#FoodFri: Fried duck + rice in Yogyakarta

The first time I’ve ever tried deep fried duck was in Indonesia.

Compared to the fat (injection induced) friend chicken I’ve eaten, fried duck (especially in Indonesia) is very skinny. Imagine roasted duck but drier and tougher. Yes, that’s how it tastes like. Not that it’s not tasty that way, but it’s just special.

Unlike back home where meat or vegetable play the main role in a meal, the rice is the leading character here. (Let’s ignore the raw veg, I don’t eat raw veg.)

There’s a special chilli that comes along with the dish. Unfortunately, I don’t eat chilli too so I can’t tell if it’s any good.

#FoodFri is a post up on each Friday featuring a dish or meals I’ve had when travelling (or staying put). Happy eating!

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Mid-year review of my 2012 travel resolutions

It’s the end of June and time for a mid-year review of my travel KPIs, and revise my KPIs for the rest of the year. (This sentence sound too depressingly like work.)

My travel resolutions set at the beginning of the year were:

1. Make flight bookings to Thailand and the Phillipines
–>Bangkok’s ticket is set. But I’ve ran out of leave for P’pines

2. Look less through the camera panel, instead straight at the scenery in front.
–>Does forgetting my camera during my bike ride to Sausolito count? Am I breaking the rules if I use my iPhone instead? This is so complicated!

3. When travelling, talk to a local and find out what they think is the best thing to do in town.
–>I used Yelp and found out what the locals thought were good food. Does that count as well?

4. While even CNNGo.com claiming Singapore as boring, I’ll find not boring activities to do, travel local and explore Singapore like it’s my first trip.
–>Travelling local seems to have been forgotten by me. Oops.

5. Start saving and planning for my 2013 round-the-world trip
–>I swear my bank balance looks exactly like it was at the beginning of the year. Argh

Are travel resolutions like the yellow brick road? Detouring wouldn’t hurt, would it?

After taking deep gulps of air (at least it’s not wine), I’ve decided to set (or revise) my travel resolutions:

1. Stop making new flight bookings. Finish my Malaysian travels (Five more to go!).
2. Eat more during travels for #FoodFri!
3. Stop being so dang shy and ask the e-mail address/twitter handle of the cute hostel guy.
4. Stop using so many “stops” in my travel resolution. Start using more starts!
5. Really start saving and reach that $20,000 goal for RTW. (If Stephanie from 20-something Traveling can do it, so can I!)
6. Continue my Sunday, Tue/Wed and #FoodFri posts. (Doing a good job sister!)
7. Start picking up conversational Spanish. (How should we measure the success for this?)
8. Start real research for #rtw2013.

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
Week 26 of the Indie Travel Challenge is all about checking in on your resolutions from Week 1.

Read: To Vietnam with Love

I usually read up on places I am visiting before a trip. Whether it is travel guides, blog posts, recommendation sites, I read them all.

I picked up <<To Vietnam with Love: A travel guide for the connoisseur>> as an afterthought. I was at the library and my arms were already heavy with two other guidebooks.

But I’m glad I did.

<<To Vietnam with Love>> is one of the rare travel guide books that breaks away from the tradition guidebook structure. (I believe the <<To Asia with Love>> series have have the same format.)

The “traditional” travel guide structure is the main reason I don’t review travel guides here.

In a regular guidebook, I find:
->History of City
->Sights to see
->Eat
->Accommodation
->Things to be careful of
->Nearby fun stuff

<<To Vietnam with Love>> is structured differently. Instead of having cities as chapters, it has different themes: Eating, Shopping, Sightseeing, Local culture and etc.

Under each theme, different writers introduce us to the Vietnam he or she has experienced. At the end of their story, there is a blue box that lists the addresses of the places mentioned.

A break from tradition

I was very much in love with this refreshing structure and the layout. The stories were short enough to keep me captivated. They were also useful since the authors give a part of the Vietnam they know to us. (But not very useful if you want a This is What You Should Do kind of travel advice.)

The introduction of the guidebook is spot on. After reading the stories, I felt like I was listening to someone’s travels in Vietnam after a dinner at someone’s house.

The book is also a contrast to other travel compilations.

One thing I don’t like about travel compilations such as <<The Best Women’s Travel Writing>> (please don’t blacklist me) is the length of the stories and the layout of the page.

Most of the pieces of such compilations are long short-story. The text spans from the left border to the right. Adding these two together makes a rather unpleasant pleasant reading experience, even though the stories are great.

A caution to crybabies

Most of the writers in the book are Americans. Since the US has fought in the Vietnam War, a lot of the stories were about revisiting the country as a veteran or a relative of the veteran.

A warning to emotional people like me, these war-related pieces made me weep over my lunch. (Heck, I wept when Hedwig died in the last Harry Potter book.) I had to wipe tears off my cheek or risk eating my tears in my porridge.

Overall, it is a very good book to have, especially if you are not visiting Vietnam. For folks who want itineraries, it’s much better to get the normal travel guidebooks.

Check out other interesting travel book reviews here:

Read: The Great Railway Bazaar
Eat, Pray, Love (Skip the India section.)
Round the world with NT$100,000 (Chinese)
The Naked Traveler (Indonesian)

I’m heading to central Vietnam soon. Any reading recommendations?

#FoodFri A picnic in castle grounds @ Fontainebleau, France

How’s everyone’s week been? Mine was busy covering an annually tradeshow. Luckily, they keep us journalists pretty well-fed in the press hall so I’m a happy camper.

Today’s #FoodFri is a picnic lunch I had in the grounds of Fontainebleu Castel in France. As you can see, it’s not quite as scandalous as Manet’s <<Le déjeuner sur l’herbe>> but it was a peaceful lunch.

I bought the supplies from the Monoprix near the castle after I dropped off at two bus stops too far from my destination. I decided that I did not want to stress myself with ordering lunch en Francais so I bought couscous, chicken, yogurt and H20.

Being cold, pre-cooked food, it wasn’t the best tasting dish I’ve had in France but I’ve had a worse meal (instant noodles I brought from Singapore.) Sacrebleu!

I found a quiet spot overlooking the castle grounds.

Not far away, a kindergarten group was having their lunch.

I decided to skip Versailles and go to Fountainebleu because I know that if I ever come back to France with other people, I would be dragged to see the Sun King’s palace. Napoleon had stayed in this castle and there was an exhibition of his things in the castle.

#FoodFri, short for Food Friday, is a weekly post where I feature a dish I’ve had while travelling or a dish you should try when you come to Singapore.

Other French eats

Help! I am addicted to Pocket Planes (plus some tips)

While I do review travel-planing apps (erm.. Flight Lover only for now) here, today’s app is slightly different but still travel-related.

I started playing Pocket Planes last Friday. It’s created Nimblebit which also made Tiny Tower. This explains why I could not stop checking my phone and tapping the screen like a zombie.

The game is not as simple. Picking it up was frustrating since I did not know what I was supposed to do.

You need to fly passengers and cargo to different destinations on the map. First, you choose a country. I picked Japan because I love the Land of the Rising Sun. (Interestingly, my colleagues all chose Japan too, not sure why.)

Tip 0: Pick a region that you are familiar with
->I chose Japan because I know the country quite well. Plus, the locations aren’t very far from each other.

Then you start flying cargo or folks across the country, earning bitcoins and bux along the way.

Why is it addictive? Like Tiny Tower, there’s a waiting element then reward. Then there’s the panicking part where I fear that I am not earning all the bitcoins I can while I am awake.

Addictions happen silently.

The bitbook is totally cute too. And it has not reached the stage where I’ve read every single entry and its variation.

Some Pocket Planes tips

anWith all that playing, I’ve figured out some strategies that work for me. But since I’ve been playing for a while, I’m not sure which tip is for beginning player and which for more advanced player as reference.

For example, I assume you know that bux (the

Tip 1: Give good names

One important trick in the game is combos (explained in Tip 2), so I name my planes based on their functionality.

A plane that flies 1 passenger and 1 cargo is called 1P1C.
A plane that flies no passenger and 2 cargo is called 0P2C.

Tip 2: C-c-c-combo!

In case you are not joined at the hip to the Internet like I am, it’s supposed to be c-c-c-combo breaker.

Combos work like dream jobs in Tiny Tower. You earn an extra 25 percent if your cargo/passengers are heading to the same location and you fly them there.

Tip 3: Build planes with multiple seats, cargo area.
Do not buy fully-made planes! I was stupid enough to do that. Related to Tip 2, you should save your bux to buy parts of planes with multiple seats/cargo area.

For more advanced players, planes have different classes and some airports don’t take classes higher than theirs. Example, only Osaka, Tokyo and Seoul are able to receive Class 2 planes.

Tip 4: Don’t bother with small airports
Once I saved up enough bux, I started buying airports. Unfortunately, an airport like Vladivostok with a population of 0.6M means my planes are stuck there with nothing to send.

I usually end up flying with an empty plane from Vladivostok to busier airports. I had to close down Vladivostok, wasting my upgrades and airport buying fee.

Now that I have the three major hubs, Osaka, Tokyo and Seoul, my planes fly almost none stop between them.

Tip 5: Layover’s your other best friend

A combo flight is the best but you can’t get one most of the time. I would fly a plane with passengers or cargo that have different destinations and stop at the nearest. (You get the same money no matter how heavy your cargo is.)

At the new airport, I would offload my cargo so that other planes can have combos, or pick up cargo to turn my flight into a combo flight.

Does that make sense?

Tip 6: Eliminate weak planes
When you have enough bux, buy multi function planes and retire single function aircrafts (eg 0P1C, 1P0C).

Since airplane slots cost bitcoins, it’s better to remove not useful planes to the hanger than fly one watermelon across the country.

Tip 7: Bring a charger
This is probably the most important tip for me. I cannot put it down and it’s draining my battery. ;)

Fly me to the end of the earth, captain!

Are you playing Pocket Planes? Can you share your tips?

Money saving tips for San Francisco

Before I went to the US, I thought travelling there would be really expensive. But I realized that budget travel in San Francisco is possible after spending 8 nights in The City as a side trip of a business event.

While I’m not The Frugal Traveler, for the trip, my goal was to spend less than US$100 a day, including accommodation. I think I might have exceeded that budget because I bought tickets for some once-in-a-lifetime activities, shows and tours which easily costs about US$30 each.

In any case, I’m a frugal person to begin with so the trip was probably a budget travel success. Probably.

Save on accommodation with hostels


Instead of the usual cheap hotels I stay in when I travel in Malaysia, I had to bunk in hostels during my 8-night stay. Luckily, Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker Hostel and the San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel were both under US$30 per night.

A short summary of the hostel reviews:
-Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel wins at free breakfast and nice view
-Pacific Tradewinds wins at having a fantastic location (and a cosy group, if you are a sociable person, which I am not).

Save on transportation and museums with CityPass

$6 for a ride?

The CityPass (US$69) was a good investment since I was in the city for 8 full days. It includes 7-days of transportation on MUNI buses and trams and the cable car, but not on BART, as well as 9-days admission to five different museums.

I did a spreadsheet before I headed off, taking away things like the aquarium and the one-hour cruise in the bay, but I realized that I would save money getting the pass.

Sure, it was quite expensive. But it includes cable car rides which are US$6 one way–unfortunately, taken only by tourists. Just by taking the cable car 12 times, I would get my money back, not that I actually did it.

Turns out, the aquarium was actually very lovely. The other museums were even better. Sadly, I missed out on the California Academy of Science because there was other more exciting stuff for me.

There’s also an option for an Alcatraz Island tour with CityPass but you’ll need to personally head down to Pier 33 to get the booklet.

Save on food with Yelp

Thanks for the coffee

I love food too much to eat only cheap fast food while in San Francisco. Luckily, I have Yelp on my iPhone to guide me to good locations.

I usually narrow down my food choices to eateries with only one dollar sign (cheap!). I also use the checkin coupons to save on drinks. Since I do not have 3G on my phone, I would redeem the coupon first then show the folks at the restaurant my coupon later.

I’ve managed to save 50% on my latte at M Cafe, grab a free coffee at Sushi Taka and 15 percent off some stuff at a shop-which-will-not-be-named.

Save on sunscreen with Walmart

2 for $5? How can it be this cheap?

Surprisingly, sunscreen is a lot cheaper in the US than in Singapore or Malaysia.

Walmart was selling its homebranded baby sunscreen at 2 for US$5. It took all my willpower to only take four in my basket. I wanted to take 10.

The sunscreen worked very well. I didn’t get sunburnt on my cycling trip to Sausolito. (OK, maybe wrapping myself in an oversized cardigan, a scarf around my neck and tights helped.)

Save on clothes with thrift shops

Thrift Town

K introduced me to thirft stores in San Francisco. I was in luck that day because I immediately found an oversized cardigan at the first store we stopped at. It was only $5 after I rounded to price up for donation.
The blue and white cardigan was only $5

Unlike Kota Kinabalu’s second hand clothes stalls, thirft shops in San Francisco are very organized. Instead of musty old clothes smell, their stuff are perfumed with softener.

Since I wore my clothes immediately, I felt very conscious of other people smelling the thrift store smell on me. (But it’s probably all in my head.)

I also bought two dresses from Thrift Town and a vintage belt from this other place.

Favorite store: Thrift Town
Address:
2101 Mission St
(between 17th St & Clarion Aly)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Neighborhood: Mission

Save on books with second hand bookstores

Adobe Bookstore

Similar to thrift shops, I love the second hand bookstore I found in San Francisco.

I picked up two books. One was the Spanish version of Bridget Jones’ Diary which is pretty much priceless in Singapore because it cannot be found.

There was also a 30 percent discount at Adobe Bookstore because it was closing down. It was rather sad that the building owner was raising the rent too high for the bookstore owner.

Address:
3166 16th St
(at Albion St)
San Francisco, CA 94103
Neighborhood: Mission

Save on once-in-a-lifetime experiences by reading local papers

This was actually in San Jose

I picked up a free SF Weekly as reading material from one of the newspaper-dispensing things. I flipped through the events listing while having breakfast and almost had a heart attack when I saw that Dita von Teese’s Strip Strip Hooray show was in town for a two-night performance.

The last time Dita was in Singapore, it was a local star-studded event! And I believe tickets weren’t even for sale. So this show was a not-to-be missed for me.

For SF, the standing-room ticket was only US$35. When I tried buying online, tickets were sold out. I decided to try my luck at the box office and tickets were still available.

Strip strip hooray

While I had to stand for a full three hours and look past other people’s head to peep at the stage, the atmosphere was amazing. People cheered and I cheered myself almost hoarse. The host was funny, the audience who were asked to go on stage for a dance competition were really sporting too.

And I got to breathe the same air as Dita von Teese! OK, that might be a bit stalkerish, but it’s DITA (Warning: That video is more Fatal Frame rather than sexy.)

What’s your budget travel tips for San Francisco?

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
This week’s topic: Traveling to and within the USA..

More about the USof A

#FoodFri I bet you can’t pronounce this dish @ Xi’an

While we were in Xi’an last year, we went in search of an unpronounceable noodle dish. The Chinese writing for it looks like it would take two minutes to write just one character.

We didn’t know how to say the word, but we knew how to look and point.

We found a tiny stall with quite a lot of patrons. We settled down and sheepishly asked for a bowl each, mumbling our way through the name.

Biángbiáng noodles

Unfortunately, it wasn’t a terribly fantastic dish. Maybe we weren’t used to minced meat mixed with sauce and fried egg with tomator or maybe the stall wasn’t the best around.

From Wikipedia:
Made up of 58 strokes, the Chinese character for “biáng” is one of the most complex Chinese characters in contemporary usage, although the character is not found in modern dictionaries or even in the Kangxi dictionary.

Have you eaten any unpronounceable dish?

Win travel vouchers writing restaurant reviews

Image blatantly ripped from OpenRice

The Pair that Writes Together Wins Together
Restaurant review site OpenRice has a competition which you can win up a maximum of S$2,000 travel vouchers.

All you need to do is team up with someone and start writing restaurant reviews. Each review only needs to be over 300 characters (seriously) and has a photo. The team with most reviews win.

When you are writing your review, remember to tick that you want the review to be entered into the contest. It’s opt-in, sneaky!

Unfortunately, the leading team has 61 reviews now. Fortunately, the quality of their content is not very brilliant.

I’ve teamed up with my housemate because we both love to eat. Watch out for the Pointy Toed Hippo (yes, that’s our team name).

Even if you do not win the contest, they give you points for good reviews. Points can be used to redeem in real life stuff. I’m aiming for vouchers.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

[Update Jan 15, 2013: Hello readers from Hong Kong! What’s up?]

Read: The Naked Traveler

The Naked Traveler and I on the train to Solo

I can’t believe I forgot to mentioned bookstores in my “10 things I love about central Java, Indonesia” post.

The bookstore, along with the supermarket, was one of the unspoken “Must Visit” sites for us. On the first day, we visited the Gramedia bookstore in Malioboro Mall. It looked like a regular Popular but inside it is 50 times more awesome because there was 49 times less assessment books.

The bookstore is part of the Kompas Gramedia Group conglomerate which also has a publishing division churning out volumes of out translated works such as The Hunger Games.

I decided that I should checkout the travel section to find out what sort of travel non-fiction is popular in other countries.

At the travel section, I found a dizzying array of travel guide books and literature. Most of them were money-saving indie travel guides with strangely similar topics: “Travel XX country with YYY rupiah!” Replace XX with a country with YYY the amount of money and you have a new book. Continue reading “Read: The Naked Traveler”

Connecting to a location through my stomach

I met another traveller, K, while I was in San Francisco. On our way to a taco place she loves, she asked what I usually do when I travel.

I thought for a short while and said: “Eat.”

I cannot imagine not trying local food in a new location. I usually detail my travel food diary in the Glutton-series and #FoodFri where I feature a yummy, or not, dish I’ve had.

Best dish I ever had


My most memorable dish has to be the noodles in my 大盘鸡(dapanji) in Luoyang, China.

I thought 大盘鸡, or roughly translated as “big plate of chicken”, was a literal big plate of steamed white chicken. Turns out, it’s chicken in soy sauce with potatoes.

The stall I went to only had portions for two people and more. I was alone but ordered the two-person set anyway.

I like chicken very much as I gobbled down the salty meat and the starchy potatoes. Just when I thought I could not eat another bite, one of the employees brought me a large plate of udon-like noodles.

I asked for half of the portion she gave me but regretted it once I bit into the noodles. It was too tasty!

It was a strange type of noodles. It was thick and white like udon but was more firm like ramen and more chewy.

Mixed with the salty soy sauce, the plain noodles transformed from boring Cinderella into the main character of the dish.

After I finished my small portion, I could not eat another bite which was a real pity.

Until this day, I dream of it… My beautiful chewy, white Chinese udon.

This blog post was inspired by BootsnAll’s Indie Travel Challenge weekly travel blog project.
This week’s topic: Food.

More yummy goodies