Langkawi – Paradise Your Nanna Prayed For

Datai Bay, Langkawi
The Andaman

Langkawi is one of the most blissful and secluded places on Earth. When you want to run away from day-to-day stresses, restore your inner ecosystem and sanity – that is the place to be.

Datai Bay Beach
Datai Bay

Tranquil Datai Bay, dense mesmerizing rainforest with the most unique species glazing through gigantic trees. You won’t find bunches of compadre tourists, queuing for ice-cream and banana rides – this is a different level of relaxation: no noise except singing cicadas and splashing waves.

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The Andaman, Datai Bay Rainforest

There is no rush here: time itself is elastic. The horizon and the Andaman sea have lost that line defining what is what. Datai Bai beach is serene and harmoneous – it seems like it was meant to be just yours.

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Food in Singapore

Do not plan any diets on your trip to Singapore. You might enjoy the weather, tall buildings, and gazillions of Louis Vuitton stores, but your strolling through Chinatown with an empty stomach is as cruel as a visit of a diabetic to the “Cafe Savoy”.

Embrace this heavenly food spot. Savour, dig, eat up and feast on.

No matter where you go, food will be amazing. Nevertheless, here are some brightest dishes I still drool over:

Singapore Black Pepper CrabIMG_0478

This fellow and his cousin Chilli Crab are divine. So spicy and succulent! We had to wash our hands 5 times to get rid of the “black nails effect” – locals were smarter: a pair of plastic gloves did their job. Although, we had more fun! “Jumbo Seafood” restaurants are famous for the best seafood in Singapore. We had ours in Chinatown and enjoyed as much.

Grilled Whole Fish with Dry Chillis and PeanutsIMG_0570

Out tilapia drenched with fragrant spicy sauce, heaped with dried chillis, peanuts and coriander looked  more flammable than  it was in reality. It weighs about 900g-1kg each – great fun to share. Even though it is a relatively mild dish, unprepared troops will have to  calm their palates. This dish is available in almost every restaurant from Riverside to Chinatown.

“Din Tai Fung” Dim SumIMG_0518

I refused the idea of eating in a shopping mall at first. “Authentic? What are you talking about?!” This chain might not be located on one of the streets, where locals gather for a ritual evening coffee, but it is incredibly good. There is just this odd local habit of dining in shopping malls. Thus, the best of them are based there. Service is fast, dim sums are mouth-watering and the lemongrass iced tea is the best one I have ever tried.

Korean BBQIMG_0540

DIY method is the best: there is so much fun, interaction and sense of community. Smartphones stay in your pockets – hands are too busy. The side dishes are infinite. You will choose the meat you would like to grill. Be aware that there is a strict “no food waste” policy: 150$ fine for greedy ones, who can not handle their inconceivably vast order. We had our Korean BBQ experience in “Seoul” restaurant at the Four Seasons, but almost every street in Singapore will have a great Korean restaurant.

Bakkwa or Chinese Beef Jerky

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No, you would not find the same beef jerky in other places. It melts in your mouth. The balance of sweet and salty is sublime. Grab a beer, a kilo of this highly addictive snack and get rid of your jet lag disorder symptoms.

Speaking of beer, it is extremely expensive in Singapore: 6$ – 7$ for a bottle. I guess, you have to learn the art of slow savouring.

 

“Sticky Wings” vs “The Orange Buffalo”

"Sticky wings"
“Sticky wings”

I developed my obsession with chicken wings by going to America’s best joints like “Talde”, “Pok Pok” and local unique BBQ places. London disappointed me with the American-style food before: my favorite Boston cream tasted like sugar and sugar only; proper pancakes were as rare as a “good hair day” for Donald Trump; franchise wings – sprayed thoroughly with vinegar.

Sticky wings” happened to be a friendly, cozy establishment. Waitress was very attentive, beer cold and wings – they were heavenly. “Sticky wings BBQ” & “American buffalo” were my favorite. If you prefer mouth-on-fire-effect, go for “Hot chilli”. All the accessories vital for a chicken wings ritual were there: wet napkins, buckets for bones, condiments.

"The Orange Buffalo"
“The Orange Buffalo”

“The Orange Buffalo” was a one of the most popular truck spots in the hipster part of Shoreditch. The owners were very warm and welcoming, beer…wait, no beer?! Yes, indeed, I ate my wings with sweet soda – it’s very hard to get an alcohol license in Great Britain. Wings were very tasty: double fried crispy deliciousness with a unique sauce.

Curly french fries
Curly french fries

There were a number of available gradations on the hotness scale, but we chose the “Original”. Shortage of napkins – only two paper ones for a couple people with messy hands – was a bit inconvenient as well.

"The Orange Buffalo"
“The Orange Buffalo” wings

Well, choosing between two of them was not very hard. Both places have delicious chicken wings, but only one has got great customer service and a quality product. “Sticky wings” is our victor and the place to satisfy occasional cravings.

 

 

Georgian Food In London

– Let’s eat Georgian tonight!

– Well, I am not a big fan of American cuisine.

Georgia is carved into many brains as one of the U.S states – not a beautiful country between Eastern Europe and West Asia. Yet its culture, people and food are well worth to be on travellers’ radars.

It was my grandmother who introduced me to this wonderful food culture – the Russians were always attracted to those aromatic-spicy, dewy dishes. I got nostalgic and started my search of descent Georgian food in London.

There are a couple of places here – all of them with relatively good reviews. We chose the one in our area: when your belly is full of delicious food, try to minimise walking (not a health coach advice).Khachapuri

“Tamada” has it all: incredible homely atmosphere, genuine Georgian food, clean menu (not “The 200 Club” never – ending list), warm southern hospitality and great wine selection.

We conditionally divided the menu into two affordable dinners, where all dishes could be assessed. Here are the favourite items: “Adjaruli Khachapuri” – cheese-filled baked bread topped with eggs, “Lobio “- red beans with coriander & garlic, “Badrijani” – stuffed aubergines with onions, Georgian spices, garlic & walnuts. Try to order some traditional flat bread alone with you dishes and enjoy the culinary art of spreading and spooning them over.

There are a couple of things you should bear in mind if Georgian cuisine is terra incognita for you: walnuts – crashed, chopped, grounded, fried – and pomegranate are the key ingredients in almost every dish. Like other Transcaucasian cultures, the Georgians use open fire and spit for meat and vegetable preparation. Thus the smoky taste is present. There is no espresso or americano served – only Georgian sediment coffee (with grounds for fortune tellers).Georg. food

If you are hesitating between Turkish, Russian or Greek cuisine, try Georgian – it combines many of the Eastern European and Mediterranean flavours, and you will get an interesting gastronomic adventure.

-Let’s eat Georgian tonight!

– Khachapuri it is then.

 

“Tamada” restaurant: 122 Boundary Road, London, NW8 0RH.
Tel: 020 7372 2882

 

Ocean Is Magical

Praia do Guincho

Ocean is magical. I am drawn to it. I recall the days when work and pressure used to suck me dry. Ocean would restore me better than a day spent in meditation, a Monty Python skits or a box of pills to increase serotonin.

When I look at it – it seems cosmic; I feel like hypnotised plankton. My problems shrink and appear irrelevant. Its powerful winds blow out all the negative residues. I feel so small. It performs its scary dance in front of me like a Chimbu Skeleton dancer.

I believe that four million years ago it was our natural habitat. We still carry a bit of ocean inside us: our blood, sweat, tears are salty; our mothers carry us in salty water; our taste buds need salt to recognize food flavour.

You need to see it once to miss it the whole life. Ocean is mystical.

Portugal Through Foreign Glasses

 

Lisboa - Portugal
Lisbon rooftops – Lisbon, Portugal

I have to admit that 4 years ago I didn’t expect Portugal to make a tremendous impact on me. If my religiously Portuguese husband had not dragged me to Lisbon to “live for a couple of weeks”, I would not have discovered an enigmatic Portuguese soul. After being a restless, independent metropolitan I turned into a member of a strong, relatively provincial community. I was among people who knew how to relax and not feel guilty for that.

A foreign me had plenty of questions in the beginning of my partial assimilation: “Why everything works so slow?”, “How comes you showed up at 6 p.m. , when we had agreed to meet at 5 p.m.?”, “Why all the sweets are loaded with eggs, have the same taste, but different shapes and names?”, “Does it make sense to even bother to dry cod fish if you would have to soak it to reach its original texture again?”. Not only I found the answers for those questions, but realized the importance of all the mentioned rules and habits.

Rua Augusta - Portugal
Rua Augusta – Lisbon, Portugal

Portugal is a slow – cooked delicious tomato sauce. To receive a spoon of fabulous high quality substance, you need to reduce its amount and generously spice it up – that’s what the Portuguese did: let all of the colonies follow their own path, but embraced the Brazilian “caipirinha”, the Goan curry, the Angolan kizomba, the Mozambican “tipo tinto” and the Macanese rice noodles.

Portuguese history is glorious, no doubts, but who they are today is far more important. They preserved their essence and managed to errase Old Europe’s mistakes: chauvinism, racism and delusion of grandeur. So many nations, traditions and habits fit in this tiny land, like a puzzle completing the picture and making Portugal so diverse, rich and colorful. Every tourist finds himself at home here: unbelievable friendliness and fluency in many languages make them perfect hosts.

After a couple of years I learned how the locals act, what they eat, where they prefer to go out. If I had to organize a perfect trip, I’d begin with Lisbon: would start my morning with a glass of “galão” and a “tosta mista”, catch a famous tram 28 to scratch a surface of the most important districts, observe the city from the 360 ° panoramic spot – “São Jorge” castle. Then I’d go for the best seafood place – “Ramiro”; ramble around some of the most charismatic European streets in the districts of Bairro Alto and Baixa Chiado.

Quinta da Regaleira - Portugal
Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra, Portugal

The next day would be solemnly dedicated to the famous Belém, where I’d get my teeth into heavenly delicious “Pastel de Belém”, and the most romantic place – Sintra. Well, evenings should be spent with a glass of red “Adelaide” or white “Primus 2008”. Add savory chunks of “Queijo de Azeitão”, “Queijo Serra da Estrela” or “Queijo Rabaçal”- a gastronomic orgasm is guaranteed.

Summer offers the entire coast of divine beaches – Porto Covo, Troia, Lagos, Albufeira, Praia da Rocha, Adraga – the list goes on endlessly. Green wine, fresh grilled fish or crispy “Sagres” with gastropod snails are the best garnish for a sunny day out.

Porto will offer you mouth-watering “francesinha” and some of the best wine tastings; Algarve area– the best Mediterranean dishes and sweet brandy “medronho”; Alentejo – paradisiac bread and olive oil, and the Northern districts – best “chouriços”. Anyhow, it’s very relative, because Portuguese cuisine is a vast chapter and can’t be squeezed  even in a “Zettels Traum” kind of volume.

Each region is well – defined by its specific landscape, cuisine, dialect, the way they cook codfish and football club fans. If you have an intention to find friends

Praia da Adraga - Portugal
Praia da Adraga – Adraga, Portugal

among the Portuguese – either avoid favoring   a specific football club or divide them into logical groups: praise “Sporting” with green fans, sing “Benfica, oh glorious!” with a red scarf on, and proudly wear a blue dragons’ T-shirt in Porto. Football is more actual than politics. Belonging to a club is a matter of national pride; it runs in DNA, infects generations.

It seems that Portugal has immunity against globalisation. Even though “Starbucks”, “Burger King”, “Zara” made their way to this land, people religiously drink their “cafezihno” at traditional houses like “Nicola”. They learned how to appreciate sushi not so long ago, but also don’t skip on a traditional “bifana”. Trend is trend – habits are the nation’s core.

Torre de Belem - Portugal
Torre de Belem – Belem, Portugal

Religion is strongly rooted. They are still blissfully looking forward to marry at churches, have the first communion and visit the catholic Mecca – Fatima. Grandmas have gigantic statues of Jesus and Mary in the relatively small houses. My first lunch at a traditional house I spent with a jumbo monument to the Son of God silently judging me by the table. I washed my sins with a sip of his finest “blood” and felt relieved.

Praça do Comércio - Portugal
Praça do Comércio – Lisbon, Portugal

There are 3 words that pretty much define Portuguese essential features: “amanhã”, “talvez” and “saudades”. “Amanhã” (tr: tomorrow) shows the country’s productivity. If  by any chance you hear that word, don’t rush for the results the next day – the time range is elastic: tomorrow could possibly mean “in a couple of weeks or months”. “Talvez” (tr: maybe) reflects how polite the Portuguese are. They are not capable of cutting you off by a sharp “no”, therefore leaving you with hope. There is a huge probability to never go out with people you invite, if they genuinely smile and say: “Talvez!”. Finally, “saudade” (tr: hard to define), which has no analogues or closest translations in any language, explains us the Portuguese soul – loving, nostalgic, childishly pure. It could describe anything between missing somebody or something, a will to repeat or return to keeping sweet memories and savoring them.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos - Portugal
Padrão dos Descobrimentos – Belem, Portugal

My almost 4 year transformation from a foreigner to a local was one of the most fascinating experiences. I figured I can’t live anymore without sun, ambrosial wines, aromatic coffee, ocean, seafood, shabby buildings, paved streets. I will conserve the memories of grilled sardines on the St. Anthony Feast, the earthy smell of roasted chestnuts, permanent blue colour of the sky, chicken house in the neighborhood, powerful energy of the Atlantic, joyful days with our friends, the authentic happy faces. My experience brought me to a conclusion that people – happy, slow, able to enjoy life, full of southern charm and rumours – are  Portugal’s most powerful resource. Well, the sort of people you fall in love with and always feel “saudades”.