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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

The North Korean dinner show

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The menu at the Pyongyang RestaurantI saw the most unusual dinner show the other day.

It was at a North Korean restaurant in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh.

Before I make an attempt to put this unique dining and entertainment experience into words, please take a look at a short video I made during the show to get an idea what I’m talking about.

 

What you see in this video are the singing waitresses at the Pyongyang Restaurant in Phnom Penh. Every night at around 8 p.m., they interrupt serving dinner and hop on stage to sing, dance and play music.

Let’s just say that the Dear Leader‘s idea of a proper show and Western concepts of funky entertainment are obviously worlds apart.

Exiled North Koreans, a theme restaurant or the real thing?

Before we entered the Pyongyang Restaurant, we didn’t really know what to expect. We’d heard rumors about singing waitresses and a dinner show, but we still weren’t sure what kind of place this would be.

tasteful wall decorations at the Pyongyang RestaurantWas it a North Korean restaurants run by expats who’d fled the country and tried to recreate a little piece of Heimat in far-away Cambodia?

Was it a restaurant that just devoted itself to North Korean cuisine? For, surely, North Korea must also have food specialties and national dishes – even though the people there are suffering food shortages nowadays.

Or was it the real thing? Could this be a North Korean enclave in Phnom Penh? A place celebrating the Dear Leader and the North Korean way of life? Could such a thing exist?

Yes, it was the real thing

I have no idea how the deal worked, but this restaurant was truly showcasing North Korea in Cambodia. The waitresses were from North Korea, the food was supposed to be North Korean and the entertainment was North Korean.

Waitresses at the Pyongyang RestaurantSince I’m still kind of shell-shocked from this bizarre experience, I’ve just listed some of my observations from that evening.

Sorry, but since the experience was so absurd, so out-of-this-world, I haven’t been able to turn them into a narrative.

  • The waitresses all looked alike. Same hairstyles, same facial expressions, same dresses. Thankfully, they wore name tags.
  • The waitresses looked so pale, you’d think a vampire had just drained them of all their blood.
  • The dresses that the waitresses wore were made of the finest North Korean polyester. The design was somewhere between The Sound of Music and The Stepford Wives.
  • If they weren’t handing out menus or taking orders, they were busy telling people not to take pictures. So all the photographs and videos on this page were taken “undercover”. I wonder why photography wasn’t allowed – were the waitresses all senior officers of the North Korean secret service afraid of having their cover blown?

  • A flat-screen TV on the stage showed a contiuous video of The Wonderful World of North Korea. The film consisted mainly of nature shots. But my favorite scenes showed traffic in North Korea: in one scene, you saw a train travelling the countryside, in another you saw city streets that were absolutely deserted – except for a lone bus. Both the train and the bus looked like ca 1950. The dinner show at the Pyongyang RestaurantAlmost like the kind of miniature trains and vehicles you sometimes find on nostalgic kiddie karoussels. Unfortunately, we can safely assume that that train and that bus in the video must be cutting-edge technology and design in North Korea.
  • The group of Asians at the tabel next to ours remained absolutely stony-faced throughout the dinner show. This was in stark contrast to the waitresses’ pasted-on on smiles. Only during one of the numbers did they smile and clap. But as soon as that number was over, their faces turned to stone again. Soon after that song was over and as soon as they’d eaten up their dinner, that whole group left.
  • A group of Asian men in suits and ties at another table got a little rowdy. It almost seemed as though they were celebrating a bachelor’s party or just plain had a little too much to drink. At the Pyongyang RestaurantAnyway, during one of the songs, one of the business men got up onto the stage, and started to dance around the singer. He also started taking close-up pictures of her, which alarmed the other waitresses. No pictures! And definitely NO such outbursts of joy and emotion! Once they’d ushered him off the stage, one of the waitresses remained stationed right behind these guys’ table, keeping a watchful eye on what they were doing. She even asked to be shown the pictures on the guy’s camera. I don’t know if she made him delete any of them or if she just flipped through them disapprovingly.
  • After the waitresses had ended their dinner show, it was karaoke time. First, one of the well-dressed businessmen got up on stage and sang. Then, an Asian man in shorts and sandals made a very courageous attempt at singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” in English. He put on a pretty good show and tried to encourage us to join him on the stage, since we were the only Westerners in that restaurant and the only ones who might have really known the words to that song. We preferred to stay seated and applauded him wildly instead. When we asked him, whether he was from North Korea, he vigorously denied: “No, no, no! South Korea! I’m from South Korea!”

  • After the karaoke, the management began to turning off some lights in the restaurant. A subtle hint for the customers to pay up and leave.
  • As we got out of the place, all the waitresses lined up near the exit, bidding us adieu. I wondered how they lived in Phnom Penh: were they free to explore the city? Did they have lives of their own? Or were they holed up in some barrack-like communal living quarter and not allowed to befriend foreigners?
  • What did these waitresses think of Cambodia and the relatively carefree and colorful life in that city? How would they feel when they’d head back to Pyongyang? What would they tell their friends and families back home about the world out there? Or were they so deeply convinced by North Korean ideology that they really believed in the words of the Dear Leader?

Written by Thorsten

December 18, 2008 at 10:42 pm

Welcome to paradise

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Beach restaurants at Serendipity Beach, CambodiaSerendipity Beach in the southern Cambodian city of Sihanoukville is a backpackers’ paradise.

Dive shops, a tattoo artist and a couple of massage places line the unpaved road from the town down to the beach.

They get you in the mood for the beach life.

Down by the waterline, dozens of bars and restaurants have put out rattan chairs and sofas.

Happy meals and happy hours

The international backpacker-scene meets here every night for “happy hour”. And “happy hour” at Serendipity actually has two meanings.

For one thing, drinks get cheaper in the early evening hours: a glass of draft beer will cost you 50 US cents, Sundown at Serendipity Beacha cocktail shouldn’t cost more than $ 2.50.

The other meaning of “happy hour” at Serendipity is connected to the happy pizzas or shakes you can order from the menu in many bars.

Happy in this case means that the kitchen has added a sprinkle of dope. This will usually cost you a dollar or two extra.

But I didn’t try that kind of happy hour. Honestly.

In any case, the happiness at Serendipity beach usually lasts well into the morning hours.

At some point during the night, when the backpackers are reasonably drunk and home-sick, the dj’s will play “Take me home, country roads” or Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” at full blast and everyone wil sing along and start feeling just a little bit melancholy…

From the look of it, large numbers of 20-somethings from Europe, the U.S. or Australia hang out at Serendipity for weeks on end. It’s a daily party. Beach, booze and bikinis. And the communal sing-along before turning in.

The original island getaway

If you feel you’ve had enough of the daily party (or if you’re no longer a 20-something), a trip to the islands off the coast of Sihanoukville might be a good antidote.

Boat trip to the islandsMost of the islands are small, barren and uninhabited. Just rocks and jungle, surrounded by some coral reefs that make  pretty good snorkelling grounds.

Local tour operators offer day trips to three islands just off the coast. The trip will cost you $ 15 (and that includes soft drinks and lunch).

If you’d like to stay on an island, you can also take the ferry boat to Bamboo Island, or Koh Russei, as it’s also called.

Bamboo is the only island with some very basic hotels on it.

The ferry costs $ 10 and leaves the mainland at 10 a.m. and returns at 4 p.m. every day.

What you get is pure paradise

Bamboo Island is small enough to cross it on foot in ten minutes. It basically consists of two beaches and a few no-frills bamboo huts where you can stay.

Bamboo Island, CambodiaDon’t expect comfort.

But if you’re willing to leave all luxuries behind, if you don’t need 24-hour electricity and hot water, then Bamboo Island can be like paradise.

The island’s beaches can only be called under-crowded. Xou’ll only see the few people living or staying on the island. And for a few hours around noon, they’re joined by the visitors the tour operators have ferried in.

But come four o’clock, they’ll all return to the mainland and Bamboo Island will fall back into its almost-paradise-tranquility.

A handful of tourists and locals, who are one with the sea, the breeze, the sand, the jungle.

Cows on the beachOh – and not to forget the cows, chickens and goats that belong to the locals. I’m afraid you’ll have to share the beach with them.

They cows, for instance, love to stroll along the beaches looking for food (e.g. left-overs from the picknick lunches on the beach).

I guess we’re talking about real beach animals here. And real Chicken of the Sea

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

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