swining and dining

Friday, April 07, 2006

Angor Wat.....UP!

As I rifle thru my journal and remember the events of the past weeks, some definitely stand out for other reasons than culinary. Angor Wat, located in Siem Reap, Cambodia was a place I will not forget.

There are many marvels of past civilizations....Mayans, Egyptians, Incas...Angor Wat is in that category. Cambodia wasn't a culinary destination but a soulful destination. The success and popularity of the movie "Tomb Raider" had catapulted the attendance of this spiritual place... I did see the movie but didn't realize we were going there. As much of the trip, we went blindly, with only our accomodations planned, we immediatley scooped up our very good English speaking driver to be our "driver" for 3 days...he agreed to hook us up with ur own tour guide for Angor Wat and to show us the highlights of Siem Reap.

It is hard not to notice this poverty stricken country and the injustices that life and money play everyday. There in Siem Reap there are 5-6 (of 20) Five Star Hotels, many of them affordable by US standards....many of which emply locals and pump money into the economy. There is the good with the bad, as in all things in life I guess. Our stay there for 3 days cost more than what our driver would make in 1 year...and it wasn't that much. Mr. Peoiu, our driver, was so kind and accompanied us to several restuarants and local bars. His friend, Mr. Tee (I pity the fool) was our tour guide for Angor Wat.

Our first day started at where else the local market to eat some street food, we had a baguette with cheese and the most potent Paw Paw Salad (Green Papaya) I have ever had in my life. The locals couldn't stop laughing and smiling as I gasped for air and kindly asked for more sugar cane juice. It was food sweat heaven. Later that night Mr Peiou took us to a local hangout where one of the weirdest things happened. The moment we sat at our table we were bombarded by at least 20 girls selling beer..."buy from me Sir...buy from me Sir...I have Budweiser Sir".....DUDE that was surreal...I looked at Frank and Joe like a puppy being petted at a pet store...."Help Me"....Apparently the beer companies sponsor the girls to sell their beer...hard core. We ordered aimlessly and had a mediocre dining experience, as I ststed during dinner "Thank God I can't see what I'm eating....." we had frog legs like it was KFC's family bucket, steamed fish, and chicken...the best thing was of course the grilled pork. We left there early to get to bed because Angor Wat @ Sunrise was the plan for the next day.

BEEEEEEP BEEEEEP! 4:30am alarm. Up and ready to go! You would think not everyone would get up to see sunrise....Guess again....The entrance to the Temple was packed. Our tour guide Mr. T wasn't meeting us till 8am so we spent the first couple of hours on our own. Not knowing what to see or go we decided up it is....up the narrow and steep steps to the top of the temple. We were also warmed that it would be hot....yup.

This place is spiritual and magnificent, these temples are over 900 years old, only rediscovered within the last 30 years. You can't help notice the detail and lifelong commitments to the disciples of the King who took 28 years to build this temple. We made it to the top, unscathed but nerved from the climb....going down wasn't going to be fun. The monks wearing the bright orange robs were such a dramatic presence against the weathered limestone facade of the walls. There were also Buddhas that dotted the temples in certain areas.

It was time to meet our tour guide, but we were hungry so we scaled down the temple and made our way to the market are where we were bombarded by hundreds...ok tens of children trying to sell us stuff..we were warned the night before and we came prepared...oh yeah get this...the currency in which business is done in Cambodia...good ole US Dollars. We were al carrying "ones" as if we were going to a strip club for the first time.

We decided we would spread the wealth and buy little things from as many kids as we could. We did so and also bought sme original pieces of art from a local artist...food was next. At the beginning of the market we had beem recruited to eat a a certain food stall, as we approached the "food court", Fran and I found out we agreed to eat at 2 different stalls..so we did..not so fast. My "stalltender" offered eggs and baguettes...I countered and asked if I could cook breakfast for my friends and the kids...she looked at me as if I were crazy...oh yes...

I looked at the ingredients...onions, cabbage, eggs, seasoning of foriegn origin and noodles...ah pasta con juevos...I then yelled to Frank "Dude roll camera...on in 1 minute. After grabbing the knife and checking out the bunson burner word quickly spread thru the stalls as my first cooking show "angor wat style" was about to begin.

I had a blast, sweated my ass off as if I were on a line for the first time. The kids were held to my every move and took fancy to my "Emerilesque"....BAMMMMM! We plated up the food and the kids ate too...that was cool. At this point the infamous "cobra" made its first appearance. Joe was taken by the lifelike appearance of the snake and wore it around its neck...oh what stories the "cobra" could tell...the mascot was born.

The next day was another Angor Wat day...you can't do it in 1 day...folowed by a spa day with the boys (Hey, I'm on holiday...hate the spa not the treatments!) See you in Thailand.....24 hours in Bangkok....it aint no joke.

Swine over matter.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The long and swining road...

I'm currently recovering from the past 2 weeks...thanks to my buddies Frank and Joe my liver and skin will never be the same (the latter due to spa and soap treatments)

I'm about 10 days behind on the blogs so please bear with me, I'm currently in the Philippines with family recouperating....this ' down time will also allow me to "swine" up with all of you.

As i left you we just got to Vietnam...we were all excited especially about the food. Shorty after Frank and Joe arrived bagan our day tour of Ho Chi Min aka Saigon. We opted to cruise is style...pedicab style...obviously, me being the heavy set guy my pedicab driver looked intimidated but he was up for the challenge...but food was first on the list. Our drivers took us to a local hangout and we ordered from the non-english version of the menu by basically closing our eyes and pointing our fingers on menu items (don't try this at home) we ate an array of interesting food ncluding froglegs and grilled eel...thank God for the the bottomless flow beer. Uninspired, but well fed we started on our tour...One word for traffic in Saigon....CHAOS...I mean if we had rifles there would have been road rage blood shed. No traffic lights, roundabouts only, millions and millions of scooters and taxis, smog, oh and just 3 pedicabs crusing this joint...I guess we were the only "tourons" that day. Aside from the mayehm, pedicabin was the funnuest and best way to travel, I mean we even had vendors on scooters selling us stuff while we were in traffic...the orange and rose street vendors of LA have nothing on these cats. Laugh after laugh we made our way thru this French influenced city...we stopped at the War Museum...pretty gruesome...a reminder of the past and present...really puts things into perspective.

Moments into our journey I was bestowed a nickname "Mapua" you guessed it "big guy"...the name stuck and Frank and Joe had a field day. We stopped for Bahn Mi, if you haven't had one of these sandwiches you're missing out, basicaly its french bread with pate spread, grilled pork, pickled vegetables and "pay for it on the toilet the next day" fire hot chilis. Damn it was worth it. We continued our melee to Notre Dame, the Embassies and more food stops...my driver needed to rest.

The tour ended at the largest open air Market in Saigon where we caught up with the locals and cooled our mouths with fresh sugar cane juice. We then retreated to our hotel for massages (spoiled....I'm on holiday) and happy hour. Dinner was on tap later that night. We ended up at a late night place where this time we had the English menu....seafood was on tap this night. We ordered fresh prawns cooked in butter....so good, Vietnamese chicken wings and langostines. after that satisfying meal we turned in for the night to get ready for a day at the Cu Chi tunnels. As we got back to the hotel, 2 young girls (come on keep it clean) were selling chewing gum...I folded and bought 2 packs....as we talked to them we noticed how ell they spoke English and commented that they should keep it up...the more we talked to them we were taken by these girls 7 and 11, Daryl and Jessica (thier given American names) These tw were street smart and savvy, the have been selling gum since they both were 3 years old, Jessica, the older, was very bright and intuitive we gave them Hong Kong money and encouraged them to keep with thier studies and to keep in touch...the sorted became our guardian angels.

The Cu chi tunnels is a labyrinth of tunnels totaling 250 KM and submerge upt to 10 meters below the ground. these tunnels were used during the Vietnam War in which the Vietcong lived and fought during the War. On the way there we were told we could shoot AK47 or M16 machine guns...so fast did our purpose for visiting this historic place change. After a quick movie and tour, we heard the the guns firing in the distance...we got there and baby did we load up....75 rounds between three of us and probably permanent hearing loss. this experience gave me newfound respect for the physical stature of the soldiers. Then on to the tunnels...we were given an ption to go 30-60-90 meters thru the tunnels, each segent had "p" doors to get out...we all lasted 30 meters...pride on our sleeves, Frank had the unhonorable duty of having my ass in his face for 30 meters as he folowed me thru the tunnels...he says he couldn't take that sight...yeah right I think it was his clastrophobic "ass" that couldn't take it...for me it was about 120 degrees down there.

We got back to Saigon later that day, Lunch was on my mind...Frank and I probably had the best Vietnamese food of the trip. We ordered the usual 8 items between the 2 of us. From Chicken, to pork, to spring rolls and fish each dish was flavorful and satisfying. Later that night it was about the Bars and Bars. Saigon Saigon and Apocalypse Now. There were alot of Westerners visiting Saigon, these were definitely tourist places...and when there are tourist there are the "working girls".

A common theme during my days with Frank and Joe was Jack Daniels and lots of beer, this night was no different. We gratefully ran into to our guardian angels Jessica and Daryl, we bought more gum and wished them well...Frank, joe and I agreed these were special girls and we hope their lives are prosperous.

We played catch up because the bars close @ 1am. About 2 sheets to the wind we ended up at Apocalypse Now...there we mingled witht he locals and made friends (just friends)...I have to say it was fun playing the part of an American...we met people from Japan, Germany, England and Australia....lots of beer and laughs...we ended up eating noodles @ 2am.....back to the hotel, another early flight, this time to Siem Reap, Cambodia... Angor Wat here we come.

Though our stay in Saigon was short we al wished we had 2 more days, basicaly wished we had 2 more days everywhere we went. Its been 4 weeks since I left LA, not homesick, but nostalgic....the "swine" has been well represented in the countrie we've visited so far...and still my instincts hold true...its the journey...i have grown in many ways, I have learned to see things from other vantages...more importantly....I can smell the roses

Coming up, my Angor Wat cooking debut and the birth of the "cobra" our mascot.

Swine, Women and Song.....