Memosne: January 2012

Banana Leaf - Vancouver

I have a terrible story to tell with this restaurant review. As you all know, I've spent a year living in Taiwan and during the course of the year I've made many wonderful friends from all around the globe. Luckily enough, some of those friends were based in Vancouver and we've been hanging out ever since. However, a friend from abroad had decided to visit the Vancouver chapter of awesome, but he became sick while visiting. Long story short, he wasn't feeling very well and asked us for a light and non-greasy place to eat. As the resident foodie what did I suggest? BANANA LEAF. One of the heavier and greasier restaurants in Vancouver. WHY. I am a terrible person. 

Banana Leaf, oh dear. Hahaha! My family and I go to the one located on Broadway. =) Banana Leaf is one of the more decorated restaurants in Vancouver winning multiple restaurant awards for "Best Asian" and "Best South Asian" in The Georgia Straight, Vancouver Magazine, Westender, Courier and Where Magazine. In fact, they have so many awards stickers you practically can't see through their window. It's sort of reminiscent of those old fashioned suitcases that have all the stamps pasted on the outside showing where they've been. Only their restaurant suitcase is plastered with accolades from varying years. =)

As with many of the places I've reviewed in Vancouver, I've been going to this restaurant ever since I was little. My parents are on friendly terms with the owner and I've grown up eating their roti. Although the waitstaff has long since changed, the decor, the food, and the bustling atmosphere has always remained the same. 

The decor of the restaurant is really colorful and casual. The waitstaff are attired in Malaysian inspired uniforms, the walls are painted bright colors, and there are a myriad of "artifacts" from Malaysia hung up on the walls and displayed on the counters. The waitstaff are all polite and courteous, but because the restaurant is always so packed and busy they may forget about you. Don't be shy in asking for refills of water!

Now, onto the meal. 

Roti Canai/Roti Prata

On the menu Banana Leaf says that "Roti Canai" is "the Indian community's greatest culinary contribution to Malaysia" and it just happens to be one of my favourite, favourite foods. Roti canai isn't very "bread-like" in the traditional sense, but instead more like a delicious, thick, chewy crepe. The curry sauce its paired with has a very thin consistency and isn't very spicy.  This dish is a mandatory order for my family. Something about the delicious carbohydrates and the thin amazing curry sauce just makes my heart melt. You see how the roti canai is all torn up for your convenience? I don't need that. I CAN RIP THAT UP AND EAT ALL OF IT BY MYSELF. 

Chicken, Pork and Lamb Satay
The second appetizer my family always, always orders is satay. The simple, grilled, unassuming satay is declared on the menu as Malaysia's most signature stall food. Tender little morsels of meat that are marinated, skewered through, and lovingly grilled to perfection. Even though they look quite easy to make, mastering the art of creating the perfect satay is deceptively difficult. Since the pieces of meat are so small, its difficult to cook the satay "just right." Oftentimes, restaurants over or under cook the satay just leading to a terrible eating experience. Some restaurants even "cheat" when it comes to satay and boil the skewers first. This is a big no, no. It kills the flavor and alters the texture of the meat. 

From my experience the satay at Banana Leaf has always been grilled to perfection. The meat has always been tender and well marinated. The flavors of the skewers lean towards the sweet side and  the flavor is  counterbalanced by the spicy peanut sauce they're paired with. Always a staple and very delicious.

Sambal Green Beans
My family have always ordered this dish as well. It's like one of those situations where you've ordered an entire table of food....and then you realize you have no veggies. This dish is a mandatory requirement on my table, not only because it is an essential veggie dish, but also because its absolutely delicious. The stir-fried green beans have a really nice fresh crunchy texture, while the concentrated shrimp paste and garlic add a wonderful salty, savory flavor. In addition to the shrimp paste there is also whole shrimp and fresh tomatoes in the dish. All the textures and flavors meld together to form a nice stable, salty vegetable dish among all the sweet aforementioned flavors found in Malaysian food.

Hainan Chicken Rice (1/4)
As my dad was born in Singapore, his heart and stomach have an instinctual calling and craving for Hainan Chicken. At Banana Leaf you are given the options of ordering a quarter, half, or whole Hainanese chicken. Although I have a slight feeling that Banana leaf doesn't prepare the chicken in a "traditional way", which is very time-consuming and laborious, it is so, so, so good. Traditional preparation involves slowly simmering your chicken, on the lowest heat, in a broth of chicken and pork bones, and topping off the broth only when needed in order to concentrate the flavor, up until the chicken reaches the correct internal temperature. 

Mmmm. As I said the chicken served at Banana Leaf is especially tender and flavorful. Although its served cold I'd still order it on a rainy day because its so delicious. However, I have a feeling if you order a quarter of Hainan Chicken you'r more likely to get a higher ratio of majority bone pieces to meat pieces. 

One thing that you have to do when eating Hainan chicken is that you must dip them into the sauces they give you. No Hainan chicken experience is complete without it. They give you the option of three sauces: the first is a thick, sweet soy sauce based dip, the second with shredded ginger, green onions, and oil, and finally the third with sweet, spicy, chili.

Rendang Beef Curry
One of my friends totally ruined this dish for me. Now I'm going to ruin it for you too, but first I'll tell you all the pros of this beef curry dish. First of all it's spicy, not like melt your face off spicy, but it certainly was the spiciest dish we ordered on the table. The beef was very tender and soaks up a lot of the coconut, curry spice flavor from being boiled so long. However, I feel that the larger pieces of beef in the curry end up....sort of just being...lumps of beef. If the chunk of beef is too large, I find that the curry flavor doesn't have the ability penetrate into the interior and instead relies completely on the curry sauce to impart flavor. This dish isn't "mandatory" for me, but if you want some curry or protein this is pretty ok.

I'm going to ruin this dish for you now. My friend told me that every time she orders it she's incredibly excited, but when it arrives it looks like hot diarrhea in a dish. So she doesn't eat it. THANKS GURL.  I'm not sure if I can eat it anymore either...

Mee Goreng

The Mee Goreng, surprisingly, isn't always the noodle dish my family orders, we usually order the Chor Hoh Fun, but my friends and I wanted to try something new. Mee Goreng consists of fried Malaysian egg noodles with beef, egg, shrimp, tomato, bean sprouts, choy sum, and tofu. However, I'm allergic to bean sprouts and my friends were kind enough to let me tell the waitress to omit them from this dish. Overall my impressions of the dish were good, the acidity from the lime, bit of the noodles noodles and the tartness of the tomato made for an addictive mix. I feel like I enjoy the Chor Hoh Fun better, but I would be more tempted to order the Mee Goreng. 

Now for the more "boring" stuff. Rice choices! 

Coconut Rice

One of the staples to almost any Asian meal is rice. At Banana Leaf they offer you three different "kinds" of rice: plain, Hainan Chicken Rice, and Coconut rice. Coconut rice is one of my favorites side dishes to eat, because of its delicate fragrance and light coconut flavor. It is cooked with a combination of water and coconut milk and served to you wrapped in a banana leaf. I find coconut rice an especially delicious companion to any sort of curry. =) 
Hainan Chicken Rice

Usually this type of rice is served as a side dish to the above mentioned Hainan chicken rice and that's probably where it got its name from "Hainanese Chicken Rice". The rice has been imbued with the oil and flavor of the Hainan chicken. The rice is created by using a different soup stock  than the chicken was created in, resulting in a slightly oilier rice and a highly concentrated chicken flavor. In fact, I think in some places chicken rice is known as "oily chicken rice."

Now overall Banana Leaf is one of my favorites and one of the established "Southeast Asian" food places in Vancouver. Dependable, tasty and reliable there is almost always a crowd at Banana Leaf during mealtimes. I would recommend making a reservation if you're dead set on eating here. I highly recommend Banana Leaf for all y'all who are visiting Vancouver and want a good place to eat, they can back up all those awards in the window. HOWEVER, if you and your travel mates are ill...please don't come here. >< LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES. ><

Repeatability: Yes
Price: 2.5 out of $$$$$
Kid Friendly: Yes! They have highchairs and booster seats.

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Pho 97 - Waikiki

This is heaven for me. You guys may not know it, but honey darlin', any kind of noodle soup is my ultimate comfort food. There's nothing that will soothe my soul or tickle any craving I have more than noodle soup. The Vietnamese style of noodle soup,  Phở (pronounced more like "fuh") is a soup that I could probably eat non-stop everyday.  Phở  is in the good books with my family as well because my little sister, who has gluten intolerancy, can also partake in all of the noodle-y joy. 

Located in Waikiki, Phở 97 has completely won my family and I over with its delicious Phở and its special "bun rieu." The interior is very, very basic and sort of characteristic of any local Chinatown in any city or country, cheap tile, pink tables, kinda messy, kinda grungy, but very popular and always pretty full. As said before in the "Thoughts from Waikiki"  post, Hawaii is very much, at least in my opinion, "suspended in time." The Hawaiian Chinatown is pretty....ghetto, for lack of a better word. The sidewalks are narrow and a bit uneven, the paint and signs are faded from the sun, and the facades of many stores are in fact dated and run down. Despite all this, Chinatown is still bustling with life and in fact is the nexus for many of the cultural interactions that Hawaii is famous for. 

Anyway I digress, the main point of the story is Waikiki's Chinatown has damn good Vietnamese food. Every time my parents come to Hawaii, they come here and rave to me about how delicious it is. Finally, this most recent trip, they brought me here as well. Like any good Vietnamese restaurant should they offer you a thai basil, bean sprouts, and little wedges of lemons and chili peppers before your bowl of steaming hot soup comes out.

Something that you might not usually get at a Vietnamese restaurant are these two herbs: culantro and split water spinach. Culantro is slightly reminiscent of coriander, while the split water spinach sort of adds more texture than flavor. While I was in Taiwan, one of my half-Vietnamese friends told me that a necessity to "good phở " was the herbs. I certainly do believe her. =) My parents ask for the beansprouts to be blanched and usually eat most of them before the soup gets to the table.

Although my family and I call this soup Bún riêu, the generic term for rice vermicelli soup, bún riêu cua is often our Bún riêu of choice. Bún riêu cua is a tomato and crab juice based rice vermicelli soup, served with fish cakes, tomato, pork hock, beef balls, and crab cakes. I think I should be careful to note that the "crab cakes" that I mention are not the Western style crab cakes, but instead more loosely packed together sumptuous morsels of crab meat. Altogether the combination of the varied seafood, viands, herbs, and vegetables make this an incredibly sumptuous umami laden dish. 

As usual, my poor vocabulary isn't vast enough to describe the intense collision of sea and land in this one bowl. The sheer variety of all the ingredients into one dish make the broth incredibly layered, complex, and leans towards the sweet side of taste. Bún riêu can usually be balanced out by adding another layer of flavor, in the form of mauve colored salty shrimp paste. Phở 97 places all the little containers of shrimp paste on every table to use at will. Even if the grey paste looks scary. USE IT. Its scary appearance is well worth the additional flavor and complexity it will add to your soup. I prefer to put little dollops of the shrimp paste into my soup spoon or on my noodles, but my parents sometimes add a small scoop directly into the soup. 

Unfortunately I can't "review" any other dishes for you guys, because my family members all order the bún riêu cua. That's how good it is. 

Overall, Bún riêu, in any shape or form, is absolutely delicious and I encourage you guys to give Phở  97 a try if you're ever in Waikiki. Honestly, my parents can also contest to this, good, hearty, addictive phở   places are hard to come by; especially places that make the more complicated bún bò Huế or bún riêu dishes. Its also an additional challenge to find Vietnamese places that make the above dishes well. >< Unfortunately, I haven't yet found a place in Vancouver to wet my craving for phở, but I know it's hiding here somewhere. If you ever go or have any suggestions for me to try here in Vancouver, please comment below! 

Thanks for reading!

Kid Friendly: Yes
Price: $ out of $$$$$
Repeatability: Yes!

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April 10, 2013
Went back and it was so lovely! Instagram update here!


The first snow bombarded us and I don't give a poop! I'm going to wear what I want! Down with North Face Jackets! Down with down coats! >< Give me sun, give me chill weather, and give me snow! I will survive your aversion to sun Vancouver! I SWEAR IT. Haha, as I post this the snow has already dissappeared....but that day I was lucky and this time Vancouver gave me both.  My sister and I took advantage of the sun and the white background to take some outfit shots. 

I feel good wearing this outfit. I feel that it's a nice blend of clean and classy. My favorite part of this outfit is the top. Sheer tops have been popular for some time now and I think many different designers and chain stores have put out their own versions of the sheer button up. I found this particular sheer cream top at Forever 21. Unfortunately I can't quite remember the price, but I do like the fact that it's not just a sheer top, but has some decorative rhinestones here and there. I don't look like a disco-ball, which is a good thing, in this case.

It looks like I have 5 o'clock shadow in this photo. 
The best part of this particular creme top is that is doesn't look to hoochie mama, despite its being sheer. I would say that this piece, although I hate to write a cliche, has easily has turned into one of the most versatile in my wardrobe. I can pair it with a nice structured blazer, a feminine skirt, or a pair of jeans. Ranging from casual to classy, I never really expected that I would like this sheer button up top so much.

The red purse at my side is the Christmas/Anniversary gift I received from my lovely boyfriend. He has good taste. =P Although I did cheat a little, I alerted him of a Kate Spade sample sale...over 75% off. I kind of forcibly coerced him in the right direction. >< MAYBE. However in return I got him several sweaters, a belt, and some video-games that he'd been wanting all I say we're pretty even. =P

Another print that I've been seeing a lot of  has been the cheetah print. I've always liked cheetah print, but it's been creeping into everything I wear lately. I think that alone, is proof of how surprisingly versatile cheetah print is. I think the general rule of thumb for Cheetah Print is that the colors and print have to be a bit subdued. Bright, flashy, cheetah print probably has its place in the 60's or the extreme showiness of the 80s or 90s. Of course animal print is having a bit of a resurgence now! I hope you're having as much fun as I am of incorporating it into your outfits. 

Anyway, thanks for reading. =) 

Happy Chinese New Year!

Fresh Shrimp
When my family usually celebrates Chinese New Year it's a luxe affair with lots of relations and a big Chinese style banquet feast. However, this year we broke from tradition and took it easy and had a small meal at home.

Broiled mirugai/Geoduck, with water chestnuts, mushrooms, tobiko and mayonnaise

Unfortunately, my entire nuclear family wasn't all little sister had to go back to university in New York and we all miss her terribly. To add insult to the missing sister injury I think my family has decided that I'm an adult now and that I no longer get "Red Packet" money. >< Oh no! I'm one step closer to graduation and bankruptcy! 

Then this was about the time my camera died. Hahaha, I need to get better about charging it. I hope everyone is just as happy ringing in the year of the dragon!

Fa Chai got all dressed up in his yellow emperor finery as well. =P Happy Chinese New Year guys! Gong Xi Fa Chai!!!!!!!

Araxi ~ Whistler

Araxi is almost a restaurant that doesn't need introduction. Located in the Whistler Village, Araxi is one of best known fine dining restaurants in Whistler and, as of 2011, has won Vancouver Magazine's Gold Award for Best Whistler Restaurant 10 times in a row. Araxi has released its own cookbook and has won critical acclaim for using local ingredients and fashioning them into wonderful new dishes. This particular meal especially holds a particular sentimentality for me, because when I made the reservation for two at Araxi, boyfriend and I were celebrating our two year anniversary. 

I've been lucky enough to have a tradition of going to Araxi ever since I was little. However, the restaurant has certainly changed quite considerably since my initial meal there. Araxi has been remodeled several times with the addition of a large bar area, oyster bar, and an expansion and modernization of the dining area. The main color schemes have stayed the same: rich dark browns, contrasted with custard yellows, and mirrored surfaces. Since it was Christmas, the entire restaurant was decked out in Christmas lights and pine wreathes. It made for a wonderfully sumptuous holiday setting for both the eyes and the palette. 

Boyfriend and I wanted to go "all out" for our second anniversary, especially because we only see other twice a year. Long distance relationships are terrible, but the silver lining to this grey long distance relationship cloud is that we have a larger budget for our date. Since we only go on like two a year. I get to spend half a year planning for an awesome night. =) Optimism! 

Although there was a tasting menu, specially made for Christmas, my boyfriend and I opted to create our own menu by individually ordering appetizers, mains, drinks, and desserts. Overall, the meal was wholly enjoyable, well paced, delicious and fun. Although Araxi is listed as a fine dining restaurant and its price point only bolsters the fine dining vibe, I feel that the atmosphere is much more casual. Often in fine dining restaurants there's a sort of sharp, mechanical, efficiency that come along with Michelin Stars and awards. In Whistler, the waitstaff are courteous, uniformed, and polite, but at the same time the atmosphere of Araxi has more of the casual hustle and bustle.

One thing that especially caught my boyfriend's attention was the oyster bar and the selection of oysters. So fresh and lovely! A must try if you dine at Araxi.  
Eating at Araxi is like getting a hug from a classy, old friend. You get the fine dining experience without feeling boxed in or awkward. I'll be honest. I really like it here. The menu is expansive and covers appetizers, meats, seafood, and pastas. I always have a very difficult time deciding what I'm going to eat when I dine here. I'm a glutton....I want everything. Well, I'm sure you'll get the picture after you see pictures of the meal. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but I hope you enjoy!

Travel Tips and Outfits from Waikiki

I'm a chronic over packer. It's been one of my overarching life goals to tame the raging "Boy Scout" in me that shouts "Always be prepared!" After all, when going away for a week, one does not need a completely different ensemble for everyday. At least...the ones that pay for luggage handling costs. It's expensive to travel now! I'm sure we've all seen pictures of celebrities with trunks upon trunks of clothes and accessories all ready to be loaded onto their private jets.

Driving Up From the Seattle Airport
In all honesty, I would rather put that money somewhere else...either towards admissions to a museum, souvenirs, or possibly even....more clothes? Hahaha. Well what I want to do with you guys it to share some of my new "packing rules" for a more streamlined and efficient me. 

Oscar has been here since the first time I came to Hawaii at 4. Sorry for the petrified look as well, he just squawked really loudly!

Golden Rules!
  1. Always leave room in your suitcase just in case. Even if you swore you weren't going to buy anything this trip, who knows? The extra space will come in handy. 
  2. When packing, roll your clothes! It saves more space than folding. =) 
  3. When you start packing make sure you put your heaviest and bulkiest things on the bottom of your suitcase. That way you know how much wiggle room you have when you transfer your essential items in. 
  4. Don't be afraid to re-wear items of clothing! I re-wear my jeans often. In fact, I often bring more tops than bottoms. 
  5. Make "smart" choices, don't pack dry-clean only everything. >< You never know when life is going to have those "OOOPS STAIN" moments.
  6. Make sure to bring pragmatic toiletries. Instead of having three palettes of eye shadow, think about nail clippers, tweezers, bandaids, and Neosporin.  
  7. Pack for about half your trip! For example, if you're gone for a week, pack for about four days. I always also bring a "classy" piece that can be dressed up or dressed down. You never know when you're going out for a fancy dinner! Be prepared! (Uh oh....the boy scout me came back. =__=) 
  8. One of those important, but often forgotten rules, is to understand the luggage restrictions the airline that you're flying imposes on its passengers. 
Anyway, I'm sure these "rules" will shift and change as I gain more travel experience. You should also feel free to comment whatever packing rules or tips of your own. I'm always eager to learn from other people! I think travel should definitely be stress free. Sometimes there are factors that you can't control, i.e. delayed flights, lost luggage, fluid restrictions, baggage fees, etc. etc., but you might as well make the factors you can control stress free and easy. So start with your luggage. =D That way your perfectly packed luggage will be your island of peace in the sea of travel rage some people experience.

Nothing special, really. I think that in general I like pretty simple things. >< My style is pretty streamlined. I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading. Happy travels!


Thoughts From Places: Waikiki

Some weeks ago in October, when my midterms had abated and seasonal depression had set in, my lovely mom and dad decided to take me on a spur of the moment trip to Hawaii...more specifically Waikiki. What lovely parents right? I'm blessed. =) My family and I have a long history of going to Hawaii, but I haven't been in over a decade. 

Surprisingly, not much has changed. Somehow Waikiki managed to stay almost exactly as how I remember it ten years ago, save a couple of renovations and a couple of new outlet malls, and is still incredibly fun and kitsch at the same time. Waikiki is still filled with salmon pinks, bold flower prints, bright blues, brilliant sunsets, and tanned tourists. I still half expect to see the original cast of Hawaii Five-0 to bust through a wall or run down the street. As with many locales, Waikiki seems to be a city that has been suspended in time...instead of the distant past Waikiki chose to solidly lodge itself in the 70s. 

I think to many individuals, Hawaii is a unique place where indigenous and foreign cultures meet, mingle, and create new things. The indigenous Polynesian culture blends with the foreign seaborne cultures brought in by Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and American immigrants and is most clearly reflected in the cuisine, the people, and perhaps, the infamous "Aloha Spirit." In the Chinatown in Hawaii the street signs are written in both Chinese and English, not a completely alien sight to me...but I think the Hawaiian street name juxtaposed with the traditional Chinese characters was a double take worthy. =)  

To be honest, I don't really have much to say about Waikiki. I love the island and I've been coming here ever since I was a baby. In some aspects, the words Hawaii and Waikiki automatically mean happiness, relaxation and a good time. Getting over a decade of feelings into a single blog post is a bit difficult. Then again, maybe I'm not as articulate as I thought. The atmosphere is certainly touristy, but the absolute level of touristy-ness depends on where you go. You can still find pockets of untouched Hawaii. Personally, I find something endearing about the kitsch. 

I'm still wowed by the character, charisma the beauty the main island of Oahu holds. Coming to Waikiki is always a refreshing and rejuvenating experience when psychologically or physically stressed. The stunning vistas, the warm beaches, and the friendly people always make this particular city absolutely wonderful to visit. The following pictures are just some miscellaneous ones that I liked that didn't fit in anywhere else. =) I hope you enjoy them! 


Thank you for reading!