Annie Bananie en Europe

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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 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! >_<

Ultimate seafood indulgence in Oban

Oban is a neat little place on the west coast of mainland Scotland and a convenient location for onward travel to various places nearby, such as the islands of Mull and Lismore in the Inner Hebrides or the nearby Glencoe and Fort William. For this exact reason, I’ve visited Oban twice but both as “stopovers” – the final destination of the first visit being the Isle of Mull and that of the second being the Isles of Seil and Lismore. That being the case, I didn’t really get the chance to explore Oban in depth during the few hours that I was there each time.

But in fact, the Isles of Seil and Lismore were only the secondary motivation of my most recent visit. I wanted to go to Oban again, this time with a friend, for a very important reason – its amazing seafood! Yes, Oban is known for delicious seafood, and having heard all about it from many different people, my friend XM and I decided to embark on a weekend pilgrimage to the holy land of Scottish seafood. Throw in some hiking here and there, but our goal was clear as day – to eat as much seafood as we could possibly stomach 😛

Let’s start gently with a view of Oban as we set out on a ferry for the Isle of Lismore. In a distance, on a hill, lies McCaig’s Tower, a place that I’m sure offers great views of Oban and the nearby islands but I have yet to visit. Maybe one day when I go back to Oban to actually see the town itself, I’ll get the chance to get up there but for now, McCaig’s remains unconquered!

Now, let’s get right into it, shall we. Before heading to Oban, we did some research on the seafood scene in town. There were many choices – you could grab some quick snacks at the local seafood shack right by the harbourfront, or you could opt for a fancier, more high-end sit-down restaurant to enjoy your evening slowly and delicately. We’ve already decided to go for the latter and chose the much acclaimed Ee-Usk, a restaurant that had a queue even at 9pm (I was so glad I made a reservation!) After a muddy hike on the Isle of Seil that afternoon, sitting down for a relaxing meal sounded even more appealing to me, as by then my stomach was growling!

We had a lot of choices but we didn’t want to choose, so we treated ourselves to the most luxurious item on the menu, the ultimate indulgence – the GRAND PLATTER FOR TWO. Make no mistake, this was one expensive meal (£100 between the two of us), but we got to try pretty much EVERYTHING. The menu description of the platter is as follows: “6 oysters, half lobster, dressed crab, king scallops, langoustines, Thai fish cakes, smoked salmon, fresh salmon, mussels, and crab claws”. There was a long period of debate on whether we should get the Grand Platter or not, but with a look of mutual understanding in our eyes, XM and I knew that there was no escape. And so it was ordered. And soon a plate larger than the width of our table was elegantly presented to us, completely full of everything that was described. XM joked (or maybe not?) by saying that she thought the seafood was lying on a bed of ice, but in fact it was a bed of MUSSELS. Holy crap that was a lot of food. How do we even begin to dig in!?

We took it slowly, tasting and enjoying each item on the platter and syncing our paces so that we ate the same things at the same time. This was honestly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is probably never to be repeated, and everything was SO GOOD AND FRESH AND HEAVENLY. Though, by the end of the meal I felt like I could never eat seafood again simply because that was sooooooo much food for two people…but we finished it – even the lemon slices! The final few mussels took the last bit of space in our stomaches, but there was no regret, none at all. I didn’t think I could ever be seafood-ed out, but in a good way. Good job, Annie. Good job, XM. Good job Ee-Usk. I was impressed, both at the food and our ability to actually finish it all. So worthy.

After the meal we decided to take a walk around the waterfront, even though I was exhausted and wanted to sleep. It did us good to walk around and digest a bit that food we just devoured, hehe. Oban looked quite nice during the night as well, though it’s not a huge city with dazzling lights and glamorous architectures. Then again, these are the kinds of destinations that I prefer over large cities – quaint, cosy, relaxing, inviting, and just fun.

On the second day, when we still felt like we could never eat seafood again, we went back to the little hut by the harbourfront and…we did it again! This time, it was a Sunday brunch to fuel up for our trip to the Isle of Lismore. The meal was a lot more within our budget range but still super fresh and delicious, and here’s what we ordered: squid, cockles, langoustine tails, smoked salmon (a whole block, not just sliced), and the most buttery and garlicy butter garlic scallops. Oh dear, what a dramatic start to the day. I guess some people always has a spare compartment in their stomach for dessert but we have one for seafood, for sure!

I feel indebted to Oban as I haven’t taken many nice photos of the town even if it has hosted me twice. The only ones I managed to take were from the ferry, this one captured as we were coming back from Lismore and about to reach dock. Again we see McCaig’s Tower high above the town and Ee-Usk restaurant, which is the building with the red roof behind the boat. Oban, let me come back next time for YOU!

Did it surprise you that I am ending my post with seafood? Yup, even upon leaving Oban, XM and I decided to get some good ol’ fish and chips for the 3-hour train ride back to Glasgow. I guess you can say that fish and chips are a “national” British food, so we couldn’t leave without grabbing some from the seafood capital of Scotland. I hope the other passengers who were in the same coach as us didn’t find it annoying to be in the presence of such awesome-smelling (and tasting, though they could only assume) food that couldn’t be shared with them. Heh, goodbye Oban, see you again someday!

Summerlicious @ Ouzeri

My sister and I recently started a new blog – check it out! We’ll be blogging about anything and everything related to fun things we do, including outings, food adventures, random tidbits at home, and so much more. Last week, I added a post about our first Summerlicious experience. I thought I’d “steal” the post from that blog and share it here with you 😉


When I came back to Toronto in January from my 3-year study period in Europe, Sherry and I decided that we would do all sorts of fun things in Toronto (before I leave again, probably, possibly, eventually), including all the food festivals. Taste of Lawrence (we actually missed that 😦 ), Taste of Asia, Night It Up, Waterfront Festival, Rib Fest, Taste of Toronto…you name it!

Of course, we wouldn’t miss Summerlicious, an annual event involving over 200 restaurants all over Toronto. We began planning about a month ago, looking through the list of restaurants and trying to decide which type of cuisine we wanted to try. After much debate and a lot of menu-reading, we settled on GREEK FOOD, and what better place to experience it than in Toronto’s very own Greektown on the Danforth? Sherry has been wanting to try Greek food for a long while anyway but never got the chance, alas we picked Ouzeri as the restaurant for our very first experience with Greek cuisine together.

The sis is lookin’ pretty but also pretty hungry. And I was quite hungry as well. I actually didn’t expect the portions to be very filling for Summerlicious (after a previous Winterlicious experience) but I was very surprised with the portions at Ouzeri. With the arrival of our first appetizer we both gasped – that was A LOT of dip and A LOT of pita bread! Seems like we didn’t even have to order the extra appetizer…

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