Melbourne: Hidden Secrets Tour

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ANURAG MALLICK goes on a Hidden Secrets Tour through Melbourne’s Central Business District with local artist Nicholas Jones. The Lanes and Arcades walk uncovers the secrets behind the city’s most iconic buildings and bylanes.

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‘Meeting under the clock’ at Flinders Street Railway Station
Dominating Federation Square, is the Art Nouveau building of Flinders Street Railway station, built in 1909-10 in Edwardian style. The pattern of striped bare red brick and white plaster is interestingly called Blood and Bandage! One of the longest railway platforms in the world, running over four city blocks, its western end has a ballroom and there’s a jogging track on top!

A row of clocks in front earlier displayed various train timings so that people returning from Sunday Church could see what time their train was. It became a bit of a Melbourne tradition to ‘meet under the clock’. Though the building is beautiful, it is not as grand as India’s Victoria Terminus, leading to an apocryphal lore that the plans for the train stations in Mumbai and Melbourne got mixed up in the post!

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Eureka Tower and the Gold Rush
The 91-storey Eureka Tower is the tallest completely residential structure in the Southern Hemisphere. Many are fascinated by its appearance that looks like a calculator or ruler – Melbourne in the 1880’s was the wealthiest city in the world, rich from its gold trade. The skyscraper was built in memory of the 1854 Eureka Stockade at Ballarat, where miners revolted against unjust taxation and were eventually killed.

The blue and white represents the Eureka flag, the building’s 24 carat gold-plated exterior represents the gold rush while the red strip symbolizes all the blood spilt! SkyDeck, the 88th floor observation post offers dizzying views.

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Why St Paul’s Cathedral is twin-coloured
Built at the site of the first ever church service in Melbourne, St Paul’s was originally a small wooden church later rebuilt out of loose stone. The present edifice was designed by ecclesiastical architect William Butterfield. Unfortunately, the architect was so busy the plans were shipped from England and the church ended up askew – 90-degree off axis!

Built as a flat top church out of locally sourced blue stone in the 1870s, the top spire of St Paul’s cathedral was added later out of Sydney sandstone. The difference in shades is apparent and tourists often remark, “It’s great they’ve cleaned the top part, when are they going to clean the rest of it?”

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‘Having a drink with Chloe’ at Young & Jackson pub
The site of the Prince’s Bridge Hotel (named after Prince Albert), where the Young & Jackson Pub now stands, was purchased for £100 at the first Melbourne land auction in 1837 by John Batman, the city’s founder. A stone tablet outside the pub commemorates the incident. The pub’s famous inhabitant is Chloe, an 1875 nude painted in Paris in the Salon style by French artist Jules Joseph Lefebvre.

Back in the day when Melbourne was a puritanical colonial backwater, the painting was put up in the National Gallery leading to clergymen demanding that she be removed as it affected the social moral fiber. She was taken down and kept in storage between 1883-1907, until the pub owners bought it for 800 pounds; today it is independently valued at $5-6 million. Since women were not allowed into pubs those days, a naked woman gave the impression of a Gentleman’s Club and ‘having a drink with Chloe’ meant a visit to the pub.

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Platform 2 Artist Project & Sticky Institute
The subterranean Campbell Arcade was built just before the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (dubbed as the Friendly Games) to take pressure off the train station. Forgotten for many decades, in 1995 local artists formed an initiative called Platform 2 Artist Project in the Degraves Street Subway (Platform 1 was on Spencer Street, Southern Cross Station) where the display cabinets served like an art gallery!

In the small clutch of shops is the legendary artist-run Sticky Institute. If you write a book of poetry, a comic book or fanzine on your favourite band, you can print it, staple it and put it up here like a locally produced mag.

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Use Melbourne’s first escalator at Manchester Unity Building
In 1932, in the middle of the depression, Melbourne was hit badly and thousands of young men were desperate to find work. The result was Manchester Unity Building. Running three eight-hour shifts with non-stop construction, nearly one storey was built a week and the whole building was finished within a year.

Marvel at its copper elevator doors, mosaic tiles and relief work on the ceiling (depicting gold mining, farming and the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932). Walk past the Latin motto on the floor Amicitia Amor Veritas ‘Friendship, Love & Truth’ to the first escalator in Melbourne.

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The Newspaper House mural
Rupert Murdoch’s father Keith Murdoch built Newspaper House in 1933 for the Murdoch family. The mosaic tiled façade features a quote ‘I’ll put a girdle about the earth’ taken from Shakespeare’s The Midsummer Night’s Dream – pretty accurate for the Murdochs’ sense of ambition.

It was designed by local muralist Napier Waller, who also did the murals at Myer, Melbourne Town Hall, State Library of Victoria and the T&G Life Building. Not many know that Waller served in the first World War and his right arm got blown off in 1916 in France; as a result, he had to retrain to work with his left hand!

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Checking the time at Royal Arcade
The oldest arcade in Australia, the 1869 building with ornamental Italian architecture was based on Galleria in Milan. The faint lettering on the exterior ‘1912 BATH’ indicate its use in the past. Beautiful hand made tiles lead into a hall lined with premium shops. It’s only when you turn and look back you see two seven feet giants.

Gog and Magog have been striking the clock – built by Thomas Gaunt & company – since 1892. This was where gentlemen in the past would stop to check their fob or pocket watches to make sure they are on time. On the far end in the corner is a figure of Father Time keeping a watchful eye.

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Flinder’s Lane
This was the hub of Melbourne’s garment industry, so anyone who wanted a suit, a hat or boots came here. The number of clothing firms in the ‘Lane’ reached 610 in 1939, right until the early 1960s. When people took clothes out into the Lane they had to cover it with calico to stop people pinching the design. The Lane is home to luxury French label Chanel who have a flagship store at the fashionable “Paris end” of the city.

Full of structures related to the textile industry but now known for its SoHo atmosphere, boutique hotels, cafes and bars, it connects to smaller lanes like Degraves Street and Manchester Lane, where a piece of public art pays tribute to its textile history – a giant zipper running down the laneway.

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Presgrave Place’s 3D graffiti
Melbourne is a city that teems with graffiti, be it AC/DC Lane or Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones & Book Building given to local street artists in 2008 as a graffiti mentoring project. But at Presgrave Place off Howery Place, you’ll find no space for aerosol cans.

After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007, the alley became a bit of an artists’ shrine. Strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with 3 plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. It even has its own Banksy – except he’s called Kranky!

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Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 26 July 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online. http://www.cntraveller.in/story/melbournes-10-secret-experiences-hiding-in-plain-sight/

Pepper Trail: Treehouse luxury

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Tree-houses, colonial charm, Kerala cuisine and jeep rides around the estate and a wildlife sanctuary, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY enjoy their plantation stay in Wayanad

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We trudged up the wooden ramp that snaked 40ft above the coffee bushes in a gentle ascent to the Woodpecker Treehouse. Inspired by local Wayanad tribal styles and built on a sturdy jackfruit tree, our lavish perch came with wood-panelled walls, fine décor, luxurious bathroom, a wide balcony with easy chairs besides a country style four-poster bed next to a tree jutting through the floor. While we’re no strangers to Kerala or treehouses, Pepper Trail was definitely the most luxurious perch we had been to. Its twin, the Hornbill Treehouse was a little further away.

Every morning and evening, we’d sip coffee, watching barbets and sunbirds flit about while Racket tailed drongos and Malabar Grey hornbills competed with their vocal calisthenics. Lost in the cacophonic din of urban living, even silence in the rainforest sits on an underlay of crooning cicadas. We sat watching the constant rain beat down on the heart-shaped pepper leaves that quivered in the cool wind.

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Apparently, when the British were taking the pepper plant back to England, the Zamorin of Calicut had scoffed, “They may take our pepper vine, but they cannot steal our Thiruvathira Njattuvela” (the 15-day assault of the monsoon that triggers the fruiting of the pepper)!

Our arboreal existence drew the attention of a boisterous troop of macaques, who would peer through our windows in the hope of biscuits or bananas and romp on the railings in wild tantrum displays. Snootily, we became the burra sahib and memsahib who would descend from their lair only to feed.

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Pepper Trail is a good place to know your poriyal (dry fry) from your ulithiyal (roasted shallots in spicy tamarind coconut gravy). The genuine warmth of our host Anand Jayan was apparent as he patiently explained how farm fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs from the 200-acre coffee, tea and spice plantation was used to make irresistible home-style delicacies.

Meals were served under the tiled roof Pavilion, its deck hovering over a swathe of coffee shrubs broken by the shade of tall silver oak shade and jackfruit. From cheruvayur pindi toran (tempered green gram) to chena mizhaku pereti (yam fry), nendra pazham curry made of ripe bananas to kayi toran, stir fried with unripe ones; each meal was a culinary journey.

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A common local produce like coconut had been reinterpreted into a chapati
 and coconut milk chicken curry. Sometimes, the chicken came in a varatherecha curry with roasted ground masalas or as Chicken kizhi (bundled in a leaf pouch, Ayurveda style) with mint chutney. The diversity of the repertoire can be gauged from the fact that when a Japanese couple came here for three weeks, no dish was repeated! The lean staff toiled away like genies, speaking in hushed tones ready to take care of every need, appearing and disappearing magically to make the holiday experience, a private indulgence. With a maximum occupancy of ten guests, it’s truly personalized service.

After two days of trudging up and down from the treehouse, we moved to the 140-year-old Pazhey Bungalow the ‘old’ plantation bungalow. Set in a manicured garden, the upstairs houses the Mackenzie Suite, in honour of the estate’s original owner Colin Auley Mackenzie who founded the Mangalam Carp Estate in the late 1800s. Mackenzie was a Scottish pioneer planter who was part of the first wave of colonial planters in India.

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After he died in 1920, Anand’s maternal grandfather PB Kurup came from Africa and bought the colonial estate in 1932. Long before biotechnology had taken off in India, this biotech pioneer got into the manufacture of distilled water and extraction of oil from eucalyptus, patchouli and bergamot… People called him Techno Kurup.

The ground floor, with its offices and red oxide floors was renovated into the Malabar Suite, with a hall, bedroom, sit out and the old chemical storeroom converted into a large ensuite bathroom! The philosophy of the place is rooted in Anand’s vision of creating special places to stay – a dream he nurtured even as a child. Taking up his father’s challenge, he renovated it with utmost care. Each Basel Mission roof tile and anjali (wild jack) wooden board on the wall was removed, numbered and put back.

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The old glass swivel windows on its façade have watched history unfold. With heirloom and colonial furniture collected from antique shops, this wood-scented hideaway is ideal for solitude or romance. Lounge in wicker plantation chairs or in reading nooks where speckled piculets peck at windows indignant at their own reflections, or relax in the secluded balcony overlooking a backyard garden with bamboo thickets and trees frequented by scarlet minivets.

The sprawling estate is great for birding besides leisurely walks to understand how coffee and tea are cultivated. Guests can participate in farm work, as experienced hands harvest coffee, tea and spice, using centuries old methods. In the heart of the estate, fed by natural springs, the acre-wide natural reservoir forms the focal point for local flora and fauna. Perfect for fishing or a leisurely canoe or coracle ride, this is one spot where you’d like to linger. Or laze in the pool and get an Ayurvedic spa therapy.

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We decided to head out on an open jeep ride around the plantation. Lined by cheery orange and red heliconia, the driveway cut through the expansive estate with tea bushes on one side and coffee on the other. Driving through the buffer zones of Muthanga and Bandipur wildlife parks, we spotted seven elephants, wild boar and numerous chital (spotted deer).

It was time for dinner by the time we returned. The piece de resistance was the mola ari payasam or sweet porridge made of bamboo rice, jaggery and coconut milk. Each time the bamboo flowers – once every hundred years – the entire bamboo forest dies. It’s a fascinating natural phenomenon that’s as tragic as it’s beautiful. After blossoming, the flowers produce a fruit called ‘bamboo rice’, which is collected and stored for future use. Last year was a bumper harvest in Wayanad. Who knows it would be decades before the flowers would bloom again, but we wouldn’t wait that long to return…

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FACT FILE

Getting There
Located at Chulliyode, 10 km from Sulthan Bathery in Wayanad, Pepper Trail is 100 km from Calicut International Airport, 130 km from Mysore, 250 km from Bangalore and 280 km from Cochin.

What to See/Do
Visit the old Jain shrine converted into an ammunition dump by Tipu Sultan (hence the name Sultan Battery), hike to Edakkal Caves in the Ambukuthi hills to see the Neolithic cave drawings dating to 6000 BC and go on wildlife safaris in Muthanga and Bandipur.

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Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode
Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad
Ph: +91 9562 277 000 www.peppertrail.in

Tariff
Malabar Suite Rs.11,750
McKenzie Suite/treehouse Rs.14,750
Inclusive of breakfast, Meals Rs.600 lunch, Rs.750 dinner

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August, 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

KL Confidential: 10 local experiences in Kuala Lumpur

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ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY live it up like locals as they take in the signature experiences of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur

The evolution of an old mining town to a centre of trade and commerce is the stuff of dreams. However, here are a few leads to help you discover and get under the skin of Kuala Lumpur, a cultural cauldron of diverse communities and traditions and one of Asia’s most beautiful capital cities.

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Learn how to make pewter at the Royal Selangor factory
As you fly into Kuala Lumpur, you spot large brown swathes cutting across the greenery. These are relics of the tin mines that made Malaysia the world’s largest tin producer in the 20th century and established KL as a mining town. No visit to KL is complete without a trip to the Royal Selangor Pewter factory, set up in 1885 by a young pewtersmith Yong Koon who came from China to British Malaya in search of fortune.

On a guided tour, watch workers engaged in casting, hammering, polishing and finishing products. Learn how pewter is made using 97% tin, with a little copper and antimony added for strength. After platinum, gold and silver, pewter is the world’s fourth most precious metal.

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In the old days, it was used as currency, shaped into animal figurines like crocodiles, elephants and tortoises! With time, craftsmen found its low melting point and relative softness ideal for designing artefacts. Soon household, decorative and religious objects were in demand for the burgeoning Chinese population.

Don’t miss the old tin mining dredge, a replica of Petronas Towers, the hand imprints of former workers and the world’s largest pewter tankard – measuring 6½ ft, weighing 1.53 tons with a capacity 2796 litres. A master craftsman also teaches you how to fashion molten metal into your own pewter artefact. If it’s a fiasco, there’s always the souvenir store! www.royalselangor.com

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Grab some ‘Mud’
It was at the muddy confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers that the frontier town of Kuala Lumpur first developed – kuala literally means estuary in Malay while lumpur is mud. And the most enthralling way to get to know KL is to watch a musical based on its origin. Set during the 1880 tin mining boom, ‘Mud’ traces the journey of three friends – Mamat, a Malay, Meng, a Chinese and Muthiah an Indian, who come to the town in search of opportunity.

Here, they meet a host of colourful characters and their shared stories and strange encounters are an apt portrayal of this diverse, multi-cultural city. The historic venue is Panggung Bandaraya at Merdeka Square, a Mughal style building, where town planning meetings were held in the past. Cost RM60, Timings 3 pm and 8:30 pm www.mudkl.com

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Follow the Tamil temple trail to Batu Caves
As you trawl the streets around China Town, the top of a Dravidian temple spire catches your attention from afar. Founded in 1873 by local Tamil leader Thamboosamy Pillai, the Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu shrine in Kuala Lumpur. During Thaipusam in mid-January, a massive silver chariot transports the statues of Lord Murugan and his consorts Valli and Teivayanni across KL’s streets, before reaching Batu Caves in a procession of 8 hours that covers 15 km.

The devout throng the 140 ft high gilded statue of Murugan, the largest in the world, after climbing the 300 odd steps to his hilly abode set in a knotted outcrop of limestone caves. At the base of the steps, volunteers hand out wraparound lungis to be suitably attired. The area bears a distinctly Indian flavor with a clutch of banana leaf restaurants like Dhivya and Rani serving coconut water and North-Indian, South-Indian or Jain meals to tired pilgrims. Stalls sell garish sweets, souvenirs, ‘Call India’ SIM cards and Tamil literature alongside titles by Nietzsche and Camus!

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Learn to appreciate the durian
Love it or hate it, the spiky tropical fruit with sticky sweet flesh wears its laurels like a crown of thorns, often drawing extreme reactions. British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace described durian as “a rich custard highly flavoured with almonds”, though others have been less charitable. Novelist Anthony Burgess compares it to “eating sweet raspberry blancmange in the lavatory”. Chef Anthony Bourdain described its taste as ‘indescribable’. “Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” Travel and food writer Richard Sterling dismisses its odour as ‘pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock’, which can be smelled from yards away.

For this reason, durian is forbidden in hotels, subways and airports. But if you visit KL between June to August, the streets are lined with stalls selling durian and exotic fruits like rambutan and mangosteen… You’re handed out plastic gloves to avoid getting your hands messy. The durian craze is so much, you also find fried durian, durian ice-cream, cakes, crepes and pancakes. To the locals, it is the ‘King of Fruits’, which smells like hell, but tastes like heaven.

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Catch a local festival
Though Malaysia hosts several big-ticket events like Malaysia International Gourmet Festival, Citrawarna (Colours of Malaysia), Malaysian Moto GP at Sepang, 1MYES or 1-Malaysia Year End Sale, its charm lies in smaller festivals. Home to diverse ethnicities, Malaysia hosts an event or festival in some nook every day! Whether it is Deepavali, Christmas, Thaipusam, Hari Raya (Ramadan) or Chinese New Year, each festival is celebrated with equal fervor.

During the Hungry Ghost Festival, people make food offerings and burn paper money to keep the ancestors in the spirit realm happy! During the Mid-Autumn Mooncake festival, a lunar harvest celebration of the Chinese community, people make an array of small round cakes with exotic sweet fillings like lotus seed paste or durian. The annual Merdeka (Independence) Day at KL’s historic Merdeka Square is a good opportunity to witness the cultural diversity displayed in colourful parades and floats.

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Go shopping in Central Market or Chinatown
In 1888, Chinese kapitan (community leader) Yap Ah Loy developed the wet market by Kuala Lumpur’s riverfront into Central Market, which was later given an Art Deco facelift by the British. Today a vibrant cultural and craft centre, it is a great place to buy batik clothes, Javanese masks, Bornean beadwork, Petronas tabletops, wood carvings, sculptures and other souvenirs. There are shopping avenues dedicated to various communities – Chinese, Malay, Indian, Portuguese and Baba-Nyonya.

Drop by at the ARCH store for heritage gifts – 3-D miniatures, bookmarks, magnets and made-in-Malaysia products representing the world’s greatest heritage landmarks. Pick up traditional kites like wau bulan (moon kite) or wau burung (bird kite) also available in miniature size, besides bunga berbaling, a Malay batik motif of a twining vine. Drop by at the Tenmoku store for exquisite glazed pottery like vases and decorative artefacts. Or if you’re up to some haggling, head to Chinatown for t-shirts and street shopping.

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Try local street food at Jalan Alor
Malaysian cuisine is truly a melting pot of diverse flavours, a mix of Malay, Indian, Chinese and colonial influences of the British and Portuguese. The best place for street food is undoubtedly Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang where stalls dish out ethnic Malay specialties like Kajang satay, Sarawak laksa, Mee Foo (fried noodles) and popular Chinese fare. Tamil settlers run banana leaf restaurants and serve Roti Canai (like a Kerala paratha, but derived from the city of Chennai).

Another popular genre is the South Indian Muslim cuisine of Nasi Kandar – biryani rice served with assorted non-veg curries and fries. In the old days, hawkers often carried all the dishes in baskets strung over their shoulders (kandha) and would set it down on street corners to open pop-up restaurants. One of the most successful of these is Pelita Nasi Kandar. Chinese traders who settled centuries ago and speak Malay specialize in a genre called Nyonya cuisine – a combination of Chinese ingredients cooked with Malay herbs and spices. At Precious Old China, try Nyonya delicacies like beef rendang, asam fish fillet, ayam pong teh, lady’s finger kerabu, chui pei tofu, coconut rice and sago gula Melaka, sago pearl pudding dunked in coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar.

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Make a ‘scared face’ at Aquaria KLCC
Easily the most popular attraction at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre Complex, the 60,000 sq ft oceanarium is a maze of delights. Spread over two levels, Aquaria traces the journey of water from land to sea starting in the misty highlands, through rivers, rainforests and mangroves to coral reefs. Be awestruck as you walk past the Piranha Tank and Electric Zone to the Riverbank Jungle with Asian small-clawed otters, Coral walks and shipwrecks, and observe over 250 different species besides over 5,000 land and aquatic animals from Malaysia and around the world.

The 300 ft underwater tunnel is fascinating, as are the interactive information kiosks on fish and turtle conservation. If you’re lucky, you can watch the sharks and rays being fed. Before you go, pose for photographs with dramatic and thrilling backdrops, which are quickly Photoshopped before being printed instantly as a framed souvenir.
Cost RM64 Ph +603 2333 1888 www.aquariaklcc.com

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Experience Petronas Towers
Built at the site of Kuala Lumpur’s race track Selangor Turf Club, the Petronas Towers held the record for the world’s tallest building between 1998 to 2004 and are still regarded as the highest twin towers in the world. With an upmarket retail space called Suria KLCC at the base and the KLCC park with fountains and jogging track, it is more than a landmark. Experience the spectacular cityscape as you go up to the Skybridge and Observation Deck on the 41st and 42nd floor – limited tickets for the first thousand people every day!

Cost RM35-85 Timings: 9am-9pm (Closed on Monday and 1-2:30pm on Fri)
Ph +603 2331 8080 Email skybridge@petronas.com.my

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KL By Cycle Tour
If you think a Hop On-Hop Off bus tour is too sedate for your liking, try their new initiative in partnership with Visit KL. KL By Cycle is a fun way to tour the city – from the oldest park Perdana Botanical Gardens built in 1888 to heritage structures like Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Royal Selangor Club. Pick up a rented cycle from the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery at Dataran Merdeka for a solo Free and Easy Ride or a Guided Group Tour. It’s the most eco-friendly and relaxing way to explore the city, its alleys and heritage buildings.

RM 30-45 Ph +603 2691 1382 Email inquiry@myhoponhopoff.com

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Jet Airways and the national carrier Malaysia Airlines Berhad fly direct to Kuala Lumpur International Airport, 50km south of the city. www.malaysiaairlines.com

Where to Stay
Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur Ph +60-3-27826000 http://www.ihg.com
Seri Pacific Ph +60-3-4042 5555 http://www.seripacifichotel.com

For more info, visit http://www.tourism.gov.my

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the August 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Mauritius: Dive right in

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Undersea Walks, Sub Scooter, Sea Karting, Quad Biking and snorkelling with dolphins; the tropical paradise of Mauritius has a lot on offer for the adventure seeker, discovers ANURAG MALLICK

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“The French ruled us for nearly a century and the British for about 150 years, which is why Mauritians don’t drive on the right like the French or on the left like the British, but right in the middle of the road!” joked Ivan, the resort manager at Radisson Blu Azuri. Fortunately, if it’s adrenaline you seek, Mauritius is packed with enough adventure…

Though the island measures roughly 60X40 miles (about as large as Coorg), what sets Mauritius apart from other tropical destinations is the wide range of experiences for visitors. Fringed by coral reefs and clear blue waters, one may snorkel and kayak without leaving the comforts of your resort.

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We got our chance the next morning at Azuri’s private beach. Like many of the sights here, the resort was built around a sugarcane factory – its old dilapidated chimney left untouched as it overlooked the pool and Le Comptoir restaurant. After an ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade and a hearty breakfast, we set off for Gran Baie north of the island for a Solar Undersea Walk.

Locals played dominoes in the shade of the tree-lined beach. Boats bobbed in the clear blue waters while some set off from Sunset Boulevard on sportfishing expeditions to snare Marlins, Tuna and GT (Giant Trevallies). A transfer boat quickly transported us to the diving platform moored just inside the lagoon reef. John, the captain, briefed us.

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As we got ready to descend the ladder into the sea, our guide asked “Hey Bob Marley, are you gonna wear that rastaman cap and your glares on your sea walk”, motioning to my headgear I had forgotten to take off. “Can I?” “If you want to… The head doesn’t get wet!” And with that, the Undersea Walk patented helmet was strapped on. The distortion-free flat glass window panels allowed great visibility in 2-3 m depth of water while solar panels converted oxygen from the air to provide us a constant flow of fresh air from the surface.

On the sandy sea floor, the swimming monitor passed us crumbs of bread. “I’m not really hungry”, I motioned. “It’s for the fish,” the guide signaled back. “Aaaaah!” Despite the oxygen supply, being underwater does make you a little slow. A flurry of striped fish converged on us for a nibble. In what would be a relief to many, most water sports in Mauritius do not require a knowledge of swimming.

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The next stop was Trou aux Biches where Blue Safari director Luc Billard had developed a patented Submarine Scooter. “I’ve never ridden a scooter underwater”, was the common refrain. “Very easy, see those two shiny foot pedals? You press it, the scooter moves forward, you leave it, it stops. And that’s the steering.” I imagined the worst – ramming into corals or each other or worse still, mowing down the instructor, but luckily discovered that its speed was a leisurely 3km per hour.

A shared bubble was placed over me and my pillion, the platform was lowered and five scooters set off in Bond fashion. Not Daniel Craig kind, but ala Roger Moore, with strange gizmos, underwater lairs and 70s production values. The movement was quite imperceptible but the feeling of being on your own 3m under the Indian Ocean was exciting. With oxygen pumped into the vestibule, we breathed naturally enjoying a 360-degree view of the marine life – grotesque brain corals and iridescent parrotfish. The best part was the freedom to speak with your co-passenger. “So Miss Renu, traffic signal se left ya right?”

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Blue Safari also ran an excellent submarine tour that lets you observe the beauty of the seabed and the workings of a ballast system. Incidentally, they are the only submarine operator in Mauritius and the entire Indian Ocean! As the submarine dives 35m to the sandy bed, it’s the closest you’ll feel to landing on the moon. There’s limited place aboard the 10-seater and 5-seater subs, so it’s best to book early to watch stingrays and turtles glide past the ghost-like wreck of Star Hope.

Don’t let the alarming number of shipwrecks around the Mauritian coast worry you, as most of these wrecks were deliberately submerged to create artificial reefs. To the north and northwest of the island, dive for angelfish and barracudas around Silver Star (39m) or the Japanese trawler Stella Maru (24-28m), inhabited by blue triggerfish, reef fish, octopuses and moray eels. The wreck of TUG II (17-19m) on the west coast is an easy dive that throws up stone fish, leaf fish and scorpionfish. To the south west, watch trevallies and tunas hunt down smaller fish at Hoi Siong (16-28m). The forty odd dive sites can be reached within 20 minutes from the coast.

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Away from all the action of the north, Shanti Maurice in the quiet south was truly a great place to pause and catch our breath. Walkways lined with tropical foliage led to private villas with thatched roofs spread over 36 acres. A coral reef circled the curved beach with a jetty to the right and the surf crashing against black volcanic rock on the left.

Since the resort offered only non-motorized watersports such as windsurfing, sailing, pedal boats, snorkeling and kayaking, the beach was always tranquil. After endless rounds of spiced rum cocktails at the Rum Shed, rustic beach-side barbecues at the Fish Shack and full body massages at the in-house Nira Spa, we were ready for more action.

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Though much of the French-Indian-Creole-Caribbean-Chinese mix that comprises Mauritian cuisine is accessible to Indians, there’s plenty of adventure on the plate too. At La Vanille crocodile park, after feeding giant Aldabra turtles, petting iguanas and holding baby crocs, we tried crocodile meat.

It tasted like chicken (bit chewier) and in an ironical twist, the restaurant was called Le Crocodile Affamé (The Hungry Crocodile). Guiltily, we explored the 3.5-hectare reserve with enclosures full or crocs and caimans, endemic bats with 1m wingspans and an insectarium with 23,000 species – including dazzling bugs and butterflies.

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One of the top wildlife attractions in Mauritius is Casela, a nature reserve where visitors can pet lions, feed giraffes, pose with caracals, go on a wildlife safari to watch rhinos or have ostriches clapping their beaks at you. “I think he wants you to feed him,” said the guide, though to me it seemed like he wanted to feed ON me. For the shy squeamish sorts, there’s plenty of Dutch courage available.

No Mauritian holiday is complete without rum tasting, best experienced at rhumeries (rum factories) like Chamarel, St Aubin and Chateau Labourdonnais. Besides stunning viewpoints, Chamarel boasts sights like Seven-Coloured Earth, the odd exhibits at Curious Corner and the island’s highest waterfall.

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If you don’t happen to be a water person, there’s enough adventure on terra firma – golfing at spectacular courses like Heritage and Tamarina to hiking trails in the central highlands and peaks like Le Pouce (The Thumb), Pieter Both and Mount Piton – at 828m, the highest peak in Mauritius.

We went quad biking across the undulating terrain of at La Vallee des Couleurs, a nature park with four waterfalls and the third longest zipline in the world. Offroading to a viewpoint, we zoomed down half a kilometer over the ‘23-coloured earth’, unique to this volcanic island. I went belly down, miraculously keeping my flip-flops on!

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However, the number one activity in Mauritius is Sea Karting – the thrill of a jet boat with the safety and stability of an inflatable raft. We zoomed out on Black River in V-formation to the south west coast of Mauritius with stops at the spectacular Crystal Rock and the dramatic Le Morne Brabant mountain. We had no luck with dolphins as we were busy trying not to collide into each other as we bounced on the waves.

With top speeds of 70km/hr, Sea Karts are fast. Our slow evolution from Octopussy to Spectre was complete. The 1-hour excursion was easily my most enjoyable 60 minutes in Mauritius (half-day or full day guided tours also offered). Thankfully, the drive to Hotel Sofitel-Imperial at Flic en Flac was short.

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The reception and restaurant opened out to a large swimming pool that spilled onto a white sandy beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean receding into the distance. Being on the west coast, it was one of the best spots to catch the famed Mauritian sunset, though we got Sega dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats along with the view! The prawns and fish flew with surprising agility from the grill to our plates to our mouths, as we rounded off a splendid dinner by the sea.

The final act was a dolphin cruise and snorkeling trip after breakfast. We grabbed our flippers from Christine Sofitel Boat House and set off into the big blue. It was a bouncy gangsta ride. Maybe we should have gone easy on the dholl-puris (Indo-Mauritian version of the Bihari staple dalpuri or dal stuffed paratha).

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For all the activities in Mauritius, nothing could prepare us for the sight of wild dolphins skimming the waters. An entire school, maybe a hundred or so. Whenever a group approached a boat, excited divers jumped off like kamikaze warriors in a bid to swim with the dolphins. We were happy to watch the spectacle from the boat, before heading off towards Le Morne to snorkel the reefs.

“Quick, make a wish. That’s a paille-en-queue!” said the boat captain. By the time I could decipher his French pronunciation, a white long-tailed bird swooped down from the lush mountains towards the sea and disappeared. The Tropicbird, named after its distinctive ‘straw-tail’ was the symbol of the national airline Air Mauritius. It was considered lucky to spot one. “So what did you ask for?” “That I come back to Mauritius for a better look at it!”

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Located 4700km west of India in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius is a tiny speck in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

There are direct flights by Air Mauritius and Air India from Delhi and Mumbai (7hrs) to Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport at the south of the island.

www.airmauritius.com

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Where to Stay
Hotel Shanti Maurice, Chemin Grenier
www.shantimaurice.com

Hotel Radisson Blu Azuri
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

Hotel Sofitel Imperial, Flic en Flac
www.sofitel.com/Mauritius  

Hotel Paradis & Dinarobin, Le Morne
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

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Adventure List

Blue Safari, Trou aux Biches
Sub Scooter for two MUR 5800, Submarine tour MUR 4400/person
Ph +230 265 7272 www.blue-safari.com

Solar Undersea Walk, Gran Baie
10:30 & 1:30 Mon-Sat
Ph +230 263 7819 www.solarunderseawalk.com

Fun Adventure Sea Kart, La Balise, Black River
MUR 5500 per Seakart (up to 2 adults + 1 child)
Ph +230 5 499 4929 www.fun-adventure.mu

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Quad Biking & Ziplining, La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, Mare Anguilles
Ph +230 5471 8666 www.lavalleedescouleurs.com

Segway & Walking with lions, Casela World of Adventures, Cascavelle
9am-5pm, MUR 740 entry fee, activities extra
Ph +230 401 6500 www.caselapark.com

Christine Sofitel Boat House, Flic en Flac
Ph +230 453 8975 bhsofitel@gmail.com

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For more info, visit

Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
Victoria House, Port Louis Ph +230 15 45 www.tourisme-ilemaurice.mu

Mauritian Scuba Diving Association
Route Royale, Beau Bassin Ph +230 454 00 11 www.msda.mu

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Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared as part of the Islands Special Cover Story in the July, 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.

Ale and Arty: The history of beer

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On the occasion of International Beer Day, celebrated on the first Friday of August, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY trace the journey of beer in a lager than life story

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After water and tea, beer is the third most popular drink in the world. Such was its value in the ancient world that it was part of the daily wages of the workers who built the pyramids in Egypt! Before learning to make bread, prehistoric nomads used grain and water to make beer – it’s almost as if man had learnt to drink before he learnt to eat. Speaking of priorities, if the world was coming to an end and you were reprimanded for stowing away a few cases of beer, tell them that Noah’s provisions on the Ark included beer.

Besides being the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world, beer is also the oldest, with a history of nearly 12,000 years. It dates back to the early Neolithic Age or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed. As hunter-gatherer tribes settled into agrarian civilizations based around staple crops like wheat, rice, barley and maize, they stumbled upon the process of fermentation and thus started brewing beer. According to anthropologists, beer was the driving force that led nomadic mankind into village life…It was his appetite for beer-making that led to crop cultivation, permanent settlement and agriculture.

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Though the earliest known alcoholic beverage is a 9,000-year-old Chinese brew of rice, honey and fruit, the first barley beer was born in the Middle East and is recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and Egypt. In Mesopotamia, the oldest evidence of beer is a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicting people drinking a beverage through reed straws from a communal bowl.

The early beer was cloudy and unfiltered and was usually drunk with a straw to strain the bitter solids from the brew. As early as 3000 BC, the Babylonians had nearly 20 different types of beer. They were so finicky about the quality of beer that if someone brewed a bad batch, he would be drowned in it as punishment!

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Some of humanity’s earliest known writings refer to the production and distribution of beer. The Code of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and beer parlours. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, the ale-wife Siduri dispenses this ancient advice to Gilgamesh, the king of Uruk – ‘Fill your belly. Day and night make merry’. Early Sumerian writings contain numerous references to beer; including The Hymn to Ninkasi.

Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes the bappir (barley bread) in the big oven, Puts in order the piles of hulled grains, You are the one who waters the malt set on the ground…You are the one who holds with both hands the great sweet wort… Ninkasi, you are the one who pours out the filtered beer of the collector vat, It is like the onrush of Tigris and Euphrates.” At a time when literacy was limited to the privileged, the prayer to the beer goddess doubled up as a method of remembering the recipe for the common folk! It also gives us a deep insight that in olden times the ‘brewsters’ were mostly women.

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The Finnish epic Kalevala, based on centuries old oral traditions, devotes more lines to the origin of beer and brewing than it does to the origin of mankind. Beer was spread through Europe by Germanic and Celtic tribes in 3000 BC, when it was brewed on a domestic scale. By 7th century AD, beer was being produced and sold by European monasteries. The early European beers contained fruits, honey, plants, spices and narcotic herbs like hemp and poppy. Hops were a later addition, first mentioned in Europe around 822 by a Carolingian Abbot and in 1067 by Abbess Hildegard of Bingen.

From 1000 AD, beer began to be bittered with wild herbs such as bog myrtle, lemon balm, borage, St John’s wort or elderberries. Hops were added to beer to reduce the putrefaction caused by micro organisms. The 12th century Old Icelandic poem Alvíssmál says, “Ale it is called among men, but among the gods, beer.”

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The practice slowly spread across Europe and reached Britain by the middle of the 15th century. The British drinking song ‘Beer, Beer Beer’ gives an apocryphal origin – ‘A long time ago, way back in history, When all there was to drink was nothin’ but cups of tea, Along came a man by the name of Charlie Mopps, And he invented the wonderful drink, and he made it out of hops.’

The popularity of the English pubs, alehouses and taverns in the 17th century gave rise to a popular phrase. Keeping a watch on the alcohol consumption of patrons was always a big problem for bartenders, who would sometimes scribble ‘p’ or ‘q’ on the tally slate to indicate the pints and quarts consumed. As a reminder, the bartender would recommend his patrons that they ‘mind their Ps and Qs’ in all honesty. Today, the bartending term implies to mind one’s manners.

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One reason for the beer’s universal popularity in the medieval age was the poor quality of drinking water – rivers and canals were often contaminated by animal or human waste and beer seemed a safer alternative to drinking water. In the Middle Ages, the largest brewers were the monasteries. Besides generating a large revenue, beer was a refreshing break from the austere lifestyle and could be enjoyed even while fasting. In some monasteries, it was permissible to have as much as five litres a day.

Not surprisingly, it led to quite a few tipsy clerics. Legend has it, Alpirsbach in Germany was so named when a glass of beer slipped from the hand of an inebriated monk and rolled into the river, causing him to exclaim, ‘All Bier ist in den Bach’ (All the beer is in the stream)! Even today, Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu is brewed from pure spring water. The oldest monastic brewery Klosterschenke Weltenburg has been brewing its delicious dark beer since 1050. With over 1200 breweries scattered between Bremen to Munich, Germany is easily a place of pilgrimage for beer lovers with Munich’s Hofbräuhaus in Bavaria the most famous beer hall.

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In 1516, William IV, Duke of Bavaria, adopted the Reinheitsgebot (purity law), perhaps the oldest food-quality regulation still in use today, where the only allowed ingredients of beer are water, hops and barley-malt. Prior to the late 18th century, malt was primarily dried over fires made from wood, charcoal or straw, and in 1642, from coke. Beers made from malt roasted with coke is called ‘pale ale’ though the term wasn’t used until 1703. Thus early beers had a smoky flavour and brewers constantly tried to minimize it.

With the invention of the steam engine in 1765 and the onset of the Industrial Revolution, beer moved from artisanal and domestic manufacture to large scale production. Technological advancements of the 19th century brought about great advancements in the beer making process. The development of hydrometers and thermometers allowed the brewer more control of the process and greater knowledge of the results.

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In 1817 Daniel Wheeler invented the drum roaster which led to the creation of dark, roasted malts, contributing to the rise of porters and stouts. Porter, a darker version of beer, was invented in England while stout is a more full-bodied or stouter version of porter. The discovery of yeast’s role in fermentation by Louis Pasteur gave brewers methods to prevent the souring of beer caused by undesirable microorganisms. In 1864, he also developed pasteurization to stabilize beers – 22 years before the process was applied to milk!

In the nineteenth century, beers from the Bow Brewery in England were exported to India by sea. By the time the pale ale reached Indian shores after a long sea voyage, the beer would get spoilt. In order to prolong its shelf life, brewers added more hops (a natural preservative), and the India Pale Ale or IPA was born – a refreshing bitter brew for the tropical climate.

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It was another accident that gave the world its number one stout – Guinness. At the St James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, the Irish ground barley was overheated, resulting in the trademarked ‘Black Stuff’. And the rest was history. Today, the Guinness Storehouse is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction. Visitors begin their journey at the bottom of the world’s largest pint glass (the hollow of the building is shaped like one), continuing up through seven floors filled with interactive experiences.

See the Director’s Safe with a sample of the original starter yeast, check out Arthur Guinness’ 9000-year-old lease for the brewery site, learn to pour the perfect pint and drink using the five senses. At the top, have a pint in the rooftop Gravity Bar for higher education of a different kind. Beer enthusiasts often say that the Guinness in Dublin tastes better than anywhere else. This is largely due to the hard mineral-rich spring water from the Wicklow Mountains favourable for stout.

IMG_6900 Quell 36.5 Bad Ragaz craft beer from Tamina Thermal Waters_Anurag Mallick

Regions have water with different mineral components better suited to making certain types of beer, thus giving them a regional character. Pilsen has soft water well suited to making pale lager, such as Pilsner Urquell while the waters of Burton in England contain gypsum, which is ideal for pale ale. The process of adding gypsum to water by some brewers is called Burtonisation! Recently, the Grand Resort Bad Ragaz in Switzerland’s most famous spa town had brewed a special beer called Quell 36.5 made from the healing thermal waters of the Tamina River!

Singapore’s iconic beer brand Tiger runs an excellent Brewery Tour as well. In a 45-minute guided tour, unravel 80 years of brewing history at the Visitor center as you challenge yourself with a specially created multimedia brewing game, a tour of the brew house and learn to tap your own beer in the packaging gallery. A 45-minute beer appreciation session follows as you sample the range of brews at the Tiger Tavern.

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Beer forms part of the pub culture of beer-drinking nations such as Germany, Belgium, UK and the US, and led to the evolution of activities like pub crawling, pub games, drinking songs and beer festivals. In 1810, Munich established Oktoberfest as an official celebration. Held between mid-September and the first Sunday in October, the 16-day event draws over six million visitors and nearly 5 million litres of beer are consumed! A special dark, strong beer called Wies’nbier is brewed specially for the occasion. The Bier & Oktoberfest Museum in Munich, housed in a 14th-century timber-framed building, enshrines all the Oktoberfest regalia from earlier editions.

In the 1830’s Bavarians Gabriel Sedlmayr of Munich and Anton Dreher of Vienna developed the lager method of beer production. And as German immigrants moved to the US the 1850’s, brewers introduced cold maturation lagers, giving rise to brands like Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Coors, Stroh, Schlitz and Pabst. However, modern brewing took off in the late 1800’s due to critical factors like commercial refrigeration, automatic bottling, pasteurization and railroad distribution. In the 1870’s Adolphus Busch employed double-walled railcars and a network of icehouses to make Budweiser the first national brand.

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Today, the US is leading the way in the latest global trend of craft beer. A microbrewery or craft brewery is usually independently owned and produces small amounts of beer, characterized by their emphasis on quality, flavour and brewing technique. In Bengaluru, a city that has long loved its draught beer and wears the crown of India’s ‘Pub Capital’, craft beer has taken off with brewers boldly using Indian flavours. Till a few years ago, words like basmati, banana, clove and coriander would have seemed out of place in a brewery; not any more.

When the American craft brewery from Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to India in 2012, it introduced signature varieties like Sacred Cow IPA, Brasserie Blonde, ChaiPA, Garam Masala Pale Ale and the malty Belgian tripel. Windmills Craftworks in Whitefield, known for their excellent beer and American diner fare in a jazz theatre setting with book-lined walls offer great Stout, Helles, Hefeweizen (German wheat beer), Golden Ale and IPA. With equipment and a brewmaster imported from the US, they stick to the international nomenclature. And if you haven’t made up your mind yet, start with a tasting set of six.

Windmills Craftworks Beer

The spirit of experimentation goes on at Toit where patrons can imbibe coffee and chocolate ‘Dark Knight’ stout, Basmati Blonde – described as a ‘love child of India’s Basmati Rice and German Pilsner malt’, besides special ales infused with chilli, passion fruit or millet and jaggery. Be it Porter at Barleyz or Apple Cider at Prost, Wheat at Vapor or Stout at The Biere Club, craft beer lovers are spoilt for choice.

With aficionados loving the complexities of craft beer over regular bottled beer, the trend has established strong roots in cities like Mumbai, Gurgaon, Chandigarh and Pune. Here, in Bengaluru, love for the amber fluid is quite strong. If you throw a stone, chances are you’ll either hit an app developer or a microbrewery.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on 31 July, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

The Hungry Merlion: Singapore cuisine

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From pushcarts to plush restaurants and Chilli Crab to Chicken Rice, ANURAG MALLICK covers iconic dishes and fine dining venues for a real taste of Singapore’s exciting food scene

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Singapore’s status as a serious food destination can be gauged from the fact that ten of the Top 50 restaurants in Asia can be found here. This is where celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay met his Waterloo in a Street Food Challenge organized by local telecom major Singtel; his chicken rice lost out to the original at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Road Food Centre. Overnight, the tiny stall became a sensation.

Anthony Bourdain considers their chicken rice so good you can have it all by itself, even without the chili-shallots-ginger-garlic condiment and sliced red chili in soya! The trick is in the rice cooked in chicken broth with steamed or roasted chicken breast sliced and served on top.

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After working at Tian Tian for over twenty years, chef Wong Liang Tai quit and set up his own stall Ah Tai two stores away. Both remain so popular, there are serpentine queues at lunch time. Equally legendary is Boon Tong Kee, started by Mr. Thian Boon Hua as a tiny stall in Chinatown in 1979, serving Cantonese chicken rice infused with silky white sauce. After the first restaurant at Balestier Road in 1983, five outlets opened in quick succession and by 1999 it had diversified to Zi Char (home-style cooked food).

Singapore must have truly humbled Gordon Ramsay for he also lost to a tiny shop called ‘328 Katong Laksa’. Laksa is a coconut based curry with yellow noodles, prawns, boiled egg, sambal, topped with fried onions and peanuts. Run by a former model, her noodles come in bite-sized pieces, so it’s easy to soup up.

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Singaporeans love their Char Kway Teow – flat rice noodles and egg noodles stir fried with eggs, cockles, lap cheong (Chinese sausages), bean sprouts and Chinese chives. However, the ultimate favourite is Singapore chili crab, best served at Jumbo Seafood and Long Beach.

Some culinary experiences are so uniquely Singapore that patrons don’t mind queuing up. Jumbo’s award-winning chili crab makes it hard to get a table at their Clarke Quay outlet. They’ve opened multiple outlets to cater to the insatiable Singaporean. Song Fa’s bak kut teh (pork rib soup) evolved from a tiny push cart on Chinatown’s Johor Road in 1969 to a chain of restaurants.

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Patrons patiently line up for a table to eat juicy pork ribs falling-off-the-bone and umpteen helpings of the peppery spice-infused pork rib soup served with white rice, garlic chilli paste and sliced red chilli in soya sauce. For the best steamed pork dumplings, there’s Din Tai Fung while Tanglin Crispy Curry Puff has been tingling taste buds since 1952 with its golden fried curry puffs in chicken, sardines or yam.

Lau Pa Sat, once a Victorian era wet market has transformed into a buzzing street food centre. A diverse range of stalls are anchored around a central clock tower with an ornamental metal roof fabricated and shipped all the way from Glasgow. In the evening, vehicular traffic on Boon Tat Street is shut down as makeshift tables and chairs spill out from the building onto the streets. Satay stalls fire up their skewers to dish out mutton, chicken, beef and prawn satays with Tiger Beer. A sign displays the Satay Challenge record of 150 sticks consumed in 20 minutes!

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There’s diverse seafood on offer – soupy black mussels, fried sting ray, crayfish, scallops, squid, octopus, oysters, prawns with baby kailan (Chinese broccoli). The unique thing is you have to pay the moment your order arrives. With none of the usual squalor associated with street food, the hygiene standards are really high and each hawker centre has to shut down compulsorily for four days every month for cleaning.

With limited land available and a limit to reclamation, Singapore loves to squeeze out maximum utility from minimum space and repurposing the old. Dempsey Hill, once a British cantonment and barracks for soldiers is now a swanky gourmet and shopping district spread around a gently sloping hill. At PS Cafe and its sister concern ChoPSuey, dine indoors or outdoors feasting on rib eye steaks, pastas and wine.

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Ann Siang Hill, once a spice plantation of nutmeg and mace is now a buzzing F&B district crammed with rooftop bars and restaurants. Critically acclaimed Lolla offers tapas sized portions of house specials – toasted sourdough with kombu butter, cured meat platter, Iberico pork collar, lamb rack and more.

CHIJMES – the 1841 Church of Infant Jesus was renovated from a religious complex to a plush entertainment quarter (cheekily renamed after the peal of the church bells) with high end restaurants like the newly opened El Mero Mero, literally ‘The Boss of the Boss’. It serves excellent Mexican – Bluefin Tuna Tostada, Wild Fish Ceviche, Grilled Wild Fish Taco to signature cocktails like Habanero Mango Martini and El Mero Mero – orange-infused mescal, fresh lime and agave.

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A similar experience in a fast food chain format is Chilis, available at multiple locations across Singapore including Universal Studios. The sheer diversity of dining locations in Singapore is mind boggling. There’s a 34-seater Gourmet Bus that tours the city offering an excellent wine dine experience on-the-go.

At Gardens by the Bay, dine at IndoChine in a SuperTree, sit outdoors at Satay by the Bay or opt for a 7-course degustation menu at Pollen inside the Flower Dome in a plush indoor setting. For dessert, you are ushered to the counter for exquisite desserts hand plated in front of you. Try the pumpkin ice-cream, caramelized pumpkin seeds, fresh blueberry, white chocolate parfait, garnished with pumpkin seed oil.

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At the Botanic Gardens inside the National Orchid Garden overlooking the Ginger Garden is Halia, ‘Ginger’ in Malay. Their chilli crab spaghettini and paperbag fish are signature specialties, as is their version of Singapore Sling using Hendrick’s gin that contains 11 botanicals and notes of cucumber and rose.

With its diverse multi-cultural population, Singapore has excellent Asian cuisine ranging from Chinese, Malay, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Indonesian, top international fare to the delectable fusion of Baba Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine – the food of Chinese straits settlers who speak Malay. Perked with spices, tempered with coconut milk and sweetened with palm sugar, drop by for a taste at Blue Ginger on Tanjong Pagar Road.

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And for those who love the comfort of Indian food, Little India offers enough variety – pure veg South Indian or Jain meals, the carnivorous delights of Chettinad, biryani and North Indian dishes. Most city hotels like Oasia in Downtown offer a great breakfast spread while resorts like Shangrila Rasa Sentosa have separate Indian, Chinese, Malay and Continental counters.

Local desserts like Chendol (shaved ice with pandan jelly, red beans, coconut milk and gula melaka) are legendary though for a special treat, head straight to Janice Wong’s 2am dessert bar in Orchard. Paired with sake or exotic cocktails, try their signature desserts like Tsujirehei Green tea tart, Kyoto Garden, Blackforest Cornet offered in a degustation menu classified as Zen, Playful and Natural. It was as much taste as performance.

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The 2am snickers inaya sorbet had cinnamon and rosemary smoked and covered with a wine glass to infuse a smokiness. In Cacao Forest, the Earl Grey bergamot chocolate mousse, forest fruits, miso and ice-cream were shrouded in a ring of cotton candy. As the crème de cacao liqueur and vanilla whiskey were poured on the fluff, the ‘forest’ disappeared before our eyes.

The iconic Singapore Sling, a gin-based cocktail infused with Grenadine was crafted in 1912 at the Raffles Hotel so ladies could drink in public without inhibition. When the Americans came here after World War II, they looked around for Philly Cheese Steak sandwich in vain until someone decided to stuff country sandwich bread with meat and eggs and called the Asianized version Roti John! Singapore thrives on culinary inventiveness. Bon appetit…

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FACT FILE

Getting there: Singapore Airlines flies direct from Bengaluru, Chennai and other cities taking 4 hrs for the flight to Changi Airport, which is located in the eastern part of the city. The route-dictated menu matches destination and passenger profiles with deliciously wholesome meals and Shahi thali on Indian routes, besides ‘Book the Cook’ service on Suites, First Class and Business Class.

Where to Stay
Oasia Hotel Downtown
Great location, this new hotel in the CBD is close to attractions.
Ph +65 6664 0333 www.stayfareast.com

Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa
A top resort at the western end of Sentosa overlooking Siloso Beach, it’s close to the Fort Siloso walkway.
Ph +65 6275 0100 www.shangri-la.com

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When to go: The Singapore Food Festival is held from July 16-31 with pop up kitchens and food promotions. This year, gourmet food festival Savour at Marina Bay has been staggered across three periods – Gourmet (12-15 May), Wines (8-11 Sep) and Christmas (17-20 Nov). World Gourmet Summit in April-May sees Michelin star chefs competing with local chefs.

For more info, visit http://www.yoursingapore.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 24 July, 2016 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Singapore Airlines: Slinging around the world

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ANURAG MALLICK reviews Singapore Airlines while flying from Bangalore to Melbourne via Singapore 

Aircraft A333-2

As my Singapore Airlines flight SQ-503 from Bangalore to Singapore taxied off the runway, I watched the green landscape from my window seat get obscured by clouds. It was a 4½ hr flight in a southeasterly direction towards Chennai, the Bay of Bengal and beyond. A welcome drink of orange juice and a hot towel later, I turned my attention to the Kris World entertainment system. It had 80 movies to choose from – new Hollywood releases, Bollywood hits, a decent world cinema collection and 126 TV shows.

Besides the in-flight entertainment, there are many reasons to fly Singapore Airlines – the generous allowance of 30kg check-in baggage, pleasant smiles all the way from the airport counter to being ushered to your seat, delicious Asian cuisine and award-winning customer service. But for me, the high is in ordering a Singapore Sling when you’re 30,000 ft high! The iconic drink celebrated its centenary last year, created in 1915 at Singapore’s Raffles Hotel by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

Economy dining

Though my Singapore Sling came not in a tall glass but in a plastic cup (but then, so does the bourbon and whiskey) and was made from a pre-mix, the novelty of ordering Singapore’s signature cocktail while flying SQ is a different kick! Unlike the Raffles Hotel tradition of serving a complimentary bag of peanuts (whose shells are tossed on the floor of the Long Bar), I had a pack of roasted peanuts to contend with, minus the littering!

For the main course, I opted for the chicken rice lunch. A small tub of cheese, two biscuits, a roll and butter gave company to my second Sling. Soon, I was tucking into my wok fried chicken in black peppercorn sauce, perfectly done carrots, beans and baby corn with rice. The portions of the meal, like the baggage allowance, was generous.

Silver Kris Lounge

No sooner had I finished watching London Has Fallen, it was time for touch down. If Singapore Airlines (SQ) the national carrier, is one of the world’s largest and most popular airlines, its airport hub Changi is equally loved. The 15th busiest airport in the world, it flies to more than 60 destinations in 35 countries and serves more than 51 million passengers every year. And there’s good reason why Changi has made it to the top three of Skytrax’s best airport rankings for the past 14 years, topping the list four times in a row.

Free foot-massage machines (no coin-operated crap), two movie theaters, various TV-watching lounges, a waterfall and five specialty gardens throughout the airport dedicated to orchids, ferns, cacti, sunflowers and a double-storey Butterfly Garden with thousands of butterflies and a see-through “Emergence Enclosure” where you can see the cocoons hatch. The new Terminal 3 (T3) also has toy stores, video arcades and a pay-to-enter playground with rides, slides, inflated animals, all accessible without passing through security. It’s a giant entertainment and leisure complex disguised as an airport!

Changi Customer Service Desk

Besides the efficient operations, helpful ground staff to guide you and charging points everywhere, all three terminals have dedicated areas where travelers can stretch out on chaises – the Snooze Lounge in T3 or Sanctuary in T2, where upholstered chairs face an indoor brook and mini tropical forest with broad-leafed plants. For premium passengers, Singapore Airlines also has three lounges – the SilverKris Lounge, the Private Room and KrisFlyer Gold Lounge.

And if the airline rolls out the red carpet for regular passengers, it takes its service several notches higher for its other classes, especially on board the newer Airbus A380 aircraft on long-haul flights. Its private suites, designed by French luxury yacht designer Jean-Jacques Coste, come with sliding doors and blinds, comfy seats, separate beds and full bathrooms. There’s no scrimping with Ferragamo toiletries and Givenchy blankets, pillows and pajamas. Two suites can even be combined to create one queen sized bed and double room. First Class too features giant beds and meals like Lobster Thermidor and Singapore’s popular dish bak kut teh (pork spare ribs in a pepper broth).

New J Class

Business Class has fully-flat, 78-inch beds complete with linen, duvets, pillows and 18-inch HD TVs loaded with 1,000 movies, TV shows and songs, with noise-canceling headphones, internet and text messaging. Economy isn’t too bad either, with 19.5-inch-wide seats that recline eight inches, with calf and foot rests. Though the TVs are smaller (13.3-inch HD touchscreen monitor), the entertainment is the same as First Class. And the Asian-inspired dishes are delicious.

After my brief stopover at Changi spent in duty free shopping, it was time for my connecting flight SQ-207 from Singapore to Melbourne. With a return flight booked on Singapore Airlines as well, I was looking forward to the laksa, stir fried noodles and beef massaman curry. And of course, my Singapore Sling…

SQ First Class Gourmet Chinese cuisine

For more info, visit www.singaporeair.com & www.yoursingapore.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article was written specially for the blog on a trip courtesy Singapore Airlines.