Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants
I’m still in shock about the response to my Belgrade post — over 5000 shares! A special thank you to the Serbians who left comments, telling me I captured “the heart and soul” of their beautiful city.
My current focus — telling personal stories of alternative culture around the world — was majorly influenced by my friend Andrew Zimmern (host of Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods TV show). A few days ago, we got to catch up in my hometown of Vancouver, BC.
Read on for the story, and the resurrection of my Korean Gothic clubbing and shopping guide.
If you’ve been following my adventures over the years, you’ll know that AZ and LC (as we call each other) have a long history. He was one of my earliest supporters, and invited me to be his on-camera guide on the Tokyo episode of Bizarre Foods. I took him to some of the wild, crazy theme restaurants featured in my book, including the monster-jail Alcatraz ER. (Watch our Japan clip and see photos here.)
We’ve kept in close touch over the years, and this week, Andrew Zimmern came to Vancouver with his film crew to shoot an episode of Bizarre Foods. What a joy to catch up with him at Hawksworth Restaurant — I loved their historical cocktails, especially the one with yuzu, and the hamachi sashimi with sorbet melted in my mouth.
Andrew is one of the most empathetic people I know, always keen to learn about people and cultures, and portray them with positivity (my Japanese Goth friends love him for it!). I’m grateful to know he is rooting for me, as I am for him.
Season 5 of Bizarre Foods premieres Monday, November 4 @ 9pm ET/PT on Travel Channel — hope you’ll tune in, and can’t wait to see the Vancouver, BC episode.
Speaking of spooky culture… A while back, I interviewed Goth insiders about their local scenes for a site that no longer exists. So here are the features, back from the dead. First is my guide to Goth Seoul, Korea through the eyes of Kit Ten Ita. Next is Australia!
All Korean photos by Noopy except the third to last composite, by Kit Ten Ita.
La Carmina: First, can you tell me a bit about who you are, and what you do?
Kit Ten Ita: I’m an amateur bellydancer, has-been blogger and passionate about improving my photography, consuming more music, a polyglot, and general oddball misanthrope. I define myself by my context, having lived in 6 different countries, moved more than 21 times before the age of 21. I lived in Korea for 6 years, participated in nearly all the BRHF goth parties (except for 2 summer parties when I was revisiting Switzerland) My involvement has ranged from dancefloor participant, dark fusion performer, drunk bartender, helpful decorator and supportive volunteer. I am currently pursuing a degree in Interactive Art at LASALLE.
La Carmina: How did you first become interested and involved in Goth / underground subcultures in Korea? Which cities and areas are hotspots?
Kit Ten Ita: My first interactions with the culture were with music when I was in my early teens – starting with Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Aphex Twin, and of course NIN. Many years later when I first arrived in Korea, my first contact was a metalhead named Sungwon who introduced me to both the Death Metal and Korean Goth scene. I had a Goth MeetUp Group and Counter Culture Forum and brought in the expats to the local scene.
Seoul and Busan both have a scene to my knowledge Seoul has a large population, but I hear the one in Busan has better attendance. But I could be incorrect about that since I’ve never been to the parties down South.
La Carmina: Can you tell me how the Gothic scene in Korea originated and evolved? Are there aspects that are distinct to the country?
Kit Ten Ita: To my knowledge the BRHF started with Hye In and Dosu, who are an indomitable pair in charge of organizing the Goth and Metal festivals. They had quite a challenge in trying to please all the participants from the ones who wanted somewhere to be entertained, have somewhere to sit and chat, to the ones who wanted to dance. But with an influx of people who wanted to dance, that soon changed. And it has transformed once again the past year…
The musical choices have usually been more thrash and metal, though now through cultural intermingling we are seeing more and hearing more EBM. But the musical choices are still generally more thrash and metal, and the culture is laced with death metal philosophies and antichristian rhetoric. It makes sense, considering Korea has the the highest number of Church attendees and Christian devotees.
What makes Korea special and particular is the prolific smoking and drinking culture, and after most concerts there are after parties that are open to people to mingle with the band members. An interesting fact to note are the laws against skirts above the knee and men with long hair (both of which are prevalent in the scene). Only recently has the former been amended. The tattoo culture was never really big until 2 years ago and since then it has really exploded. Stars and words are common. The piercing culture is very normalized with university students and it’s common to see very drastic piercings on very unassuming people. Androgynous men are viewed with a great degree of appeal.
La Carmina: How would you describe Gothic fashion in Korea? Which styles, brands, looks are popular? Has it changed over the years?
Kit Ten Ita: Gothic fashion in Korea is similar and influenced by Japan – whether aware of it or not, the Lolita look was extremely well adopted and popular in early 2000. But often with minimal makeup. These days the people in the scene are becoming more and more adventurous with their clothing choices, makeup choices and are more prone to putting on more makeup, predominantly thanks to a doom and Alex. Alternative fashion always goes into the mainstream so zippers, black and have become trendy post 80s fashion revival the past few years. But with the younger local goth crowd they tend to dress really pretty and sharp, new and clean clothing.
La Carmina: Can you recommend some Korean Gothic clothing brands, designers and shops?
Kit Ten Ita: Beetlejuice is perhaps the most well-known in both local and expat circles. They’ve held quite a few fashion shows. It is also the most-easily found and most well-priced, unless considering a Japanese import. The owner is a woman in her thirties who decided to bring back some of her designs influenced by being in London. Unfortunately for anyone above a UK size 14 or US size 12, which includes me, will have difficulty finding clothing that fits. Unless you have close connections with the tailor. The shopping areas of Ewha, Sinchon, Dongdaemun, Apgujeong all have affordable punk and Goth influenced wear, especially accessories. And imported clothing from Japan. So you really gotta explore the little nooks and crannies.
But if you’re interested in having tailor made boots, they start from 60 to as much as 250 dollars. Just make sure to have them redo anything you’re not happy with. There are several leather shops, and Dongdaemun for fabric if you make your own clothing or need new drapes. There was a place in Dongdaemun that had a variety of platform shoes but I’m not sure if its still there. (Address: Migliore 7th floor #122-126 02 3393 1995)
La Carmina: If I came to Korea and you were my tour guide, where would you take me? What is the club scene like?
Kit Ten Ita: Seoul is limitless in terms of how many places there are to go, the number of distractions, entertainment and festivals, multimedia and interactive installations throughout the city – but to get a whole experience you would definitely have to experience the PC BANG (internet and gaming cafes) JIMJILBANG (public baths and saunas) NORAEBANG (karaoke) DVDBANG (rent and watch DVDs in your own personal stereo surround room with projector) and check out a MOTEL. All of these places are practically on every corner of the city.
As for shopping, university shopping areas such as Ewha, Sinchon, Hongdae provide a suitable variety of affordable clothing and shoes (both under American size 8) and more upscale areas in Cheongdam and Apgujeong. As for parties and events, there is a limit to the scale of parties in the Goth scene. There is a great availability of trendy clubs playing house, RnB, techno, rock, etc. Keep an eye out for posters on the streets of Hongdae – there are usually several in a row. And keep an eye out for plastic surgery and prostitution! There’s plenty of diversity as well in Itaewon – where homo hill and hooker hill (near a shopping area commonly populated by tourists and local American army base people) lead to a mosque on top.
For Goth parties in Seoul, check out BRHF Blood Red Halo (Hallow) Festival. Hye In is THE organiser for Gothic/Industrial events, and Sungwon is prominent in the scene. (La Carmina’s note, check Groove Korea for upcoming Goth clubs)
La Carmina: What do you predict for the dark fashion / scene in Korea? Is it growing, changing?
Kit Ten Ita: As for the people within the scene itself, makeup usage and experimentation in general has usually been limited in the past to simple eyeliner and powder, but I’ve seen them experimenting more and more recently thanks to external influences, such as our Korean-fluent German friend Alex, which have made theatrical makeup more accessible and acceptable. I’ve also seen more and more people modifying and tinkering their clothing rather than buying it ready-made. This particular feminine style of Gothic fashion itself has always been appealing and as people enjoy dressing up it’s more than obvious and likely that both fashion and the scene will continue to grow – especially with better exposure through bloggers.
Have you experienced Seoul’s underground scene? Got tips to add?
For more blasts from the past, you can access my blog archives from the drop-down menu on the right sidebar. Here is a collection of my TV hosting clips, including Bizarre Foods. Enjoy — “and remember, if it looks good, eat it!”
Is it safe to travel in Belgrade, Serbia? Yes & you must! Frida Kahlo theme restaurant, Selection Apartments.
Do you remember the 1998-9 Kosovo War? The breakup of Yugoslavia? Most of you probably have only vague notions of this Eastern European region, which was a conflict zone not long ago.
I confess I didn’t know much about Belgrade, Serbia until I went with my filmmakers, as part of our Eurail.com train journey. Boy, were my eyes opened. The locals are lovely, and there is an emerging food, nightlife and fashion scene that will make “Beograd” a hip destination in the years to come.
Read on for ice cream and unibrows…
First, don’t let the graffiti and crumbling walls fool you. Belgrade is currently as safe as any Western European city like Berlin or Milan. There aren’t any special precautions for tourists, other than the common-sense ones: beware of pickpockets, don’t do stupid things alone at night, you get the idea.
(Ironic side-note: my film team and I talked about where we’ve felt most unsafe. The unanimous consensus was USA. Personally, I’ve been most endangered in parts of Chicago, St Louis, and outside LA.)
We were hosted by the sweetest family-run hotel I’ve ever stayed in: Selection Apartments. They have three rooms, each with private bathrooms, and the family puts their hearts into taking care of you.
Ivan stayed up past midnight in order to pick us up from the train station. The next morning, he and his wife Desa brought us strong coffee, yogurt, burek (a flaky filo pastry filled with cheese) and apricot cookies. Ivan takes all his guests on a little walking tour where he points out his favorite Belgrade cafes and sights. We were grateful to have their help in making reservations and changing money to Serbian dinars.
I’ve stayed in luxury hotels around the world. But there’s nothing I appreciate more than genuinely kind hosts, a comfortable and clean room (we had our own patio), air conditioning, and speedy WiFi. Selection Apartments has all that, plus the warm attention of this local family. I can’t recommend my new friends enough, and hope you’ll get a chance to experience their hospitality.
In every city, we like to visit historical attractions in addition to “cool-hunting” for up-and-coming trends. Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians, and Belgrade is home to the world’s largest Eastern Orthodox church.
Inside, there were two shops selling rosaries and other religious items. Eastern iconography is markedly different; we saw paintings of Mary with a cut on her chin, and what appears to be a disembodied hand in front of her.
Another side-note: in Belgrade, many of the locals speak English and very helpful. However, Serbian words can be in Cyrillic, so you may have trouble deciphering street signs.
I loved wandering the small city and seeing the architecture. Main attractions include the “Green Market” and Belgrade Fortress. There were a surprising number of upscale fashion and jewelry shops in the downtown shopping district.
You know you aren’t in a tourist area when there are no other Asians around. I encourage you to travel to places that you know little about, as you won’t have expectations and can simply learn and discover.
A prime example: theme cafes (like the ones I wrote about in my book) aren’t limited to Asia. There’s a Frida Kahlo theme restaurant in Belgrade! It’s called Cantina de Frida (Karađorđeva 2-4, Beograd).
In a meat-and-potatoes region, it was nice to have seafood ceviche and other Mexican tapas.
I’m wearing wood sunglasses, sent to me by the Britain-based Moat House Eyewear.
The restaurant is a tribute to the famous Mexican painter, known for her bold artistic style and self-portraits.
One wall recreates the home of Frida and her husband Diego Rivera. Her face is omnipresent, even in the restrooms.
Behind the bar, there was a wall of Frida Kahlo tequila bottles. (Photography in this post by Melissa Rundle, Eric Bergemann and me.)
At the moment, there are only a few modern restaurants like this one on the waterfront. But many are under construction, and we can sense that in a few years, young travelers will be flocking here to hang out by the harbor.
Whenever I’m in Europe, I fill up on baked goods and dairy. Ivan recommended his favorite ice cream shop, Moritz Eis (Vuka Karadžića 9). I ordered a scoop of dark chocolate Tabasco, and a scoop of orange ginger.
I encourage people to be flexible about what they eat when they’re traveling, in order to experience more of the culture. Try new foods while you have the opportunity! I was a fan of this bitter lemon drink, and the many filo pastries including one filled with poppy seed paste.
Belgrade’s a fascinating place. The ruins remain, but there’s a feeling of young creativity and urban development.
Can you count all five stray cats?
I leave you with this “come hither” picture of Nikola Tesla on the Dinar currency. He’s a Serbian-born inventor, known for his breakthroughs in electricity and forward-thinking ideas about futurism.
Did you know much about Belgrade, Serbia before reading this post? Isn’t the street art phenomenal?
In the next post, I’ll take you on a tour of the local nightlife and fashion — and you’ll see what I mean when I say this place is waiting to explode!
PS – THANK YOU to everyone for your huge response to this post — I hope it encourages more travelers to discover the beauty of Serbia. Please keep in touch by adding my social networks below, as there is much more to come. хвала!
A Food Tour of Budapest: Taste Hungary market culinary walk & local wine tastings. Peanut allergy poster!
Quick, tell me - what is Hungarian food like? Are Unicum, Túró Rudi, langos and Dobos cake delicious or disastrous? By the end of this post, you’ll have all the answers! (And if you have a peanut allergy, the last photo could save your life…)
The day after Sziget Music Festival, my film team and I joined Taste Hungary for a Budapest food tour. They’ve consulted for Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and have rave reviews from foodies, so I knew I was in good hands.
This indie company offers food experiences in Budapest and nearby areas, with themes such as literary coffeehouse, Danube wine, and craft beer. We did the Culinary Walk, a four hour taste-fest led by an English-fluent expert.
We met our guide Gabor at Central Market Hall, one of Europe’s biggest and grandest indoor markets. (Address: Nagy Vasarcsarnok, Vamhaz korut 1-3.) He co-owns Taste Hungary with his wife Carolyn, author of several books about Hungarian cuisine.
It was the hottest day of the year, so I dressed appropriately. These cat eye sunglasses are from Moat House Eyewear — yes, they’re made of wood! This UK indie brand sent me the hand-crafted frames (which are so unique and comfortable) after befriending me on Instagram.
My ghoulish skull top is similar to this one.
Gabor started the tour with a bang, or rather, a very potent drink. Unicum is a bitter Hungarian liqueur, reminiscent of Jägermeister. The secret formula contains more than 40 herbs, and was closely guarded by the family distillery (they even left the country during the Communist era to protect it!).
Our guide took us to the best market stalls, and gave us the run-down on Hungarian cuisine while we sampled, sampled, sampled. One of my favorite booths was run by a little old lady who makes her own sheep cheese. Gabor set up a little picnic and we tried different types of insanely fresh cheeses, including one with a squeaky texture.
Above is Túró Rudi, a chilled chocolate bar with a filling of quark, also known as cheese curd. Believe me, it’s scrumptious. (All photography by Melissa Rundle.)
Budapest locals come to Great Market Hall to buy fresh fruits, langos (fried flatbread), sausages (flavored with paprika), and other Eastern European staples.
Did you think cute food was found only in Asia? This basement pickle parlor proves otherwise. After we tried a few — the hot pepper one woke me up — the vendor gave us a free paper cone filled with sauerkraut.
While it’s not ok to touch the fruit, we did have permission to film. Can’t wait to show you our upcoming travel video, hosted by yours truly. (The Dubai and Abu Dhabi episode is next.)
Tip: do a Taste Hungary tour on an empty stomach, as you’ll be snacking non-stop for several hours. Having seen each floor of the market, Gabor took us for a stroll through the surrounding Pest neighborhood. Can’t get enough of the classical architecture.
We sat down (or rather, stood at the high tables) for a meal at Belvárosi Disznótoros or “Downtown Pig Feast”. (Address: Károlyi Mihály u. 17) I was grateful to have a local guide, since we would have never found this gem on our own. The traditional Hungarian dishes were flavorful but not overly heavy, and included duck leg, blood sausage, pan-fried potato slices, purple cabbage, cucumber salad, and chicken with pasta.
Now, for dessert. We walked to Budapest’s oldest family-run bakery, Auguszt Cukrászda. (Fény St 8.) The entrance had a Wonderland-like mural and rows of marzipan animals.
Re-charged with espresso drinks, we dove into the cakes: raspberry, walnut, and the famous Dobos — a seven-layer chocolate-filled and caramel-topped sensation. Like today’s cronut, the Dobos torte caused a frenzy when it was introduced in 1884; Franz Joseph I was among its fans.
We ended up in the park, sipping Hungarian wines (rose and white varietals you’ll never find in USA) with our new friend.
Looking back upon the day, I can’t believe how much I learned. A Taste Hungary journey is well worth joining, especially since the tours can be customized for no extra cost. I hope you’ll try one and say hi to Gabor for us!
It’s no exaggeration that food is amazing in Europe. I always eat my fill of the dark grain breads, sheep or goat cheeses, and cappuccinos.
To my surprise, even the European trains had good eats. As first-class passengers, we had access to Eurail lounges stocked with snacks.
Eurail.com lets you choose from a variety of rail passes and make seat reservations for a bit extra (worth it, to avoid standing the entire trip). All these confirmations are promptly mailed to you.
The comfort of this train, which we took from Vienna to Budapest, could rival Japan’s shinkansen.
Another perk of 1st class: in some trains, a staff member serves you free snacks! I also could order a meal or drink, and have it delivered to my seat.
A Eurail pass applies to railways all over Europe, and I think it’s the most convenient way to see the continent. Our journey was comfortable and the staff was attentive.
Unlike in airplanes, you can stretch your legs, enjoy the scenery, and order a proper meal in the dining cart. The trains leave on schedule and stations tend to be centrally located, which cuts down on travel time.
Tip: it’s worth splurging on first class tickets, especially in the summer (not all the cars have air conditioning). However, there are many options for different budgets, including student passes.
Have you ever tried traveling by train? Köszi (thank you in Hungarian) to Eurail.com for sending my filmmakers and me on this grand adventure.
PS: Are any of you allergic to peanuts and other nuts? In places like Eastern Europe and Asia, it can be difficult to communicate this to servers; some don’t even understand the concept of food allergies. Big problem. If you’re severely allergic to peanuts and accidentally ingest one, you can wind up with a puffy face like my cat’s… or much, much worse.
First Mate Naomiyaki came to the rescue! She created this astonishing illustration that clearly communicates: eating a nut = hives and swelling = death. It was a huge help on our trip, as I’m moderately allergic and one of my filmmakers has a foot in the coffin when it comes to most nuts.
We hope you might find this helpful for your future travels. Click for a large version of the peanut allergy sign; print it out or save it to your smartphone, and show it the next time you’re ordering food in a foreign country. Please leave a comment and let us know if it did the trick!
PS: thanks to Posse for publishing my Hong Kong Insider Guide, which includes pizza, pandas and pop culture clothing.
Avast, Captain Carmina commands ye to walk the plank! Keep yer eyes on this post for a Piratical adventure, and the premiere of Yukiro’s glam-horror-diva movie, Sandless Days (I’m in it!).
My crew works hard, and we’ve successfully built a TV coordinating, hosting and consulting business together: La Carmina & The Pirates.
I treated them to a well-deserved lunch at a fitting Tokyo theme restaurant: King of the Pirates. (Address: 5F Aqua City Odaiba, 1-7-1 Daiba, Minato-ku)
Japan has many theme restaurants that range in size, concept, and craziness. The Pirates restaurant is a relatively new one, and it’s yo-ho-ho wonderful.
“King of the Pirates” is appropriately located over the water in Odaiba, the man-made island in Tokyo Bay. This is a hub of entertainment; there are game centers, theme parks, food and other slightly off-kilter attractions (like a cat petting zoo).
To get here, ride the subway to Odaiba’s Tokyo Teleport station, then follow the signs to Aqua City. You can’t miss the pirate decor that fills every nook.
Theme restaurants are not known for great food, but I enjoyed my black squid ink curry. The lunch set is a great deal, and came with salad and unlimited non-alcoholic “drink bar”.
You’re allowed to take photos and encouraged to goof around. Even the staff, dressed in swashbuckler gear, gets into the spirit.
There’s a rack of props and costumes to raid, and scurvy mannequins to pose with.
Pirate sword-fight to the death!
Who do you think conquered the treasure chest of gold doubloons?
Captain Jack Sparrow made a blood pact with Yukiro, and they bound me in metal chains.
But the ship erupted in mutiny, and we escaped overboard to Treasure Island. (Most of these photos were taken by Naomi.)
Inside the gilded ship’s cabin, filled with maps and books.
Forever grateful to have these two as me mateys.
Outside, First Mate Naomi takes the wheel, while we crouch to strike at our enemies.
This Pirate restaurant is huge, and has a deck with a seaside view of Tokyo. We’re impressed with the effort that went into the decoration.
“I swing my hair back and forth”…
Skull and crossbones top: Spider, Hong Kong
Steampunk pirate necklace, worn as a hair ornament: gifted by Ghostlove Jewelry
Compare this theme restaurant with the Pirate Pub in Vancouver, Canada.
Don’t forget my book, Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants: Tokyo, packed with photos and info on bizarre places to eat.
And now, we present… “The finest film of our generation. No! Wait! Of our times! No! Stop the presses! Of ALL TIME!”
Yukiro wrote and directed this masterpiece, starring the diva-licious Mommy Dearest, Sarah Devour. I’m in the last scene, as “Miss Sandy Sanchez.” We command you to watch Sandless Days — tell us what you think of our big-budget movie, and my acting skills! Ah, nothing beats doing these art projects with my friends…
How do you like King of the Pirates? Would you dare to dress up and duel? More photos from Odaiba coming up, including the Trick Museum.