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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Getting My Batik On!

Getting My Batik On

The first month in Kuala Lumpur flew by, confirming once again that time is my worst enemy!

I arrived mid-February, ready for a life as an intern in one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in the country. My fellow interns – who also happen to be my roomies – took good care of me and showed me around through all the alleys and crooked streets that make up KL. Also, one of the interns managed to persuade his girlfriend to come along for 6 months, making up a great male-female ratio in our apartment, and I predict late night beer talks, and fun, weekend shenanigans the next 6 months.

One such memorable shenanigan already unfolded in the cooler regions of Cameron Highlands, a 4hrs bus ride outside of KL. While getting there was quite the challenge (as the gear lever proved uncooperative), the gentle hills served as an open farmland, with rows-upon-rows of tea shrubs. The perfect and cooler weather conditions provide the perfect home for hundreds of floral species, and traversing around the mountains makes for a breathtaking excursion. We stayed at a cute cottage-like bed and breakfast in Tanah Rata, which served as our base for exploration. We spent most of the weekend hiking through the forests with mud up to our ankles – the best way to spend a weekend! The views were stunning and it felt great to walk the distances on foot, rather than hiring a touristy-bus tour. Leisure time was spent at a strawberry farm – after all that hiking the red, shinny berries never tasted better.

The view
And now, lets turn to the tea… The second day we walked to Boh Tea Plantation, to get a colonial-inspired scone and sandwich. Now I don’t want to waste any more space on the food, but instead turn to the best peach ice tea I ever had in my life – the Boh peach tea! If you are ever able to get your hands on this stuff (it is available also in most supermarkets in KL to our great delight upon return), please fill up your suitcase – every single drop of ice tea is worth it!

IMG_4241

The first few weeks of the internship also coincided with this years Chinese New Year, the year of the goat. This naturally served as a window of opportunity to visit Thean Hou Temple as it was decorated with the most beautiful, Chinese red lanterns during the festivities. Thean Hou is probably THE Chinese temple to visit while in KL as it offers some great views over the city. With all the big malls and streets being decked out in Chinese decorations, the sea of red proved a beautiful, welcoming gesture.

IMG_4140

Other, first month highlights include eating my own body weight in food within all the different Asian cuisines: Malay, Chinese, Vietnamese and the list goes on. Goreng and fresh, whole fish are a must, and with Jalan Alor and other street-food options right around the corner from our apartment it is most likely that I will put on some weight – no regrets though!

Another must - nasi lemak <3
Another must – nasi lemak <3

Apart from all that goodness, Malaysia has also tested and tried me this past month. The greatest test was undoubtedly no bigger than 0.3 to 2 cm – a bloodsucking, stupid little mosquito carrying the infamous tropical disease also known as dengue fever. I wish this upon no one, and after spending three days in the hospital, with a water drop in my wrist and under constant observation; I left the hospital scarred for life with a collection of blue marks from the many blood tests. Let the mosquito-spray frenzy begin!

Surprise Dinner

surprise-dinner

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

Potsticker madness

There is less than 2 months before Krissy is back in Copenhagen, and I am definitely becoming more and more giddy from excitement. During her stay in Asia, she has tasted an impressive palette of street–as well as in door–cuisine. From the get-go, a love that we share has been Asian cuisine. However, having the opportunity to delight herself with such food on a day-to-day basis, it has only strengthened her appreciation for it. As such, dim sum is slowly becoming the center of her universe…literally.

Being the amazing boyfriend that I am, I have taken it upon myself to read more about these various bite-sized, bundles of joy, with the goal of learning how to make them. This way, Krissy will not miss her delicious meals in Hong Kong (as much), and I become a better cook. I have always been into cooking, and I certainly developed culinary skills growing up under the tutelage of my step father, an adept French chef. And so I cannot say that I am diving into this gastronomic escapade blindfolded. I have my kitchen instruments and I have my senses. Time to cook up a symphony. ♫
I embark on my dim sum journey with a dish that I believe almost everyone has heard of: the dumpling. Specifically, pan-fried dumplings, or as they’re normally called, guotie, for which the literal translation is “pot stick,” hence the title. The choice was made based on several things: my eagerness to learn (high), my general laziness (low), my budget (low), much I wanted to impress Krissy (sky high), and how much I drool at the pictures I see (for this one, the droolage level was definitely high). The recipe I follow is from Rasa Malaysia. This blog features some great recipes and mouth-watering food photography. I urge you to have a looksies, if you’re into Asian cuisine. She has a recipe for-it seems-the best dishes Asia has to offer.

Thankfully, I had most of the ingredients at home. All I needed to buy was Napa cabbage and some dumpling wrappers.  Consequently, this would bring me to Chinatown. The trip would normally not be anything out of the ordinary for me. This time, however, my hunger got the best of me, and I swear everything in my path turned into a dumpling. Yikes.

When hunger is at its worst (best?)

With the goods in my inventory, I continued to read through the recipe.

“Right. Seems easy enough,” I thought to myself, having only the slightest bit of conviction in my tone. I mixed the ingredients in a bowl and set it aside. Normally, this would be the step where I take a small test piece from the mix and fry it. This would enable me to determine whether the mix is fine as-is, or if it needs more adjustments.

Normally.

This blob actually smelled so delicious

I put a spoonful of the mix onto the wrapper and stood there staring. The eerie silence was only broken by the surrendering sigh I let out. “How would I be able to create such a thing of beauty?” I thought to myself, “Dumpling? More like…Dump-King”

Heh.

Nevertheless, I figured that since I have always been good with papercraft, this task could not be that much different. All I had to do was try.

:D

Above is my very first dumpling pleat – colour me impressed. Looks good, doesn’t it? After approximately 8 hours, I finally covered the pan with dumplings (yes, there is already oil in the pan.)

Gather around, little children
“Knock, knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Dumpling.”
“Dumpling, who?”

I fried the little guys until the bottoms are golden and crisp. At this point I was so hungry that I could have shoved the whole pan in my mouth. Without the lid of course.

The crispy bottom creates a beautiful texture together with the soft, almost fluffy upper layer, that only steaming can provide.

The final part of the cooking involves some steaming. Then simply serve with a dipping sauce to your liking. I had mine with soya sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil and some Guilin chili sauce.

NOM NOM NOM.

This is for you, baby ♥

And so there it is. I think it turned out pretty good. I did not follow the recipe perfectly, though. For example, I did not use cilantro leaves, but I did add black fungus. Sadly, I only had a few shrimps left in my freezer – I could really taste that it needed a few more pieces. Just to give it that extra oomph!

The recipe needs:

  • 50 tablespoons of patience
  • 3 dashes of courage
  • 2 set of delicate fingers

Surely, the batch I make for Krissy will be perfect. When she comes back home, I know that she will long for the scrumptious food that she was able to treat herself with while in Hong Kong. My dream is to one day take her on a round-trip in Asia. For now, however, I’ll bring Asia to her — through food.

Thanks for reading. Look forward to more of my adventures in the kitchen.

Gideon