Categories
Tourism Malaysia

Japan in My Backyard

There is a third reason why I am not booking the next flight to Japan. Why bother splurging a huge chunk of my moolah on travelling costs and enroll myself in a Japanese language course when Japan is right at my backdoor? Okay, I may have exaggerated just a tad here. The Japan I’m referring to is the Japanese Garden at Bukit Tinggi, Pahang. So, it’s not exactly at my backdoor but it’s just under an hour’s drive from Kuala Lumpur. Compared to the real Japan, it’s practically only a hop and a skip away from my abode.

It’s one of the main pulling factors for my rather regular visits to Bukit Tinggi. As for authenticity, it’s the first of its kind outside Japan. This is as close as you can get to the country itself, short of going directly there. Situated 3,500 feet above sea level, the air is refreshingly cool and crisp. Everywhere you look, there are trees and plants all around. It’s such a surreal experience walking on the nicely pebbled paths amidst all that greenery. Now Japanese folks are huge fans of water and celebrate many water festivals in their homeland. At the Japanese Garden, the love for water is represented by the man-made waterfall, a koi pond and the gentle stream – all which made picturesque backdrops for photo taking. Plenty of folks visit the garden armed with at least a point and shoot camera while a growing number lug their dSLRs and tripods along.

Not to be outdone, I would bring my camera along for every trip there. No matter how many times I’ve been to the Japanese gardens, there’s always something new to capture. There’s the beguiling botanical garden with breathtakingly exquisite flowers and plants not commonly seen in warmer terrains. A quaint little Japanese hut is also there for people to creep into and pose for pictures. You can even rent a Kimono on a half-hourly basis and pose all you want around the garden. How’s that for a dose of Japanese culture?

And speaking of culture, you should not miss the very strange unique Japanese tea ceremony at the Japanese Tea House, for a fee, of course. According to reliable sources, folks from Japan actually came over to verify the authenticity of this tea ceremony and they affirmed that it was performed correctly to the core. Believe you me, there are a LOT of rules to follow in a Japanese tea ceremony. Heck, they even have 6-month courses for such a thing! It seems that one needs to be certified before being deemed fit to be invited for such a tea ceremony that are held during birthdays and other special occasions.

First, you need to wash your hands at the door step. Upon entering the house of the host, you have to stop to admire the scrolls hung on the wall, the kettle and hearth before taking your place on the tatami mat. You cannot sit anywhere you like for the host will give you the evil eye and put you in your place faster than you can say, “Ichiban!”. Next, the lady of the house will go through the laborious rituals of making tea with traditional tools. Once the tea is served, you can’t gulp it down immediately. You need to rotate and admire the tea bowl before shifting it to your neighbour and ask for permission to drink it.

The tea is both strong and frothy and must be finished in three sips. If it meets your approval, you must make a loud slurpy noise at the end of your third sip. After finishing the tea, you need to admire the tea bowl again. All this admiring business really takes the cake of the strangest customs of the world. There is a good reason to pause and ponder at the beauty of tea bowl’s design – it’s a sign of respect to the host.

Japanese tea ceremonies are very serious occasions. One must be silent most of the time and a typical tea ceremony can last up to 4 hours. My express session with my media friends only took about 20 minutes but even being silent for that long in a ‘tea party’ was rather unbearable. I couldn’t imagine doing something that serious for my birthday. But still, it was a good experience and should be experienced at least once in your lifetime.

To unwind with one of the best Shiatsu massages in town, head over to Tatami Spa. The prices are gobsmackingly expensive but it’s worth every sen. The rooms are carpeted with the signature tatami mat with some of them overlooking a lovely private garden. Only the soothing sounds of flowing water is there to tantalise your ears as you drift off to bliss while being kneaded by the expert hands of the lovely masseurs.

And should hunger pangs strike you after all that walking, tea drinking and massage, there’s no better place to relax and refuel than the Ryo Zan Tei Japanese Restaurant. It’s purported to be the only Japanese restaurant in Malaysia to be shrouded in a tropical rainforest. I love the amazing view the restaurant offered as I chewed on my delicious bento set and sip on the sake. A feast for both the eyes and the stomach, I’d say.

Maybe someday, when I have more spare cash than I know what to do with, I’d go to Japan for real. Until then, Bukit Tinggi’s Japanese Garden suits me just fine.

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Categories
Cuisine in Melaka

CHITTY COMMUNITY OF MELAKA

Kuala Lumpur, March 15 (IANS) Malaysia’s tiny Chitty community, which came here from India long before the Europeans and the Chinese, wants to be designated ‘bumiputra’ – sons of the soil – to preserve its identity.

Nearly 1,500 families settled in Malacca are the descendants of the Chittis who came here in the 14th century. With their number dwindling, they are hopeful of being given bumiputra status, just like the Portuguese settlers.

Bumiputa status is reserved for the majority Malays and is enshrined in Malaysia’s constitution.

They should not be confused with the Chettiar community. While the Chettiars are moneylenders by trade, the Chittys are traders who arrived in Malacca in the 14th century. After 600 years of living in this country, the community has adopted many local customs to create a culture which is uniquely theirs, says a website of the community.

The Chittys are Indian traders who came from the southern part of India, namely Kalinga in the Coromandel coast, during the days of the spice trade.

Malacca Chitty Association secretary K. Nadarajan Raja feels the community should be recognised in view of its historical roots in the state.

Nadarajan said community leaders also plan to meet Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Malacca Chief Minister Mohammed Ali Rustam to request bumiputra status.

‘The Chitty came here during the reign of founder Parameswara, long before the Europeans.

‘We are appealing for bumi status as a way to preserve our identity as a community which existed here since ancient times.

‘Conceptions that the Chitty community was brought by the British to serve as government officers and estate workers are wrong,’ he told The Star.

Nadarajan said many also confuse the Chitty as moneylenders or Chettiars.

‘We are also known as Chitty Melaka or Malacca Straits-born Hindus or Indian Peranakan,’ he explained.

He said they are the descendants of traders from the Coromandel Coast in Tamil Nadu.

He said although the Chittys are Indian, and they today speak Tamil only haltingly. Their dressing is also different from their counterparts in India, and gives an indication of how they have integrated with the local society.

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Categories
Tourism Malaysia

Mezze Hits the Spot

Words by Ariel Chew, Photos by Zainal Abidin Othman


The classy and relaxing Mezze Lounge

At Mezze, one can be assured of a good time for the mind, tummy and soul.   Tucked in a cosy corner at Damansara Heights, the unassuming looking bistro and lounge is an oasis for those who would like to kick back and relax to soothing jazz tunes while nursing a glass of fine wine amidst a quiet chat with friends. 


The excellent Nuits Saint Georges Pinot Noir

Mezze boasts of an extensive wine and whisky list befitting its reputation as one of the best-stocked cellars in town.  Their collection of liquor hail from France, Spain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, USA and even from new wine producers such as India, Lebanon, Morocco, Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil. 

The wines range from very reasonable selections priced below RM90 to a pricier range of vintage Bordeaux and Burgundy wines.  As for whisky, Mezze’s stock includes the Lowlands, the Highlands, the Speyside, Islay and other Scottish isles.

For the hungry and peckish, Mezze, thankfully, gives equal attention to their culinary offerings which can satisfy even the most demanding foodie.

The widespread menu is as unpretentious as Mezze’s crowd and gives good value for your money.  Mezze, a Mediterranean word, means ‘to share’ and the generous portions of the food underlines this well.  The dishes are made from the freshest and finest ingredients and frankly, they simply refuse to be pigeon-holed.  They can be anything from French-inspired Duck Liver Pate to Prawn with Curry Leaf of Thai origin, a plate of cured meats from Italy and Spain to the very American juicy Beef Burger with Pulled Pork.

 

Deep Fried Camembert is a feast for cheese lovers

The Jamon Corquettas is simply to die for

The Duck Liver Pate is a must-try

Yummy cheese platter excellently paired with Gewurztraminer, a fruity French White Wine

If you are stumped for choices, ask the very friendly and knowledgeable Operations Manager Sarah Kwok Lecomte for ‘to-die-for’ food selections and the charming Sommelier Sebastien Philippe Lefrancois for wine pairing and cheese recommendations.


Jazz pianist Michael Veerapen doing what he does best at Mezze Lounge

Friday nights are fabulous Jazz nights at Mezze. Expect to see the likes of the Michael Veerapen trio, Joanna Bassey and similar astounding Asian jazz greats performing live in the fully equipped Mezze Lounge located above Mezze Bistro. 

The sound system is so good you can hear every tinkle Michael Veerapen’s exquisitely fluid fingers hitting the piano keys even when you are seated right at the back of the room. 

Whether it’s good music, fabulous food or fine wine, Mezze certainly hits the spot. 

Location:
No, 132, Jalan Kasah,
Medan Damansara 50490,
Kuala Lumpur

 

For more information, visit www.mezze.my

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Categories
Tourism Malaysia

Healthy Raw Eating at Eco-Oasis

Words and Photos by Ariel Chew

Mention ‘healthy raw eating’ and most people would immediately think of bland, unappetising and generally ugly looking food.  I was no exception.  Except for sushi and the occasional salad, I prefer my meat and vegetables cooked, thank you very much. 


Cheerful and airy, Eco-Oasis is perfect for leisurely chats over a nutritious meal

But an afternoon spent at the Eco-Oasis, Bangsar in the very pleasant company of its founder Elke Wollschon soon threw my apprehension towards the raw food movement out of the window.  The parade of food that came out of the kitchen was lovely to look at and most importantly, absolutely scrumptious!

Established in May 2010, Eco-oasis offers vegan and non-vegan, raw and cooked lip-smacking options in their menu ranging from Western, Mediterranean and Asian cuisine. 

Made from the freshest and top-quality produce, the raw dishes came out looking as if they were just harvested from the garden.  And speaking of gardens, the one-storey bungalow that is Eco-Oasis is surrounded by a lush green one.  I could almost picture myself doing morning exercises there in perfect serenity, hair blowing gently in the breeze and all.

Pardon me for digressing but I couldn’t help myself – it is such a gorgeous and cosy place! 

 

Raw is Tasty


Eco-Oasis is very eco-friendly.  The green Tropical Relaxer and red Purple Purifier come with pretty glass straws.

But let’s get back to the food.  We began with the raw stuff – salads and smoothies.  The reason for that is two-fold – being raw, they still have most of their nutrients and enzymes intact.  And since they are easily digested by our system, it is always good to consume them before meat. 

The Mixed Greens, Raw Veggies, Sunflower Seeds come liberally drizzled with the highly appetising and creamy Avocado Basil Dressing. 

I tried the crispy and saltish Flaxseed snack which Elke (pronounced as Ell-kee) recommends – “If you need something savoury and substantial to accompany your salad”.  The snack was indeed savoury and went well with the salad.

Our second dish was the hugely popular Black Quinoa Mango Salad.  A lot of locals order it because black quinoa is not a common sight in this part of the world.  Sourced from the Andes region in South America, the gluten-free seed is rich in protein, iron and calcium.  On its own it tastes bland, but mixed in a salad with mango, spring onions and a dash of ginger juice, it was transformed into a zesty and invigorating treat. 

We quenched our thirst with the refreshing and spicy Tropical Relaxer (Mango, Pineapple, Ginger, Spinach) and the sweet and tasty Purple Purifier (Beetroot, Watermelon, Banana).   

“It is not enough to eat salads in our meals,” says Elke.  “So green smoothies (a smoothie combining vegetables and fruits) are a great and convenient way to get all the vegetable and fruit servings our body needs.”

They taste great, too.  Now, I am not a fan of beetroot.  But when it is mixed with other fruits in smoothie form, its strong taste is hardly noticeable.  Plus it makes the drink look pretty in purple.

 

Cooked and Wholesome

I was in the mood for lemon grass that day, so we had the Lemon Grass Soup with Seafood and Chicken for soup and the Lemon Grass Fried Bee Hoon as the main dish.  The soup was incredibly clear – not a drop of oil can be seen floating on its surface.  Suffused with the sweetness of prawns and squid, hearty chicken and oodles of vegetables, it is incredibly flavourful and nutritious at the same time.  The Lemon Grass Fried Bee Hoon was light and tasty – something I can imagine eating every day and never grow tired of.

Light and tasty – Lemon Grass Fried Bee Hoon (RM18.50)

Refreshing – Mixed Greens, Raw Veggies, Sunflower Seeds on Avocado Basil Dressing (RM17.50)

Zesty and nutritious – Black Quinoa Mango Salad (RM11.50)

Flavourful goodness – Lemon Grass Soup with Seafood (RM15.50)

The savoury and filling Flax Seeds Snack

The organic shop at Eco-Oasis sells organic Chia Seeds which is an excellent source of omega-3, minerals and dietary fiber

 

Cooked or otherwise, you can be assured that Eco-Oasis never uses anything artificial whether they be preservatives, MSG, flavourings, microwave, trans-fats, Teflon-coated cook ware, etc.  Only natural salts and filtered water are used in the food and beverages.  Simply put, everything you consume there is as nutritious as it can possibly be for your body.  

 

Food for the Mind and Soul


The lovely Elke Wollschon

Unlike most pro-raw food/vegan restaurant operators I’ve met, Elke is not pushy in her ideals.  She cares for the health of her patrons and friends but she doesn’t judge.  And she certainly does not believe that one size fits all.

“Each one of us has different reactions towards different food types.  One person can be a complete vegan and blossom in health while another person cannot function without meat,” she explains. 

So, hopping onto the raw bandwagon may not be everyone’s cup of tea?  This is certainly good news to omnivorous me!

“We have to listen to our body.  Through the process of trial and error, and observing how our bodies react to certain foods, we will know what is truly good for us,” she said. 

Hence, the vast and varied menu at Eco-Oasis is flexible enough to include curries, rice, desserts, tea and even coffee.

A Passion for Health


Organic Products available at Eco-Oasis

Elke, a certified Nutritional Consultant and NLP Master Coach, is constantly experimenting, learning and growing and has a million ideas on how to help others practice a healthier lifestyle. 

“I am passionate about healthy living.  To me, there is no point in living a long life if the last twenty years of your life is spent being bedridden or suffering from dementia.”  It would be exciting to see how she incorporates this passion into Eco-Oasis in the days to come.

The soft-spoken German-born nutritionist cum entrepreneur laments the fact that most people only start thinking about incorporating healthier choices into their lives after they fall sick or have unhealthy blood test results.  “People tend to think that as long as they are not sick (suffering from flu, terminal illnesses, etc), then they are healthy.”

“That is a very short-sighted view of what good health is.  You can have a flu-free body but if your mind is depressed or you suffer from constipation, then you are not healthy in the fullest sense of the word,” she explains.

Looking at her glowing good looks and smooth skin, it is hard to believe that she is 52 years old. She is a living, breathing and vibrant testament to what good raw and healthy eating can do to your body. 

Soon after that one healthy and tasty meal, my body got busy flushing out toxins leaving me feeling energised and rejuvenated.  I left Eco-Oasis a changed woman and have started incorporating more raw food options into my diet.  And I’ve never felt healthier.

 

Further Details

Eco-Oasis, a smoke-free establishment, is located just off-Jalan Maarof at 7, Jalan Riong, Bangsar Baru (GPS Coordinates: 03,07,643 N, 101,40,479 E).  Opening hours are from 11am to 8.30pm (Tues to Sun). 

Educational and inspiring events take place regularly in the enchanting place.  For more information of their latest happenings, call +603-2284 2393 or visithttp://www.eco-oasis.my (Website) and http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=207852613395 (Facebook).

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Categories
Cuisine in Melaka

BABY TURTLES HATCHED IN MELAKA IN 2010

MELAKA, Saturday 12 March 2011 (Bernama) — A total of 23,677 baby turtles were hatched at the turtle management centre at Padang Kemunting in Masjid Tanah near here last year.

This was 48.82 per cent of the 48,503 eggs incubated at the centre, Chairman of the Melaka Industry, Commerce and Entrepreneurial and Cooperative Development Committee Datuk Md Yunos Husin said today.

He said that 137,097 baby turtles were hatched between 2006 and last year.

The number was 56 per cent 242,992 eggs incubated at the centre, Yunos told reporters here after launching the agro-based entrepreneurs carnival at the Melaka International Trade Centre at Ayer Keroh here.

He said that 2,031 tartar turtles landed on Melaka beaches at the same time, more than at any other spot in the country.

Md Yunos said the centre, which was set up in 1997, found 50 dead turtles in coastal Melaka, some of them caught in fishing traps, during the same period.

He said there was a huge jump in the number of visitors to the centre last year — 21,574, compared to 9,107 in 2009 and 2,447 in 2008.

According to Yunos, there were now 3,200 Melaka-born entrepreneurs, about 1,600 of them in agro-based industries.

Yunos said the main aim of the three-day carnival which began yesterday was to encourage networking among the entrepreneurs.

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