Photo Journal: Our Italian family’s Christmas Eve tradition

Merry Christmas!! I hope everyone enjoyed the day with their loved ones and made it onto the “good” list and had a visit from the jolly man 😉

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Seeing as how Christmas is (to me, anyway) more about spending time with the people you love, and also as how this blog is in large part my digital time capsule, I wanted to share something a bit special this morning as we all rush off to open gifts and deliver trays of pavlova to the family lunch table. I wanted to share a few pictures of our most important and enduring family tradition; dinner with dad’s side of the family and his parents’ house. More commonly and affectionately known as “The Feast.”

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Traditionally, Italians don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve; instead, they indulge in seafood. And so every year, Nonno hits the Preston Market, sparing no expense for the freshest prawns, calamari and lobster he can get his hands on (and being a decades old customer, he gets some pretty good stuff).

The Feast happens Christmas Eve, every year, without fail. I’ve only missed one; last year, because we were in Chicago (eating Italian food at Eataly, because anything else on Christmas Eve would be sacreligious). International travel not-withstanding, it’s a given that we’re all there every year. Mum and dad, my auntie and uncle, us three girls plus our other halves, and my cousins. Nonna and Nonno host every year in their big, beautiful house, and whatever else has been going on is forgotten for the night. This year is the first year we’ve done it without mum and dad; it’s their turn to be overseas this year. So I thought I’d capture a bit of the fun for them so that they wouldn’t have to completely miss it 🙂

 

Tradition dictates the following:

– But first, wine. This year’s conversation between Nonno and I:
“Jessica. Wine?”
“Yeah, why not Nonno?! Just a little bit though, I’m driving.”
“No! Let’s get drunk!”

– Food. Calamari come first. If you arrive early enough, you make your way to the pizza room to “help” fry them (read: eat a few pieces before anyone else). Once served at the dinner table, fights to the death over the golden grilled pieces of deliciousness are not uncommon. My cousin has been known to eat more than the rest of us combined (that kind of behaviour has now been outlawed).

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– Then comes pasta. Because that’s what Nonno wants to eat. Every. Single. Day. There are also those two idiots who have as much freshly grated parmesan in the bowl as pasta – I’m one of them.

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– Next up: giant mutant prawns and lobster. They’re fresh and clean and absolutely enormous, served with lemon wedges, tartare sauce, and a simple salad dressed with olive oil, salt and vinegar. My uncle waits (sometimes) for everyone to take their share of the salad, then proceeds to eat his share straight from the big metal bowl, while laughing maniacally at whatever’s going on around him.

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– Also a few bowls of bocconcini. Nipple jokes are inevitable. They don’t make us giggle any less now that we’re all adults.

– And don’t forget the fruit platters, Lindt balls, coffees and Nonna and Zia’s zeppole – Italian sugar-coated donuts made from the lightest, fluffiest dough. Zia even made a few balls and filled them with Nutella; further proof that Italians are the original hipsters. We’ve been making this stuff for years!

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The only thing missing this year was mum and dad, who are currently enjoying a beautiful, cold Christmas in a little Italian town with mum’s extended family 🙂

So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and Buon Natale! I hope everyone had/has a great weekend 🙂

Eat & shop here: Tsukiji Fish Market and outer markets, Tokyo

Tsukiji Market
By train: Oedo line to Tsukijishijo or Hibiya line to Tsukiji
http://www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm

Another day, another market in another part of the world… For someone who’s inherently shy and withdrawn and has a bit of a hard time with social anxiety, there is almost no where in the world I’m more comfortable than in crazy, bustling foreign marketplaces. I know, I’m weird.

I couldn’t tell you why, but there’s something about being able to blend into the crowd and observe the mayhem that I find really comforting. And to that end, the Tsukiji Market area was the perfect place for me! I’d read that you have to be there really early (like 5am) to see the actual fish market in action; we rolled up around 8am though, which was just in time to see everything being packed up, which was still pretty cool to watch…

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After a bit of walking around and a bit of shopping (found a little stall selling the most beautiful tea pots and tea cups), I was getting hungry. Being one of the world’s premier fish markets, I couldn’t leave without a traditional sushi breakfast, but the lines were insane! 50 minute wait with a few dozen other tourists?! Not a chance! Just as defeat was looming, I saw this place with an A-frame out the front; a quick peak through the window showed not a tourist in sight, which meant that’s where I wanted to eat.  As fate would have it, great decision.

Comfortably some of the best sushi of my life. For around AUD$25.00, I received a bowl of hot miso soup, an enormous piece of teriyaki grilled eel, and the amazing spread you see below. It was the smallest breakfast option on the menu and it was massive! I couldn’t quite get through it all which I didn’t think was too bad, until I looked around and saw everyone else around me plowing through bowls twice the size as mine with ease! The Japanese are BIG breakfast eaters!!! Like a lot of other places, no English was spoken and I ordered by pointing to the laminated menu handed to me, and it was such an awesome experience which I feel really fortunate I got to enjoy!

 

After breaky, we went our separate ways, and mine took me through the outer market streets on the way back to the train station. I made a mental note to return, and that’s exactly what I did a few days later. The outer markets are amazing, and you’ll encounter them on the left side of Shin-Ohashi Street walking from Tsukiji Station towards the fish market. Food galore for the most part, with plenty of other goodies thrown in for your shopping pleasure! I’d recommend starting with the most magnificent omelette you’ve ever had the pleasure of devouring, from one of the many folded omelette stalls than line the streets…

And then, just walk. Enjoy the people watching. Let yourself melt into the market and take it all in.

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Eat here: Mango Rooms, Hoi An

Mango Rooms
111 Nguyen Thai Hoc, Hoi An, Vietnam
http://www.mangorooms.com/

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After a very long morning in the very hot sun in the perfectly beautiful surrounds of the My Son Sanctuary, it was finally lunch time. The thing you have to understand about Sib and I is that we love food. Like, really love food. As in, before we went to bed the night before the My Son tour, we spent some time researching the food we could eat the following day.

After a thorough investigation of the #hoian hashtag on Instagram, we had hyped ourselves up for lunch at Mango Rooms.

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Sitting on the Hoi An riverside, Mango Rooms is a gorgeous and insanely bright establishment, with one hell of a reputation for incredible food and magnificent cocktails. The chef and grand poobah, Duc Tran, was born in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and travelled around the world, reaching Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, and America. His food is beautifully presented and brightly coloured, with gorgeous flavour combinations that have been influenced by his travels and the skills he’s learnt on the road.

We (being the good food addicts we are) may have studied the menu a little the night before, so we kinda knew what we were after. Well, for cocktails anyway. Ice cold and full of fresh fruit, these were the best cocktails I have EVER had.

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After a few minutes of “can’t we order everything?!” we settled on a plate of fresh mango & prawn rice paper rolls to share to start with, and they were something special. They may be the best we’ve ever had, actually. Fresh mango is a thing of beauty, but add it to fresh herbs and prawns and wrap it up in fresh rice paper is even better. Throw in the tastiest peanut dipping sauce on the side, and you have two VERY happy young ladies.

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Next up, we got a few salads. We’d heard they were pretty amazing here, and fresh, cold salads were exactly what we felt like after the hours we’d spent in the hot sun earlier. I went with the Tropical Lush salad – fresh greens, herbs, and mustard sprouts, orange slices, watermelon, topped with seared tuna served with orange ginger soy dressing. It was perfect – cold, fresh fruit, super fresh tuna, and the dressing was remarkable.

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Sib went with the Mango Delight – fresh greens, herbs and strips of mango along with vermicelli topped with grilled chicken breast and served with zesty soy-lime sauce. SOO good – the chicken was white and tender and the dressing, again, was flawless.

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And of course, dessert. Can’t finish up without it. A plate of the Mango Tango to share, thanks – sweet sticky rice and fresh mango topped with coconut sauce and roasted peanuts. Not really much that needs to be said about this; if you followed my adventures in Thailand earlier this year here and here, you’d know that I am always prepared to eat my weight in coconut sticky rice, particularly when it’s furnished with fresh mango. The addition of peanuts made this quite distinctive from the Thai variety, and absolutely delightful.

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It should also be noted that while eating the best food with one of the most magnificent views, we also had some great service too – the staff at Mango Rooms were lovely, friendly and more than happy to help us out. It was a truly wonderful experience – to be able to just sit back with my best friend in this rainbow explosion of a restaurant, watching the river and foot traffic pass by the window we were seated at, eating perfectly balanced plates of beautifully presented food was a pretty awesome way to pass the lunch break 🙂