Archives for category: Food

To regular readers, an apology; we have been without Internet for over two weeks now and I know you have all been waiting, terribly concerned about the fate of your favourite blogging holidayist and his girlfriend. Well here is some more of what we got up to in Bali, with very little sense of chronology and actually only a vague sense of what happened, given how long ago it was.

The tourism industry in Lovina is centred around the many little boats that line up along the beach and every morning offer rides to see the local dolphins. They even built a sort of charming but mostly really ugly and definitely very tacky statue in tribute to them.

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Yes, that is a dolphin wearing a crown.

After deciding against spending several hundred dollars to take a whale and dolphin spotting cruise in Kaikoura, New Zealand, we were chuffed to find that the ones here cost about $7 per person. And were incredible.

I only had modest hopes of seeing a dorsal fin or two swimming through the ocean and would have given myself a quiet pat on the back if I had managed to pick anything out at all in the twilight as I imagined the colour of the dolphins would be very much the same as the grey-blue sea at this time in the morning. Instead we were treated to the sort of acrobatic show normally reserved for those adverts about holidays in Florida except with no bint in a fluorescent wet suit goading a porpoise with a mackerel. This was just them out for their morning swim, the young ones jumping out of the water and doing tricks in the air for no one in particular’s entertainment. We took the liberty of being entertained anyway and cried tears of life-affirming joy because it was just so fucking beautiful.

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Since the dolphins were having such a good time, and also because the local dive centre salesmen were some of the most persistent people I have ever come across, we went snorkelling a few days later to see what else the Balinese sea could throw up. As it turns out, it was a hell of a lot. I was given a snorkel and mask that had a near enough perfect match for my prescription lenses in and soon enough found myself surrounded by the sort of coral and tropical fish that I literally never imagined I would see without first having paid my entrance fee to the Sea Life Centre in Brighton. Hundreds of different varieties, many of which looked like they had come out of the imagination of my six year old niece with only a packet of Stabilo Boss highlighter pens to colour them in, and plenty more that were almost as beautifully rendered.

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As well as looking at fish, Balinese people like to eat them. In order to learn more about how to cook tuna (and chicken and a very fine vegetable soup) we went to a cooking class at a local restaurant. We started with a trip to the market. This was quite the eye-opener for two people used to European standards and Environmental Health Officers being a constant threat in their previous workplaces. While a man butchered sweaty, unrefrigerated chickens on a wooden block with a dirty knife and a hacking cough, a woman sat with her buckets of prawns and tuna steaks laid out on the floor, wiping off as many ants as she could while depositing them in plastic bags for her customers. These things, plus the rather sick looking cats that were ever present in the kitchen while we cooked, plus the fact that we are both still here today having eaten everything prepared in such a dangerous way by any western standards, without any ill effects, only serves to confirm everything I thought I knew about the health and safety industry as a whole and how it is a contemptuous shit of a world, and anyone who works within it is a contemptuous shit of a person who ought to spend more time filling the voids in their own personalities rather than pointing out the minor flaws in others’ working practices.

As you can see from Lovisa and Wayan’s (our lovely Balinese chef and teacher) smiling faces the class was a success and if you should ever come round to dinner at our place there will almost certainly be chicken satay on the menu.

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As I write this, I am enjoying my 17th evening in Bali. It’s an incredible island that we have been enjoying a great deal for two weeks, and in due course I will report on the many exciting things we have seen and done before today. However if I may, I would like to skip all that and talk about the cup of cat shit coffee I drank today.

That’s not me doing some creative swearing to emphasise how bad it was. I actually had a coffee that was made with beans that had been passed by a feline-esque jungle dwelling mammal, and apparently it’s the most expensive coffee in the world. The story goes that the little civet (or luwak or weasely/catty/stoat-ish thing) is a very picky animal that has a particular fondness for only the finest coffee berries. It sniffs them out, eats the juicy flesh of the berry but can’t properly digest the bean inside. However some sort of enzyme in its stomach causes a reaction in the beans and removes any hint of bitterness to create a coffee that when brewed tastes smoother than highly polished silk. Because this is rather a long process which relies on wild animals doing their job properly and then local farmers being able to locate their poo and dig through it to find the necessary goodies, the street price of a kilo of this coffee is around $700; coincidentally the exact same amount You Are What You Eat’s Gillian McKeith charges for one of her stool sample sweetcorn fritters. Obviously I’m a fancy pants and I wouldn’t be taking such a ludicrously long holiday if I wasn’t rich beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, but even I have my limits. Fortunately we found ourselves in the cafe of a local cooperative run by a volunteer who is largely motivated by responsible and sustainable farming rather than making a fast buck from excrement, and a cup of his lovely brew cost less than three quid.

Bottom beans apart, the best thing about this cup of coffee was the brewing process. Having ordered a one person pot of coffee I was presented with a sort of Indonesian chemistry set. There was fire, metal, tubes and a big glass with some ground coffee in it. All very exciting but I hadn’t got the slightest idea what I was supposed to do with it.

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After a few minutes and a few words of explanation from the man in charge, things started to happen. The flame heats water in the can above it which, once boiling, overflows through the pipe and into the glass. Then after a few seconds in the ground coffee the water is sucked back up the pipe due to the vacuum created when it left the can. Perhaps. I didn’t really understand what he was saying and I switched off when the explanation became too dependent on science, preferring to put it all down to magic, and I just enjoyed the show instead.

After all the excitement of the brewing process (which you can repeat up to three times depending on your coffee-strength preference; I opted for two because I prefer to sip my coffee rather than eat it with a spoon) the actual drinking of the stuff was going to struggle to keep the momentum of the experience up. It was though a very lovely cup of coffee and was definitely worth the effort of making it. Especially when there are hipsters in New York drinking it for ten times the price I paid. Add to that the fact that they don’t get a plate of the worlds best ever banana fritters with home grown chocolate dipping sauce to go with it, and I’m looking kind of like a freaking genius right now.

Everyone knows that China is at the forefront of the world’s technological and scientific advancement right now and as its population grows, its economy strengthens and its education gets better, the move towards Chinese global domination becomes more and more likely. While the Americans tell each other this is bad and it spells the end for American jobs and American industry and America being the leader of the free world, Australia is merrily embracing Chinese science because in Australia, Chinese science means this:

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Yes, as the photo above appears to illustrate, in Sydney’s China town they have a chemistry lab opened up on to the street where be-goggled ladies mix together liquids from various flasks, pour in some liquid nitrogen and make it look like they’ve set the place on fire. This would all be quite fun if they were just conducting random experiments for the entertainment of passing tourists. However they were actually making ice cream so it was all one hell of a lot of delicious mega fun. You choose your flavour and then they put milk and cream and some pop corn and truffle oil (Lovisa) or burnt butter (me) and probably some sugar and stuff in to a food mixer, pour over the liquid nitrogen and then give you the best ice cream you’ve ever had when it comes out. The place is called N2, it’s on Dixon Street, and if you’re ever in Sydney you have to go there.

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Look at those happy faces. Thanks China.

Hawaii is a place that you read about, hear about, occasionally see on television and if you’re anything like me, could never actually conceive of going to because its just so bloody far away.

And yet for ten days in December, this was exactly where I found myself, sitting on the beach, splashing in the sea and feeling none of the usual cold and shit-I-haven’t-done-any-shopping anxiety normally associated with the weeks before Christmas.

We stayed in Waikiki which was very nice but absolutely rammed full of Japanese tourists filling their suitcases with cheap designer clothes and shit trinkets.

To get away from it all we were able to jump on a bus to the North Shore of Oahu, a place known for its beautiful beaches and world famous surf. When we arrived to an almost entirely deserted stretch of golden sand, I was slightly disheartened to see the red flags and No Swimming signs out. Lovisa just took all her clothes off and ran straight in to the 20 ft waves.

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Not wanting to look like a baby, I followed her in shortly after. And then like a baby, couldn’t control myself in the water, got smashed in the face by a shit ton of ocean, and nearly died. When I eventually washed up ashore, it took me three days to wash the sand out of my hair.

After all that exertion it was decided that we had earned a cheeseburger. Luckily there is a restaurant in Waikiki called Cheeseburger Waikiki. Fitting. It was so good we went back the next day. And the next two days after that. You would think there was only so much pineapple, beef, cheese and teriyaki in a bun that a man could be expected to enjoy eating in a week, but I haven’t yet found out how much that is. Next time I’m in Waikiki I’ll update you.

Unnecessary and gratuitously sexy picture.

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San Francisco shares much with our former home, Brighton. It has a gay scene of international repute. It has a ‘vibrant arts community.’ It is riddled with drunks and drugs and homelessness. San Francisco has a large number of enormous sea lions lolling around at the sea front, maniacally barking for the amusement of tourists. Brighton has a large number of enormously overweight hen parties lolling around in sea front bars, maniacally shrieking to the bemusement of tourists.

If that doesn’t necessarily sound like a ringing endorsement of the city then that’s fine. You probably take a bucket and spade every time you go to Brighton and get really disappointed when your pebblecastles don’t stand up properly. But I assure you, San Francisco really is the tits and you’ll love it.

It really doesn’t appear to make any sense that there is a city here at all. Everywhere you turn there is another massive hill which in any other town would have seemed a decent enough excuse to stop building and not have any ambition for making one of the biggest cities and most important business and financial centres in the world. The town planners here had very different ideas, presumably because they were San Franciscan and that meant they were permanently high.

Having built an utterly inaccessible city they at least had the decency to build a local transport system that looks really cool. The cable cars that remain are almost completely unchanged since, although presumably when they first came in to being they weren’t a tourist attraction costing $6 for a single ride, and therefore people with normal budgets could actually afford to use them. Still, nice to look at. (Just trust me on this because I can’t find the pictures we took of them. Promise they are nice to look at.)

A 15 minute boat ride away from San Francisco is Alcatraz, probably the world’s most infamous prison, or to me, the setting for the 1996 action thriller The Rock, a film so bad that I must have watched it at least 15 times when my mum got the film channels when I was 11.

Alcatraz is now actually operated by the same National Parks service that looks after the Grand Canyon and Sequoia National Forest so it was no surprise to find that it is brilliant. Even though one inevitably feels and looks a bit of a dick using an audio guide on a walking tour of an attraction, we put on our headphones and walked around like good little prisoners.

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Lovely views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge and the rest of the Bay Area from the recreation yard; not really sure what the inmates had to complain about but loads of them died trying to escape so I guess it wasn’t all fun and games and walking tours.

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There is plenty more to recommend to do in San Francisco, but none will be as delicious as this.

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That’s a grilled ham, cheese and onion sandwich, dipped in egg, deep fried and sprinkled with icing sugar with spicy strawberry jam for dipping. Completely and utterly astonishingly brilliant. If you ever find yourself in the Bay Area, I can heartily recommend a trip to Show Dogs for a sausage or a gnarly sarnie.

If you’re not hungry, just go for a walk. You’ll meet crazies, get incredibly toned calves from all the climbing and find that you love San Francisco because it’s the shit.

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In Orlando it is actively encouraged that every man, woman and child should eat ‘turkey’ legs (they actually have the appearance, flavour and grotesque size of a pig’s leg, but they market them as turkey and it feels less gross that way so I’m happy to be taken in and believe what they say). I’d not heard of it before but it is clearly a local thing because there were t shirts everywhere with turkey legs on them and no shortage of turkey leg sellers around the theme parks. Not wanting to miss out on local tradition, we got involved.

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Ridiculous, delicious, Florida.

Philadelphia, for much of my life, has been something delicious and creamy to spread on a toasted bagel. On Wednesday it became the second city of our enormous holiday. We arrived early in the afternoon, and after finding our charming little bed and breakfast, went out on an adventure. I didn’t know much about the city before we arrived but I did know that there existed such a thing as a Philly Cheese Steak, and I was not about to not eat something called that.

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It turned out to be pretty much exactly the same as a steak and cheese sandwich from Subway. Which shouldn’t have taken too much figuring out from the name.

The downtown area in Philly is pleasingly small and can easily be covered on foot. There is a lot of street art around which gives the place a very bohemian feel, and generally speaking I was surprised by how European it seemed compared to what you might expect from an American city. It even had a Jack Wills, presumably staffed by pyjama and Ugg-wearing English public school girls on their gap years.

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That’s just how the houses look in Philadelphia. Fancy.

To round off our afternoon of exploration, we paid a tramp $3 to take a picture of us in front of the Love sculpture and then went back to our lovely B&B hostess.

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As we sit on the Greyhound bus about to leave New York and head in to America proper, it feels appropriate that I should put together a highlights package from our time in the Big Apple. Four weeks is a long time to be anywhere, yet in New York it is nothing like enough and there are unquestionably things that didn’t get done. However I will do my best to compile a list of things that I would recommend be done by anybody, particularly on a tight budget, mostly in the hope that this will be picked up by people Googling for “things to do in New York,” and they might accidentally start following my blog, giving me an artificially inflated sense of purpose.

1. Go to a Mets game.
As regular readers will recall, we went to a Mets game a couple of weeks ago. As a fan of many sports but not baseball, I loved it. As a fan of many things, but not sports, Lovisa loved it. An all-American day out, with excellent seats at very reasonable prices (less than $20 each), there is nothing not to love about going to the ball game. I also think its important that you go and see the Mets and not the Yankees. The Beastie Boys are Mets fans. Which white rapper loves the Yankees?

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Exactly.

(For the mums and dads, that’s Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit. Yes, that’s the actual name of his band, and yes, they are without question the worst band that has ever existed, ever.)

2. Get the cable car to/from Roosevelt Island.
On our last day in town we went to Roosevelt Island. I barely even knew it was there, much less that it had anything of interest on it, but we wanted to be able to say that we had covered as much of the city as possible and since the subway stopped there, we decided to go. The island itself is nothing really to write home about, just a lot of high rise residential buildings and something that resembles a prison or perhaps mental asylum. One thing that it does have though, is a bloody lovely cable car that runs alongside the Queensboro Bridge, back to Manhattan. It’s not a tourist attraction per se, and the classic Midtown skyline views are a little obscured, but its an amazing way to see the east side of Manhattan, the East River and Queens. It is part of the MTA public transport network too, so all you need to ride it is your subway/bus ticket which unless you’re mentally in to walking, you will already have.

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Photo credit goes to Lovisa Berglund who is good at everything.

3. Make your own sight-seeing tour.
New York is the setting for hundreds of TV programmes and films so if you want to feel like a Ghostbuster or eat cupcakes like Carrie Bradshaw or play a massive piano in FAO Schwarz like Josh Baskin or go to Queens to find a wife like Prince Akeem (actually most of Coming to America was filmed in Brooklyn, so go there) then the Internet is awash with information on where your favourite movie locations are. On Sunday I walked up to the west side of Harlem to find W 144 ST and Convent, AKA 111 Archer Avenue, AKA the house that Royal Tenebaum bought in the winter of his 35th year.

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If you haven’t seen The Royal Tenenbaums then I would recommend not only that you do because its one of the great films of the 21st century, but also that you go the Trinity Cemetery anyway. It is used for a couple of scenes in the film but in its own right, it is just an interesting, tranquil place full of history, something not necessarily easy to come by in New York

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“Hell of a damn grave. Wish it were mine.”

4. Eat Thai food.
New York has a reputation for being an expensive place to eat out, and after a month there I can say that this is not far from the truth. However if you want to eat well and eat cheaply, you can, and without doubt the best way to do so is at Thai restaurants, that for some reason are phenomenally well priced. At one West Village place we got a starter, main course and wine for $15. Even on the Upper East Side, in what is now officially America’s most expensive zip code, we got a two course lunch for $7.50. These are good restaurants with fancy decor, generous portions and tasty food. They must be making their money out the back, human trafficking, prostitute smuggling, dog fighting or something. Just don’t think too hard about it and enjoy the crap out of your cheap dinner.

5. Don’t go to the top of The Empire State Building.
The most iconic feature of the New York skyline, and you’re standing on top of it, taking pictures of everything else. Don’t be an idiot. Go to The Top of the Rock at The Rockefeller Center and people will actually know where you’ve been when you show them your holiday snaps.

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And finally…
Just go for a walk. If you need to, get on the subway first, but then get off somewhere, anywhere, and just walk it baby. There is always something to see, someone to look at, a place to eat, a building you want to live in. I gave Williamsburg a hard time before, but I could still go for another walk around because its in the best city in the whole world, and I’d rather be in that over-hyped, over-hip, wanker village than Shoreditch, any day.

That’s it. New York, you were a dream. Take care of yourself, I want to be back in you very soon.

I wrote a bit before about cupcakes and how they’re good and not bad. It’s a good job I had this revelation because there are cupcakes everywhere in this city and if I was still being a cynical old bastard who didn’t buy in to it, this photo would never have happened.

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Today was an improbably marvellous day. Consider that two days ago, the weather looked like this:

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Furthermore, the forecast for this week was for lots more rain with occasional sunny intervals. Not that I mind. It’s October now and you’d be a bloody fool to think the weather wouldn’t get a bit shit in New York at this time of year. I’ve got a jolly good waterproof jacket with me and will hold no grudge should I have to use it some more.

Today I did not wear that jacket.

Today was sitting outside under a cloudless blue sky, drinking Snapple kind of weather.

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What a beauty.

Today was also spotting Cypro-Aussie reality TV show and some-time-singing celebrities kind of weather.

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Yes friends, that really is Peter Andre filming his latest god awful, who gives a shit?, ITV2 series, right here in New York City. To think I lived in the same city as this shiny bronze clown for over 3 years, and I finally bump in to him on a different continent.

A week ago, I got to play Ghostbusters in TriBeCa. Today, Lovisa got to play Sex and the City in West Village. Here is Carrie Berglund leaving Magnolia Bakery with a box of goodies, just as Miss Bradshaw and her little friends used to.

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It must be said, a visit to Magnolia Bakery is not just for fans of Sex and the City. It is also for cynical old bastards like me who don’t understand what all the fuss is about with cup cakes or why, over the last few years, they’ve become more popular than Jesus (of course now i know that the reason they’ve become so bloody popular is bloody Magnolia Bakery and Sex and the bloody city). When you eat one of their cakes you can no longer be cynical about anything. You can only feel unbridled joy, a sugary peace and spongey contentment stuck in your teeth and almost certainly smeared across your lips and the tip of your nose. Delicious.

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Of course no visit to West Village would be complete without seeing a pig being taken for a walk. Wait, what?

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