Follow my Existential Exile. . .

Saturday, April 16, 2011

SoulFood in Saigon take two. . .

Last year, my friend Erica came to visit Saigon and check out what life is like in Vietnam. While here, I promised my foreign friends some good ol' fashion soul food and had Erica whip up some seafood gumbo, Viet style. She didn 't have all the ingredients she would normally have, like chicken broth (we just couldn't find it). This caused us to settle for a strange powdered substance that is is commonly found in Viet grocery stores like Co-OP Mart and Big C.  We did not know how much to use and how much water mix with it. So the gumbo, though quite delicious, was extremely salty. Regardless of having to drink two large gallons of LaVie water after eating, everyone loved it and craved for more.

So fast forward to now. AFter several people asking me to make more gumbo, and after moving into my own apartment, and after coming back from Singapore, I said, why not? So I invited the crew over, and went shopping. This time I didn't want to run out, and I didn't want the batch to me salty. The resolve was:
4 chicken breasts boiled
4 bags of shrimp
3 crabs
1 pack of 4 spicy sausage links
2 packs of fresh baby corn
1 pound of okra
2 cans of stewed tomatoes
2/3 pack of Bacon fried for a full glass of grease
about a cup or 2 of flour to burn for the roux
1 really LARGE aluminum pot
1 extra pot for the spill over

With so many ingredients I needed more water. So the new problem was, not salty enough, lol. But guests could add whatever they wanted to make the stew taste to their liking. Thanks to my girl Evelyn, who was at the last gumbo dinner, we finished not too late, just after 9 pm. She remembered all the steps. I was a bit clueless. Only knew what went in the gumbo, not how to make it look like gumbo. Cooking for others is fun. I'm sure once I get married and have children this may seem like a chore, but I hope not. It's another way to be creative with my innate artistic self. Luckily I have a posse of friends who love to cook. Especially Julie Child herself, Adeline, the Viet-French version. I just came back from a barbeque at Adeline's place and tasted many of her concoctions. This night's dessert delight was a Banana Toffee Creme pie. Toffee was home made from Vietnamese condensed milk, mmm mmmmm. If you don't have friends from a variety of cultures, I'd recommend it. Your tastes buds will never be bored.

my favorite toy from Singapore. . .

the x mini speaker!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Singapore.

I realize that I have neglected to talk about my travels to other countries while I continue pushing through this exile of mine. It is easy to become complacent to the Asian way of life because I see it everyday. But this blog was started for the friends and family back home who unfortunately cannot be here 365 to see, hear and smell what I experience. So let me begin, "Tiana's favorite things," with a recap of my Singaporean adventure.

For those that are unfamiliar, Singapore is a city/state/country of its own off the coast of the Malay pennisula. According to Wikipedia, it was taken over by the British, then Japan, then the British again, until it gained its independence somewhere around 1965-ish. The ethnic background is Chinese, then Native Malay and Indians. There are 4 official languages, but I only heard two: "Senglish" and Chinese. If you plan on visiting Singapore, be ready with pockets full and bank account plentiful with cash; Singaporeans love to shop. This is the highlight of Singapore. If I had to rate what I liked best it would go:
1. everyone speaks English
2. the weather is gorgeous, steamy hot!
3. I can shop till I drop, and my bank account won't stop
Everything is in Singaporean dollars. So, even if I buy products at regular Singaporean price from the Origins counter in Robinsons, which I did, my bill may look high, but ends up being $20 cheaper after the conversion to USD, whoot whoot! If shopping is your thing, and it should be to visit Singapore, then head down to Orchard Rd. You will find an ample amount shopping centers, plazas galore. The whole city is filled with them, but this is the hub of high class shopping. If you want a discount, don't worry, there is room for that too. Just look for the smaller shops that are tucked away, like the Camera Comp. Specialist store I found at 220 Orchard Rd. near to Center Point shopping plaza. You can find a guy named Eugene who will try to talk you down to the lowest you allow him to get to. There is also Lucky Plaza which I heard was cheaper, but never got a chance to visit. There were a few surprises in the Orchard Rd. area. We spotted the "Charlie Brown Cafe", AppleBees, TGIFridays, Melaleuca store, Famous Amos Cookies! and, wait. . . is that what I think. . .oh shoot, it's Cold Stone!!!! yes there is even a Cold Stone Creamery in Singapore, finally someone was thinking! As you shop till you drop and eat your ice cream you can dance to the music being played outside and inside the mall. Nothing too crazy, just pop hits and techno beats. (My travel buddy Tarek and I heard Soulja Boy in
AppleBees.) Unfortunately as I later found out, this is the same music played in the club, unless you like the pop sound, to each his own.

Once you're sick of shopping and want to enjoy the sun, the only place to go is Sentosa, the Southeast Asian "Six Flags". You can get there two ways: drive, which I don't recommend or train it. Tarek and I traveled in his car, and consistently got lost the entire weekend. There is a monorail-type train to Sentosa from some sort of mall that is down town. We caught the Singapore subway train from Orchard Rd. and connected a few times until we arrived at the correct stop to exit; we then walked to VivoCity to get on the Sentosa "express train." The Sentosa train is about $2 Sing dollars. If it's the beach you crave, then get off at "Beach Station" the last stop. From there you can walk, or take a golf cart to any beach of your liking. We watched the stars in Silosa Beach at Cafe del Mar the first night then lounged like a celebrity on Saturday afternoon at the Tanjong Beach Club. If you want a cushion seat there, make a reservation, bring your swimsuit, and just chill. But this is a popular place, so be ready to people watch as well.

I will not discuss the night life, because it sucked. I'm sure there are parties at Sentosa's many beach clubs. Cafe del Mar has a lovely DJ booth, and nice beats on a Friday night. So bring a group and make your own party. If you want a club head to the Clarke Quay area. Again, if you like to dance, go to BKK or Seoul, but if you want to pose, then Singapore is your city. Visit the Marina Bay Sands hotel, or a bar called Altitude to get breath taking views of the city.

We found plenty of places to eat. Again, getting lost cut into our eating time, but we still managed to find great food. If you can, head to Epicurious. I found this spot on the ladyironchef blog while craving for pancakes Saturday morning. I needed to find a non-chinese eatery. It's delightful. If I lived in Singapore, I'd be a regular. The staff was friendly and diverse, the juice freshly squeezed and our table sat right next to the river at Robertson Quay. And, ironically, we saved the best place to eat for last. Marche is a Swiss themed restaurant with a market atmosphere on Orchard Rd. inside the Somerset. (Lots of restaurants sit inside malls for some reason.) We were pulled in by the smell and sight of the pastries on the first floor. We noticed people going down stares so we followed suit. Ooooo Ahhhh, food everywhere. You're handed a Marche card and charge everything you take. Be careful, or more like, be aware, you will spend a good $20-$30 for your meal. It's vacation, so go for it. Just make sure you eat one thing at a time. We had soo much food, we almost couldn't finish and that's money wasted. There is pretty much everything from fresh juice, salad, salty crepes, sweet crepes, pizza, polish sausage, roast beef, chicken, all kinds of bread, fruit, desserts, parfaits, ohh and a Chocolate Fountain :-) The only thing I couldn't get was an omelette so T found this dish: fried egg that sits on top of hash browns, even better!

I enjoyed Singapore and miss the "pleasant prairie" atmosphere. It's like Paces Ferry in Atlanta, or Columbia, Maryland times 1,000. Immaculate. However, this super clean, super corporate uber business landscape screams BORING. I, along with other ex-pats living there agree that Singapore is perfect for a family with children, extremely safe and extremely diverse. Just make sure you and yours have a 6-figure job to support your child's Cold Stone habits and their interest in the $50-ferris wheel ride (hey it's the largest wheel in the world).