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  noun 1. The act of immersing oneself in other cultures without crossing national borders. 2. Local cultural diversification. 3. Traveling on a budget. 4. A website that will allow you to accomplish all the above from the very seat in which you sit.


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Malaysia: when food becomes art

Normally when we hear the words "culinary" and "art," we might think of Paris, perhaps Milano, or maybe even New York City and the "iron chefs" who battle gourmet on television. Or images of sushi might fill our minds, whose intimidating chefs can always wow us with their effortless focus and attention to detail.

But today, we are heading to Malaysia, thanks to the photographers below and their love of food. A bit Chinese, certainly Asian, and breathtakingly beautiful:

photo by prakashdaniel

Cendol [pronounced 'chen-doll'] or es cendol is a traditional dessert originating from Java, Indonesia, but is also popular in Malaysia, Singapore, and Southern Thailand (where it is called lorkchorng singapore ลอดข่องสิงคโปร์). The dessert's basic ingredients consist of shaved ice, coconut milk, starch noodles with green food coloring (usually sourced from the pandan leaf), and palm sugar. Red beans, glutinous rice, grass jelly, and creamed corn are optional additions. Cendol has become a quintessential part of cuisine among the multi-racial population in Southeast Asia and is often sold by vendors at roadsides, hawker centres and food courts.

In Malaysia, cendol is usually sold on the roadside by Indian Muslim vendors. It is common dessert fare in Singapore popularly found in dessert stalls, food centres, coffee shops and food courts, and served by vendors of various ethnic backgrounds. The first Indian-Muslim vendors learnt the skills of making cendol from the Javanese in Indonesia and brought the recipe and preparation methods with them to Malaysia and Singapore. Cendol is also popular as a snack, particularly after Friday prayers among Muslims.

Taken at Jonker Street, Melaka.

Cheong fun (rice noodle rolls)
photo by Pei-Lin

Cheong fun is Cantonese. There are so many ways to eat it. In Malaysia, the way it's normally served differs from those in Hong Kong and other parts of Guangdong. It's normally served with a kind of special sweet soy sauce that has a heavy sesame taste to it, and we call it "tim jeong" (甜醬). Oftentimes, it has toasted white sesame seeds sprinkled onto it upon serving. That's the most common and basic way to savor this in Malaysia. And, I'd call it 齋腸粉, though it may mean another different thing to cheong fun lovers in Guangdong.

Onde-onde (stuffed glutinous rice balls)
photo by Sugar & Everything Nice

A Malaysian tea-time dessert. I do believe that onde-onde first originated from Indonesia but it had been adopted by both the Malay and Peranakan cultures. I remembered when young my mother would buy kuih-kuih (local Malay cakes/desserts)for us kids to eat during tea times. And more often than not, onde-onde would be included. I love eating these chewy little balls of rice flour as the centers would contain palm sugar. I'll pop the whole ball into my mouth and bite down into them in anticipation of the palm sugar squirting out into my mouth. It was such a "rush" ... and believe it or not, I still do it now!

Kuih Pai Tee ("top hats")
photo by keropokman

Nyonya Kueh (alternatively Kuih or Kue) is the term given to various manners of bite-sized food items in the Malay Archipelago, much like Spain's tapas. They are usually - but not always - sweet and intricate creations, including cakes, cookies and puddings. It can also be described as pastry, however it is to be noted that the Asian concept of "cakes" and "pastries" is different from that of the Western one. Kuih's, plurified kueh-mueh or kuih-muih in Malay are more often steamed than baked, and thus very different in texture, flavour and appearance from Western cakes or puff pastries.Nonya kuehs come from mostly the Peranakans, especially those in Malacca and Singapore and they took heavy influences from Malaysia and its Malay culinary and cultural heritage.

Kuihs come in different shapes, colours, texture and designs. Some examples are filled, coated, wrapped, sliced and layered kuihs. Also, as mentioned earlier, most kuihs are steamed, with some being boiled or baked. They can also be deep-fried, and sometimes even grilled.

Nonya Kueh History

Mangosteens (not eggplants)
photo by andertho

The mangosteen is a fruit originating in Southeast Asia. It is considered a member of the plant family Clusiaceae although it is often in earlier works referred to as a member of the Guttiferae family. The latin name for the mangosteen is Garcinia mangostana L. and the genus Garcinia is an honor bestowed upon Laurent Garcin by Linnaeus for his work as a botanist and naturalist in the 18th century. The mangosteen as a fresh fruit is in great demand in its native range and is savored by all who find its subtle flavors a refreshing balance of sweet and sour. It should be pointed out that Asians consider many foods to be either 'cooling' such as the mangosteen or 'heating' such as the durian depending on whether they possess elements that reflect yin and yang. This duality is commonly used to help describe balance in many aspects of life in general and food in particular throughout Asia.


Bamboo-wrapped rice dumpling
photo by Keung Jai

Called "zong," or "zongzi" in Chinese, this food is made of glutinous rice stuffed with various fillings, wrapped in bamboo leaves and either steamed or boiled. They are known in Japanese as "chimaki" and Laotians, Thais, Cambodians, and Vietnamese ("bánh tro") also have similar traditional dishes.

photo by Sham Hardy

Similar to keung Jai, ketupat is a glutinous rice dumpling that is wrapped in a woven palm pouch, then boiled.

Dim sum
photo by Suk Wei

Dim sum is a form of Chinese cuisine that is served in small portions and usually in a small steamer basket. It is often linked with the older tradition of yum cha (tea drinking), which is rooted in the custom of travelers on the Silk Road in need of a place to stop and rest. Teahouses were established along the roadside and both travelers and rural farmers would attend for a relaxing afternoon of tea. Combining food with tea was originally discouraged as it was believed to lead to excessive weight gain. But eventually it was discovered that tea is a digestive, and subsequently teahouses began offering small snacks.

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London: Kensington Palace, a fabulous facelift

Kensington Palace from the south by Jan Kip

Kensington Palace, longtime a residence for the British Royal Family, is located in the Royal Borough of Kensington in Chelsea, London. To lure additional tourists to the site, Historic Royal Palaces—manager of the state rooms open to the public—has invited the artistic direction of several artisans in fashion to transform the rooms into whimsical works of art. Newly dubbed the "Enchanted Palace," the exhibit offers visitors a map to aid them in discovering the secrets of the State Rooms. The site's official website explains:
At the heart of the Enchanted Palace journey is a quest for the seven princesses who once lived here. Their lives have been re-imagined as installations offering a fascinating interpretation of the palace’s hidden stories. The rebellious princess who ran from an arranged marriage into the arms of love. Sad queens who bore the pain and sadness of lost babies. The young heir to the throne who escaped the controlling grasp of her overprotective mother.

No longer a stale display of dusty furniture protected by velvet ropes, the exhibit includes work from designers Vivienne Westwood, William Tempest, Stephen Jones, Boudicca, Aminaka Wilmont and Echo Morgan. For a peek at some of their creations, below is a video courtesy of the Wall Street Journal Online:

The Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace
1 March – 31 October open daily 10am - 6pm (last admission 5pm)
1 November – 28 February open daily 10am - 5pm (last admission 4pm)
0844.482.7799 (from UK) or + (from outside the UK)

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