Singapore, a city of food

Of course we couldn’t visit Singapore and not write about the food! Eliza graciously held off to give me a chance for a guest post.

Food was definitely the impetus for our stopover, which turned out to be a blessing as it was pretty much the only activity we could afford. Singapore is known for its shopping and expensive restaurants but in our book, it’s real claim to fame is hawker centers: open air complexes lined with rows of food stalls, packed with locals grabbing lunch and tourists sampling the local fare. Singaporeans take their food seriously, and it’s not uncommon to wait half an hour at the most popular stalls. I certainly hate lines as much as the next guy, but as the tour books are quick to point out, the long lines are the key to finding the best food!

Endless options at Maxwell hawker center

Endless options at Maxwell hawker center

Similar to Malaysia, Singapore has a mix of Indian, Chinese, and Malay food. Depending on the neighborhood, hawker centers skew toward either Chinese or Indian food, with a smattering of the community’s take on Malay dishes. This ensures you’ll never exhaust Singapore’s bounty of culinary delights, as dishes by the same name are prepared differently depending on where you get them. Char Kway Teow, an “everything but the kitchen sink” sweet and spicy fried noodle dish ranged in color from tandoori-chicken red to soy sauce brown, and we’re still not sure what Rojak is since, as far as we could tell, it was a curry at one stall, and a salad at another!

photo 4Not missing an opportunity to eat biryani and dosas, we stayed in a hostel in Little India, and did much of our eating at the nearby Tekka hawker center. Tekka’s piece de resistance was Tulang Power, mutton marrow bones in a sweet and spicy dye-your fingers red broth. Eliza slurped up the devilishly rich marrow with a straw while I stuck to the few scraps of flaky meat left on the bone, drenched in the tasty sauce. We mopped up the remaining sauce with Murtabak, Malaysia’s take on the culturally ubiquitous stuffed bread. (By the way, if you’re in Singapore  and looking for Murtabak, our far and away favorite was ZamZam restaurant in Kampung Glam neighborhood, thanks to a tip from our friend Kim.)

ZamZam's perfectly crunchy, flakey, and savory Mutton Murtabak

ZamZam’s perfectly crunchy, flakey, and savory Mutton Murtabak

We also made it to the Maxwell hawker center, one of Chinatown’s more popular hawker centers, and used the opportunity to try one of Singapore’s hallmark dish, Chicken Rice. To the unsuspecting observer it may look like a bland chicken breast with plain steamed rice, but it still astounds me how much flavor and texture is packed into such a colorless dish. The chicken is drenched in a sweet and salty sauce that while simple is too tasty not to love, and the seemingly plain-jane rice is in fact cooked in chicken broth. To top it all off, the real masterpiece of the dish is the velvety-ness of the chicken, by far the most moist and tender chicken breast I have ever had.

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Overall, Singapore definitely lived up to its culinary reputation. Our 3 days there were quite a feast, and like any truly great trip, left us with plenty to come back for. We didn’t get a chance to try the famous chili crab and the mystery of Rojak remains unsolved.

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Food Tour in Budapest

I was reminded of our food tour in Budapest when I walked into our hostel room in Singapore and was hit with a waft of moldy, cheesy air. This wasn’t your average pong, it’s the smell of that distinct, fluffy, velvety white rind on a round of Camembert. Delicious, right? Needless to say, this wasn’t my favorite hostel of the whole trip; we’ve had better and we’ve certainly had cheaper. Our hostel in Singapore was not the highlight of the trip.

Great Market Hall, Budapest. A beautiful turn of the century building.

Great Market Hall, Budapest. A beautiful turn of the century building.

However, the food tour in Budapest  with Taste Hungary was one of the best parts of our 3 weeks away from Bali. Our guide Ana was extremely informative and showed us some of the tastiest bites of traditional Hungarian food.

The tour began in the breathtaking art deco Central Market building, and had us sampling a traditional Hungarian apertif called Unicum as well as some ewe’s milk cheese, both very potent and tasty.

A shot of Unicum, an herbal digestif liqueur.

A shot of Unicum, an herbal digestif liqueur.

Sour cherry yogurt and sheep's cheese.

Sour cherry yogurt and sheep’s cheese.

We also sampled hard sausages made from venison and pork, alongside some cracklins. It was all fantastic, but I really loved the butcher’s displays.

Butcher

Pickling is clearly a big thing Hungarian cuisine, typically made with a sweet and vinegary brine.

Zev's Mum is clearly delighted by the displays of pickled beets and peppers.

Zev’s Mum is clearly delighted by the displays of pickled beets and peppers.

More pickles!

More pickles

Next we headed to a local lunch spot, where we stood outside around a long wooden table among a mass of workers on their lunch break. The emphasis of this meal was meat; blood sausage, liver sausage, paprika sausage, duck leg, cabbage, potatoes, horseradish, pickled veggies, and paprika noodles.

Pickled peppers at Belvarosi Disznotoros

Pickled peppers at Belvarosi Disznotoros

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The Taste Hungary food tour was an excellent introduction to traditional Hungarian cuisine. Some of the foods really reminded me of American food, and Zev’s parents certainly recognized some dishes from their grandparents from Eastern Europe.

Chasing Snowflakes in Budapest

I have a confession to make….we have been living a lie, we’re not the backpackers we were pretending to be.

Sunrise from our hotel in Budapest, it was lovely.

Sunrise from our hotel in Budapest, it was lovely.

We were being spoiled, courtesy of Zev’s parents. It was a lovely to stay in nice hotels and indulge in bubble baths for 2 weeks, but now we’re back to hostels and street food.

Snow?

Snow?

The synagogue in the snow. It was gorgeous...and then it was frigid.

The synagogue in the snow. It was gorgeous…and then it was frigid.

Yesterday, while we checked out of our fancy hotel in Budapest and took a cab to the hostel, it began snowing. The snow fell at first in big, improbable, comically large flakes that immediately melted upon impact, leaving no trace. I kept rushing to the window to make sure it hadn’t stopped, although the ground refused to confirm what the sky insisted was true, snow was still falling. Sure enough, after about 24 hours, a couple inches had accumulated on the cars lining the streets and some muddy slush covered the sidewalks. The wind chilled us to the bone and chased us back into the hostel, but the snow made for a scenic ending to our two weeks with family.

In Budapest we ate beef goulash and duck cracklings, greasy paprika salami and spaeztle smothered in sour cream and paprika sauce. My cravings for hearty winter food were met. On the final day, as I found myself rubbing the circulation back into my cold toes, it was finally time to go back to warmer climes. We had slowly, one by one, said goodbye to Zev’s family and now the winter wonderland didn’t seem as sparkly and magical, it was unfamiliar, foreboding, and it held few charms for us anymore.

As I write, we’re camped out in the upstairs food court at Kuala Lumpur Sentral Train Station, where the air conditioning seems to have achieved a negligible victory over the smothering humidity downstairs. There is an overnight train to Singapore ahead of us, after which we will crawl to our hostel and collapse for a few hours.

My kingdom for a Lonely Planet

Traveling is all about teamwork.

Traveling is all about teamwork.

I think that every travel team/relationship breaks down into different roles. Zev and I seem to split responsibilities pretty evenly, but sometimes we take turns in different roles. Are you the planner, navigator, negotiator, photographer, communications manager, hostel booker, instagrammer, or postcard author?

Driving in Bali, I'm not as confident as Zev on the scooter.

Driving in Bali, I’m not as confident as Zev on the scooter.

Zev drives a scooter in Burma.

Zev drives a scooter in Burma.

Today we tried a walking tour from a new guidebook, Rick Steve’s Budapest city guide. It nearly resulted in a riot. Rick Steve’s guides have a very strong voice, with plenty of editorial opinions thrown in. We’re not used to our guidebooks adding so much personal input to the landscape of a place. We’re no strangers to guidebooks, we have tried Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodor’s, and finally settled on Lonely Planet as our preferred travel bible.

The whole experience was a funny reminder that everyone develops their own unique travel style, which can be molded by which guidebook you choose or vice versa.

I remember I abandoned a certain high end guidebook back when I was backpacking through India and trying to figure out how to get to the next town. I flipped through the book and read the phrase ‘tell your driver to take you to the next town 3 hours down the road…’ I looked around for my driver, and seeing none, pitched the book in the trash bin and hopped on the nearest public bus.

This also got me to thinking about what roles you take on during travel. In our travel relationship Zev is the scheduler and logistics man, while I prefer to do all the communications (yay for blogposts and postcards), negotiations (my family calls me ‘the angry shopper’), and navigation. In Bali, when we go on roadtrips I sit on the back of the scooter with my camera slung across my body and the map carefully opened across Zev’s back. I feel I’m in my element taking photos of roadside attractions and keeping us on the right route.

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Zev is tops with a hatchet.

Zev is tops with a hatchet.

 

Face buried in the Lonely Planet

Face buried in the Lonely Planet.

McDonald's drive-thru on a scooter in Sanur, Bali.

McDonald’s drive-thru on a scooter in Sanur, Bali.

Stuff from around the web:

One of my favorite bloggers, A Cup of Jo, thinks every relationship has one planner and one spontaneous personality. Personally, we take turns being the instigator and the planner.

Nora Ephron was one of the most inspiring comedic authors, the way she created comedic material out of the most tragic personal events was remarkable. Nora Ephron’s son, Jacob Bernstein, writes a heartwrenching piece about his mother’s final days.

An excerpt from Sheryl Sandburg’s new book Lean In. The fascinating ‘can women have it all?’ debate continues to rage. (Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, was the article that sparked this fire)

Doorways of (Buda)Pest

Budapest is actually 2 ancient cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube river. These two cities were united to form Budapest in 1873. Wandering around the Pest side of things I became obsessed with all of the beautiful doorways.

 

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Helloooo from Budapest!

Zev and I left Bali on March 1st to meet his family in Europe. We just touched down in Budapest. We’ll be exploring the city for a few days with Zev’s parents. A walking food tour is scheduled for Monday afternoon, so get excited.

Here’s the amazing view from our hotel room:

View of the Danube from our hotel room

View of the Danube from our hotel room

This past week in Lech, Austria I re-learned to ski after quitting the slopes for about 10 years. Thankfully a little ski school lesson had me back in no time. The Alps around Lech were breathtaking, which helps keep you inspired when the going gets tough.

We also celebrated my 26th birthday in Lech, it was a great one. My mother sent over a heartwarming care package of treats to remind me of home. She knows the way to my heart – fruit roll-ups and make-up! Getting a big package of sentimental stuff from home threw me for a loop, it really reminded me of the family I miss so much. The other birthday fairy (Zev) bought me a waterproof camera and  waterproof housing, I can’t wait to go snorkeling at Padangbai or Amed when we’re back in Bali. For my birthday I skied all day and then we hit up an adorable old Austrian farmhouse restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect way to spend the day. The Austrian diet of meat, cheese, and potatoes has been a great change of pace from all the healthy food in Bali.

 

My new camera, yayayayayya!

My new camera, yayayayayya!

Lazy skiing

Lazy skiing

Back on the slopes!

Back on the slopes!

 

Apres ski!

Apres ski!

We celebrated my birthday at 'House Number 8' in Lech, Austria.

We celebrated my birthday at ‘House Number 8’ in Lech, Austria.

Sausage and potatoes, awesome food at the mountain lodges

Sausage and potatoes, awesome food at the mountain lodges

Zev peering over the edge...he made me ski over the ledge, there was a bit of whining.

Zev peering over the edge…he made me ski over the ledge, there was a bit of whining.

Apres ski!

Apres ski!

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