2016: A Year In Review

7 measly posts this year! Well, 8 if you count this one....

And I can't believe that I didn't post a year in review for 2015! I was looking very hard for it, to see if I feel the same way, or if generally things have been rosier this year. But non to be seen! grumble grumble....

Now, let's see... 2016 has largely been devoted to earning an Advanced Diploma in Pastry Arts. I've learnt so much, coming from someone who barely knows the difference between sugar and brown sugar, to baking and decorating a good friend's wedding cake! Not too shabby, I reckon.

Coming back to KL after a few years' hiatus, has been a different experience. I enjoyed this year much better than I did, back then. I got around to cooking more often, at my own place and even started dancing airborne... pole dancing! 

New countries visited this year is at an all-time low, hehe. We did visit Turkey for the first time (highly enjoyable and such a charismatic country!), and then Brunei for V's project.

Those long locks are gone now, too. They look pretty and everything but I hated the fuss of blow-drying after washing them, and the tangles that sneak into your hair! Right on, chop 'em off. Btw, this photo is after a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia in Turkey.

I've not blogged much on Brunei - I must get on with it - there are a number of favourite restaurant haunts that I would love to share! 

Also been busy creating a new website largely focusing on pastries - will reveal it once it's ready! 

Overall, it's been a great year of learning and discovering my newfound passion in baking. Next year, this spatula-wielding will be put to good use, I promise!

Aaaaaand for New Year's Eve, my parents and I are celebrating with dinner in a Japanese restaurant (Dad insists on treating us), and then probably early bed so I can be up for a morning jog the next day :) now THAT is bliss!

Happy New Year, roll on 2017!

Kapadokya: An Aerial View

Smack in the center of Turkey with a vast and rugged terrain is Kapadokya. The region strongly reminds us of the rough but ethereal beauty of Damaraland in Namibia. My biggest regret this trip was not packing in my DSLR as photo ops here are abundant!

The weather could have been better too. It was quite warm! On the bright side (heh), long daylight hours and it wasn't humid.

We took the flight from Istanbul's Ataturk airport to Nevsehir. Relatively short flight - just slightly over an hour. 

We got straight to business as soon as we dropped off our luggages at the hotel (Sultan Caves Hotel - they claimed to be a cave hotel, but it was a faux!) and rented mountain bikes to explore Kapadokya.

Hardy choice! It was tough riding on the mostly sandy terrain - no traction but that's, um, part of the fun! (that is, if you're into self-inflicted pain). Hardly surprising we were the only ones on MTBs - others, with more sense, were in ATVs, motorcycles and even horses, I kid you not.

Check out the landscape - funky phallic boulders (a lot of them look an awful lot like the menhirs Obelix transports!! Ah, fond memories of them Asterix comics), barren mountains.... all looking like a scene out of Ants.

Under the shade, it is quite pleasant. But the barren terrain means minimal protection from the sun and within 2-3 hours of riding, I was sweating buckets. The heat eventually got unbearable and increasingly uncomfortable to enjoy the scenery. 

So we made a pit stop at a village - and discovered a little gem of an eatery.

And just opposite the eatery was this view:

Breads baked with a traditional wood fire oven. The two men worked methodically, churning beautifully baked bread every time.

Those beautiful golden bread - fantastic! Pillow-soft on the inside, and just slightly chewy in texture.

Then there was this roasted lamb thingie - with spices, tomatoes and the likes. It was a little on the greasy side, but hey, we were both starved after a monstrous workout.

After a couple more hours of baking in the sun, I called it quits, I know... shameful... - I had started to develop a mild headache. Vinnie continued on while I crashed in our faux cave hotel room.

Restaurant choices weren't exactly highly rated in the area, and we settled for the restaurant at our hotel, Seten. Because a quick search gave us above average reviews of the place. Huge mistake! It was easily the worst meal we've had in Turkey - incredibly sour entree of lemon fish of some sort, some very salty dishes and nonchalant service.

After that disappointing dinner, an early bed was in order for the following day's sunrise hot air balloon ride. Only I went for the hot air balloon - Vinnie preferred to sleep in (and also heights don't match his hair...). I was told to be ready at 4am (gasp!!!) and a shuttle to the hot air balloon office is arranged.

A number of guests from our hotel were picked up at 4am, and dropped off at the hot air balloon agency. After a quick registration and signing our lives away, we were ushered to take breakfast. Some rushed to the loo to get business out of the way, heh, no toilets in the balloon. Finally, we were asked to board the vans and for a 10-minute ride to the launching field. Honestly, the whole breakfast affair could have been scrapped and I could have gotten an extra 45 minutes of sleep... grumble grumble.

I was keen to capture shots of the sun rising but by the time we got to the launching field, it was a quarter past five...... It isn't looking well - sun rises at 5:30am in these parts! 

I was starting to get just the slightest bit annoyed. The whole breakfast affair was unnecessary, in my opinion. And I started bugging our pilot, Kaan. I applied pressure on him, asking if we are able to take flight before the sun rises because I had signed up for the balloon ride for photos, and he confidently said of course. But I suspect he had to change the order of flights so we could take off first. We were initially scheduled to launch last but we eventually went second last.

Hehe. I call this, the Asian basket.

Each hot air balloon basket has a capacity of 16 pax. The baskets are partitioned into 4 sections, with a maximum of 4 to each section. On that day, there were 12 of us (we were all Asians! Now, I wonder if they do a racial segmentation?!), so there will be 3 to each partition.

When the balloon was ready to load us in, I was assigned to a section with an Indian couple. As I started to clamber into the basket, the female said, "sorry, this is only for 2 pax". Me, already annoyed at the increasingly late departure, snarked, "oh? Got yourselves VIP seats?", and continued climbnig in through her displeasure while her boyfriend gave me an apologetic smile, hehe.

I know, I know, I am such a bundle of joy.

And, we're off!

Up, up and awaaaaayy!

Totally mindblown with the scenery.

An hour of airborne later, we got ready for landing. I have to give credit to our pilot. He was extremely skillful, narrowly dodging cliffs and, get this, we landed RIGHT onto the trailer upon landing! That's some serious maneuvering there!

Breakfast champagne and snacks to celebrate our safe landing -- I suspect it was the champagne that eventually gave me a stomachache the whole evening...

Even got a certificate from hitching a ride ;)

I got back to the hotel close to 8:30am, and crashed for an hour. In the midst of a stomach discomfort, we booked a day tour to visit the highlights of Kapadokya. My favourite was touring an underground city which was 7 levels below ground! The openings are narrow and can sometimes only fit one person, so people had to take turns going in and out!

It's like stepping into an air-conditioned room as soon as you enter the caves, a welcome respite from the heat.

Stopped for lunch at this beautiful apple tree orchard:

And that's the last of the Turkey series! Wish we could have explored more of Turkey but with the current circumstances, we were lucky to be able to fit a week in.

Istanbul: From Kofte to Sütlaç

What an amazing gastronomic adventure to be had in this wonderful country!

We had a grand time gorging ourselves silly on succulent kebabs, with a tantalising combination of fruit with meat, and of course, sickly sweet desserts!

Starting with our dinner at the Sultanahmet Köftecisi.

When we arrived at some time past 7pm, there was already a long line snaking from the restaurant! I was shocked, are the Turks a lot like Malaysian and Singaporeans on the inside? Patience to queue for good food? No matter how long it takes?

Well, fortunately for us, the answer is not quite. The queue was meant for the iftar crowd: they were in line for dusk to set in before grabbing seats. So we got a table immediately. Phew.

Of course, V will have a different version on how we managed to get seats quickly.


These totally rocked my world! Check out the glistening meat on that Izgara Köfte Porsiyon (bottom on photo) - Grilled beef meatballs with onion, salt and bread. Comes with pickled green chilli (packs a spicy punch!) and some sambal. The sambal wasn't particularly spicy nor very flavourful. So the focus is all on the preparation of the delicious meatballs.

Above the köfte is Lamb Shesh Kebap - tastes so-so (can you tell that we're both very spoiled in the food department?). The accompanying bread was very flat, meh. The texture was too dry, bread wasn't fresh and for heaven's sake, at least toast it if it's stale! That would have made so much difference.

Still the kofte was so good, we were back for more - lunch the following day

This time, we opted for the takeaway sandwich and took it to the Hippodrome park (I was educated by a very distinguished historian that this was where the race of hippos take place. Maybe I'll bring my pet hippo here some other time). Again, that annoyingly dry bread does not do the köfte justice!

Sultanahmet Köftecisi
Alemdar Mh., Divan Yolu Cd No12
34122 Fatih, Istanbul

We scored another big win, thanks to V:

This was located on the Asian side of Istanbul. We took the novel ferry across the Bosphorus Strait to Kadikoy. Being wiser after a false alarm with queues for iftar the night before, we arrived well and early, ahead of dusk.

A recommendation by the friendly waiter - kebab with cherries. The saltiness of the kebab goes superbly with the sweetness of the cherries (which is in season). Delish!

Even the colours are inviting us to tuck in!

Perde Pilavi : Rice cooked with pine nuts, chicken and raisins and baked in dough. The external bread -shell was quite hard and tough to chew. The rice and nuts was fantastic though, crunchy and flavourful. I am totally digging the whole savoury combination with pine nuts and fruit!
Check out the colours!

That thingie at 2 o'clock was amazeballs - Iskandar kebab (Must have forgotten to take a solo photo!). Marinated beef and grilled, served with pickled green chilli and a dollop of yoghurt - we wiped it clean.

Çiya Sofrasi
Caferaga, Günesli Bahçe Sk No43

Simit (a bagel of sorts with sesame seeds) and coffee are quintessential to the Turkish breakfast. Peddlers selling simit and other Turkish breads are ubiquitous in this city, along with corn and chestnut peddlers. Grilled corn is simply addictive! We have had countless number of corns - so juicy!

My take on the Turkish coffee: it was really quite bitter and very strong. I noticed the coffee is always served with a glass of water - for good reasons, so you better not refuse that glass!

Hamsi Tava - Deep fried anchovies served on a bed of rocket leaves with a squeeze of lemon juice - another addictive snack! We were supposed to share this but V hates the strong smell of fish so it was all up to me to clean this plate up hehe. We spotted this small eatery while browsing through the Spice market. It was small and cramped, but damn, those anchovies were yummy.

Just your friendly neighbourhood hamsi tava seller.

More firsts: Turkish pide, washed down with Turkish beer.

Here's a tip. If it's oblong, it's pide. If it's round, it's pizza.

Moving on, dinner at Zübeyir, courtesy of V's searches again. I gotta give him credit - he's done all the food research this trip. Usually the foodie is me but look how much he's grown now (literally!! hehe), so proud of you! :D

It has a little roasting pit right in the middle of the first floor of the restaurant. Good hood though, cos we caught no sniff of that thick smoke.

Fantastic breads! Soft on the inside, crunchy shell on the outside. Paired with a yoghurt and roasted red pepper dip - oh my.

A kebab platter for sharing - roasted chicken, lamb and beef.

V contemplating where to start first.

Zübeyir Oçakbasi
Şehit Muhtar Mh. Bekar Sk. No 28 

A delightful breakfast we had in Beyoglu - a small cafe tucked in a residential area. I wasn't expecting much, until we were served with a soft bread and clotted cream with honey. I couldn't stuff myself enough!

That glorious honey.... and clotted cream. Carve this on your must-eat list in this lifetime. Seriously.

Menemen: a scrambled egg dish with tomatoes, peas and of course, sucuk (beef sausages), if you are Mr V.

My breakfast of pancake stuffed with sucuk - was alright - much preferred the menemen actually, as a breakfast option.

Van Kahvalti Evi
Kiliçali pasa mah, Defretdar yokusu 52/A

Climaxing to the creme de la creme:

(This is where we were headed and the whole neighbourhood disapproves of my 'revealing' outfit)....

We had a lot of fun picking out our dinner! Too many tempting options -- A little trivia, Asitane offers historical renditions of the Ottoman cuisine. The menu includes the year a particular dish was created! 

We arrived for lunch - and were the only diners in the establishment.

Stuffed Vine Leaves with Sour Cherries (1844)
Grape leaves stuffed with blend of sour cherries, rice, onions, pine nuts. Cooked lightly in olive oil and seasoned with black pepper and cinnamon.

The combination worked really well: grape leaves was ever-so-slightly crisp, with a soft center of cherries, rice and an intermittent crunch of pine nuts.

Stuffed Calamari with Shrimps: Oven baked calamari, stuffed with blend of rice, pine nuts and currants; flavoured with cinnamon and fresh mint.

Delicious! I absolutely loved the combination of calamari, rice and pine nuts - that crunch! And coupled with peppery rocket leaves.... perfection!

"Mahmudiyye" (1539)
Cinnamon and clove flavoured chicken stew cooked with apricots, Rezaki raisins and almonds.

The flavours in this dish was mild - not quite spicy, not quite sweet and not quite salty. Interesting idea but not wild about its execution...

Stuffed Melon (1539)
Cored melon stuffed with a blend of minced meat, rice, herbs, almonds, currants and baked in the oven.

This is our fave of the lot (along with the calamari with rice). The juicy, sweet melon complemented wonderfully with the minced meat, currants and nuts. Lip-smacking!

As much as we loved the food prepared by Asitane, I find it lacking in a certain something (je ne sais quoi?), and would have gone back to Çiya Sofrasi in a hearbeat. You know how no matter the premium ingredients a hotel could incorporate in their dishes, but the street side hawker's version still tastes better? This metaphor is apt in the case of Asitane vs Çiya Sofrasi.... Although an accomplished gastronomer may opine that they are both incomparable. 

Kariye Camii Sokak No6
34240 Edirnekapi, Istanbul

And to top off our culinary adventure - our favourite dessert in Turkey:

The Sütlaç! Caramelized milk pudding, served chilled. I fell in love with this from the first bite! It reminds me so much of the steamed milk pudding in Hong Kong. Wow, wow and wow. Can't get enough of it. But we only tried out this dessert on our last day in Istanbul! Wish we had more of this than the pile of baklavas.... Admittedly, that may have been a blessing in disguise.....

Saray Muhallebicisi
Kuloğlu Mh., Istiklal Caddesi No:105, 
34433 Beyoğlu

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