Onam Village

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We celebrated Onam*, Kerala’s rice harvest festival, on Sunday at Singapore Malayalee Association‘s annual Onam Village at Naval Base Secondary School. The function featured sports activities for children and families and a cultural program, which featured everything from women dancing a Thiruvathirakali, a traditional folk dance, to young children romping to the latest Malayalam film tunes.

The highlight of the Onam Village in Yishun is the Onam sadya, or banquet of vegetarian dishes, served on a banana leaf. As in years past, the meal featured aviyal (steamed vegetables in a coconut and yogurt sauce); erissery (pumpkin in a roasted coconut sauce); kalan (plantains and yams cooked in yogurt); and three varieties of payasam (pudding made by boiling rice, green gram, or vermicelli with milk and sugar and flavored with cardamom, raisins, and nuts). It is a slow and sumptuous meal, meant to be savoured with friends.

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* Thiru Onam, the most important day of the four-day festival, is actually on Wednesday, September 14.

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias

 

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE, Scroll.in, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

My Hanoi with Quynh Nguyen of nightcactus

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Quynh Nguyen, a Vietnamese-born Amsterdam-based freelance writer. She blogs about travelling, living abroad and #lifehack at www.nightcactus.net. You can also check out her work on her website, www.quynh.nl. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

And now, over to Quynh…

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Must eats? One thing I love about living in Hanoi is the snack time. After work and before dinner, I sometimes go out with my best friend for some nom, a salad made with green papaya, carrot and beef jerky mixed in a tangy fish sauce and topped with roasted peanuts. There is a little stall run by an old lady near the church on Ham Long Street. It has a plastic table and a few blue stools on the part of a pavement where you are not allowed to sell food officially. Whenever a police car drives past, we have to stand up and pretend that we are not eating there and that we are just two random girls holding up some random plastic plates. We keep coming back despite the trouble because her nom is so good: it is fresh and full of flavour. On those plastic stools, my best friend and I have shared countless stories about friends and family, the rivalry and the loved ones, or sometimes just random gossip.

As soon as the summer heat eases off, I go for lau, or so-called “hotpot”, in Quan Ngay Moi (New Day Restaurant) on Ma May street. They offer three types of soup base (standard, tom yum and spicy) with a large selection of toppings from seafood and freshwater fish to thinly sliced pork and beef. They serve leafy green vegetables, different kinds of tofu (fresh as well as cooked), and various mushrooms on the side. The ingredients are fresh and of high quality, and the staff are friendly and efficient. The restaurant offers other foods such as rice dishes and beer snacks. If I arrive at the restaurant starving, I order these snacks while waiting for the hotpot to be ready. They are also pretty good and reasonably priced.

Living in Hanoi has the luxury of a wide choice of pho (noodle soup), inarguably the most famous Vietnamese dish abroad. I love Pho ga chat Ton Duc Thang where they only do pho with chicken in thick chops including both bone and skin. Their chicken is tender and tasty while their broth is just perfect for the tongue, the nose and the eyes. They must sell at least fifty chickens per day because the restaurant is always packed whenever I go for a slurp or simply drive past. Even though I prefer pho with chicken, I do sometimes go to Pho Thin, a small and rustic restaurant near Hoan Kiem Lake, for its excellent pho bo, the beef version.

I like street foods because they are so yummy and they don’t fill you up too quickly. When I want to introduce Vietnamese street food to my foreign friends, I take them to one of the Quan An Ngon restaurants, which are on Tran Hung Dao Street or Phan Dinh Phung Street. Their concept is to bring different types of street food into a restaurant setting, which means that guests can sit on proper chairs and tables, instead of on tiny plastic stools by a busy street like at a typical street food stall. There, you can find everything from banh cuon (steamed rice crepes filled with minced pork and mushrooms) to banh goi (deep-fried pastries made with pork, vermicelli, mushrooms and sometimes eggs), all types of noodle soups: bun (rice vermicelli), mien (glass noodle) and pho (flat rice noodle), as well as che – a type of dessert made with beans, coconut milk, jelly and many other random ingredients, and served either hot or cold.

Must dos?

I like going for bia hoi (draught beer), and my favourite place is the bia hoi junction, where Ta Hien street meets Luong Ngoc Quyen street. It is very crowded with backpackers sitting right on the junction, but I do squeeze into the crowd when I am in the mood for people-watching. When I’m not, my boyfriend and I sit at a larger place about 50 metres away. The establishment includes ten to twenty plastic tables, setting up on the pavement outside a school. We park our motorbike inside the school and get a table, a few beer snacks and a lot of beer. The draught beer is made within the day at one of the breweries around town, and its alcohol level and quality vary widely. However, the main attraction of bia hoi is the taste of freshness on a summer evening. People, young and old, come to this place to unwind casually after a long hard day. It’s so full of life the way they drink, eat, talk and laugh away.

There is a blossoming cafe culture in Hanoi, where you can find many different styles of coffee shops from chic and modern (like Joma or Hanoi Social Club) to retro classic (like Cong Caphe or Cafe Lam). I like going to Cong Caphe, sitting on the floor by their low tables, and watching the coffee drips coming from the phin (the Vietnamese version of cafetière) into the glass.

Must sees?

The Old Quarter is something that you have probably read about in every guide to Hanoi, but you really must see it. I like to drive my motorbike very slowly through all the hang – a kind of street on which the shops historically sold only a single type of product. There used to be about 50 streets like that, but nowadays only a handful remain in their original form: selling incense sticks, spices, silver works, and lanterns etc. Each hang has their typical colour patterns and scents, which always give me a sense of nostalgia as I wander past.

I am generally not a big fan of mega malls, but I do find the newly built Royal City’s Mega Mall pretty impressive. The underground shopping mall covers a total area of 230,000 square metres. It has six hundred-and-something shops, two hundred-and-something restaurants, two movie theatres, a water park, and the most exciting thing: a full-size ice rink. When I last went, the majority of skaters were beginners, and it was so fun to watch tropical Hanoians giving it a try at a winter sport.

When I feel like taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the city life, I opt for visiting the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology. It is located in one of the newly developed districts and is about 10km away from the centre. The main exhibition displays everyday objects from various ethnic groups, as well as their tribal art inside a modern structure. However, I most enjoy what lies outside the main building . Here are examples of traditional village houses, such as a house on stilts or a long commune cottage. I find it fascinating to learn about the different ways of living that are so close to my birthplace, but somehow so remote to me.

Must art?

I still remember the first time my parents took me to see water puppets. I was ten and seeing the colouring puppets moving in the water was like magic. Adults also find water puppets fun and graceful so grab a show at the Municipal Water Puppet Theatre if you have never seen it. For more modern forms of art, I go to the Jazz Club on Quan Su, chilling with a glass of wine and listen to the live band. Or else, Hanoi Opera House has many big gigs of well popular singers and bands. I also go there for the venue, which is absolutely gorgeous.

Must gos?

I get around Hanoi on a scooter because it is a fast and convenient way to manoeuvre around busy roads. I sometimes take the bus, especially to go to the new part of town, like Cau Giay or Thanh Xuan districts. There the roads are wide, busy and dusty so the bus could be a temporary safe haven on a very hot day. Taxis are plenty in Hanoi, especially around the centre. The fare is quite reasonable, especially with smaller taxis like Van Xuan. I would take Mai Linh sometimes because their service is probably the best in the city, but they are not cheap. If you want to take a taxi, make you sure you learn the names of some big taxi companies so you can recognize them. There are a lot of scams so even if the brand looks familiar, you should always check if the car has a proper meter reader running.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Quynh Nguyen; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

BoxGreen Singapore

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A friend in the United States recently gave birth and I sent her my go-to parent/caregiver gift—a five-month gift subscription to NatureBox, an online subscription service for healthy snack food  “It’s always difficult for me to keep up with enough healthy food while I’m nursing,” she writes. “I think my biggest worry will be having to share with K and L [her two older children]!”

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I recently stumbled upon BoxGreen Singapore, a nearly identical service*, while searching for a gift for a first-time parent friend here. For SG$19.90 per month, subscribers receive four natural and wholesome snacks delivered to home or office, and boxes can be customized with items from a selection of 20+ wholesome options. BoxGreen also sells individual snack packs.

While Boxgreen’s offerings include ordinary and overpriced almonds and pistachios, the company’s in-house line of products—”MacRitchie Midnight” (dark chocolate nibs, hazelnuts, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds, “best eaten while stranded in the dark depths of Macritchie at midnight”) and “Cheng Tng” (dried longans, wolf berries, and lotus seeds)—sound rather tasty! I haven’t actually tasted BoxGreen’s in-house line, however, so I can’t vouch for its quality.

Founders Walter Oh and Andrew Lim launched the company with the aim to help office drones beat the 3pm crash. But I think it is the perfect gift for breastfeeding mothers and stressed-out students (both equally as busy and working). BoxGreen currently does not sell gift certificates for their subscription service, but does sell gift boxes, such as this one which retails for SG$25.00 and contains four full-sized packs (80 grams) of their top-selling sweet and savory snacks.

Connect with BoxGreen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

* Even its brand’s capitalization is the same!

(UPDATE: Aiyah, someone accused me of not revealing “advertorial” content. I don’t do “content.” This is a personal blog, and BoxGreen was a random find. I suspect that they haven’t been reading me for very long!)

Why You Should Visit Singapore’s Little India Now at Serious Eats

DSC_069120150413-fifth-season-momos-pooja-makhijani.jpg I’m over at Serious Eats, a site with “a democratic yet scientific approach to cooking the best dishes, busting food myths, and delivering strong opinions on what you should eat next, where, when, and why,” with my guide to best experience all the vibrant foods that make Singapore’s Little India special.

An excerpt:

When I first moved from New York City to Singapore, it was in Little India, a neighborhood to the east of the metropolis’s Central Business District, not an American expatriate enclave, that I found an escape from homesickness. It was here that I heard the melodies of familiar languages and ate familiar foods, dishes that my family has cooked and eaten in both the Old World and the New.

Serangoon Road, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, has been for centuries a commercial and community space for immigrants from the Subcontinent. Indians were among the first migrants to Singapore in the early 19th century, and Singapore was part of a larger interlocking colonial network, the hub of which was India.

The area continued to develop as the center of South Asian life (largely Hindu and Tamil speaking), as a focal point for a new migration, and as a growing commercial center. The name “Little India,” is a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) concoction—the moniker was not used until the 1980s. That was when Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority earmarked Little India as a conservation area and STB demarcated the neighborhood as a cultural heritage tourism area. Today, the neighborhood is a religious and cultural hub for the South Asian community, both local and foreign, as well as a major tourist destination.

Food is the neighborhood’s choice commodity, yet few travel guides detail the rich and unique cuisines found in Little India. Where else can you find the authentic tastes of the entire Subcontinent in the area of less than one square mile? The flavors found in Little India are the real deal and not watered down for Western palates; the neighborhood’s restaurants cater to this city’s large, diverse and discerning South Asian population.

Continue reading “Why You Should Visit Singapore’s Little India Now.”

Literary City Guide

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I’m over at Eat This Poem, a literary food blog helmed by writer, blogger, content developer, community builder, good food advocate, and home cook Nicole Gulotta, with a short “Literary City Guide” to Singapore! An excerpt:

BOOKSTORES

Basheer Graphic Books. Basheer Graphic Books carries a range of art and design titles, from fashion photography monographs to furniture design tomes, from cinematography manuals to ceramics encyclopedias.

Wardah Books. Wardah Books stocks an astounding collection of English-language books on Islamic philosophy and Sufism. I love the cheeky section titles in Wardah Books, such as “Reign of Quantity” (books critical of modern capitalism) and “Matters Still Unfolding” (books on politics and Islam).

Woods in the Books. This picture book shop houses picture books, graphic novels, and comic books for children and adults.

COFFEE SHOPS

La Ristrettos. La Ristrettos is hidden in Novena Medical Center; grab a seat on the terrace for a quiet meal.

The Plain. The Plain serves comfort food (including all-day breakfast and delicious open-faced sandwiches) and great coffee.

Loysel’s Toy Cafe. Best known for its premium gourmet coffeeconcoctions tucked away on the banks of the Kallang River.

Continue reading “Literary City Guide” to Singapore.