Eating the city: Paris, France

We all know the food in Paris is good, but the city is a labyrinth when it comes to actually finding the best spots. This is by no means an exhaustive list of what to eat there (so if you’ve been to Paris, please add your recommendations, too!), but its a pretty solid start to your time in Paris…

 

Pistachio choc chip escargot

Why get it:
Because honestly, it’s probably the best pastry in the city. There was a constant, unrelenting stream of people rolling like tidal waves through the place, and most of them were walking away with an escargot pastry if some variety. But Rachel Khoo said she gets the pistachio, so that’s what we got, and that was absolutely the right choice! Perfect in every way.
We got ours from: Du Pain et des Idées, 34 Rue Yves Toudic

 

Savoury crepes (galettes)
Why get it: Paris has a tight Nutella crepe game, but did you know their savoury ones are just as amazing? Usually made with buckwheat flour, they can be filled and/or topped with just about anything, but I’d recommend getting some cheese involved; the porous nature of the galette means that when it hits the hot pan, the melty cheese starts o seep through and caramelises on the grill. That’s why you should get it.
We got ours from: Le Comptoir du Commerce, 1 Rue des Petits Carreaux 

 

Deliciously fancy cakes

Why get it:
It’s not all croissants here – there are some ridiculously good cakes, too! You’ll see lots of little individual cakes, because they’re incredibly rich, and more than a few bites could leave you with diabetes. But they’re the ultimate fancy, elegant treat to accompany your tea or coffee.
We got ours from: Le Valentin, 30 Passage Jouffroy

 

A proper, classic French meal
Why get it: French food has a reputation for a reason, but there are a lot of tourist traps in Paris which don’t really live up to the expectations of visitors. If you can get a proper classic French meal, though, you’ll understand why people go so crazy for a real tarte tatin and a beef bourguignon – the flavours are incredible!
We got ours from: Le P’Tit Troquet, 28 Rue de l’Exposition, where a three course meal will cost you around €35.00

 

Steak frittes

Why get it: It’s one of those meals that should be so simple, yet it’s rarely done to perfection. If you’re willing to spend a little money and eat a little further away from the Eiffel Tower, you’ll find some really fantastic steak. Don’t be scared to order it medium-rare; when you’re dealing with high quality beef, anything more than a few minutes each side will take a lot of the flavour away. Oh, and chips.
We got ours from: Le Café du Commerce, 51 Rue du Commerce

 

Perfect, buttery croissants
Why get it:
Because it wouldn’t be a trip to Paris without a truckload of these! Honestly, I didn’t eat a bad one over there, not this time and not the visit before in 2013. It’s always a good idea to take a sight seeing pit stop for a pot of tea or cup of coffee with a croissant in Paris!
We got ours from: Maison Morange Côté Bio, 113 Rue Mouffetard – we ate a lot of croissants, but this was the unanimous favourite for best plain one!

 

Top 10 Things To Do in Hanoi

1. Shop at the Dong Xuan Weekend Night Market
Where? Dong Xuan and Hang Chieu Streets, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Fantastic street food, crazy-cheap shopping, and that crazy atmosphere that makes Asian street markets so much fun.
How long will you need? Get there around 7pm, and stay until you’re shopped out.
Cost? Everything is pretty cheap, but be prepared to barter so you’re not getting ripped off.

 

2. Visit the “Hanoi Hilton” – Hoa Lo Prison
Where? 1 Hoả Lò, Trần Hưng Đạo, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The prison was originally built by the French in the 1880s to imprison Vietnamese political prisoners, but when the French eventually left Vietnam in 1954 after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the prison was taken over by the North Vietnamese Army who used it to house, interrogate and torture American prisoners of war. It was the American prisoners who sarcastically nicknames the prison the “Hanoi Hilton,” in honour of the horrible conditions they faced in there. While it is obviously well known that the Americans suffered just as horribly to the Vietnamese as the Vietnamese did to the French, the exhibits in the museum focus mainly on the torment suffered by the Vietnamese under French control. And they are truly horrific.
How long will you need? 1-2 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.50 per person

 

3. Stroll the through beautiful grounds of the Temple of Literature
Where? 58 Quốc Tử Giám, Văn Miếu, Đống Đa, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The Temple of Literature in Hanoi is dedicated to Confucius , and was the site of Vietnam’s first university, dating back to 1076. Back then, only those of noble birth were admitted, but the mid-1400s brought about a new age, where gifted students from around the country were allowed. Now, it’s a stunning public space where you’ll walk around with a slack jaw and constant camera clicking…
How long will you need? 2 hours
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per person

 

4. Ignore the overcautious and pretentious travelers and eat street food!

Why go? It’s not dirty or gross, it’s not going to make you sick, it’s not something to turn your nose up at. The food being made by the sweet little old ladies on the back of a motorbike cart is some of the best food in the city, so drop the ego and get eating.
Cost? It’s cheap – the spread about cost us about AUD$6.00 each, and we got nowhere near finishing it.

 

5. Eat ice cream and people watch by the banks of Hoan Kiem Lake
Where? Literally in the middle of the city, you can’t miss it.
Why go? Hoan Kiem Lake is the centre of the city, and the place where so many social events are held; at any time of the day or night, you’ll see people gathering for a picnic, to study, to practice tai chi, or just for a bit of a gossip session. When the heat starts to get to you, grab an ice cream, park yourself in the shade of the trees that circle the lake, and just take it all in…
How long will you need? As long as you want
Cost? Ice cream is pretty cheap, and the view is free!

 

6. Get educated on the Vietnamese point of view at the Vietnam Military History Museum
Where? 28A Điện Biên Phủ, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? The grounds are piled with discarded planes and bomb shells, the buildings full of photos and more pieces of history. It’s a sombre atmosphere, and you can’t help feeling enormous respect for this small but courageous nation of underdogs. While you could never understand what they have been through, you start to understand just why they’re so fiercely proud and patriotic, and it’s a great way to take in a serious history lesson.
How long will you need? We were there for a few hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.20 per perso

 

7. Take a day trip out to Ha Long Bay

Why go? It’s not hard to see why Ha Long Bay was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994. The bay includes, I believe, almost 2000 islands and islets, and is just breathtakingly beautiful, especially when you’re floating through it on a boat, without a single care in the world…
How long will you need? All day long for a day trip, but if you have a few nights to spare, you can spend a few nights on the water.
Cost? We took a day trip with Intrepid, which was amazing – cost around AUD$120.00 per person (though I believe that’s gone up a little now), and worth every cent.

 

8. Indulge in one of the city’s favourite dishes, bún chà
Where? Literally everywhere from the street corners to the markets.
Why go? Vermicelli noodles. Meat. Peanuts. Spring onion. And a delicious sauce to pour over the top. Like you need any more convincing!
Cost? You can get a bowl for a few dollars almost anywhere in the city!

 

9. Take in the patriotism and national pride at the Hi Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum
http://www.baotanghochiminh.vn/tabid/528/default.aspx

Where? 19 Ngách 158/193 Ngọc Hà, Đội Cấn, Ba Đình, Hà Nội, Vietnam
Why go? Ho Chi Minh (or Uncle Ho, to the Vietnamese) fought for Vietnamese independence, bringing the North and South together under one rule. He was a popular man, and his mausoleum brings in hundreds of visitors every day, mostly locals actually, paying their respects. But the tourists come in by the bus load too, often making their way on to the museum, like I did. The museum is quite big, and incredibly interesting – it actually makes history interesting, for those of you who aren’t history nerds like me.
How long will you need? 2-3 hours.
Cost? Around AUD$1.00 per person

 

10. Finish the day with a drink up on Café Nola’s umbrella-covered rooftop
Where? 89 Mã Mây, Quan Hoan Kiem, Hanoi
Why go? Rooftop bar. Great cocktails at cheap prices. Delicious food to nibble on. And they have the cutest collection of umbrellas dangling above you. Best way ever to finish a big day in Hanoi.
How long will you need? Spend a long afternoon there, trust me
Cost? Cheap enough that I don’t remember

Top 10 Things To Do in Los Angeles

1. Check out the view of LA from the car park of Dodger Stadium

 http://losangeles.dodgers.mlb.com/la/ballpark/
Where? 1000 Vin Scully Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Even if you’re not a baseball fan (like me), the view from the car park is unreal!
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour, because husband discovered we could go into the stadium and just sit around. And, the gift shop was open.
Cost? Free

 

2. Eat your way around Grand Central Market
http://www.grandcentralmarket.com/

Where? 317 S. Broadway, Los Angeles
Why go? Food. All of the food. It’s also full of locals, and watching the way the huge the mix of cultures and ethnicities interact in a market setting is a true experience.
How long will you need? A few hours, preferably first thing in the morning.
Cost? How hungry are you? You can get a solid breakfast for only a few dollars if you’re struggling for cash, or you can buy all of the food!

 

3. Be a big kid at Universal Studios
 http://www.universalstudioshollywood.com/
Where? 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City
Why go? As if you need a reason…
How long will you need? All day!
Cost? Ticket prices start from USD$105.00 per adult

 

4. People watch in Santa Monica and Venice Beach

Why go? People watching at it’s absolute best, it’s the perfect spot to melt into the background and just observe the goings on.
How long will you need? A few hours.
Cost? People watching is the greatest free activity ever.

 

5. While you’re in Venice Beach, check out Abbot Kinney Blvd for good shopping and great food
http://www.abbotkinneyblvd.com/
Where? Abbot Kinney Blvd. Obviously.
Why go? It’s a pretty hipster area, but in a good way – lots of gorgeous and really unique stores to buy some different souvenirs (because do you really want to be that guy with the Hollywood Star fridge magnet?). And with hipsters comes great food – my cereal and peanut butter bowl from Another Kind of Sunrise was magic.
How long will you need? Another few hours after you’re done people watching in Santa Monica and Venice Beach.
Cost? Free to wander, bring some money to shop and eat.

 

6. Enjoy a chili dog at the institution that is Pink’s
 http://www.pinkshollywood.com/
Where? 709 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles
Why go? Because it’s a city institution – everyone from Dolly Parton to Jimmy Fallon to Aerosmith to Betty White have been. When we visited, we came across a particularly excited lady who was finally visiting for the first time after having lived in LA her whole life.
How long will you need? We were there for about an hour.
Cost? We got the classic chili dog with mustard, onions and chili, for around USD$5.00

 

7. Eat your way through The Grove Farmers Market

 http://www.farmersmarketla.com/
Where? 6333 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles
Why go? Food (noticing a theme?), and lots of it! While the Grove itself is a bit upper class and la-di-da, the Farmers Market is much more laid back, with those plebian food options that everyone loves. You can have your table-cloth clad restaurants, I’ll take a doughnut and pulled pork sandwich any day.
How long will you need? We visited a few times, and spend an hour or two each visit. It’s a great spot to grab a coffee and sweet and just watch the world go by.
Cost? Again, depends how much you’re eating…

 

8. Take the trek out the Greystone Mansion and Gardens

 http://www.greystonemansion.org/
Where? 905 Loma Vista Drive, Beverly Hills
Why go? It’s stunning. It’s nothing like you’d expect to find in the neon soaked world that is Hollywood, and that’s why you need to go. It’s a little piece of paradise in a world of botox and hairspray, and that’s what you’ll need after a day or two in the mayhem.
How long will you need? Hire a car and drive. It’ll cut down on time walking and time spent in marriage counselling. Trust me. Once you’re there, an hour or so should be enough to recharge.
Cost? Free parking and admission

 

9. See how the other half live out in Beverly Hills
Why go? Honestly, it’s fascinating. There is so much wealth and so many bizarre activities and conversations associated with that, and as a regular, middle class gal, it really is mesmerising to see how life unfolds for those with money.
How long will you need? Not long – we only lasted an hour.
Cost? Free to people watch, bring a few credit cards if you plan to shop.

 

10. Catch a movie at the legendary TCL (Grauman’s) Chinese Theatre
 http://www.tclchinesetheatres.com/
Where? 6925 Hollywood Blvd, Hollywood
Why go? Hollywood takes a special kind of person to put up with it and find it interesting for more than an hour or two, particularly at night. When you reach your limit of fake-and-touristy, why not catch a movie at one of the most iconic movie theatres in the world?
How long will you need? A few hours – they’re great cinemas so you may want to go back more than once.
Cost? USD$16.00 for a standard adult ticket

 

Top 5 Things To Do in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

1. Get shopping & eating at the Ben Thanh Night Market

Where? Intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao Avenues and Le Lai Street
Why go? Amazing food and crazy atmosphere – there’s a really big mix of tourists and locals, too.
How long will you need? Don’t bother getting there before 7pm for the night market – then, stay all night.
Cost? Food and trinkets are all super cheap

 

2. Take a day trip to head out and crawl through the Cu Chi Tunnels

Where? There are heaps of providers for these tours, but I’ve done it with Buffalo Tours twice now, and wouldn’t go with anyone else!
Why go? The Cu Chi Tunnels are an absolutely enormous network of interconnecting tunnels underground in the Cu Chi region of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). The tunnels were used by the Viet Cong soldiers in the 1960s as communication and supply routes, as well as hiding spots and living quarters, which the area above ground was being bombed and razed. And seeing it first hand can’t even come close to reading about it.
How long will you need? The tour I did was a half day (morning)
Cost?  Private tour for US$52.00 per person, or small group tour for US$40.00 per person

 

3. Take in an incredible view of the city from EON51 Café at the Bitexco Financial Tower

http://eon51.com/cafe-eon/
Where? 36 Ho Tung Mau Street, Ben Nghe ward, District 1
Why go? Because the view is incredible, but it’s much cheaper to buy drinks at the café than it is for a ticket at the viewing platform!
How long will you need? An hour or so – it’s a great break from the heat and craziness in the city below.
Cost? We paid around AUD$18.00 for a fresh coconut and a fresh mango juice

 

4. Ignore the stuffy tourists and eat the street food!

Why go? So many people will turn their noses up at the idea of eating street food in South East Asia; those people need to get their heads checked, because some of the best food in the city comes from the street!
Cost? Everything is cheap, which means you can stuff yourself silly!

 

5. Join the locals and slow down with some coffee, bird song and people watching at Tao Dan Park bird café

Where? 110Bis, Nguyễn Du, Bến Thành, District 1
Why go? Each morning, from around 6am until around 8 or 9am, a corner of the park becomes a meeting place for men around 30 – 50 years of age, and their pet birds. Which makes it the most peaceful space set among beautiful gardens and full of birdsong.
How long will you need? Get there early and stay until the crowds start to drift off
Cost? So cheap I can’t even remember

Cook this: Chocolate bourbon pecan pie

My contribution to our early family Christmas was chocolate bourbon pecan pie. Not a traditional Aussie Christmas dish at all, but instead I figured I’d do something a little more representative of the country I’ll be spending Christmas in. Also, the recipe I found in one of my cook books was for straight pecan pie, but I felt like the addition of bourbon and dark chocolate could only be a good thing.

IMG_4343.JPG

Ingredients
– short crust pastry
– 3 tbsp plain flour
– 150g brown sugar
– 2 large eggs
– 200g golden syrup
– 200 g dark chocolate, melted and cooled
– 30g butter, melted and cooled
– 2 tbsp vanilla extract
– 3 tbsp bourbon
– pinch of salt
– 300g pecan halves – half crushed into smaller pieces, half left whole

 

Method
1. Grease a 9 inch pie dish and roll out the pastry to line it. Prick a few holes in the bottom with a knife or fork, line it with baking paper, fill with pie weights/rice/dried beans and bake for 15min or until the edges start to turn golden.
2. To make the filling which the crust is blind baking, combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl.
3. Whisk in the eggs, golden syrup, chocolate, butter, vanilla, bourbon and salt.
4. Mix in the crushed pecans.
5. Remove the pie from the oven and pour in the filling. Arrange or sprinkle the pecan halves on top.
6. Turn the temperature up to 200°C and bake for 10min, then lower the temperature back down to 170°C and bake for a further 45min or until set.
7. Rest in tin until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a wire rack to cool a little longer before slicing and serving up – with ice cream or thickened cream, preferably!