First things first, an update of our Grand Tour:
After a really stressful time in the big city KL, we decided we needed to leave and find somewhere that we can find peace. Due to the limited accommodation options in Cameron Highlands, we weren't able to return there again. That would have been amazing.
We chanced upon a quirky accommodation in the suburbs of Melaka and looked through google maps and street view extensively. (We've got some great shots and will share the links once we've moved on to our next location!) We were apprehensive because we had a heavy heart and a disastrous Airbnb experience the previous time we stayed in Melaka.
We absolutely love this property and there are amazing neighbours who are very friendly and kind. Quiet and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the major roads, we've been decompressing! We've been visiting local eateries and shops in places tourists don't usually frequent and we've been blown away by the amazing food and hospitality of the locals.
One thing that we really love about Melaka is the abundance of AWESOME food!
Here's 4 that we really enjoyed this time...
1. Shu Peo Korean BBQ
No.2, Jalan KPKS 6, Kompleks Perniagaan Al-azim, 75250 Kota Syahbandar, Melaka
2. Face to Face Noodle House
2 Locations...click link
3. The Best Chicken Rice (冠军鸡饭)
G14, Jalan Rahmat 1, Taman Malim Jaya, 75250 Malim Jaya, Melaka
4. 729 Kopitiam
Taman Merdeka Permai, 75350 Batu Berendam, Malacca
We've stayed mostly in the suburban areas of Melaka this time but decided to head to Jonker Street this weekend! We were surprised IT WAS ALIVE! So many stalls are back in operation! It is best to go around 5pm before the really massive crowds come by. If you intend to have dinner at the hawker areas in the street, you'll really need to get there early. By 630pm you will have to wait quite long for a seat.
A beautiful mess is my short description of Jonker's allure.
The longer description: Jonker is where you'll hear the noise of the crowd excited at the calls of shop owners promoting their wares. It is where years are rolled back to when shopping at a street market was part of life. Homogenised and sanitised shopping malls aren't a thing and haggling was an essential life skill. Street markets like Jonker activates all your senses. The fascinating sounds of hawkers clanging their woks or breaking up ting-ting candy while bright lights illuminate their little stalls. Your olfaction is constantly on alert as the smell of umami wafts through the air. An occasional stink of raw seafood and (controversially) durians interrupts the sweet smell of local delicacies. It is like a little treasure hunt where you're constantly searching for something interesting to eat or buy.
Here are 5 awesome things you can do at Jonker Street, Melaka:
1. Eat street food
There's street snacks and if you'd like, the hawker stalls cook up full meals too!
2. Buy local souvenirs
You'll be spoiled for choice at the amount of knick knacks you can find here. There's apparel, electronics, local art, chicken bowls and even customised cup noodles. Go earlier in the day before 5pm to make yourself a customised cup noodle (Noodle Doodle) at Mamee Jonker House.
3. Street Photography/Videography
There's so much action to be captured here! It really is a photographer's dream. If you like blogging or creating reels like we do, here is an amazing place for content creation. Be discreet and most people are generally okay to be photographed.
4. Visit the old town
The Dutch square is just a short 2 minute walk from the entrance of Jonker Street. You'll find the Queen Victoria Fountain, The Stadthuys, Christ Church Melaka and several other museums in the immediate vicinity. The A Famosa Fort is also just a 7 minute walk from Jonker.
5. Take a caffeine break at a Cafe nearby
There are some pretty well reviewed cafes and are all walking distance from Jonker street. I've listed these because they are pretty good + they are open in the evenings on weekends when Jonker Street is in operation.
-Street Barista @ Jonker
3, Jalan Hang Lekir, 75200 Melaka
-Limau Limau Coffee
We are now wrapping up our Grand Tour in Malaysia! Our Grand Tour is headed to another country and we are SO EXCITED to plan for the next leg. We will be flying again and we've been waiting for this moment since 2018!
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We drove 500km for this
We all love the tranquility, cool weather and epic landscape of Cameron highlands! But...after two weeks of not moving around, we all got really restless. I guess that is why we are living this Grand Tour as our lifestyle!
If you know anything about the roads in Cameron Highlands, there are two ways into and out of the area. The road from Tapah was the original road the British built between 1926 and 1930. Opened in 1931, this road is EXTREMELY windy. If you are susceptible to carsickness/motion sickness, this will be hell for you.
The road surfaces are very very bad on this route. The potholes are just patched over again and again until you have some sort of a patch work blanket that is as rough as the moon's surface. One lane for each direction and trucks heading up can crawl as slow as 10km/h if they are very heavily loaded. Throw in a heavy downpour and fog, this road can get pretty dangerous.
The terrain is so challenging, we can imagine how hard it would be to get large machinery to properly repave the roads. Thankfully a new road was constructed to enter Cameron Highlands from the northern side. Simlang Pulai exit is about 40km further up the North-South highway from Tapah exit if you are coming from KL or Singapore. But let me tell you, it is WAY BETTER to travel slightly longer on this route. You still get windy roads but the turns are a lot less acute and the road surface is a lot smoother. There are several sections with overtaking lanes for safe overtaking instead of having to drive in the opposite lanes when you encounter crawling trucks.
And so we took off from Cameron Highlands and drove towards Penang on a day trip. 500km return trip. The kids slept and enjoyed the long drive. There is just something so calming about driving long distances and I love it!
We planned to visit the Penang Hill and ride the funicular but upon arriving, IT WAS CLOSED FOR MAINTENANCE?! GOOGLE MAPS WASN'T UPDATED!!!! What else do you do in Penang? EAT!
We decide to enjoy some famous Dim Sum at Tai Tong Restaurant! (Non-Halal)
Here are some details:
Address: 45, Lebuh Cintra, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Opens Tuesday to Sundays from 630am to 2pm AND 6pm to 10pm.
They are closed on Mondays and everyday between 2pm to 6pm so do take note!
I just love these restaurants in old shop houses. The charm is in their focus on just making and selling delicious food. No fuss and fancy decor involved.
When you get there, find yourself a table and the staff will give you a restaurant menu and two ordering cards. One card is for the restaurant menu and the other is for Dim Sum. Don't be silly like us. We sat there confused and wondering where in the world is the Dim Sum menu?! There is none!
This is how you get your Dim Sum:
1. Walk towards the staff on the left (Refer to picture above). She has stacks and stacks of steamed dim sum on her trolley. Ask her what there is, and tell her what you want. She will mark on the dim sum card what you've ordered and pass you the dishes.
2. See the big sign in the middle? That's the second station where you get other fried dim sum or larger dishes like Chee Cheong Fun and Lo Mai Gai and Baos. Tell the staff what you want and she'll mark your card and pass you the dishes.
3. You'll grab the dishes and bring it back to your table. Only things on the restaurant menu and tea/drinks are served to your table.
4. Pay at the counter with both your marked cards once you're done eating.
This meal alone was worth the 500km of driving.
Debra and I were commenting on how this is better than Swee Choon in Singapore. What are your thoughts? Well, the bill was definitely better in terms of value. We paid only RM80++. We spent the evening walking off the calories at a mall. It reminded us a little bit of Melaka because many shop spaces remained empty. The effects of the pandemic are still profoundly felt.
We took the ride back in darkness and climbed 5000ft back to Cameron Highlands via the Simpang Pulai route which meant we made good progress quickly. We miss the dim sum already...
This little short trip still reminded us of how much the city has to offer. Perhaps this will influence our decision on where else to go to on our Grand Tour....
Dream big, live simply, laugh often and love a lot!
That's what we've been doing on this Grand Tour. We've been driving across the states of Johor, Melaka, Negri Sembilan, Selangor, Perak, Pahang, Penang and Kedah, soaking in the sights, food and culture. You can read our entire Malaysia series here!
We've been dreaming big! I've decided I would like to co-author a book, do up photography, video content of road trip through North and South Island New Zealand in a camper van in honour of my dad. I know he would have loved it so much to go on a trip like that. It is more than travelling on his behalf, it is making that last thing we shared come to life.
I've sat with my dad on countless occasions along hospital corridors, in the clinics and by his bed side for hours in the two years he battled the cancer. Those times gave me an insight I never had of my old man. I still remember the day he showed me the channels he subscribed to on Youtube vividly. We sat waiting for his number to be called in the Haematology Department at Singapore General Hospital. He whipped out his iPad as usual and went: "I'm watching this ang moh build their own container house". It was the "Life uncontained" channel on Youtube! I've never seen him so excited! Mind you, he had a rare blood cancer that sucked the life out of him. We would discuss the progress of the renovation every week and when they missed a scheduled upload, we'd comment about it. It was something special between us! I still watch it weekly. I wish he was here to see the completed house.
After showing me the "Life uncontained" stuff, he went on to say "You see this van, they can cook, got toilet and he drive all over and travel". I was in absolute shock because I WATCH VAN LIFE VIDEOS TOO!? and I'm also crazy about living out in the nature and HGTV/renovations. His eyes sparkled and I could tell he was so excited about it. We watched several episodes from the Chinese van life channel. He would occasionally say "How good can travel everywhere and do this...Singapore don't allow, they should allow this". New Zealand was also the last place we planned to go as a whole family just before the pandemic hit. My heart aches as I'm writing about this now.
(I did New Zealand for my honeymoon and you can read about it here!)
I'm so glad we've come up with a meaningful way to memorialise my dad. We miss him terribly. The only issue is....we can't make the trip. Airfares alone are $8000-$9000 for all of us. Camper rental would cost another $6000 for a month. That's not including camp sites, fuel, food and attraction costs. We estimate that a trip for a month to properly cover the North and South Island would cost more than $20,000 cash. It didn't cost this much pre-pandemic! The costs have doubled!
We are determined to make this work and at the same time we would love to continue travelling long-term. We've come up with a series of products that we are excited to launch very soon. We hope to get your strong support so that we could make this plan work in the near future! If you'd like to support our dreams, we welcome sponsorships, advertising or even donations. Click the red button and we are happy to chat about it!
We've been living simply and enjoying the simple pleasures of life: Food! There is where I made the MISTAKE THAT ALMOST KILLED ME. It was a regular evening, we were happy to visit a cafe near our apartment to enjoy a good meal after a good day of homeschool and content creation. I was excited to see a delicious chicken burger picture on the menu....
Chicken burger and a golden ring on top. What would you assume it is? An onion ring right?! Lo and behold, I put the WHOLE THING into my mouth and it tasted nothing like an onion ring. It was a calamari! I spat it out immediately but it was too late.
I’m dangerously allergic to calamari/squid/shellfish/Molluscs.
I experienced TWO episodes of anaphylaxis over the years after I ate steamboat and fried food contaminated with squid/shellfish. Had swelling all over, couldn't breathe properly, very very high heart rate + crash after that and had a whole body of rash. Ended in emergency to get jabs that didn’t help much. Each time it took two weeks of medical leave to recover from it.
Debra was immediately alarmed, she witnessed it first hand the previous time it happened. (Sorry I scared the crap out of you!)
I drank my coffee and assumed it would wash it down fine. After all, I didn't swallow the calamari. I only felt a little tired which I assumed was normal post-meal tiredness. We went to the supermarket to get some groceries and that was when the serious reaction started.
The little tiredness became extreme exhaustion and I gradually felt more and more confused + brain fog. I stood in the supermarket thinking "buy toilet paper" and I did walk to the aisle. When I arrived at the row, I stood there staring at the toilet paper in a daze. I completely forgot where I was and why I was there. My body was reacting to the "toxins" and I think my blood pressure fell. We managed to get back safely and I collapsed in bed. I slept/concussed for an entire 12 hours. Thank God I'm okay now!
I'm a little ashamed because I tell my students this all the time! READ, DON'T ASSUME! But I did exactly that and it almost killed me. It is so important for people will allergies to READ, ASK and CONFIRM that they aren't any allergens in food they purchase outside of home. It is a matter of life and death. You don't always come back from an episode like that.
I woke up a few hours after collapsing in bed to this magnificent night sky. I grabbed the Leica with whatever energy I had and snapped these shots. Living simply took on a whole new meaning. This sky reminded how I first fell in love with photography. It showed me how small I was and I was in a place that made me feel so alive.
Laugh often and love a lot
Travelling slowly has given us so much time to look beyond the shopping and attractions. It has given me time to look beyond our homeschool schedule or work demands. It has given me more time to enjoy our children. It has dawned upon me that every day that passes is one less day I can put them to bed and kiss them goodnight. It is one day less I could tickle their tummies and have a little monkey on my back.
I found this post on Instagram and it is like that life-saving model you drew for your problem sums that enlightened you!
It is wise to number our days and understand we don't have a lot of time left. It could be a blood cancer or just a calamari ring.
Dream big, live simply, laugh often and love a lot!
p.s: Updates from our whirlwind drive to Penang for finger licking good Dim sum coming this Thursday!
Part 4: Mama's challenge
One wrong decision and it could be painful psoriasis, eczema flair ups, debilitating headaches, loose stools, smelly farts, poor gut health, increased irritability, allergic rash and even anaphylaxis. The reality is, it isn't easy feeding a family when ALL of us have food related allergies. We suffer from gluten/wheat intolerance, lactose intolerance, oat allergy, shellfish allergy and onion allergy. It’s crazy!
Being the main person in charge of everyone’s daily meals, my biggest concern for this month-long road trip was the accessibility of food that was safe for us. Having your own kitchen in your home base can be difficult enough. Travelling makes food preparation even more challenging. Don't get me wrong, we LOVE travelling. We long for life on the road where we are free. We accept that without the lows/challenges, there isn't the highs and triumphs!
Understanding the challenge and preparing for it
The fact is, Asian countries are far behind in legislating compulsory allergy warnings and labelling on all restaurant menus. There is also little awareness of the seriousness of food allergies. Supply of gluten-free products are scarce and expensive. A regular loaf of bread can cost just $2.50 but an equivalent loaf of gluten free bread can cost between 400% to 500% more.
I made the decision to cook at least one meal a day so as to not overwhelm our systems and end up sick. My 1st hack was to bring 2 bottles of Zyrtec-R allergy solution and a half-used bottle of Lee Kum Kee Gluten-free Soya Sauce. Asian cooks can't live without soya sauce but do you know it contains GLUTEN?
Second hack is to deliberately make stops at major supermarkets before checking into our accommodations to stock up on wheat free/gluten free snacks just in case we were not able to find any suitable snacks in the smaller shops (especially when up in the highlands). We found these at really good prices at Jaya Grocer in JB and Cold Storage in KL. They also carried a good selection of GF Barilla Pasta, Bob’s Red Mill products and other GF premixes for cakes and pancakes. Pre-marinated frozen meat varieties we bought were very useful for our meals too!
Breakfast so far has been easy to sort out - eggs or corn/rice cereals with fresh milk from the supermarkets for the kids and a big batch of mochi brownies I had baked the day before our trip (lasted about a week). Vincent and I are not big on breakfast, but coffee is an absolute must. It doesn’t help that we are such picky drinkers that we had to lug along our smaller Nespresso machine and all our favourite capsules. No lactose-free milk in the places we shopped at, so it’s long blacks or americanos or BOH tea everyday for me
Lunches and Dinners
On days that we don’t eat out, our meals mostly consist of rice/hash, vegetables, fruit, nuts, eggs, tofu, pork and fish. I must say that the best meals were made from the fresh veggies we bought at the Cameron Highlands Pasar Malam. A bunch of completely unassuming vegetables and fruits for all of Rm10. (So fresh that we even found a tiny earthworm at the bottom of the bag the next morning in the fridge!) You can read about our awesome time and see the mind-blowing views here.
Vincent and Matthias are now willing eaters of cucumbers and brinjals because these were so crunchy and tasty! And OH! The strawberries! It’s not exactly peak strawberry season now so the prices were slightly different at 1+1 box for Rm15 OR 2+1 for Rm25 (depending on stalls) but it didn’t really matter to us because every single strawberry in the giant box was a deep ripe red with no bruises whatsoever, complete with bright green sepals and they smelled AMAZING. We only bought a single box (Rm10) because we didn’t want any to go to waste in the event we failed to finish consuming them. I remember telling Vincent earlier today that I’d totally be making strawberry bakes and frosting all the time if we lived here because 1. price, 2. the consistency of colour and taste of every strawberry.
Fresh produce aside, I had other things to adapt to, like cooking in someone else’s kitchen. Up to this point, we’d lived in 3 Airbnb apartments.
The JB apartment that we started our trip with is not worth talking about. It looked the best and most promising prior to arrival, but the kitchen was absolutely unusable and grotesque. Let me just simply put it as the house had a mould problem. We left after a single night.
House #2 in Bentong, Genting Highlands surprised us with clean surfaces, sheets and upholstery. It actually smelled clean. The kitchen was equipped with an electrolux oven (which we didn’t use). It came with mugs, plates (no bowls), the usual cutlery (but no teaspoons! We drank coffee with tablespoons haha), a small non-stick frypan (but no spatula) and a medium sized pot. My biggest pet peeve is disgusting dish sponges and while the sponge in this house didn’t come with food residue like the previous house, it had a strange odour to it. Thankfully we managed to solve it with soap and boiling water and basically revived it’s freshness. Grabfood/Foodpanda options here were extremely limited. I think at one point I remember seeing only a single restaurant on it despite having many local zhichar restaurants within a 10min walking radius. We had many simple but satisfying home-cooked meals here which the kids found comfort in. The Electrolux induction cooktop here was an absolute breeze to use. I honestly enjoyed cooking in this place until the day we ran out of pasta/noodles on the last night and I had to cook rice. First ever attempt at cooking rice in a simple pot turned out surprisingly decent (credits to YouTube of course).
House #3 in Brinchang, Cameron Highlands which had a large and new Panasonic rice cooker! You can imagine how excited I was. Rice cookers are essential items in a (mostly GF) Asian home. (We spotted 2 other families carrying their rice cookers into their cars as they checked out from their apartments too!) The kitchen here was half the size of the previous one BUT it came with bowls and teaspoons and a microwave oven! The single ceramic cooktop here was not as great as the induction top, because temperature control was relatively inefficient. Add to that, a stone wokpan that wasn’t nonstick in the middle and we got quite a bit of charred bits on our dishes this time around. We also had to get our own spatula and dish sponges in the end because theirs was mouldy. We aren’t big on diy steamboat meals, or steaming dishes but this kitchen was well-equipped with steamers and steamboat pots. Apparently people in Cameron love a good steamboat meal which explains why you can find restaurants offering them at almost every corner! FoodPanda/Grabfood app offerings are pretty decent here. You’ve got the usual Starbucks, CoffeeBean, Maccas, Marybrown, Dominoes, PizzaHut and some other local restaurants. Delivery fees and food prices are reasonable too. We haven’t had the need to use any food delivery service since the start of the trip but I thought I’d check and have backup plans for meals.
Some advice for anyone booking entire apartments on vacation with intent to cook meals:
Mummy needs a holiday too right? Some days we just decide to take small risks and eat out. Some particular cuisines are safer. E.g. Eating Sushis, rice bowls and Korean dishes is relatively safe because they are mainly rice based. But I still had a spell of bad headache from this meal because the soup had onions in them. Sometimes we just indulge and pay the price later on. It's a holiday and we all just want to enjoy really tasty food! Bak kut teh and Hor fun turned out alright with no immediate reactions.
We take risks and try to mitigate them. E.g. Chocolate ice cream doesn't hurt the kids but the gluten from the cone does. So we let them lick/eat the ice cream and not give them the cone. The kids ENJOYED their fish and chips and then had eczema flair ups and became really irritable. Some risks however we don't take. Vincent stays far far away from shellfish because his allergy can kill him.
I’m really looking forward to the next leg of our trip. We are done chasing mountains and we really miss the awesome views, fresh air and cool temperature. Back to the city, we’ll probably be eating out more, especially with greater availability of allergy-friendly and familiar food establishments!
Family food adventures #1
WE ARE BACK! Haven't had the chance to blog because I was nursing a bad cough/fever and Debra had to run the business and care for the kids while I recovered.
We had a rare day off and took the opportunity to head across the causeway to Johor Bahru, Malaysia!
A short background write up for our overseas readers:
Singapore is an Island in South East Asia connected to southern tip of peninsula Malaysia by two bridges. The nearest state to Singapore is Johor. Singapore and Malaysia were British Colonies for more than 140 years. Singapore was briefly a state in Malaysia (1963-1965), was expelled and both countries have been independent nations ever since. However, both countries still have many things in common and one of them is the love for food!
We love heading across the border into Malaysia as a family. Johor Bahru, the city centre of the state of Johor offers many amazing tasty treats. Somehow in all the development, Malaysia has retained the old charm of street food feeling that Singapore has lost.
It is the first time since Gwyneth was born that we set out to have food outside of the malls. She now has some teeth and takes to adult food pretty well. We decided to try some Wonton Noodles!
Wonton/Wanton/Wantan Noodles are basically meat dumpling + noodles + Char Siew (roasted pork) and leafy vegetables in a tasty broth/sauce. The name wonton means dumpling in Cantonese.
You can find a long list of awesome Wonton noodle shops in Johor Bahru HERE
We decided on Restoran Yit Foh Wanton Mee because we were all really hungry and didn't want to drive for too long after crossing the border.
Address: 153, Jalan Harimau, Taman Century, 80250 Johor Bahru, Johor, Malaysia
Opens: 830am to 4am daily
We ordered 3 plates of Wonton Noodles in large, medium and small portions. We also ordered a size dish of deep fried wontons (dumplings) and two drinks. It only cost us RM30 (S$10, USD7.20) for the entire meal! If you are visiting Malaysia, you must try street/shop house food away from the huge malls and touristy places! These are the real gems of local cuisine.
Noodles: Springy, bouncy noodles that were light and very delicious!
Char Siew (Roasted Pork): The meat was soft and tasty! It did however lack the deep roast flavours
Wonton: The dumpling skin and meat both tasted soft and succulent. Pair it with some pickled green chili to get that awesome flavour punch!
Fried Wonton: Crispy and tasted as good as the wonton in the soup! Pair it with the red chili sauce to get some spicy dumpling kick!
You can choose if you want the noodles spicy or not. South-East Asians typically love our food spicy! Our kids have not developed that love for spiciness in their food and so we got them the non-spicy version.
Matthias and Gwyneth thoroughly enjoyed their meal and that made us really happy too! It felt great to be away from usual crowded air-conditioned malls! No fancy stuff, just a simple hearty, tasty and affordable meal.
We are already looking forward to the next trip across the causeway!
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Vincent & Debra Kwan, Founders of Hiro & Jack and stay-at-home parents with the odd life.
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