Marvelous Malaysia

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Malaysia has an interesting mix of cultures all with distinctive culinary traditions. Being fans of many different cuisines, we were right at home.

As mentioned in a previous post, our hotel in Kuala Lumpur has a dedicated roti chef making fresh roti at breakfast each morning. He was a very busy guy and they could easily have had two roti stations to keep up with demand.

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We had a few lots of satay and I can’t decide which were the best.

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We ate Nasi Lemak on a few occasions and this one was quite special and well presented.

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The Nyonya food at a place called Nancy’s was interesting and tasty. Roo had a roast pork loin dish with a sort of caramelised onion and star anise sauce. I had an aromatic chicken curry. Both were quite delicious.

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Asian desserts are quite different from western desserts as a rule, but we found the sweet things to be quite delectable. The pineapple tarts that we found in Melaka were hot from the oven and quite ‘westerner-friendly’. The more gelatinous items with pandan leaf, coconut or raw sugar cane syrup are subtle and have a foreign texture, but we had tried some at home and enjoyed the contrast.

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Overall, the food experience was excellent. We also ate Chinese meals in Chinatown in KL and in Melaka, mainly Chicken Rice and variations on it.

Malaysia has many reasons for a person to visit, and the food is right up at the top of list as well as the friendly people and organised cities. Out hotels were comfortable and clean and we had a really great time winding down after the more frenetic pace of India. The humidity was a bit full-on though so I recommend not trying to do too much in a day and paying extra for a place with a pool! We hope to make it back some day…

Delicious India

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Well, we got home to Adelaide after 4 fabulous weeks away. I promised a blog about some of the fabulous food we ate on our way around India and Malaysia so here we go. Some pictures may already have been used in other posts.

First day in Delhi we spent with the lovely Lachan, an Autorickshaw driver who dropped us off at a restaurant in New Delhi. We has some naan bread, a chana (chick pea) masala and an eggplant and potato dish. We were pretty amazed at how fresh the naan bread was everywhere we had it.

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On day two we ate from a street cart in Old Delhi near the Red Fort and Bazaar area. It was surrounded by local tuk-tuk and cycle rickshaw drivers. The cook was preparing each bit of chapati bread freshly. He looked clean as did the customers. The dish was a simple, spicy Dahl with a bit of onion and pickled vegetables. And that bread, freshly rolled out then dropped in oil till it puffed and browned. Then it was cooled a minute on some paper and served.

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A yoghurt is a big part of the diet in India and was readily available in most places we travelled. A Lassi is a slightly sweetened yoghurt drink, sometimes blended with fruit and sometimes plain. I found it a nice filler during the day between meals or instead of dinner if we’d had a late lunch.

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The food at an eatery inside the bazaar costs about ten times more than that prepared on the street carts and is only slightly more substantial. Both were very cheap. The equivalent of about 12 cents on the street and about $1 inside the bazaar. It’s was a little more filling and the bread was a paratha, filled with veggies and cooked on a hot plate rather than in oil.

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In the small town of Orchha we spend a few hours doing a cooking demonstration with the wonderful Vandana. This charming and industrious woman has taken her passion for cooking and made a business of it. She contributes to her family income and also employs her sister-in-law sometimes as a kitchen helper. We helped with some peeling and chopping too.

The dishes prepared and eater were all vegetarian. Cumin potatoes with spinach, eggplant, dahl, biryani, homemade chapatti bread and a spicy dipping sauce and crunchy veggies.

We also learned how to make proper Masala Chai. It was great in India and I hope next winter to brew up our own batch from time to time as Vandana provided us with a copy of all the recipes!

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Ten of our 20 days in India were spent with a small group from Intrepid Travel. On our final night together we had a feast of vegetarian dishes, rice, bread and Butter Chicken.

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Beer and a Paneer (like a firm cottage cheese or haloumi cheese) tikka masala are perfect partners in Mumbai’s humidity. One night we has the same with chicken instead of Paneer.

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One of the few meat meals we ate was at a shish kebab joint in Mumbai where the meat is cooked outside on skewers over coal and the bread rolled out and cooked over the bottom of a wok-like pan. The bread is called a rumali roti and is delicious and pliable for grabbing the meat and dipping in the plate of spicy sauces and raw onion. And did I mention it was dirt cheap?

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In Udaipur we had some memorable meals but the afternoon snack of beer and pakoras was a real treat from the rooftop of our hotel, sitting alongside the refreshing pool and looking over the lake and the town. The ones pictured are mixed veggie on one plate and Paneer on the other.

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I have already sung the praises of a Parsi restaurant in Mumbai called Brittania where we were served by the original owner’s son, Boman Kohinoor. Boman is a charming and chatty 80-something year old. Here we ate a wonderfully tasty and zingy Berry Pulau with Chicken. Desert was a perfect caramel custard.

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Somewhere along the way we has garlic naan bread that was literally studded with garlic. There was enough here to keep a heap of vampires away!

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I urge you to go to India at least once in your life. Don’t have too many notions about how it will be. Also don’t go expecting a relaxed and luxurious holiday. India is a fabulous, mixed up, noisy and thoroughly visceral experience that will amaze you at every bend in the road!

Cheers!

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Melaka Stopover

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After a few days in KL we are having 3 nights in Melaka. We decided to avoid the whole Christmas thing by staying on in a quieter town where we could just relax a bit. Melaka does have a reasonably sized Christian community, of Chinese, Tamil and Portuguese descent. St Francis Xavier Church was in full swing last evening for Christmas Eve services and the old Dutch Christ church in Dutch Square was going off this morning when we walked by after brekky.

We have been following the river walk path way to get into town from our hotel about a leisurely 20 minute stroll away.

The food here has some interesting twists on standard Malaysian food with the Nyonya culture adding its unique flavours. Nyonya, or sometimes Nyonya-Baba, refers to the intermarriage of straits Chinese (Melaka is on the waterway known as the Melaka Straits) with local Malays. There are variations on this with Tamil Indian/Malay and Portuguese/Malay heritage. We were also recommended by a local who lives in Adelaide (thanks Anne) to try the Chicken Rice Ball, a variation on what we know as Hainanese Chicken Rice but with the rice served as ping-pong sized balls. It hit the spot at lunch today.

Melaka is more relaxed than KL by a long shot and I am glad we decided to chill here for a few days before coming home. I write from poolside…

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I am on the third lounge along! Photo taken earlier today before breakfast.

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Typical local laksa with prawns and tofu

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The original 16th century Dutch church in Red (Dutch) Square

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Roasted Chicken and Rice Balls – Yummy!

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St. Francis Xavier statue on St Paul’s Hill

Google the missing hand of St Francis Xavier for some superstitions…

Kuala Lumpur Stopover

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It really is all about the food. I promise an ‘all food’ post once I get home and sort all of our photos out on computer. We ran out of room to back everything up to my iPad so I still have some of Roo’s great chops to share. A meanwhile here are some shots from Kuala Lumpur of food and other things!

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Dedicated Roti chef at breakfast in KL hotel. Yes! With chicken curry sauce or nice yellow dahl.

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Sweet and succulent chicken with great peanut satay sauce

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Best time of day in the tropics? Beer o’clock

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Petronis towers, symbol of KL

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Having a live fish foot spa. Little fishes suck off the dead stuff and leave you with soft and smooth feet. Tickles like hell for the first two minutes then you get mesmerized just watching the little buggers!

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Big time Christmas decorations. We were truly gob-smacked at how ‘into Christmas’ all of the Malaysians seem to be. Given it is a predominately Islamic country we thought it would be low key, but there are people going around in Santa caps. In this heat and humidity!

Mumbai Part 2

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I have really not said enough about the wonderful food we ate in India. In Mumbai you can get just anything from pizza to veggie burgers and all of the Indian regional specialties.

One of our favorite meals was on our last day. I had read about a Parsi restaurant (Parsi people came from Persia many years ago) with the unlikely name of Brittania founded in 1926. Their specialty is a Berry Pulau with barberries imported from Iran. The founder’s son is an octogenarian who takes your order and poses for a picture with you if you like. He speaks perfect English and is so sweet.

We also enjoyed a few snacks and beers at the famous Leopold’s cafe and ate Shishkebab and Rumali Roti at a place called Bademiya where everything is cooked on coals out front in the street. Due to technical difficulty I can’t upload any of Roo’s photos from Bademiya’s.

Here are some snaps I could get!

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Berry Pulau

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Caramel custard

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Paneer tikka masala

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Drinks at Leopold’s Cafe

Mumbai Part 1

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Mumbai, Bombay, call it what you will. The locals still call it Bombay. Perhaps because it’s sited on a long narrow peninsula, the tourist areas are near enough to the water to get a cooling breeze. This means it’s less smoggy than Delhi. The air feels much cleaner and the skies are bluer.

Even the traffic seems more orderly and actually stops for red lights. There are no tuk-tuks downtown so none of the incessant honking. I really like it here. Dare I say, I could live here.

We spent a few hours on our first day getting oriented with a driver, going to some of the sites in the Fort and Churchgate areas as well as Colaba where we are staying. Our guy Raj took us to the Dhobie Ghat, a shanty-town looking neighborhood where everyone is involved,in the business of laundry. It was the most incredible sight seeing all of the people scrubbing and beating and wringing and hanging the laundry for clients from the local tour guide to the big hotel chains. There were ironing rooms and big industrial spinners and kids and cats and grannies. A real community affair.

Next day we hopped a ferry to Elephanta Island to visit the caves there which are dedicated to Shiva. They date back to about 600-635AD and were listed by UNESCO as World Heritage in 1987. The main cave is an excavation of about 40 meters square (about 130 square ft) and is supported by massive pillars with fluted columns topped by bulging cushion-like top bits (technical term!). There were monkeys about the place, romping and preening and stealing packs of chips off small children. Cheeky monkeys…

Here are some pics from our first two days:

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At the big laundry – acres of drying clothes

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Fishing boats

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The main cave with huge pillars

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Pillar with Ganesh carving

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Big Shiva head and carved dancers

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Preening monkeys

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Religious and other icons for sale

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Enjoying a fresh lime and soda water (which may or may not have contained gin) at the end of a hot day

Back in Rajistan

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I often comment when traveling that I could live in the place I am visiting. In the first two weeks in India, there were many places I liked, but it wasn’t until I reached Udaipur on Lake Pichola in southern Rajastan, that I actually uttered the words.

The white city is full of winding lanes and beautiful shops with textiles and miniature paintings depicting lovely landscapes, religious icons and animals. The elephant, horse and camel were most common as well as the occasional tiger or peacock.

Most of the main sights are walking distance and the city is much more walkable than other cities we have visited. As much as we have enjoyed the cycle rickshaws and tuk-tuks it was nice to use our own steam.

We spend a long afternoon in the City Palace meandering the labyrinthine hallways and beautiful courtyards. Later we hit the water for a ferry ride that stops at Jagmandir Island where you can stroll the park-like grounds of a little hotel and get some photos looking back to the mainland.

Warning: this place is thoroughly addictive.

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Painted wall panel, City Palace

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Little window

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The City Palace carrier pigeons had a reasonable standard of accommodation

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A cool courtyard for a hot Rajistan climate

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A entryway to the palace with glass roof decorations

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Can you see me in the palace mirror?

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Looking out from the palace to the lake and city below

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Ghat near the footbridge. All sorts of things go on here besides just laundry.

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View of al fresco dining at Ambrai. We had a lovely evening meal there one evening, sitting right on the corner with a great view.

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Welcoming elephants at the hotel on Jagmandir Island

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Looking back at the City Palace from the ferry on a perfect Udaipur day