What’s in the lunch box? (Week 2)

What’s in the lunch box? (Week 2)

Hello friends!

Hope you had an awesome week and you’re refreshed after this weekend for a brand new week 🙂

Meal prep week #2 didn’t turn out as I hoped – good and bad I guess. The bad is that I didn’t meal prep as much this week. I know I wrote last week that I would try making 2 different meals a day, but this week I only made one. Which brings me to the good part: we had a lot of food in our house this week, that I ended up taking leftovers to work. Less work for me!

So I guess I should preface in saying that I didn’t end up cooking two meals during last weekend. It’s not because I couldn’t or that I could foresee that there would be a lot more food in our house this week, but just because I was going to cook fish and I wanted to be more fresh. So my meal prep works sometimes as actually I’m cooking every single thing this weekend for next week and other times as I know exactly what I’m going to cook this week and I have all the ingredients, but I’ll cook it in two parts: one earlier in the week and the other part way through the week.

So I’ve decided to play it by ear and see where it goes. Sometimes I’ll cook everything and other times I won’t! Stick around the next couple of weeks and you’ll see where this takes me.

So for this week I will share with you my go to spaghetti recipe. Super duper easy – you can either make it using pre-made sauce or make the tomato sauce yourself! You can also change up the pasta! This week I used up the penne that I bought for last week’s meal prep.

Grocery Ingredients for Sauce:

  • 1 prepackaged container of ground beef (the ones you can get in the meat section of the grocery store that is already nicely portioned out)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 cans of Ragu Original Tomato Sauce*
  • 1 package of sliced button mushrooms
  • S&P
  • EVOO

*Note this recipe makes a large potful of sauce. I like to keep the sauce and the pasta separate in the fridge and then when I want to eat it/serve it to others, I’ll just put the sauce on top of the pasta then & there. This recipe will give you more than enough sauce for a week and plenty leftovers to freeze. You can also cut down the ingredients to make half – use hald the ground beef and just 1 can of sauce.

Cooking Instructions:

  1. In a large pot, first sweat the onions in 2 tbsp of EVOO until the onions are translucent.
  2. Throw in the garlic into the mix and wait until it gets a wee bit golden
  3. Add in your ground beef. I also added sausage in there this week (you know the one leftover from last week and I froze?).
  4. Once your beef is cooked a.k.a it’s dark now, not red like when you first purchased it, throw in the mushrooms.
  5. Once the mushroom is soft, add some S&P into the mix.
  6. Add in the tomato sauce and let the sauce come up to a boil. And tada you’re done!

Note – if you want to make your own tomato sauce, all you need to do is get a can of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste instead of the pre-made sauce. Once the mushroom is soft, add in your crushed tomatoes and 1tbsp of the paste. Stir and bring it up to a boil. Give it a taste to make sure it’s has the right balance – add more S&P if needed!

Cooking tip: If you are buying whole mushrooms and cutting it yourself, do NOT wash the mushrooms. You will end up with very rubbery mushrooms. Instead, take a damp paper towel and wipe the caps of the mushrooms to clean it off!

Hope you enjoy today’s recipe!

Cheers!

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What’s in the lunch box? (Week 1)

What’s in the lunch box? (Week 1)

Hello foodie friends!

As part of my resolution this year, I am trying to be somewhat healthier: exercise and eat smart. For me eating smart means limiting my intake of food from fast food vendors and making my own meals, especially for lunch. This way I can see the ingredients that goes into the dishes that will end up in my body, but as well save money as well!

So I’ve decided to attempt meal prepping weekly and blog all about it – how it’s going, what I’m making, etc.

The meal preppin’ plans is that for the 5 working days in a week, I will make food for the four days and the fifth day I will bring dinner leftovers/ on a week that I have lunch plans, that would be the “cheat day”. Also, I am going to try making two types of meals each week in order for me not to get bored and give up on this whole thing. I will attempt to buy things that I can potentially also freeze and use in a later meal.

So here is the grocery list for this week’s meal prep series:

  • Chicken thighs
  • Garlic
  • Shallots
  • Penne
  • White button mushrooms (sliced)
  • Hot Italian Sausage (I bought a pack of 5)
  • Parmesan Cheese, grated

Things already in my pantry/fridge:

  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Unsalted Butter
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Dried Sage
  • Fresh Basil

So for both the chicken dish and the pasta dish I made for my lunch this week, I used wine. I didn’t have time to hit the LCBO, but when I went to Highland Farms to get groceries, I was pleasantly surprised that they have a wine/beer area. All you need is a white wine you can cook with, so I picked up something really cheap (see picture below) and you can grab whichever wine calls out to you. If you don’t want to use wine, the recipes are easily substituted with chicken stock!

Recipes:

Mushroom and Sausage Penne
Ingredients:
– 1 container of sliced button mushrooms
– 3 garlic cloves finely chopped/grated
– 3 hot italian sausages
– 1/2 bag of penne pasta
– Parmesan cheese to your liking
– splash of white wine
– dash of salt and pepper (S&P)
– 1 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)

Instructions:
It’s super easy to make! You start with the penne – put the penne in a pot of boiling water to cook. Make sure you salt the water! Cook the penne as per the timing instructions on the back of the bag.
As your penne is cooking, prepare you super easy sauce. In a pan, saute your garlic in EVOO. Once it’s starts to turn a tiny bit brown, add in your sausage out of it’s casing. Yes, just the meat and take out the white thing that’s surrounding the meat. Stir and cook till brown. Add in your mushrooms and cook until soft. Add a dash of S&P to your liking. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine or chicken stock (eyeballing 1/4 cup of wine or chicken stock). Stir for about a minute and add your parmesan cheese to the pasta. Mix again until all the cheese has melted and it’s ready to serve (or be packed away for lunch!).

Herbed Marinated Chicken Thighs
Ingredients:
– 4 Chicken Thighs
– 2-4 cloves of garlic finely chopped or grated
– 1 shallot, chopped
– 2 tsp of dried sage
– 3 sprigs of basil, chopped
– EVOO
– S&P
– Unsalted Butter
– Splash (about 2-3 tbsp) of white wine

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Instructions:
I find it so much easier to marinate meat when I use a freezer bag. After you S&P your chicken on both sides, place your chicken inside the freezer bag, along with 1 tbsp of EVOO, shallot and garlic. I love garlic, so I tend to add a lot more garlic into my dishes/marinades. Add the sage and basil in the bag as well. Close the bag and massage the chicken until it is evenly covered by the marinade. Place in fridge for a minimum of 1 hour, but I suggest to leave it overnight for an even better taste.
Use and oven safe skillet/pan to sear (cook in high heat to brown) the chicken on both sides. If you don’t have an oven safe pan that you can use both on your cooktop and in the oven, just use a normal pan to sear the chicken before moving it into a oven-safe container/corningware/anything you can use to bake. This way the skin on your chicken is extremely crispy! Bake the chicken at 350 degrees F for about 30-40 minutes. The best way to check if your chicken is done is by using a meat thermometer – if you have one, the chicken should be at 165 degrees. If you don’t, just cut the chicken open and make sure it’s white all the way through.
When you take your chicken out of your container/pan, there should be juices at the bottom. DO NOT THROW THIS OUT. Instead put it aside in a little bowl/container. Put your pan back on the stove (or use the one you previously used for searing the chicken). If you have any leftover garlic and shallot bits in that freezer bag you marinated your chicken in, take it all out and put it in the pan. Add in a little dab of butter into the pan and put it on medium heat. Once the butter is all melted and the garlic and shallot are cooked, add a splash of wine into the pan. You might have bits of brown at the bottom of the pan from searing the chicken in the beginning – it’s okay! Scrape that out as the alcohol from the wine is burning off, these scraps will make your sauce richer. After a minute or two, add in the chicken juices that you saved. Give your sauce a taste and add S&P to your liking. Pour this yummy goodness on top of your cooked chicken, and voila!

So to add on the meal, I would bring a small salad (tomato, cucumber, feta, and red wine vinaigrette) or I would roast tomatoes with a little EVOO and S&P as a side. You can also bring the chicken with a small side of rice and it tastes really good!

So that’s what’s in my lunch box this past week! I’m already planning what to bring for this coming week, so I hope y’all stay tuned for more meal preppin’ ideas!

If you are already meal prepping and have ideas for me to try, I want to hear from you! Please comment below!

Cheers xo,
Kim

Foodie Review: Indonesian – Samara Kitchen

Foodie Review: Indonesian – Samara Kitchen

Hello friends!

This is going to be my first food review on this blog and the first (of many) food reviews in 2018!

Indonesian food is my jam, though I am very biased being born in Jakarta, Indonesia. A lot of people over the years have asked me where they should go for Indonesian food and usually, I just tell them that there really aren’t any restaurants that serves authentic Indonesian food. Then I usually joke around and say you’d need to come to my house to try some.

Now, I know some of you might disagree and say that there are places in the GTA that serves good Indo food, but I would disagree. A lot of the restaurants that I’ve been to that serves “Indonesian Food”, serves more Malaysian food which is similar but not authentic Indonesian food. So I was extremely pleased when a new Indonesian restaurant opened up in Mississauga!

This restaurant is called Samara Kitchen – please see map below for location.

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It’s a small, family run kitchen that serves in my opinion real authentic Indonesian food.
So a disclaimer: this place is really tiny and kind of in the middle of nowhere. You’ll think that you’re lost when you’re searching for the place, but you’re not really. The restaurant is surrounded by more industrial office spaces and when I say tiny, I mean tiny (there are only 3 tables available). So if you do go & I hope you do, I would suggest going these three routes: 1) Going at a non rush hour time (i.e. not at 12pm and not at 6pm). If you go on the off times, there’s a higher likelihood that you’ll find a spot there or else you’ll have to wait for awhile. 2) Calling ahead and making a reservation. I think this is honestly the best option. 3) Ordering take-out. Another option, though I prefer eating the food fresh out of the kitchen.

Now with regards to the menu and food to choose, they have a regular menu and also daily specials. Due to the fact that their daily specials change from time to time, I can only suggest the dishes that I’ve tried in the past or the ones that are in their regular menu. So below, I have made a list of our go-to dishes.

Note – Indonesian food is usually eaten family style. So typically you would have your own plate of rice (sometimes you get a giant bowl of communal rice which then you serve yourself) and then all the dishes, like the ones mentioned below, are put in the middle where you would then you serve yourself.

For those with food allergies & restrictions: Vegetarian options available and everything is Halal. There are a lot of peanut products associated with Indonesian food, so I would be very cautious if you are allergic to nuts.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ayam Goreng and the Works (Daily Special…but it’s been there the past couple of months, so it’s pretty much on the regular menu).
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This is my go-to Indonesian dish. This is the dish that I eat the most when I go back to Indonesia, because it is so good. And for those of you who have not had Indonesian food before, this is one of a few of good starter dish to ease you into the cuisine.

What is ayam goreng you ask? The literal translation is fried chicken, and well that’s exactly what it is. BUT when you think of fried chicken, you would usually think of KFC or Popeyes – chicken that is breaded and deep fried. Well friends, this is nothing like that. There is no breading on this chicken. The chicken is marinated with a bunch of different spices, including turmeric, and then its fried to a golden perfection. The outside is crispy, while the inside is still nice and moist.
So you can order dark meat (i.e. thigh) or white meat (breast) and it comes with rice, tempe (or known in North America as tempeh, a soy bean cake that’s been marinated and also fried), and some sort of Indonesian side soup that goes along perfectly with the chicken and rice. Now the other best part of this meal is the hot sauce that comes with the meal or known in Indonesian as sambal.
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For those of you who can handle your spice and love spicy food, this sambal is one of the best I’ve tasted. Spicy and punches a lot of flavour; it goes so well with the chicken! Warning…I really do mean it when I say it’s spicy.

Mie Goreng
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Literal translation of mie goreng is fried noodles. Now this is not your typical Asian fried noodles that you see at say a Chinese restaurant, the noodles and the spices used are different. It’s incredibly tasty, you’ll have to be the judge and let me know what you think!

Toge Ikan Asin26828673_10155352449877921_50783849_o.jpgHave you ever tried salted fish? If you have, especially at a Chinese restaurant, you would have probably had it in a fried rice dish of some sort. Or maybe even a vegetable dish. So toge is bean sprouts and ikan asin is salted fish, which are combined and stir fried together and makes this amazing yummy goodness.

Sate
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Sate
Or known in other Asian countries as satay, which is basically skewered meat. The meat can range from chicken, beef, pork to even rabbit, liver, and more. At Samara, they serve chicken or beef sate. I’ve always gone for the chicken sate and it’s delicious. The pieces are smaller than what I’ve usually had, but the taste is great and the meat is super juicy. If you’re into peanut sauce on your sate, don’t forget them to give you a small side of sauce!

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Bakwan Jagung*
Have you had corn fritters? That’s what bakwan jagung is! I’ve had plenty from super fluffy to super crispy. I’ve tried both kinds at Samara and they are both really great! If this is your first time trying corn fritters, I would try the crispy ones first. These are even more delicious with a little bit of sambal. If you’re interested in trying these when you go, I would call ahead and ask if they are serving any on that day as this is a special menu item!

Batagor*
These on the other hand are on the regular menu and the best way I can describe it is deep fried varieties of goodness. Wikipedia describes batagor as Sundanese Indonesian fried fish dumpling served usually with a peanut sauce. Batagor is an abbreviation of Bakso Tahu Goreng (Fried tofu and meatballs) and that’s pretty much what it is: fried stuffed tofu and fish paste dumplings/meatballs, served with a peanut sauce. In Samara they also serve their batagor with a side meatball soup which goes great with the fried offering. A wonderful appetizer to start your meal!

Martabak
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This my friends, is one of my favourite Indonesian snack foods (thought can also be eaten with rice, because us Indonesians can eat anything with rice). Martabak, originally an Arabic dish, is pretty much like a deep fried pancake. Some have compared it to roti. It’s served in many different countries with their own twist to it. In Indonesia, these goodies are usually called Martabak Telur (egg Martabak) which essentially best describes the dish because egg is added into the meat and herbs stuffing mixture.
This is not to be mistaken for Martabak Manis (sweet Martabak), the sweet version of this savoury dish. Where the outside layer of the Martabak Telur is thin and crispy, I would say the Manis is more like an actual pancake, but even more fluffy. I would often think of it as two very fluffy pancakes covered with a good dollop of margarine sandwich-ing a chocolate or cheese or peanut or sometimes all three layer.  See it for yourself in this video.
The Martabak Telur is not on the regular menu, so make sure you call ahead to see if they are serving it on that day!

Baso Rudal
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Gigantic stuffed meatball soup. That’s pretty much what Baso Rudal is and its lovely, especially to have on a cold day! And when I say gigantic, I mean gigantic – see for yourself. The beef broth is also very flavourful and again, amazing to eat with rice.

So these are a few of the dishes that have been tested and tried the many number of times I’ve been to Samara Kitchen these past few months. I’m telling y’all, if you want some real authentic Indonesian food, this is the place to go. The price is also reasonable – for example: the ayam goreng that comes with the rice, tempe and small side soup? That’s $12.50 and you’ll already be pretty stuffed eating that. I say you come with several people and try a bunch of dishes together, trust me fighting for the last bit of mie goreng or toge is the best part!

If you have any questions on any of the dishes mentioned above please leave a comment below! If you have been to Samara, I would love to also hear your opinion and what you thought of the food/if you have a favourite dish there!

Cheers,
Kim

*I did not have these items on this particular day I went to Samara. Hence, I’ve provided a link to a google image that best displays the dish!

The Pho-nomenal Vietnam – Hanoi Edition

The Pho-nomenal Vietnam – Hanoi Edition

Hello friends! Happy New Year!

I hope you all had the best break and I wish you all the best for 2018! I know it’s been forever since my last post, so as part of my 2018 resolution, I have decided to blog a lot more about trips, food (both cooked and consumed), and life in general. So with that said, I’ve been meaning to share with you all about my time in Vietnam this summer. I’ve been working and re-working on this post for awhile, so I hope you enjoy and it encourages you to go and visit the beautiful country soon!

Let me tell you, getting to Hanoi was a mission in itself. The details of that part of that trip will be discussed in another post, but long story short we came during monsoon season. The weather on that particular day was dreadful and delays turned to cancellations turned to sleeping at the airport. It was crazy and I’ve never really been in that type of situation before – but honestly I think it made the trip even more memorable. We also lost a night at the hotel, but grateful that hotels in Asia are pretty cheap and affordable!

So after spending the night at Guangzhou airport, we were able to get on a flight to Hanoi the next morning. So thankful to be leaving the airport and unto our next adventures! And really this is where our solo adventure begins – we were finished with our volunteering and now we’re really on our own, figuring out how to get to places ourselves, finding our food, etc.

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So we land in Noi Bai International Airport and the first thing we needed to do was figure out the whole visa situation. Before we left, Sam and I researched all the visas that we would need – the ones we can get once we land, the ones we needed to apply before, etc. We also came prepared and brought extra passport photos just incase (definitely suggest all you travellers out there to do the same!). So with the Vietnam visa, we used an online service to get a Visa Approval Letter. So basically what happens is, you pay this online service to get your visa pre-approved before you land. When you get to the airport, you take your Approval Letter, the Entry Applicant Form, and 2 passport photos to the Visa desk area. Then they pretty much make your visa there and all is good to go. Note, we were super sketched at first because the Approval Letter had multiple peoples name along with their passport numbers, but apparently that’s how its done. Super simple, we waited maybe 5-10 minutes, and then we were good to go! The service we used: Vietnam Visa Online Service. Another side note, be prepared with USD because that is what they take for the on arrival Visa payment!

So the first thing we do was get a sim card for our phone. Once you get your luggage and exit the luggage area, there are a bunch of kiosks around where you can grab a sim card. Similarly like in China, they needed our passport in order for us to be able to buy a sim card. Let me tell you, the sim card in Hanoi was ridiculously cheap. I think we paid $5 and got 10 GB or something like that and some minutes too. We always opted to get a plan with minutes when we can so we can call each other/hotel/in case of emergencies. Turned out to be the best idea because we realized that the driver that was supposed to come get us was not there. Turns out, they thought we were coming that night (confusion because of the cancelled flight), but the staff at the hotel were incredibly nice and sent a driver right away to pick us up. Make sure you check with your hotel regarding a driver pick up. I believe most of the hotels there offer a pick-up service for a very reasonable price and I would really suggest using their service. Not only is it reliable and usually more affordable, it is just a lot easier because they know EXACTLY where to take you.

Oh also, while we waited for the driver, we indulged in some comfort food because we thought after being stuck in an airport for 16 hours we so deserve it! IMG_0613.JPG

That caption says everything.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to split the Vietnam blog into two. In this particular post, I’ll be talking about Hanoi – what to do, what to see, what to eat. The next post, I’ll dive into the Halong Bay portion of our time in Vietnam. So stay tuned for both parts of our Vietnamese adventure!

HANOI

Accommodation
I’m going to say we totally lucked out with our hotel. Not only was it conveniently located in the Old Quarter walking distance from everything, the staff were extremely nice and the room itself was great. Not a 5 star hotel by any means, but for about $25CAD a night AND you get breakfast in the morning, it was such an amazing deal.

So we researched and it seemed like a lot of people were recommending staying in the Old Quarter for convenience and they were right. So we looked in Agoda and Trip Advisor and we decided on Hang My Hotel. I really liked where the hotel was located – it was on a more quieter street, but still so conveniently close to everything. There was food everywhere around, a pharmacy (which proved to be of so much help many times), and shops. We were also about 5 minutes away from the Lake which was surrounded by nightlife, so it was amazing.

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So let’s talk about the hotel itself. First, let’s chat about the staff. They are amazing and so helpful. Always ready to help whenever you needed it. We ended up making friends with one of the front desk staff and she was super sweet – she would always give us suggestions on what to do, where to go, etc. I can’t say enough good things about them.

The room itself was decent – bed was a queen and decent, there’s AC and a TV, and a en suite bathroom. The room I would say was smaller compared to a North American style hotel room, but honestly we came back to to hotel only to rest/sleep, so we didn’t really care at all. The bathroom though, y’all need to be prepared. Unlike here in North America where the bathtub/shower area is separated either by a wall/curtain/door or something from the toilet area, there it was all together because its pretty small. So you’re showering right beside the toilet and water is just going everywhere. I have this thing with bathrooms…and honestly I prefer a separation between my shower area and the toilet area so that took some time to adjust to (PS its all over Asia).
Now we specifically chose the same hotel to stay at when we came back for one night after Halong Bay – this way we can leave our bigger luggage at the hotel. That last night, our room I believe got upgraded for unknown reasons (we secretly thought it was because we became buds with the staff). That room was even better – we got a king size bed and an actual bathtub! All in all, the room was good!

Breakfast was also included, yes in the $25 per night price. And the breakfast was actually pretty good – there was a good amount of choices.

Laundry – if you need to do laundry, this is the place where you should do it. You can most definitely go outside of the hotel and get laundry done at some place, but honestly it’s so convenient to just do it at the hotel. It was approximately $2 for 1kg of laundry. TWO DOLLARS. It also came back IRONED AND FOLDED. Sam and I would just combine all our laundry together and it came to about 1kg if not a tiny bit over.
You literally give your bagful of laundry to the front desk and the next day, they have it all ready for you in this plastic bag all ironed and folded.
#sofreakingspoiledthere

Transportation
Easy: you walk. Everywhere. The beauty about staying in the Old Quarter is that everything is walking distance. I think the furthest we walked was 20 minutes and that didn’t even seem that far, because 1) you’re fascinated by everything around you: the street food, the shops, etc. 2) crossing the streets are an adventure in itself because it’s like a real life game of Crossy Road: Extreme Human edition. A video of this madness will be included in the Vietnam vlog that will be edited and posted soon! But walking is great – it just means you’re exercising so you can indulge in more food!

The only area that was a little further away was around the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, though really it was still walkable. I think at that time, we didn’t really have that much time and it was hot so we opted for another kind of transportation: Motorcycles/Mopeds.  It’s like Vietnam’s go-to uber service because it’s so much easier to weave in and out of traffic using a motorcycle than it is using a car. Though super hesitant at first, I decided to try it. It was really fun though I don’t think I would ever want to be driving the motorcycle (madness I tell you!).
It’s extremely easy to get these motorcycles/mopeds – you can user the Uber or even bigger in asia, Grab, app. Grab came in handy MANY times when we were in Asia, so I would most definitely recommend for you to download it!

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Note: Taxis are also everywhere, but be cautious in terms of what kind of taxi you hail. I’ve heard that some will rip you off because the drivers know you’re a tourist, so just be extra cautious. I would really recommend Grab – it’s just more convenient, because they know where to pick you up, you know how much it is, and you don’t have to try explaining to them where you need to get dropped off because you have to input your drop off point in the app.

Money Exchange
Should you convert money before coming to Vietnam or just convert when you get there? What happens when you run out of Vietnamese Dong?
Questions that I definitely had before heading out. We decided that we wanted to convert some money in Toronto before we left and I would suggest you doing the same thing. I think it gives you a peace of mind, knowing that you have money ready. In some places, even the airport (like in Fuzhou, China), they don’t even take MasterCard or Visa nor do they have a money exchange place. That’s pretty rare though I think, because the airport was pretty small. Nevertheless, I think it’s just safe to have some ready to go and it came in handy when we were buying the sim card at the airport.

There was definitely a money exchange place when you leave the luggage area, so if you don’t end up converting money before coming you can definitely do it at the airport. As mentioned above when talking about the Vietnamese Visa, be sure to bring some USD with you! I took both USD and CAD with me – I found that to be useful too because it helped having CAD/USD to convert to VND and the USD is useful when tours and such only take USD cash (which some do).  There are also money exchange places pretty much scattered throughout Hanoi, so you don’t have to worry about not being able to convert money.

Some useful advice that I think might help those of you that don’t venture out much or you don’t do a lot of money exchange abroad (like me before this trip!):
1) If you are travelling to multiple countries with multiple currencies, you can use the leftover cash you have in a different currency and change it with the currency of the country you are now at/will travel to! We found that we tend to forget that we had cash leftover from the previous country we visited and it was just sitting in our wallet not being used/waiting to be converted to CAD. So we started converting the currencies we were no longer using to ones we would be using!
2) You can use either your debit card OR your credit card to take out cash! I tend to use a lot more of my credit card on trips, just to be safer (don’t want people to be accessing my bank account) so it was great that you can take out money using your credit card rather than your debit. I ended up using that method a lot more during my trip.
3) I should point out that having cash ready is quite important in Asia – I find that because everything is a lot cheaper and most food places you want to try is on the street/tiny little restaurants or stalls, they don’t tend to take credit cards. So make sure you have cash on hand with you!
4) Download a currency converter app. Came in handy many many times, because sometimes you just can’t do math that quickly in your head. Especially if the conversion is harder like 1 Vietnamese Dong = 0.000054 CAD or if you have multiple currencies in your head and its getting confusing.

Things to Do
There’s a bunch of things to do in Hanoi! We spent around 3 nights and 4 days there and we thought it was a good amount of time, though we wouldn’t mind staying a couple of more days! I’ve heard people stay a week or more and didn’t get bored. We didn’t get to do EVERYTHING because we stayed only for a couple of nights there, but I’ll outline the things we did do & what I thought of it.

Note: I was researching before the trip and there are a lot of opportunities to travel to the surrounding areas on a day trip/overnight trip. I would really suggest doing that if you’re going to be around for more than 3 days! You can take a look at Vietnam Guide website for some ideas.

Hoa Lo Prison
I really enjoyed visiting this “museum” and I’m not really a museum type of person. I thought it was really fascinating and just insightful. I learned quite a bit when I was there and being in the actual prison, seeing the actual cells and such gives you perspective of what it was like during that time. The prison was not huge, so I would say you can walk around the entire thing in an hour. It was the first place we visited when we explored and it was about a 10 – 15 minute walk from our hotel!
Cost: 30,000 VND
Link: Hoa Lo Prison
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Hoan Kiam Lake
There are a bunch of cafes, shops, restaurants around the lake – it’s really nice to just walk around or even sit by the lake and people watch. The lake gets even prettier when it lights up at night! On the weekends, we found that the roads around the lakes are actually blocked off so people can walk freely around which is nice. It does get really crowded though! I also bought a bunch of souvenirs and some elephant pants (those very baggy and comfortable elephant patterned pants) at some of the shops by the lake too!
The lake cannot be missed – it’s pretty much in the center of Old Quarter. A lot of people use the lake as a point of reference when we asked for direction.
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Walking Food Tour
I’ll be talking more in depth about the food that we had on the food tour, but this is SO RECOMMENDED! If you’re a foodie like me, this was one of the best experiences we had on the trip. I mean c’mon, you’re walking around town going from one food place, to another…what’s not to love! I believe there are a whole lot of different food tours you could choose from – I’ve put the link to a list of food tours via Trip Advisor (thank you Trip Advisor for being the best travel companion!). Honestly, we never thought of doing one until the lovely people at the hotel reception offered a food tour organized by the hotel. If you’re staying in the same hotel we were, ask the front desk about this! Unfortunately I don’t remember what the price was, but it was definitely reasonable! I think we paid around $25 give or take.
Trust me y’all, it’s worth it. They take you to places you definitely would not have ventured in because its little mom and pop food stalls with no signs or anything. And it’s authentic local food, which makes it even better! Highly, highly recommend!
Link: Hanoi Food Tours

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Cooking Class
This is a MUST DO! I think this is top 3 in things we did in Vietnam. It was such an amazing experience, I don’t even know where to start. First, there is an abundance of different cooking classes in Hanoi – do your research, ask around to see what classes people took. In this post, I’ll be talking about the class we went to and honestly I would really highly recommend them. First, the class sizes are super small. This makes for a better more intimate experience. Second, the chef was extremely nice and knowledgeable. He definitely knew what he was doing – the food tasted amazing after! Third, it is more than just a cooking class.

So first when you get there, they explain to you the agenda of the class. You don’t have to bring anything with you, everything is provided – down to like water and even ponchos when it rained. They first take you to the fresh wet market where you’ll be getting the ingredients for the class. To get to the market, you get to use a cyclo which is basically like a bike where someone does the paddling for you & you get to just sit there and take in your surroundings. Definitely an experience, especially in the busy streets of Hanoi.
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Then at the market, the chef takes you around through the different sections of the market, including the spice, seafood, and fresh veggies and meat. It’s such a great experience going with someone who knows their way around the market and speaks the language. Not only that, he knows the vendors there so we got to try different types of fruits and snack along our market tour.
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It was here where I first tried custard apple fruit and fell in love with it! Then the chef takes you back to the kitchen where you proceed to learn different Vietnamese dishes and also eat what you made after.

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If you look at the website for this particular cooking class vendor/company, they actually have a morning/afternoon option and also different dishes depending on the day. We picked a day where we got the make pho, bun cha, and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls. Trust me when I say that this is HIGHLY recommended, even if you don’t know or not a fan of cooking. The experience going through the market and trying out the different snacks was already great, but to be able to see the cooking process of some of the beloved food items was amazing. Shout out to Chef Jack for being superb!

Make sure you call ahead and reserve a spot! The food that you make will turn out amazing and you get the recipe to tr make it at home. After that experience, I’ve made a goal to try joining a cooking class every time I travel!
Cost: $55USD per person – this includes the market trip, the cyclo ride, the snacks, the ingredients and the meal after.
Link: Duong’s Restaurant

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Weekend Night Market
Night markets are a big thing in Asia and it’s no difference in Hanoi. We came during the weekend, perfect timing to visit the weekend night market! Basically during the weekends (including Friday night), they block off Hang Dao Street and they fill it with stalls and stalls of souvenirs, t-shirts, food, the like. If you’re looking to bring home souvenirs for friends and family, this would be the place to go. So I would suggest booking this into your schedule – you can definitely roam around for a couple of hours while snacking on Vietnamese street food.
Link: Night Market

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Vietnam National Museum of History
Honestly, I’m not really that much of a museum person, but we were exploring and the reviews of this place was pretty good so we decided to check it out. Also, it was starting to drizzle, so we kinda opted to go in. Again, I’m not a museum person and I was really exhausted when I was there so I don’t think I can give a fair representation of how the museum really was. If you’re into history and historical artifacts, this is definitely your cup of tea!
Link: Museum of History
IMG_0662IMG_0669Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum
Confession: I really thought we went into the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, but we really didn’t. As I was looking for the link below to post for more information, I realize wow we definitely went into the wrong place. Well…not exactly wrong. See if you look at the picture, it is definitely not the same building as the Mausoleum you will see if you google it. It turns out, after researching, the Mausoleum complex is actually pretty big! See, we actually went into the Ho Chi Minh museum, not the actual Mausoleum. Though really, I’m a little bit relieved because I was not that eager to see the embalmed body of Ho Chi Minh.
How did this mix up happen? Well one, the complex is huge and there wasn’t really any signs saying “GO HERE”. We kind of assumed that the museum was it and left. Silly us, we should have definitely researched about it a little more – but for your reference so you don’t miss is like we did, the mausoleum building is shown below. Second, reading online when I was in Vietnam, there was mention of the embalmed body being in Russia to be preserved. Though this is true that the body is sent to Russia a part of the year, it turns out that its sent during September to November time frame.
Really in hindsight…THAT IS WHAT THAT HUGE LINE WAS. As we were exiting the museum we saw a huge line forming and for the life of us could not figure out what it was for (and it was ridiculously hot so we wanted to just leave). So silly. The takeaway is don’t be silly like us and actually go in the Mausoleum. And the museum? It was okay…again not a museum person, but quite interesting to see how beloved this guy was.
Link: Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Here is the museum:
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Here is the actual mausoleum:

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Yep…how we missed that big thing, I have no idea.

Old Quarter
You can pretty much spend a majority of your time walking around and exploring the Old Quarter! There’s shops and restaurants everywhere. I have also heard that Hanoi has a pretty good nightlife if that interests you! So take time to just walk around, go into the different shops, and explore!
Link: Old Quarter
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That’s pretty much the bulk of sight seeing we did in Hanoi. There’s still a couple of museum and other sights you could visit, but we just didn’t have time. Again as mentioned, there are opportunities to go on day trips to surrounding areas! Looking through the day trip options, there’s some really awesome places I would definitely visit next time I’m back in Hanoi!

Food
And alas, we have come to my favourite thing to talk about: FOOD. Not that I didn’t like sightseeing of course! So I guess we have to start with my current reigning favourite Vietnamese dish I tried in Hanoi…

Bun Cha
What is bun cha you might ask? It is the greatest thing ever. I still crave it to this day (please see previous blog post). You cannot have it the same here in Toronto…it just doesn’t come as close. The way they prepare it and present it here, and even the noodles they use is completely different.

Bun Cha is this amazing rice noodle (bun) dish served with grilled pork (cha) thats submerged in this pool of amazing fish sauce concoction. First off, the rice noodle is super fresh and it is definitely not vermicelli like the ones they serve here. The texture of the rice noodle is completely different and fits a whole lot better than eating this dish with vermicelli. Second, the pork is not just some grilled pork you would get when you eat a Vietnamese rice dish (which is pretty much what they do in vietnamese restaurants in North America). The pork (which I learned in my cooking class) is lean pork shoulder that you prepare in two ways: 1) thinly sliced and 2) minced and made into a patty/flat sausage-like and then both grilled. Sometimes they even put perilla leaves on the outside of the patty and then grill it.
Thirdly, unlike here where they serve the pork on top of a bed of vermicelli, there they serve the noodles separately in a communal basket and they give you individual little bowls filled with the grilled pork submerged in the fish sauce concoction. You then take some of the rice noodles, dip it in the fish sauce dip (which you can add garlic, thai chillies, herbs to spruce it up), and eat that with the grilled pork. I would also like to say that the fish sauce used in Vietnam is so different than the ones we have in North America. The one here is a lot more pungent to be honest, but that could be my opinion!

I am drooling thinking about this.

BUT I AM NOT DONE. They also put a plate of vietnamese fried spring rolls for you to share AND the rice noodles can be refilled. Ah-ma-zing. You have to try it when you’re in Hanoi, it’s the best thing I ate there. To the point where we came to this same exact place THREE times over the 3 nights and 4 days we were there. It was conveniently located 2 minutes away from our hotel. Highly recommend it!
Cost: 100,000 VND for 2 people including 2 bottled waters
Link: Bun Cha Dac Kim 

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Pho
I think our obsession with bun cha overshadowed our excitement for pho when we were in Hanoi. BUT we still missioned to one of the highly rated pho places in Hanoi – there are pho stalls EVERYWHERE. We also cooked and ate pho during our cooking class. I think it was there where we learned to appreciate how much hard work and time goes into making a good bowl of pho. The broth, which is obviously the most essential part of the dish, takes hours to make. At the class, we did a more time sensitive recipe by adding a whole lot more bones to deepen the flavour of the broth since we only had a couple of hours to make three different dishes.
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The pho at the 10 Ly Quoc Su location was incredible. You don’t add hoisin sauce like you do here – instead you add a little bit of garlic, a little bit of thai chilies, and a little bit of herbs. The flavour of the broth really shines and not muddled by all the seasonings we usually add into our pho. Again, ahmazing.
Cost: 60,000 VND
Link: Pho 10

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Egg Coffee
Yes friends, you are reading correctly. EGG. COFFEE.
Let me tell you, I became OBSESSED with egg coffee when I was there and I would say there is only ONE location that serves the best egg coffee in Hanoi. I can say this because I think we visited a bunch of cafes that serves egg coffee and this place cannot be beat.
The place is always crowded and you have to go through this little alleyway to get to the cafe. Friends, once you try the egg coffee you’ll be addicted. And I don’t even really drink coffee!
Your next question would probably be, what the heck is egg coffee. It’s coffee with this sweet foam on top made by whisked egg yolk. I really enjoyed the cold version of the drink, even though the hot version is also really good. Trust me y’all, you will not regret it.
Cost: Don’t remember, but it was incredibly cheap.
Link: Giang Cafe

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Food Tour
The last thing I want to share with y’all are the food we got to try when we were on the food tour. Every single thing we tried was amazing, local, and super authentic.
First we tried Banh Cuon – it’s the vietnamese version of the stuffed rice noodle roll. The rice noodle roll is super thin and its stuffed with a meat mixture. Instead of putting a soy sauce dressing on top like you would if you’re eating dim sum, you dip it in of course a fish sauce dressing (Nước chấm). If you asked me where the exact location of this place was…I’d look at you with blank stares because I honestly do not know. This one, along with others below are extremely small local places that you probably would just walk past by.

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It’s for that reason that we decided to go on this food tour in the first place, because with the limited time we had and our desire to try authentic Vietnamese food, we thought this would be the best way to kill two birds with one stone!

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Second on our food tour was bun cha and surprise surprise, they took us to the exact bun cha place we visited before. This is because this is the go-to place to get authentic local bun cha.

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Third on the food tour list was a variety of crispy fried dishes – ranging from spring rolls to fried shrimp crackers. Everything was really good that we ended up ordering more spring rolls.

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Then we tried bahn mi and I’m so glad we got to try it on the food tour, because we didn’t have the time to hunt down really good banh mi. Although the banh mi we tried here was good, I couldn’t really compare it to any other ones in Hanoi. I will most definitely put this on my food bucket list next time I go to Hanoi.

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Next, we tried this refreshing fruit salad dish from a street vendor. They put all these largely diced up fruits (honeydew, mangoes, watermelon, avocado, jackfruit which was amazing and more) with crushed ice, condensed milk and coconut milk. It was really delicious, though I would not recommend it if you’re stomach is sensitive at that time or in general. My stomach was definitely not feeling the best after and I had a feeling it wouldn’t when I saw the crushed up ice in the bowl in front of me. But hey, YOLO. It was still really good!

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The last stop on our tour was the egg coffee cafe I mentioned above – this is where I tried egg coffee the first time and fell in love. SO GOOD.

All in all, the food tour was good and we were stuffed by the end of it. Our tour guide was also lovely and answered a lot of questions, especially regarding different food places to try (like where the best pho is at). I would really recommend going on a food tour if you’re visiting Hanoi! I think its a lovely time to meet other people that are on your tour, but you get to try local authentic dishes where you might not have tried before!

Word of caution: If you’re like me and order the rice with grilled meat dishes at Vietnamese restaurants, you would probably go look for a good Com Tam place in Hanoi. Yep, there is none. We tried one place that served it and it was not that great. This is because Hanoi is actually more well known for its pho, whereas Ho Chi Minh City is more known for its Com Tam. Y’all know where I’m headed to the next time I visit Vietnam!

Com Tam

OVERALL
I loved Hanoi. People have asked me many times which place was my favourite during my travels this summer and every single time I say Hanoi. The people, the food, the sights, the environment just all comes together to make one really awesome place to visit.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for my next post about Halong Bay!

Cheers,
Kim

Hong Kong Stopover

Hong Kong Stopover

Hello friends!

I told you I would be back with a series of different blog posts, so here is part one of many more to come. I actually started a part of this blog when I was in Hong Kong – it was the second day I was there and I was somewhat jet lagged. I was awake at 4:30 am and decided that I wanted to start on the Hong Kong blog…but never ended up finishing it. Now I’m back and ready to give you a snippet of the time we were in Hong Kong.

I thought stopover was the most appropriate word to describe the amount of time I was there because really that was what it was. So we wanted to get to China (click here to read a background of our trip) and as you can probably assume there were so many ways to get there. A lot of the options were pretty pricey and if you know anything about me, you’ll know that I have plane anxiety. I know, I know it’s weird that I love to travel but have plane anxiety. But hey, it’s true and I’ll go more into details about that and how I deal with all that on long flights (tips for all you people who are not big fans of being enclosed in a metal container up in the air for 16+ hours), but for the purpose of this blog this detail is critical because I am extremely picky in airline choices. So long story short, we decided to take Cathay Pacific (shoutout to one of the best airlines ever!) and well their home base is in Hong Kong! I could not say no to stopping by Hong Kong, even for a little bit. Also, I have family there so the choice was pretty simple. The only thing is, because of how our itinerary was planned out, we could only stay there for 2 days – so really, a stopover.

A couple of things to note:

  1. Shoutout to my aunt and uncle and their daughter who is like my cousin/long lost sister (Hi Auntie, Uncle & Elza!), who hosted us for the time we were there. They were super amazing, welcoming, accommodating, and I am SO glad that we started off our trip with family (travel tips to come in another post soon)!
  2. Sam, one of my besties and my partner in crime/travel buddy for the month, and I didn’t get to do a whole lot of sightseeing, just because we really didn’t have the time. You can do quite a bit in the amount of time we were there, but our schedule was pretty packed. I suggest staying there for a week if you want to go around and really see everything!
  3. Hong Kong, you guys do food well! I’ll get into a little bit more about some of the things we tried there, but man you will most definitely be satisfied coming here! And you also walk around a LOT, so whatever you eat you can walk off = more food.

 

Okay to the part I know you all want to read about – do I have any food recommendations/opinion on what to do when I’m in Hong Kong? Unfortunately I am FAR from being an expert in Hong Kong or any cities to be honest, but I can tell you what we did and what we thought!

Nan Lian Garden

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So we saw picture of this place and knew we needed to stop by and visit! To visit, you need to go to the Diamond Hill MTR stop and take EXIT C. You can take any of the other exits and get there (which is what we originally did), but Exit C is the closest and least confusing exit to navigate to get to the garden. If you see a mall when you exit, you’re at the right place! This nunnery/garden is not large by any means, but it is beautiful and a hidden gem. There were barely anyone there, so we had a great time just leisurely walking through the entire place and take lots of beautiful pictures!

2. Ladies Market

My aunt suggested for us to check out the ladies market when I asked where would be the best place to get souvenirs and she hit the jackpot! If you’re looking to leisurely walk around, check out little trinkets, souvenirs, and such you need to visit this place. Sam and I ended up with quite a few things when we left for friends and family! It’s also pretty central, easy to get there by MTR (Get off at Mongkok station and it’s literally 5 minutes away) and there’s a bunch of things around if you want to go shopping, to eat, etc.

For more information: Ladies Market

3. Then just walking around, we rode the tram to see Hong Kong in a different way, and of course eat (see below). Unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to see Victoria Peak or go to Disneyland, but again we were there for a very very short time!

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Okay now FOOD:

  1. DIM SUM. For those who know me, you have probably heard me talk about dim sum at least once. I love it – it’s just so good and I love that a lot of the places we go to, they go around in little carts where you can pick out what you want to eat from those carts. For those of you who do not know what dim sum is, I have always compared it to spanish tapas. They are small portions of food that is steamed or fried or whatnot and served in little tiny steamed baskets/small plates. It is delicious and my family go get dim sum quite often in Canada, but dim sum in Hong Kong was something that I’ve been waiting for and my mouth is watering as I’m writing this right now. If you ask me what it is that makes it different between Toronto and Hong Kong, the honest answer is I have no idea. There are just some dishes that are just completely different and taste different, and some dishes that are similar (hello siumai and hargow) but still manages to taste different and better in Hong Kong. My aunt and uncle took me to a place in City Hall after church on a Sunday. It was mighty crowded, but it was mighty amazing. Unfortunately I cannot tell you how much each plate of food costs because my lovely aunt and uncle would not let me touch the bill, but all I have to say is y’all HAVE to try dim sum at least once when you’re there.

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2. Okay because we are currently on the dim sum train, one of the most well known dim sum dishes around I would say other than siu mai and hargow would be the BBQ pork buns aka char siu bao. Speaking honestly to the bloggesphere, I am not particularly a huge fan of char siu bao, but ladies and gent I LOVED this char siu bao. I wish I took a picture, but I totally forgot because we did take out instead of eating at the restaurant. It’s so different than what you normally find at a dim sum restaurant here. You know how the normal BBQ pork bun is either that white type bun normally found at dim sum restaurants OR the other common one is the yellow-brownish type of soft bread stuffed with the BBQ pork? Well this bun is different, it’s like soft but has a tiny bit of a crunch (if that makes sense). The stuffed BBQ pork is also amazing. You just need to try it!

Where can you get this heavenly buns? Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin star restaurant. There are different branches of the restaurant – we went and did take out from the Central location. Note that it’s right in the Central station, in the lower level. If you can’t find it, I would just quickly stop by a shop and ask (we did that) and someone will direct you towards the right direction! From what I heard from people and also for reading blogs, this place gets super busy so make sure you get there earlier. We were there around 4/4:30 so it was not busy, so if you want a very late lunch or early dinner Also, we didn’t get a chance to try the other dim sum dishes, but I hear its also really great! So if you head over there and try the dim sum, let me know how the other dishes are!

3. Ever since my uncle told my sister and I about this giant soufflé that we need to try in Hong Kong, it’s always been on my HK food bucket list. And although our time in HK was very short, my aunt and uncle made sure that we stopped by this place!

Location: Tai Ping Koon

Tai Ping Koon (Outside Street)

Behold my friends, the giant soufflé!

Giant Soufflé

And if you can’t really tell how big that soufflé is, here’s another picture.

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Yes, it’s literally bigger than my hand. It was huge, so make sure you come hungry or bring a couple of friends to share with. I was stuffed by the time we came here, so thank goodness there was a bunch of us there to share! Don’t get me wrong though, the soufflé was really great and if you are hungry I’m sure you and one other friend can devour it. When I showed my family the picture, they asked me what the soufflé taste like – and my answer is egg. The soufflé is basically a sweet egg-ish dish and it’s really great to eat with a side of Hong Kong style milk tea! The other thing we ate there was their chicken wings which if you know me, I’m a sucker for chicken wings. And these beauty were really really good, so make sure you get a plate when you’re there!

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4. Although I tried some other yummy Chinese food, I’m going to end the food tour with one of my favourite meals in HK and my trip to Asia (yes it was that good). Let me tell you, I LOVE roast meat. Like love. The only problem is, I haven’t found a really good roast meat place in Toronto and GTA area (if you’re from around here and know of a good place, holler at me). But friends, if you are a lover of roast meat like me, Hong Kong is the place to go to satisfy your cravings.

We went to a restaurant called Tai Hing in Mongkok (I believe! Picture of what the place looks outside is below).

The place is pretty tiny and it gets super busy, so make sure you come either a little earlier or later to get a spot! We went around 11 and they were just finishing up with suckling pig. There wasn’t a lot of people then, but when we were leaving around 12-ish there was a line forming.

Okay first thing you need to get when you’re here is their Hong Kong style milk tea. It was so good that we ordered another one (to share because I was so stuffed). They are also clever about serving the tea – they put the cupe in a bowl of ice so the tea can be chilled without the ice diluting it!

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Next, my uncle ordered this steam pork dish which honestly I don’t know the name, but I’ve had before. Amazing.

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And then behold, we ordered roasted goose, chicken, suckling pig and BBQ pork. There are no words, it was just delicious and you need to come here if you come to Hong Kong! There are a lot of branches, so no excuses!

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Thank you again to my wonderful aunt and uncle for hosting us! And HK, I will be back soon!

Cooking Spree

Ever since I got back, I’ve also been in a cooking spree. From making breakfast at 7am to dinner (at a reasonable time because then I can’t keep my eyes open past 10 max). I love cooking and hope that I will get to continue to do so over the next couple of weeks while I have some time! I also want to learn to make more Indonesian food!! Exhibit A below shows a family favourite – Sop Bakut. It’s this soup with pickled mustard greens and short ribs and it’s just SO good! Add some satay and rice and you’ve got the perfect dinner right there!