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Cooking Class on Pulau Ubin

June 3rd, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in 1000 Days - (0 Comments)

glutinous rice balls with fish, rose jellies, sponge cake

When our good friends Matt and John found out we were moving to Singapore right after our wedding, they got us a most awesome wedding present–a Cookery Magic cooking class on the tiny island just off the coast of Singapore called Pulau Ubin. Set in an old kampong house, we’d forage the jungle for herbs and learn how to cook the local Malaysian dishes nasi kerabu, sambal belachan, and butter prawns. Now finally, finally! after months of coordinating schedules and skirting around the rainy seasons out here, we set aside a Saturday and took it. It was totally worth all the months of waiting.

Landing on Pulau Ubin

That morning everyone in the class met at the Changi Village ferry terminal and after a short 10 minute ride, we landed on Pulau Ubin. Only about 60 people reside on this tiny island which is said to resemble what Singapore looked like 50 years ago. Singaporeans mostly come to the island to get out of the city and bike around the hills and wetlands. I’ve personally not really enjoyed biking in the hot and humid weather here in Singapore, so while biking around a jungle may sound fun and exotic, I’ll leave that activity to everyone else.

kampong house

After a short van ride through the jungle, we arrived at the 100 year old house. Even though it was only 9:30am, it was already pretty hot and humid and the pesky mosquitoes were even out. You just have to learn to deal with it out here.

Before we got to cooking, a huge traditional breakfast awaited inside the house. Lontong (cakes of pressed rice) served with a coconut vegetable curry, sambal sauce, glutinous rice cakes with dried fish flakes, rose water jellies, sweet sponge cakes, and a kaffir lime leaf tea (to ward off the mosquitoes). It was all delish.

breakfast

 

back kitchen

After breakfast we took a walk through the jungle where the guide pointed out various plants and herbs used for cooking and natural health remedies. Back at the house we gathered at our wok cooking stations,  underneath an outside tent and watched the cooking instructor, Ruqxana Vasanwala, demo the dishes that we were going to make.

Ruxqana

 

grinding the toasted black pepper

 

butter prawns

 

cooking the butter prawns

 

finished butter prawn presentation

 

hot chili sambal

It was cool to make the chili sambal (you have to cook it much longer than I would have thought–till it makes you “cough and choke” as Ruqxana said), but the real highlight for me was the nasi kerabu. This is a simple rice dish served room temperature, with tons of fresh chopped herbs, ginger, lemongrass, torch ginger flower, shallot, and dried fish. There were maybe about 15 herbs or so here, including Asian pennyworth, mint, kaffir lime leaf, young cashew leaves, wild pepper leaves, coriander, thai basil, tumeric leaves, ginger leaves.

herbed rice

The final rice is actually supposed to be almost twice as green as this, but our group got a little lazy when it came to chopping all the herbs.

Eating the rice with the spicy sambal…

After we cooked and ate, an ice shaver was brought out and we each shaved ice so that we could assemble a ridiculously delicious Malaysian dessert, ice kachang. Over the shaved ice you dump on condensed milk, coconut milk, creamed corn, red beans, green cendol, and grass jelly. Yumm! The perfect ending to a hot day in the jungle.

ice shaver

ice kachang table

 

ice kachang

Bintan Island

April 24th, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in 1000 Days | Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

Shady Shack Bintan Island

 

We just got back from an amazing weekend in Indonesia. We’d been looking to escape the heat of Singapore for a quick trip when our apartment neighbors rang us up. “Hey we found a place called ‘Shady Shack’. You in?” Of course we were.

Getting to Indonesia is really easy from Singapore. We just hopped on a ferry and after about an hour we landed and had our passports stamped. Our driver ready to take us to Shady Shack was already waiting.

Bintan Island is known for it’s plush resorts, mostly right near the ferry terminal, but we decided to try out a secluded, more rustic island experience. We felt up for a more relaxing holiday anyway, where we didn’t have to share the water with tons of kids and families:)

Bintan Indonesia

After an hours drive through mountainous rural areas to the other side of the island, we arrived at Shady Shack and met up with our host, Lobo, who showed us our abodes for the weekend. This place is definitely high on the “roughing it” scale. Each couple had our own quaint fairly solid shack that had a room with a mosquito netted bed and a concrete bathroom with it’s own toilet (a concrete tub of water with a bucket is provided to do your own flushing). No sink or shower, but hey, who needs a shower when you’ll be in the ocean all weekend?

Bintan Indonesia

Shady Shack Bintan Island

 

Shady Shack Bintan Island

 

Just before we got there our friends had to tell me an awful story about their travels in Cambodia involving spiders in the night–not a good thing for me to hear. After seeing a spider on the outside of their shack I decided to sleep fully clothed and with the lights on the first night. No incidents, so felt a little better the second night. We fared better than our friends, who wound up with a rat rummaging around in their bags in the middle of the night!

That said, the location absolutely rocks. It’s truly an island paradise. Right out of an episode of Gilligan’s Island. The shacks are just feet from the beautiful sandy beach which is only shared by a few locals and a handful of other Shady Shackers. I noticed that all the other guests were European, not locals, or even Singaporeans. Not sure why? The water of the South China Sea is nice and warm. It’s also pretty shallow (suits me just fine) close to shore, and is perfect for snorkeling. At low tide all I had to do was walk out to the coral and rocks to get a glimpse of a few adorable clown fish guarding their reefy homes.

We tried a few dishes at the Shady Shack cafe that Lobo and his wife run (she does the cooking). We tried some simply prepared vegetable, fried fish, and rice dishes. We also took a walk to the small village down the road and stopped at a roadside stand where we sampled some fried banana and fried tofu with chili sauce. Yum.

the Shady Shack dog contemplates a swim (he winds up going for it)

 

local village food

Getting ready for the Saturday night bonfire on the beach right outside our shack

At a place like this you really shouldn’t do more than swim, read, play cards (maybe), drink beer, laze around, drink more beer. The group next to us tried to play some frisbie and it stressed me out just watching them. Turn it off and relax, people. Can’t wait to go back, and hoping the creepie crawlies stay away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vietnam!

March 13th, 2012 | Posted by yvonne in 1000 Days - (0 Comments)

 

Vietnam street food--crisp wafer cookies

We just got back home to Singapore from 8 days in Saigon and Dalat last week and figured I should post some pics before they wind up just sitting in iPhoto. The trip was truly amazing. When I moved to Singapore I had never stepped foot in Asia before. My husband jokes that Singapore is like “my first Asia” and he’s right. It’s an easy move from a Western country. Singapore is clean, safe and most everyone speaks English. Outside of visiting Malacca and Tioman Island in Malaysia (which is right next door to Singapore), Vietnam was a giant leap forward.The first thing that hits you is all the motorbikes. Thousands of them! And because there aren’t many street lights, the only way to cross the street is to hold your bags close and just jump right in. If you go slow and steady they’ll miraculously avoid you. If you stop in the middle of the street you’ll have a good chance of getting hit!

Alley for the Diep Anh Hotel

Streets of Saigon

One reason to go is the delicious Vietnamese coffee. It’s super strong and sweetened with condensed milk (if you don’t already know). Towards the end of the trip I slurped up an unfortunate fly in the straw of my ice coffee. I surprisingly got over it fast, reasoning that it was the first time ever, and that I’m surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. Anyway, I didn’t swallow it at least.

Another reason is the food, which if not amazing all of the time, is 100% authentic. Take pho bo, the beef noodle soup that’s synonymous with Vietnamese cuisine. I slurped it 5 or 6 times while I was there–in pho restaurants, rustic rest stop restaurants on the side of the road, and side alley pho. For the most part these phos were just okay-the beef was kind of scrappy and tough, the broth a bit watered down, and the side plate of greens mostly lettuce leaves instead of sprouts and basil. — The side alley pho that I had in Dalat was the best-the broth was beefy and sweet, with chunks of tender brisket and a big plate of greens (mostly lettuce). I still think Boston makes a damn good pho. The broth is rich with lots of rare, tender beef, and the side plates are piled high with sprouts and basil.

Pho at Pho Quyen, Saigon

 

BBQ wild boar--vagely porkish and very chewy

 

Tram Chim, Saigon

 

Pho in Dalat

Late night Banh Mi

We bummed around Saigon for a few days, drinking lots of 50 cent beer, accidentally finding ourselves in a sort of Vietnamese version of “Hooters” (I was drawn in by the whole baby pig on the bbq), and visiting the war remnants museum (it was interesting to see how the Vietnam war is represented in Vietnam). And I can’t forget the late night Banh Mi after drinking loads of the ridiculously cheap alcohol. The heat, humidity, and mopeds were a little draining, so we set off for the cooler temperatures of Dalat, a mountain town just north of Saigon. The  8 hour bus ride which was tortuous for me because I had a really bad cough that week, and I’m sure all the people on the bus wish I had a face mask with all my hacking. We stayed 3 days, soaking up the crisp dryish air, sipping a $2 bottle of an almost undrinkable and sherry-like Dalat wine, drinking some awesome coconut custard dessert drinks at a night sidewalk cafe, sampling street food, and taking a bike trip through the local mountain side to check out a coffee plantation, silkworm factory. The most awkward part of the bike trip was visiting a “minority village”. The people who live there are super friendly but extremely poor, and it was unclear whether we were supposed to give them money or not.

Easy rider bike tour

Dalat street food

Dalat street food

 

Dalat produce

Dalat produce

 

The highlight in Dalat was the night time sidewalk dessert cafe:

Pots of custardy dessert drinks flavored with pandan and coconut

night time sidewalk dessert cafe

 

After getting back to Saigon, we stayed again in the terrific Diep Anh Hotel. And even after sitting on the bus for another 8 hours, I immediately booked a day trip to the Mekong Delta the very next day. Mostly bus, but part boat ride, highlights were visiting a rice paper factory and seeing the floating markets. You can tell what the boat is selling by whatever they’ve stuck to the end of a long pole.

 

Pulling the moist rice paper crepe from the steamer

 

Laying the rice paper out to dry

Mekong Delta

Mekong Delta

 

Mekong Delta

By far the strangest thing that I saw that day were the women selling meat in an open air market in the Delta. They were either sitting right on top of the counter with the meat, or perched in a hammock directly overhead.

Resting in hammock

We’d been on a search for a great Banh Xeo (Vietnamese pancake) and finally found it on our last day in what looked like the Japanese quarter of Saigon. We can’t wait to go back to try more food!

Banh Xeo

 

Vietnamese pancake

 

Yummy ham for the Banh Mi

 

Jambon Banh Mi