brick lane & thereabouts

28 February 2014

We're not very good at venturing into the East side, simply because we don't live too close to the area. But last weekend saw us wandering around the infamous Brick Lane, feeling a little out of place surrounded by hip and cool-looking people searching for their vintage treasures and one off pieces for their home or wardrobe.

My snap happy self did not feel out of place however, with every other person taking pictures of all the vibrant wall art and characteristic surroundings.

Yes, that chocolate shop is well worth a visit if you couldn't tell. Their liquid salted caramel is gorgeous.

steamed pork buns "nikuman"

26 February 2014

My sister inspired me to try my hand at these after she successfully made them, because it's my favourite kind of recipe - looks impressive and labour intensive, but are actually very simple. Who doesn't love to impress with minimum effort?

I based my recipe on this one from the quirky Youtube channel with lots of good Japanese cooking, but I did substitute the pork shoulder for ground pork and the stock for powdered dashi stock that I had in my kitchen.

E came home and, as cunningly planned, was super wowed that I had made these myself. Trust me, they're worth trying out because they are delicious, simple and total ego-boosters.

an intercultural marriage

24 February 2014

The other day, my girlfriends and I were discussing what eating habits we had acquired from being with our significant others (these three girls are Irish, English and Canadian, with English, Canadian and French men). "He's made me eat more cheese, and he eats more chocolate because of me", type of thing. It was pretty funny to realise how much we all have in common on that front!

It in turn made me think about the differences E and I have when it comes to the little things, because of our different nationalities and backgrounds. Although I consider myself very "Europeanised" due to spending most of my life here, I still have strong roots to where I come from, and sometimes those differences are serious hurdles that you have to work through, and other times they are just funny little things that remind you of the different cultures that we were born into. (Me Japan, E France.)

Here are some of the smaller things I've learnt that set E and I apart*-

1. Mealtimes
Like actual times when you would eat meals. In Japan, people tend to eat on the early side for their meals - lunchtime at midday or half past, dinner at 7, or 7:30 at the latest. At least, this is the case with most Japanese people that I know. E says he was shocked when he first came to England, and found out that people eat dinner earlier than 9pm. For the French, it's lunch at 2 and dinner at 9-10pm. The two of us are early rather than late eaters most of the time, but when we go to France, dinner at 10pm is the absolute norm. I still find it hard to get used to!

2. Greeting people
Everyone knows about the whole kissing hoopla that happens when you meet French people. Is it going to be 1 kiss? Definitely not. 2? Most likely. Sometimes it's 3 though, and that really throws me off the loop. It's really just awkward. Now the Japanese - we go to the other extreme end of the spectrum. We bow when we meet people, and there is absolutely no touching involved. Even hugging between friends is not as common, and that I have always found foreign. I hug the life out of my friends, I hug E if we meet up somewhere - hugging is just a good medium, right?

3. Cheese
This is a no-brainer. There is absolutely zero cheese involved in traditional Japanese cooking, and even our western dishes only require a small quantity on occasion. To the French, cheese and wine are like a whole other religion. When I was in France over Christmas, we ate every day with our lovely friends, one of whom was American. She ate everything, and liked everything, but by the 5th day of eating cheese at every single meal she did utter the words, "Wow, more cheese?", and I sympathised big time. I love it, but I came home craving noodles. Asian food will always be my favourite, and French will always be E's. It's a good thing we love each other's favourites, and that we come from real foodie cultures.

4. PDA
Otherwise known at Public Displays of Affection. In Japan, you will probably never see people kissing in public, not even on the cheek. I mean, hugging is already rare - there's no smooching to be seen there! Couples holding hands is pretty much as far as it goes. Even though I was brought up here in England, I still have a bit of that reserve in me, and while E is happy enough to be affectionate in any situation, I am slightly apprehensive of being "lovey dovey", especially in front of close friends rather than strangers, funnily enough. Then again, I don't think I would be happy if he never wanted to show a little affection regardless of where we were, so I'm a bit high maintenance really!

Of course, you don't have to come from different countries to have differences in opinions, habits or traditions - I'd love to hear more stories like these.

*obviously these are generalisations based on my own experiences and our personal differences, I mean no offence to anyone!

royal china

22 February 2014

After a rather active morning, my mind was on one thing and one thing only: dim sum.

Knowing that they don't take reservations at lunchtime, we made our way to Royal China in Queensway, and arrived to a mass of people clutching what looked like raffle tickets. We quickly realised that it was the method to the madness for this queue of hungry people, and quickly got one ourselves.

We queued for an hour… what is it with me and being so determined to wait for my food lately? Well, if anything is a good cause, it's dim sum.

An hour of grumbling stomachs later (we killed time playing Trivial Pursuit on my phone, and I lost. I blame the hunger) -

Quite the feast.

From top to bottom: crispy duck rolls, pan fried gyoza, prawn cheung fun, crispy spiced turnip cakes, scallop dumplings, prawn and chive dumplings, pork and prawn siu mai, sticky rice in lotus leaf, steamed buns with char siu beef.

The service here is so fast, the food delicious and piping hot, and the dishes reasonably priced. It's one of my favourite places for comforting, no fuss dim sum, but maybe next time we won't go at peak time on a Sunday. Or at the very least, we'll play Trivial Pursuit while we queue again, and I will win.

london: art and architecture

20 February 2014

On the one miraculously sunny Sunday last weekend, we went for a lovely day out in the centre of the city. Our main destination was the Tate Modern, as we had tickets to the Paul Klee exhibition.

The past few weeks (months?) of rain and wind has had me walking around with my head down, trying to avoid getting gusts of dirt from getting into my eyes. So it was something of an awakening to look up for once in the beautiful sunshine, and see all the incredible architecture and impressive views that London has to offer - all too often hiding behind mother nature's moodiness.

The exhibition was fascinating - I've always been a fan of Klee's work, but hadn't known much about his life. It was a big one - you need plenty of time to get through just under 20 rooms - but it was absolutely worth it (catch it before 9th March!). To think that his art was displayed in an exhibition by the Nazis titled "Degenerate Art" due to their hostility towards modernism (along with artists like Chagall and Kandinsky, two of my all time favourites)… I can only feel glad that we live in different times now. 

As always, I picked up a couple of my favourite works in postcard form. 

We soaked up as much vitamin D as we could, walking along the river from the museum to Waterloo. The Southbank is always so full of life, an ideal place for people watching and not feeling silly taking photos all the time, surrounded by tourists with monster cameras around their necks.

When will we see another full day of sunshine again? I have no idea, but I guess the wait is worth it.

the breakfast club

18 February 2014

This place is no secret.

Made pretty obvious by the sizeable queue…

… that went around the block.

When my sister, her friend J and I started queueing at 11:15 on a Saturday morning, we didn't realise quite how long the wait would be - if we had, we probably wouldn't have braved it. Ignorance was bliss in this case, because we only got inside an hour and a half later. That's dedication.

The last time I went there was my first time, and we got there at a funny time on a weekend - around 3/4pm - so we barely had to queue. This was a different experience all together, but it did make the food taste that much better once we were finally given our well-deserved brunch.

As you can see, it was quite the spread. We ordered the Full Monty (full English), pancakes with bacon, and french toast with apples and cinnamon. Although everything was delicious, we unanimously agreed that the pancakes were the stars of the show - it was confirmed that the first I tried them here wasn't a fluke.

We did ourselves proud -

Obviously, queueing for an hour and a half is for loonies, so I would suggest you go at an obscure time or on a weekday at least. If you can face the long queue though, it will be worth it - it'll be like running a marathon or giving birth. You'll forget the pain once it's done (or so I'm told…).