Singapore, Days One and Two

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“Singapore is Disneyland with the death penalty.” “Singapore is too dull.” “Are you sure you want to visit Singapore? It’s so sterile.”

My experience in Singapore couldn’t be further from the truth. I know Singapore isn’t without its fair share of problems and its planned and regulated to a tee, but you know what? From the moment we entered customs until we checked out of our hotel, Nishan and I were smitten with Singapore’s vibrancy, from the diverse neighborhoods to the heavenly food at every corner. Our most dystopian experience was at a place that rhymes with Faffles, but we’ll get to that later.

First, let’s talk about the food. Singapore is heralded as one of the best places on earth for food. I concur, a million times over. When we landed, Nishan and I rushed to our hotel to check in and then quickly walked ran to our first stop to grab dinner before they closed.

Lamb curry, papad, rice, dal, chicken curry

Gandhi Restaurant in Little India is a no-frills restaurant serving South Indian fare. Sit down, get a banana leaf, and they’ll serve you ladleful after ladelful of curry and dal. Say yes to it all because it is all delicious. My lamb curry, papad, rice, dal, and chicken curry brought me back to life after our flight from Thailand.

The next morning, we had lunch at what would become my favorite restaurant in Singapore: Ananda Bhavan. Specifically, the one on Syed Alwi Road in Little India. This casual vegetarian eatery is nearly always packed, and with good reason.

South Indian set meal

Mysore masala thosai

I got the Mysore masala thosai, served with sambar, dal, pickle, and chutney. Nishan got the South Indian set meal, served with rice, chapati, vegetables, parippu, sambar, puzikuzhambu, curd, pickle, rasam, thuvaiyal, appalam, vadai, and payasam. We struggled to finish our heavy breakfasts, but since then, nothing has come close to replicating the flavor of this meal. Believe me, I’ve tried. Consider this my love poem to the cooks at Ananda Bhavan. Ananda Bhavan, if you’re reading this, will you consider publishing a cookbook? Us plebeians outside of Singapore wistfully long for your sustenance.

Afterwards we walked it off at Singapore’s most famous attraction: the Gardens by the Bay. It really is larger than life and with views of the Marina Bay Sands and the entire city as you walk through the park.

Marina Bay Sands

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay

Next we headed to the iconic Raffles Hotel. You know, the home of the Singapore Sling yadda yadda yadda. We had a drink at their Long Bar but mostly we were creeped out by the hotel’s glorification of colonialism. To visit the Raffles Hotel is to encounter the colonial experience, complete with Sikh doormen and a discreet side door for those only dining at the hotel — after all, the lobby is for real (read: moneyed, largely European) guests.

Anyway, they’re really into this guy.

Raffles Hotel

Enough about that. For dinner, we headed to Momma Kong’s in Chinatown. Momma Kong’s specializes in crab which are flown in from Sri Lanka daily.

Chinatown, Singapore

Momma Kong's

Momma Kong's

Red chili crab, black pepper crab, mantou, garlic water spinach, and grilled squid.

Sands SkyPark

After a quick visit to the Sands SkyPark we headed back to our hotel (the wonderful Hotel Vagabond) for a nightcap.

The Vagabond Bar

The Vagabond Bar

Who said Singapore was bland again?

Thailand, Days Eight and Nine

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Our last couple of days in Thailand were mostly a mad dash to sample as much of Chiang Mai’s culinary specialities as we could. (Seriously, are you even surprised?)

Congee with egg and Chinese doughnut

Things started off healthily. A simple congee with egg and savory doughnut made for a solid breakfast.

SP Chicken

Lunch at SP Chicken

Even lunch was healthy. We stopped at SP Chicken, famous for their rotisserie, which we enjoyed with rice, water spinach/morning glory, and a bean thread noodle salad.

For dinner, we headed to the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market, a sight so expansive, so busy, so bustling that you have to see it to believe it. And the street food! So much street food. And this, my friends, is where our healthy eating began to go downhill.

Fried golden needle mushrooms, banana blossoms, and morning glory

Fried golden needle mushrooms, banana blossoms, and morning glory. Always eat the morning glory.

Fresh vegetable spring rolls

Fresh vegetable spring rolls. Not pictured: the deep fried spring rolls we inhaled just before this.

Glass noodles with wild mushrooms and pepper

Glass noodles with wild mushrooms and pepper. Vegetables! Vegetables are healthy!

Gac fruit

We washed it all down with gac fruit juice, passion fruit juice, and sweet corn juice.

Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market

We were exhausted from all that eating walking so the next day we took it easy, strolling around the Old Quarter on our last day in Chiang Mai.

Lunch at Swan Burmese Cuisine

Because of its proximity to Myanmar, Chiang Mai has a large Burmese community. For lunch, we ate at Swan Burmese Cuisine. Fried fish, chicken with mint, chiles, and lemongrass, and of course a green tea leaf salad. Burmese tea leaf salad has got to be one of the best salads on earth, amirite?

Mango sticky rice

We couldn’t leave Chiang Mai without one last stop at our favorite Thai cafe: Fruiturday! One last mango sticky rice for the road.

Next stop: Singapore.

Thailand, Days Six and Seven

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Animal tourism is big business in Thailand and it comes with a nefarious side. Stories of drugged tigers and abused elephants abound — as do advertisements at nearly every corner in Chiang Mai. We nixed riding an elephant or petting a wildcat for visiting an elephant sanctuary about an hour outside of Chiang Mai instead. Established in the 1990s, Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center where the animals roam freely and are taken care of by volunteers.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

It’s not every day you get to take a selfie with an elephant.

Elephant Nature Park

Although I’m pretty sure Nishan preferred the cats.

Elephant Nature Park

Lunch at Elephant Nature Park was one of the best meals I ate in Thailand. Does anyone know the name of the green vegetable in the top right of my plate? It’s delicious and I would love to find it stateside.

We were famished after a full day at the nature park so once we returned to Chiang Mai we basically ate all the things.

Mango with coconut sago

We probably visited Fruiturday at least once a day in Chiang Mai. Their icy concoctions and mango sticky rice were manna from heaven in the stifling heat.

Nutella rotee

From there we descended into Nutella roti. Go ahead, Internet. Shame us.

Stir-fried soft shell crab with yellow curry

Soft shell crab showed up on the menu in Thailand often and I ordered it with every chance I got since it’s so hard to come by in California. For dinner, I had stir-fried soft shell crab with yellow curry at U Chiang Mai.

Sai ua (northern Thai sausage)

We had a lot of eating to do the next morning (obvs), so we woke up bright and early with a meal of sai ua (northern Thai sausage). Filled with meat, herbs, spices, and red curry paste, sai ua is usually eaten grilled with sticky rice and is super popular in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

Afterwards we explored Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang in the old city.

Khao soi

Khao soi joy

But you didn’t think I was going to come to Chiang Mai and not find the best khao soi, right? Nishan dutifully navigated us through the city until we found Khao Soi Khun Yai, one of Chiang Mai’s most popular khao soi spots. It’s so nondescript you could easily walk past it, were it not for the crowd of people happily slurping noodles. (Want to make khao soi at home? Here’s my adapted recipe.)

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Warorot Market, a huge market filled with all kinds of snacks and fresh produce.

Dinner at Lert Ros

Lert Ros

For dinner, we sought out Lert Ros, a friendly Issan restaurant where grilled, smoky fish is the most popular dish, and rightfully so.

Thailand, Days Four and Five

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What’s hot and gold all over? The Grand Palace in Bangkok, although I’m sure there’s a Tehrangeles joke in there somewhere.

After our adventure in Ayutthaya, day three in Thailand was sucked into a black hole of heat exhaustion and a sniffly cold but we were back at it on day four, catching an early water taxi on the Chao Phraya River towards the Grand Palace. This is one of the world’s most visited destinations and boy oh boy did the throngs of tourists make that clear.

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Grand Palace

Freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice both quenched our thirst and spoke to the Iranian in me before we headed to nearby Wat Pho.

Pomegranate juice

Wat Pho

Chao Phraya River

We called it an early evening and the next morning took a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s largest city in the north and near the border with Myanmar. As soon as we settled in to our hotel we were, well, hungry. Nothing a little street side egg, banana, and milk roti wouldn’t fix.

Egg, milk, and banana roti

Egg, milk, and banana roti

Stir-fried morning glory with mushrooms and tofu

We capped our evening off with a (healthier) meal of stir-fried morning glory with mushrooms and tofu at Aum Vegetarian. Seriously though, I could eat morning glory every day.

Thailand, Days One and Two

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It’s been over a year since I visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai and I’m still trying to recreate the tastes of Thailand. From sticky rice and mango in the old city to grilled meats, Issan-style, the flavors of Thailand elude me. Mangoes in California will never be as fragrant and kaffir lime leaves are nearly impossible to find. Fresh sugar cane juice? Forget about it.

Nishan and I went to Thailand to eat, and eat we did. (Oh yeah, we also did some sightseeing.)

Khlong Lat Mayom

Khlong Lat Mayom

We dragged our jet-lagged selves to Khlong Lat Mayom, a floating market half an hour outside of Bangkok. The bustling market, the heat, and the smog were thick but we found fresh mangosteens and freshly squeezed palm and sugar cane juice to cool us down. A snack of eggs with seafood and chili sauce kept us satiated for the ride back to the city. Back in Bangkok’s Sathorn District, we made our way to Thanying for dinner.

Crab roe with salted egg yolk and fresh vegetables

Crab roe with salted egg yolk and fresh vegetables

Stir-fried morning glory with soybean sauce

Stir-fried morning glory with soybean sauce

Deep-fried sea bass with garlic and pepper

Deep-fried sea bass with garlic and pepper

Stir-fried crab with curry powder, egg, milk, chili oil and celery

Stir-fried crab with curry powder, egg, milk, chili oil, and celery

Sathorn District

By our second day, we were both feeling under the weather but we had plans to visit historic Ayutthaya, so off we went along the Chao Praya river. From there, a short bus ride took us to Ayutthaya, where we rented bikes to ride through the historic ruins in 100 degree heat and humidity level infinity. Great idea, right?

Chao Phraya River

Ayutthaya

By the end of the day, Nishan got heat exhaustion and I’d developed a full-blown cold. Back in Thailand, we’d made dinner reservations at Nahm, also known as The Restaurant Where I Was So Stuffy I Couldn’t Taste Anything.

Dinner at Nahm

Pandanus noodles with black sticky rice,  water chestnuts, tapioca, coconut cream

That being said, my favorite thing on the menu by far was dessert — and I don’t even have much of a sweet tooth. Behold: pandanus noodles with black sticky rice, water chestnuts, tapioca, and coconut cream. I could eat this every day.