Sunrise, Fresh Wasabi, and 7-11 Guardians: Visiting Alishan (阿里山) in Taiwan

It’s been such a long long long time since posting anything, but I’ve really wanted to get back into blogging… For some stress release, for some connection, and to practice writing. Also, with Mai’s graduation and return home, I hope that this would be a great way for us to stay connected to each other besides social media! Plus, I have a backlog of Taiwan photos that I would love to give some more backstory to — I’m not going to approach them in any particular order but will just write about the ones that most stand out to me, and hope would be interesting to share with people — so here goes! Apparently, a must-do thing when visiting Alishan (阿里山), one of the most famous and scenic mountains in Taiwan, is to wake up extremely early and take a train to the peak-area of the mountain to see the sunrise. It surprised me that this is an almost-daily tourist event because the only time that I ever purposefully woke up extremely early to climb up a mountain and view the sunrise was on New Year’s Day in South Korea in 2015. Feeling the first rays of the sun […]

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Flavor Japan: best Japanese fastfood


There’s a Mister Donut near our apartment, but I still haven’t walked into it once (*). As much as I like Mos Burger (which is better than McDonalds Japan, which in turns is inarguably better than McDonalds US, of course 😉 ), I prefer the fastfoods that we don’t have. 1. Takoyaki Fluffy and bouncy. Inside each of these shining orbs is a piece of real octopus. When I die, I want to be buried with takoyaki (which is also the name of my phone, by the way)… 2. Taiyaki Continue reading Flavor Japan: best Japanese fastfood

One bite: patechaud at UCafe


In 2008, nobody knew what I talked about when I said “pate chaud“ (pronounced |pah-teh-sho|), unless that person was Vietnamese. Not even Wikipedia. But it’s French, how can wikipedia not know about a french pastry, I felt desperate. Now Wikipedia has a page for it, first created on Nov 3, 2011. So it came from an obsolete French word for hot (chaud) meat pie (pâté), but the pastry itself is far from obsolete. Until now, the only place where I can get patechaud has been Vietnamese sandwich shops, which Berkeley doesn’t have. Then UCafe opened, and one day, I saw the patechauds at the counter. UCafe also has banh mi. Although I’ve been to the new Sheng Kee Bakery on Telegraph that everybody raves about, although Sheng Kee does have an artificial-tasting but really satisfying taro bubble tea, and although UCafe doesn’t have taro bubble tea (yet), I’ll be loyal to UCafe. The nitty gritty: UCafe labels it “puff chicken” on the receipt. I don’t know what they call it per se because they’re not Vietnamese and I do the classic point-and-get thing. The […]

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Eat Real Festival – 6-sentence Recap

1. The kimchi I made with Kristen won First Place in the Kimchi category of the Puttin’ It Up contest. (Yes, the Korean fingers in the picture were intentional. No, that’s Sinto kimchi, not ours in the picture, but we didn’t get back our kimchi at the time this picture was taken.) 2. Via friend’s introduction (고마워요, 유경 언니 :-)), I ended up as a helper for Hyunjoo Albrecht at her Sinto Gourmet kimchi table on Saturday and Sunday. 3. Saturday was crazy, no spare second between chopsticking kimchi into sample cups for the festival visitors from 11 am to 6 pm. 4. Sunday was a bit more relaxing but we still sold out the big jars of kkakdugi (spicy radish kimchi) and the small jars of spicy pickled cucumber. Continue reading Eat Real Festival – 6-sentence Recap

One Bite: Tteok bokki at Crunch

Thick sweet & spicy sauce. Soft chewy sticks of sticky rice. This is one heckuva tteok bokki. I can see myself going here for a tteok bokki takeout on movie weekends, and it’s only $7. Address: Crunch 2144 Center St Berkeley, CA 94704 (Downtown Berkeley) (510) 704-1101 This place used to be a sushi joint. I ate there once. I’m glad it has changed into something much better. Also, Crunch gave me a humongous plate of kimchi pork fried rice that was just three spoons above my limit and not enough to take home. What should I do? Cut down or increase my limit?

For the Summer: Gyoza with Fruits and Flowers

What can you do with 24 squash blossoms? Twenty-four is too few for squash blossom canh, a clear soup that Mom used to make when I was little. The flower is the only thing of a pumpkin plant (squash blossom in Vietnam is pumpkin blossom) that I didn’t mind eating (I hate pumpkin). The flowers perish too quickly that American grocery stores almost never carry them(*). That scarcity, I can only guess, also raises them to the exotic level that makes the modern American restaurants include the word in their menu around this time of the year (summer squash blossom season) and feature a mere 3-5 flowers on a plate amidst the more common vegetables like zucchini and cauliflower. The craze has been around for at least a decade, Carolyn Jung said, and I don’t see it wilt away anytime soon. Although I dislike the place at first because it’s always too crowded, Berkeley Bowl gradually grew on me. It started when I realized, after many years away from Vietnam and living just a bit inconveniently far from the Asian markets, that I haven’t seen certain grocery items for ever, […]

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Kitchen hour: quasi-Osaka Okonomiyaki

When I walked down that aisle, I beamed with pride. In my hand, a bag of okonomiyaki flour, a bag of katsuobushi, bottles of sauces and aonori. Kristen took care of the cabbage and meats. Pancake day. Osaka style. At least that was the plan. We didn’t plan on being authentic. We couldn’t. An American-born Taiwanese and a Vietnamese who haven’t lived in Japan at all are not gonna make an “authentic okonomiyaki” on first try. That’s why we chose premixed okonomiyaki flour instead of grating a nagaimo, bottled mayonnaise instead of whipping up eggs and oil ourselves. But just the thought of making our own okonomiyaki in whatever shape we want and however we want it, not having to go anywhere and regretting over soggy, over-salted mashes called okonomiyaki, generated the we-can-own-this attitude that guaranteed pride no matter what the outcome. It’s a sort of defiance after too many letdowns. Instead of mixing flour with water, we boiled roasted corn and mixed flour with corn tea. Apart from that and the avoidance of green onion (I’d add green onion if I’m making pajeon – green onion pancake, but not okonomiyaki), and impatience – pouring more […]

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Cheap eats at Koreana

Put me next to a pig foot and I turn into a total nut case. But boy, these chunkies, sweet, salty, chewy, just a little spicy… I cleaned the bones until they were white. A feeble attempt at including some starch to our lunch: ground beef and pork coins covered in batter and fried. Dessert: ho tteok (호떡) – chewy sweet pancake with some kind of syrup or melted brown sugar filling, and the best part? They’re not too sweet!

Sandwich Shop Goodies 19 – Bánh tiêu (Chinese sesame beignet)

Little Mom and I… we just have different tastes. She likes seafood. She prefers crunchy to soft. She doesn’t like sticky rice (!) She thinks the mini sponge muffins (bánh bò bông, the Vietnamese kind) are sourer than the white chewy honeycombs (bánh bò, the Chinese kind). I beg to differ. The mini sponges can be eaten alone; the honeycombs are almost always stuffed inside a hollow fried doughnut that is more savory than sweet: their sourness needs to be suppressed by the natural saltiness of oil and the airy crunch of fried batter. That doughnut, brought to us by the Chinese and called by us “bánh tiêu“, saves the honeycombs. The honeycombs could go hang out with the dodo for all I care, but this Saigonese would always appreciate a well-fried bánh tiêu. At any time of the day, one would be able to spot a street cart with the signature double-shelf glass box next to a vat of dark yellow oil. The oil gets darkened from frying too many doughnuts too many times. Sure, it isn’t healthy. But should you really care about health when you eat fried dough? “Fried dough […]

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La Boca – 80 Percent Good

Bob’s and Dang’s comments on my Kiraku post prompted me to wiki “octopus”. In a way, I needed to remind myself that computers are wonderful creatures that don’t always give me incomprehensible error messages. Then I got reminded of my most memorable experience with octopus on a plate. It was in Santa Fe this past summer. When there are good news and bad news, I prefer to hear the bad news first, so that’s how I’ll start describing La Boca. Their octopus was terrible. Octopuses are chewy things, and I have never had any octopus as opposite from chewy as this one. Pulpo, as called on the menu, sliced and dressed in pimenton, olive oil, lemon juice and seasalt, sounds like a wonderful refreshment after touring Santa Fe under the flamboyant sun. Well, if you give this octopus to a green octopus-looking alien who hasn’t the slightest preconception of what octopus tastes like, he would most likely go home defining octopus as beans. Yes, it was dense and grainy like bean. Blame no one but ourselves for ordering raw seafood in the middle of the desert. The rest of the meal, here […]

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