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The noodle maker

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La Mien noodles are the signature dish at Phnom Penh’s Noodle House. The chef makes them from scratch every time someone orders this dish.

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Even though it’s great fun to watch how these noodles are made, the dish itself tastes a little bland. It clearly needs some more spices or sauce.

What I recommend instead are the vegetarian Dim Sum at $ 2.50 and the Red Peanut Curry at $ 3.50 at Noodle House. Both of these are excellent.

Written by Thorsten

October 25, 2011 at 9:49 am

Marry in Macau – but bring your own food

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downtown MacauMost travel books and travel websites describe Macau as a gourmet’s paradise.

After having been here for a week, I can’t really agree.

And I suspect that all those rave review about the great Portuguese and Chinese food you can find in Macau must somehow have been masterminded by the Macau board of tourism.

Where’s the beef?

For the first couple of days in Macau, we had a hard time even finding restaurants.

In other cities, you come across dozens of decent eateries just by exploring any downtown street.

In Beijing or Shanghai, for instance, locals and tourists love to go out to eat. There are amazing restaurants everywhere. I kind of expected the same from Macau.

But in Macau’s downtown streets, all you see is some neon-lit snack bars or very basic eateries. And these places tend to offer low quality at a high price.

We felt disappointed or even ripped off almost every night.

I guess there must be great restaurants in some of the big hotels – but you’d probably have to win big at the local casinos before you could afford to have dinner there every night.

After our fourth or fifth disappointing dinner here, we finally found some reasonable places in the area behind Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.

There are Indian, Lebanese, Italian paces that offer pretty good food at moderate prices (I highly recommend the food at “Taste of India“, although the service may be a bit slow there sometimes).

Less restaurants, more wedding outfitters than elsewhere

wedding serviceMacau may have less downtown restaurants, but it definitely has more wedding outfitters than any city I’ve been to recently.

On some commercial streets, the competition is so tight that you wonder how they can all survive.

The wedding dresses and tuxedos displayed in the shop windows are probably best described with words like interesting, daring, different or colorful.

wedding gowns in a store windowIt seems to me that some of those Macau fashion designers have seen too many pictures of Louis XIV and the fashions at the French court of the 17th century.

Their gowns are an extravaganza of frills and rhinestones. The colors range from purple to canary-yellow to turquoise.

photos for the wedding albumOf course they also have white wedding dresses – these are probably the most popular.

At least white dresses are all you see when you see couples at the picturesque places of Macau, posing for the pictures that will make up their wedding albums.

But the wedding outfitters hardly ever dress their store dummies in those elegant white outfits.

purple brideThey mostly put the other colors and designs on display.

I guess they hope to encourage prospective couples to go for those more colorful version of their Louis XXXII creations.

Here’s to purple, yellow and flamingo-colored brides.

And good luck at trying to find a restaurant for the wedding party in Macau…

Written by Thorsten

May 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

Life is good for animals in Bhutan

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Meat shop in Thimphu, Bhutan

Meat shop in Thimphu, Bhutan

Most Bhutanese are devout Buddhists. And one of the cornerstones of Buddhism is that it’s wrong to kill animals because they are part of the divine creation.

Unfortunately, most Bhutanese also like eating meat. And that opens up a dilemma: if you want to eat meat, you have to slaughter animals.

But what can you do as a Bhutanese, if you like traditional meat dishes like phak sha laphu (stewed pork with radishes) or no sha huentseu (beef with spinach)?

strips of meat hanging out to dry

strips of meat hanging out to dry

The solution these clever Buddhists have come up with is simple – even though it might not be 100 % in line with what Buddha wanted: they have “outsourced” the slaughtering of animals to India.

Every piece of meat you eat in Bhutan was slaughtered across the border and then imported.

Animals in Bhutan lead a good life

Cows in Bhutan wander the streets like in neighboring India, and no one gets mad at them for blocking the road. It’s taken for granted. They have a right to be there.

Offerings to the gods become a meal for the pigeons

Offerings to the gods become a meal for the pigeons

Cattle is only there to help pull the plough across the rice paddies or to get milk.

Chickens are only kept to get eggs.

In the country’s many Buddhist monasteries, the monks and nuns leave offerings of rice, which pigeons and other birds will happily feed on.

And no true Buddhist would swat a fly or a mosquito – it’s better for your karma to shoo it away than to kill it.

Thimphu’s dog dilemma

In Bhutan’s capital Thimphu, the roaming dogs caused problems for tourism in recent years: the dogs would sleep all day and bark all night. That didn’t seem to bother the Bhutanese, but the tourists complained because they couldn’t get any sleep.

Of course, the Thimphu city council couldn’t just call a dog catcher and kill the stray dogs.

Instead, the city had an animal shelter built high up in the hills above the city,

Every once in a while, the dog catcher now drives around the streets of Thimphu, collects stray dogs and brings them to the compound in the mountains.

And there, the dogs can live happily ever after.

Unless they choose to dig a tunnel under the fence and make their way back to the streets of the capital. But then, the endless Buddhist circle of life would just begin anew…

Written by Thorsten

October 6, 2008 at 5:49 am

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

German is good in Ulan Bator

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Believe it or not, but you can see a lot of German influence in Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator.

Everywhere you go, you’ll come across advertisements for Khan Bräu, for instance. The Khan Bräu brewery has been around since 1996. It’s run jointly by a German and a Mongolian.

Khan Bräu makes its beers in Mongolia, but they’re brewed in strict compliance with the German beer purity law. This law dates back to the year 1516 and dictates that beer should only be made from water, hops and malt.

Consequently, Khan Bräu imports its hops from Bavaria to give its beers that special German flavour.

Brauhaus and Biergarten

But Khan Bräu doesn’t only make beers. It’s taken the German idea of Gemütlichkeit even further: Khan Bräu also runs a “Biergarten” restaurant in Ulan Bator. Here, they serve their Pilsener and dark beers and also classic German food specialties like Leberkäse and Bratwurst.

If you don’t have the time to sit down in the Khan Bräu beer garden for a hearty German meal, how about some fast food? You can stay with the German theme even if you just want some junk food: there are at least three fast food joints called Berlin Burger in Ulan Bator.

German meat products seem to have a pretty good reputation in Mongolia. In downtown Ulan Bator, you’ll see German-language billboards for the Makhimpex meat processing factory.

The text on these billboards reads: “Europäische Qualität, Geschmack und Verpackung in der Mongolei”.

The German may be a little rough, but what this friendly butcher is trying to tell his Mongolian clientel is that he’s providing European quality and taste, but that his products are made in Mongolia.

They need a little help with their advertising

According to the Makhimpex website, the company slaughters and processes sheep, cows and horses. It also tells us that its daily production includes:

  • 4 tonnes of blood
  • 1 tonne of meat and bone meal
  • 8 tonnes of blood meal
  • 10 tonnes of food oil

Reading this, I’m glad once again that I’m a vegetarian.

Tune in to German radio

Maybe the Makhimpex meat processing company should try advertising on Ulan Bator’s German radio station? Yes, German radio also exists in the Mongolian capital.

Deutsches Radio Ulan Bator (DRUB) broadcasts three hours a week to the capital area in German. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from five to six p.m. it’s the German hour on FM 98.9 in Ulan Bator.

Three Mongolian journalists put the programs together – with a little help from Germany’s foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The three have been on the air since March, 2008, and hope to reach a sizeable amount of the German-speaking crowd in Ulan Bator.

So far, they haven’t gotten much feedback from listeners, though. They want to improve their programs, however, and are willing to learn.

The Leipzig connection

One reason why German products and the German language play a role in Mongolia is that many Mongolians have personal ties to Germany.

Before the 1990’s, Mongolia was a staunch ally of the Soviet Union and had excellent connections to the other Eastern Block countries. One of these countries was communist East Germany.

Consequently, many Mongolians who wanted to study abroad went to the German Democratic Republic.

And while they were studying in Leipzig, Dresden or East Berlin, they also developed a taste for German beer, German food and German Gemütlichkeit.

It’s estimated that some 30 000 Mongolians have been educated in Germany over the last half century. 30 000 may not sound like a lot – but if you keep in mind that Mongolia only has a population of less than three million, you realize that this “Leipzig connection” must be a pretty strong force in Mongolian society.

Most of the 30 000 Mongolians who studied at German universities now hold important positions in this country. They’re a powerful group in Mongolian society and most of them are pretty wealthy for Mongolian standards.

At least they make enough money to be able to afford German beer, Bratwurst and all the other things they grew to love while they were in Germany.

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

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