Back before we packed up our own bags and started our own travels, Tony & I were both avid travel-blog readers (we still are!) who loved living vicariously through the adventures of other intrepid souls who had eschewed a conventional life in pursuit of their worldwide dreams. When we stumbled upon the epic and hilarious blog, Landing Standing, run by the delightful and daring Meg and Tony, we knew that if our paths ever crossed somewhere on our travels, we’d have some serious partners in crime when it came to tackling the local food scene.
If you only have room in your brain to know three things about me, let them be this:
1) I love costumes
2) I love surprises—and secrets!—but am terrible at keeping them myself
3) I love food
Melaka is a city of many faces. Its culture is so diverse, in fact, that there isn’t even a good consensus on how to spell the name of the place. For the sake of consistency, I’ll stick with “Melaka,” but I’ve seen several other forms on signs all over the city. While the different spelling may confound some, what is really interesting is the city itself: everything that Malaysia is, or was, can be found in Melaka. Straits Chinese, Indians, Malays and the remnants of British and Dutch Colonialism all struggle for space on the crowded streets of the old town. Swirling around the outside of the old city is the “new” Melaka, the kind of Malay city that can be seen anywhere else in the country. While the new town has much to recommend itself (especially for the Malays living there), old Melaka is the real star of the show for the visitor, and is where Steph and I spent five days wandering the streets, eating the food, gazing at the buildings and trying to avoid the oppressive heat and humidity.
Some people say that in life you should follow your heart, but we say that when traveling, definitely go with your gut.
It is primarily in the pursuit of food that our first stop in Malaysia winds up being the sleepy town of Muar. Our first impressions of the town are, quite honestly, not great. Based on the rhapsodic praise in our not-so-trusty Lonely Planet, we have arrived expecting a town that not only knows how to eat but one that is also “languorously Malaysian in mood and with the feel of a bustling Chinatown.” Instead, we find a city with lethal traffic, but whose streets are otherwise largely deserted; stepping off the main drag, the vibe that greets us is just a hair more lively than somnambulant. I don’t think tumbleweed is indigenous to Malaysia, but rest assured that if it were, it would be completely at home blowing through Muar’s streets.
As a Canadian, I’m always going to root for the underdog. On a map of the world, Singapore looks like little more than Malaysia’s toenail, so I probably should have felt some solidarity for this little sovereign nation all along. Alas, I can’t honestly say that before we left on our trip (and Chris sent me a sternly worded email that I clearly deserved) that I realized Singapore was a bona fide independent country in its own right. I guess I can consider it divine justice for my ignorance every time someone on our travels insists that “Canada is pretty much part of the United States”. My apologies, Singapore, and also: I get it. You’re your own country, and a pretty kick ass one at that.
In my mind, the only thing better than meeting up with people who love to travel is meeting up with people who love to travel AND who love to eat. While in Cambodia, we had the chance to sit down to dinner with with the wonderful Maddie and Paul who blog over at Two for the Road and, well, not to be melodramatic, but it was a bit like uniting with kindred spirits. The conversation never stopped and no one gave anyone weird judgmental looks when, despite copious amounts of food, we all decided that yes a little dessert would be in order. We had so much fun at dinner that we made plans for the next day and did it all over again.
For such a small country, Singapore offers an astounding number of ways to enter and exit the country; if traveling to neighboring Malaysia, you can fly, drive a car, take a train, take a ferry boat, take a private bus, take a public bus, or even walk! Having taken our fair share of flights since arriving in Asia (the only country we hadn’t flown into thus far was China) and with a little money left on our transit cards, we decided to try for our cheapest international travel day to date and entered Malaysia using nothing but public transportation.
Time and again I hear other travelers bemoan their lack of confidence when it comes to taking pictures of people they meet along the way. Finding the courage to break that barrier and get a really great shot of a stranger is one of the hardest parts of photography, but also one of the most rewarding. Many times I’ve found that a place is really interesting not due to any intrinsic qualities it may posses, but because of the people who live and work there, so being able to photograph them is critical to capturing the “feel” of a location.
Some eating experiences are transcendental, elevating the art of food to a higher plane, but good food doesn’t have to be fancy. In fact, on our travels our most satisfying meals aren’t the high falutin ones with slices of lemon in our water glasses or multiple forks of varying sizes to navigate. Instead, I’ve been all about the no-frills meals that make me feel down-right primitive.
And nothing knocks me a couple of notches down the evolutionary chain more than when I’m attacking a plate full of crab.
“If you’re going to begin a show in Singapore, it should be in a Hawker Center—in fact, in my opinion, it should be in this [Maxwell Food Centre] hawker center—and you should probably begin with the most beloved dish in Singapore, chicken rice.” – Anthony Bourdain
I sincerely hope you aren’t coming to this week’s Chewing the Fat with an empty stomach because today we’re talking to the awesome young woman who helms the popular blog Ashley Abroad! Ashley is a 23-year old American writer and wannabe expat who has spent the last year living in Paris. She has been traveling abroad on her own since she was 15 and so far has lived in Chicago, Buenos Aires and Paris. Most recently, her travels have brought her to Asia for the first time where she is currently backpacking and eating her way across Hong Kong, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
When it comes to listing Asia’s top food destinations, most travelers are quick to name Thailand. It’s a hard choice to argue with, but when Tony & I were plotting our trip, there were two other destinations we honed in on with the intention of simply stuffing ourselves silly: Hong Kong & Singapore.
Prior to becoming a diver, there were few things in life I loved more than visiting an aquarium. I’ve written extensively on this site about my love of the water in general, as well as my love for aquariums in particular, but part of me wondered whether—having finally experienced the wonder of the aquatic world without reinforced panes of glass between it and me—my love affair with aquariums might wane.
There comes a time during every traveler’s foray through Asia when one is eventually confronted with Durian. Travel through this continent for any length of time and sooner or later, you’ll turn a corner and smell something so fetid and foul it will nearly knock you off your feet. You get used to the assault on the senses (particularly olfactory) that travel in Asia provides, but the odor that wafts about when durian is in the vicinity must surely be considered a crime against humanity.
It seems incredibly shortsighted now, but back when Tony & I were planning this trip, we were so focused on the places we would visit and the sights we would see that we gave no thought to the people we might meet and the ways they would change our journey. Looking back, I find it so hard to believe that we could have neglected this aspect of travel, a facet that I have now come to view as critical and the true motivating factor that keeps us going. In the end, it has never been the monuments or the beaches or even the food, that ultimately determines how much we fall head over heels for a country (though those things certainly play some role), but the people we have met and connected with while there.