Sunday, July 27, 2008

Kamari Beach, Santorini

So I got reimbursed for the wok fiasco in the previous post, LOL :D

Back to Greece: 3rd day, this time renting a car to venture further out! We got a Toyota Aygo (automatic) for EUR 30 a day, quite reasonable. Make sure you shop around before you finalise because there are a lot of rip-offs out there in Santorini, given its a way too touristy island...

And first thing before the road trip is to head to Lucky Souvlaki in Fira for some wholesome kebabs

Thing about the kebabs here is that they are stuffed with fries as well, sprinkled with paprika and good ol' tzatziki, which is a Greek meze made of natural yogurt, cucumber, garlic, salt, a bit of lime juice and parsley. Definitely a healthier alternative than mayonnaise :)

I tried their falafel with pita instead, and my oh my it was the freshest and tastiest one I've had to date. There was something special about their falafel, which I suspect is extra spices in there different from the usual bean filled ones, and the beans is green-ish instead of the usual brown-ish mash in a falafel, perhaps its local beans ...

And off we headed for the most famous beach in Santorini - Kamari, which took us about 20 minutes drive and was south east of the island. And man, it was tough driving in Greece, firstly being the 'wrong' side with a left hand drive, and secondly... Greece itself. The roads were extremely narrow, yet people still drove fast like F1 drivers, with pedestrians ignorant and walking on the dangerous corners as if they own the roads, plus sign board quality was slightly appalling. But I think once you graduate from driving in Greece, you probably can survive in Malaysia pretty comfortably :P

Along the way we spotted many quieter seasides with beautiful beaches as well ...

Kamari was all you imagined it'd be for a popular tourist spot. Lots of straw umbrellas with lazy benches for skin cancer creation, many hotels and bars loaded with pools, sofas, alcohol and food. The ultimate hedonistic getaway most Europeans identify with, which is slightly different from my version at least.
Nevertheless, it was beautiful yet awfully hot, and we retreated to a nice cafe with good shades for some thirst quenchers. P went for the local Alfa beer...

whilst I took the (wrong) risk of trying their local Greek coffee.... which tasted like bleurggrhh with some strange aftertaste and muddy bottom...

A relaxing stroll towards the end of the beach was nice, and also helped out with some dinner hunting given that all the bars/restaurants were laid along the beach and impossible to choose or judge just by walking by. It's always a fine line between being friendly or just plain hassled when you just walk past a place and any slight indication of interest (e.g. exploring the menu) you'll just have a brigade of overly eager waiters pulling you in their restaurants. Definitely an art some restaurateurs have still yet to master...

And so I tested my theory out by choosing a restaurant that didn't have anyone hassling us in when we were checking out the menu. The place was quiet with not many patrons, something of a warning perhaps. Yet we went ahead anyway as the place, like anywhere else, boasts authentic Greek food.

P had Calamari with fries. Simple and nice, seafood was fresh, and fries not overly salted, squeeze of lemon and went down in minutes. Nothing extraordinary though, but fresh seafood sufficed.

I had some local grilled fish with salad. I remember the fish had an awful rubber sounding name, and was skeptical about it. It was fresh but the fish didn't taste amazing, despite the nice simple grill just with salt and pepper. So theory still unproven, so unfortunately no hard and fast rule for selecting good restaurants without back up research. Just look up into the sky, clasp your hands together, say your prayers and follow your instincts :P

Not entirely satisfied with the portions, we went for second round 'dinner' at Gyros Stop. A small family run place serving reasonably priced kebabs. Here's a glam photo shoot of the humble gyros' that made our day :)

Bored and done with the place, we decided to head home early and watch the sunset from our balcony...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


I think this is the best title I've came up with. Ever

Some may think my brain somehow only works for non-work related nonsense. But spending so much time and effort researching on woks and finally buying one called Tao that gives you a tao-thong (Cantonese for headache) is definitely crossing the line. So here is a little something that I'd love to share with you guys after buying KEN HOM'S WOK

Here's the beautiful signature on each wok handle:

Here's the related email which you may find entertaining:

From: Grace Lee <>
Date: Tue, Jul 22, 2008 at 12:10 AM
Subject: Ken Hom 36cm Non Stick Carbon Steel Hanging Wok - Xylan Coating

Dear Customer Service team,

On 12 January 2008, I purchased one of your product: a Tao 36cm Non Stick Carbon Steel Hanging Wok from Debenhams Oxford Street, given that it is one of the few woks in the market that is Xylan-coated and comes in this size. It comes with a use and care instruction list which I carefully adhered to at all times.

However, even after the first use, it seems that the main selling point of your non stick carbon steel wok range is not at all living up to it's claim.

As quoted from your website (, "Our carbon steel woks are coated with Xylan® - a non-stick coating reinforced with particles that are virtually as hard as diamonds, for outstanding abrasion and scratch resistance - making TAO woks resilient and long-lasting.The coating incorporates silicone for easy cleaning, as it is of course dishwasher safe."

I certainly found it extremely difficult to clean after the first use, with the food sticking to the wok instantly, somewhat ironic for a non stick wok. Please find attached a picture of its current state, despite all the gentle soaping with sponge pads and usage of wooden utensils whilst cooking.

I am deeply disappointed with your product(s) and its unfounded claims, which misleads consumers and violates the UK consumer rights legislations (The Sale of Goods Act 1979 - as amended). I do have a proof of purchase and I would like to receive a full cash refund for this in order to purchase a new wok of my choice, as I have completely lost confidence in your range of cookwares.

Thank you very much.

Yours sincerely,
Grace Lee

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Santorini - The Fairy Tale Island

Night time at Athens was another eye-opening experience... Strolling along the streets after dinner, passing by Syntagma square, we spotted a lifesize version of a choo-choo train, and it moves around the city! Apparently its called the Athens Happy Train, an alternative way to sightseeing buses, which from the name sounds like something to fetch around a bunch of people high on dope...

Arriving at the airport for the flight to Santorini, we somehow landed in the local McDonalds where I spotted something Greek on offer - Mozzarella Balls. Didn't try it but looks good!

P was hungry and happily munching McFarm, a burger filled with 2 pork patties that tasted just like sausages, with some salad and cheese sandwiched in between. A tad too salty for me I find, always preferred burgers like GBK ...

The short 35 minute flight to Santorini was delayed, nevertheless the breathtaking views made everything worthwhile. This is the amazing balcony view we had at our hotel in Imerovigli, just facing the caldera, with the soothing sea breeze, ever so quiet and peaceful ...

Apparently people in Greece do everything 2 hours later than the 'norm', something like the Spanish, having dinner at 9pm, clubbing starts at 11pm, waking up after 10pm, etc, you get the drift. So not a surprise that arriving at 7pm in the morning wasn't a great idea, especially after not much sleep the previous night. But then, it was time to explore the area despite the grogginess, we enthusiastically headed for the nearest town Fira, which was the capital city of Santorini ...

This is a great snapshot of Imerovigli and Fira (further at the back). One thing unique about Santorini (not sure if it's a Greek island thing as haven't been to others), is that the buildings are built as part of the mountain, hence inheriting the hilly and disorganised structures, with a small path connecting each of them. Personal balconies were a big feature of the hotels, as most people came here to have a tan, with outdoor chairs and small swimming (dipping) pools are all readily available.

We made it to Imerovigli 'town' as still unsure of how to walk to Fira without getting confused (no road signs!). Wouldn't call it a town per se, a street of shops is probably appropriate. But it has all you need as a tourist, a few restaurants, mini markets, souvenir shops, an ATM, car rentals and a bakery. And breakfast at the local bakery called "The Sun" was a good start ...

I had a huge Apple Pie pastry for €2. It was fresh out of the oven and tasted heavenly, without being too sweet at all, perfect.

P had something local, a Feta Cheese Pie, which wasn't that great. Basically too little feta cheese encased in too much flour/bread that was too dry to begin with.

With not much to do and whole of the island still pretty much asleep at 9am, a morning stroll back to the hotel for a nice big nap was super appealing. Nothing beats the calm sea, cloudless skies and warm sunshine ....

Feeling more refreshed (and hungry) after a good long nap, we started to make our way to Fira. It takes about 20-25 minutes walk, but it was a pleasant one especially when not too hot in the late afternoon. On the way, in a mini town called Firostefani, we got some 'Mipantas' from the supermarket. At least I think that's what I heard from the lady cashier. Mipanta is a local biscuit, very simple nothing special, but so good and so easy to pop in your mouth, hehe. Made of flour, sugar, egg, it has a slight hint of vanilla sweetness and crumbly texture. Good snack to have with some outdoor reading in the island...
And we made it to Fira! Here's a view of the city from top of the mountainous route we took. A lot of cafes and restaurants are set up here as to the right of this is simply just the sea, all buildings facing the caldera , but from a lower point than Imerovigli ...

For dinner, we headed to this place called Stani, situated right in the center of town, boasting volcanic views of the island. Pretty excited to finally try out some local specialties that I'd read so much about.

For starters, we had Aubergine and Tomato Keftedes. Keftedes is a generic name for fried items in ball shape I presume. The Santorini Aubergine is special, where instead of the usual purple skin we're so accustomed to, Santorini's is white and hence I was intrigued to see if it tasted different. The aubergine keftedes was crispy outside with a melt-in-your-mouth texture within, tastewise similar to its purple cousins I'd say, nicely spiced and not too salty.

However, what I was more interested in was the Tomato Keftedes, which just got me thinking how can you deep fry tomatoes without making a mess out of them? Especially after tasting amazing local tomatoes at Athens, would it taste better fried or just left alone simply? And here's what we got ...

It looked like banana fritters (pisang goreng) back home, but somehow they managed to fry the tomatoes in a very light and crispy batter, retaining all the sweet juicy tomato goodness once you chew into it. I still have no idea how they did that, but it was truly amazing!

So progressing to the mains, I chose Stani's chef's special, Lamb in Vine Leaves, which our host assured us it authentic and within the family recipe. It was indeed very homey looking, with the meat stuffed with feta cheese and red peppers, wrapped with a layer of vine leaves and slowly braised to produce the soft texture. Served with boiled potatoes and rice, it was definitely a healthy change from the starters :) I was full from the starters, but thoroughly enjoyed something so simple infused with natural flavors.

P went straight ahead with traditional Mousaka, and it certainly looked mean and done the proper way. No more mushy, cheesy and messy unauthentic attempts one so often see at confused restaurants, this one means business. A thin layer of cheese, lots of aubergine as base, and lean minced beef in between, with a sprinkle of herbs on top, P was happily munching away and it was super filling.
It was a good first dinner, but we weren't fans of the local wine I must say. Nothing that interesting and the white was pretty flat in taste, but good food made up for it :P

Meanwhile, the crepe shop next to Stani had some interesting (weird) suggestions for the possible combinations for a crepe filling ... Chicken, banana, curry, yoghurt and peanuts anyone?

Soon, it was time to head back and here's a sneak peek into the beautiful sunsets I was raving about previously ...

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Adventures in Athens

After a 3.5 hours flight, we arrived fresh faced and eager to explore the city of Athens for the first day of our Greek adventure. For me, it's the first time venturing further out in Europe and going for a Mediterranean twist in search for a different sort of holiday. And the best bit (probably stressful/frustrating for some) is I decided to do book this holiday in my usual rashed/irrational style with not much planning, never had time to research more of the cultural history and must-see sights given that I was busy working most of the time. Literally just booked the connecting flights and hotels and just headed off! In a strange sort of way it did pay off and I loved every bit of randomness of this Greek holiday ...

Athens feels like a small town living in history, not your typical glamorous and trendy European cities (e.g. Paris, Milan, Barcelona). Buildings are older and less polished, roads are narrow, Greek words and graffiti everywhere (not very English friendly), lots of nuts and olives, and of course, random shops like this ...

Colorful bottles of local liquor called Ouzo (which tastes like mouthwash or some toothpaste actually) ...

And then I saw something totally inappropriate which I thought you all would be interested ... -_-||

But anyways, we headed straight for a famous taverna for seafood called Tou Psara for dinner, which is near the Plaka, but pretty hard to find I must say. Well worth the hunt as you can just ask some locals like we did which will point you to the direction once you're nearby.

There are tables indoors as well as outdoors. You get a pretty decent view of the city like below

Here's a snapshot of the menu, on the starters page. I decided to go for the famous Greek salad for starters, after hearing so much about how its different locally.

And boy were they SO right! The Greek salad I've had all along outside of Greece was a poor attempt to replicate what is originally a refreshing, crisp and fresh salad. The key ingredients that made a difference was the local produce: giant red local tomatoes, fresh capers, olives, cucumber, green pepper and onions, dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, topped with a generous chunk of feta cheese... absolutely heavenly! The salad is served chilled and what I found interesting was that the raw onions were sweet and juicy and doesn't give the sharp aftertaste which many find unappetising. Now we know the ones available in the UK is not doing this amazing salad justice at all ...

P had the Grilled Kalamari Stuffed with Feta and Red Pepper, served with a mini tomato salad on the side. And that's what I meant by the giant local tomatoes if you look at the size of it :) He thoroughly enjoyed the dish being a big seafood and cheese fan, and I took quite a liking to it as well especially the crispy tentacles bit ...

On the other hand, I ordered Lamb Souvlaki with Spinach Pie and Rice. Souvlaki is probably what we normally call kebabs, basically pieces of meat grilled on skewers. The big chunky meat was succulent, grilled pink and perfect, with little charred bits on the green pepper which was nice (but cancer causing unfortunately) ;P The spinach pie was something new I've not tried before, but basically spinach cooked with a melted cheese topping, which is unsurprisingly feta I suspect. Pretty balance dish with a bit of meat, vegetables and carbo.
And there was something red, big and local that I would have missed out if it wasn't for the kind host who gave out fruits on the house. The chilled watermelon was great on a warm sunny day, oozing with natural sweetness and juiciness. All in all a great start to the discovery of Greek cuisine!

By the time we paid our bill, it's starting to get dark and even in Athens, the sunset is so beautiful and an event that you actually have to stop doing what you're doing and just standstill for 5-10 minutes to appreciate this natural beauty that is so often taken for granted ... More on this when we're off to Santorini island next!

Tou Psara (Fish Taverna)
Eretheos, 16. Plaka
Athens, Greece

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Simple Life back Home

Yes, I'm back from beautiful Greece!

Not that I'm happy that my holidays are over, but its still feels great to come back to London. Yup, I actually missed the weather slightly, as it was just freaking 35C permanently in Athens and Santorini. One good thing about Greek summer is that clouds don't seem to exist there, which proved great for sunsets and spotting shooting stars in the starry starry nights! I'll leave the rambling of the trip to the next few posts as it's still work in progress as I've way to many pictures to consolidate :)

In the meantime, there are a few things about Greece that reminded me very much of home:
1) The obvious hot weather
2) Athens feels and looks like Klang/Petaling Street (no kidding here)
3) The slower pace of life in general

Which brings us to another episode of home cooked Malaysian food ...

This is something I whipped up during the weekend for the housemates since it's been a while I cooked something homey. The beauty about home cooked stuff is that it's simple, no fuss, yet delicious and generally healthier than eating out

This is Stir Fried Pork with Mushroom and Carrots, garnished with some chopped spring onions (could have named it some Dragon/Phoenix related/Funky-Pig-Jumping-Over-the-Carrots or whatever, but sod it, its midnight and it's been a hard week with not much brain juice to spare ...)

Seasoning is simple like the theme: marinade the pork for at least an hour in a bit of corn flour, light soy sauce, sesame oil (for extra oomph!) and dark soy sauce (for color, if you fancy). For the vegetables, just chopped them in whatever shape you like (I did a flower one for the carrots), and sliced the mushrooms thinly and you're pretty much done! Of course garlic is always your base for stir fries, and all you have to do is brown them in oil, and then add the carrots (they take a while to cook) first, and the pork 5 minutes later, and the mushrooms last, adding very tiny amount of water if necessary. Remember to test the flavor and add a pinch of salt if necessary (season to taste).

Bought a 400g loin of cod of the highest grade in the supermarket seafood counter for the classic Cantonese style steamed fish, which costed a tiny bomb, but well worth it as it was fresh and flaky when done. Lay the sprigs of spring onions below the cod pieces, and fine ginger slices on top, and then just add light soy sauce and a dash of sesame oil before steaming it for 10 minutes or less, depending on size/thickness of the fish.

If you squint your eyes properly you could probably see another dish in the top left of the picture that just looks brown. Forgot to take a picture of that, but it's a dish that I grew up with: Steamed egg with Chinese Mushroom and Dried Prawns topping. Judging from feedback, it was the most popular dish of them all that night :D Promise to do one special post on the steam egg dish as I recently learnt a secret to the perfect one from a friend.

Anyways, expect lots of delicious Greek foodie banter next!