Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Thai eats

After spending the best part of seven weeks in Thailand, I think I've tried a lot of what Thai cuisine has to offer.

Admittedly, I've never really been one for Thai food. After a particularly bad case of food poisoning (self-induced, I must admit) from a Green Chicken Curry whilst at university, I kind of stayed away. Obviously, that becomes fairly difficult when living in Thailand! So putting those memories to the back of my mind, I have been diving in and trying all Thailand has to offer. I thought I would share with you some of my favourites; some being dishes I'd never heard of or would never have tried unless someone hadn't recommended them to me.

1. Phad Thai
An obvious one maybe, but I still hadn't tried Phad Thai until just some months before leaving the UK. Wagas and Dim T both do a particularly tasty Phad Thai, but both quite different and it left me thinking - which was more authentic? Well it turns out almost anything goes when it comes to Phad Thai out here; some have the egg integrated into the noodles, some an omelette type affair on top, some have a strong fish flavour, others use tomato ketchup... yeh, really! Apart from the latter variant, the Phad Thai out here is great. The best? I think it had to be from Phad Thai Rock n Roll in Koh Lanta (Kantiang Bay). Delicious!

2. Tom Kha Gai
This is one I discovered on a Thai cookery course, and is not to be confused with Tom Yum which is super spicy! This is a delicious coconut milk based soup with galangal (a mild ginger flavour), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chicken. It often features mushrooms and onions too, and served with rice is the perfect light, fragrant and tasty meal. I'm hooked!

3. Khao Soi
A Northern Thai classic which we found in Chiang Mai; a curry noodle soup often served with on-the-bone chicken and topped with deep fried crispy noodles. Totally delicious and a nice change from the usual Penang / Massaman / Green and Red Thai curries which heavily feature coconut and/or peanut. It is a Burmese-influenced dish so I'm looking forward to tasting some similar curries when we visit Burma (now called Myanmar).

...and no, it's not traditionally served with a huge mocha frappe...

4. Morning Glory
The name makes me LOL every time! Morning Glory is a water spinach and looks a little like tenderstem broccoli... but tastes a whole lot better! Often cooked with oyster sauce in Thai cookery, it is a delicious accompaniment to grilled fish or served alone with steamed rice. Be sure to try it if you visit Thailand (particularly South Thailand where it seems more common), you'll be surprised!

5. Fish
Sounds a bit basic, right? Wrong! (ha). The fish in Thailand is delicious - try Red Snapper, White Snapper, Barracuda, Tuna, Tilapia... the list goes on. In my opinion it's best cooked on a BBQ or grilled and served simply with garlic butter. When we were in the South of Thailand, in particular the islands (Koh Lanta, Phi Phi, Phuket) fish was an obvious choice for dinner especially when we felt we couldn't face any more noodles!

6. Fruit Lassi
Not food as such, but the Thai take on smoothies. Fruit lassies actually originate from the Indian Subcontinent, but have taken on a life of their own in Thailand. Essentially it is a smoothie made with fruit and yoghurt, but they can also be served with salt rather than sugar. I've not been brave enough to try a salt lassi, but absolutely love a mixed fruit lassi with pineapple, mango and watermelon. Mango in smoothies is great as it creates a really smooth, thick blend.


Thursday, 14 April 2016

Georgetown, Penang

Penang, where do I start?

I guess by saying that Penang is one of my favourite, if not my favourite, place I've been lucky enough to travel to. It all started in 2013 when travelling around Malaysia with Rich and friends. We were going between the Perhentian Islands (amazing) and Langkawi and wanted somewhere to stop en route to break up the journey. We only had 24 hours in Penang and this really just whet our appetite - we squeezed in a lot but fell for Penang, Georgetown in particular, hook line and sinker.

This time we booked four nights in the Malaysian food capital, determined to get a proper feel for it. Once again, Penang completely blew us away and we left already plotting our next visit!

So, how do you get here? Penang has an airport which serves both domestic and international flights; we flew in from Kuala Lumpur and out to Krabi, Thailand. Although Penang is an island, it is connected to the mainland via two (rather large) bridges and so can be reached easily by bus and car, as well as ferry and air.

If you read my previous post, you will have seen that we stayed on Love Lane. This was the perfect location for us, but Georgetown itself isn't a big place and most areas can be reached on foot. The buses in Penang are also excellent; we got the Rapid Bus to various places during our stay here - its super cheap (think pennies) and really is rapid! Compared with public transport in other countries, this really wins hands down for speed! We did get a trishaw (like a tuktuk) on our previous visit, but they are pretty expensive. That said, it's a fun way to get around... if a little slow. They are basically carts pushed by a bicycle, not a motorbike as you see in the Philippines or Thailand, and I can't help but feel sorry for the (usually old) men riding them.

So what is there to do in Penang?

Mooch. Yup, take a couple of days to just walk round and get a feel for the place. Penang really encapsulated the phrase 'perfect imperfections' (thanks John Legend) - the buildings are knackered, paint is peeling and shutters hang haphazardly, but it's so charming. Look for hidden coffee shops and stop for a iced drink to cool down. We downloaded a heritage walking tour guide to follow to make sure we visited all the must-sees and knew a little bit about each.

Clan House-hop. There are so many gorgeous clan houses (a bit like temples) dotted around Penang. Pop in to see their intricate designs and light some incense. 

It goes without saying; eat! Penang is the 'food capital' of Malaysia, and for good reason. From the plush restaurants to the straight-up food carts, Penang has it all. 

Kashmir Indian Restaurant - for great curries, beer and in-the-thick-of-it-all setting.
Muntri Mews - great cocktails, delicious local food and relaxed atmosphere. Try the tasting plate!
Bistro Tang - excellent Laksa and beef wraps, super cool interior and a little museum to check out too.
Street food - we had some amazing curries that cost no more than a couple of quid. Don't be afraid to eat in the places filled with locals and serving food you don't recognise. I ate pork buns from a little street stand for 27p, and they were like porky clouds of heaven. 
Gurney Drive - if street food is your thing, head to Gurney Drive (on Rapid Bus) for food cart heaven. There's also an amazing mall here (Gurney Plaza) with Western shops like Topshop and Mango if you miss home comforts. 

Visit Penang Hill. Get the bus to the foot of Penang hill, and take the funicular railway to the top for amazing views over the city and beyond. It feels a little bit like a seventies theme park at the top with weird, dated attractions, but get a drink in the cafe overlooking the viewing platforms. 

Check out the street art. Penang has an amazing collection of street art, lots of which is interactive. It's super cool and makes for an amazing insta-snap! Look online for a map of where to find each piece; they're not necessarily in obvious places, often tucked down little alleys or behind walls.

...and if that doesn't make you fall in love with Penang, I'm done!


Saturday, 9 April 2016

Penang: 23 Love Lane

After two short weeks in Palawan (in the Philippines, see previous posts) we flew to Penang, Malaysia. I will do a full post on Penang itself, but I wanted to take the time to show you the accommodation we stayed in during our time here. 

We booked 23 Love Lane before we left the UK, admittedly after a few vinos one Friday evening. As you can probably see from the pictures 23 Love Lane is a beautiful boutique hotel, and therefore was priced slightly over our nightly budget. I've already mentioned that we're not slumming it on our travels; we saved a decent amount of money over the course of a year to be able to spend 40GBP (I can't find a pound sign on this Thai keyboard...!) a night. 23 Love Lane came in at around 60GBP a night - luxury, but totally worth it. We stayed four nights here, and loved every second of it.

23 Love Lane is billed as a Heritage Boutique Hotel, nestled right in the heart of Georgetown. It boasts ten gorgeously restored rooms, all representing a different era from the 1800s onwards. From the minute we walked in, we were in love... stunning architecture, a mix of mid-century styled furniture and scores of beautiful little touches that make this Heritage Hotel so much better than anything we've seen elsewhere. It really typifies Penang; eclectic and authentic.

What really made this stay for us was not just the large, perfectly styled room, or bathroom with complementary Korres products, or even the upper floor Anglo Indian Bungalow reading room where we could relax after a busy day exploring. It was all the little extras we didn't even know were part of the package. Breakfast was delicious - breads, jams, fruit, filter coffee... and then a whole menu of dishes made to order, which we indulged in. And each afternoon when we came back to the room to freshen up, the plate of nibbles waiting for us in the lobby that really hit the spot. After I ordered an iced coffee one afternoon when reading my book and writing my diary, and they remembered this and each day brought me another. When they placed fresh flowers on our bed and turned on the lamps in our room when night fell, so we had a cosy space to come home to. And it really did feel like home! All of these touches were included in the room cost, and as 'travellers', this really felt like luxury. 

It really was four nights in heaven!

Next time, more on Penang itself. The internet cafe here in Pai is so painfully slow and testing my patience... so until next time, toodles!

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