Special Six: First Taste of Yangon

2020 started with a brief trip to Yangon. Over the couple of days that I was there, while I did not have much time to sightsee, I did have the opportunity to try out some nice cafes and restaurants with friends.

Here are the six that I enjoyed:

(1) Rangoon Tea House in the old Town area was my favourite. My friends introduced it to me on the first day and I revisited it with a colleague on the last day of my visit. I tried out Mohinga, a popular breakfast in Myanmar. The Mohinga I tried had a fish broth and egg served with rice noodles and lots of crispy stuff that you could add to your soup.

(2) Shan Shoe Yar was the place my friends chose to treat me for lunch on my last day in Yangon. They chose it for its Shan State cuisine. The flavours were different from the local food I had tried out in Yangon till then. Especially nice was the dessert, which was fried sticky rice dipped in sugar and sesame seeds.

(3) Strand Café was a place I dropped by as I was tired after walking around that area in the hot sun. Strand hotel was built in 1907 and listed in many travel guides to Yangon as a place to try out their famed afternoon tea. I enjoyed relaxing with a book and a cool smoothie in the elegant café.

IMG_5811(4) Bodhi Nava close to Kandawgyi lake is my pick for best coffee in Yangon. I tried out a few places that was recommended as having good coffee but the coffee I liked best was the one served in this little café. They also served a great smoothie bowl for breakfast.

(5) Aung Thukha listed at #17 on Trip Advisor was a place I tried out for lunch one day. It is a busy eating place where you need to select the dishes that you would like from the counter and they bring it to your table.

IMG_2857(6) Sharky’s was an organic restaurant that I went to a couple of times during my visit. It has a lovely ambience and some great food. I did not try the local food offering there but tried out their sausage platter instead with a lovely coloured sweet pea and lime drink.

If you have visited Yangon, which was your favourite restaurant or café? Of the six mentioned here, which would you like to try out?

 

Special Six: Eating out in Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang is filled with restaurants and cafes to fit all budgets. These however were the six that I liked from the ones I tried out.

(1) Ock Pop Tok Café:

The café at the Living Crafts Center of Ock Pop Tok has a lovely ambience and I specially enjoyed watching the sunset over the Mekong, while enjoying my dinner of Khao Soi. The café screens movies once a week, and seems to be popular among expat communities in the area.

(2) Secret Pizza:

One of the two Airbnb accommodations I stayed at in during my visit to Luang Prabang was at Secret Pizza. Not only was the place lovely, they served pizzas on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the garden transformed into a lively and bustling meeting place for families with children. Since my room overlooked the garden, I enjoyed my ‘secret’ pizza on the little patio of my room away from the busy center.

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(3) Khai Phaen: A vocational training restaurant, that provides training for youth from marginalized communities, was one place that I had marked that I needed to visit during my travel to Luang Prabang. The place was lovely and the food, Sai Oua with Jeok Mak Keua, was delicious. I was especially happy to see these leaflets on the table on ways travelers could better protect children in local communities.

(4) Dao Coffee House:

Described as a traditional coffee house, I stopped by to try Dao’s coffee and ended up having lunch. I tried out Naam Khao, which is a kind of fried rice ball salad mixed with sausages, nuts, herbs wrapped in green leaves and eaten with a dipping sauce.

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(5) Phon Heuang:

A tiny café near the Garavek theatre, the place served tasty and filling portions of meals for a fraction of the cost of more upscale restaurants like Khai Phaen and Ock Pop Tok. I had rice with basil chicken stir fry. While similar to the Thai dish, there was a difference in the seasoning.

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(6) Night market

A fan of coconut pancakes, I used to buy a portion of coconut pancakes each evening at the night market, during my stay at the heritage house in the old city.

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 If you have been to Luang Prabang, what were some of your favourite places to eat?

Special Six: Flavours of Bali

During my first visit to Bali, these are the flavours of Bali that greeted me.

(1) Nasi Kuning at Wanaku Bali:

Straight from the airport, our group was taken to Wanaku Bali for lunch and served a variety of traditional Balinese dishes such as sayur urab, deep-fried eggplant with a spicy sauce.

(2) Ikan Bakar at Jimbaran:

Famed for its seafood, Jimbaran was the location of our first group dinner in Bali. We were served grilled seafood on the beach.

IMG_1784 (3) Sate Lilit and Ayam at Kurnia Village:

On our way back from Tanah Lot, we stopped at Kurnia Village restaurant for lunch. I had some delicious sate lilit there as well as the spicy sambal matah.

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(4) Nasi Campur with Tum Ayam

Tired from my day out the second day visiting Pura Lempuyang, I chose to order room service and ordered Nasi Campur. The food at the hotel was actually quite tasty.
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(5) Smoothie bowl at Paperboy:

While smoothie bowls are traditional Balinese cuisine, since this is served at almost all cafes and hotel restaurants for breakfast, and especially since I had the most delicious and refreshing bowl at Paperboy on my last morning in the city, I am including this as my special flavor of Bali.

IMG_4790 (6) Coffee at Expat:

If a country I visit is known for its coffee, I usually like to try out a couple of coffee shops. During my brief visit in Bali, I tried out four different places. My favourite of the four was Expat’s (Seminyak) coffee and I brought home some of their coffee.

IMG_4742Which are your favourite flavours of Bali?

Special Six: Tastes of Egypt

During my 9 days in Egypt, I tried some of the local cuisine. Here’s six of my favourites.

(1) Baladi with Torshi

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At Sobhy Kaber Grills, they served the flatbread with pickled vegetables (aubergine, carrots, onions), a spicy salad (cucumber and tomato with coriander), hummus and a cheesy dip as a starter. It was very delicious that I would have been happy had it been the complete meal.

(2) Molokhiya

IMG_4801The green leafy vegetable soup with coriander and garlic was an interesting interlude before the main meal was served at the Sobhy Kaber Grills. The Egyptian rice served with okra in a tomato based sauce and roast chicken was a lovely finish to the lovely dinner I had on my first day in Cairo, at the recommendation of Nour Gaber, my taxi driver for the day.

(3) Koshari

While I had wanted to try Koshari at the famous Abou Tarek Koshari shop in downtown Cairo, I finally got to try it at a café in Khan El Khalili bazaar.

IMG_2687Considered the unofficial national dish of Egypt, Koshari is a tasty mix of carbs – rice, pasta, fried lentils, onion flakes and tomato sauce.

(4) Falafel Sandwiches:

I was not much of a fan of falafel before, mainly because the ones that I had tried earlier had been made of chickpeas. However, from the first time I tried falafel in Cairo, I enjoyed it very much. The Egyptian falafels are made of fava beans.

Also, on our tour, our guide organized falafel sandwiches for lunch whenever we were traveling through the day with limited time to stop for lunch at a restaurant. Therefore, I associate falafel sandwiches as the flavor of this trip.

I haven’t taken any photo of the falafel sandwiches because all the times I had them had been when I was too hungry to bother about taking a photo first.

(5) Ful Medames

I tried Ful on the felucca cruise, when they served it for breakfast. Again, I forgot to take a photo but the cooked fava beans was great with the flatbread and boiled egg.

(6) Konafa

On my last morning in Cairo, I had asked Nour to take me to El Abd bakery so that I could get some traditional sweets to take back home. It was there that I first tried out the Egyptian Konafa which has a creamy layer in the middle. Previous Konafa I had tried in Jordan was more crispy without any creamy filling. At home, my mother also seemed to enjoy the Egyptian Konafa very much.

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Photo credit: Cairo 360

Which of the above have you tried?

Special Six: Highlights of Bangalore

At the end of 2018, I decided to take a short break to a nearby city so that I could return refreshed to a busy work year in 2019. The city I chose to visit was Bangalore, the city of gardens. While I expected more green in the city, I think with the city becoming the IT hub of the country, its greenery has drastically reduced to a few parks – Cubbon park, Lalbagh etc.

The following six were my favourites from the four days I spent in the city:

(1) Dodda Ganapathi and Dodda Basavanagudi

Having read that Basavanagudi was a special place for the writer, R.K. Narayan, I searched for places to visit in this neighbourhood and came across these two temples. Both are centuries old temples and are very peaceful places to visit.

Dodda Ganapathi temple is the first temple that you will enter, when you enter the complex that houses both temples.

GanapathiFor those wishing to do an ‘archanai’ (individual blessing), one can get a 10 rupee ticket from the counter and give to the priest, who will then invoke the blessing and give you a flower or a little packet of pink sugar candy.

When you exit the temple, to your left, there is a staircase that leads up to Dodda Basavanagudi temple (or, the Nandi temple), which has a huge stone image of Nandi.

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Dodda Basavanagudi

(2) Vidyarthi Bhavan
After visiting the two temples, I decided to have some coffee and snack at Vidyarthi Bhavan, a vegetarian eatery that was started in 1943 as a student canteen. There were lots of people waiting outside the eatery and I asked a group of youth whether they were waiting to go into Vidyarthi Bhavan. They replied that they were waiting to go in and said that I should first go and give my name to the man at the door.

The coordination between the man at the door and the waiters was interesting to watch. They were well in sync with each other that they packed each table to its full and sent in the exact number of people as the number leaving the eatery.

In my case, I did not have to wait as luckily, a table of four cleared and the next group on the list was a family of three and the eatery had a policy of having full tables so I was sent into make the fourth at the table. It was initially a bit awkward for me as I felt I was intruding at someone else’s table. However, the others seemed fine.

When the waiter took my order after taking theirs, both the family and the waiter recommended that I try out the eatery’s specialty dosa. I went for the lighter semolina snack and the family invited me to taste what they had ordered as well.

IMG_0508 I would strongly recommend the visitor to Bangalore to go to Vidyarthi Bhavan, for the food, the atmosphere and the unexpected conversations with strangers at your table.

(3) Chitrakala Parishath

Having read that there was an interesting art complex, I decided to visit Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath one morning. The galleries at the museum was interesting, with a mix of traditional Mysore art and artwork by other Indians and foreign artists in India. I really enjoyed seeing some of Rabindranath Tagore’s modern art on the walls, especially as I had not known that the poet laureate was also . The work of his nephews was also interesting and I especially liked Gaganendranath Tagore’s satirical caricatures.

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Next to the museum building, there was a lovely art and craft bazaar that week, with artists from different regions of India exhibiting their artwork and handcrafted products.

(4) St. Mark’s Cathedral

I visited the cathedral, built between 1808 – 1812, on boxing day and it was lovely, with only a few families preparing for the church service.

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(5) Blossom Book House

I would recommend visiting one of the numerous bookstores in the city, but of special note is the Blossom book house, a store selling both second hand and new books. While I had meant to just get one book for holiday reading at the Church Street store, I ended up buying quite a few. There are lots of restaurants and cafes on this street so shoppers can have a drink or something to eat in between their shopping.

(6) The Oberoi Bengaluru

The best part of my holiday in Bangalore was the stay at The Oberoi Bengaluru. I had decided to pamper myself at the end of the year with a stay at this luxury hotel and I was indeed spoilt by the staff.

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The service is the best I have come across among all the places I have stayed at to-date and it was lovely to see that there was a team spirit among the staff and that no matter what you asked for, a staff member would attempt to respond or get another staff member who could respond to your query. Little touches like a Christmas stocking with treats on the day I checked in and a thank you note with a souvenir, when I checked out were particularly lovely.

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View from the balcony

The room was very comfortable and the view of the century old tree from the balcony was really relaxing that I did end up staying indoors more than exploring the busy, dusty city outside.

Have you visited Bangalore (Bengaluru)? What was your favourite from your visit or what would you enjoy trying from my highlights?

Special Six: Highlights of Mysore

During my recent holiday in Bangalore, I chose to go on a day trip to Mysore as the city was a 3 hour drive away. However, I found out that day that what takes 3 hours on a regular day takes around 5 hours during peak season for the city. From the immense traffic that slowed us down, it looked like everyone in Bangalore was traveling on the highway to Mysore. As my driver mentioned, Mysore’s peak season seemed to be December and January.

The six highlights of my visit to Mysore were the following:

(1) Sri Chamundeshwari Temple:

Known by the people of Karnataka as the State Goddess, I had to visit this Durga temple with over 1000 years of history and mentioned as a sacred place in the ‘Skantha Purana’ (an ancient text) during my visit to Mysore and so made my way over to Chamundi hills first. Again as on the road, there was heavy traffic not only of vehicles going up the hill but also people on foot. After locating the ‘archana’ (individual blessing) ticket counter, I found they had two separate tickets – the regular one which meant waiting in a very long queue circling around the temple or the direct darshan, which meant skipping the regular queue and going through a separate lane to the main shrine.

With the heat outside and with limited time in Mysore, I decided to go for the direct darshan. However, I found several others had similar notions and the direct line had quite a long queue as well, albeit shorter than the regular one. After making my way to the main shrine, I found a couple of security guards hurrying people along so that people did not stop and block the queue that was waiting to enter the shrine area.

Sri Chamundeshwari temple

A view of the gopuram at the exit to the temple

Giving the archana ticket and flower garland over to the priest and mentioning my mother’s name, I had to move on. At the exit, there was a small counter where another priest was giving the little ‘kumkumam’ packets (red turmeric powder) and bangles as ‘prasadham’ (blessing). While my time at the temple was mostly spent in the queue, I am glad I first visited this ancient temple. I could also imagine how it might be when there was less of a crowd, though it looked like the temple staff was used to such crowds on a daily basis.

(2) Sea Shell Museum:

As I had browsed through places to visit in Mysore during my travel planning, I had come across a mention of the Sea Shell Museum on Chamundi Hill road. Therefore, I decided to stop by the little museum on the way back from the visit to Sri Chamundeshwari temple.

The museum is a tiny place with two rooms and a hallway filled with sea shell sculptures. Only one room was worth the visit and that room was filled with amazing sea shell sculptures to make it worth the visit.

The museum noted that the Ganesha sculpture by Radha Mallappa had the Guinness world record for the largest sea shell sculpture of Lord Ganesha. Whether a record or not, it was a beautiful piece of intricate sea shell sculpture.

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The Guinness World Record for largest Ganesha sea shell sculpture

(3) Hotel Mylari’s Masala Dosa:

The Masala Dosa at this place was cited as a must have and so I decided to stop for lunch here. There are two Hotel Mylari’s on Nazarbad, just opposite each other and claiming to be the original. Probably a sibling rivalry among descendants of the founding entrepreneur?

Our question of which one to go to was solved as one of them only opened after 3pm and the other was open for lunch. The dosa was indeed delicious and their filter coffee a good finish to the lunch. Definitely a must-have when visiting Mysore.

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The famous Mylari Dosa

(4) Mysore palace:

I was not that keen on visiting palaces during this visit and skipped such venues in Bangalore. However, visiting Mysore and not going to the famed palace seemed not right. So, I made my way over there next after lunch. Again, the peak season had crowds teeming at the entrance and within.

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Entrance of Mysore palace

Moving with the crowds, one had to skim through the rooms open for visitors – the opulent darbar halls and portrait gallery etc. It was the least special of my six highlights of Mysore but it was interesting to finally see the place I had read so much about.

Durbar hall

(5) R.K. Narayan’s house museum:

The piece de resistance of my visit to Mysore was the visit to R.K. Narayan’s house in Yadavgiri. It was learning that R.K. Narayan (one of my favourite writers) had lived in Mysore that made me decide to go on a day trip to Mysore from Bangalore.

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Entrance to R.K. Narayan’s house

There is no fee to visit the house, that has been renovated and is now a museum. One of the world’s literary greats, it was inspiring to visit R.K Narayan’s (1906 – 2001) house and visit the room where he wrote most of his novels and short stories.

(6) Depth n’Green café:

I had read that this organic vegan café served some of the best coffee in Mysore and decided to stop there on the way out of Mysore. It is an open café looking out onto the street and has some nice wooden stumps and benches with cushions for seating. Since I already had lunch, I opted to simply try out their regular filter Coorg coffee with a slice of walnut date cake. The coffee was decent.  I noticed that they also served coffee from around the world, in addition to some interestingly named smoothies.

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Coorg filter coffee and walnut date cake

In addition to these six highlights that I had chosen to visit during my trip to Mysore, the driver asked if I would like to stop at Srirangapatna and visit another famous ancient temple – Sri Ranganathasamy temple. As we were anyway passing through the town on our way back to Bangalore, I decided to stop at the temple.

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Sri Ranganathasamy temple

There was also a crowd here but at least there was a certain order in that people had to go in a single file along barricaded pathways like a maze into the temple. The priests also actually performed a short ‘puja’ (prayer) for those wishing to do an ‘archanai’ and would bring the lamp to the person who requested the ‘archanai’. Srirangapatna is worth stopping at on the way to Bangalore from Mysore or if you are staying overnight in Mysore. There were other places to see next to the temple, especially places related to Tipu Sultan, but I just focused on the temple.

Which of these highlights would you be interested in visiting?

Special Six: A walk around Invercargill

I unexpectedly had to spend around 6 hours in Invercargill during my April trip to New Zealand because the morning ferry service to Stewart island had got cancelled the day I visited the city. I had to wait for the evening ferry at 5pm and my connecting coach from Invercargill to Bluff would only pick me at 4pm, though I had requested them I would prefer to be dropped in Bluff that morning as I thought I would enjoy exploring the tiny seaport, while waiting for the ferry.

Given the unexpected time I was given in Invercargill, decided to take a walk around the city and I enjoyed the below six highlights of my walk. Starting from the I-site bus stop, where I had been dropped off by the coach from Te Anau, I made my way around the city.

(1) Water tower

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The water tower had been built in the early 20th century by the council, even though the local community had not wanted the tower on the green belt of the city. To appease the community, the 300,000 litre steel tank was disguised with an outer brick tower.

(2) Civic Theater

One of the landmarks of the city, the early 19th century building was originally the town hall. It was renovated and converted to a theatre complex in 2005.
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(3) Brunch at Zookeeper’s café

Having read positive reviews about this café, I decided to have some brunch here. The pancakes with grilled bananas was served with some vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. I also tried my first boysenberry juice at this café. From that point, I always ordered boysenberry juice the entire time I was in the south island.
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The staff at the café were friendly and one of them suggested I visit the Demolition village, an hour’s walk away from the café. Given that I do have problems walking long distances, I had to pass the option of visiting the interesting theme village, cited as one of the key places to visit in the city on the map of the city.

(4) St Mary’s Basilica

The beautiful church was designed by architect, Francis Petre, and opened in 1905.

IMG_4061Places of worship evoke different responses from me – the ones I have enjoyed simply exude an air of peace, that I simply feel content to be in the place. Others bedazzle me with their grandeur, but do not evoke spiritual feelings. Yet others put me off with their coldness. There are a few though that evoke unexpected strong emotional responses from me. Sitting inside this church, I was moved and while I don’t wish to dwell on that experience in this post, I wanted to mention that because of it, this church is one of my special six highlights of Invercargill.

(5) Victorian Railway hotel

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The hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Invercargill, that is continuing to be used for its original purpose.

(6) Queen’s Park

Back on Gala street after my circular walk around the city, I decided to rest my tired feet at Queen’s Park and enjoying the beautiful trees around me and a book.

IMG_4066 There was quite a number of families around the park as there was some kind of race taking  place with children and adults finishing their race at a café inside the park. For me, the park is the best part of Invercargill city and while I did not explore all aspects of the huge park, it was enough that I enjoyed the parts I visited very much.

Which of the above six have you visited or would want to visit, on your trip to Invercargill?

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“Untold