Back in a simpler time known as this October, I spent three weeks in Asia on a family vacay. After subjecting FYA HQ to endless food pics on my personal Instagram, it's only fair that I recount the
meals trip upon being asked.
But first! My travels sort of began a week earlier, with a work trip to my city's provincial neighbour (and home of an FYA Book Club chapter!), Calgary, Alberta. Similar to my actual vacation, the planning for this trip was dominated by what we were going to eat. (I am somehow and thankfully surrounded at all times by people who care way too much about tasty business.) Charcut was sooooo much deliciousness, and I ended up eating back-to-back dinners on the same night at The Guild (first with coworkers, then with a friend).
Charcut: Truffle gravy poutine, and Portugese-style neck clams.
The Guild: Bison pizza, escargot, and the Elvis from Dinner No. 2. (Not pictured: Slow-roasted pig's head from Dinner No. 1, which can be seen here, since I know not everybody likes unexpected pig's head.)
Of all the cities in mainland China that I've been to so far, Shanghai has been my favourite. It's a mix of old and new, and of East and West. With where I stayed near Yu Garden, it was immensely walkable and ripe for exploring. (With the caveat being that I'm the kind of traveller who likes to walk every-freaking-where, which is why we averaged nearly 28,000 steps each day in Shanghai. My poor mistreated feet would probably not recommend this.)
A few things to keep in mind when travelling in China, though. It only occurred to us after everything was booked that we'd be in Shanghai during the national Golden Week holiday. That didn't really interfere with our plans in Shanghai too much, but we skipped out on going to nearby ancient water towns due to their increased popularity during that time. (Not that Shanghai itself isn't crowded -- Yu Garden was especially packed on the first day that we went -- but staying within the city seemed more manageable than the alternative.) And even though I was fully aware of the Great Firewall beforehand, there's nothing like having 95% of your apps not working to reinforce the fact that OH SHIZZ, EVERYTHING IS BANNED HERE. If your primary email provider is Gmail (which: HIIIIII), you definitely need a backup.
On the food front in Shanghai, two culinary goals took priority above all else. Our trip coincided with the start of hairy crab season, so we couldn't not try it for ourselves.
Cheng Long Xing: Set menu.
And then there were XLBs aka FAVOURITE. Our quest to find the best xiaolongbao led us to the skippable Nanxiang Mantou Dian, the delish but frenetic De Xing Guan, and the impressively intricate handiwork of Din Tai Fung.
Book Haul Progress: Last but not least -- since, like, this is still a book blog and all -- I hit up a few bookstores!* There are quite on Fuzhou Road (like the 7-storey Shanghai Book City, pictured below), with varying collections of English books. After searching high and low, I picked up a copy of Northern Girls by Sheng Keyi at Foreign Languages Bookstore.
* Ever since my first trip to Europe, I've been buying myself a literary souvenir from each (non-U.S.) country I visit: English translations of YA books by homegrown authors and in editions that aren't available in North America, whenever possible. (But meeting all these criteria is rarely possible.)
From there, we embarked on a cruise headed for Singapore. In a sea (har) of yummy foods, the cheesecake lollipop was the one that I simultaneously wish I could duplicate at home and am grateful that I haven't yet learned how to, or I'd eat NOTHING ELSE.
Having only vague memories of Tokyo (and other cities that I've forgotten) for comparison, Okinawa strikes me as a chill, laid-back island version of Japan. Thanks to fortuitous timing, we arrived in the capital city of Naha during its annual Tug-of-War festival, for which an entire street is shut down for a GIANT tug-of-war. (Seriously, look at the pics.) Stumbling upon the festivities on Kokusai Street provided a memorable distraction from the sweltering heat. With any luck, my first trip to Okinawa won't be my last, because I've def. fallen a little in love with it.
Fontana Gelato: Salt-flavoured gelato.
Makishi Public Market: Fresh sashimi.
Ryusen Kokusai Dori: Ramen and soba.
Book Haul Progress: It was slim pickings at Junkudo. (For my v. specific requirements, anyway; the store itself is huge.) I was tempted to pick up Janice P. Nimura's Daughters of the Samurai, but ultimately went with Stories from a Tearoom Window by Shigenori Chikamatsu.
Hong Kong, China
Touristing took a pause in Hong Kong, since we're from there and have each lived in HK for extended periods of time in recent years, so it's just mostly family and food whenever we go back. And there is SO. MUCH. FOOD. Fortunately, OpenRice is pretty helpful for narrowing down the many choices (it's basically a food-centric Yelp).
Da Nang & Hoi An, Vietnam
Uncooperative weather put a slight damper on our excursion (typhoon season ramped up shortly after we left the area), but we still had fun sightseeing in the resort town of Da Nang and the Old Town of Hoi An. Our stop at My Khe Beach led to a spontaneous addition to lunch, when we chipped in for fresh crab from a beachside seafood vendor.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Real talk: we kind of dropped the ball on exploring HCMC. We did manage to hit up a few landmarks (as well as successfully
walk into traffic cross the street), but it was just so hot and humid that we kept ducking inside air-conditioned malls, until we ended up just staying indoors altogether.
Book Haul Progress: Due to our diminished willpower for venturing outdoors, my original detour to Fahasa was nixed. Luckily, one of the shopping centres we visited had a Phuong Nam bookstore (pictured below), which is where I bought Open the Window, Eyes Closed by Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần.
To cap off this continental tour of deliciousness, we spent the final week in Singapore. This was one place that I've always wanted to visit, and the land of hawker centres (pretty much open-air food courts) was just as great as I'd hoped.
Maxwell Food Centre: Hainanese chicken; soy milk and sugarcane juice; and soy sauce noodles and oyster omelettte.
Lau Pa Sat: Roti; shrimp, chicken, and lamb satay.
On the opposite end of the culinary spectrum, we enjoyed a fantastic lunch to match the awesome view from atop the Marina Bay Sands.
Ce La Vi: Set menu.
But the best part about travelling to a hot climate is the endless excuse for ICE CREAM. (I'M REGULATING MY BODY TEMPERATURE, OK?)
As you may have noticed, 320 Below was totally my fave. Their ice cream is made from scratch with liquid nitrogen!
Book Haul Progress: After a bit of Google confusion over whether BooksActually was still in business (it is), I opted for a safer bet at one of the many Times Bookstores on Orchard Road and got myself The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew.
Suffice it to say, I had a great time in Asia, and I can't wait to go back!
Pictured: TRUE LOVE.