A Taste of Asia

It’s probably obvious by now, that we love Asia. We heart it with all our might; especially the people, the cultures and the foods!

I was feeling terrible yesterday; homesick for Asia, and as such, just ‘happened’ to end up at the Asian grocery store in the CBD.

Strolling through the isles, familiar smells filled my nostrils and the sight of some of the products made me feel really nostalgic.
I ended up walking out with just a bottle of ‘Oishi Green Tea’, and felt a lot better instantly. This tea had been a staple for us during or Asia trip, and when I fell violently ill for several days, Oishi was the only thing I could keep down. Ever since, I hae had cravings for it.
That, and Yakkult…

All this nostalgia got me thinking about the miriad of different foods (common and not so common) that we fell in love with while abroad.

…In Laos, ‘Laughing Cow’ cheese, baguettes and fruit shakes fast became ‘the usual’, replaced further North with hawker style foods and lots of rice. Oreos – they were our staple snack throughout Laos; cheap cheap and readily available no matter how remote we were. Larp filled with fresh herbs and sticky rice was a dream dish, and warm Lao bread is a must eat if you happen to stumble across it on a menu! (Hard to find!)…
We had delicious smokey grilled chicken on bamboo skewers, and lots of noodle-y dishes, which always left our stomachs satisfied. Often, we washed down our meals with either a yakkult, a cup of bitter, strong black coffee, or a big Beer Lao.

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…In Thailand, we ate copious amounts of cut fruit, whole pineapples and freshly squeezed pommegranate juices. Yakkult, Bubble Cup and fresh Thai iced coffee/tea were our daily drinks.
Insects were a nice experience, but mango and sticky rice was a real treat. Most of our other meals came from hawker stalls, where we stood eating, surrounded by smoke and BBQ smells.

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…In Cambodia, Em fell inlove with a vegetarian hawker food – spinach, garlic and ginger wrapped in a pummelled rice dough and fried until golden brown, and the inside veggies cooked through. The plump stall owner promised, in broken English, he would be in the same spot each night, but unfortunately, was never to be seen again. Crushing.
We came across fresh sun-dried bananas, fresh banana candies, and fresh BBQ’d banana – all were eaten almost as quickly as they were discovered.
Jake salivated over some salty doughnut thing (really, any sort of doughnut), and we found delicious treats and delacacies and random foods on every street corner and at every second market stall.
We gorged on mounds of fresh Kep crab, and still grind our Kampot-grown (and bought) pepper onto our meals.

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…In Singapore and Malaysia; dahl, roti, naan and teh tarik were readily available, and were a daily feast for us. Nasi Lemnak saw Em devour blue coloured rice, and the pineapple cookies were so delicious!
Chendol and Ice Kechung were savoured treats, with joy in every spoon of the grass jelly and weird beans.
Banana-leaf meals were a real experience, and downtown China Town and Little India let us explore more of what the countries big cities had to offer.

…In Japan, everything we ate was a piece of art and tasted as such; amazing – it’s impossible to say what the best meal there was; there were too many to count!
But, it was those little things – the egg cubes on a stick, the sushi rice triangle-shaped snack things, the interesting flavoured ice creams, conveyor belt sushi and sheets of sea weed that were our ‘go-to snacks.’
Green tea and Royal Milk Tea from a can, hot or cold, were the drinks of choice.
The tempura melted in our mouths, we drooled over the okonomiyaki frying on hotplates infront of us, the takoyaki balls were incredible, and the ramen left us slopping and slurping….

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…Come to think of it, really we have had hardly any mediocre or ‘bad’ meals whilst travelling in Asia. Food was, and is a rich experience for us, and something we really enjoy exploring. It is important to us to see and taste  local flavours and traditions; to eat what the locals eat (within reason – no beating snake hearts for us, thank you). Meals bring people together. Many times, eating and sharing a meal was an unforgettable experience: from simple grilled street food skewers to a Japanese banquet.

We honestly can not wait to see and taste more of the foods of Asia.

We’d love to hear from you: What were your favourite foods and ‘go-to’ snacks, drinks, sweets and meals whilst you were travelling the globe? What foods and drinks would/wouldn’t you reccomend?

Happy eating. 

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A Stranger’s Offering from the Heart

I’ve always found that when travelling, people are my best insight into a country. I can’t say that about every person I’ve met, of course, but as a general ‘rule’, if you can call it that. I love to people watch, and try to go where the locals go… the kindness of strangers can be inspiring.

Whilst in Laos last year, I fell in love with the people. Their relaxed nature (even though they drive in a chaotic manner), their smiles that light up their entire faces, their generosity, and their friendliness despite large language barriers was heart-warming. We felt welcomed in Laos, for our entire stay there, and left with beautiful memories. One such memory in Laos, will remain with me forever…

An early morning in Luang Prabang, myself, Jake and a fellow travel buddy of ours hired some bikes (10,000 kip for the day! – cheap, cheap!) with the idea we would ride out of town to a wet market that was not well-known to tourists. We rode through sleepy streets and temples, waving to the orange-clad monks as we cycled in the morning heat. Jake’s bike was playing up a bit, and we occasionally had to stop so he could try to fix it. A little frustrating, but for 10,000 kip, what could you expect really?…
We rode a bit further out, and onto the main road, cycling next to tuk-tuks, motos, cars and trucks. Jake’s bike chain kept sticking, and started making it almost impossible to ride.
I always give him shit about what happened next, and for him, in hindsight, it’s quite funny… basically, he cracked a tantie, and threw his bike to the ground. Ha! poor guy…

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Now, for anyone whose been to S.E. Asia, you’ll know that motorbike mechanic shops and general ‘fix it’ shops line the dusty roads, with tools and tyres and spare parts and bits and pieces and fuel conveniently spread all over the place – organised chaos, really. It made the situation for Jake (for me it was simply hilarious) much easier – the first mechanic shop we saw, we rode up to and hopped off our bikes.

There were two men sitting on tiny plastic children’s stools at the front of the shop; a younger Lao guy, and an older, portly Lao man (who, instantly took his little white singlet off when he saw us arrive??). They were sitting down to eat breakfast, and we didn’t want to interrupt them too much. Jake asked if he could borrow a tool to fix his bike, which was met with a blank stare. Smiles and body language went a long way…. The portly man quickly left the front of his shop, promptly returning with a cute little tool box. Smiles all round, and the portly man went back to eating his breakfast with younger guy.

While Jake was fixing his bike, travel buddy and I stood at the front of the shop, which met with the main road, watching the passers by. I turned to watch the two men, and to look at what kind of food they were eating; a large bowl of communal sticky rice, a bowl of asian greens of some description, and a big bowl of something chunky and brown…

I walked over to the men and asked “What are you eating?” and here in lies the beauty of the story…

No sooner had I asked, the younger guy looked up at me with a big smile, and shirtless portly man was up and shoving a bowl into my hand. He put a heap of rice into my bowl, filled it some more with the cabbagy greens, dipped some chopsicks into the brown goo and shoved a piece of something into my face… I took hold of the bowl and chopsticks, somewhat shocked and amazed, while my travel buddy and I laughed. Shirtless man was busy re-arranging chairs, offering me his, and fetching another for my buddy, along with another bowl and set of chopsticks. We laughed as they pointed egarly for us to sit with them, and with no languge other than smiles and hand gestures to communicate with, we both sat down.

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Shirtless man was smiling, offering us more and more; gesturing with his hands, before I had even taken my first bite. I felt so guilty for intruding on their beautiful morning, but so lucky and so welcomed by these two generous strangers. I looked at the rice; so sticky and fresh, and the cabbage – coated in just the right amount of chilli… and then I looked more closely at the brown goo. I looked from the goo, to my buddy, to the goo, to the young Lao guy. He put his hand to his chest, where his heart was, and the smiling shirtless guy grinned and nodded proudly. Oh shit, it’s heart.

They watched us, almost proudly, as we sat there with our bowls. Shirtless man must’ve thought I didn’t have enough food, as he quickly came over, took my chopsticks, and quickly added 6 or 7 more pieces of heart to my bowl. Excellent, I thought, I was hoping he’d do that!…
They smiled and ate, and smiled at us some more, and as travel buddy and I anxiously looked at the heart, the supportive nods from the two Lao men told us that we were not leaving without eating some heart. So, with a foolish thought of “ah, fuck it, let’s just eat it’ (that’s not a good attitude to adopt when eating foreign foods abroad in developing countries), we put the chopsticks to our mouths, and swallowed whole, the goo-looking heart.

The two men were pleased, and chatted together. Whilst they wern’t looking, with skill and grace, I swiftly removed the other pieces of heart from my bowl, and placed them back into the communal pot of goo. I did, however, finish off my rice and cabbage. Delicious, I must say.

We continued to sit with them, eating and smiling. Jake finished his bike repairs, and we finished our rice bowls. We thanked the men over and over again, and offered them money for their generosity and food. It was met with refusal; they wouldn’t take our money. We left them with smiles and waves, and we rode away with full stomachs and full hearts… literally.

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We carried on our journey and arrived at the wet market, bike drama-free. Exploring the market lanes, we came accross all sorts of foods and things we’d never seen. It was amazing to see; we never get tired of visiting wet markets. The fresh produce was astounding, fruits, vegetables, dry goods, tofus, rice; such an abundance of food!… we got to the fish and meat section…. and that’s where I saw it. The heart. It was there, just staring at me… I imagined it beating wildly. I patted my stomach, which seemed to have quietly shat itself, and gently cooed to it “Shhh…It’s okay my love, mummy will get you a yakkult and an iced tea. That will solve all your problems…”

And it did.

Em’s Top 10 Picks: 2 Weeks in Japan

Last year in September/October, I spent two glorious weeks in Japan, travelling with my amazing mother.
We arrived into Tokyo with eyes wide open, so excited to embark on the next two weeks of travelling together in this inviting country.

There were a couple of things we noticed instantly about Japan: the friendliness of the people, and the amazing public transportation… these two wonderful characteristics of Japan were constants throughout our short-lived travels there.

Stepping out into the fresh air of Tokyo, it felt spectacular to finally be there. Japan is a country I’ve been dreaming about for many years, and to set foot in it felt similar to coming ‘home.’ This trip had, within a matter of minutes, confirmed that Japan is my ‘spiritual homeland,’ and I was instantly, madly, head over heels in love.

The next two weeks were spent filling every possible minute with new experiences and different places, and my mum and I had such an amazing time travelling together – we can not wait to go back to Japan.

Months on since returning, Japan has never really left my mind. It’s one of those ‘dream countries’ for me, and I know it’s somewhere I’ll return to over and over again
I’m always re-living memories and looking back over photographs of the trip time and time again, and so decided I should do a ‘Top 10 Picks’ about my Japan trip… So, here it goes: Em’s Top 10 Picks: 2 Weeks in Japan!

1. Food! – What more can I say; it’ absolutely takes the number one spot. Everywhere we went, from street vendors and market stalls, to sushi trains, tempura bars and ramen shops, train station bento boxes and stand-and-eat curry shops, food courts and supermarkets… The food was always incredible; served like it was a piece of art. The tempura was melt-in-your-mouth, the Hida Beef steam buns were to-die-for, and salmon and tuna sashimi skewers with soy, lemon and sesame seeds has left me dreaming for more… Food was one of our biggest experiences in Japan – we tried the local specialties wherever we went, and always without ever breaking the budget!

2. The People! – The people in Japan are unforgettable. From locals in the street, commuters on the trains, shop assistants, information assistants, train station assistants… everyone was so helpful. People went out of their way to make sure you were okay. I once asked a lady on the train if this train was going to a certain destination. She got off the train, found a train station attendant, asked him, and then got back on and told us where to go instead, meanwhile, her own train was just about to depart!… I remember another time I dropped my train ticket on the ground, and another commuter way down the carriage saw. He walked all the way down the carriage, picked it up and gave it back to me. I recall thinking “I don’t think this would happen back home.” The politeness of people, and the absolute respect they showed not just to us but to everyone else was astounding. People respected one another – Tokyo station at peak hour, with millions of commuters trying to get home, was a peaceful flow of people, unlike back home with people racing and pushing and darting and cutting-off one another. People watching was a great activity to undertake whilst in Japan; they are inspiring.

3. The Culture! – Japan’s culture is rich, ancient, traditional, modern, new, old, exquisite, an art form, precise, a little bit odd at times but always interesting, and absolutely inspiring. The food, the music, the clothing, the sports, the festivals, the traditions, the way-of-life, the oh-so-mystical geishas, tea ceremonies, sugar cakes, gift giving, comics and characters, neon signs, shopping…and then everything else and more. Impossible to experience it all in just two weeks, but we scratched the surface.

4. Takayama! – Words can not express my love for Takayama. It is simple; you MUST visit this incredible small city, and fall in love with it just as I have. The people, the markets, the river, the preserved lane ways, the food, the shops, the scenery, the guest houses, the strange ice-cream flavours, the Hida beef steam buns, the sarubobo dolls (go there, and you’ll know what I am talking about), the art and crafts, sake brewers, the exquisite chop sticks and hand-made items… I could continue, but it’s making me homesick.

5. Tokyo! – Tokyo is so much fun; it really is a paradise for children and adults alike (and for people like me who are children in adult bodies). The noise, the colour, the hustle and bustle of a busy but gentle city. The trains that take you wherever you want to go, and send you to new and interesting places. You could spend weeks just finding new neighbourhoods and exploring… meeting and watching the locals, the sub-cultures, the groups of girls in strange costumes, and the dogs paraded around in prams, dressed in the latest upmarket fashions…
Go early for the markets, explore local supermarkets, if shopping is your thing visit the many mega malls, or go at night to see a skyline of neon flashing and moving signs…Get lost, explore, eat, listen, see, smile, share… wherever you go, you’ll find history and modern life merging, and it is never ever boring.

6. Kyoto! – Kyoto is famous, of course, and we along with probably every other tourist fell in love. But the highlight for us was found in wandering about with no time-table, no schedule, watching people; tourists and locals. It seemed, for us, you didn’t have to really do much in Kyoto to be surrounded by culture and life, and to be able to enjoy yourself. There is a beauty and magic that can be found wherever you look…
Oh! and those sashimi skewers at Nishiki Market are still making me drool!…

7. Nara! – Who doesn’t love incredible scenery, delicious food, friendly people, and petting deer after deer after deer! I do! I do! Nara is a whole lot of fun, combined with ancient tradition, temples, stone lanterns, culture, religion, beliefs, practices…, yummy food, great guest houses, and a whole lot of cracker-loving deer!!! Nara was a highlight all round, but the walking tour we took gave us insight into temples and religion in Japan that we would’ve otherwise been blind to.
Tip: Get some deer crackers and get snap-happy with your camera!

8. Mt. Koya San! – High up on the mountains, you can instantly feel the spirit of the place deep within. Steeped in ancient tradition and spiritual practice and beliefs, this is a place I highly recommend to anyone. You can stay in temple lodging like most tourists will, and experience amazing vegetarian food, tatami mats, onsens and a 5am wake up call to watch traditional ceremonies taking place. Walk amongst Mt. Koya Sans incredible cemetary, and feel the energy around you. In that sort of incredible environment, it’s hard not to…
Tip: There is a cafe on the main street; a hippie looking Japanese guy makes the best Chai Latte I’ve ever had… we had 4 or 5 – indulgence at its finest, I know, but oh so worth it.

9. Osaka, Dotombori! – Get ready for a feast of Okonomiyaki served to you on a grill, and Takoyaki balls like you’ve never eaten before. A foodies paradise, we did not have enough time here. The people are trendy, the cars are flashy, the hair-styles are high, and the fashion is the latest. The starbucks was never empty, and as the sun set on Dotombori Street, the neon lights and mechanical crabs came alive. People are everywhere, and you can hear the pachinco machines loud and clear as they ring out whenever the doors open. There are dog clothing shops, and you’ll find the weird and whacky. Grab yourself some pumpkin flavoured ice cream, and enjoy your time there into the night…
Tip: If you’re interested, or even if you’re not…head to Osaka Aquarium. Children and Adults (and me, the child-adult) will love the amazing displays. Who can say no to a smiling puffer fish?

10. Public Transport! – It’s pretty much a guarantee that if I’m using public transport at home, I’ll experience delays or cancellations. People graffiti the walls of the train, people are loud, rude, put their feet up, curse and carry on, and are just generally not so considerate of anyone other than themselves. Come to Japan, take a train, and for me, it was like entering a whole new world. Pristine trains that arrive to the second, conductors who bow and take their hat off as they leave each carriage, polite and respectful commuters, and travel that is incredibly fast! Japan trains are like a dream.

What did you love about Japan?

Our Top 10 Picks: Reasons to Travel

Hard to believe it’s already March – I thought Christmas was just last week…? At least, it sure felt that way!
12 months ago today, we arrived back in Australia after backpacking in S.E. Asia for just 6 short, but 6 incredible weeks. Ever since then we’ve been dreaming of, and talking about “our next big trip.” We’re obsessed; we love to travel. Why?… here are our Top 10 Picks for ‘Our Reasons for Travel:’

1. Culture! – We’re culture buffs, and we love to get in amongst the local culture, traditions and customs. We love learning about different cultures and the way of life for people in different countries. Asia is so exciting in this respect – there is so much to learn and discover, and to appreciate and admire when it comes to learning about and experiencing culture. We love to simply ‘people watch’ – it gives incredible insight into the day-to-day lives of people, and it teaches us something.

2. Food! – We are wanna-be Asian chefs; anyone who looks at the cookbooks in our bookshelf, the ‘Asian Food’ section in our pantry, or at Jake’s ever-growing herb garden, will quickly realise this. We LOVE Asian food – the herbs and spices, the sauces and aromas, the cooking methods, the foreign looking vegetables and other things we probably aren’t pronouncing correctly, but add to our dishes anyway…
We love to eat where the locals do, sample hawker foods, participate in cooking classes, and eat the local specialties. We’re food obsessed; we feel it’s a big part of experiencing a country’s culture and way of life, and it’s really important to us that we try (almost everything…) when given the opportunity.

3. New Perspectives! When we first travelled to Asia, both of us grossly underestimated how life-changing it would, and can be. But of course it’s not just in Asia – travel anywhere has the ability to give people a new perspective; ‘open your eyes’ so to speak. It isn’t until we experience situations, or witness events that alter us, and affect us in some way, that our perspective is changed; and usually, this is a really positive experience!

4. Learning Experiences! – How much have we learned from travelling? So much; and what we have learned is invaluable; it’s not stuff you can read in text books, or learn in lecture theatres. A lot of the time, it’s not things you can learn by being told by someone else. It’s the people you meet and the things you do yourself, experience yourself, witness yourself, and achieve yourself, that teach you. It’s those life experiences that you learn from, that hold you in good stead for the rest of your life.

5. New Experiences! – Cliche? Yes, but oh so true. How often in your life can you watch the sun rise over ancient temples, or eat heart stew and rice at a local’s house in Laos? It’s not that often I’ve been able to dance with the Khmers on the river banks of Phnom Penh, or that Jake has got to drink beer with his tuk-tuk driver and their extended family. We’ve seen down pours of rain that have caused Phnom Penh flood in a matter of minutes, and  ran through the streets of Bangkok with water up to our thighs. We’ve eaten street food that was incredible, and street food that made us sick. We’ve watched monk processions, and lit incense at memorials.
Whatever we’ve done, we’ve tried to make the most of it, appreciate it, and remember the experience for what it was.

6. Meeting New People and Making New Friends! – We are social people. We love meeting new people; be it new friends for the evening, the week, the month, or for life. We love talking with the locals, communicating (or trying to) with silly faces and exaggerated hand gestures. Bartering over the price of fruit at the wet markets, or chatting over a beer with our new” house mates” in our dorm rooms. People are so interesting, and the more you talk to them, the more you learn about them, yourself, and the world. We’re going travelling together, but we’re also going with many, many friends… we just haven’t met them yet!

7. Adventure! – We love a good thrill.  We (usually) don’t mind getting a bit lost in a maze of little alley ways and old town squares, as long as there are interesting people to watch, beautiful buildings to be seen, and interesting sights on display. Be it zip lining through the tree tops, or getting caught in the masses at a local bazar, we can’t wait for new and exciting adventures.

8. History and Architecture! – We love to learn about the history of the countries we are travelling in, and marvel at the architecture. When we learn more about the history of the place we are in, we feel we can better appreciate where it has come from and where it is now. Not only do we gain insight into the country, but also about its culture, food, way of life, it’s people, beliefs, and – about the architecture!

9. Challenges! – Travel challenges you; physically, emotionally and mentally. You are often pushed to your limits or put into uncomfortable, awkward or challenging situations. These can be character building and help you to grow as a person. In the past, being pushed to our limits travelling has had some incredible positives, and been the base for some amazing experiences! We like challenges! (Most of the time!)

10. Facing Fears! – There are things we’ve done while traveling that have scared us. And then we got through them. It all comes back to learning experiences, and facing your fears and coming out the other side, better than you were before. (You hope!) There are things about our upcoming trip that scare us, but maybe it’s because we’re frightened of the unknown. Stepping out of your comfort zone can be really rewarding, and that is exciting.

What are your reasons for travel?

Happy travels.