Category Archive for Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants
Wherever I go, I try to take part in activities that let me get immersed in the local life. Several of my friends insisted that I take a Balinese cooking class — and they were right, it ended up being one of my favorite memories from this trip.
At The Ritz-Carlton Bali, I learned how to cook Indonesian cuisine with two of their chefs! Read on for my Bali cooking class adventure — including a visit to a seafood market, and a new favorite drink called “bajigur.”
But first, a quick announcement… German readers, watch me on TV on August 13! I’m the Hong Kong guide of a new Pro7 travel show, “Offline,” starring Palina Rojinski. I hope you’ll tune in to Pro Sieben for this episode (and for everyone else, I’ll post photos and clips soon).
If you recall from my first post, Ritz-Carlton Nusa Dua was the perfect home base for travellers like me. I got to experience these picture-perfect beaches, which you wouldn’t find in tourist districts like Kuta and Seminyak.
The hotel is wonderful at suggesting activities, based on the guests’ interests. I wanted to experience Balinese daily life, and the island’s distinctive cooking — so they arranged for a private food tour and cooking class at their Bejana restaurant.
My friends Cohica Travel took these photos of me in the lobby, while we waited for Executive Sous Chef Wayan Wacaya.
I wore a grey romper from Chaser, and a floral kimono by Japanese Goth designer h.NAOTO.
The hotel arranged a van and driver, which took us to the morning market. I enjoyed looking out the window, and seeing families balanced on motorcycles.
Your eyes are not deceiving you… above, that is indeed a dog riding on a scooter!
Chef Wicaya led us around the bustling Jimbaran market. We saw all sorts of fresh ingredients for sale, as well as homewares and other goods.
Chef Wicaya introduced us to two women preparing “banten,” or ritual offerings for the gods. Three times a day, Hindus honor deities by placing a “banten” at entrances, statues or temples.
This lady is wrapping up the offerings into bamboo packets. Inside, you might find flowers, fruit, rice and leaves. If they’re too busy to make their own, locals purchase these “pre-wrapped” offerings for the thrice-daily ritual.
You’ll see these colorful, fragrant offerings everywhere in Bali. They’re an important part of daily life.
It’s best to see the Jimbaran market early in the morning. Even at 6-9am, the marketplace will be lined with rows of motorcycles.
I don’t know how these women balance full buckets on their heads.
The catch comes in every morning, on the shores of Jimbaran. This child looks eager to meet his fisherman father.
What a lively place — the beach was photography heaven! These colorful boats are “jukung” or traditional Indonesian fishing boats.
Families waited on the beach, chatting and playing while the boats pulled in. Balinese fishermen can be out in these small wooden boats for two weeks at a time, without ever coming to shore.
Colors everywhere, and no foreigners in sight (other than ourselves).
Now that’s a clever way to rig up lighting for a boat.
It’s true that the Balinese are warm and welcoming. I saw smiles everywhere I turned my camera. (I shoot with a Sony alpha 7 mirrorless.)
Fresh off the boat! It takes a team to bring in the catch. Love how even the baskets are brightly colored.
I learned that the government makes efforts to encourage sustainable fishing. These boats are prohibited from catching rare shark species, turtles and dolphins.
It’s hard work, being out in the ocean. For some, these water jugs are the only source of fresh water for a fortnight.
These women in triangle-hats were selling fish right on the sand.
Big fish, small fish. Surprisingly fun to photograph.
Chef Wicaya led us inside to the covered area, or “pasar ikan” (fish market).
Locals squeezed through this small space, and bought fish to prepare at home.
I saw Southeast Asian species that I didn’t recognize. This looks like a zombie fish. “The Swimming Dead,” perhaps?
“We watched Chef Wicaya walk the narrow corridors with confidence, waving hello to friends and neighbors who are picking up fish for their families (without refrigeration, many local woman visit the market each morning to pick up everything needed for the day’s meals). The sense of community and daily ritual is evident, and amidst the chaos, we’re grateful to be silent observers.”
Outside, I learned that yellowfin tuna… is called “yellow finned” for a reason!
I was happy I got to see Jimbaran market, and take part in this slice of local life. It made me better appreciate the food that we were about to make…
But first, we had to open this gargantuan door! Bejana, the Ritz-Carlton’s Indonesian restaurant, has an entrance worthy of Game of Thrones.
Located on the hotel’s upper cliff, Bejana’s interiors pay tribute to Indonesian art and performance.
Everything is grand here, especially the dramatic patio views of the resort and Indian Ocean.
Bejana is also home to the Culinary Cave, a fully equipped cooking station that lets you learn Indonesian cooking through hands-on instruction. We suited up in aprons and hats, and shook hands with our cheerful teacher, Chef Made Siriana.
(A fun aside: In Bali, all firstborn sons are named Wayan, while the secondborns are called Made. There is a succession of four names, and you start again at Wayan for the fifth boy. This Wikipedia article desribes Balinese naming traditions in more depth.)
Chef Made could have been the star of a cooking TV show. He was marvelous at explaining ingredients and preparations, while weaving in stories of childhood, and even a joke or two!
My fellow students Cohica Travel describe the scene: “Pre-prepped ingredients sit perfectly chopped and julienned in small bowls. We recognize some of the Asian flavors we’ve grown accustomed to: ginger, lemongrass, coconut, turmeric, garlic, shallots, and red chilies. As we get started, we also learn about new herbs and spices: pandan, a green plant that is a key ingredient in many local dishes, salam leaves, similar to a large bay leaf, and kaffir lime leaves.”
The chefs were happy to modify the ingredients for us — no nuts, please, or we’ll die! (Here’s the best peanut allergy poster ever made, by my pirate Naomi.)
First, we learned how to make bumbu, a curry-like spice paste that forms the base of many Indonesian dishes. We stir-fried aromatic ingredients together, then blended them into a hot and mouthwatering base. We all took turns stirring and chopping behind the stove.
From two versions of the bumbu paste, Chef Made showed us how to prepare a variety of homestyle dishes, including curries and tofu wrapped in banana leaves. Above, I’m learning how to pinch together a mahi-mahi fish satay (grilled on lemongrass sticks).
Next, we moved over to the dessert station and learned how to make dadar gulung: bite-size pancakes turned green by pandan leaves, and filled with coconut and palm sugar. So, so good.
The staff gave us all copies of the recipes, so that we could re-create these meals back at home.
The photo above says it all… What a meal, and one that we cooked together! After this trip, I gained a new appreciation for Indonesian food, which is flavorful, spicy and more complex than you might imagine.
My friends and I also have a new favorite drink, called bajigur. It’s a traditional Javanese hot beverage, rich with the healing flavors of ginger, coconut milk, lemongrass and pandan leaf. We’re convinced that if someone made this available in North America, it would become more popular than the Starbucks chai latte.
I was so obsessed with this drink that the Ritz-Carlton arranged a special bajigur lesson for me!
This is what I love about travel: no matter how much you read up about a place, you’ll never know what will inspire you until you’re actually there.
Food is such a fantastic window into local culture, do you agree?
Terima Kasih (thank you) to The Ritz-Carlton Bali for this unforgettable day! I enjoyed their Balinese cooking school so much that I’m going to do more experiences like this, wherever I go.
I leave you with another photo of the dog riding the scooter. Bali, you’re the best.
I’m currently in Spain (as you can see on my @lacarmina Snapchat and Instagram) — but have so many posts still to share with you from Asia. In this one, let’s explore Shanghai’s French Concession and go shopping in two of China’s coolest districts, Tianzifang and Xintiandi.
So far, I’ve been showing you China’s emerging trendy side. Remember my photoshoot inside my penthouse suite at Cachet Boutique Hotel? Here are a few snaps from the lobby, which is decorated in the same “ancient China meets mod art” aesthetic.
From Cachet Hotel, we walked to the French Concession. This district belonged to France from the late 19th century to 1943. Even today, the European influence is seen in the architecture and character of the streets.
Melissa and I stopped to take in the old brick buildings, and the new skyscrapers rising above them. China’s changed enormously even in the past decade. Business and development are booming.
The French Quarter remains the most peaceful and chic area of Shanghai (and arguably all of China). These trees — all imported from France — form a leafy canopy above the international boutiques and restaurants.
While China is modernizing, there remain strange remnants of the past. Communist China doesn’t officially allow sex shops, so this one put up a “health” sign.
Another example of this juxtaposition. The French Concession feels as clean and contemporary as any European boulevard. And yet…
… we came across a woman selling puppies in a box. She poked at them, to make them seem more lively for potential customers. And one was dyed with tiger stripes… Despite other modernizations, you’ll still see practices like these, in the open.
On the positive side, I enjoyed the calm vibe of the French Quarter. We passed by many artsy shops and cafes, like the one above.
I recommend spending at least a few hours walking around at random, and popping into boutiques. (The sign above says that this building’s foundation is sinking, and urges people to consider the health and safety of residents.)
Seems like cute food is popular all over Asia. We were there around Halloween, so I spotted these skull, ghost and pumpkin donuts.
Shanghai converted about 500 old red telephone booths into WiFi hubs. Funny how they transformed an obsolete technology into something functional for today.
My white neoprene dress is similar to this one also by Shakuhachi.
We stopped by Xintiandi, an upscale district that was the site of a controversial urban redevelopment project. This project transformed a slum into a business and residential space, while preserving the historical architecture. Unfortunately, it also displaced thousands of Shanghai residents.
Everywhere I went, I felt a strange mix of new and old. Tianzifang is an artsy area that has preserved its old alleyways and buildings.
At the same time, it’s become a tourist destination. Nonetheless, the little stalls — selling handicrafts, tea and other goods — are fun to browse.
Prices in China are notoriously low, but you can (and should) try to bargain them down more.
Be wary of poor quality and knock-off items. These cell phone cases are cute (love the Mario and Spirited Away ), but are constructed from glue and felt. I’m sure they’d fall apart within a day.
Other shops sell intriguing art, and traditional souvenirs — like the Chinese cats above.
Colorful characters, painted in vivid colors. (Photos by me and Borderless Media — check out our global travel videos on their site.)
In one shop, I saw a Scottish Fold coin purse, with tiny folded ears (on the right).
You can flatly assume that all “designer” items here are knock-offs here. Look close at the tag, and it reveals the truth about these “brand-name” sneakers. You can’t make this Chinglish up: “never expose to intense meat or hot vehicles!”
Tianzifang is packed with street food and little restaurants, serving all types of cuisine.
Look what we ran into… the More Than Toilet theme restaurant! As the male/female sign indicates, this is a poop-themed restaurant. (Address: Tianzifang, No. 5, Lane 274, Taikang Lu)
This restaurant concept is similar to Taiwan’s Modern Toilet. Customers sit on toilet seats and dine on such “delicious and happy” concoctions, like a swirl of chocolate ice cream, served in a urinal.
In the glass case, you can buy stuffed toys shaped like a big dump, with cute faces on them (of course).
We didn’t eat here, but saw others feasting on dishes like “Stool #1,” a mix of brown sweets served in a toilet bowl.
If you’re interested in reading more about bizarre Asia theme restaurants, check out my book about them.
Travel isn’t always always positive and easy. In fact, some of the most memorable trips are the ones that leave you feeling challenged. Some of Shanghai’s contradictions were hard to wrap my head around, but I’m glad I came here. I’m curious how the city will continue to change in the next years and decades.
Have you visited China before? What was your experience with the culture here?
Where am I? And even… who am I? The answer seems to vary every day — but for this post, you can call me Alice in Wonderland.
During my Manchester stay, I got to experience the British ritual of high tea… in a Tim Burton meets Lewis Carroll environment. Come down the rabbit hole with me, and we’ll journey through the city’s vibrant Gay Village too.
Photographer Joey Wong thought our rental penthouse at the Light Aparthotel was aptly named — because the windows and sheer curtains created the perfect soft-box for portrait photography. Each day, before heading out, we shot images here.
I’m wearing decadent eyelashes from Velour Lashes (the quality is far and above regular plastic falsies). My lip gloss and eyeshadows are from Anastasia Beverly Hills (get it here). I swear by my Sigma Beauty makeup brushes, which come in travel size and let you blend and contour like a pro.
I wanted my look to be a tribute to Alice in Wonderland, without doing a full-on cosplay. (My haircolor is by Stephanie Hoy – ask for her at Stratosphere Hair in Vancouver.)
My outfit is a little tip of the hat to Disney’s Alice, who wears a light blue dress with a similar skirt shape. The white rabbit necklace is something I made — with a tag from the Miffy store in China!
I met my friends at Richmond Tea Rooms — isn’t this the most adorable English traditional tea house?
The tea rooms are connected to a cocktail lounge, decorated with quirky fixtures like antique clocks and taxidermy animals.
Walking through the entrance, I couldn’t help but feel like I was living in the storybook. The decor takes inspiration from the Queen of Hearts’ royal garden, and the White Rabbit’s pocketwatch.
Inside, a case of homemade cakes and the signs “Eat Me” “Drink Me” hint at what’s in store for diners.
The smiling waiter took us “that way” to the prime tea enclosure, decorated like a garden patio draped in vines and birdcages.
Richmond Tea Rooms was at capacity when we arrived, so I recommend reserving a table well in advance. Ask for this semi-private area, especially if you’re celebrating a special occasion.
Now, the hard part — what to order, from the extensive menu?
The strawberry milkshake was an easy decision, as was the Earl Grey tea. (My steampunk clockwork nail art is by Glam Nail Studio in Richmond, Vancouver.)
There are a few variations on the high tea sets, with names like Queen’s Tea and Alice’s Tea. The chefs can prepare vegetarian and gluten-free options for you. The stacked trays are ideal for sharing, and include both savory and sweet treats, like rainbow layer cake!
All the little details — like a chain of playing cards — make the Wonderland experience come to life. It also helps that everyone around me was speaking in British accents, and pouring tea with their best Victorian manners.
Afternoon tea is something you can’t miss if you’re in England. I was all over the scones, clotted cream and jam.
Cheers to Richmond Tea Rooms, which executes the Alice in Wonderland theme with flair! You can tell that the owners and staff genuinely love the stories.
Japan has an Alice in Wonderland theme restaurant (see photos), but it feels like a commercial enterprise. This, on the other hand, is the Mad Hatter’s tea party come to life.
In addition to the tea sets, you can order a-la-carte items. It’s an opportunity to try traditional English dishes like Yorkshire Pudding and Welsh rarebit (melted cheese and vegetables on bread).
Miffy is my white rabbit for life.
Perhaps you can come here with a group of friends, all dressed up! The staff would welcome you warmly.
Thanks to Visit Manchester for bringing us here. There are so many gems to discover in this city…
… such as the Gay Village, which is where the tea room is located. I didn’t realize Manchester had such a big LGBT scene, center around Canal Street.
Did you know Queer As Folk was set in Manchester? The Gay Village is full of energy — we saw colorful clubs and murals at every turn.
If you’ll recall from my Northern Quarter post, Manchester has a wonderful indie / alternative scene in general.
Every year, the Pride parade takes over, proving why Manchester is one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities.
The sign says it all… G-A-Y, in bright lights! Every weekend, the balcony is packed with revelers dancing to pop music.
The Molly House is more my scene — a vintage-styled, laid back pub that serves cakes, ales and wines. The playlist veers to the indie side, and the music is kept low enough so that you can converse.
Manchester’s city center is unexpectedly small, and it’s easy to get around by walking. From the Gay Village, it took us only about 15-20 minutes to reach New Wakefield Street, an area known for funky murals like this one.
There are entire bars under the bridge, like Black Dog Ballroom. I recommend coming to the New Wakefield area for a walk around.
After a long day, we were glad to head back to our luxe apartment at The Light ApartHotel. It’s a few paces away from Affleck’s Goth/alternative shopping center, and other cool spots in the Northern Quarter. We thoroughly enjoyed this view from our giant window, and free tea and cookies in the lobby.
More from Manchester — including my New Order and Joy Division music tour — in my England category.
And if you’re intrigued by the Alice in Wonderland teahouse, here are my stories about theme restaurants around the world!
Ah, there’s no skyline like Singapore. I’m still catching up on posts from my recent trip to Asia (I was in Tokyo to filming with Travel Channel TV, and also Bali and Singapore). But things are about to heat up some more… as I’m now heading to three new countries on two continents.
Morocco, Portugal and Spain — here we come!
Spain Tourism is sending us over to capture stories of cool culture. I went to Barcelona years ago, but never Granada and other parts of this gorgeous country. We’re also partnering with Eurail again and riding their trains around Spain, and to Porto and Lisbon. Finally, we’re heading south to Fez, Marrakesh and Ouarzazate with Plan-It-Fez tours, to support women-run businesses and get immersed in Moroccan culture.
But for now, back to the pink skies of Singapore. Some travelers make the effort to wake before dawn, in order to shoot photos in the first light. However, I’m not a morning person, and never managed to make this happen. The only reason I was able to capture these sunrise images for you… is because I took an overnight flight to Singapore, and landed around 5:30am!
When you step out at the airport after a red-eye, disheveled and jet-lagged, the last thing you want to do is struggle with transportation.
I was invited to try out Blacklane Limousines, and booked a driver to pick me up and take me to my hotel. I was impressed by the seamlessness of the process, from the online reservation to the meet-up. Blacklane texts you to let you know your driver is on the way and gives you his cell number, so I never had to stress about a missed connection. Each time, the driver was waiting at our exact meeting point, holding a sign that said “La Carmina.”
Blacklane’s service is a splurge but worth it. It’s a relief to have a calm, direct car ride after a long flight, especially if you have to travel a long distance to your hotel (such as from Narita to Shinjuku, which can take two hours in traffic.)
Blacklane’s drivers are a class act. My Singapore driver offered to stop by Merlion Park on the way to my hotel, so I could take these images of the famous fountain. He also gave me a bunch of local travel tips.
The mythical Merlion is the symbol of Singapore. The fish body symbolizes the city’s humble origins as a fishing village. The lion head refers to its original name, Singapura, which means ‘lion city’ in Malay.
Across the bay, I spotted the unmistakable Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel, and the ArtScience museum shaped like a lotus flower. Marina Bay Sands hotel stands to the right (I’ll take you inside, in an upcoming article.)
When I was a child, my family and I never went to Singapore (even though it’s a short flight from Hong Kong) because it wasn’t considered a “must-see” destination. All this has changed, and tourism has boomed in the past years. Believe it or not, the Ferris wheel, MBS hotel, Gardens by the Bay and ArtScience museum opened only in the 2000s! Yet they’ve completely altered the cityscape, and are now as iconic as the Merlion fountain (which was established in 1972 by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew).
My driver stopped at a different look-out point so that I could see the Merlion from across the water, surrounded by skyscrapers. Crazy to realize that none of these buildings existed a few decades ago.
However, Singapore is not just about high-tech architecture. The government puts careful attention into preserving historic, colonial homes and ethnic neighborhoods.
My hotel is in Chinatown / Tanjong Pagar, a hip area for restaurants and bars. The entire street consists of heritage buildings with charming shutters. (This is the view across the road.)
Naumi Liora turned a 1920s Chinese townhouse into a 79-room boutique hotel that maintains the original Peranakan elements. Double-leaf doors, French style windows and lattice patterns give character to the lobby and rooms.
However, the comforts of the modern world abound! Air conditioning, modern amenities — even free ice cream, lattes and snacks in the lobby. No wonder Naumi Liora is a hit among 20-something travellers.
We were steps away from one of the city’s coolest and best-rated restaurants: Tippling Club (Address: 38 Tanjong Pagar Road). Look for the sign Bin 38, which refers to their new test kitchen and private dining space.
My white cut-out dress is from Chaser the Brand. The bunny-ears Japanese headband is from WeGo Tokyo.
Tippling Club’s interior is modern eye candy, and hints at the fun-house meal awaiting you. The hanging bottles over the bar are both for form and function.
The cocktail menu looks like a map, with drinks sitting on a continuum: sweet, sour, fruity, dry. I loved the Occiton, created for “Diageo World Class 2015,” which puts together gin, pineapple vermouth, thyme, basil.
Tipping Club is famous for its cocktails, which come with a cheeky presentation. I ordered the bubble tea with melon and mangosteen infused gin — and it had a dome of giant bubbles on top, made with a fish tank air pump! The Panda’s Escape (left) creatively combined rum and coconut water with Southeast Asian pandan, with two panda cookies on top.
Tippling Room wins my award for “coolest lights.” The upper level is a private dining space, which lets diners sample new creations straight from the test kitchen. Many of these experimental dishes later become part of the main menu.
Each creation is paired with wine from Penfolds’ celebrated Bin series. I’d love to have a party with my foodie friends here.
Downstairs, British born chef Ryan Clift works his molecular magic right in front of you. We sat at the open kitchen counter, and tasted over a dozen small bites.
As you can see from the photos, Chef Clift’s amuse bouches are playful and aims to defy expectations. He began with bite-size twists on bar snacks, anointed with flavors squeezed from droppers. I bet you’ve never had a white truffle cracker that looks like Styrofoam, and is served on the material itself!
Tippling Club is often described as molecular gastronomy, but it goes beyond that. Take the Singaporean curry (top right) with puffed rice and curry coconut foam. Although made with molecular twists, it captured the flavors of this traditional local dish.
Same goes for their roasted monkfish with green curry and lime tofu. (Photos by Ken Yuen)
Don’t miss out on their signature charred red pepper with a soy wasabi dipping sauce (right), and mango and togarashi sorbet white chocolate Meteorite for dessert (left).
Chef Clift gets especially whimsical with his desserts. There are cheesecake pills served in a prescription bottle, and a rainbow Fizz Bomb packet that bursts on your tongue like Pop Rocks candy. On the right: a beetroot and blackberry sorbet sandwich came impaled on a moving metal rod, which I had to catch in my mouth.
The word “memorable” gets tossed around a lot, but it truly applies to Tippling Club. A must-try if you’re in Singapore.
I couldn’t leave without checking out the legendary Raffles Hotel and drinking a Singapore Sling. Established in 1887 and named after Singapore founder Stamford Raffles, the hotel maintains a feeling of colonial-era grandeur. (Address: 1 Beach Road)
My dress is from Alice’s Pig. and I got the cat-ear sunglasses at Parco Shibuya in Tokyo.
Outside, anyone can wander through the courtyard gardens — you’ll feel like a member of the old gentry, on the way to a decadent ball. Raffles now has a row of high-end shops outside.
Inside, only guests of the hotel are allowed. I was invited to peruse the lobby and tea rooms, and it felt like The Grand Budapest Hotel come to life.
I couldn’t resist taking a photo with the doorman in a colonial Raj military-style uniform.
We were invited to visit the revamped Long Bar, which is now being more geared to locals.
The staircase shows the hotel’s rich history over the years. Ah, to be a flapper in Singapore!
Inside, the architecture retains the old-time feeling, with a 1920s spiral staircase.
The Long Bar’s row of rattan fans is a throwback to the days before air-conditioning. This is probably the only place in Singapore where littering is encouraged. Every table has a bag of peanuts, and it’s tradition for customers to throw the shells onto the ground.
(But what if you have a peanut or nut allergy? Then you can wave around this “no nuts or I’ll die” sign, which Naomi made to help out travellers! Just print out a copy of this helpful peanut allergy poster.)
Raffles is the birthplace of the Singapore Sling, a pink cocktail made by Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. In these olden times, it was considered uncouth for women to drink alcohol. The bartender skirted these rules with a girly-looking mix that still packed a punch (ingredients include cherry liqueur, pineapple juice, Cointreau).
The Long Bar is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Sling with mixology classes and other events, making this is a good year to visit.
I leave you with a few more glowing photos of the Singapore Flyer…
.. and skyscrapers over the water.
Doesn’t Singapore have a fascinating history? I’m glad I finally got a chance to travel here.
PS: Please let me know your suggestions for Spain, Morocco and Portugal — and add my Instagram and Snapchat (@lacarmina) for previews of this trip!