Category Archives: Food

24 hours in London & a Tuscan wedding

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Back at the end of June we took a trip back home, and then to Italy to see our gorgeous friend’s Tony and Jacquie get married. I had been looking forward to this trip so much – I was going back to England! Only for 24 hours but still… better than nothing.

After touching down at Heathrow at 5am (ouch) we were suddenly sitting in a taxi going down the M4, towards Will’s parent’s house. All around me was the beautiful English dawn, fields either side of the motorway, and SHEEP (how long has it been since I saw a sheep?!). I just couldn’t help the tears that sprang to my eyes – all of this was so beautifully familiar – it was totally overwhelming. I found myself with such an ache in my stomach as I realised just how much I had missed my green and pleasant land. We spent the next 24 hours in the company of family – talking, laughing, catching up on news. We also went to visit the money pit flat, which actually was starting to look like it could be a home again, rather than just a pit of money with damp, crumbling walls.

I can’t tell you how much of a delight it was to see my Mum – to sit and eat lunch in one of Brixton’s gorgeous little eateries, and chat away like no time at all had passed. We then went back to Will’s parent’s place to sit and talk some more. Then my little brother arrived! I will embarrass him now but I have missed him very much indeed. We sat and ate proper English sausages, gorgeous English strawberries and drank cider. It was probably the most blissful afternoon I had spent in a long time. But all too soon it was time for them to leave, and for us to go to bed. My familiarity tank (thanks KJ!) had a much-needed emergency top-up.

The next morning left no time for wistfulness – we were straight back to Heathrow, this time to fly off to Rome. After security we went to find our friends Phil and Sat. Boy can those two give good hugs! It was so great to be back with people you’ve known for years – chatting and bantering away like we’d been away for no time at all. Phil used to live in Australia so he totally gets the expat weird thing which I love. After a short but bumpy flight we landed in Rome. I had forgotten how much I love Italy – the last time I was here was when Will took me for my birthday after I’d finished my finals, so some time ago.

We were in Rome just for a day – time spend eating and wandering around the city, before bumping into more of our friends by the Trevi Foundation (so strange to just be walking in a foreign city and then spot familiar faces).

Will & Phil enjoying a cold beverage in Rome

Trevi Fountain

That evening saw us meeting up with the bridal party, and enjoying some delicious Italian food, before watching Italy make it to the final of Euro 2012! This was followed up by much singing and dancing in some of Rome’s bars.

The next morning, a bit sleep deprived and hungover, we took the train down towards Pienza, where the wedding was going to be held. We were staying in a little agroturismo nearby to the wedding venue. It was a great option for our large group, as we all had our own rooms with en suite, and many of the units had kitchen/living rooms as well.

What a view!

That evening we went out into Pienza town, which is really picturesque. It kind of clings to the side of a hill, meaning you get the most spectacular views from the town wall. There are lots of twisty little paved streets, and apparently a great cheese shop (although I didn’t make it there myself). It was great just hanging out with friends, enjoying the view and a glass of perfectly chilled white wine.

View from Pienza

The next morning we headed over to La Bandita (the wedding venue) early, as Will was doing a reading and they needed him for a run through. I had a great afternoon getting ready with the bride and bridesmaids.

The wedding itself was gorgeous. La Bandita is set up on a hillside, with a big infinity pool – you can see more photos on their website here. They had set up the aisle outside, with a beautiful covered area next to the house where we ate dinner. We had a fantastic time, listening to all the readings and seeing our friend’s pledge to be with each other forever. There were definitely tears (I always cry at weddings!). I will leave you with some photos.

The bride and groom

Will & I all scrubbed up

A date to remember

Makansutra Food Safari

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Hello folks. I have decided to take a little break from work on job applications to write a long overdue blog post! I am still job hunting but I have a couple of opportunities on the go which, fingers crossed, may lead to my being gainfully employed again. I will keep you posted…

Anyway, back to the important stuff – the Makansutra Food Safari. Thanks to my pals over at notatourist I got invited to go along on their latest food safari with KF Seetoh. I was lucky enough to meet KF Seetoh back in December last year when I went on a cooking masterclass, but this time, it was all about discovering local food. I really enjoy a lot of Asian food, but sometimes I can get a little bit overwhelmed by all the choice on offer at hawker centres, and also not really knowing what some things are, so I was really looking forward to having my eyes opened and trying some unusual things. I invited along my friend Anna, who will try anything once!

Our first stop was the Lucky Valley Food Court, up near the East Coast road. We tried the Muah Chee, which are tiny rice flour dumpling cooked in palm oil and then rolled in different types of chopped nuts. The stand is tiny, tucked away and looks like nothing on first appearance. I suppose I shouldn’t judge a book by its cover! The owner here takes pride in that each dumpling is hand pulled. He starts with a bowl of dough and then uses a ‘plucking’ motion to create the dumplings. We tried the peanut and black sesame versions.

Peanut

Black Sesame

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dumplings were delicious and moreish. They were warm, sweet, nutty and crunchy. Each mouthful is bite-sized, meaning that it is really easy to eat lots in a short space of time. While we were there, we also got to sample some Cheng Tng. I’d never heard of this before, but its a light refreshing soup, made with a list of ingredients as long as my arm! All of the ingredients are said to have cooling qualities, and it is served cold. The soup is sweet with rock sugar, and then ginko nuts, wintermelon, sago balls, longons, persimmons and sweet potato is added. There were other ingredients but I can’t remember them all! I enjoyed the soup – it was something really different and unusual. It is odd to a Western palate to have a cold, sweet soup, but it was  very refreshing, and Anna & I agreed that it did a great job of cooling us down, on a muggy evening.

Sweet, cooling Cheng Tng

You can try both of these dishes at Bedok Avenue 3, Block 69

After enjoying some sweet treats, we headed off towards Geylang, to visit Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant. This restaurant is dedicated to serving authentic Peranakan cuisine, and has been doing so since 1953. First up, we tried some otak otak, which is a kind of fish cake, which is made by mixing fish paste with things like garlic, chillies, lemongrass and coconut milk. It is then wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed until its cooked. It was soft, fishy and spicy – a great starter – although I would’ve liked it with something fresh and crunchy to add a little contrasting texture.

Otak otak

After that, we tried a really special dish – Ayam Buah Keluak. This is a chicken dish that is served with the Buah Keluak nut. This nut is actually poisonous and needs to be soaked at least overnight before being served. It has a black shell and to make the dish, the nut is soaked for 24 hours, then cracked open. The contents is then mixed with minced chicken and spices, before being stuffed back into the nut shell. It is then cooked with the chicken in a stew. The nut has a very distinctive earthy flavour – KF Seetoh described it as tasting like eating mud! It’s definitely earthy, but I actually found it very tasty and I’d like to try it again.

Ayam Buah Keluak

You can try both these dishes at Guan Hoe Soon Restaurant, 38-40 Joo Chiat Place. 

Our final stop was the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. I’d not ever been up to East Coast park for food before, except to eat chilli crab at the Jumbo’s up there with Will’s sister. I had no idea there were so many eateries to be found there. When KF Seetoh had said we would be eating chilli crab, I think we all rolled our eyes slightly. Despite being one of Singapore’s famous dishes, I’ve not been overwhelmed with chilli crab. I enjoy it, but I don’t think I’d eat it all the time as I find the sauce a bit sweet and lacking in kick. Boy, was I about to be proved wrong.

We went to another innocuous looking stall – Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe. We tried the chilli crab and … OMG. The sauce was full of chilli! It was super spicy and even two Singaporean guys that ended up on our table said it was spicy for them! The sauce tasted completely different to any chilli crab I had tried before. Apparently this is because they are one of the few places that still make their sauce from scratch, and don’t buy it bottled. I know understand why chilli crab has such a legendary reputation – the sweet crab with that super punchy sauce gives a massive taste explosion in the mouth.

Chilli crab, with actual chilli!

You can try this yummy chilli crab at Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe, 1220 East Coast Parkway, Stall 6, East Coast Lagoon Food Village

Before trying this dish, I’d never really understood the Singaporean thing of travelling all the way across the island to enjoy what they think is the ‘best’, but I have to say I’d definitely make the journey out east to try this again.Whilst we were eating our dinner, Anna & I made a new friend of the granddaughter of the stall owner. A budding photographer from the looks of this shot!

The next David Bailey and Anna

Thanks to notatourist and SingTel for the kind invitation, and for the lovely Anna accompanying me and sharing some of her photos. She has actually just launched her own styling company, Polished Presence, complete with its own gorgeous blog which you can check out here.

Lunching at Five and Dime

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My little beloved ‘point and shoot’ camera has suffered a little mishap at Beerfest (there was a flying Jaegermeister foam hand involved – I shall say no more) so it has been recuperating at the camera hospital (aka the Sony service centre). So, I thought I would take this opportunity to post some things that I’ve been capturing with my iPhone recently.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Fiona and I decided to make the most of a free lunchtime and pay a visit to Five and Dime. Five and Dime is a cute, quirky little spot tucked away on River Valley Road. It’s only been open since the start of the year, but has already gathered a big following amongst Singapore foodies for its laid back vibe, friendly staff and good food.

Lunch at Five and Dime

We both ordered the Eggs Benedict, as it was a bit of a wet and windy day outside and we were in the mood for something comforting. The lunch menu comprises a varied selection of dishes, including other breakfasts, fish and chips, burgers and pasta. The Eggs Benedict came served on brioche toast, with some pan-fried potatoes and fruit salad served on the side. For someone who can’t turn down eggs benny when I see it on a menu, it was nice to have one that at least gave the impression of being healthy (yes, I am well aware Hollandaise is basically just melted butter…).

Our Eggs Benedict

This is quite a heart dish, with the potatoes and the toast, but it was a satisfying if slightly indulgent lunch. It was nice to finish on the freshness of the fruit salad. After our eggs, we ordered lattes to wash everything down. They came out small but perfectly formed, and I loved the coffee art!

Love the coffee art

Five and Dime is a great spot for lunch, and I think it would be fantastic for brunch as well. It’s not a big place so if you were a large group you might struggle. It is also open for dinner and I can imagine that it would be a lovely spot for a laid-back evening. Don’t go expecting culinary fireworks but you certainly will get decent, well-cooked food, served with a smile.

Inside – there are lots of quirky details that I loved

You can find Five and Dime at 297 River Valley Road, 238338. For reservations call (+65) 9236 5002 or check out their website.  

Eat for a Cause and Bak Kut Teh

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If you know me you’ll know I have a bit of a thing for food. I love eating food, whether at home or out and about, and I love cooking it as well. Living in Singapore has given me the chance to massively indulge my inner food geek. Although there are certain ingredients which I find hard to get hold of (and the lack of any information about animal welfare or origin – free range eggs? Cannot lah!) Singapore is a great place to be a foodie. There are some things which I am not sure I will ever try – pig organ soup is one that springs to mind – I am pretty open-minded when it comes to sampling new dishes and ingredients. I think I am one of the few people who goes into raptures at the sight of the Mustafa’s produce section! I love that I can easily pick up things that were tricky to get hold of, such as Kaffir lime leaves (which are also great in a G&T if you are that way inclined!).

I got invited by notatourist.sg to attend an event organised by NCompass Mobility called ‘Eat for a Cause’  in support of the yellow ribbon initiative, which helps rehabilitating ex-prisoners and drug addicts. To support the cause we ate at two restaurants that only employ ex-prisoners and drug addicts to help them reintegrate into society. One of the things that has surprised me about living in Singapore has been the lack of (or certainly the low-profile) of charities or social enterprises that exist to help the more disadvantaged. Having worked in this sector in the UK, it’s something I feel passionate about supporting, so I was really looking forward to going along and finding out more.

We headed up to Jalan Kayu to visit New Soon Huat Bak Kut Teh. The story behind this place is great. The owner was in and out of prison as a young man, and in his most recent stint he worked as the prison’s chef. On being released, he set up New Soon, serving Bak Kut  Teh which is his favourite dish. He now employs other ex-inmates, giving them a chance of gainful employment and an opportunity to rehabilitate. You can read more about his story here.

So what is Bak Kut Teh? It is essentially a soup with pork ribs. There are several different versions, and the broth can vary between herbal and peppery. We tried the herbal version which was delicious. The pork ribs were deliciously tender and the meat fell off the bone. I was able to get it off with my chopsticks and I’m not the most skilled at using them! The soup was served up with some steamed rice, salted vegetables and the ubiquitous chilli sauce. It was one of things that having tried, I think I would definitely eat again as its such a flavoursome dish.

Bak Kut Teh

After our Bak Kut Teh, we wandered up the road a little to get some Roti Prata which is essentially a fried flour-based pancake. I’d only had the savoury versions before, but here we ordered dessert prata. Some of the others went for chocolate but I ordered strawberry, seduced a bit by the idea of fresh strawberries nestling in a yummy pancake. Sadly the strawberry here was some kind of artificial syrup stuff (I should’ve guessed that!) so although it was enjoyable, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. We also got to try Teh Tarik, otherwise known as ‘pulled’ tea. It is a hot, milky tea drink and is usually made with condensed or evaporated milk giving it a sweet taste. The mixture is ‘pulled’ to give a frothy texture – this involves pouring the tea backwards and forwards between two containers to aerate it. Apparently this is quite a skill, with some teh tarik vendors putting on a show for their customers – I suppose similar to the showmanship that sometimes accompanies getting a cocktail in other countries!  

I really enjoyed my lunch; trying out new food, meeting new people, and supporting a great cause. I also really enjoyed meeting the people at NCompass, who did a fantastic job of arranging the lunch, but also do great work supporting expats in their moves to Singapore and lots of other countries.

Thanks to NCompass for organising the event and notatourist.sg for the invitation. 

A tourist in Singapore: our first visitors to the Lion City

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Friends and family visiting from home. Can anything bring greater joy to the still-slightly-green expat?!

We had our first visitors to the Lion City at the end of January. Will’s brother (L) and his friend (N) came out to stay with us for 4 nights, before heading off to Australia for a friend’s wedding. One of the great things about Singapore for me, is that so many people have to fly via it when they are going visit Asia, Australia or New Zealand, meaning a lot of people are planning on passing through to see us – hooray!

Having the guys here was just brilliant. It was so lovely to see familiar faces, share stories and jokes, and catch up on all the news from back home. We had a lot of laughs and silliness – thank you both so much for coming to visit!

As the guys were out first set of visitors, we aren’t yet jaded by the ‘tourist/visitor trail’, although no doubt we will get there at some point. We were both so excited about showing them around and showing off our ‘new’ city.

First stop was Chinatown for a bit of food. It was N’s first time in Asia (can you believe that?!) so we wanted to show him all the sights, sounds and smells of Asia, and Chinatown seemed like the best place to do that. We went to one of our usual haunts and devoured satay, Singapore noodles and many beers. Great start to the trip! The guys were pretty jetlagged so we didn’t stay all that late in the end.

The next day, we took the MRT almost the whole way across the island to Jurong Bird Park to get a bit of wildlife action. We were planning on visiting the Night Zoo later, so it seemed like a good plan to get the double entry tickets, that give you a discount.  I actually enjoyed the bird park a lot more than I thought I would. As with the Singapore Zoo, everything is done very sympathetically, so I never felt bad about the birds being in aviaries, as they were so large and well thought out.

Penguins!

Lories - love their colours

Victoria crowned pigeon

One for Miss Jackson - me at the Bird Park!

Cooling off or drying their wings - what do you think?

I loved seeing all the colourful and unusual birds that were there. It was a great treat to see so many and it made me curious to learn more about Asian flora and fauna. I think I need to buy myself a little book on it.

That evening we went to the Night Zoo. As so many people have commented before, you can’t take flash photos at the Night Zoo so unfortunately I don’t have any to share with you lot. But I LOVED it there – such an exciting and magical experience. You arrive in the dark, and the way is lit with flaming torches, and people drumming. It all feels very tribal and you can’t help but feel a flicker of excitement and anticipation as you wait to board your little train thingy that takes you around the park. The train thingy is electric so you just glide along, and then suddenly round a corner and see animals looming out through the gloom.

I know some people just sit on the train and don’t get off an explore. I can’t help but think that’s such a huge mistake. We saw so much more stuff wandering around, and it was a much more interactive experience. We saw flying squirrels, bats (yuk), and our new favourite creature – the Binturong. The Binturong is a funny cat looking creature, that is related to civets (those that make the super expensive coffee). It looks quite cute, until it bares its teeth, but the best fact about it is that its supposed to smell of popcorn. A cat that smells of popcorn = best thing ever. Anyway, GO to the Night Zoo. Its super fun and very exciting!

The next day we explored around the Marina Bay area. We walked along by MBS, over the Helix Bridge and back again. We also took a bum boat along the river. I found the bum boat fun, as I like being on the water, but I think we gave the guys more information about the area and the buildings than the tour guide did. Maybe we just know a lot more about Singapore than we thought, or we just had a particularly rubbish guide, but I wasn’t overly impressed.

Hanging out by MBS

Walkway by MBS

Helix Bridge

The Esplanade, aka the durians

The Merlion

The evening rolled around quickly, and then it was time for bar crawl, Singapore style! We started off in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling – had to be done really, and it was the first Sling that Will & I have had since arriving. I enjoyed it; the Long Bar was fun, although I can’t imagine staying for more than one drink.

Enjoying our first Singapore Sling!

We then went on to Altitude at One Raffles Place, where we’d planned to show the L & N the brilliant view from the ‘world’s highest alfresco bar’. We’d been before on our look-see visit, and were captivated by the views of the city. It made us really excited about moving here. Unfortunately, when we got upstairs, we were told that the rooftop bar was shut for a function (turned out to be a wedding). They told us they were almost finished, so we ordered drinks, thinking we could finish them upstairs. However, it was a much longer wait than we’d hoped, so we ended up doing the briefest of circuits around the outside bar, before we had to leave for our next booking.

On to Lantern Bar, on top of the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Top marks for brilliant marina views, and gorgeous surroundings. We enjoyed delicious cocktails and lots of yummy snacky bar foods. The setting was just great, and the service was excellent – I have to mention it, as those of you who are Singapore residents know how rare that is!

The pool on top of the Fullerton Bay

Lanterns at Lantern!

After enjoying our drinks at Lantern, we headed back to MBS, and up to Ku De Ta for some more gorgeous views of the Singapore skyline. We didn’t actually go into the club, choosing instead to stand outside and enjoy the breezes and views. I felt strangely peaceful standing up there – I think I finally started to feel like Singapore was my home. There was a DJ playing some good tunes, so we ended up staying there late, drinking lots, and dancing our little socks off!

View of the City from the top of MBS

Sunday saw us doing what Sundays were invented for – working off a hangover by brunching with friends, and generally being lazy. Perfect. On Monday, L had to take an early flight on to Australia, but N was here until the evening so we decided to do an open top bus tour. Funniest thing ever. We learnt absolutely nothing about the history of Singapore or what certain landmarks were, but we did learn the about the best places to get chicken rice, buy Crocs, go the cinema, and exactly what roads bordered the Botanical Gardens. All this told to us by a lady with a voice that sounded like she did another job entirely in the evenings…Hilarious. I’d recommend it if you want a good laugh, not if you want to find out about Singapore! We finished up the day with a lovely steak in Club Street, before waving N off into a taxi to the airport.

Thanks guys for coming out and making me appreciate my new home town so much more. Being a tourist in Singapore really made me realise how much this place has to offer. Good times.

Exploring the Mekong River – Part Two

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After a super duper sleep on the boat (it was soooo relaxing just falling asleep to the sounds of nature), we woke up to another beautifully blue sky. We had another delicious meal (breakfast this time) before heading off in the little boat to explore some of the floating markets around Cai Be. It was all really quiet, because of the Tet holiday, so we didn’t get to experience the hustle and bustle that is usually there. On the other hand, there is something wonderful about seeing people at play, relaxing at home.

Enjoying time together

I find being by water really relaxing, and I loved the idea of living so close to the river (although there are bound to be cons…I can dream!). I loved the houses on stilts, and how the river is obviously such an integral part of daily life.

Relaxing at Tet

Houses by the river

I liked seeing the boats that usually make up some of the floating market, and tried to imagine the shouts of people selling and buying wares, and people stepping from boat to boat, to pick up the things that they need.

Floating market boat

After meandering down the waterways, we stopped at a small village to stretch out legs and explore. We went to a place that showed tourists all the different things that the local communities do with rice, from making rice wine, rice papers, and popped rice. We got to try a lot of things, including some delicious little sweets – they were yummy but so sticky they got stuck to your teeth!

Drying rice papers used for summer rolls

Making popped rice

As we left the rice place, I spotted all these Tintin books for sale! I loved Tintin when I was younger, so it was a real treat to see these. I can’t remember if I’ve read them or not, but I loved the illustrations, and how they were a complete time-capsule for what was going on when they were written.

Vietnamese Tintin

Soon after exploring the village, it was time to say goodbye to Loi, and the rest of our fellow guests on the boat. I felt sad to be leaving the Mekong. I found it very tranquil and calming, just being out on the water, with no internet or mobile phones to disturb your thoughts. I found the friendliness of all the people we met wonderful. They really made me feel welcome, and part of their community, even if just for a day.

Back in Saigon, we just had one final stop before flying back to Singapore. We went to the War Remnants Museum (previously know as the American War Crimes Museum). I didn’t take any photos inside as it felt a bit disrespectful, and also some of the exhibits on display were truly horrifying, and ones that I don’t wish to recall. Although it presents a very biased view of the conflict, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears by many of the images and stories that were shown. I was pleased to see some photographs of American soldiers who suffered, as well as the Vietnamese – I think some of the museum has been changed in order to attempt a more balanced viewpoint. The worst section for me was the one of the effects of Agent Orange. There were a few things in there that made me feel ill, but I felt like I needed to see them; to understand more about this war that really I knew so little about. It was incredibly moving and thought-provoking, and the experience will stay with me for quite some time.

I really loved Vietnam. I loved the warmth of the people, their resilience, and their openness. I found the scars left by the war to be shocking but also inspiring. Vietnam seems to have come such a long way since then that it gave me hope for other countries who are currently trying to recover from conflict themselves. I really hope I get the chance to return, and see more of this fascinating place.

Exploring the Mekong River

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(Part two of our CNY visit to Vietnam.)

After a fun day exploring Saigon, and then meeting up with friends in the city for dinner, drinks and general marvelling at the Tet celebrations (yes, even going to Vietnam we managed to bump into people we know from Singapore – so awesome!), we set off bright and early for our trip exploring the Mekong delta.

We had arranged our trip through our hotel, and I think I would definitely recommend shopping around for trips as they can be of varying length, depth and quality. We went for a two-day, one night trip, where we got to sleep over on the boat. The hotel booked us on a Cochinchine cruise and I’d have to say I’d highly recommend them for the friendliness of the staff, delicious food, comfortable accommodation, and just general relaxing greatness!

We picked up the boat at Cai Be, just over an hour drive from Saigon. I enjoyed the drive down there – the roads are great, and it was lovely to see some of the countryside. I also enjoyed seeing all the rest stops  dotted along the route. The rest stops in Vietnam are really different to the ones in the UK; rather than Burger King, in Vietnam you get a shady hammock and a bowl of steaming hot pho! Unfortunately, our journey wasn’t long enough to warrant a rest stop, but it made me excited about going back to Vietnam one day and doing some longer journeys.

We were met at Cai Be, and taken onto our boat, where we would spend the next two days. The boat was beautiful and the crew, including our guide Loi, were welcoming and very friendly. I didn’t get a photo of our room, but the bed was super comfy, and there was air-conditioning, meaning that in the night we wouldn’t get bitten to death by mozzies!

Our boat

And then – we were off! I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed just slowly floating down the river, with a warm breeze in my face, cold drink in my hand, and great company by my side. I loved seeing all the life by the side of the Mekong – people who use the river to live and work every day.

Fishing

Kilns for firing bricks

View off the back of the boat

After floating along the river, eating a delicious lunch of about 5 courses (I was so busy eating I didn’t take photos!) including some gorgeous summer rolls, we arrived at Sa Dec. Sa Dec is a pretty market town, with a night market. After the peace and quiet of the river, it was almost a shock being back in the hustle and bustle of  a town. It was much more busy because of the Tet public holiday that evening.

We walked through the town until we arrived at the house of Hunyh Thuy Le. This house became famous due to the French writer, Marguerite Duras, having an affair with Hunyh Thuy Le. This love affair, became the basis for her book The Lover. The house was really beautiful, with loads of gorgeous detailing. I loved the mixture of French and Vietnamese that was everywhere. I’d never heard of Marguerite Duras until going there, but now I really want to read the book, and understand what inspired her.

Bird detailing on the wooden wall panels

Out in the courtyard

Floor tiles

On the way back, we happened across a group of children, practising their lion dance. I didn’t know much about lion dancing, but I now know it supposed to scare away evil spirits and summon good fortune. I was amazed by how acrobatic the children were – the lion is made by two people, and the boy at the front was often being picked up by the boy at the back, to make the lion rear up. It was quite amazing, and the traditional drumming really added to the atmosphere. They were really happy to let us watch everything, and seemed pleased to have an audience.

Standing on the shoulders of lions

Lion dancing

Lion and his beater

After our impromptu stop watching the lion dance, we continued on to a temple to look around. It was incredibly brightly coloured, with really unusual decorations inside.

Temple detailing

Dragons

We then walked up some narrow and incredibly steep staircases to get up to the roof, where we had the most incredible views over the town, and over the river. It was such a sunny day, and the really vivid colours of the temple looked amazing against the bright blue sky.

Will & I on the temple roof

From the top of the temple

Back in the main town, we had a chance to explore the markets. I love markets! It was brilliant looking around everything, and all the weird and wonderful fruit and vegetables. There was a great atmosphere in the market – vibrant and buzzy, with loads of people milling around, buying up things for the Tet celebrations that evening.

Mouthwatering selection

Stinky durians

Fruit selection

Back on the boat, we were treated to a foot massage on the top deck, as the sun set over the river. We then had another gorgeous meal, leaving us completely stuffed. We stayed up on deck, chatting with some of the other guests, and enjoying a glass of wine. After a couple of hours, we were ready to head down to bed. On our way down, we had to walk past the kitchen, and there we found all of the staff enjoying a celebratory Tet meal. They invited us, and the Australian couple who were with us, to join them. It was a real privilege to share their meal, and drinks, with them. All the staff were so friendly, teaching us to say Happy New Year in Vietnamese – Chuc Mung Nam Moi!

Chuc Mung Nam Moi - celebrating on the boat

Good morning Vietnam!

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Sorry for the cheesy movie reference title … I couldn’t help it!

For the CNY bank holiday, the boy and I decided to take a little trip out of the Lion City, and explore a bit more of South East Asia. Will had already been to Vietnam once before, on his gap year. Needless to say, some things had no doubt changed, so with our flights to Ho Chi Minh/Saigon (will someone please tell me what I should call it?!) booked, off we went to explore.

We arrived in Vietnam after just a short flight (it’s just  2 hours from Singapore) and then hopped straight into a cab to our hotel. We stayed at the Cinnamon Hotel which I’d really recommend. We had a beautiful room, delicious breakfasts, and the staff were super helpful and friendly, despite having to work over the Tet holiday (the Vietnamese equivalent of CNY). We also booked our trip down the Mekong through them, and were delighted with that too. The hotel is nice and central; just a short walk to most of the main sights in the city.

After a good snooze and breakfast, we headed to the Reunification Palace. The Reunification Palace was the workplace of the President of South Vietnam, during the Vietnam War. It was also the site of the end of the Vietnam War, during the fall of Saigon, when a North Vietnamese tank was crashed through its gates. It is quite an imposing building, although I wouldn’t say it was beautiful. There are replica tanks in the grounds, along with the details of the Vietnamese soldiers who were involved in the attack on the palace.

The building is carefully preserved, and its easy to imagine what it would have been like during the war, with the rooms left just as they would have been during the war. We enjoyed walking around, admiring all the artifacts. It is a real time capsule in there. Bits of it reminded me of the Churchill War Rooms in London – especially the bits in the basement – lots of long, concrete corridors, with small offices and lots of maps, telephones, and other communication equipment.

It was fascinating to walk around and to explore the history of the building. I think it is great how it has been preserved so that you can really imagine it full of military and government personal walking around in the 1970’s. I also enjoyed standing on the balcony at the front of the building, trying to imagine what it must have felt like to watch the tanks breaking through the gates, and knowing your world was going to change forever.

After exploring the Reunification Palace, we headed out of the city to the Cu Chi tunnels. The tunnels were used by the Vietnamese guerrillas, in their fight against the Americans during the Vietnam war, allowing them to outwit the American troops, as well as supplying the guerrilla fighters with hiding places, food, supplies and communications. The tunnels are believed to have been instrumental in the eventual victory over the Americans.

Let’s get one thing straight – the tunnels are tiny! Most of them have been widened so that ‘large’ Western tourists can explore them! See the below photos for a couple of people in our group getting into one of the tiny entrances to see what I mean!

The tour starts with a video, which is in shaky black and white footage, where you learn all about the brave Vietnamese and the despicable American soldiers – it is very much Vietnamese anti-American propaganda, and I think its important you recognise it as such. However, it is an interesting insight into the national psyche and attitudes towards the war. We then joined our guide who took us around the tunnel complex. Most of the things to see are above ground – you see the breathing holes that they cleverly disguised as big termite mounds round the bottom of trees – the had small holes hidden in them where the guerrillas could go to so they could get fresh air. There are countless entrances and exits, all very small, and disguised underneath the leaf mulch, rendering them completely invisible, unless you knew where to look. The Vietnamese not only used the tunnels – they also laid traps for the Americans, such as digging pits with sharpened, hardened bamboo spikes in them, which would ensure that their enemy slowly bled to death, after being impaled.

The experience was brilliant – you learnt so much about how the Vietnamese lived and worked in the tunnels, and how they used old unexploded shells and bomb casings to make their own weapons and traps. You have to admire the ingenuity! The actual part where you crawl through the tunnels was short. The tunnels are smooth (or at least the ones you can crawl through) and dry. I’m not exactly tall but I found it hard going – you are bent over the entire time and its tough on the thighs! As I was crouching along the tunnels, I felt real admiration for the Vietnamese who lived day in day out in these tunnels, whilst the threat from the Americans was all around them. I was astonished that more of them didn’t get lost in the tunnels, as they are completely pitch black once your guide turns a corner and leaves you without torchlight!

It was a brilliant day, learning all about the history of the area, and the people who lived there. Before we went, I must confess to not knowing masses about the Vietnam War – I knew bits and pieces but my understanding was shaky at best. It was an eye-opening and enlightening experience.

I’ll post more about the rest of the trip over the next few days!

Liebster Blog awards

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I am deeply touched to have been nominated for a Liebster Blog Award not just once, but twice, by two fellow expat bloggers. The rationale behind these blog awards is that they are a way of showing love for blogs you follow, so I am pretty excited to have received two!

My first nomination was from Laura over at Expat Adventures in Singapore. I got to know Laura’s blog long before I moved to Singapore, having done some extensive Googling on what life was really like living here. I loved Laura’s open and engaging writing style. All her posts are incredibly informative and helpful, but personal as well. I found a lot of comfort and confidence from what I read on her blog, and I think in some part, my decision to move here was influenced by what I read on her blog. Since I have arrived, I’ve got to know her as a person, and she is just as lovely and supportive in the flesh!

My second nomination was from Crystal at Expat Bostonians. Like Laura, I got to know Crystal’s blog before I moved. I loved her personal and incisive posts, and I also really liked how honest she is, and how she isn’t afraid of writing about things that she feels strongly about. I love reading about her experiences here, and of how that fits in with being a Mum to her two gorgeous girls. I’ve also met Crystal in person a couple of times now, and I am really excited about getting to know her better.

Thank you both for your nominations, and for your friendship 🙂

‘Liebster’ means ‘favourite’ or ‘dearest’ in German.  This award, which originated in Germany, recognizes up and coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.
In accepting the award, the recipient agrees to:

  • Thank the person that gave the award and link back to their blog.
  • Copy and paste the award to your blog
  • Reveal the 5 blogs you have chosen to award and let them know by commenting on their blog.
  • Hope they pay it forward by accepting and awarding it to bloggers they would like to honour.

It was really hard picking out blog that I love, that haven’t already been nominated. Many of the Singapore/expat blogs I read have already been nominated!The 5 blogs I have therefore chosen are a mixture of things that I love, but ones that I enjoy reading very much:

Fellow Fellow is written by a fellow Claire! I like to think of it as more of a scrapbook of things – Claire makes and sells her beautiful handmade paper creations, and blogs about things that inspire her, or photos of things that she working on. I love how her personality shines through, and reading her blog is a treat for the eyes (and sometimes ears!).

Alexa Loves is written by my friend Alexa, who lives back in the UK. She has recently made the move from the big smoke, to out in the country, and we share a passion for owning chickens some day! Alexa takes the most beautiful photographs, and I love looking at her gorgeous shots of England. I’ve been reading her blog for a few months now, but have really come to treasure it since I moved away.

North/South Food is written by an Irish brother and sister duo. He lives in the north of England, she lives in Brixton (my old stomping ground!). I’ve been reading their blog for some time and love reading all about their experiments with cooking and trying out weird and wonderful ingredients. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been inspired to make something after reading their blog, and the number of times I’ve sat in front of my computer just salivating!

Little Loaf is another London-based food blogger. She shares her passion for baking (breads and desserts) and for ice cream, and the occasional savoury dish! I get serious baking envy reading her posts and looking at her photos, and love reading about her latest creations. I love her passion for what she does, as it shines through her writing.

Food Urchin is also a London food blogger (spotted a trend yet folks?!). I got to know him via Twitter, and his tweets and blog posts make me cry with laughter all the time. I would love to be a fly on the wall with him for a day! His blog is brilliantly funny, and full of personality, as well as gorgeous things to cook. A new favourite of mine.

A little January update

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Sorry for the radio silence folks – we have been super busy since we got back from our Bali holiday.

First of all, we celebrated seeing in 2012 with some of our lovely new friends in Singapore. Pia threw a super fun ‘wigs & hats’ party over at her condo (which is walking distance from ours). So complete with dragon hat (Will) and crown (me), we saw 2012 in with much food, drink, laughter and silly dancing.

Does pink hair suit me?! 

We then had a lovely bank holiday spent with the same friends we were partying with. What started as a brunch at Epicurious at Robertson Quay, turned into a bit of a bar crawl and saw us sipping cocktails and eating cake at the PS Cafe on Ann Siang Hill, before moving on to the rooftop bar at Ying Yang. When we arrived they were playing atrocious club music at a stupidly early hour, so we got them to put on some reggae, and relaxed with some cold drinks and a cooling breeze. Great way to spend a bank holiday – thanks guys!

I also went with Laura back to the Asian Civilisations Museum, which continues to fascinate me. It’s such a great place to explore – I love reading all about the different areas and looking at the exhibits. In particular, we marvelled at some of the relics of language and how modern people had deciphered what was written, when no-one alive could speak the language. We had a great morning pottering around all the exhibits, before a yummy Italian lunch on Boat Quay, and a very long natter catching up on everything that we’d been up to and putting the world to rights!

Will & I finally went to Little India and had a delicious curry courtesy of Jaggis – brilliant Punjabi food in a no frills setting, exactly what we needed after the last few days of excess! I also met a fellow Claire, who is behind the gorgeous blog and company Fellow Fellow (beautiful handmade paper gorgeousness). We had a lovely evening with a cold glass of wine and surprisingly delicious calamari and truffle fries, at a bar on One Fullerton. This was followed up by eating ice cream by the Merlion and watching the laser show from Marina Bay Sands (still don’t understand the laser show, but its pretty!). Great evening, and great to meet another lovely person who calls this tiny island home.

On Friday, we went to the cinema to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I loved the books  (see my review here) but hadn’t seen any of the Swedish film adaptations. This was actually quite a good version, despite a bit of artistic licence with the plot somewhat! I would say that the rape scene and subsequent revenge scene is rather disturbing and not for the faint hearted! However, Rooney Mara was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander, and I did find it amusing how Daniel Craig has obviously made it enough to not have to put on a faux-Swedish accent!

Then on Saturday we hosted a birthday party for Nav at our condo – our first time BBQing in Singapore. Except although they are called ‘BBQ pits’, they are actually more of a hot plate – bit of a shock when we opened it up, but we managed to cook up a storm. Great fun, and great to find our ‘host & hostess’ mojo here in Singapore, as we were both missing having parties and BBQs like we used to in London. So we made some new friends, swam in the swimming pool after too much food, used every glass in our apartment when we had to move upstairs, and danced to Bollywood videos on You Tube. Awesome.

This is a bit of a sign of things to come as we have a busy January ahead:

  • a good friend of ours is coming over on his ‘look-see’ so we will be showing him the sights and sounds
  • we are going to Vietnam for Chinese New Year – flying to Ho Chi Minh, exploring the city, and then travelling down to the Mekong Delta. Can’t wait, as its my first time visiting Vietnam
  • hosting Will’s brother and a few of his friends as they stay for a few days, en route to a wedding in Australia

I am relishing the idea of being tour guide, as it’ll be nice to feel like a Singapore expert, rather than the ‘green’ newbie! Plus it will be great to see everyone and catch-up properly with all the news from home. I also think showing people around will make me appreciate Singapore a little bit more, as it’s always good to see your city through the eyes of someone else.

I am also on the job hunt, so if anyone knows of anyone who might like to give a great project manager/researcher/writer/events organiser/PA a job, then please get in touch! 🙂