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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

So it’s been awhile, I could make my excuses but how about I just write the blog?

I’ve had a birthday, which means one year older and plenty to write about but I’ll try to keep it short. Plus this write up is more about my amazing night with STA Travel Buzz (follow them here, or read their blog here).

To start things off, how about a reunion with some other all-star travelers from my days in SE Asia? Yes please. Calvin, our Canadian companion, flew all the way to the UK so what better excuse for a meet up with the rest of the English constituency? It all started on Thursday, September 10 when Calvin, Claudia and myself hit Embargo’s in London for some good old partying on New Kings Road. Then it was onto the train the following day, heading to Bristol to meet up with Patrick, Matt, Andy and Zoe. It was an EPIC evening that started out with what I can comfortably say was the best Thai meal I’ve had since, well, Thailand. We’re talking Pad Thai, Panang Curry, Green Curry, Pad Grapow, everything I love. After eating it in record time we realised that it had cost us about 7,000 Baht, and estimated that back in Bangkok the same meal would be less than 1,000. Depressing? Slightly. Still delicious? Obviously. After that we headed to Matt’s friend’s back garden where an enormous bonfire, a huge marquee and several dozen gallons of local (as in, literally from across the road) cider were ready and waiting. Amazing. Needless to say, the night went well, catching up, reliving the good times abroad and listening to Pat’s sweet sweet voice as he strummed his guitar the way only he can. Then it was a night sleeping in the marquee under blankets before a traditional English pub lunch and the train back to London town for more birthday celebrations with my neighbours.

That Monday I went to a fantastic gig at The Scala to see two of my old high school friends who now go by the name Wye Oak. I left it a bit last minute but luckily Andy and Jen (the rockers) got me and a couple of good friends on the guest list to enjoy their seriously good opening act before they were followed by Okkervil River. High school reunion, good music and a birthday all in one night? Not bad.

So, traveller reunion, good music…what could be next? How about going around the world without leaving London? Oh yes. Tuesday, September 15 I met Camilla, Sam and Michelle from STA Travel Buzz (who have been kind enough to plug my blog along with a few other travelers for an STA 30th anniversary celebration. It all started in ‘India’ on Brick Lane in one of the many many Indian restaurants that line that road. Once the whole gang was assembled, we headed to…the kitchen. I’m not sure how the other paying guests felt about some random kids walking into the back to play with food but hey, on Brick Lane, give a restaurant owner enough money and you can do anything it would seem. So learn how to cook onion bhajis we did, before jumping on to the private Route master bus hired for the evening to head to ‘America’ while enjoying our deep fried Indian cuisine. America turned out to be All Star Bowling Lanes, where a game of retro bowling and classic American cocktails were the order of the night. I tried to ignore the fact that our waitress was Irish. As the only member of the posse to have actually lived in the US, there was a lot of pressure on me, and while the girls did lose, I feel I scored well enough to walk out with my head held high.
Next? Off to ‘England’! Okay, so this one wasn’t so hard, but I wasn’t complaining when the piping hot fish ‘n chips turned up on the bus. After a few glasses of champagne on the Route master and it was out again in front of the London Irish Centre where a lovely Irishman named Aiden O’Neill taught us the fine art of Irish dancing. Okay, so we weren’t so fine, or graceful, or good… But I think Aiden appreciated the effort, and we all appreciated an excuse to skip about holding hands without getting weird looks from anyone else. After an embarrassing attempt at our own Riverdance, we headed to the Irish pub for a pint of Guinness. What else?

It was a great end to a great night before crawling home only to wake up a few hours later, back to the grind of a Wednesday morning. But at least I had a good story to tell this time.

For photos of Bristol, my neighbours and Wye Oak check out this link, for STA Around the World, go here.

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I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but at my work I get to write about all these crazy travel experiences that we organise for our clients, and some of them are AMAZING. I love getting to write about it all, but it also just makes me really jealous.

Our big publicity trip at the moment is this weekend away in Morocco where participants get to climb the Atlas Mountains with Bear Grylls (of ‘Man vs. Wild’ fame). No big deal. Leave the office on Thursday, come back on Monday…. “So McPhee, what did you do this weekend?” “Oh, I climbed this mountain with Bear, it was fun I suppose.” “Bear who?” “Bear Grylls, I think he has a television show or something… I don’t know.” Unreal. Of course, it costs around £6,000 but you are spending the weekend at a lux hotel called Tigmi and there’s the whole climbing a mountain with a (rather attractive if you ask me…but you didn’t…) celebrity. Check it out here.

I’ve been to Morocco before, just for a few days in Marrakech and it was fantastic. If you are in Marrakech for a short break, there are few things not to be missed.

The Majorelle garden is a colourful, peaceful place to relax. The green plant life and bright blue paint separates this space from the red-walled city outside. The colours are really vibrant; I really felt like I wasn’t in Marrakech anymore. All the hectic bustle outside completely fades away, it was a nice break after a day at the markets.

Inside the city walls is the medina. This ancient town is a labyrinth of alleys. In the souks – the old market, stalls sell goods like handmade leather items and beautiful jewelry, and you can see vibrantly coloured pyramids of spices. Behind corners, family run medicine stores sell natural herbal remedies to cure any ailment. I bought a cream for my mother’s eczema and apparently it worked miracles.

If you are shopping in the souks, don’t be afraid to haggle; sometimes the best way to get a bargain is to walk away and watch the salesmen run after you! I got really into the haggling…my Scottish family has taught me how to get a good deal. I bought these two leather suitcases for my friends who were there with me. I think I paid less than half the original price for one…and got two. I also got an awesome handmade leather belt that I love plus way too much other stuff.

In the evening, after you hear the call to prayer from the Koutoubia Mosque, head to Djemaa el Fna. After sunset, the square fills with the steam of cooking food made by the best chefs in Marrakech, according to themselves… Grab some supper and see the snake charmers, musicians and storytellers; it can all feel like something out of Arabian Nights. Me and the girls were worried about going on our own with no men around; we were a little overwhelmed sometimes with how aggressive the local men could be, but then we met a few young German guys at our hotel so we all went together. It was amazing, and I am so happy I didn’t miss out on it. At the beginning of the year, the NY Times did an article about the food in Marrakech focusing on the Djemaa el Fna. It’s worth a read and is already making me hungry. May be appropriate that I had cous cous for lunch today…

If exploring ancient ruins is your thing, then visit the remains of El-Badi Palace. Once covered in gold and marble, the walls are now bare and crumbling. But you can climb to the top of the walls to get amazing views over the city, or crawl underneath into the labyrinth prison where the king kept his prisoners. Just don’t get lost…

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I know that my last Travel Article of the Week featured Scotland, and I promise I will branch out, but I wanted to stick to the Scottish theme for one more week for two reasons.

First – regarding my post last week about Glasgow trying to get ‘Protected Designation of Origin’ status for chicken tikka masala. The issue actually got quite heated with different groups of Indians claiming it as their own (click here for the article in The Telegraph). A chef who is a descendent of Indians from the Mughal period claims that the tikka masala dish has been passed through the generations for hundreds of years. A food expert says the dish is about 50 years old and has its roots in Punjab. Who knows! But this is just more reason why MP Sarwar should stop wasting time over something so silly. If there hadn’t been such a big fuss about it, Glaswegians could have happily gone on claiming it as their own invention with little challenge and everyone would be happy. Oh well.

Second – On to the new topic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. About an hour by train from Glasgow, Edinburgh is a much smaller city. I happen to be partial to Glasgow but I will admit that Edinburgh has a certain old world charm to it. The Royal Mile and the Edinburgh castle are both beautiful sites to see. Unfortunately, if you walk the other way down the Royal Mile you come to the Scottish Parliament building which is perhaps one of the biggest eyesores in Britain. Sorry, but it is.

Every August, Edinburgh puts on the biggest arts festival in the world with singing, dancing, theatre, comedy and much more including some very entertaining street performers. Even if you don’t have tickets to see any of the evening shows, you can walk up and down the Royal Mile enjoying the dozens of street acts then find a place in one of the crowded pubs or restaurants – it’s quite likely that you’ll get a mini-performance here too as acts go around promoting their shows with songs and short versions of their plays.

I’ve attended the festival a couple of times myself. I saw a low budget versian of ‘A Chorus Line’ my first time there, I’ve seen singers, a man juggle basketballs while ride a unicycle and a couple of comedians. I once saw a guy swallow a massive sword…yummy

This piece in The Guardian gives some locals tips on how to go about your festival holiday. I’d say the tips in that link are pretty good. I definitely agree that the more people you talk to the better. The Scots are a very friendly chatty group of people and they’ll be happy to share what they know with you!

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For the last few days, I have been in my family’s home city of Glasgow, Scotland to see my oldest cousin get married in my first traditional Scottish wedding. It was fantastic and I wish them all the best, especially while they enjoy their honeymoon in Mexico.

While the focus was on my family and the wedding, it was hard to avoid talking about all that great Scottish food. My parents, flying in from the States, are much more deprived of British treats than myself since it is pretty easy to get almost everything in London that you can get in Glasgow.

But let’s take a look at the food Scotland is known for these days. First, the TAW (Travel Article of the Week) talking about a Scottish invention, the Chicken Tikka Masala. Okay, this isn’t a TRAVEL article, but Scottish food has been on my mind lately, and if you’re ever traveling to Scotland, surely you will want to know what the traditional dishes are!

I think most British people are aware these days that this ‘Indian’ dish has never set foot in India or any other Asian country for that matter and was in fact made by Asian immigrants in the UK trying to make their native dishes appealing to western palates.
But now, one MP has gone further and is trying to get Protected Designation of Origin status for the curry. It is suggested that the dish was invented in a West End Indian restaurant in Glasgow. I know that Scotland is very proud of all the things it has invented, but I’m not sure if putting a motion through the House of Commons about Chicken Tikka Masala is the best use of any MPs time.
Just a thought. Here’s the article.

Another MP, Kerry McCarthy mentions it on her blog and there are a few interesting comments, particularly pointing out the cost of things like this. I think that those commenters may feel the same way I do – makes for an interesting news article, but not a great way to spend your time when you are being paid by the public perhaps? McCarthy says, “I think it falls into the category of things that you know perfectly well you’re not going to achieve, but you’re going to have some fun in the meantime.” Read her blog here. True statement I imagine, but is having fun what MPs are supposed to do? Don’t we have other problems that should be more time consuming? Like…unemployment for instance? Okay fine, I happen to be unemployed and rather apathetic to tikka masala’s protection status so my opinion may be biased…

I personally prefer a more spicy curry instead of the mild taste of tikka masala, a preference probably solidified by spending six months eating food covered in red chilli flakes in Southeast Asia. But, I do find it interesting that an Indian inspired dish is one of the most popular meals in all of Britain. I won’t try to prove here that Britain is a place where all cultures mix harmoniously and nobody cares what colour your skin is because I’d be fooling myself and you, but the popularity of this curry must say something about how much eastern cultures have changed and influenced our own ‘western’ ways, right?

This post is supposed to be about Scottish food, so lets move on. My parents and I ate haggis, sausage rolls, Scotch pies and sticky toffee pudding, all of which I associate with Scotland although some may just be British. Sausage rolls are my personal favourite and I buy them for £1.49 for two, at Greggs just down the road from my house in London.

My American friends all think haggis, along with black pudding, is strange and rather disgusting, but I think they just haven’t given them a chance. Haggis has become a sophisticated dish these days apparently. At a lunch in Princes Square my mum and dad both had ‘Haggis Gâteaux’ and then later that night at Mitchells for dinner, my dad and I enjoyed a ‘Haggis Tower.’ My dad believes the Princes Square lunch haggis was better, I enjoyed tasting both; they were more or less the same dish. I didn’t know haggis could be included in such a fancy menu item however, and it just goes to show you how far it has come. If you’re really interested there is a whole list of Scottish food complete with descriptions here.

I think my winner for highest fat and sugar content might have to be the deep fried Mars bar. I always thought this was an urban legend, I had heard about these things, but never once in my life had I seen it appear on a menu. Until Dublin. I was under the impression that this pudding was traditionally Scottish as well, but while visiting a friend in Dublin, Ireland over a year ago, I discovered the deep fried Mars bar on a pub menu. Obviously I ordered it. Just try to imagine a warm Mars bar, soft enough to melt in your mouth, covered in hot, crunchy, sweet, fried dough, accompanied by a cold scoop of ice cream. I’m pretty sure that covered my caloric intake for the entire weekend.

This is getting rather lengthy so I’ll end it here by asking what your favourite British food is? My vote is definitely for the sausage roll, as long as it’s hot and the pastry is flaky. Although I do like a good fish and chips once in awhile. Preferably wrapped in newspaper with tartare sauce for the fish and chips drowning in vinegar. And they wonder why the Brits are getting fatter these days… Is there such a thing as a healthy British meal??

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Last night, a couple of friends and I took advantage of some serious discounts for an evening out. After seeing The Hangover (for the second time…it’s VERY funny) on ‘Orange Wednesdays’ where Orange mobile phone customers can get two-for-one cinema tickets, we went to Pizza Express where we used our cinema tickets to get two-for-one main courses for supper. It’s amazing how many money saving opportunities you can find when you are unemployed and running out of money! I even had free entertainment on the walk back to the tube station. On Fulham Road last night, about one hundred rollerblading individuals came racing down the street accompanied by a guy on a bike with a huge sound system on the back blasting techno music down the street. According to the safety vests worn by the parade marshals, they were all from Club Blue Room which, I found out today, is a retail store that sells rollerblades and skates. Quite an advertising campaign!

London can be a seriously expensive city, but there are a lot of ways to save money, like the two I have just mentioned. Especially when it comes to eating, I only find out about deals by walking past restaurants and seeing their signs in the windows advertising happy hours and specials. For instance, there’s a pizza/pasta restaurant about 15 minutes walk up the hill from me on Archway Road that I’ve never been to before, but yesterday I noticed the huge signs in the windows telling me that from 9 – 11 p.m I can get pizza or pasta for £3! I’ll let you know how it is, no doubt I’ll go there in the next few days.

I also subscribe to what is sometimes an annoying amount of mailing lists, but they do occasionally help me find things to do for little or no money. Like the Transport for London e-mail that I get weekly about what’s happening this weekend. This Sunday is Opera Holland Park Open Day apparently, which is free. The 1234 Festival in Shoreditch looks like a great deal as well, with ticket prices including access to several after parties too. I may be attending this one myself.

I just found these two websites that may help too: http://www. londonisfree.com, http://www.londonforfree.net

Anyone else know of any good deals on food or evenings out, or any cheap/free events going on in the city?

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Going Back in Time in Old England, Sip by Sip
New York Times: Henry Shukman

Since I can’t always be traveling myself and I sometimes need inspiration when trying to think of what to write about next about the place I am living in, I’ve decided to add this weekly posting to my blog.

I’ve just returned to the UK and will be finding things to write about concerning this country, and especially London, so I thought I’d start with a New York Times article on England and the English pub. The article starts by pointing out England’s difficulty in defining its culture, and what better way to define English culture than by its pubs. Old English pubs are a dying breed, but check out this article for some recommendations and a story of one man’s tour through some English establishments including the Hook Norton Brewery in the beautiful Cotswolds villages of England.

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I have returned to England, where it is cold and rainy despite being the middle of July. Welcome home.

Before leaving the States, I spent a day entertaining my friend Naomi in Annapolis and trying to do as many things as possible. When she first arrived, I took her to have a late breakfast at the City Dock Cafe, a great little coffee shop owned by a friend’s mother, located in downtown Annapolis in the Marketplace.

I know that around that same week, the Market House that has been closed and plagued with several problems over the years, re-opened for another try at a successful business model. I did not go to visit the Market House so I don’t know what is inside it, but with such an amazing location I can’t believe it will fail, although I have been wrong about that before of course. There are actually quite a few closed down businesses downtown these days. All around the water and up Main Street there are empty windows, including Riordan’s, an Irish pub/restaurant that yours truly was once a hostess in before the place closed down a few years ago. It is yet to reopen as a new business despite its fantastic location. I am inclined to blame the recession, but Riordan’s and some other businesses closed down long before that word became so commonplace, so what could it be? High rent? Lack of foot traffic? I have a hard time believing that last one because despite a huge new shopping/restaurant complex opening up near West Street, nothing beats the colonial quaintness of downtown Annapolis.

After City Dock we went on a short tour of the Maryland State Capitol House, once the capitol building for the whole country back in 1784 (which is a LONG time ago in American history even if it is a drop in the ocean for other nations). It is apparently the oldest state capitol still in regular use, and the only state house that was once the nation’s capital! Check that link out for more.

To complete her Annapolis day, I took Naomi on a boat tour of the Severn River with Kelly before digging in to a crab feast at Cantler’s where Kelly, my local Annapolitan, taught Naomi the tricks of cracking in to those hard shells. (Here’s a video of another local Marylander with his own instructions. For the record I DON’T eat the guts and crab juice. Just a personal preference).

After saying goodbye to Naomi at the Metro station and having dinner with my parents, Kelly and I headed to McGarvey’s again where Tikki Tuesdays was happening. Once a month during the summer, McGarvey’s run Tikki Tuesday, with decorations, raffle games, cheap drinks and beach themed dress requirements. I couldn’t have asked for anything more typically American to end my holiday here.

The problems started the next day when, after seeing the new Harry Potter movie with my parents (and helping to ensure its fate as the highest grossing film franchise) I arrived at the airport to find that I wasn’t in the Virgin Atlantic system… interesting… After several minutes and various people and computers, the check-in staff finally figured out that my flight was scheduled for July 14. It was July 15. A full 24 hours late for my flight and it cost me $100 and a small part of my pride to grab a seat on the plane that was leaving for London that evening. Not once did I think to double check my booking, not once did I think ‘if I’m supposed to arrive in London on the 15th, surely I can’t be leaving the same day for an overnight flight…’ Not my proudest moment, but I will certainly never leave for the airport without triple checking my confirmation E-mails first and I suggest you do the same.

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