Cook this: quick dinner – stir fried snapper & veggies

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Here’s another quick, easy, and very healthy dinner to add to the week’s set list – stir fried snapper and veggies! Carb free, gluten free, very low fat, full of veggies and relatively cheap (for Melbourne’s grocery price standards, anyway!), here’s how it works..

To make dinner (or lunch) for 2:
- 300g boneless snapper fillet, diced into approx. 3cm pieces
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 yellow squash, sliced
- 1 bunch broccolini, sliced (use the stems, too)
- 200g shitake mushrooms, sliced (if you can’t get these, regular mushrooms work just fine!)
- 4 shallots, sliced
- fresh coriander and deep fried shallots*, to serve (* available at all good Asian grocers and supermarkets)

Put it together:
1. Place the snapper in a bowl or container. Combine 1 tbsp soy sauce, the fish sauce, ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then pour over the snapper, mixing it in well – set aside.
2. Heat a wok over high heat and spray some cooking oil over it. Stir fry the broccolini for a few minutes, until the stems start to soften, then add the squash and stir fry for another minute. Put them in a bowl and set aside.
3. Re-spray the wok with cooking oil and add the mushrooms and shallots, stir frying for a few minutes, until they soften. Take them out of the wok and put them into the bowl with the other veggies.
4. Re-spray the wok once more and throw in the fish, cooking for 2 – 3 minutes (until cooked through). Add in the bowl of veggies you’d set aside earlier and the rest of the soy sauce, and combine the lot.
5. Spoon your stir fry into your bowl, top them with some deep fried shallots and fresh coriander, and enjoy :)

Ben Thanh Night Market, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

This is definitely one of the cooler markets I’ve been to. I’d read a little bit about it online when I Googled “night markets in Ho Chi Minh City,” learning that there was a day market there, housed in sheds and mostly undercover, but it really came into its own at night. The regular market shuts down at around 6pm, and then the mayhem begins, which we learnt the hard way.

Sib and I left our hotel room at around 5.30pm, ready to eat our weight in street food (we’d heard it was pretty good there). We figured if the market started up around 6.30pm, we’d have an hour to find our way (without a map, relying solely on the lovely doorman’s instructions, vaguely pointed to us from the hotel lobby) and dawdle a little in the process. When we arrived, we found the day time market still open, so we took a quick wander around, stopping to purchase some green tea.

We became suddenly very aware of the fact that all of the stalls seems to be packing up at once, quite abruptly, and we were clumsy nuisances tripping over semi-collapsed trestle tables and garbage bags; we stumbled back out to the street, surveying our options. We decided to take a walk around the outside of the market to see if we could work out where this night market would be set up. What happened next was without a doubt one of the most comical, peculiar, preposterous thing I think I’ve ever seen. We looked up the street and saw a line of men and women running tents and pergolas down the street, in amongst the traffic!

IMG_4959As we watched on, we witnessed the set up of the night market; it was mental. Complete madness. I don’t know how else to describe it. One moment, the area was empty, a few minutes later, the marquees we’d seen being wheeled down the street at breakneck speed were up, being wired with lighting and cooking stations were being fired up. A few minutes later, hand bags and watches were starting to come out of large sacks, being carefully laid out. We were stunned. We’d never seen anything like it! We decided to go grab a cold drink at a café and wait another 30 minutes or so to give the market a chance to set up properly.
IMG_4963When we returned, it was ready. I really couldn’t believe the speed and efficiency with which it was all done – if I hadn’t seen it myself, I’d have never believed it. The market itself was pretty good – small, lots of stuff to appeal to tourists, handicrafts, clothing, designer knock offs and what not. But it was the food that was the best.

We stopped at what seemed to be the world’s most fabulous pop-up restaurant, a well oiled machine commandeered by the calmest kitchen crew I’ve ever seen, not the least bit phased by the ridiculous crown already lining up to be seated, and waiters dressed in smart waist coats.
IMG_4967We went with our favourite Vietnamese dish for dinner – bun cha. I had the roast pork. It was perfect.
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We weren’t planning on dessert, but when we saw this cart with 6 different types of sticky rice, we changed our minds and took home a little polystyrene tub with a small scoop of each to share, smothered in coconut milk. Just wow.
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Eat here: Bún Chà Nem Cua Bê, Hanoi, Vietnan

Bún Chà Nem Cua Bê
1 Hang Manh, Hanoi, Vietnan

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Hands down one of the coolest dining and travel experiences of my life! We were picked up from Hanoi’s airport by a lovely young lady and her driver, who took us to our hotel. On the drive over, we talked the whole way, asking each other question after question. Her English was fantastic, and we found out she had a good friend in Sydney, which gave her a good opportunity to practice. We asked her for her recommendations on the things she thought we should see and her favourite places to eat – she proceeded to write out a double-sided notebook page for us!

We told her our favourite Vietnamese dish was bun cha – a huge smile spread across her face and she started to furiously scribble onto the page again, telling us this was her favourite food too, and she’d give us the address of her pick for the best place to get it in the city. Once she dropped us off at the hotel and we got a few photos taken together and exchanged email addresses, we dumped our suitcases in our room and prepared to head back out and find us some bun cha.

It took a little while, but eventually we found the street name. The ridiculous amount of people massed out the front indicated we were in the right place. Once it was clear that we were interested, we were quickly ushered into the establishment without a word from the lady. It looked like a little shop front that was already full and couldn’t possibly accommodate us; we were then ushered up two flights of stairs and to the end of a communal table.

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Without a word being exchanged, we pointed to a nearby water bottle and held up two fingers (we were aiming for 2 bottles of water, and we had them within 60 seconds), then settled down to survey our surroundings. Shoulder to shoulder, sardine-tin dining with miniature street side plastic stools and a crazy, market-style atmosphere. It was perfect. We’d no sooner taken in the full 360 degree view than looked down at the pile of food that had materialised in front of us. Much like the fabulous experience we had at Bale Well in Hoi An, it appeared that AUD$5.00 got us a bottle of water each as well as all we could eat bun cha.

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Pickled vegetables, a veritable mountain of noodles, half a garden worth of fresh herbs, fresh spring rolls and god knows what kind of meat wrapped in leaves and swimming in undoubtedly the best broth either of us had ever had.

So there we sat, looking at each other over the small plastic trestle table, simultaneously bursting out into laughter. We could not believe it! From what started as a “I wish we could just go to Vietnam and eat our way around the country!” We had actually made it a reality! We were sitting in a little nondescript street side shanty, three stories above Hanoi, eating the most spectacularly delicious spread of food! If you’re in Hanoi, please take down this address and ask your hotel or hostel front desk for directions; it’s one hell of an experience!

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Eat here: Big Lou’s Donuts, Melbourne

Big Lou’s Donuts, Melbourne
http://www.biglous.com.au

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This post should be pretty self-explanatory, given my love for all things that include sugar and dough. After an awesome night wondering the streets of Fitzroy to enjoy the Gertrude Street Projection Festival, it was time to wind up the night and catch the tram home. But not before a hot drink and some dessert.

Given our pending trip to America, I’ve been doing my homework, researching donut places over there. They’re the one sweet treat that I thoroughly enjoy, but don’t really seem to be a “thing” in Melbourne (yet?!). We wondered why we’d never given Big Lou’s a try and figured there was no time like the present, so:

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This is the TOTALLY NUTS donut, and it was totally delicious. Thick, cakey donut, solid chocolate frosting, and stacked full of crushed nuts. No idea why we hadn’t given these a chance before last night, but we apologise and we will be back. Next time you’re on Brunswick St and you see Big Lou’s, don’t be too quick to dismiss it. They do a good donut!

Big Lou's Donuts on Urbanspoon

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival, Melbourne

The Gertrude Street Projection Festival
http://gspf.com.au
Until July 27th, 6pm – midnight

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When I found out my favourite part of Melbourne was hosting (for its 7th year) the city’s biggest free, incredibly visible arts festival this weekend, I got excited. Any excuse to spend the night in Fitzroy.

You can find a lot more information on their website, but in a nutshell, the Gertrude Street Projection Festival is all about projecting the work of local artists (both still and moving work) on the laneways, shop fronts, buildings and even tree trunks on and around Gertrude Street.

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It’s also important, I think, to note that the Gertrude Association that have pulled this together are a non-profit, volunteer run group. They do some wonderful things, so again, check out the website.

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It’s still running for another few nights, so head down to amazing Fitzroy, grab some fantastic food and enjoy the show!!

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Cycling the islets of Hoi An, Vietnam with Heaven & Earth Tours

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Sib and I have always been pretty healthy and active – she grew up a head taller than the rest of the kids and excelled in everything she did, particularly basketball. I’m no where near as naturally athletically gifted, but still somehow wound up with a degree in Exercise Science, a great 8 year career as a personal trainer and a black belt martial artist. After having been repeatedly told that the best way to see Vietnam was by bicycle, we decided to actually do a proper day-long tour, rather than just hiring bikes for an hour. Sib’s a good rider and really enjoys is. I can ride, but am prone to freaking out if I have to ride in traffic. We figured this lovely tour around the quiet, secluded islets of Hoi An was a good way to do it.

After an afternoon of online research, we found Heaven and Earth Bicycle Tours (http://www.vietnam-bicycle.com/). We read glowing review after glowing review from very happy customers, and decided on the 23km “Real Vietnam” tour. Our itinerary read as follows:
After a boat transfer, of approximately one hour on the Thu Bon river, you will arrive at a small village in the middle of the delta where you will begin your cycling tour. The morning will be spent cycling 14km across the countryside and rice fields. You will cross from island to island taking the unusual bridges made from wood or bamboo. A short boat crossing will bring you to a small island where you will enjoy lunch in the home at a local family. In the afternoon you will continue the same route as the “Countryside Bicycle Tour” and discovering local crafts. This tour includes crossing the river on a local ferry, visiting the crafts workshops, crossing a floating bridge, and a bamboo bridge, and several other stops along the way.

Our tour cost only AUD$47.00 per person, and included our lunch, bike and helmet hire, our guide and assistant (I’ll get to them, they were AMAZING!), and a few visits along the path. We were pretty happy with it all and booked on the spot, paying via PayPal, which made things very easy.

The morning of the tour, we caught a taxi to Heaven and Earth’s head office and walked up the front stairs with anxious excitement. After a quick confirmation that we were indeed paid and on the tour, we grabbed a helmet each and went outside to meet the girls who helped us pick out and adjust our bikes. Once the whole group was saddled up and ready to go, they handed us each a 1 litre bottle of water to clip to the back of our bikes, and led the way for a short peddle from the office to the water where our boat was waiting for us.

We spent an hour on the brilliant blue, calm water, weaving in and out of the fishing nets, getting to know our family for the day.
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There were just 8 of us, plus the two amazing women who led us, educated us, looked after us, and quickly became our friends. Trinh and Nahm – you ladies are absolutely amazing! When you book your bike tour around Hoi An (and you’re crazy if you don’t), make sure you ask for these girls.
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Once we hit dry land, we rode on and off for the rest of the day. The girls were really fantastic – Trinh leading the way and Nham holding the fort at the back of the pack, making sure everyone was accounted for, comfortable and managing the ride in the blistering heat. They stopped us regularly for water and photo breaks, always letting us know how far we’d come, how far our next riding stint would be, what our next stop would entail, and what kind of terrain we’d be encountering.

Instead of writing about everything we saw and did, I’m going to let the photos do the talking – no words could possibly do the truly breath taking natural beauty of this place justice :)

After riding a few kilometres through the most perfectly green rice fields you’ve ever seen…
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.. we made our first stop in a gorgeous, colourful neighbourhood to learn how to make rice paper.
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We rode a little more through some surprisingly diverse landscapes…
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We also got stuck at a few of these very old bamboo bridges. We were told we could try cycling across if we felt brave. I did not. I walked.
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Next stop was another beautiful neighbourhood, where we met two women who wove the traditional Vietnamese mats. You could feel the mood change, you could almost touch the sadness we were all overcome with, when we were told that these beautiful, large, intricate mats that took 4 hours each to make sold for only USD$5.00, and the women earned only USD$1.00 per mat. To see these kind, smiling women, bent over in manual labour was hard enough. To imagine them doing this for 8 hours a day and earning only $2.00, was beyond the scope of anything we could imagine. It was a really humbling moment for all of us.
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We rode only a little further before stopping for lunch – home cooked and unbelievably good! We were then invited into the home for an explanation about some of the traditions that still hold in Vietnamese homes.
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Next up was a stop on the water to learn how to and try to paddle the little round basket boats.
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We also had stops to see how incense sticks were made, and also met a man who carved out the tiny detailed mother-of-pearl patterns that are inlaid into wooden products.
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It was a long day in very hot, humid weather (we left our hotel at 7.30am and didn’t get back until around 2.30pm), but it was one of the best travel experiences I’ve ever had. If you’re in Hoi An, even if you’re not particularly athletic, please do yourself a favour and jump on a bike with Heaven and Earth!

Through my eyes: Hoi An riverside, Vietnam

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Hoi An’s riverside is where the action is, day and night, and it’s where you should be staying when you visit.

By day, its colourful – like a box of crayons exploded all over the walls and the streets and the people and the food. It’s the sounds of laughing and the smells of fresh food cooking. It’s multi-coloured flowers, old, sinewy, strong women carting baskets of fruit and little kids waving as you walk past. It’s a small down with the biggest heart you could imagine.

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By night, Hoi An’s riverside really comes into its own. Everything is lit up – its like the colours are kicked up a notch with the bright market style stalls and shops, and the lanterns (ohh the lanterns…) are like beacons in the night. Every night is a street market; great bargains on everything from local handicrafts to leather goods (I snagged a huge, almost Country Road-style leather travel carry-on bag for only AUD$75.00!), and the food stalls are phenomenal, too – who could possible say no to a fresh donut filled with freshly shaved coconut for 50 cents?!

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Hoi An’s riverside takes on such different personalities by day and night, it’s hard to stop wandering the surrounding streets. And it never feels unsafe, even at night. It’s one of the most beautiful areas in any city I’ve ever visited to just walk through, to just BE in.

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