I had an amazing time in Japan and one of the most memorable things that my friends and I did was to spend an afternoon with a local named Taro. Taro-san owns a business that provides food-loving tourists a chance to learn and help prepare a typical Japanese home-cooked meal right in his own home. If you didn’t know any locals in a foreign country, chances are that you will not have any opportunities to enjoy a home-cooked meal or see the inside of someone’s home. We got both!
There are several options when booking with Haru Cooking Class- named after Taro’s most adorable 3 year old daughter Haruko. We chose to go shopping with Taro at the Nishiki Market (this is additional to the regular cooking bit), where we peppered Taro-san with curious questions about the local produce.
We then took a stroll through shops and laneways before hopping on a bus to his home. Taro-san speaks English very well and we enjoyed conversations about local culture and language and he asked quite a few brain-boggling questions on the use of English grammar. We take for granted what we know as ‘natural’ speech in English but when we had to explain the technicalities behind it, it’s TOUGH! Kudos to all the English teachers out there!
Sorry I digressed. With Taro’s class, you get hands on experience preparing and cooking authentic home-style miso soup, tamago roll (egg), stir-fried veggies and side dishes. However the star of the show was the Kobe steak. We sat cross-legged on Taro-san’s living/dining room floor and marvelled at the journey our pieces of Kobe steaks took to make it Kobe-certified. There’s even a website that tracks which farm and breeder the specific Kobe beef originated from. (Every Kobe beef/cow is assigned a registration certificate and number) Yup, they are serious about their Kobe beef! Real serious!
We helped to slice, season and cook the various dishes but left the handling of our precious Kobe beef to Taro-san. I have never eaten such amazing melt-in-the-mouth steaks cooked simply with salt and pepper. Soooo gooood!!! The whole meal and experience was fantastic and I highly recommend anyone visiting Kyoto to attend a class with Taro-san. You won’t regret it!
But wait there’s more! Taro-san is also quite an inventor.
He designed this oil dispenser which allows you to evenly and lightly oil the base of your cooking pans without over-pouring oil – as I often do! He generously gave each couple a dispenser to take home but this is available for sale on his website. I haven’t put what I have learnt in his class into practice yet, but just writing this post makes me want to make up a batch of fresh miso soup pronto!
For more information on Taro and his fun-filled cooking class, visit his website.
I’m still harping on Japan. I know. I’m slow. There’s much to share from my trip in ‘ahem’ February. I can’t help but tell you more. Today we shall take a trip back to Kyoto. Everyone I know claims that Kyoto is simply beautiful – and after my visit, I too am a Kyoto fan. Unlike busy, metropolitan Tokyo, the city of Kyoto is brimming with ancient shrines, old-style architecture, cobble-stone streets, traditional tea houses and kimono-clad ladies. You read that right – where trendy fashionistas rock the sidewalks of Tokyo, beautiful women dressed in gorgeous kimonos are a common sight in Kyoto.
While we were in Europe, all we saw were churches. After a while, you tend to visit the most famous one and then give the rest a miss. Here in Kyoto, the shrines take over. However we had to visit the most famous shrine – Fushimi Inari – which is also the ‘head shrine’ of Inari, the papa shrine, the one that is featured in all Kyoto travel photos. The one with the orange-red torii (sub-gates) that line the pathways to the main shrine. This place is huge, and it’s definitely a sight to behold.
The other touristy spot we visited was the Arashimaya bamboo groves. The district itself is rather lovely to explore and many people like to hire bicycles and venture through the area. It is also famous for the monkey park but we had already seen snow monkeys in Nagano, we gave that a miss as well.
Beautiful Kyoto – imagine it in spring when the cherry blossoms are in bloom! It would be amazing. We were there in winter but were lucky to spot a few cherry blossom trees that were early bloomers. You want a slice of Japanese culture? Visit Kyoto – oh my, I sound like a travel agency.
Aside from lucky cherry blossom spotting, we had the opportunity to join in the festivities of Godairikison ninno’e. This is the largest event in Daigoji held on February 23rd each year. This religious festival is attended by over 100,000 visitors a year. Monks pray for peace, health and happiness for Japan and paper charms are burnt and distributed. What caught our attention and brought us to the festival was actually the famous ‘mochi-lifting’ ceremony. Men and women take part in this ceremony by lifting giant mochi (rice cakes) – 150kg for men and 90kg for women. Apparently the longer one lifts and maintains hold on the giant mochi, gets dedicated with power (strength and health perhaps?) However the appearance of a superhero made me think that maybe the participants are really asking for super powers? It was very interesting and entertaining. The whole area of Daigoji Temple was filled with throngs of visitors, food stalls (there seem to be food stalls at every festival – I love it), colourful flags and giant mochis. Great fun.
Next up: A home-style cooking class in Kyoto
Asakusa is one of the most popular tourist spots in Tokyo. It’s also known as ‘old Tokyo’ or ‘Temple town’. What first greeted us when we arrived was the ginormous red lantern at the Kaminarimon (Thunder Gate) which is the outer gate of the famous Sensoji Temple. Throngs of people were at the gate trying to take photos, our little group included. Unexpectedly, a couple of locals came by mid-self-portrait, and asked if we were willing to be interviewed for a local breakfast TV show! What?! With a little hesitation and a lot of nudging from my hubby, we agreed. The segment asked us what photos have we taken during our holiday in Tokyo. Having only been in Japan for all of one full day, we didn’t have much – well except for food, lots of them (not surprising right?) We shared some of the photos we took with their tech guy after much gesturing and basic Japanese during the interview. It was all a bit of a laugh really. I’m sure not everyone can say they were interviewed for a Japanese TV show! (By the way, our TV segment got bumped for the Academy Awards on screening day. Ah well, I guess what the movie stars wore to the Academy Awards was more interesting than food photos!)
Okay, back to Asakusa. Once you step through Kaminarimon, you’re faced with a busy pedestrian mall, known as Nakamise Street. This is where the ‘old Tokyo’ comes in. Stalls selling traditional Japanese items and souvenirs line both sides of the street. There were also many stalls selling traditional Japanese snacks such as red bean crepe cakes, mochi, sweet sake and takoyaki and some of them were made not with modern machines, but old-style methods.
The Sensoji temple grounds were filled with locals offering incense and prayer cards and ringing prayer bells. It certainly was a busy and colourful sight with locals and tourists intermingling and sharing the beautiful, sunny winter’s day.
Now the day wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t stop for some actual food would it? We walked along the streets near Sensoji Temple and noticed a tiny, little shop specialising in fresh udon (Japanese style wheat-flour noodles). Promptly, we joined the queue and we were glad we did so. Once seated in the small restaurant which probably only housed five tables and a bench, we ordered our udon meals. The fresh udon was springy and delicious and they came in the form of curry udon (with thick Japanese curry), miso based udon (rich miso soup base) and the set meal which came with a bowl of udon in dashi stock and crisp tempura of fish, prawns and vegetables on rice. Nothing’s better than fresh and delicious hot noodle soups to satiate our hunger after a long wander through Nakimase and Sensoji Temple – simply perfect.
Coming up next: A night out in Golden Gai – the home of izakayas.
Japan is awesome. This was my very first trip to the land of the rising sun, the land of super considerate and polite beings, the land of contrasts and the land of mouthwatering amazingness. I mean, Japan is simply wow. Let me start by telling you how impressed I was with Japanese hospitality, customer service and general behaviour. People were so polite and considerate, I heard all of two car honks the entire time I was there. There were continuous thank you’s and welcome’s, there were lots of bowing and smiles. What a pleasant society.
The next thing you’d notice would be the contrasts – traditional temples sit amidst modern skyscrapers, kimono-clad ladies walk the streets next to sleek fashionistas, age-old businesses run alongside the most up-to-date technologically advanced machines.
Then comes the food. Everyone speaks of how expensive Japan is. But let me tell you – for about 600 – 800 yen which is roughly about $6 – 8 Aussie dollars, you can get a delicious meal. Steaming bowls of ramen, fresh sushi and sashimi boxes, teriyaki chicken bentos. Yum. There are obviously more expensive meals such as an omakase which is like a degustation meal. Those can range from 3500 – 250000 yen. In general, a decent meal complete with sake (Japanese rice wine) costs about $15 to $22. Not shabby, definitely not pricey but a whole lot of delicious.
There’s just so much to share with you, so let me just start off with a glimpse of the famous fish market in Tokyo – Tsukiji Market. This fish market is known to be one of the largest wholesale fish markets in the world. There are two parts to the market – the inner section that houses the famous tuna auction (we didn’t make it to that unfortunately), and the outer section chock full of fresh seafood, kitchenware and cooked food. The sights, smells and sounds were extraordinary.
Of course there’s food involved. We had the most succulent grilled oyster, sweet tamago (egg) roll, smoky yakitori and no one goes to Tsukiji market and not have sushi made from the freshest ingredients from next door right? My favourite was the uni gunkanmaki – a nigiri sushi (hand formed sushi) with a strip of nori (seaweed) around it and topped with loose ingredients such as uni (sea urchin). The creamy sea urchin was subtle, slightly savoury and you could taste the sea…wow and wow.
I did mention that the people were friendly and polite right? Look at our adorable sushi chef who smiled for the camera while preparing our lunch. So sweet.
Coming up next, a visit to Asakusa.
Winter is like my hibernation period for cooking. I should really be whipping up warm, bubbling winter fare but somehow I feel like I’d rather have someone else do the cooking. Then again when summer comes, I’d probably whine about how hot it is to be cooking. Heh. Anyway back to winter – it doesn’t help that it’s dark all the time, and my photographs suffer due to lack of light. My mini photo studio is covered in dust, one of the bulbs is broken and I haven’t replaced it. My camera is clean from flour prints and oil stains. It’s a sad, sad situation.
On the bright side, I have been checking out Melbourne’s bustling food scene. From dainty dumplings in a scruffy side street to chunky steak and chips at a microbrewery. From zippy five-minute take-aways to four-hour long degustation. Oh yes, I have been indulging.
So please excuse me while I digest and get my groove back. In the meantime, do jump on my food train and take a peek at what I have been enjoying…
First stop: Taxi Dining Room at Federation Square, Melbourne
Hubby took me to Taxi for a pampering summer’s day special date earlier this year. This is one of those much talked about restaurants in the city. It was awarded The Age Good Food Guide ‘Wine List of the Year’ and Two Chefs Hats in 2010. The food is what one would describe as contemporary fusion of Japanese and modern Australian – favoring trendy ingredients that look like they belong in a nursery rhyme. Yuzu, wagyu, ponzu.
We went for the six-course degustation lunch menu. Every course served looked like works of delicious art which I admired for like two seconds and promptly tucked in. The menu consisted of fresh scallop sashimi with yuzu and caviar, duck done three ways, dumpling in five-spiced broth, crispy salmon on celeriac puree, grilled grade-7 wagyu beef and hazelnut parfait.
Oh my. Now you see why I’m not cooking much?
Next stop: Melbourne’s famous brekkies
Christmas in Australia means summer BBQs by the beach, seafood dinners, cold beers, flip flops, floppy hats and the lingering smell of sun screen. We haven’t had a summer Christmas for a few years now and this is our first since returning to Oz. It feels strange. It feels kinda wrong – where’s the snow, warming mulled wine by the log fire, the hearty roast dinners and the lingering smell of wet wool?
The hubs and I did have a fabulous Christmas down south on the beautiful island of Tasmania. There may not be romantic walks in the snow this time while we waited for the Christmas hour to chime in – but the views of wine glass bay, the endless blue-est blue skies, baby wallabies, soft sand in between our toes, constant flow of delicious Tassie wine (and the freshest seafood) sure made up for it.
And beside shipping a carton of that delicious Tassie wine back to Victoria, we also brought back 5 kilos of this…
…the sweetest, plumpest, juiciest Tasmanian cherries. Oh my.
No prizes for guessing what the key ingredient is for my upcoming recipe posts! Stay tuned.
January is serious birthday business in my little world – first to claim the birthday crown (or in my case, the birthday tiara) was me, followed by mummy dearest, then my best friend and finally to round off January birthday festivities is my wonderful hubby.
Being born the first week of January right after all the buzz with Christmas and New Year – I usually like to keep my birthday low-key. Usually enjoying a lovely meal with my man. This year meant ending my first week at a brand new job and then being swept away to a ‘secret location’.
The surprise location turned out to be this fantastic restaurant called Circa @ The Prince. I didn’t know much about this place but once I entered the restaurant, I knew I could just relax and look forward to the evening. Simply but elegantly furnished, the dining room was bathed in light from the skylight above. Prominently displayed was a wall of herbs – grown in industrial garden crates and I loved the soft furnishings of pine, ash grey and daffodil yellow. If I could do a mental pinterest tag on it, I would have.
We shared two starters because we couldn’t decide which ones to have and wanted to have more variety. Greedy much?
The first starter was Yellow Fin Tuna tartare with crispy oysters. Such a pretty sight – the tuna tartare was beautifully fresh along with the wafers of baby radish and semolina mousse. Yum. The oysters however, were a little too small and paled in comparison to the flavours of the tuna.
The second starter was a rock lobster raviolo with caviar and pea puree. Need I even say more? Totally delicious. Even the hubs who simply detests poncy foam on his food thought the dish was divine…foam and all.
For the mains, we ordered a sharing serve – 48 hour mutton with piquanto peppers stuffed with Kepfler potatoes and olives with brocollini.
Now, the hubs and I both have healthy appetites but this sharing serve was generous. Very generous. Mouthful after mouthful of the most tender and moist mutton, balanced with the most gorgeous peppers and potato combination. Such clean flavours, but I was blown away by how flavourful every element of the dish was. We were so disappointed that we couldn’t finish it all…remember I did say it was a generous serve. Plus, we needed space for dessert.
Dessert is a must for all birthday meals. That’s my rule.
And a dessert most befitting of my imaginary birthday tiara – the Queen of Pudding with Creme Anglais. Again, a shared serve of light yellow sponge, with a layer of custard and lemon curd topped with clouds of sweet meringue. Oh yeah.
And to top the whole birthday celebration off…I did this.
YUP. I jumped out of a plane the next day. Skydiving was AWESOME and the most exhilarating birthday present I ever received. The love of my life is a great present giver and it will be hard pressed to ever forget how I celebrated my birthday this year. Thanks babe, I had a most wonderful birthday week.
So the hubby and I have been travelling quite a bit, especially while we were living the life in Europe the last four years. Our Lonely Planet collection is rather impressive I must say. These guide books have been our constant companion on our travels and their recommendations have been mostly spot-on. We’ve had fantastic meals from the comprehensive lists of restaurants, excellent walking tours, handy tips and tricks and not to forget the ‘express’ language lessons towards the end of the books.
Now, this particular activity in Ho Chi Minh City came as a surprise. I wasn’t expecting to do very much while we were in Saigon this time round as we were mainly there for the wedding of hubby’s baby bro. However, we saw this cooking class recommendation in LP, and thought we’d call and check it out. It turned out to be loads of delicious fun!!
We arrived at the villa which was about 20 minutes outside of the city. Its peaceful and homely environment was a world away from the crazy, busyness of the city. The classroom was set up like a quaint version of the Masterchef kitchen with individual wooden and bamboo stations and the decor included old style furniture, pictures, pots and pans.
The teacher/chef did not speak English, but the lovely interpreter was always there explaining things clearly and even assisting with some of the tasks at hand. She was helpful and very friendly.
While we waited for all the students to arrive, we were served hot tea and candied ginger. Yum! Soon enough, the class commenced and we proceeded to our prep stations, where we cut, julienned, grated and sliced through all the ingredients required for our first dish.
Deep fried vietnamese spring rolls – need I say more? We had minced pork, woodear fungus, yam and crab meat. With everything prepped, we proceeded to our cooking station where a whole row of condiments, herbs and spices awaited. We were taken through the various steps to prepare the spring rolls, the perfect way to roll them and fry them.
That’s me waiting for the spring rolls to cook and the lady in yellow was helping my mum-in-law with hers. We couldn’t wait to tuck in to our spring rolls! Oh before I forget – the skin for these spring rolls were special netted versions only available in Saigon. The netting allowed the oil to cook the spring rolls thoroughly and ‘drain’ itself after cooking. This produced an extremely crispy spring roll (it apparently should stay crispy for up to four hours).
Those were the most delicious spring rolls I’ve ever had. Not blowing my own trumpet, but seriously…they were amazing! It’s no surprise that I went to the market in search of those netted skins. I have ten packets sitting in my pantry now.
The second dish we learnt to cook was Caramel Pork. This is a popular local dish and can be found in restaurants as well as in homes. Before we crunched into our spring rolls, we had to get the pork marinated. There was an astonishing amount of sugar in there, but it’s not called caramel pork for nothing.
This dish was savoury, sweet and just perfect served with steamed rice with coconut juice. I can’t wait to try this out at home…oh maybe I should get myself a cute little claypot too!?
Sour clam soup with dill – My all time favourite dish while I was in Vietnam. I was stoked that this dish was included in this class. I first tried it the evening before in Cuc Gach Quan, and I was so excited that I could learn how to to cook it!
The soup is made up of lots of fresh herbs – namely dill, spring onions, green starfruit, tomatoes and chilli. Simple ingredients, but such amazing fresh flavours. I love this soup. I will be making it sometime soon, so watch this space!
Once both the pork and soup were cooked, the whole group of us sat down and enjoyed the meal together. It’s such a great activity to do together with friends and family. If you have three hours to spare while visiting Ho Chi Minh City, make a booking with these guys! Lots of fun with food.
Vietnam Cookery School
362/8 Ung Van Khiem St, Binh Thanh District,
Ho Chi Minh City , VIETNAM
Tel: +848 351 22 764
This is one meal I will have in my food memory bank for a long time. It came highly recommended by my brother-in-law. He was best man at his buddy’s wedding but really wanted us to check this place out. He even listed the must-try dishes for us. Cuc Gach Quan is one of the city’s hidden gems, literally. We had the taxi driver take us to the converted triple storey terrace house.
We arrived early around 7pm and the ground floor dining area was already abuzz with locals tucking in to home-style Vietnamese food. The restaurant is quirkily set up with mis-matched tables, chairs and stools. We were ushered to the top floor via a mini bridge over an indoor pond, up a flight of super steep steps surrounded by hanging pots of fresh herbs.
The funky top floor consisted of an array of wooden tables, chairs, couches and a huge wooden bed in the middle of the room, complete with antique lamps, fans and old-style crockery stacked in a corner. It felt like you were eating at grandma’s house.
The food, as is the decor, is a true representation of “home style”. The dishes were rustic, simple and absolutely delicious. We picked from the list of recommended dishes and they all turned out to be winners.
Fried fish with green mango. Crispy fish pieces with a tangy, salty, fish-sauced based dressing and a generous topping of fresh green mango. Top marks for texture and flavour! Hubby who’s not a fan of fish with bones still intact, loved the mango and dressing while I savoured every piece of delicious fish.
Crispy tofu with lemongrass and chilli. See those bits? They were crunchy bits of fried lemongrass and chilli. The tofu was fried to perfection – crisp on the outside, soft on the inside. The lemongrass and chilli crumble were the stars of the dish though. They were fragrant and tasty and went really well with the neutral taste of tofu. I couldn’t stop till every little lemongrass crumb was consumed.
Stir fried zucchini flowers. Never tried zucchini flowers cooked this way before. I’ve only tried the Italian style stuffed deep fried flowers. The zucchini flowers were much smaller, and very tender. This dish was fresh and simple. No sign of garlic or any other aromatics, just a plate of wonderfully cooked vegetables. I could eat this all day.
Sour clam soup with dill. This changed my world. It was refreshing, with a great balance of tartness and sweetness. The surprise ingredient in this was the fresh green starfruit. Not something we can get easily in Australia, but as I learnt in a cooking class later (post coming soon), the starfruit can be substituted with pineapple. This is to-die-for.
Aside from the wonderful and delicious food, there’s also a theme of reuse and recycle. No, no, not the food - all that is fresh and served only once! No recycling there. I was referring to the pre-loved furniture (think antique, but not quite as polished), the crockery (most were chipped and old, but they weren’t too grubby), and if you ordered a cold drink, in place of the regular plastic drinking straw, you get a trimmed stem of a water spinach plant (kang kong)! All nature friendly and very exciting for a first timer like me.
If you’re ever in Ho Chi Minh City, this place is a must. Loved, loved, loved it!
Cuc Gach Quan
10 Dang Tat Dinh, Q.1
Sai Gon, Viet Nam.
Hey everyone, I’m baaaccckk!! Been back for a week now and have only just sorted out some of the photos from my trip to Vietnam. Here’s the first account of my visit. Ho Chi Minh City – formerly known as Saigon – is the largest city in Vietnam and has a population of 9 million people. And I think I saw at least half of that population on a honking moped somewhere along the busy streets. The place is busy, noisy and a training ground for a daredevil wannabe. Crossing the streets in the city takes guts, or if you’re visually impaired, you’d do really well. It’s crazy!
My very first stop in the city was none other than the famous Ben Thanh market – a large marketplace smack in the middle of the city in District 1. The huge space houses three sections. The first one sells all kinds of fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. The second section has displays of dried food, coffee, confectionery as well as some cooked food stalls selling steaming bowls of pho or plates of fresh rice paper rolls. Hawkers squat or sit on low stools as they prepare food, or wait for customers to peruse their wares. The third section caters mainly to the tourists – souvenirs, clothes and accessories…I spotted some purperrys and a pair of comvense sneakers. Haha.
Your olfactory senses go into overdrive as you wander through you the various sections – one moment you’re balking at the strong smell of fish and pig intestines, turn a corner and the aroma of coffee beans waft through, followed by the fragrance from pots of boiling stock for the pho. Just across from the food stalls, you’ll see dried fish or rows of colourful candied fruit. It’s a sight to behold. The smells, colours and noise can be overwhelming for a non-market lover, but I loved it.
Ben Thanh Market – a wonderful first stop in this busy, crowded city full of life, culture and history.
Stay tuned…more to come on Ho Chi Minh City…and not forgetting my very first pho meal. Yum yum.
p/s: Vietnamese dong confuses me. I’m not good with converting currency. Hubby was my walking conversion calculator for this trip. I wasn’t sure about spending 20,000 dong on a fridge magnet until he told me the magnet only costs US$1. Wow. Fun times ahead with my “millionaire” husband as he splashed out and got me that magnet.
The sun is shining its miraculous rays today. It’s beautiful. I’m so sun-deprived and vitamin D deficient and I long for brighter, longer and warmer days. Seeing this morning’s golden glow, I was reminded of my recent Mexican vacay and realised I haven’t posted anything on Chichen Itza!
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza were founded in 400 A.D. It is located north of the Yucatan Peninsula (now known as Mexico) and is now part of the new seven wonders of the world – as declared on 07.07.07. The other six wonders are Christ Redeemer in Brazil, the Great Wall of China, Taj Mahal in India, Petra in Jordan and Macchu Pichu in Peru. I’m so pumped I got to check off one of the seven wonders in my travels to date.
The archaeological site is a ‘showroom’ of one the world’s best architects! I’m saying this because the well preserved structures were all made by hand and were all aligned perfectly and with utmost precision. And the Mayans certainly didn’t have modern tools to help them. It’s totally awe-inspiring.
The name Chichen Itza means ‘At the mouth of the well of Itza’. Our guide did show us the ‘well’ which was literally about an acre in diameter. It was used in the ancient times as a sacrificial well where people were thrown in alive to appease to Gods (in times of drought or the like) and those who survived were considered to be ‘seers’. Yikes – I wonder how one was ‘selected’ to be sacrificed…
The most famous structure of Chichen Itza is the main temple, Kukulcan. This pyramid structure is the work of some geniuses (genii). Inside the temple lies a Chac Mool statue and a throne in a shape of a jaguar. The interior of the pyramid is no longer accessible (since it was closed to the public 6 years ago). So we kinda admired the structure from the outside.
Strange fact: When we stood at the front of the temple of Kukulcan and clapped, the echo that came back sounded just like birds chirping. It didn’t matter how far or near you stood in front of it – the chirps were consistent. We’ll never know how that works but basically when you’re there, you’ll see a bunch of people clapping and looking amazed as the pyramid chirpped back. Crazy but true.
The columns in the Temple of a Thousand Warriors was another amazing sight. Every single column was perfectly aligned. If you stood in front of the first column, you’ll never see anything else behind it. Even if it was diagonal. Perfectly aligned – every single one of them.
There was also a ‘football field’. You heard it! Except that players hit the ball with a stick through a stone goal high up on a wall. I don’t think it was an easy sport. And get this, the leader of the winning team got to sacrifice himself to the gods. Once again, it was considered an honour. Losing one’s head over a game was certainly taken very literally here.
All along the dirt tracks within the site, there were also modern day Mayans displaying their skills and work of art. Albeit in very different ways than their ancestors.
I’m really privileged to have visited this place. The journey there was long and arduous, it didn’t help that we were in a hurry (we had a dinner to go back to at the resort) and our driver did not understand our urgency. But I’m glad we went, saw and believed in the splendour of the works of ancient Mayans.
For more information about Chichen Itza, visit this informative site.
I miss the sun. I do. It gets a little too grey for my liking in London. Too much grey…I want bright blue and yellow and gold, some fuschia, a little bit of vermillion. I want colours! See what lack of vitamin D does to me?
I was very happy while in Mexico recently, Playa Del Carmen to be specific. The sun was shining and I was gleaming. “Playa” as it is affectionately referred to by the locals, is just south of spring break fave Cancun and sits along the coast of the Carribean Sea. It used to be a small, sedate fishing village but is now a popular resort city, bustling with sun seekers from all over the world. Like me!
We managed to pry ourselves away from the luxurious environment of the resort (Grand Velas Riviera Maya) one afternoon, hopped in a cab and went for a wander in the city’s pride and joy – “Fifth Avenue” – a three-mile long shopping and food strip. There’s no similarity to its namesake, the midtown Manhatten’s prestigious shopping district. There were mainly tourist gift shops, restaurants, jewellers and cigar shops. All bright, colourful and cheerful.
There were massage stalls (a back rub anyone?) and fruit stalls displaying cut fruits in plastic cups, art shops full of eclectic wares and paintings.
Piles of balero cups (traditional mexican toy), sombreros, tacky tees…
When it was snack time, there’s always a churros stand. Yum!
Soon enough, it was time to return to the resort. We stopped by the beach and paid a visit to these guys.
Beautiful creatures aren’t they?
I miss you Playa Del Carmen.
One of the many great things about living in the UK is the pub culture. There’s the good and bad of it all starting with the usual ‘local’ – or neighbourhood pub that serves pints of overflowing ales and pub grub like burgers and pies. Complete with the ‘fragrance’ of stale beer and cigarette smoke from pre-2007 and not forgetting the sticky worn out carpets that clings to the bottom of your shoes.
On the other end of the spectrum you may find a beautiful Victorian pub, with classic furnishings and hand-painted windows and motifs. Aside from an endless list of ales and lagers, there’s also various ciders, imported brews and wine. The food is usually worth its weight as well, many also claiming to be ‘gastro-pubs’, with chefy-looking plates of food which would fall under the category of ‘modern British’.
My personal favourite ‘type’ of pub would be one that’s rich in history, yet well-maintained and preserved like my ‘local’ – the Prince Alfred – which has been used as a location site for a number of movies – including ‘The Wedding Date’ (2005) starring Dermot Mulroney and Debra Messing. Stuccoed ceilings, frosted windows, partitioned seating areas make up part of the beauty that is the Alfred. The drink choices are plentiful and the food in the ‘back room’ also known as The Formosa Dining Room certainly lives up to gastro-pub standards. It’s just around the corner to my flat, but I haven’t quite made the ‘blog’ trip there, meaning with camera in tow and blogging hat on. I do hope to do that soon though.
However, I have visited another pub recently that I thought was worth a mention. The Washington – located on the swanky side of Belsize Park. Not quite as pretty as the Prince Alfred, but it has it’s own character. Dark wood furnishings, large clear windows, underlying red colour theme reflected in the lighting, ceilings and soft furnishings.
We visited this pub with a friend who currently lives in Florida and does not quite have the luxury of a good local pub, much less a good pub meal. When we suggested going for Sunday Roast…he was more than happy. And so were we!
Starters consisted of Mushrooms and Stilton on Toast. Oh yeah – not just a regular mushies on toast mind you. Creamy melted stilton cheese and juicy mushrooms – what a combination. Very very delish.
We also shared a pulled pork pate which was served in a glass with thick slices of warm grilled bread to spread the pate on. Two thumbs up on both the starters.
All three of us went for the Sunday roast. We had a choice of pork, beef, lamb or chicken. We ended up with one beef, one lamb and one pork. All with the same trimmings of a big fluffy Yorkshire pudding, cabbage (which was a little too bland and mushy, so was rather meh), crisp roasted potatoes and parsnips. It’s a large portion, but it was good enough that we cleaned our plates…
I had my succulent slices of roast pork with this apple and sage jelly and it was perfect. Juicy pork and crunchy cracking, smeared with a mildly sweet apple jelly with a hint of spicy sage.
We shared the starters and thought it would be wise to share the desserts too – which were sticky toffee pudding, rich dark chocolate brownie and a ginormous cheese platter. The desserts were good but nothing extraordinary and wasn’t quite up there on the droolfactor.
It seemed like we ate A LOT between the three of us…I won’t deny it, we did. We just could not stop…but what an excellent way to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon don’t you agree?
50 England’s Lane
London NW3 4UE
Autumn seems to be on a hiatus here in London. It seems we’ve gone head first into winter! Thankfully, we managed to get our butts off the couch two weekends ago while the sun was shining and took a nice long walk along the canals. We headed to Primrose Hill, just north of Regent’s Park where poshy Londoners were soaking up the sun. It was just beautiful. The park that is…poshy Londoners…well they were alright.
Primrose Hill is nestled between Regent’s Park and Camden Town, and it has that quirky, artsy feel about it, similar to Camden but way more upmarket.
We didn’t just go for a long walk and not reward ourselves! Gotta be kidding right? We walked…to lunch…at this wee little French bistro in Primrose Hill.
L’Absinthe is a comfortable little bistro with a neighbourhoody feel. The owner is a tall, charismatic French man who does all the front of house meeting and greeting…yes, in French.
The menu changes regularly with several traditional regulars like leek vinaigrette, steak frites and creme brulee. Unfortunately, the leeks were out and we both weren’t in the mood for steak. So we went ahead and ordered the non-regulars.
Ham hock terrine and goat’s cheese salad for starters. Duck confit with braised red cabbage and fillet of cod with ratatouille for mains. All delicious, fresh and very Frenchy. Oooh lala!
To top all that off, there was the L’Absinthe creme brulee. And yes, there was absinthe in that thing! I liked it…there was just a little zing from the alcohol and it brought the creme to a more adult level. Mmm….hubby wasn’t a fan…but then again, he’s not into alcohol and he’s definitely not into modifications of any kind to his favourite desserts. We cleaned out the dish though. It was yum.
Now, fingers crossed there more sunny weekends coming our way so we can have more walks and more lunches…not that cold and grey is going to stop us from lunchin’….pffft.
40 Chalcot Road
I ate way too much while in Greece. Too. Much.
Okay, so it’s no big surprise. However, sorting out what I really wanted to blog about was a problem. Which meals do I give more cyber time to? Which ones to discard? In order not to bore you (or myself) with ramblings of every single meal plus some just do not warrant a post on it’s own , I picked out some highlights. Be prepared – there are some particularly horrendous photos (sorry! I blame it on being hungry, unprepared and the bad lighting).
So, sit back and see how much of a glut I was last week…
Starters: We went through quite a number of them. Often times, they were the star of the meal.
One of the best discoveries and a favourite of the hubby – fried zucchini balls. Julienned strips of zucchini mixed with a creamy cheese base, breaded and deep fried. Crunchy and yummy.
And how can we not have saganaki when in Greece eh? I remember many years ago, I thought saganaki was a Japanese dish. Heh. Saganaki literally means little frying pan in Greek, but it’s now more commonly referring to the pan-fried cheese that was originally cooked in the little pan. Biting through the slightly crisp edges, you’ll find a delightfully salty and springy cheese.
And the ever garlicky and creamy tzatziki – my favourite. This was the reason I over-carbed this trip. I couldn’t resist finishing off the bread because there’s still some dip left. Very bad, but very good.
Another must-have – dolmades. Cooked long grain rice, herbs and pine nuts wrapped in vine leaves.
This one’s a surprise find. We were told of their famous Naxian Graviera (Gruyere cheese only made and found in Naxos) and so when we saw this Roasted Vegetable Tart with Naxian Cheese, we jumped on it. Leaped, in fact. And boy it’s good.. Layers of puff pastry, cheese and roasted aubergine, peppers and tomatoes. I fell in love with the Naxian Graviera. It’s like a milder version of parmesan – very flavourful but not overpoweringly cheesy. No prizes for guessing who brought two large wedges home.
Now these two were the biggest stars of the starters. Black-eyed beans cooked with onions, tossed with olive oil and herbs. Fresh and absolutely delicious. The other is made of mixed peppers and onions, cooked with spices and I don’t know what else but it was so tasty and one of the best pepper dishes I’ve ever had. That sauce…oh my goodness…with fresh made bread – divine! And these two were not from any fancy restaurants, but a little taverna on a small deserted island that our skipper from our sailing trip took us to. It’s great when you know someone who knows someone…who owns this.
Yup – that’s the little taverna…and this is the man who made us one of the best meals in Greece.
Mains: Aside from endless orders of souvlaki, we also tasted some wonderful main dishes.
Absolutely delicious! This octopus stew brought back very fond memories of the octopus rice dishes we had in Portugal. Tender cooked octopus in a slightly piquant tomato sauce. Drool!
I think this dish is called Grandma’s Tiguana. It’s a spicy-ish stew of melt-in-the-mouth pork, potatoes, peppers and feta cheese. The waiter asked if we wanted our grandma to be ‘sexy’ …in other words, if we wanted the dish spicy. Joker. We loved sexy grandma’s stew though.
Supposedly a fisherman’s risotto. Not quite the usual seafood risotto we’re used to, but it was super tasty with loads of fresh prawns, octopus, mussels and peppers. Mmmm…
One of the best things about dining on an island…you get the freshest seafood. Caught on the day, cooked to perfection. Fresh squid and fish, simply grilled on coals and lightly seasoned with salt, pepper and fresh lemon juice.
There were also famous greek faves like moussaka and feta in the oven, and more amazing tomato salads, wines and beers. However, this little shot below deserves a mention. It’s a version of citron (pronounced ‘kitron’) their locally made alcohol digestive made with cinnamon, clove and honey. Served warm. It’s sooooo good, I bought a few bottles of citron home in an attempt to reproduce this heavenly nectar! Stay tuned for that…it may well work, or it may just ruin a perfectly good bottle of citron. Who knows?
Best to reconsider your island hopping plans to Greece. Cats are EVERYWHERE!!! I like them though. And this particular ginger fella got to eat quite a bit of my chicken dinner that night. Purrrrrrr….
Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, lounging on beach chairs overlooking the aegean sea, taking pre-dinner walks along the beaches of Naxos or Milos…I saw the most beautiful sunsets. There’s just something romantic and mystical gazing at the purple, blue, golden and vermillion hues streaking across the horizon. What a colour palette!
Such gorgeous views. All you need is a romantic soundtrack and prince charming to sweep you off your feet. Or in my case, my wonderful hubby as he swept me off for yet another amazing greek dinner by the beach.
Thanks to David Lebovitz, this trip to Paris was not only full of amazing side trips to try out local grub, I got to visit three very busy and colourful markets. Armed with my metro ticket and camera, I braved the throngs of locals as they went about with their grocery shopping.
Marché Biologique Batignolles – located in a rather quiet neighbourhood, it was the smallest of the three markets I visited. Full of fresh vegetables, baked goods, an amazing rotisserie and hoards of cheese. Oh my goodness, the cheese…
Barbès Market – The most international market. Quite an experience this one. It was very noisy, very crowded and just a tad intimidating. Located under the train tracks, it stretches for as long as I could see the tracks above me. Shouts from vendors and customers yelling and haggling were still ringing in my ears after I left.
Bastille Market – The largest outdoor market in Paris. It was spacious and easy to wander and linger and check out each stall. Benches were scattered around for the weary shoppers. There was a good variety of cooked food stalls as well – crepes, paella, prawn fritters, baklava – I could just have a very full meal just walking through here and trying out the goodies.
More than four and a half years ago, my then fiance took me to the most romantic city in the world. Unfortunately, we were at the tail end of a rather long and tiring trip, rather spent in both energy and dosh, unused to the wintry cold and didn’t quite manage to absorb the sparkling wonderland, that is Paris.
This time it was different. Good different. We visited Musee D’Orsay for a dose of culture, we traipsed through busy markets, we shared meals amongst locals in quiet suburbs, we sat in the park and soaked up the sun, we had a picnic on the steps of Sacre Couer, breakfast by the Seine and we finally saw Eiffel Tower up close at night. I loved every single bit of it and this is how I will remember Paris forever…
A picture paints a thousand words. This photoblog is a collection of my short visit to Greenwich Market, London. Hubby and I kicked ourselves for stupidly having lunch prior to our visit there. Stupid, stupid, stupid. We could only inhale the aromas and gawk at the delicious sights before us.