Featured Post

My love affair with Hoshino Coffee

If you ask me, I think Hoshino Coffee’s coffee disappears too quickly. Before I was done enjoying it, I would lift up my cup one more time to find it empty.   The aroma of the first sniff as it reaches your table captivates you and brings you into a forest filled with wild berries. A cool breeze sends you on your toes as the scent of a thousand cherry bushes surrounds you. The touch of tartness that gets you salivating, the fruity bliss of a ripe berry, the morning mist that keeps you in nostalgia. In a dream world with a forest behind a cottage, the mountains yonder and the meadows ahead. It flows down your throat as the river flows of fresh water from the mountains, bringing with it life and a new day to enjoy.   A drop of milk into the serene water and the colour turns a golden caramel. The fresh milk, full cream never skimmed, swirls and becomes one with the darkness, enlightening it and revealing its hidden secrets. A whiff. A delight to the sense of smell. A smile that forms unno

It has a body, it has a mind, but does it have a heart? Observations of the life of a cafe.

When I enter a cafe, I expect a few things: A nice ambience, proper music and lighting, comfortable furniture, well-made drinks and good service be it at a large, well-known brand of an establishment such as the famed Starbucks, Twinnings and the likes, or at a small shop in the corner that is privately owned. The fault with many cafes, though, is not in all that I have mentioned earlier, for most would have a body (a physical establishment that is well-designed to meet the expectations of its patrons) and a mind (a strategic business plan created to bring in profits). However though, as much as one may be inclined to think otherwise, without a beating heart, one such place would fail at creating an impact in a noisy marketplace filled to the brim with eager competitors. Where then, does the heart of a cafe lie? It lies where all other hearts lie: in people, in the staff of a cafe. It is they who bring genuine smiles to the customers, they who add that little extra foam for

Why potato chips are bad for you and a basic guide to the humble spud

The shortcut summary for lazy or busy readers Why are potato chips bad for you? It’s because of the acrylamide formed during the frying process which is known as a potential cause of cancer. Mealy, sandy potatoes like Russet potatoes? Good for frying, roasting and mashing while waxy potatoes like New potatoes are good for boiling. How to cook potatoes? Roast them, bake them, fry them, boil them or do anything you want with them. They are just as versatile as eggs. Want to know more? Read on….. While I love a good pack of potato chips as much as the next person, there are a few things that I keep in mind to avoid eating too much of it. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love potatoes. I don’t have a favourite dish, but potatoes are no doubt my favourite food ingredient - baked, boiled or fried. According to an article by Franco Pedreschi called “Frying of Potatoes: Physical, Chemical and Microstructural Change” and another one produced through  the collaborative efforts

Bloody Mary.....Tomato Soup?

Feeling a little bored at home the other day (due to the situation that has bound us to our homes to prevent the spread of Covid-19), I went out shopping. Among other grocery items, I also placed a can of tomato juice into my basket thinking, "I'm going to make Bloody Mary today!" I hesitated for a while, wondering what other ingredients I needed for the savoury cocktail, then remembering that I also needed celery. Just celery. Arriving home and checking my fridge, I stopped. There is no vodka, no Worcestershire sauce and no Tabasco (or any hot sauce whatsoever). Good thing I had some lemons, but as for spices, the cupboard was scarce. All I found was a packet of Cajun seasoning, which was a mixture of cayenne, paprika, thyme, salt and pepper. Sigh. "Now how am I going to make a Bloody Mary when I don't even have all the essential ingredients?" I thought. As I always do in such situations, I turned on the improvisation switch in my brain and got...well

Irish coffee…

Ah yes, the Irish Coffee, a cocktail made with espresso, Irish whiskey and a dollop of fresh cream on top, the thing that kept me up all night, forced me to give up sleeping after trying till 4.30am, had me reading a book about French wine and eventually lead me to think that I may need a 120 ringgit book about soil! I was cycling down Chulia Street in Georgetown, Penang, on a cool summer’s evening when I came across a wine shop. “Putao”, the sign said. I went in to have a quick look. They had an interesting collection of wines, which unfortunately due to the horizontal arrangement of the bottles facing inwards towards the wall and my insufficiently tall body to look over the ones above my head, the only indication of any kind to distinguish one wine stack from another was a tiny piece of paper hanging from a tread on one of the bottles in each diamond-shaped stack stating the country of origin of the wine. Don’t get me wrong, they got the “keep your wines horizontally” part righ

Chinese herbs and a midnight errand

I came home past midnight one day planning to boil that pack of Ba Zhen Chinese herbs I bought that day which was (according to the shopkeeper) supposed to be good for blood circulation and energy. I have recently been feeling lethargic and tired, mostly because it's been a busy month at work and the customers never seemed to cease filling up the waiting list from the start to the end of my shift. Only when I got home and started opening up the pack of herbs did I suddenly realize that I forgot to buy sugar for making a herbal drink and thought, "How am I going to drink this without sugar? It's going to be so bitter!" So in the quest in search of sugar, I went out at 1:30am to the convenience store, got queried by three patrol police officers on motorbikes as to where I was going in the middle of the night (although I was somewhat relieved to know that the police were doing their job in keeping the neighbourhood safe), then cycled my bike over a newly paved tar ro

That place beside the big names

It’s interesting how Penang has so many corners, and equally as many hidden surprises just waiting to be discovered. Take the famed street art collection scattered throughout Georgetown for instance. While some are big and obvious, located strategically at a busy intersection or a shop front, others need to be searched out, appearing in the most unlikely places. Corners, alleys, behind a towering building. As with many things, there will always be that one big name of a place that has crowds shoving in day and night. That place that is in all the tourist magazines and guidebooks advertised as a “Must See” or “Must Do” when in Penang, and is therefore crawling with visitors from all over the world. But, have you ever looked beyond, away from the crowds and the famous names of restaurants, museums and attractions that are sung from one end of the island to the other? Let me tell you a secret, which may not be that much of one but is certainly less widely understood. You would be su

Fan or no fan

Installing 7 fans in a tiny restaurant area with tables back-to-back. Logical? Necessary? Or ingenious? It may have a reputation of being one of the most delicious noodle places in town, having a line that never ceases to exist, a place that always seems crowded with the locals (university students, mostly, but also office workers from the surrounding area as well as families with small children), and makes you inevitably sweat in the heat every second that you are there, but I wondered why they couldn’t be bothered to install even a single air-conditioning unit like the other restaurants in the area. Then when I thought about it, I realized the genius behind this concept. Well, to be fair, it’s more in a totally business-minded and an “I don’t care about the customer experience” attitude kind of way but hey, a genius is a genius. In the sweltering heat and humidity of the constantly 27 to 30 degree Celcius Malaysian climate (but honestly, you would be really lucky if you

Father and son, a good meal and a grateful heart

It’s true, I think, what they say about old people, that “those who have a will to live, as well as those who have a reason to keep living, have a higher probability of living a longer life”. While I was unfortunate to lose my previously ever-active and lively grandmother to cancer, here is a story of how the love of a son enables a man to go on far into his old life, despite the difficulties of a decreasing mobility that confines us human beings to what is called, “mortality”. Here I was, sitting at a big and spacious food court with several large fans blasting furiously and producing such a loud noise that you can barely hear the voices of those around you. Overhead, a blaring speaker sends out a somewhat out-of-place instrumental rendition of the kind of music you hear at posh hotels or high-class Chinese restaurants. Can’t blame them for trying, though. It was a quiet lunchtime, there were not many people. I was nonchalantly sipping my second glass of iced tea, which wa

Quirks in Food and People: The Lure of the "Today's Special" Signboard

I went into the cafe, aiming to get either a cup of tea or a slice of cake. What I really wanted, thought, was a place for me to study Japanese for the upcoming exam, but hey, you've got to order something if you're in a cafe, right? That's why I love libraries. Quiet, relaxing, "conducive" for study, as they call it. Then again, libraries can sometimes be a bit too quiet, causing one to eventually fall asleep without intending to. I eventually settled on their pavlova (a crispy, slow baked cloud of egg white and sugar topped with fresh berries and fresh whipped cream), which was scrumptious by the way, but not the point of today's "Quirks in Food and People" story. This happened a couple months ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind. The waiter introduced their special dish for the day, “Shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli”, as he handed me the menu and pointed at the creatively written item on the chalkboard behind t

Durian Chocolate: A popular Malaysian Souvenir

If you have been to Malaysia before, you may have been told that durian chocolate is the must-buy souvenir of the country. But what is this product? And why is it sold at basically every souvenir shop as well as several major supermarkets in Kuala Lumpur. First of all, what is durian? Durian is a fruit. Some may even call it the "King of Fruits", although I personally still don't understand why we need a "king" for fruits anyway. Native to the Southeast Asian region, this is a fruit that you will either absolutely love or downright loathe. It comes in many varieties, the D24, musang king, and even one called "red prawn"(most durians have a yellow flesh, but this one has a particularly red tinge to it); but they are all from the genus Durio . Spiky and green (some being more brown than green) on the outside and with a flesh as soft as custard, this fruit also has a strong and pungent smell which may drive some people away but leave others drooling f

Quirks in Food and People: Random free nougat

I just finished work one day on an oddly busy Sunday night, and while heading towards the door to the outside world (finally!), I was stopped by a staff that I technically never spoke to. I gave her an acknowledging smile and thought that I was just going to be on my way when she stopped me again. Holding some cloths bound for washing on one hand, and something that looked like little packets of sweets on the other, she said, "take it." At first, I wasn't sure how to react, because it was so random and unexpected, especially because it came from someone I've seen around my workplace but never really talked to. "Take it", she said again, and so, out of courtesy towards her kindness, I took one of the four plastic wrapped pieces. Looking at it briefly, I realized that it was nougat. Nougat! One of my favourite sweet treats. I have no idea why I love these things, but I just do. "Take it all," she said yet again, "we don't eat these thin

Ever Heard of Alcohol-Free Beer?

These beers seem to keep eluding me. The first time I saw it at the supermarket, I though, "Hmm, interesting, maybe I'll try it sometime". The second time I saw it, I had too much groceries on my hand so I literally couldn't carry anything more to bring back on my long journey home via train and foot. I did a mental note therefore, to keep this on my rain check list of the thousands of food items I wish to try one day. The next time I saw it though, I was a bit short on cash that month so I had to postpone the purchase yet again. As for the fourth time around, now this one was a bit bizarre. I literally had it in my hand along with a couple of other items, and was proceeding to the check-out counter when I remembered the ONE thing that I went into the supermarket to buy in the first place (yes, even I am susceptible to binge buying when it comes to food). It was some Gula Melaka I needed for a project I was working on, and it was inconveniently positioned on a she

The "Whatever's in Your Fridge Cooking Game"!

No ideas for dinner, and you are staring blankly at the insides of your fridge, wasting precious time looking for what you can eat (not to mention wasting expensive electricity that is running with the fridge door open while you play a staring game with the fridge)? Well, you're not alone. There is a solution to that, though, one that involves a little bit of creativity, a resourceful attitude and a desperately hungry tummy. You can call it what you like, but I call it the "Whatever's in Your Fridge Cooking Game"! It's a very simple game that allows you to stop worrying about what dishes you can cook and just go with the flow with what you can find in your fridge. Not only does it use up all your leftovers as well as bits and pieces of food that won't make a meal on their own, it helps you create unimaginable dishes that you probably wouldn't have thought of if you simply followed recipes for specific dishes. Got a piece of cheese leftover? Or the la

Quirks in Food and People: Three two or thirty-two

I went to the market to get some meat, because I felt like I wasn't getting enough meat to eat these days. It was a hot and sunny day when I went to the big, wet market near where I live, and as usual, it was bustling with activity on an early Sunday morning. I approached the beef stall, which was complete with well-dented wooden chopping blocks, rows of hanging meat parts and busy butchers behind the counter just chopping away like there's no tomorrow while chatting happily with their patrons and co-workers alike. "I'd like some meat for...", I said, pausing slightly to remember what it was that I wanted to cook the meat with, "making curry". I thought it would be pretty close to the type of meat I needed since they probably wouldn't understand it if I said I needed the meat for nikujaga  (a type of Japanese stew made of beef or pork meat, potatoes and onions). Of course the recipe calls for sliced meat, but oh well, you get what you can at a

Quirks in Food and People: Of corn and creativity

One vendor opens a store selling corn at one end of a street. Another opens a store, also selling corn, at the other end of the same street. Both are strategically located along a street bustling with activity from office workers going in and out of work, as well as for lunch. One sells corn by the whole cob, steamed, for 3 ringgit. The other sells the exact same thing for the exact same price. However, this second vendor also sells his corn by the cup for an additional 1 ringgit. Now, if you were a busy office worker with no time and no energy to give any thoughts to eating (except knowing that you only need food to continue living), wouldn't you prefer a conveniently packed, easy to eat option for your daily dose of vegetables without the hassle of peeling the husk of the corn, using your mighty teeth to dig into the flesh and pull out the kernels bit by bit? Innovation and creativity plays important roles in our lives. It makes our lives much more interesting. In fact, it

The Gula Melaka Trail…

It seems like people just LOVE thematic things; things with a specific subject; or that which corresponds to a trending idea. The same goes with  Gula Melaka , especially when you are in Malacca. After all, the name was derived from the name of the city, with  Melaka  being the Malay word for Malacca. Since  gula  means sugar, I suppose you get the idea of what this is. Still unsure?  Gula Melaka  is a type of palm sugar made from the coconut palm that is boiled down and placed into bamboo containers to harden, hence most  Gula Melaka  would be cylindrical in shape. Here’s something I learnt on my adventures down Jonker Street. To know if a Gula Melaka you intend to buy is genuine (one without added sugar), try to give it a light press. If it starts to spread and disintegrate like icing sugar, then that’s what you are looking for. A true Gula Melaka would have a deeply scented coconut smell with a faint hint of toast, honey and toffee whereas Gula Melaka with sugar added would