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A Bite of History (and Wonton Perfection)

Hualien has much to love about it with its small town charm, cute night market, and the main tourism draw, Toroko Gorge. But my favorite attraction was a simple, yet perfect, wonton soup.

On our first night in this eastern mountainous coastal town, we found Dai Ji’s dumplings through a bit of googling. When we read that this place has been making the same bowl of soup for 80 years, we figured it was worth checking out.


We found the tiny, no frills shop easily off of the main street that runs through town. Two tables and a counter offer about 14 seats, that are often full of reverential slurpers, and does a steady take-away service. Many diners are single diners, enjoying a bowl of soup after a long day of work. If we had this soup spot in New York, I’d be a regular too.


We ordered a bowl each, a hearty portion of wispy pork packets that float like Betta fish, billowing within the broth. The broth itself is delicious in its simplicity, but a tray of condiments let’s you jazz up your soup to your taste.

My mouth enjoys spicy and sour things, so I took my broth in that direction. A dollop of oily chili paste, a few tips of the vinegar bottle, a dash of soy, and a finisher of white pepper. The broth comes already anointed with fried garlic and green onion bits, fresh scallion and scatterings of Asian celery. As is, it’s a great bowl of soup. With a bit of orchestral condiment play, you can take the soup to level: Superior.


The actual wontons make any wonton I’ve ever had in the States taste like lead. These juicy pillows of pork are draped in silky wisps of wrapper. Each bite is perfection. So perfect, we ate at Dai Ji’s three times in two days… And I don’t feel regretful that I missed out on another Hualien delicacy. This soup was too delicious to even think of choosing a stodgy pork bun instead.


I toast this restaurant and hope it thrives for another 80 years and their wonton legacy lives on. Everyone deserves to eat a bowl of this beautiful wonton soup.

No. 120, Zhonghua Rd., Hualien City, Hualien, Taiwan

Get in Line at Shilin


After eight hours of walking around Taipei today, our feet were screaming for a sit down. We arrived at Shilin night market, ready to find a relaxing spot to grab a bite, but instead were immediately overwhelmed by the hoards of people.
We shuffled in crammed streets and alleys, pausing to crane our necks over the crowds to see why people were standing in excessively long lines. Is that fried chicken? Am I willing to queue for 30 minutes to try that delicious looking morsel?
We weaved or way through the market, looking longingly at fried squid (too many highschoolers buying up stock), seaweed coated chicken tenders (I can’t even see the front of the line) and endless places to eat frozen ices and red bean desserts (I haven’t even had dinner yet)!
On the verge of becoming teary and hangry (I admit, I’m one of those), we finally decided to just buck up and stand in line. And miracle of miracles, the restaurant we chose began to clear out and the long line moved quickly. In a matter of minutes, with the help of a friendly family sitting next to us, we placed our ordered.
This particular restaurant caught our eye because there were giant cauldrons of bones  stewing away in rich stock on the sidewalk. And a sweaty man was transferring meaty bones into bowls. How could that not be appealing?
We ordered a bowl of lamb bones, a bowl of pork ribs and some fine vermicelli noodles. It’s not particularly beautiful food that screams Instagram me! But instead, you have to imagine steamy broth, silky with fat and spices, and meat that nearly peals away from the bone with as little effort as a stripper undressing for her last shift ever.


The meat was, as expected, fall off the bone tender. The lamb was particularly delicious, headily gamey. We crunched through cartilage and left a path of boney destruction on our table.
It was the noodles though that really took me by surprise. Chewy, of course, but with a rich, silky sauce that nearly stole the show from the bone soup.
We added the noodles to our leftover broth and all our cares melted away.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how to find this gem, buy if you see giant pots bubbling on the sidewalk and a long, long line of customers, bite the bullet and get in line for these bones and noodles.


(and maybe try not to come to Shilin night market on a weekend. It’s a true $h*t show). Unless you like that sort of thing.

That’s My Jam: Avocado Ice Cream with Strawberry Jam Swirls


Can it be real? Avocado ice cream with strawberry jam swirled throughout? Does that actually taste unbelievably delicious? All fair questions you are probably asking yourself.


The answer is a resounding shout-it-to-the-rooftops “WHOAYEAH”

We each sampled about a half-dozen of Salt and Straw’s creative flavors. I had a hard time making a decision. Usually one or two flavors stand out and I can make a decision relatively quickly, but their brownie/candied nuts/caramel/brittle mix-ins had me confused and greedy. I wanted everything!


But Sam and Cortney had had the avocado ice cream before in Portland and both ordered it, so I followed suit. And it was the best choice I could have made.

After eating too many tacos at Grand Central Market, I was really in the mood for something lighter. The avocado ice cream is almost like a sorbet, both in texture and lightness of flavor–it’s creamy but not rich. The fruity strawberry jam swirled through the ice cream adds the bit of sweetness that the ice cream would be lacking on its own.


Any of the flavors at Salt and Straw would be an excellent option as every ingredient is sourced locally and the combinations are playful.

IMG_0763  IMG_0762

If you happen to find yourself in LA at 240 N. Larchmont Blvd., do yourself a flavor and order a scoop or three.

Beautify in Bangkok

Thailand’s huge draw for me lies in the food, friends, and culture. Bangkok, in particular, is quivering in colors and sounds. From the street vendors squeezing fresh bright orange mandarin juice, to the colorful Hindu temples and Thai wats, to the whizzing motorcycle taxis, to the women who sell fragrant jasmine flower wreathes for offerings, Bangkok keeps your senses buzzing.

But aside from the main reasons I love going to Bangkok, there’s a very girly part of me that loves it for another reason. I’m talking about a bit of pampering! In Thailand, I often get 1-2 (okay, sometimes 3+) massages a week. At $6/hour at my local massage shop, why wouldn’t you? You make the time to spend that kind of money! It’s pretty rare that I get a massage in the states, so while I’m in Thailand, I overstock my body with massages so I can think fondly of them once I’m back in New York.

One of Thailand’s main draws for foreigners is medical tourism. Many people come for plastic surgery, sex changes or hip replacements. I haven’t taken so much advantage of that yet (besides an MRI and an occasional teeth cleaning), but I do enjoy some of the minor procedures many Thai women enjoy: eyelash extensions or perms, facials, manicures and pedicures, etc.

Julia and I love to get a facial after a few hard weeks backpacking in the jungle, scouring the mossy floors while foraging for plants, and sleeping with wild animals that screech in the night. Whew, exhausting! Does that sounds like we deserve pampering? What if we told you that we just had a day to putz around Bangkok and nibble some good bits and then head to the mall to scrub ourselves clean? Does that still merit an afternoon of facials and back rubs? That second scenario is actually a bit more like what usually happens…

Here’s a video from our favorite mall, MBK, where you can make all your beautiful beautifying dreams come true.

Duck Dynasty: A Thirty Year Old Street Stall

Last month when I was in Bangkok with my sister Julia, I ran her all around the city, making sure she tasted all of my favorite snacks and street food finds. I was most excited about this little gem that my friend Nhoi had shown me a while back.

In Thailand, I’ve eaten many an item that’s been flavored and scented with the powerful seasoning called five-spice. I’ve had pork shanks, chicken legs, pig trotters and duck intestines–anything can be braised in this five spice magic. But this restaurant truly serves some of the best five-spiced duck I’ve ever tasted.

If you’re in Bangkok and up for the adventure, take the BTS (or Sky Train) to the Wongwian Yai station. Once at street level, hail a tuk-tuk and ask to go to “Jarernrat soi 26 (yee sip hok).” You’ll be so happy you did.

Squid Roe: It’s a Hard Life

I have rap lyrics running through my head as I’m thinking about squid roe…

It’s a tough life for a squid egg. Snatched from the sea before life has even started, squid babies fulfill their destiny on a grill or in a frying pan.

How do you want it

How does it feel

Growin up as a n**** in the cash game

Livin in the fast lane

I’m for real

Squid eggs are not consumed in the West. Have you ever tasted squid eggs? The first time I saw these juicy gems, I was in Bangkok (of course). I stopped at a street vendor and pointed to a grilled item next to a large squid and asked what it was. The woman struggled to pronounce “babies?” in English. Up until that point in life, I had never pondered the idea of squid babies. I mean, of course I logically know that squids have got to procreate like every other living thing, but it had just never crossed my mind, since we only eat adult calamari in the States.

Let me tell you about the birds and the bees

And the flowers and the trees

And the moon up above. Let me tell you about Cephalopod love.

Cepholopods do what the birds and bees do, but the result is a sausage-like bunch of eggs that the Thai’s have figured out how to consume. And oh what a treat they are.

IMG_20141212_192423692Squid “babies”, or squid roe, is like the veal of the sea. The sacks of eggs are creamy and tender, never developing into snappy adults with the characteristic rubber band texture (if cooked improperly). Whether pan fried or grilled, squid roe is rich and buttery, and more delicious than a fully realized squid.

4446_108120653464_3195665_nIf you come across a street vendor, you will usually find squid of all ages. There are grand daddy giant squids grilling right next to punk teenager squids getting fired up right next to slumbering baby squids. Depending on your taste for meaty calamari, you can judge by size. The bigger the squid, the meatier the flavor (that’s what he said).


“And if you don’t know, now you know…” – Notorious B.I.G


Sweet Potato Noodles and Winning

I opened up my spiralizer today and now I just can’t put it down. Who knew that spinning veggies through a grater could be so much fun?

10926462_10153445580538465_136758977122973713_n-1This evening I just wanted a quick bite and couldn’t be bothered to go out shopping. Actually, I wasn’t even hungry, but I wanted to churn something on that zoodler! So I did the whole kitchen raid thing and went with the Five Ingredient Fix mentality à la Michael Symon on The Chew. I sorted through the fridge and pulled out the kale and bacon (because those ingredients obviously go together) a jalapeno, half a lemon, and a sweet potato from the counter.


2 slices bacon, cut into half inch slices

1 tsp coconut oil

1/2 large sweet potato, skinned

1/3 bunch kale, destemmed and rinsed (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 jalapeno, sliced thinly (use to taste)

1 T Red Boat fish sauce

1/2 lemon, juice

I wrote this recipe while channeling Rocky Balboa, so please read with the appropriate accent.

Toss the bacon slices into a ceramic pan over medium-low heat to rendah.

IMG_20150117_204813138_HDRZoodle the skinned sweet potato on the large noodle grater and mahvel at the beautiful spirals.

IMG_20150117_203502462Chop the kale and slice the jalapeno thinly. “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.”

IMG_20150117_204551070_HDRBy the time the ‘noodles’ are sliced and the veggies chopped, the bacon just needs a little pushin’ around. I called it some names and shoved it around the pan like the big bully I am in the kitchen. Once it was nice and crisp, I removed it from the pan and set it aside, shaking my spoon and murmuring that I’d deal with that fatty later.

I added a teaspoon of coconut oil to the pan and cranked the heat to medium-high. I added the sweet potatoes and kale and gave the veggies a run for their money. I added a scant tablespoon of Red Boat fish sauce to the pan and tossed it all around. The veggies took about 4-5 minutes to cook.

IMG_20150117_205448591_HDRI tested the noodle as I would a real spaghetti noodle. I plucked a sweet potato noodle out and bit it with my front teeth to make sure it was tenduh. The seasoning was right, it just needed a bit of a kick.

I took the veggies off the heat, added the bacon back in, added the jalapeno and squeezed in half the lemon. I gave the veggies a quick 1-2 and knocked it into a bowl.

IMG_20150117_210227019_HDR“But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth.”

This quote is for life, and for bacon-y sweet potato noodles and kale. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about…

Sunshine and Rainbows: A Soup that Brightens a Grey Day

I woke up this morning to the rain and grey and decided it was time to make rainbow soup.

IMG_20150118_111952260Actually, that sounds like it’s from Sesame Street…

I woke up this morning to the rain and grey and decided to make zucchini soba. Does that sound classier?

I made stock last week (out of pork neck bones and chicken wings) and it resulted in a rich and gelatinous stock. I’ve been sipping it like a healing beverage all week, but now I could put it towards a loftier use.


1 zucchini, spaghettified on the smallest grater of a spiralizer

1 radish

2 scallions

1 small knob of ginger, peeled

4 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

3-4 small broccoli florets

1 egg

2 cups broth or stock of your choice (veg, miso, chicken or pork are all good options)

coconut oil

mushroom soy sauce

black vinegar


serves 1

I spiralized my zucchini, julienned the ginger, and sliced the scallions and radishes thinly. I scissored the seaweed into thin strips and soft boiled an egg (what’s better than a soft-boiled egg?). A soft boiled egg is an egg that’s gently placed in boiling water for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Immediately drain and run under cold water. Let the egg sit under cold water until ready to use.

Over medium-high heat, add about 3 teaspoons of coconut oil to a pan, and once melted, add the shiitakes. Make sure the mushrooms are all in contact with the pan so they can brown. Don’t touch the mushrooms and let them cook for 1-2 minutes. Once they’ve started to brown, shake the pan and then add the broccoli. I add about 3-4 dashes of the mushroom soy sauce, which is enough to season everything and add a bit of steam to the pan to help cook the broccoli. If the pan smokes too much, turn the heat down. The veggies take about 5-6 minutes total. Once they’re cooked, remove from the pan so they stop cooking.

Bring the stock up to a simmer and adjust seasoning. I like to add a few dashes of the mushroom soy sauce as well, about 2-3 teaspoons, and some black vinegar, about a teaspoon. Both these ingredients can be found in an Asian grocery store. Season to taste.

Drop the zucchini noodles in the simmering stock. This is a pretty quick process and you don’t want to overcook the noodles. Keep the stock at a gentle simmer. Do not let it boil. It takes about 2-3 minutes for the zucchini to become tender, and the noodles will soften a little more even after you take the pot off the heat.You can peel the egg while the noodles cook, then carefully cut it in half.

Pour the noodles and soup into a bowl. Add all the garnishes: ginger, radish, scallion, seaweed, mushrooms, broccoli and egg. I dash Togarashi, a Japanese chili condiment, over the whole bowl.

Slurp the rainbow!

Sweet Street Treats: A Bite of Adventure

I adore Flushing, Queens NY. The moment you come up from the train station you get the sensation that you might as well have just come off a flight. Most every sign advertising a restaurant, coffee shop or magazine store is written in Chinese characters. It’s a true place of discovery and of getting lost. Each store requires a peak and a poke-a-round: this one sells loose herbal teas, this one seared and steamed dumplings, and this one has a man grinding his elbow into someone’s foot…ah yes, a foot reflexology shop.

I get a huge rush from traveling, and it starts the moment I get off a plane and am unfamiliar with my surroundings. It’s like solving a puzzle, but there are more serious and enjoyable consequences when you eventually find out how the pieces fit together. Finding a place to stay and then getting my first food recommendation– there’s a piece. Sitting down to a meal and successfully ordering (most likely by pointing at someone else’s food)–another piece. Converting the price of my meal back into dollars and realizing I only spent $2 on breakfast–a scrumptious piece of the puzzle. Finding my way back to my lodging using public transportation–that’s a big moment, like finding the piece that slipped under the sofa. All of these pieces end up coming together, and after several days, these loose bits form the completed picture of the once scattered puzzle. And the picture is  brushed with vivid colors and dramatic images, and you can practically smell and hear what’s going on. Traveling comes with surprise adventures, new ingredients, chance encounters, beautiful scenery and new friendships that all combine to form the best puzzle you’ll ever put together.

Many of those experiences can be had in Flushing (hotel accommodations at the Comfort Inn are available!). I actually have good friends, Maya and Nolan, who occasionally do staycations in Flushing over the weekend so they can get away from the city and really take time to eat and relax. Flushing is like my kiddy puzzle–you know, the ones where you fit the circle in the circle space, and the square in the square space. It’s not a challenge like traveling the continent of Africa from South to North (check!), but it still gives me the same giddy feeling of being in another land.

I was walking around Main St. the other day with my friend Danny when we walked past this gentleman on the street.

IMG_20141112_123359032_HDR He was selling a kind of fruit dessert, not unlike miniature caramel apples. The fruits were tart and a bit soft, almost like guava, and they were coated in a hard candy shell. They were presented skewered on a stick and wrapped with edible rice paper. I had to buy one. We each took a bite, trying to figure out what we were eating. We chewed and nearly cracked our teeth on the big brown pits, but were excited by the unique flavors, textures, and beautiful presentation. It felt naughty eating the rice paper wrapping…like we were two chubby kids who couldn’t wait to tear into our present, so instead chomped through the paper to get at the sweet bits. It felt so greedy, and so good.

We were very happy we stopped to check out what looked like strange Christmas ornaments.

IMG_20141112_123508659It’s surprises like these that make you want to keep exploring. It can be a train ride to an outer borough or a flight half way around the world. Flushing, NY or mainland China–it’s all part of the puzzle that makes life more interesting.