Category: Travel

Summer Pt. 3: Business in Ukraine!

Hi!!!, Back again! I promise, this is the last post about summer. In case you missed them, I gave an overview in Part 1 and shared my favorite eats in Part 2. Well, as the title says, I’m going to talk about my trip to Ukraine!

Why Ukraine

I’m a HUGE Russia/USSR junkie. I also missed my chance to go to Russia in the spring last school year, so I guess a trip to Ukraine isn’t too surprising right? Actually, I didn’t go on any old family vacation; I went as part of the China Delegation for the SAGE (Students for the Advancement of Global Entrepreneurship) world cup, which happened to be hosted in Odessa.

SAGE is an organization based in California that hosts a global business competition for students. A group of friends and I actually started a project, but the regional qualifiers happened to coincide with SATII testing 😦 Luckily, the China delegation had a couple of spots open. I applied and was accepted!!!!!

What I loved…..

  1. The Event itself was AMAZING. The first day was a culture fair, and the other countries really brought their A-Game.

We handed out these cute keychains that resemble foods and some bookmarks

Each country also did a short performance, which was really cool to watch. Unfortunately, my phone ran low so I didn’t get any footage 😦

The competition was also very interesting. It’s actually amazing what some of the teams did. Israel’s team is developing an interactive emergency wristband for senior citizens and actually got government funding as well as grants from 5VC firms!

2. The weather and views were even better than the competition. We were given free time on the third day to explore :

 

 

3. FOOD!!!!!! Granted, the meals they provided us at the hotel sucked, but everything else was AMAZING, and incredibly cheap. Seriously, a bottle of kefir was only 20 hyrvnia (less than a dollar). In Shanghai, a small thing of Greek yogurt costs upwards 28RMB (around $4). The fruit  and rye bread were also incredible. My favorite, however, had to be the cured fish

 

Sure, it doesn’t look appetizing, but trust me, the flavour is superb. Basically, the freshness and salt removes any fishiness while preserving the fish’s natural oils. The flesh, both times I had this, was tender and not too salty. Anyways, its available in pretty much every grocery store, but for the best, head to the beach and pick a stall!

What didn’t go so well….

Only 1 thing didn’t quite work out: the traveling

First of all, the flights were at the worst times. Honestly, the flight there departed at 3am and the flight back arrived 1am…. so much for a getting enough sleep…….

The on-site visas also got screwed up, so my team ended up stuck in Kiev for nearly 6hrs while they figured things out. In the mean time, we missed our flight to Odessa and had to take a 6hr bus ride instead…….at least we didn’t have to take a 22hr bus to Kenya like the Ugandan team

So that’s it for this post. I hope the ending didn’t bum you guys out. Overall, I highly recommend visiting Odessa, or the rest of Ukraine for that matter.

Anyways, August is almost over, which means crab season is starting! See you guys next week with a recipe!

 

 

 

Summer Pt.2: Best eats

Hi!!! As promised, I’m back. My first week as a junior is over and it is definitely WAYYYY busier than freshman and sophomore year. Anyways, it’s the weekend now, and I want to finish my summer recap before fall sets in, so let’s get started! Part 2: Food

Honestly, I didn’t get much of a chance to explore the amazing food scenes of some of the cities I visited, but I still hit three standout spots.

1. Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack (Iowa City)

At camp, I mentioned to one of the counselors that I liked smoked meats/bbq, and this was the first place he recommended. The next day, I walked over for lunch, and discovered just how lucky these college kids were. I wanted the 3 meat platter, but there was no way I could finish everything 😦  I ordered a pulled pork sandwich instead.

 It was AMAZING. The meat was tender and incredibly smoky. So, the next week, I came back and got a half rack of ribs

 No disappointment here. The ribs were not fall of the bone, but they had such flavor I actually appreciated the extra chew. They were also not too fatty, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable, despite the nearly pound of meat.

Other notes: The service is amazingly fast and the people are courteous. They also have a complementary toppings bar with housemade pickles and over 15 types of sauce!. However, as a trade-off, it’s not exactly college- budget friendly. Still, I highly recommend it

2. EMC Raw Bar

We go to Irvine every summer, but since we stay in an apartment complex thing, we don’t really go out to eat. When we do, it’s usually to the Chinese places down the street or some sushi place we happen to drive by. One day, after doing some shopping in Heritage Plaza, I noticed a new building

Seafood and raw bar? Now that’s my type of restaurant. It was already noon, so why not try it out?

The menu was small but extensive with a large variety of quite creative dishes like uni(sea urchin) avocado toast  as well as more traditional soups and pastas. Before any of that, oysters to start!

These were the Chesapeake bay oysters, which were very tasty and fresh, but small. I would recommend some of the larger (but more expensive) varieties.

For mains, I got charbroiled whitefish filet and my mom got the spicy seafood soup

(I was too excited and started eating before remembering to take a pic)

I’ll start with the soup. My mom didn’t think it would be enough to fill her up for lunch, but she could not have been more wrong. It was loaded with clams, muscles, shrimp……and just to satisfy those who just need carbs, the soup came with some garlic bread.

Mom thought she hit the jackpot, until my dish arrived. The whitefish was not only fresh, it was JUICY. yes, a juicy fish. Even better, I could still taste the char.

Other notes: For sides, I highly recommend the grilled corn or one of the toasts. This is definitely more of a fancy dinner place (perfect for date night!)The food also took a while to arrive.

3. Pinefish

While in Philly visiting UPENN,  I was really craving seafood, so I did a quick search on Yelp and found that this place called Pinefish had $1 oysters during happy hour. Yep, $1. We were going.

It took a while to navigate all the one ways, but we eventually arrived to this:

 

Turns out, the happy hour oysters actually existed! Even better, cocktail shrimp and clams were also included in the deal!.  So, we did the logical thing and ordered a dozen of each.

 (our first batch)

I must say, the oysters were a bit disappointing, but GET THE CLAMS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Oysters, clams and shrimp are great, but not enough for dinner. The waitress brought us the menus. My dad and brother aren’t seafood people so they got overpriced meat dishes (not worth discussing). My mom and I took advantage of the place. Strangely enough, we ordered almost the same things we did at EMC.

 (grilled fish of the day- I don’t recall what fish)

 (Spanish spicy seafood soup)

This place was like EMC, but 5x better. I swear the fish I ate was still swimming this morning. Basically if you’re ever in Philly, find this place.

Other notes: They bring seafood in fresh everyday and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Come early. The service was actually pretty fast, but the highlight was the great attitude of the staff.

Well, I hope you get a chance to check out the AMAZING restaurants. I’ll be back soon with the final installment. See you then!

 

Quick Trip to WuXi- Food!

Hi!! I’m back with the second part of my segment on WuXi- the FOOD!!!!! Food was definitely not the focus of this trip, but foodies manage to snag delicious eats everywhere.

WuXi Cuisine

Technically, “WuXi cuisine” doesn’t exist. It’s actually just a regional variation of Jiangsu cuisine. Thus, WuXi food is sweet, vinegary and delicate. There are, however, some distinguishing features and outstanding dishes unique to the WuXi area. Let’s explore!

火爆- Our First Taste

Our hosts, two of my mom’s former classmates, hadn’t seen her in over 20 years. Obviously, everyone was overjoyed to see each other. No way they were going to let us leave without trying local delicacies. So, the night we arrived, they invited us to 火爆.

火爆 is famous for it’s local dishes, but it’s more famous for something else: Crayfish.

Crayfish sounds random, but it’s actually the mascot of Chinese nightlife. Although ubiquitous, crayfish isn’t easy to keep fresh and or alive. 火爆’s got it perfect. Out of the over 10 “flavours”, we chose three: Ice shocked, Garlic and Chili oil (multiple plates of each were ordered)

  

None disappointed. They were perfectly fresh and AMAZINGLY flavourful. Even my brother and his friends, who usually avoid seafood, cleaned out at least a plate each. Personally, I liked the ice shocked- crayfish boiled in rice wine and spices then chilled- the best since it brought out the natural flavour instead of coating it in heavy sauce.

After we demolished over 5 plates of crayfish, the other dishes came rolling in. Here are the highlights:

WuXi special sauce ribs- This is WuXi’s signature dish. Basically the ribs are braised with sugar and spices until they are stupidly tender and covered in an incredibly sweet and rich sauce that. My mom, the boys and her classmates loved it but my dad and I found them too sweet.

Cow cheek meat- The ribs were too sweet for me, but this dish was just my style. I have a love for the stranger parts of animals. Even if you don’t share my love, ORDER THIS! The meat is perfectly tender and flavorful. Even the tendon (there was plenty of it) was nearly at a melt- in- your- mouth level.

Duck Blood and Offal with vermicelli in thick broth- I realize blood and offal aren’t on most people’s favorite foods list, but trust me, this dish is worth it. The star of this dish is actually neither the blood nor the offal nor the vermicelli; it’s the incredibly rich broth. That stuff will make ANYTHING taste good.

Fish with sour pickles- This is another seemingly ubiquitous dish that the restaurant took to new levels. The fish, which was alive until the chef decided to cook it, is braised in pretty much the same broth that made the duck dish sooooo good. The meat was velvety and tender yet pleasantly springy.

The Old Town

Last post, I mentioned that we popped over to old town for lunch before heading home. When we arrived, I was stunned by the beautiful, well preserved architecture, but one thing was missing: street food. Most shops were either selling tourist goods (ie cheap toys), or the famous WuXi “clay people”

 

There was an abundance of flaky pastries of every which flavor and size. I personally don’t like them, but they are one of WuXi’s specialties. They’re definitely worth trying, even if it’s only a bite.

The main food scene in the old town is in it’s restaurants and tea places. I have to credit my little bro and his friends for scouting out the best one: A Bite of WuXi. The entire Jiangsu area is legendary for it’s soup dumplings. This restaurant is doubly qualified because it’s the exact place where they filmed a segment on soup dumplings for A Bite of China (I highly recommend this TV show)

 

We ordered the generic pork and crab roe dumplings as well as one of the Giants (a bigger version of the generic with 5x the soup). Words cannot describe the amazingness of the dumplings. each one is made to order and the skin was sooo thin and delicate. The soup level was also off the chart and not too salty. Come HERE!!!! even if it takes a while to find.

 (some samplings)

So that’s it for this quick trip. See you guys soon!

 

 

Quick Trip to WuXi- Let’s Clean a Mountain!

Hello World! School is OVER!!!! Even better, I passed my finals with flying colors! My plan was just to lay low for the first week to unwind after finals. My mom had a far better idea. On the 10th, we joined up with two other families and popped over to nearby WuXi to help clean up some trails. While this seems a bit random, it’s actually a test run for a project we’re trying to get started called Beautiful Mountains and Rivers.

WuXi

WuXi is a historical city in Jiangsu province about a 2 hour drive from Shanghai. At the city’s center is a lake bordered by some low mountains covered in scenic forests. From a hiking perspective, the “mountains” are only 400m, but what they lack in difficulty they make up in scenery

 

More importantly, we went to WuXi because two of my mom’s former high school classmates are prominent members of an organization, started some local entrepreneurs, called 丹顶鹤 that’s been helping to keep the mountains clean every weekend for the last 4 and a half years.

丹顶鹤, not only helps pick up trash, but also does advocacy to promote environmentalism, physical well- being and happiness. (This included shouting out the slogan on the middle of the mountain)

 

It was an absolute blast. The weather was absolutely perfect, and since it rained the day before, it wasn’t even that hot. The lack of tourists also meant a relative lack of trash, but there was still plenty to do:

After a few hours, everyone was pretty pooped, so group leader led us up to a little tea place at the top of the mountain.

There, the whole group sat around and had a lively discussion  philosophical debate about the differences between education in China and the US. The takeaway: America needs more basics; China needs to CHILL OUT and let children do what they enjoy.

Time flew by. Unfortunately, we had to leave or face late checkout costs and impending traffic on the way back. The first problem was avoided by getting down the mountain and checking out without showering 😦 As for the second problem, we ignored it and shopped around old town  instead- screw traffic!

After a great lunch and a box of wax berries (Highly recommended), we headed back. What a great trip!

Next post, I’ll share some of the delicious eats. Until then, See ya!

 

 

Spring Trip to JiaXing

Hi!!! It’s officially spring now!!!! In China, there is a tradition of going on 春游, or spring vacation when the weather gets nice and flowers bloom. Sunday was bright, sunny and free so we decided to go on a 春游.

We were going to take a quick train to SuZhou, but earlier that week, my mom and a couple of her friends went to JiaXing.

 

They were WeChatting for days about the beauty and the delicious food. Plus, she came home with some VERY DELICIOUS pumpkin steam buns, salted vegetable stuffed glutinous rice dumplings and 粽子stick rice packets. So, I couldn’t have been more excited when my mom offered to take me there instead.

JiaXing

JiaXing is a fairly small town about 1.5 hrs outside of Shanghai. It’s a pretty big deal in China because it is where Mao and his comrades established the communist party after being chased out of Shanghai by the Nationalists

I love history, but I didn’t come to JiaXing for educational purposes. JiaXing is also, if not more, famous for it’s South Lake and old town. As one poet put it, JiaXing has “one lake, two rivers and three streets” (it sounds a lot nicer in Chinese). Both were BEAUTIFUL

We took a very scenic walk around the lake.

 

That was all we needed to stoke our appetites before hitting old town (well, one of the 3 famed streets). We meandered among old cobblestone alleyways and “old wood” buildings repurposed as modern pubs.

 

They were beautiful, but by that time, we were all pretty hungry. After a few pictures, we beelined for the food. Boy did we find some!

Marinated Meats

Right as we turned the corner, we ran into this:

Old shop marinades are no joke. These recipes are often family treasures. We were not disappointed. We got some offal, tofu and chicken feet; honestly, those were some of the most delicious things I’ve ever put into my mouth. They were perfectly rich, flavorful and tender. I was very tempted to get the pork knuckle, but that thing had to be at least 2 lbs. I couldn’t afford squandering my stomach space

Side note: When making Chinese style marinades, preserve and reuse old liquid. The used liquid absorbs a lot of flavour, collagen or fat from the previous use, making the next one much tastier

Glutinous Rice Dumplings

Carbs are usually my last priority when it comes to sampling, but I LOVE glutinous rice dumplings. My mom brought some back last time and they were AMAZING! Luckily for us, the dumpling place was right next to the marinade shop.

The shop offered a fairly wide selection of glutinous rice delicacies from flower “cake” to rice balls filled with meat. They even had maltose candy- literally wheat that’s been pounded and heated until maltose is released and forms strings.

Again, I’m not a carb person. I headed straight for the rice dumplings. In April, there’s a special kind of glutinous rice dumpling called 青团. It’s basically a normal dumpling, but with a kind of leaf mixed in so it’s green.

I got a salted veggie and bamboo shoot one. AMAZING. They also have bean paste filled ones and pumpkin ones that are also filled with bean paste.

Sticky Rice Packets

While marinades and glutinous rice dumplings are good, JiaXing is really famous for its sticky rice packets. They’re so important, that there’s actually a museum dedicated to them.

Sticky rice packets, which originated during the Spring and Autumn period (nearly 4,000 years ago), are traditionally eaten during Dragon Boat festival. They’re pretty much glutinous rice filled with meat, veggies or even bean paste and chesnuts, then wrapped in lotus or bamboo leaves. They usually look like this:

but I saw some pretty interesting regional variations

By the time we left the museum, it was about three, and we were very satisfied, but tired. Our one regret is that we only visited one old town street. I had a blast and will definitely be back for more of the delicious food and beautiful sights.

 

 

 

CASA Revisited

It’s about noon in Moscow now. Unfortunately, I am not there 😦 My visa got screwed up so that I am not allowed in Russia until the 27th. Instead of risking a layover in a foreign country, my parents and I decided not to go. So, I’ll be posting on something completely different: the CASA team’s investigation of Shanghai.

A few posts ago, I talked about how the CASA team (Mrs. Peng, her husband, eldest son and first employee), with the help of Mr. Du, came to Shanghai to discuss the expansion of their charity (啄木鸟)and restaurant to Shanghai.

Since the dinner, the team had been hard at work investigating locations all over Shanghai- visiting possible locations, talking to owners and really doing their due dilligence

Their vision is to open an accessible but upscale western style pizza restaurant. Naturally, they visited some and even got to see some pros at work

Unfortunately, not everything was so rosy. They immediately ran into two big road blocks: Shanghai’s exorbitant rent and a proper location. Furthermore, in some locations, the managers wouldn’t even talk to them because of their lack of branding. There is certainly a big learning curve doing business in Shanghai, but the CASA team and the rest of us are determined to make it work.

I was not able to join them on their adventures, but I did get to meet with them for dinner before they left. We had a great discussion about their visit and her mission as a charity to help disadvantaged children.

It was great. They’ll be back next month for another investigation. I have full confidence they can make this dream a reality.

It’s 2017!!!!!!

Hi!!!!! It’s 2017 now!!!!!! The year’s really gone by fast. New Years is nothing too special for me, but it’s cool (and a bit freaky) to think about how fast time goes by. Usually, we don’t do anything to celebrate new years; however, a couple of my parents’ good college friends invited us to brunch at 唐宫 (Tang Palace) in Puxi near JiangSu rd

img_0275

唐宫 is a pretty typical Cantonese style seafood with an extensive selection of dim sum. The difference is how good it is. My cousin had mentioned it a couple of times, but I was not prepared by the sheer deliciousness.

img_0255

img_0252

img_0251

img_0256 No, these are not mushrooms. They’re bean paste filled buns.

So the dim sum was amazing, until our hosts brought out the big guns: roast pigeon

img_0258

Pretty much every Cantonese restaurant worth it’s salt offers roast pigeon, but these were on a whole other playing field. They were perfectly crisp and not over salted. I could actually pick up the spices.

Of course, such a delicious spot could not escape the notice of hungry locals

img_0272

Aside from the amazing food, I had a great time talking with my parents’ classmates. We covered topics ranging from hiking to China’s space program and were there until 12.

How was your New Years? Happy 2017!!!

Taiwanese Highlights

As promised, I’m back and ready to talk about the best part of the trip: the food and culture. Taiwan only has 23 million people (that’s 1 million less than Shanghai’s official population), but what it lacks in people, it makes up for in flavor and culture. It preserves much of pre communist China and many of the relics that were once in the Forbidden City are actually in Taipei. Since we were biking in the (more beautiful) countryside, we did not get to do some of the more touristy activities such as museums and night markets, but that didn’t matter.

Food

Taiwan is pretty much synonymous with good food, and the organizers weren’t going to let us starve. We were in the countryside so everything was extremely fresh and pretty cheap 🙂 My favorite dish had to be the salt baked carp

It’s a speciality of the Bu Nong tribe and it was DELICIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The carp is a special type of carp only found in Taiwan; so fresh!!!!!. It’s baked at a high temperature to render the fat; the salt locks in moisture and gives the meat flavor.

img_0091

There was also plenty of delicious salt water chicken. Salt water chicken is ubiquitous around Taiwan and Canton, but the ones we had were particularly good. A couple of the restaurants were actually raising the chickens in their backyard.

The most interesting thing I had was the milk hot pot. It’s literally hotpot except the soup is replaced with milk

img_0115

The milk was less than a day old so it was on a completely different playing field than the bottled milk in the cities

Hands down the best meal of the trip was at this place called CASA

a2e4e8a517130f32647227c932f7aad2

CASA is run by a charity group called 啄木鸟 (Woodpecker). It helps adolescents from disadvantaged, minority families develop skills so they stay on the right road. Our entire meal was prepared by four youths, all under 25. The owners of the restaurant had always wanted one; after many hardships, including having to use their own child’s college fund, their dream became a reality. Touching story aside, the food was AMAZING!!!!

7b4acead3afe137e22f049958eee9300 img_0120

This place actually had the best salt baked carp of all the restaurants we went to. After the meal, one of the dads offered to help expand this restaurant and charity into Shanghai. We are all looking forward to that moment and will all be involved. I might even get to be a chef!!!!

Snacks

The organizers decided that three, huge, delicious meals a day weren’t enough, so they further tempted us with Taiwanese snacks.

Home made peanut candy

img_0074 Ice cream burrito with peanut shavings

Taiwanese mochi

img_0073grilled sausages

So that’s it for this amazing and delicious trip. I’ll definitely be going back to Taiwan and I encourage all of you to go too. Happy Holidays!!!!!!!

 

 

 

 

Cycling in Taiwan

Hello! I’m back from Taiwan. It was AMAZING!!!! My family, and 12 others, biked over 270km over the course of 5 days and passed some epic views. This post, I’ll give a brief overview of what we did, but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

20161227_114903_resized (our route)

We started in Yilan county, rode a train down to Taitung, then rode our way back up along the coast.

img_0101

The biking wasn’t hard for the kids, but there were two very long uphills (4km and 5km) that everyone climbed as families. Many of us teenagers balked at the idea at first; however, in the end, we all rode alongside our parents- encouraging them and making sure they didn’t quit. All the families made it. Not only that, the coaches said our group was the fastest in the program’s history

c88e2781e00c702bf1db44d41cf7972f

It all went downhill after that. Everyone was relieved.

2eb711a4cf826237dd208ed782c2ce6d

 

It was the rainy season so I was worried about the weather, but……

img_0127 img_0131

(that was actually the last day. It was hot. The other days when we were cycling were cool and cloudy)

We ended the cycling at the start of the SuHua highway. Group Pic!!!!!!
0b2dc43b2a30ebdec27e1261f5a460a6

That’s it for this post! Happy Holidays and see you tomorrow!

Why I Hate White Rice

There is no use downplaying the significance of rice to Chinese cuisine. As one anthropologist put it: “Rice is life”. Although a majority of Chinese people no longer depend on wet rice agriculture for subsistence, no Chinese meal is complete without a bowl, or three, of polished white rice. Let me make this clear: I hate white rice. Here’s why..

First things first, the point of good food is to enjoy the taste. That is where all that simmering, stir-frying, braising comes in. Imagine plates of garlicky vegetables, perfectly tender, braised meats, rich, salty stir-fries. Now imagine white rice: a bowl of small, tasteless grains. It’s not the carbohydrates I’m against; there are plenty of delicious sources. Fruit, for example, is naturally sweet and refreshing. Sweet potatoes are rich, and taste great. Other varieties of rice, such as brown rice, red rice and forbidden rice, have a pleasant nutty taste as well as a superior mouth feel. All of these alternatives are both more delicious and nutritious as boring white rice.

Regarding nutrition, white rice is akin to white flour. It is processed and nutritionally devoid. A cup, or two servings, of white rice contains 200 calories 45g of carbohydrates with a paltry 1.2 g of fiber and literally no nutrients except smidgens of iron and magnesium. Its almost the same as white flour. The thing is, white flour actually produces a fluffier, sweeter texture, which people actually like. Doesn’t a doughnut or a small steak sound much better than a bowl of boring rice. Furthermore regarding nutrition, it hinders any weight or body goals. For those trying to loose weight, every calorie is precious. Why spend those 200 calories on tasteless crap. The sheer amount of refined carbohydrates compounded by the lack of fiber is a recipe for constipation and water retention. The tasteless nature of white rice also dampens the taste of other dishes, making more salt a necessity. Again, more water retention, which only leads to more stress.

For those trying to gain weight, white rice is also not the best choice. It is dense in carbohydrates, but not calories. It can also be quite filling, as well as tasteless, making probably already uncomfortable portions even worse. Another tablespoon or two of peanut butter or olive oil is probably a wiser choice. The bloating and constipation aren’t much help either.

 

So rant over. Can white rice be improved? Yes. The easiest is just to switch to an alternative. I suggest forbidden rice, sweet potato or just plain fruit. Going paleo isn’t a bad idea actually. If that is not an option, mixing some millet, or the above mentioned grains into boring white rice also helps jazz it up. Porridge and fried rice can also be tasty alternatives.

 

What do you think of white rice? Post in the comments.