to be honest, because the dish has been stigmatised as a food for women in confinement. This conservative rationale no longer holds true today. KCM is cooked all year round.

Thermomix Cooking Defined

3 years ago, I posted a rather comprehensive write-up of this unique dish, with a story to tell. You can read it all here: Ka Chang Ma (The Mother of all Dishes)

While it was prepared the conventional way (with Mum’s recipe et al) then, I converted the recipe in the Thermomix jargon. Now, I have both methods on my blog which I can refer to anytime  🙂

  

KCM cooked the Conventional way (day light)

 

KCM cooked in TM5 (night light)

  

Cooking in either way had no influence on the taste (the end result), however, the cooking processes were obviously different. 

In a nutshell (metaphorically speaking): You want to go to Restaurant X. You have a choice of either taking the car which takes 5 mins OR on foot, which takes 15 mins. By either taking the car or going on foot, you will reach the same ultimate destination. The differences are the mode of transportation and the duration it takes from origin to destination. In this example the car was the Thermomix  way of cooking, whilst going on foot was the conventional  or traditional way of cooking. Got it?

Or simply, the Thermomix is just another collection of kitchen gadget in addition to a Slow Cooker, a Multi Cooker, a Pressure Cooker, etc that you might already have, only that it replaces at least 10 kitchen appliances: blender, grater, chopper, steamer, (slow)cooker, rice cooker, mixer, soup maker, dough kneading machine to name but a few.

Any conventional recipe can be converted to the TM method. There’s no secret. There’s no trick.  All you need to do is to decipher the logic.

  

How I cooked the KCM in my TM5

Ingredient A –

  • 10 g loose leaf KCM (Motherwort) dried herb 

Ingredients B –

  • 20 g sesame oil
  • 695 g chicken drumsticks 

Ingredients C –

  • 10 g ground KCM dried herb
  • 10 g ground ginger
  • 50 g whiskey 
  • 200 g water

Ingredients D –

  • 20 g whiskey 
  • 300 g water
  • 1/2 cube vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp ground ginger 
  • 5 g sesame oil

   
 How to prepare?

  1. Toast the loose leaf KCM in the TM bowl for 10 mins/ V/ sp1
  2. Grind the toasted herb when the temperature drops below 60 deg C. Mill for 1 min/ sp6 -> 10
  3. Tip ground KCM in a clean bowl. Set aside.
  4. Add B in TM bowl. Cook for 5 mins/ V/ R/ spoon.
  5. Add C and cook further for 22 mins/ V/ R/ spoon
  6. Adjust seasoning by adding D. Cook for a further 5 mins/ V/ R/ spoon
  7. Done!

 

Verdict : KCM is undeniably one of my favourite comfort foods. With its myriad of nutritional benefits, I could have this dish anytime I want, but like many things, there is always a limit. Moderation is key.  By the way, I have cooked several different dishes with or without using the Thermomix. There are some dishes that worked better the conventional way. For KCM, if given the choice, I would cook the dish in my TM5. Why? Because the cooking is 100% done in the Thermomix, from dry-roasting the herbs to grinding the herbs to braising the chicken. Et voilà, dinner’s served! Simply effortless.

The KCM Chicken dish (or braised Motherwort Chicken dish) is a local dish of Sarawak. For this I’m linking this post to April Tea Time Treats: Local & Regional Recipes hosted by Lavender and Lovage and The Hedgecombers

  
Ka Chang Ma is Motherwort, an herbaceous plant of the mint family. This recipe uses only the dried herb. I’m linking this post to Lavender and Lovage’s Cooking with Herbs for Easter and Spring

  

Have a great week!

Cheers!

11th November is a National Holiday in Belgium and France to commemorate the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front of WWI. This took place at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year 1918. Armistice Day is how it’s called in Belgium and France, which coincides with Remembrance Day in Britain and Commonweath countries and Veterans Day in the USA. 

97 years later … 7 girls (or nearly 7) decided to get together on 11/11 at around 11 …

You have probably read about 3 of the girls in a post I have written in 2010 in “Murphy’s Law or was it just …?” and in 2012 on “The MasterChef in X, C and A …” and a more recent write-up, “Coconut Pandan Chiffon Cake – First Successful Attempt”

Since then, our group has grown to 7, including myself. It is not easy to assemble all 7 girls at one time, since almost all of us are working/ living at different locations in Belgium and Germany. Our plans to meet up were usually confined to a weekday lunch during lunch break, and that spelled QUICK lunch! We would love to have a LAZY lunch at our own LAZY pace. Weekends can be tough to meet as well because we all have our own lives to lead!

And by the way, 11th November was a Wednesday and a National Holiday in Belgium … so we decided to meet, all 7 of us.

Erm… me think it was C who started the ball rolling that time round – a week before 11/11.

C : Anyone wants to watch Crimson Peak? Let’s all meet, please..!

G : Me! I’m free on 11/11

X : Count me in

AO : Oh no, not Crimson Peak… I have a very strong imagination … I pass, but if you girls are meeting in Antwerp, let’s lunch at DJL..

AS : Yes for Crimson Peak and DJL

O : I’ll let you girls know my availability later ..

X : Let’s watch Spectre then to have a full quorum

AO : No Bond movie for me please. I usually sleep watching a Bond movie … You girls go ahead with CP after we lunch at DJL. I’ll drive home …

Me : I’m not a fan of 007, too. The movie’s really quite predictable .. How about Martian? LOVE Matt Damon and heard the movie’s brilliant!

G : Martian is EXCELLENT, but I’ve seen it already. We can all watch different movies when we are at the Cinema. I’ve done that with other friends …

AO : Oh, I love Matt Damon!

C : No Bond for me. After lunch, I’ll drive home …

AS : No Martian for me, please! I’ve watched it already with hubs and it was brilliant!

Me : Excellent! Brilliant! Must watch lor…

G : Oops…. Timing issues. 

O : Ooops … I wish I could make it with you girls but hubby has to work on 11/11 and no one’s taking care of my boy. So sorry ladies 😦

Oopsie! …. now which movie did we all agree to watch OR did we get to watch a movie at all? That’s the Question!!

Da Jia Le (DJL)

11/11 arrived and some of us car-pooled. X came to my house to pick me up first and then to another location to pick up G and AS. C was on her way to the resto and AO just left her house. Well, at least lunching at DJL was unanimously agreed upon, and besides, it was an all-girls day out! No hubbies and kids tagging along. Yay!

AO has frequented DJL and has shared some of her ‘eating spree’ photos there with us on WhatsApp. The dishes looked mouth-wateringly amazing, which reminded us of foods we could get easily back in Kuching or elsewhere in Malaysia.

I was told DJL was opened for business not too long ago. It’s a pretty small resto in the heart of China Town, Antwerp. The teeny weeny resto can accommodate less than 30 people at one time, hence we made sure that we could secure a table for 6 on 11/11. Reservation was key.

Whoever came first went straight to the resto and it happened to be C! Then X, G, AS and I arrived and finally AO. A pity O could not join us. Hopefully, we could ALL make it another time *wink*

The chef of DJL happened to be a Malaysian, of Cantonese origin who hailed from Kuala Lumpur. He spoke mostly Cantonese and some Mandarin. His wife was a little bit more linguistic as she tried her best to speak Dutch, with the Dutch-speaking patrons (I eavesdropped, btw). We have pre-ordered our dishes which were off the normal Menu card. That way, we were guaranteed of the authenticity of the dishes.

In hindsight, the one dish that put a BIG smile on my face was the Cantonese-style Yuen Yong Noodles (yin-yang rice noodles). Cryptically, that noodle dish says a lot about us girls – in relation to the choice of movie we had to make. The yin-yang noodle dish is a combination of 2 types of rice noodles, ie kueh teow (flat rice noodle) and bee hoon (rice vermicelli). If one can’t decide on kueh teow or bee hoon, then this is the PERFECT dish! And the name of this dish is downright perky. LOL!

  

Besides the Cantonese-style yin yang rice noodles, we had the delectable Char Kueh Teow, Loh Ark, Sio Bak and Kangkong char belacan. If you are wondering why there’re no English translations, well, those dishes are off the normal Menu card, remember? 🙂

  

The Char Kueh Teow was especially good as we had to order a second plate. As you can see, we licked our platters (almost) clean!

  
 

Now, did we or did we not watch a movie after lunch?

THAT is the Question!

Well, we did not plan to drive 130km (to and from home to Antwerp) just to eat! For goodness sake, it was a holiday and it was the only day we could meet – nearly all of us – without any cling-ons 😉

And the conclusion?

We came out of the cinema humming to the tune of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall. So here we were, standing amidst the walls of the cinema complex … with mixed feelings.

  
 

Watching the movie was like reading a Marvel comic strip. How could he have 2 soft landings? A sofa and a net waiting for him out of the blue?  He is as immortal as the villain. Ah well, it was just a movie…

Anyway, the crux of the day was having good fellowship, a feeling of comradeship and girly talk from 11 am until 7pm.

Oh by the way, X, your photo was picked as the Choice Photo Award on my blog ~ this post, at least! Kam sia! 😉



Until the next time, girls! 

Ciao!

 

 

Down Memory Lane 

Three-quarters of the year 2015 have passed us by with the wink of an eye. 9th Aug was a very special day to remember when every single member of my family ~ my Mum, 5 sibilings and their spouses and children ~ converged in a nostalgic location, the Sarawak Museum Garden. As far as my curious young mind could remember, the Musuem ground was a sum of a subset of several activities gone by ~ the good, the not-so-good, the funny, the ugly, you name it. It all happened there. For me, I grew up visiting the garden quite often because our house at Satok Road was just a stone’s throw from the Museum’s ground.

We loved going there on Sundays watching the brassy live band performed by the Constabulary Band from the local police department. While the older folks were listening to the live band performing, we kids loved to play the see-saws, swings and popping our mouths munching boiled chick peas and peanuts! Memories are made of these.

While the gazebo that was used as a band stand remains on the Museum’s compound ~ sadly ~ it did not stand the test of time. On the contrary, the swings and see-saws vanished decades ago and our old house at Satok Road is ground Zero! *sob*

Sigh!! A Sunday today at the Museum Garden in Kuching is… Sshhh…. sshhh… it’s Oh So quiet! And so peaceful, until ….

BIM BAM!

   

Our contingent of 23 members transformed that Sunday into a day that will always be a part of us!

By the way, it was not easy to pick a date or dates for a full quorum. We had planned this exceptional family reunion since 2012!

The following were memorable snapshots which never failed to put a smile on my face. Each family came with a chosen colour dresscode. Forget the louboutins or stilletos, tight fits, mini skirts and cakey makeups. It was a 100% casual and natural day! Period!

  

 

The Matriach of the day sparkled like a rare Turqoise. After all, she’s the reason we converged full quorum in August anno 2015. Love ya, Mumsie 😉

Vitamin D and adrenaline overload day!

While the family photoshoot was a full quorum, the Kayak expedition had an equally remarkable attendance of circa 83%! Brilliant!

A hot and humid day was expected, that’s for sure, hence we assembled at a shop lot before 9am, with the supposed attire on. It was a funny but fun sight to see as we were dressed in the united colours of Benetton. Ha ha ha…

Before we dispersed in two 10-seater vans, our guide, Ricky, briefed us on the general guidelines. He shook his head looking at our attire. LOL! Out of the 19 eager ‘kayakers’, only 3 scored in the correct-type-of-shoes category, while flip-flops, crocs and sandals were the common sight that morning. Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!

The journey to Kampung Bengoh took 1 hour. There were more families gathered there, from all over the world. It was an internationally fun-filled day! A safety briefing from Ricky and 5 other experienced and enthusiastic certified guides (Richie, Macqueen, Wazir, Harris, Jeffrey) made us felt at total ease, especially for first-timers. Useful tips were given on the paddling techniques ~ the correct angle to hold the oar, start, stop, manoueuvre and what nots. By the way, I have done a similar expedition on the Lesse years ago with my other half, but not as fun-filled and boisterous as this one! 

Oh yes…. never mind the heat, we were all fired up and ready to go!

  

Semadang Kayak Discovery

I understood there were 3 Kayak Operators serving similar all-inclusive day trips adventure tours on the Semadang River. We chose the family-owned Semadang Borneo Adventure Kayak Company as recommended by 2 of my nieces, both of whom had prior experiences with no regrets! As the majority of us were first-timers, we opted for the Semadang Discovery Kayaking package, excluding bamboo rafting, caving and jungle trekking. In other words, we were simply cruising on the Semadang River and enjoying the God-given scenaries at our own “paddling” paces. We covered a total of 11 km!  

 

It was sheer fun and physical at the same time, especially when we had to manoeuvre our oars through sporadic rough currents now and then.

  

After all the physical manoeuvres, our first stop was at Kampung Danu. While the other Kayak Operator(s) served a packet of Kuching Kolo Mee per pax for lunch, our Operator offered a most scrumptious lunch buffet à volonté! All dishes were prepared from fresh, locally sourced ingredients.

Dishes may vary from one excursion/ trip to another, but as far as I could remember, we enjoyed hearty, home-cooked dishes of Manok Pansoh (chicken cooked in bamboo), chicken curry, stir-fried okra (ladies’ fingers), cangkuk manis (sweet leaf or mani chai) served with local brown rice. Desserts were watermelon and butter pound cake! YUM! YUM! YUM!

Oh yes, YUM….MMMMYYYYYY!!

 
  

(C)Roc(k)odiles!

We were given assurance that there were no Crocodiles, but abundance of roc(k)odiles! The turtle rock was a sight to behold, the gigantic “mammoth” and lots more

    

All work and no play makes Jack/ Jane a dull boy/girl.  So Jacks and Janes swam, skipped stones, fooled around, sang “row, row, row your boat”….

Yes… Merrily down Semadang River 🙂
 
Cheers people!

   

Notes: Initially, I  had not wanted to go for the reason that I can’t swim, and I’m glad I went! It was also a refresher course for me. The waters were quite shallow, hence, this adventure package is suitable for novices. For the record there were a handful of very young kids (as young as 5 years old) in our group, of course accompanied by their parents or an adult. Each kayak is provided a waterproof bag and a half litre bottle drinking water and a life jacket per person . It is advisable to bring sunblock lotion, insect repellent, a pair of sunglasses, a cap or sun hat and extra bottles of drinking water. It’s hot!!

In hindsight, footwear with good grip is recommended.

The package included transfers to pickup and drop-off, lunch buffet and digital photos DVD.

Oh yes, don’t forget to bring dry clothes/ change of clothes and towel. These are left at Kampung Bengoh upon arrival.

And last but not least, bring your smile and good mood with you, because that’s what the reunion was all about. Remember a smile is a curve that sets everything straight and it’s FREE!!

Final word of Thanks

A BIG thank you to the main initiator of the Reunion event 2015. The photoshoot and discovering Semadang river would never have got off the ground if it wasn’t for my youngest sister’s persistences. She’s the Director of the entire event. Thanks, sis from the bottom of our hearts! You have made our Family Reunion a blast and it was a moment which will be remembered forever😜

Have a great weekend everyone!

Cheers!

Honestly speaking, I have been wanting to make this insanely simple “cake” for a long time! It has been on my bucket list since time immemorial. The original recipe is called “Kek Batik” (Batik Cake), however, I called this “cake”,bars or flapjacks without rolled oats, for the simple and logical reason that it does not have a texture of a cake at all. It is a flattened no-bake sweet tray, a bit dense, chewy and crunchy at the same time, the same way flapjack or muesli bar or cereal bar or granola bar is made.

What makes this “Kek” special is the visual batik pattern when cut at cross-sections.

  
When I first found out eons ago that Milo was one of the ingredients in making this “Kek“, I was over the moon!

Champion of all Beverages

Remember this? Minum Milo, anda jadi sihat dan kuat! (Drink Milo, you will be healthy and strong)…

When we were kids, we believed in Milo as the winner of all beverages. I remembered being absolutely happy when the Milo van came to my school and passed round free iced cold Milo drinks on a very hot day during school sports events. 

Glug, glug, glug! It was so good…

My Precious!!!

I’m not a kid anymore, but I still love my Milo

Looking for Milo in Belgium is like looking for a needle in a haystack! Arghhh!

When I finally found a 200g tin of Milo recently, I felt like Sméagol clutching its PRECIOUSSSS…!

Correction ~ MY preciousss! LOL!

Green with Envy …

I was in Kuching recently. The familiar green packs were ubiquitous in every local supermarket. Yup, I was green with envy😜

  
Oh by the way, I remembered eating this “Kek” a lot during the Eid or Hari Raya Aidil Fitri celebrations in Kuching. The Malays are very good at conjuring abstract looking cakes. I was told that this “Kek” is originated in Sarawak as with the popular kek lapis Sarawak (Sarawak layered-cake) The end result of the “Kek” represents the prints and designs of edible Batik or motifs of totem poles popular with the indigenous groups of people of Sarawak.

  
LOVERLY!

I based this recipe of Kek Batik from TryMasak.my with some changes here and there. I have reduced the amount of butter quite considerably, while increasing the amount of the rest of the ingredients slightly. I chose unsalted roasted peanuts for extra crunch and texture. And I thought the last minute sprinkle of white sesame seeds made the batik Milo flapjacks  looked absolutely stunning, like magical stardust! 😍
 Ingredients

  • 200g Delacre Maria biscuits, breaking each biscuit in 2 halves
  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 200g sweetened condensed milk
  • 120g Milo
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • Unsalted roasted peanuts, roughly crushed with a pestle & mortar
  • Sesame seeds (topping)

   

   Method

  1. On medium heat, melt the butter, followed by the sweetened condensed milk, Milo and Cocoa powder.  Stir to combine, making sure the batter is lump-free.
  2. Add in the Maria biscuits. Remove pan from the heat. Stir to coat the biscuits in the brown batter. Finally toss in the crushed peanuts. Fold in lightly with a rubber spatula.
  3. Line a cake tin with parchment paper. Pour in the batter and press and flatten the surface tightly. Sprinkle with white sesame seeds.
  4. Refrigerate overnight

  

    
  

I’m linking this post to the Little Thumbs Up September 2015 blog-hop event (MILO), organized & hosted by Doreen (Mui) of my little favourite DIY  & Zoe of Bake for Happy Kids.

 

Have a great week ahead!

Cheers! 

My heartbeat frolicked with excitement when the 4 of us boarded the amazing B787 Dreamliner from Brussels to Doha en route our final destination, Kuching! Did I just say, Kuching??!! Yesssss!!! Finally! After 7 long years! 

Our last trip to Kuching was time stamped “August 2008”, AND exactly 7 years later on 7th August 2015, we journeyed back to the city I grew up, schooled and have worked briefly before moving permanently to Belgium. Kuching is also the city where my younger son was born 14 years ago, hence, the city re-breathed new life to my dog-tired 7 years.

Kuching means Cat in the Malay language; not that there are countless felines roaming the city, but you can definitely tell you are in Kuching by the sight of the glorious cats’ statues adorning the city centre.

Miaow!

  
 

Kuching’s Signature Dish

If there’s one dish I can name and recommend a first timer to Kuching, it’s gonna be the Kuching Laksa! It didn’t take me more than a sec to come up with that dish’s name. Kuching Laksa just stands out and hits a home run anytime 🙂

So my dear folks, with only 2 weeks and a bit in Kuching, I went liberal with one of my favourite dishes! I have had 7 bowls of Kuching Laksa at different stops on different days in less than 3 weeks! That’s a lot of laksa’s considering the fact that there are zillion other dishes to try out. LOL!

Before the tastes and looks of the laksa’s faded in oblivion in my memory bank, I wanted to put everything down in writing. All comments and verdicts are completely mine, by the way.

Now join me in my quest of binging Kuchingites’ most loved brekkie 🙂

Ready, Steady… Go!

My first bowl of laksa was actually consumed in the least spoken location, in the outskirts of Kuching! It was a Sunday and our entourage of 10 people in 2 vehicles were heading for the popular weekend border market at Serikin. Serikin is a little village bordering Sarawak and Kalimantan (Indonesia). We left before 9 am to beat the humid hot weather and the crowd. The 90-minute drive from Kuching to Kampung Serikin Jagoi, Bau was surprisingly easy with good roads.

Serikin Weekend Market started in 1992 and since then, has attracted a steady flow of visitors from every nook and cranny of Sarawak, Sabah, West Malaysia, SEA and the rest of the world. The stalls at the Market are mostly operated by Indonesians. Almost every category of items is traded each weekend. I’m afraid there are too many to mention, so here’re some pictures to sum up my list…

  

 

  

These guys were actually modelling the Javanese headgears. LOL!

After the long stroll under the scorching sun at the Weekend Market, our tummies were rumbling and growling.

By 11.30am we adjourned to a ‘kopitiam’ for some cold drinks before we left Serikin for Bau. It was at Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt, Pekan Bau that I ordered my first bowl of laksa.

My Laksa Bowl #1 ~ In the Middle of Nowhere 

  

Verdict: The moment the red bowl was served to me at my table, I gasped at the sight of the little, teeny weeny bowl. Man, I was hungry! It was laksa à la Bau. Rather diluted, with dry paper thin omelette strips, garnished with fried, crispy shallots and spring onions? Hmmm…. Spoilt the entire taste, if you asked me. But what can I say, with only RM 4 (0.89 Euro cent) and with 2 little prawns, I licked my bowl clean because I was immensely ravenous.

Will I go back to Siang Siang Garden Foodcourt? Surprisingly, yes, but NOT for the laksa, BUT for these!

Especially the multi-layered tea (gula apong, pandan juice, evaporated milk and tea)!

My Laksa Bowl #2 ~ No Choice

While my hubby and 2 boys checked in at a beach resort in Damai, I stayed back in Kuching spending time with my Mum and sisters.

Oh by the way, you know what? When I left Damai for Kuching, my older son said, “Mama, I know you are going to eat more laksa’s in Kuching without us, right ..

Gee whizz! What a sneaky sly fox my son was..! But,darn… Son, you absolutely nailed it!

It was at Peach Garden Food Centre at Jalan Song, that I had my 2nd bowl of laksa. Initially, laksa was not on my mind. I had wanted to order a plate of char kway teow, but the stall’s closed for the day. Too bad! I walked around peering the many different hawker stalls trying to get some inspirations of what to eat that evening. Lo and behold, I ended up ordering a bowl of laksa! 

Here goes …

 
  
  

Verdict: I almost cried! 2 vital ingredients were missing! Bean sprouts and wansui (equivalent to fresh coriander), and not only that, the prawns were tiny and were not fresh! Aaarrghh!! Funny, the aroma of the laksa gravy reminded me of my schooldays. Yup, cheap students’ laksa, but at RM5!

Will I go back to Peach Garden Food Centre? You bet! But definitely NOT for the laksa, but for the most addictive otak-otak and kelondong sengboi peng (iced-cold amra with dried sour plum juice). And yes, too, for the nostalgic boiled peanuts 😉

  

My Laksa Bowl #3 ~ The Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth …

While my 3 guys were still enjoying Damai, I made some time to meet up with former classmates. The place and time were totally at M’s discretion. M whatsApp’d me and told me that she’d pick me up at 8.30am. I knew it was going to be a laksa brekkie, but where?

Oh oh, not at the Peach Garden Food Centre again, because M was driving around that area that morning. Then she passed the Food Centre. Phew!

We parked somewhere at Jalan Song and walked to the café, which is a single storey shoplot. It has a canvas roof with ample tables and chairs. The moment I stood under the canvas roof, I smelt glorious smell of Kuching laksa whiffing past my nostrils. I was praying in silence that the laksa would taste as good as it smelt, especially after having 2 disastrous bowls the past days.

M and I found a good spot to sit, while waiting for L. I learnt from M that Li Yuan Café is L’s favourite take on and is one of M’s favourites. Brilliant! 2 favourites so it must be good, or was it?

By the way, I told M I would give my honest feedback on this brekkie 😉

   
  

Verdict: M ordered a “Special” for me, meaning more ‘liaw’ (garnishes and condiments), while the size of the bowl remains constant. There were 4 plump and succulent looking prawns, nice strips of not-too-paper thin omelette, reasonable amount of chunky shredded chicken meat, beansprouts and a few fresh coriander leaves (not wansui, though). The colour of the gravy looked almost perfect, ie more red than brown, and most importantly, the laksa gravy imparted a pleasant scent of all the fragrant spices that went in the broth. The bowl of laksa was served with half a calamansi lime and sambal belacan

Now the taste… Before even picking up the clusters of vermicelli and the garnishes between my pair of chopsticks into my mouth, I ducked the Chinese spoon in my bowl and scooped some broth to have a taste first. That’s how you know if the laksa is good or bad. The broth is the main actor, while the rests play supporting roles. Frankly speaking, I detest anyone who eats only the garnishes, which includes the vermicelli, prawns, chicken and omelette strips, beansprouts and the fresh coriander while leaving the pool of gravy in the bowl! People, that’s THE BEST bit! The broth! One invests a huge amount of time in making the best tasting laksa broth, so please appreciate your bowl of laksa and finish everything, including the broth!

Well, to be honest, I liked Li Yuan’s laksa, BUT…..it was a wee bit salty! Why oh why?! The broth itself was not too spicy, but rich and thick – not diluted – which I absolutely adore. Luckily the sambal belacan and calamansi lime added that extra umph!

Will I go back to Li Yuan Café? Why, certainly, on condition, M, that it’s on me the next time I’m in Kuching! Now, I haven’t the clue how much you paid for my “Special” bowl of laksa 😀

Thanks, my dear friend, for introducing Li Yuan Café to me and making it my first decent bowl of Kuching laksa.Jl

My Laksa Bowl #4 ~ My Evil Twin

Can #4 beat #3? Let’s see…

Again, M, my friend, whatsApp’d me and asked if I wanted to meet up for another laksa brekkie. Well, of course I did NOT decline. And again, I left it to M to transport me to the ultimate location that morning. She told me the café we were going to is one of her few favourites and is also a favourite of another former classmate, whom I did not get the opportunity to meet in August. Apparently, she said the sambal was to-die-for. Erm… okay! Believing is after seeing and tasting for myself. I was more curious with this rendezvous than my last.

Here’s the bowl of laksa I had at Jin Ming Café, Jalan Sekama

  
 

Verdict: My first silent comment was “Where’s the to-die-for sambal??!!” The sambal served at Jin Ming Café was completely different than any sambal condiment I ever had! It had the look of soy sauce, but was a thick sticky mass akin to Bovril or Marmite. When I tasted it, it was a taste I was quite familiar with, ie something that came out from a jar! Mae Pranom’s Thai Chili Paste (nam prik pao), which is often added to Tom Yum Soup!. It’s sour-ish from the tamarind plus half a calamansi lime? Hmmm….! I love Tom Yum Soup, but I was at Jin Ming Café for a bowl of Kuching laksa!

As for the laksa, I’m afraid there was nothing to shout about. It was a “Special” bowl, but what I got was 2 halved over-cooked prawns (which made it looked as if I had 4 prawns), very little chicken strips. Infact my laksa was covered by strips of omelette. The brown broth was neither diluted nor concentrated, which was okay but it was not at all fragrant. It was flavourless flat! Some spices were missing.

Will I go back to Jin Ming Café? Of course! Huh? Am I nuts? After all the negative comments?

I will definitely go back to Jin Ming Café BUT not for the laksa. Sorry, M!

However, yes…. however, I will be back there for the kolo mee!! I bought 5 takeaways of that “Special” kolo mee for my Mum, sisters and nephews. They thumbed up to the kolo mee!

  
 

My Laksa Bowl #5 ~ Down Memory Lane

My 5th pitstop was at Min Hong Kee Café, Jalan Padungan. This café was not new to me. Before I moved to Belgium, this was one for my late dad’s favourite locales. We used to have our breakfast there after the Sunday service. It was for old time’s sake that my younger sister drove us (Mum, big sis and myself) there for a scrumptious breakfast.

Big sis and I ordered laksa! Ha ha…

The presentation was lovely!

   
  

Verdict: The bowl of laksa had everything that’s supposed to be served as Kuching laksa, but there was a wee bit too much santan (coconut milk), which completely overwhelmed the real fragrance of a perfect bowl of Kuching laksa. 

Will I go back to Min Hong Kee Café? Without a doubt, I’m going back to the Café for their traditionally prepared congee, fresh popiah and minced stuffed kom piah (Foochow bagels stuffed with minced meat)! I will go back for the laksa but not all the time 😉

   
  

My Laksa Bowl #6 ~ Long and Winding Quest … And Some like it Hot!

The week my hubby and boys checked out of Damai, was our last week stay in Kuching. The countdown begun. *sad*

The laksa served at Choon Hui Café, Ban Hock Road, hits international spotlight when one of Travel Channel’s most famous Celebrity Chefs turned writer and CNN Presenter, Anthony Bourdain, ate his laksa there, not once but on 2 consecutive mornings! I have mentioned about it on this post, Malaysian Laksa with the Midas Touch of Sarawak

It was a Tuesday morning. My younger sister promised to bring us for our grand finale taste of the infamous Kuching laksa before we left for BE.

I was so looking forward to having a laksa brekkie at Choon Hui. I wanted to find out why Choon Hui and what was it that made their laksa so sought-after. In other words, I was curious!

 

Anthony Bourdain’s bowl of laksa at Choon Hui Cafe

 
 
 
BUT … alas, no laksa! Shucks! For the record, we were not late. We arrived at the café before 9am, however – and most unfortunately – Tuesday’s an off day for the family-run laksa stall at Choon Hui Café! Sorry folks, no photo or verdict to comment on Choon Hui Café’s laksa for now. Hopefully, I will not wait another 7 years…

My sister was adamant to let us taste some of the best laksa’s served in Kuching, before we left for BE that week. She then drove to Jalan Abell. We were heading for another pearl in the oyster – Chong Choon Café. No Choon Hui, that’s fine. Chong Choon’s great as well…. HOWEVER, no laksa!!! Grrrrr…. damn, it’s a Tuesday! They’re closed!

  

To be honest, I have eaten the laksa’s at both Choon Hui and Chong Choon Cafés when I was still a student in Kuching. They were not new cafés, but ones that have been around in years! Since it was eons ago that I have had those laksa’s there, I could not recall the tastes explicitly, but they were definitely ones of the best in town.

My poor sis was more desperate than us. She’s like our late Dad. If she promises something, she will deliver her promise on the same day, through thick and thin, rain or shine, and even jeopardising her health, as a result. Little sis, I’m truly touched by your steadfast determination. That’s when she drove a little further in search for our next stop. It was at Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce and the name of the café? Tiang’s Café. I have never heard of the Café, but I’m open to new things and places. Then I discovered that the much discussed Barrett’s laksa is served at Tiang’s Café.

  
 

BUT… we did not have the laksa there because, yes, BECAUSE, the laksa stall’s closed! That’s right, it’s a TUESDAY. Oh, I hate Tuesdays!!!

Then what?!

Then we just followed my sister. Our 6th pitstop was at Rock Road. The place was an ordinary looking little foodcourt with the most absurd sounding name! Very Nice Restaurant!

Okay, let’s check it out! And checked it out we did!

I even took a picture of the ridiculous sounding name of the laksa stall and the owner willingly smiled for us. At least I know laksa’s served EVERYDAY at VERY NICE 😉

   

  
Verdict: We ordered “BIG” bowl for RM8. The bowl was literally “BIG” ie bigger size-wise compared with the normal bowl. At first sight, it was not a bad looking laksa. As with the other laksa’s, I had a sip of the broth first. Mmmm… not bad, I thought. There was something special about the laksa. Everyday Laksa at Very Nice Restaurant was the first laksa I have tasted that was more piquant. It definitely had that extra spice and heat that made it quite different from the 5 laksa’s I had in the last days. If Mr Everyday prepares his laksa the same way he did when we patronised his stall that morning, his laksa would be a crowd pleaser one day. Well, names and looks can be quite deceiving, eh?

Will I go back to Everyday Laksa @ Very Nice Restaurant? Erm…a difficult one…. I believe, YES! 

My Laksa Bowl #7 – A Challenging Home Run!

My 7th bowl of laksa was a discovery. A challenge. MY challenge!

Here’re the visuals of my 7th bowl of laksa …
 

   

Verdict: For this bowl of laksa, I had my boys to voice their comments. Hmmm… nice black bowls and chopsticks, mama. And then silence… Slurp! Slurp! Slurp! And then my older son said, “Can I have another a bowl?” . Action spoke louder than words 😜

In case you’re wondering which stall we went to, well, the stall name didn’t exist and never will, but I know the person who made the laksa put a lot of work in it, because the person was the author of this post…. ME(*smile*), and the work was called LABOUR OF LOVE and the challenge was using Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste, which I got from a friend. I have never used Barrett’s laksa paste. I have heard of few negative remarks about Barrett’s laksa. The more I heard that, I was curious and wanted to find out why the paste was so bad.

By the way, our family favourite is the famous Swallow Brand and the creator of the laksa paste was Mr Tan Yong Him, the late father of Mr Barrett Tan! In other words, Barrett’s laksa paste is an offshoot of the original Swallow Brand. All-in-one-family…

I was fortunate to have prepared bowls after bowls of laksa with the special paste created by the master creator himself, Mr Tan Yong Him.

   
Today’s Swallow Brand laksa paste does not feature the creator’s name on the packet anymore. 

Barrett’s Sarawak Laksa paste is an alternative.

  
Verdict: When I cut open the packet of Barrett’s laksa paste, I smelt no difference to the Swallow Brand’s. If there was a variance, it was not off by miles. It was probably redder than the Swallow Brand. The addition of coconut milk will tone down the colour, but by putting too much of coconut milk will only change the name of Kuching’s signature dish to Laksa lemak, which is wrong. There should be balances of flavour, texture and colour. The taste is personal. I like my laksa piquant with lots of flavour (like my Mum’s). A lot of work is put in making the broth tasty (meat stock from the carcasses of chicken and/or pork, prawn stock from the shells of the prawns and several other fresh herbs and spices). Any laksa paste on it’s own without the additional work, will never be good. I dislike weak and mild tasting laksa’s with too much santan or too brown. Then again these are personal observations. One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Voilà!

  
For the record, the sambal belacan was to-die-for! Mum made it and I’m glad I brought it back with me to Belgium! It’s really, really good with the squeeze of lime.

Oh yes, Carol, if you’re reading this, thanks for introducing Barrett’s laksa paste. It’s not too bad after all, with some extra work, of course! I have no clue how the laksa at Tiang’s Café tastes like. All I can say is, I’ve eaten Barrett’s laksa in my own kitchen 😉

A Patriotic Bonus

8 is a good number and is believed to have auspicious meaning, according to Chinese tradition. The word “eight” in pinyin Chinese sounds like “prosper” or “wealth”, hence I will conclude this longer-than-usual post with my Kuching laksa number 8!

Infact I just had the laksa very, very recently at a friend’s house. The laksa get-together was planned before I left for Kuching. I’m glad I met up with the other Kuching gals on Sunday. We were stuffed! Angel, thanks for hosting a great potluck reunion – great efforts to everyone with everything homemade! Delish! Mwah!

   

NOTE: The emphasis of the laksa write-up in this post here referred to Kuching Laksa and not Sarawak Laksa because I believe each division in Sarawak (farther from Kuching) has her own way of preparing / serving the laksa. I understood from a friend who hails from Sibu that the Sibu laksa has tau pok (deep fat fried tofu or bean curd). The addition of tau pok does NOT in any way represent Kuching Laksa. Kuching Laksa is made up of the following ingredients ~ cooked rice vermicelli, shredded chicken meat, prawns, strips of omelette, bean sprouts, fresh wansui (or coriander), accompanied with calamansi (or lime) and sambal belacan.

  
 

Bon appétit!
Have a great week!

Cheers!