Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Food on a stick

Easter is a time in Australia that is usually reserved for religious contemplation and family get togethers.

It is also the time of the Royal Easter Show.

I have never been to the Sydney Royal Easter Show. This is probably due to the fact that I've only been in Sydney for three years. However, the fact remains that I haven't been to ANY Easter show since I was about 8 years old.
This was a little bit exciting for me. I was probably a bit too excited to be honest, particularly since I'm not a child.
Still, I was determined that this would be a fun day. It was an opportunity to go and look at the rural displays and the farming exhibits.
Everyone seemed happy to pet the baby animals and we even saw the "Fonzy", the world's biggest Holstein Fresian bull..... oh the amazement of it all!
My brother and I ran off at one point from everyone else in order to get into the true spirit of the day with some carnie rides. After a couple of fast spinning rides, I was close to throwing up, but persevered on.

The most important part of this day for me was the carnie food.

I was determined. This day would only involve eating food that came served on a stick.
The show provided more than ample opportunity for me to achieve this goal.
Who knew that food on a stick was such a prevalent thing?
I was even able to indulge in my love of the show "Arrested Development" by eating a frozen banana from a frozen banana stand.
There are definite disadvantages to eating food on a stick. The main one being the incredible illness that seems to follow....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Big casinos

The casinos in Macau are so imposing. Like small mountains rising out of the ground.
The most imposing of all of these casinos is the Venetian.

This thing is huge.

It is so huge that on the inside, it has recreated a city scene of Venice for it's shopping mall section. This is including the canals and all!
You get a surreal feeling wandering through this false reality.

The attempt to recreate Venice in this clearly fake manner is done with such care and detail, and yet this seems to bring it even further from being the reality.
Wandering through the gigantic halls of the Venetian, I found myself lost on numerous occasions. I was constantly searching for the maps in a futile attempt to find my bearings, but this usually only helped for a few moments. Everywhere you walk within the Venetian, there are sights to see.
As you walk through the main halls, it is genuinely impressive. It is hard not to look at what they have created with awe. It is a symbol of humanity's ability to build and create.
I also found it interesting as a symbol of humanity's ability to warp and distort though. Wandering past the singing gondoliers, I remembered when I had been here a few years ago and had been confronted by Italian gondoliers shipped in for the purpose of singing to the patrons. It has clearly been a long time since then.
The Italian gondoliers have now been replaced by what I am assuming, is their non-union Chinese equivalents.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Annoyingly unfortunate

My trip to Macau also gave me the opportunity to further embrace my love of Cirque du Soleil.

The Venetian is the location of the Cirque show "Zaia"!

This was going to be exciting. I had only worked in and seen big top shows. This would be my first ever experience of one of Cirque's arena shows.
I was feeling very excited!
I wandered up to the ticketing desk and with a big grin said "One adult for tonight's show please!"
The man behind the counter looked at me blankly.

"There are no shows on tonight sir".

Oh no....

Oh no no no!!!!

There were no shows on for the entire period I was in Macau. The show was on holiday.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Beautiful Macau

Macau gets alot of tourists these days. And I do mean ALOT!

The tourists from mainland China are literally pouring in across the borders. They are arriving by boats, trains, buses and on the planes.

Yet surprisingly, the small enclave of Macau really doesn't feel that packed or crowded. The thousands upon thousands of tourists charging into Macau have certainly made the place more lively, but not to a detrimental level.
Macau has still kept its colonial feel. The streets still have the old cobble stones, the buildings have not been torn down and replaced with glass and steel monstrosities and there is a beautiful combination of Portuguese and Chinese buildings. I love being able to wander around in this amalgamation of Europe and Asia. It makes me feel as though I'm somehow wandering through some sort of alternative universe where Europe and Asia developed in unison.
Strangely enough, I also get the same feelings I had when I was walking through Istanbul. However, there the coming together of East and West was more subtle and blended, whereas here there were stark contrasts between the Western and the Eastern.
From most vantage points, the evidence of the growing modernisation of Macau could be seen.

Standing at the very top of the ruins of St Paul's, you can see the imposing silhouette of the enormous Grand Lisboa.

This huge casino is one of the many casinos that has brought the tourists to Macau. It's also one of the reasons that I'm able to enjoy Macau without too much distraction.
In a strange paradox, the tourist boom that has resulted from the casinos has also protected Macau from being completely overwhelmed. The casinos have had the effect of containing the tourists within their own complexes. The majority of the people coming to Macau find themselves moving from one casino complex to another, with only quick tours to the important tourist checklist items. The casinos have become self contained worlds for the tourists that do not need to be exited. They cater to every gambling need and want.
For me, this entire situation is fantastic.

Macau feels livelier for the tourist influx, but still buffered from feeling overwhelming.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Macanese treats

My love of the former Portuguese colony of Macau is not limited to the architecture and streets. A big part of my love for Macau stems from the food.

Over the years, I have spent an enormous amount of time gorging myself on Macanese cuisine, which is an amalgamation of the cooking cultures of Portugal and Southern China, along with a smattering of South East Asian, Indian and even African influences.

Of particular importance to me were the Portuguese egg tarts.
Portuguese egg tarts, or "Pastel de nata" are a Macanese specialty. They combine the delicate egg custard with the light crispy pastry with the crunchy sweet caramelised bases.

I probably went a bit overboard with the number I ate, but I couldn't help it. I knew that this would be the last decent Portuguese tarts I'd be having for a while, so I ensured that I gorged myself appropriately. I've had "Portuguese egg tarts" in other countries and back home in Australia, but it's just not the same. In fact, it's worse than not the same, they're usually terrible. The egg custard normally tastes bland, the pastry chewy and there is almost always a lack of the crunch that I have come to expect.

That being said, eating 12 in a day was probably still excessive....
The other Macanese specialty I decided to focus on this trip was the pork chop bun.

Unlike the Portuguese egg tarts, there really isn't a standard to expect with these pork chop buns. Every store seems to have their own take on the pork chop as well as the bun. For the pork chop, some places deep fry, other shallow fry, some are crumbed, some are marinated. It's completely up to the maker of the pork chop. I found one shop in particular that marinated their pork chops in a curry sauce. For the bread, a portuguese roll is normally used, but some places vary to use other breads such as chinese style steamed buns. All of these is served with no garnish. Why would you need a garnish when you have so much flavour and texture from the pork chop and bun already?
Even in the most touristy of touristy places, the Venetian, I was still able to get my fix of a pork chop bun.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Macanese adventure

I was sick of being bored by the monotony of Hong Kong. The constant sameness of the streets was starting to get me down. How much pleasure can a person derive from moving from shopping centre to shopping centre?

The crush of humanity was also weighing on me. I needed to go somewhere that wasn't as crowded and where the pace of life was slower.

The answer to my troubles were very simple.

Starring me in the face really.

It was time to leave Hong Kong and make my traditional side trip to Macau.
Macau both calms and excites me all at the same time.

I love this place! It's quite possibly one of my favourite places in Asia.
Unlike other parts of Asia, the old colonial heart of Macau hasn't been flattened. It remains an important part of the modern developments.

And besides all of that, the place is just pretty.

It's a lovely old city that isn't just a mass of concrete, steel and glass.
Can you feel the serenity?

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Canto cuisine

There's something about cantonese cuisine that really doesn't seem to grab my attention in the same way it used to when I was younger.
This is the food of my childhood, the food I had at home and that I still consider to be my personal comfort food. It's all delicious as well. There's a combination of texture and flavours that is completely missing in the cooking in the West.
But for some strange reason, I really didn't feel it this recent trip to Hong Kong. I have returned to Australia feeling as though nothing really stood out, feeling as though there was nothing eaten that was memorable or particularly amazing.
Not that anything was bad, it was all good, fresh food. It was food that highlighted the natural flavours of the ingredients and brought people together as all good Cantonese cuisine does.
And still, I found myself a bit bored with it all.

I found myself lacking the desire to try new dishes, returning instead over and over again to the same old tea house for their strong tea and hot pineapple buns.
It leads me to wondering whether my palate has changed or whether I have lost the desire for trying new things entirely?

Monday, April 04, 2011

Being traditional

The real reason I went on my trip to Hong Kong was to be a good grandson.

My grandmother was having her 80th birthday, and this was an event that I had promised to attend for years.

It was something I had definitely been looking forward to. Not only would it give me the opportunity to finally see many relatives whom I had never had the opportunity to meet, it would also give me the opportunity to take part in some truly traditional Chinese customs.

For one thing, it was around Chinese New Year that I went. Chinese New Year involves numerous givings and receivings of "Red Packets" which are little envelopes filled with money. As a child, this period could be very important for your yearly finances, and yet I had never experienced the sheer magnitude of a Hong Kong Chinese New Year. There was lots of work to do to help my mother with the preparations of her Red Packets to provide to others.
Eventually, this was all done and I was able to actually wander in and wish my grandmother a happy birthday.
And it was so much fun!

As a mark of respect, in Chinese culture, there serving of tea is to the elders.
This seemed like fun! So I ever so gingerly bent down onto my surgically reconstructed knee and did the traditionally upstanding thing and served my grandmother tea.
However, standing up was still a touch difficult and we had to wait until some other relatives came over to help me get up!