Saturday, 19 November 2011

Lemon and mint drink chill-out

This refreshing drink appears to be a favourite in the Middle East countries.  I couldn't get enough of this, and drank it at least once a day.  Simply, it's lemonade served with liberal amounts of chopped mint leaves.  It's tangy, citrusy and minty all at once - very refreshing too.  I also discovered that there were many variations to this drink.  The variations are in the amount of mint and whether it's chopped, bruised or whizzed in the blender.

Luck was upon me as the neighbourhood grocer had lemons on sale - 5 for $5, cheap eh?  The mint was plucked fresh from our little backyard garden.  Did you know that you can grow mint by sticking the stems into the ground?  That's how we grew ours.

our backyard mint peeking out from the pandan
Ingredients:5 lemons
10 tbsp white sugar (adjust to taste but I used 2 tbsp to each lemon)
1 handful mint
1 litre water

Method:1.  Make the syrup - bring 500ml water to boil and stir in the sugar to dissolve.  Allow to cool.
2.  Use only the mint leaves, discard the stems.  Finely chop the mint.
3.  Squeeze the lemons to extract the juice. 
4.  Throw everything together into a jug; water, juice, syrup, mint and give it a good stir
5.  Chill and serve over ice.

Notes :For a lighter mint flavour, bruise the mint with a rolling pin instead of chopping it.
I prefer using white sugar as brown sugar gives the drink an oxidised rusty colour.
You can serve this with sparkling water - it gives it a nice fizzy zing.
For even more zing, splash with some Bacardi for a Mojito :)

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Middle-East eats

Not being very familiar with middle eastern cuisine, I did try some during my short visit to the Persian Gulf countries recently.

Arabic coffee, not to be confused with Arabica which is a coffee specie, is brewed coffee flavoured with cardamom.  When I was first served this, I thought it tasted weird until the aroma reminded me of chai - then bingo! Cardamom!  Don't expect Starbucks sizes for Arabic coffee though - it's usually served in a cup which is similar to the Chinese tea cup and meant to be sipped.  It can be an acquired taste especially if you're not used to the cardamon flavour, but being used to Indian spices I rather enjoyed drinking it.  It probably uses very light roast because the coffee has a light green tinge to it - not the usual dark brew that we're used to seeing.

A meal will normally start with mezze - Arabic mezze is what tapas is to the Spanish.  There's usually a basket of bread, hummus (chickpea dip), baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), tabbouleh (bulgur wheat salad), fatoush (green salad with pieces of pita), olives.  This is probably the most basic of mezze, and I'm told it can be as elaborate as 40 dishes or more.  Not being very partial to fatoush, I devoured the dips with gusto. 

Bread and dips at a neighbourhood restaurant

Courgette stuffed with rice


A jaunt to Souq Wakif in Doha led Y and I to Tagine Restaurant - as the name suggests it serves Moroccan cuisine.  It must have been football night; it was packed and we were led to the rooftop for our table.  Being a newbie at this, I left the orders to Y.  There was complimentary olives with a chilli salsa and we ordered vegetable couscous,lamb tagine and a green salad to start.  The couscous was very fluffy, and just right to absorb all that lovely juices from the lamb tagine.  And the lamb was so tender, it was falling off the bone. 

Morrocan dinner

We wanted mint tea without sugar which shocked the waiter to no end. No sugar?! Are you sure?  Yup - the tea is served so very sweet.  I bet dentists do a roaring trade here.  Shisha is popular and you'll see local men enveloped in a haze puffing great clouds of the sweet cloying smoke.
mint tea
It wasn't all just middle-eastern food though, there are other cuisines available especially in the malls.  I just had to add this in for variety :)  croissants and capuccino at Paul's.

breakfast at Paul's @ Villagio

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

48 hours in Doha

48 hours in Doha - that was the extent of my layover.  Doha is a puddle-jump from Dubai (only 45 minutes by flight) but that jump comes with a 1 hour time difference. Sigh.

Being in a desert city, I've realised how I've been taking our greenery for granted.  In Doha, sidewalks
are almost always not completed - it's just dirt. Grass, shrubs and trees in public areas are almost non-existent unless you're in an upmarket suburb.  And the landscape is primarily sand coloured - sand coloured houses behind walls, scrubby brown bush, desert sand, tan coloured mosques...after 1 day, I even missed our lallang.

houses are usually built behind high walls
Doha is also a city of a gazillion roundabouts - every other intersection is a roundabout which must be a bloody nightmare during peak hours to navigate.  There's also some sort of pecking order to the vehicles there, with Land Cruisers at the top of the food chain.  I guess if an SUV came hurtling behind you with its lights flashing and with no indication that it'll slow down, it's prudent to get out of the way.

I thought these are interesting street lights
Construction work is rife here, and the landscape is dotted with the national bird - cranes (haha, get it?).

view of buildings under construction from the Pearl
Managed to make a trip to the desert this time.  We were supposed to go to the Singing Dunes, but with almost non-existent road signs and relying only on google map, this wasn't meant to be.  So we drove in the approximate direction until the road literally ran out into the desert.

end of road....literally

walking off into the desert
 If bargaining is your cup of mint tea, Souq Wakif is the place for you.  It's a fully functional traditional market and you'll find everything from spices, perfumes, clothes, carpets to kitschy souvenirs and animals ( I saw rabbits, birds, cats for sale).  Haggling is expected here, so don't jump at the seller's first offer.  You'll find tourists and locals alike here.  The sellers don't loudly push you to buy or hassle you at all and leave you in relative peace to browse. There are also a lot of restaurants and shisha cafes here.  I noticed that there weren't any Arab women at the shisha cafes, if there were females, they were Westerners.  Restaurants ranged from Indian, Lebanese, Turkish, Morrocan to Baskin-Robbins.

assorted spices for sale

handicrafts and souvenirs

shisha break at a cafe - only men and western women
Not about to be beaten by Dubai in the mall stakes, Doha has the Villagio.  Villagio is modelled after Venice, complete with a canal running along the length of the mall, gondolas and ceilings painted to look like blue skies.  If you've been to the Venetian in Macau, you'll understand what I mean.  It's stocked with major western brands you can think of - although the window displays are more modest, in line with the conservative society.  In comparison with Dubai, Qatari women are more covered up, with more than a few fully veiled.   There's also the Pearl which is super-duper upmarket.  It's so upmarket that there's hardly any pedestrian traffic there, which makes you wonder how the boutiques pay the rent. 

Learning that Doha malls practised family days, I initially thought "wow, how pro-family!"  I later learnt that this is a form of discrimination to prevent single riff-raff (read foreign workers mainly from Bangladesh, India, Nepal) from thronging the malls on weekends.  However, the family unit is important in Doha - you'll see large family sizes, hyperactive children are tolerated and McDonald's features humongous Playplaces prominently.

48 hours is more than sufficient for a visit, unless you intend to watch all 80 episodes of "Shaun the Sheep" to kill time.
Katara cultural village

giant bird houses at Katara

zig zag buildings

amphitheatre at Katara - very Gladiator-like

Tallest building in Doha - Aspire tower also known as the Torch for the 2006 Asian Games

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Arabian nights in Dubai

the iconic sail-like Burj al Arab
I wonder if spending a couple of nights in the Persian Gulf region qualifies as Arabian nights?  Exotic visions of Arabian nights went up in a poof when I stepped foot in Dubai.  1st impressions? Ultra-modern city, no expense spared skyscrapers co-existing with a mosque every 500 metres.  It was remarkably like a faceless US city plonked in the middle of the dessert, albeit with shinier taller buildings and non-stop construction.

Dubai boasts of accolades - world's tallest building (Burj al Khalifa), world's best hotel (Burj al Arab), 1st indoor ski slope in the Middle-East(Ski Dubai), artificial islands of Palm Jumeirah and the World (why would you need artificial islands?!) are amongst some of them.

Whizzing along the highways, you'll see a plethora of brand new skyscrapers, and some more frenzied construction; but with a population of approximately 2 million (of which 80% are non-locals), you wonder if they are all going to be fully occupied.

Unfortunately for me, my trip agenda was packed out with meetings all day followed by dinners.  This didn't leave much time for any exploring. 

So armed with my "things to do in Dubai" list, here's how it went :
  1. The nearest I got to the desert and sand was the view from the airplane window.

    2. Camels? Only saw the pop kitsch statues that were scattered around the hotel.
    variety of spices sold in Carrefour
3.  Spice market - sadly, the only spice market I saw was in Carrefour. Managed to make a quick dash to Mall of Emirates one evening for spice supplies. While Carrefour may not be the most exotic of places, it has an amazing range of spices, nuts and dried fruits with English labels so it's very convenient and easy.  No haggling.  No chicken-duck talk.  The MOE is where the indoor ski slope is too. 
    fountain at Burj al Arab lobby area
4.  Burj al Arab, the world's first 7-star hotel -  check.  Great views from the hotel, and luckily just a 5 minute trot away too.  Managed to gawk at this opulently and lavishedly decorated hotel.  What can I say? I was blinged out. The interior is done in vibrant gem colours of fuschia, purples, blues, greens and all that gold everywhere.  It's like King Midas ran amok in there.  Good thing I had my trusty Ray-Bans with me.  It's still a gawk-worthy hotel, with the floor-to-ceiling aquariums flanking the lobby and boasting the tallest lobby atrium.
    Burj al Khalifa - tallest tower in the world
5.  Burj al Khalifa -  caught this as I was being whisked to the airport.
    selection of mezze
    Ourzi with rice
6.  Taste of Arabian mezze - check. Lucky for me, every meal started with the ubiquitous flatbreads served with multitudes of hummous, baba ghanoush, tabouleh, olives and a vast assortment of salads.  Suffice to say, I was very happy just tucking into the mezze.  Dinner one night had a roast lamb dish served with pilaf.  It was called ourzi.  Being a sucker for anything lamb, I thought it was fab.

Dubai is a city somewhat contradictory city; ultra-modern city and ostentatious wealth flaunted coupled with a shocking lack of social responsibility ( I've seen people littering without a thought in the malls), Chanel clutching women, covered head to toe with their Loubotins peeking from under their black abayas...While I've barely scratched the surface with this visit, Dubai is probably worth a look only if you are in the region and have a day or 2 to kill.  It hasn't rated yet an entry in my bucket list.

Jumeirah Beach Hotel looks like a sail

suburb in Jumeirah area

one of many mosques dotting the city

playground for the rich

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