My Life in France

I just finished reading Julia Child’s highly delicious memoir called “My Life in France”. It is a delightful, enticing read and one you must not miss if you are interested in cooking and all things French.

I picked this book on my first trip to Book Excess in PJ not too long ago. It was either this or Agatha Christie’s memoirs.

Meryl Streep as Julia Child in the movie "Julie & Julia"
Image courtesy of Amazon

I decided to buy and read Julia Child first as I had watched the movie “Julie and Julia” last year, thanks to Vern. In the movie though, it was only Julie’s perspective on Julia so I believed that delving into Julia’s life would be a better way to know the American who had practically revolutionized French cuisine in America, teaching American women how to cook French food without being intimidated or scorned by the snooty, artisanal French.

You must watch the movie if only to marvel at what Julie threw herself into.

Based on a true story, Julie gave herself a challenge of cooking 1 recipe a day from Julia Child’s French cookery book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking and blogging about it – her success, her failure and her life/work as she struggles to do what she believes is the impossible.

Along the way, she learns about who she really is (aren’t all journeys like that? We think we are going on a journey but it is the growth that we are craving). While the movie was superb, I felt there wasn’t much closure in the end as Julia Child did not wish to meet Julie at all. I felt disgruntled by the grand old dame of French cookery. Surely she cannot be so snobbish?!

Anyway, that is possibly the second reason I bought this book. If only to satisfy my curiosity about what sort of woman Julia Child was!

You would think that a woman of such calibre must be quite a force in the kitchen in her early days.

Surprisingly no.

When Julia landed in Paris in 1948 with her utterly charming husband, Paul, she did not speak French and knew nothing about the cuisine. What struck her was her first meal off the ship, at a Michelin-starred restaurant called Restaurant La Couronne where she was introduced to her first French meal of the day, a Sole Meuniere, “a large, flat Dover sole that was perfectly browned in sputtering butter sauce with a sprinkling of chopped parsley on top”. She called it the most exciting meal of her life.

As this book was written together with her grand-nephew, Alex Prud’homme, it sings with Child’s exuberance and love for all things La Belle France.

I was ultimately transported to France from her lively description about food, food preparation, living in Paris and then other places in Europe, learning at L’Ecole du Cordon Bleu, moving from apartment to apartment, collaborating with Simca for 10 years on a 750-page French cookery book, and becoming a TV personality on French cooking when she arrives back in the US in the 1960s… all these are perfectly captured. It helped that Paul, her husband, was an avid photographer and this memoir is filled with beautiful black and white images of Paris and Julia Child of the 1950s.

At times serious (when she realizes she isn’t ever going to be a mother or when she realizes her father never really liked her marrying a non-Republican) and at times playful and irreverently funny, the memoir sings with her personality. (The movie captured rather well too – Julia Child is played by Meryl Streep who really does an incredible job of portraying her to her most eccentric!).

Perhaps what made Julia the queen of French cooking in America is her ability to be honest with herself and adapt to changes as they arrive and take things with a twinkle in her eye and a practical no-nonsense approach to life. Her collaborative effort with Simca, her French counterpart, ran to 750-pages which was of course rejected by her American publisher. Although it was a 10-year effort (in those days, there was no email so she and Simca wrote each other via post to write their book, testing the recipes again and again, figuring out if the ingredients can be found in the US and etc. – I cannot image the detail of the tome), Julia decided she would be practical and trim it down without missing a beat.

When she passed on in 2004, Julia had published 3 books in her lifetime – Volumes 1 and 2 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and From Julia Child’s Kitchen. She did not succumb to the idea of opening her own restaurant although she could’ve because her first love was cooking and sharing this with her audience on TV.

I believe her success was partly due to her husband. Paul supported and indulged his wife’s passion, and his wine hobby spurred her on to pair cuisine with wine. Paul was her confidante and photographer, critic and artistic collaborator. Without him, Julia would have crumbled. With every move, he’d help her set up her kitchen properly so she could quietly test and re-test the recipes she’d learnt.

Reading a memoir is like slipping into someone’s life and home, if only for the briefest moments to experience a world so utterly fascinating and downright pleasing that it leaves me a little breathless. It is a real fantasy (oh what an oxymoron!) that enthralls. I have never been to Paris or even tried my hand at French cooking. But through Julia, I get to see what Paris was like in the years after the war, how inquisitive they are, how madly possessive they are about their cuisine and what lengths they go to for their food.

I leave you with a beautiful quote from the memoir:

“In Paris in the 1950s, I had the supreme good fortune to study with a remarkably able group of chefs. From them I learned why good French food is an art, and why it makes such sublime eating: nothing is too much trouble if it turns out the way it should. Good results require that one take time and care. If one doesn’t use the freshest ingredients or read the whole recipe before starting, and if one rushes through the cooking, the result will be an inferior taste and texture…But a careful approach will result in a magnificent burst of flavor, a thoroughly satisfying meal, perhaps even a life-changing experience. Such was the case with the sole meuniere I ate at La Couronne on my first day in France, in November 1948. It was an epiphany.” (p. 332)

As Julia says at the end of her cooking shows, Bon appetit!

A Little Bit Italian

Everyone loves Italian food.

spaghetti carbonara recipe
spaghetti carbonara recipe

They’re simple food yet tasty to the last bite. But I don’t think cooking spaghetti bolognaise is a quick affair, especially if I want to chop fresh tomatoes and mince some meat for the bolognaise sauce after a long day at the office.

Recently, I came across a quick spaghetti carbonara recipe in an Aussie magazine. Decided to try it out since it didn’t need much time and I had most of the ingredients.

It took all of 20 minutes to cook!

Taste-wise, it was divine. Creamy with just enough sauce to coat each strand of pasta, it had the right balance with the smoky saltiness of streaky bacon. If you want to indulge, get prosciutto ham.

If you like a creamy white sauce pasta without hassle (that is, without stirring carbonara sauce over a stove for the longest time), this is the carbonara recipe to die for. This is the kind of food you want to indulge if you need a carbo refill for energy. (My cousin makes a good carbonara sauce but hers takes sometime to cook so here is my cheat sheet recipe.)

Spaghetti Carbonara
(serves 2 quite amply!)

120 gm pasta of your choice (spaghetti or fettucini)

How to cook pasta:
Bring a vat of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt and a dash of oil. Once boiling, throw in your pasta. Oil helps separate the strands of pasta. Any oil will do (don’t waste your extra virgin olive oil in this please).
Cook until pasta is al-dente (firm but not soggy) which is probably 10 – 12 minutes.
Do not cover pasta pot or your water will boil over. When your pasta is cooking, shift gears to make the carbonara sauce.

For super-quick carbonara sauce:

2 eggs, beaten well
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
5-6 strips streaky bacon, cut into 2 inch strips
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoon butter
chopped parsley for garnishing (I prefer coriander for more oomph)
1 tablespoon chili flakes
salt & pepper
black pepper, freshly ground

1. Mix beaten egg with 1/2 cup parmesan cheese and season with some salt and pepper. Set aside.
2. In a pan, melt butter and saute garlic until fragrant. Add bacon. Fry until bacon starts to get crispy. Turn off fire but let pan (and its contents) remain on the stove.
3. Remove pasta from boiling water. Place into a bowl. Working quickly, combine with beaten egg mixture (see Step 1). Mix well.
4. Pour pasta and egg mix into warm pan (from Step 2). Mix well to combine. The heat from the boiling water and the pan will partially cook the egg. Add in chili flakes, salt, black pepper and remaining parmesan. Dish up and serve warm.

Note: The eggs will coat the pasta and make it lovely and creamy.

Banana Walnut Muffins, Mayakirana Style

If you read this blog, you know I like to bake easy cakes and simple muffins. I don’t fancy long hours in the kitchen, toiling over a hot meal nor do I like spending the whole afternoon making a cake I can eat in a day. There’s just so much of time I could spend on cooking but I’d rather read, you know?

Breakfast can be a bore sometimes with the same-old stuff.

And I like my breakfast to be fast and simple. The best solution to my breakfast woe is to have muffins. I can make them the day before or even many days before (chuck them in the freezer and they last a long time), thaw then warm them up in a toaster oven, eat them plain or with butter and wash them down with a mug of Milo or tea.

banana walnut muffins - healthy breakfast in a jiffy
banana walnut muffins - healthy breakfast in a jiffy

The other criteria is that the muffins must be totally healthy. I can be quite a health freak so if I am making muffins (or cake or whatever) I need my food to be tasty and super-nutritious. My style is to take a basic muffin recipe and modify it to suit my healthy inclinations.

This muffin recipe is a modification from Betty Yew’s banana walnut muffin recipe from an old recipe book I’d xeroxed from my mum a few years ago.

Her recipe calls for 165 gm of sugar but I don’t like too much sweetness in my muffins so I reduce it by 40 gm or so. Plus I add other ingredients such as ground flaxseed, cranberries/blackcurrants/raisins and (very) ripe bananas so they add natural sweetness to the muffins. (You must use ground flaxseed if you want optimum goodness from your flaxseed. If you don’t, you don’t get the omega goodness they supply as their hard outer shells pass through your body and prevent your body from absorbing anything!)

Another reason why I love this muffin recipe is that it is easy! (I know, please don’t get sick of this word. It’s crucial to me. LOL.)

I don’t need to use anything except a whisk. No electric mixer. Muffins are basically putting dry ingredients and wet ingredients together which you then put into muffin cups and bake.

But I’ve tried other previous recipes and most of them turned out hard and dry and crumbly. I want a muffin to taste a bit like cake with a moist crumb. Thankfully I found it in this banana walnut muffin recipe. Eating these muffins make me feel great too as it is chockfull of great, nutritious stuff. Nothing like starting your day with a healthy muffin. None of that supermarket stuff, thank you!

Since everyone who came here loved Nigella’s cupcake recipe as it’s such a tried-and-tested success, here’s Betty Yew’s slightly modified banana walnut muffin recipe.

(Or take a look at my best banana cake recipe if you like. As you can see, I’m a big fan of bananas!. How about a chocolate raisin cake recipe since you’re here?)

Banana Walnut Muffins
Makes 18 muffins

60 ml corn oil
125 gm castor sugar
3 eggs, beaten
4 very ripe bananas, mashed

Sift these ingredients:
125 gm self raising flour
125 gm wholemeal flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
(As you sift, there’ll be lots of brown bits from the wholemeal flour. I usually put them back into the flour once I’ve sifted them. Mix in 3 tbsp ground flaxseed after sifting if you like. This is optional and leaving it out will not affect the taste of your muffins.)

1/2 tsp vanilla essence
60 gm chopped walnuts
60 gm raisins/dried cranberries/blackcurrants
2/3 cup fresh UHT milk

1. Preheat oven to 190 Centigrade.
2. With a whisk, beat corn oil and sugar for approx. 5 minutes.
3. Add eggs and beat again until well-combined.
4. Add mashed bananas and mix well.
5. Add sifted dry ingredients and stir in vanilla essence, walnuts and whatever dried fruit you are using.
6. Slowly add in milk and combine.
7. Fill muffin cup (or greased muffin tray) until two-thirds full. Bake for 25 minutes until done.

Try this and let me know how it turns out!

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Almost Final

After such a wonderful foot massage the night before, I woke up with more energy than the day before! While today would be the day we would leave Hatyai, we had planned for more shopping.

Everyone knows this Hatyai market!
Everyone knows this Hatyai market!

But first, we needed to fill our tummies. The hotel provided free breakfast but the breakfast spread at Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel was nothing to blog about. It was just food to keep one’s tummy from growling. The spread wasn’t extensive and it was hard getting a spoon or even a fork! The guests of the hotel swamped the breakfast area so it was like a free-for-all.

Beautiful Thai crockery
Beautiful Thai crockery

We’d planned to go to the Sunday market to buy edibles. Hatyai is famous for many edibles – fish maw, cashew nuts, dried scallops, dried oysters, Koh Kae brand of flavoured peanuts, seaweed snacks and more. Even the not-so-edible stuff is famous such as Zebra brand stainless steel pots, steamers and such. And then there are the leather and non-leather bags, purses, pouches in addition to clothes and shoes.

Fruits too are aplenty but my Thai aunt told me to be wary of such fruits. Thais, whether knowingly or not, use additives and preservatives to ensure their fruits last longer and look better. At one time, no one bought longans from Thailand because the longan farmers oversprayed their fruit with chemicals! I don’t know if it is ignorance but it is better to be safe.

One of those common sweet snacks you can find is the dodol or durian sweets. They’re chewy and sweet. Great as gifts but really, how many can you eat in one sitting? I’d rather have the real thing!

Pandan flavour and natural flavour durian dodol
Pandan flavour and natural flavour durian dodol

Anyway, Cecilia had popped into a crockery shop to check the price of a steamer she wanted to buy. Saw this cute little pug! I wonder if he is for sale!

Saw this cute pug in a shop selling stainless steelware
Saw this cute pug in a shop selling stainless steelware

The market is the must-go place in Hatyai. It’s typically like our markets in Malaysia except that this one has both food, clothes, bags and shoes. It’s the kind of place you want to go and poke about just because it is so damn interesting. Thai markets are treasure troves. Like I said, most stuff are cheap and kitschy and full of bling. Quality-wise you’d be better off buying elsewhere BUT if you are eyeing food, they do have good things on offer. Why is it that Thais produce better foodstuffs than us? Food like glutionous rice, agar agar powder, even fresh mee and kueh tiaw! I mean you don’t have to look far to know that Thai rice is absolutely fragrant and delicious, even on its own.

This is dried fish maw
This is dried fish maw

Dried seafood is apparently THE thing to buy in this market and its surrounding shops (which do such brisk business that even if you run out of Thai currency, they’d happily take your Malaysian Ringgit). One particular shop directly opposite the market looks like a jewellery store, all painted in yellow with bright yellow lights. But it sells dried seafood like fish maw, scallops and oysters. And it is BUSY!

Everything seems bigger here - look at these dried mushrooms!
Everything seems bigger here - look at these dried mushrooms!

So yes, Hatyai is a tempting little town with lots to buy. For Penangites, it’s a weekend escape for the whole family. Food is perceived to be cheaper and far more delicious, especially Thai tom yam and those “muu” or pork dishes. Hatyai doesn’t make a dent in your pocket and it’s not so far away that you cannot feel at home. Plus the enterprising Thais speak Mandarin and Hokkien fluently these days, apart from Teochew so you won’t even have to learn Thai.

What more can you ask for, in a weekend getaway for shopping-mad Malaysians?

All the edibles you can buy in this Hatyai market
All the edibles you can buy in this Hatyai market

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 3

After a tiring day (we did wake up at 5am in order to get onto the bus for our Hatyai trip), it seemed that everyone would be tired, right?

And this was after an afternoon of wandering about the pseudo floating market in Hatyai.

But the Uncle who was our tour guide decided that we should take in another form of entertainment before we adjourned for dinner near our Lee Gardens Plaza hotel. It was still early and we surely needed something exciting to tell our families about.

He thought we would like the Ice Dome which was really about going into a hall full of ice sculptures. Personally, I don’t like the cold (look, I couldn’t even stand the spring weather of 15C in Hong Kong, ok, what more minus zero!) and secondly, I don’t like wearing jackets which the whole Hatyai town has been wearing.

You see, to bear the cold, you had to wear a loaned jacket from the Ice Dome people.

A few of us declined going into the ice sculpture exhibition and Uncle tour guide thought we were too stingy with our baht.

Pfft! I’d rather spend it on a good foot massage in town that night so Cecilia, me and a few others just sat around the public park when the whole group went into the freezing dome. Give me a museum and I’d be more than happy but an ice dome full of cold sculptures? No way.

Luckily that little detour at the ice dome lasted less than 2 hours and in no time, we were on our way back to town and dinner! I was ravenous and kept thinking about the little shopping adventure I’d have once dinner was done.

Image of roast suckling pig, Thai style

We took up 2 tables at this Chinese restaurant just a few steps away from our hotel. My travel companions took this as a chance to really eat and let their hair down. With Thai beers and some suckling pig (of course with other dishes as well), the ladies literally toasted the town. The 2 male tour guides (one was our Malaysian Uncle and the other was Thai-Chinese tour guide, his counterpart) probably thought we were the best group ever. We didn’t need to be guided. The ladies as I mentioned are old hands in finding their way in Hatyai. They knew this town like the back of their hand!

shopping in hatyai town

Hatyai town is full of cheap, kitschy stuff – the kind we all like once in a while. I’m horrible at bargaining because I always think, “Never mind lah, let the vendor earn a little more.” That’s why I am such a supermarket shopper. Even when I am not shopping at the supermarket!

Huge prawns and chicken pieces - this was a halal stall

Anyway, after dinner, everyone dispersed to do their own thing which was really one thing – SHOPPING! The streets were bursting with people and smells of food and honking tuk-tuks and cars. I decided to go off on my own to check out the night bazaar. We agreed to meet up again for foot reflexology in a few hours’ time.

I’m not crazy about shopping in the regular way so I was just browsing and looking around. If an item caught my eye, I’d look at it closer but here’s the problem with shopping in Hatyai (especially the night bazaars), you cannot try the outfit! You go for a hit or a miss so you better know your size. If you shop in the shopping malls, it’s OK – you can go to the fitting room.

Can you believe the size of these prawns?

Thai clothes vendors on the street are smart. When you sigh about not being able to try the blouse/skirt, they whip out their measuring tape and measure you and pick out the size for you. If it does not fit, they say in Thai-accented English, bring it back the next day (they KNOW you are visiting Hatyai for the weekend). With such low prices, you hem and haw a bit but you know even if it doesn’t fit, it’s OK, you won’t be losing much. It’s just a piece you buy for the heck of it!

shopping and night bazaar in Hatyai

My travel companions shared a tip – when you come to Hatyai, come with an empty bag. You don’t need a change of clothes because you can buy your clothes and wear them immediately. Your bag is going to be full of your shopping items later so save yourself the trouble of bringing clothes! Isn’t it cool or what?

It was almost 11pm when I got back to our hotel room. After a lovely cool shower, I heard a knock on my door. The ladies invited me to go out to get a foot massage. Two of them were already in their PJs but we thought, heck, it’s still early. Getting a Thai foot massage was definitely on my list. In fact I had wanted to engage a masseur to come to my room and give me a body massage.

So 8 of us women literally swamped a tiny reflexology shop (which doubled as a hair salon – don’t ask me why but Thais are damn enterprising) for an hour’s worth of reflexology. After a day of shopping and walking and eating, this was my personal piece of heaven. I’m a veteran at this – wherever I go, I must sample the local massage. It turned out rather good or maybe I was buoyed by my happiness at having bought a beautiful white cotton blouse.

It was almost 1am when we got back to our hotel rooms. Sleeping after a good foot workout was simply divine!

More shopping to come!

The Hip Way To Being Green

I count myself lucky to know Don and Mylene.

Mylene Ooi and Don Theseira of Green Crusaders
Mylene Ooi and Don Theseira of Green Crusaders

It started with someone giving me their phone number a few years ago because I wanted to contact them to give a talk at Mensa Penang.

They invited us to listen to their environment talk at the Pulau Tikus church one morning.

I was totally in awe of the tireless work they do.

They could have been enjoying a happy retirement in their home in Bukit Mertajam but they felt compelled to help the environment by teaching people a cleaner, easier method of recycling household wastes. The method also produces enough money for the local community to donate to their favourite causes or charity homes.

In fact over the past 12 years, they have helped raise over RM50,000 for their local charities. All these from two people who believed that they could. This does not take into account that their method is also helping many companies and hospitals and households in Penang go green easily. (Their method is clever and easy. The usual recycle bin method brings a lot of problems – dirty, smelly and who cleans the bins anyway? Their method makes recycling an accountable and effortless habit.)

Besides going all over Malaysia to give talks, they also teach people how to compost household scraps. Don’s method is the method I am using right now.

And I can vouch that there are no flies, no smells and no stink. What I get is rich compost – so rich that sometimes little seeds start growing right in the compost pots!

Over the past year and a half, Nic and I have thrown out very little rubbish because we recycle anything that can be recycled and we compost our organic food scraps. (I say this before prior to this, we lived high up and didn’t have the space to do all the green and eco-friendly things we wanted to do. Now that we’ve moved to a ground floor apartment with a scrap of backyard, I am now greener!). I save up used cooking oil to give to Mylene each time I see her. She passes it to a contractor who uses this cooking oil to make soap.

Whenever we meet up, we have many stories to exchange, primarily because Don and Mylene give a talk once every two weeks upon invitation from factories, NGOs, hospitals, schools and corporate bodies. They are also a couple who have enough energy to put younger people to shame. It is not easy for a couple in their 60s and 70s going all over Penang and sometimes all the way down to Johor to give free talks.

It is a tireless and oftentimes, a thankless role as environmental ambassadors and green crusaders. I hope I have their enthusiasm and energy when I get to my 60s.

What is not strange is that we love visiting them and each time we do, we have a feast!

Most elderly people will cringe at eating unhealthy stuff but not them. Oh not this feisty Eurasian couple!

Mylene, Don and me at Look Yuen Restaurant, Bukit Mertajam
Mylene, Don and me at Look Yuen Restaurant, Bukit Mertajam

Don loves his ‘too kar’ and so do I. So when we meet up, we go for ‘too kar’ (pig’s trotters) in Nibong Tebal which has a totally sinful version. This time around, we went to Look Yuen Restaurant in Bukit Mertajam for braised pig’s trotters. It was still unbelievably sinful and like chocolate, the gelatinous bits melted right in my mouth!

Besides the main star of the lunch (the trotters), other dishes which were heaven included Nyonya-style prawn sambal with a kick, springy fish ball soup (normally I don’t like fish balls but this was an exception) and stirfried sawi or mustard greens. Before we tucked into our main meal, we ordered 2 rounds of fruit rojak from the stall located just outside the restaurant. Pure yumminess!

Plus Don never says no to chocolate ice cream or chocolate while watching golf on TV.

Now how many senior citizens you know who are so darn cool?

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 2

If you read Part 1, Part 2 is where it gets interesting.

View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel
View of Hatyai town from Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel

We were spending a two-day, one-night weekend in the Lee Gardens Plaza Hotel in the heart of Hatyai town.

It was a clever idea to get this hotel as it was smack dab in the midst of all the activity of the town and surrounded on all sides by malls, shops, restaurants, Western cafes and roadside stalls.

With such a great location, it’s just minutes away from all the shopping and eating we could all indulge in. (Later I found out that these ladies wrangled this hotel at the last minute due to knowing one of the directors of this hotel, who was an ex-student of Han Chiang High School. Normally this hotel is fully booked and packed to the gills with Malaysians.)

In fact, it’s built right on top of a shopping mall. I had a good view of the town from the hotel lobby.

I decided to take a quick nap after we checked in although the ladies decided to succumb to the shopping bug downstairs. I think a bit of shut-eye would make me more alert as I knew we would be staying up late (at least I knew I’d be!).

Around 4.30pm, we were again in our tour bus, shuttled to the Hatyai Floating Market.

A long row of floating sampans
A long row of floating sampans

Now I know and you know that this is really a tourist gimmick. Trust the enterprising Thais to create a way to give tourists something to do and something to eat and something to see. After all, if you really think about it, Hatyai isn’t exactly Disneyland. Spend more than 2 days here and you’d be bored to tears. It’s great for a weekend but anything more is overkill.

Hatyai - straight ahead
Hatyai - straight ahead

It was a bit of a let down because the market vendors had lined up sampans along the embankment of a river and seated all the food business folks into these sampans. It wasn’t as if these sampans were cruising the river and you could stop one to get your food.

Floating market in Hatyai
Floating market in Hatyai

Ah well. Maybe it was just jaded old me.

Colours and smells of the floating market
Colours and smells of the floating market

In typical Thai style, the food was enticing and presented well. Even drinks were sold in cute clay Doraemon mugs you could take home! But like Cecilia noted, who knows if the unglazed clay mugs were washed? They could be dusty and dirty. True.

Your takeaway mug
Your takeaway mug

We decided to just browse around. The rest of the market showed just how creative and enterprising the Thai people really are.

One stall had items such as handbags and cowboy hats made from aluminium or beer cans.

Handmade hats from beer cans
Handmade hats from beer cans

This lady was deftly putting together a cowboy hat made with flattened pieces of aluminium beer cans.

Beer can cowboy hat
Beer can cowboy hat

I also chanced upon fresh tamarind fruits. Tamarind is high in Vitamin C and the fruit is encased in a brown shell which breaks easily. Unlike the tamarind used for cooking, fresh tamarind is sweet and sticky, much like a fresh date.

Fresh tamarind fruit
Fresh tamarind fruit

It was a warm afternoon with the last rays of the sun beating down on us. I decided to quickly walk across a bridge where I soon came upon a stall selling fried bugs and fried worms.

Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks
Fried worms and fried grasshoppers as snacks

Now I’ve seen enough of this on TV and was eager to bite into one. I had to know what the texture of a fried bug would be.

Fried roaches about 2 inches long
Fried roaches about 2 inches long

A number of people gawked at the bugs on the trays, stopping to snap photos but none were buying.

I decided to buy a packet (it was only 20 Baht or RM2). I asked the seller if I could mix 2 types of bugs into my one order. He was too happy to do so. I chose fried worms (looked a bit like the worms you get in pet shops to feed birds) and fried grasshoppers. I figured at least the grasshoppers ate proper green stuff unlike cockroaches, which was also for sale but the cockroach was huge and I didn’t know if I could bite it in half!

To make the bugs more palatable, the seller sprinkled some seasoning with a squirt of soy sauce.

Everyone looked at me, even strangers who were milling about and snapping photos of the bugs. I just speared one with a toothpick and popped one into my mouth. The fried worm tasted like dried prawn or “hae bee” albeit with a softer texture. It wasn’t bad at all.

Next I tried the fried grasshopper, about an inch long. This offered a crunch and it was also rather tasty. No icky taste at all. This could be the start of my love affair with bugs!

As I was happily munching on my bug snacks, Noel and BL were watching me. It looks horrible if you’re not eating it – your imagination powers up your innate fears about worms and creepy crawlies. It’s like Fear Factor – voyeurs tend to be more emotional than the people who eat those taboo things.

I offered Noel and BL some and they sportingly took some, though Noel wanted to have some water ready before he swallowed his fried worm. I told him that it was not fair to swallow it – he had to chew it and taste it.

Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!
Noel took up my challenge - to eat a fried worm!

It was a novelty all right but it was something exciting and fun and it capped the day for me. It was far more exciting than any pseudo floating market.

More to come… shopping on my own in Hatyai’s night market and a late night surprise!

Hatyai With Dancing Ladies, Part 1

It was one of those spontaneous things – I got invited to join a group of line dancing ladies from Han Chiang for a weekend in Hatyai in January (yes this is a very late post but better late than never ya!). Nic was visiting Kuching for the week and I had nothing planned so I thought, what a great idea.

Thailand immigration checkpoint at border before entering Hatyai town
Thailand immigration checkpoint

I was amazed I could wake up that early for our bus ride into Thailand. I hadn’t been to Hatyai in years – not since the last time my uncle and aunt drove us there. I know Hatyai may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I know it’s a fun, kitschy place. It’s all things weird and funky. And did it get funkier as the day went!

thailand border with malaysia
Sawadee kap!

Once we reached the border, it was quite a chaotic jam. As it was a Saturday, lots of cars and tour buses were making their way into Thailand too. Our bus took more than an hour to inch its way toward the border which separates Malaysia from Thailand. Technically, it was just a long gate. Once we passed the gate, everyone got down to clear immigration. We had to get our passports stamped.

Now I don’t know if you know this but apparently, our tour leader had to “visit” the Thai immigration office while we patiently lined up. He was “doing the necessary”. If he did not do the necessary, then the immigration officers might give us hell and slowly take their time. Can anyone confirm this? Apparently it’s an open secret. People just pay and move on. After all, they just want a weekend in Hatyai – so a few ringgit here and there won’t kill anyone.

Braised pork leg Thailand
Star of the meal - braised pork leg Thai style

Our first stop was for lunch (a very early one for Hatyai standards) just a few kilometres after we cleared the Thai immigration. Everyone who visits Thailand has 2 things in mind – food and shopping. Presumably, there’s nothing more delicious than real tongue-searing tomyam soup in Thailand.

Thai people are also big on “muu” or pork dishes so besides the ubiquitous tomyam, we had to order the braised pork leg with its gelatinous skin. The tomyam worked well in creating an appetite and a contrast to the richness of the simmered pork leg, tender in each mouthful.

Once our lunch was done, we trooped into a traditional style biscuit shop a few doors away.

Apparently these travelling companions of mine were old hands at this.

They knew which shop to buy from, which restaurant to eat at.

I marvelled at the way these ladies descended upon the biscuit shop. (It’s a wonderful change for me. Usually I am the holiday planner when Nic and I go travelling. This trip really allowed me to sit back and let others make decisions for a change.)

The biscuit shop had very good business that day!
The biscuit shop had very good business that day!

It wasn’t asking about the biscuits – boy, these ladies knew what they were after.

Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers
Crunchy savoury meat floss crackers

It was just a matter of deciding how much to order!

This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)
This was selling for 35 baht (around RM3.50)

This shop sold kuih kapit with floss filling besides “thnee kuih” and all types of Thai biscuits and delicacies with a crunch.

More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt
More crispy and crunchy stuff to tempt

In the end the ladies ordered tins of kuih kapit. Luckily, our bus was only half full so they could really shop to their hearts’ desire.

Kuih kapit in tins
Kuih kapit in tins

And this was only the first 2 hours outside Hatyai – we hadn’t even reached our hotel yet.

To be continued…. (where I get to the pseudo-floating market and eat a bunch of bugs, much to my friends’ disgust!)

Featured in Guang Ming Daily

Remember that story about Guang Ming wanting to know how I made yogurt at home?

Well, they featured my how-to as well as a tiny picture of me holding a tub of yogurt on 20 March 2011.

[Li Choo, the Guang Ming reporter, recently emailed me the link to the feature on the Guang Ming website. Here’s the link: This online report also includes photos of how I made my yogurt in a step-by-step way.]

It was published about 2 weeks after I gave the photos to the journalist. It was also a day before our trip to Hong Kong which meant if it had been later, I would not have managed to run down to the Indian news vendor to grab a copy. The journalist had SMSed me and told me it was appearing in the Sunday edition – this was a feature you see.

Featured in Guang Ming newspaper 20 March 2011
Featured in Guang Ming newspaper 20 March 2011

The thing is, I am still a newbie at Mandarin so my reading skills aren’t terribly exciting. I can manage roughly to get an idea what the feature said. Hope to get it translated one day by my aunt.

But if you want the English version, you can get the yogurt recipe here – I call it the pictorial guide.

Wandering Jew For Tea

Recently I was given this plant when I went over to visit Mylene.

The wandering jew plant from Mylene - it's medicinal too!
The wandering jew plant from Mylene - it's medicinal too!

It’s become a habit of ours to exchange plants and seeds. She often said that she wished most companies would give her a potted plant as a token of appreciation instead of the usual souvenirs like mugs and engraved plaques. I agree.

At least getting a plant means you get to take a life home.

She told me that this plant could help prevent ailments. Chief among those was cancer. Ooohhh.

I asked her the name of the plant but she didn’t know.

So me being the intrepid and curious sort decided to find out. I happened to have an old book on indoor plants (which I wrangled from my dad years ago – one never knows with parents. They have a propensity of throwing or giving old books away). So I looked it up and figured it’s called Wandering Jew.

The pleasure of living in the 21st century is that ANYTHING can be checked and confirmed online.

So I started browsing some websites and ended up confirming that yes, this is called an Inch Plant, a Wandering Jew plant and Tradescantia zebrina (its proper name).

Close up of the wandering jew plant
Close up of the wandering jew plant

It can be a house plant or grown outside as ground cover but further reading unearthed that if you do plant it as ground cover, beware that it might overtake the entire ground! Yes, this plant may look harmless but it is invasive.

Now I am more interested in this plant as a medicinal herb (yes, this is another addition to my herbal collection which I am growing).

In Chinese, this plant is called Shui Gui Cao (Water Turtle Grass).

Accordingly, it is useful when boiled as a herb tea and drunk to clear the kidneys and for kidney problems.

The first blog link above recommends using 200 gm of the Wandering Jew leaves to be boiled with 15 dried red dates and 12 slices of ginger in a pot of 1.5 liters of water. Simmer for 1.5 hours before adding brown sugar. This tea apparently helps remove toxins from your body.

Mylene said that her friend boils this plant and drinks it for health maintenance. For now, I am contented just having it grow on the balcony. Wait till it grow a little bit bigger before I pluck its leaves for a herbal tisane!

By the way, have you come across this plant?