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 !!

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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.

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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

 

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SALMON NAMEROU – Another Tataki

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Tataki is one of the Japanese cooking methods. Here in Australia, “beef Tataki” or “tuna tataki” are very common, which is that a piece of protein is seared and the inside is almost raw.

However, today, I would like to introduce another Tataki. This Tataki includes a completely different cooking technique from the seared Tataki. Tataki means “beat” or “slap” in Japanese. To make this Tataki, you need to beat the ingredients with 2 knives (that’s why it’s called Tataki!). And, when you mix the beated version of Tataki with miso, it’s called Namerou.

I cooked my Salmon Namerou for The Chef’s Line, along with my seared Beef Tataki… Well…, Executive Chef Dan Hong seems to not have enjoyed this dish as much as I do…. But I am still a big believer in this dish. Maybe you can try it out and to see if you enjoy the dish as much as I do?

 

Ingredients  (Serving 2-4)

120g of Salmon Fillet ( Sashimi grade, deboned, skin off

1 + 1/2 Teaspoons of Red miso (japanese shinshu red miso)

2 Teaspoons of Soy sauce

1cm cube of Ginger – finely chopped

1 Spring Onion – finely chopped

Method:

  1. Cut up Salmon and Ginger into very small pieces with 2 knives on a chopping board.
  2. Mix the salmon with other ingredients until it becomes sticky,
  3. Serve the salmon in lettuce cups (optional)

 

 

This is how to chop the Salmon!daaaa!!

 

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Lotus Root Kimpira – Renkon no Kinpira

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I was so excited to find fresh Lotus Roots in a shot the other day. In Japan, Lotus Roots are very common and can be purchased throughout the seasons. Since they are so common over there, to be honest, I did not know when Lotus Roots were in season before…, whoops….

Why am I so exited? It is because not only they are rare to find here in Australia, but they are also my father’s favourite vegetable. Especially this recipe, Lotus Roots Kimpira, was his favourite veggie dish. When I cooked it for him, I remember him praising me saying “Yours is better than your mum’s”. which was the best praise you could get from him.

In the shop, I put a small fresh Lotus Root in my basket without hesitation, just to make this dish. I went to the cashier and realised that the small lady cost me $9.00…. Well…, there was no option for me not to buy it, but I felt just little nostalgic….

Here is my father’s favourite recipe. Really hope you enjoy it.

 

Ingredients (Serving 4 as a side dish)

300g Lotus Root (Renkon) – peeled and sliced into thin rounds. Soak the slices in water for 5 minutes. This is to avoid them discolouring.

15ml Dashi stock

2 Tablespoons of Cooking Sake

½ Tablespoon of Sugar

½ Tablespoon of Mirin

1 Tablespoon of Soy Sauce

½ Teaspoon of Sesame Seeds

 

Method:

  1. Drain and dry the Lotus slices with paper towels. Heat a small amount of oil (not included in the ingredients’ lost above) in a fry pan on medium heat. Stir-fry the Lotus for a couple of minutes or until translucent.
  2. Add Dashi Stock, Cooking Sake, Sugar and Mirin. Cooking them for 2-3 minutes or until the liquid is half gone.
  3. Add Soy Sauce and cook them for 2-3 minutes or until the liquid is almost gone.
  4. Turn heat off and sprinkle Sesame Seeds over the lotus. It can be served both warm and cold.

 

 

His Birthday Weekend – 2017

January 2017. It was a busy and interesting start to the year. After eating and drinking throughout the festive period, we headed to Adelaide to celebrate our father (my father-in-law)’s 70th birthday. We came back and moved to a new apartment and then we headed to Sydney separately. It was for business for my husband, and for me it was a kind of business/leisure/experimentation. Time flew and we realised that the weekend was truly the last weekend of this month.

I have enjoyed this crazy month, but the worst thing was that he had to have the business trip on his birthday. Yes I normally do a “Birthday Week” for me, but I thought it is fair to apply this concept to my poor husband this year.

Thursday: I baked his birthday cake.

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I tried to bake this one….

http://www.taste.com.au/recipes/chocolate-mousse-cake/d12b92e5-d1ef-4fd7-8d62-1e4462047424?r=recipes/top10chocolatecakerecipes&c=1080a64b-a5e8-4567-a50c-265eeb0d4439/Top%2010%20chocolate%20cake%20recipes

Well, we just moved here and I haven’t made friends with the oven yet. It was cooked too long and the centre was not particularly “mousse”…. A recovery was made by the Coffee Mascarpone frosting. I added a magic ingredient – BRANDY!

We went shopping and bought a few things which he wanted. You know what? I did not buy anything for myself. All were for him! Then, we went to the Australia Day Function at Fraser’s but it was unfortunately cancelled. It was quite surreal to see that kind of thing in real time.

Friday: we unfortunately had to go to work, but a good thing was that it was already the weekend. His birthday cake was well received at his work (thanks to the magic ingredient), which was good to hear. For dinner, I cooked Crispy Salmon. Of course, we opened a bottle of red. We just enjoyed a relaxing dinner together which we had not had for a while.

Saturday: Today I was his responsible chauffeur. The destination was Swan Valley. The first stop was Riverbank Winery for his birthday lunch. It was a hot day so we decided to order a bottle of bubble called “White Diamond”. It was pretty nice and we bought 3 bottles. We visited a few wineries after that, and at Houghton (where he found his “Today’s Favourite”), the waiter recommended “Mann Winery” for sparkling wine. This winery only sells 1 think – sparkling, and opens only for 6 months from August. There was no doubt why we had never been there before. When we arrived there, the door was closed so we rang the bell as per the instructions on the entrance door. Mr Mann came out and let us in. the cellar door was a lovely small wooden hut and smelt like a mixture of wine and timber. I loved the smell!. It was not fancy or anything but we loved the authenticity. He told us about his family story: how this place and his wine were established. The sparkling itself was tasty. The colour is slightly pink. We purchased 6 bottles.

Sunday: Well…, the day did not go as well as we planned (e.g. unsuccessful breakfast at Leederville, traffic to the grocery shopping etc.), but we still had a relaxing day. Furthermore, for me, it was just nice to have a normal Sunday after our unusual days.

I hope he enjoyed his birthday weekend as much as I did.

Happy New Year – 2017

Happy New Year. Wising everyone peace, health and a lot of joy throughout the year.

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Again I prepared Osechi. It takes time but it is very rewarding. Most of all, it is delicious…. I love Japanese traditional food.

Menu:

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Kohaku Namasu (pickled daikon and carrot)

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

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

Nishime (simmered vegetables)

Kurikinton (chestnuts and sweet potatoes paste)

Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette)

 

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Koya-dofu (simmered dried tofu)

Simmered Shiitake

Konbu Maki (rolled kelp)

Kuromame (Simmered black beans)

Ozoni (soup with mochi/rice cake)

Grilled Miso Marinaded Salmon

Although Osechi is traditionally meant to be eaten for 3 days from the new year’s day, it did not work like that for us. Most of them are gone now…. They were just so tasty and we (mostly I) kept nibbled them with a glass of white wine!

Well, after the festive season, my stomach certainly became bigger…. I reckon that it is time for me to restart my exercise habit….

How to enjoy Christmas

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Last year, I said that we enjoy Christmas, rather celebrate it. This year, I would like to write how we do that.

For me, enjoyment has to include good food, nice wine and wonderful company. I have already sorted my company out – my husband, the best company I could ever imagine.

So, for food and wine, this is what we got for Christmas. Please note that this is for 2 people.

List of Goodies:

5kg leg of ham

4 kg block of beef scotch fillet

3kg of frozen tiger prawns

A fillet of salmon with its head and flame

Some small goods (blue cheese, pecorino cheese, Italian prosciutto, hot Hungarian salami, chicken liver pate)

Some slices of smoky bacon

2 bottles of procecco

6 bottles of chardonnay – “ Floris” from Domain Naturalist, my current favourite

12 bottles of red – my husband’s choice

 

This is how we enjoyed:

The 23rd: Christmas lunch at work. Salmon Sashimi for a snack at home followed by my husband’s colleague’s house warming party. Her hummus was delicious!

Christmas Eve: Crispy grilled Salmon head and frame for lunch. After that, we went on a night movie picnic with our friends at UWA – PIAF movie (“Julieta” by Petro Almodovar) with Sushi Rolls (made by me) and some small goods with a bottle of procecco. I like Petro Almodovar movies, but we agreed that Julieta was not his best.

Christmas Day: We woke up and opened the Christmas presents. Smoky bacon and egg + salad for breakfast by my husband. After a walk at City Beach, a bottle of bubbles was opened with some cheese, pate and ham. I made Aji Salsa and Lupin Hummus for nibbling. We continued to drink and nibble. Dinner was my husband’s speciality – Roast Beef with gravy, with a side of salad. Desert was a slice of Christmas cake with vanilla ice cream. I baked the cake a month ago and had been feeding it with brandy and white chocolate port (Gralyn Estate, Margaret River). Look at this juicy cake! The cake recipe is from https://www.thehealthychef.com/2014/11/a-healthy-christmas-cake/

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Boxing Day: We woke up (still) full, but ate the left-over salad anyway. We went to swim at City Beach – it was still very rough but manageable. After a swim, a bottle of bubbles was opened with prawns. We continued to drink. Dinner was the left-over Roast Beef with gravy, with a side of salad followed by the Christmas cake with ice cream.

The 27th: I went to dance practice in the morning. Well done me! I came back and had some slices of hams and lupin hummus with a slice of bread. We went for walk to the city and had a glass of bubbles, while my “good” husband had a cup of coffee. While he was cooking for dinner, I watched “About Time” (by Richard Curtis) again with a couple glasses of “Floris”. I love this movie. Dinner was ham and tomato soup. It was delicious. According to my husband, we will go on a soup diet for the rest of the week. Good idea.

The left-over beef, salmon fillets and prawns are in the freezer, small goods are left in the fridge, and I have no doubt that they will be gone soon. The leg of ham would be the only actual “left-over”, but it can be used as a soup stock. Wines? Ha! It is not an issue.

Well…. I just realised that I wanted to write how I enjoy Christmas, but, this sounds like just a list of what we ate over Christmas…. I have to admit though, I had a wonderful time.

I hope everyone had a lovely Christmas season. Now I have to work on Osechi for New Year.

So many “ME”…. Tablao Night at Casa del Compas – 6 August 2016

Photos @mareelaffan

My husband always says to me that my emotional ups and downs are erratic. I did not believe, or if he were right, I was confident that it did not cause any trouble for him. At least I thought this way until recently.

My flamenco teacher converts her dance studio to “Tablao” (a bar/restaurant where flamenco shows are on) 3-4 times a year. She welcomes any flamenco dancers to perform at her Tablao. Performing flamenco, especially at Tablao, is like a jazz session between the singer, guitarist and dancer, and the dancer is a sort of playing the role of conductor. For me as a trainee dancer, this is a scary but wonderful opportunity as you can imagine.  – “Excited Naoko”

“I have done it before, and I will do it again”, I thought. This time, Solea – beautiful dance which we had been working on in the class last year. Solea is apparently from the word of “Solidad” – Solitude, so it is not a happy dance. The chorography that my teacher gave us is really beautiful. It is like you are in a dark place looking for something to get out of it. When you think you have found it, you feel like you will lose it again. But in the end, you don’t care anymore and just go for it. I don’t know what the actual choro means but, this is what I felt and this is how I dance.  – “Arty Naoko”

There was just one concern. This dance is shockingly difficult. The footwork is ridiculous in the Solea’s slow tempo which makes me easily lose in the compas (like rhythm in flamenco terms). The difficult steps keep coming one after another in a different form and there is no place where I can be relaxed during the 15 minutes dance. On top of the pressure of working with professional musicians, a huge anxiety hit me. After a couple of bad rehearsals, all I could do was sleep. I went to bed at 9:30 every day, as I did not need to think of anything while I slept. – “Stressed Naoko”

However, after all, it is me- positive in nature to the end. It was the morning of Tablao, what could I do? Coincidently, the day was the 6th of August – an important day for us Japanese. I knew what I dance for on this special day. When I thought about it, my mind was sent and ready. – “Determined Naoko”

Yes it was not perfect. Yes there were still many things to develop. But I certainly enjoyed performing on the day. The musicians and palmeras (who make percussion-sound by clapping hands) were creating this vibe which is “THE” flamenco. I was just so happy to be able to perform with them and create this vibe together. I really hope that it delivered to the audience and that they enjoyed it as much as I did.  – “Happy Naoko”

I really appreciate my teacher, my fellow dancers and the musicians. They were wonderfully tolerant with me, encouraged me and helped me a lot. And of course to my husband, yep now I admit my emotional ups and downs, and he is the one who had to handle “ME”s. Hope he does not mind going through this again with me.

And a Special thanks to Maree Laffan – a wonderful photographer who captured the moment. I actually look like “Solea” there, don’t I?