Uzbekistan – Stans Part 3

May 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Crossroad of Asia

The next stop in our tour of the “new” backpacker circuit in Central Asia is Uzbekistan. Landlocked nation with the exception of the bordering Aral Sea, the Uzbek countryside is a series of deserts and dunes. It has a reputation for being unfriendly to foreigners (and perhaps unfriendly to locals too), but there’s still some gems to be unearthed. Let’s explore what Uzbek has to offer.

Photo credit - upyernoz

Photo credit - upyernoz

The Silk Road

Many wonderful sights can be explored following the route of the former Silk Road as it passes through Uzbekistan and is a good start to exploring the flat and seemingly endless countryside. Khiva is a top stop; formerly a capital city (at the time a kingdom called Khorezm), it’s now a wonderful open-air museum on a city that flourished in riches from the Silk road trade. Check out the East Gate, which was once home to a slave trade market. There’s the Tash Havli palace, with rooms for all of the different suitors and concubines. And of course, the iconic Kalta Minaret, a tower intended to be Central Asia’s tallest minaret. It stands unfinished to this day.

Smarkand is another important Silk Road destination. The gorgeous dome of the Gur Emir building is a must for all photographers (it’s actually a mausoleum), as is the Registan square. From here the gates and pillars feel as authentic and iconic as more famed backdrops, like the Taj Mahal.

Lastly but certainly not least is Bukhara, full of visitor attractions. The Ark, a palace, features a museum on the city’s history and the nearby Zindan is a hot spot to see the Bug Pit, a torture chamber which needs little explanation. But the real star of the show is the Kalyan Minaret, once the tallest building in Central Asia and the oldest monument in Bukhara (built around 1127). The first time it was built, it collapsed due to some mis-engineering, but it was finally erected properly and was spared by Genghis Khan when he destroyed the city in the 1200s.

Photo credit - upyernoz

Photo credit - upyernoz

Tashkent Architecture

The Uzbek capital of Tashkent was destroyed in 1966 after a strong earthquake. Because the city was under strong Soviet control at the time, today the city looks far more Soviet than elsewhere in the region. Everything from traffic signs to monuments and parks have that “look” (hard to describe, but you’ll know it when you see it). But you simply must take in the Soviet influence on the Tashkent subway. The highlight is the Cosmonaut station but nearly every stop is like a museum.

Photo credit - ideali

Photo credit - ideali

Food and Drinks

I can’t seem to talk about anywhere without talking about the food. But first, let’s mention something that many travelers complain about: getting ripped off. You’ll find many restaurants don’t have menus. This is so they can charge you an unreasonable fee after you’ve already eaten. To avoid this, ask for price information up front if it isn’t available, and be firm in asking for an itemized bill. Challenge it if it contradicts what you were told (though you’ll likely get footed with it anyway).

Manti is a huge Uzbek favorite, no surprise as you’ll find manti in both Turkey as well as the other Central Asian states. It’s a dumpling filled with lamb (and a lot of lamb fat), then steamed. It’s delicious. Somsas are another tasty treat that you’ll find in restaurants or even on the street; they can be filled with potatoes or pumpkin or meat. In summer you’ll see ‘spring’ somsas, which are filled with a special grass that grows in the mountains. If they’re made traditionally they’ll be put into a clay tandoori, which adds to the flavour.

To wash it all down, you’ll have plenty of choice for drink (though be careful with tap water, which is usually to be avoided). Tea is a popular option, and tradition states the tea be poured from the pot to the cup and back three times, then the fourth time it is offered to the guests. Hospitality plays a huge role in Uzbek tradition, so tea cups do not stay empty for long.

Uzbek also has some great wines, believe it or not. Khovrenko Winery is one of the most well known, but there’s several in the country. You can even go to a wine tasting in Bukhara in the west.

If You Go

You’ll of course need a visa to visit Uzbekistan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs website explains the process and fees in detail. For many, you’ll need a Letter of Invitation, which your travel agent or accommodation can obtain for you. Once you arrive in the country, you’ll need to register your local address, but if you stay at a respectable hotel they’ll handle this for you, but just be sure that it is taken care of.

If you’re flying in, the main entry point is through Tashkent, served by several European and International carriers, as well as Middle-Eastern Airlines such as Turkish Airlines and Uzbekistan Airways. Check out CheapFlights.co.uk for some excellent flight deals heading to Tashkent.

Security and safety is a mixed bag in Uzbekistan. It is technically a police state, which has made it quite safe, but visitors should be alert at all times and use a heavy dose of common sense. Some tips:

• You’re required to carry documentation with you at all times and may be asked to see it by a police officer. Most embassy websites state that it is sufficient to carry copies of your passport (and Uzbek visa!) and leave the originals at the hotel and offer to take the officer there upon request. They won’t usually bother.

• You’ll often be propositioned to check out the “night life” – either by local tour guides or just those on the streets. Trust us, you aren’t interested in what they have to offer, just say no.

• Otherwise, just use common sense for safety. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry bags/purses that could be easily stolen. Street crime is just as big of a problem as overall violent crime in the region.


Unearthing Asia is a travel zine focusing on Lifestyle, Culture and Attractions all over Asia. Don’t miss out on the best travel ideas and inspirations in the region of Asia, such as this list of top Vietnamese noodle treats.

About the Author. Andy Hayes. Andy Hayes is a freelance travel writer and photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. When not crossing the world to have his next Asian travel adventures, he is hitting the walking trails near home. To get in touch or see Andy’s other travelogues, visit his website, Sharing Travel Experiences.

A Rough Guide to Dim Sum

No trip is complete without trying out some of the best local food at your choice of destination. When you come to Asia, one of the must-try food is none other than dim sum, a traditional culinary art originated from Southern China that has captured the palates of many, especially in countries with strong Chinese influences such as China (duh), Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and many others around the region.

Dim sum (literally meaning, “touch the heart”) is the name for a selection of Chinese cuisine which involves a wide range of light dishes. They are usually served before noon, along with tea (also known as yum cha), but is now such a big part of the culinary scene in Asia that you can find restaurants serving them all day through. Dim sum are usually steamed, baked or fried, and come served in traditional bamboo containers. Here’s a quick guide through some of the more popular dim sum dishes.

Siew Mai

Har Gau (see below) and Siew Mai (or usually translated to Steamed Meat Dumpling) combine to form the one of the most popular pairing of dim sum dishes. I’ve eaten Dim Sum umpteen times, and never had one without at least an order of each. In fact, they are the first things my dad would order when eating dim sum. So while we ponder on what to order next, we’ll be munching on these delicious dumplings. The original Cantonese Siew Mai is usually made out of pork and mushroom, but nowadays you can find all kinds of Siew Mai to suit your preferences.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Har Gau

I personally prefer Har Gau (Steamed Prawn Dumplings) compared to Siew Mai. The skin of Har Gau is delicate and translucent, wrapped around fresh juicy shrimps to form a pouch-shaped dumpling. They are usually dipped in soy sauce, rice vinegar, or even a combination of mayonnaise and chili sauce. This dish is a crowd pleaser, so be sure to order enough so that everybody will have at least one.

Photo credit - Nate Robert

Photo credit - Nate Robert

Cheong Fun

This dish features a thin roll of rice noodles that are filled with meat, vegetables or other ingredients. Before serving, the roll is usually cut into a few pieces and a spoonful of soy sauce is poured on top. With a wide variety, this dish comes filled with shrimp, beef, char siew, or even youtiao (Chinese fried bread stick), chicken or fish. My personal favorite is Cheong Fun with Youtiao, which features fried youtiao wrapped in noodle rolls. The crispy youtiao combines well with the silky noodle rolls, melting away in your mouth with a heavy dose of soy sauce. Heavenly!

Photo credit - Wendalicious

Photo credit - Wendalicious

Baos / Buns

The most popular type of Baos (Buns) is Char Siew Bao, which simply means BBQ Pork Buns. They are soft bread with a unique texture, filled with char siew (BBQ pork) at the center of the bun. The char siew is pork tenderloin slowly roasted to achieve a tender and sweet taste, which combines well with the fine soft bread on the outside. Though Char Siew Bao is another popular dim sum dish, it is not exactly one of my favorite. As much as I enjoyed the taste very much, it is however, a very filling dish. My preference is to skip this so I can eat more of the others.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Daikon & Taro Cake

Here’s another standard pairing when ordering dim sum. They are both similar in appearance, usually cut into square-shaped slices and pan-fried before serving. This makes them crunchy on the outside, but soft on the inside. The Daikon Cake is made of shredded radish and flour while the Taro Cake is made from the vegetable taro.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Dan Tat

Dan Tat (Egg Tarts) is the Cantonese interpretation of egg custard tarts which are popular in many parts of the world. This pastry was initially introduced to compete with dim sum restaurants, but ironically they have now become part of the dim sum experience. Many variations are available, including egg white tarts, milk tarts, honey-egg tarts and even bird’s nest tarts.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Jin Dui

Jin Dui (Sesame Seed Balls) is a fried ball-shaped pastry coated with sesame seeds on the outside that is crisp and chewy. The pastry is filled usually with lotus paste, black bean paste or red bean paste. A more modern interpretation I’ve seen before are Jin Dui filled with chocolate and even durian.

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Chun Juan

This is not a dim sum dish per say, as you can easily find them in various countries with differing interpretations. However, the fried version is one you would encounter in dim sum restaurants, usually filled with various meats.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Fu Pi Quan

This dish is similar to Spring Rolls, with the main difference being the outer layer of the dish is made of tofu skin. Just like Spring Rolls, you can find the fried and steamed versions, with various meat fillings inside of it.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Fung Jeow

Phoenix Talons is the fancy way of translating this dish name, which is usually just called Chicken Feet by non-Chinese speaking eaters (like yours truly). The chicken feet are first deep fried or steamed to make them puffy, and then stewed and marinated in flavored black bean sauce. The result is a dish that is moist, tender and flavorful, though it does consists of many small bones.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Lo Mai Gai

The English translation to this dish is quite a handful – Steamed Glutinous Rice in Lotus Leaf Wrap. It features glutinous rice filled with chicken meat and various vegetables, which is then wrapped in a dried lotus leaf and steamed. The result is a savory and flavorful dish, with the aroma of the lotus leaf and chicken melting into the sticky glutinous rice. A personal favorite.

Photo credit - Jason Lam

Photo credit - Jason Lam

Almond Jelly

This is a common dessert made of sweet Chinese almond. Almond milk is extracted, sweetened and then heated with a gelling agent. It is then chilled to create a tofu like pudding with a sweet almond taste.

Photo credit - jetalone

Photo credit - jetalone

Mango Pudding

Last but definitely not least, is one of my favorite dessert – the Mango Pudding. This is the perfect way to end your feast, a simple dessert that captures the glorious flavor of mangoes like no other. When done well, the pudding is silky smooth in texture, rich in flavor and refreshing in taste.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz


This post is part of WanderFood Wednesday, a Blog Carnival held by Wanderlust & Lipstick. Check them out for a visual treat of tasty dishes, or take part in the carnival yourself. Additionally, do check out as well our latest offering, our new Issue 02 of the magazine!


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8 Must-Try Malaysian Food

March 10, 2010 by  
Filed under Exotic South East, Feature Highlights, Gourmet

Malaysia is home to fabulous street eats and equally tasty restaurants. With various influences from Malay and Chinese traditions, spicy Indian and Nonya dishes, Malaysia offers much to savour in all of its 13 different states and many more cities. The culinary scene is bustling with choices, fueled by this diversity of the country’s multicultural heritage. Here, we share with you the local favorites from three popular foodie stops in the region – Malacca, Penang and Ipoh Perak.

Ayam Buah Keluak

Nonya Cuisine is also a must try in Malacca, where you can find mouthwatering food combining Chinese ingredients with Malay herbs and spices. The Malaccan version of Nonya Cuisine favor the use of coconut milk, and is therefore richer in taste. Ayam Buah Keluak is a popular Nonya dish, which is chicken stewed with black nuts. Don’t be put off by the murky, ink-like gravy! The sauce is rich and creamy, and mixes very well with the kepayang nuts and chicken meat.

Photo credit - Pinoy Food

Photo credit - Pinoy Food

Ikan Bakar

The aromatic grilled fish dish is another must-try – ikan bakar (literally, burnt fish in malay). The fish is marinated in a myriad of spices, then wrapped in banana leaf and grilled over charcoal fire. In Malacca, head towards Perkampungan Ikan Bakar Terapung, 11 km off Malacca Town, where you can get freshly barbequed fish along with a good selecion of seafood such as cockles, squids and oysters grilled on the spot.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Nasi Kandar

Nasi Kandar is a popular northern Malaysia dish that originated from the state of Penang, so its small wonder you’ll find so many stalls around the state offering this dish. This Malaysian staple comprises simply of plain or flavored rice accompanied by side dishes such as fried chicken, curried spleen, cubed beef, fish roe, fried prawns or fried squid.
A mixture of curry sauces is then poured on top, imparting
a diverse taste to the rice. Other than in Penang, Nasi Kandar is also a popular dish in Ipoh, Malacca and more.

Photo credit - EightySixx

Photo credit - EightySixx

Penang Char Kway Teow

Another popular dish is char kway teow, flat rice noodles fried with beansprouts, prawns, cockles, chives and eggs in a rich dark sauce. The Penang version of this popular South East Asian dish (you can also find local versions in Indonesia and Singapore), is smooth and smokey, with additional light and dark soy sauces, extra spices and the use of broader width variety of flat rice noodles.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Penang Laksa

No visit to Penang is complete without a bowl of its namesake laksa. The Penang laksa is a rice noodles dish served in a thick and tasty spicy broth, spiked with flaked mackerels and a generous serving of vegetables. In Penang, head towards Lorong Selamat, off Macalister Road to try out this renowned dish – there are two versions, the sour type, and the lemak type (with the addition of coconut milk).

Photo credit - Chee Hong

Photo credit - Chee Hong

Chicken Rice

One of the most popular dish in Ipoh is the humble chicken rice. In Ipoh, the chicken is poached Hainanese style, served with beansprouts and pork meatball soup. The famed Lou Wong Restaurant is a popular place specializing in chicken rice. Their chicken is perfectly done, cooked just enough to retain a juicy smoothness that is often absent from overcooked chicken. They come mixed with beansprouts and drizzled with a tasty combination of sesame oil and soy sauce mix.

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Photo credit - Charles Haynes

Ipoh Hor Fun

When in Ipoh, be sure to try out their famed Ipoh Hor Fun. There are two variations of the dish itself. The soupy version comes served with a clear chicken and prawn browth, topped with shredded chicken meat and spring onions. The other version is a fried version, boldly flavored and enhanced with a splash of dark gravy.

Photo credit - avlxyz

Photo credit - avlxyz

Nasi Lemak

Perhaps the most popular and ubiquitous staple of Malaysian cuisine is nasi lemak, a simple dish comprising of rice cooked with coconut milk, ikan bilis (fried anchovies), roasted peanuts, some vegetables and a generous portion of a tasty sambal chilli. This is a popular dish that can be found all over Southeast Asia, each with their own local influences in the dish.

Photo credit - emrank

Photo credit - emrank

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About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. A graphic and web designer in its previous incarnation, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now, he’s settled down for the time being and focusing his efforts as the editor of an Asia travel zine, Unearthing Asia.

Szechuan’s Spicy Servings

August 26, 2009 by  
Filed under Feature Highlights, Gourmet, Uniquely Far East

This province located in the western part of China is one that is famed internationally for its tasty servings. Szechuan cuisine often features bold flavors, such as extreme spiciness usually resulting from liberal use of garlic and chilli peppers, most notably Szechuan’s uniquely flavored peppercorn. This would often result in an intensively fragrant, citrus-like flavor and a slightly numbing sensation on the tongue, adding to the uniqueness of the flavor and taste. Here’s a list of Szechuan’s spicy servings guaranteed to test you to the limit.

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)

Photo credits - wang_qian_021386

Photo credits - wang_qian_021386

Gong Bao Ji Ding, or better known as Kung Pao Chicken, is a classic dish in Szechuan cuisine. It is named after a late Qing Dynasty (late 19th century) governor of Szechuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have particularly enjoyed eating it – Gong Bao was his official title. It is a medley of thinly sliced (or cubed) chicken, golden peanuts, and bright red chilies, topped up with a light sweet and sour sauce. The chicken and scallion complement each other, with the peanuts adding crispiness into the dish.

Zhangcha Duck (Tea-smoked Duck)

Photo credits - mmm-yoso

Photo credits - mmmyoso

Zhangcha Duck, or tea-smoked duck, is a quintessential Szechuan dish. However, it is extremely difficult to prepare, and as such is eaten more often in banquets or festive events. The duck is first marinated for several hours, and then rubbed with a mixture of spices inside out. Following the marination, the duck is quickly blanched in hot water and dried. This ensures the skin stays crisps after frying. The duck is then smoked with black tea leaves, twigs and leaves, and then steamed for another 10 minutes before being deep fried.

Hui Guo Rou (Twice Cooked Pork)

Photo credits - chinkerfly

Photo credits - Chinkerfly

True to its name, this dish went through two process of cooking before being served. First, large cuts of pork ribs were boiled in hot water with slices of ginger and salt. Then, the ribs were cut into smaller portions, shallow-fried in hot oil and served with cabbages and peppers. This dish was said to have originated from the Qing Dynasty, when the Emperor Qianlong demanded a feast at one of the villages he visited. The villagers didn’t have any materials to cook with, so they dumped various leftover materials and cooked them again, which is where the term “twice cooked” came from.

Mapo Doufu

Photo credits - avlxyz

Photo credits - avlxyz

Mapo Doufu, or Mapo Tofu, is another uniquely Szechuan dish. It’s a combination of bean curd set in a spicy chili and bean-based sauce, topped with minced meat, usually pork or beef. It is powerfully spicy, with the dish being both hot in temperature and spiciness. This spiciness, combined with the distinctive flavor from the bean-based sauce, produces the seven characteristics that are often used by cooks to describe this dish: numbing, spicy hot, hot temperature, fresh, tender and soft, aromatic and flaky.

Steamboat / Hot Pot

Photo credits - osakajon

Photo credits - panduh

In Szechuan, this Chinese version of the Japanese sukiyaki, much like other Szechuan variation, receives an added spiciness. The meal includes the process of cooking itself, with a simmering metal pot filled with spicy stock and various dishes cooked right in front of you. Typical hot pot dishes include thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms, dumplings, seafood and tofu. The cooked food is usually eaten with dipping sauce and rice.

Shuizhu

Photo credits - fotoosvanrobin

Photo credits - FotoosVanRobin

The name Shuizhu literally means “water-boiled meat slices”. This Szechuan cuisine is slowly gaining popularity in China as well as other countries. The prepared meat is boiled quickly, only about 20-30 seconds, just enough to cook it but at the same time keep its smooth tender texture. It is then drained and served with vegetables, dried chili, peppers, garlic and other seasonings over it. Finally, it is topped with heated vegetable oil before serving. What makes this dish unique is the tenderness of the meat that is achieved with boiling instead of stir frying, combined with the freshness of the vegetables and the spiciness of the peppers.


This post is part of WanderFood Wednesday, a Blog Carnival held by Wanderlust & Lipstick. Check them out for a visual treat of tasty dishes, or take part in the carnival yourself!

About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. A graphic and web designer in its previous incarnation, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now, he’s settled down for the time being and focusing his efforts as the editor of an Asia travel zine, Unearthing Asia.

10 Unusual Asian Delicacies

August 5, 2009 by  
Filed under Feature Highlights, General Fun, Gourmet

Asia is known not just for its diverse cultures and traditions, but also a galore of exotic food that often surprises and astonishes, sometimes not to a positive effect. Now to list all the unusual food found in this colorful region would be simply impossible, they are just too many. So instead, we are starting out here with a list of just ten unusual delicacies from all over the region. Know of any other delicacies that you feel should make the list? Let us know and we’ll compile them on our future update!

Tuna Eyes. Photo credit - Altons Images & chloeandliah.

Tuna Eyes. Photo credit - Altons Images & chloeandliah.

Tuna Eyes

Where to find: Japan
If you can handle your food staring back at you, feasting on tuna eyes should come as a pleasure. Except for the bizarre situation of having to look at your food in the eye, they are actually pretty tantalizing for its fatty, jelly-like tissues around the eyeballs. Some prefer to eat it raw, albeit the fishy taste, others would rather steam or fry it alongside garlic or soya sauce to spice it up. Selling for less than 100 yen (approximately US$1) in Japan, this is a popular local delicacy worth trying out!

Durians. Photo credit - DarkPaisleh & MelvinHeng.

Durians. Photo credit - DarkPaisleh & MelvinHeng.

Durians

Where to find: Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia
Either you love it or hate it. This “King of Fruits” has garnered avid lovers and intense loathers alike. So powerful is its aroma (or stench), it could be detected miles away, and the smell lingers in your breath and fingers long after you are done with it. In some areas they are even banned, such is the powerful odor that comes from it! The durian has a shell full of “spikes” which you cut open and take out the fruit. They are the size of a ping pong balls, and the flesh is yellowish, sticky and gluey. Coupled with its distinctive aroma, durians come in two “flavors” – sweet and bitter. It is worth a try, or at least a sniff to experience the acquired taste of the King of Fruits. 

Lamb's brains. Photo credit - The Rocketeer & QueenKv.

Lamb's brains. Photo credit - The Rocketeer & QueenKv.

Lamb’s Brains

Where to find: India
Before anyone gags, lamb’s brains are actually pretty mild and not as revolting as you may think. They are white (when cooked, of course), tofu-like and often considered a gourmet treat prepared with Indian roti and curry. You can enjoy lamb’s brain served in various concoction – fried with tomatoes, egg, masala or even plain.

White Ants Eggs Soup. Photo credit - Xose Castro & Marshall Astor.

White Ants Eggs Soup. Photo credit - Xose Castro & Marshall Astor.

White Ant Eggs

Where to find: Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam
Walk along the streets of Sukhumvit, Bangkok and you’ll discover a whole new diversity of Thai gourmet. From restaurants to street stalls, the myriad of food will leave you bedazzled. But from delight to shock comes street stalls offering delicacies such as scorpions, beetles, grasshoppers, frogs, usually fried. White ant (or termites) eggs soup are probably one of the weirdest choice out of the rest, but they taste surprisingly good! The soup comes with a mixture of eggs, half embryos and baby ants. The eggs are soft and pop gently in your mouth with a wee bit of sour taste.

Smelly tofu. Photo credit - Mr Wabu & LexnGer.

Smelly tofu. Photo credit - Mr Wabu & LexnGer.

Smelly Tofu

Where to find: Hong Kong, Taiwan, China
As the name suggests, this popular street snack is renowned for its pungent smell, often likened to garbage or manure. The smelly toufu is actually fermented tofu, best eaten with sweet or spicy sauces. Despite a smell that turns most people away, even for its enthusiasts, smelly toufu has a light taste and once it tickles your fancy, you could be a fan of it.

Balut. Photo credit - Marshall Astor & Kerolic.

Balut. Photo credit - Marshall Astor & Kerolic.

Balut

Where to find: Phillipines
Native to Phillipines, Baluts are half-fertilized duck or chicken eggs boiled with its shell. It doesn’t exactly look inviting as the semi-developed ducklings are already visibly formed. However, the Balut is a popular local dish eaten throughout the Phillipines, believed to be an aphrodisiac and considered a high-protein, hearty snack. Often served with beer, the biggest challenge in trying out balut is overcoming its unappetizing sight, but most people would agree that it tasted much better than it looks.

Fugu. Photo credit - Culinary Journal & moophisto.

Fugu. Photo credit - Culinary Journal & moophisto.

Fugu (Blowfish)

Where to find: Japan
This rare delicacy in Japan is only for risk-takers. Intensely dangerous due to its high tetrodotoxin content, which can thwart the nervous systems in minutes and kill in a few hours, this dish is served strictly in licensed restaurants. Like an art, the fugu is delicately prepared through various complicated procedures to ensure that the toxins are thoroughly cleared. It is thinly sliced and often served as sashimi (raw). Dip the meat with wasabi or Japanese soya sauce and pop it gently into your mouth. Some professional chefs prepare this delicate sashimi so there is a minute amount of poison in the meat, giving a prickling feeling and numbness on the tongue and the lips. Fugu is considered a luxury good in Japan, costing up to USD$200 for a full set.

Drunken Shrimp. Photo credit - VIPWorld & HuevosConLeche.

Drunken Shrimp. Photo credit - VIPWorld & HuevosConLeche.

Drunken Shrimp

Where to find: Shanghai
When I first heard about the dish Drunken Shrimp, my first thought goes to the usual style of steaming your shrimps in a healthy dose of wine and alcohol. It gives the shrimp an additional dash of sweetness, making it a favorite of mine. The actual Shanghainese Drunken Shrimp however, is an entirely different experience – most notably because of the absence of steaming, or any kinds of cooking whatsoever. The shrimps are not only raw, but live! They are served bathed in strong liquor, which helps to make the shrimps less feisty, and you eat the still twitching body right away after you decapitate the poor fellow.

Silkworm Larvae. Photo credit - KSBuehler & Lokhin.

Silkworm Larvae. Photo credit - KSBuehler & Lokhin.

Beondegi (Silkworm Larvae)

Where to find: South Korea
Literally meaning “chrysalis” or “pupa” in Korean, the Silkworm Larvae are a popular snack in South Korea. They are either steamed or boiled, and then seasoned before serving. If you can get through the subtle, nutty aroma, these little guys are crunchy with a unique, strange texture inside.

Tarantula snacks. Photo credit - spotter_nl.

Tarantula snacks. Photo credit - spotter_nl.

Tarantula

Where to find: Skuon, Cambodia
During the years of terror under the Khmer Rogue, starvation was rife across Cambodia, and the people began eating anything they could get their hands on. The tarantula was one such subject, and the people of Skuon, Cambodia, developed a taste for them, even long after the regime change. These distant cousins of the crab are crispy on the outside and gooey in the middle, with the white delicate meat in the head and body tasting rather like a cross between chicken and cod.

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Chinese Hot Pot – A Steamy Affair

July 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Gourmet, Uniquely Far East

It’s Monday night in Lishui, and my boyfriend and I are heading to what has become our staple weekly kick-off dinner – hot pot. The summer humidity is sweltering and we were both sweating a river as we hail a taxi and head towards the busiest street corner in the city. Outside, a harem of motorcycles, cars, pedestrians, animals and rickshaws swarm from all directions – its a mad maze and the smell of wet chicken feathers emanates from the local farmers market nearby.

As we arrive, a dingy red carpet beckons us up a spiral staircase into the restaurant. The faces of the fuwuyuans – waitresses – light up when they see us – their favorite (and the rare few) foreign patrons. “Yuan yang ba?” she asks, confirming that we’d like our usual split pot, a double-sided pot with both spicy and non-spicy broths. My boyfriend loves the gentle, buttery flavor of the non-spicy broth, something akin to a hearty chicken soup, while the fiery red-hot side is reserved for me, the spicy-loving masochist. I’ll pay for this tomorrow.

The double-sided hot pot. Photo credit - WatchCaddy.

The double-sided hot pot. Photo credit - WatchCaddy.

Hot pot has been called a lot of different things. Some refer to it as a spicy do-it-yourself stew. Others say it’s like the Chinese version of fondue, but neither is really an apt description. Chinese hot pot is completely unique, incomparable with anything else, and a truly full experience all its own.

With the pot set duly in front of us, we take to the task of deciding what ingredients to put inside. I go first this time, heading for the buffet line where every manner of beautiful vegetables, meats and delightful snacks await my choosing. What will it be this time? Perhaps some qincai, also known as bok choy – a type of Chinese cabbage – maybe some mutton dumplings and enoki mushrooms. A little further down, snails, clams, mutton rolls and a host of different types of tofu call to hungry patrons from white plastic containers. A curious local woman takes a long look at what I’ve picked, probably wondering why I didn’t take the most decadent options like pork brains or dragon shrimp, which she has stockpiled.

A host of options for you to choose from. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

A host of options for you to choose from. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

Even more options. Photo credit - pazavi.

Even more options. Photo credit - pazavi.

Bringing my choices back to the table on a warped orange tray, I begin dunking them into the now-boiling broth, where they melt down into the lava-like red oily goodness and disappear. I’ll fish them out later, once they’ve cooked. There are as many ways to enjoy a hot pot as there are fishes in the sea, everybody I knew of had their own preferences. Some prefer to dip the thinly sliced meat lightly in the boiling broth, taking care to ensure they are not overcooked. Some others even go the extra mile, fishing the meat out still slightly reddish and raw. Others like to add prawns but not eat them, only to add an extra flavor into the broth.

The restaurant has started to fill up around us. Large groups have settled at the nearby tables, their used green chairs pushed out halfway as they dig, faces down, into their soaked bowls and leaning in to fish out overripe meatballs and sopping bits of vegetable. Giving in to the heat, men take off their shirts off and hang them over the backs of their chairs. Beer bottles are overturned. Glass breaks. People are laughing, shouting and toasting one another. Steam rises off the pot at each table and the whole affair is very, very loud.

Eating hot pot is truly a communal experience. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

Eating hot pot is truly a communal experience. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

About halfway through our meal, my mouth is sufficiently numb and we’re just about to call the fuwuyuan over for two more bottles of beer, which is free, when a group of poorly-dressed men approaches our table with huge, sheepish grins across their faces. Like many of the patrons in this restaurant, these men’s meagre salaries are given away by their soiled shoes and tattered cheap trousers, torn and stained from too many days digging concrete.

‘Ganbei,’ declares the ringleader, offering his tiny cup of lukewarm beer as a toast. ‘Ganbei. Cheers,’ we tell them with a smile, making sure to drink up. Hot pot is one of the few places where everyone enjoys themselves, regardless of class or income. Hot pot restaurants make me feel the same way I do in Irish pubs – that everybody here is just out to enjoy the food and have a good time.

And to me, it’s more than just a dinner, but an immersive cultural experience. Sitting in a hot pot restaurant, with steam rising from your table and the shouts of loud, raucous men and people having a great time – making a mess, toasting strangers and approaching tables to say hello – it really reminds me that I live in a truly communal society.

And yes... it's a messy affair. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

And yes... it's a messy affair. Photo credit - Megan Eaves.

Finally, we are stuffed beyond recognition. I turn the sticky knob and the gas flame extinguishes, leaving behind a glob of overcooked broth goop at the bottom of the pot. We take the last gulps of our warm beers, sitting back as ruddy satisfaction washes over us both. Gathering our things, we venture back into the heat of the evening, feeling full, far away and sentimental – in love with China, its food and its people.

About the Author. Megan Eaves.Megan Eaves is a freelance travel writer and China junkie. She’s an English teacher in a small town in Zhejiang Province where her days are filled correcting grammatical mistakes, killing nuclear wasps and getting stared at by the locals. Megan has traveled everywhere from the Great Wall to the Gobi Desert and isn’t afraid to write about it. She’s also the author of a groovy book called “This is China: A Guidebook for Teachers, Backpackers and Other Lunatics”. She, of course, has a website: http://www.meganeaveswriting.com

South Korea – Seoul Food

June 12, 2009 by  
Filed under Gourmet, Uniquely Far East

South Korean food just so happens to be one of my favorite, right up there along with Japanese food (it’s similar, but different). As such, I was delighted to be trying out all kinds of delicacies on my last visit to Seoul, South Korea. Here are some snaps from my culinary adventures in soulful Seoul!

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To start with, here are some street-side snacks easily found all over Seoul. The one on the right is a long wooden stick with pieces of chicken stuck into it. The sweet marinated meat is then grilled to tender perfection and served hot!

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On the left is Korean fried rice, with a generous serving of eggs layered into the dish itself. While on the right is a giant bowl of chillies in soy sauce, a common condiment it seems. Fortunately, it looks spicier than it tasted.

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Here on the left is one of my favorite meals, other than the grilled meat buffet you’ll find further down. It’s called Bi Bim Bap, loosely translated as Korean Mixed Rice. It’s a serving of meat and various steamed vegetables over rice, with an egg on top of it served on hot-stone bowl. You mix the ingredients together, “cooking” it just the way you like it before eating it right off the hot-stone. On the right is Ginseng Chicken, which you add taste and flavor by pouring alcohol (soju I believe) into it.

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And here now is my personal favorite, BBQ meat, or as they call it, Bulgogi. Slices of beef (chicken or pork works as well) are marinated in sweet bulgogi sauce before cooked to suit each person’s taste and eaten with various side dishes.

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On the left is how I prefer my Bulgogi, thin slices of meat combined with garlic and a dash of chili (hidden), then wrapped in fresh lettuce. Yumm! Also, Korean meals come with various side dishes such as pictured on the right. Our table is always a beautiful mess!

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Finally, something creepy I saw to end this post. Maggots? Larvae? Not too sure. But I stumbled upon them quite often while I was in Korea. Unfortunately, I couldn’t gather enough courage to try them out.


This post is part of Photo Friday, a Blog Carnival held by Delicious Baby. Check them out for photo-sharing goodness, or take part in the carnival yourself.

About the Author. Nikolas Tjhin. A graphic and web designer in its previous incarnation, Nik’s journeyman career has seen him do work for various creative studios in Wisconsin, Minneapolis, Singapore and Jakarta. Now, he’s settled down for the time being and focusing his efforts as the editor of an Asia travel zine, Unearthing Asia.

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