To my fellow rum fans – there is a magical place on the winding streets of Havana that we can call home. It’s the Havana Club Museum, a cultural casa dedicated to the nation’s best known alcoholic export. Havana Club has been my preferred liquor for a few years now, but it wasn’t until my trip to Cuba last autumn that I really considered it’s origins or production – and while you cannot visit the rum distillery itself (I drove past this industrial beast on my journey from Varadero to Havana Airport), you can hear the story of the brand and learn a thing or too about the rum aging process. the most interesting part for me was the miniature models of the sugar cane plantation with working train and infrastructure. The guide takes you around and up through the museum, enabling you to get a look at this impressive model from different angles.
Following on from some tasty adventures at Jonker’s Walk night market in Melaka, I wanted to find a similar experience in Penang. While known as one of the best food destinations in the world, there is not really one main place to go to street food in central Georgetown, instead the coastal areas of Guerny Drive and Batu Ferringhi are known hotspots, but a bit far out without relying on taxis both ways.
Along with stalls and casual dining spots found along some of the busier streets such as Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Campbell, the Red Garden Cafe night market is a good option for convenient, cheap and delectable food while staying in town. It’s more like an outdoors food hall than market, with vendors lining the outside and open seating in the center, alongside a stage which I am sure is used for some terrifying karaoke renditions as late night entertainment.
As usual, veggie options were limited but I managed to grab some delicious dim sum – sweet potato pao with a pandan kaya (pandan and coconut) pao for dessert. Let’s not discuss why my dessert is clearly bigger…
Below is a map for you to find the Red Garden Cafe when you’re next in Penang!
Yesterday I landed in Malaysia and headed straight to Melaka, a historical trading point with a rich mix of cultural influences. This evening I headed to Jonker’s Walk (Jalan Hang Jebat), one of the main tourist streets of Melaka, which on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings swells with the hustle and bustle of a world class night market. Stalls line each side of the street selling local and imported delicacies, along with gifts and gadgets from budget hawkers. I managed to get reacquainted with sugar cane juice while trying some Mango ice cream served in a plastic egg, along with what I can best describe as a Taiwanese crumpet.
I had heard rumours of a kung-fu master entertaining the crowds with insane sword tricks, however the only entertainment I could find was a very public karaoke show – the audience remained avid while sweet old crooners took the stage.
Apart from tasty snacks and karaoke, the tricked out lights of the Melaka rickshaw is a big draw for the crowds. Lavishly dedicated in gaudish tributes to Frozen, Hello Kitty, other children’s cartoons, and yet more Frozen, during the day these are attention grabbing; at night they are like mini moving nightclubs, music included.
The last 24 hours in Melaka have been incredibly enjoying, if exhausting, as I managed to fit in many of the main attractions during the day. Hopefully I’ll have time to write these up tomorrow along with ticking off a few final things in the morning and catching a flight to Penang for my stay in Georgetown.
Riga’s Central Market is a relatively well known attraction that sits a block away from the Old Town as a gateway to the Moscow District. It provides a slice of everyday Latvian life to visitors as it’s main function is to simply sell produce to locals. There are two elements that really make this such a unique experience; size and settings. The market is comprised of five massive halls in former Zeppelin hangars, which create a strong a stoic benchmark in Riga’s cityscape.
The halls are more or less consistently segregated into meat, bakery, dairy, fish, and fruit and veg. Amongst these you will find smaller stalls and sections offering everyday items like clothing, pet supplies, nuts, honeys and other artisan products. While in the market I grabbed a quick local breakfast of a roll baked with cheese inside and a sweet pretzel style biscuit. Most of the stalls and products were relatively practical, but there was a beautiful soap stall offering a kaleidoscope of options.
Outside the main halls are further stalls, including a flower market selling beautiful bunches. There was also a bandstand with local musicians on, where some locals were having a dance.
If you have a few hours free the Riga Central Market offers a great insight into local Latvian life.
I’ll be honest, food was not one of the highlights while in Riga. Most of the meals I tried were stodgy or lacking in flavour, along with being very limited in range for vegetarians. The local drink, Balsam, was also something I wasn’t too fond of so I was pleasantly surprised by how Black Magic,a kooky little cafe and bar in Riga’s Old Town, managed to utilise the alcohol within chocolate in such delicious ways.
Still peckish from a disappointing and mostly uneaten lunch I doubled down by ordering both chocolate coffee cake and a signature Black Magic hot chocolate. The cake was lovely, keeping a fine balance of sweetness for my more savoury persuasions, and the stir in hot chocolate with hints of balsam was rich in tones and quality.
Apart from the great treats to try Black Magic is worth a look for it’s unique decor. The style could be described as Victorian Apothecary, with old tills, feathers and small labeled drawers covering most of the front room. Further seating can be found beyond in stone cased enclaves, and a hidden door in a bookcase leads to the basement where the balsam, coffee and chocolate inspired cocktails on the menu are sure to make an appearance.
Black Magic is located at Kaļķu iela 10 in Riga’s Old Town. I highly recommend it to all visitors to the city.