Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Czech out of Prague

Old Town Square

Over the next few days in Prague I managed to see a lot of the City. I took another walk around the Old Town Square in daylight and discovered a small Salvador Dali exhibition. The Old Town Square also houses the Astronomical Clock which has the features of some crazy dials, a skeleton, the Apostles and some other strange moving figures. Tourists flock to see the clock chime and do its little show every hour. After that I sat down in the shade of the trees in the park with a hot dog I bought from a street vendor and just relaxed in the mid afternoon sun.

Astronomical Clock Tower

Astronomical Clock

My street vendor Hot Dog

After a few days in Prague I had become a bit restless so I had booked a one way bus ticket to Budapest. In my last evening I had the most amazing dinner at this local restaurant of steak with mushroom sauce and saukerauty/coleslaw hybrid. The sauce was out of this world, I’m actually getting hungry just thinking about it, and if I ever return to Prague to hope I can find this place again and have seconds!

Steak with mushroom sauce and saukeraut/coleslaw

That night I was meeting up with the Sir Toby’s group again as we were checking out some bars and clubs near their hostel. We had a few drinks at the hostel and set off to the Cross Club, these bar that looks like it is constructed out of junkyard parts. It’s a huge bar with several floors and a substantial outdoor area, very good for summer pre-drinks. But we wanted to dance so we headed off to Mecca and danced the night away until the sun came up.

Cross Club Entrance

Inside Cross Club

More Cross Club

Czech into Prague

Me, enjoying the view from Prague Castle

So we stayed a few weeks in Rome and Alex had to visit his family in Capua, which is a town near Naples. After he was trying to tell me in the lead up to our trip, how bored I would be and how I wasn’t allowed to go to Naples I decided on the morning he was leaving, to take a solo side trip of my own. I wanted to either go to Prague or Budapest and looked for the cheapest flight out of Rome. Flights to Prague were the cheapest so I booked my flights that morning and I was up and away flying by the afternoon.

Vltava River

I arrived in Prague and waited for my shuttle to my hostel. I met two English girls, Sophie and Rachel in the shuttle and we exchanged numbers so we could do a pub crawl together. I settled into my hostel the Czech Inn and took a walk around Prague for the rest of the afternoon. I marvelled at the old world beauty of this city which was highlighted by dimming light of the summer sunset.

Charles Bridge

I woke up the next day and had the breakfast at the hostel cafe and set off to explore Prague. I took the tram in the city centre and decided to walk along the river and walk across Charles Bridge up to Prague Castle. It was a beautiful and sunny day, perfect for a nice stroll. On the way to Castle I stopped for lunch at a cafe at which I decided to try the Goulash and Dumplings, which probably wasn’t the best decision in 34 degree weather but I wanted to try some traditional fare. I washed it down with the Czech beer Krušovice which ended up being my favourite Czech beer. I sat in the beer garden and just chilled out drinking beer and chatting to the waiter, it was a perfect start to my afternoon.

Restaurant's Beer Garden

Krušovice Beer and Goulash with Dumplings

After quite a steep walk uphill, I finally made it to Prague Castle and I was rewarded with the most spectacular views of the city. I took a tour of St Vitus Cathedral and the Castle grounds learning about all the history of the buildings, some of which dates back to the 9th century.

Entry into the Prague Castle

St Vitus Cathedral

Inside St Vitus Cathedral

That night I was to meet the girls for a pub crawl, something which Prague is renowned for. There many different companies running the pub crawls, all of which meet in the Old Town Square which causes a lot of confusion! Thankfully I found Sophie and Rachel and some other people from their hostel, Sir Toby’s. For around AUD$15 we went to about 4 or 5 (details got hazy after the third place) clubs around Prague.

Underground Bar

We had unlimited shots and beer at the first place where a lot of drinking games were played. We walked in a huge group from club to club and had free shots as we entered, I don’t know how we managed to stay on track and with our group. The last place we went to was a 5 level extravaganza where each floor had a different type of music; one politically incorrect example was the ‘Black Music Floor’.

More of bar

I left quite late in the night intending to catch the tram back to my hostel; unfortunately as I walked to the tram stop the streetlights of Prague had other intentions. Just before I reached the stop all the lights flickered and went out, I was plunged into darkness. Being by myself, I freaked out and hailed the first cab I saw and managed to get to my hostel safe and sound.

Monday, December 20, 2010

When in Rome.........

The Coliesum

So after KL we flew to London where we had another overnight stay in the ever so exciting Stansted Airport. Luckily we a lovely room at the Radisson Blu where we slept and chilled out until our flight to Rome. After some arguments over luggage weight with RyanAir we were off and on the way to Rome. It was all very exciting as Alex had not been home for around 10 years, so we are excited and anxious to arrive to see his home city and his family.

As we were flying over the Italian Alps into Italy, seeing the snow covered mountains I couldn’t help but getting the biggest rush of excitement. Italy was Number 1 on the list of places I’ve wanted to go all my life, and to go there with my boyfriend to see his family just made it all the better. As we flew into Rome I could see the famous Roman landmarks of the Coliseum and the Vatican from up above, I could hardly contain myself.

The Forum

As we stepped off the plane the first thing that hit me was the heat! It was very hot and humid, and the second thing that hit me was that I was in Rome! We met Alex’s aunties who picked us up from the airport in a flurry of camera flashes, hugs and introductions. We sped off to his Nonna’s house where we had a bowls of fresh pasta waiting for us. We spent the night catching up with his family while I tried to practice my dismal Italian skills. The next day we bought fresh pizza from the deli across the road and set off to see the sights.

Inside the Coliseum which held 50,000 people for sometimes weeks at a time

Little did we know we would not be home for another 8 hours! We were lost down in the maze that is called the streets of Rome. The map was no help as streets merged and became others and walking in a straight line on the map was not as easy as it sounded. Thankfully Rome is full of gems and we managed to find so many things while we were lost. Among them were the Piazza Navona, the Forum, Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. We also did a walking tour of the Coliseum which was well worth the money as we skipped the huge line snaking its way out and we heard the history of this spectacular building.

The Trevi Fountain, a coin thrown in ensures your return to Rome. 3,000 Euro a day is thrown into the fountain

We bought fresh pizza along the way and then stopped in a lovely little cafe for lunch. I had some Ravioli and Alex had a Carbonara which we washed down with some icy cool beers and topped it off with some homemade tiramisu as dessert. It was our first proper day in Rome and we were blown away by this city that had capture my imagination since I was young and made Alex looked back on so fondly. It definitely lived up to our high expectations.

Pasta and beer, can it get any better?

Yes, you can have tiramisu!

Crazy Kuala Lumpur

Park Royal Hotel

As London practically shuts down at Christmas time, and even more so this year, I am stuck at work not doing a lot, so I thought I would get my blog back up and running. I know I started the blog so I could chronicle what is happening while I was travelling and living overseas, but I may have become a tad (okay maybe a lot) lazy. I thought better late and never, and with hopefully quite a few more travels to come I should get my act together and start! Well I thought I would start from the beginning, piecing together what I can from memory and pictures.

It all started on July 4th, quite fitting that the date of my adventure was Independence Day. Alex and I flew out to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for a one night stopover. We arrived quite late so we dropped our bags off at the Park Royal Hotel so we could grab a quick bite to eat. I already knew what to expect in KL from my Malaysia/Thailand trip with Rosie last year so I already knew exactly what I wanted to do in our short time there. We ended up at Pavillion at my favourite food court got some food and had a mixed fruit sago for dessert. I had been craving this since the last time I was in KL and did not disappoint!

Mixed fruit sago dessert

Then we headed off to get some rest so we could be awake nice and early to get some shopping at the street market done before our flight. We jumped onto the Monorail outside our hotel and headed towards Jalan Petaling AKA Petaling St. It was hot and humid so our first stop was a fresh fruit stand. I bought a huge watermelon slice for around AUD50c! The fresh fruit in Asia is the best and so cheap! Alex went a bit crazy and ended up buying 2 watches and a lot of socks, the most random items ever.

We didn’t any room or weight in our luggage so unfortunately we couldn’t buy much more. Although I did have a great hour long foot massage in an air conditioned room, a welcome respite from the heat and humidity. Alex waited outside while I was getting my massage and he had the girls out the front trying to convince him to get a tattoo from them. Luckily they weren’t all too convincing as I think he may have regretted getting a dodgy tatt from a Malaysian massage place!

Jalan Petaling Market

After Jalan Petaling we had more time to kill until we needed to leave for the airport so we caught the Monorail back to our hotel and walked around. I desperately needed my eyebrows threaded so we walked around to find a beauty salon. Unfortunately all we could find were hairdressers and massage places; we walked up and down the street to no avail! We finally walked past a few guys who tried to get Alex to have a barber shop shave. We asked them if we knew of anywhere that did eyebrow threading and they said yes the guy upstairs does it. Two of the guys lead us inside down what looked like a rundown apartment building and into a rickety old lift.

Alex and I look at each uneasily, wondering where they were leading us. As we got out I was sure there would be no salon at the end of this journey but a door opened and there it was. After half an hour of eyebrow treatment by a Pakistani man who apparently did it at all the 5 star hotels in Dubai, I came out some-what decent eyebrows and AUD$5 lighter. I thought this would have to be the strangest beauty treatment of my life, but alas no, Egypt was still to come! But more on that later on. I needed a cool drink after my strange experience so we sat at a cafe had some mango juice and smoked peach sisha until we had to leave.

Sisha time!

Fresh mango juice

This is me failing at sisha, you can tell I'm definitely not a smoker. Though I did get better as the trip went on, we somehow gravitated towards sisha a lot!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Breakfast Chronicles 2 – Yum Cha at Shark Fin Inn

In my first Breakfast Chronicles I said a bad breakfast can ruin your day, well Yum Cha can also ruin your day with overindulgence. Well ruin is a bit of an over-exaggeration, it will ensure you cannot move for the rest of the day and therefore cannot do anything. But it is oh so worth it!

A few years ago my friends Janice and Jeremy introduced me to the wonder of Yum Cha. We would scour Chinatown in Melbourne trying to find the best. We found a few that were good but then we found something great. On the recommendation of my work mate Ben I discovered a Yum Cha Banquet at Shark Fin Inn. For $36 you could eat as much dim sum as you wanted! Sounded like a dream come true, as we could sample and taste all the dumplings and dishes you wanted without the cost being added to do your bill. We found this great as we could try a bit of everything and find our favourites and be introduced to things we normally would never try.

If you have never had a Yum Cha experience before, it can be a bit daunting. It is noisy and chaotic but everything seems to run smoothly and is a lot of fun. Yum Cha actually translates to drink ‘Drink Tea’ which is what you traditionally drink with the Dim Sum, which is what all the small dishes to accompany the drinking of the tea are called. I definitely recommend ordering the tea as it helps with digestion when you have overindulged.

Chinese Tea, trust me you'll need it as it helps with digestion

Once seated waitresses will come around with carts or platters piled with dishes from which you can order as much as you want. Once they give you your selection they write how many quantities you have taken on a piece of paper which they will use later to calculate your bill. They will keep circulating with different dishes until they bring out the dessert carts and then the service is finished.

As I have now been here countless times I will run through a few tried and true favourites of mine.

Pork Shumai (Pork Dumpling) are almost standard at any yum cha fare. I like mine dipped into a bit of chilli and soy sauce.

Pork siu mai

The pork spare ribs are cooked in a soy sauce, black bean and bit of chilli. If you order them from a waiter they will come straight from the kitchen steaming hot.
Pork spare ribs

Crab and Corn Dumplings

Prawn and Chives Dumplings

As I mentioned before, I can’t go past a nice dessert to end a meal. Even if I am full to the brim, there’s always another part of my stomach reserved for something sweet. Shark Fin has a great egg custard tart, which if you get it fresh enough, will be warm, flaky and will practically melt in your mouth. The custard filled donuts dusted with icing sugar are also great when they are fresh and warm.

Egg custard tarts

Custard donuts

Shark Fin and the place is full of people, great food and a lively atmosphere on a Sunday afternoon which I think is part of the fun of a Yum Cha experience. Service is always fast, with staff coming around and clearing plates and refilling your drinks throughout your meal.

The place is always packed out on a Sunday and bookings are absolutely essential unless you would like to wait in the line stretched out the door. I don’t you can really go wrong with a place that has me daydreaming about dumplings, always coming back and has both floors teeming with people all weekend long.

Personal Tip: If you are booking, request an upstairs table as the food comes around more frequently and there is a greater variety of food.

Yum Cha sessions run daily at 11.30am and 1pm.
Shark Fin Inn
50 Little Bourke St
Melbourne VIC 3000
(03) 9662 2681

Monday, May 17, 2010

Breakfast Chronicles 1 – Small Block

Breakfast is my favourite meal of the day and I could eat if for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. Melbourne has a countless amount of great breakfast cafes but it is also easy to run into a bad one. Having a bad breakfast ruins the start of your day. Go to one of my recommendations to ensure the start of your day is as fantastic as your breakfast.

My friend Rosie is my breakfast buddy; together we have sought out the breakfast dens of Melbourne and stuffed ourselves silly many a times. She introduced me to Small Block quite a few years ago now and we having been returning ever since. Small Block is a small nondescript cafe up way up Lygon St, right out of the City and past the masses of Italian restaurants of the Carlton end and well into East Brunswick. As I said Small Block is a small cafe, but extremely popular I recommend going there quite early or avoiding it at peak weekend times or you may be waiting for your meal for awhile or may not even get a table.

I’ve had quite a few good dishes at Small Block but one of my favourites is the Pork Relish Omelette on Toast. This omelette is filled with minced pork and relish and topped with bean shoots and fried shallots. I love this omelette when I want something a little bit different for breakfast.

Pork Relish Omlette on Toast

Another amazing meal at Small Block is one I haven’t actually ordered myself, but Rosie and Brad absolutely swear by it and I have tasted theirs and got a bad case of food envy for my trouble. It’s called the Summer Breakfast so it may not be available in winter. The meal consists of Poached eggs on toast which spinach, avocado, Persian fetta and beetroot relish. The Persian fetta and beetroot relish absolutely makes this dish fantastic and that is coming from someone who doesn’t even like beetroot. Like I said not ordering this dish gave me food envy bad, luckily for me Rosie and Brad were wonderful enough to share!

Summer breakfast

Small Block
130 Lygon St
Brunswick East 3057 VIC
Phone: (03) 9381 2244

Swiss Club – The Quest for Fondue

Fondue, once the star of the 70’s dinner party scene has become hard to find in today’s Melbourne restaurants. Why? I don’t know because who doesn’t love bread dipped in melted cheesy goodness?

Well after much Googling I finally found a place that served it. I roped my friends Rosie and Brad into checking out the Swiss Club of Victoria. It was a bit hard to find down Flinders Lane and up a few flights of stairs, but when we entered it was like we were transported into a large homely dining room. The Swiss Club was and still is a meeting place for the Swiss Community in Victoria. It is not only a restaurant but a social club which holds various functions for its members.

Rosie and I ordered the Fondue for 2 and Brad ordered a ‘Special’ which was Potato Rosti topped with strips of Chicken, crispy bacon pieces and avocado, dressed in a honey mustard sauce. The food arrived and looked amazing; the pot of fondue steaming and bubbling and the potato and chicken smelling divine.

The fondue consisted of two different types cheese melted into a pot and another bowl full of chunks of bread. Did I say it was Fondue for 2? Well I think it could have easily fed 3 or 4, it was far too much of a challenge for Rosie and I so we were trying to force some onto Brad so we could eat more of his dish.

Brad’s Potato Rosti and Chicken was the surprise hit of the night. The chicken was well cooked, the bacon was cooked to a crisp and the avocado and honey mustard sauce complimented the potato and chicken perfectly. And while the Fondue was great in the beginning we began to realise there can be too much of a good thing. Our verdict was Brad’s dish was the highlight and though it was a ‘Special’ the chef kindly told us if we wished to have it again we could just let him know.

Of course it doesn’t end there, anybody who knows Rosie and me, knows we must have dessert. While Brad looked on us with thinly veiled disgust at the thought of eating dessert after such a large meal, we couldn’t leave without having a Chocolate Fondue as well.... and some Apple Strudel with cream.

When our dessert arrived we were quite happy we decided to soldier on. The fresh seasonal fruit dipped into thick dark chocolate of the fondue was a nice balance of tastes and textures which resulted in a deliciously simple dessert. The crisp but moist pastry covering the apple strudel topped with fresh cream was also a delight. We definitely left the Swiss Club with a post meal afterglow.

P.S. If you do make your way there, be sure to check out the opening times as they are open limited hours and closed on weekends

Swiss Club of Victoria
89 Flinders Lane
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel 9650 1196

Buxton Burger - Food is the greatest reason for a Road Trip

It started in my own backyard. Well not really, it was about a 1.5 hour drive out of my backyard, but it was in Victoria. It was a lazy Sunday afternoon, and my stomach was rumbling, after going through the usual suspects of choices I told Alex about this burger place I read about. The Age newspaper Epicure section said it was the best burger in 2005. Since we are always on the lookout for a good burger, we were willing to give it a try, but would it be worth wait and the long drive?

So we set off, after a bit of a false start due to some dodgy Iphone google mapping and after a beautiful scenic drive through Healesville we finally arrived. Outside it looked like any other nondescript truck stop and as you walk in it looked like your run-of-the-mill suburban take-away/milk bar. We were wondering what we got ourselves into.

We ordered 2 Buxton Burgers (2 meat patties, double cheese, double bacon, onion, egg, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, beetroot & sauce) and 1 small serve of Potato Gems and Chips. After the long drive, we were absolutely famished by this point. First to arrive were the Potato Gems and Chips, and small serves they were not. I would hate to see what the large serves were like. They were massive bowls filled to the brim. They were crispy and delicious but we stopped eating to make sure we had room for the star of the show.

Not long after the chips and potato gems was the Pièce de résistance, 2 towering monsters waiting to be eaten. After the first bite we were hooked and we couldn’t stop. But they were too huge to finish but absolutely delicious! The meat patties were soft and moist, all the ingredients fresh and crisp sandwiched between two pieces of amazing bread (which is sourced from a local bakery in nearby Marysville).

The verdict? Definitely worth the drive, the sides were tasty but too big and I have no idea how the record-holders (1 min 30 for the Men’s Champion and 4 minutes 31 for the Women’s in case you were wondering) finish those monsters, let alone eat them in record time! And for the real hardcore people out there, there is an even bigger burger the Cathedral Burger which is 3 meat patties, triple cheese, triple bacon, onion, two eggs, 2 slices of pineapple, lettuce, tomato, beetroot & sauce!

The Igloo Roadhouse

2220 Maroondah Highway
Phone/Fax: 03 5774 7451

Wanderlust for a Glutton

Wanderlust is a strong desire for or impulse to wander, or, in modern usage, to travel and Glutton is a person who eats and drinks excessively or voraciously.

A few months ago I decided to make some changes in my life. I had been doing the same thing, without any sort of direction for some time. I decided to make one big change to prevent myself from going stagnant, to inject some excitement and learn and live some more. My boyfriend, Alex and I decided we would start saving for our adventure trip of a lifetime. We are starting in his home country of Italy, taking to the Middle East in Egypt and right back around through Europe again from Turkey, Greece and Spain to name a few, and hopefully we will make to South America after working in London.

It is because of this decision to embark on a travel adventure, combined with my ultimate passion of food that I decided to start this blog. As anyone who knows me can attest to, the one thing that can have me talking for hours, with that starry eyed look in my eyes and excitement in my voice, is food.

These two passions of travelling and food for me have been forever intertwined. Being born in Cebu, Philippines but growing up in Melbourne, Australia since I was three meant I have been brought up with a great appreciation and understanding of other cultures and their food.

Growing up Filipino meant food was an integral part of family life. My dad cultivated not only a love for Filipino food but also other cuisines from around the globe as well. For as far back as I can remember I was taught appreciation for food and how to cook. I look back fondly on memories of leafing through my dad’s recipe books and tasting the finished outcome of a delicious meal. My dad’s passion for food resonated with me, as he taught me about other cultures and their cuisines.

Every couple of years I travelled to visit the Philippines, and other countries in Asia. I got to experience Filipino barbeques, the live fish markets of Hong Kong, and many other amazing experiences of Asian culture and cuisine.

The next chapter in my gastronomic adventure will be Europe, the Middle East and South America. Here is where I will share them with my friends and family. Whether it is here in my home town of Melbourne, or in my escapades around the globe I’ll be sharing my food experiences with you.