Thursday, 28 January 2010

Food Review: Chayo Cafe, Kelana Mall

It was during a discussion with a vegetarian delegate representing the Borneo Sunbear Conservation Centre at the Asia for Animals Conference 2010 that I made several startling discoveries about vegetarian food and its lack of popular appeal.

"To encourage my friends to try vegetarian food," revealed my new friend Wai Pak, "I work hard to improve my cooking. All food must be fresh, tasty and attractive. I try to ensure that I serve veggies of 5 different colours."

I had hitherto failed to consider the taste and appearance of vegetarian food as a prime factor in getting others to attempt meatless meals. Being the pedant that I am, I had thought that it was sufficient to inform or remind others about the environmental benefits and animal welfare aspects of eating less meat.

Since that minor epiphany, I have been making a conscious effort to find out what people around me did or did not like about vegetarian food. Many non-vegetarians find vegetarian food to be unhealthy, laden with artificial flavour enhancers, aesthetically unappealing, enigmatic ("What the Hell was THAT black lump I just ate?") and unpalatable.

Where in the Klang Valley, then, can one go out for a healthy, nourishing and appetising vegetarian/vegan food? By blogging about the vegetarian restaurants that I frequent, I hope to be of some small service to potential customers and to the vegetarian food industry.

Vegan Eugene had sang praises about the food at Chayo Cafe in Kelana Mall before, and when my buddy Sheela P. raved on Facebook about how much she enjoyed Chayo's spice tea and Indian set meals, I knew I had to make a date with Chayo.

So on Saturday evening, after our Nature Guiding Workshop, I asked Vegan Eugene to join me for dinner at Chayo. The ambience was welcoming, the establishment was clean and comfortable and the service was commendable.

Sensible lighting, comfortable seating, reasonably-sized tables and interesting decor makes Chayo a winner in the ambience department.

Organic cotton t-shirts with environmental messages would make good gifts for our treehugging friends, while magazines keep patrons occupied while they wait to be served. Service was prompt, however, and the staff were considerate and helpful.

The food and beverage is, of course, the main point of the visit, and we were not disappointed. Vegan Eugene and I both ordered the Indian thali set, which may seem a bit steep at RM9.90 per set, but which we were prepared to make a concession for, as the set comes with Chayo Spice Tea (organic, so I'm told) and the food uses mostly organic and fresh ingredients. What a welcome change it is from MSG-laden chunks of reconstituted soy!

Chayo Indian Set Meal ~ Clockwise from left: diced spicy pumpkin, masala curry, yoghurt (thairu) and 'mutton' varuval (not included in the set) .

My assessment? The diced pumpkin was delicious and infused with flavour without being overwhelming. Although diced, the consistency was firm, not squashy or starchy. That it was diced made it absorb flavour better and thus prevented the dish from tasting too sweet, as most pumpkin dishes tend to be.

The masala curry was thick with beans and fragrant with spices and made a highly appropriate accompaniment to the rice.

The thairu was delicious too, but shouldn't, in my humble opinion, have the reconstituted soy 'thing' in it. Mint leaves or chopped cucumber and onions would have gone down better with the thairu.

The 'mutton' varuval, like the pumpkin, was finely diced, adding to its flavour and improving its texture and consistency. It was exquisite -- almost crispy, peppery, not excessively salty and blending beautifully with the rice and vegetables.

The green pea masala (not in the picture – it was given to Vegan Eugene to replace the yoghurt dish) had the right balance of natural sweetness and spiciness, and was not runny or squishy as most green pea masalas tend to be.

Chayo Spice Tea ~ a soothing blend of tea, spices (we picked up hints of cinnamon, ginger and star anise) and milk. Vegan Eugene forgot to inform them to omit the milk in his, but the astute staff actually picked up on it when he told them he did not want the thairu that came with his meal, and took the initiative to replace dairy with soy milk. It's little thoughtful touches like this that we appreciate.

The official opening hours may be 0900h-2100h, but Vegan Eugene and I continued to be waited on graciously until 2200h.

If there was anything less than satisfactory we found about Chayo, it was that the price was rather high for a vegetarian meal, and the portions were a little small, considering the fact that we could have a huge South Indian banana leaf rice meal with lashings of curry and vegetables for the same price. Also, we hadn’t really expected to be charged 50 sen each for a glass of iced water! For the price they were charging for the food, the iced water should be thrown in for free.

Were we satisfied with the quality of their food and service? I'd like to sum up my first visit to Chayo Cafe this way: If all vegetarian food were this good, the global livestock industry would go bust.

Chayo Cafe
Address: 50-2, Kelana Mall, Jalan SS6/14, Kelana Jaya, 47301 Petaling Jaya.
Phone: 03 7806 2035
Opening Hours: 0900h - 2100h

Monday, 25 January 2010

Nature Guides, Ready to Roll!

As a youngster, more than I wanted to be a pirate-witch-cowboy-ninja-footballer-veterinarian-commando, I wanted to be a nature guide. I was no doubt inspired by the nature guides who edified me on Malaysian natural history during the various trips to FRIM that Covert Dad took us on. What could be better, I thought, than learning about flora and fauna and imparting that knowledge and your passion to others? For as the great, late Jacques Yves Costeau said, "People only protect what they love", and people can only love what they understand and are acquainted with.

As I grew older, I realised that Nature Guiding didn't have to be a career, but also a hobby, a calling and a passion. Although much of my volunteer work with the MNS consists of public speaking and outreach activities, I do enjoy showing friends around places of natural and ecological interest, and sharing what I know of local natural history.

When the MNS Nature Guides organised a Basic Nature Guiding workshop on Saturday, 23rd January 2010 for the purpose of training and recruiting guides for MNS events, I was one of the first to sign up. I carpooled to the MNS Nature Education Centre in FRIM with Vegan Eugene and Melissa, all raring to go.

Team-Building Activity: "Stepping Stones", made more challenging by the inclusion of four 'blind' colleagues. Vegan Eugene was blindfolded and I tried to lead him to safety but we took a big tumble.

Successful 'villagers' cheering their friends on. This activity not only helped us break the ice and practice cooperation and teamwork, it also brought home the importance of conserving our natural resources. Vegan Eugene and I had been eliminated by this point and were cheering from the sidelines.

An indoor session on the Basics of Nature Guiding, by our dedicated and passionate friend, Pasupathy, in the MNS Nature Education Centre.

Models of Rafflesia blooms made of papier mache and other discarded materials line one of the walls in the Nature Education Centre.

Special Guests after the lunch break: Raphaelle (11) and Gabriel (14) from Kids For Earth present a cheque for RM2,000 in favour of Green Living SIG to Selangor Branch Chairman Gary Phong. They raised the funds for MNS through the sale of cloth shopping bags. Kids for Earth is founded and led by kids for kids, and has generated a lot of awareness on the issue of reduction in the use and production of plastic bags.

Please visit them at Kids For Earth and leave them some words of support and encouragement for their commendable effort!

Bushcraft Ashleigh conducting the Interpretative Walk to help us learn the finer points of nature guiding.

Vegan Eugene's North Face pants were ripped during the fall. I hadn't tried to kill him, honest! I was trying to save his life by carrying him on my back when the 'stepping stones' got too small and too damaged, but I lost my balance 3 steps away from the finishing line and we both crashed into the gritty ground.

(Here's how it happened:

Photo credits: Workshop participant Nancy Ng.)

The Birds' Nest Fern (Asplenium nidus) is an epiphyte with simple fronds radiating from a short central stem, with parellel veins that are closely arranged. Indigenous and rural communities make a compress from the leaves, which can be used to ease labour pain and treat fever.

Most figs (Ficus) have edible (though economically unimportant) fruits. All figs rely on wasps from the Agaonidae family for pollination. The wasps enter the fig inflorescence to pollinate the plant and lay their own eggs. This is truly a remarkable example of symbiosis in nature!

Reflection: If the use of pesticides and insecticides wipes out the Agaonidae population, the figs will disappear, leaving many birds and mammals on the brink of starvation. The Web of Life is magnificent, but fragile.

Conifers in the Tropics have their origins in Gondwana. India was detached from Gondwana approx. 90 million years ago (MYA). India then collided with Asia 30-45 MYA, and exchanged species. Later, as Australia-New Guinea drifted north, the collision of the Australian and Asian plates pushed up the islands of Wallacea, which were separated from one another by narrow straits, allowing a botanic exchange between Indomalaya and Australasia. Asian rainforest flora, including the dipterocarps, island-hopped across Wallacea to New Guinea, and several Gondwanian plant families, including podocarps (i.e. Southern Hemisphere Conifers), moved westward from Australia-New Guinea into western Malesia and Southeast Asia. Talk about having a colourful and extensive family tree!

The Artocarpus elastica/elasticus belongs to the mulberry family and is related to the breadfruit and jackfruit. The Artocarpus elastica/elasticus has strong fibres that are used by the indigenous and rural communities for cordage and as weaving materials.

What's this? Is it an aerial photograph of a riverine system? No, it's not! This is the canopy of the Kapur trees(Dryobalanops aromatica) exhibiting 'crown shyness'. The leaf tips of the trees do not touch or overlap, creating river-like gaps between trees to let sunlight in to the forest floor.

How? The cause of crown shyness is not clear, but some scientists believe that the growing leaf tips are very sensitive to each other and die off upon abrasion, but another theory is that the leaf tips are very sensitive to light and will stop growth when nearing adjacent foliage.

Why? The reason for this phenomenon is not entirely clear either, but it could be to allow sunlight to reach the forest floor to allow seedlings to grow. Can anything be more miraculous and more perfect than the Tropical Rainforest ecosystem?

Descending the rope drop at Rover Trail.

Our little stream has dried up! It is now less than 25% of its usual volume! And there is so much siltation. What's going on here? It used to be teeming with aquatic life. You could dip a coffee cup in it and raise the cup to find it full of translucent shrimps, fish, tadpoles, pond skaters and freshwater crabs, tiny and iridiscent as jewels.

At the end of the workshop, most of the participants signed up to be guides for our upcoming Raptor Watch Week 2010 in Tanjung Tuan. Regretfully, I had to decline as I had already offered to volunteer as the emcee for the entire weekend, seeing as that our dynamic Mum-To-Be Lillian would be on maternity leave.

However, I know there will always be other opportunities for me to play the role of Nature Guide with the MNS, as I can be counted on to be present at most events and activities.

If you would like to find out more about the MNS Nature Guides, please visit them here:
MNS Nature Guides.

To find out more about the MNS Nature Education Centre in FRIM, please contact:
The Programme Officer
Nature Education Centre
Forest Research Institute Malaysia (FRIM)
52110 Kepong,
Selangor Darul Ehsan

Phone : 03-6277 1703
Fax : 03-6275 4376
Email :

Thursday, 21 January 2010

AfA Conference & Adventures in Singapore!

The Asia for Animals Conference is a forum to bring together veterinarians, animal welfare/rescue professionals, government agencies and animal welfare organisations in Asia to develop winning animal welfare strategies. Many animal-related issues are unique to Asia, for instance, dog meat consumption and the capture of wildlife by impoverished indigenous communities for the wildlife trade, for which the developed world has not been able to offer solutions.

The theme for the Asia for Animals Conference 2008 in Bali was "Lessons Learned", which places emphasis on collaboration and the sharing of knowledge. The theme for the
Asia for Animals Conference 2010 in Singapore is "Achieving Long Term Positive Change", which speaks of our resolve to implement changes and produce results which will improve the quality of life of all living things.

I was again part of the SPCA Selangor delegation to the Conference, and I like to think it is due to my ongoing contributions to the organisation. I have, upon return from the Conference which ran from 15 Jan - 20 Jan 2010, already drafted a strategy plan which included new educational and outreach programmes, a volunteer manual, and draft statements on wildlife issues.

It wasn't all hard work, however, and I had a highly enjoyable week spending time with family and friends, old and new, as the following photos attest:

The Conference was hosted by ACRES (Animal Concerns Research and Education Society) at Furama Hotel, which Glyn and I insisted on calling "Futurama Hotel".

Here is one of ACRES' displays on the smuggling of orang utans. In 1990, 6 baby orangutans were smuggled out of Singapore in small crates for the wildlife trade. Each crate contained 3 baby orangutans and were so small the orangutans could hardly move. All 6 later died.

My friends, Dr. Pushpa and Chelvy of SPCA Selangor, at the Conference, looking rather sombre.

Karthik Satyanarayan of Wildlife SOS India delivering a rather affecting presentation on the rehabilitation of Indian Sloth Bears that were previously used as dancing bears by the Qalandars.

My friends Jacinta (SPCA Selangor), Glyn (Global Animal Welfare Solutions) and Dr. Karen (SPCA-DBKL Klinik Kembiri) having a pow-wow at the Conference.

My buddy Glyn and I took the opportunity to stroll over to Clarke Quay for a lager on Friday night. The Clarke Quay Promenade looks almost magical at night.

Bungee Rides at Clarke Quay. Glyn says: "Watch out for the wee and puke! Don't stand too close to the rides!"

Big Bro and Sis-in-Law, who live in Chua Chu Kang Crescent, spent Sunday with me visiting outdoor places of interest, as I have no interest in shopping. Here they are at the Henderson Waves, a ribbed, wooden pedestrian bridge over Henderson Road.

Cable car shopping booths at the Jewel Box, Mount Faber.

Pinball Wizards? Hardly! Big Bro and Sis-in-Law try to solve a pinball maze puzzle at the Horticultural Park, but it is far harder than it looks.

Having fun on the elevated steel walkway at Telok Blangah Hill, arguably the highest point in dimunitive Singapore!

Knowing my love of architecture, my Big Bro and Sis-in-Law took me to see the Church of St. Theresa, Singapore, which was constructed circa 1929. Note the symmetrical Grecian columns, the recessed Art Noveau / Art Deco style entrance and the ornate entablature.

Another gorgeous Neoclassical structure, the SP Jain Centre for Management in Hyderabad Road, forms an oasis of calm and greenery amid the neverending traffic and high-rise buildings of Singapore. Check out the narrow windows (considering the full surface of the walls), the spandrels with geometric motifs and the decorative moldings -- all elements of Art Deco architecture!

My new friend, Anbarasi a.k.a. Anbu, of ACRES, giving us a briefing on ACRES' operation and their wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centre.

Penny, a differently-abled dog at the ACRES office. Isn't she lovely?

My new friend Sathya of Blue Cross of Chennai and me at the Singapore Botanical Gardens. Please do not ask me why there are band-aids on both my shins.

Delegates from Buses 4 & 5 visiting the Singapore SPCA at Mount Vernon Road.

Cute puppy loves me right back!

The Singapore SPCA houses a total of 170 cats and dogs at any given time, and fortunately for these puppies, there is no timeline for their adoption, i.e. they are not going to be euthanised if not adopted within a certain period.

A gorgeous kitty at the SPCA Singapore Cattery awaiting a permanent home.

Beautiful kitties awaiting adoption at the SPCA Singapore Cattery. Wouldn't you like to bring them all home?

The Story of Singapore, Part 1 (As told by CovertOps and Covert Big Bro):

A long time ago, Singapore was terrorised by a Giant Flying Prawn. Human sacrifices had to be made to the Flying Prawn to appease it. The people flocked to houses of worship which were cramped closely together to seek refuge from the Giant Flying Prawn, though some were less concerned than others and carried on dancing. The Giant Flying Prawn was finally defeated by a brave woman with exceptional earlobes who stroked the Giant Flying Prawn's beard, which had a soporific effect on the 'Prawn, and the 'Prawn was euthanised using the sap of the deadly traveller's palm. The End.

The Story of Singapore, Part 2 (As told by CovertOps and Covert Big Bro):

Until quite recently, all bank tellers in Singapore used to be terrorised by a dragon with googly eyes. The economy came to a standstill and the people of Singapore were so poor that they survived on durians, mangosteens, prawns and coconuts that fell off the back of trishaws. Singapore was saved when a giant orangutan and giant African Grey Parrot dropped cable cars on top of the Dragon's head, killing it instantly and mercifully.
The End.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

SPCA Charity Gala: Black Solid Gold!

Sunday, 10th January 2010: SPCA Charity Gala - "Black Solid Gold"

After years of applying to purchase the land that our animal shelter is situated on, SPCA Selangor is finally able to legally own the premises, thanks to the efforts of the Selangor State Government, which approved the application for land alienation. For the past few months, all of us at the shelter have been very excited over the plans to transform and remodel the animal shelter into an aesthetically-pleasing eco-friendly shelter that can house 300 dogs and 200 cats.

Dr. Lim, the General Manager, let me have soft copies of the construction plans in PDF format.

The new eco-friendly facility is designed by award-winning architect Hijjas Kasturi, who offered his services pro bono. Hijjas Kasturi, his wife and his family are no strangers to volunteering and have dedicated a lot of their time, effort and resources to worthy causes.

I had proposed getting Green Cones (pet waste composters) for the non-covered substrates, and Dr. Lim has asked me to conduct a little research on its practicality, durability and availability in Malaysia.

To raise funds for our highly ambitious remodelling plans, SPCA Selangor organised a fundraising dinner featuring Chairperson Christine Chin's husband, Donne Ray Radford, who would be singing R&B, soul and funk hits from the '70s and '80s. I have heard Donne perform before, at the fundraising do at Noble Banquet in 2007, and was delighted to be offered a seat at the volunteers' table. I knew my parents would enjoy the dinner and programme, and so we purchased dinner tickets so we could attend the event together and contribute to this worthy cause.

SPCA Charity Gala: Black Solid Gold! Dress code: 80's Retro!

I was helping out at the SPCA on the Saturday before the Charity Gala, and there was much anticipation in the air. When I was bathing and tickwashing dogs with Rose, all we nattered about was about who we would be coming with, what time should we arrive, and who would be carpooling with others. Later, when I was cleaning and disinfecting the cages, kennels and Cattery with Reve, we chattered about who else would be at the dinner, what we would be wearing and whether we should help out at the Merchandise Booth or just sit back and enjoy the music.

After I had finished cleaning the shelter, I went up to the SPCA Bungalow to shower and to help Nicole and Jacinta load the truck with the boxes of dog and cat food that would go into the door gifts and goodie bags. We spent the entire time obsessing over what to wear, if we would be the only ones in retro outfits, and whether bellbottoms were technically appropriate. We knew we were in for a treat, and we weren't disappointed!

The Charity Gala, which took place at the Sabah Ballroom of Shangri-La, was highly successful. I encountered friends that I haven't met in years, among them Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham, who ribbed me about when I could come and repair and catalogue books for them again (I had volunteered at the Actors' Studio bookstore in my teenage years). Merchandise sales were brisk. Nic and Jac were kept very busy attending to all requests. There was even a wine auction and a magic show as precursors to the main attraction.

Covert Mum and Covert Dad, enjoying their dinner.

Jane, Reve, Marianne, Lynette, Rose and Sashi, my fellow volunteers.

Donne Ray Radford, former lead singer of The Platters, in his element. You couldn't help but want to get up and dance!

Nicole and I, dancing to Donne Ray's rendition of "September".

By the time the emcee wanted to announce the ultimate round of Lucky Draw, it was past 2300 hrs and many of the guests had already left, so they decided to give out prizes in a Scavenger Hunt-type contest. For the second prize, the emcee asked for "an RM50 note, an RM10 note and 2 five-sen coins". I had all of that in my purse and so I ran towards the podium in my heels, swaying like a poplar tree in high wind, and plonked the money down to show her. I didn't know what I was supposed to win; I just didn't want to miss out on the fun!

It turned out that I had won an enormous feng shui hamper from World of Feng Shui! What rum! Am not sure what to do with it, so the hamper is still sitting in the closet in the spare room!

As we would say back in the '80s, it has been a most excellent party, fur sure!

To find out ways to support SPCA Selangor, come visit our current animal shelter any day, from 0900 - 1600 hours!

Monday, 11th January 2010: Buddies, Birthdays and Booze

My buddy Mizan celebrated his birthday on Saturday, and so we had a HUGE get-together at our friendly neighbourhood pub, On-Line Pub, Damansara Kim, together with the other regulars, on Monday, Jan 11.

The Balachandran brothers were kept very busy by all the customers!

Goofing around with my buddy Andrew.

Mizan, backed up by a band, for a change!

Lili and I really feeling the music!

Gerrard Singh, Mizan and the band performed classic rock numbers, including U2’s "With Or Without You".

Roughhousing with Mizan!

Many Happy Returns, Abang Mizan! We built this monument for you, ha ha!

"Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose"
- Tennessee Williams, 1911 - 1983.