Tag Archives: asia

Milk Tea Mania

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Image via Cha for Tea

When I was little, my dad used to make me this concoction of hot weak tea with sugar and milk. He would make me drink this when I was feeling under the weather, so I have always associated this creamy tea concoction with being soothed and comforted.

I grew up to be more of a coffee drinker, but lately I have been reconnecting with my affinity for tea served with milk. But aside from the traditional and proper hot tea with a splash of milk or a dollop of cream, I have really gotten into this icy cool mutation of it. Over here there’s an influx of these trendy little tea shops that serve iced milk tea. In these shops customers are given a choice of tea, or the option to skip it altogether and go for a wintermelon-based or a fruit-based beverage. And when the choice of liquid is made, there are choices of chewy goodness that can be hidden in the milky tea depths — usually, tapioca pearls, cream pudding, or jelly. An oversized straw is provided, which allows the solids to be sucked up along with the tea — or non-tea, as the case may be.

This stuff is so amazingly good, I’m on the brink of getting addicted to it, with only the calories serving as deterrent.

All around Asia, there’s some version of this available. Different countries have different names for it, and different ways of preparing it, but the basic components are the same, milk and tea.

Bubble Tea, aka Pearl Milk Tea

Apparently this is what I have described above. The addition of tapioca pearls is an innovation that originated in Taiwan in the 1980’s. And it sure had those pearls rolling. Now nearly just about every smoothie, and ice-blended beverage is served with pearls.

Bubble teas. Image via Popsop.

Nai Cha

This is what it’s called in Hongkong, and it’s made of freshly made hot black tea, evaporated milk, and condensed milk, and poured through a sock-like sieve over ice. There’s nothing mild about this one. The flavors are unabashedly strong. There’s an intense tea flavor, which contrasts beautifully with the thick, rich, sweet condensed milk.

I replicated this one quite successfully at home. I just steeped a couple of tea bags in freshly boiled water, let it cool for a while, and then poured it over some ice cubes. I then drizzled a satisfying amount of condensed milk on it and stirred.

Image via Cultural China.

Thai Milk Tea

The Thai have put a more unusual spin on this. The tea used is an unusual shade of brick red, due to the addition of certain spices during steeping – orange flowers, cardamom, star anise, vanilla, cinnamon. Aside from, and sometimes instead of, regular cow’s milk or condensed milk, coconut milk is used, and this gives it its fabulous identity.

Image via Haw Berries and Kumquats

Doodh Patti Chai

This is the Pakistani variation, instead of being boiled in water and adding milk afterwards, the tea is boiled in milk and sugar to begin with.

Iced Chai Tea Latte

This is surprisingly a regular item in most international coffee chains that I have been to over here, and it’s one of my favorites too.

Teh Tarik

This is actually for hot milk tea, and the term means “pulled tea”. This is the way they do it in Singapore and Malaysia.

Making Teh Tarik. Image via JBB.

Image via No More Microwaves

The “pulling” involves pouring the hot tea and condensed milk back and forth between two containers, from a certain height. This process mixes the tea and milk thoroughly, cools it to optimum drinking temperature, and incorporates some air to lighten it up and create a fine foam. It also provides an opportunity to incorporate a little showmanship, a little drama into the enjoyment of the tea.

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Tinalak: Woven Dreams

Fabric woven by the T'boli of South Cotabato

Image from T'nalak Home

Tinalak or t’nalak is a patterned cloth that is woven using abaca fibers that are either left uncolored or dyed red or black. I have always found the patterns beautiful and intricate, but I must admit I have taken it for granted over the years. It is not an uncommon sight around where I live. I see it pretty often as an element in home decor or as material for coin purses and bags, or even as accents that give an outfit a touch of the exotic. Tinalak items are sold in probably every souvenir shop in the Philippines.


Image by Jogie Alcantara

I knew that tinalak is woven by the T’boli people, an indigenous culture that flourishes in the southern Philippines, amazingly despite all the pressure to adopt a more modern mentality and embrace the world of smartphones and Starbucks. I knew that this fabric can be made only by T’boli women. What I didn’t know was how tightly and how intimately this tapestry is woven into them, and how essential bits of themselves are woven into it.

Red tinalak cloth. Via T'nalak Home.

Patterns in Tinalak, much like those in Scottish tartans, identify a tribe and are handed down from generation to generation. Tinalak is ever present in all the tribal rituals that mark important life milestones — birth, marriage, death.  But more than this, there is a mystical dimension to the weaving of tinalak, which is considered a sacred act. It is said that a pattern has to be conceived in the weaver’s dreams before it woven, thus these women are sometimes called “dream weavers” and their creations referred to as “woven dreams”.

T'boli woman, dream weaver. Via T'nalak Home.

Master craftswomen eventually become custodians and interpreters of other people’s dreams as well, not just their own. In a people that has no form of writing, tinalak represents their literature and mythology, their history and their art, all of which are drawn and culled, and by some alchemy integrates with the weavers’ souls and find their way into their hands and their loom.

This is what genuine tinalak is, a kind of incarnation of a tribe’s spirit.

And thus with so much history, drama, and mysticism behind this cloth, artists and designers can’t help but be inspired by the tinalak and want incorporate some of that soul in their work. Though I now doubt that the place mats and cushions I see in the shops are tinalak in the truest sense (it seems quite sacrilegious if they were, wouldn’t it?), I see them as somehow touched by the special-ness of tinalak by their resemblance to it.

Pillowcase made of strips of tinalak. Via T'nalak Home.

Decorative bowl made with T'nalak strips. Via T'nalak Home.

Tinalak inspired chair. Via T'nalak Home.

Tinalak clutch. Via Anthropologie.

Clutch by Aranaz

Image via Royal Ozca

Image via Royal Ozca

Cooling Down With Cold Noodles

Image from World Foodie Guide

Summers in DC are particularly warm for the northeast of the US, but this year has been hotter than usual. People have been trying to find ways to stay cool, from taking a break to go to the beach, pool, or cool down with an icy drink.

Image via The Christian Home Keeper

Noodles are a common standard in most East Asian cuisine, and the summer season brings about a variety of noodle dishes that can be served cold. Cold noodles are common in countries such as Japan and Korea, and there are a number of dishes that are easy to prepare and refreshing on a hot sultry evening.


Soumen noodles

Image from Food Librarian

Soumen are thin white noodles made from wheat flour. They resemble udon noodles in consistency and texture, but resemble angel hair pasta in size. They are usually served with a dipping sauce made from a fish based soup stock, garnished with spring onions, ground ginger, and daikon. It is common to eat soumen with tempura, deep fried battered vegetables and seafood.

Hiyashi Chuuka

Image from Japan Centre

Much like Ramen, Hiyashi Chuuka is a Japanese take on a dish made with chinese-style egg noodles. In this dish, the noodles are marinated in a cold sauce and served in a shallow plate, with a variety of toppings on them, The toppings vary depending on who makes the dish, but most of the time include thinly sliced vegetables like cucumber and carrots, thinly sliced pork, and hard boiled egg.

Zaru Soba

Image from Globetrotter Diaries

Soba is probably of the most well-known types of Japanese noodle, along with udon, that can be served either hot or cold, depending on the season. The noodles are made from buckwheat flour, which gives them their unique consistency and aroma. Zaru soba are soba noodles served cold, on a bamboo-slat tray from which the noodles get their name. They are usually topped with  shredded nori seaweed, eaten with a dipping sauce similar to soumen.


Image from Dolsot Bibimbap

Korea has their own variant of cold noodles as well, known as Naengmyeon. It resembles soba in consitency and color, but is served simmered in an icy broth with some toppings such as cucumbers and korean pear. Depending on the regional taste, it can also be served spicy and seasame oil is usually added to taste.

The great thing about cold noodles is that preparation time is usually minimal, and very easy. They keep fairly well, too, but are of course best eaten fresh. Most asian supermarkets or grocery stores that sell asian products carry a variety of the noodles and their sauces.

Cold noodle dishes are easily customisable and easily prepared. So if you’re feeling a little fatigued from the relentless heat this season, try cooling down with some noodles!

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Heaven on Earth: The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo

Next weekend Canadians around the world will be celebrating our national holiday and those lucky enough to score an invite to their local embassy will enjoy a spectacular party. If I could pick one city to experience this, it would be Tokyo, if only to get to see the remarkable complex designed by Raymond Moriyama of Toronto’s Moriyama and Teshima Architects.

Photo: Move and Stay

Moriyama’s personal story is as interesting as the buildings he designs. During World War II, his father was sent to a POW camp in Ontario, while Moriyama and his mother were detained in a Japanese internment facility in British Columbia. He was further alienated by the other children at the camp, who teased him about his scars from an earlier accident. He built himself a tree house as a refuge, which would later serve as the inspiration for the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo.

Photo: Moriyama and Teshima Architects

The glass roof of the embassy rises out of the lush foliage of the adjacent Akasaka Imperial Grounds and Takahashi Memorial Park. Moriyama envisioned the glass-enclosed upper floors (the embassy) as heaven, with the bottom three floors (leased offices) representing earth.

(Photo: Moriyama and Teshima Architects)

The fourth floor terrace, which is open to the public, links the two and symbolises the harmonious meeting place of the Japanese and Canadian peoples. To access this peaceful area one ascends a glass-enclosed escalator through the treetops, just as Moriyama escaped the discord of his youth.

Photo: A Fish Out of Water

The terrace encircles the building and illustrates aspects of the Canadian landscape through Japanese stone gardening techniques. Its designer, Shunmyo Masuno, is one of the few Zen priests who still practices ishi-tate-so, stone setting originally performed by itinerant priests of the Heian and Kamakura periods.A Japanese stone garden depicting Canada

Photo: A Fish Out of Water

For this project Masuno used roughly cut rock from Hiroshima to represent the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. A traditional Inuit inukshuk balances at one corner, symbolising the northern part of the country.

Photo: City Photos

Three peaked pyramids embody the Rocky Mountains of the west.

Photo: Graham Cooper’s Project Japan: Architecture and Art Media, Edo to Now,
via The Japan Society

A small water feature exemplifies the Pacific Ocean and links the Canadian elements with Japan, represented by the traditional raked gravel of Zen gardens.

Photo: Gap Photos

According to Masuno’s design philosophy, “the garden is a special spiritual place in which the mind dwells.” For visitors and locals alike, the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo offers both a beautiful respite from the hectic urban environment and a place to contemplate the history and cultures of both countries through the visionary design of Raymond Moriyama and Shunmyo Masuno.

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