half duck, half chicken?

3 08 2008

i’m not talking about some dish i ordered.

brian and i saw this. . .erm. . .ducken (?) at a berber house on our way to seti fadma.

check it. it has one foot that looks like a duck web. the other looks like a chicken claw:

wonder if he tastes more like duck or chicken.

wonder if he tastes more like duck or chicken.

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07.31.08: we ate a sheep head.

3 08 2008

entrance to djemaa al fnaa.

and it was good.
 
i’ll admit, we must give a little bit of credit to andrew zimmern. if we hadn’t seen the morocco episode of bizarre foods i don’t know if we would have been entirely enticed into eating a whole sheep head, but that episode was a deal maker.

ok. that’s not entirely true. we did roast half a baby lamb on easter, which of course came with half a head, half a brain, half a tongue. you get the gist.

anyway, before we get to all the fun eating, i have to tell you about our little adventure trying to find the square. it was already dark out, and this was our first time trying to make our way around the souk and to the square. our riad’s manager, cyrus, recommended that we go around because it’s pretty easy to get lost.

i think we walked around in circles for about a half hour before we finally found the square.

i expected djemma el fnaa to be two things: large and chaotic.

it was big, but it wasn’t as large as i expected it to be. it was definitely chaotic. tons of people, all being pulled at and goaded by touts trying to get you to eat at their stalls. were they abusive? a little. but you don’t take it too seriously — after all, if they can’t get you to dine, if they can make you feel like you’re the one who’s being rude, it’s a small victory.

but enough on the touts. time for some sheep head. there are four or five tables that make roasted sheep head. we chose one of the many stalls named hassan. i think it might have been hassan 113. but who’s counting?

row of sheep heads.

row of sheep heads.

like any proper sheep head stall worth its salt, there were four roasted sheep heads on display. we ordered the big head. on first sample, the meat is, fatty, fragrant with a rich meaty smell. dare i say sheepy? the skin is a bit too fatty for us, but that’s not a problem. there are lots of little bits to tear at, like the tongue, the glands, the chunks of meat clinging to the face. we stopped at the nose. too funky.

sheep head meat.

sheep head meat.


more bits of sheep. . .topped with glands!

more bits of sheep. . .topped with glands!

after we got our fill of sheep head, we made our way through more touts trying to lure us into less crowded stalls selling everything from harira to salads. we found a crowded grill stand (also named “hassan”) and ordered some lamb sausage and pancreas. mmmm. . .

more food pics later — wireless is still a bit weak.





07.31.08: riad meriem, marrakesh

2 08 2008

we landed this morning at around noon.

we’re staying at the riad meriem, an 8-room riad in the oldest section of the medina. the medina is foot, bike, moped and donkey traffic — no cars on these windy, cobbled streets.

the riad is quite stunning. it’s located off of the street azbezt on dar el kabi, a narrow alleyway that i wouldn’t trek down if it were in nyc. but this is morocco, and some standards simply don’t apply. it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in a dark, seemingly empty alleyway in the medina. thankfully, the city is pretty safe.

that said, the riad is pretty cool. it was designed by thomas hays, an nyc-based designer a couple of years ago. tonight we’re staying in the star room. for the rest of the trip, we’ll be in the red room, which has its own terrace.

okay. onto the reason why i travel: the food.

our first meal in morocco was prepared by the riad’s private chef. again, since this is a small hotel, meals outside of breakfast are usually ordered a day in advance so that the staff can pick up enough supplies during their morning market run.

najett whipped up a simple, but satisfying kefte with a chopped tomato, onion, and pepper salad. our meals on the flight were pretty lackluster (no shock) so we plowed through all 8 skewers.

after a short catnap, i explored the riad. the roof terrace has a couple of tented areas set aside for breakfast and sunset drinks. for me, the coolest part of the roof was the plants: jasmine, pomegranates, bougainvillea, and olive trees. pretty cool. . .

i’ll add pics later.  my wireless here is good, but slow on the upload.  time to grab a glass of wine downstairs before heading out to dinner at djemma el fnaa.





i think i ate an endangered species.

3 01 2008

that porky-tasting fish that we bought at the market, had cooked up three different ways and devoured ravenously? if indeed it was the giant mekong catfish, i think i might have eaten a creature off the endangered species list.

the giant mekong catfish is one of the largest (if not the largest) species of freshwater fish. it’s come under threat because of overfishing, declining water quality, damming, you name it. the numbers of the fish are dwindling.

the largest one ever found was reeled in by a thai fisherman. weighing in at almost 650 lbs., the villagers tried to keep it alive, but it died. so they ate it.

can’t say i blame ’em.





from the golden triangle to chiang mai to koh samui.

29 12 2007

posting has been tricky for the past few days. . .

first off, i really haven’t had much of a free moment. secondly, it’s been a little wacky with slow internet speeds. ok, so maybe i was frustrated with the new flickr uploader which took 3x the time to upload my photographs — and dropped quite a few of them. so i stopped messing with the computer. oh, yeah. that and my harddrive is out of space, so posting more pics is truly impossible now.

here’s the rundown of what’s been going down since my last posting:

1) we learned how to drive elephants like mahouts

2) we crossed the friendship bridge from thailand into sop ruak in burma

3) we learned that the making offerings burmese blessings at the temple is a little different from making offerings at thai temples

4) we went to a hilltribe camp in burma, home to both karen and akha tribespeople, and it was not unlike going to a touristy native american reservation, so really quite depressing

5) we realized that for all of the commerce over the friendship bridge, sop ruak has better goods and really should be much richer

6) we had an amazing first christmas eve dinner at the elephant camp. more on this later when i can post pics

7) we drove (ok, so we rode) the 4 hour roadtrip from the golden triangle to chiang mai, with a pit stop at the modern white temple — modernist, buddhist art with craziness like pics of the wtc going down and the matrix painted on the walls of the main temple

8)in chiang mai, we explored the 4 main wats — doi suthep in the mountains, and the 3 in the old town

9) we had a blast browsing all of the thai crafts in the sankampang road area of chiang mai

10) we had one of our best meals in thailand at a restaurant across the street from the celadon factory on sankampang road — wish i knew the name of the restaurant (i have it written in thai)

11) we capped off the day with a dinner in the kalare night bazaar

12) from chiang mai, on to koh samui where we are now. i’ll have to post about the hilariousness that was our first hotel — talk about a disaster first encounter with the kind of beach tourists you really want to avoid (but it was only for one night)

so that’s the past few days in a nutshell. i keep meaning to write a post on the food, which i’ll need to do once i have all my pics up and running on flicker.





hilltribe children, local market, monk’s blessings, opium history and snake whiskey!

24 12 2007

the title pretty much sums up our second day in the golden triangle.darin, our guide, took us by private boat up the ruak river so that we could see where it meets the mekong river. if we’re facing south, burma is behind us to the north with laos to our east, thailand to our west.IMG_6370.jpgcruising up the ruak river

it’s a little bizarre seeing the three countries converge. the golden triangle was named for the opium, or “black gold,” that was produced and trafficked from thailand and burma to the rest of the world. opium production and sale was legal in thailand until the 50’s when it was outlawed. copious amounts are still produced in thailand today — the bulk of the world’s opium comes from afghanistan and burma.today, the golden triangle is still a place of beauty, but it’s also a place where thais flock to go to the casino. the casino is called the win-win club, and it’s located right across the ruak river. not far from the statue of the buddha of the golden triangle is a parking lot and immigration control for thai citizens that want to gamble away their hard-earned money in burma. casinos are illegal in thailand, but there are rumors that the owners of the win-win club are actually thai.

IMG_6394.jpgbuddha of the golden triangle

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the win-win clubthe casino should probably be called the “lose-lose club.”

we got off the boat and took a local song thaew. a song thaew is very much like a jitney. if you’re neither thai nor filipino, that probably won’t mean much to you. it’s basically an open air van with benches inside that are normally crammed with people. the song thaew drove us all the way up to the top of a hill to the golden triangle overlook.

IMG_6395.jpginside a song thaew

IMG_6400.jpggolden triangle overlook

there were young hill tribe girls singing. for about 100 baht, the girls will sing a song to the tune of “20 baht each girl for photo” in english, french, spanish, chinese, thai, japanese. the money helps pay for their education.

IMG_6412.jpghill tribe girls

we hopped in a tuk tuk and went off to the local market. this is probably the cleanest wet market i’ve ever been to. fish and meat were being sold and sliced on site. of course there were flies here and there (to be expected), but i was amazed at how fresh the meat, fish and produce looked.

IMG_6435.jpgfresh produce

a huge fish sitting in a tub caught our eye. darin told us it was giant mekong catfish and that its meat is full of omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s oilier. she also told us that it’s fattier and not unlike pork. porky-tasting fish? and the camp chef will cook it for us? sold! we bought a kilo. more on the meal later.

IMG_6463.jpggiant mekong catfish

brian ended up buying some barbecued pope’s nose as a snack — all of the barbecue looked really good. there were skewers with impaled chicken gizzards, kidneys, and hearts, as well as the meat. i contemplated buying the roasted chicken legs. claws still intact!

IMG_6442.jpgpope’s nose barbecue!

IMG_6444.jpgchicken legs

IMG_6461.jpgfrog legs, anyone?

from the market, we got back into the tuk tuk to the temple. there were young kids playing traditional thai music for school money. inside the temple, we did a proper buddhist blessing with the lighting of the candle, incense sticks, and the offering of the flowers. a monk also blessed us and gave us a string to tie around our wrists. right for men, left for women.

IMG_6491.jpg

IMG_6492.jpg

funny observation: as the monk was saying his prayer for us, a fly was buzzing around his foot. the monk slapped at his foot to swat the fly as he said the prayer.

after the temple, it was time to go back to the camp for lunch.the chef took our fish and prepared it three ways:

1) soup with lemongrass and chili base

IMG_6506.jpg

2) boiled, served with a side of chili sauce

IMG_6508.jpg

3) sautéed with fish sauce and green peppercorns

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the sautée with the green peppercorns was my favorite. the fish tasted more meaty. the skin of the fish was thicker, and slightly chewy, but not as rubbery as shark skin. i ended up eating more than brian.

after lunch, it was time for a trip to the hall of opium. the museum was built in honor of the queen mother who was dedicated to reforesting of poppy fields in the region. her goal was to educate about the history and the impact of opium production in thailand, as well as educate and find new employment for poppy farmers.we learned a lot of information, not just about the history of opium in thailand and china, but some fun tidbits about the u.s./cia involvement funding the drug trade globally. fun factoid: benjamin franklin was addicted to opium.

after all of the education, it was time for drinks!

brian decided to sample the local tipple: snake whiskey! the local people make whiskey from rice. i’m guessing that the chinese belief in the strength of animals being transferred to people if their consumed/drank is at work here — the hill tribe people are descendents of chinese settlers who migrated from china into burma, thailand, laos, and vietnam. so they make the liquor, throw in a cobra either biting its tail or another smaller snake, some herbs (probably ginseng).

cobra in the snake whiskey

brian tried it first. i decided to join him for the second shot. it’s not awful. the bitter aftertaste is most likely from the herbs, not the snake.emboldened by his two snake whiskey shots, brian decided to try another version of the whiskey. this one had an even bigger snake inside. it was too much snake for one man.

snake whiskey

so ended our second day in the golden triangle. more pics posted on flickr.





bangkok: wat wat wat

20 12 2007

in our time in bangkok, we’ve been to four wats: wat phra kaeo, wat pho, wat arun, and wat ratchapradit. interestingly, most of the temples in bangkok were built around the late 1700s, 1800s. ancient style, not so ancient ages.

wat pho: bangkok’s temple of the reclining buddha.

IMG_5741.jpgreclining buddha

the buddha statue is about 15 meters across from head to feet. like most of the statues, it’s bronze, covered in black lacquer and then covered with a layer of gold.

it’s also home to the famous massage school — the art of thai massage was first taught at wat pho. we’re not talking about a patpong, rub-and-tug kind of massage, but the pressure point, stretching thai massage. near the temple that houses the reclining buddha is a gallery of paintings used to teach students the technique, along with herbal remedies to alleviate pains and aches.

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wat pho is still a place to learn and become certified in thai massage. the program is either one month or one year. i can’t remember.

wat arun: temple of the dawn.

this is a crazy temple. the architectural style is khmer, but the details on the temple are created from thousands upon thousands of fragments of broken porcelain. much of the porcelain was donated by bangkok families during the building of the temple.

wat arunwat arun, as seen from the ferry boat

detail of wat arun

the other interesting thing about the temple is the steep climb to the top level. people literally haul themselves up the steps to get to the top two levels.

steep climb up

skyline of wat arun

the last wat that we saw was wat ratchapradit. built by rama iv, known mostly by western audiences because of the musical the king and i. incidentally, the musical and the book that inspired it are banned here in thailand.

rama iv was pretty cool. he had 18 wives and 82 kids. he was also the first king of thailand to invite foreign (western) teachers and missionaries into thailand. his children were western educated — his son, king chulangkorn (rama v), would be the first to adopt more western dress, as well as the first true diplomat king of thailand.

back to ratchapradit.

given that this was built by a king, the crown of the king is prominently featured in the wat’s details. it’s hard to see because of the shadow, but you can see it here at the entry way and in one of the marble carvings.

wat ratchapradit

detail of crown in marble

there’s a statue to rama iv housed in a building that features the four faces of buddha on the roof. in thailand, royalty is revered, and this place is certainly no exception — offerings are left at the base of his statue.

four faces of buddha

offerings to rama iv

at the back of ratchapradit is a chinese pagoda. it’s a guardtower in the royal garden.

chinese pagoda in the royal garden

at this point, we’re watted out. we’ve got to save ourselves for chiang mai. . .