Friday, July 29, 2016

Hue 2016 - Emperor Tu Duc's Tomb

Emperor Tu Duc was the 4th Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. Tu Duc's reign was quite troubled as his oldest brother was passed over for the throne and led rebellions against him. He also had to deal with hundreds of internal rebellions as well as European colonizing powers determined to set up their foothold in Asia.To add to this misery - he had over a 100 wives and concubines but was unable to father a son.

Perhaps due to the many problems he had to deal with in his imperial life - he started building his tomb very early and used it as his retreat. Unlike other tombs which were mainly for burial purposes, here there are substantial residential quarters and other facilities for the Emperor's amusement.

The architecture is well integrated into the landscape - creating a beautiful and serene environment  that would have made a great retreat for the Emperor.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Hue 2016 - Emperor Minh Mang's Tomb

Hue's most important sights are the tombs of several emperors. Among these - Emperor Minh Mang's tomb is one of the most impressive. Minh Mang was the 2nd Emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty. He was the 4th son of Emperor Gia Long, He continued his father's isolationist policy, but at the same time also studied European culture and thinking. 
The Tomb complex is like a miniature version of the Imperial City. There are layers of gateways and pavilions leading to the Emperor's final resting place. 

The garden and landscape play an important part in the whole design of the complex. 
The symmetry of the layout, the elegance of the architecture, and the balance between between the natural and the man-made is quite captivating. Though it is quite far from the city, a visit to Emperor Minh Mang's Tomb is a must in Hue.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Hue 2016 - Dinner at Quan Hanh Cafe

Our first evening in Hue we wanted to have our dinner at Quan Hanh Cafe - which has received very good reviews on food blogs and TripAdvisor. The Cafe is located on Nguyen Tri Phoung Road - it is very popular with locals as well as visitors. The owners spoke basic English, and there is an English menu to help with your orders. We ended up with quite a few dishes and the small table overflowed with our orders. 

We started with Bahn Beo - steamed rice cakes in very small dishes. These are topped with dried shrimps and crispy pork scratchings. They are delicious with the spicy sauce.

Bun Thit Nuong is another popular Hue dish. Grilled meat - in this case pork, is served with rice vermicelli, sliced vegetables and a savoury sauce. It is a light a refreshing dish.

Nem Lui - pork meat skewers is sort of like satay but the meat is minced and mixed with herbs and spices than wrapped around a lemongrass skewer and grilled. They are served with lots of crunchy vegetables, wrapped with rice paper. The sauce take comes with it - is a peanut sauce mixed with pork liver. Very yummy.

Bahn Khoai is a crispy pancake filled with prawn and pork. It is a bit like Bahn Xeo, but the batter is more crispy.

Crispy Spring Rolls - not that different from the typical Chinese version. 

They also have really good Creme Caramel served with a passion fruit sauce. Make sure you order these. 

TripAdvisor recommendations are a bit hit or miss, but this time it is spot on. Quan Hanh is a great local restaurant that offers great food, great service at reasonable prices.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Hue 2016 - Getting to Hue

We wanted to visit Hue and Hoi An in Central Vietnam, and the easiest way is to take an Air Asia flight to Danang and go from there. From Danang we took a local train to Hue from the central train station which is right in the city centre. The distance is around 105km, and the train journey takes around 2 hours. There are 4 trains plying the route daily. The ticket counter staff speak very little English - we bought the tickets and hoped for the best! 

The train is quite clean and wellmaintained - but don't expect Euro train standards. The 1st class cabin have soft seats that are quite comfortable. Passengers are mostly locals.

The route between Danang and Hue is quite scenic. Bring a tablet or a book, some snacks and you will be well- sorted for the trip. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Penang 2016 - Wai Kei Cafe Char Siew

Even if you have been to Penang many times and have gone on various food crawls of all the great food places on the Island, there are still bound to be a few places you might have missed. One such place for me was Wai Kei Cafe . They have the best Char Siew in Penang - and probably in the whole of Malaysia.

Wai Kei is a corner kopitiam on Chulia Street. You can't miss it (even though I must have walked passed it tens of times before and never noticed the Char Siew) as the shop is painted green - and there is always a long line waiting for the Char Siew.

You can order the typical set  - which comes with a plate of greens, a soup, rice and mixed char siew and roast pork. The roast pork is nothing special - but the char siew is something else. Smokey, slightly sweet and the perfect balance of fatty and lean meat - it melts in the mouth. The most amazing part is the crust on the char siew - it has an unusual texture - a bit like tiny sugar crystals which bursts with flavour in the mouth. I believe it is caramelized honey that is giving it this unique texture and flavour.

We liked the char siew so much we had to order a second plate. Luckily they still had some - for right after our 2nd order they ran out !

Eating here reminds me of the famous noodle shop in Kuching where you have to wait around 1 hour for your order. The wait here is not as long - around 30 to 45 min, and the service is a lot friendlier. The young man taking the orders has an amazing memory - without writing anything down he can remember and deliver all the orders correctly. After this first taste of the best char siew ever, Wai Kee will be a must visit for our future Penang trips. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Penang 2016 - Noordin Mews Boutique Hotel

Another very nice boutique which used to be under the same stable as Seven Terraces is Noordin Mews. Like Muntri Mews - another sister property, Noordin Mews has been converted from an old servants quarter which also used to house trishaws and hand carts for the rich. Located on Noordin Street - it is not in the main Heritage Zone of Georgetown - but the location is very convenient as it is close enough to Little India, Armenian Street and the Clan Jetties. There are also lots of nice eateries nearby - including the ever popular New Lane Hawker Street.

The reception of the hotel is in a converted shophouse. Behind the reception is the common lounge and dining area. There is even a small swimming pool.

The rooms are in the 2-storey mews wing. The restoration and decoration is really well done - you get the coziness of a vintage property without the eeriness of being in a very old building.

Noordin Mews is definitely a great base from which to explore Georgetown and beyond. Most of the heritage attractions are within walking distance, and the modern convenience of Prangin Mall and  are also nearby. You really get the best of both worlds here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Penang 2016 - Kebaya Nonya Restaurant at Seven Terraces

Besides being a fabulous boutique hotel - the Seven Terraces also boasts one of the best Nonya restaurants in town - The Kebaya. The chef here has taken traditional Nonya recipes and elevated them to higher culinary levels. Kebaya itself is a lavishly decorated restaurant. The high-ceiling grand dining room is richly decorated with beautiful museum quality antiques. It's like getting invited for dinner at a grand Peranakan mansion.

The 4 course dinner menu is fixed at RM100 ++ and you can choose 1 course each from the Appetizer, Main Course, Green and Dessert sections. If you have 2 or more persons dining together - you can choose different items and share everything - a nice concept.

We started with the Pork Man Tou and Crispy Joo Hoo Char Roll. The pork has been slow cooked in soy sauce and shredded, served with crunchy pickled carrots and cucumber on the pillowy soft bun. It is a great starter.

The Crispy Joo Hoo Char Roll is a twist on the traditional Nonya version - which would have been served in crispy Pie Tie shells. The taste of the filling was really intense with the umami flavours of dried cuttlefish - a great version of this Nonya classic.

For the greens we had Cher Char - which is basically stir fried green vegetables. It was well executed but nothing special.

The Crispy Nonya Tempura vegetables uses Asian batter which is thicker and crunchier then the Japanese version. They go really well with the belachan chili sauce.

For mains we had Organic Roast Pork and Kebaya Tamarind Beef. The roast pork was very tender and had a crispy skin. It went well with the sweet dipping sauce.

The Tamarind Beef was our favourite dish of the night - really tender beef that has been slow cooked for hours, served with a rich and dark sauce made with tamarind, galangal, ginger, lemon grass and the most important ingredient - gula melaka. I would go back just for this dish !

For dessert we had Tang Yuen and Gula Melaka Mousse. The Tang Yuen was really great - a very refined version of the original. The rice balls were stuffed with coconut in gula melaka, and served with a warm coconut cream sauce.

The Gula Melaka Mousse was very rich in the taste of palm sugar.

The Kebaya serves really good Nonya food and is well worth return visits to try the other dishes on the menu. Granted some of the dishes are more Thai then Nonya - but with execution this good it seems a bit petty to complain. Another great reason to return to Penang more often.