Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pass the peanut sauce: Foods of Malaysia

Andy and I had our first date in a Malaysian restaurant, and we later got engaged there, so it's safe to say that Malaysian food is pretty near and dear to our hearts...and it's even better (and way cheaper) in Malaysia than in New Jersey. On the peninsula, the mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people in the population means that you get excellent offerings from all three of those cuisines, plus authentic fusion cuisine that's developed out of centuries of the groups' comingling. Throw in lots of peanut sauce and some crazy icy desserts and you've got a real winner of a country for eating.

Our goal as soon as we got off the plane was to find our favorite snack from our previous trip to Malaysia: roti canai. It's a South Indian-style fried flatbread served with tasty dipping sauce. The sauce can be dal-like if you get it at an Indian restaurant but is usually more coconutty or peanutty from Malay vendors. At the bus station where we got this one, they gave us a typical Malay-style sauce and a fishier sauce (ick) too. The whole thing costs about 25 cents US. I think we ate roti canai every day that we were in Malaysia!After that roti canai, I was thirsty, but didn't recognize any of the drink names on the menu. Andy encouraged me to be adventurous, so I went for a "sirap." Turns out to be very sweet, red, and rosewater-flavored. Also, note how gleamingly clean the bus station cafeteria is. Welcome to Malaysia!
Breakfast, Malay-style! On the left, nasi lemak, which is rice boiled in coconut milk, served with green veggies, peanuts, boiled egg, and, in this case, some curried chicken. On the right, a soup with chicken, fried tofu, veggies, noodles, and a coconut-milk-based broth. Nope, no corn flakes.
And after breakfast, who wouldn't like a little dessert? Like Indonesia, Malaysia has many desserts that feature some combination of shaved ice, jellies, and other random stuff. This one is a special cendol, which has molasses syrup, rosewater syrup, mango, and condensed milk on top, and jellies and corn on the bottom. You know, everyone's favorite combination.
I got to practice my Chinese with this man! OK, all I managed to say was "thank you" and "good-bye," but he understood me. Oh yeah, those Mandarin podcasts are really paying off now... Anyway, he did sell me a darn good cup of cold soy milk.

Melaka and Penang, both on Malaysia's west coast, are both known for their "Baba Nyonya" or "Straits Chinese" cuisine. Chinese people who came to Malaysia in the 15th and 16th centuries adapted their cooking to use local ingredients and, voila, delicious, fusion-y results were born. Since eating was pretty much our main activity on this trip to Malaysia, we had to visit both places.

At a Nyonya restaurant in Melaka, we ordered these "dessert" cups. They came before our main dish, and weren't really sweet, but were still really good. I can't remember what they are called, but they consist of a crunchy outer cup and are filled with shredded veggies and tasty sauces. Can anyone identify?

We also got some Nyonya mee goreng, or fried noodles. They turned out to have prawns and fishcake in them, which made them kind of fishy for us, but they weren't bad considering that.
Back to crazy desserts! There are many types of cendol--I think this was just a regular one, which means no mango, or rosewater. You can see the corn and a green jelly peeking out from underneath! This one may have had beans down bottom, too.
We went to a cook-your-own-satay restaurant in Melaka, where you choose sticks of different meats, veggies, or eggs, then cook them in a pot of oil/peanut sauce that's bubbling, fondue-style, in the middle of your table.
We chose stuff to cook by sight, so a lot more of them ended up being fishy than we anticipated, but it was excellent anyway. Here you can see some quail's eggs and some squid (as you've probably guessed, that was my plate). Andy ate a lot of sausages on sticks, and a lot of the peanut sauce with a spoon...
The best of many bus-station snacks: warm, sweet-peanut-goo-filled buns. These powered us right on down to Singapore.
Another reason to love Malaysia: They have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups!! Another excellent bus snack. Or anytime snack. (I later learned that you can also find these pretty easily in Thailand.)
Back in Malaysia after a few weeks in Indonesia...and straight to the crazy dessert vendor! Here's an ABC, which has pretty much every type of jelly and syrup you can imagine, the requisite corn and beans, and a bonus couple of scoops of ice cream on top of the shaved ice. A great welcome to Penang.In Georgetown, the main town on Penang island, we hit a Chinese restaurant for some dim sum for breakfast. Here you can see two types of pork buns, some sticky rice with various kinds of pork in it, and some pork tea. OK, it was just regular Chinese tea, but it was still a really pig-heavy breakfast for a majority-Muslim country.
Boiled peanuts, which we kind of associate with the American south, are also a popular snack in Malaysia. The nuts itself soften to the consistency of beans and are quite tasty. It may actually be boiled peanuts, not beans, that are in the icy desserts we ate in Malaysia; we're not sure.
A Chinese street vendor in Georgetown was making pancakes in little with a variety of filling choices. Shockingly, one of them was...pork! I chose that one, and was surprised when he put something the consistency of candy floss in my pancake. I can't wait to get to China and find out what other new forms pork can take...
In the Cameron Highlands, we lunched on a warming bowl of curry mee. Basically, a spicy soup with noodles, vegetables, and chicken. Good stuff.

We then went off in search of the region's strawberry farms. We quickly learned that they're all really touristy and charge exhorbitant amounts to let you pick your own berries...but they also all sell delicious, cheap popsicles made with fresh strawberries and juice and a touch of sugar. OK, a lot of sugar. We may have had two in a row each...or was it three? Ah, who remembers such piddling details?
Nips are a mix of knockoff peanut M&Ms, except that half the candies have a raisin inside instead of a peanut. We had fun trying to guess by shape which one we'd get.
Char kway teow is a fried rice noodle dish popular in Malaysia. We tried the "Cameron Highlands" version, which just means it has a lot of vegetables in it, since lots of veggies are grown in the highlands. Andy loved it, but I got one spicy pepper and had to drink a liter of water before my mouth stopped burning.
Along with our daily roti canai, we tried a strawberry roti in the highlands. Sure, it was a touristy dish, and cost three times as much as regular roti, but how often do you get a chance to eat fried, Indian-style bread with strawberries in it? It was pretty good.
Fresh strawberries were beyond our price range, but we found a package of dried strawberries we could afford. Let's hope the antioxidants survived the sulfuring-and-sugaring process.
Lots of veggies grown in the highlands = lots of deep-fried veggies available. We tried mushrooms. Not bad, but would've been better if they were hot.
Our stay in Malaysia was short, but we ate really well. There was plenty of street food, lots of good, cheap restaurant food, and tons of variety between regions and ethnic specialties, so we never got bored. Melaka was our favorite culinary destination, but Georgetown had good offerings too. And I have some great food memories from our last trip here, in which we visited Borneo and Kuala Lumpur. If you like to eat, then you ought to come eat in Malaysia.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Malaysia: A Nice Place to Visit

Our time in Malaysia was shorter than it otherwise would have been because we were in Malaysia a few years ago. If I were Tara, I would find old pictures of Kuala Lumpur and Borneo (both great), but I'm lazy, so you get what you get.

We remembered Malaysia as surprisingly well developed, and it was. Way more developed than most of the places we have visited. Here is the fancy train we took from the airport to the bus station when we arrived. You can also see the women in head scarves--Malaysia is mostly Muslim and seems more religious than Indonesia, its Muslim neighbor.
Our first stop was Melaka, or Malacca in the English spelling. This was a very important port on the Straits of Malacca, and one of what might be called the first free trade zones. The Dutch held it for a long time and built very Dutchy things like windmills and canals. Here is the town square with the Dutch City Hall in the back.
And a Dutch clock tower. Great weather while we were visiting.
The area has a mix of Chinese, Malay, and other cultures, which results in great boats like this one. This picture was taken at the exhaustive local history museum, which was great, but too much museum for even me.
We found this beetle outside the museum. What a great looking beetle! I award it first prize in the beetle beauty contest. My brother, Matt, gets second prize in the beauty contest and collects $10.
Like me, the early settlers of Malacca constantly lost the coins that they put in their pockets. So, they got these great croc coins instead. I will give you three crocodiles for a new pair of shoes!
Malacca was supposedly founded when a pirate (who is never directly referred to as such in Malacca) was sitting on a river bank and a tiny deer assaulted his dogs, kicking one into the river. He was so impressed by the little deer that he decided to stay and build a city. Here is a statue of the deer in the town center.
The oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia is also in Malacca, which I think dates back to around 1600. The best part of the temple is the angry hordes swarming out of the top.
But Tara was also a fan of the guardian dragons.
They have reconstructed the massive Dutch waterwheel that used to exist on the river. Waterwheels did not generate waterwheel cookies, though, which makes them inferior to windmills.
Doesn't this guy make you want to become Taoist? You could worship him, too! Keep your small kids away from him, though.
While walking through a mall in Malacca, we discovered an archery range. How could we pass up an opportunity to shoot arrows inside the mall? I saved Tara the embarrassment of taking a picture of both our targets at the end.
From Malacca, we went to Singapore and Indonesia, then back to Malaysia at Penang. Penang is an island, and we stayed in the main historic town of Geogetown. Tara really likes pictures of people jumping (I don't), so she ASKED to jump in this picture. It might be the last time she ever suggests a jumping picture. Notice that her tongue is actually out.
Penang is full of Chinese temples. One of them claims to be the most famous and charges a bunch of money to get in. The others all seem to look just as good in the pictures that we saw, so here are some free temple pictures of Penang.
The interiors are always impressive, but if you look around, they always seem to be using every extra space as a warehouse for goods. Must be that Chinese entrepreneurship in action.
While visiting the Fort in Penang, we saw this nice kingfisher.
This famous cannon was from around 1600, but sank in the Straits of Malacca and was recovered in the early 1800s. It supposedly floated to the top of the ocean by itself, making it a bit of a celebrity and leading to claims that infertile women could straddle the cannon to make themselves fertile. No women astride it when we visited.
To be completely touristy, we took our picture in the Fort's British costumes. Our official Valentine's Day photo.
We tried to go visit this Chinese mansion in Penang, but they wouldn't let us past the front gate. It is a bed and breakfast, but you have to have reservations to get in the door, so we took a picture and went to eat something instead.
From Penang, we went to visit the Cameron Highlands, famous for producing tea and for being cooler than the rest of Malaysia. Here is the tea on a machine that will finish drying it. Malaysia uses huge machines to harvest the tea, which seems less interesting than the hundreds of Sri Lankans that we saw harvesting by hand.
The Cameron Highlands have butterfly farms everywhere. We were too cheap to go to one, so you get this deadish butterfly that Tara found on the road. You're welcome.
Tara drank her nasty, overpriced cup of tea in this lovely tea plantation.
The Highlands are also famous for strawberries. Because it is a huge domestic and international tourism spot, strawberries cost about $200 a pint to pick. Maybe an exaggeration, but they are substantially more expensive than most places. I was reduced to eating this one that we found along the road. I always say quantity over quality when it comes to food...
That wraps up our time in Malaysia. We recommend a visit to anyone. People are friendly, transport is great, and not that many tourists go there despite a huge tourism marketing effort.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Indonesian Food: The Brightest on Earth?

Indonesia is a big country with many ethnic groups. This equates to lots of different food. We were somewhat disappointed with the food choices when we first arrived, but by the time we had left, we knew how to find the diamonds in the mist. Or something like that. A lot of pictures, so I'll try to keep the commentary brief and funny.

Muslims (ie most of Indonesia) don't eat pork, but Bali is mostly Hindu and loves pork. Here I am with pork sate (spelled satay in Malaysia), and, amazingly, vegetables. That's right--they eat vegetables in Indonesia!
Gad0-gado is peanut sauce with some vegetables on the side. Or at least the peanut sauce is the part worth eating. And the shrimp cracker things, which come with everything in Indonesia.
Oreos that taste like ice cream? What could they mean by "real ice cream flavor"? They mean menthol. Apparently, ice cream tastes like menthol if you are Asian, but they are still good. Also, they are blueberry, and Indonesians would eat poop if you told them that it was blueberry flavored.
Speaking of which, blueberry Fanta is popular and tastes a bit like...fake blueberry. More importantly, they have Speculaas, aka windmill cookies! As far as I can tell, the Dutch left their colonies with two good things: canals for sewage and windmill cookies.
Es teler, which roughly translates as "ice with whatever we have laying around that day" is a tasty treat in which the ice melts in the heat of Indonesia in between five and ten seconds. Some are tastier than others because you never know what they might add. I freaked out a bit when one place added shredded cheddar cheese to the top...
Bintang is the unofficial beer of Indonesia. I suspect it pays enough bribes to keep lax liquor laws in a Muslim country that it would be the official government beer if Muslim countries were allowed to have official beers. Tara says it isn't bad.
On two-for-one special was banana nectar! I love banana nectar (though not as much as peach)! So, I had no choice but to buy two. Sure, they were imported from Austria, but they were cheap and good.
This Indonesia fruit is called salud, and sounds like people are offering you salad. No, I don't want your salad. A type of palm fruit, they feel like scales. Inside are a couple of big pits surrounded by fleshy fruit that tastes a bit like a lychee, but not as juicy. Tara really didn't like them, but she once vomitted lychees for several hours while seasick, so she hates anything remotely like a lychee.
We went to a famous place in Bali that makes suckling pig. The place was crammed full of tourists and locals alike, but the food was not nearly as good as the southern barbecue that we often crave.
And they had this really great pig fountain to boot. Indonesia is the first country since Argentina to have its own brand of knock-off M&Ms. The verdict: Chachas might be better than peanut M&Ms. Long live Chachas!
We splurged on an all duck dinner, paying a whopping $6 each for a half duck. Tara had them fry hers until nothing was left but fry. My grilled duck was really good, though, and I normally don't care much for duck. Except for DuckTales, possibly the best cartoon series ever made.
Sop Ayam means chicken soup. What you get when you ordered it is as varied as what you get when you order chicken soup in the US. They always come with rice, though, unlike soup in the US...
Fried bananas! We first found these in Flores, where we stayed to see the Komodo dragons and dive. They weren't as good as Madagascar fried bananas, the gold standard in fried bananas, but they were cheap and decent and really fried.
Avocado shakes are popular in most of Indonesia, despite the general lack of avocados growing in the country. They always have chocolate syrup in them, which seems weird. I don't really like avocado shakes or chocolate syrup, but Tara loves them enough to keep her from crying when she lost this card game to me.
The drink on the left is this person's version of Es Teler. The one on the right, which looks basically identical in this picture, is actually a coconut drink with huge chunks of young coconut in it. Plus some crazy jelly stuff thrown in for fun.
Mie goreng, or fried noodles, are everywhere. The first time I ordered them, I didn't realize that they are always served with a fried egg or omelette on top. Fortunately, it was as flat and solid as it looks in this picture, so I could lift it right off and display it next to my plate like a piece of art. (For those who aren't regular readers, neither Tara nor I really like eggs by themselves. Yuck, eggs.)
We kept seeing this stuff called Tehbotol, which Tara finally figured out meant "tea bottle". Yeah, seems easy when you read it, but not so easy if you don't have us to tell you. In any case, we saw them everywhere, but hadn't tried them until we made friends with a little old lady at the convenience stand (what a convenience store becomes if it is just a case outside a woman's house) near our hotel in a part of Bali where they never have tourists. She sold us these at what must have been her cost so that we would stay and talk to her. They are a jasmine tea, and pretty good.
Indonesians love donuts. This works well since I also love donuts. Dunkin' Donuts has much better flavors like mango-filled and blueberry. Some of the flavors not pictured, like orange-lychee, turned out not to be as good.
Es buah, which I think means "ice honey", was so bright that this picture was taken in complete darkness with no flash. Or at least it seemed that bright. Each jelly and fruit was a different weird flavor and texture.
Java has what are known as siomay, which are meats covered in gelatinous rice. We didn't know that when we ordered them, and the basic one is fish if you don't upgrade to a real meat. As it turns out, they are gross. We ordered two of them each and managed to eat about a third of one. The greenbean bundles were better. The owner spoke really good English and made fun of us for not liking them.
This looks like tofu or tempeh covered in peanut sauce, but the peanut sauce is all that really matters. Tempeh is really popular in Indonesia, though, and it is better than tofu.
McDonald's in Indonesia (and Malaysia) has flavor burst cones. Very tasty. And for those who are asking how we could eat at McDonald's, we suggest you leave the country for a year and then see if you don't stop for some soft serve.
I have a habit, especially at places selling sweets, of pointing at a bunch of things without asking what they are. In this case, everything looked good and I saw them putting dessicated coconut on all the sweets. But, Indonesians like to fill their sweets with bad, sulphurous flavors. I managed to eat them all, but these were the last sweets I bought on the streets of Indonesia.
On the heels of that, I bought a bag of random fried foods for breakfast the next morning. Thanks to Tara's amazing Indonesian vocabulary of at least ten words, I narrowly missed a brush with a fish filled one. They weren't bad, but most were filled with various pastes and mixtures that I will never be able to identify.
In the supermarket, we found about ten things that looked like what we call Asian pears. Tara loves Asian pears, and they were cheaper than in the US, so she bought one. This one turned out to be a not-too-excellent normal pear. Sad.
Bakso is a soup that has noodles, vegetables, tofu, balls that seem like matzo balls, a wonton, and whatever else they might have available. It turned out to be really good and we had it a few times.
Here is the cart that sells the bakso. They just throw the stuff from the windows into the bowl and add broth from the pot.
Back to McDonald's for a blueberry sundae. They love that blueberry in Indonesia!
More than once, we saw stands selling "Pop Ice". You buy this little pouch of stuff that a woman (selling Pop Ice seems only to be done by women) adds with ice and water to a blender and out pops an amazing milk shake. Or at least the package seems to indicate that. At a festival, we broke down and bought one. It was just okay.
But the stand that sells them looks nice. We got mango, but it was tough to pass on the durian flavor.
Mie ayam means noodle chicken and looks like this. It is available everywhere, and is pretty good. Especially if you are trapped in a little shack selling them during a downpour for about an hour. You'd probably find yourself eating at least a couple of bowls.
What kind of juice does an Indonesian drink? Blueberry, of course. They add additional, fake blueberry flavor, though, because they like fake blueberry a bit more than real blueberry.
Indonesia is a country where the local buses constantly have people coming through selling things. The vendor selling this thing was doing brisk business and I had seen similar grilled rice patties elsewhere and was curious to try them. As it turns out, they taste exactly like they look. Smash some boiled rice together and throw it on the grill for a few minutes. Indonesians love rice almost as much as blueberries, so they go nuts for these things.
We took shared taxis in Sumatra, and one of them stopped at this snack store that had a lot of crazy things. I immediately bought a package of a dozen of these green things based solely on the bright green color. They turned out to be like a tortilla filled with some sweet stuff made from I don't know what. Not terrible.
We discovered soto ayam too late in our trip. A coconut-based broth with noodles and chicken, it is really good. We went back to this restaurant a second time even though it took almost an hour to prepare the food even though we were the only customers.
After seeing Yakult everywhere, Tara finally broke down and bought some. What is Yakult you ask if you aren't married to a yogurt expert or Asian? Yakult is a drinkable yogurt drink that is supposed to be healthy for you and is incredibly popular in much of Asia. It tastes like a lime if you left the lime sitting on your counter for a couple of months and then ate it.
Our guidebook called this the best gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce) in all of Indonesia. The peanut sauce (ie the only part that matters) was really good. Tara insisted that some of the vegetables tasted like cleaning fluid, though.
We bought these giant deep fried leaves immediately when we saw them. The leaves didn't taste like much, so it really just tasted like fried, but look how healthy those leaves look. Try it at home--just grab some leaves, bread, and fry!
We have mentioned durians a few times--they taste like sweet, metallic garlic and many Asians love them. They smell, however, like rotting flesh, so many places ban them. This is from our hotel.
Possibly the most popular drink in Indonesia is called Pocari Sweat. Despite the terrible name, I finally broke down and tried it. If you collected your sweat and added a bit of lemon juice, this is what it would taste like. It was like licking my armpit. Yum.
Well, that wraps up our foods of Indonesia. Sorry for the long post. Now for the summary: Indonesian food isn't that bad, with a few really good items, but it isn't the best. We expect the rest of Southeast Asia to be better.