Category Archives: travel

Turkish breakfast


Oh Turkish breakfast, how I have missed you!!

For my first breakfast in Istanbul this trip, I visited Piraye Kahvalti Restaurant in Kadikoy ( the “asian side” of Istanbul). It was recommended by several food nerdy websites, but I was convinced to go when I saw they offered an Izmir breakfast set. Izmir is on the Aegean coast of Turkey and the cuisine is characterized by an ample use of local produce and fresh, wild herbs and vegetables. The Aegean Coast of Turkey is one of my favorite spots in the country so far, and I was looking forward to having some of the same great dishes Steve and I shared when we spent time in Ayvalik last year.

This breakfast set (15 Turkish Lira, about $5) came with the standard sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, two types of olives, and bread of most Turkish breakfasts. It also had a couple of slices of white cheese from Izmir, olive oil with herbs, pepper paste with walnuts, crumbled cheese with walnuts, poppy seed paste, and a fresh fragrant “gypsies salad.” The salad was a tumbled mix of crumbly cheese, small chunks of tomato, peeled cucumber and raw zucchini, topped with a mound of a variety of herbs, including dill and parsley. Super refreshing. Add in several cups of the ubiquitous tea and the whole heysap came to 19.50 Turkish Lira (about $9.25). A steal.

Japan Recap

hanami edit

Hanami at Yoyogi Park

Yes, we’ve been back from our trip for awhile, but man, I have caught the Japan bug again. Big time. This was my second time in Japan and I’m kind of ready for a third time around. There is just so much to see, discover, and eat and always in such a pleasant and sensible atmosphere.

Days in Japan:  19

Cities Visited:  Tokyo, Takayama, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and a relatively unmemorable suburb of Osaka.

Most days in one city:  Fukuoka, where we spent 10 days.

Best money spent:  Every single yen spent on food. The Japan Rail shinkansen passes. Our one night in a ryokan in Takayama, complete with semi-private onsen bath.

Favorite Japanese hotel chain:  My Stays, hands down. Larger than most (relatively speaking) and most clever use of limited space. Also, a desk and chair. Score.

tail yakitori

bonjiri (tail) yakitori at Hatchibei, Fukuoka

hide beef

Hide beef on a magnolia leaf. A local speciality, served at our ryokan in Takayama

yaki onigiri

Yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls) with shiso leaf at Hatchibei, Fukuoka.

seared sushi

Plate of sushi, including seared sushi, from Sushi Maru at Tsukiji Fish Market, Tokyo.

Favorite dishes:   Tsukemen ramen from Rokurinsha at Tokyo station. Chicken tail and pork belly yakitori at Hatchibei in Fukuoka. Seared salmon at Sushi Maru at Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.

Worst food : This is tough. Nearly everything we ate was amazing. Probably the worst was the random sea snail, in shell, in my train station bento box. It tasted exactly like you’d expect a sea snail to taste.

Favorite places to get food:  Train stations, department stores and convenience stores. Was this the best food? Sometimes, not always. But I could always easily get what I wanted without too much of a language barrier.

What I missed out on doing this time:  Tea ceremony, visiting cocktail bars in Tokyo (boo illness), and eating at a yatai in Fukuoka. Fukuoka is one of the few places in Japan where street food is still allowed. The yatai are temporary street food stalls that open at night all around the city. They typically specialize in one type of food.

Number of bowls of ramen (NOT including tsukemen):  12

Number of bowls of ramen, including tsukemen:  14

Number of times extra noodles were ordered:  3 (twice for steve, once for me)

ramen montage

Just a few bowls of ramen. Top left, clockwise: Tsukemen dipping noodles, spicy miso ramen, tonkotsu ramen with mizuna, black garlic tonkotsu ramen, Hide beef ramen, and super orderly ramen from Ichiran.

ramen stadium

Our favorite ramen in the Ramen Stadium at Canal City, Fukuoka.

tiny gyoza

Teeny tiny gyoza, served everywhere ramen is served in Fukuoka. Often comes with either hot mustard or yuzu pepper.

What I’ll miss:  Ubiquitous and orderly convenience store and train stations. Eating onigiri for breakfast. Matcha everything. Hot drinks from vending machines. Green Dakara (a vitamin hydration water). Ramen. What we have in San Francisco is generally crap compared to nearly every bowl I ate in Japan, especially in Fukuoka.

Most surprising:  The provocative dress of 80% of young females in Fukuoka. The prevalence of dachshunds. That most Japanese people could actually speak English quite well, but were often too shy to do so at first. Alcohol helped with this.

Least surprising:   How often we were excited to see something new, that we didn’t know existed.

yakitori grill

Yakitori grill master.

the doors sake

The Doors loved nihonshu?

tory highball

Tory’s whiskey highball. Classy stuff.

Beer situation:  Again, lots of lagers, like Sapporo, Asahi, and Orion. We went to a pretty cool craft beer bar in Tokyo, and managed to find some local brews in the hot springs town of Takayama. I was down with a cold for most of the trip, but once I felt better, I drank sake or Tory whiskey highballs.

Least favorite:  Hands down, the feeding time at the monkey park in Kyoto. It was super weird, yes, but panic-inducing for this devout monkey-hater. I think this was Steve’s favorite moment. And probably the favorite for our two friends Pete and Kimra who visited with us. Have I mentioned what a good friend I am?

Most frustrating :  Not being able to communicate with people OR easily read menus. The latter issue meant that we had to plan a fair bit more than we typically like to with eating. Wandering around trying to find a place that we could order at easily without English (typically yakitori, sushi or ramen) or searching for a place with an English menu was tiring and sometimes frustrating. Not being able to talk to locals was equally frustrating. Japan is an amazing country and I really would have loved to chat more with locals, especially at restaurants about the food. Not surprisingly then, some of my favorite moments were those that involved English-speakers.


girl at monkey Park

Favorite moments:  Hanami (the specific term for picnicking under cherry blossom tress during sakura season) at Yoyogi park on Sunday. Successfully finding Sushi Maru at Tsukiji, and having one of the best sushi meals of my life, all while the chumps were still waiting in line at Sushi Dai.

Our night out at Bar Oscar in Fukuoka, where we sidled up next to a nice Japanese business man, who turned out to not only speak English, but also worked for Suntory. We spent the next four hours chatting in broken English, buying us rounds of Suntory whiskies and American bourbon and showing us a photo album of his trip to the distilleries in Scotland with the bar owner, Shuuichi.

The insane Japanese businessman business card exchange we witnessed on our very last night in Japan, at a wine bar outside a suburban Osaka train station. We made a bee-line for the place after I saw that they had Blanton’s bourbon on the menu (technically it was “Branton’s Bourbon” on the menu). There was no menu, which meant we had to guess what kind of food they might be able to make us. We ordered a delicious om-rice and curry, and chatted with the bartender, sometimes in English, sometimes in French (he had been a sommelier in Paris for 3 years). After a bit, a group of businessmen trickled in to watch the opening home game of the Osaka Tigers. We’re not entirely sure what happened, but one guy was very excited to see the other and a 5-way business card exchange, replete with bowing, ensued.

 That sums up Japan. Totally confusing and completely charming. Thanks, Japan. You are awesome.
night out fukuoka

Our favorite Suntory rep.

Ooo la la

escargot at market

Yep. 2013 is truly my Year of Travel. Heading to France for 2 weeks, this time with my mother. The last time I was in Paris, it was about 10 degrees out, so this time around, we are looking forward to picnicking and driving ice cold rose. Oh, and cider, as we will also be in Normandy. As usual, I’ll post photo updates on Instagram, so follow along if you’d like!

And let me know if you have any tips for Normandy or Paris places!

Au revoir!

One Benjamin


Mangosteens: Queen of Fruit. Ubud, Bali.

Just in time for Independence Day, I’m finally back in the USA after over 35,000 miles flying around the world. Actually, more accurately, I’m back just in time for the World Domination Summit 2013 in Portland, Oregon.

Last year, the conference was awesome, and I wrote about it. Here. Last year, the organizers of this conference of non-conformists also made the insane gesture of giving away the profits of the conference to the attendees. Insane, I tell you. So I’ve had this $100 bill sitting around since then, and before I set off for my round the world trip of awesomeness, I decided to invest in myself. By buying fancy ass travel paintbrushes. With which I painted these things.

The trip was always intended to be a semi-working trip. When your business and leisure interests (i.e. food and drink) line up so well, that’s a no brainer. I already had a travel watercolor set, and these brushes allowed me to actually have nice brushes to you know, paint with.

While I didn’t paint as much on the trip as I intended, I am positively brimming with ideas and inspiration from eating my way through Asia and Europe.





So when the amazing ramen diagrams and kebab illustrations make their debut, you have Chris Guillebeau and the generosity of the World Domination Summit to thank.

Friday Wednesday o’clock : Bali Edition


If you followed any of my social internets as of late, it should be no surprise that Bali was not my favorite stop on this world tour. The reasons are many and have no place sullying this lovely cocktail post. Whatever its faults, Bali did, however, provide easy access to mangosteens AND drove us to kill a bottle of Knob Creek we picked up at duty free on the way in. Add in a little palm sugar, and you have a super easy and delicious Balinese old-fashioned that anyone can make – just follow these simple steps.

Step 1: Spend ample time in Muslim countries, with high booze tax and shitty beer, such that you are chomping at the bit for something tasty.

Step 2: Search through each of the duty free shops at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, hoping to find a better bourbon than Jack Daniels* or Jim Beam. Successfully locate a bottle of Knob Creek. Rejoice.


Step 3: Arrive in Ubud, realize you’ve made a huge mistake in your choice of destinations, and urgently seek out mangosteens, because at least you KNOW you love them.

Step 4: Enter the Ubud market, politely demur offers to purchase batiks, junky bracelets, and penis-shaped wooden bottle openers, and make your way to the old lady selling mangosteens.

Step 5: Ask how much, wait until she pulls out 40,000 Indonesian rupiah (about $4 USD/kilo). Playfully scoff, because you know this is the tourist price, and locals pay closer to 20,000-25,000/kilo. Offer 25,000. Accept her counter-offer of 30,000. Also accept the 2 tiny bananas and 3 rambutans she stuffs into your bag with the mangosteens, likely as a peace offering for charging you so much…. relatively speaking.


Step 6: Walk along the streets of Ubud, searching for sugar while politely declining the constant offers for a taxi ride from the men lining the street. Keep your eyes on the ground, because the sidewalks are often broken, and lead straight down into a deep cement gutter.

Step 7: Locate a tiny stall selling spices, AND PALM SUGAR!! Spot a teeny tiny puck of palm sugar, smaller than an actual hockey puck. Have your husband handle this negotiation. She says it is 30,000 ($3 USD). Insanity. Husband counter-offers with 10,000 which is still far too much, but you NEED that sugar, and she accepts.

Step 8: Realize you need ice.

Step 9: Realize the closest ice would require a 15-minute walk down the street, the same street with the taxi touts and crumbling sidewalk, and that you are already drenched with sweat.

Step 10: Remember that you have your bourbon chilling in the hotel room fridge, and decide that cocktails are good even without ice.

Step 11: Make up the recipe. ***

Step 12: Sip joyfully and plan your return to Malaysia.

*yes, I know Jack Daniel’s is technically Tennessee whiskey, not bourbon. Duty free shops, however, do not recognize this distinction.

**lest you believe we are penny-pinchers, bargaining is expected here, as in most parts of SE Asia.

*** Balinese Mangosteen Old Fashioned.
Serves 2

+ 4 oz bourbon

+ teaspoon sized chunk of palm sugar (can sub in regular sugar but it will in no way be as delicious)

+ 2 spoonfuls of water

+ 1 mangosteen

Dissolve palm sugar chunk in water in glass. Stir until it mostly dissolves.

Plop mangosteen segments into second glass. Smush around with a spoon.


Divide mangosteen pulp and palm sugar water evenly into two glasses.

Add 2 oz bourbon to each glass. Top up with a bit of water to dilute slightly (or add ice instead if you’ve got it.)




Vietnam impressions

Our early escape from “paradise” (aka Bali) to Malaysia gave us some needed time to gather our thoughts, upload photos, and eat cheap Indian food before heading out to the next stage of our trip, Europe.

I can hardly believe our time in Asia is up, but I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit I’m totally ready to move on. The pushiness of folks in KL and Singapore, the unrelenting heat, and one too many Air Asia flights has led me to proclaim “I’m done” more than a few times in the last few days. (I also brazenly cut in front of someone at 7-11 today. And was proud of it. SE Asia can do funny things to you.) But obviously it wasn’t all bad. I mean, come on.

An Bang beach. Hoi An, Vietnam

Biding our time in the business class lounge* at the Singapore Changi Airport, waiting to board our flight to Copenhagen (and then onto Istanbul after a Beer and Brats Layover in Munich), has proven to be a great time to reflect on the good and bad of the last few months. First up in the memory chamber? Vietnam.

Days spent in Vietnam: 21

Cities visited: We did the South to North “H” tour — Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon), Hoi An, Hue, Hanoi, and Halong Bay.

Most days in one city: 7, in Hoi An.

Favorite place: Hoi An. Touristy? Absolutely. But stay a bit outside of the UNESCO world heritage area, bike to the locals’ Tiger market and the two lovely beaches. Eat great food. Take an amazing cooking class (see below).

Least favorite place: Hue. Totally uncharming and shadeless, with agressive (though beard-­loving) trishaw drivers. Great soup though.

Favorite new food discovery: Tie, cao lao noodles and sinh to, both in Hoi An.


The chewy cao lao alkaline noodles, doused in a thin curry broth and topped with herbs, pork, and crackling, are most often compared to udon…by dumb­dumbs. Yes, the noodles are thick like udon, but the texture? All ramen. More specifically, the thick yellow tsukemen ramen noodles.


The sinh to was the first taste I had on the fabulous Taste of Hoi An Street Food tour, and was absolutely something I would have never tried on my own. Not because there was anything exceptionally weird in this refreshing drink/sundae: chunks of papaya, mango, pineapple, dragonfruit, coconut jelly, avocado, cherries, topped with condensed milk, crunchy toasted coconut shavings, and shaved ice. It’s just that the last ingredient that would have turned me off from trying it on my own. Water and ice are minefields in many South East Asian countries, and Vietnam is no exception. Our guide, an affable Australian who retired to Hoi An years ago, assured us that the Vietnamese wouldn’t eat anything that would make them sick, and that this ice was safe for us as well. And it was. And holy crap, was that sinh to delicious.

Other food highlights: the super clear consomme­like pho broth from a stall in Ben Than market in Saigon. The other bahn mi lady’s egg sandwiches in Hoi An (NOT Anthony Bourdain’s favorite Phuong — which was still excellent), on the side of the road on the way to Tiger Market. The bun bo hue at in Hue. The coffee across the street from the Danang train station. Dry pho noodles from street vendor in Hanoi. Bun cha Hanoi across the street from our hotel on Ma May in Hanoi. Passionfruit lassi in Hanoi. Egg coffee in Hanoi.

Worst food: The foul­-smelling bahn mi across the street from the Danang train station. The “famous” bahn xeo from a place in Saigon.

Beer situation: Lager, but cheap. We tried them all.

Advantage over other countries: Relative to the other countries we visited, Vietnam’s markets were pretty amazing. Super fresh food and a discerning, food-obsessed nation made for beautiful and lively markets.




Most surprising: Another tie. First, how much Hanoi had changed in only four years. When we visited in 2009, it felt very much like a locals town, with little tourist­focused business. Four years later, we were astounded to hear the booming bass and see hoardes of gap­year backpackers pouring out of the numerous youth hostels in the Old Quarter. I nearly lost it when I saw bahn mi doner kabob vendors lining the street. All this increase in tourism meant that we were much more “on display” as tourists this time around, and continually hassled.



Second most surprising experience: I got tired of Vietnamese food! I ADORE Vietnamese food. Ive generally declared it as my favorite cuisine for years, and after 18 days, I was done. There is a repetition in Vietnamese flavors that can sadly get a little boring. Our last meal in Vietnam was at an Indian restaurant.

Least surprising: the traffic.

Highlight: Catching a squid in Bai Long Bay. It involved a lot of beer and waiting, followed by excited screaming and a very agitated squid being hurled into the boat, right towards a nice English girl’s face. I was the only lucky one that night.

Lowlight: Though it is a funny story now, in the moment, the train ride from Danang to Hue was a low­light. Cramped and filthy. Seats that leaned back into our laps. Bare feet on the armrests. And a 90 ­year old man in pajamas next to us, periodically peeing into a bottle held by his caretakers, and seemingly wheezing his last breaths. yeah. At least it was only $18 for both of us and the old man survived.

Best money spent: Another tie, between the­­ Halong Bay tour and Taste of Hoi An street food tour. As the tour was pretty pricey, only one of us went on it, but I was able to sample many dishes that I would not have had the knowledge or courage to sample without the tour. And then of course, Steve reaped the benefits as well.

Floating village, Bai Long Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay tours can be had for all price ranges, and was frankly super confusing and stresful to pick out a good one. Lots of stories about rats running around on deck and inedible food, along with lame guides. We opten for a more expensive one with Handspan, and it was simply amazing. We actually went to Bai Long bay, where there were no other tour boats. We kayaked around the bay, fished for squid, enjoyed happy hour, and a tour of the floating village.

Best value: Besides nearly everything that we put into our mouths, the best value was the Green Bamboo cooking class in Hoi An. 8 hour cooking class, with a small group of 8 people. Everyone picked their own dish from a list of 50+. We shopped for ingredients at market, and cooked every single dish. IT was incredibly thorough and I now know how to clean a squid, including removing the ink sac, spine and skin. Ample water and beer. And an INSANE amount of food. All for $35. (For a more eloquent write-up, check out our travel pals Jordan and Skyler’s review here) Really fabulous time. Runner up: Crazy delicious sloppy bahn mi in Hoi An. Like nothing I ever have in the US, drenched in homemade chili sauces.

Miss the most.: The deliciousness, cheapness (30 to 50 cents!) and ubiquity of Vietnamese coffee. That and the coconut man who saved me from passing out in Saigon.

*All on points, baby. Mileage credit cards and obsessive travel planning pay off. Big time. I just took a SHOWER at the airport. And then drank a glass of champagne.

Friday o’clock : Japan edition


My alcohol tolerance has taken an absolute nosedive since I came to Asia. The prevalence of bland rice lagers coupled with the fact that we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of time in Muslim countries (which have crazy-high taxes on alcohol) has meant we haven’t really been doing much drinking. Cue the violins.

After our lager-tour of Vietnam, we had a bit of a reprieve in the booze department when we arrived in Japan. Was it expensive there? Yes. Was I sick with a cold most of the time? Yes. Did we still manage to make some cocktails? Yes, indeed.


We arrived in Tokyo in late March, just as the cherry blossoms (sakura) hit full bloom. The whole country goes a bit sakura crazy. There are special sakura wagashi (little sweets meant to be eaten in traditional matcha tea ceremonies),cherry blossom onigiri, sakura mochi, sakura rice crackers, special sakura sparkling sake, and even sakura doughnuts at Krispy Kreme (no, I did not sample them. They were super pink and I don’t like doughnuts. Sue me).

We also kept seeing these bags of pink cherry blossoms in department store basements and markets. After the fifth time I picked up and put down a package, Steve finally forced me to spend the $3 and buy a package in the Kyoto Nishiki Market.


A little googling told me that I’d need to soak these salt-preseved blossoms before using them any way I wanted. And I wanted a cocktail.




This cocktail is unashamedly pink, girly, and sweet. Way sweeter that I normally go for, but I’m a dry cocktail-lover, and hell, it was springtime in Japan. Had I had any access to bitters, I would have added them, and have suggested as such here. The cherry blossoms provide a surprising amount of cherry flavor and aroma to the drink, even using only a few of them.

+ three or four preserved cherry blossoms
+ water for soaking
+ umeshu (the cuter the bottle, the better. See below)
+ club soda
+ cherry bitters

Soak your cherry blossoms in ample water for maybe 5 minutes or so. They are crazy salty.

Pour two parts umeshu into a glass. Add a few dashes of bitters if you’ve got them.

Plop in your cherry blossoms, and top with chilled club soda to taste.

Ideally, eat with some sakura mochi.




Not in Japan in the springtime? The internet to the rescue. Get your preserved cherry blossoms here or on Amazon.

What else to do with the cherry blossoms? Like I said, they are crazy salty. I had a thought to maybe grind them with a mortar and pestle and make a pretty interesting salt rim for a margarita (maybe with a dash of sour cherry juice?) They can als be used in cooking and baking — see these posts for more ideas. The cherry blossoms can also be rinsed and then soaked in hot water for a cherry blossom tea.

They are also just fun to look at. Right, Steve?


Hide the pork.


Hello from Penang, Malaysia! Where street food is omnipresent, nutmeg is a juice, and the butchers hide their pork. Yep.

As in many Southeast Asian countries, butchers hack up and proudly display their meats in local wet markets. You squeeze past them down the aisle, carcasses hanging inches away from you. Unlike most Southeast Asian countries, however, the pork butchers in Malaysia are hidden away, segregated from other vendors, in a porky ghetto. That’s because unlike most of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country. It is also a cultural mishmash of a country, more extreme than any other I’ve visited. So while there are Muslims throughout Malaysia (mostly Malay, South Indian, and Southern Thai), there are also huge populations of Chinese and other ethnic groups who, well, freaking love pork.

So walking through the wet markets, you immediately spot the lamb and beef butchers with their butcher blocks and cleavers, the chicken butchers with their cages full of live poultry waiting to meet their destiny, and the fishmongers, all with their meat proudly displayed inches from you. And no pork in sight.




Take a turn, pop over to another street, peer into a shophouse, and there it is. Delicious pink pork. In a spotlight of sunshine, but hidden away from the others.



For a more in-depth explanation and discussion of Islam, and pork, and markets, hop on over to Eating Asia.

Into the crevasse


Since embarking on the self-employed track three years ago, I’ve never really had a great sense of “time” or “days” or “dates.” That feeling is amplified when you’re traveling around from city to city, and country to country. So unsurprisingly, Steve and I had no idea that we had been traveling for over a month until our friends Pete and Kimra came out to join us for part of our Japan leg.

It simultaneously feels like we’ve been gone forever, and that we just left last week. Vietnam seems like a distant memory, and we were there 12 days ago.


Long-term travel is overall exciting, but transitioning from vacation-mode to traveler/worker mode has proved challenging. When you go on vacation, you make your plans ahead of time, and simply go full-force and soak it all up. Long-term travel means remaining flexible, and making travel plans several times a week. Booking a hotel, booking a flight, booking a train, and deciding where to go next all take time. More time than we anticipated.


Which is a big reason why I haven’t been doing as much arty work as I intended …. yet. I’ve been gathering inspiration everywhere. We’re slowly trying to get into a schedule as much as possible and I hope to be posting some artwork (and other tidbits) soon.


In our first month, we’ve acquired a lot more travel rules, and one of them is to simply stay put for a while. Not only does that let us really experience a city, but we also get to relax a bit. Rushing around from city to city, packing and re-packing, taking new transportation, and figuring out a new place can get exhausting. But I’m not an idiot, and I know how fortunate we are, rushing and stress included.

So for now, we are holed up in Fukuoka, a city in Kyushu, the southern-most main island of Japan. (And a mere hop, skip, and a jump away from South Korea, so all this North Korea business is very exciting. hrmmmm.) We’re spending 10 days here, which every Japanese person we’ve spoken to thinks is hilarious. But it is a great city, with convenient shopping and INSANE food. (This is no surprise if you’re following me on Instagram. Sorry if there is drool on your iPhone). It is ground zero for ramen, specifically tonkotsu ramen — that milky white pork bone broth affair that is the King of Ramen Broths (TM pending). We have been absolutely spoiled by the food here, and I don’t think I’ll enjoy a bowl of ramen in the US in quite the same way again.

After we’ve had our fill of ramen, gyoza, and nihonshu, we’re off to Penang for further food adventures. Stay tuned.


travel rule: follow the smell of grilling meat


After a few short days in Bangkok, we have made our way to Saigon, Vietnam. We’re still getting finding our footing with this new lifestyle, but even less than a week into our journey, we’ve started developing some of our own “travel rules.”

The first came about the other night. After spending a day on a pretty great food tour, complete with breakfast pho, market meanderings, and street food galore, we were pretty exhausted. After a siesta and a shower, we were eventually ready for dinner but didn’t really want to wander too far. There was a somewhat chi-chi restaurant only blocks away, which had garnered rave reviews both on TripAdvisor and from our new favorite Vietnamese chef, Luke Nguyen. It was expensive (for Vietnam) at least, but promised cocktails and a setting in a former opium distribution center. So, we set off.

Minutes later, we walked into a long hallway, dimly lit and lined with elephant statues, with a set of stairs at the end. A sign indicated that Temple Club was on the second floor, and there was another restaurant on the third floor. As we ambled up the stairs, we heard an increasing cacophony of voices, and a delicious aroma of grilling meat. We reached the landing with our intended restaurant to find a quiet, gorgeous looking restaurant. But the smell and voices were clearly coming from farther up. What the hell…. let’s check it out.


And boy am I glad we did. Within moments, the aggressive, but lovely hostess, clad in a San Miguel dress motioned for 4 staff members to carry over a plastic table and two chairs. Before we knew what we were in for, we were seated with enormous beers in our hands. The restaurant was a Vietnamese BBQ joint, on the rooftop of the building. We were there early, around 6:30, and the place was nearly full, mostly from two enormous parties of already drunk revelers. The music was booming and we really had no idea what was going on. Our table had a hot plate-type thing in the middle, and we quickly saw that it was a grill-your-own type place. We glanced around and placed our order.


The food was ridiculous — bo lo lat (ground beef wrapped in betel leaves and caul fat), lemongrass beef, banana flower salad and our standard order of rau muong (morning glory). But the night was awesome mostly from the atmosphere. At one point it started drizzling ever so lightly, and the the giant galvanized metal roof started gliding into place after customers started yelling and pointing. The staff was so incredibly well-oiled; no one in the restuarnt waited for anything, and there was constant scurrying.

And then there was the birthday celebration. The two large party tables were celebrating someone’s birthday. There were raucous cheers every few minutes, with shots of rice wine, beer, and whiskey being downed. About halfway through our meal, the staff started handing out sparklers to the two tables. The lights turned off. Soon after, “Happy Birthday” – in English – was blaring from the speakers. Sparklers were lit.


Two cakes appeared (the birthday boy was turning 28), and then another server came by and put overturned bowls on everyone’s food,and turned off our gas burners. Ummm.. what? About 20 seconds later, all of the staff (about 30 people) ringed themselves around the party tables, and timed precisely with the conclusion of “Happy Birthday”, popped confetti poppers into the air, streaming shiny confetti on everything.


Smart move with those bowls… After a quick cheer, Gangnam Style started. Lots of dancing as you might imagine, even from the adorable 4 year old boy at the family table. Cross cultural madness.

So maybe we would have had better food at Temple Club (though I don’t know how), and definitely would have had a more relaxing evening. But for us, following the smell of grilling meats and the sound of loud happy voices proved to make a most memorable evening. Thus, a new travel rule was born.

Follow the smell of grilling meat and loud voices.