Sugar and Spice in Malacca

Malacca. One of the few places that I will include in the chart capturing the hyperbolic growth of my interest in spices. 

The very first place was in a school bus. I ate up my social studies project as a snack on the boring trip home. 

Thirty years ago, my teacher had us do a presentation on the East India Company and the spice trade. I was in primary school – I didn’t understand the significance of the EIC, but I knew how to eat. So the focus then was more on the spices than the trade. My parents got me a bag of spices from the mamak store (local provision store run usually by a burly but friendly Indian man) which I happily poured out and carefully sorted, bagged, labelled and stuck on a piece of vanguard sheet,  rather wildly illustrated to help prove that I knew what I was talking about. I was already OCD then.

After the exhilaration of telling my friends about what a star anise was, I proceeded to lick one on the bus on the way home because it looked so pretty. Ick. Didn’t like it much. Which is probably why I don’t care for licorice. Then, I decided to try another and another and another till I had uncooked dried shrimp. Boredom sure made me do odd things. 

I am unsure why they were there since prawns are strictly not a spice but they were. I loved it and fished out all the orange bits I could find and gobbled them up before I arrived home. There, my love for Hae Bi (dried shrimp, cooked) began.

You make a lot of things with Hae Bi. Peranakan cuisine is one whose dishes are liberally doused with them. I discovered the true blue taste of the Nonya while in Malacca many years back. I learnt what a rempah (spice paste, like pesto but spicier) was and what ingredients went into making one. Of course, there isn’t just one way to make it. The composition, that affects taste and flavour, is totally dependent on where the cook is from, his preferences and what the paste is for. It seems the amount of time spent manually pounding, not machine-blending, spices together makes a great difference. Therein lies the space for creativity and innovation not for the weak of heart nor short of stamina! 

When I think Peranakan, I think of Malacca and all the wonderful bowls of Ayam Buah Keluak, Babi Pongteh, Ikan Assam, Jiu Hu Char, Kueh Pie Ti, Belacan and Chendol. 

In fact, I am on my way there now on yet another boring bus trip. My Hae Bi beckons and I must comply. In an hour or two, I will whisper I do to my beautiful goggly prawn eyes.

Sambal Petai


Bangkok Runs

There are new things to see every time we head this way. The highlight of this trip was the excursion to Chinatown where smells assail and costs are brought down by wholesale goodness at Sampheng Market. 

Walk in through the red gates guarding the secrets of Yaowarat, and you will be transported into a world quite unlike the rest of Bangkok. 

Shark’s fin and bird’s nest soups are advertised as a must-have, pungent-smelling raw shrimp await the next tourist with guts and a strong stomach, street stalls pedaling somewhat suspect offal soup. Fried bugs? No worries! There is always a pharmacy two doors away to help with loose bowels. 

Delicacies galore…

Walk in and find out…the best way to travel yet.

Valuable Bits in Travel

The best thing about travelling for me is the sense of freedom to roam both physically and mentally. Stroll, shop, wander. Observe, note and question. 

One of my favourite things to do is to collect bits of wisdom I see and hear. On this trip, I have quite the variety; from cafe tabletops to napkins to random things being typed by strangers using an old typewriter on demo. 

Some of my favourites:

@ Sur La Table, Portland OR

@Oblation Papers & Press, Portland OR

@ State Capitol Giftshop, WA

@Cipher Escape, Morrisville NC

@The Alamo, San Antonio TX

@Frog Cafe, Taipei City


We are back in the Philippines – Manila, to be precise, and I am quite happy to be wandering about again solo. No, not wandering too far as in trekking on my own and all the brave things single female travellers do. I simply mall hop and window shop whilst the hubby is having meetings. I can’t understand why when I hear advice about being bored walking about alone. I find it liberating. 

We came in early so we could spend the weekend at Tagaytay before SJ had to go to his meetings. The journey took about an hour half from Manila via the highway by car. Interesting sights along the way – banana, papaya, and pineapple farms; pomelos from Davao; wood craft shops; fresh flower markets and manufacturing plants. There is a suburb somewhere in the middle of the trip called Santa Rosa – it looked so much like a US suburb with malls, fast food joints and supermarkets spread across the area. Fun stopover if you have time to spare on your return trip. We heard the upper class have houses here, and what pretty houses they are.

There is an active volcano in Tagaytay – the Taal volcano. It has a pretty large crater 25-30km or so and its mouth is strategically located in a lake that makes for a picturesque landscape and keeps a somewhat safe distance away from lava-trouble. This thing sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is a decade volcano, one that is analyzed and studied because of devastating destruction it brought to the inhabitants there. But they have really fertile soil and a booming tourist industry. Quits?

We had lunch at this place (image below) and had just the biggest serving of stewed beef (aka Bulalao) for 2 outside the US. It was glorious! The Beef Extraordinaire fell apart on my plate and sort of melted in my mouth. Who the devil cooked this and made me eat more than my usual share of meat? Thank you! 

Most people, we were again told, go there to trek. We ate our way around. More proof:

On our way back, we got caught in a jam that took us two and a half hours. The first part was caused by a religious provincial dance in the middle of a single-lane motorway and the later half was because there were just too many cars. 

Another place often visited for souvenirs is People’s Palace in the Sky, a half completed Presidential Manor supposedly built for Ronald Regan’s visit way back when. But he never did visit so the place became one for tourists. 

Cost for car rental with a driver for an 8 hour trip, gas and tolls was a little over S$80 per person. Good deal for a personalized daytrip.

Ipoh, Taiping, Penang Roadtrip

We were never hungry because we were busy stuffing our faces with the glorious food available at every perceptible street corner and nook. 

The favorable 3:1 currency exchange rate fueled the food gorging because cost played a modest role in our exploits. The only concern perhaps was health but caution was thrown to the winds by the allure of street-fried char kway teow and all of its cousins brimming with lard, caramel sauce, hae kor (prawn paste), sambal (shrimp paste), gula melaka (palm sugar) and general unhealthy goodness. 

You can hardly go wrong with recommendations of friends who are locals, along with a little research to complement the knowledge received.

No matter the number of times we appear in Penang, it never fails to surprise us with bigger and newer things. Revamping shophouses is the latest thing it seems to hit Penang. Apparently, a Singaporean bought 200 shophouses in a landmark transaction that caused a law once abolished to be revived to stop such real estate atrocities. 

We were brought to Chinahouse, one such development – unsure if it’s by a Singaporean – that combined two shophouses into one. They have an impressive range of delectable cakes and pastries that can put The Cheesecake Factory to shame. 

There is also Armenian Street, where shops are quaint and interesting. It has a flea market feel to it and is absolutely touristy. But it’s fun. 

Ipoh is also famous for food but one spot typically missed out by most visitors is the Gaharu (Agarwood) Tea Valley. It is tea from a tree not the shrub we know tea to come from. Inanycase, it is herbal wth many positive properties, including allaying the effects of over-eating aka indigestion. Most useful methinks. It gives off a pleasant scent just like sandalwood but is way dearer since it is an endangered (thus protected) species. You can be taken around their plantation for RM10 per person in an air conditioned van during which you will learn more about Agarwood. 

It is also here that we turned into gluttons. Here lies the list of non-exhaustive food items you might…will postpone or give up your diet for:

1. Delicious Zi Char (wok fried dishes) 

2. Truely silky Soya Beancurd

3. Chai Dao Kway (fried carrot cake)

4. Tok Tok Mee (pork and dumpling noodles)

5. Assam Laksa/Prawn Mee/Char Kway Teow

6. Kopi (local coffee)

7. Yong Tau Foo (mixture of fried pieces of veg and meat with noodles)

8. Lor Bak (pork wrapped in fried beancurd skin)

So good it doesn’t need a pic!

9. Peanut Candy wrapped in Popiah skin

10. Tropical fruits

We ate and we bought and finally returned home with 21 kg worth of food in our luggage! 😁

All I learned about Instant Noodles I did in Yokohama

Innovation. Perseverance. Ingenuity. For the masses and not the individual.  

These noodles were the brainchild of one Momofuku Ando. He invented the first instant noodles at age 48, first cup noodles at age 61 and the first instant noodles for astronauts in space at 95! Late bloomer he is.

There is an animated video of Momofuku’s journey you can watch that tells you a bit more about the trials and tribulations of the commercialization process and business wars in a simple, child-friendly yet emotive way. The film is in Japanese but there are audio guides available in English, Mandarin, Korean and one other language (I forgot! 😝). 

The museum does not have a lot of artifacts to show but has a great story to share.

500 yen per adult for entry and another 300 yen to make your own ramen to take home in a cute bubble bag.