Malaysia Marvel V: Food & More Food

This article is written by Anuradha Goyal, an IT professional  & consultant and a travel writer, based in Hyderabad, India

From the time I landed in Malaysia, from every local person I heard that Malaysians love to eat and they must have a minimum of six meals a day. Some of them were so skinny that I kept wondering where do those six meals go, but it was true that there was always ample food in sight.

At the MITBCA, we used to reach the venue after a heavy breakfast, only to be greeted by piles of colorful tempting food. They were not just serving snacks, but a whole range of meals. Then at mid morning break there was more food. At lunch food is expected, but the morning routine repeated at the afternoon tea, after which I was told there would be supper and dinner. Hmm…that makes it six meals a day.

In the evenings I went walking around China Town and Bukit Bintang and all I saw was food and food. Carts full of food, some lined in an inviting way, some raw, some cooked and some semi-cooked. In the most basic setup, the focus was just food, the aesthetics were provided by the way food was arranged, the way the colors were played with and the way the aroma filled the place.

The presentation of food was interesting in both the formal places and the streets. I found the concept of a rotating set of bowls in a formal table very unique. Fruits always came in various shapes and sizes that made us pick up the camera before picking up the fork but they would call for another post to do justice.

In Melaka, I had this soup that was served in the raw coconut and you can eat the pulp of the raw coconut after you have finished the soup. For a vegetarian like me, it was a sheer delight to get these dishes. In my 6 days of stay I had more Tofu than the rest of my life. Though I must say on the street there are limited options for vegetarians.

Since we were all bloggers and social media experts, people would first click and tweet and then eat the food. A case of tweet before you eat. In fact a tourism Malaysia official joked that at KL airport we weigh you as you come in and you are not allowed to go back if you have not gained at least 5 kgs and with the amount of food we got to eat, that’s not too much.

Moral of the story is that when in Malaysia you can get lost in food. If you are a foodie, Malaysia should be on top of your list of to-be-visited places.

Anuradha Goyal

17 June 2012

The backbone of New Mexican cuisine

“Red or Green?” is more than just a question in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Referring to which type of chile sauce a waiter should bring to the table, those two options have been the backbone of New Mexican cuisine and the unifying ingredient for the many foods and cultures that have called this state home. The query even became New Mexico’s official “state question” in 1999.

The Rio Grande rift valley where Albuquerque now sits was first inhabited by stone-and-adobe dwelling Native Americans, a collection of tribes known collectively as the Pueblo people. Spanish explorers arrived in the 1500s, building missions and establishing farms, and eventually founded a city in 1706, named Alburquerque after a Spanish duke (the first “r” was later dropped).  Anglo settlers came in droves after 1848, when the territory of New Mexico was ceded to the United States from the newly independent Mexico.

At the Pueblo Harvest Cafe, traditional bread is baked in an adobe clay oven horno on the patio.

Relics of the past live on in Albuquerque’s present day culinary scene. From Pueblo blue corn porridge to Spanish empanadas, from Mexican carne asada to red and green chile, a good meal is the best way to uncover the many cultures that have shaped New Mexico’s largest city.

Native tastes and traditions

The Pueblo’s centuries-old staples — beans, corn and squash – still play a major part in their modern dishes. The Pueblo Harvest Café and Bakery, in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, highlights both ancient recipes and contemporary variations based on these traditional ingredients.

Carne Adovada

Blue corn atole, a slate-coloured porridge, is a typical morning dish, hearty without being too thick or too sweet, though toppings like berries or nuts can be added to enhance the flavour. The café also makes blue corn pancakes for a European twist on the native blue corn. Lunch and dinner include dishes such as bison, served on the bone or ground into meatloaf; carne adovada, a pork marinated in red chile and served with beans and squash; and posole, a traditional corn hominy and pork stew.

All entrees come with oven bread, a traditional loaf baked in the adobe clay oven (also called a horno) on the center’s patio. The beehive-shaped horno was introduced by Spanish settlers, but quickly became a prominent feature in many Pueblo homes. The peasant-style bread with its crunchy exterior and soft interior is often served with creamy, sweet pinon butter made from locally-abundant pine nuts.

Enduring Spanish influence

In addition to their particular tastes, Spanish settlers brought in their language, seen in today’s common foods like tortilla, salsa and burritos. The Spanish also introduced pigs, cattle and sheep, dairy products like butter and cheese, and garlic and other spices that resulted in a fusion of native and European tastes.

Stuffed Sopapillas

At the National Hispanic Cultural Center, New Mexico’s Spanish influence is captured through art exhibitions and live performances, and also in the kitchen of the center’s La Fonda del Bosque restaurant, where enchiladas, meat-stuffed sopapillas and chile rellenos are served alongside Spanish rice or calabacitas, a mix of summer squash, onions and green peppers.

Chicharróns are another Spanish import, but are prepared a little differently here than in the rest of the world. While most chicharróns are made from fried pork skin, New Mexicans fry cubes of pork fat and meat without the skin. Cecilia’s Café (230 6th Street SW; 505-243-7070) in downtown Albuquerque has mastered the balance of keeping the petite pork pieces tender inside, but crisp and flavourful on the outside. Order them in a burrito or as a side order.

An enduring ingredient

Despite an ever-evolving influx of new cultures, Albuquerque has managed to keep its people connected to the land through one ingredient: the New Mexican chile pepper. To this day, “New Mexican food” might refer to a Pueblo, Spanish or Mexican meal, but the peppers add a signature punch of heat to dishes both native and new.

Neither type of chile is necessarily spicier than the other, as the weather patterns of a particular year can give a pepper more or less heat, but many locals have a preference for one colour’s taste over the other.

Green chiles are picked early in the season and used fresh; first roasted, then chopped  or blended to make a sauce. Visit Albuquerque in the late summer or early fall and you are bound to see and smell chiles rotating in grated steel barrels over propane flames to loosen the skin and bring out the flavour. Stop by the downtown Grower’s Market on Saturday mornings to pick up a freshly roasted batch, or order a green chile cheeseburger from Sadie’s.

Red chiles have a smokier, more full-bodied flavour that comes from the process of drying them out on the vine. Bunches of dried red chiles called ristras serve as both decoration and easy food storage in many New Mexican homes.  When ready to eat, the pod is soaked in water to reconstitute its volume and blended with water and spices to make a red chile sauce. Find one- to two-foot-long red ristras at Wagner Farm in nearby Corrales, or try the red sauce on huevos rancheros at Frontier Restaurant across from the University of New Mexico.

Huevos Rancheros

The best part of New Mexico’s state question is it doesn’t have to be either or. Choose red and green to sample the best of both.

Lindsey Galloway

27 Feb 2012

A veggie lover’s Europe

This article is written by Shivya Nath. Shivya is an India-based writer who loves to seek out offbeat travel destinations that few have been to and fewer have written about.

Whoever says a traveling vegetarian couldn’t survive in Western Europe obviously isn’t one. Get ready to take your vegetarian taste buds on a wallet-happy gastronomic journey through Europe.

1. France

I’m vegetarian: Je suis une végetarienne

It’s probably harder to survive if you don’t speak French than if you’re vegetarian in France. There’s a boulangerie (local bakery) around every corner, even in the smallest of towns, and the breads will leave you drooling. Despite being the night person that I am, I woke up deliriously happy in the early mornings, only to stuff myself with the best breakfast in the world. If you manage to get past the Croissant obsession, surrender yourself to the delicious vegetarian Paninis and Baguettes, typically filled with feta cheese and fresh veggies.

2. Italy

I’m vegetarian: Sono vegetariana

Italian Pizza with Funghi Porcini

Italy is a natural heaven for vegetarians; half a menu in any restaurant is filled with vegetarian pastas and pizzas by default, and you can’t not fall in love with them. Think melted cheese, homemade pastas, indigenous pesto, finely sliced fresh veggies, olive oils…

And even if you’re full to the brim, you must stay for dessert. The Italians take their hot chocolate literally.

3. Austria

I’m vegetarian:  Ich bin Vegetarierin

One of the best pastas I’ve had outside of Italy, at a small cafe in Innsbruck. Handmade spinach pasta.

You could be sitting in a cafe in Innsbruck, having German beer, Italian pasta and French pastries. The lack of distinctly Austrian vegetarian food is more than made up for by the sheer variety of neighboring cuisines.

4. Germany

I’m vegetarian: Ich bin Vegetarierin

Spatzle. It’s better than it looks!

Meat-loving Germany is the first country other than India, where I found a vegetarian burger at McDonalds! If you’re looking for something more authentic, order a Spatzle anywhere you go; it’s a homegrown version of soft egg noodles. And if you’re in need of a healthier, refreshing alternative to beer, try the homemade Spezi.

5. Amsterdam

I’m vegetarian: Ik ben vegetariër (though it’s safe to assume that everyone speaks & understands English)

You probably wouldn’t bother with food in Amsterdam, but when hunger hits you, stop by at the multitude of international restaurants; Indian Chinese food at the ‘Chinese’ takeaways, Falafel Kebabs at Donor Kebab stalls, Pesto Veggie sandwiches, Italian pastas, Mexican nachos. It’s some of the best vegetarian food I’ve ever had, but there could be other reasons for that.

Shivya Nath

28 July 2011

New Orleans is wild about pho

Since the 1970s, the vibrant community of New Orleans East has been home to what some say is the densest concentration of Vietnamese people outside Vietnam.

Located in the city’s Ninth Ward, the Vietnamese enclave is hidden in the city’s outlying neighbourhoods, about a 15-minute drive from the French Quarter and other, more tourist-friendly areas. Because of that, residents and visitors seeking authentic pho or lemongrass grilled chicken have generally had to hop in a car to get their fix.

But in recent years, Vietnamese cuisine started moving into the city proper, as New Orleans residents grow increasingly health-conscious and restaurateurs trade in cream-soaked, deep-fried cuisine for spring rolls and broth-based soups. The Vietnamese MagasinCafe even opened on trendy Magazine Street in mid-February.

The Vietnamese Kitchen at the Lost Love Lounge

The LostLoveLounge, a bar in the city’s bohemian Marigny neighbourhood, features occasional stand-up comedy nights and spelling bees – and has a permanent Vietnamese restaurant in the back. Owner Bill Walker, who opened the lounge in 2010, said the informally named restaraunt (formally known as Pho King) was born from a desire to do something different in a neighbourhood saturated by traditional New Orleans food, and to attract the influx of younger, more progressive residents – some of whom are vegan and vegetarian. Instead of traditional bar fare like wings and french fries, the kitchen makes fresh stock for vegan, chicken and beef pho every day, and offers a variety of other traditional Vietnamese stews, banh mi, spring rolls and noodle salads, many of which are vegan-friendly.

Le Viet Café

When Kim Le opened Le Viet Café (2135 St Charles Avenue; 504-304-1339) in December 2011, she specifically chose to do so in the city’s uptown area, which suffered from a death of Vietnamese restaurants. “We have a lot of Chinese, Japanese, American and French food [here], but not Vietnamese,” Le said.  Le comes from generations of experience – her family has owned restaurants in the area since 1979 – but most served heavily-fried seafood. This is the first time she has experimented with her native Vietnamese cuisine, which emphasizes grilled meats and tofu.

So far, it seems to be catching on: “A lot of people come in for the first time and don’t know what it’s about, but they’ll try because it’s different, it’s exotic, it’s very healthy,” she said. “And they really like it. We have regulars already.”

Tan Dinh

Located across the Mississippi River, in Gretna, Louisiana, Tan Dinh (1705 Lafayette Street; 504-361-8008) has always drawn a primarily Vietnamese crowd. When the restaurant opened in 2006, more than two-thirds of its clientele was Asian, according to manager Phat Vu. These days, a more diverse crowd sits down to dinner — only about half of Tan Dinh’s customers are Asian — and more New Orleans natives and tourists are pouring in, attracted by how waistline-friendly Vietnamese cuisine can be, as well as by the opportunity to try an unfamiliar menu that is still fairly heavy on local seafood. “Our soup is light and healthy,” Vu said. “It doesn’t have cream like lots of people are used to. People are more conscious of their health nowadays, and that’s helped a lot.”

Tina Peng

24 Feb 2012

Another Whirlwind Trip

This article is written by Shantanu Ghosh.

Another quick trip to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I expected downtown San Francisco to be very cold but the weather turned out to be pleasant, unusually so for this time of the year. Emirates had upgraded me to first class on my entire onward journey from Mumbai to San Francisco, and I was nicely rested by the time I arrived. By the time I checked in, showered and thought of lunch, it was pretty late in the afternoon.

I strolled over to California Pizza Kitchen which was right in front of my hotel. For some reason, I had never eaten at this restaurant chain before. The meat lovers pizza was a delight, as was the super friendly waitress who served me. The generous toppings of cheese and meats (compared to those I get in India) took care of my hunger pangs very nicely indeed!

I was back at Alexander’s Steak House in Cupertino after a long gap. After they were awarded the Michelin star a couple of years back, this restaurant is even more popular. It took me a 45-minute wait to get a table at lunch-time on a week-day; thankfully, I did have the time! Hamachi shots, a steak and truffle fries later, I asked for the cheque. Along with the cheque came a cotton candy which was cherry flavored and actually quite nice!

The view early in the morning from my downtown San Francisco hotel was phenomenal. Here’s a picture taken through my window on the 34th floor just before I walk down for my morning fix at the neighboring Starbucks.

I am going to retrace this trip in two weeks’ time; I expect to have a lot more to write then. Hopefully, Emirates will also have an upgrade available for me again. I could get used to that! 🙂

Shantanu Ghosh

8 Feb 2012

Honeymoons for foodies

Discovering new dishes with the one you love can be one of the most intimate parts of a honeymoon, especially for gourmands. Whether you want to travel on a budget or can splurge a little, these post-wedding destinations require you to pack a serious appetite.

Europe high budget: Reims, France

Les Crayeres, Reims

Your honeymoon calls for a toast… or several! And no destination is more appropriate for such an occasion than Reims (pronounced somewhere between “Rance” and “Rence”), in the Champagne region of France. For a true luxury chateaux experience, check into Les Crayeres, an elegant hotel that was built in 1904 and is set on 17 acres of park-like grounds. The tangerine colour of the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin label has become the bubbly equivalent of Tiffany blue, a signifier of something costly and covetable. Their cellar tours and tastings are by appointment only — and its doors close between December and March, the coldest months of the year. Fancy a smaller operation? The Cris-Event company offers vineyard bike tours that are private or semi-private. Spend at least four days in Reims, perhaps as a side trip from Paris, which is two hours away.

Europe low budget: Valls, Spain

The Festivals of Valls: Humans Castles andCalçots

Just more than an hour’s drive southwest of Barcelona, Valls is a Catalan countryside town steeped in Spanish culinary tradition. In fact it is the birthplace of the calcotada (pronounced kahl-so-TAH-dah), a traditional Spanish feast, often served alfresco, that celebrates the spring harvest of oversized leek-like onions called calcots. Do not to knock it ‘til you taste it — especially when charred and dipped in salvitxada sauce alongside a spread of meats, beans and fresh bread, and washed down with Catalan wine from a porron, a glass pitcher with a spout. Be warned, you drink the wine from a distance, so wear dark clothing. The whole experience is debauched, messy and unforgettable. Stay at the Felix Hotel for its restaurant’s calcotada, plus the tennis court and swimming pool. If you prefer a city honeymoon, make Valls a daytrip during a weeklong stay in nearby Barcelona.

Tasting Malaysia

This article is written by Shantanu Ghosh.

KL can be an exciting place for foodies with its incredible variety of street food and cuisines – brought together by the different ethnic groups that make up this interesting country. I had a chance to sample a selection of foods, some for the very first time. There are three distinct sets of cuisines associated with the major ethnic groups: Malay, Indian and Chinese, but there are also some lesser known ones such as Nyonya (of the Straits Chinese ethnic group) and Sarawak (a community that lives on the island of Borneo).

Madam Kwan’s is a restaurant on the 4th level of KLCC that offers local Malay cuisine. The popularity of this place during lunch was easy to see: there was a long line of people outside waiting for seats. Malay food has a lot of similarity to that of its neighbours, Thailand and Indonesia, but with some unique twists.

Belacan and Assam are probably the most common ingredients you will find in their dishes. Belacan is made from fermented baby shrimp which is then dried and formed into small cakes. A tiny amount is added to most Malay dishes to add that special ‘kick’. Assam is essentially tamarind paste commonly added to fish and vegetable dishes to make them more tangy – probably a practice that came from South India many years back.

A stopover in Lion City

This article is written by Shantanu Ghosh.

After Hong Kong returned to China in the late 90s, Singapore pretty much became the top choice for the white man’s outpost in Asia. Modern and efficiently run, this city of steel and glass considerably eases the transition from the West to the East. At some level, expat businessmen and their lives here are probably not very different from British governors from another age – but that’s another story. To me, this tiny city is like a sampler platter of delicious morsels that you can savor over a single meal. You can take that literally too! Singapore’s culinary scene is quite mind-blowing: from swanky restaurants run by global celebrity chefs, humble hawker centers, and everything in-between.

Today, Singapore’s cosmopolitan character allows for a seamless melding of cuisines where you can dig into crispy Peking duck skin with five-spiced foie gras at renowned chef Susur Lee’s Chinois or order Laksa pesto linguine and roast Chilean sea bass with chai poh and chicken congee at Wild Rocket, another delightful eatery on Mount Emily.

Between business meetings, my colleagues took me to a Cantonese Chinese restaurant called Taste Paradise for lunch. I wasn’t too worried that it was situated in one of the shopping malls – I have tasted some interesting foods in Singapore malls before. Two girls in traditional regalia greeted guests at the entrance while bright orange slats curved like a dragon’s back above the dining room and lit up the hand-painted portraits of emperors on the walls.

Taste Paradise was started by a local restauranteur who began with a small coffee shop but now owns a string of successful eateries in this city. I decided to let my host order for all of us, and what a good thing that turned out to be!

We began with a soup of chicken. The waitress brought out the large pot to the table and ladled out clear soup into our bowls. She fished out pieces of chicken and neatly put them on a plate, but apparently these were not meant to be eaten. Carmelized cashews and cups of steaming green tea followed.

Then came a series of dim sums: Ha Kau, Siew Mai, Xiao Long Bao, Char Siu Bao – the last one being among the best roast pork buns I have eaten.

The steamed Cheong Fun with honey BBQ Pork filling was excellent too as were the Crackling Pork Belly. The XO Carrot Cake is a popular item on the menu and it was certainly interesting but not exceptional in my opinion.

For me, the stand-out items were the ones we ended with. The Custard Bun, Liu Sha Bao, with its molten bright yellow middle was fabulous as was the unusual dessert made of chilled avocado with a scoop of coffee ice-cream that was served in a dish with heavy white fumes coming off its base!

On Friday evening, after a long day a few of us headed to the watering holes in Orchard Road. First in Alley Bar, a dim-lit and high-ceiling L-shaped place popular with expat businessmen and hipsters alike. I was meeting with some old friends after a while and it was fun chilling out over glasses of Guinness and Truffle Fries.

We then walked down to Marche, a Movenpick owned restaurant themed like a bustling open marketplace in the basement of one of the swanky malls on Orchard Road. I settled for grilled sea-bass, German sausages and beer.

Finally, we walked down at Wine Connection to give in to our sweet cravings with a glass of Kracher wine and Tiramisu. I had a flight to catch so by midnight, when the night was still young, I headed back to my hotel. The Holidays were in the air with Christmas trees, lighting and sweet cakes and pastries on display everywhere.

Shantanu Ghosh

10 Dec 2011

10 best budget eats in Bologna

Bologna, home to mortadella and ragù, is one of the best places to eat out in Italy, says John Brunton – and one of the cheapest.


Bologna is known as “La Grassa” (the Fat One), and this friendly city can stake a strong claim to being at the heart of Italian cuisine. This is the home of fresh pasta, the famous mortadella sausage, and nearby there are the finest producers of Parma ham, Parmigiano cheese, balsamic vinegar. There is no better place in Italy for eating out, and it really is almost impossible here to pay a lot of money for a meal.

The king of Kuchen in Black Forest, Germany

Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte, a classic chocolate, whipped cream and cherry cake, is staging a comeback in the Black Forest, a wedge of southwest Germany where the dessert was invented in a humble confectioner’s kitchen almost a century ago.

Stretching some 200km east of the Rhine, from Karlsruhe almost to the Swiss border, the Black Forest is something of a misnomer. It is definitely more green than black, unless seen on a snowy day when the landscape appears monochromatic, and it is more a series of thickly wooded hills, high pastures and valleys than one big forest. Scenic roads dip and rise through the region, past farmhouses huddling on hillsides and half-timbered towns with a rustic, fairy-tale-like prettiness. Nearly every cafe serves Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) at 3pm sharp.

Ask the locals where to find the best Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (known as Black Forest gateau in England) and they will probably rattle off the names of a few traditional hilltop cafes, where you have to earn your Kuchen with a brisk three-hour hike through woods of fir and pine, or sing the praises of Oma (grandma) who makes her cake with cream fresh from the cow. Other locals have embraced the new — and highly controversial — Black Forest gateau that can be found in a tin, the brainchild of baker Johannes Ruf who runs the Holzoffenbaeckerei in St Peter. He made the cake small enough to fit in a picnic basket, just big enough to share.

No matter what the size, all are in agreement as to the gateau’s core ingredients — layers of moist sponge and sour cherries, lashings of whipped cream, a dash of Kirschwasser (cherry schnapps) and a dusting of chocolate shavings. Get it wrong and the cake is gooey and boozy. Get it right and the dessert is light and spongy, the sourness of the cherries perfectly offsetting the sweetness of the cream. For a taste of the real deal, try the following spots:

Café Schäfer

Café Schäfer Triberg

Famous as the home of Germany’s highest waterfall and the world’s biggest cuckoo clock, Triberg is a kitsch, quaint, storybook village. The Sheik of Dubai and the BBC’s Hairy Bikers have made the pilgrimage for the prized Black Forest gateau at Café Schäfer, baked by Claus Schäfer, the heir to Josef Keller’s original 1915 Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte recipe. “I only ever bake a couple of cakes at a time and use top quality Kirschwasser,” said Schäfer. “A little marzipan adds flavour to the shortcrust pastry base, too.”

Café König

The grande dame of Germany’s spa towns, Baden-Baden has been baden (bathing) ever since the Romans discovered the therapeutic benefits of its waters. Today it is a gentrified city of leafy avenues, belle-époque villas and delightfully old-world cafés — none better than Café König. Alongside petit fours, éclairs and fruit tarts that look (almost) too good to eat, sits the crowning glory, Black Forest gateau. Order a slice and do as royalty and celebrities have done before you – savour it on the chestnut tree-shaded terrace, watching the world go decadently by.


Todtnau, Black Forest

If you can never have your fill of cake, consider timing your Black Forest trip to catch the annual Black Forest Gateau Festival. Celebrating the Black Forest’s most famous export with baking contests and brass bands, the festival is held in Todtnauberg, a village with fine views of the region’s highest peak, Feldberg, on clear days. Even if you miss the fun, there is always the option of — whisper it very quietly — taking home a Black Forest gateau in a tin. They last for a year, you know.

Kerry Christiani

6 Dec 2011