Friday, April 17, 2015

The Red Wine Trail in Germany

I am going to the Red Wine Trail in Germany. Do you know where it is?

This is going to be a ME time. Just a little break away from work. The Dutchman on the other hand is in another continent sending me videos of cows joining the traffic jam. Hmm, the vineyard valleys sounds much better methinks.

I am looking forward to hike the Red Wine Trail, strolling along the vineyard paths through the valleys and stopping by at charming wine villages. Drink some wine or two but most importantly, I just really want to enjoy the stunning and refreshing views.

And oh, my hotel sits on top of the valley overlooking a wine village and a sea of rolling vineyards. I cannot wait!

Travel Period: April 2015
Destination: Red Wine Trail, Ahrweiler (Rhineland-Platinate), Germany

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Affordable ‘All-Starters’ Dinner at Stan & Co in Utrecht, Netherlands

Blondine and I love going out for dinner from time to time. We would like to do it more often but real life gets in the way. Next week we will have our third dinner for this year. I still have to book a venue because the Michelin-Starred restaurant we were eyeing at is fully booked. We’ll have to try this another time I guess.

I am so loving these hanging retro bulbs.

The chef's table in front of the kitchen.

Our first dinner for the year was at Stan & Co in Utrecht. It’s one of the new hotspots in town that is quite popular with the young crowd. I must admit that I feel strange saying ‘young crowd’ because although I feel my age (I will be 45 in 2 months! Craziness!), I also feel quite young. It’s a double-edged sword I guess. One can always argue that it’s all in the state of the mind but I also believe in taking care of yourself physically.

So this restaurant has a quirky modern style meets retro Mediterranean interior. There is a chef’s table facing the kitchen where you can watch the cooks in action. Different design nooks and different tables and colours. Perhaps a surprising feature is the DJ space in the middle of the restaurant for the DJ to turn the tables and house down. I think that’s just cool and unique.

As for the food, it’s a fusion of sorts. The waitress introduced us to a wide variety of choices from several cuisines but we were very intrigued with the starters she told us. So we decided to have an ‘All-Starters’ dinner =)

I guess we will probably say that we were quite pleased with the food, they were all tasty, except for the chicken satay skewer which I thought was a bit too chewy. This was also a very affordable meal. We were shocked when we received the bill. For what the dinner was worth, we could have easily paid double or even more at other restaurants.

Bread in a paper bag with cream garlic mayo and tapenada.

It took us a while to order because we could not stop talking and we had to send away the waitress twice because we were not ready. I know, girls and their talkative mouths.

Blondine, the white angel =)

And moi here looking a bit tired. Yeah tired from work. I have just started working 100% fulltime again here after being sick with Pneumonia in November.

Our first starter: The Rockefeller Oyster. Verdict: It is nice but it is not our type. Blondine and I are expert oyster eaters and we prefer the fresh raw one with lemon.

The second starter: 3 kinds of flatbread, with anchovies + pecorino cheese, pancetta with pesto basilicum and the last one is some kind of white cheese. This was delicious.

Third starter: Sizzling baby squids with lemon. We love this.

The fourth starter: These were the satay chicken (and pork perhaps?) on a bed of quinoa with soy sauce. We liked the quinoa but not much the too chewy hollow meat.

Lastly, the fifth starter: Nacho chips with tomato salsa and guacamole! Always a winner, but unfortunately we were already quite full when this arrived.

The DJ booth with a little living room space. He is a bit camera shy  =)

Visit Period: January 2015
Destination: Utrecht Centrum (Utrecht), The Netherlands

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Remarkable Chinese Restaurant in Otigheim, Germany

Everything here was delicious!

Last January I had dinner with colleagues at a Chinese Restaurant in Otigheim, Germany called ‘Asia Restaurant’ (Acht schätze). It’s a small town 20 minutes from Karlsruhe. We were staying here as all the hotels were booked in Karlsruhe. One evening we decided to have dinner in town instead of the usual in Karlsruhe.

It’s a sleepy place so we wandered around a bit looking for a restaurant open for business. We remembered seeing a pizza restaurant somewhere, however, the first thing we came across was this Chinese Restaurant. Everyone loves a Chinese so why not?

Ah, it was the best decision we made that evening because the restaurant really cooked excellent food! It was perhaps one of the best Chinese food I have eaten for a long time. And because this is a Chinese restaurant we of course received fortune cookies at the end of the dinner. Fortune cookies have hidden messages in it. I cannot share to you though the message I received because I already forgot! *ooops sorry*

This was a very lovely Chinese dinner.

The restaurant in Otigheim.

Spring rolls (lumpia) with sweet chili sauce.

I can't remember what these are but its like yam coated with egg and flour. I ate lots of those chili!

Very typical Chinese Restaurant with red mahogany colours. Out table is beside the fish aquarium.

Noodles with vegetables and prawns.

Sweet and Sour Chicken. This was soooo good.

Big portion of breaded pork.

Sizzling Peking Duck. Also very good!

Travel Period: January 2015
Destination: Otigheim , Germany

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Philippine Local Market: The ‘Market Place’ in Minglanilla, Cebu

Whenever I am visiting my parents in Cebu, Philippines I always make sure I taste local stuff and go to the local wet market. My mom finds it interesting that I fancy the truly local things and that I didn’t want anything to do with imported goods, modern restaurants and expensive supermarkets.

She always says, ‘Ambot ana niya uy, dili na ganahan ug imported. Dili sab na ganahan mokaon sa nindot na mga restawran, gusto ana binisaya style ug moadto sa merkado.’ Hehe =)

For my non-Filipino readers, my mom is perplexed that every time I am home I don’t want any imported goods, don’t want to go to a fancy modern restaurant and would prefer to eat sans the glamour and convenience at local hole-in-the-walls and go to the neighbourhood wet market.

These ball sausages are typically Cebuano, we call them 'Chorizo Binisaya' and are good to eat for breakfast paired with sunny side up egg and rice. Filipinos do not like wasting parts of an animal so the chicken head can go into a soup and the chicken feet goes to the grill for barbecue, locally called as 'Adidas' =) 

The thing is I miss the down-to-earth Philippines so when I am in the country, I try to jam pack the real Philippine experience in 1 or 2 weeks. Families and friends, if you are reading this, please do not ever invite me to non-Filipino restaurants!

So last year in November, my parents and I visited the new ‘Market Place’ in Minglanilla, Cebu. I basically had only 2 days real holiday in the Philippines as I was sick and had to be admitted to the hospital for a week. I insisted that we go to the wet market so the parents obliged giving my mom as well the reason to buy seafood. I requested clam and shell soup, steamed crabs and some lato and guso seaweed for dinner.

Whilst going around the market, vendors were quite entertained that I was taking pictures of what seemed to them were so very trivial. They all think I am a balikbayan (a Filipino who lives abroad and is visiting). Some who were forward enough striked up a conversation with me.

‘Para asa ni ma’am?’ (What are these pictures for?)

‘Asa ni dad-on nimo ma’am? Sa Amerika o sa Germany?’ (Where are you bringing these pictures ma’am? To the US or Germany?)

As you can see the USA and Germany are very popular choices.

I always respond that the pictures are not going anywhere. It is just for here, although they don’t really believe me as I hear them talking away behind my back. It’s a white lie as I didn’t want to get into deep discussion with everyone. I just want to enjoy the market, that’s all.

So yeah, do enjoy my pictures as well. I hope you have a learned a thing or two about Philippine markets and what Cebuanos eat in this post.

Fish and crab section. Most of the fish sold in the markets are different types of mackerel, milkfish, grouper, beltfish, red snapper and tilapia. That is I think an eel (called 'palos' there).

These are little condiment-food stalls selling all types of stuff that go into the cooking.

The colourful balls in plastic are 'Sago' which are starchy pearls, ingredients for dessert (Halo-Halo) and drinks (Sago & Gulaman drink). The green fruits we call them 'Iba', they are very sour and are often used in soups. The yellow noodles we call them 'Pancit Fresh Miki' which are moist egg noodles. These are very popular in Cebu.

My favourite section of the market. My mom bought our dinner for the evening here! Clams and all sorts of shells called 'Sikad'. Those tiny grape seaweeds are called 'Lato'. The sea green ones in cups are 'Lukot', they are not my favourite really and the ones behind it in bright green is called 'Guso', a classic favourite though.

Those are coconut cooking oil and vinegar in plastics. The vendors buy them in huge wholesale containers and retail them like this. Another typical Cebuano are these small chili peppers, we call them 'Sili Bisaya' and they are lethal! We usually crush and dip them in vinegar, calamansi and soy or fish sauce as a dip sauce for meat dishes.

Rice is big business in the Philippines. A meal is not complete without it. These are much bigger stalls selling vegetables, noodles and cooking condiments.

This man is selling 'Puto Kutsinta' which are jelly-like brown rice cakes topped with coconut shavings. Upper left are 'Binangkal' which are fried bread balls coated with sesame seeds . Lower left are 'Cassava Cakes' I believe topped with brown sugar caramel. Upper right are 'Torta' which are cakes as well and they vary from heavy to fluffy light. 

Tropical fruits: Papaya, Banana, packed Pineapple and Watermelon slices and Lanzones. I love lanzones!

This is perhaps too much for the vegeterian =) Pork is king in the Philippines. See here my post: Dissecting the Pork-Eating Country Philippines

Fruit stands selling seasonal fruits except for Apples, Grapes and Mandarin Oranges (which are often imported): Watermelon, Bananas, Pineapples, Mangoes, Pomelos.

These are the vegetable vendors. 

Ready-to-eat food at the market: 'Deep Fried Chicken' (coated in flour) and 'Whole Roasted Chicken' (we call this 'Lechon Manok') which is a typically Cebuano thing. Cebuanos made grilling chicken and pork popular in the country. The girl is selling 'Fried Caramelised Bananas', 'Cebuano-style Pancakes', 'Pinaypay (deep fried banana coated with egg and flour and sprinkled with sugar) and some cold drinks, 'Coconut Juice' and the yellow one I have no idea. To the lower left you can see a bunch of 'Cooked Rice packed in Banana Leaves', also a local invention called 'Puso'.

Tricycles and Habal-Habal. Those motorcycle drivers are public transport. I am not sure how much they charge but a motorcycle habal-habal can take 2-3 passengers. Helaas, I have never tried these and considering their notoriety as reckless drivers, I am not sure if I want to as well.

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination: Minglanilla, Cebu (Visayas), Philippines

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Dissecting the Pork-Eating Country Philippines

The Philippines is definitely not a country fitted for vegetarians. Strangely, the average Filipino does not really understand what a vegetarian is, let alone a vegan. Even when you tell the waitress at a restaurant that you do not eat meat, or even if you tell this directly to the cook, they will still try to sneak in a tiny piece of pork sliver into your dish. They will reason out—for flavouring. But most importantly, they just do not understand why someone will not want to eat meat.

I actually grew up not really loving and eating a lot of vegetables. I am a late bloomer so to speak. Vegetables in the Philippines are not the main stars in dishes, they are merely used as sides and garnishings. I have seen a lot from family, friends and everyone else really, leaving vegetables uneaten on their plates. Such a pity and a waste. There are of course vegetable dishes, however, if you ask the locals which they would prefer eating, they will always pick the meat ones. This is authentic eating culture in the Philippines where meat—especially pork—is prized very high up in the pedestal of local cuisine.

Pork has truly garnered a very special place in the hearts and tummies of everyone in the islands. Because a real Filipino meal is not a proper meal without meat, rather, without pork.

Fact: The national dish of the country is ‘Lechon Baboy’ (roasted pig on a spit). Google please if you are not familiar with this. Every feast must have a lechon baboy on the table in the Philippines.

The country however is a developing nation. There is a very distressing wide gap between the rich and the poor, it is insane. I used to think before that this was normal, but nowadays I am culture-shocked everytime I visit. Prosperity and opportunity are not just handed to you in a plate there just like how it is done in highly developed countries such as the Netherlands. The good news is, there is a large thriving middle class group that is continuously making the gap smaller.

So in my opinion, because of the economic gaps, culinary choices have affected the social layers in the society. If you can afford to buy meat, it means you can afford the better things in life. To have a better life in the Philippines stands as the most innate ambition of every Filipino. Because life in the Philippines is a constant struggle. Everywhere you go you are confronted and reminded of the hard life, even on the streets. It is survival.

This goes to say as well that meat in the rural areas where livelihoods are less developed is seen as something to desire of and are therefore eaten mostly during ‘pay day’ and  special ocassions such as birthdays and festivals. I guess we all can conclude that pork is eaten at a much higher volume by middle to upper class families because they have the means.

Sadly, life is like a big lottery. When we are born into this world, we cannot choose the parents to bring us up. If you are born to a poor family, you really have bad luck, especially if you are born in under developed and developing countries. And if the Philippines should have been a highly developed country? I am sure it will be the highest pork-consuming country in the world.

But for a country spanning an amazing 1,001 islands across the Pacific and hailing the ‘Lechon Baboy’ as the national dish instead of something from the sea, I find it really odd. Don’t you think? Except for China, the Philippines is really the only country in Asia that adores pork.

Our food choices though have serious consquences eventually. Many middle and upper class families in the Philippines live very unhealthy lives, with hypertension, stroke and coronary heart diseases as prevalent health concerns starting at their early adult lives (30s). It is difficult when eating pork has become a habit, when your palate craves for it and there is a large ready supply available and promoted around you.


Oh, I was just thinking that perhaps the history with Spain may also play a role why Filipinos are pork lovers. Hmmm... but we cannot blame the Spaniards all the time, can we?

Do you have other speculations?

More pork pictures taken at the Market Place in Minglanilla, Cebu:

Travel Period: November 2014
Destination Minglannilla (Cebu - Visayas), Philippines

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Charming Village of Vreeswijk in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has many charming small villages and because of the same Dutch-style brick-work architecture, the canals and the wooden draw bridges, to the untrained eye these cute villages might look very similar to each other.

I have travelled far and wide and I can tell you that the Netherlands has the best mundane villages. The locals here are obsessed with beautifying their houses, with gardening and landscaping. It is the horticultural capital of the world and you can really see this in the most mundane of all villages. Fixing and decorating the front yard is part of Dutch culture because the neighbours will reprimand you if you don’t tend it.

Whilst walking around Vreeswijk, I saw lovely gardens but didn’t really take pictures as I do not want to rouse homeowners wondering what I am up to, haha. I did have a chat with the volunteer man on the front door of the village museum (I didn’t go inside though). I asked him where ‘Vreeswijk’ got its name. Because if you literally translate Vreeswijk to English, it would mean ‘Fear district’ (you can also think of ‘scary district’ – lol).

But fear not, this is not the meaning of the village!

The man raised his eyebrows, as if recognising the accuracy of the question, or perhaps he was surprised why I asked, and explained to me that back in the 10th century people from the north—the ‘Fries’ came to work in Utrecht. There were no jobs in the north so many migrate down to the cities. Because the city of Utrecht didn’t have a lot of housing and was quite expensive to live, the Fries settled a few kilometres further south. So this village was originally a Fries settlement—Friesenwijk. In the later years, it became Vreeswijk.

Wijk in Dutch means district or neighbourhood. Since the 1970s, Vreeswijk has become a part of Nieuwegein.

I was not sure if I was happy with the very civil explanation of the history of Vreeswijk. A part of me remains to keep the mysterious thought and fearsome image of the village. It doesn’t hurt to ruffle a bit of speculation to liven up our senses, right? =)

These red and white wooden window shutters are very typical Dutch. You will find these in many castles and villages in the country.

Well I did manage to take a shot of this lovely bench decorated with flowers and plants in a garden of one of the village homeowners.

One of the two wooden draw bridges in the centre of Vreeswijk. This one is a foot bridge.

Basically the poster means patronising local products from the village.

This is the other wooden draw bridge. The difference is this is bigger and vehicles can pass here.


This is a very old men's hair salon that is still functioning in Vreeswijk. It is kind of a museum really.

It was autumn when Dutchman and I were there. We were actually treasure hunting with our metal detector nearby and I left the Dutchman to further hunt and visited the village on my own.

Here you can see both wooden draw bridges.

Saw a gelato store and bought my favourite lemon and pistacchio mix.

 I went around the village and came across this little fort, climbed the dike and this is what I saw. See below.

Visit Period: September 2014
Destination: Vreeswijk (Nieuwegein – Utrecht), Netherlands

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