Sugar Bombs of the World: Malaysia’s Teh Tarik

Batam, Indonesia - Teh TarikIn fact, I had this drink at an Indian restaurant in Batam, Indonesia, but that island, as close as thirty-five minutes to Singapore by boat,  is so filled with unscrupulous Singaporeans – like the city-state itself – that it remains a valid place to try today’s subject,
teh tarik.

Yes, teh tarik, a sweet drink composed of black tea and sweetened condensed milk, calls Malaysia its home, though it’s nearly as ubiquitous in Singapore.  Though, I have a few bugaboos when it comes to food and drink, and not one is terribly logical.  The one involving teh tarik regards my mostly blanket disapproval of artificially sweetened beverages – does passion fruit juice really need Splenda? – but this Malaysian specialty is a notable AND rare exception.  I mentioned that it’s not a logical gripe, primarily because I have no problem with pairing teh tarik with kaya toast, aka buttery Singaporean joy.

As for the meaning of the name, teh signifies “tea” and tarik is “pull” in Indonesian and Malay.  Pulling tea sounds like an act of torture in that part of the world, and in some respects, it is.  The origin stems from the act of the vendor having to quickly pull the concoction between two vessels, in order to skillfully mix the condensed milk with the tea.  For a clearer example of what that means, check out this video (it’s the same thing on mute).  The allure to some customers is that, while the peddler is preparing the sugary stuffr, not even a drop of it is splashed onto them, even though your expectations lead you to believe you’d become a teh tarik manusia, or human pulled tea.

Have you tried this before?  Feeling bushed after just two sips?

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Best Street Food Nominees: Seafood Vadai in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Clearly, I haven’t thought this through.

What do I mean?  The winner of best street food.  Yikes, that’s never going to happen.  What I mean is… there are myriad candidates for this category, and that’s a good thing.

Today’s entry comes to us all the way from Staten Island Colombo, Sri Lanka.  I think highly of the presence of pumpkin and beets in contemporary Sri Lankan cuisine, and have equally fond memories of strolling along Galle Face Green, a downtown Colombo park.  Though its other selling points include a boardwalk along the Indian Ocean, as well as pick-up cricket matches, the highlight for me was the vadai:

Vadai come in many forms, but these particular snacks are flattened lentil flour patties.  Some enterprising character decided that these weren’t filling enough, so, in a master stroke, decided to top some with fresh crab and prawns.  Slather on lime juice, chili sauce, and mix with chopped onions for an even greater meal.

Have any other suggestions for Sri Lankan bites that don’t ignore the Hippocratic oath?

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Some of Us Need a Break

Century 21 in Taipei, Taiwan

Because even employees need a break sometimes.  Still, a Taiwanese dream must be second to none.

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The Best Snacks in the World, Japan Edition

It’s a tough question for the culinary traveler– which country has the best snacks in the world?  Impossible to answer, much like “which country has the best seated outdoor bronze Buddha statue built in 1993?”  (If you said Hong Kong, you’d be wrong, as that’s not a country.)

Back to the food question, ya, I have a few favorites which we might get to in more detail over time.  For now, I’ll leave you with a big one:

Japan, one of the behemoths of the snacking world.  This snapshot of a convenience store in Kyoto covers the gamut of choices on a color chart, and even submerges into the wide world of sexism.  In this instance, we have potato chips, corn chips, and ramen chips.  True gluttons – not unlike myself – would be drawn to the “Hokkaido butter-imbued” (北海度 バター ) flavors, and the sheer of chips will have you replacing jeans on a weekly basis.

The Japanese convenience store merits its own series on BuildingMyBento, but for now, a sneak-peek at some of my favorite snacks will have to suffice.

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Hotel Review: Olissippo Lapa Palace, Lisbon, Portugal

Disclaimer: In exchange for this hotel review, I received a stay in Lisbon, Portugal in one of the Olissippo Lapa Palace’s Garden Wing pool rooms.

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Located in the posh embassy-filled Lapa district of Lisbon, the hotel grounds date to 1870, when a local viscount first had the building built for his son.  His son disapproved – perish the thought – so in 1883, it was sold to another count, who turned it into a palace.  The Olissippo Lapa Palace only became a hotel in 1988.

The hotel isn’t close to a Metro station, but it’s near useful (to downtown) buses and trams.  The neighborhood, as mentioned above, is exclusive, and that partially explains why public transport is hit-or-miss.  However, I took both the bus to and the tram from the old downtown, and both were quite fine.

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Upon entering the hotel, my first impression of the lobby was that it was clean, variegated, and airy.  However, service was a bit stiff – perhaps even arrogant at times – until staff realized that I was a guest.  Even then, it wasn’t the most hospitable, and responses felt stilted.

A bellhop showed me to my room.  Unnecessary, but my hotel contact was unavailable that day, so he showed me around the hotel.  As welcoming and bright as the room was, there were a few issues. Firstly, the air conditioner was pathetic, and only seemed to cool the area directly in front of it.

Also, there was no universal outlet (I have gadgets from all over the world, so whipping out multiple adapters is always cumbersome).  Not to mention, when you press the master switch, everything but one random light in the room went out.  When I left my phone to charge overnight, because I flipped the master switch, the phone actually lost power.  Oftentimes, certain outlets (e.g. fridges) aren’t on the master switch “grid,” but in this room, they were all taken.

On a positive note, the bathroom had a cool, locally-influenced design (think blue and white tiles), and the room had a terrace which overlooked the outdoor pool and garden.

Portuguese sweets (from left): pastel de nata (egg tart!), and two that aren’t pastel de nata…ok ok, travesseiros (pillows) de Sintra, and pampilhos de Santarém.  They also offered fresh fruit and two bottles of water.  (What, no delicious Douro Valley wine?)

Unique way to say “stay out!”

I wandered down to the indoor pool and spa, at the time open from 08:00-20:00.  Quite relaxing, and never seemed too busy.


Buffet breakfasts are always high on my list of priorities (for certain hotels), and the buffet at the Olissippo Lapa Palace was middle-of-the-line.  At first glance, the spread looked small, but on closer inspection, there were decent offerings, as well as the best mango I’ve had in years.

As it was another beautiful October day in Lisbon, I opted to sit outside.  Again, service was underwhelming, but I was satisfied with the vegetables, salmon, and granola, and a demitasse of Earl Gray tea.  As seems to be a theme at breakfast buffets, obnoxious guests aren’t the fault of the hotel, but good acoustics might be.

Ultimately, whereas the Olissippo Lapa Palace has its regal charm and quiet location, I never felt too welcome at the hotel.  It could have been my age, or unenthusiastic employees, but I might have to get a bit older before paying a repeat visit.  Still, I’d go there for a drink or tea, because the setting and district are pleasant.

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Product Review: Royal Hawaiian Orchards Fruit & Macadamia Crunches

Disclaimer: In exchange for two samples of the Royal Hawaiian Orchards Fruit & Macadamia Crunches, I am writing this product review.

Although the Rainforest Crunch Bar (ok, and Reese’s Pieces) was my holy grail of sugary snacks, there are fortunately plenty of options that can vie to play second fiddle.  With their Royal Hawaiian Orchards Fruit & Macadamia Crunches, Royal Hawaiian Orchards is on the right track.

The company can trace its roots back to Hilo, Hawaii in 1948, when it was founded as the Royal Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Company.  These days, although Hawaii is a leading exporter of macadamias, in the 1880s they were originally brought to the archipelago from Australia as a decoration, and as a means to prevent soil erosion.  Not to mention, the trees take roughly 15 years to mature, which is still a much shorter time than for airline executives.

They sent me one pack of the Blueberry Pomegranate Macadamia Crunch, and one Kona Coffee Banana Macadamia Crunch.  I was a bit wary at first, because prior experience has taught me that crunch or brittle in the title might spell imminent danger for my incisors.  In spite of the name, they both ended up being quite easy on the teeth.

Blueberry and pomegranate individually, are foods that I greatly enjoy.  More and more, however I see the combination in foods and drinks, and just don’t get it.  To begin with, I don’t find either to be a strong flavor, so whatever happens when they cross paths seems to mute the resulting taste.  The same can be said about the blueberry pomegranate macadamia crunch.  There was a subtle sweetness, and that’s about it.  Try to focus on local (i.e. tropical) flavors instead.

On the other hand, I was a big fan of the coffee and banana sample.  Hawaii is known for its coffee, too, and the sweetness of the bananas paired quite well with the bean.  I suppose these would be a good late morning work pick-me-up, and it would be nice to see them sold alongside – or, instead of? – the ubiquitous Mauna Loa chocolate macadamias at airport shops.

Royal Hawaiian Orchards, in addition to the Fruit & Nut Crunches, sells dark chocolate-covered macadamias, seasoned macadamias, macadamia butter, and variety packs.  Here’s to hoping that they’ll also attempt a Rainforest Crunch Bar of their own.

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Event Review: LUCKYRICE™ New York Feast

Disclaimer: I am writing this event review in exchange for one VIP entry ticket.

On September 22nd, the 36th floor Mandarin Ballroom at the Mandarin Oriental New York (entrance on West 60th between Broadway and Columbus Ave.) near Columbus Circle hosted the 8th annual Lucky Rice New York Feast. The event highlighted dishes from throughout the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, with a couple of Indian-inspired samples added to the mix.  Lest we forget that Asia also includes Yemen, Azerbaijan, and Vladivostok, but that’s another story.

Whereas the VIP ticket would get you in an hour early (VIP entry started at 7pm), the Lucky Rice website’s claim that it also innately means “half-capacity” is ludicrous, seeing as the ballroom was already at Shinjuku station rush hour levels of crowding by 7:30pm.

In other words…

Overlooking Columbus Circle

The city views were great, but…

The breathing room, not so much.

Still, I believe that in general, the food offerings at the Lucky Rice New York Feast were better than other events, if often a bit salty.

I noticed that there was a slightly hidden room located opposite to the main ballroom/entrance.  Fortunately, at the time it was quite empty – not to mention, it coincidentally had what I believed to be the best sample of the night:

The Anjou pear cake with yogurt and dark chocolate.  Simple and not too sweet, I regret not returning for seconds at the end of the show.

You may also begin to notice the omnipresence of the color red.  In China, the color represents good luck, prosperity, and happiness.  That it can also mean “stop” has not caught on yet in that country…

Fortune cookies, possibly created in Japan, or by a Japanese-American in California.  Naturally, they – the fortune cookies, that is – made an appearance.

What?  Mexico is in Asia now?  Ah, well, the panna cotta was fine, but the grasshopper was very salty.

This plate was a bit too sweet for my liking, but the variety of colors reminded me of Balinese Hindu offerings.

In this dish, the bánh tráng mè (sesame rice crackers) provided a nice texture, but there was a distinct lack of numbing spiciness (from the Sichuan peppercorn) that took away from it.

Though it was a tad salty, this was probably one of the better options of the New York Feast. I could easily taste each of the ingredients, but throwing in the endive for the crunchy texture and bitterness was unusual, for something Thai-inspired.

The eel taco sounds fun, but I couldn’t help but think that adding in the tare (Japanese eel sauce) would have worked best.

Oh, as for the photo, this is the result of taking a photo using another person’s flash.

The idea sounds delicious, but again, it was awfully salty.  Lemon would have helped out.

Simple seems to have worked best that night, as this was my favorite savory – ok, umami – selection at the Lucky Rice New York Feast.  I should have parked myself here for the night, and purchased a fishing rod for…

the Kimbap Lab.

In South Korea, you can find these filling and relatively healthy kimbap (rice rolled up with various ingredients in seaweed) for less than two bucks, and with lots of types of seafood and proteins to fill them.  The Kimbap Lab is the first Korean vendor located in any Whole Foods, and they can be found in the Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NY) location.  Here’s to hoping that they make it to a NYC-area airport soon.

Hoping to attend a Lucky Feast?  They happen annually throughout North America.

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