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Of Butcher and Thai Chefs

Tuesday, January 30, 2007
The Princess is such a glutton. For 3 days in a row, she went dining in nice restaurants, with good food and good company.

The Butcher Shop and Grill located at Nelson Mandela Square serves superb meats complemented by fine wine. The last time The Princess tried their Babeque Pork Ribs, she was hooked, so this time she brainwashed everybody to dine at the Butcher.

Many restaurants, bars and cafes at Nelson Mandela Square

Appetizer of beef sausage in tomato based gravy

Grilled Chicken Salad

Chilli Barbeque Pork Ribs with sauteed vegetables on side

Take a look at how big that rack of ribs is! The meat is so juicy and tender it literally falls off the bone. Putting away the fork and knife, she tore into the ribs with her hands. It was so good she thought she had died and gone to heaven.

T-Bone Steak with a side of fries

Chicken Kebabs with fries

After a hearty meal, what better way to digest all those food other than having good conversation accompanied by beer.

She stayed at Intercontinental Southern Sun Tower and was plesantly surprised to find a tub of honey tinted lip balm by her bedside. Very thoughful housekeeping and a very nice touch indeed by housekeeping.

Next day, they decided on Trump instead as it's reputed for it's pork ribs, some say even better than Butcher's. However, this time she shared the pork ribs and when the dish arrived, she was glad. Look at the montrosity that is the pork ribs! It more than doubled the portion at Butcher's.

Barbeque Pork Ribs in Peri-Peri Sauce with fries, creamy spinach and mashed pumpkin

She still very much prefer the one at Butcher's as in Trump, the meat is tougher and the marinade hasn't really penetrate the meat thoroughly. But it was cheaper (Rand 70) compared to Butcher's (Rand 98).

South Africans love going out and have a good time. Dining at nice restaurants with good selections of wine doesn't need to cost you a leg and an arm. And they have big appetite huh, looking at how huge the food portion is. Truly a meat-eater nation.

She was surprised to see cocktails prepared with absinthe in a cafe one day. Absinthe is an anise flavoured spirit derived from herbs including wormwood. Absinthe is highly potent due to it's high proof, so much so it was banned in certain European countries, but later the EU reauthorised it's manufacture and sale.

Shooter - Left is Apple Pie and on the right is AAA, look at the green layer of absinthe on top

Seafood pizza to go with the alco

Who needs a watchdog when you can have a watch hippo?

Beauty is kissing the beast

They also checked out Wang Thai, a Thai restaurant with posh interior. They were seated near the glass enclosed kitchen, watching the Thai chefs thick in action. Nice food and not very expensive at all. She's loving the Jo'burg dining scene by now.

Fried noodles with beef in chilli and basil leave

Pad Thai

Now how to get rid of those fats clinging on her stomach, FAST, as CNY is approaching and that means more food. Gulp.

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Monday, January 22, 2007
Folks, the next time you plan to go on a vacation, do refrain from signing up tour packages. The worse thing anyone could do to ruin your vacation is to dictate where YOU should go and at what time. And don't you always feel cheated whenever the tour guide informs gleefully the next stop is some pearl market/lingzhi store/royal jelly shop/aborigines handicraft center (yes, those are the places The Princess visited in Taiwan, not on her own willing part though). Of course lar, whenever we buy something the tour guides are earning big, fat commissions what. Nevertheless, tour packages are perfect for those who hates planning travel itinerary and prefers everything to be taken care of minus the hassles. Plus, it is cheaper to travel that way. But where's the fun in that? You'd miss the whole stopping- in-the-middle-of-the-street-consulting-the map" stuff. Or trying your darndest to order the least weird dish from the menu and ending up with a giant octopus head. Or the "Heck, I don't feel like waking up early today so I'll stay in bed a little longer and while we're at that, why not just extend the stay for another 2 days". You get the drift. If you must, at least get a more flexible package that allows you to skip/add certain itinerary.

The Princess, Mama Tju and her aunts signed up for a 6-day Taiwan round trip tour. In short, they covered the whole Taiwan island in 6 days! More like 4 days if you take away the flying time. They started at Taipei before going to Hualien followed by Kaohsiung, Taichung and back to Taipei. Basically, they checked out from hotel at ungodly hour every morning and checked in a different hotel the same night. Did she mention before how much she abhor moving stuff around aka packing?

Tip: There's not one money changer in the whole of Taiwan. Banks do change your currency into NTD, but only major ones. Hotels also provide currency exhange service but the rate sucks big time. Therefore, it's advisable to change your money into NTD either in your country itself or in Taiwan airports.

Day 1

They arrived at Chiang Kai Shek Int'l Airport at 7.30pm and met by their tour guide. They transferred to Kilin Hotel (smelly room, avoid this hotel, folks) and since they were free for that day, they went to Hsimending which is situated near the hotel. Oooh.....The Princess simply loves Hsimending! It's a popular and happening area with younsters, packed with shops selling everything under the sun. The Princess could just sit down in a cafe and people-watch all day. Taiwanese girls and guys are sooo trendy. The guys have haircuts so stylish she thought she was seeing members of 5566. And the girls possess porcelain smooth complexion The Princess is green with envy.

And of course, Taiwan is famous for its street food, so the first thing they did was to find out how true it is. The first stop is the shop where Ah Zhong Mien Sien (Ah Zhong Rice Vermicelli) originally started. Story has it that this guy, Ah Zhong, started a shop selling vermicelli in this very shop in Hsimending and it became very popular with working class people. However, these people almost always ordered their vermicelli and had it standing instead of sitting down. No one used the chairs and tables available and one day, Ah Zhong simply kept the tables and chairs away. That is how eating a bowl of hot, delicious vermicelli while standing became a norm (and legend) and made Ah Zhong a millionaire.

Ho chiak!

P/S The Princess cannot tahan already, her eyes are closing. There's so much things to blog about, so little time. Updates after she's back from Jo'burg, a'ight? And she'll throw in some nice photos of the BBQ pork ribs from Carnivores. Now, be good and be safe, as usual.

Back from Jo'burg. To make everything less painful, she's going to condense the Taiwan trip a lil.
Taipei --> Hualien

The next morning, they witnessed the changing of guards at the Martyr's Shrine. Two soldiers stand guard at the gate of the Marytr's Shrine and every hour, their place will be taken over. These Ah Bing Ge (local term for soldier) are trained not to move an inch of their body while on guard, not even to blink their eyes. How do they acchieve this? By lighting up a bunch of incense over their face for a few hours everyday. Apparently, when the incense burnt out, the eyes get so relieved you achieve a new kind of clarity you'll need not blink them as much.

Ah Bing Ge trying his best not to blink

Taken at the Martyr's Shrine

The next stop was Yehliu. Here, natural rock forms an amazing array of artistic shapes courtesy of erosion and other natural forces. And they took picture with The Queen!

You could see small fishes swimming about happily in these holes

The rushing waves together with the force of wind created all the unusual shapes

Looks like giant mushroom, no?

Oh look, The Queen!

Elephant bathing in the sea...not

Yes, it's very windy here

To get to Chiufen, the bus climbed up a rather winding mountain road (little did they know more were to come). Story has it Chiufen got its name this way - Long time ago, a woman was washing her clothes at the river nearby. After much rinsing, she realised speckles of sparkly bits on her clothes and feeling rather curios, she went home and showed her husband. Her husband took one look and knew the sparkly bits were actually gold. And so started a mining frenzy among the 9 families who lived there. Since they lived up in the mountain, they instructed the grocer down the mountain to deliver groceries every fixed day. The shopkeeper would then prepare 9 portions of groceries to be sent up and whenever someone asked him where he's about to go, he would just reply "Chiufen", which literally means nine portions. And that's how Chiufen got its name. Since the old mining field is gone, Chiufen today depends on tourism to survive. Narrow lanes with tiny shops selling all kind of delicacies tempt tourists to part with their money. And in Taiwan, one can go on sampling all the food down the entire street if one wish without incurring rage from the seller, which is a good thing as hey, advertising could be misleading, especially for food.

Chiufen, packed with tourists. And that old lady must pop her head in (she's a real pain in the ass throughout trip, making numerous uncalled for comments)

The black sausages are mixed with blood

Amazing dessert in progress. Firstly, peanut brittle is sprinkled on popiah (spring roll) skin

Next, add some coriander (The Princess most hated herb)

Add two scoops of homemade ice cream, one in peanut flavour the other in yam flavour. Roll it up and enjoy. Weird combination of ingredient, but perfect marriage of flavours

Taiwan version of fried oyster. Much prefer the Melaka version

Lo Bak Peng (Braised Pork Rice) - Too good to describe, The Princess could just eat the rice with the aromatic gravy poured on it

Doesn't stick to the teeth at all

Hong Shau Rou Bao (Some dumplings)

Giant meatballls and fisballs, some with fillings

Or Eeh (Yam/Tapioca Rice Flour Balls with red beans soup)

View from above Chiufen

Bloated like a puffer fish, they endured a journey for a few hours before arriving in Hualien. Along the way, they stopped to admire a Taoist temple with elaborate dragon and phoenix carvings perched mightily on the temple roof.

Can you count how mnay dragons there are?

Deities in jail for going against heaven's order. No lar, actually a few rods are leaning against the wall

Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) statue in all its glory in pure, glistening gold

Stone carving of Kuan Yin on one of the temple pillars

Next, they visited Ami Aborigine Cultural Village. Ami is an aboriginal tribe in Hualien. By they way, Hualien which translates into "Flower Face", got it's name as the Ami people have tattoos on their faces. At the cultural center, guests are entertained with singing and dancing, with the occasional tourists being pulled in to join the dancing.

Welcome to Ami Village

Ami dolls pounding rice

Some traditional Ami dance

The wife bearing ritual, keeping in mind the Ami males like their women fleshy

Hualien --> Kaohsiung

They started the morning by visiting Toroko Gorge, formed by rushing river water which have cut straight through the marble canyon to create a beautiful, narrow ravine with waterfalls and patches of mist clinging to the mountains surrounded by subtropica forests. Toroko National Park is huge, and it would be nice if they had more time to do some trekking as many scenic spots could only be reached by foot. They spent some time watching a short video presentation on Toroko National Park instead.

Numerous temples and pavillions are strewn around the mountains creating scenic views

The clear blue-tinged stream runs through the gorge

And then began their torture session as the journey continued from Hualien to Kaohsiung. A back-breaking journey on route cut precariously into mountains side. Sharp bends after another were hurled at the double-decked bus (high spot of gravity, not stable!) and the bus driver manoeuvred them expertly. But oh, the breathtaking view from above. The deep ravines of forest trees were contrasted with the blue sea beyond, you could almost see the foamy waves rushing to the shore, joined by the blue sky. It was almost surreal.

One thing she noticed, the amount of 7-11 in Taiwan is astounding. You can find it in the city, in the most ulu village, even up in the mountain. Why does this small island need so many convenient stores? Because 7-11 and other convenient stores here really live up to their names - providing convenience to people. You can pay your water bills, telephone bills, driving license renewal fees etc at 7-11. Pretty resourceful, no? Probably will not be implemented in Malaysia, otherwise our rakyat where got work to do, right?

They finally reached Kaohsiung and proceeded to Sin Jiao Jiang Night Market. As usual, delicious aroma wafted you could smell it one street away. Besides food, clothes and shoe stalls were abundant, with cheap price to boot.

Yau Char Kuai (Fried flour sticks)

Skewers of chicken butt

Rice cake mixed with duck blood

Kaohsiung --> Taichung

After a hearty breakfast, next on the itinerary was the Spring and Autumn Pavilions. These two huge pavillions are dedicated to Kuan Kung, God of War. A statue of Kuan Yin riding a dragon stood in front of the pavillions.

Crouching tiger, not so hidden dragon

Everthing is so candy-coloured it's as if you're in an amusement park

Hsuan Tien Shang Ti Temple

Not too far away is the Fo Guang Shan (Buddha's Light Mountain), the headquarter of Chinese Mahayana Buddhist monastic order that has gained a worldwide presence.

The giant Buddha statue could be seen even from far away

This place is littered with hundreds of Buddha replicas!

The Princess has seriously no idea why she adopted this pose in the first place

There you go, giant Buddha statue again

Even the rooftop are decorated with Buddha statues

A very serene look, don't you think?

That's their tour guide, Elephant (yes, you heard it right)

After much walking, The Princess was glad to soak away the weariness in Chi Lin Fong Hot Spring. And apparently the correct way to do it is to soak in the hot spring for 15 minutes (not more than that else the body will be dehydrated). Get out from the hot spring, sit around, splash water at some unsuspecting victims for 5 minutes before continuing to soak for 15 minutes and repeat. Should you like to see old papayas, you could even opt to enter the private pool for nudes.

They went to another night market, this time the Fong Jia Night Market. As usual, food, food and more food.

To warm their tummies, they had hotpot dinner. After choosing the preferred meat, one should marinate the meat with egg white as the component of the egg white acts as meat tenderizer. Proceed to create your own sauce from the various ingredients available with peanut sauce as the base ingredient. Combine the leftover eggyolk with the sauce and voila, your own designer sauce.

Yummy hotpot

Taichung --> Taipei

First stop for the day was Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, built to commemorate on the life of the leader of the Nationalist China who moved his government, the Republic of China, into exile to Taiwan after his defeat at the hands of Mao Zedong.

National Convert Hall and National Theatre flanked both sides of the memorial

What's with the squatting pose?

Lots of flowering shrubs are planted around the memorial, like lavender

So pretty!

National Palace Museum houses the world's largest priceless Chinese art treasures. You would have thought it would be in China but Chiang Kai Shek ordered the removal of these treasures from their original place in China and moved them to Taiwan when he fleed, and many of these artefacts are broken or lost during the shipment. Since no photo taking is allowed in the museum, The Princess could not show some of the more interesting pieces, such as decorative pieces carved from a single tusk with details so fine you'd need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate the intricacies involved. Or that piece of natural rock that resembles a piece of pork, The Princess wouldn't suspect a thing if it's served to her.

Of course, trip to Taiwan wouldn't be complete without paying a visit to Taipei 101, the tallest building in the world taking over Petronas Twin Tower and Pearl Towel. Seriously, Taipei 101 is not as imposing as Petronas Twin Tower, probably due to the linked TWO towers of Petronas (instead of one) and the steel material used. In spite of the misleading name, there are actually only 69 levels instead of 101. They didn't visit the highest floor (time constraint, have to pay somemore, KLCC no need to pay also), so they walked around the shopping centre and guess what? They saw a singer frequenting the Shu Uemura counter. How exciting! Eventhough he's not famous now, not that he's ever famous. How come she never ever bump into Wang Lee Hom? *Sulk*

Taipei 101

Aunts and Mama Tju are star-strucked. That's Wu Chi Sien, a Malaysian-born singer

The 3 sisters

And finally, Shilin Night Market acts as the finale for the entire trip. Always a favourite with Taipei folks, Shilin offers great bargains for clothes and souvenirs. A tasty BBQ topped off the final day before returning to the hotel. However, since it was still early and Hsimending was just around the corner, they proceeded there for more retail therapy. Taipei is such a mecca for stylo clothes at affordable price, The Princess would even say cheap for the quality you get. Let's not delve into what she bought, suffice to say thank God Mama Tju was there to pour cold water on her buying impulse. And as she's writing this, The Princess is rueing her decision not to get that pair of shoes or that piece of dress. Oh well, there's always next time. Oh, and Mama Tju tried her first Chau Taufu (A kind of fermented toufoo, smell so bad it's like putting your 3-day socks into the mouth).

Mama Tju eating Chau Taufu

And that's it, a pretty hectic trip to Taiwan with her family. Next time, no more sightseeing, just head straight to Hsimending or Wufenpu.

Everyone's tired look at the airport

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