Tag Archives: food

Kyoto – Nishiki Food Market 2 Ways

I luuuuuvvvvv markets. I’ve been to markets on at least 4 continents and when I was in Kyoto and heard they had a FOOD market, it was a must see destination for me. These two photos show two different aspects of markets. The first is the gorgeous eye candy displays. Displays like these are wonderful for photography not to mention the foodie inside me. However, I have come over the years to be brave enough to photograph the scene in the second photograph – the action that brings the market to life.  While the barrels form a pleasing composition – slightly at an angle leading your eye towards the bottom left – and add lovely texture with the dark wood and the rope wrap; the interaction of the vendor and buyer capture a moment that encapsulates what markets mean!



Happy Chinese New Year 2013!

Some of my best friends are snakes……and I mean that in the best of ways! My Aunt is a vegetarian so when I was invited for Chinese New Year dinner, I knew what I was in for – good thing I love her cooking.  I do apologize that I can’t tell you everything here, but I’ll do my best.

My first introduction to my Aunt’s vegetarian cooking was her sweet and sour dish. It’s made with all the usual ingredients substituting the breaded “surprise” pork bits with dried tofu (I know it as “fu-juk”). As my cousin says, a lot of people prefer this version once they taste it.

Sweet and sour

Another of my Aunt’s staple dishes is this eggplant stir fry. She uses the Chinese, narrow eggplant which is a lot firmer than the big ones we usually see in the supermarkets. And it’s nice and spicy so that even if you don’t like eggplant, you’ll love the gravy!


If you’ve ever been to a vegetarian Chinese restaurant or a Hollywood special effects shop, you’ll know the wonders they can do to make one thing look like something totally different. Hence the “salmon” with white sauce, the BBQ “pork” complete with the vivid-not-to-be-seen-in-nature red colouring and “squid” with snow peas stir fry.  I would love to know how they get the translucent nature of the squid though.

"Salmon" "Cha Sow" (BBQ Pork)"Squid" Dish

The dish below is your typical tofu stir fry using the “hard” tofu. Paired with the subtle taste of the winter melon and greens, all the flavours meld together very nicely.

Tofu and Winter Melon

I could not tell you everything in this dish. Even after my Aunt explains it to me every year, I still can’t tell you. I know there are gingko fruit (the yellow things) and mushrooms (the dark black things), tofu of course (the big things in the foreground) and I think there were potatoes or some other root vegetable and quite possible some more mushrooms (the stringy things there might be enoki mushrooms). In any case, it is a traditional new year’s dish!

Traditional Chinese New Year Dish

And of course, no Chinese meal would be complete without the sweet mandarins!!!


What says “Jamaica” to me?

My Jamaica is not just the beach. When I speak with fellow Jamaicans or when I am back in the homeland, the one thing that screams “I’m back ayard!!” more than the patties or oxtail or ackee is what we Jamaicans do to names. People’s names, street names, town names….anything is fair game.

When I was growing up far from the island, I always associated food with my culture. It was so different than the Canadian food – full of peppa (HOT peppers) and spicees and rich sauces and flava (flavour)!! Not to mention the exotic ingredients – cassava, oxtail (yes, real tail from real ox, not like the British toad in the hole which doesn’t involve any real toads), okra and plantain (the sweet fruit, not that leafy green medicinal plant).

The next stage was when I met my cousins and aunts and uncles who all still held onto their Jamaican accent. I still remember with some trepidation one of the first dinner parties where I could not understand a word Uncle T said. I had to find my mom and ask her if he was speaking a different language. Oh, how I wanted (still want) to speak like them! It was musical, intriguing and it was “home”.

But I realize now that more than the rum that leaks from our very pores (comes from having it poured on us every time it rains), it is the use of language that ties us together. This is what allows us to recognize each other as soon as someone walks through the door and you hear “Awhahappen?” But you know the soul of a Jamaican by how they use the language. We don’t bat an eye at names like Pretty (uncle) or nicknames like Plumby (uncle – spelling approximate as I’ve never actually seen it written – real name Ronald), Cutie (aunt), Evadne, etc.

We also use it to be a colourful descriptor. So while you can certainly find a “Main Street” (actually Avenue) in Kingston, Jamaica, you are just as likely to run across “Half Way Tree Road” or “Birdsucker Lane” or “Constant Spring road” or even “Red Hills Road”.  Each name conjuring up a visual or indicating that there must be a story behind the name. The most innocuous name I saw on my last visit was “Orange Grove” and even that makes you think of bright orange fruit with a leafy green backdrop!

However, it’s not all fun and interesting names. I was in my early 20s before I realized that one very ordinary and plain word was being used to indicate the staple of boiled yams and bananas in our diet. This, they call “food”.

Review: Bamboo restaurant (Hawaii)

Hawaiian cuisine – I had no expectations in this area as I was headed to the beach!!!!  Plus I had heard that the luaus were very expensive and a lot of them were very touristy. We had just been on a day trip when we ended up in Hawi close to dinner time. My Aunt and Uncle always wanted to try this place so we decided to stay until service started (about 30 min) and made reservations.

Bamboo is a restaurant, store and art gallery all rolled into one. And it’s in a little town of Hawi, which was actually one of the bigger settlements in the North part of the Big Island. But the restaurant is well known and it was a “destination” – it must have been because by the time we came back for our reservation at 6pm, two tables were already seated before us and by the time we got the menu, the front room was full. On a Wednesday night. Before 6:30.

Travel tip #76: Restaurants crowded with LOCALS are always good bets. If they are crowded with TOURISTS….well, at least the drinks are fresh for sure.

Between the 4 of us at the table, two had the fish of the day (mahi mahi) done two different ways; one had the luau port and I had the Vietnamese salad. Both of the fish dishes were good (and one person didn’t even like fish usually!). The coconut  crusted, pan fired fish looked delicious and the Hawaiian baked was done as ordered (well, well, well done) and my Uncle cleaned his plate. My Aunt kept raving about the pork and cabbage saying it tasted like it really did come from a genuine luau. My Vietnamese salad was just what I wanted. Light, crunchy with a nice flavour. The veggie spring rolls that came with it were flavourful and the soba noodles held onto the sweet chili sauce in just the right amount. The grilled chicken (also came in veggie and tofu variety) was also done nicely and the lettuce and other crunchy veggies set it all off well.

If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend Bamboo!


Review: The Hawaiian Vanilla Company

mmmm, Vanilla! An unexpected treat was finding a vanilla farm on the Big Island. This company is the only vanilla farm in the US. Their story is interesting and their products are top quality, but what we really loved was the lunch! We signed up for the lunch and farm tour not really knowing what to expect, but it sounding like something different to do. The lunch was actually a guided tasting, demonstration and information session all rolled into one. First, we chose between vanilla iced tea or vanilla lemonade or a mixture called the Arnold Palmer. Now, you don’t expect much from a drink with vanilla (remember that you don’t actually taste vanilla), but this was yummy!  As we learnt, vanilla acts to meld and combine flavours so it lessons the tartness of the lemons and mellows the astringency of the tea.

Then, the chef demonstrated the appetizer. I may not get the whole thing right, but it was a vanilla curry shrimp on a toast point with pineapple vanilla chutney. As I was allergic to shellfish, I had it with brie instead of shrimp. Again, the sweetness of the chutney was just right – not too sugary. Now, at this point, what was supposed to have been just lunch and a tour was rapidly becoming a shopping trip since they carried most of these products in the store. But my Aunt and I thought we would still be able to get out of there with under $100 worth of goods.

The main was a chicken sandwich and salad – with vanilla of course! The salad dressing was vanilla-raspberry vinaigrette and it wasn’t like any vinaigrette I’d ever tasted. The sharp acidic notes were all rounded out and complemented the feta and pecans beautifully. The sandwich, which already had a marinade of citrus-bourbon (vanilla) on the chicken and onions also came with 2 sauces: mango aioli and barbeque (with vanilla). But the bread itself incorporated the vanilla.

Now, at this point, you may be thinking enough with the vanilla! But it really added to the flavours that were already there. Not overwhelming at all.

With the 2 sauces (3 eating possibilities if you blend them) and the actual sandwich, we decided on a empirical eating experience, cutting the sandwich in quarters so we could have all 4 tastings. Personally, I preferred the vanilla barbeque sauce by itself, but it was all yummy. At this point, my aunt and I decided we’d probably be going over $100 walking out of the store.

(oh, did I forget to mention the oven-roasted taters?)

Lastly, dessert. Finally! THIS is what vanilla was made for – the sweet stuff! Dessert was vanilla (duh!) ice cream with a lilikoi (passionfruit) curd. (Note the empty glasses in the background). One of the best desserts I’ve had in a long, long, long time. The curd was neither sickeningly sweet as some can be nor terribly tart as commercial lemon ones can be – just right.

Ian (the oldest son) was the one who gave us the farm tour as well as hosted the lunch and is a wealth of information (how can you really argue with anyone who’s been growing vanilla since he was 6 years old? – although I still say he should have sang for us the way we saw on the video). The tour is interesting for anyone who has never seen a real vanilla plant or who is interested in orchids!

In short, I’d highly recommend this as one of your stops on the Big Island!  (oh, and if you were keeping track, I did make it out of the store with less than $200 worth of products!)

Ackee means love

It was a common joke to say that I treat my Dad’s house like my grocery store – specifically the Chinese and Jamaican goods that my Uncle always stocks. (And the day I learn to tell one preserved mustard green in a vacuum pack from another, I will stop this practice.) So, the other night, when it was late and the family were chatting away and the subject of how Dad cooked Jamaica’s (unofficial) national dish came up, I got the inevitable teasing that I wanted to know if that was breakfast and if it was worthwhile my staying over for the night. I maintain that it was NOT a self-serving question, but a genuine exchange of information that is a cornerstone of our national and familial culture.

Food is always a good topic to discuss for Chinese and Jamaicans and if you put the two together (Chinese Jamaican or Jamaican Chinese), you double the subject matter available to you! In fact, I guarantee that if you mention this blog to a Chinese or Jamaican, you have enough conversation to last minimum 45 minutes and if you are in the person’s home, you will be offered at least a package or something to look at if not to taste.

We had just gotten a bit of breadfruit (don’t use the wiki site to look this up – go to this one) and the natural thing to go with this is ackee and saltfish.  My Dad said he would cook that. Now, I can’t recall my Dad ever cooking ackee (the “and saltfish” part is understood – leave it off to sound more native). EVER. He usually cooks North American foods – BBQ, ribs, lasagna, etc. My mom always did the Chinese cooking and my uncle did the Jamaican cooking. So, naturally, I had to ask if he knew HOW to cook ackee. With two of my uncles sitting right there, this led to a discussion of everything from which brand to buy (at $10 a tin, you have to make sure you get the right one), to how to rinse the ackee to how to marry the ackee with the saltfish. There was also a revelation and instruction to Uncle L that no, not everyone mashes up their ackee so it really does matter what brand you buy, thank you very much!

I certainly learnt a lot in the conversation not the least of which was that the men in the family did most of the cooking and were quite serious about it. They weren’t really talking about recipes; they were saying to me “here’s our culture. This is what we know and who we are. Don’t forget. And p.s., we’re family” – no hugging required.
And for those who are detailed oriented:

Brands of ackee – usually we bought Grace’s because their ackee held together well, but now they white label their products, so the firmness is pretty much the same as the others, except my uncles don’t buy Mr. Goudas for some reason and butter ackee can get mixed in with others so be prepared for it to fall apart

How to rinse – range of techniques; if you boil your saltfish instead of just soaking, you can use the same water after taking the saltfish out – either keep it boiling and blanch the ackee, turn off the stove and just drop the ackee in the hot water or pour the hot water over the ackee

How to combine – after sauteeing the saltfish with onion (all agree), tomatoe (disagreement there) and/or bacon (options available here for availability and vegetarianism) in a little or a lot of oil, you can add the ackee and turn off the stove and mix; pour saltfish mixture over ackee in dish and mix; add ackee and saute further; add ackee, turn down heat, cover and let simmer

So, you see why it was even later when the conversation finished and I had to stay over (I tend to crash my car when I’m tired) and have breadfruit and ackee and saltfish the next morning?


….is the name of the restaurant that I and a friend ate at last night. We stumbled on it by chance as it was around the corner from the organic spa we went to as well! We were so hungry, we would have probably picked the first halfway decent place and we got lucky because Beast is definitely more than halfway decent. It’s a sharing menu and the items are a bit on the pricey side (average around $11, $12 per dish)….ok, yeah, this is not where you go for a quick, cheap meal, but it is where you go for fresh, innovative food.

They also use local grown and sustainable ingredients when they can which is perfect. (Although I’m not sure what is local down at King and Bathurst in Toronto! LOL)

We had 5 dishes (they recommend 2-3 per person): ricotta dumplings, bc octopus (the oysters were still on the plane), “poutine”, bone marrow, and mushrooms on toast. They were ALL good. How many times do you get to say that? Our faves were the bc octopus and the bone marrow.

The octopus (sorry, I forgot my camera) was slices of cephalopod with chorizo, potatoes and almonds heaped on top. It is rare that a dish that smells so enticing lives up to the delicate yet full aroma with the flavour. I could have eaten two.

The bone marrow was also rich with flavour. Bruleed on top with salt crystals, the marrow was bursting with flavour and seasonings. Every once in a while, a salt crystal would pop on my tongue. My friend and I restrained ourselves, but confessed to each other afterwards that we both thought about either licking the bone or chiseling off the crusty bits to savour.

The dining room was small and it wasn’t crowded on a Wednesday night. Um, interesting decor…not quite sure what the message was (naked, anthropomorphised animals laying in the grass), but it was a good place if you actually wanted to hear what your dinner company was saying.

Would definitely go again.