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Th re-start

19 Mar

So, with trepidation, and after much time, I continue my blog with a section on Trinidad and Carnival.

This is such an important topic for any Trinidadian that it must be written with due care and attention.

This year (2014) I’ve been in Trinidad for just over 2 weeks.  This allows me a good “run-up” to carnival and a “cool down” afterward.  It is possible to do carnival in a week but this will mean missing the shows which are such a big part of the entertainment.

I have judiciously picked shows and bands to cover a good spread of what carnival has to offer, starting with UTT’s Sparrow Anthropology on Friday 21 through 3-Canal, pan-yards, Little Carib, the opening of carnival, J’ouvert, Minshall Mas right down to the Savannah and Ariapita Avenue house-hopping on Carnival Tuesday.

Before I get into the detail of the events though, I will start with an introduction to carnival

The Sydney Cricket Ground

14 Feb

Last Friday I made a quick trip to the SCG to take in the West Indies – Australia one day match.

The SCG

The SCG

 

The West Indies had already lost the series and the proceeded to lose this match as well as the next.  However, I was there to see a fabulous century by Kieron Pollard and yesterday we finally won our first match in Australia for sixteen years.

Can you see the ball fly?

Can you see the ball fly?

In fact, Australia was beaten by the West Indies twice yesterday – once by the women and once by the men.  Happy days!

The Sois of Sukhumvit

18 Jan

Sukhumvit is readily accessible by sky train, with the most convenient stop being Nana.  A main road runs through the area, with a number of smaller streets or “sois” running at right angles off of it.

Soi 5
I first went exploring Soi 5 – this, like most of the other streets, is quite busy with a lot of bars. There is Gulliver’s sports bar which serves “Pharang” food and shows premier league football. There are pool tables and fusball machines. The bar is pretty standard and I didn’t spend too much time there.

Inside Gulliver's Bar

Inside Gulliver’s Bar

A number of taxis run up and down this road and there are vendors along the side selling coconuts and advertising clubs (Insomnia / Insanity). The Bangkok taxis are multicoloured and look like sweets (candy). The green and yellow taxis are independently run (one man, one taxi). The single coloured taxis – pink, orange etc. – belong to cab companies who own a fleet.

Bangkok taxis and coconut vendor

Bangkok taxis and coconut vendor

Pharang

Before we go on, let me explain the word “Pharang / Ferang”. Wikipedia defines this as “a generic Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter where they may come from”. Wait, does this mean that I am not a Pharang? Alas no – anyone who is not Thai can be called a Pharang.

My favourite Sois are 4 and 11 – they are the busiest and most interesting.

Soi 4
There are a number of food vendors along the side of the street, selling barbecued chicken, insects, noodle soup and Som Tam (green papaya salad). There are also a number of inexpensive and good restaurants (such as Charlie’s) along the side of the roads. There are busy walking areas and lots of bars. Soi 4 is also called Soi Nana as it houses the well known Nana entertainment plaza, which is reputed to be full of Go-go bars. (As I discovered, saying that you’d like “to dance” will often mean that you are asking to get up on a table.)

It is busy outside the "dancing" clubs

It is busy outside the “dancing” clubs

Bars in Soi 4
The bars in Soi 4 (and this may be true of the area in general) are owned / run by women, with key elements of their role being to look after the girls in the bar and to ensure that the men behave.  As part of this they generally have a good relationship with the police (in the event that men do not behave well). Many of the bars in Soi 4 are inhabited almost exclusively by Pharang men and Thai women.

At the bar in Soi 5

At the bar in Soi 4

Soi 11
Soi 11 rapidly became my favourite street – there are a number of really good (and more up-market) restaurants along this street. If you walk to the end of the road, there is “Chilli Culture” restaurant, where I had red duck curry. They serve the duck curry with lychees, which works beautifully – the sweet, light flavour of the lychees acting as a counterpoint to the hot, rich flavour of the curry sauce and the fattiness of the duck.

Chilli Culture Thai Restaurant

Chilli Culture Thai Kitchen

If you follow the road to the left, rather than stopping off to eat, you get to Le Fenix hotel, which is home to the Nest Bar. The Nest Bar is on the top floor of the hotel and gives great views of Bangkok. However, the key feature of the bar is its “beach” – about half the floor area of the bar is covered with sand and hooded straw “beds”, with tables, where you can lie down and have a few drinks. This was probably my favourite bar in Bangkok.

Nest Bar

At the entrance to Nest Bar

 

Chillin' in one of the "nests"

Chillin’ in one of the “nests”

Following the “Nest” experience, we went back around to the main drag of Soi 11. All along the road, there are number of the mobile VW bars that I love.

Mobile Volkswagen Bar

Mobile Volkswagen Bar

Apparently, these are licensed bars that park along the side of the road. The VWs have been modified, so that the sides can open and form a sort of a roof, when propped up. A bartender stays inside and mixes drinks, while there is usually another person who works as the waiter. You can get beers, mixed drinks and cocktails at these bars.

Mixing drinks in the VW bar

Mixing drinks in the VW bar

A number of plastic chairs and tables are set up next to the van for the bar’s clientele.
We sat at the bar and insisted that they crank up the music (something to do with Rhianna and me both being from the Caribbean…). Soon a number of people, on hearing the cool (and loud-ish) music, joined us, including these ladies.

"Laydeez" in Soi 11

Who is the prettiest of them all?

Er, did I say ladies? I meant lady-boys…..

 

You gotta love Sukhumvit……

Last dinner in Chiang Mai – River Market Restauarnt

14 Jan

For my last night in Chiang Mai, I went to visit the River Market restaurant (http://therivermarket.com/blog/) .  Their menu can be found on the site.

I would rate this restaurant at 6 or 7 out of 10.  I would qualify this by saying that with some small tweaks, this could easily improve to 9 and perhaps if I had gone on a different day, I would, even now, have rated it as 9.

The Setting
Let’s start with the setting. The restaurant is along the Ping River and we apparently got the best table on the night we arrived. The chef spoke to us and said that he will only take reservations before 7 o’clock, which allows everyone a fair chance of getting a good (or in our case) a great table. We had amazing views of the bridge over the Ping river which was lit and we were far enough away not to be disturbed by traffic noises. The restaurant itself is brightly lit with large grass garden which leads down to the river.

The River Market Restaurant

The River Market Restaurant

The Ping River Bridge

The Ping River Bridge

The Service
The service was pretty slow, with starters being forgotten and brought with the mains – Now this is normal in Thailand – eating all the dishes when ready but the menu specifically requests that you say whether you would like the dishes to come in order or not. We requested that they do.

The Food
We had the Garlic Chicken Wings, Son-in-law Thai deviled eggs and Crispy Banana Flower salad to start. For the mains, we had crispy snapper and salt and pepper shrimp.

The crispy banana salad was excellent, with very crispy deep-fried banana flowers, which had a good taste of ripe banana without the sweetness. The dressing had a hint of molasses without the usually heavy taste that accompanies the black-strap variety. 9 out of 10.

Crispy Banana Salad

Crispy Banana Salad

The chicken wings were almost excellent. The skin was crispy, as it should be but often isn’t, without the heavy floured texture that you can sometimes get. The dressing that came with it was so delicious that we asked for more and then ate it with everything else. So why not perfect? To my mind, chicken wings should never be under-cooked. They shouldn’t even be ‘just’ cooked. That should be left for chicken breasts which will get tough and leathery with too much cooking. Wings, legs and thighs do most of the work keeping a chicken up and moving and therefore can be tougher. Like most tough meats, they improve when cooked a bit longer. The wings weren’t cooked long enough, which made them sort of sickening to eat. Cook them longer the dish would pretty much be close to a ten. An irritating 4 out of 10.

Son In Law Eggs, or ‘khai luuk kheuy’, refers to a salad made from deep-fried hard boiled eggs, which have been cut into halves or quarters, and topped with a sour & sweet tamarind sauce and fried shallots. I include what looks like a fairly decent recipe here:

http://www.realthairecipes.com/recipes/son-in-law-eggs/

I have seen these cooked so that the eggs are soft boiled and you get a creamy runny yoke. Since I am not a fan of eggs but Malcolm is, I recommended the son-in-law eggs to him. Now Malcolm found them tasty but couldn’t see how they were meant to be devilled as they were not at all hot, just slightly sweet. Devilled implies hot, which these definitely weren’t. What we had were straight-up seventies-style stuffed eggs with a sweetish tamarind sauce on top with stingy amounts of deep fried shallots. Malcolm liked them so I won’t complain about them too much. Let’s give them 7.5.

There was not too much to say about the mains – the snapper was very tasty and the dish had been twisted from the traditional version, in which the whole snapper is deep fried, including head and bones. I would have preferred the whole snapper but I could see why many wouldn’t. 8. The salt and pepper shrimp were decent but probably not peppery enough for our tastes. 7.

Now to the desserts. I had coconut and passion fruit ice-creams, which were both lovely and light – almost sorbet-y – 9. Despite my objections, Malcolm had the blueberry cheesecake. It was awful! The topping was brown in colour and hardly distinguishable from the base, which was soggy and of variable thickness. It was served with that nasty ready-whipped cream that comes out of a can. I had to stop myself from giggling and saying “I told you so!”. Disgusting – 0 (I’d really like to give them a negative rating but that would be wrong). This could easily be sorted by taking the cheesecake off of the dessert menu – better to stick to the ice-creams and have a simple but good dessert menu.
I know it may not sound like it but I liked this restaurant – there were a wide range of Thai dishes, not just the standard stuff and the dishes sounded really exciting – I wanted to try several. Let’s hope this was an off day.

Aroon Rai and the Mandarin Oriental

10 Jan

Yesterday evening we went to Aroon Rai (review: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g293917-d1129357-Reviews-Aroon_Rai_Restaurant-Chiang_Mai.html)
The building was set up like a workers’ canteen, with plain tables and chairs and plastic tablecloths. This was good simple Northern Thai food. We ordered spring rolls, salt and garlic squid and deep fried, battered prawns to start. This was followed by (or at least in our heads it was “followed”) Khao Soi (crispy fried and curried egg noodles), pork and ginger curry and red curried pork.
The dishes arrived in a fairly random order, as always in Thailand. The noodles and ginger pork were nice but not amazing. The red curry was very good and pretty hot – not Thai hot but not the bland Phareng hot either. (More on that word later!)
Afterwards, we went to the Horn Bar at Chiang Mai’s Mandarin Oriental (also known as the Dhara Dhevi) for drinks.
http://www.mandarinoriental.com/chiangmai/
The hotel itself was difficult to find and looked eerily like a temple or a Thai tomb, which seemed almost appropriate as it was as dead as a tomb. We had Singapore Slings, which I belatedly remembered that I don’t like because I cannot stand the taste of cherry brandy, and a big, fat G&T. The bar was lovely and the best of the snacks on offer were the spicy cashews with deep fried lime leaves and chilli.
We left the Mandarin nursing a bill which, for three drinks, was 50% larger than the three meals at Aroon Rai.
I feel no real need to rush back, although I will go to the equivalent in Bangkok to see whether they are all this dull.

The Walking Street – Sunday 6 January

9 Jan

On Sunday, I visited the walking street – a street market which sells a variety of items –street food snacks, t-shirts, handbags, souvenirs… basically any touristy rubbish you might wish to buy, or food you may wish to eat.

Anything you may want to eat

Anything you may want to eat

Oddly, there are a couple of Buddhist temples dotted around the street – should you get tired, you can pray for escape from the evil gods of capitalism.

Some of the items that I found interesting were:

the recycled coke and beer cans which had been made into tuk tuks or motorcycles:

Recycle like you really mean it! Can made tuk-tuks

Recycle like you really mean it! Can made tuk-tuks

the eggs being cooked on a slow barbecue in banana boats:

Slow cooked eggs

Slow cooked eggs

the roast corn / sweet potatoes being lathered in a weirdly orange coloured butter and coated (sprinkled is just not the right word!) in salt:

Yuh salt!

Yuh salt!

and the fruit set out for immediate smoothies:

Fruit!

Fruit!

Following the trip to the street, I rushed home to meet Noom, the chef from the Spirit House, ready and waiting to cook

The journey begins – Thursday 3 January

9 Jan

Having left London at 10:05 GMT on the upstairs floor of the flying bar (aka Quantas 3502), I arrive in Bangkok 11 hours later.
Unfortunately the stopover in Bangkok airport (scheduled to be 5 hours) ends up being 6 hours.
Despite the great snacks in the waiting lounge (sticky rice cooked in banana leaves; banana, taro (dasheen) and pumpkin cooked in butter – yep, slightly weird but tasty, see below) this is an inauspicious start to my travels.

Sticky rice cooked in banana leaves

Sticky rice cooked in banana leaves

Banana, Taro and Pumpkin cooked in butter

Banana, Taro and Pumpkin cooked in butter

I finally arrive at ChiangMai at 11:00 pm (Thai time), 18 hours after I started – excited but exhausted.