Saturday, August 30, 2008

A little too much Slow Food...

Yes, I'm still trying to lose a few extra pounds from the trip to Thailand but decided to give myself a free pass today and head up to SF to check out some of the Slow Food Nation events. We tried to buy tickets to the Taste Pavilions at Fort Mason, but they were sold out (and I was still debating whether it was worth $65 per person to go).

So we went to the Marketplace at Civic Center instead - which was free in terms of entry. Of course we probably spent over $100 on food for our little group anyway.

There was a farmers' market set of stalls selling produce, veggies, cheeses and gourmet items like jams, pickles and oils. Alas, it was nothing special if you're a frequent visitor to local farmers' markets or the Ferry Building. There was also a nice set of prepared food stalls called Slow Food To Go. This is where we spent the majority of our time - probably most of it standing in line, it turns out.

We ended up with lemongrass pork and vermicelli from Out The Door, Chicken Biryani from Vic's Chaat House, Hand-Pulled Noodles from Imperial Tea House, Ham & Biscuits from Benton Country Ham (served with strawberry jam which was an odd but surprisingly good combo) and a Red-Eye Ham Sandwich from Wallace & Sons.

The lemongrass pork was good but exactly what you could buy at Out The Door itself - this was however the shortest line, which made it totally worth it since we were starving. And I got to meet Charles Phan himself! The Chicken Biryani was good but the puri that we got with it was not. The winner was the hand-pulled noodles with beef stew - yes, they were actually hand-pulling the darn noodles on the spot. And YES - that made for a VERY LONG LINE indeed. We overcompensated by ordering 4 orders...

For dessert, we picked up some organic strawberries and also an Apple Dandy Pluot popsicle (surprisingly not good) and some balsamic strawberry ice cream from Bi-Rite. Alas, they did not have our favorite Bi-Rite flavors so we vowed to hit the main Creamery later in the afternoon.

We strolled through the Victory Gardens (organic veggies planted in the middle of the Civic Center) and checked everything out while the kids played in the playground.

After that, we walked back to Hayes Valley and visited the new Christopher Elbow chocolate shop. They had an extensive hot chocolate bar - the dark chocolate hazelnut tasted just like melted Nutella. I was feeling a little sick at this point (did I forget to mention we stopped at Citizen Cake for some cookies on the way?!).

Of course, we couldn't resist the requisite stop at Miette along with some time on the play structure at Octavia and Fell. Plus some fleur de sel caramels...

After lying around for a few hours in a food coma, I roused myself enough to pick up a couple of yummy pizzas and the daily roast from Gialina - I was proud that we walked down the hill to pick it up.

And in an uncharacteristic act of self-control, we were so full that we did pass up the second trip to Bi-Rite Creamery. Plus it's the Ghirardelli Chocolate Festival next weekend! Must fast this week in preparation for that upcoming food frenzy...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back home again

Well we've been back home in Menlo Park for about a week now. The bags are all unpacked, things are put away (well, mostly anyway), I've got a lovely new blog header, the kids are back in school and.... I need to plan another trip!!!!

I think I'm addicted to travel. Wonder if there's a support group for that.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

In Transit in Seoul

We've flown through Seoul's Incheon Airport the last few times we've gone to Thailand - it's a fun airport and we have some favorite things to do.

At the top of the list is the traditional Korean arts and crafts available at the "Traditional Culture Experience Zone" (conveniently located next to a McDonald's!). In the past, we've painted traditional Korean fans and kites. This time around, the girls decorated a traditional hanji box, made of mulberry paper. The staff are dressed in traditional Korean dress (called the hanbok) and are very helpful.

This is a great set-up - so if you're ever in Incheon Airport, don't miss it!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My last crazy day in Bangkok

On my last morning in Bangkok, my parents picked me up to go make merit on the 29th anniversary of my grandfather's death. The traffic was terrible because two major demonstrations were taking place in the heart of Bangkok. The first, which we were unfortunate enough to drive by, was a parade to the German Embassy to protest the sacking of the employee and union leader of a German corporation called Triumph. The second was a march on the British Embassy to urge the British government not to grant asylum to Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand's ex PM. The current political situation in Thailand is a bit of a mess and you can read more about it here. Now traffic in Bangkok is already legendary - throw a few hundred marching protestors into the mix and you have a disaster. This explains the concept of "Thai Time' - where Thai people treat a rendezvous time rather loosely ;)

As we were stuck at a major intersection, I saw a policeman pull a car over for god-knows-what infraction. At the same time, there was some sort of fashion shoot going on across the road by Lumpini Park - a rather scantily clad (for Thailand!) beautiful Indian girl was surrounded by people with umbrellas and holding large reflectors.

All of a sudden, a swarm of other policemen appear to converge on the one hapless car and at the same time, the Indian girl and the man next to her start doing the bhangra in unison very vigorously by the side of the road. If you're not familiar with that, it's basically the Bollywood style of dancing - screw the lightbulb, pat the dog (to quote "Bride & Prejudice"). I had to laugh - the chaos of Bangkok!

We finally made it to the hall at Chulalongkorn Hospital where most of my extended family on my mother's side were congregated. We had ten monks chant blessings for my grandfather and then we offered them various items of food, drink and three kinds of dessert for lunch.

It was a fitting end to my long stay in Bangkok.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ice Ice Baby

I've mentioned iBerry in the past, our favorite local ice cream place. They have a number of outlets throughout Bangkok and we visited a different (and larger) one after dinner last night.

We ordered the Ice Ice Baby selection - 5 mini cones that you can select 5 different flavors for. I don't think it's the most economical selection, but it sure is cute!

And my younger daughter, who doesn't usually care much for ice cream, finally found a flavor she likes - Orange Sherbet! Two days before we leave Thailand :(

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Eating Chinese in Bangkok

If you're used to the standard Chinese restaurant in the US or Europe, you have to come to Asia to experience high-style Chinese dining in many of the top hotels in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore - with service and atmosphere as nice as any French restaurant.

We went to Liu at the Conrad in Bangkok for a dim sum lunch on Saturday. I first came to Liu about 5-6 years ago when the hotel first opened, and thought it was one of the prettiest Chinese restaurants I had been to.

We had an overabundance of food for lunch (of course!) since it turned out to be an all-you-can-eat menu. They did the standards quite well (bbq pork bun, har gao, siu mai etc) and also had a handful of creative dim sum.

They had also set up their moon cake stand in front of the restaurant. The Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival takes place in Sept and moon cakes are a staple throughout Bangkok as Sept approaches. This was always one of my favorite festivals growing up - not only could I eat moon cakes to my heart's delight, but as a child, I also got to pick out a lantern every year and go out on the night of the full moon to parade around with all the other kids.

Back in the day (god, I sound old!), moon cakes came in either lotus or red bean flavors. These days, the flavors seem to be limitless. Even Starbucks gets in on the action with a coffee-flavored version (yes, it's as gross as it sounds!). The stand at Liu offered 8 different kinds of moon cakes to sample, including durian, custard, ginko. And sample we did!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making Batik Handkerchiefs

There's a small Camp Hyatt at our resort in Hua Hin which is fairly underutilized. They have a cute selection of crafts that are fairly unusual and have a good Thai flavor - and we usually stop by every year to do one or two things. I have noticed that they're not really introducing any new crafts, but this does not seem to dismay my kids.

This year they chose to paint batik handkerchiefs. They first pick up the picture they want to do, then the instructor uses hot wax to outline the picture on the cotton fabric that's stretched on a wooden frame. After the wax has cooled, the kids use special water-based paints to color in the picture. The paint and the fabric ensure that colors can be blended very naturally in the right sections, while the wax border ensures that colors don't bleed into different sections.

After they're done painting, the fabric is allowed to dry naturally and is soaked overnight in some sort of solution that sets the paint. Then the staff nicely iron the pieces and we pick them up the next day.

This year, the kids both picked florals. I think they did quite a nice job!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

To the beach at Hua Hin

Every year for the past 5 years or so, we've made the 2.5 hour drive out of Bangkok to Hua Hin, a beach resort popular with Thais and other locals, and a long-time retreat for the Thai royal family. I particularly like Hua Hin because it's very low key and has a very low proportion of foreign tourists - most foreigners are travelling in families and many are expatriates based somewhere in Asia.

We always stay at the Hyatt Regency resort there - it has (to quote my kids) "the best pool in the world". Now I have to admit the experience was not up to par this time (it started with being kept waiting with little explanation for 2 hrs 30 mins before our suite was ready and went downhill from there). I did let my irritation go however and we had a nice 4 days there with lots of pool time (we really don't do anything else!) and the reemergence of Shamu.

Shamu appears every summer and I am much fonder of him now that we've figured out that the pool attendants at the Hyatt can take him away and inflate him for us!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Watching the Olympics in Thailand

The Olympics are a huge event here and the entire country is rooting for its top athletes to bring home some medals, as well as also being proud that such an event is being mounted in Asia. We watched the Opening Ceremonies live on Friday night - sadly for Sean and the kids, all the commentary is in Thai.

The graphics and production are much less slick than what we usually see on the US networks, which I find very charming and entertaining - although I do wish they'd pop up the standings a little more often. It's sometimes hard to keep track.

We're also seeing a lot more of sports that matter to Thailand - a lot of weightlifting, boxing, badminton and judo!

Today Thailand won it's first gold medal, in women's 53kg weightlifting. I've been told that the gold medalist will receive 10 million Thai baht (~ 300k USD) as her reward.

The country is fiercely proud and everyone is celebrating the medal!

Is food the center of my existence?

I was reading my friend Leslie's blog and noted her very funny, but oh-so-true comment that "Not only do we eat, we talk about our next meal while we're eating the current meal."

This has always been the case with my family and I'm just beginning to realize that this is not normal behavior for most other people in the world.

Let me enumerate my dining highlights of the past week:

- Sunday: massively indulgent Sunday Brunch buffet at the Sukhothai Hotel

- Monday: lovely meal at Savoury, a little cafe in Siam Paragon (the most high end shopping center in Bangkok)

- Tuesday: "modern asian" meal at Breeze, outdoor dining on the 54th floor of a high rise building (made much more exciting when the entire restaurant had to move indoors when it started raining at 8 pm - a task accomplished by the staff in record time)

- Wednesday: afternoon tea in the Four Seasons lobby, surrounded by Thai police and very obvious Secret Service personnel (preparing for W's entrance that evening)

- Thursday: lunch at the Deck on the Chao Praya river, across from Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn

- Friday: nouveau Japanese at Ginger, a new restaurant on the 24th floor of the Centara Grand Hotel where I fell in love with Yuzu-flavored salt

- Saturday: dinner at Youreaguan, a simple Korean restaurant on Sukhumvit Soi 59 (the wait staff was oh-so-nice)

- Sunday: dinner at Indochine, a lovely Vietnamese place in an old house

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Yo Yo Land

There are high end Western shopping centers in Bangkok (like Emporium, which is the one I live right above) and there are local malls frequented almost exclusively by Thais, usually located in the suburbs.

One huge example of a local mall is Seacon Square, which is neither on the Skytrain nor the subway route. However, we make a trek over there every year because of Yo Yo Land.

Now all shopping centers in Bangkok will have a children's play area. They range from the small area in Emporium which runs heavily to video games, to Yo Yo Land, which is a full-fledged mini theme park located on the 6th floor of Seacon Square.

Not only are there a plethora of video games, there is a train, bumper cars, a flume ride, carousels, a labyrinth, mini ferris wheel, a ghost house (which we've always avoided) and numerous other little themed rides.

Plus lots of other games, including the Thai version of paint-your-own pottery.

We could spend the whole afternoon here - the kids just love it!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

I could get used to this very easily...

Today we spent a most pleasurable 3 hours in the Mandara Spa at the Four Seasons Hotel in Bangkok. The spa suite was beautiful.

I had an aromatherapy bath, a Thai herbal compress followed by a massage and finally a rejuvenating facial (during which I fell fast asleep). The service throughout was marvelous and my attendant, although quite petite, was remarkably strong and gave me a very deep massage.

Afterwards, we hit the lobby for a snack and saw a multitude of Thai policemen and Secret Service agents wandering around. We correctly deduced that President Bush was going to be staying there - he's scheduled to arrive for a quick visit to Bangkok before he goes up to Beijing for the Opening Ceremonies.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Many Floating Tourists...

We met our van at the unearthly hour of 6:30 am to set out for Damnoen Saduak, the original floating market located about 90 mins west of Bangkok. This was the way Thais would market back in the day when travel by boat in the klongs was the typical way of life.

The popularity of floating markets soared in the past 20 years as they were used in all the official tourism photos of Thailand. A couple of smaller versions have been started closer to Bangkok but we wanted to see the original version.

We had a short 15 min ride to the market itself in a long-tail boat, going through the smaller klongs to get there - it was very pleasant. When we got to the market, we chartered a small boat paddled by an older woman which took us through the market itself.

After buying a few trinkets, I got some kanom buang for me and some mango and sticky rice for the girls. I also ended up having some fresh coconut juice and a traditional Thai ice tea.

The market got incredibly busy by 10 am so it was good that we got an early start. Apparently, it's even busier on the weekends, when more Thai visitors come, in addition to all the foreign tourists. All the foreigners like the souvenirs and trinkets; all the Thais come to eat!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Jim Thompson House

Leslie and I figured we ought to do at least a little sightseeing amidst all the eating and shopping, so we headed to the Jim Thompson House, a compound of traditional Thai teak houses with Western touches built by Jim Thompson, the American who is credited with reviving the Thai silk industry in the 1960s.

Jim Thompson's story is very interesting, culminating with his mysterious disappearance while walking in the Malaysian highlands. You can read more about it here.

It was probably my 5th or 6th trip on the tour but I still found it fascinating. The house and grounds are very peaceful.

Traditional Thai Spirit House on the grounds.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

We made a quick late afternoon run on Sunday to the massive weekend market with 15,000 stalls on 26 acres. It was stiflingly hot and the kids were fascinated with the pet section, much of which I found unbearable due to the conditions and the heat.

They were obsessed with the small bunnies, which I have to admit were really rather cute. 100 baht each (~ 3USD). Needless to say, we left bunny-less...

Sunday Brunch at the Sukhothai Hotel

So my friend Leslie is visiting from the US and I was determined to show her the best Sunday Brunch in Bangkok. Sadly, there's seems to be no consensus as to the best brunch - and after I found out that our previous fave, Next2 at the Shangri-la Hotel, was under renovation, I picked the Colonnade at the Sukhothai.

The Sukhothai is a gorgeous 5-star hotel done in modern Thai decor with beautiful water views from the brunch room. Here's an overview of the selections (trust me, even these pictures don't do it justice!)

The bread selection - the pretzel bread was a particular favorite.

Prepared sushi selection - there was also a sushi master available to create sushi to order, including some high quality sashimi options.

Peking duck, carved to order.

The grill station which included prime rib, leg of lamb and a chicken tandoori carving station at the front. There was also pan-fried foie gras with a mango sauce - yum.

One of the many dessert stations - I love mini-desserts! The lemon meringue tart was especially good. As was the mango and sticky rice (alas, not pictured).

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Food Innovation?

Not just a food paradise, but also a hub for food innovation - there were a few customers trying this new concept out, but we passed ;)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Food Paradise

People always ask what do we do in Thailand when we come to stay for the summer. Well, the list is quite long but one of the highlights is eating, eating and more eating.

This is our favorite ice cream place - conveniently located a short elevator ride away. iBerry produces great local ice cream - Amara's favorite is Nutella, my favorite is Coconut Sorbet. Other local flavors include Sour Plum, Rambutan Sorbet, Horlicks, Tamarind...

We've counted over 9 ice cream places in the food court area of Emporium alone - Thais like their ice cream!

Another favorite cuisine here is Italian - the kids say that the penne bolognese and the margarita pizza here are the best they've had outside of Italy. We went to a favorite pizza place called Limoncello the other day, on Sukumvit Soi 8. Mei enjoyed watching the two pizza makers toss and spin the dough, as well as lay on the toppings. Then she found a little corner set up for kids where she could roll out her own dough!