Category Archives: food

Sapporo is Good Eating


My wife and I recently made a short trip to Japan with another couple.  We went to Sapporo in the northern island of Hokkaido and to Toyama and Kanazawa on the main island of Honshu.  As the other couple are ardent foodies, this was primarily an eating holiday with food markets, street food and restaurants being the order of the day.  A couple of hiking trips, some shopping and sightseeing was done during the times we had to allow the food to digest.

On arrival in Sapporo, our first order of business was to seek out the seafood market (there are two, Nijo and Chuo-ku markets and we went to both).  Our mission, apart from gawking at the variety of fish and marine creatures on sale, was to seek out and devour a heaping big serving of Taraba King Crab.  These guys are monstrously, nightmarishly large but also delicious.

Another highlight was the Ganso Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Street.  In the midst of the flashy neon lights of the modern, vibrant Susukino district, there is a small narrow lane between buildings which house a series of small stalls which seem to be a relic from another time and which serve some of the best ramen on the planet.  These hole in the walls are small.  The smallest could only accommodate about 6 diners while the largest could probably sit about 16 diners.  We visited this street for dinner and supper a number of times.  Once we went around the witching hour on a wet rainy night to find queues of men in business suits waiting patiently in the rain for their turn to sit in the few seats available.  Our favorites included a delicious clam ramen served with basil oil and the Hokkaido local speciality of sweetcorn and butter ramen.

It may seem strange but we also tried out a French and an Italian restaurant and the Italian place, Picchu, was really memorable for using local Japanese ingredients in a creative interpretation of Italian cooking; a Taraba Crab meat sausage is an example.

Hokkaido is also famous for its milk and ice cream so a few helpings of that was also sampled especially the green tea ice cream.

Anyway, here are some photos to whet your appetite.

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What’s Your Poison?


The first time I was asked, “What’s your poison?” was at a British pub.  As a young, non-native English speaker, I was wondering what I did to offend my host so that he would offer me poison.  Since then, I have learned that it is just a way of asking what drink I would like.

Err….that is a way of asking what drink I would like, right?

But some of you gentle readers may be surprised to learn that one man’s poison is another man’s cure.  And so, here is a post on drink and poison.

I refer to the Korean practice of having the notoriously deadly and venomous Asian Giant Hornets and other stingers in their alcohol or soju.  I came across this in a market in the city of Sokcho which is in the northeast of South Korea and not too far from the border with the North.

It is said to give a richer flavor profile to the soju as well as a characteristic bitter after taste.  More importantly, like most such medicinal alcohols, it is supposed to give a boost to “male stamina”.  And so, for those of you gentle readers who may be interested in alcoholic drinks or traditional medicines or need help with “male stamina” or are poison wielding murderers in training or are just interested in the bizarre ……. try this poison!

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This is the shop where the magic happens.  The metal distillers can be seen.
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Ingredients for Traditional Medicines:- The usual dried mushrooms, roots, fruits and even eggs
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And then, there are these – hornet hives.
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The display shows some of the venomous stingers being used
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The Hornet Nest is quite pretty, I think.
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And finally, the drink with a sting (quite a few stings actually)

I could only find one video in English that covers this beverage. So here it is….

So….would you try it?

Enchanted


You may have noticed that the Squirrel has been missing for awhile.  The excuse truth is that with all the bad stuff happening in the world lately, I was just hiding out in my panic room.  Well, while it is true that the shit  (please excuse my mild Deadpool language) has not stopped flying, the squirrel has decided to surface because there was a spot of light shining.

su lin

I refer to the momentous and happy event of the marriage of two of my young friends. Their combined ages is equivalent to mine.  (Sigh).  In Malaysia, we would call them “young cikus”.  A ciku is a type of fruit – fleshy, sweet and distinctly aromatic.  A “young ciku” has a similar meaning to the phrase “still wet behind the ears”.

Anyway, why has this brought the Squirrel out of his dark hole?  Well, the joy and love from this tying of hearts was truly “uplifting” for all who witnessed it.  I present evidence (see Exhibit A- otherwise known as the photo above) that gravity can truly be conquered by the power of true love.  It was…it was…like a enormous weight had been lifted from us.

But I digress unnecessarily.  I really wanted to share about these two “young cikus”.  Let’s call them Simon and Sue.

Sue is the one in the white gown, in case you hadn’t figured it out.  She is very young; an idealist;  one who believes in fighting for social justice for all and that money holds little value unless it can be used to help others.  And she is an incurable romantic and I mean, of the Disney Princesses’ happily ever after variety.  She has always dreamt of a fairy tale wedding and she wanted to have an enchanted forest theme for her wedding and celebration dinner.

Simon is the one in the grey suit and it is possible there may be a colony on the moon before we see him wear a suit again.  He is a simple man with simple tastes.  Indeed, he seems allergic to many society conventions.  He is his own boss and shows up to work (and indeed to most events) in T-shirt and sandals.  He has learnt to be extremely thrifty; some might even say miserly.  He would rather save money than splash it on a flashy wedding.

And so we witnessed this apparent mismatch; the hopeless romantic dreaming of a fantasy enchanted forest with her Prince Charming and the real world Simple Simon who would like the no-frills package.

Bit by bit we saw Sue’s dream of the enchanted forest slip away.  There would be no big church wedding or wedding dinner at a fancy hotel.  Instead, both would be held at a re-purposed industrial warehouse building. There would be no fancy caterers for the wedding reception but instead cakes and cookies baked by friends.  Decorations, sound system and even photographer were all friends.  Instead of a formal sit-down dinner, there would be a self service buffet.  But if Sue was a little  disappointed, she did not show it.

But Simon really worked hard.  Despite all his cost saving measures, in the end we could all see the thought, effort and love that he put into it.  Sue had wanted a photo booth that was the in-thing for weddings these days but it was deemed too costly to rent.  Well, Simon built a photo booth himself using a camera, a laptop and printer and a wooden box and had the whole thing mounted on a forklift from the warehouse. It was charming in an industrial chic kinda way.

Hats off too for Simon as under his direction, the warehouse was truly transformed into a magical enchanted place for the dinner.  He had done it with just a little budget but with great heart and not a little elbow grease.  It no longer felt like a warehouse but a beer garden in some enchanted woods.

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But there was still more.  Unbeknown to Sue, Simon and his 6 groomsmen had put in long hours of practice.  At the dinner, when Sue thought they were supposed to go round to talk to the guests, Simon took her and sat her in the middle of the room and then he and his backup danced and gyrated for her like court dances performing for the Queen.  It was as risque as a family event would allow and had Sue squealing with glee and the guests cheering.

Then came the speeches.  Sue acknowledged that they had known each other for 8 years and that Simon had been there for her all that time – a rock through thick and thin.  They both thanked their parents.  Simon said that he knew that there would only ever be one person for him and he knew it was Sue from the very beginning.  He then confessed that for him, the whole wedding preparations had been a very difficult experience for him and was so not his scene.  Indeed for someone who has seen his share of difficult times, he said that the whole wedding ceremonies and dinner thing was the hardest thing that he had ever done.  And then he said that he would do it all over again for Sue.

And there was not a dry eye in the house. Even Simon’s eyes were wet but he calmly informed everyone that he had something in his eye.

In the end, Sue had placed her faith in Simon and Simon did his best to live up to that faith.  Spending big money on a wedding isn’t necessary as long as the love is allowed to express itself – the love of the couple for one another and the love of all those gathered there for the newly weds. What a day! What a night! It was enchanted.

And even this cynical old squirrel believes that they had the best start for their life adventure together.

Ipoh – Food Glorious Food, Fellowship and Fun


A couple of weeks ago, I was absent for a short while as I went along to my church annual family camp. It was a great time of hearing God’s word, fellowship and ‘fai lo’ ship (local slang for sharing meals together). This year our venue was the town of Ipoh.

Ipoh is the capitol of the state of Perak in Malaysia.  At one time, it was one of the richest cities in the region with scores of multimillionaires and resplendent with mansions on large grounds.  It had grown rich on the back of tin mining.  The city then fell into the backwaters when the price of tin fell catastrophically in the 1970’s.

Today, it is seeing a resurgence due to tourism.  It is surrounded by beautiful limestone hills and caves including some interesting temples built into the limestone caves.

However, we were there primarily to receive spiritual food; teaching from God’s word.  We had invited a Singaporean preacher who encouraged us not to be just pew warmers but to be true disciples of Christ, we had to be, well, disciples; following his example and obedient to his teachings and commands.  Specifically, we were challenged to a) have compassion for others and be relevant in our community; b) have a real and living relationship with God through prayer and reading the bible; c) have a vibrant relationship with one another, helping and encouraging one another in our Christian walk and finally d) to obey Christ is actively sharing His Good News to those around us.  We also looked into the book of Nehemiah and how different people (and not necessary the best qualified people) were assigned to rebuild different sections of Jerusalem’s fallen wall.  The important thing was being willing and working as part of a whole effort.

But a very good secondary reason for going to Ipoh is to enjoy the food because Ipoh has its own well know cuisine. Some of it is shown in the photos above. Use your mouse to hover over the photo and you can read the associated caption.

Some of the famous Ipoh cuisine are said to be due to the qualities of the spring water there that is used in the cooking process.  Hence, the Ipoh Hor Fun noodles is extremely soft and silky – unmatched anywhere else in Malaysia.  Similarly, the Beansprouts chicken is great not just because of the way the chicken is cooked but because the special spring water has made the beansprouts particularly plump, crunchy and juicy.  In the same way, the dessert – sweetened soyabean curd is silky smooth.

There are many more Ipoh food highlights including seafood, popiah (a type of soft springroll), beef noodles, Ipoh’s own white coffee, the pomelo fruit…….. the list goes on and on but it serves us all little good to keep talking about it here.  Internet technology hasn’t reach the stage where you can enjoy the food remotely.  You’ll just have to take my word for it ……or go there yourselves.  But be warned, Ipoh is hazardous to weight loss diets.

A Queer Duck


I know I seem to be mixing my metaphorical species but this squirrel is, as the English used to say, a “queer duck“.

Inspired by some of the sharing in the comments from the last post, (thanks everyone for sharing but especially eccentric were the habits of ksbeth and Mago), I decided to share with you one of my greatest eccentricities.

This queer duck of squirrel doesn’t eat anything  that has feathers.  I don’t eat chicken, duck, turkey or the Frankensteinish “Turducken“.

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The creepy and monster-ish Turducken (a boneless chicken stuffed into a boneless duck stuffed into a boneless turkey).

I also don’t eat pigeon, dove, quail, pheasant, etc.  Are you getting the picture?

How long have I had this peculiarity? Since I was about 5 years old.

Why don’t I eat my feathered friends?  Here’s where I have to lie down on the couch and tell you about my early childhood.  Here is  the sad story…………

One day, when I was about 5 years old, I happened upon an old woman who was slaughtering a chicken.  She had just used a knife to cut the chicken’s throat.  Then she squatted down, bent the neck of the chicken backwards and holding it above a bowl, let the blood drained out.  I watched stunned as the blood drain out, dripping and splattering into the bowl.

I asked the old woman why she was collecting the blood.  She turned her wrinkled face towards me and gave a toothless grin (at that age, she sure looked like a wicked witch to me!) and said in a creepy voice, “Why, I’m going to make it into a jelly for you to eat!”

I ran away screaming from the blood eating vampire witch!

After that, I refused to eat anything feathered.  This became a point of contention and contest of will between my mother and me.  As I grew older, she kept trying to get me to eat chicken.

There was a time when she would mince the chicken and mix it with mince pork to make one of my favorite dishes.  I would eat the dish and I could not consciously taste the chicken and yet I would still sense it unconsciously and throw up every time.  She eventually gave up.  The power of the mind truly is surprising.

And so this went on until my twenties when work and studies put me in situations where there was often nothing other than chicken to eat.  With the memory of the blood eating vampire witch beginning to fade, I finally was able to eat some chicken out of sheer necessity.

Since then I have eaten chicken and turkey to be polite on social occasions but still generally avoid them if I have a choice.  My friends now know to have a non-poultry option when they have me over for a meal.

The final twist in this craziness is that all through this time, there was one chicken dish that I have always eaten…….chicken satay.  Somehow, my mind decided that satay is too delicious to be chicken!

Satay is "NOT" chicken.
Satay is “NOT” chicken.

 

I guess if you have gotten to the end of this post, you may have come to the conclusion that LGS is  NUTS.  But I hope we can still be friends and if you do invite me over for dinner, remember, no birds but lots of nuts please.

The Food is Good on the Island of Rats


Pulau Tikus, Penang.  The name means “the island of rats”.  The strange thing is that it is actually not over-run by rats and it is also not an island!  Located on the island of Penang, it is actually an area consisting of affluent neighborhoods and more importantly famous for its street market and known to be a good place to try the Penang food fare at any time of the day.  I have no idea why it got its unusual moniker.  I wonder if there is any place called the island of bushy-tailed tree rats.  Ah, but I digress.

This is a great place to sample the daily lives of the locals and to taste some great food.

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Penang – Food, Food, Food


Penang is one of the worst places to be on a weight-loss diet.  Temptations of the first degree abound all over the island.  In the last post I called it a foodies paradise but it probably is more accurate to refer to it as a food mecca.  Penang hold this exalted position because a) it is the historical birthplace of many of the delectable mouth-watering dishes – a result of being a crossroads of many Asian cultures; b) it simply has the best version in Malaysia of many other dishes and c) Penangites have a high expectation for food quality which ensures that the food in all the restaurants, coffee shops and street hawker stalls are uniformly good or great.

As soon as I arrived in Penang, I made my way to One Corner Cafe ( a coffee shop with a collection of individual hawker stalls) for breakfast which consisted of a plate of Char Koay Teow, a plate of Lobak, a plate of Mee Rebus and a bowl of Penang Hokkien Mee (known as Prawn Mee elsewhere).

They were all delicious but the Penang Hokkien Mee was particularly well known.  It is a dish of noodles in a rich broth made from pork bones and prawn stock and spiced up with a chilli paste. Yum yum.

Mee Rebus is of Indian origin and is one of my favorites.  It consists of noodles in a thick potato based broth flavoured with spices like cinnamon, cloves, curry powder etc.  It is also garnished with various fried Indian delicacies and a dash of squid sambal.

Penang Hokkien Mee (top) and Mee Rebus (bottom) (Photo by LGS)

Char Koay Teow is synonymous with Penang and there are many famous stalls selling this delicacy with Penangites and foodies all touting for their own favorites.  This dish consists of flat rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, bloody cockles, Chinese lap cheong (sausage), eggs, bean sprouts, and chives in a mix of soy sauce.  The real trick is in the skillful frying in a high heat wok because the high heat actually plasticizes the noodle giving it a softer consistency.

By the end of my short three day visit to Penang, I had 6 servings of this dish; all slightly different and all good.  The picture below is of the stall operated by Madam Soon Suan Choo at Kafe Heng Huat, Lorong Selamat.  Madam Soon has been frying this dish for more than 4o years and has build up quite a reputation.  Her plate of Char Koay Teow costs RM9 (USD 2.82) which is almost double the average price in most other places but she is still very popular especially with tourists.

Char Koay Teow needs a really hot wok (Photo by LGS)

Another dish that probably originated in Penang is Assam Laksa.  This is a rice noodle dish in a sour, tamarind/chilli  flavoured, thick fish broth with a mint leaf garnish.  No photo here cause I had gulped it all down before I remembered to take any photos.

And then, there are the desserts and snacks.  Below is one award winning road side hawker stall selling apong which is a kind of thick pancake which is folded in half and is flavoured with coconut, sweetcorn and bananas.  Apong evolved from Appam which is a dish from Tamil Nadu, India.

Another street favorite is Ice Kacang.  This is basically shaved ice flavoured with palm sugar, syrup and coconut milk or condensed milk.  Often included with the shaved ice is sweetcorn, red bean, grass jelly, attap fruit and roasted peanuts.

Apong Dessert Stall (Photo by LGS)

I think I put on at least 2 kg in my short visit.  I now need to work off all that extra baggage before I can go to Penang again.