Posts Tagged ‘eating

The hidden restaurants of Thimphu

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There are a lot of good restaurants in Bhutan’s capital Thimphu.

For non-locals, the question is just how to find them.

At home in Europe, I’m used to most restaurants being on the ground floor, usually with an illuminated sign and a welcoming doorway.

They’re easy to find, vying for my attention (and my money, of course).

Not so in Bhutan.

In Thimphu, you’d starve to death if you expected to just stumble upon a restaurant on the downtown streets.

Can you spot the restaurant sign?

Can you spot the restaurant sign?

Eating places here don’t have neon signs, billboards, or anything else to grab the attention of the hungry.

Restaurants are usually well-hidden on the first floors of the city’s shopping complexes. Tucked away between stalls selling cheap Chinese imported goods, internet cafes and tailor shops.

To find a restaurant, you usually have to climb up dirty, uninviting stairs. The smell and appearance of these staircases can hardly be considered the “amuse geule” of an enjoyable dining experience. On the contrary.

But once you’ve managed to locate the restaurant in the dimly lit hallways (God forbid there’d be a sign or an arrow pointing the way), you’re often in for a pleasant surprise.

The atmosphere can be really nice, the prices are generally low (you can get a full lunch menu for as little as a Euro) and the food is usually pretty interesting.

Ema datse, for instance. Chillies with cheese sauce.

Chillies are considered a vegetable in Bhutan, not a way to spice up some other dish. They’re hot, but if you like spicy food, ema datse is actually pretty tasty.

Other national specialties include shamu datse – mushrooms sautéed with cheese –, or kewa datse – potatoes with cheese sauce.

And those who don’t like cheese might enjoy Bhutanese red rice, a kind of locally grown rice that tastes a little nuttier than plain white rice.

Unfortunately, you’ll only find such good food if you know where to look for the restaurants in Thimphu – and if you don’t let unappealing stairways put you off.


Written by Thorsten

September 30, 2008 at 1:43 pm

Sorry, we’re out of dog meat

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July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

July 12 -13, 2008 edition of China Daily

There will be no dog meat in Beijing restaurants during the Olympics.

According to this weekend’s edition of China Daily (the country’s English language newspaper), the city’s 112 officially designated Olympic restaurants have been banned from selling dog meat during the Olympics.

The paper continues that non-designated restaurants have also been encouraged not to serve the meat.

“Dog meat sales are being suspended as a mark of respect for foreigners and people from ethnic groups,” an anonymous official with the administration was quoted as saying by Beijing Daily on Friday.

Giving up cultural identity to please foreigners

Personally, I think it’s sad that the Chinese are bending over backwards to please their international guests. I wish they were as sensitive about international public opinion when it comes to Zimbabwe or Sudan.

If dog meat is a part of Chinese culture and cuisine, then why pretend that it isn’t to please the foreigners?

Why don’t the Chinese just say “yes, some people in our country do eat dog meat – if you don’t like it, you don’t have to order it.”

After all, restaurants in China serve many other things that are “hard to stomach” for Westerners: jellyfish, camel’s feet, shark fin soup or chicken claws. Yet all of these are considered delicacies in China.

Maybe dog meat touches a sensitive spot in Westerners. I remember that coming across a dog meat butcher in Vietnam definitely came as a mild shock to me when I was there a few weeks ago.

But still: if it’s part of their culture, why should they get rid of it just to please me?

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

Written by Thorsten

July 13, 2008 at 8:31 am

Lunch at the palace

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Entrance to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall Lunch at a royal palace is something pretty unusual for me. But on my last day in Bangkok, Dusit Palace is really where I had my lunch.

O.K. – so it wasn’t exactly a 15 course state lunch with the Royals at one of the palace’s banquet halls. Lunch on the palace porchIt was a modest snack at a nice little restaurant next to the Moorish-looking Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.

The place caters mainly to the employees working in the different museums housed in the palace complex.

But still: for me, eating at this little restaurant was lunch at Dusit Palace! Sitting there on the restaurant’s porch, looking out into the lush royal gardens, I felt just a little blue-blooded.

I didn’t even mind that Thailand’s King Bhumibol hasn’t been seen at this palace for ages. I still enjoyed my lunch – even without him.

Caught in the rain

Rain drenches the palace gardensA tropical thunder storm began, just as I’d finished my meal. Mother Nature really opened the flood gates. It was quite a spectacle.

The pouring rain forced me to sit under the roof of that porch much longer than I’d planned. There was just no getting away without getting totally soaked.

After almost an hour of torrential rain, the palace gardens, the paths and roads were ankle-deep under water. The earth and the gutters just couldn’t absorb that much water in such a short time.

Royal presenceHere\'s what\'s for lunch at the palace restaurant

Should the Thai king, by any chance, ever visit Dusit Palace and suddenly get hungry, I could definitely recommend this little restaurant.

He should just make sure he doesn’t go to the big tourist eating joint at the main entrance – that has absolutely no charm whatsoever.

But at this small place next to Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall, he’d be able to chat with the locals, meet his staff, so to speak. I could recommend the rice with prawn with chilies and hot basil leaves stir fry. At 85 Thai Baht (1,65 Euro or 2.60 US Dollars), this dish wouldn’t even leave a dent in his the royal budget.

A youthful Thai king is depicted on the five-baht-pieceWhen the rain finally let up, I asked for the check and paid what I owed.

And when the waitress brought my change, I realized that King Bhumibol was there with me after all…

Written by Thorsten

June 11, 2008 at 8:09 am

Hot dinner in Hanoi

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Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi In Hanoi, there are some eating places you go to because of the decor and others that you go to despite the decor. Cha Ca La Vong is one of the latter kind.

Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe place is any decorator’s nightmare with its neon lights, green walls and wobbly tables and chairs.

But – oh – the food! The food is absolutely scrumptious!

And the best thing is that they only serve one dish. So you won’t be spending hours studying the menu, trying to decide what to get.

At Cha Ca La Vong, there’s only “Cha Ca” – the signature fish dish. It’s so popular that it’s even lent its name to the street that the restaurant is on.

Know where to look, or you’ll walk right by it

Cha Ca La Vong has been run by the same family for generations. It’s located in a rickety old house in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. There’s no flashy sign, no line of people, no attractive exterior that’ll draw you to this traditional restaurant.

If you aren’t aware of what’s inside this shabby house, you’ll never notice it or think of going in.

Luckily, a friend had told me about it, so we stepped inside, climbed up the narrow wooden stairs to the left of the entrance, and made our way to the first floor.

Upstairs, one of the waiters showed us to our seats and placed a little laminated card in front of us. It told us that the only dish at this restaurant – Cha Ca – would cost us 90 000 Vietnamese Dong each – roughly € 3,50 or about $ 5,00.

After we’d managed to communicate that that price was just within our financial limits, we were on.

You’ve got to know how to Cha Ca

Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe waiter brought a clay oven filled with red hot charcoal to our table. He put a pan with sizzling hot oil and some pieces of fish on top of the oven.

In addition, we got some cold rice noodles in a bowl, some peanuts, a small plate with dill and Vietnamese herbs and a bowl with spring onions.

Next, the waiter threw some of the spring onions and herbs into the pan. The combination of frying fish, Asian spices, herbs and spring onions smelled great.A bowl of Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in Hanoi

Unfortunately, we were clueless as to what should happen next: Should we take the frying pan off the grill at some point? Or should we also put the noodles and peanuts into the pan?

No, no, our waiter signalled, and demonstrated how it’s done: you put some of the cold rice noodles in your bowl, add some pieces of fried fish from the pan, sprinkle with some peanuts and add the fresh herbs.

The pan\'s empty - no more Cha Ca at Cha Ca La Vong in HanoiThe resulting combination was unbelievably delicious!

“This is the best dinner we’ve had in Vietnam”, my friend said.

I think it didn’t take us longer than fifteen minutes to clear that pan.

If you can’t stand the heat, don’t order the Cha Ca

But as soon we were no longer busy chowing down, we suddenly became aware of the fact that there was this extremely hot grill sitting right in front of us on our table. A grill with burning charcoal and a pan full of hot oil. A grill on a wooden table, in a wooden house, in the middle of the maze that is Hanoi’s Old Quarter.

How far to the next fire extinguisher in case the oil caught fire? How long would it take fire fighters to get here in case of an emergency? Kind of unpleasant thoughts.Ha Noi Beer to extinguish the fire

We felt pretty relieved when the waiter finally took away that charcoal grill and just left us with our beers. And the bill…

Written by Thorsten

June 6, 2008 at 8:51 am

Dinner doggie-style

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Dog meat butcher I’m a vegetarian. I don’t eat meat. And though I don’t like the smell of raw meat at butcher shops, it usually doesn’t bother me very much.

But when I looked around an open-air market in Hanoi today, I did get slightly nauseous in one corner of the market. I came across something that I hadn’t anticipated: dog butchers.

Nothing for the faint-hearted

There were about three or four stalls selling dog meat. All of the animals had been skinned and grilled. Some were lighter in colour, others reddish brown and crispy looking.chopping up dog meat

As I walked by, a Vietnamese woman was buying some dog meat. I guess she didn’t want the whole animal, because all of a sudden, the butcher swung her big knife and hacked the dog that lay in front of her in two. WHACK!

And CHOP, WHACK, CHOP, the butcher continued her mad frenzy. In the end, she had chopped the grilled animal to pieces the size of goulash.

The butcher put everything in a bag, the Vietnamese housewife took it and walked away happily.

Dining with the dogs

I knew that there are dog restaurants in a northern suburb of Hanoi. But I hadn’t expected to stumble upon grilled dogs at the market stalls just outside my hotel. After all, it’s an upmarket hotel in downtown Hanoi.

But I suppose not many of the hotel’s international guests venture into this Vietnamese market – even though it’s just a few steps from the hotel.

It must be an acquired taste

The smell at the dog meat market stalls was strange. Hard to describe. Was it the smell, the sight or the idea of the dead dogs that made me feel sick?

The Vietnamese clearly aren’t as sensitive. For them, dog is just as common a dish as pork, beef or chicken.

A tourist from New Zealand, whom I talked to a few days ago, said he had tried dog meat at one of the city’s dog meat restaurants. He said he liked the taste.

dog meat butcher

I don’t think I could have eaten dog meat. Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, dog is where I’d draw the line. Seeing and smelling those grilled dogs at the market made that very clear to me.

In Vietnam, it’s mostly men who will eat dog. Women don’t seem to enjoy it as much. Eating dog is associated with aggressiveness.

But even the Vietnamese men will not eat dog meat at the beginning of the lunar month. That’s considered bad luck.

So At the beginning of every lunar month, Hanoi’s dog meat restaurants stay closed.

And the ladies selling grilled dog at the street market have a few days off. To walk the dog?

Written by Thorsten

June 2, 2008 at 12:03 pm

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