teafume irl

10

Toshiharu, our ryokan in Kyoto, is a cosy and beautiful home built in the Meiji era. The family that run the ryokan were the nicest hosts we could ask for, always taking care of our every needs and there to greet us with a smile whenever we made our way back after a long day out. We were checked in with a cup of hot matcha and warm sakuramochi (sweet pink rice cake wrapped in sakura leaf). Had the best time lounging around on our futons wearing cute sleeping robes after soaking in the hot Japanese cedarwood bath. I want to go back. T_T

10

The best thing about Lunar New Year holiday is the act of gathering together to make all kinds of traditional food. 

The Vietnamese ‘bánh chưng’ is a traditional savoury rice cake with mung bean and seasoned pork belly stuffed in glutinous rice, wrapped inside large ‘dong’ leaves (the leaves turn the rice a beautiful green colour), and boiled in a large pot for 11 hours. Its history goes back nearly 4000 years, when a prince presented the square rice cake to the Hung king as a symbol for the earth (back in the days, the earth was square, and the sky was round). The rice cake is made of everyday ingredients of farming life: rice, mung bean, and pork. It is appreciation for the local farming culture at its finest. Every new year, all Vietnamese families have a pair of bánh chưng on their family altar.

I’m a flop at tying the strings, but wrapping the rice cakes was fun. I made five!! (Yes the pair on top is mine.) It was very effort-extensive and time-consuming work, but it’s the process that makes it feel like home.

7

Hoi An - street food edition, because I totally did other things beside hanging out at pretty cafés.

  • Cao Lau noodles
  • Sweet corn and coconut milk
  • The Best Banh Mi, according to Anthony Bourdain (I’ve had so many great banh mi around the country but it was pretty damn solid for a classic - and dirt cheap, too)
  • Hoi An chicken rice
  • Tau pho / douhua / tofu pudding, a classic local street snack I can’t get enough of
  • Grilled pork with rice noodle sheets
7

Last weekend, I discovered a new hidden gem of a café in the city. Kujuz Café is hidden behind the closed high gates of what seems like an ordinary townhouse in a residential area. There is no sign whatsoever. When you approach or ring the bell, someone comes and opens the door for you.

The two-story ‘house’ is made up of old doors and windows stacked together to form wood-framed glass walls. You never quite know which door to walk through. The café is a self-service space. You come in, pick a carefully hand-written note out of a stack of recipes, and set out to make your own drink. Brew your own tea, melt your own hot chocolate, pour your own honey. The jars are all there. Then you pick out your own cups from the cupboard, pour your drink, and off you go. Everything is mismatched, and there’s this quiet irresistible charm about this hidden space. Everyone seems to be regulars, moving around as though it’s their own house, working and doing their own thing and washing their own cups for the next coffee. It’s somewhere to come back to.

7

Photoshoot for new menu items at Seedlings - our restaurant in the old town: mango & shrimp salad, seafood & pork pancake, banana blossom & beef salad, prawn curry with steamed rice, Hoi An chicken rice, white rose dumplings, and fresh spring rolls.

2

Early summer goodbyes and see-you-when-I-see-yous:

  • Breakfast spread at Au Parc with the biggest basket of assorted homemade bread for two I’ve ever seen, four kinds of jam, and abundant amount of çay (Turkish tea).
  • Afternoon tea at the Park Hyatt lounge: Osmanthe d’Or and Tisane du Berger.
10

Between the photoshoot and the work meetings, I found my way to May Concept - a charming cafe down a tiny deserted alley in the old town of Hoi An. Didn’t have time to linger long, but it felt a bit like stumbling upon my own piece of private haven with secret nooks and crannies full of little treasures. I’ll certainly make my way back soon.

3

There’s something about Tokyo. A constant crush of people and endless concrete stretching far out to the horizon. A part of me will always fall in love with that frantic oppressive overwhelming tidal wave of the city crowd and neon lights, pristine minimalism and bone-deep exhaustion warring against each other every step of the way.

10

Hanoi temple tour with grandma on the fourth day of the new year. My parents wandered into this old temple when they came upon a charming old scholar. Being typical Asian parents and overly concerned about my love life, they had 缘 written for me (it’s an old Hanoi tradition to visit a calligraphy scholar and have a word written for the new year as good luck). At least the concept of “duyên” is something I’m most inclined to believe - you’re meant to connect with certain people or places at certain points in your life, but it’s up to you whether to follow it.

This year, I wish for a new beginning.