The Gardens of Waverley Hills estate

Waverley Hills estate
Waverley Hills estate

A while ago, while my parents and I were touring the wine district of the Western cape, we had lunch at the Waverley hills estate situated between Tulbagh and Ceres, close to Wolseley, South-Africa.

Waverley Hills estate
The beautiful view from the Waverley Hills estate

This estate entered the organic wine market in 2002 and now has hectares of vineyards and olives they grow organically. We had lunch in the beautiful restaurant with its views over the valley and rolling vineyards that lie at the foothills of the breathtaking Witzenberg Mountain Range. It was a cold, rainy day and the lit fireplace inside set the perfect mood for lunch accompanied by some of the estate’s own wines.

Exploring the gardens on this cold and wet afternoon was a fabulous experience. The gardens surrounding the restaurant are filled with indigenous fynbos. They have grown their own plants since 2007, and even have a Fynbos nursery where the public can purchase plants. I didn’t get the chance to see the nursery for myself, but will make a point of visiting it next time I am in the area.

Waverley Hills estate
Waverley Hills estate’s beautiful fynbos garden

The only thing that did bother me a bit while walking through the beautiful gardens were the snake warning signs. Knowing that they mostly come out when its hot and sunny didn’t take my fear away completely.

Dunstone, Wellington’s Tranquil winery

Wellington’s Tranquil Dunstone winery
Wellington’s Tranquil Dunstone winery

My parents and I went wine country exploring in the Western Cape and spent a very relaxing evening on the Dunstone estate in Wellington, South-Africa.  We spent most of our days wine tasting and exploring the tranquil scenery. In-between we were also looking at different properties available in the wine country. Trying to get a head start for when my parents retire and move to the area in a couple of years.

We spent a bit over a week driving and tasting our way through the beautiful Western Cape and never spent more than one evening in the same place. My favourite place was the tranquil Dunstone winery, situated at the foot of the Hawequa and Limiet Mountains. Walking around this tranquil estate is such a pleasure, and they even have a couple of horses for the animal lovers. There is also an orchard and a small pond with ducks and some pigs, whom I didn’t get to see.

Dunstone winery
Exploring the tranquil grounds of Dunstone winery before dinner
Dunstone winery
Me in the orchard

At this small family run vineyard the grapes are handpicked and sorted, pressed the traditional way and matured for 16 months. All the maintenance and care of the vineyard is done by hand so there was no sign of any machinery. You have to visit their restaurant, The Stone Kitchen as the cellar is situated within the Bistro!! The wine making process is on full display and all the wines can be tasted and purchased directly.  

Dunstone winery
Good morning Dunstone winery
Dunstone winery
Dunstone winery

I spent my evening with a good book, some tasty wine watching the sun setting before heading to the Bistro for dinner with my parents. At the Bistro you can also enjoy both South African and British favourite classic dishes. It has quite a lot of British dishes as the owners are originally from the UK.

Dunstone winery
Dunstone winery

Whether you’re a wine enthusiasts, adventurous at heart or just seeking a quiet get away, Dunstone Country Estate truly offers something for everyone.

Dunstone winery
Morning mist at Dunstone winery

Attending a local cooking class in China was a highlight!

Chinese cooking class
Our Group about to start our Chinese cooking lesson

One of my most memorable experiences in China was getting to attend a Chinese cooking class with my mom. We got to make 3 different Chinese dishes, of which, only 2 of ours were actually edible.

Our first dish, some kind of egg plant and veggie dish was so oily that neither one of us could stomach it. We definitely learnt the hard way that we had to listen to the chefs instructions and actually measure out the ingredients. But to come to our defense, this was actually the first time either of us used a proper wok so we didn’t really know how much oil to use. And the ingredients were new to us so neither one of us knew how they would affect the taste of the dish.

Our beer fish turned our better but the best dish was definitely the Dim Sum!!! We got to prepare traditional Dim sum, in small bite-sized portions, cooked and served in small steamer baskets. Traditionally, dim sum is meant to be enjoyed with a group, allowing you to sample a large number of items. And as it happened we were quite a big group so there was bound to be a lot of different dumplings going around.

Chinese cooking class
We are making Dim Sum!!!

We got to make beef, chicken, prawns and vegetarian Dim Sum. We were given a couple of rolled out pieces of dough, each piece a circle about 3-inches in diameter.

We had to place a small portion (about 1 level tablespoon) of the filling into the middle of each wrapper. Wet the edges of the dumpling with water. Fold the dough over the filling into a half moon shape and pinch the edges to seal. Not all our pieces looked like half moons and after a while my mom and I played around with the way we would fold the dough.

We placed our dumplings into  small steamer baskets and watched as got steamed. We couldn’t wait to eat them and we were pleasantly surprised that ours turned out quite tasty.

I cant wait to try and make dim sum again and I am definitely going to by myself a wok and try out some other Chinese dishes.

Chinese cooking class
Me and my mom….my favourite travel partner ever!!

The colourful Charly’s Bakery, right out of Alice in Wonderland

Charly's Bakery
Coming across Charly’s Bakery just a block from where I live

While walking through Cape Towns District 6 now known as the Fringe I came across some colourful street art but my best find was the beautiful Charlys Bakery. It is like something straight out of Alice in Wonderland.

Not just the outside which has cupcakes and cakes running around but even the inside reminded me of Alice in Wonderland.

Charly's Bakery
I might make Charly’s Bakery my early Sunday morning ritual

They specialise in making designer cakes for all occasions, as well as a range of fun and bright cupcakes, petit fours, cookies and other brightly coloured delicacies. Who can resist a cake that says “eat me” !? Alice couldn’t, and neither could I. They taste as good as they look, no actually they taste even better than what they look like.

Charly’s Bakery is a family run business, started by Charly and Jacqui Biess in 1989.

Charly's Bakery
This place makes you want to go and look inside

Over the years the business has grown and their 3 daughters, Alexandra, Daniella and Roch have joined them in creating their crazy, magical, glitter-filled world of Oompa Loompas, Luf Luf and decadently Wicked Chocolate cake.

Their motto is: the world is run on love, laughter and cupcakes!

Watching the making of Edible Rice Paper

While travelling through Vietnam I had the opportunity not only to taste fresh edible rice paper but also to watch how it is made. In Vietnam edible rice paper is used for making fresh or fried spring rolls and is called bánh tráng  I couldn’t believe the ingredients for rice paper is only white rice flour, tapioca flour, salt, and water. It shouldn’t be hard to make then should it? But I found out that for something that is made out of so few products it is quite a complicated process. I got to watch an artisan banh trang producer in Phan Thiet, just outside of Ho Chi Minh City.

This woman had been practicing her craft for decades  and as their rice paper is made by hand and are bigger than normal they can sell them at a higher price than the factory-made ones.

Edible Rice Paper
Carefully she spreads the rice and water batter

First she ground soaked raw rice with water into a pulp before spreading the batter onto a cloth that’s stretched over a wide pot of boiling water. After the batter had been thinly spread (note the wide tool that she uses below), a bamboo lid covers the rice sheet and it’s steamed for probably about 30 to 45 seconds. 

Edible Rice Paper
She makes sure it is thin and evenly spread

Next she used a long narrow stick to lift and transfer the cooked rice sheet to a cooling “rack”. The cooling rack is a very wide slightly domed round bamboo rack with a cloth covering it. The rack spins around and by the time the rack completes a full spin, the rice paper is cool enough to handle. 

Another woman then picked up the cooled rice paper and placed it on a bamboo drying rack that resembles a narrow 6-foot-long stretcher. To dry the cooked rice sheets  into rice paper, the racks are placed outside under the hot sun for a day.

Edible Rice Paper
Rice paper drying outside in the sun

It is the woven pattern of the racks that gives the rice papers their distinctive appearance, which factory-made ones only mimic. The dried, finished rice papers are stacked up, then tied into smaller stacks and taken to market. These rice papers, which were about 14-inches wide, are sold for a premium because they’re made by hand.

After watching this whole process  we got to taste some of the fresh, hot rice sheets with a fish dipping sauce, which was fabulous. Fresh rice paper tastes completely different from the dried ones that you have to wet with a bit of water to get them supple again.

Fresh Squid on Sihanoukville beach

Sihanoukville beach
Such a peaceful place to spend the day

Sihanoukville beach
Just relaxing on the beautiful Sihanoukville beach

On the long white beaches of Sihanoukville, yoke-basket women trudge across the hot, blinding sand, their silhouettes etched against the shimmering sea. These woman shield their faces from the tropical sun with palm hats and their limbs with long-sleeve blouses and pants. They look as if they have just walked out of the rice paddies. Scintillating aromas of grilled squids waft from their swaying baskets. They are the humble purveyors of the tastiest morsels in Cambodia.

The squids they sell have been caught fresh just off shore that morning. By noon, these women are trudging along the beach barbecuing little kebabs for beach-goers.

You don’t even have to move from your relaxing spot on the beach when the hunger pangs hit as there is always a Squid vendor close at hand.

Sihanoukville beach
Fresh Squid barbecued for lunch!!

Sihanoukville beach
Sihanoukville beach

The squids are simple but very tasty. There is no preparation to speak of, the women simply skewer them whole—tentacles, arms, beak, and gut, full with the sea’s brininess—on bamboo sticks. They baste them with a sweet-spicy-sour sauce, and grill them over coals. Served with a side of a salt, pepper and lemon mix that you dip the squid into.

Sihanoukville is definitely a stellar seafood destination. Other places might have greater varieties of seafood, even at lower prices, but I’ve found no vendors, anywhere, like the Sihanoukville vendors.  I would go back to Sihanoukville just for the tasty squid!!

Sihanoukville beach
Sihanoukville beach

The local Food Market is a Colourful, Noisy and Smelly Asault on the Senses

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
The Local Food Market of Phnom Pehn

Asian food markets are the best places to experience the culture and the people. It is here that you get to shop and eat like the locals. The local Food Market in Phnom Pehn is not aimed at tourists so you don’t find any souveniers here but what you do find is way more interesting. The market is filled with colourful fruits and vegetables, second hand clothes, fresh meat, eggs and random religious items.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Any eggs?

 The early morning rush hour makes for a confusing, dirty but  lovely photogenic scene. Early morning the stalls are still stocked with eggs and fresh produce and is filled with locals doing their daily shopping. The Food market we visited is located on the river at the south end of the Old French Quarter, Old Market ( Phsar Chas), and is apparently one of the most crowded markets in the city.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Food Market of Phnom Pehn

Although there is not much of interest to the “tourists”, Old Market ( Phsar Chas), Phnom Penh is still a must see during a Phnom Penh tour. The whole reason for travelling is to experience the world and its customs. The best way to do this is to go off the beaten path and into the local neighbourhoods.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Dont know if I want to try this….

I read that the market is an ideal place to try some local cuisine and delicacies. There are several small food stalls offering what looks like small crickets or worms and some of the things on display I could not figure out what it was. I was a bit skeptical about trying these “delicacies” as I could not identify what they were and definitely didn’t know how they were prepared.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Chicken!!

Greeted by the bright colours and sounds of this market was a bit overwhelming at first as it attacks the senses but it is definitely worth a visit. I cant say you get used to the smell but it gets a bit more bearable as you move past the fresh meat stalls into the fruit and vegetable section.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
This is where they prepare their dishes

Where else would you find someone selling cooked crickets along with snails or some duck eggs along with meat hanging out in the open heat with flies buzzing around it? The market is filled with sights you will never see in any European cities and is an amazing experience.

Food Market of Phnom Pehn
Meat anybody?

The tastiest Vietnamese Street Food ever!

Vietnamese Street Food
Hallo Vietnamese Street Food

Street food is an important part of every day life in Vietnam and the tastiest way to get to know the culture.

Vietnamese Street Food
Washing dishes at the market

1. The best place in Ho Chi Ming City to try street food is at the Pham market. One of the first dishes you have to try is “Ban Xeo”, which is a large crispy omelet with prawns, pork, beansprouts, spring onions and tones of oil. The golden crepe (rice pancake) is accompanied with a fresh array of vegetables like basil, a savoury leaf (which they call the fish leaf), a large leaf that tastes like wasabi, and a range of others I dont know the names of. Together the flavours fuse into an incredibly crispy, savoury, minty mix!

It’s a messy dish because you eat with your hands so take some wet wipes with you. You break the “Ban Xeo” into pieces and then pack it onto the big fish leaf with an assortment of the other leaves, sprouts and onions. You roll it into a spring roll with the lettuce and dip it in the fish sauce as you eat it. Absolutely delicious!!!

Vietnamese Street Food
Enjoying a lovely bowl of Pho
Vietnamese Street Food
Enjoying beef noodle soup for breakfast

2. If you can imagine beef noodle soup for breakfast, then you decidedly want to tryPho”, aVietnamese dish that has been around for nearly 100 years. You will find a pho shop on nearly every street. The small local “Pho” shops are the best even though they might not always look as clean as you would want them to.

In this classic soup, paper-thin slices of beef are cooked with rice noodles in individual serving bowls into which hot beef stock, herbs and spices have been added. Just be sure to ask for the chillies on a side dish so that you can add it too taste other wise your “Pho” might be too spicy to eat.

Vietnamese Street Food
Vietnamese Rice Place!!
Vietnamese Street Food
My favourite Rice Place!!

3. Another fabulous Vietnamese food source to try are the small family home restaurants. Some of them can only accommodate a few diners and are called “Rice Places”. You can usually get a dish of fish, chicken or pork with rice and vegetables for a very decent price. They usually have very tasty dishes but you have to make sure to get there early before they run out of the best dishes. Eating at one of these Rice Places works out cheaper than what it would cost you to cook that dish for yourself at home. It is here that I was introduces to tea-eggs. Eggs boiled in tea so they are brown in colour. They are tastier than what they look, trust me.

Overall food in Ho Chi Ming City is great, there is something for every taste.

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Split Second of Laughter

This Split-Second story captures a moment at a food market in Vietnam where the woman smile and laugh as they go about their daily shopping.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
A moment of smiles and laughter in the colourful Markets of Vietnam

For this week’s challenge,attempt to capture a candid moment of a person, place, or thing.  Tell a story by documenting a moment in time through a single image. 

The colourful Markets of Vietnam

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh city is filled with street markets filled with everything from fruit to live fish, from meat and dried squid to beautiful fabric. The food markets in Vietnam have some of the freshest and tastiest tropical fruit that I have ever tasted.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam

Smelly, chaotic, people grabbing at you and people shouting in a language you don’t understand…..sounds horrendous, but it’s actually an amazing experience. After all, you don’t have to buy anything at the markets, just go there for the experience. The smell of Durian fruit (which is banned in some places due to it’s pungeant aroma) permeates the air of some parts of the market but there are so many other strong smells that compete with each other.

The colourful Markets of VietnamThe colourful Markets of Vietnam
So much to choose from!!

Depending on what fruit is in season you can usually get a whole kilogram of litchis or tasty mangostenes for as little as $2. The stalls usually appreciate repeat business and you will find that the fruit and food get cheaper after a while as they get to know you and start giving you local prices in stead of “tourist” prices.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
My favourite part-the fabrick market!!

The one thing that amazed me about the small markets was that some of the stalls only sell one kind of fruit and lots of it. I hope they change what they sell according to what is in season.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
Any melons anyone?

The markets are filled with fish stalls where you know your fish is super fresh as they are mostly still alive! They don’t just have fish but also clams and even water snails if that is what you are in the mood for.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
Fresh Fish!!
The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam

This market really has a bit of everything for everyone here, as long as you are prepared to be hassled to buy or if you do find something of interest, prepared to haggle to a good price. Everything is over-priced, every stall holder wanting you to come and buy from them, but you get used to it over here and eventually it just goes in one ear and out the other as far as their sales pitch is concerned. Shop around the stalls, you will generally find another stall with the same items at a cheaper price if you are willing to haggle to it.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
You cant get any fresher!!

The sellers are friendly and will follow you a few meters if you ask questions about something then walk away (like any market) but this is also a good way to bargain! they sometimes may touch your arm but it’s in no way unfriendly although for someone who is claustrophobic like me it definitely put me off from buying an item more than once..

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
Fresh meat?

Personally I wouldn’t buy meat that hung out here in the market all day long. You don’t see any flies on it right now but I am sure the meat hanging un covered or cooled in the heat is not good for it.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
The colourful Markets of Vietnam

The most shocking thing that I found at one of the small local markets in Ho Chi Ming in my first week was a fermented bear cub between jars of fermented snakes. Yes it was a real bear cub fermented in wine that men then drink for “strength”. Just like the famous snake wine of Vietnam, in which you have a real snake and sometimes even a scorpion, I would not taste this wine even if you paid me.

The colourful Markets of Vietnam
My worst find ever…a bear cub!

Top 5 Restaurants and dishes to try out in Ho Chi Minh City

The food in Vietnam is delicious!!

If you ever get the chance to go to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam you definitely have to try the following dishes or places.

Ho Chi Minh City
The BEST spring rolls ever!!
Ho Chi Minh City
Dinner at Wrap and Roll!

1. “Wrap and roll”, on 62 Hai Ba Trung Street, in District 1, this is my favourite spring roll place in the whole city. Their fresh spring rolls are served with a peanut dipping sauce (Nuoc Cham) or a sweet chilli sauce if you prefer something spicy. These spring rolls are a refreshing change from the usual fried variety, and they are great as an appetizer or even a meal.

 The food and also the service is good. I usually had the shrimp on sugar cane skewers that you then make your own spring rolls with. The fish salad is served with a big plate of assorted shrubbery like basil, mint, and lettuce, and a small pile of vermicelli noodles. You then roll it all up in rice paper wrapper and dip it in the bowl of fish or sweet chilli sauce and it’s perfect.

2. Another great and traditional Vietnamese place with great spring rolls and desserts is “Ngong”, just across from the reunification palace. It has fabulous Vietnamese deserts and great lemon grass clams.  You make your own spring rolls here as well but the best part for me here was the desert!

Fresh fruits are the most popular desserts in Vietnam, but Chè is the most traditional Vietnamese dessert. It’s a sweet pudding usually made from mung beans, bananas, coconut milk, pearl tapioca, sweet yam or yucca root vermicelli and sugar. At Ngong they drown the desert in fresh coconut juice which makes it irresistible. This is undoubtedly my favourite desert in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh City
Barbecuing some crocodile!
Ho Chi Minh City
Fried scorpion!!

3. If you are up for some strange food there is always “Bo Tung Xeo Restaurant”  at 31 Ly Tu Trong. Here you can treat yourself to uncommon dishes such as crocodile, frog, grasshoppers, shrimps, ostrich, scorpion, snake and rat.

You get your own little Vietnamese barbecue at your table, with the raw meat served to you, which you then prepare on the grill on your table. Their speciality is marinated beef, but the crocodile is a winner and we went back a couple of times just for shrimp and crocodile.

Ho Chi Minh City
Grasshoppers!!!

Personally I would not recommend the deep fried scorpion as its very crunchy and mostly just shell. I tried this on my birthday and never again. The grasshoppers are quite good although they are a bit crunchy and the crocodile is excellent. If you want to try the snake, have minced snake, as the whole snake in soup is just too bony and disgusting to actually enjoy and I ended up leaving half of mine untouched.

Ho Chi Minh City
Dinner at Temple Club!

If you want this same experience but with a bit more luxury or more up market, go to the “Temple club” on Ton That Thiep street. They basically serve the same food as in Bo Tung Xeo but there are more westerners around and they even have music playing.

Ho Chi Minh City
Fresh prawns!!

4. You will find a couple of great French restaurants throughout the city. For lunch “Au Parc” was my favourite. It is close to the reunification palace so a great place to stop for lunch while exploring the city. They have great chocolate deserts, filling salads, excellent sandwiches and fresh fruit shakes.

For dinner you should try “Le Jardin” on Thai Van Lung street, it is a charming little French bistro with the best brown onion soup I have ever tasted. It has a lovely atmosphere and is always packed so be sure to make a reservation before going.

Ho Chi Minh City
Loving the food in Ho Chi Minh City
Ho Chi Minh City
My house mate Yvonne!

5. If you were in the mood for Japanese cuisine the best place would be “Sushi Bar” on Le Thanh Ton street in District 1. Sushi Bar boasts of very friendly and attentive service and absolutely scrumptious food.

Sushi Bar does not have only Sushi specialties but Sashimi and other Japanese specialties can be sampled here too. One important feature of the cuisine is that it uses only the freshest of ingredients either bought from local markets or imported from Japan. Since over 45 varieties of Sushi and Sashimi are served up, you can pick and choose and come back countless times without being able to taste them all.

They don’t just serve “normal” sushi they have the best-fried sushi that I have ever tasted. Make sure to sample some of their Tempura, rice or one of their noodle specialties. 

Drinking Bubbly and tasting Nougat at The House of J.C. Le Roux

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The House of J.C. Le Roux

There is no better way to start a new year than with a tantalising sensory experience at The House of J.C. Le Roux in Stellenbosch. They carefully pair their Méthode Cap Classique and sparkling wines with a selection of tempting sweet treats from nougat to marshmallows and meringues, making it an unforgettable experience.

The House of J.C. Le Roux, South Africa’s leading home of sparkling wine is nestled in the picturesque Devon Valley near Stellenbosch, is famous for making fine vintage Méthode Cap Classique and sparkling wines to suit every palate.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The huge tasting hall

We were greeted by a superbly chic and luxurious tasting hall that invited you in and begged you to sit on its sleek couches and chairs. Royal blue velvet booths, were positioned elegantly amongst the white tasting tables with their lush red chairs. Light rays shone from the walls in the shapes of stars and little goblets of light hung in groups from the ceiling.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The pink room of Bachelorette Heaven!

I had a quick peek at Le Fleurette’s pink room of Bachelorette heaven before taking a seat in one of the blue-couched booths where we waited for our tasting to start.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Waiting for our bubbly tasting to start!!

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The House of J.C. Le Roux

When it comes to Methode Cap Classique, grapes are handpicked, whole bunches are then pressed so that the best of the free flowing juice can be used. After a base wine is made it undergoes a second fermentation where yeast and sugar CO2 are added which brings about the magical bubbles over time. The sediment left behind collects in the neck by daily turning and tilting of the bottles in riddling racks. Once the neck is frozen and metal cap removed, the bubbles force the residue out before liqueur d’expedition is added to balance the taste and the bottle is corked and wired.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The selection set out for our tasting

The sparkling wines undergo a similar process but have their alcohol fermentation stopped halfway which leaves 75 grams per litre of natural grape sugar in the wine.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Our tasting table ready and waiting for us!!

When it was time for our tasting we were led from our blue-couched booth where we were waiting to our lush red chairs where bubbly and “sweets” waited for us.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Let the tasting start!!

Not wanting to miss out we decided to go half-half on the nougat and marshmallows so that we got to experience all the flavours offered.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Our first tasting was of the very tasty Pinot Noir

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Let the taste sensation start

Our tasting took us from the dry bruts to the sweeter products which meant that we would begin with the Pinot Noir and nougat in dark chocolate. The acidity of the Pinot Noir is paired to bring out the richness of almond and honey in the nougat, this ended up being one of my favourites.

Next came the Rose Water Turkish Delight with the Pinot Noir Rose. This pairing was a delightful one and the rose water truly brought out the red berries and floral element as planned and left me wanting more.

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The La Vallee was defenitely lovely!

The La Vallee and Mango Macadamia Nougat was great middle ground for those not keen on the very sweet or the very dry. The La Vallée  was also paired with a caramel crunch meringue which brought forth hints of pears, litchis and primary fruit. 

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The House of J.C. Le Roux

But my taste buds really rejoiced with the final two pairings. The pretty La Fleurette, a sparkling rose, was paired with Cranberry Macadamia Nougat and as a red berry lover; La Fleurette was a winner for me with its taste of berries and tropical fruits. I also got to experience it with white chocolate strawberry marshmallow, an enchanting taste!

The House of J.C. Le Roux
Cheers, we have reached the end very cheerily!

The last and definitely sweetest pairing was the white chocolate nougat  and coconut marshmallow accompanied by the good ol’favourite Le Domaine.

Definitely a very tantalising sensory experience!

The House of J.C. Le Roux
The House of J.C. Le Roux

Super fresh handmade pasta in Suzhou, China

Suzhou, the morning after the Typhoon
Suzhou, the morning after the Typhoon
Small cafe across from our hotel
Small cafe across from our hotel

One of my most tasty noodle dishes was having fresh rice noodles with vegetables at a small local cafe in Suzhou.

This small local place was situated across the street from our hotel where we were spending the night. After spending the day exploring Suzhou by braving the Typhoon we were chilled to the bone and didn’t want to venture too far for dinner. With the Typhoon still raging outside we found dry refuge inside this little cosy noodle cafe.

We were not expecting much as the dishes were priced quite cheap and were pleasantly surprised when our noodles were made right in front of us. The guy worked with so much skill and made the rice noodles all by hand, not once did he use a pasta roller or cutter.

Our vegetables were just as fresh as we could actually watch them being washed and then prepared for us.

Noodles are an essential ingredient and staple in Chinese cuisine. There is a great variety of Chinese noodles, which vary according to their region of production, ingredients, shape or width, and manner of preparation. These wheat noodles are made with eggs, which adds flavour, colour, and body. They are actually called ‘pulled noodles’ of LanZhou.  They are made by stretching and folding the dough into strands. However, the twisting and subsequent stretching of the strips of dough happens due to the weight of the dough. Depending on the number of times the dough gets folded, the strands can be made in various lengths and thicknesses.

Mom enjoying our fresh noodles and vegetable breakfast
Mom enjoying our fresh noodles and vegetable breakfast

We returned for another bowl of fresh noodles the next morning for breakfast. The weather had cleared up a bit by then so I could actually take some photos. This was definitely one of the top ten dishes we had while exploring China on our China Odyssey tour.

Squirming eels, frogs, snails and even skinned dogs at the local Yangshuo market

Fresh fruit seller taking a nap midst all the chaos
Fresh fruit seller taking a nap midst all the chaos

Fresh vegetables!!
Fresh vegetables!!

A visit to the local market meat and vegetable market is the best way to get to know the smells and tastes of the local place you are exploring. Yangshuo’s local market was tucked away in a warehouse-like building off the main road. 

 Walking in I was assaulted by the chaotic visual delights and smells that filled the market place.

In one direction were fresh fruit and vegetables, rows of bags filled with spices and herbs, the aroma of peppers and chili filling the air.

Love the array of different spices and herbs
Love the array of different spices and herbs
The air was filled with the aroma of chilies
The air was filled with the aroma of chilies
Even pickled chilies!
Even pickled chilies!

Buckets filled with wriggling prawns
Buckets filled with wriggling prawns

Turning in a different direction I was greeted by nets full of squirming frogs, buckets of live turtles, and eels. Right in front of us were enormous bloody fish heads still twitching as their bodies were being filleted a few feet away. I did not know where to focus my attention first.

Hard at work cleaning prawns
Hard at work cleaning prawns
Live Turtles Packaged and ready for sale
Live Turtles Packaged and ready for sale
Squirming frogs in their little net "packages"
Squirming frogs in their little net “packages”
Rows of buckets filled with live produce
Rows of buckets filled with live produce

Buckets full of squirming eels!
Buckets full of squirming eels!

We walked down the isle past rows of chickens and ducks in various stages of dis-assembly ones with their heads and feet removed, others that were dead and plucked but still had their appendages intact, and of course to one side live chickens waiting ignorantly for their death. And next to those, cages of rabbits and yes even cats, all cute and fluffy, like they’d been snatched from the pages of a children’s book.

Atleast they are already dead and plucket
Atleast they are already dead and plucket

Anybody for some fresh duck?
Anybody for some fresh duck?

It was grisly and shocking but also almost comical in its sheer Chinese-ness. I kept thinking to myself, “No, this isn’t a movie or quite like the stereotypes I imagined, and yet somehow it’s exactly what I had imagined Chinese markets to look like.”

A few feet away, hanging from the ceiling by hooks, were the carcasses of what could only be dogs. I was so shocked and grossed out by what I saw that I could stick around long enough for more than one photo. They had been sliced vertically down the middle and had their organs removed, so the white ribs and dark red edges of the chasm running the length of each body. Hanging there like that, they almost didn’t even look real, they looked like something that should be in a bad horror movie. 

Skinned dogs hanging from hooks....
Skinned dogs hanging from hooks….

I looked down at my feet. The floor was streaked with blood and bits of gristle and organs of all kinds, mingling with the water and mud that also ran in rivulets in every direction. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and be able to breathe fresh air again. The legality of eating dogs and cats in China seems to be a matter of debate, something the country is trying to move away from as it becomes more modernized, although obviously it’s still practiced in some places. For some the prospect of eating dog meat turns the stomach, however for some it’s a treat worth shelling out for. 

Needless to say that after our visit to the market I didn’t have much of an appetite left. 

Rice Noodles and Cormorant birds in mountain surrounded Yangshuo

Arriving in Beautiful Yangshuo, surrounded by Karst Mountains and winding rivers.
Arriving in Beautiful Yangshuo, surrounded by Karst Mountains and winding rivers.

Yangshuo is tranquil and filled with greenery
Yangshuo is tranquil and filled with greenery

Yangshuo is surrounded by Karst Mountains, winding rivers and beautiful scenery. The area around Yangshuo is renowned throughout China, if not the whole world, (even making it into the backdrop of Star Wars Episode 3), for its karst landscape where there are hundreds upon hundreds of limestone hills dotting the countryside. The beautiful scenery here is a common subject of Chinese paintings as well as the inspiration for poetry. 

Arriving in Yangshuo after our first over night train experience we were all amazed at the breathtaking scenery that greeted us here.

We stayed in the Explorer Hotel which was among the first that opened more than ten years ago. It is right in the center of town, close to the river and West Street called ‘Global Village’ by the locals, which attracts tourists from all over the world to its many stores, cafes and restaurants creating an exotic and a somewhat chaotic atmosphere.

The street is filled with quiant bars and little restaurants
The street is filled with quiant bars and little restaurants

The streets here are well kept in the original style, capturing the tranquil atmosphere of this ancient town.  Here you can also buy souvenirs, painted fans, embroidered balls, and even painted silk shirts. West Street is also famous for its delicious specialty foods, such as Beer Fish, Niang dishes and snacks like rice noodles and various glutinous rice cakes.

Rice noodles and  Chongshan
Rice noodles and Chongshan

Having delicious fresh rice noodles
Having delicious fresh rice noodles

For lunch our tour guide Jay took us to Chongshan, a small local place for our first rice noodle experience. Noodles are an essential ingredient and staple in Chinese cuisine, quite cheap and extremely delicious. 

The rice noodles were white and smooth with a very unique flavor. They are made from rice flour starch, round and quite thick, a bit thicker than the usual spaghetti.

We were served plain noodles in a steel bowl with some soy and meat broth. We then got to garnish our own dish with spring onion, cucumber and chili to taste. After eating our bowls of noodles we could fill our bowls with a soup that we then had to drink straight from the bowl.

Mom went a bit overboard with the chili in hers and suffered a bit. I think that after the first couple of bites she lost most of her taste buds for tears actually formed in her eyes. But other than an overdose of chili the noodles were extremely delicious!!

Walking along the Li River flowing through Yangshuo
Walking along the Li River flowing through Yangshuo

What a beautiful sight!
What a beautiful sight!

After lunch we went for a walk through the main part of the town and down to the river.

The Li River winds through the town and is surrounded by the most beautiful scenery. Along the extremely pure river, thousands of hills cover the horizon for as far as the eyes can see. It is with this magnificent scenery as a backdrop that we came across a Chinese fisherman with his trusty cormorant birds. Fishermen here have use trained cormorants to fish in rivers since about 960 AD.

Chinese fisherman with his trusty cormorant birds.
Chinese fisherman with his trusty cormorant birds.
Such beautiful birds!
Such beautiful birds!

The fisherman was friendly enough to let us take his photo
The fisherman was friendly enough to let us take his photo

The birds are taken by the fisherman at a young age and become bonded to him. They catch fish according to natural instincts but are prevented from swallowing all but the smallest fish by a ring placed around their neck during the fishing process. However, the birds are not stupid and refuse to catch more fish unless they are rewarded occasionally – typically with every seventh fish.

When a cormorant has caught a fish in its throat, the fisherman brings the bird back to the boat and has the bird spit the fish up. Though cormorant fishing once was a successful industry, its primary use today is to serve the tourism industry.

Our first official "group photo" with the Cormorant birds!
Our first official “group photo” with the Cormorant birds!

Having cocktails before joining the whole group for dinner.
Having cocktails with Brian and Sandra before joining the whole group for dinner.

Getting to choose the fish we wanted for the table!
Getting to choose the fish we wanted for the table!

For dinner we went to a local place that our tour guide Jay recommended. We decided to order food for the table and have everybody share. Yangshuo is famous for its fish fried in beer so we jumped at the opportunity to order this delicacy.  After ordering the fish we had to walk down to the fish tanks and actually choose the fish we wanted them to cook! After pointing to a random fish the girl then caught and weighed it for us. I am sure we couldn’t have asked for anything fresher!

Unfortunately the rest of our dining experience was a bit of a disappointment, fistly the dishes were a lot smaller than we expected and we were served our rice only after we had eaten most of the dishes.  

Our tea we ordered arrived after we dinner and ended up being warmed up lipton lemon ice tea. I really thought that in china good and tasty Chinese tea would be available everywhere.

Walking through Yangshuo market right next to the river
Walking through Yangshuo market right next to the river

What a magnificent scenery.
What a magnificent scenery.

After dinner it was pouring down outside but we headed out to the Impression Liu Sanjie Show armed with raincoats. Luckily for us by the time the show started it had stopped raining and we didn’t even notice the light drizzle as the show was absolutely amazing and held our undivided attention.

Impression Liu Sanjie is an outdoor performance set with the real mountains of Yangshuo as the backdrop and using the Li River as its stage. The stage is a 2km stretch along Li River with 12 mountain peaks and the clear sky as the background. The theater therefore was named “Shanshui”, meaning mountains and water in Chinese. The performance in this natural Shanshui Theatre is a masterpiece combining an awesome natural stage with excellence in theatrical production.

Yangshuo is surrounded by Karst Mountains
Yangshuo is surrounded by Karst Mountains

It took Mr. ZhangYimou (the chief director of the project) three and half years to finish preparations for launching the show. His talent and creativity in bringing together the hills and water with the minority culture is widely acknowledged. The performance lasts for 70 minutes and more than 600 actors and actresses are involved – All the actors of the show are local people who have practiced meticulously.

Impression Liu Sanjie is produced by the same person that did the Beijing Olympic games opening ceremony and a must see if you ever have the opportunity.

Browsing through fresh food Markets and drinking my first “Earthquake”

Even the pavement has some very beautiful mosaic art work
Even the pavement has some very beautiful mosaic art work

I think that you learn a lot about a country and its culture through its food and local drinks. The best place to actually “experience” the food of a different country is definitely at its markets. Visiting different fresh food markets is definitely one of my favourite things to do when visiting a new country. Santiago has a couple of interesting product markets that are definitely worth a visit!

Walking down Antonia Lopez de Bello Street towards Vega Central the fruit and vegetable Market, the pavement has some very beautiful mosaic art works. This street is filled with little shops and restaurants most of whom have their walls or entrances covered in street art. Some you can see were actually done or commissioned by the owners as it advertises the place and lends to the character of the place.

Most of the sidewalks here in Santiago are tree lined which definitely adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the city.  Although there is a chill in the air it is a lovely sunny day and great weather for exploring the city.

La Vega Central Market
La Vega Central Market
Inside La Vega Central market
Inside La Vega Central market

Entering La Vega Central market the aroma of fresh fruit and vegetables is quite overpowering and very inviting. This market is Santiago’s principal fruit and vegetable market and a definite must for foodies! Amidst its chaos of crates and stalls, and the buying, shouting and negotiating, Vega Central offers an earthy and colourful experience.

Some of these beautiful brightly coloured fruit and vegetable were very new to me. I have never before in my life heard of much less seen the fruit Pepinos or Noni!

First time ever that I see Pepino fruit
First time ever that I see Pepino fruit

The Pepino fruit resembles a melon in color, and its flavor recalls a succulent mixture of honeydew and cucumber, and thus it is also sometimes called pepino melon or melon pear, but Pepinos are only very distantly related to melons and pears.

Noni or Morinda citrifolia is a tree in the coffee family, Rubiaceae. It is at first green then the fruit turns yellow then almost white as it ripens. It contains many seeds. It is sometimes called starvation fruit. Despite its strong smell and bitter taste, the fruit is nevertheless eaten as a famine food and, in some Pacific islands, even a staple food, either raw or cooked.

 

Love the bright colours of La Vega Central Market
Love the bright colours of La Vega Central Market
Fresh Flower arrangements
Fresh Flower arrangements

The market is set in a huge warehouse that covers several city blocks so can keep you busy for hours! I enjoyed walking through the numerous stalls with their colourful fruit or vegetables but by the time we left the market I could definitely do with something to eat.

Inside a huge warehouse next to Vega Central we found the Flower market. The morning delivery of fresh flowers had already been sent out and the people at the stalls inside the warehouse were all busy making bouquet. It looked like most of the bouquets and wreaths in this warehouse were for funerals.

Crossing the river we entered Mercado Central the main fresh seafood market in the city since 1872. This market is frequented my tourists and even locals who come to see, smell and buy the bounty of fish and shellfish found along the Chilean coast.

Mercado Central the main fresh seafood market in the city
Mercado Central the main fresh seafood market in the city

The little restaurant in the market where I ate
The little restaurant in the market where I ate

This market is filled with fresh seafood stalls and many small restaurants where you have the opportunity to try the fresh seafood.  I love seafood and wasn’t going to let the chance to try a strange seafood dish go me by. I sat down at a small restaurant where I had the opportunity to try Ceviche. It is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Chile. The dish is made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime and was served with chopped onions, salt, and coriander. I really enjoyed trying this dish and doing so in this market where I knew the ingredients would be fresh was an excellent experience! I would recommend this fish dish to anybody who loves sushi!!

My plate of Ceviche, raw fish with lime!
My plate of Ceviche, raw fish with lime!
La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurants in Santiago
La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurants in Santiago
Later that afternoon La Piojera was filled with navy men!
Later that afternoon La Piojera was filled with navy men!

Situated right next to this fabulous market is La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurants in Santiago. This historically popular bar is famous for its meat dishes and its traditional drink called Terremoto which means earthquake. This drink is made with Pepino wine and pineapple ice-cream.  The place was filled with sailors and had a lovely lively atmosphere! It is an explosion of sights, sounds and bawdy local drinking culture. 

I got to watch as the barmen made batches of this famous drink Terremoto, sure that it will be sold as fast as it was made. We got one to share and it was so sweet that we could hardly finish the one drink, but it was still very good. I can vouch that it is sweet and also very strong as even half a Terremoto made me feel a bit tipsy!

Having an "earthquake"!!
Having an “earthquake”!!

This was the perfect way to end my day of experiencing Chile through its food!

 

10 Ways I tasted my way through Santiago and experienced the Chilean culture

I love trying out the different dishes and drinks that each country has to offer. You learn so much about the culture of a country through their food and drinks.

Cassablanca the winery I visited near Santiago!
Cassablanca the winery I visited near Santiago!
  1. The reserve boutique wine of this winery was fabulous!
    The reserve boutique wine of this winery was fabulous!

    I think the one drink that Chile is really famous for is that they produce great quality wine. The wine in Chile is quite affordable and I learned that even a cheap bottle can taste very good! The best place to try great Chilean wine is definitely at one of the many vineyards that surround Santiago! I had the opportunity to visit Cassablanca winery where they produce a boutique wine. This was an amazing experience as we got to walk through the vineyards and into the wine cellar. After learning how they produce these lovely wines we got to enjoy a wine tasting in front of a lovely fireplace! The wine here was absolutely fabulous!!

What a fabulous place to enjoy some excellent Chilean wine
What a fabulous place to enjoy some excellent Chilean wine
Chilean red wine, the best way to warm up on a cold day
Chilean red wine, the best way to warm up on a cold day
  1. Having my very first glass of Pisco Sour
    Having my very first glass of Pisco Sour

    I have never even heard of Pisco Sour before I came to Chile. It is liquor made with grapes as its basis from the northernmost Chilean valleys. This drink is then prepared with lemon juice and sugar and served in a champagne glass. I think it is lovely!! It smelled and tasted a bit like a margarita!! I went out for a lovely seafood dinner in the Lastaria district of Saigon and was lucky enough to actually get a complimentary glass of Pisco Sour with my dinner. 

A fabulous seafood salad and my complimentary glass of Pisco Sour!
A fabulous seafood salad and my complimentary glass of Pisco Sour!
  1. A Chilean hot dog or Italiano as they are called here in Santiago is served with salsa, avocado and mayonnaise!
    A Chilean hot dog or Italiano as they are called here in Santiago is served with salsa, avocado and mayonnaise!

    Chilean people LOVE sandwiches and have the weirdest filling combinations I have ever come across.I tried Chacarero which was a chicken burger with tomato and NOT lettuce but GREEN BEANS!! Yes, green beans and all of this was covered with mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard!!  I opted for eating the green beans separate before enjoying my burger, the combination was just a bit too weird for me. Its quite interesting to see what other cultures see as “normal”!               A Chilean hot dog or Italiano as they are called here in Santiago is served with salsa, avocado, mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard! I think this was the weirdest tasting hot dog that I have ever eaten. It could have done with a little bit less mayonnaise! I ordered an Italiano burger the one afternoon and really enjoyed the avocado added to the burger after I got rid of the mayonnaise! I have now learned that the Chileans love mayonnaise and eat it with nearly everything!

This is where I ordered my very first Italiano hot dog!!
This is where I ordered my very first Italiano hot dog!!
My burger with avocado was quite good after I got rid of a lot of the mayonnaise
My burger with avocado was quite good after I got rid of a lot of the mayonnaise
  1. La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurant in Santiago
    La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurant in Santiago

    I went to La Piojera one of the largest traditional pub restaurant in Santiago. This historically popular bar is famous for its meat dishes and its traditional drink called Terremoto which means earthquake. This drink is made with pipeno wine and pineapple ice-cream. We got one to share and it was so sweet that we could hardly finish the one drink. I can vouch that it is sweet but also very strong and even half a Terremoto made me feel a bit tipsy!

Having my very first very sweet Terremoto
Having my very first very sweet Terremoto
Pipeno fruit from which they make wine for the Terremoto drink
Pipeno fruit from which they make wine for the Terremoto drink
  1. My store bought Mote con Huesillos
    My store bought Mote con Huesillos

    The drink Mote con Huesillos ended up being as interesting as the name! This is actually a traditional summer drink made with boiled peaches, wheat, water, sugar and cinnamon. I tried ordering one at a restaurant close to Plaza de Armas and was informed that I would only be able to get it in summer. I was then lucky enough to find one in a supermarket. It was quite good and tasted a bit like ice tea. I didn’t like the wheat part that much though but do think this would be a very refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day!

The dried peach inside my   Mote con Huesillos
The dried peach inside my Mote con Huesillos
  1. I really love Chilean Empanada’s!! It is close to a pie but the dough is not flaky. The traditional Chilean Empanada is filled with pino, this is ground meat, onion, olives, raisins and a boiled egg! I tried this and it was good but not my favourite filling. I loved the empanadas that were filled with cheese and olives or seafood! I ended up having an Empanada either for dinner or for lunch nearly every day!
The street vendor from whom I always bought fresh  Sopaipillas
The street vendor from whom I always bought fresh Sopaipillas
  1. I love these!!! They are delicious on a cold autumn day
    I love these!!! They are delicious on a cold autumn day

    I think my favourite Chilean food is Sopaipillas. They are made of fried flour and served in many restaurants as snacks. I love the Sopaipillas that you can buy from some of the street vendors that line the busy streets of the Bellavista district. I often stopped here after work on my way home and had a freshly made Sopaipilla while watching people hurry on past. The Chileans would add ketchup and mustard to theirs but personally I thought they tasted better plain!

The Sopaipillas are fried, but oh so good!
The Sopaipillas are fried, but oh so good!
  1. My Pastel de Choclo with some freshly squeezed fruit juice
    My Pastel de Choclo with some freshly squeezed fruit juice

    There is a half Chilean, half Spanish dish that a lot of people said I should try. Pastel de Choclo is a corn pie made of corn paste, meat, chicken, hardboiled eggs, olives, raisins and a bit of sugar mixed together and then baked. I tried this dish at a little local place close to Plaza de Armas. It was not the best thing I have ever eaten but the experience was definitely worth it. The place I ate it had a very unique way of preparing it. The olives still had pits in and the chicken inside the pie was still on the bone! Was fun eating it though.

My corn pie didnt just have chicken in it even had the bone!!
My corn pie didnt just have chicken in it even had the bone!!
  1. Having a crepe filled with Manjar up in the beautiful Andes
    Having a crepe filled with Manjar up in the beautiful Andes

    Chileans love sweet things and especially “manjar” or  dulce de leche ! It is traditionally made by slowly and gently cooking pure (normally non-homogenizedmilk to thicken and reduce the volume, and gradually adding sugar and they eat it with everything! I had the chance to eat a croissant filled with this sweet substance and it was lovely!! There are biscuits filled with manjar but my favourite was definitely the churos! They were freshly made by some street vendors and then filled with manjar, it is absolutely delicious!!

Having fresh Ceviche in the Fish Market!!
Having fresh Ceviche in the Fish Market!!
  1. My first plate of Ceviche!!
    My first plate of Ceviche!!

    I had the opportunity to try Ceviche at the Central fish Market in Santiago. It is a seafood dish popular in the coastal regions of Chile. The dish is made from fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime and was served with chopped onions, salt, and coriander. I really enjoyed trying this dish and doing so in the fish market where I knew the ingredients would be fresh was an excellent experience! I would recommend this fish dish to anybody who loves sushi!!

There are many corners in the fish market where you can sit down and enjoy the fresh seafood on display!
There are many corners in the fish market where you can sit down and enjoy the fresh seafood on display!

I have really enjoyed my culinary exploration of Santiago and think Chile offers something to everybody’s taste!

Santiago, deserted and closed on Labour Day and eating weird burgers

Basilica de la Merced
Basilica de la Merced

I arrived in Santiago, Chile 2 days before the Labour Day holiday. I haven’t had a chance to explore the city before then and what I found scared me a bit. As I walked through the deserted streets it felt like I was walking through a ghost town! All the shops were closed and there were nearly no people out on the streets. The first thought that popped into my head was, “Where the hell did I just move to?!?”

There wasn’t even a small café open where I could sit down for a morning coffee.

I really wanted to visit the Basilica de la Merced, but unfortunately it was closed on this public holiday.

This church was founded by the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy and constructed in 1795. It is a Chilean National Monument. It is Neo-Renaissance in architecture and I heard it has a lovely little museum with religious objects and art, including a collection of pieces from Easter Island.

An empty Plaza de Armas
An empty Plaza de Armas
Love knowing that I am standing in the heart of Santiago!!
Love knowing that I am standing in the heart of Santiago!!

Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago
Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago

I thought that there would at least be some activity on the Plaza de Armas which is the heart and soul of Santiago.  It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago, which has a square grid pattern. But to my surprise there were only a couple of people around, although it was nearly 11am. At least it looked like there were a bit more people were appearing on the streets now that the sun was out.

Surrounding the square are some beautiful historical buildings, including the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, Parroquia El Sagrario. La Parroquia El Sagrario is a beautiful Catholic church that was declared a national monument as it is one of the oldest historical and architectural landmarks Santiago. Personally I think it is one of the most beautiful buildings surrounding this plaza. 

Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago
Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago

The Former National Congress Building is the former home of the Chilean Congress
The Former National Congress Building is the former home of the Chilean Congress

The Former National Congress Building is the former home of the Chilean Congress. Congress met in this building in central Santiago until Salvador Allende‘s socialist government was overthrown by Augusto Pinochet‘s military coup d’état on September 11, 1973.

During the Pinochet dictatorship, Congress was moved to new premises in Valparaíso. The old building was declared a national monument in 1976 and between 1990 and 2006 housed the ministry of foreign affairs. The Senate moved its offices in Santiago to this building in December 2000. On January 26, 2006 the Chamber of Deputies recovered its old offices.

You can not miss this building while walking down the street
You can not miss this building while walking down the street

For lunch I sat down at a small café and tried out my 5 Spanish words that I have learnt up till now. After struggling to order coffee with my small Spanish vocabulary the waiter was very happy to offer me an English menu. I ordered a hamburger with tomato and greens, thinking again that I was being quite safe with my order. When my burger came I was quite surprised to find out that the greens are not lettuce as I thought but actually green beans. Yes, they put green beans and tomato on my chicken burger and covered this with ketchup and mustard. This was definitely the weirdest burger that I have ever eaten!!

The guards in front of the Palacio de La Moneda
The guards in front of the Palacio de La Moneda
The wide expanse of the Palace!
The wide expanse of the Palace!

This Palace actually occupies a whole block!! its huge!
This Palace actually occupies a whole block!! its huge!

Palacio de La Moneda, or simply La Moneda, is the seat of the President of the Republic of Chile. It occupies an entire block in downtown Santiago, in the area known as Civic District. The building’s wide, horizontal shape and rectangular composition conveys strength and stability, according to the palace’s listing on the UNESCO website. Here I got some beautiful photos of the wide empty streets and of the guards on their horses in front of the palace.

It is really surprising that the city shuts down on a public holiday, hopefully it will be more livelier this weekend when I go exploring again.

A last glance at the empty city before I head back to the hostel!!
A last glance at the empty city before I head back to the hostel!!
Not a car in sight on the streets!!
Not a car in sight on the streets!!
I never thought a city could be "closed" for a public holiday!
I never thought a city could be “closed” for a public holiday!

Walking through the ghost town that is Santiago before 10am

Walking through an empty Parque Forestal
Walking through an empty Parque Forestal

Statue at the beginning of Parque Forestal
Statue at the beginning of Parque Forestal

The streets of Santiago are quiet and deserted before 10am on a weekend and even more so on a public holiday. It felt like I was walking through a ghost town as I walked from Bellavista to Santa Lucía Hill in the center of the city.

 

I walked through Parque Forestal next to the Mapocho River. The park was created on reclaimed land from the Mapocho River and forms an almost unbroken stretch of greenery all along the river.

This park stretches all along the river
This park stretches all along the river
I think everybody in Santiago is still asleep before 10am!
I think everybody in Santiago is still asleep before 10am!

Cafe filled Lastaria Street is eerily empty before 10am
Cafe filled Lastaria Street is eerily empty before 10am

Even Lastaria Street, usually filled with cafes and coffee shops and people were deserted this early in the morning. It felt like I missed some announcement that nobody should be out on the streets today, or that everybody just disappeared leaving me all alone in this strange new city.

 

The entrance to Santa Lucía Hill
The entrance to Santa Lucía Hill

Such a lovely sunny day, perfect for exploring a new city
Such a lovely sunny day, perfect for exploring a new city

Luckily by the time I reached Santa Lucía Hill in the center the city started to wake up and people started emerging from their homes. I sat for a while at a small café at the entrance to the park enjoying the sunshine.

The hill has an altitude of 629 m and a height of 69 m over the surrounding area and has all these small winding pathways that cross it. The hill is the remnant of a volcano 15 million years old.  It was originally called Huelén by the pre-colonization inhabitants; in Mapudungun the word means “pain, melancholy or sadness”. However, the current name comes from the day in which Pedro de Valdivia conquered the hill, on December 13, 1541. That day celebrates “Santa Lucía.”

Pathways leading to the top of the hill
Pathways leading to the top of the hill

Halfway up there are a couple of ornate facades, stairways and fountains. Unfortunately because it was a public holiday the “castle” was closed. I still had a lot of fun walking along the tree covered pathways to the top of the hill. At the top of the hill, there is a platform from where you have fabulous views over most of the city. What a fantastic view of the city and luckily there weren’t a lot of people at the top so I got the chance to take a couple of pictures.

Santiago!!
Santiago!!

I really look forward to exploring the city I could see before me!

Small church on the side of Santa Lucia hill
Small church on the side of Santa Lucia hill

For lunch I decided to try something from one of the street vendors that I passed along my way home. You can’t go wrong with a hot dog is what I thought. I have eaten hot dogs in a couple of countries but did not enjoy the Chilean version of hot dogs very much. They start of with a normal bun and sausage then add chopped tomatoes, which is good but then comes the weird part. They cover it in guacamole and then smother that in mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard. Not a combination I would have ever thought of. I was very hungry so ended up eating the whole thing but didn’t feel to well afterwards.

My first experience of Chilean food wasn’t too successful but luckily this doesn’t scare me too much. Actually looking forward to trying some other dishes

Santiago, Chile!!
Santiago, Chile!!

Eating Sea Urchin sushi, an experience I don’t want to repeat

Daikokusan sushi bar
Daikokusan sushi bar

I LOVE sushi and while living in Japan I made a point of eating sushi at least once if not twice a week! My favourite sushi bar in Japan was a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Machida named Daikokusan, a couple of metro stops from where I lived.

 I love these places where you sit at the bar and just take sushi off the conveyor belt. All the plates are different colours and at the end of the meal you pay according to the colour you took.

The first time I sat down the chef put a glass with forks on the conveyor belt and looked quite happy when I took hold of chop sticks and ignored them. Guess they get lots of foreigners who want to eat sushi but cant use chopsticks as this area had a lot of tourists.

The "kitchen" is situated within the conveyor bar
The “kitchen” is situated within the conveyor bar
Chef "wasabi overkill" at work
Chef “wasabi overkill” at work

He made the best sushi ever!!
He made the best sushi ever!!

Before moving to Japan I was not a fan of wasabi and rarely had any on my sushi. At this restaurant the sushi chef actually puts wasabi on the sushi before handing it over to you. In any other place you would be able to sctatch it off but here I sat at the counter and he could see me. I didn’t want to insult his food so ate it and felt my nostrils and taste buds burn away. I tasted wasabi for the next couple of hours so couldn’t really appreciate the sushi I was eating! I dubbed him “Chef Wasabi Overkill”!!

After a few weeks of slowly and meticulously burning my taste buds away with all this wasabi I actually started to like it. I started to add extra wasabi to my sushi whenever I ordered it at another restaurant.

Having a salmon sandwich before my Une sushi experience
Having a salmon sandwich before my Une sushi experience

Once in a while I would try out a new unknown sushi just for the fun of it, some turned out to be great others I never tried again.  The one night “chef Wasabi Overkill” handed me some UNE sushi to try. This is sea urchin sushi and was most definitely the worst thing that I have ever tasted!!! Actually I have never up until know tasted anything as foul ever again. It tasted like seawater filled snot and I would have definitely spit it out if the chef wasn’t staring at me to see if I liked it or not. I had to focus very hard to smile and swallow while all I wanted to do was spit it out and wash out my mouth!!

First time ever that I wanted to be sick while eating sushi!

Luckily most of the kinds of sushi I tried were great and here I got a taste for eel, it is now always on my order list at a good sushi bar.