SPICEGASM.COM My travel tales and food hunting

September 20, 2013

Snails and shells siesta in Saigon

Filed under: Bars & Resto,Food,Travel,Vietnam — Alex @ 4:05 am

After my first visit to Saigon in March 2012, I have been coming to this vibrant city pretty often. There are few things that made me keep coming back. It’s pretty obvious that Vietnamese street food is one of the main reason but going through the immigration without having to fill in embarkation card is super awesome too. Then there’s the cheap bus ride from the airport to Ben Thanh Market that will cost me only VND4000 ( approx $0.20 ). It is really convenient to hop on to the bus that’s always parked right outside of the airport terminal.

Clean and affordable hotels in the city center are aplenty. So I bet in recent years, many tourists have been flocking to this country well known for it’s Pho and spring rolls. Another reason is that I have a good friend who is based in Saigon. He is half Vietnamese and knows his places really well.

entrance

Every time I come visit, he will have some new food places to bring me. By now he really knows the kind of food joints that I fancies and he never fails to excite me. This time around, he brought me to a place that is specializing in snails and shells. This is the kind of food joint that is not located in prime area but tucked in some alley. The clientele would be regulars or people in the know of good food. I like restaurants like these as opposed to those that are situated in prime location where most of the customers would be consist mostly of tourists or passersby.

fried-snails

Fried snails – remember to suck on the shells, tasty!

fried-crab-claws

fried-crab-claws

snails

Snails sauteed in garlic and pork lard

From experience, restaurant of food stalls like these always serve the best food and price is always cheap. Not located at prime area certainly has it advantages like cheap rental.

The restaurant has no fancy decor, just the usual low stools and tables just like most roadside food joints in Vietnam, just the way I love it. My friend point to some Vietnamese words that are plastered on the wall of the food joint. “We prefer one customer that will come 1000 times rather than 1000 customers that will only come once”. Such wise words and my friend went through the menu and start ordering away. Portions are purposely made small as Asian loves to try many time of dishes at one sitting. Makes the dinning more interesting in my opinion when you get to try all sorts of different stuff shared with friends.

BBQ prawns

BBQ prawns

cockles

Stir fried cockles with garlic and crunchy pork lard.

I don’t really know the names of the dishes that my friend ordered but everything tasted really good. If you don’t speak Vietnamese, fret not as the menu has pictures with English. Enjoy the pictures and I have included the address of the restaurant at the bottom of this post. Total of the bill was VND470,000 with 3 beers and 1 soft drink.

Giant cockles prepared with cheese and also garlic and butter

Giant cockles prepared with cheese and also garlic and butter

stir-fry-beef-noodles

Stir fried egg noodles with beef and generous amount of Bak Choy.

Address :

Hem 25 (meaning, alley 25) Nguyen Binh khiem Street.

August 21, 2013

Story about Polo sport, airport and people

Filed under: Chit Chat,Travel — Alex @ 1:28 pm

polo-ralph-laurent

I have been using Polo Ralph Laurent for more than a decade now. I used this brand often because I do like the smell of it and mostly because I am used to it, or I would say out of habit. One month ago I visited Myanmar and as I flying back to Bangkok, I bought my Polo Sport in one of the duty free shop located in Don Muang Airport. The size available at that time was only the 125 ml bottle pack. I would prefer smaller packaging, something that is less than 100 ml for easy traveling by air. Since there was nothing smaller than 125 ml, I decided to buy it any how.

After a month, is time for me to fly out again and this time I would be flying to Singapore. Bought a flight with Tiger Airways and was scheduled to depart from Survanabumi International airport. I love traveling light and always avoid having to check in any baggage. As I was packing my backpack, I managed to squeeze in all my clothing for a week. Feeling all happy, I suddenly realized that my Polo Sport is 125 ml. Being an experience traveler, I knew this would some what create a problem for me.

Security in the airport has been really tight and any liquid container that is more than 100 ml will not be allowed to be carry on board. I was hoping to find a zip lock plastic bag within my minimal possessions of things but to my disappointment I have none. Since I have to go to the airport within 30 minutes ( I am guilty of being a late packer! ), I decided to just bring my Polo Sport with me. I remembered seeing someone being given a zip lock plastic bag by the airport securities for containers with liquid that are over the allowed limit of 100 ml. With this in my mind, I was hoping to be given a plastic bag and board on the plane without any fuss.

As I arrived at the airport, I went to the check in counter to get my boarding pass. Got my boarding pass and went straight to the immigration counter to get my stamp of leaving Thailand. Walked a bit more and finally reached the airport securities area. This is the part of traveling by air I hated the most. Every country has different rules when it comes to airport securities. Some countries requires you to take off your shoes and some don’t.

By now I know the routine pretty well. Took off my belt, took out my laptop and put on a tray that is provided by the airport security and put my backpack on the scanning machine. Walk passed the metal detector without any problem but as I wanted to collect my backpack, one of the male airport security dude requested that I opened my bag. He then saw my Polo Sport and asked me to take it out and show it to him. He told me my Polo Sport is over 125 ml and I cannot bring it on board. I then asked him if there’s any zip lock bag provided by them so that I could bring my 2,200 BHT perfume with me. He said the airport does not provide any zip lock plastic bag. He gave me two options, either I leave my Polo Sport behind or I could check in with my luggage. I told him I do not have any check in luggage. His face reaction was really cold and at one point I swore he has the expression of, “I will be using Polo Sport perfume for the next few months” look.

I began to feel really annoyed and desperate at the same time. So I decided to go to the begging and pleading route, to get sympathy from this airport security guy. It didn’t work! And I started to get annoyed even more when he told me if I was carrying this Polo Sport in a duty free plastic bag, he would allow me to bring it on board. The problem with Survanabumi airport is, the duty free shops are only available after you pass the airport security. I then asked him if he could allow me to pass the airport security and head on to the duty free shop and buy something and put my Polo Sport in it as well. The answer was still a NO go.

He then suggested I go check in my Polo Sport at the check in counter which annoyed me even more. To me the idea seems so silly and I hate the idea of going back to the check in counter again. I was faced with a dilemma of either leaving my almost brand new Polo Sport or pay a certain amount of money to check it in. After deciding for a good 1 minute, I decided to go to the check in counter downstairs. As I was walking, my head was thinking all sort of ideas just to avoid checking in the tiny bottle of perfume. I told myself, maybe there would be some nice folks who are checking in their luggage and my Polo Sport could tag along. I just have to put on a sympathetic face and ask nicely, I convinced myself to do just that.

The check in counter staff was surprised to see me again as I was approaching her. I told her my woes but she told me that there’s nothing she could do. She seem more sympathetic towards me compared to the airport security dude. I asked her how much to check in my Polo Sport and she told me is 750 BHT. That’s like more than a quarter of the price that I paid for my perfume! I then asked her if she could keep it for me and I will get it from her once I return to Bangkok. She brushed off the idea politely by saying I might not be able to see her again that easy. I bet if I look like Mario Maurer she would just give me her phone number and keep my Polo Sport right away. Too bad I don’t even look remotely close to Mario, even when he is hit by a truck!

As I was deciding whether to check in my Polo Sport or not, I decided to try my luck in approaching passengers who might sympathize with me. I then saw two young couple of Chinese descent walking towards the check in counter. They look like nice people and I approached the Chinese guy and told him my situation. He wasn’t really interested in listening to my woes and before I could end my story, he just told me sorry and NO. Being human, I was kinda annoyed at the way he said no but at the same time, I can’t really be mad at him because of all the crazy tales we hear about airport scams. He is most likely playing it safe and not wanting to carry something for a stranger.

Feeling defeated, I decided to check in my backpack together with my perfume and paid the 750 BHT fee. Feeling really annoyed and pissy, I walked pass the airport security once again. Scanned my laptop, walked pass the metal detector once again. The process amplified my annoyance even more but I just kept calm. I didn’t even want to make eye contact with the airport security dude, just to avoid having to see him making a smug face or grinning with satisfaction. When you are annoyed, everyone will look like bad person to you.

Sitting in the boarding area, I still couldn’t let the incident die off. It has nothing to do with me being a stingy bastard but I wasn’t really sure who and why I am so pissy. I tried not to blame the airport security dude, as he was just doing his job. I tried not to be angry at the couple who refused to help me out as it is not normal to carry things for strangers in the airport. As I started to cool down, I saw some people carrying duty free bags with alcohol in it. This rules just doesn’t make any sense! Just because the alcohol were bought in the duty free area, this is allowed. He could be an expert bomber and has one whole bottle of Johnny Walker Black to create a bomb and blast all of us to kingdom come!

Finally it was time to board the plane, still feeling defeated and annoyed, I felt like telling everyone I see about how silly the airport security rules really are. I sat next to a guy who sat next to the window. He has earphones plugged to his ears, lucky him, he doesn’t have to listen to my rant. I was given the middle seat and hoping someone without earphones would take the aisle seat. Finally a familiar face was taking the aisle seat. This couldn’t be happening! It was the guy from the couple who didn’t wanna help me taking the aisle seat next to me. I can’t be ranting to him about what humanity has become with all these paranoia of awful airport tales.

As he took his seat, he asked me nicely in Mandarin if I want to take the front seat where the girlfriend or wife would be seating. He made it out to be like he is doing me a favor by offering me his partners front seat to me, which is like a few seats away from us. This is a budget airlines, and the front seat is not a first class seat like what he is making it out to be. I then calmly told him that I will take the front seat not because I wanted to sit in front but rather to HELP him with the sitting arrangement. I did emphasize on the word “HELP” to send my message across. I know it was not right to do that but some how it made me felt better as I took the front seat.

Note : Picture of my Polo Sport in a zip lock bag was taken when I flew back from Singapore to Bangkok. No problem with Singapore airport securities.

 

July 10, 2013

My Yangon circular train ride experience

Filed under: Myanmar,Travel — Alex @ 6:54 pm
yangon-circular-train-ride-11

Yangon Train Station

I have the habit of not visiting famous monuments of each countries I have traveled. I prefer to do things where I can see the activities and daily life of the locals. While in Yangon, I’ve heard many people talking about the Yangon circular train ride that lasted around 3-4 hours. From what I’ve gathered, the ride is a bumpy one and far from luxurious, even if you pay for the first class coach which cost USD1.00!

So on the morning that I checked out from my hotel, the friendly hotel front desk dude asked me what I would do today. I proudly told him that I will take the Yangon circular train ride, hoping to get his approval. I was thinking to myself that he would probably label me as a cool tourist for doing something different from regular tourist, but instead his reaction wasn’t what I expected. I then asked him, is it going to be fun and exciting? His answer wasn’t really encouraging and sounded like a season politician of trying not to give a definite answer. That’s not very encouraging.

I hopped on to a taxi and told the driver that I would like to go to the train station. The taxi was really friendly and chatty at 7.30am in the morning. He asked me if I am going out of Yangon and I quickly replied to him, PROUDLY, that I will take the circular train ride. Still hoping for a positive respond, the taxi driver just chuckled. I asked him if the ride is fun and he just gave a clear answer – NO! I am not going to back out from my plan and I decided to just follow my heart. I bid him “Mingalapar” and went straight in to the train station looking to purchase my ticket.

Waiting for my ride

Waiting for my ride

I crossed an overhead bridge and went to the ticket booth to purchase my ticket. The ticket seller told me that the train would arrive at 8.20am. The time was only 7.55am and I just sat down at one of the seating provided by the station and just observed my surroundings. The train station is really old and there are quite a number of Burmese people waiting for their train ride as well.

My pimp ride arrived!

My pimp ride arrived!

A train was approaching at 8.10am and I am not sure if that’s my train. The ticket seller came out of his booth and told me that that’s my ride. I climbed up the stairs of the coach and took my seat among the locals. Once everybody was on board, the train started to move really slowly, almost like walking pace. I have no idea how this experience would turn out but that’s the thing that have always attracted me – the unexpected.

The scenery look mostly like this during the whole duration

The scenery look mostly like this during the whole duration

yangon-circular-train-ride-07

My fellow couch mates on our first class coach

My fellow couch mates on our first class coach

The first one hour, I was paying a lot of attention looking out of the window trying to catch glimpses of beautiful sceneries. After looking out of the window for one hour and taking pictures, I was starting to feel a little bit hungry. There’s a lot of vendors coming up and down offering food, betelnut, fruits, tea, cigarettes and small handicrafts to the passengers. A young Burmese dude in his longyi caught me looking at him eating some sort of salad and he made a gesture of offering me some. I just smiled and he proceed to make a thumb up sign. I saw him buying the salad from a lady vendor just minutes ago who was just 2 meters away from me. So I decided to buy¬†and all the passengers near me was suddenly putting their attention on me. I have expected this kind of reaction as the locals normally feel really good if a foreigner are willing to try their local delicacies.

Some market next to the tracks.

Some market next to the tracks.

Pineapple vendor

Pineapple vendor

I could feel that a lot of eyes were gazing on me anticipating my first bite and reaction. In situation like this, whether the food is good or bad, I would normally make some gesture to show my sign of approval. Everybody was pleased with my reaction and I personally think the food did taste all right. It is some sort of mushroom salad with some dried shrimp, fried shallots, chili powder and sort some of thinly sliced vegetables or fruits which I can’t really make out off.

My fungi salad being prepared

My fungi salad being prepared

The ride began to be more fun when the locals started to interact with me. The guy who sat next to me attempted to speak to me in his limited English. Even though his English is not at basic conversational level, I could understand most of the things he tried to tell me by looking at his body language. He was with a big group of friends who are mostly in their late teens. Everybody was teasing him for trying to speak in English. He retaliated at the group by pointing at a girl and uttered the words, “head no good” while making the sign of a crazy person by making small circling motion with his index finger pointing to his head. The girl stood up and started hitting him on his back with a mixed of happy and angry emotion at the same time. I enjoyed watching that as I believed the guy was taking this opportunity to flirt with the girl – genius! I can almost swore that he enjoyed getting hit by the girl – at least some body contacts with a different gender.

My salad - 500 kyat = USD 0.50

My salad – 500 kyat = USD 0.50

Nothing much happened after that as we can’t really converse much other than jesting around with simple English and body language. Everybody just went about doing their own stuff, some were listening to music, some continued to talk to their friends, some smoked, some chewed more betelnut and some were even tying up the vegetables which I believed ready to be delivered to some market in Yangon.

As the 3 hours passed quickly, the train was approaching at the spot where my ride began. I am glad that I’ve never been guilty of spending too much time on smartphone or tablet while traveling, even on short MRT rides. I have always prefer to observe my surroundings while taking rides or waiting to board my plane in airports. I believe this makes me a more sensitive and an observant person. The highlight of the ride is not the beautiful sceneries as it look almost the same in the entire duration. The highlight is definitely the friendly Burmese people who made the effort to interact with me. With Myanmar slowly opening up to the whole world, I am not sure how long this kind of things would last. I am just happy to be able to experience the innocence of the locals and went all the way with my decision to try the Yangon circular train ride despite the not so favorable reaction from my front desk hotel staff and taxi driver.

July 8, 2013

Did Anthony Bourdain enjoyed his Mohinga?

Filed under: Food,Myanmar,Travel — Alex @ 5:14 am

Currently the “it” destination to visit in South East Asia has definitely gotta be Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. One of the reason why Myanmar is on the “MUST VISIT LIST” is because the country has finally opened her arms to foreigners. Like others, I was excited to make my first trip ever to Myanmar.

In order to visit Myanmar, you have to obtain a travel visa which is applicable to all nationalities. I applied my visa in Bangkok after checking out an English based Myanmar Forum. Found a very detailed posting on how to obtain the visa from the Myanmar Embassy.

I did quite a bit of research on Myanmar, especially the street food scene. I want to get myself familiarize with the food and it has always been my goal to find out the national dish of the country that I will visit. From what I gather, “Mohinga” can be considered as one of the national dishes.

My flight from Bangkok was at 7.15am and will arrive at Yangon airport at 8.00am local time. Yangon is 30 minutes behind Bangkok time. From the airport to my hotel, the ride was around 45 minutes. I still get very excited about visiting a country for the very first time even though I considered myself a seasoned traveler. The taxi ride to my hotel, which is Eastern Hotel cost me $7.

When I reached my hotel, I was greeted by the friendly staff and offered a welcome drink as well. I was informed that after 45 minutes I will be able to check in. I then asked the hotel staff if there’s any roadside stall selling Mohinga nearby. She smiled as she told me there’s a famous restaurant named Lucky Seven who sells good local dishes. I would like to believe she smiled because she is happy to see a first time visitor to her country eager to taste her national dish but in reality, most probably she smiled because, “Oh – Another first time visitor to my country checked online information about the food of Myanmar and trying to impress the locals with his limited knowledge“.

mohinga

Finding the restaurant was not hard at all and the restaurant was packed with customers, mostly locals – a very good sign! I found a table and was given an English menu and just pointed at the picture of Mohinga. The waiter then showed me a list of side orders, which consisted around 6 different choices but he made a “peace” sign with his hand which I took it as – “you are only allowed to choose 2 out of the 6 side dishes”. I chose the fried shallots and a hard boiled egg.

My order came within 10 minutes and I wasted no time in tasting Mohinga for the very first time. It didn’t taste as I would have imagined but that is because I have the habit of associating the taste of the food based on how it looks like. It looked kinda like a version of a Malay noodle dish that is call Mee Rebus and I was expecting it to taste like that. So, I continued to eat slowly and let my tongue get familiarize with the taste of Mohinga. My final verdict? I didn’t get the “SPICEGASM” feeling that I was expecting but I think Mohinga sure can grow on you after sometime. I wasn’t disappointed at all and would definitely try more Mohinga during my stay here in Yangon. I remembered seeing about Anthony Bourdain visiting Myanmar in some sites while I was doing my researched about Myanmar but didn’t clicked on the video link to see the full content. I am curious now to know what was his reaction when he first tasted the Mohinga. Even though I always believe that I know Asian food better than him but I just can’t help to feel “good” if a celebrity chef shared my same sentiments, even though most of the time he is obliged to give good reviews.

May 7, 2013

Sangsom the famous Thai whiskey

Filed under: Chit Chat,Thailand,Travel — Alex @ 5:39 pm

IMG-20130508-WA0000I haven’t been consuming any form of alcohol in a regular manner for quite a while now. In fact I am proud to say that I am no longer the social drinker I used to be ( drinking 5 times a week is considered social drinking and definitely not an alcoholic, at least in my books ). I am currently in Bangkok staying with a friend who has a quarter bottle of Thai whiskey sitting around for a few weeks now. He has no idea how the whiskey got there as he is a beer drinker himself. The brand of the whiskey is call Sangsom, kinda sounds like Samsung. In terms of name branding, Sangsom would be more popular than the famous Korean electronic company that gives us the famous smart phones, like Galaxy S3 and recently Galaxy S4.

While Sangsom is not an electronic product, it is widely used around Thailand. It is famous among rural Thai people as the whiskey is really cheap. I have no idea how much it cost as I never bought a bottle myself. I’ve consumed it in pass occasions when I was offered by some Thai folks a shot or two without any mixers. Few months ago when I was at a trendy club in Bangkok club, I noticed some trendy Thai guys and girls ordering Sangsom whiskey with Red Bull. As you know, Red Bull is an energy drink originated from Thailand and later sold to an Austrian company. Don’t quote me on that but you are welcome to Wikipedia it as I am lazy to do it now myself.

So tonight, I just felt like drinking Sangsom mixed with Red Bull. Since there’s one quarter bottle sitting around doing nothing in my friend’s house, I decided to buy a bottle of Red Bull from Family Mart. He was pretty skeptical about how it would taste as Sangsom is well known to be potent and even nasty to some foreigners in Thailand. I bought the Red Bull but my friend does not have any fancy shot glass. I was so determine to finish up the quarter bottle of the famous Thai whiskey, having no shot glass will not stop me from my mission. An idea struck me as I was buying the Red Bull. I asked my friend to buy a bottle of Brand’s Chicken Essence and emptied it. That would be my shot glass!

I made this post because I felt really smart for using the tiny bottle of Brand’s Chicken Essence as my shot glass. But to be honest, I think I am just super buzzed after finishing the quarter bottle of Sangsom with Red Bull. It does taste pretty good I would say and if you do come to Thailand, you should give it a try.

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