Okay, it’s 5.30 on Monday morning and I’m at Sunshine Coast airport waiting for a flight to Sydney that boards in just 30 minutes so I’ll be making this quick this week. Oh, and this week’s post contains way too much food and not nearly enough exercise…you have been warned.
Soooooo good to get back to the beach this week for morning walks and sunrises. It’s this – and fresh air – that I miss when I’m away.
My Kiwi bestie and her hubby were over for a long weekend and it was great to catch up. As a result of a lot of great food and wine I’m sure I’m a few kilos heavier as a result, but it was absolutely worth it.
Coming soon to the Nigella files. Very easy, very quick, and very yummy.
State of The Union
Not *that* State of the Union, but the one on ABC at present. On iview, it’s a series of 10 short 10-minute episodes where a recently estranged couple meets each week in a pub before going to their relationship counsellor. It’s English and it’s actually quite smart and funny.
Spero’s, newish on Mooloolaba Wharf. With fabulous views (above) and good food (below), we’ll be back for more.
At The Spirit House. There’s a reason why these guys run one of the best cooking schools in the country. It’s a great class. We did a Vietnamese class and I’ll be trying everything again at home. The clay pot pork in coconut water and star anise I intend to try on the campfire.
It’s a thing & I had some with elderflower tonic at the Spirit House bar after we cooked on Friday night.
Market platters for lunch
My kind of grazing plate…
And even more food…
I told you there would be plenty of food in this post, and here’s some more – a 7 course, 12 tasting, banquet at Spice Bar in Mooloolaba on Saturday night. It’s seriously no wonder we didn’t feel like doing much more than giggling over selfies with snapchat filters!
Ok, that was pretty much my week. There was more – both food and laughs – but they should be calling my flight any minute now. Until next time…
If I had to choose my desert island dish it would be this one – Hainanese Chicken Rice.
I remember the first time I tried it. It was March 1992, my 25thbirthday and I was in Singapore with the man who would become my husband. From that day Hainanese Chicken has been my ultimate comfort food. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had it in Singapore over the years, I’ve tried it in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, and I’ve even found it in Hong Kong and Taipei. The Vietnamese do a version of it (com ga) that I sampled in Hoi An and the Thai’s also have khao man gai – which is also similar. Same same but different. I’ve had some good ones in Sydney, some great ones in Melbourne and had a dreadful imitation in Perth that I’ve tried to erase from my brain.
When I think of Malaysia and, in particular, Singapore, this is the dish that I think of. Indeed, many people will tell you that it’s the national dish of Singapore – and they wouldn’t be wrong. Just a few dollars will buy you one a great at one of Singapore’s hawker markets. The best ones we had this trip were in the hawker markets – in both Singapore and Penang. The most ordinary one we had was also the most expensive – in the hotel on our first night in Singapore when we were too tired to go out.
Chicken rice originated in the Hainan province of Southern China a ridiculous number of years ago. It was then brought to Malaysia and Singapore by migrants in the late 19th and early 20thcentury. Naturally, as these things do, with the use of local ingredients it developed into the chicken rice we now know.
In essence, this appears to be a simple dish – poached chicken, chicken stock, chicken rice and a couple of dipping sauces. There is, however, a world of difference between okay chicken rice, a good one, and a really great one.
That difference usually lies in the flavour of the stock and the cooking of the chicken – it should be poached well but not over-cooked. The texture of the flesh is soft and the skin on the best chicken rice a tad gelatinous – you get this by dunking the chook into ice cold water after the cooking is finished. Oh, and don’t even think about using anything other than a free-range chicken.
The rice should be well flavoured and fluffy. I reckon we get the best results from doing it in a rice cooker, but hubby doesn’t use one when he makes it and it’s perfectly good. The flavour in the rice comes from chicken fat that you render down from the little flappy fatty bits that you cut away from the chook before poaching it, garlic and onion oil and the stock that you poached the chicken in. You can buy chicken rice flavour bases from Asian supermarkets but I think it’s worth doing this step properly.
The sauces are also important. The chicken itself has a really subtle flavour so needs the seasoning added by the sauces. Don’t hold back on these. I like to pour mine over the top, but it’s okay to dip instead. You can shortcut it a tad by using bought chilli sauce, but don’t even think of skipping the ginger and spring onion oil step.
Quite often it’s served with kecap manis, or sweet soy. This seems to be more common in hotel and airport versions and less common in food halls and hawker markets. I’m not fussed but my family like to have some on the side for dipping.
We regularly prepare it at home – especially if any of us are feeling rundown, stressed out or just not great. The recipe I make is one by Adam Liaw. He originally published this, his Hainanese grandmother’s recipe, in his first cookbook “Two Asian Kitchens” and has updated it since to this recipe. You’ll find it in his “Destination Flavour” cookbook, but it’s also online here.
There are a lot of ingredients and a lot of processes, but you’ll find the same ingredient used in different processes. It really is a layering of flavours. Give it a go – if you can’t be in a hawker market in Singapore, this could be the next best thing.
If the best way to explore a city is on foot, and if the best way to learn about it is through the stories that aren’t in the Lonely Planet guide, and if the best way to know it’s people is through their food, their religion and their history, then surely if you put it all together you can begin to get an understanding or sense of place. And that’s why we booked this tour with Mark from Simply Enak. Food, stories, history, sights and some walking, all rolled into one very entertaining, and very delicious, morning.
We’d booked this walking tour for our second day in Georgetown and, as a result, had already seen some of the sights that Mark intended to show us – namely the Clan Jetties, Cheah Kongsi and the street art in Armenian Street (see this post). Rather than covering old ground he quickly adapted his route to take in some different clan houses – including that of his family. Settle back and grab a cuppa…we have a lot to get through.
Mark told us about how the clan houses served as quasi embassies for new arrivals to Georgetown. You’d be affiliated by family name, the region in China that you’d travelled from or your trade.
The clan houses were, however much more than that. Their dealings were also very much like those of the more modern day mafia. They controlled the rubber, tin and opium trades – and more besides. In essence, they’d been given free rein by the British East India company who didn’t care terribly much how they came by their supplies – as long as they were able to provide what the trading company needed. The heads of these families were given the titles of Kapitan – or Captain. It reminds me of a story I heard about how Kapitan Chicken or Ayam Kapitan got its name. The Chinese cook was asked what was for dinner and he replied “chicken, Kapitan.’ Or something like that. But I digress.
Back in the day, Georgetown was pretty much run by five major family groups – the Khoo, Cheah, Lim, Yeoh and Tan families. Unsurprisingly as each group tried to build bigger fortunes, a larger share of the trade and more opulent clan houses, hostilities inevitably broke out between the families with sometimes violent consequences. Mark told us how the well that used to be behind Khoo Kongsi had a direct route to the sea and was therefore used to, shall we say, send the bodies of those who crossed the clan “back to China.” There was another behind the ancestral hall adjacent to the Peranakan Museum. He also showed us the “secret” exits that people could use to escape the clan houses in the case of unexpected and unwelcome visitors.
Mostly the clans, or “secret societies” as they were known to the British were left to govern themselves, but in 1867 the tussles between the clans exploded into riots and the British were forced to intervene using cannons from Fort Cornwallis.
The ancestral halls themselves are both a place of prayer and a place of remembrance for ancestors. The tablets at the back of the hall denote both a memorial and a family tree of sorts. Names of family members both in Penang and elsewhere appear on these boards behind the altar.
Chim or Fortune Sticks
In the Goddess of Mercy Temple, Mark pointed out some people using chim or fortune sticks. I have a set of these at home that I bought a number of years ago in Hong Kong. Essentially you think of the question you need answered and shake the box that the sticks are in until one falls out. The number on that stick corresponds to a fortune. To check on the veracity of the fortune oracle stones are thrown. If they land the opposite way – ie one top-side up and the other top-side down – the fortune is true. If they land the same way – like if you toss two coins and they both land with the heads up or with the tails up – you need to shake for another stick.
Once you finally have a stick that is supported by the oracle stones, you take it to the pigeonholes off to the side to receive your fortune. If it’s favourable you can go away happy – or at least satisfied. If not, you can appeal to the deities of the hall to intercede on your behalf.
Mark explained that this is a little like if you have IT problems in the office. You can call first level support – in this case, the chim sticks. If that works, great, you’re operational again. If not, you might need second level support – and that costs. This is where it all becomes a business transaction. Each of the papers in the pic below corresponds to a person for whom support is required. Depending on the problem the querent may request (and pay for) daily prayers for a period of time. And, as for all support of this nature, there is no guarantee of success; but you are stacking the odds in your favour.
This tour was the perfect blend of walking, talking, eating, walking, talking, eating…and repeat. Mostly though it was all about the food. Mark knows food and he knows flavours. he can also talk through how the food is prepared. This makes him the perfect person to guide us through our Georgetown food odyssey.
Georgetown is about three cuisines – that of the Hindu Indians, that of the Muslim Indians, and that of the Chinese. These groups came to Georgetown as merchants and traders. The Malays tended to live outside Georgetown as farmers and fishermen.
Each of the three main groups might have practised different religions to each other but had one thing in common – they’d come to Penang and, specifically Georgetown, to make their fortunes. Because the town grew up around the religions it also fostered religious tolerance. Mark said that it was one of the factors that assisted with Georgetown receiving its UNESCO listing.
First up was Hindu or Southern Indian at Woodlands. This cuisine is vegetarian and you can tell whether a shop is owned by Hindu Indians by the turmeric stains on the pavement out the front.
Here we had a ghee onion rawa masala dosa, vade (savoury donuts), a dhal and assorted chutneys. To go with it was a fresh ginger tea. Dosa, Mark told us, is mostly eaten in the morning and in the afternoon – when you’d normally drink tea.
Next in the food stakes was Tajudin Hussein, or Muslim Indian. We sampled chicken ros (chicken curry in thick onion gravy), mutton (goat) korma, briyani rice, spinach with lentil and dry chilli and iced calamansi (citrus) tea. I checked out some of the prices for the food on offer. A bowl of briyani would set you back 3RM, a murtabak was 3.50RM, roti canai (fabulous roti with gravy) just 1RM. Given that one aussie dollar currently buys you 3RM, you get an idea of the cost.
On our walk through Little India we stopped for a samosa (as if we needed more food by this stage)…
and some photos of the fabulous colour in this neighbourhood…
Our final food stop was for Chinese at Ping Hoo Cafe where we sampled Char Koay Teow (fried noodles), loh bak (deep fried pork in bean curd sheets) and had a nutmeg drink that was remarkably different and remarkably refreshing.
If possible book this tour for your first day in Georgetown.
Skip breakfast or at the very least resist the hotel buffet – you will be eating heaps!
Ask Mark anything and everything that you might want to know about Georgetown and it’s history, culture and food. He knows so much and seriously it’s like chatting to an old friend.
If you need some pointers regarding where to eat in Georgetown, you guessed it, ask Mark. He knows his food and he knows where to find it.
I’ve been a tad quiet on this front for a number of weeks – what with holidays, day job, work trips to Sydney. That doesn’t, however, mean that I’ve not been making a little headway ( a very little headway) on this behemoth of a cookbook.
For this update, I’ve skipped ahead to the chapter titled One and Two. I have to admit that this is possibly my favourite chapter to date. The recipes in this section are, as the title suggests, for one, maybe two people. It’s a conundrum, this whole idea for cooking for yourself. My husband hates it. If Sarah and I are away he’ll live on cheese sandwiches or tinned soups. Yet when I was alone for those couple of months when they’d moved to Queensland before me I actually enjoyed mucking around in the kitchen for myself. It was a way of trying things out that I knew he mightn’t want to try or that Sarah would say, ‘I’m not sure how I feel about that.’ Having said that, as much as I enjoyed cooking for myself, after the first few days I didn’t enjoy eating on my own. I suspect the novelty might have worn off on the cooking thing before too long too; knowing that it was a break from normal kept it interesting.
Nigella says in this chapter that cooking for yourself helps you find your culinary voice without the fear of failing in front of people who you might want to impress. It gives you the freedom to try a little of this or that, to gain experience, to build your foundations. It also allows you to mess up every so often and be able to shrug about it. To me, this makes sense; it’s a little like blogging or journaling helps you to find the voice that you write in.
Anyways, what have I cooked?
Cream of Chicken Soup
Normally I like a soup with added bits – veg, meat, pasta, barley – but there’s something luxuriously retro about cream of chicken soup. I remember that a guilty pleasure used to be nursing a mug of Cream of Chicken cup-a-soup in the winter – even though I knew that the calories were off the scale and that I hated the metallic aftertaste of preservative. This cream of chicken soup is nothing like the ones you get in a packet. For a start, there’s real chicken in it and real leeks and real cream.
Given that the recipe uses poached chicken breast I used some that I’d stripped from the chook I’d simmered for stock the previous day. That also meant that I had a good stock on standby – even though Nigella says it’s okay to use a stock cube. The leeks are cooked in butter until soft and then a tablespoon of flour is added to give you a roux. A combo of pre-heated chicken stock (300 ml), full-fat milk (300ml) and a bay leaf (which you take out before adding to the roux) is poured in along with the chopped chicken and stirred occasionally until it all comes up to a boil. At this stage, it’s almost like you’re making a bechamel sauce that will become soup. The whole thing is then blended and sieved to get it perfectly smooth, before being brought up to the heat and finished with an egg yolk and a few tablespoons of double cream. The result is a silky, rich bowl of wintry comfort that has very little resemblance to the sup-a-soup version.
I really couldn’t be faffed with the whole sieving thing and didn’t mind the resultant texture and occasional bit of leek and chicken. As yummy as this soup was, it was also, I’m sorry to say, too much for my lactose challenged tummy – even though I swapped out some of the milk for stock. Is that too much information?
Sunday Night Chicken Noodles
While I will probably, for the sake of my tummy, not make the Cream of Chicken Soup again, this noodle soup has become a regular favourite. Excellent on a Sunday night, a Monday night or, indeed any night when comfort is needed, this is one of those soups that tastes as though it will be good for you – and actually is. It’s for when you need a little nurturing but also want to eat relatively healthily.
It does require a little bit of forward thinking in that the chicken strips are marinated for an hour, but other than that it’s one of those bowl dishes that can be on the table in less than 30 minutes.
The quantities below are for one large bowl of soup for a hungry eater. When this is feeding the three of us on a Monday night I double the recipe. Don’t get too hung up on what veg to use. This dish works really well with an Asian leafy green like choy sum or bok choy, but if all you’ve got in the crisper is beans and broccolini, use them instead.
The chicken breast is cut into strips and marinated in sake (4 tablespoons), mirin (3 tablespoons), soy (1 tablespoon), garlic (1 clove grated) and chilli (1 dried chilli, crumbled), so it almost has a teriyaki taste to it – without the sugar, of course…and with garlic and chilli. Actually, come to think about it, it’s really nothing like a teriyaki.
After the chicken has been marinating for an hour or so you can start putting dinner together. Prepare some fresh rice noodles (100g) according to the instructions on the packet. If you’re boiling them, toss in your chopped green veg for the last couple of minutes of cooking and then drain. Heat up some chicken stock (500ml); we usually have homemade in the house or some leftovers from chicken rice, but Nigella says a cube is fine.
While that’s coming to the boil, heat up a tablespoon of oil in a wok with a few drops of sesame oil, and when they are hot throw in the chicken and toss it about a bit until it’s cooked. Pour over the marinade and let it bubble until the chicken is dark and glossy. If we haven’t boiled the veg we toss it into the wok for the last couple of minutes of cooking.
Into your bowl pop the noodles and the veg. Pour the stock over the top and finally the chicken. If you have it lying around, some chopped coriander or spring onions will finish the dish beautifully.
I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.
It’s been a funny old week. I’ve been in Sydney for work – I arrived home on Thursday night – so there have been very few photos on Instagram. Plus the head cold that I was sure that I wouldn’t catch I caught. Let’s just say that Thursday wasn’t a great day, the Thursday night flight wasn’t a very comfortable flight home and I was very glad not to be in the office on Friday – virtual or otherwise.
This blog is a politics-free zone so I won’t talk about the election. I will, however, state my outrage, yes, outrage, at the lack of a democracy sausage sizzle at our polling place. I’m well aware of the privilege that, regardless of how I feel about the result, it is to be able to cast a vote freely and without intimidation (that is unless you count running the gauntlet of the how to vote cards) so try not to complain about the relatively slight inconvenience of having to turn up on a Saturday morning to do so. The sausage sizzle is, however, an integral part of that process. Shame, Mountain Creek State School, shame.
Despite that there were some bright spots – there always are. In fact, as usual, there are more than five…
Nigella week on Masterchef…
Of course, I was always going to love this. I won’t give any spoilers in case my Kiwi bestie reads this, but I’m supremely glad that roast chicken made an appearance. In other news, she’s coming for a visit – my friend, not Nigella – and I’m excited about that but will need to be careful about Masterchef spoilers.
My new Fitbit band…
It’s magnetic and I had hours, okay minutes, of fun seeing what it would stick to in the office. Filing cabinets, paperclips…hours, I say.
Time to read…
As much as I dislike the commute it does give me time to read and I read a few books last week. One, “The Other Half Of Augusta Hope”, I got on Netgalley for review purposes. The formatting was dreadful and while I understand it was an uncorrected review copy, it was enough to distract me from the writing which was very good indeed. As for the story? Beautifully written but too dark and sad throughout for my liking. The sadness came in layers and I simply wasn’t in the mood for that. The book stayed with me though so I’ll be rating it 4 stars. There was one paragraph I loved and really resonated with me:
“Our grieving was an exchange of cakes through the winter because sometimes the only things you can do in response to big things are small things. There aren’t big enough big things.”
There’s something about a cold, wintry morning that feels fresh. Standing at the bus stop I could see my breath in the air and I liked it.
Season 20 Midsomer Murders
Yes, season 20, and it’s on Foxtel. Have I ever mentioned how my secret ambition (maybe not so secret now) is to be an extra on the show? I could be a dog walker in Badger’s Drift. If anyone knows how to make that happen please let me know.
Season 4 Shetland
It’s called season 3 on Netflix but it’s really season 4 and I’m very glad that Jimmy Perez is back. I binge-watched all episodes this weekend, a box of tissues beside me. The luxury of a head cold when you don’t have to work.
My writerly friend Samantha Wood. A fellow indie, we come from the same editorial stable – is there such a thing? Anyways, she’s released “Under Ten Thousand Stars”. Not only do I love the title, but the cover design is also glorious.
With excellent bread…is there anything better? I slow-roasted the tomatoes with some thyme, a couple of cloves of grated garlic, a good glug of balsamic vinegar and a bigger glug of olive oil. We finished it off with basil and squashed the tomatoes onto and into the bread and it was almost medicinal in its goodness.
I was very happy to see some at the farmer’s market yesterday. That’s it in the main pic above.
What would I do without her “help” when I’m blogging? Lucky I didn’t need that part of the keyboard.
One of the first things I learnt to bake was scones. I would have been in my early teens because we were living in Bombala (in southern NSW) and I even entered them in the local show a couple of times – and, if memory serves me correctly, I might have even won the category one year. But I’m not one to boast (ahem).
Mum always said that the reason I could make good scones was that I always seemed to have cold hands. I used to be all whatever about that, but I’ve since learnt that this cold hands thing is a, well, thing. The more slowly it melts, the more little pockets in the dough it creates as the scone rises and therefore the flakier the texture in the end result. Keeping the fat cool as you rub it into the flour is then, one of life’s conundrums – especially when you’re 50+ and have an inbuilt personal heating system and you live in South-East Queensland. I have, however, come up with a solution to that…but I digress.
Scones remain one of my favourite treats to make – and eat. So much so that they feature very heavily in my new novel – but more on that over the next few months.
I’d forgotten, though, just how much I love a good cheese scone until we had one for breakfast during our recent stay in Martinborough. Those cheese scones were huge but flaky, cheesy and as close to perfect as any cheese scone has the right to be.
When it comes to cheese, this is your chance to use up any pieces of cheese lying about in your fridge. Cheddar is good, Red Leicester is good, but as long as its a hard cheese and has a good amount of flavour you’ll be right. I like to scatter extra cheese on top, but my husband isn’t so big on that so the scones in the main pic have no cheese on the top, but heaps inside.
You can, of course, quickly turn these into cheesy savoury scones with the addition of a couple of tablespoons of chopped herbs – chives are good, but whatever combo you feel like – at the time that you add your cheese.
Aside from keeping the fat cool, the key to a good scone is not to overwork the dough – the less handling the better.
I use a knife to mix the milk and water into the floury-buttery-breadcrumby mix and pretty much swoosh it together. When it comes to rolling the dough, I don’t. I shape it and pat it to about an inch or so thick (although why I say an inch and not 2.5cm is beyond me) and cut from there.
The final note I’ll make is in regards to the flour. You can use plain flour with baking powder, Nigella uses a combination of bicarb soda and cream of tartar, but I don’t like the way that makes the scone look heavy even though they’re absolutely light. I use self-raising flour with a little extra baking powder and pop them in a hot oven as soon as they’re cut to get the most efficacy from the baking powder.
These scones are at their absolute best soon after they come out of the oven. All they need is good butter – and more of it than is probably good for you. After all, these are a treat.
Okay, the recipe – which, depending on the size of your cutter, will make about 12 scones.
What you need…
450g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder (optional)
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp mustard powder
100g cold butter
250 grated cheese
120ml cold milk
120ml cold water
1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk
What you do with it…
Heat the oven to 220C.
Stir together the flour, baking powder (if you’re using it), salt and mustard powder into a large bowl.
Grate in the butter, then rub it in with the tips of your fingers until it looks like sandy breadcrumbs. Work as quickly as you can with this to avoid melting or softening your butter too much. Pop it in the fridge for about 10 minutes.
Add the cheese, leaving a handful to scatter across the top (if you’re doing the scattering over the top thing), and stir to combine.
Mix in the milk and water with a knife until the dough just comes away from the edge of the bowl – remember, don’t handle it any more than is necessary.
Tip on to a very lightly floured surface and use your hands to flatten into an approximation of a rectangle about an inch high. Cut out with a whatever it is that you use to cut your scones – I like my cheese scones to be a bit bigger than I make my usual scones. Reshape your dough as necessary while handling it as little as possible.
Put on a baking tray, brush over the eggy milk and scatter the remaining cheese over the top. Bake for about 12 minutes until golden.
Allow your scones to cool slightly before splitting open.
I’ve already shown you some street art, but now let’s take a walk through the heritage zone…
The first stop on our heritage walking tour is Fort Cornwallis. This was built by Francis Light, the guy who came to Penang hoping to steal the trade market from the Dutch for the British East India Company. And a lucrative market it was – spice, rubber, opium. In 1786 he arranged the lease of the island from the Sultan of Kedah. In the process, he founded Penang as a British colony. As an aside, lease payments to Kedah to the tune of RM10,000 still persist today. That was one well-worded contract.
There’s a statue of Francis Light in the grounds of the fort, although apparently, it bears the features of his son…go figure. Also, it used to have a sword, now it doesn’t.
Anyways, there have been programs over the years to have this place demolished only for it to get a last-minute reprieve. The Japanese occupied the fort during WW2 and during the 1950s the final plan to demolish it was overturned. Having said that, there’s really not a lot left here to look at.
The cannon is, however, interesting. It has the stamp of the Dutch East India Company from back in the 1600s and was at some point given to the Sultan of Johore. It disappeared for a while when the ship it was on was sunk by pirates but was resurrected in 1880 when a prince made a curse on it by tying a piece of string around his finger and commanding it to rise to the surface – which of course, it did. If only everything was so easy.
Whether it’s the truth or not it makes for an excellent story. Naturally, the whole rise to the surface thing has morphed into a fertility legend – as these things do – and if an infertile woman places flowers on the cannon the legend is she will be able to conceive. As I said, it makes for a good story.
The Clan Jetties
Essentially the clan jetties were used for the loading and unloading of goods and the mooring of boats. Over the years they became villages on stilts settled by clans of Chinese families connected by family or region – not always with peaceful consequences.
The clan houses in Georgetown deserve more than a paragraph here. More than lodging houses or quasi “embassies” for newly arrived members of the family or from the village/region in China, these were essentially run as organised crime outfits – with some seriously colourful and violent outcomes. They have, though, been through what can only be described as a very successful rebranding exercise.
Anyways, I’ll tell you more about them another time. For now, though, this one in Armenian Street belonged to one of the most influential of them all. If you only visit one clan house in Georgetown, it should be this one – even if it’s just to admire the intricacy of the decorations.
Do you remember I told you about the Sarkie brothers who built the Eastern & Oriental? If not, the post is here. They were Armenian and this part of town is named for the Armenian immigrants to Georgetown. As an aside, there’s also an Armenian Street in Georgetown, Channai, in India. It’s named for the same reason. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.
Come here for the street art – and the ice creams…
The last time that we were in Penang was in January 2008. That trip we stayed right on the beach up in Batu Ferringhi. I recall walking into our hotel room and crying. Rather than the refurbished family room we’d requested and paid for the three of us were cramped into a small room that was last updated sometime in the early 80s – or maybe even earlier, judging by the amount of brown on offer. (We’ve since found out that the room we had was one of the only ones not to have been refurbished at that time).
The resort we were in was fabulous with amazing facilities, a couple of great restaurants and a hawker market right across the road, but that room, not so. The air-conditioning made weird clunking noises all day and night and we were facing the bar which meant we had the resort singers singing all the schmoozy songs from the same era as the interior until the early hours of each morning.
I’m a bad sleeper at the best of times and there were nights where I lathered myself in mozzie spray and attempted to sleep for a few hours on the pool lounges where, although I could still hear the music, I didn’t have the clunking of the ancient air-conditioner.
That was the last time that I ever booked accommodation through a travel agent.
One morning we caught the resort shuttle into Georgetown and drove past the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. It looked like what I imagined colonial Malaysia to look like, it looked like Raffles in Singapore. I immediately announced that it was going straight onto my hotel bucket list – yes, I do have one and Raffles is also on it.
Moving forward eleven years and we’ve just come back from the best part of a week in Penang. This time, though, we stayed in Georgetown, ducking up to Batu Ferringhi one night for dinner. And this time I absolutely didn’t cry when we walked into our hotel room.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
The history of the E&O, as it’s known, marries with the rich history of Penang itself.
Already established as a trading port and having attracted merchants from around the world, in the late 1880s 4 Armenian bothers, the Sarkies, saw an opportunity for luxury accommodation. One of these took over the lease of an old accommodation house in 1884 and from this came what we now know as the E&O. The brothers went on to found other luxury hotels – notably Raffles in Singapore but had lost control of their hotel empire by the 1930s. Their name still lives on in the restaurant.
At one point the E&O was known as “the premier hotel East of Suez” with the longest sea-front of any hotel in the world. At that time hot and cold running water and adjacent bathrooms were considered the height of luxury. Thankfully we’ve moved on from there, but the hotel still retains it’s luxuriously elegant feel whilst still giving a nod to its heyday. These days the hotel is still full of art and other heritage touches, and a photo gallery on the ground floor tells it’s history.
One wing of the hotel is currently closed for a refurb (as, coincidentally, is Raffles), but our room, with a balcony overlooking the sea and mainland Malaysia, was fabulous.
Not only was the room huge, but the bathroom was also bigger than most with 2 sinks, a claw foot bath, double shower and two wardrobes – meaning we could unpack, put our bags out of sight and not have to trip over them or walk around them.
My favourite thing? This reading chair. Grant though loved the free soft drinks in the mini-bar.
From our balcony, we could see across to mainland Malaysia and could hear the waves as they hit the seawall. I’d stand out there during the day and watch the ferries as they went to and from Langkawi, the cruise ships as they glided in and out of port, and all the assorted fishing vessels.
Plus we had a birds-eye view of the fabulous sunrises in the morning and the evening light show as the lightning sheeted across the night sky.
Okay, Penang is hot and humid. On our balcony, on the seafront and by the pool, however, there was always a lovely breeze. You’d find me here every afternoon.
As a special treat to ourselves, we had dinner on the pool terrace by candlelight one night. It was all very romantic, but sadly the light was too poor for me to show you what we ate.
Located on the seafront in the colonial strip of Georgetown we were able to explore the heritage quarter easily from here. The Blue Mansion (more on that another time) was just a couple of blocks away as was the Red Garden night hawker market.
Stylish, elegant and because we booked so far ahead and got onto some specials while the refurb was going on relatively good value for what is a luxury hotel. In terms of the service, the breakfast (oh my goodness, the breakfasts!), the rooms, the cleanliness, the quality of the rooms, it was really difficult to fault. While some large hotels can, by their very nature, be lacking soul and character, this one really did have a personality. Plus it was a tick off my hotel bucket list.
I really need to come up with a better title for this weekly post than 5 things – mainly because I rarely stick to 5 things. I’ll ponder that this week.
If you’ve been playing along on Instagram you’ll know that I spent most of last week in Singapore, flying home at stupid o’clock on Thursday morning. I detest these overnight flights, but at the same time realise and appreciate how fortunate I am that I can travel somewhere far enough away to spend that much time in a plane.
The upside of the flight time is movies. I rarely, okay, never go to the movies, so it’s a real treat to see them. On this week’s flight, I watched Vice and On The Basis Of Sex. Both were thought-provoking, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed Vice, although I did think it was cleverly done.
As great as it is to travel, it’s fabulous to be home. Sarah was happy to see us – although she said that’s just because she hates having to decide which container she’s taking out of the freezer for dinner. El Poocho, however, was ecstatic and has barely left my side. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was going away again today.
Speaking of which, I’m writing this from Sunshine Coast Airport. I’m heading back to Sydney again for the best part of a week for work. While it’s meant that I haven’t been able to do anything with my family for Mother’s Day today, I do get to see my mother for Mother’s Day – which is a treat in itself.
I loved the Orchid Garden at Singapore Botanical Gardens. The abundance of both blooms and varieties amazed me.
I’ve always adored Singapore orchids – to the extent that I had them in my hair when we got married – which leads me neatly to our…
It was also the date we celebrate as our together since date – and that’s been 30 years. I have no idea where the time has gone, but I did post a little something to commemorate the occasion.
Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen. These days we travel on a budget and choose to eat mostly at hawker markets or local shopfronts in Asia, with just one “special” place to eat in each destination. BSK was our choice for our anniversary dinner and we loved it. The vibe was edgy and laidback, but the service was absolutely not laidback – it was spot on. Despite the celebrity name, the price point was mid-range and the food was relatively simple but extremely good. The lighting, however, was not conducive to Instagram.
My cocktail of choice was the Five O’Clock, made from whisky, English Breakfast tea, pineapple, spices and lemon, clarified milk. Given that it contained two of my favourite things to drink – English Breakfast tea and whisky – I had to order it. The description was: Our own recipe of the famous British clarified milk punch. Holy grail of bartenders and probably the best (and most difficult) cocktail ever invented. I googled why (of course I did) and it’s because it involves a technique called “milk-washing” which dates back to the 1700s. So there you go.
Served in a teapot it was, surprisingly, completely clear and absolutely delicious.
Our waitress asked us whether we were there for an occasion and then when Grant’s dessert was brought out so was this. So cute.
Singapore Sling. Grant’s mother had sent us some money with the instructions to have a Singapore Sling with her compliments. Of course, the best place to have a Singapore Sling is at Raffles, but Raffles is closed for refurbishment at the moment and although there are heaps of fabulous bars around town, we decided to make like the tourists we were and have one by the river.
This French saying. léché-vitrine. I can’t remember where I saw it, but it’s the French term for window shopping and translates roughly to licking the display cabinets. Anyways, I like it. Especially when wandering through Orchard Road looking at shops with names and brands and ridiculously expensive items for sale. I sometimes hate myself for loving to look at them – it really goes against my hippy mindset but I can’t help it.
Watching Travels With My Father with my daughter. Too too funny.
Baby Sussex… I know I know, but it’s all quite lovely, isn’t it? And I love the name… It reminds me of Archie MacDonald (played by Alastair Mackenzie, incidentally another name I quite like) in the TV show Monarch of the Glen. Does anyone else remember that?
We got home from Singapore at midday on Thursday – after flying since just after midnight that morning. The whole just after midnight flight thing really did my head in – not just because 00:45 is a ludicrous time to be getting on a plane and for the crew to be serving supper, but the number of times I had to check that flights and hotels were lined up was ridiculous. The idea of checking out of our hotel on Wednesday and flying out on what was technically Thursday was almost too much for my poor addled brain to deal with – which was why I booked the car in at the airport parking until Friday and ordered my duty free for collection on Friday too.
Then there’s the flight itself. We were lucky and scored exit row seats so had plenty of legroom but I still was unable to sleep – I never do on planes. As a result, by 9pm Thursday night, I’d been awake since 6am Wednesday morning. Ugh. It is, of course, a first world problem and something that despite my complaints isn’t sufficient to stop me from travelling.
Anyways, despite a good sleep last night I woke on Friday morning a tad worse for wear and with my body clock still on Singapore time. My feet were still puffy and my ankles still cankles (too much information?) plus hubby has brought a head cold home with him that I really can’t afford to catch.
Fighting off jet lag, a head cold and an attack of the blahs calls for one thing – chicken soup.
Everyone has a favourite chicken soup and while I call mine cock-a-leekie, it’s really not, mainly because I don’t add prunes. Not only do I dislike them, but also because I think they’re unnecessary. They do add a sweetness to the end product though, so feel free to add a handful if you like.
The Scots would traditionally have used an “auld boiling fowl” – something which isn’t available at my local supermarket – but many recipes I found used chicken carcass and chicken wings which are roasted before they’re boiled to give a deeper flavour. To be honest I really couldn’t be faffed with all of that. I find that the flavour you get from a good free-range chicken is absolutely fine plus you get leftover meat for something else. If you want to keep the cost right down or if you’re just making soup for four chicken drumsticks will do the job perfectly well.
Traditionally cock-a-leekie is simple on the veg – leeks and carrot are pretty much it – but I wanted extra veg because I saw some nice parsnips and turnip at the supermarket and because they’re vaguely Scottish veg. You know, tatties and neeps?
As for the carbs, some recipes use oatmeal to thicken, and others use rice. I used a potato and barley – somehow barley sounds like it should be more Scottish than rice is.
Anyways, here’s the recipe. I always make a huge batch of soup so I can freeze the leftovers for lunches.
What you need
1 whole free-range chicken
2 leeks – the green tops roughly chopped, the white halved and sliced finely
4 carrots – 2 roughly chopped, and 2 finely diced
1 potato – diced finely
1 parsnip – diced finely
1 turnip – diced finely
2 bay leaves
About 200g barley
Seasoning to taste
What you do with it
Put your chicken, the green leek tops, the carrots that you’ve roughly chopped and a couple of bay leaves into a large soup pot and cover with cold water.
Bring to the boil and skim off any impurities – the leek tops will help catch this so it’s okay if some of them are skimmed out at the same time as the gunky bits.
Pop the lid on, reduce the heat to low, and let it all simmer happily for about an hour.
Once the hour is up, take the chicken out. You can strip the meat and shred it once it’s cool enough to handle. Some of it you’ll use in the soup and the rest can be properly stored for another meal.
Scoop out the carrots, leek tops and bay leaves and discard these. You’ll now be left with a gorgeous smelling stock.
Put all your diced and sliced veg and the barley into your stock. Bring it back to the boil, pop the lid on and reduce to a simmer for around 40 minutes until the veg and the barley is soft.
Take some of your shredded chicken and put it in the bottom of each of your bowls. If you did want to add prunes, you could add a few roughly chopped at this point.
Pour the soup over the chicken, making sure that you get good ladlefuls of the veg and barley.
Unless I say otherwise, all photos on this blog have come from my camera- or my phone. Likewise all text, unless I say otherwise, has come from my head. I'm happy for you to use it, but please give credit where due.