To travel, or not to travel, that is the question. In face of the pandemic, my answer to that question is unlikely. The inability to travel got me reminiscent of my most recent oversea trip: a two-week vacation to Taiwan back in December 2019. And as I oscillate between feeling happy (oh, it was so much fun!) and regret (if I had known COVID-19 was going to happen, I would have…), I want to take the opportunity to share one of my favorite spots in Taipei.
Dadaocheng and its Port City glory
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, is a modern metropolis with its share of skyscrapers, restaurants, and department stores. But there is a neighborhood that takes you back to another era in time. It is Dadaocheng (大稻埕). To Tai-bei-ren (Taipei people), the neighborhood is best known for its main avenue: Dihua Street (迪化街). It is the premier spot to buy dried delicacies that range from scallops to mushrooms to spices. If you were to come the weeks preceding Chinese New Year, you will find the street packed with people stocking up traditional Chinese foodstuffs for Lunar New Year’s feasts.
There is, however, more to Dadaocheng then Dihua Street. The origin of the name Dadocheng pays tribute to its agricultural origin—”Dao” (稻) means rice grains and “Dacheng” are machines used to dry rice. The village then became a small city at the end of the 18th century due to the opening of Danshui Port (淡水港) and soon became famous for exporting tea. Today, the place hints of its former port city day glory, presenting a unique blend of old and new, East and West. You will find a delightful collection of historic buildings, tea shops, clothing shops, Chinese herbal medicine shops and local food stalls all easily accessible by walking.
FYI #2, the best way to get to Dadaocheng is by taking the Taipei Metro and getting off at one of these three stops: (1) Shuanglian (雙連) Station/Red Tamsui-Xinyi Line, (2) Beimen (北門) Station/Green Songshan-Xindian Line, or (3) Daqiaotou (大橋頭) Station/Yellow Zhonghe-Xinlu Line.
Here are some of my favorite shops (pastries and tea only for this post), curated by Yours Truly! Continue reading →
Sure as pairing Japanese green with Castella sponge cake or ordering my coffee extra hot, I have once more listed “workout more” as one of my new year resolutions.
I am not alone. Fitness and health resolutions are a January fixture — the most common New Year resolutions have to do with improving one’s physical fitness, with “exercise more frequently” and “loose weight” being the most common, according to a Wall Street Journal Online/Harris Interactive online survey of U.S. adults.
While the survey also pointed out most fitness- and health-related resolutions dissipate by mid-year, I have decided to reverse the trend, committing to a sunrise and morning workout on the beach.
Starting the new year with oceanside sunrise! (January 2017/Crystal Cove)
Commitment 3.8/5 stars (A January 2 start date is not as good as January 1, but decent)
Sunrise 3/5 (Rainy and cloudy, but the sky lit up around 8 a.m.)
Duration 4.2/5 (Hiked/Walked for approximately one hour 30 minutes)
Traveling to Ireland for the first time, what impressed me the most was neither North Antrim Coast nor the amount of Guinness Dublin-ers consume, but Irish sheep. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said sheep. Along my train ride: from Dublin to Belfast, from Belfast to Dublin to Galway, whenever I saw them, I would gesture excitedly, grab my friend’s arm and cry, “Look, sheep!”
My British friend gaped in awe and said, “Do you not have sheep in America? You know outside London we have sheep, just like these right?”
Alas, how do I explain my conviction that Irish sheep — set against blue sky and green grass — are somehow extra fluffy, and most likely extra special. Thank goodness my obsession is not alone. I was able to dig up an article from Boston Irish Reporter, titled “Hello sheep lovers: Ireland is the place for ewe” to prove my sanity.
Blue sky, green pasture, and fluffy, cloud-white Irish sheep! (image credit: www.premier1supplies.com)
The humble baguette, in its most basic form, requires no more than flour, yeast, salt and water. It’s very white, and very French. But despite the simplicity, a good loaf of baguette is not easy to find.
What makes a good loaf?
The juxtaposition of the perfect crunchy exterior and soft interior complete with large irregular air holes. The crust is rich, dark golden, which indicates the robust caramelized flavor. Additionally, the crust is crunchy yet breakable by hand and the texture moist, slightly chewy and nutty in favor. Like ordering spaghetti bolognese at Italian restaurants, whenever I want to test the quality of a new bakery, I start with baguettes. And yesterday after a visit to the Union Square Green Market, I returned home a happy camper carrying a variety of young kales and two loafs of baguette from Bread Bakery.
Bread Bakery baguette, 2 for $6 (image credit: www.nyhabit.com)
When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona — the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes Kuih for dessert.
Traditional “Kuih” (image credit: Hotel Armada/kuali.com)
The word Kuih（粿）came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version incorporates local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. Coconut milk adds an exotic sweetness and pandan leaves, a herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.
From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.
Another must-try is Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the green color comes from pandan paste) in coconut milk and palm sugar.
But all in all, my ultimate favorite dessert is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice (Ais) Red Bean (Kachang) in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia, the dish comprises of shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.
My fondness for the dessert derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》）.
Portraits of Flemish painter Anthony van Dyke (1599-1641) are typically dark, a technique typical of the period using a semi-dark background to highlight the subject.
The mastery of van Dyke’s use of black (various shades of it), white and gray is most alluringly presented in the portrait of Frans Synders. Set against a billowing black drapery and enveloped in a rich cascade of black – black doublet lined with a wired, lace trim collar, black cloak – Synders’ elegantly aristocratic face and hands are further accentuated. There is something grand and mysterious with his stare, and, oh, those beautiful fingers…
One should never gape at a painting with less-than-just-admiration thoughts, especially standing in the Frick Collection‘s handsome West Gallery. But you have to admit, he is devastatingly handsome. In fact, Synders (in addition to being wealthy) is a Flemish painter of animals, still live and, often violent hunting scenes. How’s that for having a darker side, Christian Grey?
Van Dyke, “Frans Snyders” circa 1620/oil on canvas (image credit: commons.wikimedia.org)
If you have not yet been to the Frick Collection in the Upper East Side, you should take advantage of its Sunday “by donation” program. Compared to other art museums, the Frick Collection, being the former residence of Pittsburgh industrialist/collector Henry Clay Frick (1849–1919) and a museum, offers an interesting viewing experience. Painting and sculpture aside, the Gilded Age mansion, including ceiling, vase, lamp, furniture, etc., the entirety is art.
Malaysia’s richness, whether it’s food, dialect or culture, derives from the intermingle of different ethnic groups, predominantly the Malay, Chinese and Indians. In Penang, where Chinese immigrants dominate, food is further enriched by the marriage of Chinese and Malaysian cultures (known s babas and nyonas), literally and metaphorically.
Best of Penang street food (image credit: misstamchiak.com)
To get a glimpse of the awesomeness of one (Chinese) plus one (Malay) is more than two, just go through the list of noodle dishes the city has to offer: Continue reading →