The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Friday, 3 July 2020

Sarawak laksa @ Chong Choon Cafe, Kuching (Malaysia)

The late Anthony Bourdain called it "breakfast of the gods", and featured Sarawak laksa in his programs Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown and No Reservations. I heard that this laksa had made such a great impression on Bourdain, it was on his top 10 wish list for his food market in New York! My first introduction to this East Malaysian version of laksa preceded Bourdain's televised publicity of this dish by more than a decade, when I was still a university student in Perth, and a Sarawakian friend's visiting mother cooked this dish for us. From that first bite, we were smitten with Sarawak laksa, which is not very much like the curry laksa that we were more acquainted with. Unfortunately this dish is not easily obtainable outside of its region, not even in Peninsular Malaysia, and it would be a number of years before we would taste this dish again on our first visit to Kuching in 2009. When we revisited Kuching at the beginning of this year, we had planned to visit the top three places for Sarawak laksa, as rated by my Sarawakian cousins and friend, who each had their favourite. Disappointingly our family was struck down by a flu virus for half of our stay, so we got to try out the laksa at only one of the three places. Still, it was better than none, and we can look forward to trying the other two next time we visit Kuching! The Sarawak laksa at Chong Choon Cafe is one cousin's favourite, and indeed it packed an aromatic punch for a small bowl. Chong Choon Cafe also has several other food stalls offering non-laksa food, and it was good to have non-spicy options for the little ones. I was told that Chong Choon Cafe is extremely popular for breakfast, often with a queue for a table. We arrived just before noon on a weekday, and there was plenty of available tables and seats. The area was bright, airy and spacious - perfect for families with kids. We enjoyed everything we ordered at Chong Choon Cafe, and we will revisit when we are in Kuching again, to do a proper comparison between the top three outlets for Sarawak laksa as rated by my cousins and friend!

A sure sign that we had arrived at the right place:

Chong Choon Cafe is a clean and tidy kopitiam, with several other food stalls selling food other than Sarawak laksa, and the main cafe at the front selling :

This stall at the corner is likely the most popular stall at the kopitiam, dishing out the much-beloved Sarawak laksa for the locals who come here for breakfast:

Sarawak laksa - aromatically spicy, not too creamy, with generous serving of prawns:

A delicious claypot of congee with century egg, from another stall:

Son was already homesick for homecooked food, and this bowl of meesua with chicken was his request:

Chong Choon Cafe
275 Jalan Chan Chin Ann
93100 Kuching
Sarawak, Malaysia

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Excellent brunch and coffee @ Bean Counter Cafe, Melbourne

It is so much fun trying out all the nearby places for brunch, something that I had sorely missed during the recent months of lockdown. Bean Counter Cafe was somewhere we had gone to have our brunch dates a couple of times, and the most recent revisit happened on the very last day we would be kids-free for the next two and a half months. Bean Counter Cafe is a great choice for excellent coffee and delicious food in a cosy atmosphere. Service is always friendly too!

Alfresco dining (a great option for social distancing):

The coffee doesn't disappoint here:

New Age Benedict - slow-cooked pulled lamb shoulder on two rosti's, poached eggs, sumac hollandaise and kale. I loved the rosti alternative to the usual English muffin, and the lamb was beautifully tender and flavourful:

Pulled Pork Stack - slow-cooked pork belly on a hash tower with poached eggs, spinach and hollandaise. Great presentation, and an excellent brunch choice that was ordered again on a revisit:

Bean Counter Cafe
15 Railway Pl
Fairfield VIC 3078
Tel. +61 3 9482 1170

Bean Counter Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Cruising Lake Lucerne and climbing Mount Rigi

I cannot believe it has been more than two years since we made our epic trip to Europe, where we explored 12 cities and towns in five countries, all under 28 days, and with three kids in tow! It is taking me awhile to write about our trip, but I enjoy going through my photos as they bring back many fond memories of the places we explored and the culinary delights we experienced in each location. We spent a few days in the Swiss Alps, which had been a dream destination for me since I was a child. Imagine my delight actually setting foot on the beautiful Alps! Aside from the two days we spent in Murren, a quaint mountain village at the foot of Schilthorn, we also took the cog rail up to Mount Rigi. On our second day in Lucerne, we embarked on a boat cruise around Lake Lucerne and disembarked at Vitznau, where we climbed aboard the cogwheel train to ride the Rigi Railways to the summit. The views on the lake were breathtaking, and the sceneries on the train ride to the top of Mt Rigi were inexplicably beautiful. The views from the summit were awesomely amazing, and I tried my best to fully appreciate the whole experience of being on one of the peaks in the Swiss Alps, all the while trying to keep my little ones from running away and slipping on the snow. Hubby and I had to split up at the summit station because we decided it was impractical and hazardous to carry all our belongings while hiking up to the viewing platform with our three kids in the slippery snow. My mum and I took the girls while the boys had their turn after we returned to the station. There is a picture of my girls and me at the peak, that I posted on the blog two years ago. Below are more snapshots of our trip to the Queen of the Mountains.

The iconic Mt Pilatus overlooking Lucerne:

The Gothic towers of Hofkirche St. Leodegar stands prominently from the lake:

The cogwheel railway station in Vitznau:

Click on this picture for larger view:

Climbing higher towards the summit of Rigi:

Ever the curious monkey (and her curiousity for the world has gotten even stronger, two years on):

We also enjoyed a bird's eye view of Lucerne and surroundings:

We saw some hikers on the trails as we were nearing the top:

Check out that view - click for a larger image:

It was truly beautiful beyond words:

This brings us to the end of our first week in Europe, when we said goodbye to Switzerland, and crossed the border into Germany for the next leg of our journey! I have much to cover, but I am determined to complete the task of journalling about our trip, even if it takes me years!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Delightful High Tea @ Hopetoun Tea Rooms, Melbourne

I have a soft spot for high teas, ever since my first afternoon tea experience in London almost a decade ago. Hopetoun Tea Rooms is an institution of the Melbourne tea scene, and one of the city's most famous and oldest cake shops, so it was only a matter of time before I would enjoy high tea there. Hopetoun Tea Rooms was one of the two options for hubby and I to celebrate our anniversary, but I discovered that this place is so popular that it is booked out for months in advance, and I could not secure a reservation for our anniversary celebration. So I looked ahead to the next special occasion date three months later, and saw availability in my younger sister's and my birthday month, so I proposed to my sister that we jointly celebrate our birthdays with high tea at Hopetoun Tea Rooms. My suggestion was enthusiastically accepted, and I went ahead with booking a date, with a special note of our joint birthdays and the fact that my sister was also pregnant. Just prior to our high tea date, I came across news that the owners of the tea house were facing some issues with the owners of the Block Arcade, so I entered the venue with the knowledge that it would possibly be my only opportunity to enjoy high tea there. However when the lovely lady owner came by for a chat with us, she assured me that the tea house would not be closing down soon. I suppose time will tell if Hopetoun Tea House will reopen for business after the government lifts the current Covid-19 restrictions on cafes and restaurants.

The window display of gorgeous cakes and tarts beckon tantalisingly next to the entrance:

The high ceiling and striking Victorian-era wallpaper were fitting for the slightly subdued atmosphere inside:

There was a queue of people outside waiting for tables when we arrived, and I felt fortunate that I had secured a table for us months ago. My sister and I were warmly welcomed and shown to our seats. Approximately a third of the tables were set aside for high tea reservations (indicated by the table cloths), and the remainder were available for walk-ins. Hopetoun Tea Rooms supplied a specially prepared plate of savouries for my sister that were void of any ingredients that would be unsafe for expecting mothers to consume, and my sister appreciated the thoughtful touch. We thoroughly enjoyed every sip of our coffee and tea, and savoured every morsel of our 3-tier high tea set. Our experience at Hopetoun Tea Rooms was delightful, and I hope that I can bring hubby here next time so he can experience it as well.

Our table:

My sister enjoyed one of 25 organic teas available at Hopetoun Tea Rooms:

Cappuccino for me:

My sister also indulged in an affogato during high tea:

The 3-tiers of high tea goodies:

Savouries included quiche lorraine, roast beef sandwich (sirloin with cheddar cheese, gherkin, horseradish mayonnaise and roquette in dark rye bread), pinwheels (Champagne ham, egg, with grain mustard and mayonnaise in white bread), classic devilled eggs en croƻte (hard boiled eggs whipped with English mustard and mayonnaise), and vegetarian quiche:

My sister's pregnancy-friendly plate had a ham-free sandwich:

Sweets contained an assortment of signature petit fours. This is heaven on a plate for any sweet tooth:

A plate of fresh fruit for a boost of healthy amongst all the indulgence:

My favourite part of any high tea - fresh baked scones! These were accompanied with Hanks triple berry and double cream:

Hopetoun Tea Rooms
Shops 1 and 2
Block Arcade
282 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel. +61 3 9650 2777

Hopetoun Tea Rooms Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, 8 May 2020

Coffee and brunch @ Station Grind Cafe, Melbourne

Station Grind Cafe is a relatively newcomer to the dining scene on Station Street in Fairfield, and the name alone enticed us to walk through the door, with the promise of good coffee within. The bright and cheerful decor was welcoming as we were told by the equally cheerful staff to take a seat at any unoccupied table. I adore the play area at the back, and I made note of it for the unlikely event that we would want to dine out with our three children (I love our children dearly, but having a meal with all three of them anywhere but home is a great feat that is taxing both physically and mentally!). The coffee did not disappoint, and the food was lipsmackingly good. Station Grind Cafe is on our list of places to revisit once restrictions are lifted!

A little play area complete with a large blackboard. Safety could probably be improved with a playpen fence to prevent kids wandering into the path of waitstaff carrying hot foods:

I had a piccolo while hubby had his usual cappuccino:

Pulled Lamb Benny - a brilliant combo of pulled lamb and eggs on an English muffin:

Smash It Away - dill and mint infused avocado topped with feta cheese and eggs (poached was my choice) on a savoury waffle. I enjoyed this just fine with poached eggs, but others who prefer more flavours (like my hubby) may like it better with scrambled eggs:

106 Station Street
Fairfield VIC 3078
Tel. (03) 8488 9316

Station Grind Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato