Eat & shop here: The Chaweng Walking Street Market, Koh Samui, Thailand

First of September; first day of spring, first day waking up to brilliant, bright sunshine in a while this morning! And this morning as I’m sitting on the train to work writing this post, I’m thinking of Thailand… It’s been a long winter, which I usually enjoy, but the throat infection that’s had me knocked on my ass for the past 2 weeks has been making wish for warmer climates and lazy days spent doing something other than “resting” and “getting better”..,

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Chaweng Walking Street Market
South Chaweng, just off the main street
Koh Samui, Thailand

Yes, I realise those aren’t particularly amazing directions or an exact address, but we’re talking about Thailand here. The Chaweng area isn’t that big, so all you need to do is ask someone to point you in the right direction! When husband and I visited early 2014, we didn’t realise that the action all happened at night time there, with the night market being pretty popular with both tourists and locals alike. We saw “market” marked on a map we picked up and the airport and made our way over around lunch time one day; one single vendor was open, so we ordered lunch there, and it was probably the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten…

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In fact, the food was so good that we returned later that night, and the night after that! The little stall made some incredible food; other than the pad that, the other favourite was the spring rolls, hand made fresh daily by someone’s cousin. Or maybe it was someone’s aunt. I can’t remember. Doesn’t matter though, they were delicious either way!

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The Walking Street completely comes to life at night though, after around 5.30pm, so make sure you visit on an empty stomach and ready to shop your way around in between food and cocktails!

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Motivation Monday! Read this: My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey

My Fight / Your Fight
by Ronda Rousey

Motivation Monday! Because I’ve been sick for almost two weeks and God knows I need some motivation to start my week with!! Last week, while reading My Fight / Your Fight, I posted this image on Instagram; it was surprisingly difficult, and at the same time, therapeutic. I’m no world class MMA fighter, but I won’t be accused of jumping on the bandwagon, because I am a black belt in taekwondo. I wasn’t the best of the best, but I never gave anything less than my best. My years in the sport were the most formative years of my life. Competing in martial arts isn’t something that can be easily understood unless you’ve actually done it yourself – it is so, so different to other sports. Taekwondo was also the first thing I’d ever tried in my life where:
a) I wasn’t compared to my sisters
b) nothing was expected of me, so I wasn’t under any pressure
c) I was part of a group of people who really cared and made me feel like I belonged
d) I didn’t feel like an utter and complete failure

It was a big, big part of my life, and leaving the sport tore a massive hole through me – both literally (with hip surgery to repair torn cartilage) and figuratively (when you’ve spent a decade trying to build some semblance of self confidence, and that one bad egg tears you apart with a few nasty words said to get a laugh at your expense, it truly does rip your soul). One day I hope to be able to write honestly about my taekwondo life – what brought me to it, what kept me going, what my experiences truly were, both mentally and physically,  but I’m not ready for that now. Let me say instead that if a role model like Ronda Rousey had been around for me 10 years ago, if someone had written a book this raw and real when I was still training and competing, things may have turned out differently for me. Not just in the sport, but in my entire life.

As a creature with so little self-confidence a few mean words from a pre-schooler would probably reduce me to tears, I was utterly and completely captivated by this book, written by one hell of a woman, who managed to fight every limitation and assumption against her with the strong belief she had in herself. The hard times in her life only served to toughen her, living proof of the good old “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” cliche. And it’s not just about the sport; it’s about life.

If you don’t know who Ronda Rousey is, you’ve obviously been cozily tucked away under your rock for quite some time now . The Olympic judo medalist and reigning UFC bantamweight champion has taken the world by storm, parlaying her success in the MMA into an acting career and now, her book My Fight / Your Fight. I was pretty keen to get my paws on it, given the serious lack of genuine female martial artists with something to say, and I was not disappointed – I flew through the book! So what’s it about?

Marked by her signature charm, barbed wit, and undeniable power, Rousey’s account of the toughest fights of her life—in and outside the Octagon—reveals the painful loss of her father when she was eight years old, the intensity of her judo training, her battles with love, her meteoric rise to fame, the secret behind her undefeated UFC record, and what it takes to become the toughest woman on Earth. Rousey shares hard-won lessons on how to be the best at what you do, including how to find fulfillment in the sacrifices, how to turn limitations into opportunities, and how to be the best on your worst day.

What that translates to is a book full of mini chapters, each headed with a little bit of advice as applicable to the real world as in competitive fighting. Some of my favourites, some of the things I wish I’d heard from a fellow female martial artist when I was younger, included:

– Never underestimate an opponent.

– Do not accept less than what you’re capable of.

– Turn limitations into opportunities: use setbacks to develop in another area you wouldn’t otherwise addressed.

– Find fulfillment in the sacrifices: most people focus on the wrong thing; they focus on the result, not the process. The process is the sacrifice; it is all the hard parts – learn to enjoy them, or at least embrace them.

– You have to be the best on your worst days: you have to win so clearly that they have no choice but to declare you the winner.

– No one has the right to beat you: you both start from zero. Where you take it from there is up to you.

– Don’t rely on others to make your decisions.

– Everything is as easy as making a decision and then acting on it.

– This is my situation, but this isn’t my life: terrible situations don’t last forever.

– Nothing will ever be perfect: make the present moment the perfect moment.

– The only power people have over you is the power you give them: once you start caring about people’s opinions of you, you give up control.

 

Honestly, I loved this book. It’s raw and open and honest. It’s not polished up to be glamorous, not even in the “oh look how hard things were and how amazing I am now!” kind of way you usually read. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only worth a read if you’re a female martial artist. This book is for everyone who’s ever had to put in a fight for something that really meant something to them. It’s for everyone who’s ever lost someone important. For everyone who’s been in a shitty relationship. For everyone who’s been told they couldn’t, shouldn’t, or that their ideas are ridiculous. It’s for the guys and girls who’ve been torn down and fought to get back up. For the people who want something better for themselves, even if they don’t know what that is yet or how to get it. It’s for every single person out there who doesn’t realise that the big chance they need to change their lives isn’t going to be magically bestowed upon them – that the chance is already ready to be taken if they can just be brave enough. Because you shouldn’t ever let anyone force you to take a step back.  Get a copy, as soon as you possibly can, and re-examine the excuses you’re making for yourself not to live the life you really want.

Through my eyes: New Orleans, 10 years post-Katrina…

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It’s hard to believe it was 10 years ago to the day that Hurricane Katrina tore apart New Orleans; 10 years ago I was half way through my university degree, still living at home, in a relatively new relationship with the guy that would become my husband. When we first started dating, we spent a lot of time talking about all the places we wanted to travel to (and it was a bloody long list), the places we wanted to see and, more importantly, experience. New Orleans was a city pretty high up on both our lists, and we were both equally surprised at the others’ desire to visit. New Orleans, pre-Katrina, wasn’t exactly a big ticket city; at least not for 2 Aussie uni students. It wasn’t a Paris or a London or  a New York. But we both wanted to go. He wanted to go for the music, the night life, the care-free atmosphere in a city that seemed to be built on fun. I couldn’t actually put into words why I wanted to go; it was one of those bizarre, inexplicable, “I don’t know why, but I know I belong in that city” things. Something about the music, the art, the voodoo, the cemeteries, the literature, the food – I just knew that any place there was a coalescence of all those things was a place I needed to be.

But we were still kids. We were both full time uni students. We had big dreams, but no money to fund them. When Katrina hit the city, we were both devastated; for some still unknown reason, we felt a strange connection to this mysterious city on the other side of the world. We debated over and over again whether it’d still be a city we’d want to visit post-Katrina. Would it be somehow tainted? Would the recovery effort have taken away all of the magic and the charm we wanted to visit for? Would they, a people so fiercely proud and protective of their city, still accept visitors as openly? We weren’t sure, but we were both determined to visit anyway and find out for ourselves.

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Ten and a half years after we started dating, and nine and a half long years after Katrina hit, we finally made it. We finally visited this city we were both so strangely drawn to. And while the spirit of the people was so strong, the physical effects of Katrina were still so punishingly visible.

This storm caused damage on a scale that can’t be accurately understood through words. We’ve all read the numbers, the statistics, but even they seem completely unreal.
80% of the city under water.
Almost 2000 lives lost.
Close to $110 billion in damage.

There have been hundreds of articles written about it all, and nothing I write will be as meaningful as some of the first-hand accounts written by the residents and survivors (I’d especially recommend watching  HBO’s Treme and reading Nine Lives by Dan Baum). What I can say, as a complete foreigner and outsider, is that New Orleans changed the trajectory of my life. Even post-Katrina, it was still magic. All of the imperfections made it so perfect. My soul was different for having visited. And all of our reservations were completely unfounded; the charm was still there, the recovery effort was incredible, and the people couldn’t have been more kind and welcoming. Instead of writing about the recovery ten years on, because (let’s be honest) I really don’t have the insight into it like the locals will, let me show you New Orleans through my eyes almost 10 years on. And I’m not talking the pretty touristy sights. Let me show you some of the more real, less brochure-worthy, genuine places and things I saw.

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10 Delicious Things To Eat In Thailand

I wrote this article last week for Outlet Magazine, and enjoyed writing it so much (it brought back so many great memories!) that I thought I’d share it here, too :) Thailand has been relatively quiet in the world news since the Shutdown Bangkok movement of January 2014 that we somehow managed to get caught up in; that is, until the bombings in the country’s capital last week. For a country that makes a great portion of its living from tourism, this is a huge blow to the already struggling economy, which actually really upset me; for the most part, they’re good people who are working hard to make better lives for themselves. To be attacked like that is just cruel, it’s really really hard to hear about, especially when it’s Bangkok – the city gets a shitty wrap, but it’s still one of my favourite places! But, like I said when I wrote about the Shutdown thing, there are still so many great reasons to visit Thailand! Think cheap cocktails and beer, endless shopping, bustling markets and (best of all) some of the best food in the world. When things settle down and we’re all ready to head over to spend up on handbags and food, here are ten of the best things to eat.

 

  1. Anything on a stick
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    Chances are if it’s edible meat of any description, you’ll find it in Thailand threaded onto a skewer and grilled. Chicken, beef, pork, seafood, whatever – it’s all fair game, and it’s always delicious. Extra delicious if you can find honey marinated grilled pork skewers, those are the best.
  1. Noodles with wontons
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    There’s a pretty noticeable Chinese influence in Thailand, and you can see it in a lot of the food. Fresh noodles with BBQ pork and wontons are one of those dishes that allows the Chinese influence to sneak in, but it’s so good no one seems to mind.
  1. Satay chicken skewers
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    This is a simple dish, but a huge street food favourite. Grilled chicken on a stick with flavourful, delicious satay sauce. Really good option on the way home from a big night on Bangla Road.
  1. Freshly grilled seafood
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    Find a decent seafood restaurant (look for somewhere super busy), pick out your dinner from the monster crustaceans displayed on ice out the front, ask to have them grilled and go with a simple butter garlic sauce on the side. Amazing!
  1. Pork fried rice
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    Another dish with a Chinese influence, fried rice is always a classic. It’s a great one to order from the street food vendors at night, particularly if you’re looking for something a bit more comforting and familiar.
  1. Nutella crepes
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    Every bit as good as the Parisian stuff. Actually, they’re better here, because more often than not, your Nutella and strawberry stuffed crepe will be doused in condensed milk before it’s served up to you. If that sounds unappealing to you, it’s only because you haven’t had one after a few cheap cocktails at 1am. You should try it.
  1. Pad Thai
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    Duh – can’t well go to Thailand without eating Pad Thai!! Skip the tacky Westernised restaurants and head straight to the street food vendors; that’s where the best stuff comes from. Grab a fresh coconut to drink from while you’re at it – absolute winning combination.
  1. Fresh fruit smoothies
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    These little stalls are set up absolutely everywhere and are the best way to feel better about your holiday food intake. Fresh mangos, strawberries, watermelon and pineapples all blended with ice into a cool, thick cup of healthy deliciousness. They also double up as great happy hour options if you buy your own liqueur at one of the infinite 7/11s floating around ;)
  1. Coconut sticky rice with fresh mango
    Photograph © Jess Carey 2014
    Another Thai classic – thick, sticky, coconut rice topped with sweet, fresh mango. It’s one of those dishes you don’t even need to be hungry to eat – it’s just soooo good!
  1. Coconut ice cream
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    Yeah, they like their coconut over there. And when it’s so delicious and fresh, you can’t blame them for coming up with so many ways to use it. Freshly churned coconut ice cream at the end of a hot day is complete perfection. And because it’s technically made from fruit, you can eat as much as you like without feeling guilty! Everyone wins!

Eat here: Nippori, New York, (Japanese)

Nippori
245 W 51st St, New York
http://www.nipporiny.com/

So, I’m currently curled up on the couch, coughing violently, with what I suspect is a  slight fever, and feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck. But (light at the end of the tunnel) I’m also off to Japan in 43 days… this is rolling around SO quickly!!! This whole low FODMAP thing is a bit shit when I feel like a burger or a donut, but one of the other foods I frequently crave (and can actually eat at the moment) is Japanese! Yay! Every now and then I get crazy cravings for Japanese food. But good Japanese food, not like Japanese-by-numbers crap. I had one of those cravings in New York earlier this year, and did a bit of research online (AKA I Googled for 10 minutes before getting bored and hungry and settling on the first one I saw) and we ended up going to Nippori for dinner before seeing WICKED – conveniently located across the road,  by the way!

Nippori is a gorgeous little place, small but beautifully set out, with the very high standard of customer service you would typically associate with such a nice Japanese restaurant.  After being invited into the warmth from the New York winter cold and greeted like old friends who hadn’t visited in months, we were immediately seated and handed our menus. Everything looked to be pretty good, and the food envy started almost straight away, watching meal after meal being brought out of the kitchen and placed on surrounding tables. We decided to order a few plates, in the interest of being able to try as much as possible; we ended up with:

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Top left: one of the specials of the day, a perfectly braised pork belly with onion, bean sprouts, and the most magnificent sauce. Perfect choice!

Top right: pan-fried pork gyoza, one of my favourites. Nippori did gyoza particularly well, great flavour without that unsavoury aftertaste you can sometimes get with dumplings.

Bottom left: assorted sushi platter. The fish was fresh and buttery, fell apart as you ate it, and the rice was really well seasoned. One of the better sushi platters I’ve had.

Bottom right: oyako don – this chicken, onion and egg on rice dish is a favourite of mine to order at home at Shiki Japanese, and despite being a little different and a lot more expensive AUD$9.50 vs USD$13.00), it certainly didn’t disappoint. The spring onions gave it a great taste, and the sauces they used were perfect with the chicken and egg. Loved it!

It wasn’t the cheapest place to eat, but then again, nothing really is in New York (particularly in the theatre district!). It was more than worth it though; good Japanese food is always something I’ll happily justify spending a little more on, and it’s a place I’d definitely recommend if you’re craving some good Japanese food in New York, too. And while we’re talking Japanese food, any exceptional recommendations for Tokyo??!

 

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