(K)inilaw, wow #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


My travels to the Philippines has introduced me to a variety of foods that I was delighted to have had the opportunity to try at least once in my lifetime – balut, and others that I’d try again if I ever get the chance – kinilaw.

Kinilaw (kee-nee-lahw), is raw, cubed fish in a vinegar-based dressing, usually eaten as an appetizer (though I could eat it any time of the day, most every day, I think)

My journey to Davao City encompassed one taxi ride from my house to the airport, two separate plane rides, a shuttle bus ride in-between those plane rides and finally, a van ride from the airport to the hotel. All within the span of 12 hours. I was exhausted, thought this wasn’t a good start to the trip and already couldn’t wait to get home.

What the clients decided to serve for lunch the next day made the trip a whole lot brighter. They had catered lunch which was served buffet-style at the back of the training room. As I queued up for my turn, I spotted what looked like chunky meat/ fish with chilies in the chafing dish ahead. When I stood in front of it, I asked my Filipino colleague what it was and she said to me “It’s a local favourite – kinilaw na tuna. It’s raw, you know, something like ceviche.”

If you know me, you’d know that I like ceviche a whole lot, as well as other raw preparations of food like steak tartare, Sarawakian umai and beef carpaccio.

I had my first bite of kinilaw and I was in heaven. I ignored the other dishes and just kept refilling my plate with the raw tuna salad. The trip was definitely looking up. For the next few days, I had kinilaw whenever and wherever I could because who knew when I’d ever have the chance to try this yummy dish again. In total, I probably had kinilaw 3 or 4 more times. Another thing I discovered that trip – kinilaw goes great with beer, particularly San Miguel.

I almost finished that entire plate. Almost.

How do you feel about eating raw meat/ fish dishes?

(J)enever #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


The first time I heard of jenever (or genever) was when I caught an episode of the travelogue, The Getaway, which featured Seth Meyers and his brother, Josh, in Amsterdam. My family was planning a trip to Amsterdam in the coming months ahead, so I thought it was opportune that I stumbled on this episode. One segment showed the brothers in a bar trying jenever, which I learnt then, is the national and traditional liquor of the country.

At the time, I was making lists of places to visit and local food/ drinks to try, so after watching that episode, jenever went straight onto the list which already had pickled herring (which I absolutely loved) and bitterballen (which was errr…not too bad though I don’t think I’ll try it again, but was glad I did at least once).

Our jenever was served in these tulip glasses but unfortunately not from the exotic looking bottle

We were at Zaanse Schans, specifically at the Pancake Restaurant de Kraai, when I had the chance to try jenever. It was a little before lunch, we had appetisers (not pancakes) and I shared a glass of jenever with my sister. Thank goodness it was just half a glass because boy, that drink was potent! For my inexperienced tastebuds, it tasted similar to gin and it burnt slightly down my throat. I chased it with a little bit of dark beer and felt slightly better, though I did feel woozy later and was happy to sit and enjoy the view until the wooziness wore off.

Once it did, we continued our meanderings of Zaanse Schans, going from windmill to windmill. Then later, on the way back into Amsterdam city, we got on the wrong train, which was headed to Rotterdam, instead. I blamed the jenever.

Anyone else here tried jenever before? Or maybe tried a local liquor of a country or place you visited?

Hello (H)alo-Halo #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


Halo-halo is a layered dessert consisting of shaved ice, evaporated milk, ice cream, and variety of different mix-ins. These mix-ins range from sweetened red beans, sweetened white beans, sweetened coconut strings, gelatins, and fruits such as jackfruit, plantains, and lychee.

A more elegant version of the halo-halo I had

Writing these posts about my food memories, it’s hit home how closely I connect food with the places I had that particular food. I mean, I sort of had that knowledge previously, which is the reason I decided on this theme for the challenge, but that knowledge had always just played along the periphery of my mind. Now, it’s more concrete.

Today, I’m remembering the time I tried my first halo-halo in a restaurant located in the Tagaytay highlands. I’d spent several days at the client’s factory in Cavite, and on my last day, the factory manager informed me that he’d instructed two of his staff to take me to a nearby tourist attraction – Tagaytay, to have a ‘snack’, Filipino code (I learned then) for ‘lots and lots of food’. I mentioned that they didn’t have to go out of their way to do that and that I was perfectly fine with being by myself at the hotel until it was time to leave for the airport. Of course, I was overruled and that’s how I found myself on the way to Tagaytay.

I was brought to a restaurant that overlooked the wonderfully scenic Taal Lake. It was still early in the day, and to be honest, I wasn’t up to the Filipino equivalent of a ‘snack’. The wonderful folks who were with me, suggested I try the halo-halo, reportedly, it was the signature dessert of the restaurant we were in. When it arrived, I thought it looked similar to an ais kacang (bean ice). After my first taste of it, I realised that the shaved ice part of the dessert was where the similarities ended. This shaved ice dish was more unctuous and definitely had lots of different add-ins that I wouldn’t find in an ais kacang, like the yam ice cream topping. I devoured the entire concoction and was left feeling satiated. No lunch for me, after that.

Taken in 2009, I was trying not to look scared after learning that the Taal volcano is the second most active volcano in the Philippines

Every time I hear the word halo-halo, I remember that time in the highlands, eating this dessert, having simple conversations, enjoying the view. That was a good day.

Have you ever tried a shaved ice dessert?

My First (G)uinness #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


Strange fact about Guinness (to me): 40% of the brew is consumed somewhere in Africa.

I remember my first Guinness, I do.

It was my 32nd birthday, I was in Houston, staying with my sister and her family since before Christmas, through the New Year and deep into January.

I was happy to go to Denny’s for my birthday and have their all-day breakfast and unlimited coffee, but my sister insisted we do a proper dinner. (Sadly, the name of the restaurant eludes me and we didn’t have the myriad of social media apps we have today to immortalise the occasion).

We arrived at a gastrobar that night, and my sister ordered a flight of beers, to start the night off. There were five small glasses filled with a variety of beers, and one of them was Guinness. I tried all the others and saved the dark (red, not black apparently) liquid for last. I took my first sip carefully, not sure what I’ll taste.

My first sip became my last sip. It tasted strongly medicinal and errr…filling. One sip felt like I was having half a glass. It truly was an acquired taste that I wasn’t interested in acquiring at the time. I passed the rest of my Guinness to my brother-in-law, who threw it back in one swoop.

Since then, I’ve tried Guinness a few more times and am not so repelled, I can even manage a whole pint, though with difficulty. Sometimes I think I’m drinking liquid Bovril (Marmite, if you’re familiar with that instead). But the experience of having my first Guinness, well, it’s burned in my brain.

Do you like/ detest Guinness?

Lake Ferry’s Fabulous (F)ish and Chips #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


“On the way back, we’ll have fish and chips at Lake Fury,” said my sister’s (sort-of) father-in-law to me.

“Lake Fury? F-U-R-Y?” I asked, I wanted to Google the location.

“No, Fee-u-ry,” he repeated.

“Okay, Fury.” I started typing ‘fury’ in the search box.

“F-E-R-R-Y,” he said to me.

“Oh! Fah-ry! Lake Ferry!” By then, he looked quite annoyed with me, thinking I was making fun of him. Though seriously, sometimes the New Zealand accent gets the better of me and all I did was just trying to get clarification.

A day trip had been planned for the five of us – my sister, her husband, his mum, his mum’s partner and myself. We began in Wellington, drove north to the Rimutaka (Remutaka) Crossing and then on to Greytown – a quaint little, idyllic town perfect for antiquing. My brother-in-law had family several kilometres from Greytown, so we dropped by for a quick visit.

My sister’s sort of father-in-law then suggested that since we were in the area, we could head south to Cape Palliser, which was the southernmost tip of the south island, to visit the lighthouse there. En route, my brother-in-law suddenly thought that it’d be fun to hike the pinnacles at the Putangirua Scenic Reserve.

“It’s just a quick hike, there’s time,” he said.

The hike took 2 hours to and from the pinnacles and my hair was a mess because I didn’t have a hair tie to pull my hair back. I did not look cute. Also, since I wasn’t planning on going on a hike, I was in jeans. Hiking in jeans. Not. Cute.

After the visit to the Cape Palliser lighthouse (which I blogged about here), we finally made our way to Lake Fury Ferry where I was promised the most excellent fish and chips I’ll ever have. We arrived just in time to see the sun set, the horizon a symphony of orange, yellow, blue and purple.

We had a seat outside, facing the lake, so that we could enjoy the evening. Our fish and chips arrived in baskets, steaming, with a wedge of lemon, and the beer was ice cold.

“No utensils,” said my brother-in-law, “hands only.” I adhered to his recommendation and broke open a plump fillet. Unlike most fish and chips I’ve had, the coating stayed with the fillet and did not detach, which was a good start. When I dipped the little piece I had into the tartare sauce, which was quite delicious on its own, and tried it, well, it just melted in my mouth. Indeed, best ever.

Satiated, we finally got on the road, it was dark but the stars were out in full force. We were mostly silent on the trip back to Wellington, but it was the good kind of silent. It was a long day, but oh, what a long and wonderful day.

Where’s the best fish and chips you’ve ever had?

Ergh (E)scargot #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


According to the site Snail World (yes, there’s a site called Snail World, go check it out) humans have consumed land snails, which are low in fat and high in water and protein, for thousands of years. Thousands of years!

A bucket full of goodness

I’m not squeamish about eating snails, in fact, local river snails or tekuyung are one of my favourite local dishes, especially when it’s stir fried with bamboo shoots and chilies. Delicious!

But, I’ve never tried land snails, well not until December of 2016, when I traveled to Paris with my mother, and we did what typical tourists do in the City of Lights, indulge in Parisienne cuisine. My mum was salivating at the thought of having a plate full of escargot, but me, I went “Ergh.”

We had an early lunch that day. The weather was cold (for us Malaysians used to 35 degrees Celcius weather) and windy. We entered the French bistro, across the street from our hotel, perused the menu (which was in English, thank goodness) and asked for the smallest number of escargots we could order. Barely minutes later, our order of six huge escargots arrived.

Looks almost yummy. Almost.

We ordered the classic preparation of escargot, served with drawn butter, garlic and other herbs. Using the snail tongs and snail fork provided, I dug in carefully into my first snail. I had watched too many movies of women holding the shell and attempting to extract the flesh out of it, only to have the entire snail fly out and hit a handsome, mysterious stranger. I secretly hoped that would happen, so that my food horror episode would turn into a chick lit. But of course, it didn’t. The powers that be was determined for me to meet the escargot, not the love of my life.

The aftermath of my escargot eating rampage

Somehow, despite it being my first time, I managed to remove the escargot from its home in one seamless move, which now perched on my snail fork. Yikes, it did not look appetising. I drenched it in more of the butter-garlic-herb mixture, popped the morsel into my mouth, and started chewing. Well, what do you know, it tasted half nice! I swallowed it and went for my second one, and my third, and my fourth. Soon enough, I’d finish most of it, saving one (the biggest) escargot for my mum.

After that culinary episode, I’m happy to report that perhaps I’d judged escargots too harshly, it’s not as inedible as I thought it would be, in fact the garlic-butter-herbs which the escargots swam in, was divine. Would I eat it again? Well, if I’m in a Paris bistro, maybe.

What snails have you tried? Did you enjoy the experience?

(C)hipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce, I Heart You #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


I heart you

I have a confession to make: chipotle peppers in adobo sauce is my FAVOURITE ingredient in the entire world. Yum. If I could, I’d eat it everyday and put it in everything.

Another confession: I’ve even eaten it cold, out of the can from the refrigerator. Yes, I’d pluck one of the luscious chillies out and just eat it (Of course, I had a glass of cold water handy). I love it that much.

I had no clue such a magical ingredient existed until I went to Toronto for my post-graduate studies. I’m forever grateful to Food Network Canada for introducing it to me and also to No Frills for selling it. The first dish I made with this ingredient was this chipotle-basil pasta – a recipe I found, cut out from the Toronto Star and pasted into my 10-year old recipe book, which will be handed down to the next generation.

It was yum

Incidentally, leftovers of this pasta still tastes yummy even after spending the night in the fridge. This was accidentally on purpose discovered during an instance of laziness to re-heat the pasta the next day. It was an historic culinary discovery, in my opinion.

When I left Canada, I bought and brought back 5 cans of chipotles in adobo sauce in my suitcase. It was either those 5 cans, or some of my winter clothes. Buh-bye winter clothes. This delicacy wasn’t sold in Malaysia back then, and I needed to make sure I had a stash to introduce to my family and then some to feed my addiction.

One time, I was down to one precious can which I refused to open and use for the longest time. I didn’t know when I’d be able to replenish it, so I was determined to preserve it as long as I could. My sister, who was living in the US at the time, came to the rescue (bless her, bless her) and brought back more cans with her as my Christmas present. Best. Christmas. Present. Ever. Yep, I’m easy to please.

Then, several years ago, after my supply had depleted and I was going through chipotles-withdrawal, I saw it in my local supermarket. At first I thought it was a mirage. After confirming that it wasn’t, I went berserk, bought two (okay, it was three) cans and cooked up a chipotle storm. Now, I always have at least two cans in my pantry, and every time I make something with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, I can’t help thinking “O Canada”.

Bleargh, (B)alut #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


Balut refers to fertilised duck eggs which are considered street food in the Philippines, and other parts of South East Asia. 

I’d been to Manila a number of times then, way back in 2010, and each time, when my clients asked if I’d tried balut, I’d reply “Next time!”

It was my fourth, and likely last trip to the Philippines, and I could not say No anymore, when the client suggested they throw a farewell dinner at a local Filipino restaurant, so I bit the bullet, I did it…

I ate balut.

and I’m proud to say…

I didn’t puke. Yay me!

Granted, I didn’t have the balut out of the shell, freshly bought from a hawker on the street. Instead the balut I ate was in an appetiser called Balut ala pobre – balut cooked with garlic, oyster sauce and spring onions. Otherwise known as balut prettied up. But it’s a real fine line between balut out of the shell and balut prettied up, and I say this because balut prettied up still had feathers.

But, I still I ate it. Bleargh!

But that night – the night I finally tasted this must-try food item whenever you’re in the Philippines – I also ate a whole bunch of other Filipino cuisine – pork, chicken and bangus sisig (not bad), pinakbet (quite delicious), garlic kangkong (something familiar to my Malaysian taste buds), green mango with bagoong (quite yummy), sinigang na baboy (also yummy), pancit molo (merely dumpling soup), crispy fried canton noodles and a huge bowl of rice. And after all that rich Filipino cuisine, well, the taste of feathers and a little bit of beak, sort of faded in to the background (Phew!).

Nope, just nope (Source: Gizmodo)

Naturally, my Filipino friends informed me that I sort of cheated by eating balut prepared as a stir fry, and that the only way I can boast about eating the infamous fertilised duck egg, is to eat the fertilised duck egg the way its meant to be eaten – get it from a hawker on the street, crack open the top, add the seasonings e.g. vinegar, chili pepper, something strong that can mask the taste of feathers, ill-formed feet and beak, and slurp the contents into your body.

My reply to my Filipino friends – I ate balut, so there!

Also, if you have some balut lying around and want to make balut ala pobre, here’s a recipe. Anyone here (besides me) ever ate balut or any other type of fertilised duck egg???

Amazing (A)mazake #atozchallenge

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. Each post this month will be associated with a letter of the alphabet with the theme ‘Food Memories‘.


Amazake (pronounced ah-mah-ZAH-kay) translates to “sweet sake”.  It is a creamy, thick, fermented rice drink with a rich, sweet flavor, served either chilled or warm/hot.

It was sometime in June of 2008, during a family vacation to Tokyo, that we discovered the delicious beverage – amazake.

It was late afternoon, we were exploring Narita city, ambling along the Omotesando street. We’d had lunch, unagi (eel), which was in abundance in the area because every second restaurant we passed was an unagi restaurant. Later, I found out that unagi is the specialty in the restaurants of Narita city, hence its ubiquitousness. Duh. After several hours of browsing through a multitude of souvenier stores, resisting the Japanese snacks and other tchotchkes, we were ready to get off our feet and quench our thirst.

The entrance to the Miyoshiya Tea Room was unassuming, a narrow path, almost an alley, between two shophouses. The path starts off dark, but once you traversed it, you emerged into a light-filled open area, a Japanese garden, populated with wooden tables and benches. We were the only ones then, and luxuriated in the silence. The sound of a bubbling brook persisted in the background. Zen. Really.

We sat at one of the tables, the five of us, and asked for an English menu. The proprietor, with her limited English, pointed at one of the items on the menu which consisted of hand drawn food items, and we said yes, why not? Minutes later, she placed trays in front of us, each tray consisted of a cup with a white porridge-like concoction, another cup with tea, two smaller saucers – one with a little ginger, the other with pickles and another little ceramic container to hold the stirrer brush thingy.

I lifted the cup of amazake to my lips, took a small sip (it was below boiling) and let the indescribable flavour wash through me. Though it was June, the winds were cool that evening, and the warmth of the amazake was a welcomed respite. I added the ginger to it, and drank it. I tried it with the pickled umeboshi (plum), and loved it then too. In fact, my entire family was amazed that we hadn’t heard of this drink before.

I’ve had the lucky opportunity of having amazake at this tea room twice since then, the last time in 2017. I managed to find an organic store nearer to home that sells amazake and tried to make the concoction on my own, but it didn’t taste quite the same. Perhaps I needed to be in a Japanese garden to enjoy it.

Amazake, every time I think of it, I remember that last family trip we had to Tokyo, just the five of us.

Nano and Tokyo


nano-2017-participant-facebook-coverIt’s November, which means NaNoWriMo.

It’s Day 7, which means I should’ve written approximately 11, 667 words.

However…I’ve only managed a little under 3, 000 words so far, and I’m trying not to stress myself out due to my low word count.  In 2012 and 2013, I managed to hit the 50, 000-word mark by the end of November and since then haven’t been able to commit to the challenge. Throughout November during those years, I blogged nearly daily here in an effort to keep myself accountable and I have to say that it helped!

This year I’m visiting a story idea that’s been percolating within me, which is part-memoir, part-murder mystery, tentatively titled “The Way We Were”. Today’s NaNoWriMo pep talk is all about being okay with wherever you are, as long as you keep moving forward, which is timely advice indeed.


Also, I’ll be travelling in a couple of days to one of my favourite cities in the world – Tokyo. In order to keep up with NaNoWriMo (crossing my fingers) during my trip, my iPad is making the trip too, and for the first few days, I’ll have to use the touch screen keyboard (ugh) to write before I hunt down a bluetooth keyboard in Tokyo’s Electric Town Akihabara (still crossing my fingers). I also plan on blogging about my trip (something I’ve always wanted to do on my other trips!) and am contemplating setting up another blog which will house my Tokyo Travel-centric posts. Alternatively, I may post here initially and then migrate the posts to a separate blog.

Now, I’m off to write! And pack!