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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Pho in Hawaii


Near our hotel is a shopping center, where we regrettably spent more time than we should have, eating overpriced fried rice (P.F. Chang’s, no less, T__T) and okonomiyaki. The reason is just that it was hot. Unbearably, relentlessly, suppressively hot. We couldn’t walk for five minutes without perspiring like the underside of the lid of a cheap rice cooker right after the rice is cooked. Being the indoor sloths we are, we ditched the inner foodie, became the very tourists lounging out at American chain restaurants while on vacation whom we cannot understand, and dined at the mall. It was actually satisfying. Meatball pho at Pho Factory in Royal Hawaiian Center (9.10). Oxtail pho at Pho Old Saigon (14.60). I haven’t seen oxtail pho in the mainland, but it’s strangely and pleasantly everywhere in Oahu’s pho menus. Pho Factory also serves it. The oxtail is meaty, softer (fattier) than the usual rare steak/brisket option. Continue reading Pho in Hawaii

Cheapest eat in Waikiki: udon at Marukame


Everything in the touristy Waikiki is designed to scorch your wallet, but Marukame Udon does it most gently: each bowl of udon sets you back only around 5, which can be even cheaper than Coconut Cafe’s shave ice! This bukkake udon in cold broth is only 3.75, and it’s good, especially to give us some relief from the heat and humidity. Granted, because we add the goodies, the ticket goes up fast: shrimp tempura is 1.75 each, sweet potato tempura is 1.25 each, etc. What’s even better is the self-serving, cafeteria style: grab a tray, place your noodle order, take noodle, grab a few tempuras, pay, find a seat. Fast, efficient, and no tip.

Shave ice from Coconut Cafe


Hawaii is paradise if you are: 1. into constant heat and 90% humidity. In Hawaii, the world outside your air-conditioned box (e.g., your house, car, or office) is a sauna. 2. in the shave ice, juice, lemonade, or ice cream business. The owner of Coconut Cafe is in *full* control of her life, her shop, and her customers. Her main sale is undoubtedly shaved ice, although her menu also has other dessert drinks (such as bubble teas), sandwiches and burgers. Coconut Cafe has no fixed hours of operation. She opens and closes when she wants to, and even if you walk into the door when she has already decided to close, she will tell you firmly so and there is no changing it. We know this fact, because we experienced it not just once, but 4 times. The first day, we got there at 9:30 pm, after dinner, doors were shut tight, understandably, although we were somewhat surprised by how early stores and restaurants close in Hawaii compared to Berkeley. There was no sign anywhere saying what hours they’re open. Continue reading Shave ice from Coconut Cafe

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

Eating in Jeju: 4 Course 갈치 (Kalchi) Meal


Two months ago, I went to Jeju Island for the annual Fulbright conference to present my research. I stayed a few extra days after the conference to explore the island. Which, of course, means trying different foods as well! For our first meal after the conference, we decided to stop at a restaurant that specializes in the fish known as 갈치 (kalchi) in Korean, which literally translates to sword fish, but is not the same type of sword fish with the long nose that is more common in restaurant menus in the US. The official name of this fish is the largehead hairtail, and it is a small and long fish shaped like a sword, hence the name in Korean. This fish is a speciality of Jeju Island and this restaurant (which I unfortunately forgot the name of and I didn’t take photographs either of the name of the restaurant!!!) is located in Seogwipo, which is where we stayed. We had just walked an incredibly long distance, following one of the beautiful Blue Pony trails (officially they are the Jeju Olle trails, but the mascot is a blue pony), which is also the same name […]

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63 Buffet Pavilion (63뷔페 파빌리온)


The 63 Building (63빌딩) is an iconic landmark in Seoul and it is situated in Yeouido. A few months ago, when I first arrived to Seoul, I was lucky enough to have my partner treat me out to their buffet! The restaurant is located in the ground floor of the building and is simply called the Buffet Pavilion. The restaurant definitely feels like luxury and we were seated right upon opening in a raised veranda. The view above us was gorgeous! Continue reading 63 Buffet Pavilion (63뷔페 파빌리온)

Sai the Izakaya


Izakayas in the Bay Area mostly target customers with a lot of money to spare (looking right at you, Ippuku!). Although there are merits to that (it costs to support local business and ethical ways of raising animals), a meal at these places is just not the same as sitting in a small neighborhood izakaya, talking to the chef who’s cooking 5 feet away from you, smelling the smoke from both the food and the tobacco of the nearby customer (who you may know by name), and inhaling your food, which comes in big bowls, to your heart’s content. I love neighborhood izakayas in Tokyo. Sai is one of them. This place jumps to mind when I think of izakayas nowadays. One big reason is that when I had a homestay in Japan, my host family took me there one night and it was a perfect family experience. If I had discovered the place myself (which I’m not sure is possible), I wouldn’t know what to order (the menu is 90% kanji @_@), I wouldn’t have had two parental figures to share the meal with (traveling alone makes you want […]

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One shot: lunch at Chano-ma Nakameguro


Comfy seating on white cushion, a tray of simple, delicious lunch, and a look out to the Meguro river. In the middle of Tokyo, there seems to be always little coves like this for a cozy, relaxing brunch. The lunch set includes a nice big bowl of rice, soup, 3 sides of choice and dessert (or a finishing drink) for 1250 yen (~ 12 USD). The latte art may be wanting, but I’d rather dive into my matcha latte with no remorse than adoring little bears or cats too much to drink them. 😛 Address: Chano-ma at Nakameguro 〒153-0051 東京都目黒区上目黒1-22-4-6F chano-ma webpage

Cafe Calaugh – why no cats came to me?


Yesterday Kristen posted on Facebook pictures of cutie fluffy four-legged pals that walk all around her in a cat cafe. I’m so jealous, Kristen! My jealousy is as high as Mt. Fuji right now. You know the (almost) first thing I did when I went to Japan? I looked for a cat cafe. Unfortunately, just about everybody decided to go to the same cat cafe that day (I wished I had found a less popular cafe, this one being on the internet with English and all just makes it too known). One middle-age man chased the cats around relentlessly. (He wanted their attention just as much as I did. I feel you, man.) Then after he was about to leave, a couple came in and the girl took over the chasing duty. >__> All of the cats retreated under chairs and onto inaccessible window sills. My phone sucks at taking their pictures. One cat semi-approached me, but somebody (either the middle-age man or the girl) inched to him and he left. Me devastated. I spent an hour there reading, trying to hide my misery, but I was too heart-broken to […]

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