Friday, November 13, 2015


When in Portugal, one particular must-try food item is the pastel de nata (egg tart pastry). Found virtually in every neighborhood bakery cafe, I must have eaten around a dozen of them during our short stay in various parts of Portugal. 

Apparently, the recipe for these egg tarts originated from the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem district, and one brother sold this said recipe after monasteries were closed by the state in 1834. Thus, the present-day Pasteis de Belem was born in 1837, and they have not looked back since.

Their pastel de nata is acknowledged to be the best in the country. Thus, i made a note to drop by and taste the goodies during our time in Lisbon, and pestered our tour leader Anki about it. 

So it was, that we went via tram to the Belem district one sunny morning. The Pasteis de Belem store turned out to be quite big, with table service for 400 persons.

And what impressed me was how busy it was. There was a constant flow of clientele queuing at the counter. Apparently, this is a de rigueur stop for many tour groups; from our table at the dining area, there was an even bigger hall at the back, and waves and waves of people just kept showing up. 

If you're not contented with eating inside, you can order takeaway too!

Here's a look at the glass-enclosed baking area (the actual mixing and oven areas are out of sight and off-limits, of course). Trays and trays of egg tarts! I couldn't wait for our order to be served, as i was literally salivating like a Pavlovian dog. 

Ah, here finally is our order! Viola! Looks great huh?

You can sprinkle them with powdered sugar and/or cinnamon, or eat them just as is.  Anki pointed out the bottom of each egg tart has an onion-like circular pattern, which is unique to Pasteis de Belem.

So, how do these egg tarts taste like? Do they live up to their lofty 'best in Portugal' billing? Upon first bite, what i noticed were the light and fluffy texture of the pastry; and that the custard part wasn't particularly sweet. 

This was a bit disorienting, as many of the egg tarts i've tasted in neighborhood cafes and in the World Needs Nata branch in Coimbra were markedly sweeter (and their custards were 'gooier'). 

But this is actually a good thing, as one can eat more than one piece (yeyyyyyy!!! :D) without the taste becoming cloying. I found out later on that Pasteis de Belem made their custard part only with milk, not cream, which made it less sweet. 

And look! All wiped out after one minute! I would have wanted to order a second (and third and fourth) serving, but didn't really want my tourmates to needle me about my sweet tooth. Hehe. 

Check out the this mural on their tiled wall in their bathroom. Unusual in a nice way.

But there was still some unfinished business. After touring around the Torre de Belem area and whilst waiting for the tram back to our hotel, tour mate Sedgman and i made a quick stop to Pasteis de Cerveja. Yup, you guessed it, this shop makes a pastry infused with beer ;-D

In stark contrast, this pastry shop was rather uninviting in appearance; and there were not very many patrons inside. 

Here's a signage touting their Beer Cake.

So, Sedgman (being the ultra-heavy drinker that he is. LOL :D) and i ordered one each for takeaway. Here's how it looked like:

Not quite appetizing, right? And below is my half-eaten one. I must say it was disappointing. The crust was dry, and while the paste was sweet, i couldn't taste a hint of beer at all! 

Curious to see if my sentiment was shared by other people, i checked online, and the sentiment was that the taste of beer was masked by almond paste. No wonder. 

Verdict : Pasteis de Belem is a must-visit!!!  Pasteis de Cerveja. . . well, since it's just nearby anyway, one might as well pop in for the sheer novelty of the beer cake, if one was so inclined and didn't mind the feeling of regret after taking one bite. 

Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belém, Lisbon,
Pastelaria Nau de Cerveja,  Rua de Belém, Lisbon.

Friday, October 30, 2015

INTREPIDLY, MADRID TO MARRAKECH (Part 1): Chefchaouen - Blue, Blue and Blue

(I joined Intrepid Travel's Madrid to Marrakech tour during Sept. - Oct. 2015, and will be doing a series of posts about the trip. As usual, posts will be rather haphazard - not chronological, and some stops will be skipped altogether :-D)


Chefchaouen probably does not ring a bell when one talks about different tourist spots in Morocco, since it is off the beaten path. Located in the Rif Mountains (where, incidentally, most of Morocco's hashish is grown), the first adjective that comes to mind to describe this small town is "picturesque". 

And truth be told, it was this stop of our tour that i was looking forward to the most. Why? Having seen photos online of its predominant blue color motif, it was extremely pleasing to the eyes, and i wondered how the town would look like, in real life. 

We took a tour around with our guide, the venerable Abdul Salaam, who proved to be quite loquacious and game to answer all sorts of queries we had. (He did have the rather unfortunate tendency to pull your elbow forcefully, and growl "Listen to me!")

Gate of a hammam (spa)

An obvious question was, why was the town painted blue? He  informed me that it was for practical reasons - it kept the weather cool, and kept the mosquitoes away (imagine that, blue insect repellant!).

During the previous centuries until 1945, natural indigo pigment was used for the blue color. Since then, synthetic pigments have been used.  

Blue walls and path to a blue-gated residence
However, Abdul Salaam also mentioned that the locals repaint three times per year, on auspicious dates: One week before end of Ramadan; during the Haj; and on Prophet Mohammed's birthday. So it seems logical that there is religious significance to this practice. 

I also checked online, and one other theory was that Jewish refugees started the practice back in the 1930s, as they considered the color blue to symbolize the sky and heaven.

Hotel entrance

Our tour leader, Anki, posing on the street

Wandering around the narrow streets of the Medina (Old Town)

Check out this particular corridor below. The walls, the steps on the pavement, the doors - all in blue! ;-D

As you can see, the blue color comes in different shades and degrees of intensity. Here's a particularly vivid blue door below. I was strolling around and chanced upon this Taiwanese tourist having her photo taken by her friend.

Ni hao? :D 

Some of the doors have intricate designs, too.

Entrance to a mosque

Entrance to a hotel
This one below is my favorite, located right at the main plaza of Chefchaouen, very near the Kasbah (fortress). It used to be the gate of old hammam:

Here's a close-up. Lovely as can be!

Here's a view of the town, from the topmost level of the kasbah:

There are many shops selling souvenir items, and leather goods in particular. Do be forewarned, though, that Moroccan shop keepers tend to have aggressive sales tactics; and that bargaining is the way of life here. (In my case, i have to thank one of my tour mates, Steve, who is very adept at pulling me away from the clutches of said shop keepers)

Genuine leather goods for you, if the price is right!

Going back to the doors, there is an odd green one or two, like this one. Green being the color of Islam, Abdul Salaam mentioned that this signifies members of a 'holy' family live inside. 

One thing our tour leader, Anki, repeatedly mentioned was that unlike in Spain and Portugal, taking candid photographs of people in Morocco was generally frowned upon. You have to ask permission first. 

I was aiming to shoot this narrow alleyway, with a blue wall lined with quite colourful fabrics and clothing. Whoosh! Mr. Photobomber appeared on the scene at the exact same moment that i pressed my mobile camera button.

 Somehow it was only fitting that he was wearing a vivid blue shirt!!! ;-D 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

CITY OF ANGELS REVISITED: Finding the elusive Chicken Rice + Hipster-ish Luxx

LATE POST:  A couple of friends and i went to the City of Angels recently, a rather spur-of-the-moment trip actually (Well, 'spur-of-the-moment', for me, means only one week of intensive research on the sights and experiences that can be squeezed it, so it's all relative. Hehe :D)

Of course, with Bangkok having thousands of restaurants, it was really hard to choose where to eat. So when no other than Chef Gene Gonzalez (of Cafe Ysabel fame) recommends a place to you, you go out and search high and low for it and try it gaddemit. 

So, on our last night, after the day's (rather underwhelming) sporting events were done, off we went in search for Chef Gene's recommendation - a Chicken Rice place that has been around since, like, forever. 

We went down Platinum Mall, and started walking around following his scribbled directions. After some asking the locals, and a wrong turn or two, we ended up across the street from the nearby Palladium Mall. (Side note: Errr, what's next, Plutonium Mall?)

Ah, here it is! Chef Gene did not specify the name of the resto, but based on his directions and description, we surmised it was this one: Kuang Heng. There was a crowd, mostly locals (which is always a good sign); and we were able to get a table after a few minutes. The place did look like it has been around. . .well, not forever, but for quite a long time (it says 'since 1932' on their logo). Nothing fancy, no air-conditioning. 

Here's a (bad) photo of the menu:

By this time, we were all famished and quickly ordered the chicken rice, as well as ten sticks pork satay from the stall around the corner. Here is the chicken broth:

Our orders came quite quickly. Portions were just right. 

The chicken rice proved to be tasty and tender, and we sucked everything up in a good ten minutes. Talk about being famished! The satay came later, and they were very good, too. 

So, a bunch of merry men exited the resto and disappeared into the night that night. 

For this trip, we had opted to stay at the rather quiet Soi Langsuan area, which is just one BTS stop (Chit Lom) from the livelier tourist area of Pratunam / Siam Square. I heartily recommend it anytime, as this street is safe for walking and has more than enough restaurants and shops and spas. 

In fact, the neighborhood Starbucks turned out to be quite visually pleasing, both inside and outside: (Nope, i did not turn into a hack for Starbucks overnight; and i'm gonna bill them for this unsolicited advertorial. Hahahaha!! :D) 

They call it a 'community store' (vs. being a regular store?), so that might account for the difference in interiors. At any rate, it was a relaxing place to hang out, and talk about the recent days' happenings.

 Here's more photos from Bangkok-based blogger Jasmine here, just so you know what i'm talking about. 

Our digs for this trip was a boutique hotel called Luxx XL, which i stayed in two years ago (upon the wise counsel of my friend Jellybean), so here we were again!! :D Yeyyy.

What can i say? You had me at.....ferocious stone lion? No no! You had me at giant wooden doors ;-D

It looks like something that could be straight out of a stylish fashion-travel magazine. I've a mind to wake up at the dead of the night, and unfasten the screws on those huge wooden doors and ship them home (via courier). Haha!

The lobby ain't bad, no?  

I totally forgot to take photos of inside the rooms. Which might not have been a good idea anyway, as our sports wheel bags took up most of the free space, and gear was all over the room.

Here's the view from the resto where we ate our breakfasts. Lovely pool. Too bad the schedule was hectic, and there wasn't time to dip a smelly toe into the water.

Of course, Luxx XL is not a perfect hotel by any means. The breakfast selection could improve a lot, for one. 

And some of the stones surrounding the bath tub were a bit sharp, and the water pressure of the shower head was a bit iffy at times. 

But overall, the hotel was good value for money; accessible to a whole bunch of tourist places; and it just had this laid-back, chillaxing vibe that one wants after a whole day out. 

Dare i say it, see ya again next year? 

POSTSCRIPT:  Around two weeks after returning from our Bangkok trip, we bumped into Chef Gene and informed him we had a good meal eating at one of his recommendations and showed him photos of Kuang Heng. 

Unfortunately, it turned out we had gone to the WRONG chicken rice resto! We were supposed to go a bit further along the same street, as there was another chicken rice place even better - the one he recommended!!! OH NOOOOOO! [wringing hands and tearing out hair]

Only one way to settle the matter. Dare i say it, same time next year?