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Morning commuters prepare to board the Circular Yangon Railway as it pulls into Pyay Road Station.

Stepping into Myanmar, also known as Burma, often feels like being transported back in time. Development has been slow in this Asian land which I suppose is what makes it so attractive to travellers. One of the first things you will notice is people wearing their traditional clothing on a daily basis. In much of the world the only time you see people wearing their native dress is at special events or ceremonies. However in Burma it is quite common to see people going about their daily activities wearing their longyi which is a sarong type piece of clothing worn by both men and women.

Morning commuters on the Yangon Circular Railway.

To continue this time travel experience you can take a ride on The Yangon Circular Railway. Built more than 60 years ago, and with the exception of a few minor changes, the system operates pretty much as it did when it was first built. The tracks run a full circle around the city of Yangon and reach into parts of the countryside where urban sprawl is replaced by farmland. A complete loop will take roughly three hours and cost 200 kyat or about 15 US cents.

For residents living outside the city center the train provides a low cost way to get to and from work.
Passengers travelling along the Yangon Circular Railway.
If it weren’t for people using mobile phones and other electronic devices one would never know they were in the 21st century.

Some stations are busier than others depending on their location or their offerings. Some have large markets very close to the tracks.

A conveniently located market for train passengers.

The trains move slowly from station to station and rarely stop for more than a minute at each station. For those either loading or unloading of goods this means they need to work fast to get on and off the train.

Passengers board the Yangon Circular as fast as they can with recently purchased goods at a local market.
As a man enjoys a smoke while waiting for his train another jumps aboard our departing train. To miss your train would mean a long wait for the next one.

 

Waiting for the next train.

While on the train one never needs to go hungry. A parade of sellers makes their way up and down the cars selling a variety of Burmese snacks. None of which I tried.

A seller works her way between cars offering snacks to hungry passengers.
A paan seller takes a break and chats with a friend.

At certain times of the day and depending on the location the cars can be almost empty of passengers and the slow pace of the train can give some a change to relax and just enjoy the view out the window.

A couple of passengers have the entire car to themselves.

At a certain point along the route the train finds itself leaving the city and enters farmland just on the outskirts of the city. Technically the entire route is within the city of Yangon so one could easily see this farmland consumed by urban development in the near future.

View of farming area on the outskirts of Yangon.
A train conductor catches up on the news as the morning commute slows down.
Pulling into Yangon Station.
A train continues its journey along the Yangon Circular Railway.

In just a few years we may see a complete overhaul of this circular railway in Yangon. The government has plans to modernise the system which would most likely be welcomed by those that travel the line everyday.

All photos by David Hartung © 2017.

 

At the Quinary Bar with Angus Winchester.

I recently had the opportunity and pleasure to work with Angus Winchester, a bartender who is as passionate about making a great cocktail as he is about making sure his guests are enjoying the experience. With nearly three decades of experience in the drinks business having been a bartender, a consultant, a global ambassador for Tanqueray, and will soon open his own bar called The Embassy located in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights in New York City.

Winchester at work in the Quinary Bar during a recent visit to Hong Kong.

For this project I was joined by writer Chris Hill who was doing the interview for Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine. Chris is a wonderful interviewer and Angus had a lot of interesting stuff to say so while setting up for each shot I was also trying to keep one ear towards the conversation. One of the great joys of my work is to meet people like Angus who are passionate about their work and simply have a great attitude towards life.

Watching Angus behind the bar is a bit like watching a well trained performer. His moves are so smooth and precise it almost appears effortless all the while he’s keeping you focused an interesting story he wants you to hear. And before you know it a perfectly balanced cocktail is set before you.

Russian Spring Punch

 

Mr. Hoshi’s Dry Martini

While Angus has a lot to say about cocktails and drinks business he definitely doesn’t take himself too seriously. As he told Chris, “We’re not curing cancer, but we want to make you feel important, understood.”

Winchester serves up a 212, a tequila-based cocktail with grapefruit juice and Aperol.

To read and view the story in TK magazine go here: https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk29_nordic_odyssey__s_

Creating a bowl of hand-pulled noodles is an art form into itself. For Chef Li Qi, from Shanxi, China, he has honed his noodle skills to perfection and has brought his craft to the Ji Xiang Noodle House located in the City of Dreams. It’s worth ordering a bowl of these noodles just to see the process of how the chef takes a lump of dough and converts into strings of noodles.

The end result is a bowl of steamy tasty noodles.

Ji Xiang Noodle House
Chef Bjoern Frantzen, right, along with his sous-chef, Charlie Benitez, work to create a lunch at a friend’s home outside of Stockholm, Sweden.

After taking an overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm my colleagues and I were met by Kristoffer Luczak who had invited us to stay in his home for a few days. Upon arriving at his home, which is located along the banks of the Stockholm Archipelago, we were greeted by  Chef Bjoern Frantzen who came over to cook us a welcome lunch. The former footballer turned master chef currently runs several restaurants in Stockholm which includes his Restaurant Frantzén which currently holds two Michelin Stars. He also has a restaurant located in Hong Kong called Frantzén’s Kitchen.

A BBQ grill loaded with langoustines, elk marrow and pork loins.

A warm early spring sun warmed us as we enjoyed the view of the archipelago and the smell of our lunch being cooked on a simple charcoal BBQ grill. After spending two weeks traveling above the Arctic Circle in Norway and then the frigid Finnish Lapland we were grateful to arrive at a comfortable home and thrilled to be treated by a master chef.

Charlie Benitez, sous-chef to Bjoern Frantzen, prepares items needed for a lunch the two of them are creating at a friend’s home outside of Stockholm, Sweden.
A batch of grilled langoustines.
Chef Bjoern Frantzen at in his friend’s Stockholm home kitchen.
Pork loin cooked to perfection by Chef Bjoern Frantzen.
Elk marrow

That night we met up again with Chef Frantzen at this gastropub called The Flying Elk. The plan was to have a light dinner but like all good plans such thoughts were thrown by the wayside when our table started hearing about all the great dishes we could try. Throughout the evening Chef Frantzen would stop by our table to make sure we were getting everything we needed.

Chef Frantzen in his gastropub called the Flying Elk located in downtown Stockholm.

He then revealed to us the dish that inspired him to become a chef which was something that lit up his palate when he was just 12-years-old. He told the story of a time he went to a French brasserie called Rendezvous which was owned by his best friend’s parents. On that particular day he was served steak tournedos with homemade bearnaise sauce, french fries and Coke loaded with ice and lemon. He loved the dish so much that he decided at that moment he wanted to become a chef so that he could cook and eat like that everyday. He now creates his own version of this dish in the Flying Elk.

Chef Frantzen plating up the dish that inspired him as a boy to become a chef – Tournedos of Beef.
Tournedos of Beef

Our second day with Chef Frantzen took us to his restaurant called Bobergs. While there we got to enjoy not only more examples of Chef Frantzen’s wonderful creations but also here about his cooking philosophy which he speaks of with great passion and conviction.

Chef Bjoern Frantzen discusses his cooking philosophy while sitting in one of his Stockholm restaurants, Bobergs.

The dishes created and seen below represent a more fine dining experience…

Gubbrora, a deconstructed traditional Swedish herring salad.
A trio of canapés (from left to right)Toast Skagen features prawns from the west coast mixed with some mayonnaise and topped with vendace roe.
Jansson’s Tempation – Poached skrei fish with a white wine sauce flavored with fermented anchovies and topped with three kinds of caviar.
Homemade Black Pudding – Flavored with cognac, marjoram, and port wine then topped with smoked bacon, preserved lingonberries, and roasted winter apples.
Portrait of Chef Bjoern Frantzen in downtown Stockholm, Sweden with a statue of King Charles VII in the background.

The complete story about Chef Frantzen, written by Mamie Chen, can be seen and read in Tasting Kitchen (TK) magazine by following this link – https://issuu.com/tastingkitchen/docs/tk29_nordic_odyssey__s_

Bee prepares her traditional headpiece for her wedding day festivities.

The day began with a flurry of activity. The bride, Liang Jiamin, known as Bee by all her friends and family, was in her bedroom in her family’s home in the village of Doumen getting ready for the all-day event which lay before her. She was preparing to marry, Jonathan Michael Castillo, an American photographer whom she met while working in the nearby city of Zhuhai.

Members of Bee’s family prepare for the wedding festivities.
As members of Bee’s family scurried about and prepare the day’s activities her father took a moment to escape the chaos and smoke some tobacco which he liked to draw through his bamboo water pipe.
Bee’s relatives enjoy a laugh as they prepare to take a group shot prior to the groom’s arrival.

While all the preparations were taking place in the bride’s home the groom, Jonathan, was busy getting himself ready as well as organizing the transportation for all his out of town guests. Several of which came all the way from the United States and one even from Russia, for this momentous event. It was probably the first time such an event ever took place in the village of Doumen and for many of the locals it was most likely the first time they had ever seen foreigners in person.

Jonathan, left, arrives with his posse of groomsmen and immediately forced to put on silly attire and dance.

Upon the arrival of the groom and all his out of town guests he and his groomsmen were guided to the bride’s home where he is expected to collect his bride and take her to the ceremony. However, before he is even allowed to even see his bride, he must first complete a series of challenges which the bridesmaids have planned for him.  The challenges are meant to be silly and fun which Jon and his support team all took part with great enthusiasm.

Prior to entering the bride’s room he was met with another challenge which was to consume a bowl of cooked vegetables. Jon is a meat guy and the bridesmaids knew would not be an easy task for him to complete.

 

Another challenge given to Jon and his groomsmen was to consume a chicken foot. Local delicacies such as this are not among Jon’s favorite foods in China.

 

Finally after performing a series of tasks as well as bribing the bridesmaids Jon was allowed into the house where he met his bride and her parents.

 

After fulfilling all his duties and showing proper respect to Bee’s parents he was allowed carry his bride out of her home and off to the ceremony.
Jon and Bee relax after the day’s earlier festivities. The two will now need to prepare for the actual wedding ceremony.

 

With over 300 people attending the ceremony for Jon and Bee’s wedding a tent was set up over the village’s basketball court.
With so many people in attendance a massive amount of food had to be prepare on site to feed the hungry guests.
Cooks prepared a variety of Chinese foods which included noodles, shrimp and bowls of spicy eel.
Jon and Bee are welcomed and congratulated as they make their way to the stage for the official ceremony. For the festivities earlier in the day both Jon and Bee wore traditional Chinese garments but for the ceremony they switched to western fashion.

 

After a brief ceremony Jon and Bee could officially call themselves husband and wife.

 

The hardest work for the bride and groom at any Chinese wedding is the toasting. The couple must make their way from table to table and knock back shots of the Chinese spirit called Baijiu. Fortunately for Jon and Bee their support team swapped out the alcohol for something less toxic and the two survived the evening.

 

With most of the food consumed and the final Gan Beis (Cheers) performed the party began to wrap up.

 

The final task of the night was to pay caterers. Since the largest bill in China is a 100RMB note, around USD15.00, it took several counts to make sure the amount was accurate.

 

Bee’s mother rests as her daughter and new son-in-law pay for the day’s events.

 

With the party over the cleanup begins.

 

Newlyweds Jonathan Michael Castillo and Bee Liang Jiamin.

 

 

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