Tag Archives: Food

What to eat in Taichung

What to Eat in Taichung, Taiwan – Markets, Milk Tea and More!

Previously I wrote about things to do in Taichung, so this time I want to share some info about the food I ate in Taichung, Taiwan. This time (as opposed to my Taipei food recommendations) the list of what to eat is a mixed bag — there is local food, snacks in the market and even a couple of modern cafes. Are you hungry?

If you’re travelling to Taiwan, all of my Taiwan posts are here:

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1. Taichung Meatballs

I’m starting this list with what I think is the most traditional kind of food in Taichung. When I was researching food in Taichung, I found that meatballs seemed to be a typical dish in the city. Taichung meatballs are pieces of pork mince wrapped in a thick layer like mochi, then fried.Mao Chuan Taichung MeatballTaichung meatballs are served hot in a small bowl, sprinkled with spices which go brilliantly with the meatballs themselves. Some use a sweet spicy sauce, but there is also one with soy sauce, a little vinegar and minced garlic. Taichung meatballs are freshly fried to order and are always served fresh from the pan. Yum!Wonton mee Mao ChuanThere are a few places in Taichung which specialise Taichung meatball — I tried Mao Chuan Wonton & Taiwanese Meatball located near Second Market. Besides Taichung meatball they  also serve noodle dumplings which are equally as awesome!

Location: No. 225-1, Zhongzheng Rd, Central District, Taichung
Price: NT$ 100 for 1 meatball and 1 noodle dumpling

2. Three Generations Yee Mien

Located in Second Market, this noodle shop is always crowded. And that’s perhaps because it has been in the same family for the past 3 generations and gained a reputation which is widespread. Yee Mien is Mandarin for ‘dry noodles’. You could say this dish is the same as yamien which is sold in Bandung, Indonesia. They both use yellow noodles that are boiled, strained and then stirred with soy sauce and oil. Delicious simplicity.Three generation noodles TaichungThe topping is usually minced pork with a sprinkle of chopped shallots/spring onions. On the side you can either choose a plain broth or one with a few meatballs added. Interestingly, the meatballs are seafood rather than the more commonly seen beef. It’s located in the market itself, and even though there are actually two kiosks, tables are also placed in the corridor because it’s so popular. Finding this place is easy. Just visit Second Market and look for the busiest kiosk!

Location: No. 1-7, Sec 2, Sanmin Rd (Second Market)
Price: NT$110 for 1 plain yee mien & 1 yee mien plus meatball soupYee Mien Second Market Taichung

3. Ban Yue Shau (pancake)

This is one of the foods I tried at the Yizhong Street Night Market. Literally Ban Yue Shau means a half-moon shaped snack. It’s made from a kind of thin pancake (similar to roti canai but thicker and chewier) filled with 4 choices of meat: pork, tuna, chicken and beef, then folded in the middle so that it looks like a half-moon (ban yue).Ban Yue Shau Pancake TaichungAfter that, fried egg whites are added as well as green onions and soy sauce. For those wanting something even more special, you can even add some cheese. It’s so awesome because the texture is crispy from the skin and juicy from the stuffing. I reckon this is a must-try snack in Taichung! I loved it that much.

Location: Yizhong Street Night Market
Price: NT$40Ban Yue Shau Yizhong Street Taichung

4. Dao Xiao Mien (Knife Cut Noodles)

Because eating Bn Yue Shau was more of a snack than a full meal, I decided to try a more serious sit down meal. This time I went back and forth looking for the store called Shan Shi Dao Xiao Mien Shi Guan. So difficult to find! But the key is to look for noodles being cut with a knife.

It used to be called hand-sliced noodle because the knife is held by human hands, but now technology has taken over and a robot actually cuts the noodles. It’s ridiculous!Knife cut noodle TaichungThe noodles which have been cut and boiled are then drained and served according to your specific order (either stir-fried or in a broth). I ordered the fried noodles cooked with beef, but I found the noodles to but uber-thick and not like I’m used to. The dish was generally enjoyable, but not something I would rave about — mainly because of the weird texture of the thick noodles.

Location: 18 Yutsai South Street, Yizhong Street Night Market
Price: NT$70

5. Yizhong Fong Ran Ice

I love desserts, especially Asian desserts. So it was a no-brainer that I would search for one in Yizhong Street Night Market. I found one dessert stall in a rather quiet area away from the market crowd which looked like a standard garage with a cart out the front.Fong Ran Ice TaichungThey sell dessert called Fong Ran Ice. Fong Ran Ice is shaved ice topped with red beans and ice cream then sprinkled with plum sauce. On first taste, the sauce is weird! It’s a balance strong sweet plum combined with intense saltiness. After a while you get used to it and it becomes really enjoyable. Just strange!Fong Ran Ice Yizhong Street TaichungThere are 3 options: more red bean but only 2 scoops of ice cream (NT$35), 4 scoops of ice cream but a small amount of red bean (NT$35) or plain without red bean and ice cream (NT$25).

Location: 6 Yutsai Street, Yizhong Street Night Market
Price: NT$35

6. Caffaina Coffee Gallery

I think this is the most luxurious cafe I visited in Taiwan. Once I saw the front I immediately thought “Wow … expensive!” Entering the 2 floors of the building you’re immediately greeted with a magnificent room with luxurious interior. In one area there is a row of glass displays filled with many dozens of types of cake that look so delicious.Cakes at Caffaina Coffee GalleryMost people come here to drink coffee and eat cake while hanging out with friends. But if you want more heavy food there are also several options which should do the trick. Also, if you’re not into coffee, there are plenty of other hot and cold drinks to choose from.Food and drinks at Caffaina TaichungThe system of selecting food is to pay first at the cashier and then find a seat. You’ll be given a buzzer so that when you’re food is ready, you can go pick it up yourself. This is an expensive cafe and totally different to anything I would normally try in Taiwan. But it’s sometimes great to just escape with a coffee and cake and cool down in the AC — and this is a great place for that. FYI, Caffaina is not just in Taichung, but also other cities in Taiwan.

Location: No. 45, Section 2, Huizhong Road, Xitun District, Taichung City
Price: NT$430 for 2 drinks and 2 cakes

7. Haritts Donuts

Haritts Donuts is located in an area near Fantasy Story which seems like it’s the trendy place with the kids these days.

Although small, the shop is cute, with Japanese-style wooden door and window frames. I wanted a couple of donuts and I wanted to eat them in the air-conditioned shop. But the problem is, Haritts Donuts has this crappy rule which means you need to buy drinks if you want to sit inside at all. You can’t even sit on a bench inside. So in the end, I had to sit in the gutter out the front to eat my donut and that sucks bad.Haritts Donuts TaichungBuuuuuuut… the donuts were awesome! The donuts are more ball shaped than normal donuts and don’t have holes in the middle. The dough is soft, kind of chewy and the filling is also delicious. I tried the matcha and raspberry white choc and they were both crazy good.Haritts Donuts TaiwanInterestingly, the dough of each donut was different based on the filling I chose. These donuts are not expensive (about NT$45-50). I can’t wait to try these donuts in Japan soon.

Location: No. 6, Lane 128, Zhongxing Street, West District, Taichung City
Price: NT$95 for 2 donuts

8. Pearl Milk Tea at Chun Shui Tang

It is true that Pearl Milk Tea is all over Taiwan, in every city, whether it’s a small town or a big city. But if you’re in Taichung, stop by Chun Shui Tang, the birthplace of Pearl Milk Tea, the drink which eventually spread around the whole world. Although Chun Shui Tang has about 40 outlets all over Taiwan, it is certainly great to stop by the original location.Chun Shui Tang TaichungThe first location of Chun Shui Tang in Siwei Street opened in 1983. It originally just sold Pearl Milk Tea, but now they also sell food such as dimsum as well as some heavier meals. The pearls were tasty, chewy, soft and not overly sweet.Chun Shui Tang TaipeiI originally was just going to order the famous Pearl Milk Tea, but I was tempted by the brunch snacks and ordered some shrimp spring rolls, butter toast and a portion of fried mantau with condensed milk for dipping. Delicious!

Location: No. 30, Siwei Street, West District, Taichung City
Price: NT$475 for 2 pearl milk tea + 3 servings of food

9. Chicken Sausage

I stumbled across this randomly in the streets of Feng Chia Night Market. The shape of these sausages is fat not uniform because they aren’t produced in a factory. The sausage is filled with finely chopped chicken and wrapped in a thin skin which I assume is some sort of intestines.Chicken Sausage TaichungThey grill that sucker hard until the skin shrinks and becomes crispy while the inside oozes with juices. Before serving, they sprinkle the sausage with some powder to amp up the flavour even more. So delicious!

Location: Feng Chia Night Market
Price: NT$40 per sausageChicken Sausage at Feng Chia Night Market

10. Specialty Coffee at Coffee Stopover

Finally, some info for coffee lovers. I was quite surprised to find good coffee in Taichung. At Coffee Stopover, not only do they serve world class coffee, they also conduct brewing classes.Bottom floor of Coffee Stopover TaichungThe bottom floor of Coffee Stopover is more for people interested in and wanting to know more about coffee. Scattered around are roasting machines, coffee beans and an assortment of coffee brewing tools. The 2nd floor is for sitting and relaxing and there is a big tall bench that can be used for small groups as well as a few tables & chairs for couples.Coffee stopover TaichungCoffee sold here has been specially formulated and divided into 5 different types: Dancer, Backpacker, Painter, Dauber & Professor. Each blend has a distinctive aroma and strength. If you like strong coffee, choose Professor. If you don’t like strong, choose Dancer. This is one of the best coffees I had in Taiwan. Simply sensational.

Coffee Stopover: No. 24, Lane 217, Minquan Road, West District, Taichung City
Price: NT$220 for 2 cappuccinos

And that’s my recommendation of what to eat when in Taichung! If it’s a nifty little city and well worth a visit. Let me know if you have any favourites in the comments so I can keep this list up to date!

My other Taiwan posts:

Taipei
Best Cafes in Taipei: I Tried Them All!
What to eat in Taipei – Pork, Rice and more Pork!

Taichung
Things to do in Taichung, Taiwan
What to Eat in Taichung, Taiwan – Markets, Milk Tea and More!
Review: Fly Inn Hostel – Good, Cheap Rooms in Taichung

Kaohsiung
Review: Centre Hotel, Kaohsiung

Transport
How to Get From Taipei to Taichung
The Best Way to Get From Taichung to Kaohsiung
How to get from Taipei Airport to Taipei City Centre (incl. New Train!)

 

What to Eat in Taipei Taiwan

What to eat in Taipei – Pork, Rice and more Pork!

Every time I travel to a new place I try to have a balance between ‘eating what we know is delicious’ or ‘eating local food for sake of it being local food’. Make no mistake, it does not mean local food isn’t tasty. But hunting local food can be a challenge primarily because it’s a pain to get the good stuff, but also because some of the flavours are unusual and we just never know whether we’re going to like something or not.

Here is the result of my hunt for local food in Taipei City. It’s a mixture of food I found in the night markets and from local recommendations from research on the internet. Bottom line? Food in Taipei is incredible and far beyond what I had anticipated.Raohe Night Market Taipei

1. Stinky Tofu

Stinky tofu seems to be the culinary icon of Taiwan and in Taipei it’s easy to find. If you smell food, but the odour is nasty, you’ve found yourself a stinky tofu stand. It smells a bit fermented, but when you taste it, the fermented flavour doesn’t really come through. There’s also a sourness in the smell that you definitely get a hint of when you eat it.

The original variety is square shaped with a sprinkle of pickled vegetables and watered-down chilli sauce. I decided to try the funky hipster version, shaped into long sticks and coming with a choice of cheese sauce, tartar, honey mustard, wasabi, etc. It’s certainly worth a try!

Price: NT$ 60/cup at Raohe Night Marketstinky tofu taipei

2. Scallion Pancakes

I love scallions and it’s the scallion aspect of these delectable morsels that tempted me. If you’re not into scallions, it’s probably wise to stay away from these pancakes because it is chock full of them. The raw pancakes are shaped into large donuts and then lightly fried until golden brown.

The skin of the pancake becomes a little crispy and the inside remains doughy and bread-like. These scallion pancakes are a classic Taiwanese snack and are a must try when in Taipei.

Price: NT$40 at Raohe Night Marketscallion pancake taipei

3. Frying Milk

The Taiwanese call this stuff Frying Milk. We assume they mean Fried Milk, because that’s exactly when this snack is. So how do you make Fried Milk? It appears from the stock they use that it’s simply milk with perhaps a setting agent such as gelatine which allows the milk to be cut. 3 pieces of the milk are then skewered and fried.frying milk shihlin market taipeiSellers will usually grab a freshly fried milk stick and hand it to you while saying “careful hot”. And it bloody well is — I burnt my mouth immediately! The outside is crunchy, the inside gooey and the flavour predictably like milk. This isn’t a meal in itself, but it’s worth a try when passing through one of the markets.

Price: NT$20 at Shihlin Night Marketfrying milk taipei

4. Pearl Milk Tea

Your trip to Taiwan is not complete without drinking Pearl Milk Tea in the country that invented it. It is said that Pearl Milk Tea was first popularised by a particular store in Taichung in 1983 (which I visited and will write about shortly). Pearl Milk Tea is ubiquitous in Taiwan and you can’t walk more than a few hundred metres without seeing someone sell the delicious drink.

In my opinion, the pearls in Taiwan are smaller in size and more soft than in the West so you’re jaw isn’t going to be aching from all the chewing. There are so many flavour options of milk tea in Taipei, but I like the original Brown Sugar Pearl Milk Tea. Simple and delicious.

Price: NT$40-60 depending on flavour at Shihlin Night Market

5. Hot Star Fried Chicken

The first time I saw Hot Star Fried Chicken was at Shihlin Night Market and the queue was long. It is said that the original outlet is here and they just sell 1 type of food — large fried chicken. The shape and size of the boneless fillet is simply massive. The batter is actually quite thick — perhaps a little too thick. But it’s the flour which has all the flavour with a mix of herbs and spices which drive the whole flavour sensation.hot star chicken shihlin market taipeiBefore being given your hunk of fried chicken, you’ll be asked if you prefer spicy or not. Even if you choose the spicy option, it’s not too bad — just a little bit of a kick to turn the flavour up to the next notch. I also found Hot Star Fried Chicken again in the Ximending area, but in this outlet the food options were many. Not just large hunks of fried chicken, but also fried mushrooms, fried boneless chicken nuggets, fried scallops and squid balls, tempura, etc.

Large fried chicken: NT$70 at Shihlin Night Markethot star large chicken taipei

6. Xiao Long Bao (steamed soup dumplings)

Din Tai Fung is perhaps the most famous Xiao Long Bao restaurant in the world and it has spread to so many countries that its name is now synonymous with these silky smooth soup dumplings. The original Din Tai Fung location is on Xinyi Road, Taipei City and the lines are always long.

I decided to skip the lines and try the dumplings elsewhere as there are just so many different restaurants serving them. This place was just across the road from where I was staying and I have to say they were fantastic. Certainly not as refined as those from Din Tai Fung, but who wants refined when eating this sort of food anyway?

Price: NT$150/10 pieces at a local restaurantxiao long bao taipei

7. Lu Rou Fan (braised pork rice)

If you’ve ever eaten pork in soy sauce in Asia or at Asian restaurant and liked it, you’re going to be a fan of Lu Rou Fan. Similar in flavour to pork soy sauce dishes you’ve had before, Lu Rou Fan is served as a hunk of pork belly and it is out of this world! There are 2 options — the cheap which is small squares of pork and the expensive which is the thick pork belly, both covered in soy sauce. But prices are all relative and the expensive option is still cheap by international standards.Lu rou fan taipeiLu Rou Fan small portions are very cheap and quite filling, but I did spot a guy eating two portions of it — depends how hungry you are, I guess. I tried the Lu Rou Fan at Jing Fen Braised Pork Rice where the line is long, but the turnover very fast. I highly recommend it. There are braised pork rice joints all over Taipei, so don’t be afraid to try other places as well.

Price: NTD$30 for a small portion, NT$65 for rice with pork belly at Jing Fen Braised Pork Rice.Lu rou fan small taipei

8. Candied Fruits

This snack is actually really simple, but it looks quite tempting and that’s why I just had to try it. Similar to candy/toffee apples in Western countries, large pieces of fruit such as strawberries are skewered and then dipped into a sugar liquid. The liquid sugar hardens as it hits the cool air and creates a fantastic glossy coating on the fruit.candied fruits taipeiI thought strawberries were a fantastic fruit to coat in sugar and I actually prefer them much more than I do a standard candy/toffee apple.

In addition to strawberries, some vendors also coat cherry tomatoes, kiwi fruit, plums and sliced starfruit.

Price: NT$50 for 1 skewer with 3 strawberries and 1 tomato cherry.candied strawberries taipei

9. Fu Zhou Noodle

If you’ve ever been to Bandung in Indonesia, you’ll probably have tasted yamien which is similar to Fu Zhou noodle. In essence, Fu Zhou noodle is boiled yellow noodle stirred with sesame oil and then sprinkled with fresh chives. It’s a simple but incredibly tasty dish. Interestingly, the Taiwanese called their dry noodles ‘yi mian’. I suppose that’s where the term yamien comes from.

I ate the version topped with minced pork cooked in soy sauce and it was delicious.

Price: NT$40 for a small portion at Yi Ping Fu Zhou Noodle Housefu zhou noodle taipei

10. Taiwanese Breakfast

This really is referred to as Taiwanese breakfast and during my 2.5 weeks in Taiwan, I saw these shops everywhere. The food served is varied, but one common theme is soy milk!

What’s interesting is that besides soy milk which is consumed sweet, there is a so-called salty soy milk! You don’t just drink salty soy milk, you also eat it. How so? Well, plain soy milk is mixed with savoury ingredients such as green onions, fried onions, savoury donut slices and dried shrimps. The result is a salty porridge of sorts which is weird, but certainly worth a try.Taiwanese Breakfast TaipeiClenched in the hand of the soy milk seller there is a secret ingredient which functions as a thickening agent for the soy milk. The milk separates into a clear liquid and clumps of more solid soy milk (tofu!). It tastes good and the texture is like eating fried tofu without the skin on the outside.

Aside from soy milk, these eateries almost always sell youtiao (chinese savoury donuts). In addition you can sometimes find Chinese pancakes filled with omelet or pork chop. There are also varieties which are pork floss and pieces of youtiao wrapped in a layer of steamed rice which is then wrapped in an omelete. It’s freakin’ awesome.

Each place has its own flagship menu. Popular breakfast spots in Taipei include Fu Hang Soy Milk and Yong He Soy Milk King.

Price: up to NT$100 for breakfast for 2 people at Yong He Soy Milk.Breakfast Spot Taipei

11. Dessert

There are so many special stores selling desserts in a bowl containing anything ranging from taro balls, chewy sweets, tofu pudding, almond pudding, jelly, black jelly, red beans, etc.

In the bowl you can expect to have shaved ice added as well as sugar syrup or some other sweet ingredient such as mango puree.Dessert Bowl TaipeiI tried a version at Raohe Night Market and I wasn’t that impressed to be honest. The texture was so overly chewy and it wasn’t pleasant despite many locals seeming to enjoy themselves. The more modern style is that of Hong Tang which is available around the world. But if you can get it anywhere in the world, it’s not really special to have it in Taiwan. For me, these desserts are a work in progress!

Price: NT$50 at Raohe Night MarketMango Dessert Taipei

12. Matsusaka Pork

When you hear the word Matsusaka, your mind immediately drifts to the top beef in Japan such as Kobe and Hida. But apparently Matsusaka Pork doesn’t necessarily have to be from Japan. It is said that since the name Matsusaka ensures the meat is of high quality (having a certain ratio of meat and fat), many food businesses in Taiwan also use that name to ‘sell’ the product. Who knows whether it’s legal to do that. Probably not!matsusaka pork raohe night marketI tried the grilled pork lightly sprayed with lemon juice. The texture is to die for, soft when chewed but still crunchy. The flavours also are not over the top because they don’t use a lot of spice or lemon spray — just a sprinkle to freshen things up and cut through the fatiness.

Price: NT$100 for small portions, NT$150 large portion at Raohe Night Market.matsusaka pork taipei

13. Grilled Mochi

I found this grilled mochi while exploring foursquare in the Ximending area. Sounds interesting, mochi grilled then dressed with topping options which can be either sweet or salty. The sweet toppings are sweetened condensed milk, chocolate sauce, green tea sauce, cheese, nuts, black sesame. The salty choices are BBQ sauce, spicy Thai, Thai curry and Japanese soy sauce.grilled mochi taipeiThe mochi which is shaped into a block is stabbed with a skewer. It’s then grilled like satay, flipped back and forth until it’s charred on the outside. The queue is sometimes long, but in my opinion the sauce was rather disappointing and not worth lining up for.

I chose the chocolate sauce and it was so so thin meaning the mochi was just like eating a block of plain sticky rice with hardly any flavouring. I’d like to try this again and see if I just got a bad batch because in theory, it should be delicious! Give it a try and let me know in the comments if I was just unlucky.

Price: NT$35 in the night market in Ximending area.grilled mochi chocolate sauce TaipeiI tried every single one of these dishes myself, so you know this is not one of those random listicles that someone researched from their bedroom without actually visiting Taiwan!

For most of these foods, there are many locations you can try, but I just mentioned the places I visited and the prices I paid. Different locations may be different prices. There are some other local foods that are notoriously popular in Taipei but I did not have time to try them for various reasons such as: other priorities to try first, sounds disgusting or simply that the line is too long.If you’re curious and have the chance, I recommend you also try: Beef Noodle, Ah Chung Rice Flour Noodle in Ximending, Beef Cubes and various grilled seafood. For those who want to know good cafes in Taipei, please read my post on all the cafes I tried in Taipei!

PS. People have emailed me asking where I stayed in Taipei. I actually stayed in two totally different areas and I actually preferred Ximending. I stayed at Ximen Taipei DreamHouse and it was cheap, comfortable and most importantly conveniently located. I got a good deal on booking.com for about US$38 per night –> Check current prices here.

My other Taiwan posts:

Taipei
Best Cafes in Taipei: I Tried Them All!
What to eat in Taipei – Pork, Rice and more Pork!

Taichung
Things to do in Taichung, Taiwan
What to Eat in Taichung, Taiwan – Markets, Milk Tea and More!
Review: Fly Inn Hostel – Good, Cheap Rooms in Taichung

Kaohsiung
Review: Centre Hotel, Kaohsiung

Transport
How to Get From Taipei to Taichung
The Best Way to Get From Taichung to Kaohsiung
How to get from Taipei Airport to Taipei City Centre (incl. New Train!)

 

Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert2

Review: Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet

Wahhh… Just got back from the not only the best Christmas buffet ever, but the best buffet I’ve had anywhere in the world and I just had to share my thoughts about it.

This year I decided to have Christmas in Bangkok. After being in Chiang Mai for 6 weeks, it was time to change things up a bit and head to a big city to enjoy a GOOD Christmas buffet. And the Christmas buffet at the Millennium Hilton Hotel in Bangkok was the perfect choice.

We arrived at 11:30am and were directed to the 31st floor for a complimentary welcome drink and canapes. I knew the welcome drink was on offer for guests arriving before midday so that’s why we arrived early. But what I didn’t know was that you got to have that drink with an awesome view PLUS you also got a selection of delicious canapes.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Canape with a view

After about 30 minutes, we were invited to enter the restaurant and we chose to sit on the terrace. It was hot, but it was nice to have the fresh air and to enjoy the scenery of the nearby river.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Terrace

We were offered a drinks menu, but we weren’t keen on spending more money on drinks after having already paid 2800 baht for buffet. Also, they include juices in the price of the buffet anyway which can be gotten from the bar. I was a bit surprised there was no water included in the buffet. I thought that was a bit crappy.

I started off with tuna tataki and moved immediately onto prawns and huge legs of alaskan king crab. ALASKAN KING CRAB! As much as you wanted to eat! There were also mussels, oysters and heaps of varieties of fish.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Tuna Tataki

The next station was the cold meat station. I went straight to the big leg of jamon they had set up, just like they might have in a bar in Spain. They also had some fantastic bresaola which is something of a rarity anywhere really.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cold Meats

Next was the Japanese area. I grabbed a bunch of really fresh and tasty raw fish and downed that in about 30 seconds.

And now was the time for the part I had been a little worried about. The turkey. It’s so easy to mess up turkey that I had low expectations. But I should never have worried. The turkey was succulent and tasty. Not a hint of dryness at all.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Turkey and Beef

I was keen for some sweet stuff by now, so I skipped the Indian section as well as the Thai section and went hunting for the dessert station, but I couldn’t find it! Then I spotted someone carrying chocolate and followed where they had come from and I arrived at a totally separate building which seems to function as a sort of boutique chocolate shop.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert1

Well… Today it was open to guests and you could eat whatever you wanted. All sorts of amazing cakes, handmade chocolates, ice cream and puddings.

I went back numerous times including one time when I got them to give me a slice of a lemon tart with macarons on it that no one had dared to try yet. It was awesome to see them slice that cake for the first time just more. Needless to say, the tart was great and the macaron was seriously impressive — soft and chewy on the inside and only a slight bit of resistance on the outside.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Dessert2

By this stage I was stuffed and I hadn’t tried everything. People were starting to leave and lots of space opened up inside. We decided to see what it was like dining inside. And that’s when I saw it. The cheese room. THE CHEESE ROOM! Yeah so what? Like they’re going to let guests raid the cheese room… BUT THEY DID!Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cheese Room

But I get the feeling hardly anyone knew about it because there was still a massive plate of blackberries left, so I scooped up some of those and started slicing up lots of the imported cheeses which usually cost like $100/kg… like the roquefort, manchego and… a huge array of soft, smelly cheeses.Millennium Hilton Bangkok Christmas Buffet Cheese Plate

After eating my weight in festive food, I was done. So I ordered a black coffee and even left the little biscuit that came on the side. I just couldn’t do it. But who cares? This was the best Christmas buffet ever and all it cost was a paltry 2800 baht (US$75). In you’re in Bangkok for Christmas, go here. I might even go and try their breakfast buffet some other time.

If you want to know how much it costs to stay at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok, you can check rates on Agoda.

Giving Singapore a Second Chance

I first visited Singapore a couple of years when doing a visa run from Bali which was part of a larger 4 month journey around southeast Asia. I guess the purpose of the visit had something to do with how I felt during my short stay in Singapore — that of a destination that I was simply there to transit through and not to explore with any great effort.

I left Singapore at that time thinking that it was the only non-Asian country in southeast Asia and far too expensive for a cheap-arse like me. I really didn’t like it.

Singaporean Kids
Singaporean Kids

When looking for flights to Indonesia for my current jaunt, I checked all the usual points of entry such as Bali, Jakarta, via Malaysia…and also Singapore. It just so happened that I got a really good deal on a ticket to Singapore from Melbourne — $200 for an 8 hour flight. So rather than skip straight through Singapore as my first instinct told me to do, I decided to hang around a little bit longer to do some walking, some eating and some animal watching. It turned out to be a fantastic experience helped by an Indophile friend I met on my first night, Judith.

Walking

I love walking. I especially like walking when I’m in a new place so that I can get my bearings and feel at ease. It’s also the best way, in my view, to get a feel for a place and to discover hidden treats. It’s often too easy to whip out a copy of the Lonely Planet and make a beeline to a restaurant or activity thereby passing all the cool stuff in between — like creepy alleys, culinary delights and my favourite — banal local life.

The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore
The Esplanade (Durian) Singapore

Around the harbour area there are some really cool things to see on the architectural front. My favourite is probably what is referred to as the ‘durian’. It’s real name is the Esplanade and it regularly hosts world class performing artists in its concert hall and theatre. Other buildings I loved were the Marina Bay Sands which charges $20 to get to the top op unless you are sneaky like me in which case you can as if you are staying there and use the internal elevators.

Eating

Singapore has always been known as a great food destination, but I never saw it on my first journey. This time I was determined to crack the nut that is the hawker centres where I’d read it was possible to get a good feed for under $3 which is good value in anyone’s language. Judith and I hit up the Old Airport Rd food hall for starters and it delievered the goods. I got myself a laksa with a massive dollop of sambal balancing precariously on the side. Needless to say I needed hardly any of it as it was spicy enough for me.

Laksa with Sambal
Laksa with Sambal

I also got around to a few hawker centres near Little India and they all dished up lovely food. The mainstays of most of these joints was chicken rice, prawn mee and miscellaneous crazy Chinese stuff that didn’t take my fancy. It truly is possible to eat great food on the cheap in Singapore.

Singapore Zoo

Apart from walking around aimlessly, was there anything else I did? Why yes there was, as the sub-heading might suggest. Judith and I headed off to the Singapore Zoo. Being a fan of giving local transport a go, I indicated to Judith that I had the directions to the zoo all sorted out. After the first bus told us to get off in the middle of nowhere, we looked for a cab. Apparently there is some weird ‘no pickup’ rule in Singapore (one of about a billion rules that you can’t be expected to get a handle on) and we walked around a little like zombies (sans drool) until we managed to get to a bus stop (perhaps the same one that we were dumped off at). We jumped on another bus, jumped off it again just up the road and changed to the zoo bus. All in all, a silly decision by me to do public transport. For a few dollars more, it would have been better to get a direct tourist bus or even a cab.

Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo
Hamadryas Baboon at Singapore Zoo

The zoo itself is incredible. It’s easily the best zoo I have ever been to although that’s not really saying a whole lot since I’ve not been to that many. Top on my list of wishes was to see a mandrill. I did indeed see a couple of mandrills and that made my day. I think the mandrills, 80 hamadryas baboons and the jaguars were my faves. I think it’d be pretty easy to spend a full day there, but we breezed through quite quickly as Judith had a plane to Indonesia to catch. The next time I visit Singapore I wouldn’t mind doing a night safari which apparently goes from next door.

So all in all my visit to Singapore was a successful one. I stayed at the Inncrowd in Little India which truth be told was a little disappointing for the $15 price tag. 10 bed dorms, no decent spot to put your bag and a breakfast not worth bothering with. Free WiFi was nice, but who needs that nowadays anyway?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on Singapore. Ever been? Want to go?

Opera Cake from Sweet Infinity

When I started my blog I thought I was going to write a lot more about cakes and pastries because I’m always trying new ones out and reviewing them in my mind. The problem has been that I quite often wolf the cake or pastry down before taking a photo! And a review of a cake is no review at all if it doesn’t have a photo.

So my first cake review in a year is the magnificent Opera Cake that I purchased from Sweet Infinity in the Strand Arcade, Sydney. It’s a cute little shop that fits in with the look and feel of the surrounding old-fashioned shops of the Strand Arcade. I stood outside for a while to see who was going in, who was just looking in the window and who just didn’t care. My completely non-scientific assessment is this: Lots of women passing by look in the window while almost no men do and men only enter the shop when accompanied by a woman (except me). What does this mean? I don’t really know, but I reckon it’d probably have something do with most men viewing food as fuel whereas many women view it differently. Good on me for the massive generalisations!

Opera Cake from Sweet Infinity
Opera Cake from Sweet Infinity

OK, the cake. An Opera Cake is essentially a layered cake containing almond sponge, ganache and cream topped with a chocolate glaze. The Sweet Infinity opera cake has all of these elements: a couple of sponge, a couple of ganache and a couple of cream layers with a spinkling of cocoa on top.

Firstly, the cake was NOT overly sweet. I really hate sweet desserts as they take away the subtlety of any flavours. And this cake tasted chocolatey, very slight nutty and a maybe even a hint of…something else. On top of these fantastic flavours was a fantastic texture which was delivered through the fudgy ganache, quite stiff cream and soft sponge. Eaten all together, the mind is just racing with flavours and textures and it’s just about enough to send you over the edge.

Anyway, without getting too scientific and too foodie-like, I can summarise by saying it gets a big thumbs up. I will be returning to try other tasty treats in the future!

Bali Photo Essay – Food

This is the third in a series of shameless posts with a lot of Bali photos. Click here for Bali BeachesPeople and Animals and Culture.

I love food. It really makes travelling much more interesting for me. Of course, not all foods I encounter on the road suit my palate, but when it does, I usually like to take photos. So here is a bit Bali food porn to get you salivating.

Nasi Campur
Nasi Campur

A favourite meal of many Indonesia is Nasi Campur. It literally means mixed rice – a plate of rice with an assortment of vegetarian dishes and if you’re lucky, one or two pieces of meat. A meal such as the one above can be had for about a dollar. Maybe a little more when you start to pile on meat.

Gorengan
Gorengan

This is gorengan. The word “goreng” means “fried”. And gorengan is simply an extension of that with a very general meaning of “fried stuff”. Most of these bite-sized morsels contain potato-like substances and are served cold. I can almost feel the fat stick to the roof of my mouth.

Gado Gado
Gado Gado

Gado gado is popular in tourist restaurants around Bali, but it is also a genuine Indonesian dish. It’s simply a bunch of vegetables mixed in a peanut sauce with a bit of soy. Something like this costs around the 50c mark at a local food stall, but isn’t enough food to satisfy fat Western appetites — so buy two.

Babi Guling
Babi Guling

Babi guling is a favourite meal at ceremonies in Bali. A whole pig such as this one will set back a village about $150, but will be shared between as many as 20 families. The pig is roasted with a bumbu (mixed spice paste) and then served in a variety different ways. Sometimes foreigners refer to babi guling as roast suckling pig, but Balinese more often than not use bigger pigs than those that are still suckling — there’s more meat on a big pig.

Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak
Breakfast at Grocer & Grind, Seminyak

The local food in Bali is fantastic, but there is also a wonderful Western food scene. Grocer & Grind in Seminyak does the full range of Western food and good coffee as well. I like to go here for brunch…

Food defines many of my experiences in a country. Does it for you?

Australia Roadtrip – Western Australia

This is the fourth in a series of posts about my 2011 roadtrip around Oz. Checkout Tasmania, South Australia and campervan purchase!

Western Australia was almost the place that never was. I think after it is all said and done, my favourite state of the not too recent Oz Roadtrip was Western Australia. Many people rave about Western Australia – particularly the backpackers we met along our journey and I always just put it down to crazy Europeans being in awe of the sun and sand that they never get at home. But I was naive. Western Australia impressed me in a way that was totally unexpected and in a way that could only have been experienced on a roadtrip.

Western Australia is a massive state that defies all comprehension. When entering the state on the Nullarbor Plain, you continue to drive for a full day before you reach a town with more than 50 people. It’s then another day’s driving to reach the western coast. The coastline extends for over 12000km (8000 miles) and most of the interior is completely empty save for a few camels, dingos and emus.

Our first stop was the remote but modern town of Esperance on the south coast, 700km east of the capital of Western Australia, Perth. It is an area with some of the best beaches you will ever see and offers some great camping opportunities in the Cape le Grand National Park.

Stunning Beach in Cape le Grand National Park
Stunning Beach in Cape le Grand National Park

The next area I really loved was Albany. Why? Well… The town itself is beautiful with some gorgeous suburbs. But around the whole area there is beach after beach and vantage point after vantage point that takes your breath away. Really! Plus, you can go on a free tour of a forest at the Valley of the Giants near Denmark which starts at 10am. The best beach I have ever been to is Greens Pool just outside of Denmark. How can a place really look like this?

Greens Pool, Denmark, Western Australia
Greens Pool - My Favourite Beach

Finally, I thought Perth was magic. I’d been to Perth a couple of times before, but not with the same spirit as I did this time. This time it was more about food and Perth duly delivered. What struck me about Perth was how new and shiny everything was. It is clearly evident that the mining boom which has been going on for about 10 years now is paying dividends for Western Australia’s capital. Thousands of people work on remote mine sites around the state and fly to and from work on what they call a “fly in fly out” basis. The mines are desperate for workers and consequently people are lured there with big pay packets. The lifestyle sounds somewhat brutal, but I wouldn’t mind giving it a go one day.

Polenta & Mushrooms at Toast, East Perth
Polenta & Mushrooms at Toast, East Perth
City Beach, Perth
City Beach, Perth

We didn’t get further north than Perth. If you look at a map, you’ll realise that Perth isn’t far north at all! So we had a fab time in Western Australia and didn’t even scratch the surface. Had we headed north to the famed areas of Shark Bay, Ningaloo Reef and the Kimberley, we would have had to drive about 5000km further and taken weeks to do it – we just didn’t have the time. But these places have reputations larger than the areas we visited and I am supremely confident that they will stack up.

I’d like to say that I cannot recommend Western Australia highly enough, but that would sound stupid. So I’ll just say that if you plan to go anywhere in Australia, try to take a roadtrip in Western Australia. It is magnificent.

Kanga Bangas – My Favourite Source of Protein

Now, I don’t usually have the urge to write about the foods I eat day-to-day, but I’m becoming just a little obsessed with the kangaroo sausages I’ve been eating a bit lately. I think the obsession isn’t with the taste despite them being delicious, I think it’s with the amazing nutritional benefits. Most meat eaters stick with a few staples – chicken, beef, lamb, pork. But no one ever gives kangaroo a second thought, even here in Australia. But what’s not to love about kangaroo? It’s tasty, very healthy and very cheap.

Health

According to the Kangaroo Industry, kangaroo meat has less fat than lamb and beef and a similar level to lean pork and chicken and the fat is primarily unsaturated. That means having to chop off all the excess fat in your pork and chicken whereas kangaroo is generally lean from the start. The protein levels of kangaroo are higher than all the stock standard meats meaning it will fill you up a bit more and help build muscle! The cholesterol level is less than beef and lamb but slightly higher than pork and chicken. And the iron level is less than beef, but higher than all the others.

Also, kangaroo contains Omega-3 which comes as a bit of a surprise as well as a bunch of other things that are too complex for laymen to understand.

Oh yes, kangaroo meat is a great choice for health-conscious animal eaters!

Taste

Taste is a very personal thing and a new taste can often be confronting and even off-putting especially when it’s strong. Many exotic meats tend to be strong…  which makes me think that beef is perhaps just bland.  Anyway, kangaroo is only slightly gamy and I can now genuinely eat kangaroo sausages without even noticing the gaminess I once did. It really is not offensive in any way when you first taste it and as with most foods, you learn to love it.

The texture of kangaroo sausages compared to beef sausages is interesting. I find beef sausages to be very oily compared to their kangaroo brethren an a little squidgy whereas kangaroo sausages seem a little more firm and grainy.

I choose to accompany my kangaroo sausages with a nice pungent chilli jam. The combination is an absolute winner!

Cost

The cheapest and nastiest beef sausages contain all sorts of garbage – bovine offcuts, lots of saturated fat and often gluten. The kangaroo variety counter all of this by being gluten-free, very low fat (<2%) and… well I guess it could be any part of the kangaroo which is just a muscle-machine! Despite this, kangaroo sausages are about the same price as the cheapest beef sausages being about AU$8/kg or US$3.2/lb. A real bargain, in my view.

Ethical Considerations

I know eating a kangaroo to many would seem cruel, offensive, disgusting etc. Yes, eating animals is a pretty nasty business and if I was having to slaughter my own food day in, day out, I’d probably turn vegetarian. But I eat animals from a position of ignorance and at this point in time I’m OK with that.

Despite being cute, I think it’s OK to eat kangaroos just as I think it’s OK to eat cute lambs, pigs and cows. What is OK to eat and what is not is something that I have been debating with myself for some time with no clear conclusion being formed! Maybe the line in the sand really is “do not eat animals”. I just don’t know.

So, if you’re a meat-eater and kangaroo is cheap where you live (probably not outside Australia), I heartily recommend you give some Kanga Bangas a try. The stupid supermarkets often stick them next to the pet food section, but they are definitely for human consumption. I just think they don’t want to freak people out.

I welcome commentary!

Bali Travel: Ubud

This is Part 3 of my Bali Travel Overview which started here and was continued here.

I’ve generally encountered two types of people that enjoy Bali. The beach types and the culture types. The beach types predominantly hang out in the South (Kuta, Legian Seminyak and the Bukit) and the culture junkies in the centre – the centre being Ubud. So what does “culture” exactly mean? Well, it’s a catchall for seeing dancing, galleries, doing yoga, eating great food, staying in plush accommodation and wandering through the ricefields. If you like this stuff, you’ll love Ubud because it has it in spades.

On the cultural front, just about everyone visits a traditional dance in one of the main styles: Legong, Barong, Kecak etc. Although in the centre of Ubud these are put on purely for tourists, they still honour the traditional methods and in some cases offer a better experience than what you find in local villages. The main reason being that it costs a lot of money to have a hire a gamelan and train a bunch of dancers to the level that are on display in the centre of town. The other main cultural activity that people partake in is visiting local artists’ galleries and the woodcarving village of Mas or the stonemasons’ village of Batubulan.

Bali: Dancer
Bali: Dancer

Another favourite of visitors to Ubud is visiting a spa. Now for the blokes, this might seem a little girly, but it’s actually a pleasure to roll up and have a massage for an hour or two. Some places charge western prices and some are as cheap as USD$5 for an hour massage. You generally get what you pay for, but at the cheaper end competition is so fierce that with a little shopping around you can get a top massage in clean surrounds for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.

Accommodation in Ubud ranges from a bare room with cold shower to hotels that rank among the best in the world. Most of the best accommodation options are located so far out of town that you have to use the hotel shuttle to get anywhere and are really only practical for those wanting seclusion. In the centre of town there are any number of cheaper options with common prices being around the USD$15/night and USD$40/night marks. Cheaper than this and you’re likely to get something not very nice.

Bali: Plush Accommodation
Bali: Plush Accommodation

For foodies, Ubud has all that you could ask for. World-class dining, great coffee, locally run eateries (rumah makan/warung) and even an organic food market. Most of the top-quality dining is found at the many top-end hotels around town such as Uma Ubud and the Viceroy. But there are also restaurants such as Lamak and Mozaic that are independently run and offer world-class food. The cafe scene in Ubud is also quite developed with Tutmak and Kakiang Bakery serving the best coffee and some good food too! On the local front, everyone visits Ibu Oka for a plate of pig ($3). But there are a bunch of other places that do good local food too like Warung Mendez (mainly for the goat) and Warung Mina. For the health nuts, you cannot go past Kafe or Bali Buddha for a vast menu featuring fresh local produce.

Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud
Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud

The one thing that I find most people don’t do when visiting Ubud is walk. Yeah, people might walk around the big loop that is Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, but people rarely get beyond that. But beyond that loop are the endless surrounding ricefields. The Lonely Planet guide has a bunch of walks around the local area and they are generally very good and not too difficult to accomplish despite the oppressive heat. Just take a hat and some water and all is OK. The tranquillity just a 10 minute walk in any direction around Ubud is phenomenal and should not be missed!

Bali: Endless Ricefields
Bali: Endless Ricefields

Visted Ubud? How was your experience? Want to visit Ubud? What do you look forward to most?