be like a local { EATwithlocals }

5:00 AM sians 1 Comments

my travels have almost always been food-centric

lemme count the ways: 
o1. take my summer trip to tokyo in 2o12 as an example. the base foundation of my itinerary began with a list of food places that i was dying to try before i added in the tourist-y things to do to fill in the gap.
o2. the subject of about 70% of the photos on my camera is food or food related. 
o3. on top of that, if i have learnt anything from my last trip to krabi (sadly, it was lacklustre in the food department), it would be that restaurant research before the trip is always a must-have.
o4. it has always been my mission to experience and taste authentic dishes in the region as i hunt for the most delicious of the most delicious :) 

in short: eat what and where the locals eat..
and most likely, it would be off the beaten track......

.....that is, i can find these best kept food secrets on my own.

fortunately for us, technology has made this into reality, shrinking the world into a world without borders. the best part is withlocals is the platform for just that --  the perfect collaborative site to connect locals from many asian countries (available in malaysia, singapore, thailand, vietnam, to name a few) with travelers from all over the world through food and experiences via EAT, TOUR or ACTIVITIES withlocals, either as the guest or the host. 

hosts, you get to earn some extra cash while showing off your culinary prowess or sharing your favorite hidden locales in the neighborhood.

guests, you get to see the city through the eyes of locals while learning its beautiful culture and tasting delicacies. the best part is you get to pick your host and desired experience offered (with a price tag, of course) that suits your budget and tickles your fancy then save the date via the website for a reservation fee payable via paypal.

my love for food led me to an EATwithlocals experience with st low, who promised an authentic penang nyonya dinner at her home. she has received several rave reviews for her delectable, classic interpretation of northern nyonya cuisine.. plus, anything penang pretty much always gets additional brownie points! i couldn't wait to taste what she had to offer.

my excitement was obvious when {mh} and i were at her home slightly too early. even so, her warm family and friends being such gracious hosts, welcomed us with open arms even as they were putting some finishing touches on the appetizers. a cozy and comfortable setting, i instantly felt at ease and at home :) we were given a short tour of her kitchen as i learned more about st, who happens to be a professional chef who evidently has love and passion for food!

my inner foodie gushed with appreciation at the sight of her kitchen and all the culinary equipment left me in awe as i mentally picked out things that i would love to have in my very own kitchen one day. it was not long before we were shepherded out of the kitchen and to the dining table for our meal.

we were in for a treat in the way that every malaysian family would host their guests at the dinner table -- a family style meal! as the entrees made their way to the table , we were surprised and delighted when it didn't stop at just three but instead we feasted on six mains with a side of perfectly steamed rice!

our dinner menu consisted of nyonya dishes that draws inspiration from the mixed heritage of chinese-malay fusion that imparts the familiar flavors of chinese ("hokkien" in this case) combined harmoniously with the spices from the malay cuisine.

{ appetizer }

 'pai tee' | crispy, deep fried top hats filled with 'ju hu char' (refer below) garnished with special 'sambal' 

{ main dishes }

'ju hu char' | stir fry shredded jicama and carrots with sliced shitaake mushrooms & shredded dried cuttlefish. usually served with lettuce leaves as wraps.

nyonya assam fish | promphet fish in nyonya tamarind curry with okra, garnished with mint

nyonya acar | pickled vegetables of carrots, long beans, cabbage and cucumbers as the usual suspects. 

the remaining three main dishes were narrowed down to be the top three main dishes that i enjoyed immensely.

tau yu bak | braised pork belly in soy sauce.

st's version of this familiar braised pork dish differed from what i grew up with where the former was cooked in a sweeter soy based gravy, thickened as the sauce coats the tender, succulent meat pieces. st shared that this was made two days in advance because similar to stew, this allows the flavors to meld better together and penetrate into the cubes of pork belly to give it a lovely texture -- akin to a savory meat candy.

 'loh bak' | five spice marinated minced pork rolled in soybean sheets and deep fried

the host's mastery shone in the texture of this minced pork rolls as the soysheet skin crackles under every bite yet it didn't leave a greasy trail on the lips. the pork were mildly flavored with five spice and cooked to perfection, where the meat was kept moist while cooked through.

o6. 'otak otak' | treadfin fish mousse with a mix of spices wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.

preparation of otak-otak takes a lot of effort and to execute it well is a skill. st was generous with the amount of treadfin fish, striking a balanced ratio of the paste and meat, where you can still discern the fish itself instead of having it blended with the paste completely. the flavors were slightly on the milder than i would have preferred but still managed to end with a minor punch of spicy heat.

our taste buds enjoyed the culinary roller-coaster ride as it journeyed through the peaks and valleys of flavor town -- sweet, sour, savory, tangy with a hint of heat -- as we stuffed ourselves silly with the abundance of food and variety. the condiments of two specially homemade 'sambal'  where one is made from a blend of ginger, onion and chillies and the other had a spicier disposition with the tang of freshly squeezed lime were the ideal accompaniment to enhance the flavors of the dishes.

what is undeniably special about this meal was it tasted homemade and finding an excellent restaurant that could serve it with the attention to detail would be a herculean feat. just when i thought we were stuffed to the brim with too much food, st reminded us that we still had dessert to go, which i have almost forgotten. but of course, there is always room for dessert!

as an honor to my special request for cendol, st had painstakingly made the the pandan jelly, cendol itself from scratch, where its herbaceous fragrance shone in the final product. this was the fun part -- we get to assemble our own desserts (except for the shaving of ice) taking more or less of ingredients as our hearts desired.

i am an old school kinda girl when it comes to cendol -- sticking to the basic classics: the homemade cendol, sweetened and softened red beans with palm sugar and coconut milk.

the homemade cendol (some were still a little hard) highlighted the subtle pandan fragrance while the palm sugar imparted a wholesome sweetness to accentuate softened red bean. to make the dessert complete, the rich coconut milk to bring together all the flavors into a full circle. this refreshing and satisfying bowl of goodness didn't quite top the best that i've ever had but managed to rival its counterpart.

a fanstastic meal all around but much more than that, the great company made this a very memorable experience. this EATwithlocals featured heart-warming hospitality via malaysian's favorite past time -- making friends over a delicious meal and that is exactly how the locals would do it.

withlocals sparked such a brilliant idea of bring strangers from all around the world and to connect them as friends to experience the country in the most authentic way possible. it mildly reminds me of my homestay experience in seoul where one gets to experience and learn the local culture and way of life. best part is: meet as a guests and leave as friends.

as my inner geek/nerd would quote, "be one with the force locals" & experience the country like it is meant to savored.

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others


{thai ed.03} krabi, till we meet again.

1:02 AM sians 0 Comments

the third and final instalment of my krabi series. 

exhausted from the island hopping tours the day before, we were hoping and desiring a relaxing day -- just simply savor krabi. in our effort to plan our itinerary on the third day, we came across a couple of inland tours - but we were very selective with the activities. most were full day tours but all we wanted was the hot springs and emerald pool so we could spend the rest of the evening along the beach of aonang.

sceptically, we tried our luck by approaching one of the tours to see if we could only manage a half day tour that covers only those two places but much to our surprise, the tour agent was quick to agree to our requests and promised to send us back in the afternoon after dipping in the emerald pool. 

....that is what we though. we knew it was too good to be true...but more about that later in the entry. 

the day began with early morning pick up after our breakfast at the hotel and off we started our mini inland tour, exploring the town lifestyle as we picked up the other tourists. it was an absolutely bright and sunny day, where the sun rays were searing our skins as we applied as much sun block as we could as countermeasure.

first stop: hot stream/hot springs.

it was probably not the best of times to go for hot springs.

-- hot springs, hot weather, i figured would equal to a very hot me.

it was a perilous barefoot walk to the side of the 'pool' -- the stones were a lot pointy that i felt i was about to get a foot reflexology (didn't think it was the intention) with every step as i danced to an empty spot while trying not to fall in the pool. it was like walking on egg shells. i dipped my tippy toes into the stream, it felt really hot but it eventually grew into a comforting warmth. while no one wanted to dip the whole body into the hot tub of a stream (did i mention it was a ton of people there?), {sah} was the first to take up the challenge and my other friends followed suit very shortly after. a word of caution, the stones in the pool are a little slippery.

the allocated 45 minutes at the hot springs was so short that we didn't even bother searching for waterfall and not before long, we rushed back to our designated driver whom we found out was actually malaysian from one of the northern states and he spoke fluent thai.

next destination: the famed emerald pool and if you are keen on walking a little extra, the blue pool.

if you thought that the entrance of the park is where the pool is, you will be greeted by a 2 km hike through the woods walk along the beaten pathway of greeneries and we knew we were approaching the green aquamarine pool as the route becomes more scenic and the melodic sounds of the splashing from shallow waterfalls became background to the chirping of birds and then subsequently the of the gleeful squeals of excited pool go-ers, swimming in the cool water.

we gasped slightly at the sight of the emerald pool -- the color of the pool certainly lived up to its name -- and the number of people who were there enjoying the cool dip in the scorchingly hot weather. we forgot it was a sunday which meant this was also a focal spot for the locals as well.

to say the pool was really clear - it wasn't. perhaps it was the rain from the previous days. but getting in and out the water was another perilous adventure for a non-swimmer like myself (dammit, NEED TO LEARN HOW TO SWIM!) since rocks underwater were really slippery and thank goodness the water just reached below my chin despite my petite height.

we figured since we were already up at the emerald pool, it would be a shame to not continue the journey to the blue pool. now, this was a hike into the rainforest halfway after stretch of wooden platforms. we dried off pretty quickly from the brutal waves of heat from the bright sun.

the blue pool was a beautiful sight to behold - strictly no swimming cos it's really deep and hidden quick sands. the strikingly crystal clear bright blue was amazing but slightly eerie. quite worth the trip to find this hidden gem in the rainforest.

our two hour time slot was nearing the end as we raced to the main entrance and before we could make it to the van, we were enticed by the street food stalls on either sides of the road.

an interesting old school equipment, i was wondering what these were and quickly found out that they were flavored ice pops! { sah } tried one (they were really cheap) and thought it was a good heat and thirst quencher.

{ ah } and { smd } said they had to try these skewered eggs which they concluded tasted very similar to herbal eggs.

and myself? i was craving to cool off with something satisfyingly ice cold -- coconut milk ice cream! it was homemade, creamy with all that coconut milk richness but cloyingly sweet. too sweet. oh and avoid getting those bottled coconut water drinks cos they are heavily sweetened as well, much to my dismay.

so we were looking forward to our journey back to the hotel except.. (now this is where i will rant.. remember, i said "it was too good to be true")

... they made us wait at shack at the elephant trekking location for over an hour. bear in mind, this was a really warm day (and yes, i have already mentioned the weather more than twice). it didn't help alleviate our crankiness. we were very unhappy campers but were stuck at where we were since we couldn't really hail for a cab to get us back. we ended up returning to our hotel at 3-4pm, which ruined our plans....and we were also forced to skip lunch... moral of the story, it is worth to spend a little more to hire a private taxi to your selected spots as long as you are not on a shoestring budget.

we quickly put the unpleasantness behind us to actually enjoy what was left of our vacation. showers all around and we headed out once more in search for an early dinner.

our hunt was for a good restaurant for non-fusion local dishes and found the aonang seafood restaurant, where the view was breathtaking.

we were given front seats to a beautiful show called sunset by the sea as the breeze combs through our hair. the opening act - early evening sun shinning in all its glory as the sun moves lower down the horizon. it was lovely.

the price tags for the food and beverage were steep at this restaurant but not surprising with its ideal location and magnificent view.

my friends seemed to enjoy their choices of dishes while i ordered my usual -- pad thai with shrimp and fresh young coconut to wrap up my thai food excursions with a little bow.

the fresh young coconut was such a pleasant departure to erase the bottled ones i got earlier. the serving size of the pad thai noodles were a tad small. the squeeze of the lime was a much needed addition to mellow the sweetness of the sauce. the shrimp were fresh but slightly overcooked and under seasoned while the noodles was borderline overcooked. however, the general flavor profile seemed to befriended well with my taste buds.

my food adventure in krabi in a nutshell: slightly disappointing as i was looking forward to my old favorites and relishing the nuances of spices thai dishes are famous for. i have to admit it was partially my fault for not doing my own research on krabi restaurants and planned for a restaurant itinerary like i did in tokyo.

after our early dinner, the sunset at the beach was about to begin.

with  only a couple more hours in hand before having to head back to pack our luggages for our early flight the next morning, it was a must to get our coveted massages after completing our souvenir shopping where i pampered myself with 1.5 hours of back, shoulder, foot massage and a food scrub. on top of that, i couldn't resist a session of manicure as well which all the lovely wonderfulness totalled to less than rm 100. blisssss!

our trip to krabi was a nice break and a change of pace to recharge and spend some time just on me. met a couple of great friends and experienced a couple of firsts on this little vacation. one thing though...the very obvious tan lines even though i slathered an insane amount of sunscreen all over my body and i still grew a couple of shades darker. of course the vacation isn't complete if i didn't gain a couple of pounds.

that's exactly the testament to a great beach vacation, right?

the sisterhood of travelling longchamp was going back to reality as we boarded our plane back to kl.

{ลาก่อน สวัสดี -- แล้วพบกันใหม่}

i will miss your beaches and your banana chocolate pancakes.
farewell, krabi, till we meet again. :)

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may wary for others.