Jakarta’s Durian Street (Indonesia)

Many a time I’ve tried to like durians, but it just doesn’t happen … then again, it’s not as if there’s a rule saying I should.

Nevertheless, I’ve had it fresh, in a shake, in a cake, as lempuk, with all resulting in failure. And it’s not even the awful odor that does me in — I’ve generally eaten it in places that smell a lot worse.

With that displeasing transition in tow, I present to you, JakartaIndonesia. Jakarta is one of the friendliest places I’ve ever been, but like many other cities, it takes some patience to get to the good eats. They are expanding their metro system and other forms of public transit, which is good, but it also makes the metropolis’ infamous traffic that much worse.

In short, getting to Jalan Raya Mangga Besar, or what I have deemed to be durian street (at least at nighttime), is vexing. Located in the northern part of the city relatively close to the old Dutch fort Fatahillah, and Jakarta’s Chinatown — near where a lot of the metro construction is happening — Jalan Raya Mangga Besar is busy during the day, but really buzzes at night with lots and lots of street food

It’s also where you can find stall after stall of durian, the spiky fruit native to Kalimantan and Sumatra, Indonesia, among other countries in Southeast Asia.

As it had been a few years since my last taste of something better suited for college mischief than human consumption, I took a walk along “durian street” for a small, small nibble:

Avocado Coffee (Da Nang, Vietnam)

It amuses me that one of the things I was most looking forward to having again in Vietnam was the coffee. I rarely drink the stuff outside of when trying to overcome jet lag, yet still have good memories of quotidian cups of cà phê (coffee, in Vietnamese) from having visited Hanoi and Ha Long Bay a few years ago.

Thus, in the world’s second-largest producer of coffee — after Brazil — it was difficult to narrow-down the first café to visit in Da Nang (or Danang), in central Vietnam. Indeed, coffee culture is very strong in this part of Southeast Asia, with numerous cafes trying to outcompete each other with comfortable chairs, small gardens, koi ponds, and plenty of outdoor seating.

In spite of the fierce competition, I went with a place called H Coffee, not far from the beach and boardwalk hugging the East Vietnam Sea.

How did I choose it? Simple … avocado coffee.

As some of you might know, I’m a big fan of avocados. Frequent travels to Mexico in the past few years might have help my case. However, I’ve never seen avocado and coffee combined in Mexico.

Owing to the French introduction of trái bơ (avocado, in Vietnamese) to Vietnam in 1940, fellow aguacate fanatics can rejoice in this recent addition to the Vietnamese drinks scene:

avocado coffee espresso vietnam
Avocado Coffee, H Coffee, Da Nang, Vietnam

Hold up, that doesn’t look like avocado coffee. I see avocado ice cream (with condensed milk inside), and an espresso. It’s more like an avocado affogato; try to say that three times fast.
For those unfamiliar with an affogato, you take the espresso and slowly pour it over the ice cream. Done! In!

Was it delicious? Of course. Should I have ordered again the next day? If it weren’t for the flooded streets, I would have!


Might you be interested in an avocado coffee mash-up?

Ruam Mit (รวมมิตร), The Diplomat of Thai Desserts

Maybe it’s unusual to think that today’s post is about one of my favorite desserts in the world.

Sure, when I want something sweet, I mean really sweet, it will be from Türkiye. And if I want something pseudo-healthy, it will be an Indian mango lassi.

But when in Southeast Asia, I can’t get enough of those Frankenstein’s monster’s bowls of goop, slop, and ice.

ruam mit Thai dessert food display
Cheng Sim Ei, Thai Desserts (Ruam Mit), Bangkok, Thailand

Although I didn’t know the name for the dessert until doing a little reading about, I found out that the Thai name, รวมมิตร (ruam mit), means “get together + friends.” Makes sense, because you’ve got your fruit, tubers, roots, gelatin, syrup, beans, legumes, and weird colors you may never have expected to see in a dessert, all coming together for a saccharine dalliance. So, grab some friends, grab some ladles, order a family-style — I just made that up, but try to order something that contains a little of everything — and then walk it all off in the heat.

ruam mit Thai dessert Bangkok
Cheng Sim Ei Menu, Thai Desserts (Ruam Mit), Bangkok, Thailand

Bonus: Cheng Sim Ei, by Bangkok’s City Hall, might spoil you with an English menu. For shame!

Is this the Best Japanese-Style Food Hall Outside of Japan?

As that stubborn country in the East Sea continues to only roll out a departure mat to its own citizens, those of us who are glad to liberate our wallets of yen continue to seek alternatives. Let’s take Southeast Asia as an example.

While in Singapore last month, I visited my two favorite places in the city: Singapore Botanic Gardens, and Takashimaya Ngee Ann City, on the busy Orchard Road shopping street.

Since my first visit to the city-state in 2004, I had been a fan of the Takashimaya department store. It had become my choice ersatz Japanese food hall — called デパ地下 (depachika) — when in town, with many of the seasonal and regional food festivals, bakeries, and liquor you’d expect to see in Japan.

For a very small, ehem, taste of the Takashimaya depachika, please have a look at my YouTube video:

Javanese Buffet at Bali’s Warung Kolega Restaurant

Spicy fish, braised eggplant, pandan pancakes stuffed with sweetened coconut … if you’re looking for a primer in Javanese food with a hint of Balinese flavor, look no further than my video from Warung Kolega restaurant in Legian, Bali:

The Gac (Gấc) Fruit of Vietnam

One of the truly wonderful aspects about traveling is introducing your taste buds to new and/or fresh flavors.  Southeast Asia is no stranger to my passport; consequently, nor is its diverse array of foods nearly unknown outside of the region.

Today’s entry is about the gấc (roughly pronounced “guhk”) melon, also known as a “baby jackfruit.” This fruit is originally from Vietnam – the second part of its Latin name, Momordica cochinchinensis, refers to Cochinchin, or what some foreign countries used to call Central/Southern Vietnam.  However, the gac has also come to be planted in tropical and sub-tropical parts of Australia and China; in Chinese, it is called 木鳖果 (mùbiēguǒ), which unusually translates as tree freshwater soft-shelled turtle fruit.

The gac is a tricky one, because it doesn’t ripen off of trees, has a toxic exterior, and only the reddish aril (the extra flesh surrounding the black seeds) is edible.  Not to mention, the orange melon is typically harvested in two months of the year, December and January, thus it’s not always the easiest to find, nor the cheapest to try.

It was in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I first heard about and tried the gac, due to a menu calling my attention to it.

Yet, in order to make the gac fruit palatable – on its own the gac has more of an avocado/cucumber taste – other fruit juices have to be added.

In spite of its nearly unsweetened flavor, the gac has a couple of things going for it.  It is extremely high in beta carotene, good for your vision and immune system, and lycopene, an antioxidant; consequently, it has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries.  Additionally, it’s orange and red, red being a lucky color in its native region.  Thus, you would likely see a plate of xôi gấc, or red gac sticky rice for Tết, the Vietnamese lunar new year.

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