roasted stuff pumpkin

Lewis & Carroll Tea x Trimeats: Revolutionary Oatmeal Dining and Tea Tasting Experience

I wasn’t a fan of oatmeal until I tried overnight oats from Trimeats purchased at the food bazaar. Announcing their first anniversary on Instagram, they collaborated with Lewis & Carroll Artisanal Tea to launch a Pop-Up Brunch event last year in October at Lewis & Carroll in South Jakarta.

Trimeats is an oatmeal-based food manufacturer, producing multiple flavours of overnight oats (my favourite ones are Blueberry Cheesecake and Black Forest, among others), cray oats or healthy Indonesian fried rice, granola and healthy bread.

On the other hand, Lewis and Carroll is a tea house offering over 20 artisanal tea blends. Apart from that, the tea house also serves Indonesian, Western food, some light bites and desserts.

lewis & carroll tea house interior
lewis & carroll interior

The collaboration ended up with three-course menus. Future guests were required to inform the chosen appetizer, main course and dessert prior to the d-day:

  • Appetizer: Mango Kale Açai Bowl or Cheesy Potskinz
  • Main Course: Roasted Stuff Pumpkin or Hainan Chicken Oats
  • Dessert: Fudgy Cacao Brownies with Peanut Butter Nana Ice Cream or Matcha Panna Cotta

Although I was open to another possibility that fancy names and tempting descriptions (the latter will be revealed afterwards) are not always in line with great quality, I got a good feeling about the Brunch and I knew that this kind of collaboration may not come twice.

So, I didn’t think twice to book the spot (which was required to do) in advance and to pay the 25% down payment (of the Brunch value of Rp. 200.000 ($20)) each to confirm the booking. I asked my friend to accompany me to the culinary event.

A HATTER’S TEA PARTY IS THE MUSE

When I heard “Lewis & Carroll”, I instantly relate it with the author of Alice in Wonderland by eliminating the “&” symbol.

sets of teapot arranged in rainbow colours lewis & carroll
sets of teapot arranged in rainbow colours

Inside the tea house’s modern, clean cut interior with a very spacious dining room, it tells me that Mad Hatter’s tea party that Alice attended is their main inspiration, shown by the presence of colours on teapots and cups arranged in rainbow colours, representing Hatter’s eccentric look and behaviour. Elaborating the unconventional character of Hatter, Lewis & Carroll displayed assorted tea leaves inside test tubes and cups to challenge guests with new experience of tasting artisanal tea blends.

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test tubes and cups filled with assorted tea leaves with strip papers mentioning the name of each blend

As mentioned in the book’s (and the movie’s) story line, The Hatter has a tea party everyday. It’s more than just a coincidence that the tagline of Lewis & Carroll is “It’s Always Tea Time.”

APPETIZER

Lewis & Carroll’s elevated tea time experience by serving three-course tea drinks, from appetizer, main course until dessert. It was not mentioned previously that we would get all of them in the package. Unlike the three-course meals, we couldn’t choose the tea flavours ourselves. But still, what a pleasant surprise.

The waiter passed us a teapot set for two and a test tube filled with tea leaves to give a free smell experience of the tea we were about to drink to accompany our appetizer. A significant refreshing tangerine smell with hints of spices boosted my appetite.

teapots lewis & carroll tea
appetizer tea

Being a mixed fruit juice lover, I made the right decision to have Mango Kale Açai Bowl definitely presented by Trimeats, an açai smoothie with mango, kale, bananas and black quinoa cereal, as my appetizer. The dominant taste of mango and some notes of banana for thicker smoothie texture defined its natural sweetness. The crunchy quinoa cereal was an additional sensation of the meal.

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Mango Kale Acai Bowl

My friend chose Cheesy Potskinz, baked potato skin stuffed with cheese, broccoli topped with salmon bacon and avocado cream. It sounded very tempting, for sure, and I initially wanted that too. But I decided to choose a healthier option. Unless informed, hardly did anyone can tell that there was broccoli since it was turned into a creamy sauce on top of the potato skin and the bacon was from salmon. A notable taste of cheddar and creamy taste of avocado on the side made the meal enjoyable.

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Cheesy Potskinz

MAIN COURSE

If you think oatmeal is only for breakfast and milk is its only soulmate, think again. At first, Trimeats broke that stereotype by creating cray oats, so-called healthy Indonesian fried rice, by replacing the rice with oatmeal and served in a jar. It has become a hit ever since, and they did another breakthrough with Hainan chicken oats on the Brunch.

Just like cray oats, they alternated the savoury rice with oatmeal. It was as tasty as the beloved Hainan chicken rice, except the flaky grain I chewed reminded me that I wasn’t consuming rice in that moment. The only “complaint” for the dish was that the Hainan rice oats portion was too little and a bit unbalanced with that of the steamed chicken.

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Hainan Chicken Oats

I envied my friend’s Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin and I wish the menu had pictures besides descriptions, although it doesn’t mean I regret my own choice. It was the most attractive food presentation of the day and perhaps, I’ve ever seen.

The roasted pumpkin became an edible bowl accommodating cilantro lime oats in it. The savoury oats were zesty and since I’m a fan of cilantro, I think its notable taste spiced up the oats flavour. The mild taste of roasted pumpkin created a perfect balance to neutralize the zesty flavour a bit. Another interesting fact was that the red stars on the plate were actually cranberry tomato sauce, but I didn’t manage to taste it.

roasted stuff pumpkin
Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin

Furthermore, the organizer picked my Roasted Stuffed Pumpkin picture as the winner of Best Picture of the day on Instagram food photography contest. As a reward, I received a purple teapot set whose appearance was like the previous “appetizer tea” image above.

Furthermore, the fruity taste of Iced Rooibos Tea for the main course tea drink was very refreshing! I completely forgot taking a picture of it because I was thirsty.

DESSERT

We finally had something in common. We both chose Fudgy Cocoa Brownies with Peanut Butter Nana Ice Cream as the dessert, especially I don’t have a fond of panna cotta. The brownies was not to sweet with a significant taste of cocoa and the crunchiness on its surface was just right. The peanut butter ice cream wasn’t Skippy-ish at all. I think the creamy and milky taste took over most of the real peanut butter taste. I was happy about it since I’ve never been a fan of peanut butter since forever.

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The dessert tea was served in a lovely Japanese style teapot set, which are also sold for souvenirs. A mild taste of white tea succeeded to clean the remaining sweetness from out mouth, without washing away the “sweet memory” of the meal itself.

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IT DOESN’T COME TWICE

And that’s not it. We also received a goodie bag, containing a jar of Trimeats’ Cray Oats and two flavours of Lewis and Carroll tea blends packed in a gift box. For the price of $20 each, it was really worth it.

When I said this kind of collaboration may not come twice, I was right. This month, it marks a second anniversary of Trimeats and they do a different type of collaboration to celebrate. In a consumer’s point of view, I personally would rather join the Brunch.

japanese teapot
Japanese teapot for souvenir

Warung Swietie: Best Budget “Baka Bana” and Javanese-Surinamese Snack Bar in Amsterdam

Reuniting with good fellas with whom I shared the good and the bad times during school life in Amsterdam would not be complete without visiting one of our favourite restaurants those days (in my case, until now). No, it’s not a typical Dutch stamppot or uitsmijter that I was looking for.

We headed to Amsterdam West, situated in the border of zone 1 known as Centrum and the starting point of zone 2. Next to the former Jewish bath house (Joden Badhuis) or about 10 minutes walking distance from Albert Cuyp Market, the most well-known landmark in the area, we finally arrived at “Surinaams  Afhaal Centrum: Warung Swietie” (pronounced as sweety for Swietie), a Surinamese-Javanese restaurant in De Pijp district.

Warung is an Indonesian word literally translated as “stall”, a modest and small-scaled family-owned business in different forms, from a grocery store, a restaurant until a cafe. Nowadays, the term is also commercially used for defining a traditional Indonesian influence in products and services the business offers.

The Surinamese-Javanese warung doesn’t really have traditional elements, though, except some framed pictures of Suriname main landmarks on the walls.

The indoor area is a bit too packed; the distance between seats are too close one to another, not to mention a long table attached on the wall behind the entrance door. Nonetheless, it’s a very common ambiance for an afhaalcentrum (afhaal: to-go, centrum: center) dining concept in The Netherlands, prioritizing on to-go services over dine-ins with limited amount of seats available.

Besides, when it comes to warung, the cramped space may be associated with togetherness and intimacy between friends and family. Nobody needs to complain about anything in this matter as cleanliness is pretty well-maintained, although I personally prefer seating outside if the weather is nice and not too windy for the sake of fresh air and roomy space.

warung swietie
the facade of Warung Swietie

Picture credit: http://depijpinbeeld.blogspot.co.id/2011_07_01_archive.html

For those who were born and grew up in Indonesia, there’s a missing subject in our local history lesson, mainly on the period when the Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij or NHM (Dutch Trading Society) transported Javanese contract labours from Java Island, the most populated Island in Indonesia, to work at the cane plantation and sugar factory in Mariënburg, Suriname, in the late 19th century, influencing an acculturation in several aspects, including gastronomy.

I even initially thought that the small country in South America called Suriname is in Africa.

Baka bana met pindasaus is the warung’s masterpiece and my main reason for a revisit. Baka bana is a Papiamentu word for gebakken banaan in Dutch, banana fritters in English and pisang goreng in Indonesian. Met pindasaus? It’s a Dutch word for “with peanut sauce”.  Since I always can get any delicious pisang goreng or baka bana anywhere in my hometown, why bother coming to a small Surinamese snack bar in Amsterdam to get something similar?

Back to school life, I once had a kinda disgusted feeling with the Surinamese way of eating banana fritters with peanut sauce (Indonesians usually put icing sugar instead). However, soon after tasting the dish, I realized that the truth is the opposite, that the pindasaus (peanut sauce) is actually the real trade secret.

The pindasaus texture is smoother than that of Indonesian chicken skewers, somewhat like a paste, with subtler nutty taste and hints of sweetness, that merges so well with the thinly-sliced ripened bananas covered with thin flour. For a €3.00 dish, it’s more than just worth the price. An extra sauce is available for another €1 for those who can’t get enough of it.

The craving for baka bana lives on ever since, even after I left The Netherlands for good. And I’m glad that the taste and quality remain the same, it’s still as good as before!

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not photogenic enough for food photography, but it tastes super!

Apart from the signature baka bana, saoto soep is an interesting menu because of its rendition of the Indonesian soto ayam, turmeric-based clear chicken soup, as an appetizer. While Indonesians categorize it as a main dish served with full portion of rice, the soup on saoto soup is merely half of the original portion with a little rice on the side in a saucer. In my opinion, this could also be an adaptation of the Dutch (and European) habit of having soup as an appetizer.

Tempe (fermented soybean), rames (mixed rice dish), lemper (glutinous rice with shredded chicken), kroepoek (crackers), gado-gado (salad dish with peanut sauce, check my post further about this), dawet (or cendol; grass jelly with coconut milk), emping (melinjo / paddy oat crackers), kipsate (chicken skewers), kroepoek (crackers), pitjel (or pecel, Javanese salad dish) are some other dishes whose names are either remain unchanged (from Indonesian) or adapted with Dutch pronunciation, vocabulary and spelling.

Despite familiarity of the menus for Indonesians, they may have wrong perception of nasi and bami stated there. If nasi originally means steamed rice, and bami –adapted from bakmi- means (boiled) noodle in Indonesian, the Dutch (and Surinamese, apparently) use nasi to define fried rice or nasi goreng and bami to define fried noodle or bakmi goreng or mie goreng. And that’s also how Indonesian restaurants in The Netherlands perceive the meaning of nasi and bami.

Witte rijst (literally meaning white rice) is a common term for steamed rice and bami soep for noodle soup, aka the non-fried noodle version.

Moksi meti (mixed rice with chicken and pork, probably inspired by Chinese food), bakkeljauw (dried and salty fish), roti (Indian flat bread with meat and vegetables) are also worth to try to get the new experience in Surinamese culinary.

Warung Switie basically offers a warung modesty in a Dutch building complex, affordable dishes in a relatively big portion with no exceeding €15 per portion (excluding drinks) and very convenient for students and budget-conscious travelers.

Additionally, try to speak Javanese (ngoko register) to the staffs as they may understand it, but they do not speak Indonesian at all, little English and fluent Dutch of course!

 

 

Gado-gado Soep: a Transition from Salad to Soup

How to turn salad into soup? It’s either the easiest question to answer or the most stupid question ever asked. If you are being naïve by saying, “Just pour water on it!”, that’s what I’m talking about.

Today’s “victim” is gado-gado.

Gado-gado is an Indonesian (specifically Javanese) salad dish with peanut dressing. The word gado-gado itself literally means “mix-mix”. However, gado (without the repetition) has a different meaning, which is “to consume without rice”. In line with its meaning, there are various boiled vegetables in it, such as spinach, cabbage, chayote, boiled egg, long beans, bean sprouts, fried bean curd and fried tempe (fermented soybean). Alternatively, it may be added with potato, sometimes cucumber (no need to be boiled though). Or replace spinach with watercress, long beans with string beans etc. Unlike any western salads, this traditional salad can be accompanied with rice or lontong (compressed rice in banana leaf).

Basically, gado-gado is available nationwide in many Indonesian restaurants.

Nonetheless, I’m amazed that the Dutch create the soup rendition called gado-gado soep, or gado-gado soup. In addition to its peculiarity, this menu is not available in any Indonesian restaurants in The Netherlands (trust me, there are hundreds of Indonesian restaurants in the country if you notice), and definitely does not exist anywhere in Indonesia.

The first time I noticed gado-gado soep was at a cafeteria on campus in The Netherlands, provided by an appointed catering company. The soup was often in turns with minestrone, french onion soup and chicken soup. For a long time, I’d rather take the other 3 varieties than gado-gado soep. I’m not only into vegetables in peanut sauce, but also the idea of turning it into soup doesn’t sound appetizing.

i beg you not to turn me into soup :o photo by madya
I beg you not to turn me into soup 😮   -photo by Madya

I asked my fellow Indonesians’ (in The Netherlands) opinion about it. I witnessed 1001 kinds of mimic expressing disapproval, uninterested, even disgusted and puzzled feeling about what’s the point of making that kind of dish, when keeping it original is the best thing to do.

One day, I fulfilled my curiosity by tasting some zips of the soep from the cafeteria. Here’s what I can say. It’s savoury like a cubed broth with hints of peanut flavour from the paste. Since it only costs €0.80, so there’s nothing much to expect from the contents. You really need to dig it deep with the ladle to get all of them. Bean sprouts, spring onions, carrots and a few slices of cabbage. Fortunately, the taste of the peanut soup is not too heavy. Otherwise it will be too hard, as in sickening, to swallow.

Well, I conclude that it is my first and last to eat it.

gado-gado soep.  photo credit: http://www.vanexel.keurslager.nl

But don’t get it wrong. A multinational brand like Knorr creates a kant en klaar (instant) version of gado-gado soep. Several Dutch websites provide online recipes of this salad soup. Albert Heijn, one of the leading supermarket chains in the country, once distributed free gado-gado soup recipe in the brochure.

To be honest, I have never tried one at home.

These recipes suggest ingredients originally never used in gado-gado, such as leeks, broccoli and cauliflower. I think it’s just too westernized. And that’s not it. The additional chicken broth, chicken filet, noodles and coconut milk makes this food more weirdo than ever. As a result, gado-gado soep is no longer a vegetarian dish and it seems to me that they are trying to make a peanut-flavoured curry chicken noodle soup.

I’m completely “loss” without you.

A friend of mine said, perhaps gado-gado soep is inspired by Surinamese pindasoep (peanut soup), which is described as “strong peanut butter broth”. Though I don’t know which one comes first, there are ingredient similarities between the two dishes, including the use of noodles. Nonetheless, pindasoep doesn’t emphasize on vegetable varieties and it can be mixed with pineapple, minced meat or toast bread, something that I find very bizarre.

I’m not able to make a taste comparison between gado-gado soep and pindasoep since I haven’t tried pindasoep, and I don’t think I’m gonna do it anytime soon.

surinamese pindasoep. photo credit: http://www.surinamcooking.com

As the old saying, if there is demand, there will be supply. No matter what I think about the “confusing” gado-gado soep, it doesn’t mean you have to second my opinion. It’s not a crime to expand you culinary experience by tasting this particular dish.

May be, a box of instant gado-gado soep could be your (uncommon) souvenir to carry back home. Go get it in supermarkets or Asian stores in The Netherlands. Remember, you won’t find it in Indonesia in a million years.

Then, tell me what you think about it.

Tasting Jokowi’s Favourite Dish: Don’t Ask Too Much, Act Like a Pro!

EAT FIRST, SHOP LATER

Since my sister and I like mutton, Mr. Efrat, our driver slash history teller, recommended us to try one of president Joko Widodo’s (Jokowi) favourite dishes when he was a mayor in Solo: tengkleng at the warung, or stall, called “Tengkleng Klewer Bu Edi”. 

Although I was born and raised in Indonesia, tengkleng became my new vocabulary on that day. All I remembered that it is mutton soup and the price is right, meaning that they never scam you. Fair enough.

“Eat first, shop later.” He warned us when he dropped off us at Pasar Klewer, a famous traditional market in Solo. The main reason behind the warning was not because we almost fainted for famine.

The stall opens at 1 pm and they usually run out of stock very quickly, within 2 to 3 hours. My watch showed that it was already 1.30 pm.

 tengkleng solo
busy, busy, busy

MODEST AND BIODEGRADABLE DINING WARE 

A bunch of middle-aged moms clustered around the warung situated right under the arch of Pasar Klewer as we got there. The queue looked more like fences surrounding the house that no one could see the products they sold.

I was aware that comfort is not something essential from a warung, but there were a few things I found quite a wonder. The less than 5-square-metered stall only had 3 long benches without tables. Selling soup-based rice dish, it was served with a very modest dining ware. As a substitute of a bowl, they used a brown paper with thin plastic inner lining, doubled with banana leaf on top to avoid leakage, and a plastic spoon. Just the same way as you get one to go.

tengkleng solo
modest and biodegradable bowl: paper and leaf

Despite its simplicity, they unconsciously “go green” (in this case, plastic spoons not included) in particular way. It saves water and detergent since there is no need to wash any dishes, except giant pots to place the tengkleng and soup spoons to pour the dish. Moreover, banana leaf and brown paper are biodegradable in nature.

ORGANS IN MOUTHWATERING SOUP 

I was completely a newbie and clueless about all the strange look organs in giant pots. Mostly, they looked bony with a little leftover meat (or whatever it is) attached, some sheen and chewy parts that could be anything but meat: cartilage? tendon? eyeballs? Or mention any glossary from your anatomy class for a lucky guess.

Nonetheless, the moms seemed to know everything by heart and easily pointed organs they wanted in their “bowl”.

tengkleng solo
a closer look at the food

Squeezing among the hungry moms until I got my turn, I took my chances to take pictures of the busy activity and zoomed in the exotic organs, to share with you all in my post, until the soup accidentally splashed on my filter (luckily not the lens!).

When my turn came, I asked how to order the food. I looked stupid, but I didn’t care.

“Do you still have the meat?”

“No meat.” she replied. Her eyes looked down, her right hand was moving fast pouring rice, the organs and finally the soup. I pointed one organ in the pot and asked her what it was, but then I realized that it wasn’t the right time to do after she answered impatiently, implying an indirect expression of “you should have known that”. Thus, I picked what I thought would be good, like skewed intestines and other parts that looked meaty.

Forget about hospitality from a crowded stall like that. Anyways, there is no service charge and VAT.

tengkleng solo
that’s a wrap!

It challenged my skills to hold the folded paper bowl with one hand, while the other hand peeled off (leftover) meat from the bones and held the spoon to scoop rice and soup interchangeably. No wonder why those hungry moms would rather have it to go. I threw the bones away into the bucket next to the bench functioning as a garbage bin.

A blend of unique spices, a family secret recipe for generations, and savoury flavour coming from boiling bones and fat for hours, resulted in distinctive taste of juice mutton broth I wouldn’t get anywhere else. It was mouthwatering, literally and mentally. The soup was the key of its fame.

To dine in, wearing light-coloured clothing is not recommended, as the turmeric based-soup could be a very stubborn stain to remove. Bring wet tissue or get some bottled water to wash hands (besides to drink).

eating tengkleng solo
happy family – hey, how did the kid get the bowl? that’s convenient!

EIGHTY THOUSAND RUPIAH??

When my sister paid for the drinks from a different vendor whose counter was attached to the warungI came to the vendor lady to pay our food.

“Eighty thousand rupiah.” she said.

I paused. “For two?”

“Yes, for two.”

I gave an exact amount of bank note of eighty thousand rupiah (Rp. 80.000, or $7) without questioning.

My sis and I both agree that it was not as cheap as we thought it would be.

Mr. Efrat himself was surprised that 2 portions could cost eighty thousand rupiah. A couple of month ago, it was only twenty thousand rupiah (Rp. 20.000) per portion (about $1.50). He wondered if the price could rise that much in two months.

He subtly shook his head and finally concluded, “I think they just cheated on you. I’m so shock they did. I’ve brought a lot of my customers there and nobody complained. I guess I should return to that place to investigate and warn my future customers.”

The stall that never scam people just scammed us. If it wasn’t a bad luck, then what?

My sis thought that I stood out among other customers with a big camera hanging on my neck and obviously took several pictures of their place. She said I was too daring (still, i’m nothing compared to the paparazzi) to do that. Moreover, I asked too many questions. May be it provoked the bitches to make use of the situation to get more luck from someone not from the neighbourhood.

C’mon, what would you react in the first place you’re not familiar with how things work? You ask, don’t you?

Oh, wait. I remember they whispered to each other before replying my question about the total price. Ah, I should have noticed those mimics, those gestures. Nasty bitches!!

Though it didn’t leave us broke and penniless, I won’t go back there ever again. Bone soup without proper meat has never been my favourite, and being scammed is indeed everyone’s least favourite.

Oh well, scam is just part of the risks of being a total stranger. At least I have a story with thrilling climax to bring home and to publish online.

Sometimes you need to act as if you knew everything, even if you don’t know anything. Don’t ask too much, act like a pro!

A Shoestring Dining in Nyhavn: ThaiAsien

Some of you who have read my post “It’s Always Sunny in Copenhagen“, perhaps you notice that in one of its chapter called “Nyhavn in a Shoestring”, I mentioned that,  “…..There’s a Thai restaurant near the end of the row suppose you miss rice and spicy flavour…”

Somehow, I feel responsible for giving you more information about the place. For the first time ever, I invited a guest writer, DKLo (dklomakan.wordpress.com, twitter:@therealDKLo) – an Indonesian-born, Canadian-residing food blogger that happens to be my cousin, to share his insights about food and dining atmosphere at ThaiAsien, the only Thai restaurant in Nyhavn we visited. I can’t agree more about his side of the story:

still away from ThaiAsien, but I’m not lying to you. walk further and further and keep positive, you’ll be there!

Like many people, I’ve always thought that the concept of dining out anywhere in Scandinavia is a very costly affair. I’ve actually pretty much resigned myself that, if I go visit a city like Copenhagen, I better be well-satisfied with a few buns from the local McDonald’s or hot dog vendor (though thankfully, I love Danish hot dogs, but that’s another story altogether).

Nyhavn is a wonderful place, a little harbor, dotted with lots of small-to-medium sized bars and cafes, where tourists, locals, and people who look like half-drunk hippies can all hang around and have a good time. It’s basically a place to relax, enjoy the views of small boats and the water, while drinking overpriced beer and chatting the night away.

But if you keep on walking (no, seriously, like KEEP ON WALKING) towards almost the back end of this pleasant but overpriced tourist trap, you will see a nondescript building with a continuous line of people going in and out of its basement. This is the place of ThaiAsien. Though perhaps extremely generic and uncreative in its naming, this little hole in the wall is one of the most popular, yet almost paradoxically well-hidden, spots in the Nyhavn area where you can get delicious hot food for the price of two hot dogs (there or thereabouts).

if McJoy’s is not your choice, go to the other building across the street to get another choice….ThaiAsien!

The place is almost literally a basement hole converted into a little takeout spot. There are two small tables with bench seats, and we were extremely lucky to be able to get them, but they were nothing more than just half-hearted attempts at providing the patrons with the notion that they may eat inside the establishment. Make no mistake, this is 100% a takeout place, and the endless lines of people waiting to walk in the restaurant seem to be already very aware of this.

The place is extremely hot and uncomfortable, as the cooking is done in the back half of the unit, and there are no fans or ACs in sight. All they do is open some windows, presumably to prevent a dozen sweaty Danish people from simultaneously collapsing due to the stuffiness. Still, judging from the pace of the line, the service is extremely efficient and quick, almost like a conveyor belt of ordering. My family and myself ordered what I believe to be their green chicken curry (my Danish language skills being somewhat nonexistent) and was given a heaping, steaming serving of curry in a plastic see-through box. Even when we were eating in the restaurant, we were practically eating out of a Tupperware.

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front side Thai Asien

picture credit: http://eatincopenhagen.com/profil/15835

So with all this discomfort, why is the place so full? Because the food is really good, that’s why. Green curry is generally the richest in flavour out of all the mainstream Thai coloured curries (the others being red and yellow), and this place did not disappoint. The curry sauce was thick, rich, and velvety smooth. It had a consistency that was creamy, punctuated at regular intervals with chopped peanuts which gave it a nice contrast. The amount of vegetables tossed in was so generous you’d think the Green Giant cried all over it.

The overall portion was actually large enough that two of us could’ve shared one serving (though it must be said that there are lots of people with bigger appetites than ours) while the chicken meat was very tender. I had originally feared that the production line-style of the kitchen would result in overcooked chicken meat, and I’m glad to report that no such problems were found on my plate (or box, rather). And all of this for around DKK 69 to DKK 79 max per portion (US$ 12 to US$ 14).

thaiasien
Thai Asien to-go. 

picture credit: http://eatincopenhagen.com/becksbistro

So while the ambience was non-existent, the seats uncomfortable and the heat almost unbearable, I can confidently say that this was (and is) a great place to pick up some authentic tasty Asian goodness in the midst of Copenhagen’s pricier tourist spots. I would definitely come back here if I’m fortunate enough to return to this city and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend ThaiAsien to everyone.

Recommended Greek Restaurants and Organic Store in GreekTown

Greektown, located on Danforth Avenue, was one of the early Greek immigrant settlements in Toronto and considered the largest in North America in 1970s and 1980s. It is a member of Business Improvement Area (BIA), the association of business people in the community established in 1981 whose goal is to attract more visitors by developing and promoting shops, restaurants and business districts in the area. In 1993, the city council agreed to change its name to GreekTown on the Danforth, known as Greektown or The Danforth.

Though there is no temple of Apollo or Parthenon to distinguish the town’s characteristic, it has unmistakable blue flags with an ancient pillar logo and Greek-English street names along the way.

Greektown flag and bilingual road sign

GREEK FOOD UNDER $10

Spending less than $10 per person on delicious Greek food, why not?

Athens Pastries  target market is crystal clear: people who want to taste Greek pastries and nothing else. Forget gyros, souvlaki and tzatziki. Forget French croissant and Austrian strudel. Eight traditional pastries costing less than $4 per portion (2011’s rate) are enough to lure its audience.

The appearance of loukoumades, a ping pong ball-sized fried dough glazed with honey and hints of cinnamon powder, reminds me of my favourite Dutch oliebol. However, non sweet-tooth people (like me) might say, “Leave the dough alone, honey!” Believe it or not, I drained the infiltrated honey in the dough in an oven toaster to finish the rest (without you, honey, it tasted great already). It’s just a matter of personal point of view, by the way. Other customers, mostly Greek descendants, didn’t seem to have a problem with that.

loukoumades & greek coffee

Suppose anybody has the same issue as mine, spanakopita or spinach pie with feta cheese will be the right option. Nothing sweet about it, except rich cheese that blends perfectly with light-flavoured mashed spinach. It was over the top and one of the best-selling menus in the cafe. To conclude my visit, I took Greek coffee, which is somewhat similar to Indonesian kopi tubruk (literally means collision coffee), where the unfiltered ground coffee is poured together with the liquid in a cup. Though caffeine doesn’t affect me much, I have to warn you that it could bring you trouble sleeping at night.

I wonder how come I missed them when I was in Greece.

loukoumades at athens pastries’ warm display. so sweet!

Alexandros World Famous Gyros didn’t look world famous at a glance. The small restaurant situated near the fountain in Alexander the Great park had a very plain decoration and wasn’t even packed with people at dinner time around 7 pm. However, my sister recommended this place and my parents are crazy for it. Their addiction is contagious after I tried Alexandros’ pork (no lamb, unfortunately) gyros. The spices were strong in a good way, came out so well with the juicy and tender meat, salad and mayonnaise wrapped in pita bread that I forget taking a picture of it to put in my blog! Yep, that’s why I give you the fountain and the podium instead.

fountain in Alexander the Great park on christmas

Later on, I saw customers approaching the cash desk and left with a few bags in their hands. The sales are made mostly from “to go” orders, therefore there were not many people in the restaurant itself. With $6 per portion, you get more than you pay, I promise you.

alexander the great park’s podium

ORGANIC-ORIENTED SHOPPING 

I have found a new hobby after visiting The Big Carrot, the famous organic supermarket on Danforth Avenue: shopping organic beauty products! Although the body care section was not that big, the store layout was pleasant to see with earthy atmosphere, huge variety of brands and attractive merchandise presentation to drive impulsive buying behaviour. The staffs were knowledgeable and all the products sold are paraben free. Being pricey for groceries on a daily basis, I still succeeded finding $2 2-in-1 shampoo bar and soap, probably the cheapest products from its shelves.

Holy Name Parish Church

Since many Canadians are concerned with saver and healthier ingredients in the products they use, organic food and beauty products are also pretty easy to find elsewhere outside The Big Carrot and Greektown. Another drugstore nearby sells organic body care products and organic vitamins. My sister bought cocoa butter mixed with shea butter imported from Ghana, packed in a coconut shell. Quite a unique packaging.

the supermarket’s favourite section
image credit: http://thebigcarrot.ca/index.php?id=27

Organic Juice Bar, still at The Big Carrot, was my next exploration of being organic. Blended juice with hemp and açai berry sounded like interesting ingredients to try, not because I know they are wonderful when mixed together. The controversial hemp as mostly linked to pot smokers and marijuana (although The Body Shop has hemp-based product series) and a superfood member açai berry, known for its high antioxidant capacity, were partners in crime to make my visit memorable.

Honestly, I couldn’t distinguish the difference between the taste of organic fruit and non-organic ones unless someone tells me so and I forget the name of the menu. Only a  positive testimonial left: when both ingredients were mixed with other fruits like banana, strawberry and raspberry, it created refreshing taste for thirst quencher.

the big carrot organic juice bar

Since I didn’t have the luxury to browse all streets and alleys, I only know the surface of GreekTown. If I have more time in the future, here are my to-do lists: concentrate my visit on specialty stores with anything but mainstream, fine dining in a Greek restaurant and spending extra time to repeat what I love best: eating Athens’ spanakopita, Alexandros’ gyros and shopping more organic goods!

Penang: Heritage in Hues Part 2

Personally, eating local delicacy, taking taxis and buses in Penang brought back school life nostalgic moments. Therefore, this time I mostly highlight experiences that remind me of life in Petaling Jaya (PJ), Selangor (Malaysia) in 1999 where I pursued my study abroad for the first time.

Should I categorize this in travel or personal?

LOCAL DELICACY

Going to Penang without local street food equals to an incomplete journey. I regret not capturing great pictures of delicious food I ate that can arouse your appetite. I even need to replace some failed images with the better ones from internet. I hate doing this, but I think it’s necessary to do so. Otherwise, nobody knows what I’m talking about. That’s the last thing I wanna do with my blog.

Instant solution for chairs that don’t meet required size spec

Gurney Drive: Not about the Beach

Which ones do you prefer?

As described by the hotel receptionist, Gurney Drive is famous for its hawker centre along coastal line of Penang. I imagined it would be like dining by the beach in Jimbaran, Bali. Nevertheless, the hawker is actually situated across the street from the beach. The sand shore was partly covered by rocks. There were neither coconut trees nor sound of waves. I don’t think it’s suitable to call it “dining by the beach”. Quite dissapointing.

Hanging sotong (squid)

However, as the sun went down, there were more crowds coming to the hawker. Hearing the sound of chattering, laughing crowds and shouting vendors, I suddenly felt relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. I got the same feeling years ago when I hung out with friends at a hawker centre after finishing school projects. It was the best stress relief ever. Moreover, it represented all local food that challenges your appetite, from beef marrow soup, char kway tiauw, chendul, rojak, various kinds of seafood etc.

In a nutshell, Gurney Drive is about a social meeting spot for families, couples, friends, colleagues, and business partners, not the beach and the sunset.

Malaysian chendul (green rice flour jelly) have longer jellies than Indonesian cendol

 Hanging tutti frutti a laPenang

Pork char sieuw and intestine at the hawker near Sunway Hotel George Town

Herbal Eggs

http://sittingwishingeating.com/2010/02/24/the-love-for-%E8%8C%B6%E5%8F%B6%E8%9B%8B/

Best source of energy to start your day!

Herbal eggs or Chinese marbled eggs are hard-boiled eggs simmered in Chinese herb soup. Whenever I had no time for breakfast or lunch at school, I took them as quick snacks. I didn’t only love the taste of the herbs absorbed in the eggs, but also they kept me energized, “hunger free” for hours and much better choice than junk food.

I was so glad I accidentally found herbal eggs in a food court at Gurney Plaza, a shopping mall in Gurney Drive. Now they cost RM 1 per piece. Then, RM 1 for 3 pieces. I couldn’t expect to get the same price as before, but at least they still taste the same as that of 13 years ago.

Indian Food

As Indian community is very rare in Indonesia, I purposely came to Little India to enjoy authentic Indian food which is hard to find in my hometown. Briyani rice, chicken masala, chicken tandoori, mutton curry…..yummy yummy! Besides, we went to Indian food stall close to the hotel to get roti tisu. Even tough I was so afraid of gaining weight, it was too irresistible to resist.

Roti Tisu

Back in PJ where I pursued my study, roti tisu, roti canai and roti prata were some of my favorite supper menus for lepak (hang out) at a hawker centre or a mamak stall. A very fattening and “heavy duty” choice for supper, but it was fun to share with my schoolmates and incredibly delicious!

Bak Kut Teh

Don’t judge a book by its cover: it tastes better that it looks

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t eat bak kut teh (Chinese pork ribs in herb soup) when I stayed in Malaysia. The only thing I remember about bak kut teh is a strange experience with Chinese cab drivers in PJ. Knowing I’m a Chinese descendant, these drivers -different person, time and place- approached me with a conversation mainly about Chinese community to get my sympathy, then they offered me instant bak kut teh for RM 2 moments before I got off from their cab. I didn’t take the offer, though. I kept thinking whether these people were doing multilevel marketing by selling instant bak kut teh in a sachet as their side job.

I finally ate the original bak kut teh for the first time in Penang that didn’t come from a sachet. I just couldn’t get enough, so damn good!! Besides, the dried version of bak kut teh with sprinkled salted fish. It doesn’t exist in Jakarta. So it’s something worth to try, even though I like the original one better.

Teh O Ais Limau: Bad Tea Day Saviour Remembered 

http://www.maeenflavor.com/Lime.html

SURGEON’S GENERAL WARNING: addictive when mixed with iced tea!

Teh o ais limau refers to iced lemon tea in English. However, what Malaysian people use in their traditional iced lemon tea is lime or key lime (limau), not lemon. It should be “iced lime tea”, even though nobody calls it that way. I believe a lime causes Malaysian iced lemon tea has exceptional taste, and that’s what I miss the most. Therefore I spontaneously answered, “Teh O Ais Limau!” at hawker centres in Penang almost every time the waiter asked me for drinks. By the way, limes are very common in my hometown, but not a common ingredient for iced lemon tea.

Well, how I end up as a lemon tea addict actually started from the first depressive month in PJ as I’ve been an unsweetened tea addict. Getting unsweetened iced tea  (Indonesian: es teh tawar) at a Malay mamak stall drove me nuts. I said teh ais (also literally means iced tea in English) confidently because I thought it was the closest term to es teh (tawar). But suddenly I got iced milk tea. It didn’t say milk (susu) at all!

I was advised to order teh o ais if I don’t want milk in my tea. So I ordered teh o ais next day. It was true there wasn’t milk, but sugar instead. It didn’t say sugar (gula) at all! A few days later, I ordered teh o ais again with a remark “no sugar”.  The waiter nodded. Still, there was SUGAR in my tea!! The week after was my last attempt. I tried to order in English “tea without sugar”, once in Malay “teh tanpa gula“.  Both have the same meaning. But again, the GODDAMN SUGAR was STILL there!!!

Finally, I gave up. I would rather get a different type of drink. I gave a shot ordering iced lemon tea,  although I didn’t really enjoy tea with lemon. Yet, at least the lemon could neutralize the sweetness of the tea. Et voilà, I love it!  Since then, it was my regular drink besides ais kosong (cold water).

I should have asked all the drink terms listed in the menu, but it was time consuming and I was Ms. Know It All, then (now I know I wasn’t). Although Malay and Indonesian are similar, Malay beverage terms could lead me to total lost in translation.

Gula Melaka Ice Cream

The best home made ice cream is just two steps from here!

The café across Yap Temple, unfortunately I forget the name, has one of the best home made ice cream I’ve ever tasted, from chocolate, chocolate chip, coffee until tiramisu flavour. Chocolate chunks on the chocolate chip flavour tasted really good despite being slightly oversized, even without the (vanilla) ice cream.

How about gula Melaka (palm sugar) flavoured ice cream? The lady who served me was a very honest person. She didn’t recommend me to try it, but I insisted on getting the tester. It was something new for me; the only food that has nothing to do with my school life flashback. Not so horrible that I wanted to throw up, yet I just couldn’t enjoy it that much.

Don’t get me wrong. I love palm sugar. I mix it with coffee, grilled banana and avocado. Nonetheless, I admit it was a bizarre ingredient to create ice cream flavour.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

http://www.penang-traveltips.com/taking-the-taxi.htm

“THIS TAXI USES METER. BARGAINING IS NOT ALLOWED. GET THE RECEIPT.” a.k.a they don’t do what they said

Sorry to say, but I don’t see the point of placing announcement on the front taxi door as shown above. In reality, I never found any taxis in Penang using meter.  The best thing I could do was to get preliminary information about the average rate to certain destination or ask the hotel security guard to bargain with the driver. Taxis in the airport don’t use meter either, but you can get fixed rate if you buy tickets from the taxi counter after claiming your baggage.

“We won’t earn much for living because Penang is just a small island where everything is close.” said the driver in response to the question why taxi drivers in Penang don’t want to use meter. Regardless of not using meter, the drivers who took us were friendly and love chit-chatting just about anything, from tourist attractions, food until their wife, children and grandsons.

On the other hand, exploring George Town was very convenient thanks to CAT (Central Area Transit), a free shuttle bus mainly concentrated on tourist attractions around the heritage city area.

There are many ways to enjoy Penang and see what this island has inherited to the world, especially in Southeast Asian culture. And that’s not all yet, my friends!  I’ll bring you more “hues” in the last part of the heritage sequel. Stay tuned…