Food

Nearly there.

It is slowly dawning on me that we are actually flying to Singapore on Monday. When we booked the tickets 12th of December seemed so far away but now it is just around the corner. The car is booked, hotels are booked, places to eat have been researched and so on. As you already know both my husband and I are food lovers and I have to admit that food is a big part of why we love to travel in Asia. Don’t get me wrong, you can get good food in Europe too but it is usually soooo expensive and travelling in Europe is also expensive compared to Asia.

The plan for Singapore, where we will stay for three nights, is to visit the ArtScience museum again. We went there in 2015 when they had the DaVinci exhibition and it was awesome. This time they have two exhibitions that really fit our family; Journey to Infinity: Escher’s World of Wonder and NASA: a Human Adventure. We are also planning a visit to the Gardens by the Bay (http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en.html) and as my mother is travelling with us I am really looking forward to that. As a child I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and she loved flowers and gardens. My mother and I always think of her when we are surrounded be beautiful flowers.

My husband and I are huge fans of Mark Wiens (https://www.youtube.com/user/migrationology), a man who like us travels for food. The big difference is that he is now able to do it for a living and I am so envious. Imagine being able to do two things you love, eat and travel, and getting paid for it! My husband has made a long list of places to eat and a lot of them are actually from Wiens’ youtube channel.

The only thing that sucks is that no one has invented the teleporter yet, you know as in Star Trek and “beem me up Scotty”.  I will have to suffer through feelings of near anxiety on the plane for way too many hours once again. Hopefully it will all be worth it. Staying in Sweden one more winter is not an option.

Escaping winter once again.

We have been back in Sweden for one year, 4 months and 6 days… but who’s counting?!? I miss Malaysia every single day. The food, the sun, the food, the people, the food, the warm rain, the food. Did I mention the food? Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be back home, to  hang out with my friends, the children are playing with their friends, see my mother, the big family we have here and so on but I miss Malaysia a lot. That is why we are going on a vacation this winter, we will leave the dreary winter cold Sweden for some weeks in Asia. We will arrive in Singapore on the 13th of December and fly back home from KL on the 19th of January. During that time we will visit Singapore, Johor Bahru, Kluang, T6, Muar, Melaka, Ipoh, KL and also Lombok (Indonesia). Some of those places are revisited; others are brand new locations for us.

This time, my mother is coming with us and for her everything will be a first as she has never been outside of Europe. The children are already looking forward to guiding her around at their favourite spots and eating dinner at Musa’s in T6. His satay is missed, and also the ayam soup which is to die for. They are also planning a trip to Legoland in JB and apparently there is a new water park in JB called Austin Heights something. My husband and I are mostly excited about not having to put on heavy winter clothes for at least part of that horrid season called winter. And the food, always the food.

So if there are any readers left, you can look forward to a new escape from winter and some ideas about where to travel in Malaysia- and Indonesia!

Johor Bahru

The hot and dry season has begun and with it comes the water rationing. Here in Taman Sri Lambak we have water for 36 hours, then no water for 36 hours and so it goes. Coming from a country where water shortage is unheard of (unless you have your own well and the summer is unusually hot and dry after a snowless winter) it is a new experience to plan your water usage. It kind of sucks to be honest. So we packed the car and drove to Johor Bahru, not really knowing what to do once we got there but feeling we needed to get away for the weekend.

We have been to Johor Bahru (or JB as everyone here says) before, my husband has relatives there and it is also the city bordering to Singapore. I must admit I have not been too impressed by the city, there is construction going on everywhere and it is messy, noisy and a tad bit unorganised. We had booked two nights at Tropical Inn, a hotel that once might have been pretty good but is now decent at best. The room we got was clean enough and had a fridge, kettle, free mineral water and tea/coffee. But everything is rather tired and worn, from the towels to the furniture. And the aircon is old enough to be a relic, quite noisy and a bit smelly. But we got free parking, a queen bed, a single bed and breakfast for RM 162 per night which is pretty cheap in JB, at least for the hotels in the central part of the city.

But I have to warn you, the area around the hotel is not a good place to walk around in at night. Close to the hotel is a methadone clinic, and it goes downhill from there. We went out for dinner our first night and I must admit I felt rather uncomfortable. A lot of people were just hanging around, sizing us up to see if we had lots of money and valuables on us. More than a few people were obviously high. It is not common in Malaysia as the laws are very strict concerning narcotics and to see people in the streets with that glazed, hollow look was a shock. JB is so close to Singapore and a lot of people come for the weekend to shop and stay in the posher hotels, maybe go to Legoland and so on. The Singaporeans get a lot of ringit for their dollars so everything is super cheap for them. But it also attracts people with a different agenda, people looking for easy money, some of them turning to prostitution, others to robbery. The crime rate in JB is alarmingly high, it is number 28 on the list of most dangerous cities in the world. If you google around you will find stories of people being robbed in carparks, near the malls and at gas stations. Singapore on the other hand is number 4 on the list of safest cities in the world, which makes for a strange contrast for a Singaporean when they cross the border.

That being said, you can avoid the darkest allies and not walk around with too much cash or all your diamonds showing. There are interesting things to see and do in JB, just be aware of where you walk after dark. Usually I huff and puff when people tell me things like that, I am a very trusting person and try to see good in everyone. But I was defeated that evening in JB, and I will not go out at night in that area again.

We went to the Arulmigu Rajakaliamman Temple, or as it is perhaps better known, the Glass Temple one evening. It is a beautiful hindu temple and we were lucky to get there at prayer time. We spent an hour there, listening to the chanting and music and looking at the statues. I highly recommend it if you’re the least bit interested in religion and culture. My youngest daughter loved the Buddha statue! Yes, you read correctly, the hindu temple has a Buddha statue. They also have a Jesus statue. Tolerance, I love that word and people who understand its true meaning. As a tourist/foreigner you pay RM 10 (children free) and an extra RM 3 if you want to take photos.

There are a lot of shopping malls in JB, most of them fill up with Singaporeans during the weekend and holidays. Komtar JBCC and City Square are right next to each other and both are huge. We walked around in there for a bit, feeling out of place. Bought a Lat book we didn’t have and had lunch in a small noodle place. We are not shopping mall people! I got a headache from all the noise and the aircon that must have been set on arctic temperature.

For our third and final night we splashed and booked a room at KSL. For RM 331 we got a room with a queen bed, a single bed, fridge, kettle, tea/coffee, slippers, toothbrushes, morning paper, breakfast and entry to the waterpark on the 7th floor. We have stayed at KSL before and I love their beds! But I hate the floor to ceiling windows that have huge stickers on them warning you not to lean against them. Having a young child that have no understanding of words like “danger” or “be careful” those windows are scary. So we pull the blackout curtains and leave them, pretending there is no window. The breakfast buffet is good enough but soooo crowded it’s ridiculous. People push and shove and seem to have forgotten all manners. The amount of food being left on the tables sickens me. And the coffee is bad, even by hotel standard. This time it tasted burnt and acidic, the coffee lover in me wanted to cry.

The waterpark is actually three pools with slides and dinosaurs that roars and moves a bit. One of them spits water, which the children love. This visit there was even a man dressed up in a cool dinosaur outfit walking around the pool area. Our oldest was fascinated by the “real” dinosaur. But the water is cold, too cold for our liking. We stayed little over an hour and by then our youngest was shivering and saying she was done. It started to rain so it was perfect timing for us to go up to our room, shower and have dinner.

I asked one of the concierges at KSL where we could find some good food, preferable within walking distance. He recommended the food court behind Paragon Hotel, it’s called Cedar Point Food Court. It’s a big food court with lots to choose from, and everything looks good. The prices are good too, a lot lower than what you get at the shopping malls. I had black pepper shrimp that was delicious, RM 18 for six gigantic shrimps. And the pak choy in oyster sauce was really good too, it is a favourite of mine and I think it goes with almost everything.

On our way home the next day we stopped at the AeonTebrau shopping centre. My husband is looking for a new lens for his camera and there were some camera shops there. It is a huge place but I liked it a lot more than the ones downtown. It felt less trendy and there were a mix of brand name shops and Malaysian ones but I like it that way. The food court was small but good, I had an ayam penyet (literally means smashed chicken) that was really tasty. Then we drove home, to Taman Sri Lambak and water rationing.

My father used to say that some places are great just because you know you can leave and go home. I think I feel that way about JB, I’m glad I don’t live there but I don’t mind visiting once in a while.

JB

Melaka, so much to eat!

As you might have guessed by now, we like food in this family. One might even go so far as saying we are obsessed with finding new things to eat, but I am not so fond of that word. Passionate, that is a word I like, we are passionate about food.

So this is a post about what and where we ate in Melaka. I will start with the most boring and bland experience. After finishing our visit at the Oceanarium we were starving. That is not good as we all get really bad tempered when we are hungry. Sadly, the food court at the Shore (the Oceanarium is located in a shopping mall) was still under construction. It looks promising but you never know with those shopping mall food courts. In any case, we ended up having lunch at Starbuck’s. My spicy chicken pocket was actually pretty good and the ice tea, or “iced shaken lemon tea”, was lemony and no too sweet. I still think RM 62.20 for a lunch is just ridiculous when all we had were drinks and sandwiches. But sometimes you grab what you can to avoid the family imploding!

The food in Melaka is amazing, if you like seafood you will have so much to choose from it will make your head spin. Be sure to try a Nyonya restaurant, it is an interesting version of Chinese food going back to the first Chinese immigrants in the city. I had a laksa that had so many layers of flavour it was more than yummy. My youngest daughter loved it too, she ate nearly half of it, spicy as it was. My husband had pineapple prawns that tasted sweet, sour and of the sea. So good! The Nyonya pineapple tart is also worth trying. It is a small, somewhat dry cookie with a soft and sweet centre of pineapple. It is sold almost everywhere in the city. We bought ours at LW Nyonya Pineapple Tarts House on Jonker Street, if you’re lucky you get to see them make the cookies.

One day we had lunch in the Portuguese Settlement. The Portuguese came to Melaka centuries ago and their descendants are still living there and keeping the traditional cooking alive. The grilled fish we had was so good I forgot to eat my rice. Simple flavours like garlic, lime and oyster sauce blended into bliss. Yum. The restaurant was called the Lisbon and was one of the few that was open for lunch. During the evening there are plenty of restaurants to choose between and you can sit near the ocean and eat while watching the sunset.

You can find nasi ayam (chicken and rice) everywhere in Malaysia and in Melaka they have it too. But here they have rolled the rice into balls and somehow that adds a new dimension to the dish. Be sure to try it! There are plenty of chicken rice ball restaurants to choose from, pick one that looks busy and clean. Next to the Hard Rock Cafe you will find Kedai Kopi Chung Wah where people stand in line for quite some time to have lunch. You will not be able to choose a table, you are ushered in and placed. They only serve chicken and rice balls so they just look at how many you are and food will arrive on the table. Don’t expect any smiles or friendly gestures from the staff, but the food is good.

As the nightmarket on Jonker Street goes on for three nights in a row (every weekend) we browsed around, looking for stuff to eat. There are plenty of food stalls to choose from, just grab what looks good and try it. Everything is cooked in front of you and is super fresh. Dive in!

Where to eat, where to eat?!

When looking for a place to eat in Malaysia you have to leave your western ideas behind. The best place to eat is more often than not the one that looks old, worn, has plastic chairs, no table cloths and an open air kitchen with woks that look ancient.

I had some issues about the look of the restaurants when first coming to Asia in 2007, I later realised I used my Western eyes and looked for other factors. Back home, the nicer restaurants usually spend a lot of money on the interiors, fancy furnitures and what not. In Malaysia, I have had great meals sitting on a battered plastic chair, eating off a plastic plate.

We are lucky to live in a small village that has quite a few good restaurants. Musa serves awesome satay and his chicken soup is to die for. The stock has been boiling forever and after eating a bowl of Musa’s soup you will go home smiling.
You will also find a restaurant named Hana Maju after its owner and head chef. We eat there a lot, she is an excellent cook and also very nice and friendly. If you are unsure of what to order, just ask and she will guide you through the menu.Hana-3

The menu, yes that is also interesting. In Sweden we usually have two varieties of nasi goreng (fried rice), one with chicken and one without. Here, you have anywhere from five to endless varieties to choose from. Nasi goreng china is not spicy, nasi goreng kampung is more spicy and have lots of ikan bilis (dried anchovies). I love nasi goreng kampung and my youngest daughter loves the ikan bilis. I usually end up with only a few fish left on my plate, the rest is on hers and she munches away happily. Some nasi goreng comes with a fried egg on the side, some have chicken, others have beef. All of them have vegetables, but what kind varies.Menu

More often than not the menu is a sign next to the kitchen, sometimes they have a printed version as well. At some restaurants you have to ask what they serve as there are no menus at all. Nasi goreng and mee (noodle) dishes are always a sure bet if you want something filling, fresh and satisfying. It might not be the most experimental dishes but they will not disappoint you.

I am still clueless as to why the Malaysians eat at KFC, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and other chain restaurants from West. Not only is the food very bland but a lot more expensive than at other places, a family eating at KFC will pay at least double.
So if you want good, authentic food, look for the plastic chairs and stay away from the chain restaurants and the posh looking ones.