Exploring London through Food – A New Website

Elisa, Tomoya, Snehal, Me, Chenyun - the latest school project!
Elisa, Tomoya, Snehal, Me, Chenyun – the latest school project!

My dearest HanoianSnippets readers,

I’ll save you my lame reason of being too busy at uni to blog, though it has been truthfully the reason and I am very  sorry about it.

Nevertheless, I come back with much excitement to share with you my latest ‘school project’. No, I’m not becoming a chef. If anything, weird eating habits have taken me further from the kitchen…but I digress.

6 weeks ago, I along with 4 other students started a course in Online Journalism at the University of Westminster, without the slightest idea about web building. And yet, here we are launching our very own website!

And, what else was to be the common thread between a Spaniard, a Japanese, an Indian, a Vietnamese and a Chinese ? Why, London, of course! and being the ‘hungry’, pocket-torn student journalists that we are, FOOD!

So we came up with the idea of embarking on journeys to explore London through food, affordably- everything from the latest happenings in the culinary scene, to quirky food concepts, and the gastronomic culture of the city that we’re all taking on as students for the first year.

So without further ado now, let me present to you BITES OF LONDON!

www.bitesoflondon.co.uk
www.bitesoflondon.co.uk

I look forward to your support and feedback as we continue to improve the site and update stories throughout May and into the summer.

Please connect with us on Facebook

and Follow us on Twitter

Do also check out our classmates’ innovative website on cool, off-the-beaten-path spots to shop, eat and drink outside central London @ ALSO IN LONDON! Show them some support on their Facebook.

Thank you!

Much love,

Hanoian Snippets

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ON THE ROAD : Vernazza, Cinque Terre – Italy’s tucked-away gem

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Late October of last year, floods swept through this little village and landslides buried its once charming winding routes in 14 feet of mud. I was devastated. It was, after all, my favorite destination in Europe.

Today, I came by a recent CBS report on the small town and how it’s picking up the pieces, recovering after a year. I became nostalgic and found myself spending hours, digging through the memoires of my trip there in 2008.

On the Road this week  is dedicated to the village of Vernazza.

A tucked-away gem

It is one of those places where sun streaks fill your room with warmth, waking you up each morning. You would head for your window to take in the ocean breeze, and as you rub your sleepy eyes away, blurs of colors would pop into vision, before dispelling into a clear, panoramic view of a perfect seaside village, painted picturesquely across the horizon.

This is Vernazza, the 4th of 5 Riviera villages perching on  coast-side cliffs in Italy’s northwestern region of Liguria- facing the Tyrrhenia Sea.The village collective is known as Cinque Terre (Italian for Five Lands) and while I believe it’s a popular summer getaway for Italians, it still remains quite off the beaten track for tourists.

A journey well worth it

After experiencing France’s smooth TGV trains, the bumpy journey on Italy’s crowded local train, where the farthest thing you could see was a co-passenger’s nose hair, was in short, memorable.

To get to Cinque Terre, my study abroad friend, Amy and I, took a 2.5 hour train ride from Nice to Genoa – the capital of Liguria. Another hour landed us in La Spezia, from where it would be possible to take another more local train to any one of 5 villages. We chose Vernazza to be our base, not because it was recommended, but more so for the fact that it was reviewed as being one of the quieter and more isolated of the 5.

All I can remember is the expression of disbelief on Amy’s face, standing there with her huge, 3-week-packed, 4-wheel suitcase, as a local man  pointed up an endless flight of stone steps and said: “Only 400 steps!.

 It took 30 minutes, but we heaved our way through the maze of stairs, barely squeezed our luggage through a tiny red door into our rented room, before standing mouth-opened upon looking out the window. A mosaic of colorful houses tucked between the ocean on one side and slopes of cascading vineyards, akin to Asia’s stairs of paddies on the other, the village clings onto seemingly impossible cliffs.

Vernazza meanders across slopes of vineyards, before edging out to the sea

A village of warmth 

It is one of those places where every neighbor knows the next, people pat your shoulders as you take a stroll down its steep alleys, and at times, creepy old Italian men approach you, in open-arm- I-haven’t-seen-you-in-years gesture:  “Ahhhh Bellissima“. Not many people spoke English, but the smiles were almost contagious.

Down at the beach tucked neatly in the moon arc that is Vernazza, dozens of cats lay lazily, sunbathing while nearby, groups of fishermen peer out to the waves, anticipating their next trip.

It was April, the perfect time to be in Vernazza, perhaps not for a swim yet, but definitely to avoid the crowds of sunburnt Italian tourists, and take in the simple charm and warmth that so characterize this place.

Picking up the pieces

It was heartbreaking to watch how the flood had ravaged Cinque Terre and Vernazza in particular, but today, also very heartwarming to know that the village is slowly shaking itself out of the rubbles.

Do find out more about the ongoing recovery efforts of Vernazza and the Cinque Terre villages at:

My memories attach me most to Vernazza, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discover the rest of the villages: Monterosso, Corniglia, Riomaggiore and Maranola, as well as the beautiful region around La Spezia. The hikes between the villages are intense but your destinations reward you with beyond anything you could imagine.

Enjoy some more photos of Vernazza!

The stone steps throughout and Vernazza and an unusual flower spotted during our hike
Local residents watch the sea
Morning dew during hike and Amy on one of the many narrow winding routes in Vernazza
Me in front of the section of Vernazza that edges out onto the sea
Hope you get back on your feet soon Vernazza!

Filling in the blank spaces – Coehlo’s “The Witch of Portobello”

To be honest, Coehlo’s “The witch of Portobello” was a disastrous let-down after how much I had enjoyed “the Alchemist”.

Coehlo said he was trying to understand his spiritual side in this book and truthfully, that might have just been its problem. It had too much “sermons” and straight theoretic talk on spirituality and religion, and within the context of such novel about love and finding yourself, many other things would have been of more interest.

On the other hand, it offered ideas which I liked. It was a long story, whose details I would not like to get into, perhaps another time. But the protagonist talked about one particular thing, and that was the idea of ‘blank spaces’, and that we all have them.

People who are missing something in life have many blank spaces, these are the moments between the words that we utter, these are the moments when your thoughts are for a second outside of your mind, these are moments of ‘out of it”s when you’re in the middle of doing something, but you suddenly feel like you’re at a lost…and you don’t know why or maybe you do…but these are the “blank spaces”.

I try to fill these blank spaces with constant things to do and that is because blankness brings in thoughts that I would more often like to block out of my head. And it’s funny because, the protagonist says that the only way to effectively fill the blank spaces is to confront those thoughts, or whatever it was that created that hole, and gap in the first place. But if I were to do so, I wouldn’t even be writing these lines.

And so I continue to work, I continue to read, I continue to write because it helps me to not think about the things that make me feel sad, and alone in the world….and because it helps those blank spaces to go through me more quickly.

My favorite quote in that book because I think it’s true for me and all of us,

“- Q:’Are you happy’

– A:’Yes’

– Q: ‘Do you want more?’

– A:’Yes’

-Q: ‘Then you’re really not happy..?”

And this is exactly where the blank space is –  at our hesitation to answer this last question.

The Tale of the most loyal Dog – Hachiko

Finally built up the courage to watch the original Japanese cinematic depiction of Hachi (Hachikō)- the loyal Akita Inu and one of Japan’s most beloved canine.

A beautifully shot film from 1987.

There is nothing beyond tears to describe into words how profound this is. Here is the link , but be tissue-prepared to meet with the “onion ninja”:

Hachiko Monogatari (The Tale of Hachiko): Vietnamese Sub
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnlJuRjHId4Read Prof. Ueno and Hachiko’s real-life story:
http://www.jpn-miyabi.com/Vol.43/hachiko-1.htmlI only hoped that he had been buried next to his owner instead of being stuffed and mounted in a museum. I haven’t seen the American version, but I doubt it can live up to this, and honestly, see no relevance of Hollywood or Richard Gere to this touching story.

[UK] East End – London’s Street Art Hub

What is it that pops into your mind at the mention of : “London” ?

It might be the iconic Big Ben, the Buckingham Palace, the Tower Bridge, the abundant museums, the Thames river, the immobile Queen’s guards, or the many red double-deckers that dot the streets.Quite shamefully, I have yet to truly discover any of these and after 6 weeks of being here, today was the first time, I actually caught a glimpse of Big Ben.

This past weekend, nevertheless, I finally embarked on a touristic attempt : taking a tour. This wasn’t your conventional double decker sight-seeing tour, but an aptly and appealingly named package called “The Alternative London Walking Tour . A 2- hour walk on a pay-what-you-like basis, this tour won’t bring you through the regal city centre  , but instead,  will weave you through the lesser-seen backstreets of London’s East End.

Here boasts one of the most vibrant and diverse street art scenes in the world

It serves as an urban canvas for famous artists like Banksy and Ben Eine. The tour guide (pictured above), a graffiti artist himself, leads our group of 15 through street branches and alleyways off of Brick Lane – the prominent vein of East End.

You might think of street art as the hiphop culture-inspired type of modern graffiti. In Vietnam, I know that many consider it vandalism and the farthest thing from being art. But London’s East End, opening its wall (legally) to the imagination of many, offers so much more than just graffiti and perhaps, even redefines the concept of graffiti altogether. Its walls are plastered with everything from detailed fine-art masterpieces to massive stick figures, using every artistic influences you could possibly think of: spray-paint  cubism, stencil art, …mere scribbles! It is an urban gallery and for me personally, as visually engaging and even at times more exciting than a stroll through an actual museum.

Our artist tour guide noted something very fascinating to me, and that is, East End is an open gallery, in every sense of the word. It’s open to interpretation, it’s open to the simplest to the wildest of ideas, and it’s even open to modification. Once you set your art onto the streets, it’s for the world to ponder on, love, hate and even change.

This neighborhood, the guide shares, owns its bustling and multi-faceted nature to a history dotted with different waves of immigration.The French Huguenots first came in 1650, commencing a lively textile and crafts industry in the area. 200 years later, the industry would be inherited shortly by the Irish and then prominently by Ashkenazi Jews. The end of the World War II era saw the British government opening up its immigration policy as a revival tactic, through which Brick Lane became home to generations of Bangladeshis until now.

Fun fact: Brick Lane is curry capital of the UK, with a total of 52 curry shops on a single street.

The Brick Lane Jamme Masjid mosque on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane is perhaps the most concrete proof of the area’s diverse history, being the only building in the world that has, in its history, been a protestant church, a Wesleyan chapel, a Methodist chapel, a synagogue and now a mosque.

A multi-cultural centre of communities developing and struggling through their settlements in the UK, the streets here in East End, by the 80s amd 90s, had become a space of expression, where generations of people addressed their feelings, discontent or the social challenges they face in society – with the most obvious being issues of racism and discrimination. From being an outlet of social stress, it now has been branded as an artistic venue – where street artists from all over the world, inspired by their urban environments, come to play.

It was an overall visual treat and a tour that, more or less, revealed the backside of London’s portrait – a side less common to the world, you could say. On a side note, it did take place on one of the coldest days I have experienced in London of yet and we had to give up 2/3 of the way after walking  in the painstakingly rainy and humid cold for over an hour.  I’ll save  more on the tour in our next attempt in the spring and also the amazing vintage markets and gastronomical variety in the area for another post. For now, I leave you with some snapshots of East End’s colorful street art. Enjoy!

[UK] Eat your heart out!

***This post contains some notions and photos that may be offensive and downright gross to some. Please be advised!

I mean, really, if you wanted to, you could literally “eat your heart out”.

A cake exhibition of the same name in London this weekend enticed me by the word “cake” alone, but that was well before I knew that along with the “heart”, i could add to the delectable batch, anything from fingers, brains, feces, and oh of course, the occasional STD warts.

Grossed out? Continue to read, you should not – because this is the farthest thing done to the notion of “cakes” from what you could ever possibly fathom: A bakery showcase inspired by human diseases! The above picture is only the beginning, and yes, it’s all EDIBLE. If you can stomach this, then let’s get anatomical *_*!!!

This is definitely where you should be if one lazy Saturday morning, you suddenly have the appetite for some prostate cancer truffles or just fancy a sip of urine sample and quick breakfast with blood marmalade drizzled on toast. The gruesome showcase, in its second year here in London, is the fruit of Miss Cakehead (aka Emma Thomas) – a PR manager known across UK for her provocative food creations.

To top it off, the showcase unraveled in the Pathology Museum of St.Bart’s Hospital – possibly the last place on earth to work up an appetite, considering the endless jars of actual, donated body parts around you. Aptly situated for the theme, you could say, but definitely not the candy my eyes were hoping for.

Once you can get past the squeamish effects of the 2nd or 3rd cupcake adorned with moles, chlamydia, and genital warts, you truly start to appreciate the craftsmanship behind some of these creations – sugar spinning body parts and the most grotesque of diseases into an artform. Beyond the shock of it all, it’s an event aimed to provoke and educate. I would sum the message up as : “You are what you eat“. If eating some chocolate cigarette butts and a blackened lung doesn’t get you to think twice about your next drag,  then well, I guess…you have a pretty tough stomach 😀

And perhaps the most curious bit of all, did I try any?  Because I think to myself everyday, “yummm, syphilis cupcakes!!“, lol. Well, I don’t really have a sweet tooth and I do have a knack for eating with my eyes, so I wasn’t exactly free of all reservations. I did, however, give in to curiosity in the end. All creations were being sold with funds going to charity supporting the treatment and research into the portrayed diseases. You had an anatomical chocolate cake selling at £350 but considering our modest student pockets, we opted for the £3 “fecal samples” and the £2 “kidney” macaron.

Let me just say: sh*t has never tasted so good *_*!

Here are a couple of snaps from the exhibition, I would advise you to not press your nose against this one.

Blood Marmalade – Drizzle as desired!
Chocolate cigarette butts and ash and lung cancer cookie
STD cupcakes – come and get ’em!
mmm…made from white and milk chocolate…<3
Venus vs. Mars : The Pathology of a Breast Cupcake and Prostate Cancer Truffles
Human anatomy chocolate cake, the head alone is £350
Elisa, Marie, and Wendy with Chocolate Fecal Samples and Kidney Macaron

*NOTE: I just found out that an exhibition of the same concept took place in London in early October, but with meat and it was to promote Resident Evil – it was called the Human Flesh Meat Market , Sweeney Todd much? so you can decide if it’s too gruesome before checking it out here! Enjoy!

[Inspiration] The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

I finished the last few pages of “The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” last night or this morning, I should say, at 4 am.

I have this tendency to do what my mother says is ‘ a case of extremism’. I just think it’s memory loss, I’m afraid that if I don’t read it all at once (it was not too long or hard to read of a book) then I might lose the pace, the special flow of the story if you will. Or you could just say, I had a morning off today so I decided to push my limits. Anyhoo, the memory loss thing is no lie, I read things, and soon enough it just slips off my brain cells like a dog’s feet first time touching ice. I’ll find myself in situations where I try to describe something I had definitely read before, and with much interest, but then I just stop on brain-freeze, because I’ll only remember part of what was actually important. So I’ve decided to write things down, things I can go back on, drawings I can refer to should I forget this quite brilliant story that I just put down. Maybe you’d find it interesting too and have a look at it, it’s quite a short read.

‘The curious incident of the dog in the night-time” is a light, handy, orange, paper-back novel with an up-side down poodle on the middle of the front cover. I had found it in a quite dusty corner of Bookworm on Nguyen Thai Hoc street on Tuesday, and remember clearly that upon my removing it from the shelf, the owner had said “now that’s my kinda pre-sleep read right there, because then I won’t have to sleep”. Being there the first time ever, I wasn’t really sure if he truly liked the book or if he was just trying to get me to buy it. But my gullible nature surpassed any suspicions, and the preview in the back was quite catchy, so I gave in and the British (I presume) owner was quite pleased, and even gave me a free communist-themed bookmark.

The read was a new one to me, it’s written in a very simple manner,  but very, sometimes too logical and detailed that you get weary. But that’s just the point, the protagonist also narrator is a 15-year-5-month-n-2-day-old (at the beginning of the book) autistic boy. He doesn’t like talking to strangers because he believes in stranger danger lessons at his special needs school and also, being autistic, he just doesn’t like interacting with new people in general. Yet, he thinks in the most logical and concise manner that you could ever imagine. And he talks in this way: His favorite color is red, his most loathed color is yellow, and for that reason he thinks seeing 4 red cars in a row signal a super good day, while 4 yellow cars in a row mean a black day. And he knows all the prime numbers up to 376547898 and all the countries in the world, with their respective capitals and their respective populations. When he’s scared of being claustrophobic, he does math problems like multiplying 2 by itself until he gets to the hundreds of thousands, his record so far is 2 to the 52nd.

He thinks everything should follow patterns or some kind of rule…and he doesn’t believe in generalities. If I were to see a field of several cows, I would say it was a field with several cows. But he’d be able to say the exact date, and time at which he saw this field of cows, what hue of brown and green the grass was, what hue of blue or grey the sky was, how many cows there were, the patterns of black and white on the cow’s body …etc. And after a while, you get tired of his continuing on like this as you probably have with mine. And then something happens, the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime, of course…the poodle living across the street from Christopher, the boy, was killed with a garden fork.

Christopher jumps into this detective mission of his own, using all his logical alerts and know-hows…Father prevents him from “poking his nose into other people’s business” but he said that’s not clear at all – “people’s business”. He meets with other people and join in their “business” all the time, and it’d be impossible not to poke his nose into other people’s business. Slowly the story progresses, and the curious incident of the dog takes Christopher in stories of his father and thought-to-be-dead mother that his logical mind cannot quite comprehend. If I tell you all this part, then it really takes away the crux of the story…but it unravels beautifully in what would seem very touching for us but very disordered and unstructured for Christopher. As he finds his mother in his journey to London and goes out of his hometown of special foods, red, and yellow cars and known spaces, you understand the internal workings of how the autistic boy reacts to all these changes, to the parts of life completely unexposed to him, and how he surmounts his restrictions in social interaction abilities.

Again parts of the story are very detailed, with even drawings, and mathematical graphs and figures to demonstrate, you sometimes would stop on a page for nearly half an hour just to work out the math problem Christopher was talking about it. After reading this book, you’d think about how precise and meticulous his mind was, and for at least a day afterwards, you’d start to look at your surroundings this way, and you have the tendency to carry on your sentences until no detail was left untouched and untold. And that’s why I like the book so much, not just because you see into the workings of an autistic-savant* mind, you start to cherish too, the importance of intricacy in your surroundings.

* Now upon starting to read this book, I had no understanding of what autism was and what it meant to be an autistic-savant. Looked it up afterwards, and here’s the scoop on that: autism is a case of disorder in neural development, where the person has an inborn restricted ability to socially interact. About 10% of autism cases have savant abilities, which means they have extraordinary talents and knowledge such as Christopher: the ability to do mathematical problems up to endless numbers within seconds, the ability to memorize exact dates, time, years, cities..everything possible. The percentage of people who have these abilities in the normal population is only about 1%. These people used to be called “idiot savant” which in french, meant “unlearned skills”, but there, I’m guessing, later for the easily misunderstood terming, it was changed to autistic savant. Apparently there’s a movie called Rainman also about an autistic-savant and I’m curious to see it..but it is said that after seeing the movie, many people  presume that all autistic people are savants, which is not the case (only roughly 10% are, as said)

Apologize for the wordy description, I’m normally redundant in words but that has become more true after reading this book. Hope you’ll check it out!