30 May 2015

Eating (and working!) my way around Asia

As recently mentioned, I've had a crazy amount of work travel over the last couple of months. I've literally been all over Asia (or the Asia-Pacific as we say in my work). No less than 5 work trips, to 5 different countries. Most of these have been quick jaunts, but super hectic in general. I'm not complaining in any way of course, having a job that affords me such opportunities for travel and getting to know new places and people is truly a blessing. But work travel is a different challenge when you have a small child, especially as Luis has also been away. Luckily though my mom has been in town (meaning that even when I've been in Bangkok, I haven't been cooking much ha!), and we're blessed to have a wonderful nanny as well. So in between the work, I could take a deep breath, relax and enjoy some wonderful meals in all the places I've been recently. Notably...

1. Bali, Indonesia

Like most people, I'd always dreamed of visiting Bali. We were thinking of celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary there this year but that wasn't possible. Instead I was asked to go to a conference there...specifically to Sanur. This part of the island doesn't have the most beautiful beaches (though the beach is OK, the hotel I stayed in was right on it) or the rice paddies and artist villages that fans of Eat, Pray, Love (which I hated, by the way, ha!) might have in mind when it comes to Bali (that would be in Ubud). And I was literally just there for three days, so not much time to see anything. Still, I managed to do a bit of shopping (among the stuff I got: batik fabric, some cute outfits for Ro, a bamboo table runner and some ingredients to try my hand at some Balinese cooking, notably candle nuts and the Indonesian sweet soy sauce known as kecap manis). And also a Balinese massage and coconut scrub at a lovely spa called Leha Leha, which I would highly recommend to visitors to Sanur (though I decided that I prefer Thai massage to Balinese). And of course eating was on the agenda!

Clockwise from top left: vegetarian nasi goreng (fried rice), Bintang beer, gado gado and a "dragon bowl" with tempe, soba noodes, avocado, pomelo, beetroot, carrot and other goodies at a super vegetarian cafe called Zula in the heart of Sanur

The organizers of the conference that I was attending also arranged for some cultural entertainment, notably Balinese music and dancing. I can't recall the name of the style or other details, but it was lovely.

All in all, I was enchanted by Bali, even if I only spent three days there. The unique Hindu culture, the arts, the cool vibe and of course the food are all worth exploring for a much longer time. I hope to go back (with the boys next time, on holiday rather than work).

2. Hong Kong

This was my quickest trip during this period, just one night and one day (luckily, I'd been there once before and saw a lot of the sights the first time). So quick and rushed it was that I didn't even think to a take a picture of the lovely dim sum lunch that I was invited to by my hosts (with plenty of veggie options of course). It just means that I'll have to go back soon!

3. Coral Coast, Fiji

Then at the beginning of May came my very first trip to the South Pacific...to Fiji! This was probably the highlight of my travels. I had no idea about three things. First, the Pacific is sooooooo far away, even from SE Asia. I flew via Hong Kong, meaning a 2 1/2 hour flight there and then a 10 1/2 hour flight to Nadi, the commercial hub of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. Second, Fiji is incredibly beautiful and a major tourist destination (mainly for visitors from Australia). The conference I was attending was at a hotel on the Coral Coast, which is just beautiful as you can see above. And third, Fijian cuisine - though generally unknown - is quite tasty! They use a lot of coconut (milk, cream, grated, chopped, you name it!), taro, sweet potato and lots of interesting leafy greens. Fish and seafood feature heavily of course, but with such lovely produce vegetarians are well catered for. Given that something like 40% of the population is of Indian descent, there's naturally lots of Indian food as well, with a Fijian spin...like this dal.

I got to sample a lot of the indigenous Fijian specialties as well at a splashy banquet dinner held during the conference I was attending, but I was too busy eating and enjoying the dance performances that were organized that I didn't bother to snap any pics. But I'm thinking of making a Fiji-inspired meal one of these days...stay tuned for that! And enjoy these other photos in the meanwhile...

Sri Siva Subramaniya temple in Nadi
Dance performance

4. Incheon & Seoul, South Korea

It wasn't my first time in Korea (rather my fourth!). And I've already told you before about my eating adventures in Seoul (I'm a fan of Korean food, though I hadn't had much of it before moving to Bangkok where Korean restaurants abound and I have many Korean colleagues). This trip was to run a workshop, so it was quite busy, but of course there was plenty of time to enjoy yummy Korean food. Several different versions of bibimbap...

And of course there were lots of interesting banchan (side dishes) on the table at every meal...

This time, I even tried a beloved Korean dessert called patbingsu (sweet milk ice topped with red beans and a rice cake). I usually wrinkle my nose at the idea of beans in dessert, but hey, it wasn't bad!

Even though I didn't take any pictures, another highlight of dining on this trip was dinner on the last night, when our hosts took us to a "temple cuisine" restaurant called Balwoo Gongyang (as part of Buddhist temple complexes, such restaurants are entirely vegetarian...yippee!) . I highly recommend this place to any visitor to Seoul, vegetarian or not. It was just the fuel I needed for a night of shopping for legendary Korean beauty products afterwards in the Myeongdong area!

5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

This was another quick trip, but I was happy that I was able to meet up with my cousin Vidhya (born and raised in Malaysia) and her friends for dinner one night. Upon my request, we went to a veggie place called Simple Life, part of a chain. We had fruit rojak (a type of salad), and I went for the vegetarian nasi lemak (too bad they used brown rice instead of the traditional coconut milk infused white rice).

My hotel's breakfast buffet also had lots of good veggie options in the Indian corner. Check out all of these curries with the classic roti canai (a flaky Indian bread, like a paratha) and roti telur, which is like a roti canai with egg.

And thus ended my two crazy months of travel. Some new passport stamps and frequent flyer miles acquired, supplemented with lots of nice memories and delicious food! I don't think you can be in a better continent than Asia in regard to the latter, and I look forward to trying to recreate some of the dishes I had now that I'm back to my home sweet home in Bangkok. Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Travel writing is amongst my favorite. I loved reading about your recent adventures and am looking forward to those Fiji-inspired recipes!