When I was in Seoul, I hung out with YouTube stars Eat Your Kimchi in their studio — and it was fantastic, baby!
I toured EYK’s Nasty headquarters, and chatted with Simon and Martina about their upcoming Korea projects — including a coffee shop for their fans. Read on for the inside scoop, and tons of funny photos.
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For those who don’t know, Simon and Martina Stawski run the extremely popular EatYourKimchi YouTube channel, which specializes in videos about Kpop music, life in Seoul, and zany adventures with their pets and friends.
Much like my own La Carmina blog, Eat Your Kimchi (EYK) began as a hobby, fueled by their passion for Korean culture. Today, they have a loyal following of fans (aka Nasties), and have expanded EYK into an independent studio, clothing line, worldwide appearances and more.
Simon and Martina are just as friendly and fabulous in person, and we spent over an hour laughing together. I immediately felt at home on their purple couch, and we dished about pop culture and fashion as if we were old friends.
I borrowed a stuffed octopus and “poop pencil” to write down notes (I’ll be doing some magazine stories about Eat Your Kimchi, so stay tuned). Fans will recognize the saucy penguin sitting on Martina.
The married couple is from Toronto, Canada, and always loved subcultures. They moved to Korea to teach English, and began making casual YouTube videos (about Korean food, Hello Kitty, K-pop) for their friends back home. Similarly to my own career arc, they built up a loyal following, and eventually quit their day jobs to do Eat Your Kimchi full-time.
Today, they have their own colorful studio located in the youth culture district, Hongdae. I was impressed by how they custom-designed the space, with special lighting setups and kawaii decor all over. It’s like walking into a K-idol dream.
Viewers will recognize these backdrops, as seen in their regular uploads (Kpop Music Mondays, FapFap, livestreams and more).
Martina and Simon gave me a tour of the studio, which includes a sound room full of pillows, and Happy Kitchen. And how about this pink walk-in closet? It’s a wardrobe fantasy, filled with wigs, makeup and shark hats.
Everywhere you turned, there was fan art. The duo genuinely cares about their audience, and draws inspiration from the drawings and dolls they receive.
Here’s where the video-editing magic happens. You shouldn’t be surprised to see that their laptop has an adorable custom keyboard!
I met business manager Soo Zee (love her purple hair!) and other team members, who were hard at work. Everyone works together on the standing desk, a healthier option than sitting around all day.
Simon and Martina spoke enthusiastically about their newest project: You Are Here, an Eat Your Kimchi coffee shop near Hongdae station! The goal’s to create an inviting space where they can hang out with their fans and host special events (since their studio space is for work only).
It can be hard for first-time visitors to figure out where to go in Seoul, and for solo travelers to meet others. Hopefully, the EYK cafe can help to bring people together.
Martina and Simon have just opened the doors to the cafe. Martina is excited to bring her home-cooking to customers, and to have the coffee brewed just right. If this cute studio is any indication, their coffeeshop will be a hit.
I’m excited to see the in-shop videobooth, where fans can record messages to be incorporated into videos. It’s inspiring to see how much EYK interacts with their “Nasties.”
I was sad that their pets weren’t in the studio that day. Everyone loves Spudgy the dog, and Dr Meemersworth — a Scottish Fold cat, just like mine!
Here are our earless babies (Meemers on the left, Basil Farrow on the right). We bonded over the breed’s quirks, like the way Scottish Folds dangle their big paws and love to cuddle.
Simon and Martina have lived in Seoul for many years now, and I asked them about the peculiarities of Korean pop culture. I learned that tattoos are taboo, like in Japan: only doctors are legally allowed to ink others, so tattoo shops stay underground (there aren’t signs advertising them). In June, Seoul had a tattoo convention but it was shut down by officials. How funny that in contrast, plastic surgery (a more invasive “body modification”) thrives here!
Their job looks like it’s all play: making goofy videos in a space filled with toys, and yes, that’s a purikura booth in the back. However, I can see — and personally know — how much hard work goes into each project, and how committed they are to their team and Nasties.
They love what they do, and try to give back to their fans. Simon and Martina spoke about upcoming appearances at anime conventions, a possible road trip with meet-ups, and more.
I wanted some cool travel tips, and who better to ask than Eat Your Kimchi? Martina drew me a map of hotspots in this neighborhood (Hongdae) while Simon watched.
I ended up visiting all the places they recommended, with my photographers. In my next posts, I’ll show you the Hongdae Hello Kitty cafe, Zombie coffee, Robot bar and more. (Stay tuned to my Seoul category to see!)
Naturally, she drew this map with colorful pens, on cute panda paper. As you can see, she marked her favorite cupcake shop and Kpop fashion boutiques.
I think Martina is imitating the big robot that guards her favorite bar. Can you spot the tattoos of her dog and folded-eared cat?
We couldn’t stop taking photos with the stuffed toys.
So much fan art everywhere. Martina gave me a few Scottish Fold items from EYK’s fashion line, including a purple knit cap with Meemers’ round face on the corner. Everything is made locally.
(Photography by Jacqueline Kwok of noircorner and Ken Yuen.)
Funny how Simon is growing a beard, so he no longer looks like the older fan art.
We could have chatted all day long! Huge hugs for Simon, Martina and their team for inviting me to their Seoul headquarters. I’m psyched to see their new coffee shop — you can see updates on their website and YouTube. They’re on both Twitter and Instagram under @eatyourkimchi.
Have you ever watched Eat Your Kimchi’s videos? Are you keen to visit Seoul and their cafe? Below is an iPhone pic that they decorated with the Line app.
Coming up next: My birthday is on August 17, and I’ll be releasing not one, but TWO videos.
A dream come true… I went on safari in South Africa!
Cape Town Tourism brought my travel filmmakers and me to Aquila Game Reserve, located two hours from Cape Town. Without having to “rough it” in the bush, we got to see the Big Five animals up close and in a natural environment.
Aquila’s 7500 hectares holds hundreds of African species, including endangered ones. We saw lion kings,
… playful elephants beneath the Cape Karoo mountains,
… and the mighty rhinoceros, which the reserve is fighting to protect from extinction. (The other two of the “Big 5″ animals are the Cape buffalo, and the African leopard.)
My travel team and I are adamant about only supporting ethical places, where animals are well treated (no tiger temples or ocean parks, for example). We were glad to see Aquila’s commitment to responsible practices and anti-poaching. Our guide worked in rhino conservation for years, and we could sense his passion from the way he described the animals.
Aquila is a private game reserve and offers “safari drives” in the morning and evening, lasting about three hours long. There are also bicycle, horseback, and overnight options, but we aren’t exactly the hardy outdoor types…
… and preferred to enjoy the quaint lodges and cabins. We arrived just before lunch time, and made our way to the buffet.
These black and white photos on the wall made me miss my Scottish Fold, but got me excited to see the big cats up close.
My first encounter with creatures: a peacock, near the welcome entrance. The blue and gold feathers are luminous.
If I could talk to the animals, like Dr Doolittle, what would they say to me? Probably “Bleh.” (My outfit details are described below.)
Number one rule, which filmmaker Melissa is breaking: don’t touch the wild animals. Lions may look fuzzy, but their predator instincts are sharp.
We settled into a covered safari vehicle, and our guide drove us through the reinforced gates. He reminded us to keep limbs inside at all times, and not make startling noises.
These lions were saved from “canned hunt” operations. When the guide described this torturous practice, I wanted to cry. Canned hunting is when animals are put in a confined area — almost like a large gladiator arena — so that “trophy hunters” can easily find and kill them.
The lion pride resides in a separate fenced section of land. Since they grew up in canned hunting operations, they don’t have the skills to survive in the African wilderness. Aquila lets them live in a naturalistic home, while getting care from the staff.
How can anyone want to shoot these creatures? Our guide told us about something even worse: big game hunting, done from online! People would use their computer screens to track animals, and press a button to shoot them. It’s like the horror movie Hostel come to life.
Fortunately, these lions now have the chance to enjoy life. From our vehicle, we got to see some National Geographic action. The male lion prowls towards the female…
… gets behind her, and nibbles her neck. You can guess what happens next! (I actually took a video of the lion mating; you know you want to see it.)
“Can you feel the love tonight?” It didn’t last long, but the lion king got a kiss after.
Yet another section is home to cheetahs and leopards. So sad: this leopard was fattened up for a canned trophy hunt, to the extent that his stomach hung to the ground. Once again, Aquila gives these rescued animals a secure home, and even has a cheetah breeding program.
Tip: even though you’re in Africa, dress warm. We visited during their winter (July), and there was a strong wind. I am wearing a million layers under my Algonquins top, and silver skirt by Candy Stripper (both from Tokyo). My happy lion backpack is a present from A Bros Products in Hong Kong. The leopard print tights are a random purchase from somewhere in Asia.
It was fun to drive around the immense main reserve, and look for animals. We spotted zebra print among the tall grasses. (Here’s a video of the zebras flipping their ears and tails; it’s quite different to see the safari in motion.)
Indescribable, the joy of seeing animals in this manner.
Our guide parked us close to the creatures, and told us fascinating facts about them. We learned that if the zebra’s mane flops to one side, it isn’t healthy. And why can’t we ride zebras? Because they have a different spine structure from horses, which doesn’t let them support the weight of a rider.
He also told us that our cabins are well away from the animals… because once, a water buffalo charged through the door!
These are springbok, a type of antelope-gazelle. As their name suggests, they’ve got a spring in their step.
Here’s an eland, or antelope with twisted horns. We also spotted the grumpy-looking water buffalo, but weren’t quick enough to get a photo.
We had rather good luck at capturing animals doing “natural activities!” Since the rhinoceros is severely threatened by poachers, out to cut off their horns, Aquila has a “Saving Private Rhino” initiative. They focus on training programs to prevent attacks.
Our guide taught us to identify white rhinos. They look a lot like black ones but are taller, have a bigger head and larger hump on the back, and tend to hang in large groups, eating grass.
We kept warm with blankets from the guide’s stash. Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, as you’ll be outdoors for several hours.
The elephants were heading to the mountains, but we caught up with them just in time.
These elephants are teenagers, playing together with their trunks!
They’re such peaceful, happy animals. Our guide told us the difference between African and Indian elephants: the African ones are larger and more wrinkled, with full rounded heads, and ears shaped like the continent.
The vehicle stopped, and we all took a few minutes to stretch our legs. (Photos by Melissa Rundle and Eric Bergemann.)
The guide offered us nuts (no thanks, allergies) and champagne (why yes!). Cheers.
We didn’t want our safari game drive to end. There’s something magical about being in an environment like this, simply observing the animals as if you were one of them.
Near the watering hole, multiple species gathered. I spotted zebras, ostriches, rhinos, and the little symbiotic birds (oxpeckers) that perch on their backs.
Only one word to describe this look… kawaii!
How many lions can you count? Funny how their expressions and postures are exactly like my Scottish Fold cat’s.
There’s more about Aquila Game Reserve and their conservation efforts on their site. While this safari is more tourist-oriented than some others, the big benefit is that you can easily make a day trip here from Cape Town.
Thanks to Cape Town Tourism for making this report possible. I hope all of you will get a chance to experience safari. It’s as amazing as everyone says.
Some final shots from my Instagram, of the cozy African-style rooms and a lion in motion.
Have you ever seen lions, giraffes or elephants in person? Is safari on your travel dream list?
Hong Kong is a fusion foodie paradise! It was Yukiro’s first time in the city, so I wanted him to experience the sky-high harbor views, and local spins on sushi.
My Pirates and I were invited to try some of Hong Kong’s newest restaurants, which are raising the bar on an already top-class food scene. We indulged in sexy naked rolls, got high on “magic mushrooms”, and drank wine with Miffy the blow-up bunny… Intrigued? Ready to laugh? Read on, and don’t miss the hilarious final photo.
(My skull dress is by Gladnews; more pics soon.)
We began at the top: or rather, on the 29th floor, at Sushi To (Soundwill Plaza II, 1-29 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay). Celebrated local chef Harlan Goldstein opened this Japanese restaurant earlier this year.
Causeway Bay is one of my favorite shopping districts, and this is the ideal place to stop for lunch — the iconic view says it all. From our window seat, we lorded over Victoria Harbor, silver skyscrapers, and traditional red junk boats.
Harlan has an immense local following, and is a rock star among Hong Kong chefs. He opened several European restaurants in HK throughout the past decades, and this is this first foray into Japanese cuisine. (More about our meeting with him, below.)
Sushi Tō specializes in omakase, and Harlan honored us with a “La Carmina Tasting Menu!” The selection encompasses more than sushi: there are his unique takes on robatayaki, teppanyaki and more, with creative ingredients such as “magic mushrooms maki”.
(I know you’re staring at my Totoro nail art. It’s hand-painted, using bio sculpture gel, by Vancouver-based Glam Nail Studio.)
We were speechless over the starter: a salad with slow-cooked salmon, 68 degrees onsen egg, and sesame soy dressing. Yukiro marvels: “I didn’t expect sushi to taste this good outside Japan. Its probably the finest fish I ever had the pleasure of consuming, and the way they served it was subtle and yet artistic.”
And then: kampachi and salmon sashimi. Simple and ocean-fresh. We’re all still salivating over this photo.
John felt this was the perfect first introduction. “The fresh sashimi melted in our mouths as their simplicity prepared us for the fireworks of flavor in the sushi rolls that came later, including the dragon fire maki.”
We sipped on a number of cocktails; the old fashioned and pineapple-infused one were winners. John adds, “Be sure to try the “sake-tini,” a refreshing summer cocktail to round out an amazing meal.”
My friends show their enthusiasm for the burdock pickle and wasabi konbu beef roll. “The panko crusted Hiroshima oyster with black truffle miso sauce was devilishly good too,” adds John.
The non-sushi selections were just as delectable. This is Hokkaido scallop, crab meat clams, shrimp, rice and soup in a stone hot pot. Dessert was so enticing — white sesame tiramisu — that we ate it before we could take a photo.
Let’s leave the last word to Yukiro. “The way they personalized their menu just for us really showed how much they care about their customers. They should change their name to “Sushi To die for!”
For dinner, we went to the newly opened Mama San in Central. Chef Will Meyrick’s restaurant made waves in Bali, and now has a branch in Hong Kong’s hottest food district, Lan Kwai Fong.
The interior sets the mood: Indonesian tradition meets young nightlife.
The PR team gave us this picture-perfect seat, overlooking the partygoers of Lan Kwai Fong. (Address: 1/F, 46 Wyndham Street, Central). As you can see, I had a special date with me… Miffy!
Mr Skeleton describes Mama San’s menu as “an eclectic mix of items from countries ranging from China and India to Malaysia and Vietnam. Beef tartar and cassava chips helped us whet our palettes before shifting to heavier dishes like the “Dhania ghost” slow-cooked lamb shank.”
Miffy seems to be a fan of the appetizers…
… and the cocktail menu, consisting of classics with a twist. My go-to is the “Dark & Stormy”, and Mama San put a nice spin on it: rum, house ginger beer, orange bitters and lime in a paper bag.
After walking in the humid weather, we were relived to have salmon sashimi with pickled radish, edamame, organic flowers and yuzu dressing.
The southeast Asian spices stirred our senses: coconut, Thai basil, chilis, kaffir lime. Miffy dove head first into the salt-crusted barramundi fish, stuffed with lemongrass pandan and lemon basil, served with nahm jihm (Thai dipping sauce).
John says, “After all of the amazing foods we tried in Hong Kong, I would have to put Naked Gurume Gyarari (グルメ画廊) at the top. Chef Justin Chan took us on a gourmet tour of Japanese tapas-style fusion cuisine.” (28 Elgin Street, 1/F Central District, Hong Kong)
Yukiro jokes, “It was so hot outside that we wanted to go in there completely Naked. At least our stomachs were naked on the inside, but when we went out, they were more than completely dressed in the finest materials from the world of Japanese-inspired food.”
I agree with the praise! Justin and his team blew us away with dishes that look like art, and surprise the senses – yet, let the flavors do the talking. As John puts it, “The name of the establishment refers to stripping down ingredients to their bare essentials, but the creations that pleasantly assaulted our tastebuds were anything but minimalist.”
The scallops with crystalline ice leaves are a great example. I’ve never tried these glistening Okinawan leaves before, and they paired wonderfully with the seafood and sauces.
Many dishes are inspired by Chef Justin Chan’s childhood memories. He houses fried oysters in a traditional dim sum basket. Naked calls itself a “gourmet gallery” that mixes art and food; Yukiro describes the interior as “hip, with subtle inspirations from Japanese art.”
This Sexy Naked Roll left us speechless. John says: “The perfectly grilled “nigirizushi”, or seared tuna on butter-toasted rice, had us begging for more.” You must order this, when you visit.
He kept serving home runs, like a rich and satisfying lobster risotto bisque, and this succulent hamachi collar.
Yukiro says, “Again I was astonished by the taste of the sushi and we had to order some dishes twice even though we were more than filled.” John adds, “For jaded foodies who are looking for flavor combinations you’ve never tried before, Naked might just be an eye-opening (and mouthwatering) experience.”
Now we’re back in the hands of Harlan, this time at Penthouse. (Same location as Sushi To, but one floor higher.) “Entering the bright and spacious restaurant, you would be forgiven for imagining that you had stepped into a hip Manhattan studio, but the ceiling window view of Hong Kong would soon convince you otherwise,” describes John.
Harlan Goldstein opened Penthouse not long ago, and despite being a celeb chef, he’s as hands-on as it gets: we saw him working right in the kitchen, alongside his staff. Harlan took a break to sit with us, and we chatted over bourbon cocktails called “Wall St After 5pm.”
Originally from New York, Harlan’s a strong and passionate personality. He’s been in Hong Kong since the 1970s, and locals can’t get enough of his restaurants. John says, “Harlan described his vision for his restaurant as a cosmopolitan East meets West establishment.” Looking around, Penthouse was packed with “loyal local customers, in love with the no-fuss contemporary cuisine.”
We couldn’t wait to try the rustic dishes that draw upon Italian slow-cooking and handcrafted pastas. The meal begins with salad selections from the buffet. Someone couldn’t resist taking a bite…
On the right: Yukiro died over this heirloom tomato tartare with burrata cheese, and balsamic jelly. On the left: I scraped the bowl clean of black ink bomba rice, with scallops and crisp baby squid.
Penthouse has a Josper oven/grill that heats up to 500 degrees, retaining juice while adding sumptuous flavor. The Spanish Duroc Pork Ribs were tender slow-cooked for hours, and fell right off the bone. John reminds diners “not to forget the hanger steak and the well-stocked, unlimited dessert buffet.”
Yukiro says, “I am hooked on Goldstein’s creative and subtle ways of mixing ingredients. I now want to eat my way through all his other restaurants.”
For the grand finale, we had dinner on the 49th floor of our hotel, the Upper House (we’ll do a huge post about our stay soon). John sets the mood: “From the simple and elegant interior featuring natural tones and Asian touches, to the spectacular view of Victoria Harbor, the ambiance of Cafe Gray Deluxe is perfect for celebrating a special occasion.”
You know the meal is off to a good start… when you photograph the table bread! Baked with sesame seeds and served warm, with a yogurt and olive oil dish… One of the best I’ve ever been served at dinner. Yukiro speaks the truth: “We stuffed our faces with it and had four refills.”
Once again, the staff made us a special menu with a wine pairing for each dish. Cafe Gray’s cuisine is homey yet gourmet, with carefully culled ingredients. We started with lobster carpaccio, prepared with Thai chili watermelon vinagrette, and pickled green papaya. John says, “One memorable pairing was the plancha seared kingfish chimichurri with fennel and peppers, served up with a glass of 2012 Dry Riesling from Lakewood Vineyards in Finger Lakes, New York.”
The staff impressed us with their knowledge of wines, and the wines were so delicious that Yukiro says “they helped us forget all the misery in the world for a little while.” Here’s a bokeh-ful image of the French Chateau Bordeaux, a sturdy red fit for a royal. We finished with Greek yogurt mascarpone cheesecake…
… while taking in this epic sunset view of the harbor and Tsim Sha Tsui. Tip: time your dinner so that you can catch the 8pm “Symphony of Lights” show, when skyscrapers like the ICC glow with moving images. That’s your first taste of our Upper House adventures, with more soon.
The best part of fine food reviewing? Sharing meals with your friends. We always have fun — isn’t that the point? — and hope you’ll try these restaurants for yourselves.
But don’t bring Miffy along… she drinks all the wine! (“Oh Miff-ehhhh!”)
Do you consider yourself an adventurous eater? Are you as fond of Japanese food as we are?
New York, I love you! Thanks to everyone who came to see me at the Japanese maid cafe, and for participating in the cosplay contest. I was mega-impressed by the intricate costumes, which you can see in the photos below…
But first, here are some snaps from my home at the Paper Factory Hotel. This is, without doubt, the coolest place to stay in NY.
The hotel is located in Long Island City, right across the water from Manhattan (it only takes 15 min by subway to reach Times Square). The Paper Factory’s design pays tribute to its industrial past, and the vintage child cars in the lobby encourage guests to play.
It’s obvious I loved staying at the Paper Factory Hotel — their creative, design-oriented approach is just my speed. I encourage you to check them out, especially when the restaurant Mundo opens up later this summer.
In June, my team and I filmed at Maid Cafe NY, located in New York’s Chinatown (150 Centre Street, NYC, 10013). It’s modeled after the Japanese maid cafes you’ll find in Tokyo, especially the Akihabara district.
The girls dressed me up in one of their pink French maid outfits. For the show, I learned how to greet customers (by yelling “Welcome home, master!”) and how to be as anime-like as possible.
At Maid Cafe NY, it’s all innocent fun: the staff interacts with the customers in cute ways, and makes them smile by drawing on their drink cups.
The cafe serves Japanese food and sweets, like omelet rice with ketchup drawings. I helped the maids prepare sweets with cute faces on them. Cris digs into a matcha cheesecake, decorated with my Scottish Fold cat’s face in chocolate sauce.
Customers can pose with the maids for cheki, or souvenir Polaroid photos that we decorate (in kawaii ways, of course).
Maid Cafe NY was packed with customers. They’re doing an incredible job at bringing Jpop fans together. Many of them are young and dress up in Japanese street fashion.
My friend Jenny (a talented illustrator) dons a long turquoise wig, in a tip of the hat to Hatsune Miku.
Inside the cafe is Cosplay Shopper, a store that sells anime/manga costumes and accessories like cat ear headbands, or Sailor Moon outfits. These goods are also available through their online site.
Camila invited me to be a judge in their cosplay contest. I know New York has a big community of cosplayers, and that the turnout would be impressive.
Even so, the event was beyond expectations! Over a hundred contestants and spectators lined up in front of the cafe, dressed to the nines. We barely managed to pack everyone in, and it was standing room only.
How cool are these handmade cosplay designs? Can you recognize the characters they are representing?
We assigned the contestants a number, and they went inside to put on the finishing touches. Wigs teased up, and circle contacts in.
Some of these intricate costumes took months to complete, all by hand.
Everyone gathered in front of the stage, packed like sardines. Jenny and Hiten cooled off with bubble tea.
The winners would get passes to New York Comic Con and gift certificates for Cosplay Shopper. One by one, they went on stage and showed off their outfits with flair. We asked them questions, such as why they chose to be this character, or how they made the various pieces.
Camila announces the next contestant. What a parade of creativity: we saw armor constructed from cardboard, weapons from duct tape…
Many of the cosplayers were still in high school, and made these colorful DIY costumes in their spare time.
The contest brought together J-culture lovers, and celebrated their creativity — I say that’s a success! Thanks to everyone who showed up despite the rain; I always love meeting readers in person.
Have you ever tried cosplaying? Which character would you dress as?
Also check out my photoshoot at the Paper Factory, to see more of this art-hotel. One more NYC post to come… and with luck, I’ll be back here soon.