Eat here: Hoa Anh Dao Sakura Restaurant, Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoa Anh Dao Sakura Restaurant
119-121 Nguyễn Thái Học, Minh An, tp. Hội An
http://www.hoiansakura.com/

Back to Vietnam this morning, to one of the most brilliant restaurant experiences I’ve ever had. On the banks of Hoi An’s Thu Bon River stands a beautiful, golden building. It’s clearly been there for a while, with the peeling and faded yellow paint and those little signs of decay that make buildings like this look so perfect. I would have thought a building like this would house a crappy, touristy restaurant, with a Vietnamese-by-numbers menu and overpriced seafood, but the sight of that little terrace overlooking the river and street below was too much, and we decided to treat ourselves to a “fancy” dinner one night.

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Long story short, great decision. The service was amazing from the moment we stepped up past the entry threshold – the Vietnamese are so friendly and genuine, you never feel like an imposition or that they’re only being nice because they’re employed to do so. Seated up on the terrace, we had the perfect view. And the menu was phenomenal… We over-ordered, obviously, but really couldn’t help ourselves!

White rose dumplings topped with fried shallots and dipping sauce.
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Mixed appetizer platter.
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DIY rice paper rolls with grilled pork skewers, bahn cuon, and salad. We thankfully got a quick crash course in the proper way to layer and wrap these, and they were great!
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Duck salad. This was amazing! So fresh, perfect mid-meal palate cleanser, but it would have made a perfect meal on its own, too.
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Husband’s choice – beef noodles with veggies. He loved it.
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And my choice – prawns cooked in coconut milk. This was magic, pure and simple. The best seafood dish I have ever eaten, my goodness it was good!
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Plus a few beers for husband, and a few coconut waters for me, I think we paid around AUD$60.00 for all of that… we couldn’t believe it! The prices was ridiculously cheap for the amount and quality of the food we had, the view was the best in the city, the service was wonderful, and it was the perfect dinner experience. Don’t let appearances deceive you – add it to the list of places to eat at in Hoi An. And ask for a terrace table!

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Eating the city: Saigon, Vietnam

There’s really no such thing as bad food in Saigon, but there were definitely favourites that were done exceptionally well. Here’s what to look out for when you eat your way around the city…

 

Pandan waffles.
Soft and hot and chewy and ridiculously delicious, this is the street corner dessert dreams are made of. Don’t let the weird green colour put you off; look for it like a beacon if happiness when you pass the ladies on the streets manning their little carts.

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Banh mi.
Preferably pork. Don’t screw your nose up at the slathering of patê, because it’s magic mixed in with the pork and fresh herbs. The fresh baguettes have a shell like glass covering the cloud-soft inner. This was breakfast for us every morning in Saigon, and at under AUD$2.00 each, you’d be crazy not to!

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Fresh spring rolls.
If you see spring rolls on a menu, and you have the option for fresh and fried, try the fresh ones occasionally. When you’re hot and sweaty from walking around the city, sometimes a fresh prawn rice paper roll with a cold iced tea is exactly what you need without even realising it.

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Bun cha.
Again, preferably pork. Because a big bowl of vermicelli topped with juicy pork and fresh herbs and pickled veggies is the ultimate night market meal at the end of a big day. And out of Hoi An, Hanoi and Saigon, I liked the Saigon version best!

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Eat here: Miss Ly Cafe 22, Hoi An, Vietnam (cao lau)

Miss Ly Cafe 22
22 Nguyen Hue St

Once we worked out half way through our stay in Hoi An that cao lau is a dish unique to the city, we ate as much of it as we could – at one stage, I believe we had three bowls in 24 hours, with one of our stops being at the beautiful Miss Ly’s restaurant.

Cao lau’s origins are shrouded in mystery. Some say it came from Chinese traders, others say it was the Japanese. Other legends claim that the unique flavour comes from the water used to make it, taken from a certain well of an undisclosed location. The noodles are traditionally made from the ash of firewood, with several different stories claiming as many different types of wood to be the proper one to use. And, of course, every family has their own recipe to make their broth. There’s no definitive answer for the one way to make it, but that doesn’t matter – we tried a half dozen different cao laus, and they were all delicious! And the basics, just so you know, are noodles, broth, pork and fresh herbs/greens, topped with deep fried pieces of noodle.

Miss Ly’s in Hoi An is a popular place to get good cao lau if you need a bit of an air conditioned break from the street vendors. And when it’s as hot as it was when we visited, you’re gonna need a break at some stage. Order a bowl of cao lau and an ice cold beer or green tea, and sit back and relax. People poured in and out non-stop while we were in there, and they were almost all ordering the same thing – for good reason. Soft, chewy noodles and a seriously flavourful broth make this one bowl of cao lau you should add to your “to eat” list in Hoi An! And when you get there, this is the shop front you’re looking for:

Eat here: Shinjuku Asia-yokochō (rooftop street food market), Tokyo, Japan

Shinjuku Asia-yokochō
Rooftop of Dai 2 Towa Kaikan, 1-21-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku district, Tokyo

Time to throw it back to Tokyo for the day! Because I was scrolling through photos of the trip on my phone and I’d like to go back now. I found this place in the pages of my mini Pocket Tokyo Lonely Planet book, and loved the sound of a street food market set up on the rooftop in the middle of the city!

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It wasn’t the easiest to find – we had to stop into a few convenience stores to ask for help, so if you’re going to visit, I’d suggest saving the details (name, address, etc) in your phone so you can show that to someone in the area if you get lost like I did. When you finally find the right building, expect some dodgy looking guys offering to escort you up the elevator to the roof; they’re nice enough, but they’ll then try to steer you to their mates’ food stalls so you spend your cash there. A polite “thank you but we’d like to look around first” should suffice.

Once you’re finally on the rooftop, you’ll find all sorts of Asian food – Chinese, Indonesian, Korean, Thai, Malaysian… the works. And they’re all licensed, too, so it’s a pretty popular place for the kids to meet up and hang out at.

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We chose a Singaporean place, where we were served by an absolutely lovely Nepalese guy who was a heap of fun to chat to! Multi coloured prawn crackers to get us started…

Along with some fresh salmon and avocado + garlic bread…

Followed by absolutely amazing Singaporean dumplings (actual flavour bombs)…

And the most phenomenal bacon dish in the world – little sausages and veggies with thick, greasy, absurdly tasty and salty bacon pieces. I’d go back just to eat this.

It was cheap and tasty, the service was unreal, the atmosphere was SO much fun, and when they started rolling back the roof tarps and I realised I was eating this incredible food under the stars on a rooftop in Tokyo, well… I mean, get better than that!

Sometimes you DO get to choose your family… Eat here: Ichi Ni Nana, Melbourne (Japanese)

Ichi Ni Nana
127 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
http://ichininana.com.au/

“Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile & who love you no matter what.”

Last weekend I posted this quote on Instagram after a particularly fantastic night out. As I wrote a few days ago, I wasn’t real keen on “celebrating” my birthday this year, but I was convinced that dinner with my best friends wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. I texted the four girls I consider to be my best friends, and three were available. I decided on Ichi Ni Nana, because I love Japanese food, I hadn’t been there yet, and it was in an area easy enough for everyone to get to after work. So last Friday night, I had dinner with my husband and the three girls – my family.

“Family isn’t always blood.” No, it isn’t. My family is rocky at the best of times, which has necessitated the finding of other “family” over the years. I’ve had friends come and go, as we all do, but I think it’s been particularly devastating to me when “friends” have cut ties with me because of how important they’ve always been to me. During the times my blood family weren’t there for me and couldn’t/didn’t have my back, my friendship family did. These girls are that family to me.

One I’ve known since year 7, and we have truly been there for each other through the most horrendous times of our lives. Where a lot of people might shirk that friendship in later years through embarrassment of what the other knows, it’s only made us closer. We’ve seen each others’ rock bottom and we’re still here for and because of each other.

Another two of those ladies I’ve been friends with for a good 6 or 7 years, although it feels like a lot longer. We worked together and became life long friends. One of them has been not only my best friend, but sister, mother, soul mate, counselor, shoulder to cry on, drinking buddy, partner in crime, and MC at my wedding. She’s one of those remarkable souls that I know I’ll be infinitely connected to and who’s mere presence will assure me that everything will be ok.

The other is the rare type of friend that you don’t have to be constantly seeing or texting or calling to know she’s there. She respects the need for isolation during the shitty times, and is ready to pick right back up where you left off when you’re ready to face the world again, no questions asked.

And the fourth horseman is one I worked with a few years ago in the travel industry; we initially bonded over a mutual love of travel, burgers, donuts and a shared hatred of stupid people, and now it feels like we’ve been friends for a million years. We share an intolerance for fructose and lactose, a lot of personality traits, and the understanding that sometimes all each other needs is a shoulder to cry on and then a cake to share. She’s one of the few people I can turn off my filter and just be 100% myself around.

And then, finally, my husband. We’ve been through a lot together, which elevates him to best friend status, and not just husband. Us girls don’t talk fake tans and new shoes around him (or ever, to be honest), and we’re not a lovey-dovey annoying couple around them (or, once again, ever). These are the people I wanted to be with to enjoy good food and a good night, and so (with one missing), I did 🙂

So now that you’ve “met” my “family,” let me introduce you to some amazing food…
Ichi Ni Nana (Japanese for numbers one two seven) opened only a few weeks ago in the cavernous space that was Old Colonial Inn. Paul Adamo and Vince Sofo (the guys behind The Espy, among other ventures) have spent the last few years prettying up the old space and transforming it into a multi level bar and eatery. And it’s gorgeous inside – with hand-made wooden detailing, dim lighting and beautiful lanterns, it’s the Fitzroy take on a classic izakaya. The menu is enormous, and made to share, so here’s a look at some of the food we got stuck into…

Drinks first – I went with the Jasmine Sake-Tea-Ni ($17.00) – sake, jasmine, tea, fresh grapefruit and a little sugar syrup. Perfect.

Sashimi salad ($20.00) – a beautiful little plate of salmon, tuna, white fish, crab and fish roe, served with wasabi that’ll knock your socks off, soy and herbs. Fresh, clean, flawless.

Pork bao ($14.00) – fried rice bun with BBQ pork – I’ve never had bao in fried buns before, but this is something that needs to be happening more often. Being fried meant they kept their shape and didn’t fall into a mushy heap with the sauces, but they were still soft and pillowy inside. And that pork…

Wagyu sliders ($14.00) – juicy, tender wagyu beef and wasabi slaw in a really eye-catching black bun, with the most delicious pickle I’ve ever eaten on the side. Really great addition to the table, and they were pretty popular all round.

Salmon teriyaki mayo hako sushi ($20.00) – seared salmon block pressed sushi seasoned with Japanese mayo and teriyaki (best combination of sauces ever, FYI) and topped with roe and spring onion. I loved this – the salmon was buttery soft, there was just enough sauce, and the roe on top was the perfect salty addition.

 

Other items ordered and enjoyed included:
– fried eggplant with sweet miso sauce
– scallop 5 ways
– vegetable gyoza

 

And then, dessert. Two of the girls ordered the chocolate mousse ($12.00) – star anise-infused chocolate mousse with yuzu cream, chocolate soil and charcoal waffle. I tried it, I liked it, that yuzu cream was delicious!

Also ordered were a few serves of the chocolate harumaki ($12.00) – chocolate filled spring rolls with vanilla ice cream, salted caramel, toasted almonds and a little mascarpone cheese. These were a big hit – crispy golden pastry filled with warm chocolate and a pile of ice cream to dip them in – what’s not to love?!

The final dessert was the one I wanted most – a scoop of green tea & biscuit ice cream ($10.00) probably the best ice cream I’ve ever had outside of Messina, which is a big call for a place that doesn’t specialise in ice cream! Smooth, creamy, amazing green tea flavour – hands down the best thing to finish on! I’d go back just for that and some sushi in summer!  

One of my favourite new arrivals to Melbourne’s summer dining scene – while it isn’t super cheap (but what is in Melbourne?!), the quality and variety make it well worth a visit, particularly for a special occasion 🙂
Ichi Ni Nana Izakaya Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Treat yoself: The birthday edition part 1, Fitzroy – iPhoto tour | Rustica | Glitz & Glam Nails | Rice Paper Scissors | Tattoo Magic | Slowpoke Espresso

So, as promised, here’s the first round of suggestions on how you can bring a little “treat yoself” to your day/week/weekend…

First up: go for a walk around the suburban paradise that is Fitzroy.
Walk slowly, be curious, peek around corners and deviate off the main streets…

 

 

Next up: brunch at Rustica
402 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
http://www.rusticasourdough.com.au/

Look, if we’re honest, there’s no such thing as a bad choice here; everything is amazing. However, I’d highly recommend one of the golden, flaky pastries, like this particularly magnificent matcha strawberry cronut. Countless numbers of pefect, crisp pastry filled with silky smooth matcha cream, and a bit of tangy strawberry jammy glaze on top. And a matcha marshmallow. Golden…

 

Then, get pampered at Glitz & Glam Nails
355 Smith St, Collingwood
https://web.facebook.com/glitzandglamnails.melb/

I’m not a girly girl. I don’t fake tan, I don’t get my nails done, I don’t even colour my hair. I take terrible care of my nails and feet, so I thought a little mani pedi action would be a nice treat. That said, I didn’t want to spend an absolute fortune and end up thinking “I could have done that myself at home.” Enter the ladies at Glitz & Glam – only $50 got me a relaxing hour of nail care (with a billion odd nail colours to choose from, including what looked like the majority of the O.P.I catalogue!), and they did a fantastic job 🙂 They made me feel right at home, and the massage chair they set me up in while my nails dried was the best thing that happened all week! If you need a little low maintenance girly pampering time, I’d highly recommend them!

 

Time to eat again, at Rice Paper Scissors
307 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
http://www.ricepaperscissors.com.au/

This place felt like the fancy home I wish I had from the moment I walked in – an amazing space that was just the right balance of laid back and too-gorgeous-for-my-life. The staff were all lovely; every single one of them on the floor and behind the bar made an effort to speak to me at one point. The menu is up around the same special standard, using an Asian hawker food model to produce a menu that’s street food at the heart, but way sexier. I got me a mango, coconut, mint crush to get started…

… followed by some delicious pork belly bao and the day’s special: crispy duck with Asian herb salad, chilli jam & coconut dressing.  The photos basically speak for themselves; the bao buns were pillowy soft with magnificent chunks of perfectly tender pork belly. And the salad was a bowl of flavour – the duck was amazing, and the herbs were fresh and punchy – this is one of the only salads you wanna be making friends with.

 

You’ve been tenderly pampered and fed, so now’s a good time to go and get tattooed at
Tattoo Magic
100 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
http://www.tattoomagic.com.au/

I was reading my book on the tram and realised that the design on my Lillytales bookmark was exactly what I wanted to add to my airplane tattoo on my right forearm. After my morning noms and pampering, I made my way to Tattoo Magic on Gertrude St, spoke to lovely lady manning the front desk – 10 minutes later I was sitting with Sean Jackson, working out sizes. 20 minutes after that, I was freshly inked, for the… eleventh, I think, time. $130 all up for the book and tea cup, superstar bloke, gorgeous shop, awesome experience, highly recommended!

 

And now that that’s all done, time to kick back for one more cup of tea at
Slowpoke Espresso
157 Brunswick St, Fitzroy
https://web.facebook.com/Slowpoke-Espresso-221714874514535/

There’s nothing like a hot pot of tea and a chocolate chip cookie to end the day, and Slowpoke does a bloody good chocolate chip cookie. Those little black specks on top are salt flakes, and they’re like fairy dust on top. The cookie is soft and chewy, which was a massive relief to me (I hate dry, chalky, crunchy cookies). And the chocolate was super sweet and creamy. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my day!

Eat here: Suzume no Oyado, Tokyo, Japan (okonomiyaki)

Suzume no Oyado
Maruyamacho 9-3, Shibuya
Open from 5pm

 

We’ve all been there; an idea lodges itself within you, just a little side thought to start off with, and before you know it, that idea has taken on a life of its own and holds you hostage until you find a way to bring it to life, come hell or high water.

This category of ideas combined with my insurmountable stubbornness has been responsible for some of my bigger achievements in life, like self-publishing a cookbook, saving $10,000 in a year to use on travel while never missing a mortgage repayment, earning my taekwondo black belt, and having a new house built/getting engaged/getting married in the space of 12 months. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows though; that same volatile mix has also been the source of tears, heart break and a lot frustration on numerous occasions.

Anyway, it happened again while I was away; I had to find some good okonomiyaki in Tokyo.

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Unbeknownst to me, okonomiyaki isn’t really a Tokyo thing; it’s a lot more popular in Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. But I love the stuff, and Tokyo is a lot closer to Kyoto than Melbourne is, so I resolved to find a place that specialised in it. Easier said than done. After much Googling, one place kept popping up – Suzume no Oyado. And, unlike a lot of other places, it wasn’t far away from my Shinjuku hotel – located in Shibuya. My Googling said it opened at 11am, and I was already planning on revisiting Shibuya the next morning, so I added the address into my nifty little Tripomatic app and went to sleep, dreaming of Japanese pancakes…

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The next day, after a good morning out, I eventually made my way in the direction of the promised land at around 12pm. For someone with no sense of direction at home, I navigated my way there like a pro, though some dicey looking back alleys and past a string of night/strip clubs. I made it to the front door, according to the blue dot, but couldn’t see anything that even remotely resembled an eatery. I was stuck between a high gate and a small, rundown apartment block. I walked to the end of the street and showed the address I had on my phone to a guy watering his garden – yup, back the way you came from, it’s right there!

On the next pass, I noticed a small, neatly typed sign in kanji (Japanese letting) with only a few numbers wedged in between – 17:00 (more kanji) 23:00. I garnered that meant Google had led me slightly astray and hoped that it would re-open at 5pm. I left disappointed by not deterred.

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After a day of solo travel, my travel buddy and I decided to catch up for dinner. “I think I found an okonomiyaki place… we have to go through some dodgy-looking alleys and strip clubs to get there, but I reckon I can find it again. Keen?” My friends are idiots, and have blind faith in me when I say I know somewhere to eat, regardless of how dicey an area it may be in – off we went!

If the are looked a bit off during the day, it was text-book “what are you doing here?!” by night. And yet, the idea of getting okonomiyaki had me by the throat and wasn’t letting go. We pushed on, me leading like I knew what I was doing, my friend following only slightly apprehensively. Much to our relief, I actually found the place again without a problem, and this time, the gate had been slid open, lights on and red flag out. Thank goodness.

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Through the giant red curtain we went, ending up in what looked like someone’s (immaculately beautiful) front yard on the other side. We made our way up the path and through the front door, into the most vibrant, red foyer. A lady rushed to meet us before we crossed the threshold; despite not sharing a common language with which to communicate, she very clearly indicated that we were to go no further until our shoes had been removed and placed into one of the lockers provided.

Once that formality was observed, we were led up a staircase into a beautiful dining room, laid out with tatami mats and floor cushions. My travel buddy, quite a tall guy by their standards, promptly smacked his head on a low roof beam, starting the evening with a light concussion. Bloody foreigners…

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After lowering ourselves onto the floor and trying to fold our long legs under ourselves in a manner that would make a caravan of camels look graceful, our patient waitress handed over our menus. In Japanese. English? Her shaking head and pointing back to the menus we already held indicated not.

With no idea what the menus said, we waited a few minutes, then pressed the little bell on our table for service. The only part of the menu in English was the wine list, so I pointed to a glass of the house white; my friend used the one word he knew in Japanese, birru. And two okonomiyaki please, pork and prawn. We thought she understood, but it was anyone’s guess what we were going to get. She fired up the grill which took up most off the table and left us again.

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A few minutes later we had a bowl each of prawns, and another bowl with everything else, including the batter and egg. Having watched the girls sitting nearby, we mixed of all up, threw it on the grill, and cooked up dinner!

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While my favourite accompaniment, mayo, was missing, we had plenty of others to choose from – a rich BBQ sauce, bonito flakes (my other favourite), chili oil.., the works. And once they were cooked up and dressed, they were some of the best okonomiyaki we’d ever had!

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After committing the embarrassing faux pas of putting our shoes back on outside of the designated area and apologising profusely on our way out, we agreed it was easily one of the best dining experiences either of us has had – the fun of DIY, the danger of essentially using a hot grill as your dinner table, the deliciousness of the food and the process of actually finding the place makes for one hell of a night!