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London (Day 1 and 2)- Just a Couple Randos at Nando’s

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Well, it seems that my adventures in Asia have come to a close (for now), and I’m back in the USA writing about them from the comfort of my parents’ kitchen.  On the way back from the Far East, I stopped over in London to visit a few friends, so naturally I had to chronicle my culinary conquests as I made my way through the same streets of Jack the Ripper and Tiny Tempah.

The first day was relatively laid back in terms of food experimentation as I made my way to my friend Ravi’s flat in the notoriously rough but currently trendy East End of London around Bow Road.  This area was also known for its Cockney subculture and signature accent which has been made famous in popular culture through plays like Pygmalion, or through the award winning actor, Michael Caine.  Unfortunately, the neighborhood’s traditional pickled whelks and jellied eels were a bit hard to find, so I instead tried some of Ravi’s home cooking which was wonderful.  He made me a vegetarian shepherd’s pie that seemed to consist of tomato sauce, lentils, beans, carrots, peppers, potatoes, and cheese on top.  It was filling, spicy, and savory which made my taste buds happy since I normally don’t go for vegetarian fare.

Squash in the glass and the bottle in the upper left hand corner.

Squash in the glass and the bottle in the upper left hand corner.

However, the funnier part of the meal was the drink I had.  When I first arrived at his apartment, he asked me if I wanted something to drink like water, tea, or squash…squash?  I assumed he meant that he would take out some butternut squash and turn them into juice, so I opted for water.  Dinnertime rolled around, and he offered me this mystery squash to drink again.  So, I decided to give it a go.  He proceeded to bring out what looked like a big bottle of fruit juice.  He then poured a small amount into my glass and filled the rest up with water.  It tasted just like it advertised as a soft blend of strawberry and kiwi.  Turns out the actual squash is just a fruit concentrate with no gourds involved.  Hooray for regional dialects!  Then for dessert, I had another cultural clash as Ravi’s roommate, Jaime, offered me a Milky Way bar.  I love Milky Way bars in the US, so I gratefully accepted it.

Same, same, but different.

Same, same, but different.

After I bit into it, I was a bit taken aback by the contents since it lacked the caramel present in American Milky Way bars.  Instead, it was like a 3 Musketeers bar since there was only chewy nougat enveloped in chocolate.  Either way, it was a fitting end to a delicious meal.

The following day, I was out and about seeing the sights London had to offer.  For lunch, I did stop at Pizza Express, one of London’s most ubiquitous restaurant chains serving pizza and other Italian dishes, I didn’t feel like it really warranted an in-depth review.  Instead, I’ll bring you an even better chain that was introduced to me back in 2006 compliments of my friend Rav.  We were talking about fried chicken in America, and he told me of this place called “Nando’s” in London which he described as, “KFC but they don’t ba’a (batter in East London-ese) it” and had “peri-peri sauce”.  Given these random descriptions and my friend’s clear passion for this mysterious eatery, I vowed one day to try it.  Fast forward to 2008, and I finally made my pilgrimage with my friends to Nando’s.nandos-clink-street-london  Needless to say, I could see why Rav was bonkers about it as Nando’s serves roasted Portuguese/Mozambican chicken.  You have the option of choosing a quarter chicken,  half chicken, or wings with optional sides.  They also have salads, burgers, pittas, and wraps.  On this occasion I went for the half chicken, a side of chips (fries for Amurika), and some macho peas.  Once I ordered my food, I went to the sauce bar which has bottles that range from a pleasant lemon and herb to a mouth-scorching extra-spicy in an ominous black bottle.   The “peri-peri” Rav mentioned back in our college days means “bird’s eye pepper”, and there is a whole lot of it in said extra-spicy sauce.

No fowl play here.  Just good food.

No fowl play here. Just good food.

As for the actual food, the chicken is excellently prepared with plenty of semi-spicy marinade coating the juicy and pure white meat that just barely clings to the bone.  The macho peas were an interesting choice since they were peas seasoned with parsley, mint, and chili which unfortunately tasted like I was consuming minty peas sans chili.  While I like both elements separately, I think they should tinker with the ratio of spices to make this pedestrian side something special.  I’m more partial to their garlic bread side that not only is very garlicky but crunchy and pliable at the same time.  Their chips are good but nothing that will knock your socks off.  Come for the chicken and stay for the sauce, that’s what I’d recommend.  We ended our night with a couple of pints at the Horniman Pub on the Thames River as we watched Tottenham Hotspur cruise to victory, and I went to bed a very satisfied Yank.

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An Elephant Never Forgets 100 Posts

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Hey y’all!  So this is another installment of Mastication Monologues from my recent vacation for the Korean Thanksgiving holiday.  Actually, now that I think about it, this is my 100th post!  I never thought I would keep up with my blog for this long, and I would be trying so many different types of food and sharing my findings with the world.  Thanks for all of your support!!  Yet I regret having not started it earlier to record some great restaurants I visited in Europe whose names escape me now.  Alas, the show must go on, and this will be epic!  So that brings me to today’s post where I traveled to the island of Macau.

Before I left, my friends told me to read up on the Vietnam visa on arrival program and to consider a work visit, I considered it for a long time before I decided to keep with my initial plans. I started my day again at a cha chaan teng where I had a Hong Kong breakfast of oats with milk and crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk.   If you don’t know what a cha chaan teng is, check out my last post.

Hong Kong's odd couple

Hong Kong’s odd couple

The oats were unfortunately more milk than oats, so I jazzed up the bland concoction with some sugar that was on the side.  As for my crispy buns with sweetened condensed milk, I should have just gotten two orders of these toasted nuggets of heaven.  Not only were they crunchy yet soft, but the salty butter mixed with the extremely sweet condensed milk definitely beat any doughnut I’ve probably ever had.  They were that good.  Once I downed that satisfying meal, I was ready to catch my boat to Macau.

I was originally drawn to Macau ever since my mom told me about her exhilarating ride on the hydrofoil, and how the island was a mix of both Portuguese and Chinese cultures.  So, I was determined to see this cosmopolitan island for myself while vacationing in Hong Kong.  Naturally, the food was another driving factor for me to go the extra mile and see the island.  I’ve always loved Portuguese and Brazilian culture whether that be Fado vs. a birimbao for a capoeira  roda or some Nando’s spicy piri piri chicken vs. some pao de queijo and brigadeiro.  One of the first noms that I sought out were the pasteis de nata or more commonly known as egg custard tarts.  I really wanted to try them in Macau because I had some in the Santa Maria de Belem neighborhood of Lisbon.

The original bakery.

The monastery next to the original bakery in Lisbon.

I bought them at the first bakery (Casa de Pasteis de Belem) that began mass producing these egg desserts in 1837 when the original producers, the Jeronimos monks, were driven out by the Liberal Revolution of the 1820s.

Ain't nothing like the real thing.

Ain’t nothing like the real thing.

They were amazing there with a little powdered sugar and cinnamon on top, so I was gunning to see if they were worth the boat ride.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

I was a fatty even five years ago.

In Macau, I ended up going to Margaret’s Cafe e Nata which is located at Gum Loi Building, Rua Alm Costa Cabral R/C Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro, Macau.IMG_0777  I saw there was a line, and a woman was directing the traffic for what seemed to be a sandwich line and a pastry line.IMG_0776  She looked at me, and I asked for “pasteis de nata“.  She looked at me like I was an alien.  I said it again, and she said, “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, egg tarts” and then led me to the line on the left.  I thought she was just an oddball who didn’t speak Portuguese, but I told the woman behind the register, “Quero seis pasteis de nata, por favor“.  She was less incredulous, but still had trouble understanding.  I held up six fingers, and she rung me up.  Then when she gave me change, she said “obrigado” which only men should say.  I guess Wikitravel really was right when it said people don’t really speak Portuguese in Macau even though everything is written in it…so strange.IMG_0779  Anyway, I quickly opened the box to find six golden mini-pies that would eventually fuel my intense day of hiking and sightseeing.IMG_0780  The first bite revealed a crispy top with a smooth, vanilla taste accompanied with a slightly gooey egg interior and an extremely flaky yet sweet pastry crust.  Overall, they were pretty good, but they were a bit too gelatinous for my liking.  The originals in Lisbon were better since the egg custard was a lot creamier and didn’t feel like you were eating a sweet omelet.  While walking to the Sao Paulo Cathedral, I also have to mention the free beef jerky samples I got in the street.

A real meat market

A real meat market

These stalls are mainly by the cathedral.  I tried the spicy and honey bbq flavors, and it’s different than jerky back in the States.  The Maccanese version was flavorful and surprisingly moist like it was just cut off the cured hog.

After running all over Macau and hiking up a mountain to see a temple, I decided I needed to go to Rua da Cunha on Cotai Island.  IMG_2475This street is known for its Portuguese bakeries and restaurants, so I decided to go to Restaurante Dumbo.IMG_0786  It’s very well furnished inside, and the prices are a bit more expensive compared to Hong Kong restaurants. IMG_0783 I ended up getting a quarter of gallina a la portuguesa which arrived in a small pot at my table. IMG_0784 It was delicious as the top was crusted over with cheese, and then beneath the surface lurked large chunks of chicken along with potatoes, black olives, and carrots.  It was a hearty dish that obviously came from humble origins with the ingredients. IMG_0785 I would highly recommend this place to anyone who wants to try Maccanese cooking.  Then I got serradura for dessert.  Serradura means “sawdust” in Portuguese, and it probably was pretty apt since the crushed cookies on top looked literally like it should be on a steakhouse floor.IMG_2478  However, the taste was phenomenal.  It was like a rich vanilla ice cream cup covered with cookie crumbs.  It was a good end to my visit to Macau.

IMG_0798

Hey girl, can I take you home?

At the end of the night back in Hong Kong, a couple of the guys and I went out in the Wanchai neighborhood and found Big Pizza located at 89 Lockhart road.  I ended up getting a piece since what goes better with beer than pizza?  I opted for the chicken tikka pizza, and it was a slice as big as my head for only 20 HK.  Needless to say, the pizza was just what the doctor ordered.  The chicken was tender and had the proper Indian spices while the crust was firm, slightly chewy, and baked to a golden-brown.  A great way to end a great night.

Next up, my last night in Hong Kong with sum dim sum action.

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