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Is New York City the capital of the world?

30 Jun

Warning: This is a long post because New York City was full of experiences. I have grouped them by day. Enjoy.

Day 1

Unlike Hong Kong, there were no sweeping views of the city skyline coming into New York City by MTA (rapid transport). After the MTA departs from JFK airport, it goes underground and the next time I was above was at Penn station lugging my bag. Once on the street level, I was immersed in the thick hustle and bustle of Thursday afternoon. It was teeming with people. I stood momentarily to get my bearings, and to soak it all in. I couldn’t help but think to myself: I’m going to love this city.

I stayed in Korea Town or KTown as it is commonly referred to in Midtown, Manhattan. The Avalon, a boutique hotel oozed character and the classic decor added to the charm. It was perfectly positioned for exploring, within minutes of the manic Times Square and other tourist attractions, yet set in a quiet one way street. An abundance of eateries surrounded me and many of the hubs I wanted to get acquainted with were a short stroll or taxi ride away.

I’m sure that I’m not the first to fall in love with New York City and probably won’t be the last. So what was it that seduced me about this city? Well, I’m a big fan of metropolises, which within one square kilometre can offer more diversity than any urban sprawl. It’s the kind of city where you are unlikely to see the same person you were flirting with on the train twice, where you could go for weeks without needing to use a car, where there is always something happening on any given street corner at almost any time of day, any time of the week. New York City has all that and more. It is a trendsetter in art, fashion, food and technology among others.

I enjoy exploring on foot and in New York it was no different. Within hours of my arrival, I set out in search of a quick meal. On my flight from London, I discovered that food was not British Airways forte and on par with their poor service. I was hungry, so I focused on KTown due to its close proximity. Unlike Chinatown, KTown is aloof from the main tourist trail. There aren’t many souvenir shops just eateries, food-courts, restaurants and karaoke bars.

After a brief peruse of the window menus, I settled for BCD Tofu House and ordered a Soondubu jjigae, a hot and spicy stew made with tofu, mushroom, and seaweed. It is served in a porcelain pot with several side dishes (kim chee, rice, fried whole fish, pickles etc.) and a raw egg which is there to thicken the stock. It was filling, flavorsome and a much needed fortifier before the night ahead. Later that evening I went on to see The Boxer Rebellion at Webster Hall where I met with friendly New Yorkers and discovered a few more bars and was introduced to the art of folding pizza at 4am. The local hospitality was unmatched in my travel experience, especially those in populous cities. It was a great start to “YC”.

Day 2

My first night was over and I was already starting to think that my four night stay will only serve as a teaser and that I would need to return to this great city. I couldn’t help but feel anxious about time and the need to squeeze in more set in. The next morning, after a coffee fix and croissant at Piccolo Cafe, I embarked on a day of sightseeing. In my five hour walk, I took in amazing views from the Rockefeller observation deck, visited the Grand Central Railway, whizzed through the exhibition Punk: Chaos to Couture at the MMOA, Theatre District and Garment District.

After my dose of sightseeing, I finished up at a Kajitsu for a late lunch. Its an establishment that serves Shojin Cuisine, an ancient Zen Buddhism type of vegetarian cooking. The meal was served over several courses using seasonal ingredients, preparing them using simple techniques to enhance their flavour and presented beautifully using Japanese earthenware and cutlery. The entire experience for me could only be likened to a cross between meditation, eating and art. It’s an experience worth having at least once. I returned to my hotel for a quick change into my running gear, then went on to complete the 10km Central Park loop in 50 minutes plus a 6 km power walk through the crowds from and back to the hotel.

Shortly after, I returned to the streets to meet up with a friend for dinner. In the mood for Chinese but wanting something nearby, we settled for Cafe China. I had done my research and it paid off. We sat at the bar as all tables were taken in this loud, hip and nicely decorated restaurant. The Szechuan menu was as exotic as the clientele which was dominated by well-heeled and enchanting Asian American women. We sampled a few dishes as we gazed around the room including Bang Bang Chicken a cold salad with sesame dressing, Whole Baby fish which is eaten from head to tail, Chungking Spicy Chicken with dried chillies and szechuan pepper, and Dan Dan Noodles. All the dishes were excellent except the Chungking which was a little too oily for my taste. The meal was substantial enough to get us through yet another night out of bars and clubs without the need to gorge on a pizza slice at 3 am.

General Sightseeing Photos

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The Kajitsu Experience

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Day 3

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of venturing out of Manhattan to meet with a friend in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was a treat to bask in the sun and soak in the atmosphere at the local flea market. Locals close off the main street, roll out real turf across the road pavement and play scrabble on the asphalt. It was nice to be there with a local, but even more special because I was accompanied by my dear friend, fellow blogger who I had not seen since I departed Mumbai.

After perusing the streets of Williamsburg, she led me to Spriztenhaus 33, a bar where the beer menu was exceedingly larger than the food menu. We both love beer and being a regular, I followed her lead. To accompany my Ithaca Flower Power IPA, I ordered the Biala Kielbasa sausage with sauerkraut and a pretzel with chipotle aioli. The combination, a perfect marriage. As the place started to fill up, we moved on to more walking and iced coffee. There’s was only one word to describe that afternoon: perfect.

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I returned from Williamsburg but instead of resting, I decided to head to see the sunset. I roamed around in search of the perfect shot. All rooftop bars had a waiting list so I decided to head west on foot. Whilst I was not able to get to the Hudson for a clear shot, I did manage some interesting shots. In between red traffic light changes, I laid my G12 on the asphalt. Here are the results.

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Later that same evening, I headed out content with the idea of dinner, people watching and an early night. I walked a small loop covering the streets of Chelsea and Noho terminating at Saint Marks Place. It was midnight and the strip of mainly asian restaurants was buzzing. I slipped into Oh Taisho, a below-street-level Japanese eatery and was soon escorted to my bar seat. I was hungry and the visual onslaught of the sight of frying, grilling, chopping and stir-frying didn’t help. I ordered far more than my ever shrinking stomach could cope with including Tuna Tataki, Agadashi Tofu, Squid Yakitori, Shitake Yakitori and a pint of Kirin. The food was very good and ambience well suited for groups or a quick meal. Halfway through my meal, I got the call that we would be heading out, much for having an early night! Several bars and hours later, daybreak arrived.

Day 4

The final day was looming and after only a couple of hours of sleep, I was eager to head out and discover some more. By 11am, my running shoes were on and camera was strapped across my body. Two litres of water, an apple and one hour later I was out the door walking westward where the Hudson River run awaited. What I enjoyed about running in New York in summer was the amount of people that flock to fill every grassy patch. Beautiful sculptured bodies of all complexions were strewn randomly and vying for a dose of melatonin. You could sense that they were appreciating the sunshine. I sensed a similar vibe in Hyde Park in London and Central Park. This was people watching at it’s best.

My run terminated near the Brooklyn Bridge where the quaint New Amsterdam market was in full swing. Armed with only 11 dollars, I went for homemade lemonade; a rye bread flat sandwich with mozzarella and cucumber; and, juicy pesticide and preservative-free raisins. Little did I realise that I had left my MTA ticket at the hotel. It was a long but rewarding walk back through lower Manhattan and then along the Highline.

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It was almost four in the afternoon when I arrived at my hotel. A quick shower and change and I was out the door. This time it would be a quick farewell drink at Mission Dolores in Brooklyn with the same friend I’d seen in Williamsburg. The bar was quirky, the company a delight and people watching a treat. We later picked up a pizza enroute to her home to tide me over to dinner. It was a pleasure to see her again but equally sad not knowing where and when we would meet again. Departing New York also weighed on my mind and my heart felt heavy, emotions took over in the backseat of the taxi. It felt like a long drive back to Midtown where I would wrap up the night with my other friend by midnight. A 6 am start beckoned along with an unpacked bag.

I departed New York knowing that I would return. The was so much more I wanted to discover, so many more foods to taste and people to meet. Thank you New York City. You have my vote for “capital city of the world” title.

24 hours in London

25 Jun

In an effort to avoid long haul flights and jet lag, I decided to break up the Dubai to New York leg with a stopover in London. I had already been there in 97 but on a shoe string so my culinary experience didn’t stretch beyond hot jacket potatoes topped with curried chicken. 16 years on, a different side to London was encountered.

My time was limited to 24 hours because I was set on maximising the length of my stay in New York, a city I’d yearned to strike off my bucket list. So how much can one fit in 24 hours in London? Quite a bit especially if you avoid the shopping frenzy, put on a pair of comfortable shoes and don’t mind walking.

Breakfast was a triple shot soy latte and a freshly baked crispy croissant at Nero’s in Paddington, a coffee chain littered all over this old world city. Both were perfect. From there it was a long walk along Oxford Street, across Soho towards St James Park, Trafalgar Square then on to Embankment. I then crossed the Thames over the Waterloo Bridge (I think) and finished up walking along Southbank up to London Bridge. The weather was perfect and if you’re ever in London for a limited time, this route will give you a good snapshot of what this city is all about. A quick refreshment at the Tate bar on level 6 was a must, a nice vantage point where you can appreciate sweeping views over the Thames, from one of the window seats.

For lunch, I stopped at the Borough Markets. On Wednesdays the stalls are limited to those offering mainly prepared food like sandwiches. The range was stupendously big. Fresh truffles, cheeses, cured meats, spit roast pork, artisanal breads, ciders, sandwiches, paella, seafood, on it went. I must have spent at least one hour browsing the stalls until I settled on a choice. I couldn’t resist one of the Italian stalls, everything they offered was screaming “eat me”! I went for a simple sandwich: baby rocket, semi-dried tomatoes, laminas of mozzarella di bufala in ciabatta bread. It was one of experiences that as you ate, you never wanted the sandwich to end. I then moved on to some prosciutto which I stuffed into some bread. It was melt in the mouth stuff and slightly sweeter than any other that I had eaten before.

After an evening run in Hyde Park, a friend of mine and I set out to Oxo. It’s a restaurant perched over the Thames in southbank. If you’re in London for a short time, I recommend doing both. Hyde Park in summer is a delightful experience because it’s provides you with the opportunity to see the locals at their best: smiling and basking in the sun. Oxo, whilst the execution wasn’t perfect, the spectacular views, buzzing ambience and well thought of menu made for an overall pleasant dining experience. Unfortunately the camera wasn’t on hand to capture the dishes but if you view their website, you’ll get the idea of what it’s all about.

Until New York!

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Wontons in Wanchai

11 Jun

I arrived in Hong Kong late in the evening after a 9 hour flight from Brisbane, feeling jaded and starved. Eager to get to my hotel in Wanchai, I skipped the MTR transfer from Hong Kong Station and jumped into a taxi for a 10 minute ride. I dropped off my bag, showered and went scouting for food.

Wanchai, the suburb I would call home for 5 nights was not only littered with working girls, lager-louts, out of shape drunken expats, Go Go Bars and pubs but also some of the best eateries, offering just about everything imaginable. Options not only include handmade noodles, wonton, soups, barbecued duck and pork, Hainanese chicken, but also Thai and Philippine cuisine to cater for sex workers from those countries.

I roamed around for a while, totally lost in all the variety until I caught a glimpse of an elderly man working the wok in window of a cheap eatery. He looked like he could have been the Mr Miyagi of noodles, so the choice was clear. I stepped into the Wing Wah Noodle Shop and as I made my way to the only vacant table noticed that other diners were either slurping noodles or soup. So I ordered both: shrimp wonton soup with soft egg noodles and within 5 minutes, I was “chop-sticking” noodles and ladling seafood broth. Hiding beneath the noodles were the to-die-for shrimp stuffed wontons, with the softest wrappers, so soft that they were possibly even made that evening. I ended up also ordering the Gai Lan with shrimp powder too and returned twice on separation occasions to try some other dishes, but for me the shrimp wonton noodle soup took the crown.

So that was my run down of my first local meal experience. What else did I savor in Hong Kong during my stay? Unfortunately not as much as I would have liked, at times even wished that I had two stomachs! I’ve included a few photos with a brief description as life on-the-road doesn’t spare me too much time to tell the story of each dish. I hope that you enjoy.

Wing Wah Noodle Shop – Wanchai

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Shrimp Wonton Noodle Soup

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Gai Lan with Shrimp Powder

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Sticky Rice Shop – Soho

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Sticky Rice with bbq pork

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Hawker Stall – Soho

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Hawker Stall Chow Mein with Tofu and Bok Choy

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Dark Soy Rice Noodles with Cuttlefish Balls and a side of Offal Soup – Kowloon

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Menu at Maguro – Wanchai

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Cold Soba Noodles with Canadian Salmon Tataki with Sesame Soy Dressing topped wi Corn Flakes (sounds weird but the crunchy texture was a welcomed surprise)

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Grilled Soft Bone Chicken and Stake (perhaps with was Skate?)

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Grilled Fresh Shitake Mushrooms with Bonito Shavings

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One Dim Sum – Prince Edward (according to the locals probably the best in Hong Kong, well the best I’ve tasted)

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Japanese Boat – TST Ladies Market Area

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Fish Noodle Soup with Seaweed – Can’t remember where (probably a 5am snack)

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Japanese drip coffee – Rabbithole Coffee and Roaster

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Bye Brisbane…Hello Hong Kong

4 Jun

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When major life changes are imminent or being experienced, we can’t help but reflect on where we have been, where we are and where we are going. Right now for me, it’s more about where I’ve been. I’m on a plane, feeling a little overwhelmed and sinking into deep thought. All I have is a medium sized travel bag, some gadgets and memories to take with me, some of which will fade, others nostalgically remembered.

56 months ago, I arrived in Brisbane for a 6 month contract. Everything I had thought would happen, didn’t. I never imagined that I would work in India for a project located in PNG, become single, start a blog, quit smoking, watch a ballet, take up running, cycling and forge friendships with people very different to me. The list is endless. If I could, would I change anything about this experience? Probably not. The whole experience was the sum of all the small decisions I made which I’m totally content with. It’s what has brought me to where I am, made me who I am, now.

What lies ahead? Will I return to live in Brisbane? Nobody really knows. I have a mud map of where I want to be in the future but it’s totally in the hands of opportunity. All I know is that I’m embarking on exciting five week round-the-world trip with the first stop being Hong Kong. Then it’s Dubai, Doha, London, New York, Miami, Orlando, Miami, Houston, Dallas and Sydney. Perhaps from Dallas I may extend my trip, and, continue onto Vegas, revisit San Francisco and drive down to LA. But that hinges on whether a new contract surfaces. Let’s see.

Prior to departure, I reconnected with someone very dear to my heart over a phone call. She asked me an interesting question, at least to me it was: “what are you most excited about?” I admit, it caught me off guard as I had been so engrossed in travel planning that I had almost forgotten about the trip itself. So the thought of interviewing myself came to mind for my first on-the-road post. I wanted to reflect on my expectations and excitement. I hope that you like it! Here goes…

What are you most excited about?
I’m excited about meeting up with my friends who are scattered across the globe. With the exception of Miami, I have at least one friend in each of the cities that I will visit. I’m looking forward to experiencing the pace and energies of both Hong Kong and New York, the contrasts and similarities between them.

Being “another food blogger”, you must be looking forward to discovering new food, right?
My interest in food consumes me as much as I love to consume it. The street food and markets of Hong Kong I hear are not to be missed. Bagels, pizza and hot dogs are a must in NYC so I’m hoping to sink my teeth in the best of the bunch. I’ll be in search of Cuban cuisine in Miami and Texan BBQ, well is there anything else to do in Texas? Alain Ducasse has recently opened a restaurant in Doha so I’m keen on trying that out too. Experiencing unfamiliar food is definitely one of the most exciting part of travelling.

Do you have an itinerary for each city?
Kind of. I have a list of tourist attractions I would like to see but with no real priority. In Hong Kong I really want to just get lost among the crowd, trek up to the Dragon’s back, do an overnight trip to Macau and see the markets. In Dubai, well I’ve been there twice and Doha it’s mostly about job hunting. I’m familiar with London so I’m not planning much except a quick catch up with friends, a run in Hyde Park, dinner on the Thames. In New York its Brooklyn, the Highline, Chelsea Markets and Rockefeller building, MOMA, MMOA, Meat Packing and East Village. Miami, it’s art deco and South Beach. Orlando is all about bonding with my daughter for eight days in Disney World.

Is there anything that you’re uneasy about or weary of?
Hmm, driving. When I travel, I don’t normally drive especially on the left hand side of the car. I will be taking the plunge this time and driving from Miami to Orlando, and, possibly from San Francisco to LA.

Are there any activities that you like to do without fail in every city?
Yes. I’m a big fan of rooftop bars and appreciate an Old Fashion or a glass of bubbly should I be sharing the vista with someone special (wink wink). The attraction for me is being able take in a birds-eye view of the city. For instance, if you’ve tried Aer in Mumbai, At.Mosphere in Dubai, Unique in Sao Paulo, Sky Bar at The Lebua or Vertigo at the Banyan Tree in Bangkok, you won’t be disappointed. I’m also looking forward to Oxo over the Thames and Ink48 in NYC.

Are there any activities that you plan on doing that you haven’t done before?

Yes. I’d never gone out to see a band in a foreign city during my travels and have tickets in hand to see The Boxer Rebellion at Webster Hall in NYC. I’m also aiming to complete a 10km run in each city, weather permitting of course. And just between you and me, maybe even some line-dancing in Texas!

As a frequent traveller, do you have any inside tips for other travellers?
If you have to travel economy, pay extra and get emergency exit row seating. The extra leg room is well worth it, especially on long haul flights.

Order a “special” meal. The truth is no meal is special on a plane even in Business. However, ordering a special meal means that you get your meal quickly, can eat at a reasonable pace instead of scoffing it down, and in doing so can get on with other things that you like. Even better, bring your own food. On a 16 hour direct flight from Vancouver to Sydney, I packed some leftover kale pie, nuts and bliss balls. It was definitely better than anything Air Canada could offer!

Join a frequent flyer program with the airline that you travel with most. The points will eventually accumulate and lounge access shall be granted where free booze, wi-fi, nibbles, comfy sofa and sometimes even a massage await (perfect after a long-haul).

Travel as light as you can. Avoid drinking alcohol on the plane, save it for your arrival. Plan a little and go with the flow because inevitably plans will change.

Also travel tips, suggestions and feedback are most welcome 😉 so please do share.

The not so special meal…

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Roasted Tomato Soup

2 Nov

Tomato Soup Oregano

I recently served this dish with a 7 course dinner whilst in Vancouver. I was trying to replicate a soup which I had at Starbucks at Muir Woods, just outside of San Francisco. Yes Starbucks! To be honest, I was quite surprised to see that just about everything on their menu was either organic, fair trade, pesticide-free or gluten-free.

It may have been the contrast of coming in from the cold weather to a warm cup of soup that made it really special. Not sure. Nonetheless, this soup took us back to that moment, is tasty and very easy to make.

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 250g of cherry tomatoes (any tomatoes will do, I just happened to have baby cherry)
  • 3 tbs of olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano or thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

Roast tomatoes in an oven for about 30 minutes at 180C (350F) then remove skin.

In a saucepan, saute onion in olive oil until translucent, then add garlic and cook until garlic is soft.

Add tomato flesh, saute for another 5 minutes. Add stock, stir and simmer uncovered until consistency is thick (I like my soup thick, similar to a smoothie).

Take off the heat, add oregano. Use a stick blender or food processor to blitz until smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with oregano croutons and garnish with dried oregano.

Tip: When frying croutons in skillet, just add the desired herb or spice to the oil to infuse the croutons.

Out and about in Vancouver and San Francisco

16 Oct

The abundant seafood along with many immigrants from the far east has created the perfect environment for eating sushi in Vancouver. There are probably more sushi restaurants per capita in Vancouver than any other city in the world, perhaps even more than in Tokyo! They are literally on every city block, in shopping centres, food courts, etc…

Could Vancouver be the sushi capital of the world? We’ll I don’t have the statistics to support such a statement but one thing I can vouch for is that it was some of the freshest, tastiest and cheapest sushi I’d ever eaten! If only I had my camera on all the occasions that I’d been eating sushi.

Sushi and Sashimi Porn…

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Not only did I come across many sushi restaurants in Vancouver but also a wide variety of Chinese, Malaysian and Thai restaurants too. Unfortunately I only have one stomach and am limited to eating 3 times a day so I wasn’t able to rival my sushi indulgence with other Asian delicacies. I did however sample a few dishes like hand-cut noodles, chili-garlic eggplant and salty-spicy tofu at The Peaceful; kacang ikan bilis (fried anchovies with peanuts) and roti canai at Tropika; probably the best laksa of late at Hawkers Delight; and, some decent papaya salad at Bob likes Thai Food.

Hawkers Delight Laksa…

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The food choices in Vancouver weren’t limited to Asian either: fine dining vegetarian at the Acorn and the well established West, my first Thanks Giving Dinner experience and I even stepped up to the plate to prepare a 7 course dinner!

The Acorn…

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Thanks Giving Dinner…

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Samples from the 7 course dinner…(through the eyes of my exclusive diner)

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And it wasn’t all about Vancouver too. San Francisco offered some of the best Mexican food I’d tasted outside of Mexico. Sadly, the camera wasn’t always on hand to capture what was delighting my taste buds and nourishing my stomach. Two vegetarian restaurants worthy of a mention were Greens (the longest standing) and Millennium (contemporary).

Tacolicious Mission SF…

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