Turning 25

It has been a long time since I have written here. I have neglected my blog and have left it to turn to dust…no longer! I am back and there is a fairly decent reason for my silence. 2016 has been a crazy year of change and so much has happened that I don’t even know where to start.

This is year is a major milestone for me, I am finally a quarter-of-a-century years old. I don’t know if this is a major turning point for everyone, but this year has been huge. The biggest decision and change for me turning 25 is moving to Toronto. Yup. I am back in the Big T.O. I quit my job, left my home (again,) and am back.

It’s insane. I’ve only been back for a one and a half months and I have a hard time believing I actually picked up and left Edmonton. To a certain extent it feels like I am on a prolonged vacation, but in other ways, this is very real. I am back in the city, I am in need of a full time job, AND I AM BACK IN TORONTO. There are days this feels like a dream and then days where I am back and have absolutely no idea what I am doing. All I know is that “Yay! I am back,” but I need to set up life here, I need to DO SOMETHING. And so for the last five weeks I have lived in a chronic state of ups and downs.

Yet…I know this is where I need to be right now.

Being back here has been amazing. I have reconnected with so many friends and family; I volunteered at TIFF; I have a part-time job; and I have gotten a taste of Toronto’s start-up scene. There have been so much I have learned about myself in the last five weeks I can only keep pushing forward and enjoy every second of being here, of being present.

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Good Eats: Urban Shabu

In Chinese culture (and most cultures)…it’s all about the food. Everything is celebrated with a meal, meal time is family time, there are special foods created for specific festivals, other foods are eaten for longevity – essentially, Chinese people will find every excuse to enjoy delicious food.

The best memories I have with my friends were shared over meals. Nothing is better than sharing good conversation over good comfort food; the ultimate comfort food being Hot Pot. 

Most Asian countries have some form of hot pot. It’s quite difficult to explain and give people who don’t know what it is a good idea…but simply, there is a hot pot on the table filled with hot broth that you use to cook raw food. There is a multitude of broths to choose from, and the variety of food to cook is endless. What it boils down to is a lot of deliciousness cooked in a flavourful broth.

My usual go to hot pot place in Edmonton is Urban Shabu (9700 105 Avenue Nw #168), located at the edge of Chinatown. Owned by the same people as Urban China, this hot pot location has a wonderful atmosphere. It is cozy, super clean, but not overly crowded. Other hot pot places, I find, do not have quite as welcoming of an atmosphere, making it really hard to enjoy friends’ company. What I also love about Urban Shabu is that they don’t rush customers after their two hour time limit. As long as there is no long line-up at the door, my friends and I ALWAYS sit through to dessert.

Some eggy goodness to add texture to soup or the sauce.

Some eggy goodness to add texture to soup or the sauce.

Urban Shabu boasts a three page menu of raw foods (all you can eat!) to choose from as well as 17 different broths (you can also choose a hot pot with two different kinds of broth!) It is great for large groups because of the variety. First choose a soup base. The broth is the base for the entire meal and it is important to choose the right one. Generally, I find this the most difficult part of the evening, there are just too many good broths! Keep in mind that as the food cooks and boils in the broth, the taste of the soup will evolve throughout the meal. There, are a variety of mild basic flavours, like Chicken, Cilantro and Preserved Eggs, Satay, to more flavourful and spicy broths like Tom Yum, Szechuan Spicy, Spicy Lamb and a variety of others. Do be careful of the spicy at Urban Shabu. When they say spicy, they mean hot, chili, spicy. My go to broth is the Cilantro Preserved Egg – it is a really basic, clean broth which is great for building flavour. For nights where I want a little something more, I go with Tom Yum, it adds the right bit of tangy flavour to my meal. After deciding on the broth, it is time to choose the food. Try everything on the menu if possible. They come in small portions so food is never wasted, but do make sure there are plenty of friends to share and distribute the food around.

As a veteran diner at Urban Shabu, I have many “must eats” and many “must try’s” for friends new to hot pot.

  1. One of my absolute favourites is the deep-fried bean curd. It’s not the most filling thing, but the light airy texture makes it great for holding the flavour of the broth. Something I recommend eating towards the middle of the meal after a lot of meat has been cooked.
  2. Pork belly is an absolute must! The fattiness of the meat adds flavour to the broth, and who doesn’t like bacon?!
  3. Handmade Paste is a must have and is super fun. It is fresh ground meat and you make your own little meatballs. The paste can make about 3 to 4 meatballs and should be divided as such (or else it will take forever to cook!) It comes in lamb, beef, cuttlefish, shrimp and fish. I highly recommend the beef and cuttlefish.
  4. For a little bit of carb for dinner, try the Long Donut. This doughy goodness pairs well when dipped in the broth.
  5. And to round off dessert, I always go with the Mango Creme Soup. It is a cool light dessert. Mango with coconut milk at some tapioca, it is the great refreshing way to end off the evening.

Of course there are many staple foods for hot pot. Always order plenty of meats like beef and lamb slices and keep the rounds going to build flavour in the broth. Never forget to order veggies, lots of leafy greens (my favourite is watercress!) and some squash and zucchini are great. It keeps the tummy from being overly bloated throughout the night. Dumplings are also fun things to have at hot pot. They do take a bit more time to cook, but are so worth it! For those who don’t enjoy seafood or shrimp, only order the Pork and Veggie dumplings. Always order your starch at the very end. The noodles are filled with starch and the soup becomes too starchy if you cook noodles too early on. My recommendation, sweet potato noodle, instant noodle and the louver knots (bean curd sheets tied in knots.)

There are many ways to tackle hot pot and a variety of things to prepare for. Here are my rules for an enjoyable hot pot time with friends.

  1. Wear clothes you won’t miss. Because of all the flavours coming out of hot pot, don’t wear clothes that are difficult to clean. On the same note, avoid white shirts! There may be some splashes. Always ask for a cover for jackets, you will appreciate it.
  2. Drink cool drinks! Hot pot, as you can imagine, can get quite hot. 
  3. Try everything. You never know what you might love!
  4. Up your sauce game! There is a variety of sauces to choose from to enhance the food experience. Sauces can be added directly to the soup or set on the side for dipping. Everyone has their own special concoction, play around to find out what works. My personal favourite is the peanut sauce and XO sauce.
  5. Go with an open stomach and heart for conversation. Hot pot is a very social activity and being anti-social is an outright no-no.

All in all, hot pot is a meal that can be enjoyed at home or out at restaurants. The whole point of hot pot is to keep warm AND enjoy warm conversations with friends. There can’t be one without the other!

Here is a video tutorial by the Fung Bros on Hot Pot 101 for noobs.

Travel Bug: Day 4,5,6 – Seattle: Emerald City

Driving all the way to Vancouver I would be remiss not to drive down to Seattle for a quick visit. Just a three hour drive away (the distance from Edmonton to Calgary), The Emerald City is worth the cross over the border.

My favourite west coast city (it was my THIRD visit), Seattle is filled with interesting history and amazing sights. There is too much to see in one day, but that was all the time I had. Here are a few must-see highlights:

  1. Pike Place: THE market hot spot of the city. This eight story building has everything from shops, food, market vendors to even residential living! The first Starbucks (kind of, it is actually their first storage space, the first actual Starbucks is located at Seatown, at the end of the corner) is located just outside Pike Place. They have a fantastic, enthusiastic staff working hard to fulfill orders, and will maybe sing you “Happy Birthday” if you happen to claim your birthday treat at this location (which I did, of course.)
  2. Underground Tour: Modern day Seattle has an underground city. It goes back to the origins of the city and how it was part of the engineering plan to manage sewage and to counter the tides coming into the city after The Great Seattle Fire of 1889. This hilarious hour-long tour is quite the hike up and down the streets of Seattle, but is totally worth it – I definitely gained a greater understanding of the city and somehow fell even more in love with the city amidst the damp and dark tunnels of the underground.
  3. Space Needle: As a tall tower, it has no other function than being a tourist hot spot with the best view of all of Seattle. It was built in 1962 especially for the Century 21 Exposition. Once at the top, it is also a very peaceful place to sit and ponder life after marvelling the view.
  4. EMP Museum: The Experience Music Project Museum is a must see at Seattle Centre. Just steps away from the Space Needle, this modern-age museum has many exhibitions for gamers to music lovers and even film aficionados. The exhibits are super interactive and fun for the whole family. What I find most incredible is the recording studio on the third floor. Visitors can record their own songs, play around with sound arrangements and even test out some cool music techniques.
  5. Walk everywhere: The whole of Seattle downtown is quite dense and very walkable! Given a non-rainy, the city is best enjoyed on foot!

Travel Bug: Day 2 & 3 – A Wedding & Beautiful BC

Part of vacationing in Vancouver was to attend my cousin’s wedding. It was a beautiful, simple backyard wedding with close family and friends. The weather held up, and the day went smoothly. Like with my other cousin’s wedding last year, the groom first heads to the bride’s home to perform the tea ceremony for the bride’s side of the family. Afterwards, the bride will leave her home with the groom and head to his home, where they will perform the tea ceremony for the groom’s family. Following, my cousin decided to go with a small western backyard style ceremony. The night wrapped up with a reception at the University of British Columbia’s University Golf Club.

Day 3 took us to an easy day out on the town. I started the morning by heading down to the Fisherman’s Wharf at Steveston. A lovely walk by the water, there are many different shops and vendors alongside at least 5 different coffee shops, the perfect way to start the day. 

The afternoon took me to a blueberry field where I was picking blueberries, eating them as I went. I ate almost as many blueberries as I picked in the field! It was quite the novel experience for me as there aren’t really any bluberry farms in Edmonton. It was a quiet pass-time but enjoyable. Very peaceful to just get lost between the rows of blueberry trees. Definitely something I will do again.

If you can’t tell, it’s been an exhausting 3 days, time to sign off and to prep….tomorrow we head to the beautiful city of Seattle!

Travel Bug: Day 1- Beautiful British Columbia Day 1

Traveling and vacationing in BC is quite a wonderful thing. Just a 14 hour drive from Edmonton to Vancouver, it is a gorgeous place to visit, especially with family. This time around, I find myself on a 10 day vacation on the west coast.

Normally when travelling to Vancouver, I actually visit Richmond – the mini Hong Kong of Canada, and bypass the rest of Vancouver proper. This time around, I actually get to visit the city of Vancouver. It is quite the novel thing for me.

First stop this morning, Granville Island. This little tourist hot spot has everything I relish in a coastal city – amazing seafood, bustling market, good coffee, friendly vendors, yacht dock, local entertainment and great shopping. A must stop destination for first time visitors to Vancouver. The first stop on Granville Island was the Public Market. JJ Bean Coffee serves up a piping hot drink and has a variety of blends and even teas for teaholics like me. Wandering around the market and chatting with vendors was the highlight of my day. They are super friendly and more than happy to share their story. Also, being able to try different food samples made the day even more enjoyable!! What I love about the public market is the variety of offerings. Check it out!

After the Public Market, I meandered around the docks. Watching liver performances as well as shop around all the cool little shops. There is a whole bunch to do, and a half a day exploration of the island was enjoyably exhausting for me.

In the afternoon, I made my way back to Richmond and went indoors to Aberdeen Centre. This mall is unlike any other in Canada (I think anyways.) The food court is filled with many different varieties of Asian cuisine for very decent pricing. It took me about 30 minutes to decide what I wanted to eat! The shopping is stellar as well. There is a Japanese $2 Store – Daiso, with very good quality things. However, it is very easy to get carried away in Daiso, I had to make sure what I was getting was a true novelty and I could not find anywhere else! There are a bunch of other stores in the mall with so many varieties (Yvonne, you’ve said that already! Yes! But variety is the best word to describe to Vancouver!)

There is quite a lot to see still in Vancouver! I’ve only scratched the surface of what this gem of a city is all about…

Travel Bug: Day 4 & 5 – AGO and Endless Food

Toronto is filled with art left, right and centre. The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is home to art from around the world. Did you know if you are a Contributing Member of the AGO, you can treat up to 2 friends to see the beautiful works in the AGO. It’s a great way to introduce friends to the world of art and one of great iconic spots of Toronto. I was treated to a miniature ship model exhibit which was incredible. There were so many different models made out of so many different materials with a rich history and story attached to each ship. What I also love about the AGO is that you can make up your own stories to go with each creation and sometimes the work just speaks to you.

Food is something else Toronto is renowned for. New restaurants, dessert places, bubble tea shops, anything else you can imagine, pop up every single day. You can literally stop anywhere on the street and eat. It’s fantastic! One of the new places I tried out was Ramen Raijin. Delicious ramen and perfectly crispy karaage, my tastebuds were well satisfied.

There are also a number of great snack-time places downtown. Two of the new ones I tried were Chatime and ShareTea. Two great places for bubble tea, there are endless combinations and what I absolutely love the fact you can choose the level of sweetness and iciness. It’s worth the try for sure!

Travel Bug: Toronto Day 3 – Queen West

There is never a shortage of things to see and do in the Big T.O. Today was a day of wandering around downtown just enjoying the busy city life. 

I forget how lovely it is to take the streetcar around town. It’s a fantastic way travel around the city and to see a lot in a short amount of time. Riding on the streetcar (or tram, as I am used to calling it) is relaxing.Whenever I am looking for a quiet time to rejuvenate and getting lost in thoughts, riding on the tram is exactly what I do. I know, I know, it sounds a bit weird…but really, it’s fantastic. Sitting in a vehicle that makes a gentle whirring noise while the scene of the city just passes you by –  it’s incredible. So some ideas got flowing in my mind and I was able to think to myself without any distractions. 

Today I took the tram down to Queen West and had a mini-adventure with Katie. We drove past Trinity Bellwoods and arrived deep into Hipsterville. There were so many cool little shops, from clothing to pastries, to trendy hotels and bitters stores, this area of Queen Street carries the kitschiest things. It is worth the trip down to the west side of downtown; every little shop has something unique and amazing to offer. I certainly miss being able to wander aimlessly down a street and finding things that will catch my attention and drive my creativity.

Tomorrow is going to be another exciting day just wandering around downtown! I can’t wait to share more about my visit back to the place I call home.