Another World

It goes without saying that Hong Kong is quite different than Nashville. They drive on the opposite side of the road, there are 7 million people within a fairly small space (& 95% of those people are Chinese) and there are lots of foods I’ve never seen before. But for the most part, I didn’t feel completely out of place. Mainly because there are plenty of other people wondering around that don’t look so different than me, signage is in English, and most of the hotel staff speak at least some English.
You could say I had a fairly smooth transition in my first 24 hours. Then I boarded a plane to Wenzhou, China. For the next 8 days I was in another world –sights, sounds, experiences and flavors that I won’t soon forget.

I don’t have time right now to explain all of it, so I’ll just focus on the food-related experiences because that’s what most of you are here for anyway!

Words cannot adequately describe what I felt upon entering my first restaurant in Wenzhou. I had never seen anything like it. Anything. The long room was filled with rows and rows of plated food on display, fish tanks with live fish, squid, snails and eels, and a dozen restaurant staff members that were watching my every move. Not knowing where to begin or what to do, with no less than 15 sets of eyes upon me, it was all a bit disconcerting to say the least.

Our hosts for the evening were two of our factory contacts, one of whom spoke no English (a sign of my week ahead) and the other that spoke very little. Samuel and Eric did their best to explain the foods to me, but since they didn’t know the English word for many items and most foods were so completely foreign to me, I eventually just gave up and let them choose everything.

And this is how it works: a member of the staff follows you around with a notepad, marking down your choices as you peruse all of the items on display. That includes your own, very fresh, very live, seafood. Then you are led to a private dining room where your will be fed between 10-15 (!) dishes. I really don’t know how these people stay so thin. Every day I’ve been here this has been our lunch and dinner routine and I am now pleasantly plump.

Factory contact, me, and Samuel at our dining table, complete with “lazy susan” (as is standard)

Our menu at Cagnan Hotel in Wenzhou:
Boiled Peanuts
Sweet Potatoes (pictured below. yes, purple!)
Rice Patty with brown sugar (I really have no idea what this was or even how to describe it. See yellow discs on the table above)
Soft Shell Crab in Rice Wine
Bok Choy
Spicy Beef with Bean Sprouts

And last, but certainly not least, Raw Sea Cucumber (suprisingly one of the highlights of the entire trip). Served chilled, it had a chewy texture that I found delightful. The flavors of rice wine, wasabi and ginger in the soupy mixture were delicious.

Have you seen a sea cucumber before? Not exactly what I would call appetizing:

Actually it’s downright gross looking and if I had been asked if it’s something I wanted to try, I would have politely declined. This goes to show that looks can truly be deceiving!

Some other highlights of Wenzhou were my breakfast discovery of warm soybean milk, unlike any soy milk I’ve tried before, and “Dragon Eyes“, the Longan fruit. So very sweet and juicy, I wish I could transport some back to Nashville with me.

Oh, and I also tried pig ear and pig tail for lunch, but I can’t say those were really highlights!

Po Lin Monastery, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

I’m back! Well, not exactly…I’m still on another continent, but I’m back in Hong Kong which means I’m reconnected to the world! Little did I know when I left Hong Kong last Monday to travel into mainland China it would be my last chance for mass communication with all of you.

The reason? The Chinese government completely blocks Facebook, Twitter, and my own blog! Can you imagine?

I’ve taken over 700 photos and 9 notebook pages of notes so far, so prepare for an outpouring of information and photos from me this week. Right now it’s late here (after midnight) and I’m exhausted, so for now I’m just going to touch on some highlights of my arrival day in Hong Kong last Sunday.

After 23 hours of travel (Nashville to Toronto, Toronto to Vancouver, and finally the 13 hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong) I arrived at my hotel around 8 a.m. HK time. Amazingly, I was feeling pretty well rested from the sleep I got on my flight, so I hit the ground running with my unofficial tour guides, Samuel and Eric.

I guess I should explain that Samuel and Eric are Hong Kong natives and work for the sourcing company we use to do business in China. They have been my travel buddies all week and there is absolutely no way I could have made it through this trip without them. What better way to explore a new city/country than with the locals?!

Our first stop of the day was the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. Before climbing the 260+ steps to the big Buddha, we dropped into one of the vegetarian canteens on site for my first local meal.

Our meal: Soup made of mushrooms, bean curds and clear bean noodles; spring rolls; Chinese lettuce with mushrooms; fried tofu with citrus sauce; and my favorite, the mixed vegetable plate shown above. Asparagus, snap peas, mushrooms, peppers and cashews–yum!

Then we climbed.

Tian Tan Buddha (and me)

Next we visited Tai O fishing village. With houses built on stilts over the river and narrow lanes filled with vendors selling fresh and dried fish and many other foods, I got to see traditional Chinese living first hand.

As we wound through the streets, I sampled some bbq pork that was outstanding and shared a little snack of egg balls with the guys. Yes, I know, they don’t sound tasty, but as you can see from this sign, they ARE tasty.

Not at all what you would probably envision when you hear “egg balls”, they are actually similar to pancakes or waffles. They have a hint of coconut flavor- not too sweet, and very pillowy.

Egg Balls

After our excursion to Lantau Island, we made our way back into the Kowloon area of Hong Kong for dinner. I am not exaggerating when I say that it could not have been a more authentic, local experience. We followed a girl who didn’t speak English across a street, down an alley, through a dark hallway and storage area into a dining room that was bare bones in decor, but packed with locals of all ages.

Samuel and Eric washed our bowls, chopsticks, and spoon with hot tea explaining that although it should be clean, it is traditional to do this. Since they hadn’t done it at lunch when we were in a real restaurant, I was a tab bit apprehensive. Turns out I’m still alive and no strange stomach illnesses, so I guess there really was nothing to fear after all.

As to be expected given the environment, the menu was only in Chinese, so Samuel did all the choosing. The rundown of our meal:

Green vegetable in shrimp sauce (looked like green onion but didn’t taste like it)- this one was a bit too fishy tasting for me

Fried Octopus- Very Good!!

Oysters with ginger and green onion. My love for ginger continues with this dish, the best thing I’d eaten since arriving.

Sweet and Sour Pork with red and green peppers and pineapple. This one had alot of bone in it, and was pretty hard to eat. (More to come in later posts about the bone situation….)

After our dinner in what I’ll refer to as the “back alley restaurant”, we stopped into a tiny little shop where again there were no English translations anywhere to be found on the menu. The guys were really making sure I got the full local experience and I loved it!

Even after my protestations of being completely stuffed, Samuel ordered 4 desserts: Chesnut Paste, a thick, soup-like substance that was okay, but too thick for me to eat much of; a mango soup that was quite refreshing; what I think was a tofu pudding that I liked quite alot (congealed dish that looked like it had been made with a jello mold) , and then the one that I certainly hope I never try again, the Durian Pancake.

Durian pancakes have fresh cream and durian fruit wrapped in a glutinous rice “skin.” If you aren’t familiar with durian, don’t feel bad. I wasn’t either. Apparently it’s a fruit that smells something like sweaty socks. Some love it, many hate it. Hate is a strong word, but I have to say, I definitely don’t fall into the love category.

Durian Fruit

They didn’t tell me what I was tasting before I took a bite, instead making me guess. It tasted sweet and creamy, but something about it was a bit off. The only thing that came to mind was onions…but what dessert has onions in it? Well of course I was wrong. That strange taste was durian. As you can see from the photo below, I’m still smiling after experiencing it for the first time, so it couldn’t have been too terrible, just nothing I care to try again.

Now that I think about it, perhaps my smile was because I was silly tired at that point! No matter what, I wasn’t going to let one yucky dessert slow me down from tasting all that Hong Kong and China had to offer….

Don’t let this post fool you. I’m in China and when you are reading this, I’m most likely not blogging. I actually wrote it before I left and scheduled it to post today because I’ve been dying to share this Meatless Monday recipe with you for a long, long time.

These cute little hors d’oeuvres were something I made way back in December. Yes, December. I served them at my annual girlfriends after-Christmas party, but thought they would be more appropriately suited for a spring/summer blog post, so today you have it!

Once the bounty of fresh summer tomatoes hits, I’ll be whipping up batches of these for every cookout and party I go to! Enjoy~


Avocado Pesto Stuffed Tomatoes

Makes 30 appetizers. From Better Homes and Gardens.


30 cherry tomatoes (about 1-1/4 pints)
1/2 medium avocado, pitted, peeled and cut up
2 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp. homemade or purchased basil pesto
1 tsp. lemon juice
Snipped fresh basil


Cut a thin slice from the top of each tomato and a thin slice from the bottoms of the tomatoes so they stand upright. With a small spoon or small lemon baller carefully hollow out the tomatoes. Line a baking sheet with paper towels. Invert tomatoes on the towels. Let stand 30 minutes to drain.

Meanwhile, for filling, in a food processor bowl combine avocado, cream cheese, pesto, and lemon juice. Cover; process until smooth. Spoon filling into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round or open star tip. (if you don't have this, you can also just use a ziploc bag with a snip out of one corner)

Place tomatoes, open sides up, on a serving platter. Pipe filling into the tomato cups. Serve immediately or cover loosely and refrigerate up to 4 hours before serving. Sprinkle with snipped basil before serving.

Avocado on FoodistaAvocado

Today is the day. I’m lifting off to the other side of the world! For the next 2 weeks I’ll be eating my way across China. Here’s a little glimpse of the authentic Chinese food I’m excited to feast on:

Stay tuned……

Photo Credit: China Food Montage by the jerk

Food Ramblings

My brain is really fried this week so putting together words that form coherent sentences is difficult. I’ve got a million things on my mind, so at times like these, I make lists. Lists of things to do mostly, but today I made a list of all the places and things I’ve been eating the past couple of weeks. For some reason that sort of thing relaxes me.

Sake in Cool Springs
salmon sashimi is like buttah!

Cha Chah -
the smoked vinegar brussels sprouts are to die for

Las Paletas
couldn’t choose just one, so I got two!
Strawberries & Cream and Mint Chocolate

lots and lots of Pacific Pearls…

serious burger craving satisfied

Bread and Company
favorite salad, the Montrachet

The Dog of Nashville
one of my husband’s favorite warm weather spots

The Patterson House – twice ;-)
Spring menu has launched- go check it out!

Nashville Farmers’ Market -
I’ve been eating yummy cheese all week from The Bloomy Rind
(my friend Kathleen‘s new endeavor)

Suzy Wong’s House of Yum
the Asian Wonton Nachos and Peanut Sauce Chicken Salad just rock.

55 South in Franklin –
I don’t think I’ve mentioned their Bananas Foster Bread Pudding before have I?? Freaking AMAZING!

So that’s where I’ve been the last few days. How about you? Anything really awesome you want to share with me? C’mon, don’t be shy. Your food ramblings will be a nice break from the chaos that is my life at the moment!

Photo Credit: Yum Yum Food Ahead by arimoore

As you know, I’m leaving for China in a few days, and while I’m excited for my adventure, I’m also sad for what I’ll be missing out on here in Nashville. Next week one of my very favorite food events takes place– Nashville Scene’s Iron Fork!

Last year I had loads of fun hanging with some of my girlfriends and chowing down on a ridiculous amount of food. Click here to take a look back at my gluttony.

Chefs at last year’s competition
An impressive lineup of chefs will be competing for the Iron Fork this year, including Jeremy Barlow, who’ll be defending his championship title. Here’s a look at the competitors:

Chris Cunningham of Sunset Grill
Hal M. Holden-Bache of Eastland Cafe
Andy Hunter of Acorn
Jason McConnell of Red Pony, Sol, and 55 South
Jeremy Barlow of tayst

What: Iron Fork
When: Wednesday, April 21st
6 – 10 p.m.
Where: Country Music Hall of Fame
222 5th Ave South
Nashville, TN 37203

Tickets are $30 if you purchase by April 14th, and then increase to $40, so don’t delay- buy your tickets today by clicking here! For your money you’ll get 3 drink tickets and all the samples you can eat. Don’t miss out on what is perhaps THE culinary event of the year in Nashville!

A couple of weeks ago, a pack of Nashville’s finest food bloggers (me included!) descended upon Bravo Gelato in the Green Hills Village shopping center. This mission was not only to sample the goods, but to also try our hand in the kitchen creating our own gelato. And you know how it all came to be? The power of Twitter.

Originally I had planned to give you all the details of our fun afternoon, but my friend Erin over at Erin’s Food Files did a smashing job recapping the whole experience, so insist that you jump over there and read all about it!

Named the top gelato company in the country for 2009, it’s hard to believe this delightful gelato was not really on my radar until recently. As is the case with many things these days, it all began with Twitter. It’s been a few months since I last gave out one of my “Tweet Me Right!” awards,
but @BravoGelatoNash totally deserves to be recognized. Not only does he tempt us with tweets about exotic flavors that are being added to the case, but he often offers up discounts, and even asks what flavors we want to see. Noel (Mr. BravoGelatoNash) does it right by communicating with his customers. I know that doesn’t sound like rocket science but it never ceases to amaze me how many restaurants don’t acknowledge or follow back their audience!

Here’s something really incredible: If you give him the heads up in advance that you’ll be coming and let him know what flavor you want, he’s usually more than happy to oblige.

For that reason alone, you should follow him on Twitter.

In addition to heeding my advice to become a Twitter follower, you should stop by sometime and sample all the tasty flavors. My personal favorites are: Honey Peanut Butter, Fireball Cinnamon Bourbon, Popcorn, White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie Dough, Yazoo Stout, and the Maple Bacon we had a hand in creating that day.

Mmm, maple bacon!

As luck would have it, this Saturday would be the PERFECT day for you to enjoy a nice cold gelato. And it’s not just because of the warm weather we’ll have– you’ll also be able to contribute to a great cause!

The store is donating part of the proceeds from this Saturday’s sales to Hot Rod Hustlers, a Country Music Marathon running team. Noel’s friend’s father was diagnosed in July 2009 with Primary Central Nervous System (CNS) Lymphoma, a very rare form of cancer. His children formed this running team to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Here’s how it will work: One flavor in the case will change every 15 minutes, and that special flavor is FREE* with a donation. All other flavors will be regular price with a portion of the proceeds donated to the cause. An added bonus? At least one, and quite possibly a few, Tennessee Titans are coming in to help scoop!

I can think of no better way to spend a few minutes of your time on Saturday afternoon than eating some heavenly gelato and giving to this wonderful cause. Drop by and if you see me, say hello!!

Bravo Gelato
Village Green Shopping Center (inside Christie Cookie)
4117 Hillsboro Road
Nashville, TN 37215
(615) 297-0274

Photos courtesy of Erin @ErinsFoodFiles

Yesterday I mentioned that I’m always looking for ways to advance my skills in the kitchen, and free opportunities are especially nice. Well, it just so happens that such an opportunity is right around the corner.

If you were reading my blog last summer, you might remember the technique classes I so thoroughly enjoyed at Williams-Sonoma. If not, click here to take a look back.

It’s been a while since I’ve taken advantage of these free demos, but this month’s healthy cooking series is right up my alley. Unfortunately since I’ll be gone the latter half of the month, I can only attend the first one. As luck would have it, it’s the topic that interests me most- Seafood!

Free education and free food– what’s not to love? I’m all over it. Who wants to join me?

Healthy Cooking Class Schedule

Sunday, April 11th: Seafood
- how to properly select seafood
- cooking it using seasonings, marinades and accompaniments
- demo using the grill and the griddle

Sunday, April 18th: Vegetables
- new and exciting ways to cook vegetables
- creative ways to present the finished dishes
- how to use a food processor to transform ordinary vegetables into extraordinary main dishes, side dishes and snacks

Sunday, April 25th: Chicken
- how to select chicken; differences between organic and free-range
- how to truss and quarter a chicken
- preparing perfect roast chicken and other tasty dishes by using healthier cooking techniques

Green Hills Mall
2126 Abbott Martin Rd
Nashville, TN 37215
(615) 292-5066

*Classes at this store are from 2 pm – 3 pm

Cool Springs Galleria
1800 Galleria Blvd
Franklin, TN 37067
(615) 771-0427

Call your local Williams-Sonoma store to find out the time of the class and sign up, as space is limited!

Don’t live in Nashville? To locate the store nearest you, click here.