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Posts in ‘Food, Pubs & Nightlife’

What’s for Breakfast?

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Good morning! Awake yet? Hungry? Ready for some stir fried noodles? How about some blackened cow’s blood? Some fried, mushed up pig’s ears?

Mmm, mmm, mmmm…..

I’ve noticed that, when I am traveling, breakfast is often the most difficult meal for me to compromise—it’s early, I’m tired, I may or may not be hungover, and I just want a bowl of Cheerios and a skinny cappuccino to go (yes, to go!). The morning is not the best time for me to be testing my gastronomical limits…..

I find that it’s easier to psych myself up for an exotic, adventurous dinner—or even a crazy lunch—but there’s something sacred about breakfast foods and morning rituals.

Just think about it—we all like our AM dosages of caffeine to be prepared in certain ways, whether small and concentrated, medium and diluted, or large and in charge with 3 added flavors, Starbucks style.

Take a New Yorker out of his or her nest, and you will be hearing about H & H bagels for weeks.

Go on a coffee date with an Aussie, and you’ll doubtlessly depart well-versed in the delightful nuances of ‘flat whites’ and Gloria Jean’s hazelnut lattes.

How do you start your day? One man’s commonplace routine can be another’s most memorable adventure (or worst stomach ache). I’ve surveyed some colleagues and friends, and here are some of the interesting breakfast destinations (Breakinations?) that we came up with……

1. Anchovies, anyone?

Forget your Frosted Flakes …how about a fresh bowl of sweet rice…topped with anchovies?

Yum…

If you’re craving new and exciting cultural and culinary experiences, take a jaunt down to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and kick off your travel adventure by stopping at a roadside stall to delight in the country’s most popular breakfast dish: nasi lemak. The sweet, coconut creamy rice base is typically served with eggs, pickled vegetables, cucumbers, roasted peanuts, spicy sauce, and, of course, anchovies!

2. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s deep fried…it’s Delhi!

If you’re hungry for more adventure, skip over to Delhi, India to sample one of their most popular mid-morning snacks: kachori with aloo dum.

One of my colleagues, originally from Delhi, describes this as one of his favourite breakfast dishes. Basically, a kachori is a deep fried, hollow bread made of wheat and lentils. Kachoris can be filled with various different meat and vegetarian ingredients; in this case, they are stuffed with spicy potato concoction and typically followed by an orange, spiderweb-shaped sweet called a jalebi.

Mmm…

4. Health nuts to Sydney.

Are you turned off by all of the fried, spicy, sweet aforementioned craziness?

Then I suggest going Down Under for some healthy, beachside cooking….

Start of your Australian beach holiday with a traditional Sydney breakfast: smoked Tasmanian salmon on sourdough bread, served with spinach, poached eggs, OJ, a shot of wheat grass, and, of course, a skinny ‘flat white’ (glorified term for a latte). You will be feeling fit in no time!

Heading back home…

Right, so, exotic destinations aside, I can’t get over the English tradition of black pudding, which tends to accompany the full English breakfast (of toast, jam, marmite, fried eggs, sausages, bacon, baked beans, tomatoes, and mushrooms…). It’s fried blood, for crying out loud! Who thought that one up? Weird (but actually…not so bad.)

And to finish on a note which is close to my home and heart, I present to you an American delicacy that most of the world has never heard of: SCRAPPLE.

A patty of finely chopped pork scraps and cornmeal, typically fried and served in a breakfast sandwich. Scrapple is unique to the US Mid Atlantic region (Delaware, Maryland parts of Pennsylvania).

Here, folks, is a segment of the typical ingredient list for this breakfast dish with a cult-like following:

Pig tongue, skin, brains, eyes, ears, head, heart, and liver.

(The hog entrails du jour will vary from patty to patty…)

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Unique Learning Holidays

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Are you aching to break free from the office mundanity?

Do you ever daydream about that hobby, vocation or artistic skill that you never took the time to pursue?

Then why not combine relaxation and leisure with personal development on one of these unique learning holidays………

1. Get Creative in Paris

If you’ve ever strolled through the bustling Montmarte area of Paris—and witnessed the artists happily immersed in their craft—then you’ve probably romanticised your own potentials as a painter.Next time you’re in Paris, rather than purchasing a postcard of a painting, why not paint a pretty postcard yourself!

Get creative in Paris on a half day painting tour, through which you will learn the compositional basics of watercolor painting as you replicate a charming Parisian scene on a postcard.

Make mum proud!

2. Learn to Cook in the Mediterranean.

Do you dream of the fresh fish, cheeses, olives, and fruits of the Mediterranean? Want to learn how to recreate the deliciousness of Eastern Spanish cuisine in your very own kitchen?Then I suggest first embarking on a trip to Malaga, Spain, where you can partake in a Mediterranean Cooking class.

Shop for fresh veggies at a local market, learn to make authentic dishes from a local chef, and at the end of the day, enjoy a nice sit down meal, as you taste your very own creations—and some delectable wines—with your new friends.

3. Pottery Making in Africa

Get down and dirty…behind the pottery wheel…in Tunisia. Immerse yourself in the culture of Nabeul, known for its pottery and ceramic making, as you develop talents of your own!

You will not regret having immersed yourself in the therapeutic process of pottery making; the beauty of this course is that it runs daily—you can pick and choose which days you want to learn and how much time you wish to relax and soak in the beautiful scenery of the Tunisian coastline…It’s time to get creative!

Other Courses:

Photography Tours

Cooking Lunch with the Countess in Paris

Bumbu Bali Cooking Class

Belly Dancing in Tunisia

Blue Elephant Cooking School in Bangkok

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Cool things for American Expats to do on 4th of July in London.

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“Yankee Doodle came to London, just to ride the ponies…”

You are that Yankee Doodle Boy! (or Girl!)

While I am not aware of any upcoming pony parades through Parliament, I can offer my fellow American expats some festive suggestions re: things to do on the upcoming day o’ independence…

What: The Great American Beer Festival
Where: White Horse Pub, 1 – 3 Parsons Green, London, SW6 4UL
When: July 4th-6th, 2008.

No, no, no—not just a bunch of bottles of Bud Light and Michelob Ultra (AKA ‘water’). Tons of specialty American microbreweries (with some British favourites mixed in) will be represented at the famous White Horse Pub on the weekend of the 4th. From Chicago’s ‘Goose Island’ Beer Company to Denver’s ‘Flying Dog’ Brewery, there will be tons of flavors to whet your palette as you soak in the youthful vibrancy (and, hopefully, sunshine!) of Parson’s Green. Get ready for, beers, BBQ, line dancing, live music, and more!

What: O2 Wireless Festival
Where: Hyde Park, London
When: July 3rd – 6th, 2008.

There’s something for every homesick Yankee at the 02 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park; this 4-day extravaganza features performances by Counting Crows, Jay-Z, Goo Goo Dolls and Beck…to name a few. With 5 stages and 100 + performances, this is the biggest London music festival of the year! Again, let’s hope for sunshine…

What: 4th of July Barbeque (Organized by the London Expat American Meetup Group)
Where: Mile End Park, Grove Road & Clinton Road, London, E3 4PE
When: July 5th, 2008 from 2: 30 pm.

If you are looking for something a bit more casual and relaxing, why not whip together Grandma’s best potato salad recipe, grab a case of beer, and join in on the patriotic, picknicking fun with some fellow Americans on Saturday afternoon?

But first, you must join the American Expat Meetup Group (just Google it)—a very useful forum, especially for London newbies!

(And yes, bring your kids, but leave your fireworks at home.)

Know of any other 4th of July events going on in London? Then post below!

HAPPY 4th!!!

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The Omnivore’s East African Dilemma

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A recent rabbinical revelation, which qualified giraffes as amongst those lucky, split-hoofed and cud-chewing animals deemed kosher, got me thinking about my personal meat consumption. From where I’m currently writing (in the American northeast), if I want to eat locally, I’m pretty much restricted to sheep, cows, pigs, goats, and various poultry (minus one if I’m eating kosher!). It thus seems my giraffe-eating opportunities, rabbi-sanctioned or not, are limited. (Full disclosure: I’ve been a vegetarian since the 8th grade…).

But while giraffe remains novel, I did eat zebra once. Well, not really, but I very seriously considered it. I had it on my fork, raised it to my mouth and everything. Alas, at the last second, I got cold feet and finished my meal with my vegetarianism in tact.

Where, you ask, did I have this unique opportunity to test the (narrow) limits of my gastronomical bravado? Certainly not in Philadelphia. No way. I’m afraid enterprising eaters must travel to Kenya to try such exotic and gamey culinary delights. There you must head to Nairobi to have a lunch or dinner at the world-famous restaurant The Carnivore.

While I can’t promise giraffe, you can certainly enjoy such carnal treats as crocodile and antelope. And for those of you with less adventurous palates, grilled and barbequed beef, pork, and chicken are also available.

My vegetarian experience of The Carnivore was limited to some pastry-like, lasagna-esque dish, which I shamefully ordered as my more courageous colleagues had wildebeest and ostrich shaved onto their already overflowing plates. I’m not kidding. Attentive, waistcoat-clad servers literally shaved the meat from spits using very large carving knives at the table!!! (And for the record, my veggie meal was delicious, if embarrassing to order).

After stuffing themselves with as much meat as they could handle, my co-diners surrendered to their protein-induced food comas by raising a white flag. These flags are conveniently left in the middle of the table and signal to the diligent servers/meat-carvers that their customers have had enough game and are ready to move on to dessert.

Okay, so perhaps you’re not down with eating giraffe. I don’t blame you. I prefer my blue-tongued, acacia-eating ungulates without barbeque sauce, thank you very much. If you’re like me then you might favor heading just outside Nairobi to the Ngong Hills. There you’ll find the former house (now turned museum) of Danish author Karen Blixen. Drawing a blank on this one? Think: Meryl Streep, and more importantly, Robert Redford <sigh>, in Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa, the movie based on Blixen’s life and work. In addition to re-living favorite moments from the academy award-winning film while touring the house and its bordering grounds, you get to visit the adjacent Giraffe Center. Here you will meet Daisy, the famous Rothschild giraffe, and also have the chance feed the center’s towering twiga, as the animals are called in Kiswahili.

Of course, there’s nothing like seeing animals in the wild. And for that, Kenya’s certainly the right place! After a few nights in Nairobi, head out of the city for a safari (Kiswahili for “journey” or “travel”) in any number of the country’s National Parks and Wildlife Reserves. In the lush landscape of the Masai Mara, you can see the majestic twiga in their natural habitat, not to mention simba (lion), ndovu (elephant), and kiboko (hippo).

The memories alone are enough to whet my appetite and start me dreaming about Landrovers and acacia-dotted landscapes. Sadly, from where I’m presently sitting in Philadelphia, these exciting meals and safaris are nearly half a world away. So despite the rabbis’ green-light on the ingestion of my favorite ruminant, until my next East African adventure I guess I’ll have to satisfy my giraffe-cravings at the local zoo.

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“Avenue Q” changed my life.

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Avenue Q BA English

“What do you do with a BA in English?

- Move to one of the most expensive cities in the world, clearly.

What is my life going to be?

- Unfulfilling!

Four years of college and plenty of knowledge,
Have earned me this useless degree!

- Indeed.

I can’t pay the bills yet,
‘Cause I have no skills yet,
The world is a big scary place.

- So, take out a loan…and go to grad school?

But somehow I can’t shake,
The feeling I might make,
A difference,
To the huuu-maaan raaaaace…..”

Avenue Q is probably the most life-changing work of art that I have encountered since moving to London. I bow in piety to writers Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez: your words are my new gospel, your songs my holy hymns, your Trekkie Monster, my Messiah…

Trekkie Monster Avenue Q

Beyond re-connecting me with my homeland and re-kindling my love for Sesame Street, this masterpiece of a musical actually transformed my perspective on what it means to be alive. I stand reborn.

“It sucks to be me!”

The key underlying question/theme of show: how does one reconcile the pervasive feelings of unfulfillment that characterize life post-college?

A series of hilarious coping strategies are delivered to you by a mishmash of over-stereotyped characters, colorful puppets, fuzzy monsters, and even a pseudo-Gary Coleman…

The worst thing about Avenue Q? A lot of people might cite the scandalous puppet sex scene. Others might have a strong distaste for hit song, “The Internet is for Porn.” But in my opinion, the worst thing about Avenue Q is that: the more controversial and offensive the lyrics—the more ludicrous the puppets’ behaviours—the more real it actually becomes.

Marx and Lopez have brilliantly extrapolated the most unutterable desires and contemplations of the human psyche, transcribed them into a kitschy, musical parody, and hurled them into the public arena, full force. It is impossible not to laugh out loud when you see one of your own life obstacles being candidly recreated by a furry puppet.

If you haven’t already, you must. If you already have, go again—it’s even funnier the second time. Oh, and did I mention that Avenue Q is one of the most affordable musicals playing in the West End? Get cheap tickets here.

Do it.

Cast of Avenue Q London

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The Republic of Happiness.

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“We have the friendliest border police in the world,” the officer smiled as he handed me back my landing card, “you can start your story with that?”

I’m in love with Ireland. And I’m not just saying this because I still have traces of Guinness lurking in my synapses (folk ballads ringing in my ears, 40 shades of green flashing through my hazy subconscious…). I just met some of the warmest, most welcoming people on the planet. It was their personalities—their enthusiasm for life and for those around them—that defined my travel experience. My most vivid memories of the Emerald Isle will thus linger as a series of encounters with lively locals, namely the following…

1. Michael O’Leary

Not the famed, fiery chief executive of Ryanair—or his son, as insinuated by friends (unless Mike Sr. secretly spawned at age 10)—but nonetheless a most charismatic guru of Dublin nightlife.

Mr. O’Leary’s mantra—“those who have no fear are truly free” (repeated several times, over several pints)—will never be forgotten. Amen, brother. Amen…

“The way I see it, girls,” he grandly gestured toward the window of The Bailey, a trendy, laid back Dublin watering hole—a crossroads for pub-going lads and cocktail-sipping ladies (a good place for the former to take and (attempt to) impress the latter), “is that you have two choices—two potential paths, if you will.”

We sipped our glasses of chardonnay in anticipation.

“But you must first tell me,” he leaned forward: “What is it that you truly hope for?”

In life…or from the bartender? We just wanted to know which, uh, pub we should go to next?

“You see, you have choices.

choices?

“Yes, choices. You can either walk through that door, and turn left…”

He grabbed a pen from his pocket and quickly charted a hyper-detailed route to Café en Seine, a posh French café-turned-disco, on my damp napkin.

“Or, you can go…right.”

The difference being…?

“Well, if you choose left, you choose…suits.”

French cafes and suits? You’ve gotta be kidding. We want a banjo-picking, sham-rocking hoe down. This is Ireland for G’sake…

“But if you turn right…”

He carefully folded the napkin map into my friend’s palm.

“Well, that’s for you to discover.”

Two paths diverged in a green, drunken wood…

And we obviously chose right.

2. Mary O’Sullivan

Mary O’Sullivan was genuinely concerned with our well-being from the moment we stumbled into her Killarney Bicycle Shop—we appeared as two lost, giggling (hung over) tourists on an eager quest to “discover the Ring of Kerry” by bicycle…in four hours…right.

Mary saw how excited we were, though, and graciously offered us extra cycling time—she would come back to meet as after evening mass at 7.15pm on the dot (the shop closed at 6pm that night).

We had no idea where we were going, what to do with our bulky handbags or how to strap on our helmets. But Mary had us covered—she took care of everything. It took her 15 minutes to get us situated on our pink-trimmed town bikes, an amount of time in which, she informed us, “I can usually get 30 people out the door and on the road.” But she didn’t seem to mind mothering us—in fact, I think she really enjoyed it. She pointed out that she had good training for this type of thing, having raised 3 sons.

“Sorry, all married!” She responded…before I could even ask…while fastening my helmet (for the second time). Damn, she was good.

I should note that our cycling tour of Killarney National Park—a topic for another blog—was the unquestionable highlight of our trip to Ireland. Despite a *tiny* setback (we got lost and had to backtrack 15km to a vaguely familiar cow pasture, from which we miraculously navigated our ways back to the main road and into the city center), we had an amazing, scenic, and exhilarating journey through the enormous park and surrounds.

We even managed to make it back to Mary’s shop on time; actually, we were early. Mary informed us that our good fortune was a result of the prayer she said for us at mass.

Honestly, what would we have done without her? Mary O’Sullivan = our saviour.

3. Crazy Tom

Crazy Tom was the acoustic guitarist that stole our hearts with his country ballads and quirky cover selections at that little pub on College Street in downtown Killarney. I’ve spent the last 30 minutes doing crafty Google searches, trying to track down the name of the rustic little venue in which Tom’s musical magic transpired on the evening of May 25th, 2008. But I have failed miserably. Sorry kids—I just don’t remember where I was. But I remember the music…promise.

Fortunately, Killarney is the type of town where you could go door to door and say something like: “Do you know where I can find Tom, the crazy old, guitarist with the crazy hair? He’s incredibly talented and really nice to tourists? He sometimes plays Bob Marley…” And you would probably figure out a way to catch one of Tom’s gigs in less than an hour.

But if you can’t manage to track down Tom, fear not: the Killarney nightlife scene is live music. Just stroll through the city center on a weekend evening—you are bound to encounter tons of traditional/folk + country + rock cover bands in various little pubs and bars. I’ve never seen so many banjos in one weekend. Greatness.

We listened to Tom play for nearly three hours—he dedicated a song to us. We love Crazy Tom. And Irish music. And Killarney. And Ireland. And life…

Your turn

These are just a few of the many wonderful people that I met on a weekend trip to Ireland. I am still shrouded in a happy, boozy haze; I vow to return to the friendliest, leafiest little land in Europe as soon as I possibly can.

‘Tis the perfect season for an Irish jaunt. Get involved!

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Wine and Cheese, Please?

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If I had a billion dollars, I would transform all tedious errands into luxury weekend getaways. For example, instead of going to Wal-Mart for basic household supplies, I would just hop on a private jet to China. For new work clothes, I’d skip the Zara sales rack and head to Spain. And to gather refreshments for my upcoming housewarming party, I’d bypass the supermarket crowds and take my shopping list straight to the hillside villages of Tuscany.

But then again, if I had a billion dollars, I probably wouldn’t be shopping for my own wine, cheese and canapés to begin with. I also wouldn’t be lying about the housewarming party and, in reality, while writing this, be sipping boxed wine atop my luxurious, fifth floor air mattress in my shared London “bedsit” …

Regarding Tuscany, I can actually vouch from personal experience: I have been, and it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful and relaxing places on the planet. If I have managed to make it over there, you easily can, too.

So let’s just pretend that my bedsit is actually a newly refurbished, mansion block split level, in need of some freshly imported Italian flavours. Here’s where I would go…

A Taste of Tuscany

Firenze

If you have never been to Tuscany, or for that matter, Italy, you will likely want to see Florence. With direct links to a variety of countryside tours and villages, this well preserved historic (and delectable!) city could, with good planning, could be the perfect kick-start for further sightseeing and gastronomic adventures.

Prepare for sensory overload: you will be inundated with the highest concentration of Renaissance art and architecture in the world, along with bustling markets, crowded shopping streets, zipping vespas, outdoor concerts, and tourists galore. Yet happily, you will drink loads of Chianti and get your first taste of authentic, delicious Tuscan cooking.

So go ahead and hit all of the main sights (you can do this in a day, on a private tour, if you like), and then, for bit of local flavor, head to the south of the Arno river to some of the quieter and more residential areas. Be sure to spend an afternoon at Piazza Santo Spirito, which is arguably the most delightful, friendly and laid back square in the city. With several cafes, a beautiful Augustinian church, frequent specialty markets, and plenty of shady places to sit, it is the perfect place to sip a glass of wine and admire the easy pace of Florentine life.

Turn the corner and grab a delicious panini and a (deliciously inexpensive) bottle of Chianti and from Gustapanino—the best sandwich shop in town, hands down (trust me, just go). For some home style cooking with a creative twist, you could wander a few blocks north to friendly, family-owned Trattoria 4 Leoni. Try the Fiocchetti di pere con salsa di taleggio e asparagi, and change your understanding of pasta (and pears) forever (I’ll let you discover the deliciousness for yourself). I recommend sticking to their own-label house Chianti, but they do provide an extensive selection of wines from all over the region.

Feeling full? The adventure has just begun! Now it’s time to grab your posh party “grocery lists” and head to….

Montepulciano

Florence isn’t for everyone, and neither is Chianti. But it is impossible not to fall in love with the Tuscan countryside. Picture miles of quiet open road, surrounded by endless rolling meadows, lush vineyards, wild flowers and olive orchards. And suddenly, when life couldn’t be more beautiful, you are faced with a majestic, tiered hillside village that looks like a giant medieval castle from a fairy tale book. You find out from the tour guide that you are about to go frolic through its cobblestone alleyways and into its cavernous, 13th century vaults to sip some of the best wines that Italy has to offer. Magic.

Enter Montepulciano, an enchanting cascade of renaissance and medieval architecture, which, perched high upon a hill and surrounded by bountiful, endless countryside, is one of the most memorable and magnificent places in Tuscany.

And most importantly, its wines are world famous.

Wander through the village until you reach the 1000-year old Contucci enoteca, where thousands of barrels preserve the delicate balance of its renowned Vino Nobile. You can then savour the fermented richness of Italy’s finest Sangiovese grapes, with hints of vanilla oak and red berry that will tempt most wine novices (like me!) into connoisseurship.

Emerge from your tasting spree to bask in the afternoon sun and admire breathtaking, panoramic views of the region.

Pienza

I have been to a ritzy party or two and am accustomed to the occasional brie and stilton platter, but I had never delved into the nuances of cheese tasting before visiting Pienza. This tiny village actually smells like a giant wheel of Pecorino Toscano and is indeed famous for its unique, sheep’s milk (or to get technical, ewes’ milk), herb-infused concoction.

A short distance outside of Florence, this tiny hilltop village, unique in its “pure” Renaissance design and layout, can be easily navigated in a matter of hours. With its friendly shop owners, quaint cobblestone streets, and seemingly trouble-free lifestyle, Pienza, in my opinion, captures the true essence of Tuscany.

Wander in and out of the many food shops on the main street to taste the different varieties of pecorino, reflective of seasonal changes and the unique plants and herbs scattered throughout the surrounding pastureland.

view-of-tuscan-countryside-from-pienza.jpg

What next?

Well, that’s a start. You could then return home ready to schmooze it up with your bottiglie di Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, to be authentically complimented by the savoury taste of 100% ewes’ milk Pecorino Toscano. Or you could carry on adventuring. Or even better, stay in Tuscany forever. I know I could…

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DANCE Around the World…

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Everyone needs a little bit of song, dance and frivolity to break up the monotony of the daily grind. When’s the last time you let loose on the dance floor? Experimented with a hot, new set of moves?

Did you know that, for some people, the daily grind actually centers around such activity?

No, I’m not just talking about the West End cast of Joseph and the fictional plot of Hairspray.

Or the hardcore, hard drug club-goers with the glow-in-the-dark thingies…

I’m talking about groups of people all over the world—from Durban to Tjapukai—who use dance as a key form of communication in their daily lives.

This is not to say that you—the occasional club-goer—are exempt from such behavioral classifications.

Though I will be focusing on cultural immersion trips and dance excursions (below), I would like to first note few examples of cultural expression via dance that are a bit closer to home. continue reading

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My New Favourite Sunny Day Pub…

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I spent the last Bank Holiday Weekend exploring the sights and surrounds of a delightfully sunny London.My adventure began on Saturday morning, when, like 80% of the tourists in the city, I ventured to Notting Hill in hopes of perusing the famous Portobello Road Market (which only happens on Saturday mornings). Full of antiques, jewelry, scarves, knick knacks, gizmos and gadgets, the market is one of my favourite things to do in London—it’s the perfect place browse and shop …to admire colorful buildings and quaint cafes. But the crowds were just a bit too much for me last weekend; I was in the mood for something a bit more relaxing…

My friends and I thus decided to venture further west, away from the bustling markets and tourist sites…and south, towards the river! It was time for a Saturday afternoon pub jaunt.

Pimms, lemonade and lager…yes, please!

We arrived at what immediately became my new, favourite afternoon watering hole: the Old Ship, which is situated along the Thames, near Ravenscourt Park tube station.The delightful little pub seems to have more outdoor seating than any other pub in London, namely because its happy customers tend to sprawl out on the adjacent green:

Old Ship Pub-goers relaxing on green.

The Old Ship Pub in London

And along the riverside wall:

Old Ship Pub Wall

We enjoyed a relaxing afternoon of chatting and people watching over refreshing beverages. Their menu looks great; they even have an upstairs dining room, available for private parties, that opens out onto a balcony.

Thank you, Old Ship—we will be back!

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Oops! We just stumbled across the best Mexican food in London.

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Earlier this week, I was feeling super homesick and so decided I would embark on a quest for the best American Café in London. I know, I know “they’re on every corner,” but I can only go to Starbucks twice a day, alright?

I am talking about authentic American cuisine: huge, diner-style breakfasts, layered club sandwiches, juicy burgers, and real salads, the kind that are loaded with jumbo shrimp (not tiny, frozen ‘prawns’), cheese and fresh veggies….mmm, yummy…

After some crafty Google searches, I was sure that I had found my place: the Chelsea Bun Café, between Fulham Broadway and Sloane Square in SW10. The description was perfect: independently owned, hip, happening, and, most importantly, serving all of my favorite dishes from home. They even had Breakfast for Dinner. Awesome.

I immediately phoned my friend Talina with the news: we had to go to find this little oasis of American glory after work. Certainly she could relate to my enthusiasm: after all, she is from Mexico and has spent much time in north of the border. She agreed. I was pumped.

I cheerfully printed a map and charted a route. Despite the rainy weather and the café’s slightly obscure location in relation to the underground system, we met at Sloane Square, and we were off.

Dearest employees of Chelsea Bun, I hope that you can tell me this: at what time, exactly, does dinner occur in your homes? Because last time I checked, most people in this country dine at 6pm, earliest. Make that as late as 10.30 pm if they’ve had a prolonged, post-work pub jaunt

You’ve advertised yourself as an American/British café that serves dinner. So why, oh why, were you closed at 6pm, after Talina and I trudged for 30 minutes through the rain to find you? And I thought you were American—what a scam.

FINE then, we said, we’ll find someplace EVEN BETTER.

That we can afford…in the poshest neighbourhood in London…right…

After perusing four of the most expensive Italian menus I have seen all year, we were both, officially, starving. “The next place we see, no matter what,” we agreed.

And so we stopped at a brightly lit venue with a yellow awning: Azteca, the window decal read. Talina was elated. Mexican food! But where’s the menu?

Damn, it’s a tequila bar. Tempting, but no way are we throwing back straight Cuervo on empty stomachs.

As we despondently turned away, the door swung open, and a smiling man with a little goatee and a long, shiny ponytail greeted us: “come on, have a drink!”

But we want food. Do you have food?

Talina, take it away…

¿Si? ¿Tienes buena comida? Si…si…pero…pero no hay mucho dinero!

Translation: Really? You do have food? Good food, you say? But listen up dude: we’re cheap.

¡Pero tenemos hambre! But we’re hungry!

And so we braved the menu-less tequila bar in posh Chelsea for dinner. And I satiated my hunger for home with the most American of non-American foods (next to pizza and Chinese takeout): tacos.

Tacos gobernador, to be exact.

Governor’s Tacos. Holy wow, they were awesome. Crispy, handmade flour shells filled with fresh, marinated shrimps, vegetables, salsa and melted cheese.

Talina deemed them exceptional, even in comparison to the tacos back home. She was glowing. At least one of us got to cure a bit of homesickness!

Talina at Azteca Latin Lounge in London

But I’m still a bit confused. Hey, goatee man, the food’s great, but why don’t you have a menu?

“Because we’ve only been serving food for two weeks,” he informed us,“it’s an experiment.”

Well, well…aren’t we privileged to be among the first to grade your taco test.

Azteca, we give you an “A.”

A for Amazing; A for Americans, forget cafés with crappy hours. Go to Azteca!

Don’t you worry, goatee man, we’ll be back for more gobernadores… and maybe even a bit of tequila, too.

Azteca Latin Lounge in Chelsea

¡Que maravilla!

 

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