Tham Jiak means in some way "love to eat" in Hokkien. I am a Malaysian Hokkien and truly love to eat.
Showing posts with label Will Travel for Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Will Travel for Food. Show all posts

Monday, June 21, 2010

Uniquely Mixed

Most people in the Philippines save the few Chinese that remains with their ancestral Chinese surname or a few indigenous that keeps their own too, have Spanish surnames. A close local friend told me it is because at some point in history, a law was passed during the Spanish occupation that everyone should adopt a family name for easy administrative purposes, thus the names were coined since then, with Spanish influence of course. I personally like their names where one name reminded me of a tycoon, another of astronomy while one about a venturing girl.


Asian in looks, with mixtures of Chinese and Malay with some little Spanish, Filipinos may have features ranging from chinky eyes (as how the locals call for those eye slits that Chinese are famous for – yes like mine), to big round eyes similar to the Malays and mix of brown and yellow skin. One thing which is frequent here though is that most Filipinos have small frames and low in stature, I felt immediately at home here being of somewhat similar, I have to admit. In fact, many here commented I look like a Filipina, and most people I met will converse with me in Tagalog (their local national language) naturally for the first time and I had countless taxi drivers insisting I look deceptively like a local. Maybe that is how I get to blend in easily, something I am quite thankful for.


“There are Starbucks everywhere here!” I exclaimed as we walk passed one at an obscure highway stop.

“Yes, because we Filipinos,” B started explaining “want to live the American dream”

There is no doubt that many, if not all, Filipinos that have the American dream, and why not? In land of America it seems that anything is possible, it is where dreams go and be realized. It was said that long time ago, Philippines nearly became a part of America, just that war happened and the rest as they say, is history. Nevertheless, I do meet a lot of Filipinos who their heart is strongly rooted in their own homeland, who would willingly stay and grow the country, but sadly there are even more that look at, live by and dream of America.


As you can see, as how Carlos Celdran aptly puts it, Filipinos are a mixture of sorts - Spanish in name, Asian in looks but American at heart, just like its most famous dessert halo-halo which literarily means mix-mix.

This icy dessert had reminded me of our Malaysian Ais Kacang, minus the the kacang (no kidding), where there is shaved ice drenched in condensed/evaporated milk or just milk and sugar and then mix in with various ingredients of sorts. The usual suspects are red mung beans, sugar palm (kaong), coconut sport (macapuno), jackfruit strips, purple yam (ube) paste, crushed young rice (pinipig), leche flan and caramelized banana. Some even say that it is not complete without a dollop of ube (yam) ice cream, and only ube flavour for the authenticity!

As we can see even the ingredients are mixtures of culture of red mung beans from the Chinese, leche flan from the Spaniards and shaved ice from the Americans (source from Wikipedia). From my 100 days stay there, I learn that, as ironic as it may sound, being a mixture of sorts and of no distinct identity is what makes Filipinos unique. Just like how the mixture of halo-halo that sort of make you think that the dessert couldn’t make up its mind on what it wants to be that makes it so uniquely delicious.


One of the best authentic original halo-halo I tried (with nearly all the ingredients mentioned above) turns out to be from one of the famous chain restaurants in the Philippines – Chow King. (first picture above)

Chow King

Another variation of halo-halo (picture above), stripped down to nearly bare naked of essentials – leche flan, macapuno (coconut sport) and caramelized banana, was truly a league of its own for its really smooth shaven iced doused in creamy sweet milk and its minimal critical ingredients.

Razon’s of Guagua

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Many Sides of Manila and It's Food

“Add 30 peso, heavy traffic!” said the taxi man.
“What?!?” I feign incredulity, this is not the first time I was asked of this.
“Yes ma’am, heavy traffic, taxi cannot make money” he continued.

Somehow this line make me relent, at times some taxi man are rude in asking for more money on top of their meter, but this one just tells me honestly why he needs it. Maybe it is just how frankly he tells me why he needs that extra. So I just said “OK!”

It is not always like this in Manila, I have many times met more kindness than I can ever have expected, once a taxi man said I can pay whatever amount I seem fit since the destination I went to was just so near, it caught me off guard, but I paid as how much I think is right with tips to boot.

I find that I actually enjoy tipping, after living a life of an ‘expat’ (some of them refer me as that though I don’t feel such as that word makes one think of extravagance life but trust me it is not),but still new habits are learnt when one is in a foreign land. I never tip when I was in Malaysia, I guess somehow it doesn’t seem like the culture to me then but as the saying goes, when in Rome, do what the Romans do. I have learnt here that not many are that well off, many earn their wages through sheer hard work and many of them are in the service industries. So if the restaurant does not charge for service (most of them do not), then I would leave some tips so that the servers could earn a more decent income. Besides, at most places the service is good, I am always greeted with a smile, and they are mostly attentive and genuine.

Food I must say though there are hits and misses, but who am I judge when I have only been to only so few of them, many good ones still uncovered I believe. In the metropolitan area which are dominated with few chain restaurants, it is quite hard to avoid them (being one who always think that chain restaurants are just a small step away from ‘fast food’), some did disappoint but many does surprises you with their good food and how they have maintained the quality despite the huge expansions and the some for even the longest time of existence. I guess this is just how Filipinos show their fidelity, if the food is good, they will keep returning to it religiously, thus allowing a selected few chain restaurants to boom across the metropolitan faster than you can say “Sarap!” (means delicious in Tagalog) This is after all the country where their home-grown fast food chain, Jollibee (just love the catchy name) out beats McDonald by a seriously high margin; at nearly every corner that you turn, you will see the happy bee with a chef hat smiling at you.

Nevertheless, I have in fact tried quite a number of local dishes, many times in various restaurants, just to find them differ slightly (sometimes widely) from one another, and then on to find my favourites among them. So let me introduce you to them slowly, each food that the locals here enjoy day in and day out and where to get the best of them and what varieties you may just find (mind you some or most of them would be coming from the said chain restaurants, I guess they are a chain for the same reason?). First let me start with a dish, as you all know me, the one who praises the pork relentlessly, would of course start with one which is the pork sisig.

Pork sisig is one of the well known pulutan (food to go with drink), where normally people order when they are out having a beer or some alcohol. It was said to reduce the impact of alcohol on the stomach and the name itself actually meant to be ‘taken in small quantity’. But as for me, I ordered it anyway as appetizer or main meal even, because I simply love it. There are two groups of pork sisig lovers, those who love the crunchy ones while those on the vice versa, for me I belong to the former group. I just love to have a crunch on my pork sisig but nevertheless I do enjoy the other types too. Pork sisig would serve better to those who don’t really know what it is made of, but just if you are brave enough read on now else skip to the next paragraph, you have been warned! It is made of chopped pig’s head (hair removed and tenderize and yes entire head!), then boiled and grilled/broiled then finally fried with chopped onions and served on a sizzling platter with vinegar and kalamansi juice (Asian lime).

Normally they like to serve the pork sisig at the last cooking part where they would ‘fry’ the mixture in front of you on the sizzling pan, even sometimes cracking a raw egg over and cook it along. Once served, you can then squeeze over the kalamansi  to taste yourself and voila, you would have a perfect crunchy pulutan or simply a good dish to  go along with your rice.

For my favourite crunchy pork sisig:
Krocodile Grill
Greenbelt 3
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila

A cross between the crunchy and the soft, a lot of people's favourite:
Gerry's Grill
Glorietta 5
Level 2, Ayala Center,
Makati City, Metro Manila
(02)856-4443, (02)856-3544
Sunday to Thursday 11am - 12midnight
Friday and Saturday 11am - 2am

Other Branches

Another pork sisig with a twist, added with mayonnaise but nonetheless uniquely tasty:
Giligans ‘s Island Restaurant and Bar
Greenbelt 1
Esperanza St., Ayala Center
Makati City, Metro Manila

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bangkok: Cooking School

I finally succumbed to it. I went for a cooking course in Bangkok. The idea had flit through my mind on and off, whenever I read through a blog, browsed through a food site or flipped through a magazine. I would be not fair to myself and my blog readers if I do not go and learn the secrets of Thai Cooking right?

I researched the net for the cooking school that would suit me, finally settling for Silom Cooking School because it has the most reasonable price with good review as well. Extra bonus is that it includes local market shopping beforehand.

My cooking instructor, N, a really sweet guy, guided me to his place and paid for the fare as well as he could not pick me from my busy hotel at Sukhumvit road.Once there, I joined up with a family from Hong Kong, a lady with her husband, daughter of six and mother (or in-law, I’m not sure). They are really a nice bunch and it was great fun learning cooking with them.

The first session was we head straight to a small local market near N’s place. First thing we bought is freshly grated coconut for our curries. Then N proceeds to explain the various kinds of curry paste used in Thai cooking. He says that there are 3 common curry pastes: green, red and yellow. All are nearly the same except that green paste is made from fresh green chillies while the red paste is from dried red chillies and the yellow paste added with turmeric for color. It does sound simple the way he said it.

Then we head out to the vegetable stall, where it seems like N’s usual place to go for the students as the lady at the stall knows what to get for him straight away. She was also oblivious to N poking at her vegetables while explaining to us about it. N explained various Thai herbs to various gingers as well as various eggplants.

Each of us had a little basket to do our market shopping. Here is my bountiful basket herbs and spices:

After that we lug our basket of treasures back to his place. I was impressed by the beautiful cooking place setup.

Everything was nicely plan, with one room for wet preparation, such as pressing coconut juice included with a place to wash the vegetables.

Another room was for the dry preparations such as cutting, pounding and so on. At the dry preparation, we are all rationed from the tray with what is needed to cook our one-portion dish. Then N showed us what to do with it.

Then we head out with our tray and do some cooking. Here is my final own cooked version of Tom Kha Gai (coconut milk chicken). It is my first time eating this dish so I can’t judge with the authentic ones out there, but this soup is definitely a filling one. I could not finish the coconut milk.

Next I dished up another one-person portion of Gai Pad Med Mamuang (Fried Cashew Nut with Chicken).

Then N explained on various Thai rice and how each is cooked and consumed. Then he proceeds to show how they traditionally steam the sticky rice.

Next N showed us how to make Yam Wun Sen (Spicy Mungbean Noodle Salad). It is served nicely presented with the now-cooked sticky rice.

Next we shared make Thod Mun Pla (Fried Fish Cakes). The process was a bit messy but the finish product, once again nicely presented by N, was definitely a delicious sight and delicious to eat as well. We also get to make the Thai Sweet Chilly Sauce to accompanied it ourselves.

Next we prepare the red curry paste and then dished up Kang Phet Gai (Red Curry Chicken).

Finally, courtesy from N as I requested, he taught me how to make Som Tam. How can I missed this beloved dish right? I get to pok-pok the salad together. Turn out it is really simple, now I am going to go against what I preach, and make one for myself at home soon.

So that’s the end of my experience in Silom Cooking School. I had tremendous fun and would like to thank N for the wonderful dishes and expanded waistline. N also gave us his own compiled recipes before we leave, how thoughtful. So what is the secret of Thai cooking? The secret lies in fresh local ingredients. That’s all really. Everything else is really simple and easy, especially if you know Asian way of cooking. Now when am I going to make these dishes at home as I promised to J?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Som Tam: How much do I love thee?

This much:

Som tam (Thai/Isan ส้มตำ) is a spicy papaya salad originating in Laos and the Isan region of northeastern Thailand. Som (ส้ม) in Isan and Lao means "sour," and tam (ตำ) means "pounded." - wikipedia

There is so much to say about this simple wonder salad. The Isaan region tends to have quite a number of wondrous food and this is definitely the cream of their crop. I never know about how good Som Tam can be until I tasted one myself in Thailand. I can eat this everyday as a staple diet if needed. Maybe then I will be as slim as most of the Thai people here. There is just something in their food which a generally slim society even when sugar are consume in excess. Don’t get me ranting on that, maybe in the next post, now it is all about Som Tam.

Unfortunately, I know that it is near impossible to replicate this dish anywhere else outside of Thailand unless you have all the ingredients air flown to you fresh and you somehow learn the art of making Som Tam. Here are the reasons:

Young papaya:
First, the freshly grated papaya is important. Grated is not exactly the word as I see the Thai chefs skillfully chopped the whole papaya in their hands, and then slice them nicely, where all the papaya falls miraculously into same-sized strips. Believe me, they do it way better than any grater or food processor can ever do. I always stand there in fascination when they prepare it. So maybe if you do it in a machine, it will never be as authentic. Maybe if I’m lucky I can learn up the skill, without losing a few fingers. But first to get hold of these huge green young papayas.

Then the important lime juice in the sauce, using Thai rounded green limes that seem to be only found here is an extreme point in the sauce key tanginess. The sauce also uses palm sugar, fish sauce and thai chillies.

Plus to me, a Som Tam is never complete without its freshly fried peanuts, where I found is way much better than the varieties in Malaysia. Here they have these not too big and light peanut that they had roasted to perfection. Slight hint of black spot ones are the most fragrant.

Everything else
It is also important to have the baby tomatoes, halved added into the Som Tam. I also usually call the most general version of Som Tam which adds in dried shrimps for taste.

Raw vegetables
Well this one I guess you can get it here in Malaysia, generally we eat with raw cabbages and winged beans, sometimes with basil leaves and spring onions. It is really fun eating raw vegetables dipping in som tam sauces.

Oh and not to forget one must have the
Thai mortar to ‘pok pok’ your som tam together. It is essential indeed for the authentic taste. This mortar is not to be confused with our Chinese mortar and pestle, as the mortar is made of ceramic and the pestle made of wood. It is much deeper to fill in all the som tam ingredients. But if you insist, or you are desperate (I might someday), I found a few recipes which seemed promising:

Real Thai Recipes
Blue Elephant Recipe
Thai Info-net

For the love of Som Tam, I must have it every time I am in Bangkok. If I have a choice, I would have it for every meal even. As far as my love for Som Tam goes, I will stuff my mouth with it as much as possible before my chances of having the authentic ones in Bangkok itself ran out. This is definitely one dish I would miss.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Bangkok: Sneaky Lunch Post

You know, as good writer you have to be able to write under any circumstances, under any amount of time and under any environment. I want to test my that ability. (psst, this is an excuse to blog in the middle of my working time, amidst all my clients, right after lunch). Yes, I am on assignment in BKK, had a great lunch, a nice short walk across a mini-market near the office and just had to the urge to write. Boss if you so happen to read this, please pardon my form of stress releasing therapy.

I had Kanom Jeen for lunch. You can read all about it here in Eating Asia, where Robyn did a great justice to it. For me I am ‘suppose’ to be doing a quick post here. My time now is still ‘paid’, and not to write for sure.

This lovely spicy noodle came with arrays of fresh veggies (very good for a health freak like me). Fresh vegetables are ubiquitous here in Bangkok, the total opposite of Malaysia.

After the lunch, which is located in the market, we had a walk past the stalls selling various foods. My eyes feasted greedily from here to there, mouth watering and hands firmly holding my camera. The locals there must be confused, as I usually look like a local, and pretend like one most of the time, mumbling few Thai words as if it is my mother tongue.

My colleague got intrigued with this stall and ask for two ‘balls’ which was then pick up, smashed up and mixed with everything else and then passed to my bewildered colleague. This is her two fried balls, now a smashed ‘rojak’.

Anyway, as we are about to leave, we got called on by a lady to buy her sweets (I checked with my Thai friend here, it is called Ka Lak Meh, made of rice flour and sugar). She look so cute, marketing non-stop on her sweets, smiling so innocently, it got right to my heart. These are people who make me feel soft at the heart, and to know that not everybody has comfortable life. I told my colleague, how much can she get selling 1baht (10 cents) per piece of sweet, she need to sell at least 20 sweets to get a kanom jeen for lunch. With chance, I will surely go back there again and buy more from her.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bangkok Food Post: A-Roi

How long since I have abandon this blog? I guess we better skip the I’m-so-sorry part and get right down to business. Yes I’ve been to Bangkok once again, if any of you have guess with me missing in action, and work life has just been busy. So I have to be short here. No matter how much I love to write, sometimes I do agree to some degree that picture speaks louder than words.

I have been contemplating for a long time on how to present all the wondrous food of Bangkok that I had in my long-stay two times trip here. There is just so much to talk about from fresh fruits to som-tum to porks (which seems like the main meat here in contrast to Malaysia, where it is the universal white meat – chicken). Nonetheless, chicken will be featured here too of course, albeit in dimmer limelight, but still not forgotten.

Here I go again, launching into ranting when I have just said I want to let pictures do the talking. I can’t resist it. I am a writer at heart squeezing in beside my tham-jiaknes. Anyway, for the Bangkok foods, I have tried searching around for proper info in the food I ate, its name and how it was made, but nonetheless, it was too many and much cannot be found on the web. Appreciate if any of you out there knows about it, would drop some comments for all of us to share.

Now I would kick-off my Bangkok food posts with street-snacks:

As I found out soon, all snacks in Thailand are of 10 baht, equivalent to RM1 in Malaysia. Everything is 10 baht, from fried stuff to ice cream to peanuts and to fruits and to even my favourite coconut. We find it cheap as the portion are usually very generous.

First up is my favourite snack from the street side vendor. It is called Kanom Kai Noak Garta, which are actually fried sweet potato balls. Crunchy and sweet at the same time, very moreish.

Then we have the Kanom Krok, which is actually coconut pancake, cooked in special pan. It is sweet, for the plain ones, and slightly savoury with the addition of the green onions. I welcome the taste of the spring onions as it brings this tiny little morsels into another level, weighing between sweet and savoury.

As I walk along the street after my lunch, I came across a stall grilling bananas. I just had to give it a try as all this while, this lovely fruit appear only as eaten plain, along with my ice creams, or mashed up into my muffins or banana cakes and also hidden in my pancakes sometimes plus sliced finely into my bowl of cereals. But never was it ever grilled and eaten before. We ordered a pack (10 baht of course) to go, and the lady gave a generous douse of palm sugar syrup onto it before handing it to us.

The Gluay Ping turn out to be chewier and stickier than I liked. It could get stuck in your teeth and also a bit rough edged (I don’t know how else to explain it). Maybe this stall did not give justice to these Gluay Pings as later, in my next trip, I had a tried on grilled sliced bananas on a stick which was much better, crispy on the outside with sweet and soft interior..

So many sweets, now its time for savoury snacks. This fried puffed fishballs are certainly one of the best fishballs I’ve ever tasted. I called it puffed, as it is really fluffy with fishy taste. Hard to describe but just one word, good!

Then its back to sweet again. This stall is right outside the street near my hotel, where this lady sells fried sweet bread. It is something of a sight to behold, which is how it attracted me and my colleague one day while we were strolling by. So we went there one fine Sunday morning, just to get it. We bought a stick each, haul it back to our hotel restaurants, like two little girls with a good find of sweets.

It was really good, soft and sweet cake-like bread, with a surprise in the middle, of all things a sausage ball. Surprisingly, this salty addition was really complementing, and it helped us gobbled up the rest of this gigantic ball. It was that good, my colleague and I bought it again on our second trip, like little girls going back for their treats.

Next up is mini donuts on stick that I stumble upon in one of the many myriad of stalls in Jatujak (certainly a shopping paradise but not one to speak about in a foodblog) and of course with wondrous foods (more to come). These mini donuts are really good, soft and ‘juicy’. The brownie ones are just-enough-chocolatey with chocolate candy bits while the strawberries ones are sweetly-fragrant with bits of strawberry-jam candy here and there. Ah, lovely!

With all that heaty yet addictive snacks, I have to wash it all down with my all time favourite Ma Praao. The mini coconuts here area extremely sweet (then again, everything is sweet here, more on that later) and really refreshing. Now I’m missing it already. Here is the guy who’s stall is right outside my office. He’s my source of Ma Praao and various fruits daily!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Up North and Beyond

No I am not back in Penang, I know some are hankering for more of those food but this time think beyond that. Think flying up north and across borders.

Oh yes, now I am in Bangkok, Thailand. I am now on a business trip, where half the time is filled with food of course. Half working half eating, so you can guess that it is really tight and busy for me.

So that explains my absence and also my coming blogging hiatus. I might sneak in a post of two, depending.

Till then, excuse me while I eat my way through Bangkok.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Hong Kong Food Still in Exposure

It continues...

Next into the street food, the highlight was the chow tau fu (stinky tofu!) well, I tried it! From far you can smell a distinct unpleasant smell where first thing that comes to your mind is a huge smelly drain. But as you go nearer to the frying place you'll be tempted to buy and try one.

Well it does stinks before you put it into your mouth but with a little grimace you'll be able to do it and once you bite into it, you'll find it juicy and a little bit sour (from the fermentation I guess), after all its suppose to be 'spoilt', which meant so literary in Cantonese "chow", which ironically also can be meant by "smelly". Well, all said in one word, it is spoilt and smelly but yet...still delicious. Warning though, it does left a weird after taste in your mouth and you wouldn't want to go talking to anyone near for that matter!

Then there was the special or chien (fried oyster with eggs) which is entirely different from Malaysia version. This one is ultra-crispy with the eggs all fluff up with extra crunchy batter plus with generous amounts of oysters. The ones in Malaysia are usually flatter ones. But somehow, at the end of the meal, one can feel "jelak" (sick) of its richness and also partly because it is pretty oil laden. Anyhow, a must try in one of the stalls in miu kai.

Well, you guys must be thinking, where is the dim sum!?! That’s what Hong Kong is famous for! Well, of course I do have loads of dim sum picture, I had it 3 times for breakfast and once for lunch! Imagine that!

My favorite of the lot is siu long pau (Shanghai dumpling) that is soupy inside with fresh meat and really goood to bite...I missed it so much!

Here's the juice oozing...mmmm

Next is the Shanghai beef pau which is sweet meat in a crusty bread. Shanghai has the best dim sum I guess and they can't seem to have enough of beef.

My friends and I so wanted to try the lor mai kai (steamed glutinous rice with chicken) and see the difference from the ones in Malaysia. Well it is certainly different, in fact it wasn't even called lor mai kai, I forgot what's it called but we sure had a hard time describing to the poor waitress for it! LOL

I heard that the spring rolls is a must try but to me, it is just so-so, I prefer the ones in Malaysia.

This is a char siew pau (pork meat bun), which I’m not sure what version it is but it sure is good. The bun is soft and fluffy, with honey glazed on top with the extra kick of juicy sweet and salty pork filling...yummy. It is certainly a variant from the usual steamed pau as this one is baked.

Here’s an array of one of the dim sum breakfast I had in a different restaurant. Notable ones here are the fried mango in the middle which is crunchy and sweet, really special and the package type of bean curd with filling inside which is really different and good. Sigh, I miss my dim sum fix in Hong Kong!

There’s this which I think is considered a dim sum dish too, which is called char leong, which is actually yau char guai wrapped with cheong fun! Really special combination but tasty nonetheless! Crunchy coupled with the smooth cheong fun...something that delights the palate indeed.

Oh, look at this grilled chicken salad...

Yummy looking eh? Guess what? It is from McDonalds! The McD over there has a whole set of fresh menu where you can choose a range of salads and also flatbread with fresh meat and vegetables for more filling ones. Here’s a favourite flatbread among us, the Korean beef flatbread

Last but not least, is this lovely tong sui (sweet dessert) that we had in one of the little shop in a corner street of Kowloon, which is actually black sesame dessert. Look how thick it is!

That’s all for how three girls from Malaysia eat their way through Hong Kong in 1 week. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did!

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