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Posts Tagged ‘curry’

Coral Gardens and Thresher Sharks

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

The Philippines were an afterthought for me.  I was trying to figure out where I was going from Malaysia, and I wanted to do some good diving.  Several people had suggested the Philippines for its beautiful beaches and pristine diving, so I headed there after my short visit to Sumatra.  There are over 7000 islands in the Filipino archipelago, so it took some research to decide where to go.  When I discovered Apo Island in the south, I decided to concentrate on that area, flying into Dumaguete on Negros, and flying out of Cebu City on Cebu.

My first stop was the coastal town of Dauin, 25 minutes south of Dumaguete.  Here I stayed at Liquid Dumaguete, a dive resort I would recommend to anyone heading to the area, and with whom I dove Apo Island.  Apo is an amazing experience, diving the most beautiful coral gardens I’ve ever seen.  Coming from Key West where we are having problems with our corStormy day at Liquid Dumagueteal, this was a great treat.  Nature is an incredible thing.   The varieties of both hard and soft coral were countless, and encompassed all the colors of the rainbow in shade and vibrancy.  It is amazing how each variety of clownfish resided in an anemone of a similar color; how the coral resembled land vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce; how certain tropicals camouflaged to their surroundings and others paraded their differences.  If all the reefs of the world were as healthy as this one, there would be no question to why we have to protect them to share with future generations.  They are inspiring.   I wanted to dive here a second time, but several days of windy weather due to a tropical depression kept me from getting there a second time.  This was a little disappointing, but just means I’ll have to try to get back there again.

From here, I took the ferry to Panglao, a small island off the southwest coast of the island of Bohol.   The island to dive here is called Balicasag and is known for green turtles.  On one dive I saw no less then 12 turtles.  There are also several species of frogfish here, large black ones, large white ones, and small yellow ones with brown splotches.  Frogfish have really funny faces, fCrystal Clear at Balicasagat bodies, and short fins for their size.  There are many species of nudibranches here, too, which are one of the primary small things people look for when diving in this part of the world.  I’d never heard of them back home, but I think they must exist in the Caribbean, as well.  While the diving here was very good, I was not a fan of Alona Beach, where I stayed.  It was very touristy, with few backpackers and lots of Germans and Russians.  So, I didn’t stay for long.  Did the dives one day, and then the next toured the main island of Bohol, famous for the Chocolate Hills, a geological formation of rolling hills which are unique and beautiful, and for Tarsiers, the smallest primate in the world which only reside here.  These little monkeys are tiny and cute and can sit in the palm of one’s hand.  They have huge eyes which assist them in finding food at night and they sleep most of the day.   Being territorial, they return to the same tree each night after eating and spend the day there.

From here I spent the day traveling, two ferries and one bus, to the island of Malapascua off the northern coast of Cebu.  I am a fan of Malapascua.  It is a small island of 8000 residents, with no cars, and little tourist build up.  The A Colorful Home people of the Philippines are known for their friendliness, and the small town feel of Malapascua makes it apparent.  I really liked that I could walk from the southernmost part of the island to the northernmost in around 30 minutes.  One thing that I noticed all throughout the Philippines was that even the smallest hovel of a house had a pristine yard and beautiful garden.  Filipinos are very proud of their property and it shows as they are adorned with a variety of flowering plants and orchids.  This made walking through the villages very pleasant, in addition to the fact that the children wanted to talk and most people said hello with smiling faces.  And it wasn’t only the locals who were friendly here, but the tourists were, too.  It was very easy to meet people to pass the time with.

As for the diving in Malapascua, this is one of two places in the world wherWall Arte Thresher sharks reside.  These sharks are known for their long tails which they thrash through schools of fish to stun them before feeding.  Their other physical characteristics include small mouths and big black eyes.  They are very graceful in the water.  The reef here is also known for manta rays, white-tip sharks, and nudibranches, but by far one of the most impressive things I saw was a pair of Spanish dancers mating.  They are a large species of sea slug with ruffled edges, and they look like they are dancing when they swim.  Other sea critters were sea snakes, squid, and lots of fish.

My blog wouldn’t be complete without a paragraph on food.  While lots of people told me the food was not good in the Philippines, this was not my experience.  The fish was outstanding, so incredibly fresh and the main ingredient in kinilaw (filipino ceviche) and sinigang (a flavorful soup loaded with fish and veggies); the curries were fantastic, made from fresh graThe Best Fish Curry Everted coconut; and because of the Spanish and American influence, the cookies and breads were almost like home.

While I had an amazing time in the Philippines, I wished I’d had an endless budget for diving.  I certainly could have dove a lot more than I did, and would love to return to do that in the future.  The one thing that made it easier to leave was that my next stop was Sydney, where Dore is currently residing and my mom was coming through on a tour.  I was really looking forward to seeing both of them, to being in the presence of people I love for a short time.   For pictures of the Philippines, click here.

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Food…Glorious Food

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I had started this blog as a travel log, like most of my past blog entries, but then I was inspired by my cousin Adam to write a blog just about the amazing food I experienced in Bangkok and Cambodia.  Adam, this blog is dedicated to you and Hector, and to all the other foodies in my life.

If you live your life scared of street food, change your attitude before visiting Bangkok, known to have the best street food in the world.  If you think you will never eat an insect on purpose, wait until you’re walking Khao San Rd at midnight with a beer buzz.  If you don’t like spicy, never tell anyone in SE Asia, seems that that’s when they spice it up.  If you like curry, know that here red and green and tom yum are just the beginning.

The streets of Bangkok are lined with food vendors, selling everything from fried dumplings and spring rolls, to curries and noodle soup, to all sorts of barbequed meat and seafood on sticks.  You can find papaya or mango salad, any type of Asian fruit you may desire, and even ice cream served in a sweet bun, in addition to lots of other sweet pastries.  Then, hit Cambodia and add into the mix fresh spring rolls, sticky buns, and Banh Mi, the baguette sandwich inspired by the French.   You can sit and eat at the makeshift cafés, a table or two and some plastic chairs set up on the sidewalk, or take to go.  Depending on the dish it will come in a to go container as we know, or in a plastic bag, or in a banana leaf.

My first night in Bangkok I was to be meeting up with some fellow travelers for dinner.  I had an hour to spare, and my appetite grew as I walked past the several food stalls lining the streets.  I had to sample some of the food before I met up with them.  My first stop was for some vegetarian noodle soup, which I tell you, is hard for them to understand here.  There is meat in almost everything, but I was successful, and the veggies were fresh and delicious, bean sprouts and greens, spring onion and carrots.  Then, I met up with Nico and Lara and we found a restaurant on Rambutri Street where mostly Thai people were eating in this tourist part of town, so we settled in there for many Chang beers and some food.  My first course was Som Tum, Spicy Papaya Salad, and they were not kidding.  In Thailand, everything is made spicy.  Do not make the mistake of asking for “not” spicy, because according to my friends, the request does not translate and things are made spicier.  I had made no request, and it made my eyes water and nose run, but the small red chili peppers have such great flavor, it was spicy in a good way.  This is one of my favorite dishes at home and I’m happy to say that Thai Life in Key West does it justice.  Fresh green papaya, juicy tomatoes, green beans, carrot, bean sprouts, peanuts, and baby prawns in a flavorful fish sauce.  The next course was Tom Yum soup with Prawns.  So flavorful and delicious with thick slices of fresh ginger and pieces of lemongrass, roasted chilies, lots of coconut flavor, beautiful prawns, and fresh baby corn and Thai basil.  Doing it right.

Afterwards, we wandered from Rambutri Street to the well-known tourist street Khao San.  This is the Bourbon or Duval Street of Bangkok.  Lined with bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, and tourists, Khao San is a site to be seen, yet not my cup of tea as a place to spend lots of time, still fun for the visit.  The most interesting thing to me was the cart selling all sorts of fried and sautéed insects…yes, like bugs.  I’m sure lots of you have seen footage of this sort of thing on the travel channel or the food network, but seeing it in real life, the variety is pretty impressive.   So, you’re in a foreign country, have had several beers, and the insect cart is rolling by…what do you do?  Well, sample some bugs, of course.  I did not go for the large and expensive grasshopper or scorpion (they were $3 each), but went for the more simple grub and some sort of smaller cricket.  The grub, not so good, but the cricket was actually tasty.  And these were about 30 cents each.  My friend Jenny had asked me if I was going to eat any weird foods, and I guess now I can say, “Yes, I am.”  It’s part of the adventure.

The following morning I was extremely pleased with the breakfast at my guest house.  They offered the traditional continental breakfast of Asian guesthouses for Westerners: eggs, toast and fruit, boring.  Much more exciting to me, they also offered Asian breakfast of rice, sautéed pork with ginger and veggies, and fresh salad, including the best lettuce since I left the states.   The following mornings featured something very similar.  A really great way to start the day, especially before heading out to walk, and walk, and walk around Bangkok.

So, the best food in Bangkok is on the street and in the markets, which makes it very easy to sample many things while wandering the city.  I sampled several dumplings while there, and my favorite came from a woman near the Amulet Market.  Most often there were three kinds of dumplings: bamboo, kale, and shrimp, very lightly fried.  Tradition here is to cut them up and put them in a plastic bag with a soy-chili-ginger sauce.   This is also tradition with fried spring rolls, which are served with lettuce and basil leaves, sweet & spicy sauce on the side.  I don’t know if it was tradition to wrap the roll in the lettuce with basil, but that’s what I did.  So good.   I also tried fish that was steamed with spices in a banana leaf.  The fish was so fresh and delicious, and just lightly cooked, so almost like sushi.   The spices gave it really nice flavor, and the texture reminded me of tartar.   For a meal, there is a woman who whips up Pad Thai, as well as other noodle dishes, on Rambutri Street, and it was the best Pad Thai I’ve ever had.  Another traditional dish that you will find anywhere is noodle soup.  There are lots of different versions made with a variety of noodles, as well as a variety of meat and fish.  I had one of these noodle soups my last night in Bangkok, at a stall down the street from my hotel.   Flavorful rice noodles (my favorite) loaded with fresh herbs, ginger and veggies.

On the sweeter side, there were grilled bananas served in a sweet coconut milk; ice cream in a sweet bun with or without fruit sauce; and then there are khanom bueang, thin mini crispy pancakes covered with a sweet cream and fresh spiced coconut.  These were a personal fav, especially at 10 bhat, about 30 cents each.

The one other meal I ate in a restaurant was on Nico and Lara’s last night.   We shared some prawn rolls to start, prawns in pastry and fried, served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.  And then I had another of my favorites, Green Curry with veggies and tofu.  It was delectable.  They made it with a couple of types of eggplant, one of which was small, green, and round like a grape, but firm in texture.  Really flavorful and different than any eggplant I’d had before.

While there are some similarities, the food in Cambodia is very different.   For one, it is not spicy.  It can be, but on request.  Seafood is a staple here, as is the dish Amok, made with any type of meat or veggies, but fish amok is the very popular and traditional staple.   The fish is wrapped in a banana leaf with a coconut based curry paste, accented with fresh lemongrass, kaffir lime, galangal, turmeric, ginger, garlic, shallots, and dried red chilies.  If you eat it at the right place, it is absolutely delicious.

The best and the cheapest foods are found on the street here, too, or in food stalls found in the markets.  Again, noodle soup is a traditional dish, made similarly to in Bangkok.  Aside from Amok, the dishes which set Cambodia apart are sticky buns, a doughy bun stuffed with a pork and fermented cabbage, and Banh Mi, the traditional baguette sandwich inspired by the French colonization of the region.  Made slightly different depending where you get it, these are stuffed with cucumber, pate, spring onion, cilantro, and a cucumber-carrot sort of slaw, add chile paste, pork, or cheese, if you like.  These sandwiches are awesome, and cost anywhere from $.75-$1.25.  A solid meal for little money.

The beach in Sihanoukville is a constant barrage of people selling things, including lots of food, seafood especially.  The sellers will cook you fresh squid or octopus right at your table, they carry trays of crawfish (which they call lobster) lightly spiced, and all the restaurants serve fresh fish and prawns.  You can also find all types of tropical fruit, including durian, which is infamous for its odor.  You can smell it from quite a way off, even if not opened.  It definitely has an acquired taste, but not as bad as I thought it was going to be, since the smell is so off-putting.

One more new dish for me, and absolutely delicious, was Som Lo Machuyun soup.  A Cambodian version of egg drop soup, and perfect for those who do not like spicy.  Just slightly on the sweet side, made with pineapple and tamarind, it also contains tomato, bitter melon, egg, fresh basil, and possibly a squeeze of kefir lime, too.  This is the dish to try.

What else to do in Bangkok and Cambodia, besides eat, and according to what I have seen so far: get massaged, it’s cheap and good; The Golden Palace in Bangkok, and of course, Angkor Wat, the awe inspiring temples of the Khmer people near Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Link here for more pictures of food, including market photos.  The meat in the markets here can make even the biggest of meat eaters a little unsettled.

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