Best of 2017: A Culinary Tour of Southeast Asia
What a whirlwind this year has been. I won’t even get into the political charade that has unfolded stateside. This year has been punctuated by extreme highs and extreme lows, bracketed with everything in between and formatted into a pretty scrumptious memoir. Let’s see some of the standout moments of Spice Vagrant in Southeast Asia, during 2017.
This was a year packed full of adventures! I was fortunate enough to eat and cook throughout Southeast Asia, spending time in five countries along the way. This is the year I overcame my fear of riding motorcycles while traveling abroad, opening a thrilling new world. By any means necessary, I pushed through mainland Myanmar, mountainous Western Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. I can’t wait to share the highlights of this epic tour of Southeast Asia, and shed some light on what to expect in 2018!
Myanmar – A Country of New Love
If I had read a newspaper I may have never gone. Myanmar is known at the moment for much political upheaval. An old empire, very recently accessible to the rest of the world, Myanmar is a place of extremes. From the political and religious stances, and even beyond to the geography, which switches from surfaces resembling Mars to forested jungle mountains, Myanmar wears a lot of hats. In February, I decided to see for myself.
Speaking on one of my favorite subjects, the food, Myanmar may have the most crushable cuisine in the world. Take bright and punchy Thai food and cross it with rich Indian food, and you’ve got a Burmese dish. Less extreme in each regard, the highlights include the curried greens and prawns in my favorite Burmese city, Mawlamyine. The pastries in the notorious Yangon teahouse, Lucky Seven also stand out.
I chose the road less travelled, having arrived to Myanmar by land crossing in Mae Sot, Thailand. What an adventure I had switching from motorbike, train and public bus to get all the way to the capital city of Yangon. There is nothing better than public transportation in a new country to get a feel for the people and culture. The bus in particular was insightful to the daily lives of its riders.
I think often of my time in Myanmar, and hope that I can visit again soon. The political stances of a country almost never reflect the daily encounters you have with its people, and in Myanmar that holds doubly true. I saw a young country, with love, hope and positivity in the air. I fell in love with this great country and its people.
Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore
September was an incredibly volatile month for me. I had been accepted for a stage In Ubud, Indonesia to work under two of Asia’s 50 best chefs, I had flood damage destroy new construction at my young restaurant Aep, I had recently started dating my girlfriend Claudia, and had even found the city I would like to retire in.
Indonesia holds so much beauty it hurts. I was reading the entire time trying to absorb as much of the rich history here as possible. A nation of explorers, artists and creatives, even the food preparations on the side of the street are engrossing. Jakarta proved to be much preferred over touristy Bali, in stark contrast to any travel guide you may read. I followed through and worked in the new restaurant Nusantara in sleepy Ubud. This spiritual city was a second home to me and definitely left an impression, not only in how I cook, but how I could also hope to live.
Penang, Malaysia kept me captivated enough to almost forget the bombardment of emails I was getting, showing the flooding that wrecked my soon to open Thai ice cream shop, Mr. Boy, and attached Southeast Asian restaurant, Aep. Somehow I was being looked after to not be present during this hopeless time. Penang kept my emotions at bay with its immaculate markets and beyond delicious hawker stalls. I want to live here, like badly.
Finishing in Singapore was different than expected. I was not greeted with the police state I had been warned about. Instead I saw a massive community holding one another accountable to the greater good. The food was as expected, which is to say top notch! I stayed in Chinatown during most of the visit and enjoyed various festivals that seem to always be happening in the area. Upon my return home it was time to start considering taking this dream full time.
Spice Vagrant is Born! Web Series and a Return to Thailand
After making the difficult decision to close the doors at Aep and pursue this traveling dream full-time, Claudia and I started planning for a new adventure. I purchased a camera and began thinking of content for a web series, to showcase the people, cuisine and transport around the globe. Claudia had never been to Asia, so going somewhere familiar, while adding some new places, seemed like a great idea. This trip marked my fourth visit to Thailand and proved to be one of the best!
We headed west, through Kanchanburi province, to misty Sangkhlaburi. The first leg of the trip we travelled by train, and the final leg by motorbike on historic 323 Highway. We truly couldn’t have asked for a better trek to start the Spice Vagrant web series, kicking off with a bang by exploring the sunken city by long tail boat, just a few miles from the eastern Burmese border crossings passed earlier in the year.
From there, we moved along to Phuket Town. This was for some much needed beach time, after being mostly off the grid for the past week. We found Phuket Town to be a welcomed relief from the city of sin, Patong. We spent most of our time either in Old Town taking in the Phuketian cuisine, or at Nai Harn, a nice secluded beach with great surfing.
Upon returning to the states, I set off to launch the Youtube Channel and vowed to upload one video a week, which I have kept up on diligently. Here is one of my personal favorite episodes from the series, highlighting roti in Phuket:
After returning from Thailand, I have also buckled down on freelancing projects and was fortunate enough to be featured in several international and domestic publications, ranging from travel to food and lifestyle, even winning the coveted Ink Magazine 30 Under 30 award for my achievements. From rural Myanmar to bustling Singapore, I have had so much fun bringing you all the best of the best of food, culture, and travel content. What a privilege it has been to serve you all, and I hope you take full advantage of the resources provided here to recreate any of my trips on your own!
As far as what I have planned for the future, there are so many upcoming trips I’m pumped to fill you in on a few! In one short month Claudia and I go to visit her family in Chile. We will also be exploring along the way. With a pop-up dinner event planned we hope to earn a little bit of travel money and feed some Chilean locals delicious Thai food. We also plan to visit the eccentric beach town of Valparaiso on our way to the south of Chile for a complete change in scenery. Later in the summer, catch me in Malaysia and Singapore again, showing my daughter around in her first trip abroad! Family travel may never be the same. There’s so much more, but I have to leave some surprises!
Anyone who has kept up with my travels, thank you so much for your support. I would love too hear from you. If you’re new to my page in 2018, that is great! I welcome you and invite you to comment and reach out any ol’ time. So many great things to come. Stay Tuned!