Lombok: A Great Stay at Villa Sayang

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DC and I needed a break and we decided to really not do much at all to recuperate from all the craziness of the year. Lombok was a-calling. There wasn’t a huge lot to do there aside from hardcore mountain climbing and casual snorkelling or scuba diving and, more crucially, there were still air tickets available at short notice.

DC booked Villa Sayang at Mataram, the main town on Lombok. We made it our base out of which to explore the island and what a lovely stay it was! It was set among the padi fields at the base of Mount Rinjani and we had this lovely view from the restaurant every morning.

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There was plenty of greenery. Every morning we saw birds, like this sunbird, flitting about the trees. There were also plenty of butterflies flitting about in the trees. It was such a serene setting for breakfast.

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Until the resident cat turned up and tried to order us to give us food with its commanding stare.

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Breakfast was excellent, either a generous buffet spread when there were enough guests at the Villa or a la carte courses starting with fresh fruit…

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… followed by toast and jam, and then yummy mains such as the fantastic fried noodles a la Villa Sayang. They had a fresh vegetable garden and included lots of their fresh in-house produce in their food.

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The room was really lovely too, with plenty of space and a little gazebo-porch lounge area outside. The bathroom was such a highlight: it was divided into two, with a spectacular outdoor shower set in a granite (or was it limestone?) wall.

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Inside, there was a low bathtub and a lovely aquarium full of fish to entertain us in times of, ahem, boredom.

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We went out in the day and came back in the evenings, sometimes eating in. They were very obliging and even served us dinner in the lounge area outside our villa. They had some delightful dishes such as the fish palumera, a soupy stew with plenty of ginger, local herbs and Thai basil.

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One of the evenings, we had a delightful nasi tumpeng, compliments of the Villa. It was a very yummy combination of rice in a cone shape, representing Mount Rinjani, and plenty of dishes to go with the rice. We had fish satay – served on sticks, the fragrant herbal fish mixture was grilled to perfection; curry chicken, begedil – heavenly fried potato croquettes; spicy beef rendang; egg omelette; fried keropok – prawn crackers; dry-fried sweet-sour tempeh – absolutely lovely with sweet kicap manis, sour assam and crispy, unbelievably good tempeh; and stir-fried vegetables.

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On our final night, we had yet another evening of good food, with specialities like urap urap – a salad dish of blanched vegetables accompanied by a spicy coconut dressing, kangkung pelecing – more about that in a later post, more fish palumera, more beef rendang and yummy fried chicken.

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What made our stay extra special was the personal touch of Ibu Rosa, the lady boss of Villa Sayang. She was amazing at making arrangements for us, from getting us a rental car, to sending us to various really yummy restaurants in town (notwithstanding them being competitors to her in-house restaurant), and getting hold of our crazy shopping items. We went home with 10kg of Lombok mangoes and 5 kg of their signature belacan – again, more of that in a later post.

Villa Sayang was a lovely place to stay, a great place to eat and had such lovely people, we’d not hesitate to go back.

Villa Sayang
Jalan Sonokeling
Lingsar, West Lombok
West Nusa Teggara 83371
Indonesia
Tel: +62-370-6609022
Email: info@villasayang-lombok.com

Modern Thai at Kha

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Hort Park is a special place for DC and me. We go there regularly but never quite during dinner time till this one time we went to Kha, a modern Thai restaurant. It’s run by the same person who does boutique hotels, one of them being Jia in Hong Kong. It’s cute how the names of the two places are linked: “jia” means “home” in Mandarin while in Cantonese, it’s pronounced “ka”. In Thai, kha is a modifier word for females to use at the end of a sentence to make it polite. (The equivalent for males is “khup”.) What a clever way to name the restaurant. I like!

I was pleasantly surprised already when they served the complimentary appetiser. Instead of the typical prawn crackers with sweet chilli sauce, they gave us popped rice biscuits with red curry sauce. It made for a zingy start to the meal.

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We ordered two appetisers and a main so that there’d be space for dessert. First was the crispy catfish with sweet pork and mango salad. It was very good – tangy and slightly spicy with plenty of texture. I’ve always liked the crispy floss-like texture of catfish done this way. They did right not to mess with the classic combination of catfish and young mango strips. I also liked the extra crunch of the peanuts but felt that the pork wasn’t necessary.

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Our second appetiser was banana flower salad with young coconut and chilli. I didn’t like this one as much. It still had the classic sweet-sour-spicy combination so characteristic of Thai salads, but I felt that the texture of banana flower didn’t lend itself well to a salad as it was too “siap siap” – you know that nasty tannic texture, a bit too sappy? The young coconut helped a little but didn’t help much to give interest for flavour. Interesting idea that flopped.

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The main we shared was very good! It was baked half sticky chicken stuffed with coriander and lemongrass, paired with stir fried pineapple rice. The sticky chicken was marinated in some kind of sweet dark sauce hence the stickiness from all that sugar. It tasted Asian but not quite vehemently Thai. The meltingly tender chicken paired nicely with the pineapple rice for a very safe, crowd-pleasing main. I liked how they used some unpolished rice to add flavour and texture. Good call.

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For dessert, we went for the baked pumpkin custard with coconut ice cream. The pumpkin custard is very typically Thai. This version was very nicely made, with smooth silky and not too sweet custard. It went very well with the rich coconut ice cream, a very nice end to the meal.

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Too bad the drinks weren’t as good. We wanted to enjoy the view outside and had our post-dinner drinks there. They tasted as bad as they looked. Don’t drink the aromatic pear mojito – the pear was somehow oxidised and brown; it left a very grainy feel in the mouth. The khao lao rum looked less bad and tasted OK. It was just another sweet drink. Both were very weak, so Kha is not a place for getting smashed.

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My verdict? A nice place for a romantic meal, just skip the drinks. I hear that they are moving soon. It’s a pity as the space is really quite lovely. Check it out soon!

Kha Restaurant
33 Hyderabad Rd
Tel: 6476 9000

June in Thailand: Chiang Mai Street Scenes

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After getting the obligatory temple sightseeing out of the way, I felt freer to poke around and enjoy the little sights and sounds that make a city special. Here was an imaginatively vandalised street sign that to me seemed to add to the sign rather than turn it into a nuisance.

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The monkey head was cute, but I also liked how the authorities didn’t do anything to clean up the sign, leaving pop culture to do its thang here.

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Then there were the curiously well-meaning signs like the “Dangerous Zone” one below. There really wasn’t much to that area except that a pipe had probably been recently cemented over, creating probably the tiniest bump ever on the road. Exactly why it was a dangerous zone, I’d never know.

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Now more interesting was the famous night market down one of the main streets of Chiang Mai. There was of course a huge variety of items on sale, but the most exciting thing for me were the stall selling deep fried creepy crawlies.

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There was an incredible selection of the stuff from bamboo worms to crickets to scorpions, sold either loose by weight or in pre-packed portions.

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Erico was completely game for the variety fun pack that had crickets, bamboo worms and I can’t quite remember what other insects inside. They were all deep fried to a crisp and tasted of not much else aside from oil, really. Still, I couldn’t handle it and only barely managed to swallow the crunchy bits of bamboo worm. There wasn’t much to it except that bits of the carapace got stuck in my throat. Erico quite happily ate the rest and wasn’t too impressed by the taste of the frying oil. Seems like none of the insects tasted of anything much at all!

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Fear factor over, on other days we had the famous Chiang Mai noodles, khao soi, which were completely different from the Lao version of the same name. It was a sort of chicken curry with yellow noodles, except that the broth was more thin soup than thick curry, and was served with herbs, salted preserved vegetables (yum!) and topped with deep fried crispy shredded wanton skin.

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Chiang Mai is also home to the world-renown mango sticky rice. Here, it was both cheap and very, very good. No matter where you go in Thailand and especially Chiang ,Mai the rice is always perfectly steamed till just past al dente and the mango always sweet and perfumey.

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Seoul Quick Eats: Red Mango

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I know Red Mango’s already in Singapore but the first time I tried it was in its hometown of Seoul. We had it after a food court dinner at COEX mall.  One of our colleagues treated us: I had a little portion of blueberry yogurt while Shinta was persuaded to have a massive fruit topped dessert. The frozen yogurt was smooth and creamy, very good stuff. Plus the fruit toppings were generous and fresh. My blueberry dessert was pretty good too. The blueberry tasted like it came from fresh berries and not from processed blueberry sauce. Good stuff!

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March in Laos: Rush Hour in Vientiane

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The first trip of my year off was with Siamesecat to Laos. We flew into Vientiane by budget airline and made a whistle-stop tour of the capital Vientiane. Cheapskates as we were, we refused to pay the 30,000 kip (S$6) offered by the taxi drivers and strolled out of the airport gates. Luckily we managed to flag down a tuk-tuk without a fare and paid 20,000 kip (S$4) instead. The airport highway was hardly a highway at all and we already felt relaxed in the traffic at rush hour.

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Nope, your eyes didn’t deceive you. This is rush hour traffic. Amazing stuff, isn’t it?

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There really didn”t seem to be much happening in this neck of the woods except other backpackers in search of accommodation. It’s true, Laos is just so plain sleepy!

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There wasn’t much in terms of attractions in Vientiane. Here’s some fountain that’s supposed to be a tourist attraction but I forget why it’s important. Siamesecat just took the picture for the heck of it.

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What I liked most about Vientiane was it’s unassuming charm and the pretty sights that were never really meant to be postcard worthy. There’s something about the coconut trees and temple eaves juxtaposed against off-roader that makes me think of tropical paradise here.

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We were lucky to arrive during mango season. At this stall at the Morning Market (still open in the afternoon), the boss lady deftly cut up our mangoes with expert fingers and looked on amusedly as we posed and then devoured them. One of my best fruit memories of the year was eating mangoes here. As I type, my mind replays the fragrant sticky-sweet drip, and my mouth waters.

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Homemade Yogurt Breakfast

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I had a teeny bit of time one Saturday morning, so I made this healthy yet very satisfying breakfast. There was mango and pear in the fridge, and some greek yoghurt too. I wasn’t quite content with just fruit and yogurt, so I rummaged in the freezer for some rolled oats, toasted it and then drizzled over some Manuka honey. I think the combination of nutty toasted oats and herby honey really lifted the yogurt to a higher level. Not to mention, the mango was nice and fragrant, making it something yummy to look forward to again soon.

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There’s no real need for a recipe, but here goes if you must.

Ingredients:

1 small mango, skinned, seeded and cubed
1 pear, cored and cubed
1 cup thick greek yogurt
1 handful rolled oats
1 tbsp Manuka honey

Method:

  1. Prepare the fruit, lay in a shallow dish and spoon over the yogurt.
  2. Spread the oats in a thin layer in a toaster oven and toast for about 2 minutes or till just brown.
  3. Scatter the oats over the fruit and yogurt, then drizzle over the honey.
  4. Stir and enjoy.

Serves 1.

MOF@Suntec

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I went to Suntec to meet up with some friends for lunch. Shinta suggested MOF, so Japanese it was.

I was quite disappointed that a lot of items on the menu were unavailable. Just my luck, but the most delicious stuff were the ones they didn’t have. Shelving my plans for negitoro, I had Maguro Sashimi Juu ($10.80) instead. Look at how pretty the serving is. Too bad the taste didn’t match its looks. I’m used to fresher stuff from Sun and Isetan supermarket, so this one was a bit of a letdown. It wasn’t stale, but the tuna tasted a bit flat and the salmon roe was slightly flabby. The little balls of delicious fish oil should be bursty and firm. It was a pity, this dish could have been so much better.

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I liked the dessert there. We ordered a Mango Mixed Imo ($6.80) and changed the soft-serve ice cream to green tea red bean ice cream for an extra $1.50. The ice cream was excellent, it was silky and smooth with just enough green tea kick and bits of red bean to chew on. The deep-fried sweet potato and yam were both good, a bit like a more sophisticated (and more expensive!) goreng pisang. The batter was nice and crisp and the tubers were softly grainy, a good combination with the ice cream. I think the two measly strips of mango didn’t go very well with the rest of the dessert though.

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MOF My Izakaya
3 Temasek Boulevard
#B1-40 Suntec City Mall
Tel: 6338 5523