Visiting the First Landing Resort in Fiji was an unexpected bonus after cruising on the Fiji Princess. It’s a lovely resort with many levels of accommodation and it appealed to me: unpretentious and friendly. Check out their website as there are some luxurious parts within the resort to stay also – including having your own pool.
But an even bigger bonus for me was the Chef’s Tasting Selection after a kodoko (Fijian raw fish) making lesson. Without a word of exaggeration it was the tastiest time I have had for a long time. I wish my photos did the six plates justice: the tempura coral trout was the prettiest, most impressive, dish I’ve seen: why is it food that looks so good to the eye fails the lens test?
Let your taste buds imagine what mine had, and, if you get to Fiji make sure you have a meal at the First Landing Resort – make sure you tell them the KiwiTravelWriter sent you.
we look for herbs we know
‘pig poo and compost are the secret’
vudi vaka soso
time for play
Resort Manager Amanda Braddock shows us the gardens -growing veg for the kitchen
Our catamaran, the Fiji Princess, gets tied to a coconut tree: the Yasawa Islands setting idyllic, and we are to have a Fijian feast onshore, followed by a concert by the local village.
Coconut has a special place in the Fijian diet and, grown in most coastal areas, it’s not only for food, but plays an important role in the economy. It is also used in many ways in the lovo (earth oven); as a basket, as the steam producer then to cover the food.
These photos are of the demonstration we saw of a food basket being made.
our food basket is created from coconut palm fronds
two across and then again
Working in numbers
Some of the foods cooked in the lovo were Taro (dry starchy root crop), Kumala (sweet potato) whole chicken and a large leg of pork. After the burning wood was removed the meat, and vegetables placed in the hole in top of the hot rocks, covered with banana leaves and cooked for about 3.5 hours. It’s considered a healthy meal because of the lack of oil – it is quite similar to the (Māori) hangi or the (Hawaiian) luau or (Samoan) umu and has a smoky flavour.
After showering, washing off the salt water we had played in, we return to the island, where a kava ceremony was being held, and before long we watch our dinner being dug up.
While the pork was dry, the crackling on the pig was fabulous (I think it had been grilled somehow after being cooked in the lovo) and my favourite dish was the entre. It’s a ‘raw fish’ dish made up of Walu (sometimes called Spanish mackerel) with ‘miti’ – a coconut-based sauce. The fresh fish is marinated in lemon juice and left to “cook” for several hours. The thick coconut milk is added after it is “cooked” together with finely diced tomatoes, chillies and salt – this is the ‘miti’.
Dinner over, we move to seats in a clearing among the coconut palms – by now it’s very dark and before long we are entertained by beautiful singing and dancing at the ‘meke’. I often feel uncomfortable joining in traditional dancing anywhere, but the Fijians seem to love a conga line, making it easy for all, including me, to join in!
we are welcomed with flowers
the men can be fierce
Beautiful choir like singing
Afterwards some women set up shop
NOTE: Kava is used for medicinal, religious, political, cultural and social purposes throughout the Pacific. In Fiji a kava ceremony often goes together with social event and while on ‘the Princess’ it happened three times – including a ritual presentation of the bundled roots as a gift and drinking the ‘grog’ is accompanied by hand-clapping before and after drinking from the coconut shell. It is made by pounding the sun-dried kava root into a fine powder, straining and mixing it with cold water.
Apparently the effects of a kava drink vary widely depending on the kava plant used, and amount drunk. Most on board didn’t drink it but for those who did their eyes became droopy or sleepy looking it seem the active ingredients have a half-life of about 9 hours.
From oysters, berries, and cheese through to chocolate, my gourmet food and sightseeing day trip with Bruny Island Safaris had it all: beaches, history and wildlife and for any foodies delight, meeting some of the producers of our food tastings.
One of those producers was an ex-teacher who turned an Adventure Bay paddock into a productive berry farm in only 3 years. A berry I’d not heard of was my favourite – Jostaberry – a thornless blackberry-gooseberry cross.
The Bruny Island Cheese Company has artisan cheeses, great breads, and many other foods in their shop and cafe-restaurant. It was a very popular stop, not just with my group but many others who were also enjoying tastings or their meal. The award-winning chutneys, pâté, & pastes (made on site) at the Bruny Island House of Whisky were award-winning for me too – of course, others preferred the whisky tasting
Bruny Island is about the size of Singapore, has a population of 600, and thousands of visitors each year – with nearly all arriving by the regular and frequent vehicular ferry (15 mins, no booking needed).
Extract from Naked in Budapest: travels with a Passionate Nomad (Available on Amazon)
Posting this as, in a month, after 19 years since this happened, and contact via Facebook, one of the women (in this story) and I, hope to meet for a coffee in Australia – and it won’t be snowing!
“An intriguing notice on the board in the lobby catches my eye. Help needed at the University Soup Kitchen. Meet Saturday 9am here in foyer, if you can give us some time. Thinking of the man under the bridge I offer my labour and next morning join two Australians and we’re taken by underground to the venue.
‘Welcome to the University Soup Kitchen,’ a conservatively dressed woman addresses us: we can hear capital letters stressed in her speech. ‘We are commonly called the Meat-Loaf Kitchen because that is what we Cook Every Week. We’re only open on Saturday and Produce a Good Meal, well Balanced and Tasty. We are only Open on one Day and for many of these People it’s the only Decent Meal they get All Week. Others are open Every day but we Pride ourselves on Quality. We also Treat people like Human Beings and Expect all Volunteers to do the Same. People are Here because they are Down on their Luck and it does not Reflect on them. So You Will Treat them Well or Leave, Right Now.’
She looks around the room of helpers, eyeballing us, daring us to show any prejudice against her customers. No one dares to leave so jobs are assigned: I’m to set tables then, with another woman, will serve coffee. The boss-lady adds a postscript, ‘People are allowed Second Helpings Only after All have been Served. They can have as much Coffee as they want. We Pour coffee for people At the Tables. You would Expect that if You were in a Restaurant and They are to Get the Same Good Service.’ Her voice fills the large hall here at the back of the church and the Aussies and I exchange raised eyebrows.
‘Hurry, hurry, we Open on Time.’ Her voice is everywhere and at last everything is ready and we gather around the boss again.
‘As I said earlier, we make a Tasty and Healthy meal here and to Show that to our Guests we Also Eat here, so go get your meal and sit down.’
I’m amazed; we are going to eat while the recipients of this ‘healthy meal’ are already lined up inside the room. Surely it would be better to feed them first and the staff could eat any that’s left – if they wanted it.
Her voice is even louder as she describes the Wonderful Work she and her band of Regular Volunteers do. The Aussies and I continue our eyebrow talk. ‘We don’t Ask Questions as to Why they are on the streets and we Don’t make them sit through a Religious Talk, like Some places, before they get their meal. We are Non Judgmental. They have a Need and We Provide it.’
I sit, eating the meal in an uncomfortable silence, under the gaze of the waiting people then, ordeal over, it’s time to work – the meatloaf sitting heavily in my usually vegetarian stomach.
I carry two coffee-pots to the first table. ‘Hi guys, coffee anyone?’ Silently they all indicate yes and I pour out six mugs, before going to the next table. ‘Hi everyone, coffee all around?’ This table is more vocal and we talk about the weather.
‘It’s going to snow some more,’ a man tells me.
‘Do you have somewhere warm to stay?’ I ask. He tells me yes, he doesn’t live on the streets, but comes here for a regular meal each week. The pots are empty and I replenish them and continue on my rounds. At the next table, a man produces a screw-top jar that he wants filled and a few have thermos flasks to take away the hot drink.
It sounds like a regular café and with everyone eating and drinking I can slow down and talk to some of the people, mainly men, who are here. I want to ask questions but restrain myself and we talk in general terms. They want to know where I come from, tell me I have a ‘cute accent’ and the constant theme is that ‘it’s going to snow some more.’
For two hours I’m in and out of the kitchen refilling the coffee-pots as well as responding to cries for more sugar or another plate of bread. While stragglers remain over the last of their meal I help sweep the floor and tidy up.
She-who-must-be-obeyed runs a tight ship and all goes smoothly – by three o’clock we are finished and with the Aussies, go to a local pub to talk about our experience: the three of us have Social Work qualifications. ‘It seemed as though the talk she gave us was really for the people waiting for food.’
‘I hated eating in front of everyone waiting for a meal.’
‘God keep me from being like that woman!’
Our common consensus is the day has been a good example of cultural differences and the type of social work we don’t want to do. As we find our way back to the hostel snow falls – the forecasters in the soup kitchen were right.”
Extract from the chapter ‘Meatloaf and Frozen Eyeballs’
The concierge at Berjaya Times Square (this link is to my blog about the hotel) told me how to get to the closest stop for the Hop-on Hop off bus and off I set for my last day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – it was a good choice of ‘things to do’. If time is short, this is an ideal way to get an overview; however, if you are time-rich it gives a good idea of where things are and will help you decide on what to do over the next few days – and this is plenty to do in KL – including . . .
But back to the jump on jump off bus. This tour is by double-decker bus and runs on a half-hourly schedule (it would help if bus stops had real-time info as I waited 25 minutes for a bus after dinner – I had obviously just missed one – but you can’t leave the stop for fear of missing the next one😦 . Still it was good people-watching time!
The good thing about getting off was the first bus was a closed top one, my next one was an open deck top which was good for photos and viewing, (others prefer the air-con I guess!)
Lunch in Little India was great too.
The stop I started/finished at was stop 6 – which was hard to find as its hidden from the footpath by a large restaurant at the side of the road. I asked locals 3 times and then found another couple searching and asking – we joined our search talents and found it. The stop needs moving or a big sign needs to be on the footpath between the food place and the shops.
As I only had the day I only hopped-off for lunch (in Little India) and my fellow passengers seemed a mix of staying on for the full length or were hopping off at favourite spots.
Tickets can be bought on the bus, its website or authorised agents.
I think its best for the pictures to tell the story … so, sit back and relax and spend some time in Kuala Lumpur with me.
After 11 hours and some 9 thousand kilometres I arrive in Kuala Lumpur, (KL) Malaysia. An express rail link runs from the KLIA airport(s) to KL SENTRAL and for the first time I take it: arriving in the city more ecologically, and faster, than a taxi. From Sentral I caught the monorail for the last 6 mins to the hotel. The punctual rail system runs to and from the airport every 20 minutes.
In the heart of the city, the twin tower building is ideally placed in the entertainment and shopping district of this city. Playing on the ‘times square’ location it embraces the New York theme with Central Park being located on the 15th floor (pool, children’s playground, fitness centre, squash courts, sauna and steam room).
Central Park links the two towers and has great views of the city including the impressive Petronas Twin Towers and is a great place to relax … not that I had much time to enjoy relaxing by the gazebo! However, I did relax with a wonderful relaxing massage on the same level and can recommend the ‘wellness centre’ – Bunga Raya Spa – to rejuvenate your mind and body. I had their signature massage, which the masseuse said combines old traditions with modern elements. It used kneading strokes focusing on muscles and pressure points.
Some facts about this 5-star hotel: 650 rooms and suites with all the usual comforts to be expected at such a hotel. It’s worth noting they are also well set up for conventions of many sizes too with the Manhattan Ballroom holding 2000. (See their website, above, for more information about convention or conference facilities). As a travel writer I particularly valued the free Wi-Fi to update Facebook and Instagram as I don’t blog while travelling – too busy experiencing. After many hours in the air, relaxing in the full-size bath was wonderful too. (I recommend either KL, or Malaysian Borneo, as great stopovers on long-haul flights.)
Food-wise they cater to all tastes (American, Western, and Asian) and when I met with staff in the Broadway Lounge for a briefing then tour through the hotel, I tried their signature drink: Berjaya Kool. This was a refreshing drink of rose syrup, lemon grass, sugar syrup and sour red plum. The glass was rimmed with a granulated powder that I recognised but couldn’t place … it was the sour red plum and I just loved it. Try it!
I ate in three of the hotel’s restaurants: fine dining in Samplings on the Fourteenth, local and western food for lunch and breakfast in The Big Apple, and breakfast in a smaller restaurant which I believe was just for people on the club floor where my room was. All were impeccable.
As well as their excellent amenities, another bonus is that the hotel’s attached to 900-retail shops in the Berjaya Times Square Shopping (BTS) Mall –which is also home to movie theatres, bowling alley, and for adrenaline junkies, 14 rides at the BTS Theme Park. As I’m a wimp of the first order, and rides with names like Space Attack, Dizzy Izzy, and the Haunted Chamber, I did not ride any of them! If you have, or do, please leave comments below so others know what they’re like.
One of the many things I liked about the Berjaya were cards I saw that said (in part) that they will not serve shark-fin soup in their restaurants, a company wide policy made some years ago. It also says “Because sharks are at the top of the marine food web they serve a vital purpose to maintain the precious balance of species in the sea.”
By-the-way: I enjoyed my hosted stay at Berjaya so much I paid for, and stayed, another night – sort of says it all doesn’t it!
Check out some of the food options – and their award-wining Thai Chef, one of their many specialist chefs.