Monday, October 26, 2015

Traveling and Cooking

I bought cook books in Morocco

Among many things that traveling has done to me is that it has tremendously improved my cooking skill. Not up to professional skill but it definitely brings my amateur cooking to more variation and enthusiasm.   Traveling has inspired me to try new gadget, authentic spices and a different styles of cooking. 
Cooked meatballs in my new tagine

With Morocco, I'm so impressed with the cool conical pot, tagine and I end up getting a tagine for myself. The unique slow cooking style allows the pieces of meat to tenderize perfectly. Moroccans use lots of cumin in their food and even the fresh cut oranges are drizzled with dash of cumin.  The lovely cous-cous which come with vegetable or meat is always my choice whenever I visited any Moroccan restaurant.

Sipping mint tea and nibbling several tea biscuits are just marvelous activities which I find enjoyable in the late afternoon. But to spend time learning the culinary of the countries we are visiting takes time and not when we're rushing to cover many places. I am hoping to combine both traveling and cooking in my retirement years. These years of traveling have always been a hectic one mostly due to my tight working schedule that has not enable me to take longer vacation.  I have been trying to do so many things when I travel and squeeze my itinerary to fit my short break. I'm looking forward a more relaxing journey in few more years to come.

I just realize that I've not been writing on my blog for a long time.  So bogged down with work, i think it's about time to update this blog and this is my second article for this year :).  Thank you my dearest readers who have faithfully visited this blog and I'm looking forward to continue writing on my journeys again. 

Souvlaki Grilled Chicken - inspired by the Greek spice
Malaysian beef beryani tenderly cooked in Tagine 
Grilled prawn marinated with Moroccan spice

Sunday, April 5, 2015

The beauty of Rubiah Island, Aceh, Indonesia

As we approach the gorgeous Pulau Rubiah, Aceh
The water surrounding the island is stunningly beautiful
I feed the fish with bread and here they come!

While searching for places to stay on Weh, we found Freddies and Iboih Inn which are equally comparable in terms of their beautiful surrounding.  But we decided to take Iboih Inn as it is close to Pulau Rubiah. From Iboih Inn, this tiny remote island is pretty close and visible. It took us about 15 to 20 minutes to get there.  No electricity on Rubiah, no hotels or any accommodations for tourists. Most people would do a day trip and return to the near by Weh island on the same day.

I heard so much about Rubiah Island and they say,  it's the divers heaven. As our boat approached the island, the pristine turquoise water, the green jungle and white sandy beach caught us speechless. It's amazingly beautiful! The many people in the water will not disturbed you since everyone is busy dipping their heads in the water. Snorkeling or diving are the two most popular activities here. 

The mesmerizing underwater kept everyone busy paddling to enjoy the superb view.  If you're tired of swimming and paddling in the water, then just sit in the shallow water near the beach, throw some bread and the fish will come for you.

The locals complained that the corals were destroyed during the 2004 Tsunami but still Rubiah's beauty is enthralling.  Can't imagine what was it like before the tsunami.  After the water activities, we had tea and grilled fish just before returning to Iboih. Of course the fish come from other parts of the deeper sea and not around these Islands.  No one is allowed to catch fish for food or fun around Rubiah and Weh Islands. It's forbidden to protect the underwater lives.  

The white sandy beach
The fish enjoying my bread
A local girl joins the tourists
Snorkeling very close to the beach
Forever hungry :)
Just sit under the tree and enjoy the view
Posing for the camera
The local girls swim like mermaids :)

Everyone is busy with their own activities

The boat man sends the tourists and picks them before dark

You enjoy the underwater from above

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The unforgettable tour to Hukou Waterfall, Yichuan, Shanxi, China

The local tour bus which took us to Hukou
A quick stop to stretch our legs and for the restroom
After two days, we exchanged smiles frequently
As I expected, life in Xian was much better at the Ancient Youth Hostel, Xian. Most of the staff speak English and they are very helpful. The fact that many backpackers and foreigners are residing in the hostel, the staff have lots of opportunity to practice English. We were extremely happy to meet travelers from other parts of the world.  The hostel is well located, just next to the metro, Bei Dajie station. The shopping malls, Bell Tower, Drum Tower, Muslim Street and the Xian Great Mosque is just about 10-15 minutes walk away.

We sat at the corner of the bus for more than 7 hours
We have about 10 days in Xian and this is our third day.  At the hostel reception we saw the advert of Hukou Waterfall and that was my plan B.  We asked about the tour and was told that the 2 days/1 night tour cost RMB 480 per person, inclusive of entrance fees, guide and one night accommodation.  The price was good and we decided to go the next day. We paid RMB 960 and was told that we will be picked at 8 am the next day. 

Our new friends smiling for the camera
Although, the hostel allowed us to check out and offered to keep our things, we decided to keep our room.  One of the guys at the counter assured us not to worry as there will be an English speaking guide.  We do expect that getting halal food would be difficult in villages and small towns, so we packed snacks and simple food in our knapsack. We were told that we'll be spending a night in the mountain village and I'm not expecting much on the quality of the accommodation.  

Reading about Hukou Waterfall ( 壶口瀑布) and the pictures on the internet have always triggered my interest. The largest waterfall on Yellow River and the second largest in China, Hukou Waterfall is located at the intersection of the two provinces, Shanxi and Shaanxi with Fenxi City 165 km to the west and Yichuan 50 km to the east.  

The next morning a huge bus picked us from the hostel, about 10 local Chinese were in the bus and we thought this bus must be picking up people on its way. About 15 minutes later, just after we exit the ancient gate of Xian, everybody got off the bus and they were running towards another bus. We showed our receipt to the bus driver and in sign language, he instructed us to run to the other bus and we did so. We got on the bus and it was one third full with Chinese and there were still plenty of empty seats.  Soon the bus moved on and we were hoping we're on the right tour bus. Ten minutes later the bus stopped and again everyone stood up and got down the bus and ran towards several other buses near the stop. I began to be impatient, not knowing what was going on!

I asked a girl who looked like a tour guide pacing up and down giving instruction.  I spoke to her in English and she spoke to me in Chinese.  We showed our receipt written in Chinese and she directed us to another bus. By the time we got on the bus, it was full with Chinese and no foreigners, except for my husband and I! Everyone in the bus looked at us like aliens as we made our way to the two empty seats at the back of the bus. After being soaked in the rain like rats, we were hoping that, we were on the right bus. Surely, this is not a straight forward tour like we had many others before.   

As soon as the bus entered the highway, I was confident that we'll not be changing to another bus and hopefully we'll arrive safely to our destination. The girl whom we first talked to was the tour guide and she started talking in Chinese - perhaps explaining about the tour. After she was done with the group, she came to us and looked into our eyes for few seconds and at that point we understood that she does not speak English at all. Now, I fully understand why most foreigners would take China tours through the many advertised English speaking travel agents on the internet. 

We were determined not to give up on her...for the next two days we used drawings, sign language and body language. Sometimes it works but most of the time it doesn't.  In Yan'an, everybody got down the bus and we followed because we thought they were going to the Museum but they actually went to the toilet (an open space toilet)! 

And in another instance, my husband pointed the gun sign just to tell the guide that our hostel is next to the police station. Her eyes bulged and her mouths opened wide, in shock, yet not understanding what we were trying to say. We showed the address of our hostel but she shook her head. Out of frustration, she instructed the driver to drop (throw is a better word) us in the middle of Xian city and ultimately after all taxis refused to take us we end up marching to the police station. Although the police oficer was not able to speak English he was kind enough to call the hostel, stopped a cab and directed the driver to send us to the hostel. Overall, it was a good experience :)
Interesting sculpture at one of the rest area
The tourist :)
The tour guide

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The bustling Muslim Streets in Xian - Xian, China

Halal Restaurant on Muslim Street

Since we were not going to Zhangye...we decided to be closer to the city centre and all its attractions like the Drum Tower, Bell Tower, Muslim Quarter, mosques and the shopping malls. We moved to Ancient City Youth Hostel near Be Dajie metro station.  Getting a cab was much easier with the help of the hotel security staff. We went to Muslim Street for lunch and dinner and we visited the Xian Great Mosque almost every day.  
The street is always full of people and most stalls open until 3 am
The food at the Muslim Street is cheap and tasty but you really have to observe the level of hygiene. Some places can be quiet dirty.  Some of the chefs wore inappropriate attires like sleeveless skimpy shirt. So we were selective about where we eat and what we eat to avoid any related illness. But you'll love the Muslim Street even if you're not keen of eating there. The vibrant streets are lighted with neon all days and nights, the shouting vendors are calling for customers and the creative candy man are pounding the sugar with all their strength.  There're so many activities going on and it's just an amazing scene. 

Just behind the Muslim Main Street, there were many shops which sell Chinese antiques, painting, clothing, shawls, souvenirs and just about anything you may think of. But you really have to be careful with the prices. The price difference from one shop to another can be so huge that you really have to be cautious.  We asked the price of a table runner from a shop in front of the mosque's entrance and he quoted RMB 185, That was really exorbitant as we already asked the price further down the lane where it was quoted for RM 40.  We did not bargain (do not bargain if you have no intention of buying, they might get annoyed) but the vendor slashed the price to 120 then to 85 and finally to 50. We kindly refused the offer because we did not bargain for any price and we walked off. I read the advice of other travelers, where they advised that the bargain should go for 50 to 70%, which I found to be perfectly true. 

But nevertheless, food is cheap and you need not have to bargain. Most of the food prices are labeled and you don't have to worry about being cheated.  I saw the food vendors charging the same price to the locals so no worries about that.  However, we saw an European man bargaining for food which made us smile and perhaps he was taking the advice of other travelers about bargaining.  

This fried pancakes with fillings are really yummy
He's mixing the sugar and nuts before pounding
Pounding the candy
Pound till it's flat
The candy is cut into pieces
Huge pieces are then packed for sale
Small pieces of rice cakes fried
At another stall they stretch the sugar
Then he twists the pliable candies
This bread is delicious when you eat them with grill lamb or chicken
Side road stalls
The street is full of people

A long stretch of the candy
The queue for food can be very long