Monday, March 28, 2011

Top 6: Asia Shopping Tips

Play the game
Haggling in Asia is the norm and you can do it anywhere. Some stores will have "Set Price" signs dotted around the place. Don't believe them. A border official may demand US$30 for a visa when the sign above his head says US$20. Suggest a compromise on US$25. Just remember "negotiating" doesn't mean "arguing".

Keep your cool
The importance of saving face should not be underestimated in Asia. Locals will go to extreme lengths to remain calm and avoid embarrassment, and you should do the same. You could protest that when you requested a room with a view you expected to get one with a window. But far better to follow what the locals do – smile, shrug it off, get on with your day. 

Embrace fakes
Fake goods have long been a part of the shopping experience in Asia with canny copiers offering everything from fake Gucci bags to iPhones and Ivy League diplomas. Go with it. If you really do want that luxury Hermes purse, go to a bona fide Hermes store.  Otherwise revel in your "QuickSliver" T-shirt that will only last two washes before it shrinks. 
 Don’t sweat the small stuff
In many places around Asia you might find the change-giving a little light. In places where a dual currency system operates sales clerks will occasionally take advantage of the confused tourist. So what? The few cents squired away is probably worth 100 times more to the local than it is to you. Is it really worth the worry? Consider it a tourist tax.

Look alive
Money-back guarantees are a Western phenomenon. The chances of getting a refund if your "100-year-old hand-carved Buddha statue" transforms into a plastic replica between the shop and the hotel are slim to none. Your threats to go to the Office of Fair Trading will be met with wide-eyed innocence and a scoffed remark in words you don't understand.

Get over yourself
Shops in Western countries realised long ago that vanity sizing sells clothes. Shop assistants flatter you into a smaller size knowing it will up their conversion rate. Shop owners in Asia are more likely to greet you with a toothy smile and a boisterous: “I have big big size just for you!” Don't be offended. Smile, and say, "Big big sizes need small small prices, yes?"

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Secret Life of Siam Staff: Chef Chaleaw


Thailand’s delicious mango season is now here! The mango, known as “mamuang” in Thai, is one of the nation’s premier tropical fruits. When the country’s tropical heat reaches its peak in April and May the mangoes ripen and become abundant from coast-to-coast. If visiting the Land of Smiles at this time you shouldn't hesitate to enjoy this magnificent fruit because the season only last two months and then it’s another ten months of waiting...

The Siam Bayview Hotel’s pastry chef, Khun Chaleaw Mungkaew, has a knack for combining traditional Thai cuisines with his own “western” culinary creations, like fusing his signature strawberry frosted, chocolate-vanilla layer cake with a hint of “khao niaw mamuang” (mango and sticky rice). 

This delicious traditional Thai desert consists of sliced juicy mango, glutinous sticky rice, lots of coconut cream and a little sugar, salt and alum. The whole thing is topped with banana and chocolate frosting. 

Chef Chaleaw has an impressive resume, with over 15 years of culinary experience; six of them spent at the Siam Bayview Hotel. He previously worked for 13 different hotels in cities like Chiang Rai and Rayong, but now happily calls Pattaya home. The Chef secretly confides that tempering chocolate is his most favourite cooking pastime.

Photo (from left): Khun Jason Villarino, Siam Bayview Hotel’s Executive Assistant Manager, and Mr Chaleaw Mungkaew, Executive Pastry Chef.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mango & Sticky Rice

Thailand’s delicious mango season is now here! The mango, known as “mamuang” in Thai, is one of the nation’s premier tropical fruits. When the country’s annual heat reaches its peak in April and May the mangoes ripen and become abundant from coast-to-coast. If visiting the Land of Smiles at this time you shouldn't hesitate to enjoy this magnificent fruit because the season only last two months and then it’s another ten months of waiting... If you’re not fortunate enough to be staying at one of our hotels to sample the dish, here is a simple-to-follow recipe you can use to make the treat at home.
Cooking Directions
·         Soak the sticky rice for at least an hour before steaming.
·         Steam for 20 minutes on medium-high in a sticky rice steamer.
·         Rice Sauce: add ½ cup of coconut milk to a saucepan along with 1 1/3 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt, stir over low heat until dissolved.
·         Topping Sauce: add 1/4 cup coconut milk, 1 ½ teaspoons sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt to a saucepan and stir over low heat until dissolved. Mix in ½ teaspoon tapioca starch and stir until thickened, remove from heat.
·         Spread rice out in a shallow bowl and cover with 1/2 the rice sauce. Stir well and keep adding more until you reach saturation point (around 75% of the sauce). Stir well and cover with a towel. Let the rice absorb the coconut milk for 10-15 minutes.
·         Slice ripe mango and arrange on a plate. Spoon on an equal amount of sticky rice next to it, and top with a few spoons of the topping sauce. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds.
·         Enjoy!
·         The best mango to eat with this dish is called 'naam dok maai' (flower nectar mango), which is available in South-East Asia. In many Asian groceries in the West you can find a similar yellow-skinned mango which is skinny and pointy. This works a lot better than the round, red/orange mango from South America.
·         Make sure you use sticky rice and not regular Thai rice in this dish. Sticky rice is sometimes called glutinous rice. The grains are whiter and fatter than regular rice.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Khao Chae

When relentless summer heat is bearing down on the Land of Smiles, people young and old look to a unique and nostalgic flower-scented rice dish called khao chae to cool off.

Curiously, the dishes origins are not related to hot weather at all, but rather go back centuries to when the Mon people occupied the Central Plains. As part of their annual celebrations to mark the first day of the lunar calendar, they offered gifts of khao Songkran, or songkran rice, to the female New Year guardian spirit. The name was later modified to khao chae because a special variety of rice, soaked (chae) in water, was used. Thanks to King Rama V (circa 1868-1910), who was extremely fond of khao chae, the dishes’ popularity spread far and wide in subsequent years as it was adapted from a simple Mon recipe into the complex, multi-dish variety found today. And though you don't need to be hi-so (high society) to enjoy it, due to the elaborate process required to make the side dishes it's only widely available in April, the month of the Thai New Year.
Khao chae is no simple dish to prepare, careful skill and time must be administered in its production. For example, ordinary jasmine rice is too soft for its purposes, so the firmer khao taa haeng variety is used instead. It is first cooked in the normal way and then thoroughly rinsed under running water several times to remove excess starch. Then comes the secret ingredient: flower-scented water. A large pot is filled with water and half a dozen fresh jasmine blossoms are added. Then a small flower-scented candle is floated on top of the water, lit, and the pot covered loosely with the lid for 15 minutes. More blossoms and a candle with a different scent are then added and left for another 15 minutes. And finally this is repeated for a third time. The scent from the candles and the natural oils from the jasmine permeate the water. This specially prepared water is then sprinkle liberally on the rice, which is then cocooned in a cheesecloth and steamed over boiling water. When ready for serving, the rice is transferred into a bowl, covered with more of the fragrant water and accompanied by a few small ice cubes and more of the flowers.
That was part one, part two concerns the accompanying side dishes which are the real the star in this meal. Recipes vary but the essentials remain the same. Most of them tend to be sweet, except for one (young green peppers stuffed with minced pork). One prominent must-have is deep-fried kapi (shrimp paste) balls, which are coated in ground coconut, battered and deep-fried to golden perfection. This also goes well with kra-chai, or fresh Chinese ginger, which is usually served along with other fresh vegetables such as cucumber, spring onions and raw mango. Shredded sweetened pork or beef and chai pow (Chinese radish) is also vital. In most khao chae sets, the radish (or sometimes turnip) is caramelised to a glossy sheen. Other sides include boiled salted egg, pla naem (powdered dried fish meat), deep-fried red onions, stuffed sun-dried sweet chillies, fried shallots and sweet crispy fish.
Get it!:
For two weeks (11-30 April) Patummat, Siam City Hotel, will be serving this tasty and popular dish as part of its daily lunch (Bht 764 ++) and dinner (Bht 934++) buffet service.

Open daily for lunch 11:30 – 14:30 and dinner 18:00 – 22:30.
To make a reservation, please call 02-247-0123.