Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural center & Bush Tucker Cafe: Halls Gap, Victoria, Australia

Brambuk National Park & cultural centre is about a 3 to 4 hour drive away from Melbourne, and a 5 hour drive away from Adelaide, so if you haven’t made the effort to road trip between the two (or live in the area), odds are you’ll miss this National Park. Along with the natural wonders of the place, and a host of optional activities (which I will discuss elsewhere), there is a must see but ultimately highly disappointing Aboriginal cultural center, a really wonderful little cafe with very unusual foods, and of course a pretty good gift shop.

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From my first days of planning my trip to Ballarat, my friend who was hosting me had been describing this place to me, and it was one of the things I insisted we had to do, in SPITE of the fact that I was pretty much laid up because of the sever concussion I had suffered not two weeks before.

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TThe cafe and gift shop building

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They have a large selection of gelato available in flavors native to Australia fruits and spices… Golden Wattle seed, Quandong fruit, Strawberry Gum,  Desert lime, Macadamia nut (which is actually native to Australia, not Hawaii), Riberry and Davidson Plum

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As part of my experiencing Australian pies, I ordered a “Skippy” pie (you have to love the perversity of Aussie humor — check the link), which I shared with my friends (one of whom at 99% of the chips… I only ate two)

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we passed on the Lemon Myrtle scones and instead opted for the Wattleseed Damper w/Quandong & Peach Jam and Wattleseed cream (because I had no idea what a Damper was). After checking out their menu, we decided to go for the Bush Food Platter

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which had a little bit of everything (Kangaroo, Emu sausages, Crocodile, Wild Duck (Australia has a few different breeds, they never told us which one we were eating), 2 Bush Food Chutney’s (again we never found out which flavors) & a Garden Salad w/Bush Tomato & Balsamic Dressing) which is intended for two people, so we shared it between us. DEFINITELY worth trying, if only for all the new flavors. (see below for what some of these things look like)

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some of the spices and seeds mentioned above

While waiting for our food we raided the gift shop, which had a very good selection of items (many of which were made by Aboriginals with the proceeds going to them).

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At first I thought left versus right-handed boomerangs was a joke on the tourists, but no, apparently they need to be designed differently. That said, I was tempted to buy this map of Australia (below) showing all the native tribal lands… but didn’t.

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Once done at the first building you walk down a path to the cultural center

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The real disappointment of this visit was the thing that should have been the star, the cultural center. Even though pretty much all they have in there is photographs, we weren’t allowed to take any. There was a movie on Aboriginal culture but you had to pay to see it (and it wasn’t cheap, so we skipped it).

According to their website’s description, “The Brambuk Cultural Centre is the longest running cultural centre still operated by Aboriginal people. Come here to explore the culture, its traditions and various multi-award winning architectural establishments.” So, you’d think this would be a place where politically motivated local Aboriginals would choose to work in order to teach interested visitors about the grandeur of their own culture, and share their love of their own history.

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Note how faded and worn the sign is

But here’s the thing… the odds are when you get there, you won’t spot a single Aboriginal …  not even one with an ancestor four generations back so that all of the distinctive, but also  highly recessive, genetic traits have been bred out — lord knows we didn’t find any (and we asked).

[Rant: Firstly, let’s keep in mind that I have spent months of my life, studying, living and working on the Navajo reservation, and to this day still maintain some VERY close friendships with Native Americans I met during that period of my life who are to this day deeply involved with trying to improve things for their people. What I am not is a knee jerk liberal who attends protests and talks the talk, but has never spent more than a day or two being a tourist among said people, and has therefore never really walked the walk, let alone never spent any real-time talking to said people, whose rights they are so moved to protect; and hence doesn’t even really know who they are let alone understand their problems, and what these people might want for themselves vs., what you the privileged white person might want for them. That said, one of the things that kind of annoyed me while visiting was my observation that in the modern-day Australians (who by all appearances as white) seem to take extreme pride in any small amount of Aboriginal heritage they can claim. Keep in mind, in the case of Aboriginal Australians, that by the third generation, such heritage is difficult to identify visually, and unlike with African genes it can’t “pop up” unexpectedly — where two seemingly white parents can give birth to a dark-skinned child, the same way two brown-eyed parents can have a blue-eyed child. So for instance, I, while researching this piece, learned about a European/Anglo member of the Tasmanian government, by the name of Jacqui Lambie, who offended the Aboriginal community by claiming she was one and therefore could represent them, and then went so far as to get her DNA tested to try to prove it. While this on the surface might seem to be not unlike Americans who point to Native American roots that their ancestors would have tried to hide with embarrassment. The difference is that … where as in America that person might take pride in being “part” Cherokee, they rarely if ever have the audacity to claim the state owes them something for prejudice that they themselves never have had to face in their daily lives because of that genetic heritage. In Australia, however, they will; in the current age they will describe themselves as simply Aboriginal, not as ‘part’ Aboriginal, because it is now not only COOL to be Aboriginal, but again it comes with all sorts of benefits designed to provide a ‘leg up’ in a society that has heretofore condemned them. I was for instance more than a little ticked off to see Aboriginal art, which is sold as such rather than just as art, and it’s a big deal to be able to PROVE the authenticity of said art… only for the photo of the artist to be of someone with blond hair and blue eyes. Think Iggy Azalea, the Australian rapper who claims aboriginal heritage who couldn’t understand while Americans took issue to her calling herself, “black” and hence being an ‘authentic’ rapper…

In the US, the TRIBES would never allow such a thing, for the obvious reason that funding is finite and every kid who is part Native, but has suffered none of the deprivations of that ancestry, who takes that funding is in effect taking it out of the mouths of the folks who really need it. And now that the tribes themselves have found creative ways to pull themselves out of poverty, they are getting EVEN FIERCER about who does or does not get to call themselves “Native America” versus, being of Native American ancestry. It would be a bit like the Johnson’s (African American family, founders of Ebony and Jett magazine and first African American to make make the Forbes 400 list), who used to live near me — and walking distance from one of the very best high schools in the country — had mansion on Lake Michigan, with a swimming pool and tennis court, and had the Commodores (Lionel Richie‘s band before he went solo) play for their kids sweet 16 party taking advantage of preferred places and funding at Universities, intended to help cure socioeconomic disparities that exist in the African-American community]

According to the staff member we spoke to, while the Aboriginal community gets the final say on what happens there, and everything is done with difference to them… sadly, their interest sort of ends with that, and is mostly focused on the money generated by the place… although one of the staff members said if we signed up for the classes and performances that we had read about and wanted to see (which weren’t happening at that time, and hadn’t happened in a while, and he wasn’t sure when the next one might be), we MIGHT (but not would) see Aboriginals working those events.

What displays they had were placed kind of hap hazard, so that it didn’t tell any sort of meaningful story. Overall, it was kind of massive waste of time

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having trouble embeding the map (follow link to google maps):

 

Mongers Fish and Chips in Manly Beach, Australia

If you’re looking for a healthy meal to eat while at the beach, Mongers’ Fish and Chips is an option. That said, it is NOT the most amazing fish I have ever had, and it is NOT particularly cheap; as such, especially since they refer to themselves as “gourmet” I was expecting better (especially considering all the amazing reviews it had on-line). I chose it in large part because you had the option of frying OR grilling, and my diet required the latter.IMG_6725.jpg

On this day back in on January 24th, because the sky was blue and the temperatures were not too horrible, I had been touring around the greater Sydney area by riding on most of the various ferry lines. [Note: the 24th was the day before the horrific accident that gave me the horrible concussion that I’m still getting over 6 months later — including dental work to try heal my jaw which has been clicking since it got dislocated that day] This was in fact my 2nd time in Manly.

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The first time I had gone there… I think it was by car… with my travel buddy and his mom; we had dinner at an Italian place, whose name I’m sorry to say I no longer remember — it was actually pretty good. After he and I had taken the ferry back to Sydney (which is when I got the idea to at some point in the trip spend a full day just riding around on the them). This time, when I arrived in Manly, it was about my lunch time (which is normal people’s early dinner time), so I looked on yelp to find a decent fish place — which directed me to Mongers.

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I ordered the grilled Barramundi (which is native to Australian waters) with salad… but they removed the corn (carbs) and the pesto (oil) and got creative to make it a bit healthier with spices, and extra veggies in the place of the corn. I took my meal with me to the beach,

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found a nice bench to sit on and enjoyed my meal there. It was OK, not great… the fish didn’t seem particularly fresh to me (an attribute that glares loud when you aren’t covering it up with things like frying or pesto). That said, the view was steller!

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I remember I fed my leftovers to the seagulls, who apparently are not big fans of lettuce. Then, I walked around Manly until it was time to catch the next ferry back to Sydney.

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You know you are in a Jewish neighborhood when: Bondi Beach, Sydney Australia

Bondi Beach is one of THE places to go if you’re visiting Sydney; for instance, if you look at TripAdvisor’s top things to do while in Sydney, a trip to Bondi is #2 on the list. It’s a beachfront neighborhood in the greater Sydney metropolitan area. What most people when they come here would probably miss is all the clues that tell those of us who are MOT “members of the tribe” that this is also one of THE most Jewish neighborhoods in all of Australia.

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Like I said in a previous post, my decision to go to Australia was fairly last-minute. I had contacted my travel buddy, who goes to Sydney (his hometown) almost every year during their summer months (Dec through March) in part so that he can spend Christmas with his mother, but also just to be there. His mother lives in a retirement village in the suburbs, so he opts to stay in an apartment rental in one of his old stomping grounds.

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A mural adjacent to Bondi Beach, note my T-shirt

In this case, when I arrived he had rented a room in an apartment in an area called Bellevue Hill, right near St. Stephen’s Anglican Church, that is located just west of Bondi beach and just east of the Bondi Junction Train station — [The map refuses to embed, so please check the location via the link]. What I didn’t realize untill I had actually been there a few days and explored the place it was that it was ALSO spitting distance from The Central Synagogue, which is a modern orthodox congregation

AND Adath Yisroel Congregation / Tzemach Tzedek

AND The Sephardi Synagogue

AND an easy walking distance from the Chabad-Lubavitch House

In fact, there turned out to be about EIGHT … EIGHT synagogues all within an easy walking distance of our apartment …. Let’s put it this way, only the MOST orthodox of Jewish neighborhoods have that many synagogues so close together.

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Now granted, on the day when I first arrived, we took the train from the airport to Bondi Junction, at which point — because my friend seems to like to walk everywhere (even when lugging suitcases)

we walked first to this cafe, which he said was supposed to be good, in order to have a bite to eat. The place is called Savta Cafe (I was SO tired after my flight that my brain didn’t notice that Savta might be pronounced Safta — the hebrew word for grandmother).

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That said, the menu made it pretty obvious that this was an Israeli restaurant — something my friend had not realized. I got very excited and ordered the Shakshouka, a dish invented by Tunisian Jews, and pretty common in Israel.

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Not the best I’ve ever eaten (the mushrooms confused me) but it was ok…

But an Israeli restaurant does not a Jewish neighborhood necessarily make. The next hint however was SO in your face that I couldn’t possibly miss the implication. The next day he took me on a walk from our apartment to the beach, and we passed THIS house along the way…

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Let’s Welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness and kindness

For those who don’t know who this guy is, his name is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, also known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Many of his followers (I am not one) had actually believed that he was THE Moshiach (the Messiah, not to be confused with Jesus… even if the Chabad-Lubavitch are the most Catholic of Jews) at least until he died.

To tell you how Jewish I am, I’m one step away from Schneerson via more than a few people even though I am NOT one of his followers; most closely of whom was our family cardiologist (until he retired) who was flown in to be Schneerson’s cardiologist. Ira came to my father’s funeral, where he took me by the hands, looked me in the eye and told me how sorry he was to be out-of-town during my fathers final days, but that he had heard via the nurses and doctors at the hospital how I had been at my father’s side every day from his admittance until he died… and he said to me, “Rebecca, you have raised the bar in terms of how a child should be with a sick parent.” … to this day it is probably one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Ira is a real man of G-d, instead of going to synagogue and making himself the center of attention, he spends every sabbath quietly in the hospital, saving lives.

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The next thing I discovered in Bondi was no shortage of Israeli restaurants. This place, Sabbaba — which not only had COMPLETELY authentic Israeli style falafel sandwich, but the manager was Israeli (I spoke Hebrew with him) and they were serving MALT STAR (a non alcoholic beer that is almost ubiquitous in Israel) to wash it down with!! (As it should be!) This turned out to be a local chain (there are a three of them scattered around Sydney,) but TWO in the Bondi beach area.

RIGHT across the street from Sabbaba I spotted a Kosher butcher, called, “Hadassa Kosher Butchery PTY Ltd.” and “Golds World of Judaica” where I ended up spending a few hundred dollars on Jewish things you can only find in Australia type gifts for friends and of course for myself…

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An Australian Kippah! Got more than few of these

At this restaurant, Lyfe Cafe, again the owner was an Israeli (again, I talked them in Hebrew) and I also tried their Shakshouka — a bit better than the last place, but still not “up to snuff” in my opinion.

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Finally, up in the mall next to Bondi Junction, there are three different supermarkets, and in one of them I found a MASSIVE kosher section

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Glenrowan, Victoria, home of Ned Kelly: Australia’s Billy the Kid

If you ever happen to be driving from Sydney to Melbourne (or visa versa — or looking for a day-trip from either), Glenrowan, the location of Ned Kelly’s final standoff with police, is a must see.  If you’ve never heard of him, Edward “Ned” Kelly (1854 – 1880) is a central figure in Australia’s ideology of self. At a relatively young age he became one of Australia’s last, and still to this day best known Bushrangers; he was also a cop killer, and ultimately the leader of his own gang — although he’s best known for inventing a suit of bulletproof armor to wear during a shoot-out with police. IMG_2011Every book that I read on Australian history (that covered that time period) before coming to the country (I’m that sort of traveler) talks about him, and he’s about to have the 11th movie made about him go into production in the coming months (and if you move very quickly, you could be in it).

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Portraits of Ned, his mother (who is a central figure to his story), and his sister

My travel partner on this trip and I were driving from Melbourne to Sydney (it was a really pretty day…

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. In spite of the fact that I was in I came here on February 25, 2018… a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion, by the end of day’s travel I wasn’t mentally able to mentally focus enough to do any write ups … At the time an outing like this one left me exhausted and more often than not next day was spent just resting … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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When we passed this sign, which he felt was really funny, and a good example of Australian humor (that an offical sign would look like this)… I didn’t get the joke

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So he explained that it kind of looks like Ned Kelly holding up a wine bottle… and that we were about to drive by the town of Ned Kelly a famous bushranger, and then he started to explain to me who he was. I stopped him and told him that not only did I already know… I had read about him in two different Australian history books, but that I was also about midway through a book devoted to his story (that had won the very prestigious Booker Prize), and could we please stop because I would really like to see the place… and anyways we needed to have lunch.IMG_2007

I had the “house made Pikelets” in large part because it would be something new (I learned while researching for this piece that they are Welsh in origin, and are often referred to as the ‘poor man’s crumpet’) but upon eating them, they tasted indistinguishable from pancakes — just small ones. I also had the pumpkin soup (which in Australia is served savory with a lot of pepper… never sweet, the way it is in the US) and a cup of tea … 

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Then we went to the museum dedicated to Ned Kelly’s story. So for instance I knew from the book I was reading that when Ned was very young, he became the town hero by saving the life of the son of one of the richest families in town (who almost drowned). As a reward Ned was gifted by the father with a purple sash. You’d think since he was very rich and Ned’s family very poor it would have been something more tangible, but it’s almost a symbol of inequality with which Irish immigrants …

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That said, the sash was deeply meaningful to Ned and a treasured possession that he chose to wear under his metal armor on his last day when he knew he would be facing impossible odds, and might well die.

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Mrs. Kelly, Ned’s elderly mother was a major element in his life. Ultimately she was arrested and thrown in prison, unjustly, as a way to capture Ned. He fought to have her freed, including writing a manifesto letter that he tried unsuccessfully to have printed, trying to make people aware of the injustice but failed. All that was printed were annotated summaries that distorted it’s meaning in a way that made the government look good and Ned look bad were printed.

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What happened is long and complicated, but the part that all Australians remember was the final showdown where he wore the armor, but was ultimately captured.

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Inside the museum were a large collection of collected object about Ned or his family, including a selection of items that were supposedly owned by them. My friend and travel buddy, was overwhelmed by seeing a plate that supposedly had belonged to his sister. As a child, he had learned about Ned in part by reading a book written from Ned’s sister’s point of view… so seeing something as simple as a plate, that she had actually, was an emotional experience for him.

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Behind the museum was a reconstruction of the Kelly Homestead, filled with the sorts of items they were known to have owned. The actual homestead is located about 9km away from Glenrowan and still owned by the Kelly family, and NOT open to the public. I remembered reading in the book about the walls covered in newspaper.

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Behind the house were some pet Cockatoos, pictured here because they’re cute

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My first tastes of Aussie pie, Victoria near Ballarat

To quote this article, “What do you call a seven-course meal in Australia? A pie and a six-pack.” Part of traveling is about experiencing local specialities, and one of the things I wanted to do while in Australia was to experience eating an authentic Aussie pie while IN Australia (rather than the stuff you find in the freezer section of some American supermarkets, or the ones sold in S. Korea near the University where I worked).

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So, since I was still on my doctor restricted diet (fatty liver disease), I asked the friend with whom I was staying during my stay in Ballarat if there a pie place in the area that was worth the calorie count, and she said most definitely, and on Feb 3rd she took me.

[NOTE: This one of the many blog posts that I’m writing well AFTER my visit. This event took place only 9 days after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … At the time any activity tended to result in this really odd sensation of getting jittery, irritable, and with a sort of sickening tightening in my stomach… and as such if I did go out for an hour or two, that was pretty much all I could manage for the whole day… and I was in a very passive space mentally, and as such I couldn’t write about it afterwards, and I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

For my first pie, she took me to a neighboring town called Creswick, that like her own used to be gold mining town, that was the unfortunate location of what is still considered the worst below ground mining accident in Australian history. Since I was SO easily fatigued, pretty much every photo I took in this town was while sitting in her car and through either it’s open passenger side window or through the windshield… so please forgive the quality.

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She took me to the Creswick Country Bakery (also called the Creswick Roast, because they sell coffee), which she said had some of the best pies in the area ….

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We wanted to do Rosemary and lamb, which is their pie that had won the Great Aussie Pie Competition three years running…  but they were out so I’m having a beef and onion…

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me happily chopping down on my very first Aussie pie, it had ground beef in it. I think it would have been better with beef chunks

A few days later she took me to sample a seafood pie made by a friend of hers, who used to own this place, that also won the competition…. he has since opted out of the restaurant business and instead has a catering place (no tables or such to eat it there) that JUST serves up what he’s best known for, pies. Unfortunately I completely forgot to take pictures while there, or before I snarfed the thing down… that said — I still remember it almost 6 months later, great big pieces of very fresh tasting shrimp, scallop and I salmon were in it, in a creamy white sauce (num num num). My friend had also bought some meat pies while we were there to take home for our dinner later that night…

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I’m pretty sure this was a steak and kidney pie, it was also delicious

Dog On The Tucker Box; Gundagai, New South Wales, Australia

This statue titled, “Dog on the Tucker box” is a tribute to Australia’s pioneers, and a ‘well known’ (to Australians) bush poem whose author (may or may not) have been lost to time; it is located on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

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But here’s the thing, when I googled to try to find the famous poem the statue was based on I found multiple different ones and partial ones, and variations on the same theme, or variations of wording…. so if you play the video below, and then follow some “different” poems that various sites were pointing towards as the poem, you’ll see my confusion.

[NOTE: That said, I’m writing this blog post well AFTER my visit. I was at the Dog on a tucker box about 4 months ago, on Feb. 26th, 2018, almost a month after my accident that had resulted in a sever concussion … Even a month later my brain wasn’t close to good (I was talking really really slowly at the time, searching for almost every word) and as such I just haven’t gotten around to writing about it till now.  The accident made it impossible to focus my brain the way I needed to in order to blog, and as such I fell woefully behind on the posts the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) and the fact that I hit the ground so hard that I dislocated my jaw (requiring some expensive visits to my dentist who is trying to fix the damage) —  I am taking the opportunity of being back on my home turf to rectify that lapse.]

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That said, the “or worse” referred to in the above image, was explained in other versions I found that said that every time you read “the dog sat on the tuckerbox” you should actually convert it to “the dog shat on the tuckerbox”  … i.e., the past tense of to shit… in other words, this is a poem about a dog that took a dump on this guy’s lunch box.

Bullocky Bill — by anon

As I came down Talbingo Hill
I heard a maiden cry,
‘There goes old Bill the Bullocky
– He’s bound for Gundagai.’

A better poor old beggar
Never cracked an honest crust,
A tougher poor old beggar
Never drug a whip through dust.

His team got bogged on the five-mile creek,
Bill lashed and swore and cried,
‘If Nobbie don’t get me out of this
I’ll tattoo his bloody hide.’

But Nobbie strained and broke the yoke
And poked out the leader’s eye,
And the dog sat on the tucker-box
Five miles from Gundagai.

————————

‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ by Jack Moses (A PC version from the 1920’s)

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that;
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

I’ve been jilted, jarred and crossed in love,
And sand-bagged in the dark,
Till if a mountain fell on me,
I’d treat it as a lark.
It’s when you’ve got your bullocks bogged,
That’s the time you flog and cry,
And the dog sits on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

We’ve all got our little troubles,
In life’s hard, thorny way.
Some strike them in a motor car
And others in a dray.
But when your dog and bullocks strike,
It ain’t no apple pie,
And the dog sat on the tuckerbox
Nine miles from Gundagai.

But that’s all past and dead and gone,
And I’ve sold the team for meat,
And perhaps, some day where I was bogged,
There’ll be an asphalt street,
The dog, ah! well he got a bait,
And thought he’d like to die,
So I buried him in the tuckerbox,
Nine miles from Gundagai.

———————————–

Author unknown about 1850

I’m used to punchin’ bullock teams across the hills and plains.
I’ve teamed outback for forty years through bleedin’ hail and rain.
I’ve lived a lot of troubles down, without a bloomin’ lie,
But I can’t forget what happened just five miles from Gundagai.

‘Twas getting dark, the team got bored, the axle snapped in two.
I lost me matches and me pipe, so what was I to do?
The rain it was coming on, and hungry too was I,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Some blokes I know have stacks of luck, no matter where they fall,
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no bloody luck at all.
I couldn’t heat a pot of tea or keep me trousers dry,
And me dog shat in me tucker-box five miles from Gundagai.

Now, I can forgive the bleedin’ team, I can forgive the rain.
I can forgive the damp and cold and go through it again.
I can forgive the rotten luck, but ‘ang me till I die,
I can’t forgive that bloody dog, five miles from Gundagai.

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The infamous Australian sense of humor at play

This is one of those roadside attractions that means nothing unless you’re conversant with local folk culture … which I was not.  My travel mate however was born and raised in Australia, so he insisted we stop here. And this ladies in gentleman is why it’s always helpful to travel with a local.

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Just next to the statue was this restaurant, Oliver’s Real Food, which my friend said was must try, as it is the Australian “healthy” version of a fast food chain, i.e., lots of organic and vegetarian ‘fast food’ options.

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Me being held by a ‘big’ Koala,

In front of the restaurant was a big Koala, but as I had already seen a much BIGGER Koala while in Australia, I didn’t really consider it to be particularly worthy of note (other than for sheer cuteness) … but of course a picture was necessary.

At the restaurant I had some nothing to write home about sushi and edamamae (hard to screw up). That said, they had what I ultimately decided was probably one of my favorite ginger beers in all of Australia… it had a really STRONG ginger bite, which is how I like it — with the added advantage of it was supposed to have a good dose of probiotics

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Downtown Katoomba, Australia

Katoomba is a cute but small town, located about an hour and a half by car from Sydney (or 2.5 hours by train) about 2 kilometers from one of Australia’s natural wonders (which I of course was visiting), whose major industry is tourism. It’s a lot less tourist-trappy than most towns of this sort, while still having a sort of enough to keep visitors happy.

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NOTE: I’m writing this blog post well AFTER the fact. I was In Katoomba from January 12th to 18th of 2018 — about 5 months ago. BUT, because of the massive concussion I suffered only one week later, on Jan 25th… I have fallen woefully behind on the posts for that the Australia trip … but as I’m currently holed up in the Chicago area (i.e., my home base) doing things like doctor’s visits — including some related to the post concussive syndrome which I am STILL suffering from (albeit very mildly at this point, thankfully) I am taking the opportunity to rectify that…

The downtown area begins, essentially, at the top of a VERY steep hill, where it runs a bit alongside the rail road tracks, and then extends about a half mile South, down hill, in the direction of the natural attractions. (Other than a local movie theater, there’s little of any interest to none locals on the north side of the tracks).

Getting around:
And of course I am ASSUMING you don’t have a car… if you do you can just skip this part

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Getting from Sydney to Katoomba by train is actually a rather easy and enjoyable ride (see blog post). One of the things to remember is that IF you’ve already been in Sydney over the course of a week, and have actively been using the rail systems “Opal” transit card, once you have used it for eight trips in the course of one week (Monday to Sunday) you to qualify for 50% off on all trips for the rest of that week…  including the price of the rail trip out to Katoomba and back.

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That said, while there are also some bus routes you can take from the station to get you to your Airbnb or hotel, most of them stop running around 6pm … which I learned the hard way, when I arrived on a 6:30 pm train and ended up having to drag my heavy suitcase the 20 minutes it took to walk (almost a full mile) to my Airbnb… Luckily it was all down hill or I would broken into tears (the Airbnb host had COMPLETELY neglected to mention that fact in spite of my having told her what train I would be arriving on).

That said, I soon learned (not from her) that there are TWO 24 hour taxi services which will pick you up from pretty much anywhere, and run you home (I STRONGLY suggest keeping their phone numbers with you). The one you’re most likely going to be using is the Wentworth Falls Taxi, +61 (0)2 4782 1311; as the other, Blue Mountains Maxi Taxi, specializes in large wheelchair accessible vans that can accommodate up to nine passengers, +61 423 890 670, although they’re perfectly happy to pick up just one.
Places to eat:

Sanwiye Korean Cafe:

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First off, this place is TINY and popular. As such, unless you come on a non-vacation weekday and get very lucky… you WILL need a reservation (call +61 405 402 130) The time I opted for the basic home-style dishes my ex-boyfriend’s mother used to make regularly…   Mandu-guk (it’s a dumpling soup) and Japchae (which they spelled japjae)… I also ordered Kimchi, as this is the first Korean place I’ve ever been too that does NOT include the obligatory Banchan side dishes for free… and an order of Ginger Tea. That said, if you look at the reviews on Trip advisor, and pay attention to the ethnicity of the writers, you’ll see the western customers seemed to be way more enamored with the place than the Koreans (did I mention no obligatory Banchan?). For myself, the Madu-guk and Japchae were fine (they are two kind of hard to screw up dishes) but the Kimchi is SO incredibly mild that I could not smell it, or taste any of the red pepper.

For those who don’t get what I’m talking about, proper Kimchi should STINK, and at least mildly burn your mouth with the heat of the pepper. I had a Korean roommate back in college who initially kept a small bottle of Kimchi in our fridge, which because of the layout of the dorm room was in the same tiny room as our closets… we quickly banned the practice and forced her to keep it downstairs in the dorm room of some other Korean girls, because the stink had passed through the refrigerator’s walls and all of our clothes were suffering from Aux-d’kimchi. Additionally — keep in mind I lived in South Korea for almost three years while working as a professor, one of the first signs that I was back ‘home’ after spending some time in the States visiting my other home, was walking into an EMPTY elevator and being accosted by the scent of the Kimchi that some previous occupant had left behind (usually sweated out, like an alcoholic’s stench, or way too much cologne)

 

Paragon Cafe:

This restaurant would have been worth trying if only because it’s a piece of Australian history.  IMG_6067.JPG
It was the countries oldest continually serving Cafe (101 years when I went), the place is quaint beyond belief and is like a walk back in history to the 1900’s.

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established 1916 … the place had changed hands at least four times already, and according to this new report, shortly after I visited the current owner was being forced to leave by May 27 (over a week ago) because the business owner could no longer afford the rent, and whether the place will be maintained in its current form is in doubt.

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That said, I thought the food here was ok, WOEFULLY overpriced, and in spite of that nothing to write home about (the fact that it was struggling was therefore not a surprise). If you look closely at this menu (below) you’ll know what I ordered.

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Here’s hoping ….

 

The Gingerbread House:

When I finally spotted this place, located at the far south-east corner of the downtown area I decided that I was in love; This is a former church that for lack of congregants was converted into a cafe, that surrounds a gingerbread house/shop devoted to all things ginger!! (And as my friends know I LOVE ginger.)

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While there I found what may be the ultimate ginger drink, it’s called Rochester Ginger and (according to the company), it’s recipe is based on one made by Dickens himself … which I would happily drink regularly but for the fact that it’s $9.40 for a small bottle, about as pricy as wine …  when I got home I found Amazon has it  for slightly more. … By the way 1 cup = 236 ml, so this stuff is a bit over 177 calories a cup (while Coke is about 96 calories a cup)IMG_1907.JPG

they also had me try this organic ginger ale assuring me I would love it, but it was blah.

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There was also a ginger flavored Turkish Delight which was ok, but after the Rochester everything paled.

https://www.google.com/maps/place/The+Gingerbread+House/@-33.7172034,150.3120487,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xaaf95d3e9b389737?sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjFo57m88nbAhVD3VMKHfpPAGEQ_BIImQEwDw

Avalon Restaurant:

Based on the amount of business they do, this restaurant located not far from the train station seemed to me to be one of the most popular places in town. Their “specials” didn’t seem to change much Kangaroo burgers and pancakes with ice cream), and what finally drew me in was the burger. (Not my first taste of ‘skippy‘, which is what all the locals seem to call it, that was at Pins On Lurline, an upscale restaurant located outside of the downtown distract in what was once a private home … hence not included in this blog)

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The burger was less a burger than a sliced meat sandwich, with little rounds of kangaroo meat… not all that tasty and very chewy. While sitting there waiting for my food, I spotted this girl sitting next to me. I asked her if it was alright for me to take the picture and she allowed it…

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 The picture is completely untouched … the light was just perfect … and I of course allowed her to send a copy of it to herself.

 

Carrington Hotel
Let’s hear it for hotels that could not afford to update their facilities, until the fact that they had not becomes they’re selling point. Looking at the Carrington it’s pretty clear that’s the reality.

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I of course don’t know this for sure but after walking around the place I’m willing to take a bet that once the building was old enough to qualify for a World heritage landmark listing, and restoration funds that come with it, that that was probably the first time since 1927 that any serious renovations of the property happened…. and we should all be grateful because walking through its doors is like stepping back in time. According to Wikipedia it’s the only 19th century grand hotel still in use in all of New South Wales.
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This massive hotel property is located right in the downtown area, a meer steps away from the train station.

 

The Yellow Deli
The interior is VERY cute and Hobbit-warren like, and every food program (Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc) ranked it as the most popular eatery in town (must number of reviews, with almost all of the people giving it positive votes).
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I had arrived in Katoomba on a Friday night, and was mystified to find this place closed, but once I finally stepped inside I understand why. Every single man working there had a beard, a pigtail and was wearing very similar natural fiber clothes; That and the fact that women were all dressed akin to Mormons in terms of coverage, sent off a bell in my brain saying, “this is a restaurant owned by a cult.”
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So I asked, and it turned out they’re a religious group founded in Chattanooga Tennessee. They keep sabbath Friday night to Saturday…. like Jews, but they are not vegetarians like the 7th day Adventists (of whom there are many in the Chattanooga area)… at least based on the menu of what they were serving. They only believe in the old testament not the New Testament but don’t consider themselves to be Jewish… but rather they consider themselves to be Christians. The guy I spoke to, the manager, who was VERY excited that I had keyed into the cues that they were probably a religious group and asking about their beliefs, gave me a bunch of reading material
All that said, they make a very good Carob hot chocolate.
I really liked this place, I liked it enough that I ordered their fresh watermelon & ginger drink more than few times. You tell them what you want, and they throw the ingredients in a blender and serve it up.
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Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL

The Abraham Lincoln Home (the only home he ever owned) is a national historic site in Springfield, IL, and a must see for anyone from the state (see below), or anyone interested in his life. It is actually a preserved district that allows you to see his neighborhood as he would have, and contains: a visitors center, his home, and collection of preserved neighbors’ homes that surrounded his (although only the interiors of a few of those homes are accessible, and those constitute more museum space, than presenting them as they were) ….  Entrance is free to the public … i.e., your tax dollars at work.

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To preface this, I was born and raised in Illinois, I am in my early 50’s and this is the FIRST time I have been to my state’s capital, Springfield, IL. SERIOUSLY! Everyone else in my school went on the Springfield class trip, but not me. I didn’t get to go on the Washington, D.C., school trip either. My parents always complained that the cost was too high and that they’d take me, but they never did. It’s kind of embarrassing.

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The first thing to know is IF you drive your car, be warned, the parking lot on the property will charge you $2 an hour (in leu of an entrance fee), and you have to tell them how many hours you want to stay there and then put the receipt on your car’s window or be ticketed. That said, IF you come on a weekend street parking is free (not weekdays), and I came on a Saturday, and had no trouble at all find a spot no more than a block away from the site. Also, are a handful of covered parking lots not more than a block or two away, and the one I found (1 block away) was only $1/hour, with a maximum charge of $5 for the whole day, but you must have exact cash (which I didn’t) and it didn’t take credit cards.

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After you park, you head into the visitor’s center (this is where you pay for your parking if you used their lot), and ask for your free ticket for a tour of the house. I asked them why there was no fee (Andrew Jackson’s home in Nashville for instance was NOT free… nor was the childhood home of Mrs. Lincoln in Lexington, KY). And they said, IN UNISON, a spiel about how “Robert Todd Lincoln donated the family home… under the condition that it would forever be well maintained and open to the public at no charge” (while putting together this blog I found it pretty much word for word on the Wikipedia site). The Tours start every few minutes and the tickets are just to keep the groups at manageable numbers.

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That said, I told the staff member how just a few days ago I was at the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, and how they managed the same feat simply by setting up some chairs, and only allowing in at one time as many people as could comfortably sit in those chairs… a practice that is much greener, i.e., would save a lot paper.

Inside the visitor’s center there is a massive map of the historic district, with displays around the edges where you can press button to light up various houses or routes, with explanations of what it is that’s lit up.

IMG_1668.JPGThere’s also a movie on the history of Lincoln, and about his relationship to the historic site and the Civil war ………..

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……….which offers an overly simplistic view of the man; it’s what I like to refer to as the middle school version of Lincoln, the one that says he was against slavery (full stop).

[Begin rant] The reality is a lot more complex. Lincoln really didn’t like slavery, he thought it was a bad institution, and he wanted to contain it (keep it from spreading to new states)… but he never said he wanted to end it (He thought that would happen naturally) … At least that was his stance until the realities of the fact that Union was essentially losing the war and house might in fact become divided drove him to it.

Lincoln’s House Divided Speech made before he became President was actually very specific, but few folks bother to really pay attention to it:

“A house divided against itself, cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.”

So he was sure the Union would have to go one way or the other, all slave or all free, and he was very worried that it go all slave. That he could not abide.

In addition if you actually read the Emancipation Proclamation, which “freed the slaves” it actually doesn’t. It says any Confederate state that doesn’t end its rebellion by January 1, 1863 would lose the right to own slaves … which by default means that if the state DID end it’s rebellion, they could continue to own them… and by extension, the three slave states that had not rebelled, including Kentucky where he was born, could continue to own their slaves (at least until the 13th amendment was passed). AND, by doing so Lincoln ensured that the French and the British, would not come to the Confederacies aid (from whom both countries bought a lot of cotton) …. The British had publicly declared their support of the South’s right to secede. Keep in mind America pretty much owes its independence to French intervention in the our rebellion from the British.
… P.S., putting aside the whole slavery issue….  to this day lawyers STILL debate whether the South was within it’s right to secede from the Union, and very few believe Lincoln’s arguments for why they did not have the right were airtight (and most of them think Lincoln, who was a really good lawyer, knew it).
[End rant]

In addition to the movie and the interactive map the visitor’s center has a really good gift shop with a large selection of goodies

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Learning that Frank Loyd Wright’s son invented Lincoln logs led to a massive brain fart on my part that I blogged about (read here, it’s actually interesting I think)

And of course there a very large book selection about Lincoln and the Civil War (both written and recorded formats) … I bought a few of these useful things called BottleEze (they had them with Lincoln’s home printed on the sides) where you clip one end around the neck of your water bottle, and stick the other over your pants waistband, or in a tight pocket,

From time to time (you need to check their schedules) the historic site does special things, living history demonstrations. I was lucky enough to stumble onto one. The woman at the front desk told me that in the lecture room (adjacent to the movie theater) I would find Abraham Lincoln…. so I opened the door to find…

IMG_1669Martin Luther king talking to Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Tubman— apparently this is a regular event for the kids (who get to draw fake beards on to their faces before it starts).

I only stayed for a little bit because it was about time for tour to start (and you are supposed to be there five minutes before the start time.

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This was the first room we entered, the Lincoln’s divided living room area (there are big wooden doors that can be closed in the middle, if he needed to speak with visitors)

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IMG_1672.JPGOne of the things I learned, while listening to the tour guide gave us her introduction, wa that today is the anniversary of Lincoln being asked to run, in this room. The shelves against the living room wall are called apparently called whatnots — and I own some — they’re tucked away in storage till I settle down; my parents had a few of them, almost identical to these, and till today I never knew they had a specific name. (Last time I got this excited about a piece of furniture was when I visited Elvis’ kitchen Graceland and he had almost exactly the same interior design for his kitchen, down to the same brands of ovens and stoves).

That said, I asked the tour guide if in fact Mrs. Lincoln kept a bust of her husbands head in pride of place at the top of the whatnot… she smiled and said that it seems she did. When Lincoln was running for President a bust was made of his head and mass-produced for sale, and Mrs Lincoln is known to have displayed it in the living room. To which I said, “like a proud mama.” The tour guide agreed.

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This is the closest I will ever get to touching Abraham Lincoln. These banisters are original to the house.

This site gives you a good overview of the interior of the house

That said, according to the tour guide, very little of what’s in the house is actually original, although she pointed out to us every item that was. I found this one document which I think says the entire sum of original objects in the house is 48. The rest of the furniture pieces are similar or identical to things the Lincolns were thought to have owned, based on sketches that had been made of the rooms, or original items held in private collections. If you search on the internet you can see that the sale of Park passes, and the $2/hour parking fees are being used to slowly buy up bits and pieces of the Lincoln’s possessions from private collectors to return to the house.

That said, one original item that they were able to obtain, according to the tour guide, was Mary Lincolns personal toilet … oh and apparently the Lincolns slept in adjoining but separate bedrooms. (No, I’m not going to go there)
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After viewing the house, I walked around the “neighborhood” making a point of stepping into any of the houses that were open for viewing, and reading the various informational signs scattered along the gravel road.
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The contents of each of the open homes had a different focus… sort of like rooms in a museum, with each house constituting a museum room.
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This house focused on the various families who lived in the neighborhood and shared some information about each of them, how we know what we know (the evidence), and items found during excavations, etc.
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While this next house focused on what was involved in restoring this heritage homes NOT to meet modern standards but to re-create the historic ones, historic building techniques, etc.
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This open corner shows the exposed walls, as originally built, with buttons you could push that would create red laser dots of light on the topic being discussed… in this case, she’s pushing on the button for the Nails… and there’s a red dot on one of the nail heads. (As luck would have it the woman standing there’s father had been a builder so she was all excited about it and telling me stuff)
Another of the walk through homes, the between the lincoln home and the visitor’s center, had a detailed display talking about who the Lincoln’s bought their home from and for how much; and how when the they first bought it, it was only a story and a half (a great starter home for a young married couple); but then, as Lincoln became successful and influential, they remodeled it, taking off the roof and expanding it to two floors, etc. (not going to bother posting pictures of it)
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Walking around the neighborhood, it is a very pretty shaded lane, and I found that locals take advantage of it.
Most of the houses you could NOT walk inside of came instead with these interactive options, where you call a number and then listen to a description.
If you want a listen to it call:   +1 (217) 213- 3003   and then press 50#
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According to this guide, Springfield at the time of Lincoln’s having lived here was a fairly diverse population, with a large recent immigrant population which included quite a few African-Americans affluent enough to afford their own homes. (apparently, if you come with a group of children — or 15 or more adults, you can pre-arrange to have a park ranger guide you around)
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For instance, this currently empty plot (before the yellow house) is just a few houses away from Lincoln’s home and used to contain two homes — both of which were owned by a Mr. Jenkins, one of Springfield’s African-American residents (the 2nd home was for his sister). He was fairly prosperous (obviously) and was involved in the “trucking” industry, moving goods around the country.
Both the tour guid and recorded guide point out that he was on good terms with the Lincolns and transported them and their goods to the train station when they needed to move to Washington.
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The reflections on the glass made all my other shots utterly unreadable
That said, there’s also strong evidence that his home and his wagons were all part of the underground railway
To hear about all the details, call +1 (217) 213 – 3003 and then press 51#
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According to the guide this was one of the his wagons, and if you look carefully you can see air holes have been strategically drilled into the boxes
But for something REALLY cool, look below!!!
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Since in this case there was no home at the site (I’m going to take a guess that once the entire “district” and not just the Lincoln home, became a national park in 1971… and was turned into what is essentially an outdoor museum, that all of homes on the property that were not original to the Lincoln’s time period were removed. AS Jenkins’ home was a historically important one, the park service has gone to the effort of creating an artificial Reality tour using a freely available app, which is really kind of cool if you think about it. (I did find it in Apple’s app store, and tested it. IT WILL WORK, if you have your smart phone look at the picture above!!)
Another cool thing was how the locals take advantage of property. I kept seeing folks walking around in twos and staring at their smart phones, my brain went, Pokémon!! And I was right. They told me that the local bar was having a fundraising event that involved playing the game, and that as EVERY home and object had historic importance the park was a very rich Pokemon playing ground for the locals.
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The bar in question is less than a block away from the park’s visiter center (sort of kiddy corner from it) and there is a coffee-house, bar and restaurant, each in a separate house but all owned by the same people,  — I had eaten at the coffee-house, Wm. Van’s Coffee House, already that day. I’d had an avocado and tomato on whole wheat toast with an iced coffee before going to the Lincoln’s home. (You’d think that would be hard to screw up, but they used some sort of pureed and watered down avocado spread… kind of tasted like the stuff sold in plastic bags at supermarkets … instead of just spreading the real stuff)
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and was intending to hit the restaurant for dinner, so when they mentioned the bar’s name I knew which one they meant …
That said, Obed and Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery, was supposedly the best place in town. When I got there, I found the menu mostly consisted of unhealthy choices, everything deep-fried with a lot of carbs, etc … As a rule, anyplace that does the unholy triumvirate of salt, fat and sugar can make food that tastes good… it’s making healthy food tasty that requires skill.
I ended up defaulting to a grilled chicken & berry salad with blueberries, strawberries, candied pecans and goat cheese … and I had them substitute straight balsamic for the vinaigrette (i.e., it didn’t need more oil… the cheese, chicken and pecans already provided enough)
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Bell Buckle, Tennessee: if you’re looking for something worth stopping for on the two hour drive between Nashville and Chattanooga

Bell Buckle, TN is a very cute, tiny (population of under 400) town located well away from any highways, but on an active train line. It is a well-preserved historic town full of well maintained Victorian homes, many of which have very pretty gardens, as well as a well maintained downtown (it is a whistle-stop town on the train line from Nashville to Chattanooga) that has done everything feasibly possible to be appealing to tourists.

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Approaching the town you pass some impressively palatial homes, which is not what one expects to see in such a small town in Tennessee. Then, the moment you drive into town you’ll have to slow down to 15 mph, as you pass The Webb school. Looking at it I could tell it was a fairly affluent boarding school (its tuition is between 40-50K a year, which is up there with the price of sending your kid to University) whose presence in the town, I was pretty sure, probably explained why the homes I was passing were SO nice. That said, when I got home and did some research; I discovered that it was in fact a college prep boarding school, founded in 1870 (one of the oldest ones in the south); and that the school had been moved to Bell Buckle in 1886 (because the town was dry while its original location was going wet); and, that it was at one point SO good that it was responsible for producing more Rhodes scholars than any other secondary school in country (that said, I was looking on their website that lists where their current crop of seniors will be going for university, and the list was NOT a very impressive one — the public high school I went to, it does way better).

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This was on the sidewalk in front of one of the shops

A little further up the road you’ll come to a still active train line (none of the trains I saw actually bothered to stop at the town, confirming its whistle-stop status), and a small collection or historic storefronts which make up the “down town.” I parked my car and walked around, exploring the shops.

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This, plus one shop, is pretty much all of downtown, like I said, tiny

In every shop I entered I asked what the history of the town was, and none of the staff seemed to know. In each case they said they were actually new to the town, or didn’t actually live in town. Which was interesting.

The shops consist mostly of women’s clothing shops, shops that promote local artists,

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antique shops and

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and four different food places, a coffee shop, an ice cream and sandwiches shop (with homemade fried pie), a meat and three and ladies high tea place…. with the exception of the coffee place (which was just a coffee place), all of the other three places were so southern as to represent stereotypes of the south, or tourist trap heaven.

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Again, how more Old South can you get than Pulled pork, Fried Green Tomatoes, Pimento Cheese  — oh right, Fried peach pie
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Again, not sure a place can get more stereotypically Southern than RC Cola and Moon Pies

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This is supposed to be the best restaurant in town, a traditional Southern ‘meat and three‘ but the guy in the wellness store told me that everything they serve is actually produced by Sysco foods (i.e., almost nothing is made by them, it all arrives in bulk already made), which is kind of shocking as it apparently is one of the major draws to the town (one store owner told me that it alone generates most of the towns income), and was, according to their resturant web site, listed as one of the top 10 resturants in the state

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I ordered a $5 bowl of Chili and got a bowl so big I could only eat half, the pancake looking thing is actually corn-bread flat cake (known as a johnny cake or a hoecake).

The shop that surprised me the most was the Wellness Emporium place that sold things like tonics, Kombucha and CBD Hemp oil. The guy when talking to the women described how he runs an organic farm and produces most of his products himself.

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Denny’s in Japan: much better food than you’d expect!

I LOVE Japanese food…  Anyone visiting Japan quickly realizes that Japanese food in Japan is on average WAY better and significantly more varied than what you’ll find in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan. Additionally, there are on average WAY more restaurants in any Japanese town or neighborhood than you’ll normally find in the states, and because all Japanese are foodies, 99% of these eateries are on average BETTER than what you’ll find in most American towns. In essence, while you CAN of course use review services, such as Yelp for instance, if you want to experience the sublime (in Japan I’ve had meals that were better than sex)… the fact is that the Japanese take their food culture so SERIOUSLY (and anyone who has seen the film Tampopo knows that they are SO serious about it that it borders on funny). As such, a chain like Denny’s of Japan, which offers up 24 hour offerings, has GOT to be better than it would be in the USA if it’s going to survive here.

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First thing to realize is that unlike in the states, Denny’s Japan doesn’t tend to have a specific architecture… in fact except for the signage, no two buildings seem to be exactly alike (because the Japanese — unlike the Koreans — prefer uniqueness). I didn’t actually take the above image, it’s from commons.wikimedia.org, but of all the ones depicted it’s the closest in appearance to the one I was eating at.

I spotted it as my taxi was driving me to my airbnb near Sasazuka station in Tokyo, and since it was ONLY about 2 blocks away (and open 24 hours) I thought I would definitely explore it’s food options. That said, I was a bit nervous about it, so I googled Denny’s Japan and found this article about why you should DEFINITELY try it while there, which assuage my fears.

So for anyone wondering what those options were, here’s the Denny’s menu that was available when I was there (like all things Japanese, the menu rotates seasonally) … and if you look you’ll see there’s very little “American” food on it, and even what’s there when you see it up close and personal has been heavily altered to meet the Japanese palate and concerns (while not listed on the menu above, if you look at this menu — which is the current webpage — good luck finding a desert that is over 800 calories, most are between 300 and 500 calories — if you click on the red button to left of the food item, and above the English text, it’ll take you to the nutritional info page for that item). So for instance, there are NO HAMBURGERS on the menu, there is however a very large selection of “Hamburger steak” otherwise known as Salisbury steaks, with various toppings… and while there are pancakes, they’re relegated to the dessert section of the dinner menu, or to the breakfast menus (and that’s only available during breakfast hours).

The first time I went I opted for the healthiest food options on the menu. I was really happy to see that every food item on the menu includes calorie count

I opted for the grilled fish, with came with a little mound of grated Daikon (the white stuff) on the plate and a small dollop of a type of seaweed salad you almost never see in the USA (there are actually MANY types of seaweed, and many different recipes for seaweed salad… most Japanese restaurants in the USA only ever serve one of them). And of course, this being Japan, it came with bowls of white rice, and of miso soup. For my side dish I had a choice of cold tofu (which would have added a few calories), or the item in the picture, a salad of Spinach topped with grated Daikon root, and bits of grilled eggplant.  I chose the latter.

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When it arrived, the image below is what it looked like… not all that appetizing… and it didn’t smell so great (i.e., the fish was a bit fishy)… That said, it tasted ok (mostly because it had a miso marinated, which kills all ills).  That said, everything was reasonably tasty, and the who thing came to 510 kcals (and it beat the crap out of any lean cuisine while offering MORE food than one). — the price of 1,049 ¥(en) in dollars translates to something just shy of $10.49, depending on what the conversion rate is that day; a price that is pretty cheap by Tokyo standards for a meal you sit down to eat.

(In Tokyo many people live in apartments so small that they can’t really afford the space for a dinner table — my airbnb didn’t have one — so you’re paying for the land the restaurant sits on as much as you’re paying for the food.)

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And then for Dessert I ordered pounded rice balls (Mochi), red beans and Green Tea ice cream, 156 calories, where what showed up looked as appetizing as the picture. (About $3.49)

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Warning, the green tea ice cream at Denny’s is for people who really love their green tea… as in, it has almost no sugar in it so you get a VERY intense green tea flavor.

With this I also ordered access to the all you can drink, “drinks bar,” which offered various kinds of tea, coffee, orange juice, and a selection of sodas.

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From then on every time I went to Denny’s  I just got hot water, which is free.


The next time I went I decided to get Denny’s version of Mentaiko Pasta, a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that usually uses a spicy pink cod roe mixed with cream on spaghetti instead of tomato sauce.  (It’s USUALLY a heck of a lot tastier than it sounds, although sometimes it’s not. First time I had it was from company cafeteria when I was doing a summer internship at Eisai Co., when I was in my 20’s, and that stuff was kind of disgusting — in my opinion; my Japanese co-workers actually looked forward to Wednesday lunch because that was when it was served. That said, when it’s done right it’s REALLY tasty.) The Denny’s version is Squid and cod roe, which doesn’t seem to be spicy at all, and had relatively little cream compared to other versions I’ve tried. That said, according to their on-line menu’s dietary page it has only had 14.9 g of fat.

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It arrived also looking pretty much like it’s photo, and while neither as spicy nor as creamy as it can be when really good, was pretty decent. That said, because it was neither spicy nor creamy, there was a there was a very slightly fishy after-taste which won’t bother the Japanese, but might not be appealing to westerners.

With it I got a bowl of the corn soup, which is one of my other favorite Japanese-western fusion dishes. I’ve had corn soup, and cream of corn soup, in a lot of different places, but it never tastes like the Japanese version of this dish, which is in fact my FAVORITE version of it.  The Japanese do a really good corn soup, to the point where even their cup o’soup instant versions of it are pretty good.

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Again, this one wasn’t the BEST I’ve ever had, but it was decent.

Together the 598 calories of pasta and soup left me with room for a decedent dessert 

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And THIS ladies and gentleman is why you don’t see a lot of fat Japanese ….  310 calories for THAT you ask? In the pictures it looks huge

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But in reality NOT so much… and keep in mind I have really really tiny hands (does this desert make my hand look big?), hands that are abnormally small for someone my height (usually girls with hands my size don’t top 4 foot 9 inches). So it’s a tiny portion of mostly a low fat chocolate jello type thing, a tiny sliver of chocolate brownie— both of which are far more chocolatey than sweet, with a tiny serving of cream, and an equally small one of vanilla ice cream, all topped with chocolate syrup. 


The third time I went I tried what was described in a few different websites and youtube videos devoted to Denny’s Japan as their “Star” dish, Denny’s runny rice omelet (no this is not a spelling mistake). Even their own site describes it as “The popular No.1 menu of Denny’s became more and more delicious!” The two previous times I was there I had also noticed that in fact it seemed to be the dish most often ordered by the Japanese. It is a fried rice type thing covered with egg  and some sort of brown sauce … since there weren’t any veggies on the plate, I ordered the same veggies side I had the first time (the spinach thing) and a bowl of miso soup …

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Because it was 754 calories, and 39.6 g or fat (!!!), i.e., completely off my doctor’s proscribed diet for my fatty liver disease,  I decided to only eat about half of the egg dish and instead fill up with the almost fat free veggie side and miso soup.

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This task was made WAY easier because to my mind, …. this rice thing was kind of seriously disgusting … Honestly, for the life of me I don’t get why it’s their #1 dish, it reminds me of the really disgusting concoctions I came up with in middle school when I was first experimenting with creating my own recipes. Not only does it look disgusting, but there’s some sort of tasteless cheese-product type substance, which I THINK is supposed to be mozzarella…  in it and not only is this thing pretty fatty, it TASTES fatty (blech) … So I ate less than half (focused on the egg and not the rice) and ordered what I thought was a chocolate ice cream dessert for 184 calories

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What appeared to be chocolate ice cream is in fact red bean paste- Anko (koshian), pounded rice stuff, seaweed gelatin cubes, bits of banana and mandarin orange… and a dried apricot…

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As per the picture, it came with a sort of molasses to pour over… but I didn’t, as I didn’t think it actually needed it, and probably saved myself a few calories.


The next time I went in was for a late night snack. I had been going to sleep later and later, in preparation for my going home (for a variety of reasons I had to be good to go the day after I arrived, so I figured I would work through some of the Jet lag/time change issues while still in Japan — happily Tokyo is a 24 hour kind of a town, sort of like New York City.

This time I got what I THOUGHT might be a smoked salmon and cream cheese sort of appetizer.

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what arrived instead was smoked salmon on mashed potato (?!), which explains how it was only 198 calories…  with a sort of sweet onion sauce on top of the blobs of potato. Definitely a rather odd dish.

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Initially I ordered it with what I THOUGHT was going to be a glass of Kiwi juice. Happily, the waiter, realizing I couldn’t read Japanese and was just going by the pictures, pointed out that the Kiwi juice was in fact an Alcoholic drink….

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and pointed out something that till that evening I had completely overlooked….. Denny’s in Japan serves BOOZE!!! As in beer, wine, sake and fruity drinks….

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When I told him I really wanted some sort of fruit juice, and NOT the orange juice offered at the drink bar, he pointed me towards the special seasonal menu which had on offer all things strawberry (I just noticed on their on-line menu that the next seasonal menu is going to be all things mango), and what he promised was a fresh squeezed strawberry juice for 76 calories (versus the strawberry juice with alcohol in it which was 129 calories)

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I followed this up with a really Acai yogurt dish, because I was feeling sort of dairy deficient

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What came out didn’t look very appealing, but it was VERY tasty, and crunchy with bits of fresh mint on top.

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One evening I decided that I wanted to try one of their salads. I opted for one that appeared to have grilled chicken and a pouched egg. From the image, I assumed the salad had a blue cheese type of salad dressing

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(I later learned it was in fact a Caesar salad dressing) and asked if it could exchanged for what looked to be a Japanese sesame dressing instead from a salad with a much lower number of calories.

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From the look on the waitresses face this was NOT a normal request, but the chef agreed to do it. (After the fact I no longer think it was sesame… but rather some other sort of  dressing with nutty seeds). That said, the salad was REALLY tasty.

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For the last meal I forgot to take any photos of my food … sorry, my bad: I had the Ginger grilled pork (which I found to be a bit oily — in retrospect I think it may have been pork belly which the Japanese like to use in ramen… I kept having to pull off bits of fat… and ended up leaving about 1/2 of it on the plate as a result). Normally it comes with some mayonnaise on top of it (MORE fat) and mayonnaise potato salad; but I asked them to hold that, and instead paired it with the spinach/dikon side, and the seaweed salad that had come with the fish…. and of course miso soup. Additionally, I only ate about 1/3 of the bowl of  rice. Overall, mot bad, but not great.

Sitting across from me was a ridiculously cute four or five year old girl who was in the Denny’s with her mom… this girl clearly LOVED her egg carbonara pasta. Her mom had ordered an adult size, but was spooning it into a child sized bowl for the girl… and she had enthusiastically slurped up two bowls of the stuff… really cute

 

Later, looking on Youtube, I found this series of videos of things that are usually pretty mediocre in the USA that are MUCH better in Japan, which included an episode on Denny’s:

 

All in all, while not EVERY dish on the menu was a winner, I would definitely suggest that if there’s a Denny’s in your neighborhood while visiting Japan, and your in search of some decent and cheap eats, you not overlook it as an option.