31 January 2011

Raglan, Waikato

This post contains text excerpts from Lonely Planet New Zealand, which helped me plan my holidays here. It's not the definite resource but it's a good base to start from.

I started an 8 day holiday around some parts of North Island on the 20th of this month, and I'll spend the next few weeks posting photos and experiences from my laidback trip. I hadn't realized it when I planned this trip, but I actually went from coast to coast, from the Tasman Sea on the west up to the South Pacific Ocean on the east, with a little jaunt through the Hauraki Gulf in the middle. Get ready to feast your eyes on lots of sea and beautiful beaches!

My first stop was Raglan, a famous surfing town not unlike Piha Beach but with more surfing spots. Bruce Brown's classic 1964 wave-chasing film The Endless Summer features Manu Bay (Lonely Planet, 2010) which was where I stayed during my short jaunt into Raglan.

I woke up that morning at about 5.30am so I could catch an early bus into the city. Reaching my final stop at 7.15am, I walked up to the SkyCity complex which was where InterCity buses depart. I hopped on the 8am bus to Hamilton and arrived at the Hamilton Transport Centre ahead of schedule, about 2 hours later.

All my bags are packed, ready to go...

InterCity coach terminal, SkyCity Auckland

I explored Hamilton a little bit on foot before my mid-afternoon bus to Raglan. It costs $7.50 one way (adult) on the Raglan 23 bus. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Raglan and you'll pass by plenty of rolling hills and at one point, a windfarm. It's amazing to see the really huge windmills and to see them perched on top of green hills, their blades rotating and generating clean energy. The bus passed it pretty quickly so I didn't manage to snap a photo.

Along SH23

More rolling hills for your viewing pleasure

Due to job interview commitments back in Hamilton, I had less than 24 hours in Raglan. A free shuttle drove me to my hostel and I immediately dropped my bags and went out for a short tramp (New Zealanders call hiking 'tramping') down to Ngarunui Beach. The track is well-maintained and sign-posted by the DOC (Department of Conservation).

Sign post before the track

Going down the hill to Ngarunui Beach

A short 20 minute walk down the hill leads you onto the beach itself. It's too bad that I visited during low tide because there were barely any surfers in sight. But in return I had a mostly-deserted beach to myself and I walked along it for an hour, just soaking in the sound of the ocean waves and getting a nice tan.

Ngarunui Beach from the lookout point

On Ngarunui Beach

On Ngarunui Beach

The next morning I went to the lookout point again to see how it looked like with a rising sun before I checked out and caught the 10am bus back to Hamilton.

Ngarunui Beach with the rising sun

Wouldn't you want to just sit on this bench and let time float by?

The famed Manu Bay from afar

Manu Bay close up

28 January 2011

Invited: Kristal Seafood at Jalan Burma, Penang

Kristal Seafood is located opposite Perkeso building in a small shoplot. During lunch time it hosts a popular duck rice shop but from dinner time till early morning (1.45am!) Kristal Seafood takes over. It is your typical choo char place with (literally) hundreds of dishes at reasonable prices. They hover around RM10 for small, RM12 for medium, and RM15 for large. You really can't fault those prices.

They've been operating for over 5 years in the double-storey shoplot. If you are looking for a more comfortable dining area, you can sit upstairs in the air conditioned room. Even better, you can have freshly cooked food delivered straight to your home if you live nearby. There's a minimal delivery charge depending on what you order, and the proprietor says many people order a few dishes to be delivered as an alternative to slaving over the hot stove themselves.

Store front


Delivery service

Downstairs dining area

Upstairs dining area (air-conditioned)

For this invited review we were treated to a great sample of their best dishes. Let's check out some photos and my review of them:

Braised duck in young ginger

Braised duck in young ginger:
The gravy tastes well balanced, with the light spiciness of the ginger coming through but not overpowering your palate. The duck flesh itself is tender and not too gamey.

Tau ju kut ong (pork)

Tau ju kut ong (pork):
It has a nice crispy shell and is very flavorful. It goes so well with steamed rice and the pork quite literally melts in the mouth! I'd have this again.

Fragrant eggplant

Fragrant eggplant:
It's just the right tenderness which is important for me. Some cooks just make it too soft and mushy, while others undercook it. Many brinjal dishes somehow end up quite oily, but not at Kristal Seafood. It has a nice sprinkling of minced pork, and together they make a great combination (if a bit typical and unoriginal).

Dry fried french beans

Dry fried french beans:
If you haven't attended a food review with floggers before, what usually happens is that every one models the dish to their heart's content until the dishes run cold and their memory card explodes. Well, even after all that the french beans here were still quite crispy. It wasn't soggy at all, and a bit of salted fish was added for a well-balanced taste.

Steam fish

Steam fish:
While my dining partners were raving over the great fish texture, I was focused on the very normal soya sauce gravy base. I expected something sweeter and fragrant.

Nestum prawn

Nestum prawn:
This is another must-eat. It was the first time I noticed cooks mixing in eggs with the Nestum, to marvelous effect. The body of the shrimp has been shelled but the head is left intact. This is great because the prawns were deep-fried to the point you could eat the whole thing as it is without having to remove the skin (thus negating all the egg-Nestum goodness).

Spices deep fried tofu

Spices deep fried tofu:
As you can see, Japanese tofu was used and it is fried with chinese black mushrooms, minced pork, and salted fish, then poured over a freshly cooked omelette. Great accompaniment to rice.

Kam heong mantis prawn

Kam heong mantis prawn:
This has a little of a spicy kick, and is great to go with beer (according to the others). Once again, the main recurring theme of their food is "not too oily", which I'm only too happy for.

Marmite chicken

Marmite chicken:
Ahh, a truly classic choo char dish. I wonder who had the idea to slather yeast extract on fried chicken? The sweet and sticky dish is always welcoming to me, and the chicken prepared tonight is very tender (if lacking the crispiness of the mantis prawn before this).

Horseradish soup

Watercress soup

Lotus root soup

Lastly, we were served with 3 different types of common home-cooked soups. At only RM 5 per small bowl, it's a fantastic deal if you are craving for some heartwarming liquid (that is not beer)

Getting there:
GPS Coordinates: 5.43074,100.312813

View Larger Map

Kristal Seafood
224-B, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10350 Penang, Malaysia.
(Opposite Wisma Perkeso)

Tel: 04-2272218
Mobile: 012-4383962
Mobile: 016-4456882

Contact Person: Mr. Lim

Operation Hours: 4.00pm – 1.30am

26 January 2011


Note: This is in the series of blog posts I wrote about my preparation to move to New Zealand. Although I am already in Auckland, I'll be continuing with this and completing the series in a few weeks. The original date stamps will give you an idea of how time-consuming migration takes. The 'New Zealand' tag will bring up all related posts.

[Originally posted 5/10/2010]
For infrequent air passengers like myself, airline meals have always been a fascinating journey. It’s interesting to see how they squeeze food on to a single tray, and I’ve tasted great and mediocre food. Maybe because I’m not a picky eater, so I haven’t encountered a situation where I left food untouched (with the exception of chocolate and coffee).

But on this next journey to New Zealand, I am planning to request for Special Meals. MAS provides a decent range of special meals, and I’ll probably be going for the LFML meal:
Low Cholesterol/Low Fat Meal (LFML)
These meals are low in total fat and dietary cholesterol, with minimum saturated fat and no added fat or fatty ingredients.

I would have preferred a High Protein meal, but that’s not really an option on any airline.

A low fat meal on Cathay Pacific (source: Nomadic Pinoy)

By far the biggest benefit of ordering Special Meals is that I do not need to wait to be served. Without them, I have to wait for the flight attendants to wheel their cart to my seat before being served. Depending on where you sit, they might have run out of options and you’re stuck with what you don’t want. By specifying a Special Meal in advance, you are usually served ahead of the rest.

Of course, getting stuck with what you don’t want is not solely the domain of Standard Meals. After all, you don’t HAVE a choice with Special Meals – you need to eat whatever is served. And since not many people order Special Meals, there’s the very real possibility that the food comes from a freezer rather than freshly cooked hours before.

I guess the only way is to try it out myself! If you have tried Special Meals before, do share your experience!
[End of original post]

I did order the low fat meal option and didn't regret it one bit. As the flight saw full capacity there were many special meal requests and I didn't get it any quicker than others. But I felt I was served tastier food!

For dinner it was a large piece of lightly grilled salmon (or maybe they just microwaved it) topped with herbed potato wedges and garden vegetables (broccoli and carrot). The salmon was quite tasteless (it took me quite some time to figure it out before the light pink flesh gave it away) but the sides were delicious.

LFML dinner with a little white wine

For breakfast the next morning, while others had to pick between omelette or nasi lemak, I had a nice chicken thigh stew. The tasty gravy helped the baked potato and fresh mushrooms go down very well!

LFML breakfast

And I got healthy canola margarine and fresh fruits instead of pure butter and chocolate cake (though some would disagree that's better).

I wouldn't hesitate to order special meals again. If you decide to do the same, please make sure you reconfirm your request at least 48 hours before departure and once more when you check-in. The Indian couple next to me had requested for a vegetarian meal but didn't follow up, and it got lost somewhere along the line. Lucky for them, they had spare vegetarian meals for the cabin crew and they were given that instead.

As an unrelated tip if you really like airline food, always take daytime flights as we were only served twice in this overnight journey. If you travel long-haul during waking hours you can be sure of being served at least every 2-3 hours.

25 January 2011

Queen Street and Viaduct Harbour, Auckland

Queen Street is the main shopping street of Auckland, while Viaduct Harbour has some high end flats and hotels. This is not a comprehensive coverage of either, and there'll be more photos in the future of these iconic Auckland City highlights.

Civic Theatre - old movie theatre, but with IMAX screen at the back too

Looks like a place that Clark Kent or Peter Parker would be employed

Britomart - main terminal for public transportation

Britomart details

Inside Britomart

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Terminal

Ferry Pier

Viaduct Harbour in the distance

Thrilling jet boat ride

Model sailboat on display

Voyager Maritime Museum


Viaduct Harbour

View from Viaduct

What bird is this?

Auckland Harbour Bridge in the distance