Our Dream Trip : First Stop – Buenos Aires

Since he booked his dream Antarctic trip as soon as we decided to take off, we had to plan the rest of our trip around to meet the schedule. That made us stay 4 nights in Buenos Aires, which I originally thought it would be too long.

I was totally wrong….

I think, whoever named this city, certainly has a point. Buenos Aires has a super great atmosphere.
The city itself is just beautiful – a modern city with historic European-style architecture. There are so many places to visit – the 2nd beautiful bookshop, the most beautiful cemetery, the new city area along the river, modern art events in the art gallery etc…. What I liked the most, however, is the vibe. There is a wonderful vibe around the city 24/7. There is no down-time. There are a lot of people, a lot of cafes, a lot of restaurants everywhere all the time. People are just having a coffee or tea, relaxing in one of the parks (there are a lot of parks around the city- which is really lovely too) and actually eating regardless of what the time is! We just walked around the city, sat in the park when we got tired, and popped in to have a really nice cup of coffee or tea. We just loved doing it every day.

I am certain that the vibe is made by the people in Buenos Aires. I do not know, but maybe, this is because their ancestors were immigrants? We found them very kind, open-minded, flexible and relaxed people with a funky Latino flavor. I totally loved their craziness! The people who we got in touch with had their own attitude and character, which I found very uplifting and sun-shining. When they would like to say something, they say what they want to say in a very straightforward way. The message is clearly delivered, but it is in the nicest, funniest and funkiest way possible. How can they do that?!

Food? OK, let’s start with what they are famous for – Steak (Parrilla).

As a tourist, it is always difficult to pick the right place to eat. We constantly have to ask ourselves “is this place authentic or just for tourists?, do the locals eat here too?”.
We saw a lot of “Parrilla” signs in front of restaurants. We could see ourselves easily ended up at one of the tourist places and eating far lower quality steak than our proud Aussie steak.
Luckily, a good friend of ours recommended this place called “La Cabrera”. He is Argentinian/Australian and he is a gourmet – the best source of the information. Furthermore, they have 40% off deal when you eat there between 18:30 – 20:00! The steak was really nice too! Go there by 18:15 and join in the queue to be able to get seated for the deal – totally worth it!

Another thing I was really impressed by and loved was their cafe culture! Seriously, it reminded me of Kobe – cafes after cafes, cakes after cakes. The view was just like heaven to me. The biggest thing for me was that most of the cafes could serve tea properly! I know I might sound like a tea snob (and I am), but please tell me how many cafes in Perth can serve tea properly? And their pastries, cakes, bread, desserts…. It was a BIG YES for me….

Here are a few of the places I enjoyed. Most of the places are located in Recoleta as we stayed there. Maybe next time, I would be interested in exploring the San Telmo area more. We just visited there before heading off to the airport, but the area looked very interesting!

Sasha (Recoleta) – Great pastry and tea. The owner (at least we thought) was a super lovely guy. Very very very nice but never crossing the line. They serve proper leaf tea with a proper iron tea set. This small cup (name -unknown) was really tasty…. I would like to recreate it.

Ol’s Cafe (Recoleta) – great for healthy options after eating a lot of Parrilla. A lot of salad options. Really good atmosphere. They bake their own bread downstairs.

La Cabrera (Palermo)- Parrilla as mentioned above. Recommended.

Casa Saltshaker (Recoleta). If you can manage to book this so-called “closed-restaurant” (even though the owner/chef does not like the term), you are very lucky. The restaurant takes only 10 people for dinner and the only opens 4 days a week. The 5 course detestation with matching wines cost USD80 per person, which I think is a pretty good deal. His food is unique – smoky, spicy – and delicious. The matching wines are actually matching to each dish. Very intimate feeling.

Pain et Vin – Palermo – After early dinner at La Cabrera, we found this “bottle shop”. It is technically a bottle shop so we can only “taste” their wine. We tried 3 different wines with nibbles. They serve only local Argentinian wines. When we asked her recommendation, the cool waitress said “my advice is do not try “Malbec” in Argentina. You can have it in your county, can’t you”. So right.
I really liked “RD” – Malbec- Cabenet 2017 from Salta, He liked “Martir” 2015″ Cabernet Franc from Mendoza. As it is a “bottle shop”, you can purchase wines here too.

Some random cocktail bars: Boticario (Palermo), Presidete (Recoleta) – these were recommended by the cool waitress. Oh yeah. They serve really good cocktails – 3 shots of whisky in it! – it cost only about AUD10! YEAHHH.

In Buenos Aires, I somehow felt like they are enjoying their life more than us. Do we tend to worry about tomorrow too much?? That’s why the city is dead quiet Monday night? I do not know…. But I just thought, why not make the most of it while you can….

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The Short Version of Our Life Time Trip – This is how it happened.

I know I have just finished writing about my Bhutan Trip, I have a confession here – We are currently on 2 months holiday now. Jealous? Yeah, I know! To make you feel more jealous, I am writing this entry from a boat cruising Antarctica. HA! I KNOW!!

Beautiful Antarctica with Penguins!! The best view ever….

My husband and I had been talking about taking time-off and traveling the world for a year. This year, I became 40 years old. We are getting old. Our parents are getting old. We have been living in the same city for 5 years. I have been working for the same company for 5 years. I felt it was enough talking. I felt it was time to take action.

And…, this opportunity came up. A good opportunity…, a job opportunity…, for him…, here in Perth….

That happened in September while we were still traveling in Nepal. That time, I was probably the only wife in the world who was disappointed with the husband having a new good job….

However, however! He is my husband, not an ordinary husband! He somehow negotiated with his new employer and managed to start with this company next year! I do not know how he did, but he did it.
After that, time was gold! As soon as we came back from our Bhutan and Nepal trip, he handed in his resignation, so that we would be able to have approximately 2 months off until his new job starts (Me? well… me too. Somehow the company I works for agreed to hold my position for 2 months….I do not know how I did, but i did it.). We decided our destinations, booked tickets, packed up our apartment and here we are!

These are our destinations;
Adelaide (to attend my brother-in law’s wedding – that was really really lovely….) -> Buenos Aires (cool city, loved it!)-> Patagonia (a lot of hiking) -> Antarctica (currently here), -> Spain (Madrid – Seville) -> Morocco (Fez – Sahara Desert – Marrakesh – Essouira) -> Portugal (Porto – Douro Valley – Coimbra -> Obidos -> Lisbon) -> Hong Kong -> home.

This might be a super short and quick version of our original 1 year world tour plan, but when can we get 2 months off next, hey? I have to admit that I cannot complain about this arrangement.
This will be a quite busy trip, but I will be writing about the trip where I can. Especially I HAVE TO write about the food in these places. I am so existed just to think about what we can eat there!

Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Bhutanese Food

Before our trip, we did not really know much about Bhutanese food. We, of course, googled a bit about what we could eat over there, but all we found out was it would be hot. OK, good, we love chilis! – That was our thought.
Now, we went there and we ate their food. Our opinion towards it is… LOVE Bhutanese food!!! Give me more!!!!
What did we love about? Here are the reasons….

Having a Picnic – Punakha Tshechu
  1. The Heat
    Yes it did not disappoint us! It was hot!
    On the way from Paro airport to our first hotel, we saw something red spread on top of the houses. When we asked our guide- Nim (the cool and intelligent Bhutanese lady), she told me that they were all red chilis drying on their roof! At that point, we realised that we would face serious heat here – which made us excited.
    Technically they put chilis in all of their dishes. Starting from Ema Datshi (which is chili cheese – the Bhutanese national food), chili salad (which is technically only chopped chilis, coriander and lemon- that’s it!), chili chicken (if you are not a vegetarian) and chili paste to add onto it. Probably corn soup and buckwheat pancakes were the only dishes without chilis among what we ate during our stay.
    Once Nim realised that we loved chilis, she started taking us to several restaurants which served all different levels of heat. In the end, we got her approval that we could eat like the locals! YEY!
Dried Chili in the Bhutanese Farm House

2. The Simplicity
Simple – this is the perfect word to describe Bhutanese cuisine. As Bhutan is not quite open to the whole world, what Bhutan produces is what the Bhutanese eat. For that reason, there are not many varieties in their dishes. They eat Ema Datshi every day. There are a few different variations – mushrooms, potatoes and onions, however technically, they are vegetables and cheese.

Sounds boring?

Not at all! The vegetables are produced locally and the cheese is home-made. Each restaurant and family has their own recipes. That made us eager to try Ema Datshi every day to taste each family’s secret.
We also found that they do not use seasoning much in cooking, which actually puts the emphasis on the taste of the ingredients themselves. This is a wonderful example of simplicity of cooking. You do not need many fancy condiments such as sugar, vinegar, oyster sauce or even a little bit of soy sauce (!) to make wonderful dishes out of good fresh ingredients.

3. Home-made
In addition to their fresh produce that I have mentioned above, for winter when they cannot produce much, they dry most of their produce… well… to be honest, ALL of their produce!- chilis (of course), corn (make their own corn flour), mushrooms (nice), pork belly (!), cheese (!!) etc.
They make their own alcohol as well, which is called Ara. It is made from…. anything really. Some are made from wheat, some are from millet, some are from potatoes.
We visited 2 farm houses for dinner during our stay. Both families had their own Ara. Both Ara were quite strong! It was quite similar to Shochu or even whisky. Among the several kinds of Ara from both families, the one I remember the most is Ara infused with Matsutake (I called it “Japanese Porcini” for an easy translation – in short, it is mushroom which is famous for its fragrance. It is in season in fall and is super expensive in Japan. Bhutan produces Matsutake – not for export, of course…). A touch of Matsutake fragrance in Ara was quite nice. My husband, especially, quite enjoyed it that night.

Home made Ara – Bhutanese Sake 
  1. Family-oriented
    Although each of the dishes are simple, there are normally several dishes served at the table. This is the common dinner menu:
    From top right – clockwise
    Rice, Spinach Soup, Potato Cheese, Ema Datshi, Stir-fried Asparagas and Carrot, Chili Chicken (in the middle)

Bhutan Dinner

They put all dishes in the middle (of the floor as they do not use a table) and share with their family members. Rice is served first, and then pass the dishes around each other. Mother recommends her family to eat one of the dishes more than others, as maybe it is her today’s special. Family members sit together, eat together and chat together. I just love this simple basic concept of dinner.

Sooo now, as a recipe developer (to be), I am super interested in recreating Bhutanese Food. The difficulty is that it is super simple, therefore, the favour heavily replies on the quality of ingredients. For example, Ema Datshi – it is technically stir-fried Chilis and Cheese. However, Bhutanese chili is medium size and very meaty like a capsicum, and it is hot and spicy. I have never seen the same kind in either Australia or Japan. The cheese for Ema Datshi – apparently they use their home-made cottage cheese as a base and add some different kinds of cheese (depending on each family), but it is completely different from the cottage cheese that we know here in Australia. I have tried a few different combinations of cheese to recreate Ema Datshi, but so far, it has not been successful…. That makes me more keen and eager to eat THAT Ema Datshi. Something like you know you cannot get, therefore you really want it…. Awww give me THAT Ema Datshi!

Re creating THAT Ema Datsi is my big project now. When I succeed, I will certainly let you know….

Memoir of Bhutan Trip – Itinerary and some practical info

Where is Bhutan?

This was a question I got  most of the time when I said we are going to Bhutan.

Bhutan is located in the eastern Himalayas, sharing the border with Tibet and India. This small kingdom has been on my “To Go”list for a long time. Why? Because! Bhutan is known as the “happiest country” in the world. Everyone wants to be happy, don’t they !!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Tiger's Nest
Tiger’s Nest!!! There are about 750 stairs!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Thimphu Festival
The Biggest Festival – Thimphu Tchechu

Obviously, I had a high expectation towards this country and I would like to confirm now that my experience in Bhutan has exceeded my expectations. This kingdom is full of purity and beauty. If I have to describe Bhutan in one word, I would say “Genuine”.  People, food, nature, air…,I felt that everything was genuine.

Throughout the trip, I felt the people were super nice and trustworthy ( but not like “Japanese”nice…We, Japanese, have a good reputation as “kind” or “polite” people, but we are trained to act that way and which is different from”nice” I think, if you know what I mean. The food was simple and tasty (I will write about Bhutanese food another day).  Taking care of nature and their culture is part of their life.

So, did I feel happier now by visiting Bhutan? I have to say YES. I do not know what it is, but I somehow feel calmer and more relaxed.

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Dzong
Beautiful Punakha Dzong

I would like to record our trip here, which maybe helpful to the people who are considering going to Bhutan, as I assume that not many people around you have already experienced it.

Travel Period : 7 days / 6 nights

Travelling Season :  Autumn. We chose September as there were quite a few big festivals (Tsechu) on in September.

Flight: Perth Australia – Bangkok (Thai Airways) – Paro Bhutan (Druk Air) – We flew out to Kathmandu after that. Thai Airways have a relationship with Druk Air, therefore, our luggage could go to Bhutan directly (we did not need to pick it up at Bangkok). We did not need to go through immigration in Bangkok to transfer to Druk Air.

Travel Agency: Raven Tours. This was a great choice! Highly recommended.

To go to Bhutan, booking the trip via Bhutanese government approved travel agency is a must. Once you decide your travel agency, they can book everything for you including Visa, Hotel, and Druk Air flight tickets, thus, you do not need to worry about anything.

Raven made a personalised tour for us. Our guide was a super cool and smart lady who made our small wishes (but important) come true, such as wearing Bhutanese traditional cloth and taking us out for dinner every night (as we are foodies).  I have no hesitation to recommend them to anyone.

Currency: Bhutanese Ngultrum or Indian Rupee. Take USD. The best place to exchange money is Paro Airport (before immigration).

Cost: minimum $250 USD per person. It might sound too much, but we felt not…. (I know it is not cheap, but!!). This normally includes everything (Hotel, meal tour etc), thus, you will only spend a little in Bhutan (all we spent there was for beer and a little souvenir for ourselves).  If you would like your travel agency to book flights or upgrade the hotel rank, it will be at additional cost.  We went for standard 3 star hotels, but all hotels were great!

Itinerary: Thimpu -> Punakha -> Paro

Thimphu (2 nights) : Attend the Festival at Tashichho Dzong, Hike to Tango Monastery, Largest Sitting Budha, Memorial Chorten, Tashichho Dzong, Nature Hikes.

Punakha (2 nights): Attend the Punakha Festival, Punakha Dochula Pass, Punakha Fortress, Fertility Temple, Talo village and Kham Sum Yule Temple Hike.

Paro (2 nights): Tiger’s Nest, Paro town, Farm House, Archery, Hot stone bath.

Recommendations: The best was I have to say – a usual suspect – Tiger’s Nest. It was really hard to get there, but it was so rewarding. The temple itself was just beautiful. We found a little quite corner in the temple and mediated for a while. It was so peaceful and I felt like my heart was cleansed…. I highly recommend to take a hot stone bath after the hike!

I also enjoyed attending the festivals with the locals – ask your agency to dress you in the Bhutanese traditional cloth!

Next I will write about Bhutanese Food!

Bhutan Trip_a little bit of soy_Himalaya View
Himalayan View from Lungchuzekha

 

My mum’s Recipe : Anko – Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste

My memory of Japanese sweets is my mum’s homemade Anko (Japanese Sweet Red Bean Paste).  Well…, it is not exactly the anko itself…. It is more like my mum and my sister.

They love anko. They sometimes had this sudden craving for anko (and I do not know why, but this happened always at night), and the next day, my mum would make it. When they ate it, they looked super happy… The homemade anko must have had some sort of magical power to make these 2 powerful Osaka ladies (especially if you know them…, you know what I mean) calm and speechless…

On the other hand, I have never been a big fan of Anko…. Somehow, I felt it was too sweet….That’s why I had never made it before. However, as I became older, I started missing the sweet anko – age does funny thing to humans!

So here it is! I recreated my mum’s happy Anko. As always, she gave me the instructions and tips  (well, of course she does not know the measurement…). I think it is quite good.

Anko Red Bean Paste 1 a little bit of soy

I made Dorayaki (Red Bean Pancake) by using this anko this time. You can use if for anything else – such as Zensai (Sweet Red Bean Soup), Daifuku (mochi rice cake filled with anko), or even western style sweets (cupcakes and pound cakes will be good!).

It takes time to make, but it is easy. Try it when you have time!

Ingredients:

220g Azuki Red Beans

1200ml of Water

140g of Caster Sugar

1/4 Teaspoon of Sea Salt

Method: 

  1. Soak Azuki red beans overnight (15 – 20 hours).
  2. Rinse the azuki red beans.
  3. Place the azuki red beans and 1200ml water into a big pot. Bring it to the boil. Once it is boiled, turn the heat to low. Skim the scum off the top.  Keep cooking over low heat for about 1 hour or until the azuki red beans become soft and tender.
  4. Add caster sugar and sea salt into the pot. Keep simmering until the liquid is evaporated. This will take about 1 – 1.5 hours.
  5. Once the liquid is evaporated, mix and mash the azuki red beans to the consistency of your liking. Cool it down to use. You can wrap and freeze the anko if you are not planing to use it straight away.

This is Dorataki (Japanese Red Bean Pancake Sandwich). I used this recipe.

http://www.ntv.co.jp/3min/recipe/20100923.html

Dorayaki_Anko_A little bit of soy

Gari – Pickled Ginger

Today, I would like to share with you my mother’s Gari recipe.

Pickled Ginger Gari 2

Gari is Japanese Pickled Ginger, you might know it as the free side you get with sushi. It is perfect for refreshing and cleansing your palate. To make this pickle, it has to be young Ginger. Young Ginger has paler skin and pink tips. The flavour is much milder and juicier than the normal ginger. It is only around from late summer to early autumn. The season is short, so if you see young Ginger in the store, make the most of it! (if you are in Australia, it is now 🙂

Here is my mum’s recipe. The ginger will be quite spicy as she likes that way. If you would like to make it less spicy, you can boil ginger before pickling (see the method below).  Hope you enjoy!

Ingredients:

800g – 1kg of Young Ginger

30g of Sea Salt

1 liter of White Vinegar

200ml of Caster Sugar

5g of Dried Kelp (if it is too difficult to find, you do not need to use it)

Method:

  1. Wash young ginger. Using a spoon scrape off the brown hard skin part from the ginger.
  2. Slice the ginger VERY thinly. Soak the sliced ginger in water while you are working. ( if you prefer less spicy, boil the ginger for 1 minutes here)
  3. Remove the sliced ginger from the water. Sprinkle sea salt over the ginger and put it aside for 30 minutes.
  4. In the mean time, put white vinegar, caster sugar and dried kelp in a small pot. Heat it over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved. Put it aside until it is cooled down.
  5. Squeeze the excess water from the sliced ginger and place it into a clean jar. Pour the vinegar mixture (method 4) over it. Store the jar in the fridge for 4-5 days, and then it will be ready to eat.

 

This is before

Pickled Ginger Gari 1

This is after – PINK!

Pickled Ginger Gari 3

Happy New Year – 2018

Happy New Year! May your 2018 be peaceful and fun with a touch of excitement.

I cannot believe that it’s already 2018…. It still sounds like the future to me….

This is this year’s Osechi –  a set of several dishes prepared for New Year’s Celebration. (Please see my previous post about the Japanese tradition of New Year).

Osechi 2_a little bit of soy

Menu is:

Nishime (simmered vegetables – Konjac, Carrot, Daikon Radish, Okra, Shiitake)

Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot)

Gomame/Tazukuri (dried sardines caramelised with sugar and soy sauce)

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste)

Kuromame (Simmered black beans)

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp)

Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu)

Ebino Umani (prawns cooked in soy sauce, sake and mirin)

Chicken Terini (Chicken simmered in teriyaki sauce)

Hokkaido Scallops Sashimi

Ozoni (soup with mochi/rice cake)

As this was the 4th year for me to prepare Osechi, I have to say that I was pretty organised and it did not take that long. I am quite satisfied the outcome too. Tasty!!! YEYYY!!! I have presented Osechi this year on  a set of beautiful plates which were given to us by my husband’s auntie and uncle. The white plates are so classy and Osechi looks good on them.

Osechi 1_a little bit of soy

Well, I think I made a good start . I am determined to keep it up throughout 2018.