Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Before I left for Bangkok, I was like a mad woman checking out as many blogs and travel advice websites I could for the best places to eat.  As you can imagine, it started to be a huge task and with only three days there, I had to really pick and choose what experiences were on the top of the foodie list.  While searching through blogs, I stumbled upon this short post for the Sukhothai Hotel’s chocolate buffet offered on the weekend and I decided that I had to try it.  My only regret is that we decided to have the buffet on the same day that we were going to have the big show and buffet that night at the Mandarin Oriental (more on that later) so it was hard to totally gorge at both places!

We caught a cab to the Sukhothai Hotel and it was so nice to see a beautiful, low-rise hotel in the middle of all those buildings.  The style of the hotel is similar in so many ways to the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki (5 star/5 diamond) in its minimalist elegance, Asian influence and tropical surrounds.  As soon as you walk into the tea salon, you sort of feel like you walked into an elegant library where people are speaking in hushed tones and relaxing in big, comfy upholstered chairs.




Immediately, you are greeted, your tea order is taken (or coffee if you like) and then a curiously cold, golden drink is served in a glass.  This is the lemongrass drink that I read in that blog!  I was so excited because it was described as refreshing but I was so sorely disappointed because for me, I found it much too sweet.  Oh well, to each is own.  The one thing that our servers did not explain to us was that there were two sections of the buffet.  We were sat in the chocolate buffet but across the hall, there was another savoury buffet displayed as well.  For people not used to buffets, they probably wouldn’t have ventured out across the hall to see what was on the other side.

Lemongrass Drink

Lemongrass Drink

Because we didn’t have lunch, we started with the savouries first.  I went straight for the sushi and little dim sums while my husband went for the mini sandwich rolls and cheese.  The fresh tropical fruit served at this buffet were fabulous.  The quality of everything is very high and everything looked impeccable.

After the savouries came the serious stuff – CHOCOLATE!!  I was so overwhelmed with the choices that I didn’t know what to start with first.  There were chocolate crème brulées, white or dark chocolate mousses, tri-colour cakes, white chocolate mousse cake with passionfruit topping, dark chocolate truffles and much more.  I tried nearly everything there and I was really impressed with it all.  My favourites were the lighter textured desserts like the mousses but the truffles were divine as well.  There were also a few homemade ice creams:  on that day, the flavours were white chocolate/coconut, wasabi chocolate and I think strawberry (sorry, memory is vague).


The savoury buffet

Tropical fruit with the savoury buffet

Tropical fruit with the savoury buffet

Chocolate buffet

Chocolate buffet

We both left the pièce-de-resistance to the end – the chocolate cart to make your own custom chocolate drink!  On that day, there were 14 separate bowls of different types of chocolate.  Each bowl had a label describing either the flavour or sometimes the origin of the chocolate and the percentage of cocoa.  Displayed were everything from white chocolate, milk, orange flavoured, Gianduja (hazelnut, think Nutella), African, Central American, you name it!  An attendant would put as much chocolate as you wanted into a pot simmering over a heat source and stir it together and serve it to you in a demi cup.  The result?  An absolutely sublime and dense chocolate drink that you custom made!

Hot chocolate trolley

Hot chocolate trolley

Attendant mixing the hot chocolate

Attendant mixing the hot chocolate

Before we finished, I saw the chef walk out to check on the display.  He started speaking to one of the guests who seemed like his friend and I knew it, he was French – I recognized that the desserts displayed were definitely made by someone who was trained in the French technique.  After gorging ourselves for two hours, we stumbled back to our hotel room realizing that we had another big meal in a few hours – oh the dilemmas of holidays.  🙂

Sukhothai Hotel offers the Chocolate Buffet on Friday, Saturday and Sundays from 2 to 6pm.  The price for two people was approximately 1860 Baht.  It is best to book the buffet if there is a lot going on that weekend as the tea salon is not that big.

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A Vast Array of Fried Bugs in Bangkok

A vast array of fried bugs in Bangkok

Roaches at least 3 inches long and fried small birds

Roaches at least 3 inches long and fried small birds

Sorry for the lack of posts – traveled a total of over 7 wks (mostly to visit friends and family) and can’t seem to quite recover yet.  It doesn’t help that I just started a new full-time job so I’m exhausted as hell.  Do you know how hard it is to go through thousands of photos to chose a few to post on a blog?  Anyway, enough about me…

Whenever Andrew Zimmerman or Anthony Bourdain go on their tours of Asia, you always see them eating some type of insect so I was really hoping to find some form of cooked insect in Thailand.  I was lucky to find this woman, who had a stand on one edge of the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok and I was quite excited that the variety was so immense! From what I can make out, there are silkworm cocoons, grasshoppers, crickets, and some beetle larvae in the first photo.  In the second photo, in the foreground, are the most gigantic cockroaches I’ve ever seen and behind them, looks like some type of small bird (think it’s a chicken that’s not quite mature yet)!!  At first I thought that those fried birds were fried bats…all of the items were deep-fried to a golden crisp and nicely garnished with green stuff (pretty sure it’s green onions).

I have had fried beetle larvae (the white ones that look like caterpillars) before, piping hot actually, and even watched crawling ones get plonked into hot oil and ate them soon after!  Where the heck was this?  Well, this was the last class in the entomology course I took at UC Davis.  What did they taste like?  French fries.

I was just not that adventurous and the heat (being about 38C and 80%+ humidity) definitely did not help.  I just know that even though those huge cockroaches are deep fried, they will probably be a bit…squishy inside – yuck.  I don’t mind handling them but eating them…that’s another story.

(Hey Jin, you would’ve been screaming so loudly!! haha)

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Traditional stalls set up near a KFC & McDonald's

I am not a wimp but my gut isn’t what it used to be.  I went to Bangkok with EVERY intention on actually eating food off street stalls because they are often very tasty and authentic.  Some of my best memories of eating throughout Mexico were the dodgy-looking tacos, ice creams and grilled corns from street stalls.  The main reason why I didn’t eat at many of the stalls in Bangkok is because of the absolutely scary and appauling food-safety conditions.  Let me remind you that it was very hot, (over 35C and over 90% humidity) and it was rainy season and so often, I’d walk by street stalls with bowls of meat sitting out in the hot sun for god knows how long!!  Or, if it looked decently clean, I’d see the bucket of stagnant water that they were washing their crockery and cutlery in (not to mention they reuse wooden chopsticks) and realized that they didn’t refresh the washing water very often.  Yuck!  Also, because it was the very beginning of my around-the-world trip, I honestly didn’t want severe gastro problems so early on (especially since my next flight was 13 hrs to London).

I made a rule for myself that I would only eat something at a street stall if it wasn’t on washed crockery and only if it was piping hot when I purchased it.  So, grilled & marinated chicken skewers qualified under that category and they were awesome!  So juicy and tasty and it cost about $0.20 each and they were piping hot off the grill.  One of the things that I couldn’t resist buying were cold drinks and fresh juices from the street vendors, especially during those scorching days.  We bought thin popsicles, frozen in the most interesting manner (see picture) to refresh ourselves and the Thai iced tea flavor popsicles were fantastic!  We also ate a lot of sweets off street stalls – among them, grilled sticky rice and banana wrapped in banana leaf and fried peanut crackers.

Popsicle freezer...ingenious

Popsicle freezer...ingenious especially since it was so hot out!

Some of the tastiest and juiciest chicken skewers I've ever had...just make sure it's fully cooked because Thailand has had avian flu

Some of the tastiest and juiciest chicken skewers!

At the Chatuchak weekend market, a noodle stall almost called me to sit down because it looked really good.  In the middle of each table, there were large mounds of shredded cabbage and other vegetables piled in bowls and wondered what it was for.  I soon saw that the raw veggies (as much as you like it seemed) were to be added into your hot soup (kind of like Pho).  Problem was, they offered NO tongs so that diners were licking their forks and then diving into the veggies and double-dipping!  New bowls of veggies weren’t provided to the next customer – they were simply refreshed with more veg.

Mounds of veggies on table...

One of the scariest things I saw being sold by the side of the street was sushi.  It looked entirely homemade, in a large tupperware container and sold with ZERO refrigeration.  People were still buying them from the vendor and that really amazed me.  The average Thai person must have very different flora in their gut to be able to withstand all the gastrointestinal onslaught from foodborne diseases!

No refrigeration, homemade, scary sushi

No refrigeration, homemade, scary sushi

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This photo was taken on a random street in Bangkok on our search for Chote Chitr restaurant (reviewed on NPR and NY Times – story on that later), it was very near to the restaurant on the main road.  Although the weather was scorching hot and humid, I just couldn’t pass by these hot treats because they invoke a lot of childhood memories for me.  I have actually never had taro chips “hot off the fryer” and it was amazing to me that they had this type of set-up outdoors (but then again, they cook anything by the side of the street in Bangkok).  I bought two bags for the total of about $1.30USD.  The woman tossing the chips was very grumpy and unfriendly but who cares, it was all part of the experience!

Mmmm...hot oil

Fresh taro before being sliced

Tossing hot taro chips with salt

Bag of hot, salty, crispy taro chips

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Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Andre Lopez on Tasting Night

Susan (looking shy) and Andre's Mother

When I was much younger, the only decent wine shop in Hawaii was R. Field in Ward Centre and most of the selections at the local supermarkets were pretty abysmal.  Fast forward 20 years and Hawaii’s wine retail scene has become infinitely better with many decent wine shops and wine bars – even the new Safeway on Kapahulu Ave. has a huge (slightly overpriced) wine section.  I have been to just about all but I think one of these wine establishments on Oahu and my favorite place so far is The People’s Wine Shop on S. King St, just past the vacuum specialist shop on the corner of Pensacola and S. King St. (near Kaiser) in the King Street Apartment Hotel (ample parking on the street and in the back).  As soon as you see the vacuum shop, you have to slow down because there is no awning displaying the shop’s name but there is there is a simple bright neon sign that let’s you know where the shop is.

If any of you are familiar at all with Berkeley, California, The People’s Wine Shop reminds me a bit of Vintage Berkeley (around the corner from Chez Panisse) because of the small size, personalized service and interesting selections.  But The People’s Wine Shop has more of a welcoming feeling and I wonder if that has to do with the fact that it’s painted a warmer color or whether there is a lot of aloha spirit there.

I first met Andre at a trade wine tasting event at the Hilton sometime late last year and although we didn’t really talk to each other, I recognized him because we were often at the same tables tasting wines.  It wasn’t until I went to his shop that I realized that he was the owner!  I knew I’d like his shop because we must have had similar tastes to be at the same vendors.

The store, which opened in 2006, is run by Andre and Susan (who are always there with a smile) and his Friday and Saturday night free tastings are becoming very popular with local wine lovers.  He features a different winery/producer/supplier every week and gives a discount on the featured wine as well.  I love that he has harder to find wines from all over the world and with a really great Spanish and Italian section and best of all, the wines he brings in won’t break your bank!  Andre stocks more premium “collector” wines as well but he prides himself on making wines approachable to everyone.  I love the anti-snob quality there and because they’re so warm and friendly, they already have a big following of regular customers.  I have run into people I know there and nearly everyone who comes on tasting nights seem to be known by name.  Recently when I stopped by, he was tasting Mondavi wines to pay tribute to Robert Mondavi, shortly after his passing and that definitely touched me since I feel so connected to that place.

I wished this shop was around when I got married because it would’ve been great to purchase wine from him but alas, I bought it from another shop who barely gave me a smile.  Whether you are a wine geek or wine novice, Andre’s shop is a great stop to buy some interesting wines in Hawaii.

**If you are a tourist and have a rental car, this shop is only about 4 miles away – which should take about 20 minutes (depending on traffic) from most Waikiki hotels.

**UPDATE: This store has closed its doors.** 😦

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Continuing in my Hawaii posts…

If you’re planning a trip to Oahu and want to see what good island produce looks like as well as get an insight into the local culture, head to the Kapiolani Community College’s Saturday Farmer’s Market which is sponsored by the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation and the Culinary Institute of the Pacific at Kapiolani Community College (where my friend Adriana teaches).  Where is it?  Well, if you’re staying in Waikiki and head towards Diamond Head, you’ll see the large crowd of cars parked in a big parking lot near the entrance to the landmark.  This also has to be one of the prettiest community college’s around and all with an ocean view from most points on campus!  After you eat your way through the market, it would be a great idea to hike up the mountain and take in the sights.

This farmer’s market is great for local residents who have so long relied on so much of their food being shipped in from the mainland.  Many supermarkets I have been to in Hawaii have very sad looking produce departments – tired old carrots, wrinkly apples, moldy oranges and onions – mostly because (depending on the item) from the time it is picked in a field in California (or insert any other state), it’s probably sometimes a MONTH before it hits shelves in Hawaii.  This is truly sad.  With gorgeous volcanic soils on the islands and great year-round weather, I am glad that some people are foregoing the urge to be greedy (by selling land to real estate developers) and have decided to get back to the soil by farming in small plots – locally and most times pesticide-free or organically.  With gas prices sky-rocketing all over the world, it is also good to buy locally to save on the shipping costs (and help the environment by reducing emissions) and the produce is sooo much fresher!  What’s great is that many local chefs have gone on the local produce band wagon and have been promoting it a lot more now.

I was also so happy to see that North Shore Farms are growing juicy, sweet, multi-colored heirloom tomatoes.  It wasn’t that long ago when the only tomatoes that you could find in Hawaii were these hard red bullets and/or shipped from California.  They also sell their extremely popular tomato, mozzarella and macadamia basil pesto pizza every week.

You’ll also find locally produced honey, herbs, greens, eggs, hormone-free beef, sausages, organic drinks, pastries, bread and even sea asparagus!  A must to quench your thirst is a fresh ginger ale from Pacifikool made with locally grown ginger root.  They serve two varieties – Hawaiian and Thai variety ginger syrups with vary slightly.  I personally like the Hawaiian one because it has more spice.  The lines are very long but it’s definitely worth the wait!  Don’t forget to try the great sausages at Kukui Sausage Company.  I really liked the Kim Chee and Pastele sausages – yum!  The woman in the booth was looking at me very suspiciously when I started taking photos and wasn’t particularly friendly – did she think I was going to steal her idea?  Little did she know that I liked her sausages and wanted to write about them.  Regardless of the not-too-friendly service I got, I still think their sausages are unique and tasty.  Pomai of Tasty Island has great posts on local island cuisine and on these particular sausages.

I noticed that a few other food bloggers out in blogland have written extensive posts of this farmer’s market so I won’t go on about what I ate or what I did.  I’d rather leave you with some gorgeous photos that I took that day.  I have loved farmer’s markets since I was a kid and whenever I travel, I definitely seek out the local market and always come away with having learned or discovered something new and I hope you do too.

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My favorite place to have breakfast in Maui is at the Gazebo Restaurant at the Outrigger Napili Shores resort in Napili Bay (just above the bustling resort area of Ka’anapali). I first ate there almost 10 years ago when working for the travel industry and it is still as busy today as it was back then. According to TripAdvisor.com, the Gazebo Restaurant has been voted by travelers as #1 out of 125 restaurants in Lahaina. Wow, I am surprised that a breakfast and lunch place beat out numerous high-end dinner restaurants. What makes this place so popular? It is a combination of the oceanfront view (and a direct view of Moloka’i), generous portions, great pancakes, fast and friendly service and great prices – after all, in a place as expensive as Maui, a bargain is hard to find when it comes to dining out.

Let me warn you that no matter what time you arrive to eat, there will be a long line to get in but I’ve never waited any longer than 30 minutes (although I’ve heard some people waiting longer than an hour). If you go to Maui during whale season, you will most likely see whales and/or dolphins breaching while waiting in line. There is even a large bell that the hotel encourage that you ring to notify everyone else that you have spotted a whale. The hotel is also nice enough to provide a large urn of coffee for the hotel guests and people standing in line for the Gazebo free of charge. Hey but you’re on vacation so waiting shouldn’t be a huge deal right? If you hate waiting, bring a good book.

I love ordering the macadamia pancakes because they are so fluffy and they are very generous with the nuts. They also top the fluffy pancakes with a very light whipped butter and there are several syrups available to eat with the pancakes. This time I went to the restaurant with my mother and we decided to share a short stack of the macadamia, banana and pineapple pancakes (which is one large pancake with the three toppings placed on top) and a half-order of the fried rice and a large pineapple juice all for under $20. If we ordered full sizes, we would have been able to feed four people – not kidding. The fried rice was flavored lightly with soy sauce, onions, lots of black pepper and full of tasty meats – ham, Portuguese sausage, bacon and Spam, topped with some scrabbled egg and green onions (scallions), yum! The fried rice was very fulfilling and it was nice to have the sweet and salty together at breakfast.

Beware of the smart little sparrows though if you order the fried rice! They sit on the glass window panes above the tables and wait to attack your plate and according to the servers, the sparrows love to hone in on the eggs on top the fried rice. I was so surprised when a sparrow grabbed a large piece of egg (mid-air) and did it so quickly that I barely had time to react before the rest of the sparrow gang devoured it on the ground next to me. It was amazing! Never in my life have I seen such smart little birdies…see, even they like the breakfasts there.

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