A Bubbly Affair

With a few allowed vacation days during my internship, I planned for an extended weekend in Taipei! This was very much a solo-project and I had butterflies in my tummy from pure excitement as I flew across the waters. I studied my traveling guide meticulously on the plane, giving me wonderful flashbacks to my travels in China and my exchange in Hong Kong – if you are new to wildwonton you can read about those adventures here and here (and a heartily welcome to the rants). And though Taipei is nothing like my past experiences I was overjoyed to be back in Chinese-character-land. Boy, have I missed those perfectly timed transportation systems, those spring onion pancakes for breakfast and to genuinely feel the excitement of a different culture, wash over me as I explored those streets and lanes.

A small warning as we begin: My first impressions of Taipei, as relayed here, are void of any critical distance – I only just returned to KL as I am writing this, and the post is thus naturally filled with a insistent high from traveling and with leftover-excitement-butterflies in my tummy. But Taipei was definitely a city after my taste: it is no wonder foodies hail it as the ultimate food destination. It will therefore not surprise you either that I spent a majority of those 4 days hunting down food! If you don’t have long in Taipei I would definitely suggest that you hover around Yong Kang Street for a few hours as you will find many great samples in this area. I skipped the Din Tai Fung queue (if you have the time, get in that line!) and jumped around the corner for some dumplings at Kao Chi, serving all the Shanghainese classics. As I can’t compare, I will only say that my tummy had no objections. The crispy sides of their signature pan fried pork buns was a new experience to my taste buds and they genuinely enjoyed them (sorry, no documentation they went straight into my tummy). As they are fried in an iron cast pan they get a lovely crisp underside, while the top retain the soft delicacy, if you will, as you know it from your traditional dumplings. I also sampled spring onion pancake from a famous vendor further down from Kao Chi (on a corner) – just look for a long line! I of course also sampled the must above all musts: some beef noodle soup. As I was slurping away, I remember thinking to myself: I can’t believe how lucky I am to sit here in Taipei! Also, lets not forget about the bubble tea… I had at least 2 a day and particularly liked 50 Lan! After having perused Yong Kang to the fullest, I also ventured further out to Gongguan to try the infamous gua bao, a slow-braised pork hamburger, filled to the brim with crunchy coriander and some peanut butter-like goodness. My hunt also took me to a full-blown Hello Kitty experience and all the way out to Maokong (and up the mountain with the gondola) to sample some of that fine Taiwanese tea. If you want a more modern take on tea (and not in a traditional teahouse setting, though why would you not want to try that also?), I gave Smith&Hu a visit. Probably the best scones I ever had, and let’s not overlook that amazing tea selection. My visits to numerous night markets (I went to one every night, however I would never have found Raohe Market without Javis, a kind local who took me under his wing for the evening – Hi Javis, if you are reading this!) stuffed me up to the fullest. In general, rest assured – you are bound to have a great food experience in Taipei.

I of course also covered some of those non-food musts while visiting the island. I took a half-day trip up to Tamsui – a historic town, best known for Fort San Domingo which was established by the Spanish. Walking around the narrow lanes was thrilling and the beautiful riverside and numerous bike paths makes it an ideal setting for outdoor activities too. In Taipei, I managed to cover a fair amount of ground. Chiang Kai-shek and the 2-28 Peace Memorial Park served as a window into the darker history of Taiwan. Other musts on my path included, Bao’an Temple, Dihua Street (known for its Chinese medicine shops) and the National Palace Museum (home to the world’s largest collection of Chinese art). Two locations stood out to me, however. One was Huashan 1914 Creative Park, a location I almost decided to skip (but boy, am I glad I didn’t!) The Creative Park is a 20th-century wine factory which has been restored into the ultimate retro venue, where like-minded creative people gather, whether it be for sketching, playing music, dancing or any other art form you can possible think of. The venue hosts numerous cute cafes and boutiques, and I quickly lost all track of time. The day I was there the park was filled to the brim and made for an excellent people-watching spot. Also, a cool exhibition on Miffy was clearly drawing in Taiwanese families as their event of choice for the weekend and I could definitely see myself coming here often if I ever got to live here. Another outing which stood out to me was my short trek up Elephant Mountain to catch that classic shot of Taipei 101. I don’t regret a single drop of sweat that was spilled to reach that vantage point in the summer heat.

As I am nearing the end of this post can we just take a minute to appreciate the brilliance of the Taiwanese? Any country that invents bubble tea and instant noodle is a favorite in my book.

My adventure in Taipei has definitely left me wanting more. I unfortunately did not get to visit Yangmingshan National Park – despite such beautiful nature being right at the doorstep of Taipei – and therefore feel like I need to come back! The island offers so many lovely spots, and could easily provide an excellent opportunity to take a tour around the entire island by train. I hope Gid is up for some mountain hiking and some train riding someday!?

/Krissy

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Khmer Fascination

Exceeding Expectations

Having already traversed a big chunk of the Asian corner of the world – and having spent more than a month in Malaysia on my first backpacking trip – I came to Kuala Lumpur with absolutely no expectations of discovering new places (and let’s be honest, New York City made my bank account implode). Not that I am done exploring, or feel like I have saturated this side of the map for new adventures; no, I simply did not factor new exciting places into the equation that was my KL internship. Least of all, I did not think I would set foot in Cambodia. Having been to Thailand on numerous occasions (at one point in time, I almost moved here with my family), this country is definitely close to my heart. I find it distasteful what kind of reputation Thailand has gotten in recent years, with the massive influx of (often obnoxious) tourists with sad intentions. For that reason I have often defended and placed this location on a pedestal, not only because I find it so simple to be at ease here, but also because people have almost forced me to be apologetic about liking it. However, apologetic is the last thing I want to be – whether it be in my life or in this post. No, what I am getting to is how this defensiveness has somehow managed to blind me, or overshadow destinations like Laos and Cambodia, making me disregard these destinations as being lower down that list of must-visits (listomania, that is me). But as Gid and I agreed, it was time to experience a new setting, and when that choice came down to Cambodia, that was probably one of the best lessons of my stay here so far. It is so easy to be consumed by presumptive ideas or to fall under the trap of generalizations. Going to Cambodia was not only a wonderful vacation for Gideon and I to spend some time together away from KL, but it was also a reawakening for me; a newfound love for Asia and the uniqueness and variety that exists in all shapes and forms here. Just to give one example: had I known what Khmer cuisine tastes like, I probably would not have wasted all this flying OVER Cambodia…

Not having set foot on any East Asian countries apart from Philippines, I was pleasantly surprised that 2015 would bring me to both KL and Cambodia. For a long time, it had been a dream of mine to visit ruins and temples, and it so happened that I could do it with the best travel partner one could ever ask for: Krissy. I really did not know what to expect, though. I was mostly excited to melt in the sun while visiting the temples of Angkor heritag park. As we walked out of the arrival hall of SRIA, we were greeted by our hotel staff with a bouquet of flowers and the most humble of bows. We flew early morning and were quite tired, but after such a warming greeting, we knew then and there—and as Krissy and I looked at each other in excitement—that our stay would be nothing short of amazing. 

Forever Foodies

After the many belt-loosening meals we had in KL, it was a pleasant surprise for Krissy and I to sample Khmer cuisine. From street food vendors to gourmet eateries, this city provides the perfect setting for culinary adventures. With so much to try, where do you begin? Well, our research revealed that Fish Amok was an absolute must-try. This was great, since Krissy and I always welcome seafood in our bellies. Fish amok is a mixture of kroeung (a delectable curry paste made from a base of lemongrass, turmeric root and galangal) and sliced white fish, normally steamed in a banana leaf bowl to form a mousse. Upscale restaurants serves it as a mousse, while more local places offer it as a kind of stew. We definitely recommend trying this dish at The Sugar Palm, nown for serving one of the best fish amoks in town.

My stepdad is a chef, and I would like to think I grew up with a palate refined to diverse flavors; however, Khmer cuisine excited my palate like nothing I have tasted before.  Two other places that impressed our socks off are Chanrey Tree and Chamkar (vegetarian). Chanrey Tree has a very stylish atmosphere, great for evening dates. The meals we ordered were delicately plated, and careful attention was given to choosing ingredients that really bring together the dish as a whole. Our main course here was Prahok Ktish, a Cambodian delicacy of fermented fish, pork, thinly sliced river fish braised with coconut cream, baby eggplant, served with blanched vegetables crudites. It is difficult to find words to justly describe this dish; its flavors were a perfect blend of spicy, sweet and tangy. As for Chamkar, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you do not try their curries. When the world offers such mouth-watering cuisine, it is impossible to be anything other than forever foodies. 

Temple Day 1: Rubble Raiders

I felt like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider as we entered the Angkorian heritage site. We bought a 3-day pass, as our main purpose whilst being in Siem Reap was to explore all the temples. We definitely need to come back another time and travel through the rest of the country, North to South. But this time around, the main objective was to focus all of our attention on the magic of Siem Reap. I think it is no exaggeration when I say that both of our jaws dropped as we entered the first temple site, Preah Khan. It is very humbling to walk a historical site. Every brick used in the construction of these temples have over the years acquired different hues of colors, and put together it becomes a Monet masterpiece. The carvings are so miniscule and precise, that it is difficult to believe how they managed to construct such sites, and just how the carvings have lasted all this time. Preah Khan is one of largest complexes within Angkor, and has some of the finest carvings (+ fewer visitors here). It was our very first ruinous temple, and I will never forget that feeling of walking among the most beautiful stone rubbles in the middle of the jungle.  On our first day we also visited a lot of smaller temples like, Preah Neak Poan and Ta Som. Though everything looked like it was by chance – fallen stones and bricks scattered here and there, a temple placed randomly in the middle of the jungle – it somehow all made sense.  As we came to Siem Reap at the end of May – the threshold between dry season and wet season – the nature surrounding us was undeniably barren as most of the waterholes were dried up. However, you could still sense a tingling feeling lingering in the nature around us, an impatient yet hopeful anticipation of what kind of weather was to come. We ended our first afternoon early, due to the sweltering heat and the dry air, which slowly but surely took its toll on us as the sun crossed the sky. It is a scary thought how such a blistering sun can suck out all life of you. What pieced us together was our sweet Tuk-Tuk driver who happily reminded our tired bodies of what kind of magical place that we were exploring, as he was taking us back to the bustling civilization of Siem Reap.

Temple Day 2: Will you go to Ta Prohm with me?

I have always been a big fan of adventure. From Indy’s archaelogical escapades on film to Nathan Drake’s daring pursuit for treasure in video games. It was therefore only fitting for Day 2 to bring us to the temple of Ta Prohm. Neglected and embraced by the jungle, Ta Prohm transported Krissy and I to another world and another time. The atmosphere was raw, mysterious, eerie and picturesque all at the same time. Perhaps the temple’s most distinctive feature, and the reason for it being featured in the Tomb Raider movie, are the trees growing into the ruins. The massive trunks rise up to the skies, branching out into canopy of green leaves that provide shade in the sweltering sun. The trunks trail the stone walls and its roots form serpentine claws, coiling, slowly reclaiming the stone temple. Blurring the line between fiction and reality, this temple seduces you into feeling a part of a greater narrative, an old tale of adventure and exploration. 

My highlight of day two was definitely visiting the temple of Bayon. As you explore this site, beware of lurking eyes and staring glances – in fact, you should be prepared for 216 faces, to be exact – all glaring down upon you as you visit their humble abode. Bayon is the central temple of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, representing the intersection of heaven and earth, and certainly had a jaw-dropping effect on both of us (again). There is just something about those beaming faces, looking out in every direction of the world, which cannot fail to mesmerize you. It is no wonder that the smiles have captivated so many, and that Bayon is often referred to as the Mona Lisa of Asia. The serene smiles surely lured us into staying a bit longer at this site. As midday came and went and the sun was at its highest, I want to reiterate a recurring theme of this post: the scorching heat. I think for all those global-warming-skeptics out there, I want to place each and everyone of you on the long path leading across the moat and into the temple site of Angkor Wat, and make you all walk back and forth from midday until around 2pm. Then look me in the eyes, and tell me that Mother Earth isn’t overheating!

After Bayon temple, we worked our way towards the three-tiered temple Baphuon. Conquering our fear of heights, we traversed the many steps up a steep staircase to get to the topmost tower and get an expansive view of the surroundings. Just as we thought it could not possibly get any hotter, an interesting shift in weather suddenly occurred. The skies grew dark, and we felt the wind getting stronger. We knew right away that it would rain, but we were not prepared for the heavy downpour that it turned out to be. It was a fantastic experience: we were soaked head to toe, our bags and their contents were soaked (Sorry again Mads and Sidsel for crumpling your book!) but we were mostly laughing because it was actually fun being there at that time. As the clouds retreated and the rain stopped pouring, our eyes were met with a different Angkor. The sharp sunlight was gone, and the overcast sky left the leaves and the ruins saturated with color. It felt as if everything suddenly bloomed into existence. It felt like Angkor had come to life, working its magic on the people lucky enough to witness it at that very moment.

Temple Day 3: A Setting Serenity

As we got up, at what felt like the middle of the night, and slid in on the plastic seating of our Tuk-Tuk, I could feel the excitement rush all over me. It was an hour before dawn and darkness embraced us like a cloak, as we drove through the jungle, only the sounds from the motor serving as a reminder to my imagination that it shouldn’t run off with me completely. Gideon of course joked about tigers and other lurking beasts, but we made it safely to the holy site of the temple to rule them all, Angkor Wat. Yes, we did the obligatory sun rise scene at this magnificent site. And yes, we shared the view with a horde of tourists as thick as pea soup. But there is a reason why this iconic Khmer complex is loved by so many during those golden and colourful minutes. As you stand there, staring out into the darkness, watching the silhouette of the temple become clearer and clearer as light is slowly but surely embracing the pinnacle structures, the speed of the changing colours against the backdrop of Angkor Wat makes no sense. Oh the tranquility! I remember wondering what it must have felt like as the first archaeological team stumbled upon the largest religious monument in the world. They must have had that same goofy smile that was on my lips at that moment, as the sun was done doing its rising-business. You might read all of this and think that the temples will at some point in time become boring to explore. And yes, temple fatigue is a common exhaustion which many of the online reviews mention out there in cyberspace. While this is true for most, and while I cannot reject the fact that we mostly decided to call it a day early in the afternoon, I can genuinely and honestly say that 3 days were perfect for us. Even though you might feel like you hit a temple-plateau after x amount of time, there always comes a corner, a temple-embracing tree, a detailed bas-relief, a colourful contrast or a view over the jungle which makes you astounded that you are actually lucky enough to visit this famed heritage park. As we drove through Angkor one last time in our Tuk-Tuk, with the course back towards Siem Reap city centre, Gid and I agreed that we would not have been without a single rubble on our trip.

 

Thank you Cambodia,

Spending 3 days on rubble raiding was just the right amount of time for Krissy and I. In addition, some planning allows you to see what else Siem Reap has to offer. For us, it was an educational experience to visit the National Museum where we learned more about the temples and for whom they were built. The Old Market and various side streets are definitely worth exploring. If you have time, we urge you to experience Phare, the Cambodia Circus. We bought tickets to a show, where we experienced the chilling narrative of Sokha, a child haunted by the visions of the atrocities and destruction by the Khmer Rouge. The performers executed a brilliant and raw performance, showcasing the best of contemporary Khmer acrobatics, music, choreography and drama,  and providing great insight into Cambodian lives and society. 

The time Krissy and I shared in the charming city of Siem Reap will long remain in our hearts. It is a city full of life, wonder and amazing adventures. Cambodia, we’ll see you again! We’ll be back to explore the capital, Phnom Penh. 

// Krissy & Gideon

Picture Postcard

No photoshop Try to picture one of those tacky postcards: white, sandy beaches, palm trees marking up the shore line and the turquoise sea water battling it out with the sky to see which blue nuance is the brightest. At Perhentian Islands, postcards don’t do reality justice. I stayed a whole weekend in this paradise where my fellow travel-companions and I quickly got spellbound by the island-vibe, where time seems to slow down and errands and to-do lists get tucked away somewhere in the back of the mind. Little was on the agenda other than slurping mango smoothies and soaking up some sun with the occasional dip in the sea. We also took a 3 hour snorkeling trip to other, smaller islands lying around the Perhentian Islands, offering colourful fish and untouched corals. It is safe to say that it was an unforgettable snorkeling experience, with a blue marlin jumping near our boat, turtles coming up for air as we were lying in the water and of course, not to forget, the finding of many a cute Nemos. Picture Postcard To make sure that we didn’t miss our flight back to the city we decided to take the jetty back early on Sunday and go explore Kota Bharu and its famous central market, Pasar Besar Siti Khadijah. This colourful wonder offers a wet market with the usual produce like fish and veggies, and it was also here that I got to try the famous Nasi Kerabu, a beautiful blue-coloured rice dish that is really popular here in Malaysia. As you ascend the stairs in this building you get to the dry market – a myriad of small pathways that will lead you around dried snacks, cooking utensils and beautiful batik clothing. It is easy to get lost in here and lose all sense of time. <3 Getting over my dengue fever also gave me back my appetite, and food suddenly became appealing to me once again. That opened up for countless food adventures around the city – everything from local Malay to fine Japanese food. One such local adventure was a trip to the nearby Imbi market, which hid itself from us for some time but proved worth the chase once we found a spot at one of the glitzy plastic chairs and tables, barely shaded by the sun. The heat was heavy, but with a plate of Sisters Crispy Popiah in front of me, I forgot all about the sweaty circumstances. Other edible delights included an amazing experience at Gangnam 88 in Mont Kiara where kimchi stew and bulgogi blew my mind and made me want to fly away to Kpop-land right away. Dim sum also crept its way back into my life, and I realized how much I have missed this usual Sunday ritual from when I was living in Hong Kong. This weekend we simply had to try the afternoon high tea session at The Majestic Hotel, with fine bone china of teapots and teacups and a circular tower of goodies. Of course, the only correct way to eat your cucumber sandwich is with a pointy pinky. Yes, the colonial feel is a bit much, and yes it is a bit pricey, but once you dig into that scone you have already convinced yourself that you have to come back. High Tea session The 2015 Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix also came to Kuala Lumpur, attracting thousands of enthusiasts from around the world. Not being a car or adrenalin junkie, I did not plan to go to this big event, but was lucky enough to be invited along on some free tickets. And though I must admit I never understood the fascination e.g. why my dad would want to spend a whole Sunday watching cars driving around and around and around on a pit (and still don’t), I am happy that I was fortunate enough to try it and “tick it off” the list of musts. One weekend was also spent traversing all of the acres of the ‘Lake Gardens’, also called Perdana Botanical Garden. I was very surprised by all the colours and how bright the greenery was. Due to the intense heat that follows you everywhere you go, I often have a difficult time accepting how green Kuala Lumpur actually is. Of course the almost daily afternoon showers give plants and trees the necessary sustenance, however, these rain showers always seem to escape my memory (which might also explain why I always forget an umbrella). The garden area is absolutely stunning and offers an orchid section, a hibiscus section, a small deer park and everything in between. Walking around the big lake in the center of the park made me reminisce about my time in NYC the past few months, wondering if this heritage park is KL’s equivalent to my beloved Central Park. Botanical gardens KL is still treating me real good and apart from the usual cab driver trying to press me for an extra ringgit or two, the past month has offered me some amazing memories, like a funky jazz night at No Black Tie, a mojito at Marini’s rooftop bar, not to forget the many snacks and deserts that find their way to my tummy. If you are a resident in KL, please share with me your favourite food spot, and any local must eats– always up for a new food adventure. Follow me on instagram if you are a foodie yourself. Until next time! /Krissy

Saying My Goodbyes

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My last post about New York and my second exchange experience is written in the comforts of my apartment in Copenhagen, with a warm cup of tea looking out at the gloomy, Northern weather. This delay was certainly unintentional as Christmas somehow got torn out of my calendar and time truly betrayed me. With the last December days creeping up on me, I barely had time to notice that I was sitting in JFK on the 24th of December waiting to go home. Somehow, however, this unintentional delay does provide me with a retrospective advantage, allowing me to give a better account of my last city-life escapades. However, as a disadvantage, dear reader, this means that you are subject to what they refer to as an unreliable narrator in literary courses, or as a hindsight bias in psychology, and I therefore leave it up to you to see through the thick fog of romanticism and partiality that naturally will dilute my last recollections of my life in the greatest city, that is New York.

Before sharing my last memories, I must dedicate a section to the great American tradition of giving thanks for the harvest and the year that went by, otherwise known as Thanksgiving. I got to be a part of the ‘giving thanks’ traditions together with my family residing in the lovely Sunshine State. I only had a vague idea of Thanksgiving being all about turkey and American football, as seen in all the movies – but it felt like an even bigger deal being part of it. And seeing as I can embrace any tradition that revolves around food, I found myself quickly taking it to heart. Pie-making and pie-eating definitely makes the top of my list, but watching Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade from the front row on the couch was somehow nostalgic, though it was my first time witnessing the biggest spectacle of the holiday season. Thanks go out to my Florida-family, making it such a great experience.

Giving Thanks

But to rewind a bit, I had some lovely late November days in the city with my mom, dad and my not-so-little brother before getting some vitamin D in Florida. It was quite nice to be “forced” to see all the touristy things once more, as the season naturally brought about a change in appearance of all the famous sights, streets and eateries. Particularly the change of colour and light of the city as seen from The Highline, was spectacular, as pigments of red, yellow and orange were magically fading away in favour of brown and barren hues. To be able to experience such visual changes is exactly what makes this city so great to live in. Not to visit, but to live in. Of course seasonal change is an undeniable fact all over the world. But to witness the change of nature in one of the largest urban settlements created by mankind makes for some thought-provoking moments. Just like the visuals of the city constantly change throughout the year, so does the people who make up its population and the events and spaces that make up the backbone of the daily routines. There is always something new going on in the city – a critical requirement for a young lady out of a restless generation, always looking for a new place to call home.
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December month was brisk, making it necessary to tuck in that scarf. Yet with deep blue skies and sunny rays finding its way around the glistening skyscrapers to brighten the pavement that I walked, I forgave the icy winds. The weather proved to be quite sporadic during the last month, ranging from arctic cold to shorts-weather – Perhaps Mother Nature was going through menopause? All poor-jokes aside, I find it necessary to give tribute to the rainy days that also made quite the impression on me whilst living in the city. Having always had a weird fascination with rain ever since childhood, the city is undoubtedly at its prettiest in the pouring rain. While rain might be a nuisance in my adulthood, it really did transform New York to a prettier version of itself, by somehow softening the urban landscape – taking off some of the New York edge. The reflections of buildings and lights gave the city an additional dimension and made for some great exploring. Of course, getting soaked by passing cars on corners or loosing the battle of umbrellas on the sidewalk naturally does not make the list of top experiences, yet remains vivid in my memory. In particular, the umbrella war is nostalgic to me, reminding me of my exchange in Hong Kong, only the war would be fared during sunshine hours.

One of the December highlights was visiting Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Despite being quite the landmark, I feel that visitors often overlook it. Yet, going for a quick stroll amongst the tombstones and beautiful lakes is absolutely stunning, and it is hard to believe that this peaceful cemetery is also part of the make-up of New York. You won’t forget too long however, as numerous hills offer you a beautiful view of the city. A fellow explorer and myself came at the perfect time, with dusk luring any moment, adding a spooky feel to an otherwise beautiful setting.

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December is of course also a month of tinsel and caroling, and unless you do not like to watch movies, you are most likely aware that New York is the perfect setting to get in the right Christmas spirit. It shall be no secret that Christmas is my favourite holiday, and the roomies and I upheld the Danish Christmas traditions of ‘jule-hygge’ – a cozy day of decorating the apartment, eating Christmas cookies and singing ‘Last Christmas’ one more time. If you are a faithful wild-wonton’er, you will know I also carried on the Danish traditions in Hong Kong during Christmas time, and always makes for great memories.

Christmas<3

The rest of my days ended up being a battle against time, with a long list of things yet to see and eat, but hindered by an infinite amount of long essays and exams. The list is of course saved for next time, but I did manage to squeeze in a terrible amount of doughnut places (YUM), hours of perusing MoMa, several peeks of ice skating New Yorkers, numerous ‘battle’ days of Christmas shopping, and too many tearful goodbyes to all the new friendships I made this half year. Luckily the goodbyes were made over food, alcohol or rooftops to make the end a cheery one. I am excited to one day return to what I got to call home for a few months and to meet familiar faces again that are currenlty scattered across the world.

Please try Doughnut Plant for me if you ever go to NYC
Please try Doughnut Plant for me if you ever go to NYC

And at last: a minor announcement. While this is my last post about New York (for now), a new adventure is awaiting just around the corner, as the next 6 months will be spend in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So do not fret, a new exciting chapter of wildwonton will soon begin – possibly with more, actual wonton’s on the blog.

/Krissy

 

 

Castles, kilts and haunted vaults

For my birthday last June, my best friend Martin and his wife Kaija surprised me with a weekend trip to see them in Edinburgh. I had never been before, but in my head, the image of Edinburgh was that of magic and wizardry. Much to my surprise, I was not too far off. It is an amazing city, and to top it off, the weather was perfect that weekend. I hope that the pictures speak for themselves on how beautiful this city is. I decided to journal my trip through the captions. Enjoy!

The highlight of the weekend was really that I could spend time with Martin, Kaija and Lucy (their cute dog!).

Would do again. 10/10.

// Gideon

Ps. Krissy has an exciting announcement coming up soon! Stay tuned.

Surprise Dinner

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am utterly overjoyed to let you know that I have recently graduated my M.Sc. in Engineering in Physics and Nanotechnology (more on that later!), and I could not be happier! I am truly excited for my future and what I can contribute to science and technology. However, this post is actually about something unrelated to science; namely, cooking. I have previously mentioned how much I like to cook. More and more, I found out that I actually love to cook for Krissy.

There is something so satisfying to see her enjoy the food I make, whether it is something that takes a while to prepare, like butter chicken, or something simpler like a heartwarming bowl of salmon don buri. She inspires me to cook different things, and of course I just want to give her the best. It is all worth it when I see her get wide-eyed and ravished by whatever I have concocted in our hobbit-like kitchen. And when she is away, I actually find my inspiration and motivation to cook something delicious dwindling. When she visited her parents for a week, I remember that the blocks in my food pyramid were quickly transformed to comprising only canned foods.

So when I can cook for her, I try to do my best. I am not a “follow a recipe to a T” kind of guy. Usually, I look for several recipes of the same dish and just mix them up, taking the strengths of each one. If the gut feeling says one recipe has it all, then I stick with that. When I cook for others, and especially for Krissy, I always remember key ingredients: a dash of instinct, a teaspoon of creativity, a stick of fun julienned, 1/2 cup of souland a whole lot of love. These are always key to a successful dish happy tummy!

Krissy was at work Sunday, and I thought it would be awesome to surprise her with some delicious dinner. She has often come home from work with a headache, and feeling exhausted. The plan was to make her feel more relaxed after work. I had decided on vegetarian vietnamese spring rolls for Sunday night and pad thai for Monday night – I just know she will love these! Alright then, let’s get cross-cultural up in here!

For the spring rolls, I used this recipe for Marinated Tofu Fresh Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. I will go ahead and say that I am quite the sushi roller. However, when it came to rolling these wraps, the first 3 were a disaster. As I got into the groove, the rolls got more firm and the contents didn’t spill out as I cut them in half. 

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

It was quite the success! We were stuffed by the time we finished everything on the board. Also, it was a nice exchange of not having any meat, since the night before, we had our fair share of meat at a BBQ party!

As for Monday evening, it was pad thai on the menu. I had never made it before,  so I was curious to find out whether I would succeed. I used several recipes, but the main idea comes from Pad Thai Recipe: The “Authentic” Version. The author thoroughly describes what it takes to make the dish. There is actually a ‘prequel’ and ‘sequel’ to this recipe: a detailed outline of what the dish isn’t and a number of variations to the dish, respectively. So I was not able to get exactly the ingredients mentioned in the recipe, eg. preserved turnip, dried small shrimps, garlic chives. I had to adapt with what was available. I added chicken as extra protein. It was comforting that I had at least managed to get a hold of the exact ingredients required for the sauce – I believe it’s so important for the dish. Also, we cook on a stove top, and so it is near-impossible to do proper high-heat stir frying, but there are tricks to get around those issues. The end result was pretty amazing! And Krissy was very happy with it, so that makes me :))))

I will definitely be cooking this again. Practice makes perfect.

Pad Thai

[Sorry for the super terrible phone pictures.]

// Gideon

Ps. I really enjoyed making the cover photo for this post, and so I hope you all like it, too. ( ノ^ω^)ノ゚

A taste of Ilocos

A taste of Ilocos

Finally getting some free time, I was able to finish up this post. In the spirit of the previous post, I’ll continue the story starting from December 31st. Enjoy!

While Krissy was getting ready to celebrate the oncoming new year, I was actually onboard a plane from Denmark to Philippines. The plane landed in the afternoon, and baggage claim was its usual time-consuming ordeal. However, it felt good to be back. It is that sense of nostalgia that rushes through your veins. It was a concoction of sensory awakening; feeling that heat on your skin as you set foot off the plane, getting a whiff of that familiar airport smell, seeing the hustle and bustle of balikbayans – it all comes together, giving me a deeply-rooted sense of belonging.

Balikbayan refers to a person of Filipino origin who lives outside of the Philippines.

It was a special night, not only because 2014 was right around the corner, but mainly because I could celebrate New Year’s Eve with my sisters—something we (sadly) haven’t done in many, many years. Needless to say, it was a memorable night; one that I will always cherish.

During my stay in the Philippines, I was also very fortunate to visit the beautiful province of Ilocos, located on the Northwest coast of the country. Although I was born in the Philippines, I have unfortunately not seen much of the country (there is just so much to see!) So I felt very excited that I would get to experience a new place, and of course try their cuisine. This post is dedicated to all that I saw and all that I ate.

Ilocos, Philippines
Ilocos collectively refers to Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur.

Ilocos actually consists of four provinces: Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. I saw most of what both provinces has to offer in the form of tourist sites. In hindsight, it probably would not have been as effortless (nor as informative) without the help of our kind tour guide. After arriving in the city of Laoag  at night and having rested, the first stop early in the morning was the sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. There, it is possible to explore the sand dunes on a 4×4 or even have a go at sand boarding. Being a man of extremely adventurous spirit </sarcasm> … I did not try either activities. So I cannot offer silly pictures of me with sand all over my face. Instead, I give you another photo (other than the cover photo) taken near the sand dunes.

Barbed wire, Paoay Sand Dunes

Following the sand dunes was a stopover at Malacañang of the North, the official residence of late President Ferdinand E. Marcos, and his wife, former First Lady Imelda Marcos (yes the Imelda Marcos, the Rose of Tacloban, the Steel Butterfly, the Lady of 3000 pairs of shoes). Casting aside whatever opinions people may have of these two individuals, their home was an undeniable display of grandeur: from the arching staircase carved in Narra hardwood, to the hanging pieces of art, the scenic view over Paoay Lake, and to all the other intricately carved furniture, their home is certainly fit for people with power. The Spanish colonial architecture definitely brought a sense of time travel. As I walked through the corridors of their home, paying close attention to all their interesting memorabilia, I listened to the tour guide talk about the former President with so much vigor and Ilocanian pride.

Next stop was the Church of Saint Augustine, or Paoay Church. I clearly remember its distinct architure, borrowing from Gothic and Baroque designs. According to UNESCO, its architecural style is a reinterpretation of European Baroque by Chinese and Philippine craftsmen. There is a certain beauty with the way light falls on its facade, accentuating its lines and curves. The spirals featured on the buttresses breaks all the linearity and adds a more organic, and nature-centric touch to the design.

Paoay Church Paoay Church

After seeing a number of museums dedicated to Marcos, the tour headed south, toward Ilocos Sur; specifically, the destination was the city of Vigan. Having spent many hours touring, we arrived in Vigan quite hungry. I was quite excited to finally try Ilocanian cuisine. Oh yes, the joy of food! The guide took us to a place where we could get Vigan-style empanada. Basically it is a crispy shell filled with vegetable and meat. The shell is made of rice flour with added atchuete (achiote) to obtain that bright orange colouring.

The filling is normally grated green papaya, mung been sprouts, egg and longganisa (a type of sausage). So how do I explain its taste? I can’t. You will simply have to try it for yourself. The finishing touch is the vinegar sauce that comes along with the empanada, which really brings the whole thing together. It does dirty (oily!) wrestling with the empanada in your hands, so make sure you have extra napkins. As such, it will receive (as this blog’s first) the wildwonton seal of approval (SoA)!

wildwonton Seal of Approval

The wildwonton seal of approval (SoA) is given to specific food or eateries that we feel perfectly captures the spirit of ww, in form of taste and presentation. Look out for the seal in future posts! Fun fact: The SoA was designed to look like Chinese art stamps! If you look carefully, you can spot all the letters that form ‘wildwonton’. 

For 35 pesos a piece, those little orange bundles of joy are quite filling. I…had three.  #satisfiedtummy #sealofapproval

Seal-of-approval

The next stop on the itinerary was pottery making. The people of Vigan are known for their pottery skills. They value and commit to preserving the tradition of making burnay (unglazed earthen jars), a skill passed down from immigrated Chinese artisans during pre-colonial times.

The tour continued to the Vigan Heritage Village, a residential complex of Spanish colonial houses. In the heart of the Heritage Village lies Calle Crisologo. As I look back at the memory, I close my eyes and I hear the the clippity-clop-clattering of hooves on the cobblestone street, as people experience the town through horse-drawn kalesas.

Calle Crisologo

Following Vigan was a trip back up north, across Ilocos Norte, driving along the northwestern coast that is bounded by the South China Sea, all the way up to the town Pagudpud. On the way there, we also passed by Burgos and Bangui. In Burgos, there is the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse , another cultural heritage from Spanish colonial times. It was first lit in 1892 and it marks the northwestern-most point in Luzon.

There are stories told of ghosts watching over the tower. The distressed look of its exterior definitely adds to the image of a lighthouse that is often shrouded with mystery. To me, the structure stands magnificent and resolute; like a lonely sentinel of the sea, withstanding the tests of time to keep watch over the expansive waters.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

The word is derived from puraw, which means pure or white.

Only a few minutes further away,  the Kapurpurawan Rock Formations are located in the rocky coast of Burgos. The beauty found here is in stark contrast to man’s architectural prowess exhibited in the cities; these limestone rock formations shows the beauty of nature’s canvas. A thousand years in the making, these creamy white and streamlined formations were sculpted by the forces of nature.

The wind turbines are from a Danish manufacturer called Vestas Wind Systems. Go Denmark!

Still en route to Pagudpud, we took a quick stop at the Bangui Windmills. Facing the South China Sea, these towering windmills arc along the shore and provide 40% of the energy for Ilocos Norte. It was quite exhilarating standing right underneath one of these 70-metre wind giants. It was, shall I say, FANtastic…………………………………. (   ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

Bangui Windmill

It was a long drive from Laoag to Pagudpud, and so upon arrival, we made a pit stop at Evangeline’s beach resort for some refueling. The menu was surprisingly varied, but my eyes were set on thing and one thing only: pancit (noodles)!

Pancit bihon
Pancit bihon & kalamansi!

After enjoying three days of resort-life at Hannah’s Beach Resort in Pagudpud, the trip came to and end in Laoag with dinner at the Saramsam Ylocano restaurant. The place was very cosy and the dishes were not only delicious, but also creative, accentuating traditional Ilocanian cuisine with modern-day twists. Absolutely worthy of the wildwonton SoA!

From man-made structures to nature-sculpted landscapes; from Chinese ceramic artistry to Spanish architectural mastery, and from century-old kalesas to modern-day wind turbines, Ilocos definitely has much to offer. I only hope that I was able to give you a taste of its splendor.

-Gideon