Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is a Cronut better than a Doughnut?

In the past year, I've been reading about something called the Cronut and apparently, it has been all the rage since 2013 in New York. In fact it has been named as one of the "25 Best Inventions" of 2013 by Time Magazine! I kept seeing reports about this unique doughnut (or is it spelled donut?)-croissant hybrid, I started to get desperate for one myself. 

So when I saw the local Mister Donut advertising it, I immediately jumped in line to get myself one. I knew that it would most likely be way inferior to the original one in New York but it had to do for now. They are selling them for just a bit more (216 yen) than their regular doughnuts (around 130 yen). Still they are way cheaper than their New York counterparts. ($5 each!) 

Most likely due to legal stuff, they are called Mr. Croissant Donuts and they come in 6 different flavors. I originally bought myself three flavors but I stupidly decided to open the box of donuts over the kitchen sink, where 2 of my doughnuts fell into. The photo shows the one lone survivor of my mishap, the Orange and Lemon Whip Mr. Croissant Donut. 

So how was it? Was it worth the extra yen over their regular old-fashioned doughnuts? I actually thought they were pretty good and compared to their typical line-up, it was a step above in taste as well as presentation. It really was like biting into a croissant and a doughnut at the same time. The dried-orange bits added fruity flavor while the lemon drizzle gave it an extra layer of sweetness, which is actually a good thing because the doughnuts ( donuts? how are they spelled? ) at Mister Donut Japan is never sweet enough for my Westernized taste buds. 

By the way here's a link to see why there are two spellings for the doughnut or donut. 

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Friday, July 18, 2014

Crazy Colored Hawaiian Popcorn

I was five years old when I first landed on the shores of the island of Oahu. I don't remember much about those days and have pockets of blurred memories, mostly about food.

The bag of popcorn you see above is one of those things that bring back memories of those early years in my life in Hawaii. Those were the days when movies were cheap and drive-inn theaters still existed.

This red and green popcorn mixture is definitely a blast for the past. As soon as I spotted this bag at the supermarket, memories of old movie theaters flashed through my mind and even though I knew I wasn't going to finish the bag, I had to buy it for nostalgia's sake.

Both red and green kernels taste exactly the same as they are basically sugar coated. Yes it's a rather simple affair as it's just a combination of popcorn and sugar. I like how crispy they are and they taste surprisingly fresh. 

It's hard to say whether you'd like this or not, but they do look pretty cool. And the colors remind me of Christmas and would probably work as a garnish for the holidays. They aren't going to become my favorite snack anytime soon, but the memories it brought back to me was worth the small splurge!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Dusit Thani Bangkok and The Newly Revamped Benjarong Restaurant

A Stay at the Dusit Thani in Bangkok is like coming home. I've been staying at this hotel for over 15 years and since then, I've become attached to this place. Although many newer properties are popping up all over the city, Dusit Thani still manages to hold its own and pampers guests with their signature traditional Thai hospitality. 

It had been more than three years since my last stay so it's surprising when Staff Extraordinaire Ms Busava immediately recognized me from afar. She greeted us with a huge smile, gave me an incredible upgrade to a three-room suite and escorted us upstairs to the executive lounge to check in. 

The Dusit Thani Bangkok gives you luxurious extras such as a pillow menu ( you can choose from a wide selection ) , an aromatic nightly turn down service ( includes aroma burner making the room smell like a spa ) and the use of all facilities such as the state-of-the-art gym and pool. 

The selection of teas ( green tea, black tea and lemon grass ) and coffee is wonderful. I am especially fond of the herbal lemon grass tea, which I can't seem to find anywhere outside of Thailand. 

Since we opted for Club Lounge access, we headed over for complimentary cocktails and savories. The Club Lounge is a beautiful space that's really like heaven on earth. Soft music plays in the background while the gracious staff makes you feel like royalty. 

There was so much to choose from the food selection that we decided to stick to just one small plate. We had dinner reservations downstairs and didn't want to spoil our appetite. Believe me this was quite a difficult thing to do. 

We arrive at the entrance of the new and re-imagined Benjarong Restaurant inside the Dusit Thani Hotel. This has always been one of my go-to restaurants while in town and they never fail to impress me. However since my last visit, the restaurant has gone through a dramatic change. 

The manager insisted I try it out to give her feedback as they are fairly new to the Bangkok restaurant scene. As soon as we settled into our seats, we both order some unique cocktails, like the Lemongrass Mojito you see above. 

The new Benjarong serves New-Wave Thai Cuisine and in a way, it's a risky gamble especially since they used to be known for Royal Thai Cuisine. Still, we kept an open mind and proceeded to order. 

Looking at the appetizers above, you would never think we were at a Thai restaurant. But one taste and the Thai spices and influences are clear. 

The Aromatic Trio that I ordered consisted of Crispy Taro with Tom Yum Flavor, Young Lotus with Aubergine Relish and chicken Sausage on the Bone. 

We ordered two different appetizer samplers, each with different items so that we could share. We both loved the rustic yet very modern look of the presentation. 

The Tasting Journey Trio that my friend ordered includes Deep Fried Cuttelfish with Fresh Turmeric, Spiced Scallop and Papaya in Coconut Milk and Roasted Pork Leg with Smoked Chili Tomato Jam. 

Each bite-sized sampler was unique and different which played with our senses through the variety of taste and texture. 

For the starter course, I decided to go with the Foir Gras and Tamarind Chutney. This was definitely a very complex dish and included bits of fresh pineapple, cubes of ginger and a very unique pineapple foam. Amazingly, the tastes all fit together in perfect harmony. 

The Yam Neau was my friend's starter of choice. The Yam Neau is an updated version of the traditional Thai salad the presentation was absolutely stunning! 

The Yam Neau is a salad of Grilled Wagyu Beef with Dehydrated Tomato, Sweet Melon and Yam Pudding. 

After all the stunning food so far, we were pretty impressed especially with all the thought that went into the smallest detail, such as the tableware they've selected for each dish. 

My main dish of Goong Satay was amazing to say the least. Once again, it was a combination of familiar and new tastes that exploded in my mouth with each bite. The perfectly seared tiger prawns eaten together with the Satay Spice and the sweet Green Sauce. I made sure to linger over this plate. 

The Ped Yang Nam Man Hoi is a Sous Vide Cooked duck Breast with Aubergine, Chinese Chives and Crispy Wonton with Oyster Sauce. This was my friend's main course and once again, the presentation was abstract, new-wave and just stunning. 

Last but not the least, it was time for dessert and once again Benjarong did not dissapoint. Strangely enough, I didn't take notes down for dessert as I was too high up in heaven upon my first bite. 

My friend's dessert was a deconstructed Thai cake with bits of fresh pineapple, cake and coconut ice cream with salted meringue. It's so unique tasting that the first bite confuses the mind, but surprises you the next second with the pleasant harmony of the ingredients. 

Finally, I saved the best for last. In fact I would probably come back just for this humble-looking dessert. Inspired by a traditional Thai cake made with bananas, this deconstructed beauty is perfection in a bowl. Notice the different bowls they've used in both desserts. Absolutely stunning.

I'll try to explain it the best way I can as I was absolutely in a trance devouring this insane dessert. A delicate yet fragrant banana cake lies in a bath of sweet and slightly salty coconut milk, topped with a scoop of creamy ice-cream ( caramel ? ) and freshly dehydrated banana slices.

I am seriously craving this right now even as I'm writing this because it's that good! Period!

As all good things must come to an end, so did our multi-course meal at Benjarong. However we were pleasantly surprised as we were offered a selection of the most wonderful macarons with our lemon grass infusions. With flavors like lemon grass, Thai milk tea and tamarind, even the macarons were wonderfully Thai. 

The new Benjarong Restaurant at the Dusit Thani Hotel in Bangkok gets a thumbs-up from the both of us. We love the new direction it's going and although I miss the traditional tastes of the former Benjarong, I believe this is a good thing. 

From the food presentation to the food itself, once again Benjarong has managed to wow me, the most difficult food critique of my generation ( who am I kidding? ;) Everything about Benjarong is about moving forward and it's almost experimental. Yet they manage to retain traditional Thai flavors, traditions and decor throughout the dining experience. 

A big thank you goes out to the Dusit Thani Staff for always welcoming back to their beautiful hotel. It's hard to express in words how thankful I am for your hospitality. 

And a big thank you for reading about my adventures in Bangkok. If you enjoyed this post, please consider signing up for my FREE newsletter, which includes periodical updates as well as exclusives including recipes and so much more!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Stunning Temples of Bangkok

As we approach the final days of our Bangkok holiday, reality hits us that our trip will be ending in just a couple of days. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end but on the bright side, we still have two more days! 

On our first full day in Bangkok, we discovered a Dean & Deluca Shop right in front of our hotel and decided that we had to go back one more time to find out what other delectables we needed to sample. And what better way to start off brunch than with a perfect cup of Latte. 

As most of our meals were predominantly Thai food, we decided it was time to lay off the spices, at least for brunch. After a good ten minutes trying to decide what to eat, I ended up choosing the grilled lamb sandwich. Perfectly toasted bread + perfectly grilled lamb = Heaven. 

I tried really hard to resist, I really did. But my friend insisted that I get the carrot cake mostly because I seemed to be in utter despair as I tried to ignore this beautiful slice of carrot cake calling out from behind  the glass display. He also knew that I would be regret it all day long if I didn't get it. He's one smart guy my friend.

By the way, the carrot cake was surprisingly not as sweet as I expected it to be as most carrot cakes tend to gravitate towards the sweet side. I don't think I've had a slice of carrot cake as light as this one and in a way, it was good because I didn't feel so bad eating it after a fairly large sandwich. 

After that absolutely delightful brunch, we headed off in the direction of the pier to once again take a boat ride, this time to see the famous temples of Bangkok. Wat Pho can be seen in the distance, but we'll visit that one later. 

It's been a few years since I've been back to Bangkok and longer since my last visit to the temple grounds. However once my eyes spot the elaborate stupas in the distance, I am reminded once again of the incredible beauty and grandeur of Thailand's temples. 

Wat Phra Kaew, located inside the grounds of the Grand Palace, is definitely a place that must be visited at least once. This temple is where the Emerald Buddha is enshrined and is also regarded as the most important temple in Thailand. 

Taking your time to explore and take a close look at the architectural details. Everything about this place is stunning and at time, breathtaking. 

I love walking along this long corridor lined with Buddha statues. The calm and serenity that pervades the temple grounds almost make you forget the chaos right outside the temple gates. 

Slowing down to take time and appreciate the details is the best way to enjoy this incredible place. Continue scrolling to enjoy the beauty of Wat Phra Keaw and the Grand Palace in peace.

The ornate and stunning Grand Palace combines European and traditional Thai architecture. 

A 10-minute walk from Wat Phra Kaew is Wat Pho, the home of the reclining Buddha. 

Measuring 46 meters long and completely covered in gold leaf, the Reclining Buddha is definitely a sight to see. Traditional Thai massages are also offered here as it is also a center for traditional massage and medicine.

After a tour of the Grand Palace and the temple grounds, it was time to take a boat across to Wat Arun, definitely my favorite temple in the city. 

Wat Arun lies on the other side of the river from the Grand Palace and is reached in a matter of just a few minutes by boat. 

Wat Arun has less visitors than the Grand Palace, making it a better choice for those who want a quieter temple experience.It's never crowded and feels so much more peaceful here than at the more popular Wat Phra Kaew. 

This temple is rather amazing. From afar, the temple takes on a greyish tone but up close and upon closer inspection, you'll be surprised to find out that every surface is covered and decorated with porcelain pieces. 

If you have the energy and the courage, climbing up these extremely steep stairs is a must. 

Once you climb up, you are rewarded to a bird's eye view of the Chao Phraya River and part of the Bangkok skyline. 

Naturally, there was food involved but I think I'll save it for another post as this one is already too long. So if you've read this far, thanks and as always, I hope you enjoyed this post of my adventures in Bangkok. 

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Saturday, July 5, 2014

Asiatique and More Cupcake Love

Today we decided to take it easy. Yesterday was a huge and we felt the effects. My friend woke up feeling sick and although he tried to be a man about it, I felt that he needed to rest. But before going back to the hotel, I felt a couple of cupcakes were necessary to take back to the hotel from my new favorite cupcake 

On my last visit to this fabulous cupcakery just two days ago, I had my eye on this beauty. I mean just look at this piece of culinary art! As soon as I bit into the creamy frosting, I knew this was going to be one of the best. 

The real lavender sprinkled on top of the lavender-infused frosting, along with the lavender-infused vanilla cake just blew my mind. An endless explosion of lavender flavor permeated my mouth, with just a hint of vanilla. 

I also chose the Cappuccino Cupcake because in all honesty, I've never had coffee-flavored cupcakes before. This one was also a winner in my book with the coffee flavor coming through hints of caramel and vanilla. 

It even went perfectly with my cup of coffee. Who knew that coffee cupcakes would pair well with coffee!

So I let my friend sleep for a couple of hours to see if he'd feel better. Fortunately he did and he looked ready for anything! After making sure that he really felt OK and wasn't just saying that to make me feel better, we took the train to the pier along the river, to take a boat ride to Asiatique, a fairly new night market I've never been to. 

As you can see, Asiatique sits right on the riverfront and the easiest way to get there is naturally by boat. This night market even has a little bit of history. 

Back in the 1900s, King Chulalongkorn felt the need to raise Siam ( modern Bangkok ) to the level of other leading countries so decided to establish relations with Denmark. The construction of the pier was part of the project and it signaled the beginning of international trade between Siam and European nations. Now it's been carefully renovated into one of the biggest night markets in Asia. 

Each block is designated to certain items such as interiors, clothing, art, souvenirs etc. Our favorite turned out to be this shop selling aroma-related items such as these colorful and beautifully-fragranced soaps. 

These mini soaps shapes like Thai fruits and flowers, have natural loofah sponges that are built into the soaps themselves. These are perfect for gifts and I purchase a whole bunch of these. 

They also have other skin care essentials such as body lotion, massage oils and body mist. The great thing about this brand ( and so many other Thai brands ) is that they are made with all-natural ingredients, utilizing local herbs such as lemongrass, galanga and orchids. The aromas are exotic and many fragrances come as a surprise. It was so refreshing to experience body lotions that were far from predictable. 

The owner of the shop explained to us the concept behind their store, which is all natural using only the best herbs, spices and florals from Thailand. Did I tell you that this was by far, the best store in the entire Asiatique marketplace? 

I guess that explains why I didn't take photos of any other shops here. First of all, we were in a time crunch as we had a cabaret show to catch. Second we needed to find a restaurant to eat something before the show. 

Unfortunately, that left very little time for browsing the myriad of shops. In fact, this place is huge and I really have to make a point to come back someday to check out everything else they have to offer. 

 Oh, I almost forgot about dinner! We decided to try out this casual outdoor restaurant in the Asiatique complex, serving Hainanese-Style Chicken Rice. There are a crowd of people there so we figured it must be good and boy was it good! To start off, we cooled down with Iced Chrysanthemum Tea. 

My friend ordered the Deep-Fried Chicken version and it was good. The rice was pure heaven as it was cooked with chicken broth and a hint of coconut. Just stunning. 

As for me, I got the Pad Thai for myself as I haven't had it yet on this trip. Pad Thai is one of those dishes I consider "safe", especially recommended for those who don't like spicy food, or in my case, if your stomach has been dying from too much spice. 

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