Annie Bananie en Europe

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Category Archives: Food

26 days in China, part 6.3 – Eating in Guangzhou

Warning – do not read this post if you:

1 – are hungry.
2 – cannot handle the sight of strange things that Chinese people eat (e.g. a cow’s internal organs).
3 – dislike good food.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way (I trust that none of the three listed items applies to you), let’s get onto the Cantonese food edition of the Guangzhou mini-series!

I had written a post awhile back describing my food experience in Guangzhou during a particular visit, but one could never get enough of Cantonese food. There’s a Chinese saying whose literal translation is “Eating in Guangzhou”…it doesn’t exactly sound too impressive, I know, but it embodies the view (or I’d say FACT) that Guangzhou is the best place to EAT in China. Whether it’s because we, the Cantonese, eat the weirdest things you could imagine, have the widest variety of cooking methods and delicious dishes, or are obsessed with delicacies, many would agree (though some do debate) that Guangzhou is well worthy of the title of the best city for food in China. You could go on with historical and cultural explanations of how it came to be, but I’ll show you with photos and in the process of doing so, make myself drool…

I’m going to start with dim sum – again, even though it’s already appeared in the previous post – because it ain’t a post about Cantonese food without some dim sum. With my friend LS, I went to Tao Tao Ju, one of the most locally well known dim sum restaurants in Guangzhou with a history of over 100 years. Here we have the classic shrimp dumplings (ha gow, middle), spare ribs (bottom right), chicken buns (top right), pork dumplings (siu mai, top middle), and spring rolls (top left)…

…followed by beef rice noodle rolls (top left), crispy pork puff (haam shui gok, bottom left), and “boat congee” (right), a variety of congee that originated from old Guangzhou. The great thing about dim sum is that each dish is small so that you could order a whole bunch and try a huge variety of it. Don’t forget my tea!

Next up we’ve got a lovely bowl of beef brisket noodles. Perhaps they are not as popular as the wonton noodles, but the beef brisket noodles would be a close second, I would say, in terms of popular noodle dishes. A good bowl of noodles consists of tender beef brisket, al dente noodles, and very importantly, a flavourful soup base. You could be that this bowl was entirely empty with not even a drop of soup left when I was done with it.

Now we come to something that some people might consider strange – steamed pig intestines. I’ve mentioned before that this is one of my favourite things to eat though I admit, it doesn’t sound too appetizing and not everyone could stomach it. Once you get over that fact that they’re intestines and have gotten used to the chewy texture, though, you just can’t get enough of it!

At the same restaurant, we ordered stir-fried thin beef slices with choi sum, which translates to…cabbage stem? Anyway, this is one of those green Chinese vegetables that I always miss when I’m in Europe because it’s not commonly found other than in large Asian supermarkets. The beef slices are new to me in that I’ve only ever eaten them hot-pot-style before and didn’t know you could stir fry them – and it turned out very good! I’d like to try that at home one day too.

My mom and aunt, as the true locals, specifically searched for a good restaurant that served only “lai” noodles, which are very thick rice flour noodles. They are usually made in a thick, mushy soup/congee-like base. I wasn’t a fan of the traditional thick consistency, so I ordered a variation that came in a clear soup based with the “four treasures” of Xiguan (old Guangzhou), which were fried fish skin, fish balls, and fish skin dumplings (I don’t remember the fourth…)

For a simple, delicious, and filling breakfast, I liked to get the congee and rice noodle roll combo. Here with my mom, I got the noodles stuffed with beef while she got the one with pork. I liked this place in particular because the taste kind of reminded me of the type of noodles that I would get on the street carts as a child, which no longer exist. Some nostalgia is always welcome!

I decided that I was not leaving Guangzhou without having at least one portion of cow offal – internal organs – and because there was so much other good food to eat, I ended up having ONLY one portion. This would be similar to the pig intestines – it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I said to my Scottish colleague that she shouldn’t find this TOO repulsive considering that they have haggis (chopped up sheep’s liver, heart, and kidneys encased in sheep stomach), and she kindly remarked that at least they have the good manners to mince it up. Hmph, I’m not convinced that it makes a difference, especially since in my opinion, cow offal served in bulk taste so much better than haggis!

This final one isn’t as much of a “Cantonese” item as it is a dose of nostalgia, like the rice noodle rolls. As children, we often drank beverage, whether it was pop or soy milk, in tall glass bottles. This isn’t as popular now as it used to be, but some food joints still serve drinks in these glass bottles. For remembrance’s sake, my mom and I got some glass-bottled soy milk and toasted to the olden days in Guangzhou, when it was only her and me by each other’s side in this small neighbourhood. Cheers to the fond memories!

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Eating in Southeast Asia, part 3: Street food in Hanoi

Street food is an essential experience in many Asian countries, Vietnam included. As someone who is fervently passionate about food, when my travel planner offered the option of a guided street food tour in Hanoi, it was an instant YES! In addition to the many Vietnamese noodle-based dishes that my friend and I have eaten throughout these travels, we were on our way to unravel the hidden secrets of the capital of Vietnam with the help of our cute local Vietnamese guide, Chili (sneak peek in the Southeast Asia highlights post). I noted down the Vietnamese names of everything (courtesy of Chili), although I’d have a lot of trouble pronouncing them correctly 😛 Let’s get started!

Bánh mì – First up was the legendary bánh mì, perhaps the most famous Vietnamese sandwich. I gotta admit that I was never a huge fan of bánh mì when I had it in Toronto…until I had it in Hanoi, many many years after I ate the last one! I almost missed it too. If it weren’t for a travel companion for pointing out Bánh Mì 25 (probably the most popular bánh mì joint in Hanoi), I would have left Hanoi without trying it. On the night of my street food tour, which was my final day in Vietnam, I mentioned it to my guide and she gladly took me to the joint as our first stop. And oh my, the real authentic thing was so delicious! I think what put me off before was the pâté in the sandwich, but this one had the perfect proportion of fillings and even the pâté tasted so good. I shared one with my friend (as we had an array of food lined up so a full one would be too much) and I wanted more! No wonder Bánh Mì 25 is so popular – it deserves the fame!

Other than bánh mì, I felt like our initial stops were for dessert, but no bother! Xôi chè bà thìn is the joint where we went for the next three items, and it certainly seemed like a very popular street-side spot as locals and tourists alike were lining up to get their goodies. As we ordered the desserts, we were able to see exactly how they were made.

Trôi tàu (top left) – Trôi tàu is a Vietnamese dessert consisting of warm dumplings with black sesame and peanuts. It was quite sweet and kind of reminiscent of the Chinese tang yuan, and rather gingery too – perfect for a cold evening! Xôi chè (bottom left) – This one is a little difficult to explain because I don’t remember much about it (it’s been almost a year!) but to the best of my memory, it was a bowl of thick, syrup-like sauce/soup/jam topped with some sort of sticky rice. I think I wasn’t a huge fan of this mainly because it was too sweet, but clearly the Vietnamese locals loved it because almost everyone was holding a bowl of it in their hands! Chè hạt sen (right) – Finally, we end our visit at Xôi chè bà thìn with a refreshing sweet tea (or soup?) consisting of lotus seeds.

Bánh tráng trộn – This is a funky one. According to my Vietnamese friend in Canada, the bánh tráng trộn (consisting of quail eggs, rice paper strips, dried meat, and a bunch of other stuff that I can’t name) is the newest fad in Vietnam. Teenagers are crazy about it while adults might not even know about it, ha! It seemed like Chili certainly knew what she was doing. I wonder if this random mix would do well in North America…

Phở gà trộn – The largest portion of food for the night was the soupless version of the classic phở, with chicken instead of beef. SO GOOD. The “booth” selling this amazing dish was located in a back alley in Hanoi, literally. We sat (or more like squatted) on small plastic stools around a small wooden table. Without a specialized food tour guide, my friend and I would definitely not have found this place…I mean who would venture into a shady-looking alley, right? Yet this was a great find – perhaps my favourite of the night!

The next location was one of the most “hole-in-the-wall” places that could possibly be found (if you could even find it) in Hanoi, and it actually felt like we were eating someone’s home – it couldn’t be more local. If I were just passing by I wouldn’t even have thought that we could order any food here. It just looked like someone’s household meal was happening right then and there!

Bánh cuốn – So here was where we got the bánh cuốn, or Vietnamese rice noodle rolls. If I remember correctly, the fillings consisted of wood ear mushrooms and the rolls were topped with dried minced garlic with a side of Vietnamese sausages and a savoury dip. Mmmmm the authentic taste of the streets – I like it! Not sure if I’d know how to find this place if I ever go back to Hanoi though…!

Toward the end of the tour, Chili brought us into a shop that was so inconspicuous that the narrow corridor leading to it seemed like a secret entrance to a sketchy spot. However, apparently Cafe Giang is somewhat of a legend in Hanoi and specializes in what we were about to get next, which was…

Cafe trứng …AKA egg coffee! As the name implies, the coffee is made with, you guessed it, a whipped egg yolk! I was a bit skeptical about getting coffee so late in the evening since it always makes me unable to fall asleep, but it was my final night in Vietnam, and I wasn’t about to regret missing anything. It was a good cup of coffee and not like your typical Starbucks – at least that was what I, who is not a coffee aficionado, thought.

Iced mixed fruits – We come to the final item of the night, which is a bowl of fresh mixed fruits on a bed of ice. My friend was unfortunately unable to have this because she was allergic to jackfruit, so I had this all by myself. This was a perfect way to wash down all of the goodies that I had eaten all night and quite a memorable conclusion to my Southeast Asia trip.

And that was the end of what turned out to be a fun, adventure-filled food tour, thanks to Chili on the far left! Keep in mind that my friend and I each had one of each of these mentioned food items, except for the bánh mì, which we shared, and the fruits, which my friend skipped. So in a nutshell…that was A LOT OF FOOD and I was so (happily) full by the end of the night. At least it was a walking tour, and we did a fair bit of walking to offset the food intake! Favourites of the night: bánh mì, phở gà trộn, and bánh cuốn! Then I left Vietnam the next morning missing all that food and wondering what else remains hidden in those narrow alleys of Hanoi. One could only imagine…or go back to Hanoi for another visit!

Eating in Southeast Asia, part 2: Vietnam

Part 2 of the “Eating in Southeast Asia” series is dedicated to Vietnam. Vietnamese cuisine is very diverse and every region has its own specialties. Some cities and towns even have special dishes that are found nowhere else. The food that I’ve had the chance to try in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based with variations from place to place. Here are some of the typical things you’d expect to find in the main tourist destinations in Vietnam – stay tuned for the next post on STREET FOOD in Hanoi!

Cao lầu – First up we’ve got cao lầu (pronounced “cow lao”), the noodle dish that’s only found in Hoi An. What’s special about these noodles is the texture, which was firm and chewy. The noodles were topped with green veggies and various types of pork, including what I believed was crispy pork skin.

Bánh bao vac – Another specialty of Hoi An, the bánh bao vac is also known as “white roses”. These little shrimp dumplings got their name from their appearance, which really do look like white roses!

Mì Quảng – On the way from Hoi An to Huế, my friend and I stopped for a quick lunch break in Da Nang. Though we didn’t have time to explore the city itself, we got to try the local noodle dish, mì Quảng! It is served with various types of meat (shrimp and pork in this case) and toasted sesame rice crackers in soup. Definitely not your typical soup noodles!

Bún thịt nướng – One of the best meals I had in Vietnam (out of the excellent ones, which are all of them) was bún thịt nướng, or rice vermicelli with grilled meat. In addition to grilled pork, the vermicelli was topped with peanuts, coriander, and a special peanut sauce, which was oh-so-tasty. I miss this!

Bún bò Huế – In Huế, the most well-known noodle dish is no doubt the bún bò Huế. In hindsight I’m not sure if I was ripped off at the restaurant that I went to, because the photos of bún bò Huế that I’ve seen suggested that the noodles should be in a reddish brown broth, whereas the broth that we had was quite clear. Nothing too special to rave about here.

Bánh bèo – We also joined a fun cooking class in Huế and learned to make four Vietnamese dishes (bún bò Huế being one of them). Of the other three, bánh bèo was probably the most interesting. These were gelatinous rice cakes topped with minced dried shrimp, green onions, garlic, and chili peppers. Our instructor Miss Thuy noted that out of all the people who learned to make this dish, only 20% of them expressed that they liked it. Many disliked it because of the gelatinous texture. Well, apparently I became part of the 20% that liked this unique dish and certainly ate more than just two or three that evening 😉

Bánh khoái Huế – The second dish was the bánh khoái Huế. These are basically chicken tacos that are deep-pan-fried (not quite deep-fried, but with a lot more oil than normal pan-frying) and while delicious, might have been a bit too greasy! I think one was good enough for me!

Gỏi cuốn – The last item on the list of dishes that we learned to make was the fresh spring vegetarian rolls and these were my favourite of them all! They were so fun and easy to make and super delicious! I couldn’t resist reaching for more and at one point I felt a bit guilty for eating so many of them. But having learned how to properly handle rice paper, I could make them at home anytime now!

Phở bò – And finally, who could forget the good ol’ beef phở? You mustn’t think that I skipped the ubiquitous soup noodles! There was phở at our hotels for breakfast and more phở in random sketchy shops on the streets of Hanoi, but all were so amazing! Glasgow is seriously missing some good Vietnamese restaurants and I was so glad to have just the simplest bowl of beef phở after having been deprived for so long!

So to wrap up, the food I had in Vietnam was heavily noodle-based, with my favourites being bún thịt nướng (rice vermicelli), gỏi cuốn (fresh spring rolls), and phở bò (beef soup noodles). In addition to these, I went on a personalized street food tour with a guide in Hanoi and got to try some lesser known favourites of the local people that were hard to find on our own – this will be a story for the next post!

Eating in Southeast Asia, part 1: Cambodia

One of the greatest debates of life might be this: does one eat to live or live to eat? While it is no doubt true that food is essential in maintaining life, good food also brings joy and passion. I love food and cooking, and I am intrigued by the many cuisines and delicacies of the world. I cannot fathom living a life where food is just a substance and source of nutrient. Food is also culture, art, and love ❤

In fact, food is one of the anticipations and inspirations of travel. Wherever I go, I try to get a taste of the local food scene and appreciate the differences between theirs and mine. My trip to Southeast Asia last year was the perfect opportunity to try some local food of the cities that I’ve visited, starting with…Siem Reap, Cambodia! Now…before going to Cambodia I had no idea what Cambodian/Khmer cuisine is supposed to be like, and even with prior research, I was clueless beyond the popular amok. So my friend and I just ordered whatever we felt like from the menu and went from there. No preconceptions, no false expectations – this is as real as it gets!

Just a note: Siem Reap is incredibly touristy and commercialized, and I am aware that the stuff I ate might not be what you consider truly "authentic" (since I have no idea what authentic Cambodian food is anyway), so I am just trying to share my experiences without much bias. If you are from Cambodia, please do let me know if what I ate is really what you would consider authentic Cambodian/Khmer food!

Cambodian curry chicken – Starting off simple and mild, we’ve got a good ol’ curry chicken. Curry chicken seems to be popular in many cuisines – Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Indian…you name it. The Cambodian version seems to be coconut-based and not very saucy, and gave off a homey taste. It won’t be the only time you see the description “homey” in this post, that’s for sure!

Thick noodles with stir-fried chicken – This is another one of those very homey dishes, my my friend fell in love with the thick noodles after eating this. You could never go wrong with a good stir fry!

Spicy squid with basil – This was probably the best thing I ate in Siem Reap. It was from a huge outdoor road-side restaurant at a night market and it might look quite ordinary, but it was REALLY spicy. And the kick from the spiciness was what made this dish really memorable. Oh the squid – so good with the complementing basil. I could eat this again and again but please just give me a bowl of rice to neutralize the spiciness!

Watermelon shake – In addition to a bowl of rice, a watermelon shake was also the perfect side to a spicy meal. Actually, in the scorching 35+ degree weather, even in December, stalls selling fruit shake all over the place were a heavenly treat, and I certainly had more than a couple a day to cool me down! There were so many varieties, but my favourite was definitely the watermelon shake. So cheap, so refreshing, so amazing!

Fish amok – I mentioned amok before and if I knew anything about Cambodian food before my visit, I knew about amok. It is a traditional Cambodian dish of basically fish and curry, and aside from the lovely presentation, it was another one of those things that went down perfectly with just a bit of rice. I liked this a lot!

Beef lok lak – This dish reminds me of what I would often get at Chinese “cha chaan teng” restaurants, which serve a huge variety of rice dishes with any combination of meat and sauce you could imagine. The taste of the lok lak was not very exotic and in fact very…down-to-earth, if I may put it this way.

Beef soup noodles – This bowl of hearty beef soup noodles was served as breakfast at my hotel…BREAKFAST! This is why Asian breakfast will always triumph over western-styled ones, sorry bacon and sausage! The soup noodles reminded me of pho (definitely to come in the Vietnamese version of this series) but certainly had more intrinsic flavour with the abundance of green onions. If only breakfast could be like this every day…!

Chicken keng – I have no idea what “keng” means, but this innocent-looking dish introduced me to the very potent FISH MINT. As I was eating I noticed a very strong fishy smell, which was strange as nothing we ordered had any seafood in it. A bit of investigation led me to the inconspicuous leaves mixed among the chicken that I had thought were some regular herbs. OH HOW WRONG WAS I. A plant that smelled like fish…that was something new and intriguing, but the smell was SO STRONG that I was quite taken aback. Thankfully it didn’t affect the chicken much, so we were still able to eat it, but this fish mint…is definitely an acquired taste/smell!!!

Nom chak chan – Finally, some dessert! “Nom chak chan”, as written on the menu, is a special layered cake with “blended rice flour, mixed coconut cream and sugar, and steam”. I think they meant that the whole thing was steamed. Like the other dishes, it was mild but flavourful, not ridiculously sweet like many other desserts. And it was very pretty! So good I want another bite!

Cambodian stir-fried beef noodles – A nice stir-fried noodle with beef and vegetables couldn’t go wrong as part of a great lunch after an exhausting temple-hopping morning 🙂

Chicken with tomato and pineapple – If I were to pick the most homey-tasting dish on the list, it would have to be this one, the chicken with tomato and pineapple. It literally looked and tasted like something that my mom would bring out of the kitchen, though the addition of pineapple to a stir-fried dish was rather new to me!

Deep-fried tofu – This was a spontaneous addition to the final meal in Siem Reap, and my friend and I just wanted something super simple. What could be simpler and more classic than deep-fried tofu with a bit of chili sauce, right?

Coconut rice cakes – During the final few hours of strolling through the streets of Siem Reap, I spotted a stall selling these little coconut rice cakes, and I decided to give them a try before leaving Cambodia. Excellent…if you like sweet things! To be honest they were a bit too sweet for my own tastes, but I did like the texture of these little things. A bit less sugar would have made them perfect 😉

So the conclusion is…Cambodian food is very homey, as you’ve probably deduced from the title and the many times I called the food “homey” in the post, and makes me feel like I’m eating mom’s home-cooked meals. Again, any Cambodian friends out there, please enlighten me as to whether this is what you would usually eat on a daily basis? Whatever the case, the food was delicious – I want the nom chak chan and spicy squid again! And yes, there were things on the streets that were not exactly very pleasing to our weak stomachs (spiders, snakes, and crickets), so we opted to skip those, thank you very much. If you were looking for that, sorry to disappoint you! >_<

Street food in Taiwan

Part III of my “The places I called home” series, part of which was about the time I spent in Taiwan, inspired me to write a post about street food in Taiwan. It’s been eight and a half years since I lived and worked in Taiwan but I could never forget the one thing that defined the unique experience – STREET FOOD. From stinky tofu to salted fried popcorn chicken, shredded chicken cold noodles to fruit on shaved ice…I’m hungry just thinking about it. Let’s just get right down to it!

First on the list has got to be the (in)famous stinky tofu, which gets its reputation from its strong odour. It may not be suitable for the faint-hearted, though it’s rather addictive once you get over the original shock and you get used to it. Stinky tofu comes in a variety of forms: deep-fried, grilled, steamed, boiled, etc. It was so popular in Taiwan that you could almost find a stinky tofu shop in every corner, but my favourites stinky tofu joint was the one in Hsinchu (where I stayed for my internship) that served it in smaller cubes, deep-fried, salted and spiced, and accompanied by Taiwanese-style kimchi. Delicacy? Maybe not, but delicious for sure!

Next up we’ve got the “xiao long bao”, which literally translates to “little caged buns”. These mouth-watering soup-filled pork buns are good for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even as a midnight snack! There was a shop five minutes away from where I lived that always seemed to be open, and sometimes I would have the hugest craving for xiao long bao at night that I would go and grab a cage with my then-boyfriend…in addition to some radish cake, egg pancakes, chive dumplings, and soy milk too, perhaps. Oh, what indulgence!

I really wanted to post a good photo of the salted fried popcorn chicken because it is my favourite Taiwanese street food ever, but to my surprise, I have not one single photo of it from my 4-month stay in Taiwan. Shame on me! Well, I do have a photo of a street booth that sells it, in addition to a bunch of other goodies like fried squid, fish cake, radish cake, squid balls, and…chicken butt?! Anyway…back to the salted fried chicken. Greasy? Yes! Salty? Yes, considering it’s got “salty” in its name. Delicious? Hell yeah – why else is it my favourite!?


For something simple, here’s a plate of dried tofu with chili sauce, garlic, and Chinese sauerkraut. At this joint, you serve yourself and in the end you pay for whatever is on the plate. The bright colours certainly stimulate the appetite, don’t they? 😉

There used to be a small shop (I wouldn’t even call it a restaurant) nearby where I lived in Hsinchu that served chicken rice for 30 NTD, which was approximately 1 Canadian dollar in 2008. Deal! Often after work I’d drop by and have a bowl, and it’d be the simplest dinner ever, just some rice with shredded chicken and some sauce with the taste of home. But oh man, simple things are often the best!

Speaking of shredded chicken, it also goes very well with cold noodles! The special thing about this bowl of chicken cold noodles was the sauce – it was so ridiculously tasty, but I couldn’t put my finger on what type of sauce it was exactly. In hindsight, it must have been sesame sauce. I tried to make this dish at home many years later (this year, in fact) with sesame sauce, and the taste came right back. Success!

This photo is blurry because I didn’t realize that my phone’s camera was set to “infinity” mode as I was taking the photo, but please use your imagination and believe that the food was delicious! Oh, you couldn’t even tell what this is? Well, the literal translation of this “hong you chao shou” is “red oil wontons”, which is essentially wontons with hot oil on noodles. Hot (spicy) oil is one of the most heavenly things to be invented in the art of cooking…if you enjoy spicy food, that is!

On a hot summer day, a gigantic bowl of shaved ice topped with a variety of fruits is the best way to cool down and recharge. This one portion was enough for five people!

We now come to teppanyaki, which is really just food served on a fiery hot sizzling iron plate. Teppanyaki is also quite popular in night markets and there’s an abundance of teppanyaki booths everywhere. Here’s a combination of a lovely steak, done medium-rare, and a huge grilled prawn accompanying udon on the plate. In addition to the sight of the food, the sound of the sizzling grill approaching the table warns my stomache to get ready for a fantastic treat!

Another teppanyaki meal, this time with grilled steak, grilled chicken, and a fried egg. Simply irresistible meaty goodness for an evening out. My stomach and my taste buds thanked me but with this much good food, my waistline certainly didn’t!

Finally, here’s one that I regret only having once: soup noodle with spare ribs. For some reason this didn’t catch my attention earlier at night markets, and I skipped it again and again. The one time I had a bowl of this soup noodle, I fell in love, and I wasn’t even the one who wanted to order it! The soup was so warm and most importantly, the spare rib was tender and flavourful! I totally missed out all those times – but at least I got a taste of it before I left Taiwan 😛

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the street food of Taiwan! Of course, this is only a very small sample of the things that I’ve had the chance to try, and there were more noodle dishes than I had expected (I do prefer rice over noodle most of the time!) If you ever do visit Taiwan, don’t miss out on the chance to indulge in the delicacies on the streets. Whether it’s a bustling night market, an inconspicuous shop at the corner, or a simple breakfast joint, surprises are hidden everywhere and are yours to discover!

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