July 19th, 2012 § § permalink
When I told friends that I’d be traveling to Japan last month, the first or, depending on the person’s love of manga, Godzilla movies or Hello Kitty, second thing mentioned was sushi. Eyes lit up with thoughts of velvety, coral-colored toro blanketing perfectly made beds of vinegared white rice. Although I love sushi, I had a different culinary mission for Japan. As soon as the plane touched down in Tokyo, I went on a hunt for soba.
The name for the thin, grayish-tan noodles as well as the buckwheat flour from which they’re made, soba has long been a favorite food. It has a warm, earthy flavor, nutty aroma and firm texture that I adore. I likewise appreciate that it can be eaten hot or cold, with or without stocks or sauces and on its own or with meats, herbs and/or vegetables atop it. Plus, it’s loaded with nutrients and a decent source of vitamins B, C and E and protein. What’s not to love?
Once in Japan, I didn’t have to look long or hard for my quarry. Consumed since ancient times, soba is especially popular in the country’s northeast region, which includes Tokyo. It’s a food consumed not only in every day life but also on special occasions such as New Year’s Eve and when meeting new neighbors. The long noodles are said to represent long, happy lives and relationships.
I had my first taste of Japanese soba at Meigetsuan Tanakaya in the Ginza district of Tokyo. There I ordered mori soba; these are plain, cold noodles accompanied by a dipping sauce. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure what I’d requested for the servers didn’t speak English and my grasp of Japanese didn’t extend beyond “Konnichiwa. Soba. Domo arigato” or “Good afternoon. Soba. Thank you very much.” Nonetheless, I was thrilled by my simple, healthful and tasty lunch. I was likewise delighted by my view. Seated at a wooden counter, overlooking the kitchen, I watched the chefs cut, cook and plate the delicate noodles as I stuffed myself with them.
My soba quest didn’t end at Meigetsuan Tanakaya or in Tokyo. In Kyoto I wolfed down kake soba. This hot dish features scallions, chilies, cubed tofu and nutty noodles floating in warm dashi stock. I also tried tempura shrimp, carrots and zucchini blossoms served over cold soba. At Arashiyama Yoshimura near the base of Mount Arashiyama I had a spectacular cold vegetable soba. Featuring enokitake mushrooms, shredded nori and carrots, sliced scallions and okra, and sprouts, this repast tasted as sumptuous as it looked.
Because I am so infatuated with these noodles, I’ll continue the discussion next week with steps on how to make soba from scratch. Until then . . .
COLD SOBA W/ PETITE PEAS
If you don’t love peas, serve the noodles on their own with the scallions and sauce.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound dried soba noodles
10 ounces frozen baby/petite peas
2 scallions, whites and 1-inch of greens thinly sliced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
Cook the soba according to the package’s instructions. Drain and plunge the noodles into a bowl of ice water to stop from further cooking.
As the soba is cooking, boil the peas until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes.
In a small bowl mix together the scallions, ginger, vinegar, soy sauce, honey and oil.
Drain the noodles. Place the noodles and peas in a serving bowl, pour the sauce over the top and toss to combine.
March 15th, 2012 § § permalink
Maybe it’s the water from the River Liffey or the way that Irish bartenders pour their stouts. Whatever the reason I have become one of those curmudgeons who grumbles that Guinness tastes best in Ireland.
When I’m in Ireland, I’ll down pint after pint of this smooth, dry brew. Hardly unusual—one out of every two pints consumed in Ireland reputedly is a Guinness. Yet, when I’m back at home, I’m more apt to empty it into a pot and cook with it than I am to drink this Irish beer. Drained from a bottle on American soil, it just doesn’t provide me with that wonderful richness and effervescence of the Irish original.
Because my friends are generous and unaware of my finickiness, I have received many, many 6-packs as well as the occasional case of Guinness. Remember 2009, when the 250-year anniversary stout was released? That was a banner year for beer-based dishes.
What do I make with all that booze? Well, after sampling a bottle and confirming that I’m still a major fusspot, I use it to create sauces, stews and fondues. I also steam mussels and clams in it. I might mix it with lemonade for a shandy. Replace the lemonade with champagne and I’ve got a decadent Black Velvet.
One of my favorite ways to use Guinness is in a cake from Nigella Lawson’s Feast cookbook. I make her chocolate Guinness cake for St. Paddy’s Day and any other time when I have an extra bottle of stout in the house.
CHOCOLATE GUINNESS CAKE
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s “Feast” (Hyperion, 2004)
Serves 8 to 12
for the cake:
1 cup Guinness
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 cups superfine sugar
3/4 cup light sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
for the icing:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus more as needed
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Butter and line a 9-inch springform pan.
Place the Guinness and butter in a large saucepan and heat on medium until the butter has melted. At this point whisk in the cocoa and sugar.
In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla. Add 1/3 cup of the beer mixture to the eggs. Stir together and then pour the eggy mix into the saucepan, stirring to combine. Add the flour and baking soda to the pan and whisk until blended.
Pour the batter into the greased pan. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place the cake on a cooling rack and cool completely before removing from the pan.
Using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Sift in the confectioner’s sugar and beat again until combined. At this point the icing will be extremely thick and stiff. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the icing and beat again. If the icing still seems too thick, add a little extra cream to make it spreadable.
Remove the cake from the pan and place on a large plate or cake stand. Spread the icing over the top of the cake so that it resembles the frothy head on a pint of Guinness. Serve with Irish coffee.
December 29th, 2011 § § permalink
At a recent holiday party I got pulled into a conversation about why Belgium is such a fantastic country to visit. According to the Belgium buffs, it possesses everything that anyone could ever desire — quaint cities, beautiful architecture, first rate art, few tourists and loads of excellent food including Trappist beer, fries, mussels and chocolates.
While I wouldn’t rank Belgium as my top vacation spot, I do enjoy much that this historic land and the headquarters of the European Union has to offer. Of course, I love the aforementioned art and architecture. I likewise adore the world class chocolates and beer. What sells me on Belgium, though, is its waffles.
Sold throughout the country in cafes and on street corners, waffles are believed to be a spin-off of the medieval Flemish wafer. Like their small and crisp predecessor, these honeycombed cakes are cooked between two greased, patterned, metal plates.
Originally, folks pulled out their waffle irons only on special occasions. In fact, during the Middle Ages parents of a newborn girl would often receive an engraved one as a gift. It was expected that the daughter would take this press with her when she married and left home. Although still just as celebrated, today waffles irons are bestowed and waffles are consumed at any time or occasion.
Belgium produces two distinct types of waffles — Brussels and Liege. Rectangular in shape and airy in texture, the Brussels version is what Americans refer to as a Belgian waffle. Unlike in America, where this waffle is drenched in maple syrup, in Belgium it gets dusted with a thin layer of confectioner’s sugar.
If given a choice, I make a beeline for Liege waffles. Hailing from the French-speaking city of Liege, these waffles are denser, sweeter and more filling than their Brussels counterpart. Chow down on one of these and you’ll feel as though you’ve consumed an entire meal. Truthfully, when I’m in Belgium, a warm and sugary Liege waffle often is my meal.
Liege waffles get their heartiness from their thick, brioche-like dough. The dough itself is studded with pearl sugar, which caramelizes as the waffle cooks. The result? One of the most divine sweets that I’ve ever eaten.
SUGAR WAFFLES FROM LIEGE
From Ruth Van Waerebeek’s Everybody Eats Well in Belgium Cookbook (Workman, 1996)
Makes 10 waffles.
Note: You’ll need to create two separate batters for these waffles.
For batter 1:
1 1/4 ounces fresh cake yeast or 2 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup milk, warmed
For batter 2:
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 cup pearl sugar or 3/4 cup crushed sugar cubes
To prepare batter 1, dissolve the yeast in a small bowl with warm water and 1 tablespoon flour and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes until foamy.
Sift the remaining flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture, egg and milk. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a smooth batter. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until the batter has doubled or tripled in volume.
Meanwhile, for batter 2, mix the butter, flour, salt, vanilla, baking powder, optional cinnamon, granulated sugar and pearl sugar into a paste.
Using your hands, work batter 2 into batter 1 until well mixed. Shape the dough into 10 balls approximately 2 1/2 to 3 ounces each. Flatten each ball into a disk and dust lightly with flour.
Bake the disks in a medium-hot waffle iron. Don’t let the iron become too hot or the sugar will burn. Bake until the waffles are golden brown but still slightly soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve lukewarm or cooled to room temperature on a rack.
March 3rd, 2011 § § permalink
For me Vietnam has never meant cuisine. Born toward the end of the Vietnam – or, as they call it in Vietnam, “the American” – War, I’ve long been fascinated by that war and this Indochinese country. The food? It just didn’t captivate me the same way that the history and culture did. Yet, the more time I spend here, the more I grow to appreciate the background, flavors and techniques of Vietnamese cooking.
Eat in Vietnam and you eat with my nemesis, chopsticks. I have 1,000 years of Chinese occupation to thank for the popularity of these tricky utensils. Along with chopsticks the Chinese also introduced rice cultivation, stir-frying, beef and bean curd to the Vietnamese. Without their influence there would be no pho (rice noodle soup), congee (creamy rice soup), banh cuon (rice rolls) or stir fried meals of any kind. Guess I can forgive them for the chopsticks.
China wasn’t the only country to have an impact on Vietnamese cooking. Nearly a century of French rule resulted in affinities for beer, baguettes, cafe au lait, ice cream, soup stocks and wine. France also brought such crops as corn and tomatoes to the country. Through their efforts I can enjoy a grilled ear of corn, tomato-baguette sandwich, chocolate ice cream or cold beer on virtually any street corner in the country.
Although China, France and neighbors such as Thailand have left an imprint on the cuisine, the food here is still unique. Whether I’m dousing rice with the pungent fish sauce known as nuoc mam or nibbling on the prawn-on-sugar-cane-stick speciality chao tom, I know that I must be eating in Vietnam.
On this trip I’ve had the great fortune of dining in locals’ homes. There’s nothing quite like home cooking. A home cooked meal in another country is all the more special. I love that I’m eating just like the locals do, not like how tourist restaurants and hotels want me to believe that folks eat. Plus, I’m breaking bread with families, sharing in their daily rituals and celebrating their fresh, flavorful cuisine.
What have I been consuming? Relatives of my husband’s step-father have rolled out the red carpet, chilling and cracking open home-grown coconuts to drink and cooking elaborate meals for us to eat. Pork and/or vegetable stir fries, vegetarian spring rolls, chicken congee, banana salad and basil-chicken salad are among the many delicacies. These invariably are accompanied by steamed rice, soy sauce and a simple dressing made from salt, ground black pepper and lemon juice.
What I enjoy most, though, is all of the exotic fruit in Vietnam. Sometimes it’s a banana, mango or longan fruit plucked from a backyard tree. Other times it’s slices of cinnamon and ginger-laced jackfruit or a tartly sweet mangosteen bought at a market. Pineapples, papayas, pomelos and lychees likewise hit the spot on these hot, humid days.
February 26th, 2011 § § permalink
Although I’ve been in Vietnam less than a week, already I’m addicted to market shopping. Found in every city and town, the cho, or market, serves as a one-stop shopping spot for the locals and for me. Forget Western-style grocery stores, which you won’t find anyhow. If you need a new shirt, frying pan, necklace, pound of onions or fresh shrimp, just drop by the local market.
In Ho Chi Minh City I’ve spent hours at the Ben Thanh Market. Built by the French in 1914, this enclosed shopping mall was originally called Les Halles Central. If you’re familiar with Paris or French history, you might recognize the name for Paris also had a Les Halles or “central market halls.” With over 100 vendors in place Ben Thanh is unquestionably the main market hall for HCMC.
What have I found at Ben Thanh? Chopsticks. Chinese-style dresses. Quirky t-shirts. Men’s polos. Silk purses and cellphone holders. Coffee, tea and spices. And that’s just the some of the dried goods, textiles and general merchandise. If so inclined, I could pick up dragon or durian fruit, blue potatoes and even livestock. Highly unlikely that I’d crave a whole, live chicken but, if I developed some strange hankering for one, I could get it here.
Similar to Western shopping malls, markets offer cooked as well as fresh food. When hungry, I can grab a stool at one of the many makeshift cafes and enjoy a bowl of pho (noodle soup) or plate of stir-fried veggies. I can also just buy a bunch of bananas or dried fruit and snack as I browse.
I’d say that all Vietnamese markets are the same but that wouldn’t be true. Traveling south through the Mekong Delta, I experienced a vastly different marketplace in Can Tho. Situated on the Mekong and Can Tho Rivers, this large city is home to a series of floating markets. Vendors literally drop anchor in the Can Tho River and sell their wares from their boats. To see what each vendor has to offer, glance up at the pole on the front of the boat. Dangling from it will be squash, tomatoes, sugar cane and the like. Whatever their speciality is, it will be displayed prominently on this post.
To browse the floating markets, I hopped on a water taxi in Can Tho and puttered downstream to the Cai Rang market. Once there, the taxi cruised around the large boats, stopping whenever I or other passengers wanted to buy something. Smaller vessels paddled up to us and plied us with watermelons, pineapples, cold sodas and beer. Who knew that grocery shopping could be so fascinating?
For lodging in Ho Chi Mihn City, consider the upscale Legend Hotel or mid-range Bong Sen Hotel. Both are within walking distance to Ben Thanh Market.
To pick up a water taxi for the floating markets, head to the Ninh Kiều pier in Can Tho. This is where the majority of boats for the markets are located. The cost should be about $3/hour.
April 15th, 2010 § § permalink
Among all the places that I’ve visited Portugal may become one of my favorites. Along with an abundance of pleasant weather, charming people, beautiful sites, relaxed atmosphere and efficient infrastructure, the Iberian country boasted of some of the freshest cuisine that I’ve found.
In Lisbon Sean and I roamed the cobblestone streets, nibbling on warm pasteis de natas, the custard cream tarts discussed in a previous entry. While bakeries have become a rarity in the States, in Lisbon they appeared on virtually every street corner. In addition to the luscious de natas these shops offered such delicacies as egg-topped Easter loaves, powdered sugar-dusted coconut puffs, almond cookies, honey cakes, crusty breads and small cups of strong coffee or uma bica. Needless to say, he and I both suffered from a major case of bakery envy.
Since we spent much of our time along the coast, we often dined on simply prepared, local seafood such as tuna, mullet, clams, barnacles and bass. Sardines popped up not only in restaurants but also along the beaches, where they were split, placed on wire racks and dried in the sun. While dried sardines didn’t strike my fancy, I did appreciate having them grilled and served alongside a salad of chopped tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers or sauteed greens.
A dried fish that did intrigue me was bacalhau or dried, salted cod. A national favorite, bacalhau must be soaked in water for several days so that it plumps up and loses some of its intense saltiness. Not that this fish won’t seem salty to the uninitiated. Still, most will find it delicious.
In the northern coastal city of Porto Sean and I indulged in the drink for which Portugal and Porto are famous, port wine. Fortified with brandy, this sweet, rich red wine brought a pleasant conclusion to our evening meals. It was dessert with a soothing after effect.
As elsewhere in Portugal, we weren’t far from our food and beverage sources in Porto. Made in the Douro Valley, port wine is blended and aged directly across from Porto, in the lodges of Vila Nova de Gaia. These riverside lodges sample and sell their world-famous ports seven days per week. Needless to say, our visit to Porto included a stroll to and through the lodges.
The Portuguese specialties didn’t end here. Lively yet inexpensive wines, flavorful goat’s and ewe’s milk cheeses, vibrant soups, hearty breads and succulent salt-baked fish all enhanced our time in this lovely land. Great food. Great trip. I cannot wait to return and see — and eat — more of Portugal.
March 18th, 2010 § § permalink
I spent much of last week in Dallas so the obvious choice would be to write about Tex Mex food. Yet, as I quickly learned, there’s more to Texas cuisine than chilies and guacamole. For instance, there is beer. No, I don’t mean the obvious, South-of-the-Border choices such as Corona or Dos Equis but rather all the other fine brews found on tap there.
Want an American craft beer such as Ommegang‘s Three Philosophers or Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA? How about an Italian Peroni, English Young’s Double Chocolate Stout or a Belgian Maredsous, Leffe Blonde or Chimay? I could enjoy them all and many more at the lively Old Monk and The Ginger Man.
Drinking all these heady lagers and ales made me think, unsurprisingly, about food and how infrequently I use beer when cooking. Sure, every now and then I pull together a tasty Guinness- or Victory Lager-based cheese fondue. Still, I’ve not spent enough time tinkering in the kitchen and seeing what other recipes can benefit from a bottle of good beer.
Thanks to adventurous friends and restaurants, I do know the pleasures of shellfish cooked in this liquid. Mussels, clams and shrimp all perk up when steamed or sauteed in beer. Pair them with an IPA and molasses barbecue sauce and you’ve got a lip-smacking, finger-licking meal.
Fish not your favorite? Braise pork, sausage, beef or chicken in a pilsner. Use stout as the stock for an incredibly rich chili or beef or vegetable stew. Bake bread from an ale-based batter or cake from a porter-chocolate mix. If all else fails, fire up the barbecue and grill some succulent beer can chicken. The options are endless.
Likewise limitless are the number of books devoted to this subject. When searching for a quality beer cookbook, avoid those with recipes that don’t differentiate between varieties — i.e. “12 ounces of beer” versus “12 ounces of stout, pale ale . . ..” Contrary to the generic instructions, the brew that you choose will greatly influence how your dish tastes.
Until I have more time to experiment and test other beer-infused offerings, I’ll pass along a tried and true recipe for cheese fondue. Needless to say, it goes well with an iced cold beer or two.
VICTORY LAGER CHEESE FONDUE
Serves 2 to 3
3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
juice of a lemon
8 ounces Victory Lager or any well-balanced, German-style lager
2 cups Grueyere cheese, shredded
2 cups Emmental cheese, shredded
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
dash ground white pepper
1 baguette, cut into cubes
Special equipment: Fondue pot and fondue forks or long, wooden or bamboo skewers
Place the apple slices in a bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them to stop them from browning.
Pour the beer into a fondue pot and bring the liquid to a simmer over moderate heat. Gradually add the cheese to the pot and stir so that the cheese melts evenly. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes until cheese is completely melted and the liquid is creamy. Add the nutmeg and pepper and stir to combine.
Place the bread cubes in a separate bowl. Serve them, along with the apple slices, for dipping.
September 2nd, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
As a fan of Indian food, I was bowled over by the delectability of Northern Indian cooking. Fresh, flavorful produce, heady spices and sweet, locally grown rice all played starring roles in this region’s cuisine. Likewise chicken, lamb, and fish made frequent appearances in non-vegetarian dishes while legumes and nuts dominated the vegetarian fare. Almost every street cart and restaurant menu featured flat breads such as unleavened chapathi and leavened naan and filled pastries such as the crisp, conical samosa.
Foods that I consistently encountered at home turned out to be staples of Northern Indian diets, too. Pureed mint-coriander, chopped mango and piquant sweet pickle chutneys appeared at the start of every meal. Coupled with the chutneys were crunchy, wafer-like papadums, another regular from my U.S. Indian dining experiences. Even the national dish of Britain, chicken tikka masala, occasionally popped up on menus. Originating in the UK, this imported entree emphasized such traditional ingredients as garam masala, turmeric, yogurt, ginger, coriander, tomatoes and, of course, chicken.
Along with the usual items were the slightly unusual. One such curious dish was tandoori aloo. This vegetarian delight consisted of skinned and hollowed out potatoes stuffed with a combination of mashed potatoes, raisins, cashews, coriander and green chilies. Once filled, the potatoes were sealed, skewered and roasted in a tandoori oven. A bar snack that particularly piqued my interest was the puffed lotus seed or makhana. Puffed just like popcorn, these substantial, salty nubs proved the perfect partners for a cold Kingfisher lager or chilled glass of chardonnay from the India’s own Sula vineyards.
My favorite dish inevitably had “dal” somewhere in its name. From the famed Bukhara restaurant in New Delhi came the eponymous “Dal Bukhara.” Consisting of a rich blend of black lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, this fragrant dish was simmered over a charcoal fire and then dressed with a dollop of cream and unsalted butter. At Niros in Jaipur Dal Peshawari contained whole yellow lentils, chopped onions, tomatoes and fresh coriander. Served with a side of fluffy basmati rice, Dal Peshawari made my night. In Agra at the Bellevue and its sister restaurant Esphahan I had the best dal dinner of the trip, Dal Tadka. Similar to the dal at Niros, Dal Tadka included yellow lentils, tomatoes, onions and fresh coriander. Chopped ginger, green and red chilies, cumin, tumeric, lemon juice and chili powder gave this dal a dash of excitement and complexity not found in the other dishes.
Back at home I struggle to find food as enticing as what I ate in Northern India. Here the dals seem watery, the naan leathery and the chutneys stale. With little hope of recapturing that culinary magic in an American-based restaurant, I’ll steer clear of those disappointing experiences for a little while. Instead I’ll try to master my all time favorite meal, dal tadka.
DAL TADKA – Courtesy of Narayan Rao, executive chef at The Oberoi Amarvilas in Agra, India
1/2 cup yellow lentils
1 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon black mustard seeds (my addition)
3 tablespoons onion, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon green chili pepper, chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon red chili powder
handful fresh coriander, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 whole red chili, optional
In a sauce pan bring the yellow lentils, turmeric, salt and 3 cups of water to a boil. Skim the foam off the top, cover the pan with a lid and simmer over medium-low for roughly 1 hour. When finished, the lentils will be soft and broken down. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
In a medium sauté pan heat the oil. Add the cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, chopped onion, ginger, and green chilies. Saute until the onion browns and then add the tomato and sauté it for 1 minute. Add the red chili powder and boiled lentils to the cooked onion-tomato (masala) mixture. Check and adjust the seasonings as needed. Finish the dish with chopped coriander, fresh lemon juice and optional whole red chili. Serve with a side of basmati rice.
August 27th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
After two weeks in India Sean and I craved a break from the terrifying traffic, 100+ degree heat and constant crush of peddlers, beggars and people on the streets. We found respite not at an ashram, on the beach or even in the Himalayas. Instead we ended up decompressing in a completely different country, Malaysia.
A brief work assignment had brought us to the ultra modern and immaculate capital Kuala Lumpur. Although I had been skeptical about the destination — I had hoped to make it not to Southeast Asia but to Nepal on this journey — this city of two million won my heart. With its law-abiding drivers, 90-degree weather and subdued pedestrians KL was a godsend.
On our first day we went to the Perdana Lake Garden. Number of Malays who accosted us on our 15-minute walk to the public park? Zero! Number of times that we jumped out of the path of a deranged driver barreling down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic? Nil!
Inside the tranquil garden we followed a well-marked, paved path to the KL Bird Park. The world’s largest free flight, walk-in aviary, the KL Bird Park housed over 5,000 birds and 50 different species. Ninety percent were indigenous to Malaysia.
High points of the KL Bird Park? Taking photos of the petite, plump conures and surreal hornbills. Watching Sean feed the lories. Watching a staff person feed fish to the yellow-billed storks. Sitting down at a cafe table and eating ice cream bars in the quiet park. Such a pleasant place!
More bustling but no less fun was the night market on Petaling Street. To reach the open air market, we took the subway to Chinatown and walked one block to the crowded, pedestrian-only area. There we found endless aisles of produce vendors, coffee roasters, clothing salesmen, tchotchke shops and Southeast Asian restaurants. Anything that you could possibly want, including exotic fruits, knock-off Fendi purses and miniature replicas of the Petronas Twin Towers, you could buy at the night market.
We couldn’t visit Kuala Lumpur without seeing the city’s most famous site, the Petronas Twin Towers. Until the Tapei 101 usurped them, the 88-story Petronas Towers were the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Although they’ve lost that title, they still remain the tallest twin towers in existence.
Our first glimpse came courtesy of the KL Tower, the world’s 4th tallest communications tower. From the KL Tower’s observation deck we could take in all of Kuala Lumper, including the nearby Petronas Twin Towers. Our next peek was from a cab during a storm. Tired of all the teasers, we finally took the subway to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) and went into the Towers. As visitors can only travel to the skybridge on the 41st floor and as the Skybridge had reached its limit of visitors for the day, we stuck to the 6-level Suria KLCC shopping mall. Air conditioning, cafes, high-end stores – the Suria KLCC in the Twin Towers had it all.
Other great sites and aspects of KL? The Menara Kuala Lumpur or KL Tower was a neat spot. Situated high on a hill, it appeared taller the the Petronas Towers although, in reality, it’s not. Likewise, we relished the light, delicious cuisine, the iced beverages, clean and efficient railway system and slower pace of Malaysia. Granted, it’s not perfect — take a look at the headlines about the caning of a female, Muslim tourist or the country’s political woes — but for us a few peaceful days in Kuala Lumpur was exactly what we needed.
August 20th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Jaipur. The city of 1,001 sites. Because Sean and I ended up here in the middle of August, when temperatures topped 100+, we tried not to cram too much sightseeing into one day. Even so, we managed to hit all the must-see spots and not keel over from sunstroke. (Lugging around bottled water and wearing light clothing did help but not that much.)
Below are a few of our favorite historical sites in Jaipur. All are on the “tourist trail” so be prepared for the multitude of male guides waiting at the entrance gates. In some instances having a guide will benefit you but often you will learn just as much by reading the signs posted around the various objects.
Jantar Mahar – Constructed in 1728 by Jai Singh, this outdoor observatory possesses a vast assortment of over-sized astronomical instruments and the world’s largest sundial. Named Brihat Samrat Yantra or “the King of the Instruments,” the sundial is truly a regal sight.
Amber Fort – This 11th century fortified palace lies 11 kilometers northeast of Jaipur. Situated on a rocky mountainside, Amber (pronounced “Amer”) has magnificent apartments, courtyards, public halls and a small temple. Definitely a top tourist attraction.
Jaigarh Fort – One of three forts outside of Jaipur, this 18th century fort has the unique distinction of never being captured. Beyond this unusual aspect Jaigarh boasts of water reservoirs, residential areas, the world’s largest wheeled canon and spectacular views of the Amber Fort and Jaipur below.
Nahargarh Fort – Built in 1734 by Jai Singh, the Nahargarh or “Tiger” Fort displays a lovely assortment of painted apartments and a labyrinth of corridors leading to and from them. It also provides good, albeit hazy, views of Jaipur.
Galta – Known as “The Monkey Temple,” this collection of 250-year-old temples is nestled in the rocky cliff on the outskirts of Jaipur. Two large tanks of spring-fed water draw both the devout and roughly 5,000 monkeys to this site. At Galta they worship, cleanse themselves and, in the case of the monkeys, splash about and beg for snacks.
City Palace – Another Jai Singh creation, City Palace consists of courtyards, gardens, public halls and other buildings exhibiting a successful blend of Mughal and Rajasthani architecture. Today, as in the past, the raj (or king) of Jaipur resides here.
Birla Lakshmi Narayan Temple – Erected by a wealthy industrial, this marble Hindu temple sits at the foot of the Moti Dungri Fort. The intricate carvings and stained glass windows depict events in Hindu scripture. Beautiful!