Happy New Year – How I welcomed the Year of the Dragon

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Today begins the first day of the year of the Dragon and in honor of Chinese (Asian) New Years, I went to a new-to-me restaurant that I’m dying to talk about – Wok Box!

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved “Chinese food” (I add the quotation marks because I’m referring to American style Chinese food) so when my friends suggested grabbing lunch there, I was all over it – despite never going to one before.

As we walked through the doors, I transformed into a kid in a candy store. Really, I wanted EVERYTHING (with the exception of beef/pork/seafood – why you ask? click here). I settled on the Indian Butter Chicken with Naan rice bowl – I’ve been on a huge Indian food kick lately. This place has everything – Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian inspired cuisines and I was in love. It is quick, the selection is superb and the price is right.

Check out http://wokbox.ca for more! If you’re outside of Canada, change the location in the drop down menu found in the upper right hand corner. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Oatcakes: A Cape Breton’s Scottish Tradition

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Growing up on the east coast of Canada on a little island called Cape Breton, my knowledge of foreign foods was not always broad as others in my country but coming from such a cultually-enriched area certainly aided to my knowledge of fantastic feasts. Cape Breton is a small island of around 147,450 people but we are a mighty crew strong in Celtic, French and Mi’kmaq heritage and traditions. The following food is one that I will forever associate with my little island and my childhood.

The oatcake is known on the island and around the rest of the province as being typically “Scottish” or “Celtic”. I can remember being a young girl in the kitchen with my grandmother rolling the oats and cutting them with a glass, specifically put away for the job and nothing else. At my uncle’s restaurant, they make the cookies from the same recipe passed down from my great-grandmother but instead of cutting them out with a glass, they use the sharp edge of a tin can which seems to do the trick. Either way, they’re delicious and a part of my Scottish heritage.

There are many other dishes from my Acadian background that I could talk about but I will save those for another day, but I really felt that since I’ve written about foods from around the world, I should probably speak about something from where I call home.

I’ve included my great-grandmother’s recipe and a link to a fellow blogger’s site (Cape Breton News) for your enjoyment🙂

Toast sandwich and other stuff….

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So yesterday as I was checking out the daily news on BBC, I came across a very interesting article about sandwiches. The headline for the story: “Toast sandwich is UK’s ‘cheapest meal’“. In the UK, this “toast sandwich” is basically a slice of toast in between two other pieces of bread…. if this doesn’t sound up-to-snuff for you, you can add jelly, butter, mayo or any other preferred condiment.

Ironically enough, South Korea also has something called “a toast sandwich” but it has a little more sustenance in my opinion. If you say “toast” to a Korean, they assume that you mean a fried egg, lettuce, cheese, sweet and hot sauce and pickles in between two slices of grilled bread. It’s very similar to what I would call a “western sandwich” back home. And they are amazing! You can easily find vendors selling these delicious snacks/breakfasts at bus terminals, train stations, near popular landmarks and anywhere really you might feel the need to eat a “toast”… they’re honestly, everywhere.

All this talk about toast leaves me to wonder… if given the choice between the UK’s “toast sandwich”, Korea’s “toast” and North America’s idea of “toast” (a slice of bread slightly browned with butter, cheese or jam), which of these would most people choose???

Ramen

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Today, as I was walking home from work, I made a quick stop at the local supermarket for a few items that I was in need of and was distracted as I passed the noodle aisle. Usually, I have no problem bypassing these products but I haven’t had ramen for quite some time so I veered left and found myself standing in front of about 30 different variations of this popular (and cost efficient) dish. Not eating red meat, seafood or pork can really limit my options in Korea but today I was in luck!

I FOUND VEGETARIAN RAMEN!!

I usually gage my decision of whether I can eat something by the photos but luckily, this had a “no meat” label! This has never happened to me before and I got so excited that I bought a set of 4 and thought it would make for a good blog entry. Now if you’ve never heard the term “ramen” before, you might know it as “instant noodles” or (like when I was a kid) “Mr. Noodles”.

Ramen originated in China (as many things tend to be) and was later introduced to Japan. The Chinese term is “lamian” which simply means “hand-pulled noodles”. These noodles are then prepared in soup and sauces. After WWII, soldiers returning to Japan from other parts of Asia brought with them the tastes of China and opened up restaurants around Japan supplying natives with this tasty and starchy treat. It wasn’t until the 1950s that a Taiwanese-Japanese business owner created the idea of “instant ramen” where you just add water. Now there are countless brands, flavors and forms of ramen around the world. (thanks wikipedia for your non-stop supply of knowledge)

Even though I don’t eat it everyday, it certainly has had an impact on my life. I remember being a child and begging my mom for “Mr. Noodles” for dinner instead of potatoes and chicken because I thought it was more exciting to eat. It even helped me out in times of need during university when I couldn’t afford Kraft Dinner (instant noodles were about 47 cents a package and KD was about 1.30 a box). And now, as a teacher in Korea, I’m always left to pick up random “ramen seasoning packets” left by my students around the school. Now that I’ve found “no meat” ramen, I too can enjoy it once again! Whoot!

Turkey day!

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This weekend is the second “Canadian Thanksgiving” I’m missing since moving abroad and it has got me thinking about different Thanksgiving holidays around the world. For me, growing up in Eastern Canada, Thanksgiving gave me an extra day off school and a turkey coma a few times over. Traditionally, the turkey was accompanied by stuffing (no boxed stuff – my mother would never allow it), cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, turnips, carrots and of course, gravy. Some people will deck their home in gords – pumpkins and the such, corn, cornucopias, etc for the occasion which takes place the second Monday in October.

Last year I partook in my first American Thanksgiving which is pretty well the same event with the main difference being the date. Thanksgiving in the USA takes place the fourth Thursday in November (which is when it’s colder for us Canadians hence why ours is a little earlier). This holiday is quite important (being on of the “big six” major holidays) to Americans and many schools reenact the story of the pilgrims and the first Thanksgiving at school plays… And let’s not forget the parades… and football!

It seems that most countries have their own celebrations of harvest such as Germany, Liberia, The Netherlands and Norfolk Islands. Now, I can’t speak from personal experience in relation to the celebrations in these countries but I can for the Korea equivalent… Chuseok.

Chuseok celebrates the end of the fall harvesting season and falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month (so anytime during September – October) and last three days. During these few days (usually coupled with a weekend to give a longer vacation) families travel from all over to visit the graves of ancestors to remember… this makes travel around the country a nightmare, but it’s a very important duty to be with your family. Younger Koreans will traditionally dress in Hanboks and bow to their elders in exchange for a few thousand won. When it’s time to eat, the food does not stop coming. Compared to the turkey and dressing in the west, Koreans indulge themselves on fruits, fish, chicken, tteok, kimchi and most importantly- songpyeon… a sticky and chewy mini-cake made of rice. And don’t forget the soju!

Smelly – Stinky – Delicious??

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The name itself should tell you exactly what this dish is all about – it’s stinky and it’s tofu. Found in many of the markets throughout Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, Stinky Tofu can be smelled before seen.

Prior to my trip to the moderately tropical island of Taiwan, I had been advised by another expat to give it a try. As I made my way through the Shinlin Night Market during our first night, I kept my eyes open for something that might look like the image I had in my head (tofu on a stick). Making my way through the people and the vendors, I was taken aback from a wretched scent of burnt, stinky feet and I wondered to myself, “is that what the girl was telling me about?” Needless to say, I didn’t venture further to look for the source of the smell, I ventured for some fresh air instead.

From Taipei, I made my way down the east coast by train to the city of Hualien (absolutely beautiful – if you ever get the chance to go to Taiwan, this is a must stop place) and from there, onto Kenting (southern surfing town) and still hadn’t tried this “stinky tofu”. At this point, I thought to myself that if I was mentally prepared to go into snake alley and drink snake blood on my arrival back to Taipei, I could handle a little bit of noxious tofu. But whenever I made my way through the streets of Taiwan and caught whiff of the smell I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead I stuck with noodles, duck, dumplings and even McDonald’s (I have an addiction!).

It wasn’t until my FINAL few hours in Taipei that I braised myself and tried it. I don’t really know how to explain the taste except to say that it “tastes like it smells.” To me, it wasn’t something I would eat again unless I really had to but to other expats, it’s amazing. For me, I think I will rather just stick to my noodles, duck, dumplings and McDonald’s next time.

Around the world – airplane food

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Love it or hate it, meat or fish, Delta or Asiana Air. Many people have tried it and have their own opinions on it (and if you haven’t, I hope that my little rant might inform you about it). It’s airplane food.

Before coming to Korea, I had never really experienced airplane food because I usually flew domestically with Air Canada (which I love) but who charges you for meals if you’re not flying overseas. I did however fly Porter Airlines from Halifax to Ottawa and was served an amazing breakfast – really the best blueberry muffin of my life! – After this experience, I asked myself, “why does airplane food get so much slack?”

Coming to Korea, I flew Korean Air from Washington, DC to Seoul and was served two meals, plus snacks, all of which were amazing. I then flew China Southern Airlines to China and even though our flight was short, we were served a really great meal. Then, flying to Taiwan with Cathay Pacific, the meal to Taipei was fine (I had recently stopped eating red meat and pork) and I had no issues, until our trip home…

We left Taipei at dinner time and I was very excited to eat my en-flight meal but with 30 minutes left before our descent into the ROK, we still hadn’t been served our meal. Finally, after a very long wait, our food came but they didn’t have any vegetarian meals left and I had to choose between the beef and noodles or fish with something else. Hating even the smell of fish, I took the beef and ate the side dishes and desert. Needless to say, this has been my only bad encounter with airplane food and, in their defense, the flight was very busy, but still, I was disappointed.

I have been told many stories about terrible airplane meals and service (I’m not going to name any names but I’m sure it’s not difficult to find them out…) and I’ve heard great stories (usually Arab airlines), but these are just a few of my experiences. I’ve since learned to pre-order my vegetarian meals before my trips… starting with my trip to the USA/Canada this coming September.