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The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Fab beignets and breakfast at Trailside Cafe & Coffee House, Monterey (California, USA)

When we were in California a few months ago, we got to meet up with an old friend from my JET days, whom we hadn't seen for almost 8 years! (Going through my old posts from that era brings back such fond memories!) Alex was our next door neighbour in a tiny fishing village for one year, a jovial American who was also in the same intake of JET participants as me. He was contracted to the municipal (i.e. he taught at several elementary and junior high schools in the area) whereas I worked for a senior high school. Unlike most JET participants who joined the programme straight out of college, he was an experienced science teacher already in his 30s, and together we felt somewhat like oldies compared to our fellow JETs. The nearest foreigner to the three of us was at least 15km away, and we often had dinners together, though he was decidedly the more social one who often opened up his apartment for get-togethers and potluck meals with other Noto JETs.

We stopped in Monterey for three days during our road trip up the Californian coast, and I contacted Alex and his wife to see if we could meet up since they lived nearby. This meeting almost didn't happen, because we arrived in Monterey rather late in the evening on the day before Alex and family were to leave on a camping trip (spring break had just started at the time). Thankfully they managed to complete packing for their trip that night, and they suggested meeting up for breakfast the following morning at Trailside Cafe before they had to leave for their camping trip. So what has changed in the past 8 year? He got married (to a lovely girl we met when she came to visit him in Japan for a couple of months) and have two kids, who get along brilliantly with our own two rascals. We had a lovely time with this gorgeous family, who also took the time out to show us part of the gorgeous Monterey coastline on surrey bikes, and got us into the Aquarium as guests on their membership passes before they went on their camping trip. It was so nice to see familiar faces on foreign land.

The small inside dining area at Trailside Cafe:

We already had a small breakfast at our accommodation, so we ordered only ordered small. Alex got a basket of beignets to share, and these were the most divine fried doughs I've ever had, warm and fresh out of the fryer. It was my first time trying a beignet, and what a fabulous introduction it was! I am not a big fan of deep fried foodstuff, but these were ungreasy with a lovely crispy outer crunch into soft pillowy insides.

Beignets - so much better than donuts!

Got one of the kids' menu for the boy, scrambled eggs and a bowl of fruits:

Hubby could not resist ordering the pancakes with berries and maple syrup:

I discovered that the Trailside Cafe in Monterey shut down last month when the lease expired, but the shop has a sister cafe/bar/pub in Carmel Valley, called Trailside Cafe & Beer Garden, where the menu is similar. I imagine the quality is also similar, and maybe that is something we can find out if we ever find ourselves in California again!

Trailside Cafe & Coffee House
550 Wave St
Cannery Row
Monterey, CA 93940
United States

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Hong Kong fast food @ Tsui Wah Restaurant [Des Voeux Road Central Branch], Hong Kong

While backing up the photos stored on my phone, I stumbled across some food photos I took a few months ago that I never blogged about. It was during the time my friend and her family visited Hong Kong for a few days, and I'd brought them to Tsui Wah Restaurant because my friend said that they wanted to eat at a HK-style cafe during their trip. Tsui Wah is one of HK's busiest quick-service restaurants offering innovative food at reasonable prices. It is extremely popular with the locals, but it had taken me almost five years living in HK to set foot inside one, for no other reason than that I consider this restaurant chain to be like the McDonald's of HK fast food, and I prefer the much smaller individual and non-descript cha chaan teng for a more local experience.

My friends and I arrived at the Central branch on Des Voeux Road Central around peak lunch time, and the dining space was taken up mostly by the white-collar workers on their lunch breaks. We waited only a short while before a table became free, and we were swiftly shown to our table. The menu was available in English so ordering was much easier than at the more local cha chaan teng shops where the menu is usually posted up on the wall in Chinese characters. Service was as you would expect from a fast food place in HK - no-nonsense, brisk and efficient. You would be lucky to get a server who speaks or understand English, but waving and pointing do the job just fine. Apparently the menu is constantly being updated, and new items are incorporated while others are eliminated, but their most popular dishes stay on the menu.

Upon entry to Tsui Wah, you tell the front desk how many people in the dining party. Then you wait to be shown to your table:

Full house:

Hainanese Chicken Rice for the little boy. It was edible at best, and the condiments were not the usual ginger, chili and soy. This dish is one of Tsui Wah's Top 10, but better ones can be had elsewhere:

Also another one in the Top 10, Fish Balls & Fish Cakes with Flat Rice Noodles in Fish Soup. It failed to impress my friend who only ate a few spoons before asking her husband to help her with it:

Friend's husband ordered the Singapore-style Fried Rice Noodles, and he really enjoyed it. (Ironically, despite the name, this dish is virtually unknown in Singapore itself.) I tried a little bit and agreed that it was a tasty choice:

I got a dish that is similar to char hor fun (aka wat tan hor - stir-fried flat rice noodles in egg gravy), one of my fave noodle dishes to order. However this one with fish fillet and mushrooms lacked that essential wok hei ('breath of wok', that charry aroma) and the egg sauce resembled more like watery scrambled eggs. Casting comparisons aside, it was still an enjoyable dish, and the fish was moist and succulent:

I ordered the Crispy Bun with Sweet Condensed Milk, because it is a very popular item. I personally don't understand the hype as it is very simple and easily replicable at home:

Tsui Wah is a convenient and affordable choice for fast food. There are many branches open 24 hours, and most are open from early morning until the wee hours of the morning. My friends were amazed at how cheap the bill was!

Tsui Wah Restaurant [Des Voeux Road Central Branch]
Ground Floor,
84-86 Des Voeux Road C.
Central, Hong Kong
Tel. +85 2 2815 3000
Open 07:00 to 02:00 daily
Check website for full list of branches.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The hustle and bustle of Hanoi

Hanoi is city of contrasts. It is here in the Vietnamese capital that one can see old Vietnamese traditions blending with modern French style, and seek tranquility at Hoan Kiem Lake in the middle of the chaotic traffic of the Old Quarter. It rained almost constantly all four days we were in Hanoi, but that did not keep us from exploring the city and enjoying the rich variety of street food. We discovered almost immediately that getting around on stroller was not only impractical, but near impossible with the congested pedestrian footpaths and crazy traffic whizzing by. Walking and crossing the streets of Hanoi is not for the faint-hearted - the roads are dominated by motorbike riders who pay no attention to traffic lights, often going the wrong direction, parking on the pedestrian footpaths, and riding too close to pedestrians who are forced to walk on the road. There is still a lot to love about this city, and I hope the following images can give an idea of what Hanoi is like.

The seemingly directionless traffic at a large intersection near the north of Hoan Kiem Lake:

Eating on little stools on the pedestrian footpath is a common sight in Hanoi. Here diners were enjoying bowls of pho in the drizzle, and vendors were making a bustling trade:

Huge ancient mangrove growing through buildings. It was nice to see the city working around these majestic growths rather than bulldozing them down:

For size comparison, here is a motorcyclist carrying a small child in front (partially hidden by the waterproof cape) and another passenger behind, as well as bags of goods hanging on both sides. Bike passengers usually are without helmets, including little children:

Exploring one of the pedestrians-only "walking streets" of the Old Quarter at night. :

Ta Hien Street, dubbed as the 'international section' in Old Quarter, makes up part of this walking street. The street was packed with foreign tourists and expats:

Vendors displaying fresh produce on the sidewalk, at the daytime street market near our hotel:

Preserved items are also popular items. Note the motorbikes parked on the sidewalk, forcing pedestrians to share the road with crazy traffic:

A spot of bright colours in the dreary weather:

We took a cyclo ride for half hour on one of the mornings, and let these cyclo riders navigate through the traffic for us. Not much better and no less scary because these cyclos pay little attention to traffic rules too!

That's hubby and son in a cyclo in front, and up ahead near an intersection, motorcyclists are weaving in all directions:

Lots more to share about Hanoi, especially the food and egg coffee, so stay tuned!

Monday, 10 August 2015

Great sandwiches @ Sebastian's, San Simeon (California, USA)

After a relatively short visit to the opulent Hearst Castle, we were famished for lunch. We headed to Sebastian's located nearby to fuel up on food before embarking on the 2.5-hour drive north to Monterey. Sebastian's is a casual eatery that serves sandwiches, burgers and salads in a state historical building that was built in the 1850s. Tables and seating are limited inside, and thankfully a family was finishing up when we arrived and gave us their table. The setting was simple, the service was efficient, and the food was thoroughly enjoyable. Soft drinks, coffee and tea costs US$2.50 with unlimited refills - so I had a (large) cup of coffee, and refilled it before leaving to help me on the long drive to Monterey (it was during this 2-week trip that I developed my unhealthy habit of 4-cups-a-day to help me cope with jet lag, sleep deprivation and the long drives).

Ordered and paid at the counter, and then waited for our number to be called to pick up our food:

The Hearst Winery shares the same space:

Fish Taco (US$6) was piled high with lots of fresh veges. We also got a serve of French Fries (US$3):

Hubby had the Beef Tri Tip Sandwich (US$12). We wanted to try tri tip since the region is known for this cut taken from the bottom of the beef sirloin. Served with pickled onion, lettuce, tomato and BBQ sauce, this sandwich went down nicely:

I chose the Fish Sandwich (US$10.50) from the daily special board, and requested avocado with it (US$2.50 extra). Can't go wrong with salmon and avocado with tartare sauce in a sandwich:

Sebastian's is a great stop for a meal before or after a visit to Hearst Castle.

Sebastian's
442 Slo San Simeon Rd
San Simeon, CA 93452
United States
Tel. +1 805-927-3307