Tag Archives: foodie

How To Fiesta In Alicante

8 Jun

Alicante isn’t a city that’s known for its looks; nor is it a place that I would call ‘pretty’. My anticipation for a picturesque, cute Spanish old town was quickly let down once I realized it was run amok with nightclubs, drunken hen do’s and ugly, decrepit buildings. In fact, you might be wondering what’s so great about this typical English holiday destination with little to see aside from the sea. A fiesta with the locals of course!

As the locals do at Mercado Central, Alicante

As the locals do at Mercado Central, Alicante

Alicante is a small city on the Costa Blanca with a great foodie scene at a fraction of the cost of the larger tourist cities like Barcelona and Madrid. While aside from the monstrous Moorish Castillo de Santa Barbara that towers over the popular beach Playa del Postiguet, there aren’t many massive tourist sites to see (although I do recommend making the time for this one and it’s stunning coastal views). That’s okay though when it’s sunny year-round, there’s plenty of paellas to keep you full (try Dársena on the waterfront) and there’s, of course, a party around every corner.

Where to fiesta in Alicante:

Hogueras de San Juan: We witnessed the start of the summer’s most important festival, the celebration of the arrival of the summer solstice. We were lucky to see the Artistic Fiesta Lights in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and the parade of natives dressed in traditional garments, impressively some sporting large paper mâché heads whilst on stilts. Unfortunately, we missed the best bit of the festival, on the 24th of June is the Night of Burning or “Noche de la Cremà”, when 200 large satirical paper mâché statues are lit on fire.

Hogueras de San Juan

Hogueras de San Juan

Mercado Central: On a Saturday afternoon locals gather around midday at the epicenter of the city, the central market. After roaming the meat, cheese, fruit, veg, and fish stalls, a common shopping place for regulars (don’t forget to hold your nose from the stench), everyone orders a small plate of pre-cut Iberico Jamon from one of the vendors, grabs an unlabeled beer from the booze stall, and stands in the sun outside catching up with friends before starting their Saturday night. We too took part in the tradition which was one of the highlights of our trip, chatting with amicable locals to the sound of chants for the forthcoming football match and trying different varieties of Spanish ham and cheese…and of course, beer.

Choosing our Jamon platter in Mercado Central

Choosing our Jamon platter in Mercado Central

Devouring Jamon in Mercado Central in Cambridge Graduation (Dr!) hat!

Devouring Jamon in Mercado Central in Cambridge Graduation (Dr!) hat!

Carrer Castanos: If you like generously free poured gin and tonics in large round glasses, shisha’s and salsa dancing at any hour of the day, this is your spot. Bar Ten10 offers all of the above, and we couldn’t help ourselves to a midafternoon boogie after indulging a few too many beers outside Mercado Central. For a safer option, take a turn on Calle San Francisco for a variety of cute tapas restaurants, sit alfresco and enjoy fresh squid, fried green peppers and so much more. El Rebujito Taperia was highly recommended, although the squid didn’t live up to its expectations.

Jules with Al Fonso and Davide

Jules with Al Fonso and Davide

Football: The Champions League Final 2017 took place whilst we were in town, Real Madrid vs. Juventus, and without a question, the city supported their famous neighbor Madrid. Pubs and tabernas put their TV’s outside, as everyone under the sun gathered to witness the epic match. We were lucky to find a spot to sip Aperol spritz perched on the ledge outside Amapola Pub, to observe the locals go nuts in the frenzy watching Real Madrid defend their UEFA Champions League title. Even better, next door, Taberna San Pascual served the best aubergine lasagna and Spanish meatballs; one of our best meals in the city.

Champions League Final at Amapola Pub

Champions League Final at Amapola Pub

Il Barrio: If you’re 18 and want to party, Il Barrio on a Friday and Saturday night is where it happens. Who would have thought we were too old for it? The youngins poured onto the streets out from upbeat discotheques to rock metal clubs. Instead, we chose to dance our hearts out at Havana Club, one of the few places that played both Spanish and Top 20 English-speaking dance beats. For a few hours, we were the only ones on the dance floor, sangria in hand, rocking out as if we were anywhere in the world. Plus, if you venture during the day there’s always spots like La Tasca del Barrio to keep you busy with their killer tapas and wine selection.

Jamon from La Tasca del Barrio

Jamon from La Tasca del Barrio

So there you have it! If it’s simply the sun, sangria and tapas you are seeking, shared with friendly locals and a stunning coastline, leave your tourist map at home because you’re still in for a treat. In fact, there are no hawkers to chase you down, some even need to go find their English speaking friend to help. And whilst we were slightly off season, I can’t comment on the mega beach and pool parties that sculpt the classic summer sesh. So would I go back? Likely not, but for a quick and cheap holiday in the sun I certainly don’t regret going either.

Uncovering an England I Never Knew

10 Nov

So what’s it like to be back in London? This loaded question keeps being asked yet I’ve quietly gone about my transition landing in the Big Smoke undetected as if I were a phantom. No Facebook broadcasting, Instagram snapshotting or even blog writing. Gasp. But that doesn’t mean I’m holed up in seclusion exactly.

Because honestly, being back in London simply just feels like home. I feel normal as if I haven’t lived away from the US for close to five years and on the other side of the world gallivanting around the South Pacific.

Strangely, for the first time in all my times moving abroad, I don’t have the overwhelming anxiety and confusion over moving somewhere new. There is no culture shock, which even surprised myself. It’s such a massively refreshing feeling to know where to go and what to do. I know to stand on the right on the escalators, how to weave in and out of chaotic commuter people traffic, which sandwiches at Pret are my favorite and which ready-meal curries to avoid. I was elated last weekend to be even more in my element at Hawker House, a foodie night market with craft beer and hipsters in East London.

Street Feast, Hawker House

Street Feast, Hawker House

I’m heading up a marketing team at a tech start-up in trendy Richmond, and enjoying the fact that after 8.5 years with one company I’ve landed in a role that ticked all my boxes: start-up, newly created position, leadership opportunity, fun culture, technology focused and international. This means I’ll get to travel to see family and friends in New York more regularly and continue to go exploring in Asia and beyond.

I’ve taken the leap as an ‘adult’ to live alone in a one-bedroom flat in my old, posh stomping grounds of Nottinghill. This is the hardest transition of all as I’m used to my social calendar being filled months in advance and friends to dine with all nights of the week. With a long commute and late working hours coupled with my poor cooking skills I’ve decided in such a multi-national city that I should be living with flat mates again to meet people and explore new areas. I’ve landed on Clapham Junction, a middle-class neighborhood south of the river that will get me to work, the city or my friends in East London in about 20 minutes. It’s full of restaurants, nightlife and boutiques and even better, infiltrated with Aussies so I may just feel even more at home once I move at the end of December.

I’m also experiencing a very strange gravitational pull toward France. This happened while visiting Paris again recently in August 2014, and then I fell in love with Bordeaux in July 2015. As I begin to learn more about French wine I find myself planning on how to get to each unique region over time. Only two weeks ago I found myself back in Paris with two Australian friends hopping between arrondissements, sipping wine, eating fondue and waiting in an extremely long line to have my breath taken away at the magnificent view from the top of the Eiffel Tower. I never expected to say that it was so worth it.

In fact, I have a feeling that Paris will substitute what Sydney was for me in Australia; An opportunity to jump over every few months and catch up with an American friend just living the life like a local. We’ll see. For now though, I’m already booked to head over to Lille in January and Lyon to taste the wines of Cotes de Rhone in May.

So as a newly arrived expat I’d only be staying true to form if I devised my ‘must-do’ list or what others would deem as a bucket list. So here it is:

  • Uncover an England I’ve never experienced before
  • Hot-air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey
  • See the Northern Lights and Fjords in Norway
  • Go to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland
  • Eat dumplings in Hong Kong
  • Drive down the coast of Ireland
  • Eat kimchi in Seoul
  • Learn French/Italian wine
  • Create amazing, lasting friendships
  • See family/friends more regularly

Bordeaux, My Gastronomic Adventure

8 Aug

But why Bordeaux? This was the response I received when going over my itinerary for #Eurotrip2015. London was a no brainer and Croatia has been on my bucket list for years. But as more and more people questioned my French destination of choice I was starting to get nervous that I had overlooked something obvious. Was Bordeaux no good? I mean sure, I much prefer Burgundy wines but then again I’m sure Bordeaux won’t be that hard for me to swallow.

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Katrina Miranda in Bordeaux

Is it an oxymoron to say the city is both medieval and young at the same time? It’s active, vibrant and lively contrasted against dark ancient stoned walls, gothic churches and quiet narrow alleyways. Katrina described it as monotone: brown river, cream buildings, grey cobblestones. But it’s 9 pm in the summer and there is no sign of dusk. University students quickly scoot by on skateboards and sit outside smoking cigarettes while drinking espresso at cafes next to tattoo parlours, vintage shops and guitar stores.

Rue Sainte-Catherine, one of the largest pedestrian-only shopping streets in all of Europe is its main artery running through its centre. Cheap city bikes can be rented from all corners of the architectural haven and are used by both locals and tourists to navigate the shadowy historic maze. It’s a very liveable place for sure.

Both a city and a region, Bordeaux provides fresh, delectable food and well-produced wine to every doorstep. On the Garonne River’s left bank sits Medoc, it’s gravel and clay producing deep, full bodied cabernet sauvignons while on it’s right the clay and limestone in St. Emilion produce juicy, fruit-forward merlot. My glass is never empty and then I understand. Bordeaux is my gastronomic adventure.

Garonne River Bordeaux

Garonne River Bordeaux

The oysters are so fresh you order them by size – medium, large or extra-large. There is only one option: raw. The seabass comes with its head intact but with the right movement the flesh softly falls from the bone while the salmon carpaccio melts on my tongue. The cheese is aged and my monsieur croquet strong and heavy, the traditional way. The pate is thick and rich and the generous sliced baguettes are endless. There is no Maille mustard to accompany it. That’s only for Paris and we’re in Bordeaux after all. My favourite meals were the chevre salad with honey and walnuts while dining al fresco at Karl and beef tartare with watermelon and roasted tomatoes at the modern French bistro Le Chien De Pavlov.

The only way to truly experience it was to aimlessly wonder and get lost amongst the streets, stopping every few hours to try a new delicacy and to sip a new wine while watching the locals carry on with their lives. The second day we rented bikes, which gave us the same freedom to explore but allowed us to delve deeper into the city streets, to the botanical gardens, and over the bridge to the city outskirts.

Isabel from Bordeaux Tourism was friendly and helpful and booked us on a wine river cruise later that evening. It was like a disorganized frat party for old people – chaos to consume as much wine as possible while Jerome the wine maker from Chateau Madran rambled on in French and we sat observing with our crusty bread and orange cheese just taking it all in, not understanding a word.

Jerome from Chateau Madran

Jerome from Chateau Madran

And then there was the highlight, Rustic Vines and the Famous Monk Tour the following day. Run by two Kiwi’s, Scottie the hottie educated us on the 60 appellations of Bordeaux, the rigid rules on how to blend the wine and the 10,000 plus chateaus in the region. We visited the picturesque medieval town of St. Emilion, mingled with Hugo in the cellar of Chateau La Gaffeliere to learn about French oak and sampled Grand Cru Classe from Aussie Gregg at Bordeaux Classique wine store. Richard, the only Australian chateau owner in Bordeaux confirmed that the French don’t believe in ghosts so he wasn’t concerned for his 15th century property Chateau Melliac. In his garden we picnicked on melon, jamon, cheese and macaroons. Richard told us he used think that Australian wine was everything until the French showed him their art and he had never looked back. I now feel way more confident knowing what to look for when choosing French wine.

I almost could have had one more day. Eating my croissant while waiting for my flight to London I realised then that Bordeaux was it, the grown up Europe I had been envisioning. Bordeaux left me with a smile. It’s safe, I felt confident, people were friendly, there was no crime or begging plus it is a foodie paradise. I would recommend to anyone to have a visit.

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion

Lisa Vecchio, St. Emilion; Courtesy of Katrina Miranda

Kuala Lumpar Food Safari

20 Apr

Malaysia Mural

Malaysia Mural

“Today is about a group of friends eating and sharing stories,” said Carlson from Urban Adventures upon greeting us at Bangsar Station LRT to begin our 4-hour walking tour amongst the best local street food Kuala Lumpur has to offer. In fact, Carlson would argue he took us to the “best of the best” and it is the only true walking tour in KL. I wouldn’t argue my day spent in the River City exploring the stimulating flavors of this Chinese, Indian and Malay melting pot was a highlight.

We began by walking through the residential Indian-influenced community of Brickfields and were told the history of the area while stopping to look at a traditional Brickfield home, a 75 year-old Muslim cemetery and Garland Alley, where fresh, fragrant jasmine from the Cameron Highlands is used for temples and offerings. Just the ladies from our small group of 7 were given a beautiful, colorful bracelet to wear.

Tarani Food Corner, our first official food stop and hands down my favorite of the day is small and family owned. The wife serves while the husband is the chef. We sat amongst the locals while rotating fans spraying mist provided a welcoming escape from the humidity. On banana leafs we ate with our right hand, mixing rice, spicy chicken masala, tangy mango pickles, lentil curry, and cabbage while using our thumb to spoon it into our mouths. We then finished it of with resam, a traditional Indian digestive. I left feeling overwhelmingly full unaware that was only our first dish out of 6 for the day.

Immediately following we stopped at a roadside vadai stall, which offered a variety of vegetarian fried treats. Most popular were lentil donuts, curry puffs with potato masala and of course, the undeniably awesome fried banana fritters. The donuts made from rice flour contain chili curry leaves, which are eaten to prevent grey hairs.

Vadai shop

Vadai shop

Continuing along we transitioned to the commercial side of what is known as Little India 2. We learned that this community, popular with Hindu’s, is rather new. It’s only been on the radar from 2007 and is often overshadowed by the original Little India, which is more Muslim dominant. However, our next treat was super sickly sweet. Gulap Jamun is a sticky syrup dessert ball. I was so full; I couldn’t even finish the bite size indulgence.

Gulap Jamun

Gulap Jamun

While walking through the equivalent of the ‘red light district’ we were told to look out for “special people,” although Carlson wouldn’t immediately tell us what to spot. Pimps lined the streets, each sitting on a chair protecting their open door, but they were not the special people he was referring to.

We stopped on a busy street corner where locals lined up to get a serve of cendol, the cool shaved ice dessert. An older woman served the shaved ice with coconut milk and plum sugar topped off with green rice jelly that looked like worms making the super sweet, yet refreshing treat popular with adults and children. The man then took his machete and in a few swift moves opened a coconut shell turning it into a revitalizing drink served out of a plastic bag. While our group relaxed consuming the celebrated 52-year-old cendol recipe we finally identified the special people Carlson was referring to.

The blind and disabled from all over Malaysia come to Brickfields for jobs. The Urut Tradisional PB Blind Massage, owned by Paralympic athletes, provides training and job opportunities within the local community and the most common is blind massage. It’s pretty awesome when you think about it.

Just across the road were the “best banana fritters in all of KL.” For 35 years the father and son team have been dishing out the famed “secret recipe” at this popular roadside stand. In fact, Carlson tells us they are doing so well that they both own 5-series BMW’s. Not too bad for a simple banana business.

At that point we fortunately had a quick break to use the clean bathrooms in KL Sentral before hopping the LRT to Pasar Seni LRT Station for our next and final stop, Chinatown. We spent a few minutes admiring a 125-year-old Taoist warrior temple and patted the lions out front for good luck before navigating the stalls of knock off bags, jewelry and watches in Jalan Petaling Market.

Taoist warrior temple

Taoist warrior temple

Over our final meal, which I had barely enough room left in me for, Carlson shared some of his personal stories. When he’s not helping his uncle with the business part time he studies law. But certain aspects of the food tour have taken its toll. He went from 68K to 122K in just four months and has since refrained from dining with his guests. That is until this last stop.

It was a fairly popular place in the heart of the action, likely considering it’s one of the few in Chinatown with air-conditioning. Then again, it’s also been around for over 60 years and known for its hokkain noodles, which of course we got. We then tried a huge range of dishes, from the pow (pork bun) to fried egg yoke noodles, penang char keuh teow served on a banana leaf and it was super yum to spicy Chinese laksa and low si fun, or what locals call rat tail noodles. It didn’t seem to stop. On the side we drank lime juice with sweet plums and cold Chinese tea.

Even more, Carlson was so encouraging, happy to order more and more and let us try whatever ticked our fancy. Our bellies were so full that  we wished the gang safe travels and fortunately were in walking distance to our accommodation. Unfortunately, despite being close by, we didn’t manage to beat the daily afternoon rain shower.

I would totally recommend this tour to anyone visiting KL. Carlson was friendly, affable and interesting. The tour was contained to a small group and personalized to our needs. They clearly have a daily spending budget so if you want a bottle of water or an extra serve of anything throughout the day it’s catered for.

Despite our bellies being maxed out we had a reservation that evening for fine dining at Fuego, part of Trioka Sky Dining. A bit heftier on the wallet than our budget courses that afternoon, Fuego is an open air restaurant on the 23rd floor specializing in South American cuisine. Yes, the food, service and drinks were all standout but the best part was the view, situated just across from the iconic Petronas Towers. The 6:30 seating is ideal for catching the magnificent towers by day, at sunset and dusk. I would totally eat there again and again.

There is a moral to this food driven story. If you are hungry, go to KL. You won’t be disappointed.

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