Caribbean Bliss brings the heat

On my last day at TD Halifax Jazz Fest, I was treated to a generous feed from Caribbean Bliss. Although the best-selling stewed oxtail was already sold out, they were super excited for me to try a variety of items from the menu they were serving out of their food stall, including: veggie Jamaican patty, chicken curry, jerk chicken, mango punch and coconut cream pie.

The Jamaican veggie patty, which they make from scratch, was filled with peas, corn, curried potato and spinach, all enclosed in a flaky pastry shell. I really enjoyed the chicken curry, mild yet very flavourful with just a touch of background heat after a few bites; the meat just fell from the bone. The sauce was vibrant in colour, with lots of it, and was accompanied by rice and peas.

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It was the jerk chicken that really impressed me; when I opened the container it was covered in a deep brown sauce with a reddish hue. It just looked spicy. When I dug in with my fork there was the most tender chicken underneath, no knife needed. I’m not privy to their recipe, but I can only guess that they use a stewing or braising method for this, it’s that fall-off-the-bone. I started to sweat while I ate it, the satisfying kind of heat, from the jerk spice, that slowly raises your body temperature. All of these dishes were perfectly complemented by the refreshing mango punch. I had to take the coconut cream pie home with me, because of my ambitious attempt at eating everything else I was given, but when I did try it, it tasted every bit as home made as I’d expected.

Everything from Caribbean Bliss was so obviously made with care, from scratch, with distinct, vibrant flavours. I’m definitely going back their location on Novalea Drive to get the oxtail.

Travel Diary: My birthday in Thailand

A few days ago I returned from an unbelievable, dreamy two-week trip to Thailand, where I celebrated my 30th birthday. We booked this adventure last August, giving ourselves lots of time to plan fun excursions (Thai cooking class, speedboat tour, etc) and make suitable birthday plans.

Here, I will chronicle my out-of-the-ordinary birthday in Phuket, Thailand (usually I’m snowed in somewhere in Halifax drinking copious amounts of wine and enjoying a cheese-heavy meal with loved ones), focusing mainly on the food.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

Fresh mango on our terrace.

The day began with freshly cut mango, which we had purchased from one of the nearby fresh fruit stores in Kata Beach. We were staying at the charming Metadee Resort, in a deluxe pool access room, so I enjoyed my cup of mango and yogurt on our terrace by the pool, then jumped in for a dip. The temperature by this time, in the early morning (the cooler part of the daytime), was about 27º or 28º C.

A big part of the day involved a spur-of-the-moment bus trip to Phuket Town from the area we were staying in, Kata Beach. After splurging on a European breakfast at The Viking Restaurant (owned by Danes), we hailed the bus. There seemed to be a few types of public buses in Phuket, the long blue bus being more touristy, making less stops, and going from each major town to the next (although they’ll stop any time you bang on the window), for only 35 Thai baht each, which is currently $1.35 CAD. With the hilly terrain, weak engine and semi-frequent stops of the open-air bus, it took us about an hour to travel to Phuket Town, which is actually only 10km away if you take a direct route. But, we got to see a lot of the island this way.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

A little sweaty and a little tired, in Old Phuket Town.

Once arriving in Phuket Town, which is the largest town on the island of Phuket (which is the busiest tourist destination in Thailand), we didn’t really know where we were going or what we were looking for. Phuket Town has a population of over 91,000 people and I have to say it was bigger than I had anticipated. I had heard tell of an “Old Town” section being charming and historic and whatnot. After walking aimlessly (in the wrong direction) for about 25 minutes, we stopped at Kaffe, an air-conditioned, hipster-looking coffee shop, where I refuelled with a creamy egg sandwich on beautiful bahn mi style bread and an iced coffee. We connected to the wifi and made some more solid plans. We got the direction to Old Phuket Town down, partly on our own and partly from advice of one of the many taxi drivers trying to sell us a tour. He told us the beautiful buildings that the tourists like to see were on two specific streets, so we headed in that direction on foot. (Ah, traveling.) This was all on a sweltering (to us) 32º C full-sun, 90% humidity kind of day, (that’s pretty much every day there) so we were drinking LOTS of water and reapplying sunscreen like crazy.

Once we made it to Old Phuket Town, it was indeed special, showcasing historic Sino-colonial mansions and preserved shophouses. This part of the town was “built on the riches reaped from Phuket’s tin boom of last century,” (phuket.com). The buildings are grandiose and ornate, colourful and charming. Many of them house cafes, restaurants and printing shops. We stopped at one particularly high-end looking cafe once we noticed some bottles of craft beer and cider in the cooler case out front (hard to find in  Thailand), for a beverage break. After strolling through the area we headed back to where to catch the bus back to Kata Beach. (How we got on the wrong bus, had to get off, walk back into town, find an air conditioned cab to make it back to Kata for our dinner reservation is another story — ah, traveling.)

Once returning to our resort, we of course had a well-deserved dip in the pool, showered and got ready for dinner. I had made a reservation a month prior at a picturesque and popular Thai restaurant called On the Rock, housed at the Marina Phuket Resort, directly on the water.

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The service at On the Rock was unmatched by anything else we experienced in Phuket, the price point, for Thailand, was high and it was clear they catered to many tourists. We started with some prosecco, to celebrate, then I picked out my very own fresh red snapper, which was on display with the other fresh seafood for the day as you enter the restaurant (this is customary here). For first course, I had my first tom sum, a spicy green papaya salad with green beans, almost the style of a slaw, with a very flavourful dressing of chiles and garlic, fish sauce, and some sweetness. This was delicious, and not to be my last on the trip. Geir had tom kha gai which is a mild coconut-based chicken soup with great flavours of kaffir lime leaves and ginger, a very common Thai soup.

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The red snapper was prepared nicely on the barbecue and was served with thinly sliced peppers, ginger and chiles on top. I enjoyed this super fresh fish with some classic steamed rice. Geir had a duck with mango sauce. They played happy birthday for me, and presented me with a fresh cut fruit plate with candles to blow out. The sun had set over the ocean during first course, and we went for a walk on the beach after dinner. My second birthday ever to be spent in a hot climate, with beach time (my 24th birthday was in Bondi Beach, Australia). On the walk home, we saw an elephant! The only elephant of the trip, as I’m not into exploitative animal-based tourism. I’m not sure whose elephant it was, or how they treated it. I didn’t give them any money but snapped a photo. This was a very small elephant.

A very different, but very fun 30th birthday. And the next day was birthday number two… as it was my birthday on Halifax time…