Wednesday, May 30, 2007

She who has everything. For 'Now'.

Another AI has passed and while many (including yours truly) was devastated that Melinda Dolittle exited prematurely, I feel that the eventual champion, Jordin Sparks is a worthy winner. If anyone ever doubted her vocal abilities, one only has to listen to her rendition of "I Who Have Nothing" to see why she garnered 65% of the 75 million votes cast at the Finale.

And I have to agree with the judges on this : Song choice, song choice, song choice!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pussy Galore

There's a new love in my life.

He's white and he's hairy. Very hairy.

So hairy that he sheds his 'fur' everywhere. On the sofa, on the rug, even in the bedroom.

Actually he belongs to my sis, but I love him too. In fact everyone who has met him falls head over heels in love with him.

Meet the new kid on the block, Fergie. Not that he ever bothers to answer to anything we call him.

But he sure knows how to pose for the camera! Ok, Fergie, say cheese....

Monday, May 21, 2007

幸せな母の日 (Happy Mother's Day)

Last Sunday we celebrated Mother's Day by giving our dear mom a luncheon treat at a Japanese Restaurant in OUG named Xenri.

As my sis had made a reservation at the eleventh hour, we could only manage to get an outdoor table, which turned out to be a blessing as most of the teriyaki and tempura dishes were laid out on an outdoor terrace just behind us.

Here's Mom posing with all the food laid out before her. Made her feel like the Queen of the day. (As opposed to the other 364 days of the year when she's the Queen, period.)

And this is the only close-up shot of one of the plateful of food I could take, coz all of us were pretty hungry and none of the others were willing to wait for me to compose the picture, check the lighting, correct the white balance.....

No sooner had I shot the pic above, my sis swooped down on the sashimi like an eagle. Pass the wasabi!

Like a homing device, Dad went straight for the shark's fin soup (I know, it's not a Japanese dish, but who cares?) oblivious to the fate of countless finless sharks that lay rotting on the seabed just to make that bowl of soup. What's more, he took at least five bowls of it! Tsk tsk!

This little girl found her favourite dish, chawanmushi aka egg custard. I found it a bit too salty. So did she. Hehehe!

"Dear, are you gonna eat that? Too late, I got it. It's mine now. Bwuahahahaha! "

And this is the aftermath when you let loose six human piranhas on a Japanese buffet. Kiasu and proud of it!

"I told you I don't want you looking at other girls. How come you were winking at that waitress?"

"I wasn't winking lah... Something went into my eye!"

Oh good, in order to make me feel better about blowing my diet after all that tempura and sushi, I loaded up on lots of fresh fruits.

More fresh fruits! But I was already stuffed by the time this platter came out. I wonder if we can doggy-bag some fruits for later.....

Introducing Malaysia's next Top Model .... after being stuffed silly with fresh oysters, shark's fin soup, salmon and tuna sashimi, teriyaki beef, boxing chicken and last but not least, green tea ice-cream with black bean!

All in all it was a fun afternoon of food, laughter and ice-cream. See, Dad is still heaping on the ice cream (in the background)!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hanoi 2007: Ode to Banh Ook

Just before I left for my holiday to Hanoi, I wrote an email to a good friend of mine telling him of my holiday plans. He had lived in Hanoi for a few years in the nineties and I wanted to ask him about some of must-sees of the city. What I got was a reply by someone who was very passionate about Hanoi, her culture and her people, which piqued my interest to explore the beauty and the mystery for myself. Here's what he wrote.

Hey buddy,

I am sooo jealous that you're going to Hanoi without me. I would have loved to go back there. Are you going to scuba dive? Don't think it will be any good there - the northern beaches are flat and murky. Maybe you should try Da Nang in central Vietnam.

In Hanoi, oh, there is sooo much to do there. So many places to see, things to do, where do I begin? Ok, here are a few of my favourites:

1. I loved walking over the Long Bien bridge. It's the old bridge across Red River. You can get a nice view of the madness of Hanoi. Be careful of the traffic tho!

2. Having a coffee at the old Metropole Hotel near the opera house. It's pricey but the old world charm there is undeniably romantic. You almost feel like you're in Paris!

3. Walking around the Old Quarter is always a hoot. Lots of things to buy and great food too. I especially love the Silk Street, where the local silk is so colourful and the designs are breathtaking.

4. I loved to walk around from my old house round a small lake called Truc Bach lake. It's a nice thing to do...quiet.

5. Then of course there are the lovely old temples everywhere, just make sure you ask for permission to take pictures. I learnt that the hard way! :(

6. There's also the war museum and the humongous statue of Lenin in the park outside - great photo-op.

7. My absolute fave coffee place is Au Lac Cafe situated in the French Quarter just opposite the Sofitel. It's actually an old French mansion whose courtyard has been converted into a chic al fresco restaurant and bar that serves the absolute best cappuccino outside of Italy!

8. Do you have a motorbike license? If you do, try to hire a bike. It's a great way to get around the narrow streets of the Old Quarter and a fast way to see everything in a day. Just be mindful of the other motorbikes coz around here nobody stops at the red light!

9. Of course there's the food. Oh I so miss pho! And remember - the best pho in town can be at the squat stalls, just by the roadside. NOT the fancy restaurants. Those will charge you an arm and a leg!

10. Try to look out for a few other Vietnamese delicacies like banh cuon (like a crepe with pork and mushroom),

and xoi which is sticky rice. Ask for xoi ga if you want chicken with your rice. Personally I prefer the plain version. Oh, my mouth waters just thinking about it!

11. Of course you can't miss Hoan Kiem lake. Try going there early, like 7am to see the locals do their taichi or play six-man badminton. I wonder if my team-mates still play there.....

And that is just the beginning! Did I say I am jealous? If I had known you were going, I probably would have come with you. I have lots of fond memories of my time there.

Enjoy! I know you will have a great time in Hanoi and do take some great pics of the place for me.

P.S. If you happen to go a bar called GC bar, just say Banh Ook sends his regards to the staff there. ;)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Hanoi 2007: Got Pho?

You can't do Vietnam without having a go at its most famous dish, the pho (rhymes with 'duh'). In fact, it was the first thing on our mind the minute we touched down in Hanoi. As soon as we were done checking into the hotel, the four of us set out into the busy streets of the Old Quarter to hunt for pho.

It's basically narrow strips of rice noodles doused in a hot broth made of stock, charred onion and ginger, and garnished with spring onions, cilantro and basil. In some restaurants, bean sprouts, parsley, lime and other ingredients are added to enhance the flavour. One can have either pho bo (beef) or pho ga (chicken) or even pho lon (pork). Better yet, have all three.

Fai opted for the fried version of the noodles and that too was equally delicious albeit a little too salty for my liking. Down it with some ice cold Bia (local beer) and it's as close to gourmet heaven as one can get.

Quite frankly, the Vietnamese have come up with quite a range of rice based delicacies, such as this: the (equally famous) Vietnamese Springroll or Cha Gio. Its filling is made of fresh raw veggies and minced fresh herbs, along with cooked shrimp, pork, and fried tofu; all neatly packaged up in a deliciously chewy-soft, pliable rice paper wrapping. There is also the crispy deep fried version, but personally I prefer the fresh version.

Then there is Cha Ca. It's grilled fish cutlets served on a small sizzling wok and eaten with a generous dose of (what else) rice noodles topped with various kinds of vegetables, herbs and peanuts. It's a communal affair, as everyone tucks in using their chopsticks to stir the pieces of fish and chopped vegetable around so as to avoid them from getting charred by the sizzling hot wok.

It was a little chilly in the evenings, and it was indeed a welcome sight to see steaming hot pots beckoning us to savour of its immersed treasures. 'Lau' as it is locally known, is a hot pot (or steamboat) filled with a soupy concoction of chicken, herbs, and fish sauce that is constantly being heated up by a gas stove underneath it. All kinds of ingredients are dropped into it, left to boil and then strained out to be savoured piping hot, only to have the next batch of raw goodies tossed into the broth to be simmered. The best part is when all the meat, seafood and vegetables have been simmered and cooked, the resulting 'soup' is an extremely rich, sweet and aromatic broth that is almost a meal all by itself. Of course, there is also the prerequisite rice noodles to go with all this as well.

The weekend street market straddles the entire length of Dong Xuan street, snaking through the heart of Old Quarter, making it a must-do event for all visitors to Hanoi. Anything and everything is sold here, including all types of street food. There are probably a hundred stalls just selling a variety of local and 'imported' fare. Like this one (above), which sells pastries and puffs filled with any kind of filling one can think of; from pork floss to spicy tuna, blueberry jam to vanilla custard, and lotus seed to green bean paste, it's all here and so cheap you could end up buying the whole stall if you 're not careful.

Ohh, just looking at this pix makes my mouth water. I can just remember the taste of the smoky yet tender pork slices melting in my mouth. And the crunchy and sweet raw vegetables complements the aromatic meat well. All of this is wrapped up in a toasted kebab bread and topped with a generous helping of mayonaise and chilli sauce. Heavenly.

In the mornings, one only has to walk down a side street or two to find a multitude of breakfast choices. My favourite has to be this: an egg baguette. Take a fresh baguette, fill its centre with a freshly fried omelette filled with chopped onions, cucumber and minced pork and garnished with spring onion and a dash of pepper. Bon apetit!

Fresh fruits are everywhere, and the aroma as we walked past these stalls is so mouth watering. Mangoes, dragonfruit, mandarin oranges, apples, mangosteens.... the list goes on and on. Even my hotel room is regularly replenished with plates of fresh mangoes, bananas and peaches. Now if only they provided a paring knife....

Even the lovely ladies know that we all fall weak in the knees when they saunter by with their fruity ware on oversized scales. But beware! Some of them will actually offer you a photo-op with you carrying their scales and when you're done, insist that you pay them exhorbitant amounts for their fruit. I had to pay US5 for two bananas, a few pieces of pineapple and an orange!