There comes a point in every backpacker’s trip when scouting out exciting new options just isn’t that exciting anymore. Scouring menus, blindly trying to decide on something that warrants losing those precious pennies from your travelling budget, only to be confronted with a small portion or an overly western attempt gone wrong- well, it just gets tiresome. Even worse is when your friend does make the right decision, leaving you to look longingly at their local and hearty meal while you want to throw yours across the table. Step in Asian Teahouse of Pokhara, Nepal.
I was addicted to this place. So much so that the thought of going off on our trek into the Himalaya for ten days, leaving the family to wonder why our usual table remained empty, worried me a little more than it should have. Having discovered this tiny side-street café on our first day in Pokhara, I had come to depend on its unfailing ability to always get it right. Tea is 40 rupees cheaper than anywhere else on Lakeside and served in giant mugs. As if that wasn’t impressive enough when compared to the usually tiny tin cups so common in Nepal, the mugs are an eclectic collection of cartoon characters, flags, colours, polka dots and Disney faces. Before long, you are being served a morning cuppa in ‘your favourite mug’ when you’re hundreds of miles from home. Amazing.
The masala chai is amazing. So amazing, in fact, that I genuinely stopped missing my Mum’s brews (sorry Mum). The breakfast options get even better. As a cereal and muesli fan, just seeing those options on the menu was enough to impress me. Being able to choose muesli with yoghurt, milk, honey or fruit was even better. When I was then asked if I would like the milk to be hot or cold, I almost fell off my chair. And, much like the tea, the portions are huge. The fruits are fresh and the milk is steaming, no, piping hot. Shiva, the owner of this wonderful establishment, does ‘tea-runs’ around Lakeside, delivering cups of chai to the multitudes of shopkeepers, tour guides, builders and taxi drivers all working hard in the heat of the day. His celebrity status does nothing to ease his workload and, along with his wife and children, he serves locals and tourists alike from 5am to 10pm.
When one day all three tables were full and we thought we might have to come back later, the family fell over themselves to fetch us stools from their own kitchen and asked a romantic looking French couple to shimmy up so we could sit down (awkward!) The wonderful, hospitable gene so inherent in all Nepali people simply shines through in the faces of the staff here. My only advice would be to catch the waiter early on if you fancy ordering something different one day- it is more than likely that Shiva will have begun making your usual before you have even sat down.
The Upper East Side is a wonderful neighborhood in Manhattan. It is located between Central Park, and the East River, which runs from 59th Street to 96th Street. I love walking around this area of the city, it is usually much less crowded than Midtown, and it gives you a real feel for the "real" New York. There are so many wonderful restaurants, museums, and shops in this area, so I thought I would show you some of my favorites. I highly recommend a stroll in this location on your visit to the city. You will enjoy it very, very much!!
My favorite Upper East Side Building near the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Have you walked around the Upper East Side of New York City? What are some of your favorite spots?
Today's Words of Wisdom: Try not to bark up the wrong tree
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Here's the second of my three Krakow "Top 5s", which I prepared for fans visiting Euro 2012 Poland Ukraine, but which is just as pertinent now; indeed, I'm looking forward to patronising these eateries very soon myself, when I visit Krakow end August - a nice time of year, the "Polska Zlota Jesien" or "Polish Golden Autumn". So, here are my top 5 characterful and affordable Krakow restaurants, based on 20 years visiting the city (and most of these have been there during all this time):
1. Hawelka - read more about this one in my book Polska Dotty. On the main market square, and since a few years includes an outside terrace. But it excels inside: a large square room, sweeping Matejko style pictures on the walls, elegant tables and chairs. Polish food, but with a variety of influences. Try Pierogi Ruskie (ravioli filled with white cheese), or Kotlet Hawelka (the House pork cutlet, huge but delicate), not forgetting the mushroom soup served in a breaded urn! Superb service whenever we've been.
2. Da Pietro - again, wonderful terrace on main market square, but also atmospheric cellar downstairs (the building is 14th century). Very decent quality Italian. Try the carpaccio to start. Pizzas very light and crispy. Service can be patchy, but all in all a reliable Italian out of the overwhelming choice in Krakow, and an A1 position to watch life on the square as you munch.
3. Taco Mexicano - Poselska street. We've been meeting our Polish friends here for years. Good value, tasty Mexican fare: fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and the like. They used to accompany these with salad in very garlicky sauce, which worked well, though last time I went this wasn't on offer. Functional but cool decor, dimly lit - Taco Mexicano ticks all the boxes for a cheap and cheerful Mexican. I believe there are sister restaurants dotted around the city.
4. Pimiento - Stolarska street. Recent discovery for me, this one. Not only succulent Argentinian steak, but an idyllic courtyard at the back second to none. Foliage, large canvas parasols, comfortable chairs, all tightly enclosed. At once atmospheric and relaxing.
5. Ariel - Szeroka street. The most well known restaurant in the Jewish quarter of the city, Kazimierz. Enjoy all the well-known Jewish dishes - chicken soup, chopped liver/herring, cholent - surrounded by Jewish paraphernalia. Listen to live Klezmer music. Watch life go by on Szeroka, Kazimierz's equivalent to Krakow's main square.
Wildcard: the Rooster bar on Szczepanska street will work well during Euro 2012: burgers, burritos and the like, all served up by statuesque Polish girls in orange hotpants, whilst TVs show football on every wall. The top floor is an attractive terrace, perfect for summer. Confess this is a somewhat sentimental choice: I remember when this used to be the chicken bar, a rather shabby joint serving staple but succulent chicken with chips - perfect for penurious students.
Last weekend I had a really wonderful night out at SEN NIN - Japanese Teppanyaki & Sushi Restaurant in Camden, London.
For someone who loves Chinese, Thai, Indian, Italian, West African… in fact every type of food imaginable and who writes about cuisines from around the world it really is surprising that I have never tried Japanese food before. When I saw an offer on Living Social for a meal at a Teppanyaki Japanese restaurant I thought it was too good an opportunity to miss and now that I have tried it, I want MORE!
The concept of teppanyaki was created by Hiroaki “Rocky” Aoki (a former wrestler) in New York in 1964 when he came up with the wonderful idea for making meals a theatrically experience with a knife-spinning, joke-telling chef at a teppanyaki table – a steel grill surrounded on three sides by a wooden table for the guests. At first his restaurant, Benihana of Tokyo, struggled but following a rave review by Clementine Paddleford of the New York Herald Tribune the restaurant took off and soon it was enjoying the patronage of celebrities such as The Beatles and Muhammad Ali.
The first Sen Nin restaurant brought their brand of the teppenyaki experience to London about 5 years ago and there are now three Sen Nin restaurants in London in Islington, Ealing and Camden. Ferdie was our chef at the Camden branch last weekend and I had the chance for a quick chat before our meal.
Ferdie studied cookery in his homeland in the Philippines and had since gained 9 years experience of working in Japanese restaurants in Malaysia, Bahrain, Liverpool and London. Sen Nin menu is very much based on authentic traditional cooking with the occasional modern twist. Ferdie described Japanese food as a simple cuisine using “very fresh ingredients, that is the Japanese way.” Although teppenyaki is not found in Japan, in fact it would be considered disrespectful, Ferdie really enjoys the performance and “making people happy”.
We started with a Japanese cocktail, mine being a rather sour but refreshing Lychee Mojito while Neill enjoyed the sweeter but equally delicious Plum Mango Margarita.
Our meal began with miso soup (watercress, spring onion, seaweed, tofu and fish stock) followed by a tasty platter of sushi, spring rolls and dumplings, wasabi and some seriously delicious pickled ginger. Be warned be cautious of the wasabi, a Japanese root vegetable, related to horseradish that packs a serious punch! There were also a selection of sauces including soy sauce which our host suggested we add a little wasabi to, to liven it up.
Then in came Ferdie. After a wonderful display of knife twirling, juggling and cheeky banter he skillfully prepared the Hibachi Japanese rice (otherwise known as ‘funky rice’ made with baby oil and coca cola, apparently, or do you think someone might have pulling my leg!). After numerous tricks performed by Ferdie we found out it was now our turn as we each tried to catch some cooked egg in our mouths. Predictably this didn’t go very well but we had fun trying!
For their main course each couple had the choice of three out of six dishes and we selected steak, chicken and the catch of the day, coley. Served with funky rice, stir fried vegetables and flavoured with teriyaki sauce it really was a treat. The meat was tender and moist; the steak in particular, which we had rare, was superb and although by now I was seriously full it was hard to stop eating such a delicious meal washed down with a refreshing Japanese beer.
The only disappoint of the whole evening was that our set meal did not include a Japanese dessert. Other than that it really was a perfect meal out.
As we finished our New York cheese cake we were offered a complimentary green tea which, despite the fact that I have never liked tea in any shape or form or from any country where I have tried it before, this really hit the spot in a most refreshing way. We left Sen Nin feeling very full and very happy thanks to Ferdie and all the staff.
Full details of the menu can be found on the restaurant’s website starting from just £6.50 for a lunchtime main course or £6.95pp for a Bento Box (available from 12 noon to 5pm) to £52 per person for the Wagyu Beef Meal. We had the Imperial Teppanyaki Meal normally costing £48.95 per person. You might want to keep in mind that we both found this set meal impossible to finish and there are a number of much more reasonably priced options with less courses!
I’m looking forward to visiting again sometime and it definitely won’t be long before I try some more Japanese food whether here, in another restaurant or perhaps I should try cooking some at home. I really did love it!
Sen Nin – Camden
35 Pratt Street, Camden NW1 0BG (map above)
020 7096 1276
Sen Nin – Islington
206 Upper Street, Islington N1 1RQ
020 7704 1890
Sen Nin – Ealing
18-19 The Mall, Ealing Broadway W5 2PJ
020 8840 2041