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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Sasa no Yuki – Ten courses of tofu


This is ten courses of tofu. Without*), I can’t read half of it, the hostess speaks only a minimal amount of English to me and mostly just smiles, my company simply tells me that this is the menu. There’s little necessity to go further anyway, they probably think, the joy is in eating the courses and not in knowing what it is, since I’m just a foreigner who most likely eats here only once. And they’re right… This stylish restaurant, Sasa no Yuki, is not quite for a student’s everyday dining, the cheapest lunch course (Uguisugozen, 6 dishes) is 2200 yen (~$22). But I keep the slip of paper, and I will remember what everything is called! First 2 courses: ike mori namasu (生盛膾) – vegetable (and jelly) assortment with a tofu dipping sauce, and sasanoyuki (笹乃雪) – a block of cold white tofu. Don’t underestimate the tofu block, it’s uncooked, extremely pure and actually tastes like soybean. Continue reading Sasa no Yuki – Ten courses of tofu

One Shot: Flower Bibimbap (꽃비빔밥)


It is finally spring in South Korea and the weather is beautiful – not too chilly and not too hot, just perfectly warm the way I like it. In other words, the weather is like Berkeley weather! After a long and cold winter, I definitely feel like I just awoke from hibernation. So when I was watching TV with my partner’s family and we saw a spotlight on 꽃비빔밥 (flower bibimbap), my eyes lit up. On TV was a beautiful bowlful of flowers that looked so beautiful! Right away I turned to my partner and asked him to go together. So off we headed to the city of Asan to the Asan Botanical Garden (아산 세계 꼭식물관), a 40 minute drive from my partner’s home in Pyeongtaek. Turns out the restaurant that was featured is part of a botanical garden, so we enjoyed the beautiful display of flowers on the way to our final destination: FOOD. Continue reading One Shot: Flower Bibimbap (꽃비빔밥)

Danh’s Garden – Vietnamese pub foods


Pub foods for Vietnamese are pretty diverse (**). The menu at Danh’s Garden in San Jose is basically a book, plus some handwritten ones on the wall. I single-handedly narrowed down our choices by a page when I refused anything goat or lamb (I often wonder why my friends can be so kind and still go to eat with this oddball). We picked 5 dishes at first, thinking it should be enough for a party of 5 – Vietnamese pub foods are no tapas or izakaya, things are not served in dainty palm-sized saucers, they’re entree-portion. With them come a plethora of dipping sauces and salt-and-pepper mix for who knows what. Honestly I don’t think we even used all of those sauces. The food were plenty seasoned already. Mực dồn chạo tôm – squid stuffed with shrimp paste. Light on the seasoning. Rating: 8/10. (It’s tasty and I can’t think of any flaw, but will I crave it? Probably not.) Continue reading Danh’s Garden – Vietnamese pub foods

Pretty Good Number One bucket list

Go to Tokyo. Visit the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. Practise using chopsticks correctly and buy a (few) pairs at Kappabashi. Eat shave ice and watch fireworks (and people) on the Sumida river bank in July. Eat pan-fried soup dumplings in a neighborhood dumpling restaurant in Nakano. Eat “hone” (pronounced |hoh-nay|, meaning: deep-fried sea eel backbone). Stop eating eel because they’re in the red on the Seafood Watch list. Thanks to Matthew Amster-Burton’s book, I’ve had the first 7 items on my bucket list figured out (it’s a bucket list, not a to-do list because of the stop-eating-eel thing). I can’t wait to do them (except the stop-eating-eel thing). If a few months ago I was complacent with imaginatively traveling through books, Pretty Good Number One throws one delicious, chuckle-inducing paragraph after another to my face and say “go to Tokyo, you lazy donkey”. Just about the most expensive place to visit in the world, thanks, Mr. Amster-Burton. 😉 Except for the part where he describes Chinese green tea as having “a hint of smoky barbecue” and how red bean paste is an acquired taste for Westerners (because beans are supposed to show up in […]

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Two scientists take on all Indian restaurants in Berkeley

Hull and Surendranath examine the inscription on a spoon at Bombay Cuisine.

Hull and Surendranath examine the inscription on a spoon at Bombay Cuisine. What do grad students do? Some of us write, some of us teach, most of us don’t sleep, all of us eat. For Astronomy PhD student Chat Hull and his friend Yogesh Surendranath, a Chemistry postdoctoral fellow, eating at every single Indian restaurant in Berkeley and writing about it is high on the priority list. Berkeley has no shortage of Indian restaurants for the duo to review. “We stay within the city limit”, said Surendranath. Their blog, Masala Chaat, has been regularly updated for roughly a year. When I meet them in the office, they seem like the normal physicists: friendly, calm and full of physics. When I joined them in a trip to Bombay Cuisine, the restaurant-reviewing mode was turned on full-force. The inner comedians were revealed. Continue reading Two scientists take on all Indian restaurants in Berkeley

Andy Warhol, kokeshi dolls, and oden


In Europe the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the peasants – they weren’t eating the same things at all. It was either partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I’m sure he felt confident that she couldn’t have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a better hot dog than that one he bought for her for maybe twenty cents at the ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. Not for a dollar, not for ten dollars, not for a hundred thousand dollars could she get a better hot dog. She could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else. – Andy Warhol Why is that ballpark hot dog the best hot dog? Because the ballpark hot dog seller sells nothing but hot dogs. You can’t beat someone who does it day in and day out, a thousand times and another thousand times more often than you. Continue reading Andy Warhol, kokeshi dolls, and oden

Duck for Thanksgiving! (Stealing ideas from Double Duck Dinner at Bay Wolf)

Today. Big glistening birds. Crimson cranberry sauce. Mashed sweet potato with a crusty marshmallow top. Green bean casseroles. Gravies. The all-American classic holiday dinner table that every grocery store has a picture of on their website. Once upon a time I was enticed by such beauty, much like how I engulfed a chunk of ham the first time I saw real ham after years of seeing ham in old American cartoons (Tom and Jerry I think?). To be fair, save for the turkey, I do like the marshmallow sweet potato, the green bean casserole, and sometimes the stuffing if the gravies’ done right. But the turkey… I don’t get it. In a bird, the best part is the brown meat: legs, thighs, wings, that’s all. (Ah yes, I love the offals too, but today I’ll speak from the American perspective for a change.) Yet, the turkey leg is a monstrosity of toughness that my weak 20-some-year-old bone-gnawing cartilage-grinding gizzard-and-heart-loving teeth have trouble handling. Were all the turkeys I sunk into Olympic weightlifters or something? Well they have to lift their 30lb+ body every minute anyway, so no wonder. Conclusion: I don’t like turkey(*). I like duck. […]

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Summer Festival in Concord

Clockwise from top left: Master Hideko Metaxas (in blue) and two assistants arranging an example of Rikka Shofutai; a free-style arrangement in honor of the victims and the philanthropists in the Tohoku Tsunami 2011; an Ikenobo sensei arranging a free-style display; Shoka (left) versus Rikka (right) Learn something new everyday. At the Japanese American Summer Festival in Concord this year, I absorbed an hour of Ikenobo ikebana art, which is really, really, really rudimentary, but at least now I know that the Rikka style involves nine elements, and the Shoka style three elements (heaven, earth and man). That day was also the first I’ve heard of the “Three Friends of Winter” sho chiku bai (pine, bamboo and plum), and this astonished me because 1. I’d never encountered any old Chinese things that my mom hasn’t told me about, and 2. it involves plum blossom, which is my name. There’s no way I wouldn’t know that my name is part of a trio that appears in Asian arts and folklores at lunar new year time. My memories must have been failing. 🙁 Anyhow, Nancy made a beautiful onigiri box […]

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The Duck Restaurant in Piedmont

Ever since the steamed duck at Shanghai Dumpling King, I’ve been haunted by the juiciness of a duck done right. When my friend Kristen and I walked down Piedmont looking for dinner, we passed several doors but like shopping for clothes, as Kristen pointed out, none “jumped out” to us. There was one sign that we read “Pork Avenue” and crossed the street all excited for, but it was “Park Avenue“. On the way was also the curiously crowded Fenton Creamery, to me their selections aren’t that interesting. When the street started to look devoid of both restaurants and humans and hope had dwindled from a tteok in tteok bokki to a strand of angel hair, we found Bay Wolf. The duck liver flan and roasted duck with polenta sold us. Bay Wolf specializes in duck. Their menu changes weekly but they always have two duck dishes, one appetizer and one entree. Both sing. Even the polenta was good, must be that honey-lavender gastrique that we had to wipe clean with bread after we ate the duck leg […]

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