Wednesday, October 31, 2007

9 hours where???

'Nine hours,' I mused.

What would you do if you had nine hours to spare?
(A) Play Grand Theft Auto until your eyes turn red from the bulging veins;
(B) Read Larousse Gastronomique (all of 1,360 pages) cover to cover;
(C) Sleep; or
(D) Have dinner at Abu Dhabi.

It was a tough decision. Really.

With minutes to spare before the plane landed at the Abu Dhabi airport where nine long transit hours awaited, we were still undecided.

As we stepped into the crowded airport and noticed the number of people sleeping on the floor in the cramped surroundings, the only obvious answer stared us in our faces. We headed for the first exit straight into the blustering heat of Abu Dhabi and hailed a cab.

Nothing prepared us for the heat. It didn't slowly creep up on us, like how it is here in Malaysia. This was more of a guerilla attack - quick and sudden. In less than five seconds, my clothes were drenched.

Nevertheless, our spontaneous attempt at adventure prevented me from dwelling too much on my wet T-shirt look as I drank in the stark scenery en-route to the city.

The breaking of fast had taken place just a few minutes earlier as we exited the airport. It was a heartwarming sight to see groups of people clad in loose robes gathering around huge plates of food. Quiet conversation. An overall atmosphere of thanksgiving as dusk fell on earth.

The handsome Tom Cruise lookalike air steward and transplanted blogger, Kat, had both recommended the Lebanese Flower Restaurant to us, so with only nine hours to spare and no Lonely Planet guide, we took their advice. I threw caution to the wind on Arabian etiquette and walked straight in to the restaurant, hoping that I wasn't breaking any laws (that is, in itself, an indication of what an ignoramus I am).

My ignorance was further amplified when I looked at the menu, having eaten middle eastern food only once before in Al-Nafourah in Le Meridien. Thankfully, there were pictures and an amazingly patient waiter who struggled to explain the various dishes to us.

starter starter

We were given a plate of raw and pickled vegetables which we presumed was the equivalent of getting peanuts at a chinese restaurant prior to the meal. With a squeeze of lemon juice, it was a refreshing start to the meal.


The hummus came complimentary too with a side helping of pita bread. Essentially made of ground chickpeas, the hummus came with olive oil poured in the centre of the "well". I enjoyed swishing pieces of pita bread in the hummus - such a simple dish but oh so satisfying.

falafel with tahina sauce

Little did I know that the next dish would also be made primarily with chickpeas. The falafel is approximately the size of a ping pong ball and is fried until it turns golden brown. The closest Malaysian dish which I think resembles a falafel is the paruppu vadai although that is made with lentils. The texture, however, is somewhat the same. The falafel was served with a tahina sauce - a smooth creamy textured sauce made of sesame seeds.

mixed grill

By this point, I had chickpeas coming out through my nose. So it was a relief to see our main course, a mixed grill dish, arrive. The charred smell of the meat tantalised my nose and cleared it of all the excess chickpeas. There must have been something in the marinade that made the different types of meat taste so wonderful. The good thing is that the meats didn't come masked in sauces, thus enabling us to enjoy the dish for what it was.

escalope cordon bleu meat with chicken

The final dish was a mistake for two reasons. Firstly, we had over ordered, so there was no way we could finish eating this. Secondly, the escalope cordon bleu came with a sauce that screamed commercial tomato ketchup and the thick cut fries served on the side didn't help alleviate my negative reaction.

Emirates Palace

Despite the final dish, we left the restaurant stuffed and contented. With another six hours to go before catching the connecting flight, we whiled away our time seated in the lobby of the luxurious and opulent Emirates Palace. It certainly beats being cooped up in the airport together with 1,000 other passengers. :-)

To the glorious people of Abu Dhabi, click here to view pics. :-)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Bakewell Pudding.....or Kaya Kok?

The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop

It is 1860 in Bakewell, Derbyshire. A visiting nobleman arrives at The White Horse, a local inn. He spots a sullen faced woman yawning at the Reception, and approaches her.

'Harlow. Here got food ah?' he asks.

Mrs. Graves, upset at the rude interruption to her lovely daydream about nasi lemak with sambal sotong and lots of ikan bilis, gives him an irritated look and scurries to the kitchen to check on supplies and emerges with a triumphant look.

'All gone already,' she proclaims. 'Only got strawberry tart. How?'

'Aiyah, strawberry tart only ah?' he sighs.

'Ya lor. Today got Siti Nurhaliza concert, everybody go to JB to see her, so we don't prepare so much food here lor.'


He hesitates. His stomach rumbles. A strawberry tart isn't much of a consolation when one expects to eat mutton peratal.

'Harlow, we don't have all day to decide! You want or not??'

'Okaaaay la,' he says. 'Sure don't have mutton peratal ar?' he continues hopefully.

Mrs. Graves snorts in disgust and yells the order to the cook. 'ONE STRAWBERRY TART. TABLE FOUR!!'

Fifteen long minutes go by.

Bakewell Pudding

'One KAYA KOK!' the cook says as she plonks the pie in front of the hungry nobleman.

'But I order strawberry tart wor,' he says.

'I heard "kaya kok", okay!!!'

The nobleman wonders which part of "strawberry tart" sounds like "kaya kok" and looks to Mrs. Graves, hoping to get some support. But Mrs. Graves is fast asleep, dreaming of curry laksa with plump, juicy kerang.

Bakewell Pudding

He takes a bite of the kaya kok. His eyes widen in delight. 'Mmmmmm, so tasty!!'

The cook looks at him and thinks he's a little crazy. She decides not to tell him that she had forgotten to stir the egg mixture into the pastry for the strawberry tart (which she had heard clearly enough), and in her haste to cover up her error, she had spread it on top of the pastry instead.

'What you call this ar?' he asks. 'Kaya kok?'

'Ya lor. Why? Never heard before izzit?'

'Cheh. Kaya kok sound obscene lah.' he says.

The cook rolls her eyes, ready to dismiss him and return to her reverie beside the fireplace in the kitchen.

'I know,' he exclaims. 'Since we are in Bakewell, we call it the Bakewell Pudding LAH!!'

She walks away, muttering obscenities under her breath.

Bakewell Pudding

The nobleman leaves the inn, happy at his new discovery. The next week, droves of people turn up at the inn to taste the wonderful new dessert called the Bakewell Pudding.



Well, not quite. And whatever happened to Mrs. Graves and the cook? They couldn't handle all the extra workload, so they sold their recipe to one Mrs Wilson who turned it into a million dollar business, and I can assure you that at least Mrs Wilson lived happily ever after! For the version of the story unadulterated with sambal belacan or kari kepala ikan, check out their official website HERE.

The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop,
The Square, Bakewell,
Derbyshire, UK.

Tel:01629 812193

As always, for residents of the glorious nation of UAE who are unable to access my flickr photos, click HERE for pics.

Note: For a quick and easy recipe for kaya (not kaya kok, but hey, half's better than none), check out Argus World.

Ingredients for a good vacation

"What is the key," a little voice whispered in my head, "to a good vacation?"

Peak District

"Teacher, teacher, me me me, teacher! Ummmm....being able to see with your eyes what you could only envision in the past based on documentaries on TV and photographs?" the star student answered.

Certainly, that is a plausible answer.

"Photographs, for sure!"

No, I'm NOT in this pix!!  Bald Eagle and Jason

Hmmmm. Another good point. I view everything through my lenses, even when they are sometimes imaginary. Like when you wake up from a deep slumber, and the first thing you do is move your finger to the bridge of your nose to push up the glasses which you thought were there. Imaginary glasses.





But of course. The excitement of trying new stuff is always great. Like eating blood sausages and haggis. Mmmmmm. And the fruits are wonderful. I tried, for the first time in my life, fresh figs!! There is some imagery attached to figs (no prizes for guessing what), and no, I'm not telling you. I also loved snacking on physalis, a tiny sweet fruit encased in a papery husk.


pigeon ducks sheep

Ferocious British beasts. Let's see. I saw ducks that could waddle on you to death, several pigeons capable of tickling you with their feathers till you're paralised with laughter, and a whole bunch of man-eating sheep. Incidentally, did anyone watch Black Sheep? In comparison, it made Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof highly watchable.

To me, it's all of the above and one more. People. I'd gladly trade a London Musical with the opportunity to spend time with a friend.

Shepherd's Pie

Cheese Platter

Combine a couple of ingredients, and what do you get? (I'm starting to sound like a cooking show....oh, oh, oh, is anyone else besides me hooked on the Asian Food Channel 703??) People who cook for you! Take for instance, cousin Shobi, who insisted on serving us typical British fare, and she came up with a scrumptious Shepherd's Pie garnished with chopped leeks. I was touched that she'd do that for us, despite the fact that she was a vegetarian. What an honour to be invited to dinner at her house in Putney, London, to spend a lovely evening with the family.

pork curry

And then, there's my brother, up in Sheffield, who refused to let me near the kitchen, and whipped up, instead, a delicious pork curry that was not only a welcome sight but which also warmed the tummy. He is fortunate; he possesses a scientific mind, but is more creative than a lot of people I know. Being independent in Sheffield has its plus points. Not being able to taste mum's cooking because of the million miles between the two countries isn't. Ouch.

seared tuna with edamame beans

tolouse sausages with mash

We spent a couple of nights at Msiagirl's beautiful home in picturesque Bath, and we were given the best room in the house where the windows opened out to a view of the entire city built entirely with Bath stone, a limestone that shimmered in shades of gold in the sunlight. And between Msiagirl and her dashing husband, Mr G, they both came up with delicious fare: organic butcher made toulouse sausage casserole in mulled wine with onions, butternut squash and mashed potatoes on the side, seared tuna marinated in soy and wasabe with garlic chilli edamame beans, and tomato and cumin slow cooked organic lamb. Organic food's a big thing in this home, and one can see the effects of consuming such food, judging from the youth and vitality oozing out of their pores. (Can you tell how envious I am?) The food is certainly oceans apart from that described by Fatboybakes. Organic food, I mean. And never leave England till you've tried scones with jam and clotted cream. Absolutely yummy!

scones with clotted cream

I've said this before and I'll say it again. I'm blessed. What did I do to deserve such wonderful people in my life?

For the wonderful people of Abu Dhabi who are unable to view my photos on flickr, click HERE to view pics!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Scones In Ireland and A Little Bit of Heaven


She baked me scones.

Growing up in Klang, we'd meet up in our residential "tamans" and cycle past parks and houses, sometimes accompanied by the neighbourhood dogs that chased us but hardly ever caught up with us as we sped along the tarred and potholed roads. I am not quite sure if we had a mission then, other than the pure bliss of feeling the wind blow against our faces and through our hair. Our skin bore evidence of falls; scars and scratches reminded me of a distant and carefree childhood.

Those tomboyish years didn't prepare me for an adulthood of feminity and grace. But grow up we did.

view outside Wei Sim's farmhouse

She now lives in a farmhouse in Ireland. As we drove along the narrow, single-laned road fringed by tall brambled bushes covered with blackberries, I couldn't help but yearn for the past in my more nimble childhood where I'd maneuver my flimsy bicycle to avoid cycling into shrubs or falling into camouflaged ditches (similar to the brilliantly camouflaged road signs along our legendary Malaysian roads).

She greeted us at the door. "I baked you scones!" she exclaimed with glee.

And this is how it is, isn't it? I am reminded of one of Shakespeare's famous soliloquys in As You Like It:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.....

".....Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow.....

".....And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part......"

We move from stage to stage, and if we're "lucky" enough, we shall see the final stage where we are sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

fish pie

Thankfully, our tastebuds were still intact as Wei Sim cooked us typical Irish stew, fish pie and wonderful salad plucked from her tiny vegetable plot. The freshness of ingredients made all the difference as I relished the earthy taste of the vegetables (and if you know me really well, you will know that I am no fan of vegetables). I also learnt that I had lived in the illusion that Irish stew had to be dark and thick; the typical Irish stew is very much like the Chinese ABC soup - clear and light.


We are truly blessed, not so much for the wonderful food that we got to partake at her home in Ireland, but for being accepted with open arms into her beautiful family and to share in a little bit of her heaven.


NOTE: The little angel in the picture above is only 6 years old, so don't get any funny ideas!!

For the wonderful people in AD who are unable to view photos from flickr, click HERE to view pictures!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Moran's Oyster Cottage at County Galway, Ireland

The Cliffs of Moher on the west coast of Ireland rise over 700 feet with a sheer vertical drop. Now if there is ever a need to switch off your lights in style, this is the place to make that jump. A good time to do it would be at about 6.00 in the evening as one is able to catch the setting sun in all its wondrous glory before meeting your maker.


Cliffs of Moher

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with gold and silver light,

At the Cliffs of Moher

The blue and the dim and the dark clothes
of night and light and the half-light,

cliffs of Moher

I would spread the clothes under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

Cliffs of Moher

I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven by W.B. Yeats (1865-1939)


The air was tense.

"You haven't planned for the Ireland segment yet." It was more of a statement than a question. We were due to fly from London to Dublin the next day.

I merely looked at him miserably and nodded my head. "I thought we could make it an adventure," I whimpered. "We could rent a car and drive around with just a map."

It sounded preposterous at that moment...a mere excuse for failing to make time to plan...but he let it pass.


Without trying to justify my failure to execute my part of the deal with him, I have to say that the week in Ireland reminded us of how our holidays used to be. Not the part about the lack of planning, but the carefree feeling of not really knowing what tomorrow would bring, and the freedom of driving across the country and stopping whenever we felt like it. Thankfully, it wasn't the height of the tourist season, and so we were able to book our accommodation quite easily.

The best thing about a DIY holiday is the freedom to eat at restaurants of our choice. We pored over books and searched the internet for recommended eateries at the cities and towns we were visiting, and it certainly helped that the Blakes were around to give us a helping hand. Several restaurants caught our fancy. One such restaurant was Moran's Oyster Cottage at The Weir, Kilcolgan, County Galway. Dating more than 250 years, Moran's is located at an inlet of Galway Bay and has since expanded its menu to include, in addition to oysters, other types of seafood such as crabs, lobsters and mussels. Apparently (and there was photographic evidence gracing the stone walls of the plainly decorated restaurant), the restaurant has been graced by the likes of famous people such as Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan, Woody Allen and the Emperor and Empress of Japan. Fuiyoh.


Thankfully, prices were reasonable enough to enable us to sample two types of oysters - raw, with a squeeze of lemon......


....and baked oysters with garlic and cheese.

I must say that the oysters were splendid. The Galway Bay oysters were moderate in size, but extremely fresh, plump and a delight to eat. The right combination of fresh water and salt water plus a sufficient amount of plankton creates the wonderful flavour that is associated with these oysters.

Bailey's Cheesecake at Moran's

We couldn't leave without a taste of Bailey's cheesecake. A little bit of intoxication to contend with the glass of guinness, eh?


This is the view outside the cottage. Now this is what I call a holiday. :-)

As the dear Bard said, All's well that ends well, despite my obvious screwup in the planning. I do believe that I've been forgiven. Yes?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Est Est Est, Liverpool, England


Game at Anfield, Liverpool

I learnt a new word.

The Kop Sitting at the Kop end of the Anfield stadium, I am moved to tears as I listen to grown men croon all their favourite tunes, surprisingly in harmony, as they wave their scarves in the air. There is a certain camaraderie amongst these hardcore supporters that move me.

And then the game between Liverpool and Spurs starts. Soon after the 12th minute first goal, I hear gradually ascending sounds around me.

"Fockit!", he mumbles.

Mmmmm. Sounds like some type of British food. Probably in the same genre as Spotted Dick.

"Fockit, lads!!", his voice is filled with frustration, his expression grim.

Aaah. I blush. A little. This is British expletive at its best. Around me, more murmurs of "fockit" are exclaimed.

To think that Liverpool almost lost that game. They made Spurs look good that day. Fockit.


Thankfully, there was reason to cheer that night. Liverpool scored an equaliser at injury time.

Albert Dock, Liverpool

So we got back, changed into fresh clothes, and headed for stunning Albert Dock which houses Tate Liverpool and several other museums as well as some of the nicest (and most expensive) restaurants in Liverpool.

June Bug cocktailEst Est Est, an Italian restaurant, captured our attention almost immediately. Many of the restaurants along the dock were hardly filled, but we were amazed at how crowded Est Est Est was. We didn't make any reservations, so they gave us a little device that would blink like an X'mas decoration when a table was ready for us. We spent the half hour wait at the bar enjoying a jug of June bug - a delightful concoction of banana liquor, Midori, Koko Kano, fresh lemon sours mix and pineapple juice.

We had almost finished the jug when our electronic device blinked furiously, and so we tottered off after the waitress who led us to our table. It was still very crowded; half of Liverpool must have been there that night! And the noise would have made a Chinese restaurant here in Malaysia look tame. Such boisterous conversation all around me. I bet it was all that wine that they were consuming. Loud conversations can mean only one thing - that the patrons were happy. And happy patrons equals great food. Or at least, we hoped!

Baked aubergine mushrooms with italian sausages

Feeling somewhat unsteady at this point, I was quite happy to see my starter arrive soon after we gave our order. My gigantic piece of aubergine baked with tomato and mozarella was enough to fill my stomach and my only complaint was that it lacked salt. But that was easily rectified by sprinkling a little salt on it. Bald Eagle's field mushrooms roasted with italian sausages was a rustic dish that was full of flavour. Certainly a good start to our meal.

pan-fried salmon

The mains took a little longer to arrive, and by this point, I had photographed the olive oil on my table at least 15 times. I didn't despair, though, when the mains were finally set down before us. My pan-fried organic salmon fillet was cooked to perfection! The flesh was moist and not overly flaky and it went wonderfully with the side dish consisting of mashed potatoes which derived its flavouring from the crushed olives and sundried tomatoes - both tart in flavour and contrasting wonderfully with the bland taste of potatoes. I savoured every mouthful with a sigh of contentment.

braised lamb shoulder

Bald Eagle's main was equally good. His slow braised lamb shoulder was extremely tender. This dish was served with grilled polenta, braised vegetables and red wine jus.

Est Est Est
Edward Pavillion, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AF
Tel: 0870 40 12 125

Friday, October 05, 2007

Good Things Come To Those Who Wait *hic*



guinness guinness guinness

Our quest began in London.


For the sake of fulfilling a dream, we took pains to visit the local bars and pubs, mingling with the natives who shared a common interest.


For the sake of research, we drank the dark liquid with most of our meals, taking great pains to examine its complexity and character.


It was hard work.


guinness guinness

Our journey ended in Dublin, Ireland, where we stumbled into the Guinness Brewery, intoxicated with "goodness" and yet thirsting for more. Such was our passion. For the sake of research, of course. *cough*

At the Guinness Storehouse, we discovered (to our great pleasure, of course) that Guinness was often used as an ingredient in Irish cooking. Naturally, we ordered some to be consumed with an exquisite pint of Guinness.

Roast bacon with honey & mustard glaze, Guinness black pudding and mashed potatoes

I've never eaten bacon in any form other than rashers (streaky bacon) or slices of back bacon. So when I was presented with two huge chunks of bacon, one lean and the other a little fatty with a richer flavour, I had a huge grin on my face. The sauce that was slathered on the bacon was a honey and mustard glaze which was creamy with a piquant taste. The black pudding, also known as blood sausages, made of pig's blood and cooked with pig's fat, was cooked with Guinness. The pudding was a little dry in texture and somewhat grainy, but the flavour (no, it didn't taste of fresh blood!), which was like cooked meat, was great.

Toasted cranberry bread with saute beef strips in a Guinness and green peppercorn sauce

Bald Eagle's sautéed beef strips were served with a green peppercorn sauce cooked with Guinness and served on a slice of toasted cranberry bread.

To sample dishes flavoured with Guinness, visit:

St James's Gate
Dublin 8

Tel: + 353 1 408 4800
Fax: + 353 1 408 4965