Thursday, October 30, 2014

Flashing Lights

Snap, snap, snap!  You would think our table was with Kanye West circa 2007 with all the flashing lights we had.  Oh no, this wasn't Hollywood…it was a food blogger potluck.  After paying our respects to the mouth-watering spread of dishes in the form of food photography, we dug in. I was lucky enough to snag an invitation to this food-lover meet up with bloggers arriving to Kota Kinabalu (KK) from Brunei, Kuala Lumpur (KL), and the surrounding areas.  I was introduced to these fellow food lovers by my new, wonderful friends from Sabah Eats.  

For the last few months I have been following Sabah Eats' Facebook & Instagram accounts, lusting over their daily posts of the best food finds in the state.  Their pictures are so enticing they’ll make you want to hop the next plane/boat/train to Malaysia to try it for yourself.

Joanne, Adam, and I became fast friends after I reached out to them and told them I wanted them to take me to their favorite local eateries. We bonded over heaping bowls of noodles, dark soy sauce squid, and a plethora of other dishes. 

Famous Adam and me!

The duo started Sabah Eats after moving back to KK from KL and were intrigued by all the differences in food, even between East & West Malaysia.  Additionally, Joanne is an extraordinary baker.  The first time we met she left me with a package of her chocolate-chip, almond cookies and I fell in love with the bite-sized wonders.  I. Can’t. Stop. Eating. Them. 24 cookies in 48 hours is just unacceptable…even on vacation.

Sabah Eats' newest venture - their free guide to all things food in Sabah!

Roti canai - I could eat this all day and all night.

With our common love of food as our anchor, we have shared some memorable meals including a “noodle tour of KK”, a blogger tasting at “the coolest café in KK”, and a personal tour of the Gaya Street Sunday Market.  Where, it needs to be mentioned, I almost decided to stay in Malaysia forever because I fell in LOVE (again) with two adorable puppies!

The adorable Joanne and me!

Noodle tour!

A tea break at the Sunday Market

Check out those mangosteen y'all - my favorite fruit in the world!

Melting my heart!

My thought for today stems from my newly found friendships.  Spending time with these two wonderful people has been extremely inspiring.  They are deeply passionate about their work, creating community, sharing their talents, and helping others to achieve their goals. Not only have they helped me with everything from research to marketing but I've also witnessed them consistently offer help to others.  And because of this mentality, they have developed a strong following and success for themselves.

Adam & Joanne’s enthusiasm has propelled me forward to worker harder on my own projects, and it has minimized my fear of failure. Surrounding yourself with inspiring people is an important part of believing that you can achieve your goals. If you do not already have a support network I encourage you to seek out people who have common interests and goals. It’s easier than it seems…when I reached out to “info@sabaheats” I had no idea who was on the receiving end of my request to meet, but it resulted in an invaluable connection.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5 Times to Eat Malay Food

I asked Bernadette, “Wait, there’s an American Embassy in Kota Kinabalu?” after she casually mentioned that it was just around the corner from the hawker stand where we had breakfast.  We turned the corner and a giant KFC stared me in the face.  I laughed hysterically as we crossed over to the local fruit stand, picking up some “soursop” which I had never tried.  It’s a new favorite – a great substitution for mangosteen since the season is over.  It’s a blend of tangy and sour with sweet and juicy…the perfect combination!

Soursop fruit (the green things...not the flowers)

We took it back to Bernadette’s house situated just outside the city, surrounded by tall coconut palm trees and other fresh fruit trees (papaya…yummmm) in her yard. My dad will love her trick to keep the birds from picking the fruit – she covers them with plastic bags. I wonder if that would still work for his bear problem?

Spot the bags?

Bernadette is a close childhood friend of my auntie’s and a total gem. She embodies the Malaysian spirit, always laughing, smiling, joking, and generally enjoying life. In just one day she’s made me feel completely at home again in Malaysia; constantly concerned about my well-being and making sure my stomach is sufficiently full. She even remembers details about my favorite dishes (noodles, soup, roti canai) and drinks (teh tarik) from five years ago when we first met!

How sweet it is to have teh tarik again!  It translates as "pulled tea" and is a combination of black tea and sweetened condensed milk.

For breakfast we chowed down on Gon Lo Mein, translated as dry noodles to mix (so I’m told…my aunt will correct me if I’m wrong! J ). It’s a perfectly savory dish topped with barbecued pork and green onions. In Malaysia there aren’t a lot of “breakfast foods” as we traditionally know in the good ‘ole US of A and typically morning meals consist of the same types of food eaten throughout the day. The first time in Malaysia I thought it was a little strange but it’s actually now my preference, even when eating at home.

Our breakfast spot outside the city

To continue my culinary affair in Kota Kinabalu I was taken by a local chef, Adrian, to the Lido night market to test some of the curry & soups typical to the area. Afterwards we had “supper” at a nearby stand that specializes in a type of all-pork soup that is famous in Sabah. Let me clarify that “supper” is like 5th meal for Malaysians.

1: Breakfast (morning hours)
2: Lunch (noon-ish)
3: Afternoon tea with snacks/pastries (3:00-ish)
4: Dinner (7:00-ish)
5: Supper (10:00-11:00-ish)
6… I like the way you roll, Malaysians.

Night market preparations

Sheer happiness!

While Adrian and I discussed food, local dishes, and his love of working in the kitchen he told me, “You can do anything you want in a kitchen…you can yell at what you want to yell at, you can cook what you want to cook, and you can cut what you want to cut. (Referring mostly to plates, crabs, and fish, in order). If you work in an office you can’t throw your computer at a wall.”  True dat, Adrian. True dat.

My thought for today is that Adrian didn't actually “pick” his career. His father told him he should go to culinary school after high school and as an obedient son, he did. After beginning to work in the field he found his joy in his work and now sees his long hours under the restaurant roof as part of what fulfills him.

Although we may not all have the careers we “choose” or the luxury of “cutting what we want to cut”, it is possible to find joy in our daily work if we look for it. I challenge you today to think of at least five things (‘cause it’s a round number, but mostly because it’s the number of times Malaysians eat in a day) that bring you joy in your job. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Happiest Place on Earth

Yesterday as I crossed the finish line at the Lisbon half marathon I was thrilled to be done running. And then one minute later (literally) I realized my driver's license had fallen out of my cell phone running case when I was eagerly receiving my finishers' medal. I retraced my steps and tried an English-Spanish combo to explain to security, race officials, and police that it was missing. I was exhausted but much more concerned about losing my backup ID at the beginning of a two month trip. Eventually I gave up and decided there was no point crying over spilled milk.

The starting line. Photo courtesy of Vanna Saelao

Immediately after the race - sad face for lost ID. But I FINISHED!

Celebrating - it's over!

We wore our medals around town like CHAMPS! Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lock

After taking an extremely necessary shower we headed out for an afternoon of sightseeing, picture-taking, and the best dinner I've had so far in Portugal. We sat upstairs in a quaint little restaurant (Belém 2 a 8) in Belém while two waiters scurried around serving the entire restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Vanna Saelao

The service wasn't fast but we were in no hurry and we enjoyed the slower pace, removed from the hustle and bustle. Our waiter, Fernando, was in great spirits and didn't seem to mind letting us six girls linger into the late evening hours, sipping wine and oohing and aahing over the delicious entrees. My black pork (pig...figures) was cooked perfectly, crispy on the outside and succulent and tender on the inside. Even though my plate was delicious, the most surprisingly tasty dish was the breaded, grilled octopus. I've never tried octopus that was so tender and flavorful without being chewy.

Chestnuts on the street...I'll pass next time.

Meat pie for me, egg tart for her.  MUST eat these in Belem!

To work off our indulgent dinners we hiked back up the hills to our apartment. This morning we continued the walking (my legs are sufficiently sore now) on a tour to Sintra, "the home of princes and princesses".  I don't think that's an official tagline, but I saw it on a marketing pamphlet and it stuck. It resonated with me as I walked through the grand palaces and imagined what it would have been like to have lived in these extraordinary structures centuries ago.  Plus, Palacio Nacional da Pena looks a LOT like Disneyland.  So I didn't need to imagine much.  I love Disney.

Photo courtesy of

When entering the gift shop, we were immediately drawn to the kids' costumes and our dress-up session had our tour guide dying with laughter.  It’s been a new adventure to travel with 5 girls in a foreign country since I’m typically solo on the road.  While on the train back from Sintra I was reflecting on all the moments I've had with these wonderful ladies.  It’s been such a joy to share our Lisbon travel adventures and everything has seemed effortless and fun.  I've laughed harder than I've laughed in a long time, I've eaten, I've gotten lost, I've played, I've eaten some more, and the best part was sharing those moments with friends.

Photo courtesy of Vanna Saelao
Photo courtesy of Vanna Saelao

My thought for the day is that although I can enjoy journeying alone, I realize how enriching it is to travel with somebody else.  When an experience is shared, stories are made, conversations last longer (or should I say “exist” since I don’t normally converse with myself), and the moment itself is extended.  Appreciate and enjoy the person(s) with whom you share your journey and your life; these people enrich your everyday experiences and give more meaning to your life.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Running, Walking, and Pub-Crawling through Porto

I definitely smell like feet.  Like not just a little bit of me, all of me.  I don’t know where it’s coming from exactly but I have a pretty good idea that the root cause is my running shoes which I (not strategically) packed in a plastic bag right after going for a run before hopping on the plane in Seattle.  I’ll spare you the details but I don’t think freshly-worn athletic shoes make for a great smelling bag, nor do they have a great effect on any of the items in said bag.

I’m really reconsidering that mini-Febreeze I saw in the Target travel aisle and thought, “meh…I won’t need that.”  The guy next to me on the train is also wishing I hadn't been so dismissive of that genius 3 oz bottle.

Playing I spy...solo traveler version.

I’m currently on my way back to Lisbon from the northern city of Porto to meet my friends who land this evening.  Porto is a magnificent city placed right on the Douro River; it’s most famously known as the home of port wine, of which there is plenty to be had.  And of which, I had plenty.  The city itself is picturesque and beautiful. It’s a mixture of old and new with cobblestone roads and walkways winding in every direction up their river-side hills.  The streets are littered with university students pouring out of bars, tourists wandering aimlessly, and locals sipping coffee and lounging at outdoor cafes. 

The view from my Airbnb apartment in Porto.

Port wine caves at the Calem winery.

This city has seen a boom of tourists in the last few years and it’s clear they've taken advantage of the popularity.  The people in Porto seem a little jaded by this; not necessarily amused or intrigued by the influx of strangers to their beloved city.  Half the locals I crossed paths with were less than pleased with questions, my interest in the city & the food, etc.  Not that they were rude, they just weren't friendly.  And the other half of the locals were overjoyed by my interest in their city and all the wonderful things it has to offer.

Ze bota in Porto - awesome food, but less than friendly service.

Oh city bus tours, how I love you so!

A personal bus all to myself again!

One such local was named Rui, the tour guide of the pub crawl my good friend recommended. I think Rui and I hit it off at the beginning of the tour when I made it clear I was more concerned about finding food than I was about the first drink on the stop.  So it goes when you’re not 22 anymore.  I did, however, enjoy the night-long journey around town – dipping into cute bars and stopping finally at a night club (gasp) – how long has it been since I did THAT?!

New friends on the pub crawl.  Sandwich in hand.

Despite my lack of initial interest in a pub crawl, I ended up going because: (a) it was highly recommended, (b) I wanted to meet some friendly locals & tourists, and (c) life is short.  It ended up being a great experience; I made some great travel connections and new friends.

Thought of the day is a simple one and a classic…carpe diem.  When the next random opportunity presents itself to you, instead of asking “why?” ask “why not?!”  And also – always say yes to Febreeze.
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