Bonneville Salt Flats; Wendover, Utah

The world-famous Bonneville Salt Flats is located just west of the Tree of Utah as you travel west on I-80. It is one of the few places on the planet so flat and large that you can see the curve of the planet, and so deadly that not even the simplest life forms of our planet can sustain themselves there.

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The  Bonneville Salt Flats is another place I’ve driven past on numerous occasions, but never bothered to take the time to stop and see until this visit. I discovered there are two ways to see the place… the first is the a rest stop on the north side of Interstate-80

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The second option is to enter into the park itself to where the the measured mile is located, which is where the cars race. To get there, you go to the next exit west of the rest stop. There you will find a Sinclair Truck stop, that sells a collection of Bonneville Speedway t-shirts, along with the normal truck stop selection of goods

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and that, besides the obligatory gas, has something highly unusual for a truck stop…. a cafe that serves Indian food!!!

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I was so amazed when I spotted this, that I stopped to order some lunch. I ordered Sag Paneer, one of my very favorite foods, Tandoori chicken, and garlic Nan… the waiter told me that the wait for the chicken was going to about half an hour… so I told him I’d be back… and headed out to see the speedway

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This picture was actually taken on the way BACK to the truckstop

From the truck stop you drive down Leppy Pass Road, taking the curve in the bend onto the Bonneville Speedway Road (a two lane black top road along side which you’ll find a lot of people parked in campers)

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As was this one… (note the mountains)

For some reason the map won’t embed the map, so follow this link to show the spot of the final location: https://goo.gl/maps/qSFXak8XWEP2

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IMG_4628.jpgWhen I got there I was told that there was actually a race going on, and it would cost $20 to go out on to the salt flats… I told her I actually had to get back to the gas station because I had ordered lunch… and could I just take photos for now of the entrance way, and then come back after I had eaten (at which point I would pay to enter the area). She said yes, and directed me where to park.IMG_2372IMG_4629

After these photos I headed back to the cafe and had my lunch…. I also ordered a sweet lassi to drink with it.

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All of it was very tasty, but unfortunately the cook had undercooked the chicken thighs (my favorite part of the chicken too)… so he took it back in to have it cooked some more, and the chef for some reason opted to deep-fry it, meaning I still couldn’t eat it (not allowed deep-fried food).

And that’s when I suddenly had an urge to go to the bathroom (as in I really needed to poop all of a sudden). While there, for some reason…  I had the very bad luck of getting seriously sick. I was sitting on the toilet, pooping, and that black veil dropped in front of my eyes warning me that I was about to pass out. I put my head between my knees, started shaking and sweating really badly (as in heavy drops of sweat were falling off my forehead onto my glasses)… while sitting in what I knew was a cool room. I tried to stand up a few times and almost passed out each time, forcing me to sit again, and put my head right back between my knees… I tried pulling my pants up, but didn’t have the strength to do it. I was forced to ask a complete stranger to help me get my pants up. She, however, didn’t speak english; so, I asked her to please get someone who could — she spoke enough to understand that. It took her a while but she brought a guy from the shop, who translated to her what I wanted, while asking me if he should call 911, but warning me that the hospital was very far away and it could take them 20 minutes to get there. I told him not to. She helped me, and then I staggered over to the sinks and held on to them, still shaking horribly. She opened the faucets and started splashing my head with cool water, which actually helped.

When I started to feel a bit better I staggered over to the restaurant, paid my bill (poor guy must have thought I’d run out on it), sat at a table and put my head down on it and just stayed like that for about 20 minutes…. then with baby steps I got back to the car… guzzeled water I had there and waited for my head to clear so I could drive the almost 2 hour drive… I was actually pretty proud of myself all things considered

As such, I was only really able to glance at the salt flats before forced by illness to head directly towards my next hotel where I could rest … because to quote The Bard, “discretion is the better part of valor” —Henry IV, Part I, and while I am aware he meant it as a joke, I prefer its idiomatic usage, because it has a great deal of truth to it.

Anong’s Thai Cuisine: Rawlins, WY

Reputed to be the best restaurant in town according to yelp (and apparently part of a chain with branches in Laramie and Cheyenne)… I was hoping to find buffalo somewhere in town, but no such luck… As soon as you sit you get a small cup of Thai chicken soup with rice, with tones of lemon grass and cilantro …very tasty

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My Tum Yum came, it was big enough for a meal, and it had the sort of heat where on the first spoonful you don’t notice it, then on the 2nd its just very mild, and then that gets more intense with each spoonful— just like what I had in Thailand.

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In fact its one of the BEST Tum Yum soups I’ve had since Thailand. Then I had the chicken Lard Nah… this was the weakest dish of the meal. It was swimming in a soup rather than in thicker gravy… not sure what was up with that… and just not all that tasty. Also the noodles weren’t anything I was used to.

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For dessert I had the sticky rice with mango.

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This was a large chunk of sticky rice with a warm coconut cream gravy, one of the smallest 1/2’s of a mango I’ve ever seen and a dollop of whipped cream (??) … good but not great.

All in all a very respectable Thai place that would succeed even in Chicago with all the competition it’d face there… in Rawlins, I don’t doubt that it’s the best food in town.

Adelaide Australia

I was only in Adelaide for about two and a half days (arrived Feb 15th, around dinner time, left Feb 18th, 2018, around noon), and most of that time was spent convalescing (from the massive concussion I was suffering), so I really didn’t get to see more than glimpse of the place. That said, I would happily go back again. It’s the sort of city that’s big enough to have a bit of everything you’d want in a city, but not so crowded that you can’t find a parking space. (Sort of like Evanston, IL, or Chattanooga, TN) — also not many photos were taken

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The first night we were there my travel buddy (who is an Aussie himself) walked me over to the “Rundle Mall” partly just to see it, but also because we needed to run by the local Target (yes Australia has this chain too) in order to pick up REALLY BASIC things the Airbnb host had not thought to provide for us, and I’m talking pillows and towels sufficient for two people. (This Airbnb sucked so bad that the sheets on the bed didn’t pass the sniff test — not by a long shot — for having been washed after the last guest had left.)

Oh, and he told me that in Australia the term ‘a mall’ tends to refer to a human-traffic only shopping street (cars are excluded), which may or may not be covered, as if not more often than it means a massive indoor shopping town, as it almost always does in the USA. An arcade by comparison isn’t a place full of games, but rather it’s something like the picture below (which is closer to an American idea of a mall, only it seems to be one walkway with shops on each side)fullsizeoutput_41c4.jpegThis sculpture located in mall and according to my  is fairly iconic to Adelaide, and is titled, A day out. I only took the one picture, but it actually consists of a four different pigs scattered about….

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If you look carefully at the bench where the guy is sitting and talking on his phone, below it is a 2nd pig….

Alongside the pigs statue (I’m blanking on the correct word, I’m finding my ability to recall words is still not back to 100% even though it’s almost six months since my accident)… OH, remembered it… the ‘art-term’ I was searching for was an installation, since it’s actually a collection of statues rather than one.

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Adjacent to the pig statues stood this group of protestors, the screens were all showing a movie that demonstrated the conditions of pigs on farms, including how they were killed, and the squeals. The protesters stood there silently. Add the two things together and you really do essentially have a performance art piece… even if it wasn’t what was intended by the artist of the pigs.fullsizeoutput_41c3

This art piece is another Adelaide landmark called either Mall’s Balls (I have a feeling this is Aussie humor), or ‘the spheres’ that serves as a meeting spot for people.

(the google map refuses to embed, so please check this link for the location)

Personally, it reminded me as an inferior version of Chicago’s (my home town) Cloud Gate, affectionately referred to, and better known as “the bean” — in fact I doubt most Chicagoans could tell you the proper name.

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During my time there I ate at one fairly decent restaurant, a Japanese place called Gyoza-Gyoza, which is apparently a local chain Japanese Izakayas (sort of the Japanese version of a pub, where folks come after work to drink and eat).

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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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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.

The Joys of Convenience Store Food in Japan

When you think of convenience stores you generally don’t think of them as a great place to pick up an affordable meal. I don’t know about you but when I see the plastic wrapped food options in their refrigerated cases, or the hot food on display, I tend to worry about food poisoning first, and consider just how desperate I am for food second, and then tend to go for something processed and in a bag instead… like a bag of chips. Except when I’m in Japan, in Japan I actually opt for convenience store food when looking for cheap eats.

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In Japan convenience stores are pretty much everywhere, with about 50,000 of them scattered throughout the country, and they are sort of famous across Asia for the quality of their eats. For example: the other week, my favorite former teaching assistant (from when I was professor in Korea a few years ago) was in town for a few days. (I had told him I was intending to come here after Australia and he had asked if he could tag along for a few days.) This being his first time here, one of his “while in Japan” priorities was to eat convenience store food… I shit you not. Sure, Korea is chock a block with convenience stores, and even has 7-eleven’s of it’s own; and Korean convenience stores have food too…  that will keep you from starving to death and will fill you up in a pinch, but the whole time I was working there I never heard anyone describe them as a first choice for a meal. (And most of the time what I saw folks eating at them were cup a noodles or some other processed and or frozen food warmed up … not generally the ready made stuff (of which there was very little to choose from anyway — probably a catch 22 situation).

By comparison in Japan you’re as likely see teenagers and young adults dropping into a convenience store to pick up a quick meal (which they’ll usually eat at home) as you are to see them dropping into a McDonalds or a any other fast food chain, and by extension the offerings are extensive. While there they’ll pick up freshly cooked but refrigerated meals out of the refrigerators, baked goods, etc., with the same confidence as we would buying precooked foods from the grocery stores’ deli sections.

The concept was brought to Japan in 1974 by 7-Eleven, a brand that started in Texas, and as is true with all other imports the Japanese made it their own, to the point of buying out the brand entirely (the company is now owned by the Japanese, and there are more of them in here than anywhere else, in fact 31% of all their stores world wide). Nowadays, there are essentially three major chains, 7-eleven, Lawson (which like 7-eleven began as a US brand, but the brand name is now owned by the Japanese and the US stores were bought out by, and now called Dairy Mart), and FamilyMart (the only chain to originate in Japan).

Of the three, my favorite is Lawson where a) pretty much everything they sell is in my opinion much tastier than the equivalent at the other two chains

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… but also, and most importantly for me, b) Lawson’s cooked foods tend to have English descriptions on them (making my life a tone easier).

IMG_0766IMG_0767They also sell these little packets of chicken in various calorie sizes… I recently tried the smoked chicken tenderloin one for 37 calories … and oh dear lord it’s tasty and moist! Last year a friend of mine had decided to just throw money at the problem of not having enough time or energy to cook for the twenty people she’d invited to thanksgiving dinner, and had purchased a whole smoked turkey from one of those catalogue food companies (like Williams– Sonoma), which turned out to be “to die for”!!!! This bit of chicken in plastic from Lawson’s was almost that good… and it’s from a convenience store!!IMG_0765

And while under normal circumstances I would NEVER buy something like cooked fish from a 7-eleven in the states, I have purchased it from Lawson’s, and it was good.IMG_0764

by comparison, 7-eleven for the most part does NOT put English on most of their food packets (except for the kcal which, happily for me, the Japanese seem to always list with the western alphabet); what is there is sort of a mission statement about how great their food is, rather than anything useful.IMG_0768.JPG

That and, like I said before, the few things where I’ve compared 7-eleven’s product with the comparable Lawson’s one, I preferred the flavor of Lawson’s food.

The only product where the ‘rule’ about English labeling doesn’t seem to hold up is on Sandwiches, where 7-eleven DOES put an English description and Lawson’s does not

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For the most part I find the FamilyMart brand to better than 7-eleven in flavors, but not quite as good as Lawson in most things… and they rarely use English descriptions on their products either.

Also, if you’re in Japan, needing to pick up some cash, and not able to find a bank ATM that will accept international bank cards, every ATM I’ve looked at that’s in any of the three chains accepts international cards. I haven’t used them, so I don’t know if there are any extra fees involved.

An interesting factoid that most travelers will never need to use: I’ve read that, because of their omnipresence in Japanese cities of all sizes, anyone who needs police protection such as battered wives, can run to one any convenience store and the clerks are tasked with protecting them till the police arrive.

Found this good video on the topic:

 

Momotaro Japanese Restaurant; Chicago, IL

Some friends and I went to dinner at the Momotaro Japanese restaurant, which is considered by the Chicago Tribune’s food critic as the 5th best restaurant in Chicago (with 50 eateries in the list). And overall I was seriously impressed. It was GREAT Japanese food at really reasonable prices.

Over the last 5 years I’ve either been S. Korea, or dealing with family stuff, or traveling. Apparently, during that time Chicago — my home town — had undergone a food revolution that I took no part in. Recently I’ve been reading these lists talking about how Chicago was one of the best restaurants towns in the US, only I’d not only never eaten at any of the ones on the list, I hadn’t even heard of them.

So when some married friends and I decided to have dinner, I really wanted to try one of the restaurants on the list… as it was a Sunday (and most of the best places are closed Sunday nights) that immediately limited our options, and then there had to be things on the menu that I could eat. Finally we thought about how hard or difficult it might be to find parking. Ultimately we narrowed the list to Momotaro, Longman and Eagle, GT fish & Oyster, & lula cafe…. but ultimately picked Momotaro because they had Mentaiko Spaghetti on their menu.

For those who have never spent any real time in Japan, this is the Japanese version of Spaghetti, the CHEAP kind, the kind you find in train stations and school cafeterias. Instead of tomato sauce the fish is covered in the cheapest fish eggs out there. I did a summer internship once for a Japanese company in Tokyo, and we’d have this every Wednesday for lunch… I thought it was the most disgusting thing ever… so seeing it on the menu of a restaurant that was supposed to be among the top 5 in Chicago, amused me no end.

MENTAIKO SPAGHETTI….. tokyo specialty, organic egg, chili spiked cod roe

So Momotaro’s it was going to be … because you know, Japanese cafeteria food at $18 a serving….

But ultimately, it turned out to be a Mea culpa moment for me … let’s just say that IF the spaghetti with fish eggs at the company cafeteria had tasted ANYTHING like what we had, I’d have been chomping down on it with relish… when I took my first mouthful I actually yelled out, “OH MY GOD!!!” it was an orgasm of the mouth… unfortunately we forgot to take any photos of it before we ate it… but I STRONGLY suggest ordering it if you go there… it was amazing!

There was also an equally amazing seaweed salad called “Ogo” made with all sorts of seaweeds and edible kelp I’d never tasted before, apparently flown in specially from Hawaii … “Hawaiian seaweed, nopales, konbu” … again no photos, but probably the best seaweed salad I’d ever had. It was so good we were tempted to order seconds.
I also had a very tasty, but not mind blowing, CHAWAN MUSHI; while it’s normally one of my very favorite Japanese dishes, a sort of steamed egg custard dish often served at breakfast ….. and while this one was made with with alaskan king crab, black truffle
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I have to admit it didn’t rock my boat. They had made it more complicated but not better
Then we had the “WILD ALASKAN SALMON DON BURI” ….. yuan yaki salmon, smoked roe, simmered spring vegetables … which was also very tasty.
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This was also very good, but again didn’t amaze me anywhere near as much as the seaweed salad had.
This was followed by:
CEDAR ROASTED KURODAI…..whole sea bream, yakumi, shiso dressing
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And we also had this… only I don’t think it was on the regular menu…
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All in all it was some of the best Japanese food I’d ever had. Dishes were “elevated” without being westernized, which is is a pretty impressive feat to pull off. I would HAPPILY eat here again.

Anh Hong Restaurant; Orlando, FL

Great and affordable Vietnamese food!

Initially I found this restaurant on a Orlando Newspaper’s list of “things you must do in Orlando before you die” which was aimed at locals rather than tourists. It said you HAD to try the Bánh mì at Anh Hong’s restaurant (otherwise known as,’Vietnamese sandwich,’).  These sorts of subs, hoagies or po’boys (depending on what part of the US you come from) have become all the rage recently, and have resulted in mom and pop joints springing up in major cities that have been giving the chains Subway and Jimmy Johns a run for their money nationwide.


There are MANY vietnamese places in Orlando’s ChinaTown area (which is essentially all along Colonial Drive), this would be the one that the Vietnamese go to (I had this on the authority of theVietnamese guy who runs a  grocery store there).
I went there maybe three or four different times, even though it was no where near where I was staying, and took along friends who were locals (who have kept going). The food there is highly affordable, tasty, fresh, and like I said, not geared towards western pallets. The menu extends far beyond the sandwiches to include all of your Vietnamese favorites, such as Pho, etc.,.