Still Edinburgh

Prepping for my annual trip home to Scotland and browsing photographs from last August’s visit.

I lose a little bit of Edinburgh the longer I am gone. There is still a thin, but sturdy, thread of history that stretches back there. Edinburgh changes with every year, but some places stay the same.

 

The Toddle In sweet shop on Cockburn Street is piled to the ceiling with jars of old-fashioned candy.

I used to lose hours rifling through the racks at vintage clothing store, Armstrong’s.The window displays are always creative.

Victoria Street: Individual boutiques, art galleries, brightly painted buildings and a steep climb.

And this? Well, it’s the castle. And it’s beautiful.

Around O’ahu with a Sweet Tooth

Dessert is my favorite meal, as if that were not quite obvious already. O’ahu was good to me in this respect; the variety of sugary tasty goodness comes in many forms and is widely available. Here’s my recommendations for a sugar fix on O’ahu.

1. Shave Ice

Shimazu Grocery Store

I talk a lot about shave ice and firmly stand behind my claim that Shimazu cannot be beaten

What it is: Finely shaved ice soaked with syrups (preferably home-made) and topped and filled with your choice of mochi balls, azuki bean or haupia cream. Just don’t call it “shaved ice.”

For a different (even sweeter) take on the traditional Hawaiian-style ice, try a Taiwanese shave ice that makes use of brown sugar and condensed milk. I recommend City Cafe on Makaloa Street.

Where to eat it: Hands-down Shimazu has, in my opinion, the best shave ice on the island. The servings are huge; the consistency strikes just the right balance between fluff and crunch, and the syrups are home-made and inventive — think mojito, crème brûlée, red velvet, even durian.

2. Mochi Ice Cream

Mochi Ice Cream at Shirokiya

What it is: Japanese pounded rice cake filled with ice cream. Traditional flavors include matcha (green tea) and strawberry.

Where to eat it: Bubbies is probably the most famous purveyor of mochi ice cream in Honolulu. I am going to admit, however, that I preferred Shirokiya. Maybe it is just the ambiance of the Japanese grocery store, or maybe it was the delicate handling of each mochi ball by the counter staff, but selecting a piece or two at Shirokiya, wandering around the store just long enough for it to melt just enough, was one of my favorite food-related rituals in Honolulu.

3. Cake

What it is: Yes, cake. But not any old cake; cake that makes use of those distinctly Hawaiian flavors: lilikoi, haupia and, if you go to Otto Cake, “Big Island Honey Cheesecake.”

Where to eat it: The afore mentioned Otto Cake specializes in cheesecakes; (more that 80 flavors) Ted’s Bakery on the North Shore is home of the famous Haupia Pie, and Hokulani Bake Shop has cupcakes in flavors like strawberry-guava. Little Oven supposedly makes the most amazing cakes in Honolulu but is this place ever open? If you manage to eat here, you are luckier than me.

4. Malasadas

What it is: Mmmmm mmmmalasadas; originating from Portugal and traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, these little deep-fried balls of goodness most closely resemble the humble donut — a Portuguese donut, if you will. Malasadas arrived on Hawaii alongside the 19th century laborers that came to work the sugar plantations.

Where to eat it: Leonard’s Bakery; crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and available in a multitude of seasonal flavors — mango, pineapple, coconut, chocolate… And they have the best retro-neon sign.

5. Cream Puffs

What it is: A choux pastry ball filled with cream. That’s it.

(Empty) Box of Liliha Cream Puffs

Where to eat it: Liliha’s Bakery sells around 5,000 of these things a day — for a good reason. Liliha’s fills the pastries with chocolate pudding and tops it off with chantilly frosting. They start baking at 2am every morning.

6. Halo-Halo

What it is: Halo-Halo is a a Fillipino dish that features shave ice, condensed milk, and various toppings that can include fruit, kidney beans, rice, flan and yam.

Where to eat it: Shimazu makes a good halo-halo but, I think, only on certain days. Try Mabuhay Cafe and Restaurant in Chinatown.

7. Drinkables

What it is: In a place with year-round high temperatures, sometimes your thirst needs more quenching than your sweet tooth. You don’t need to compromise though, O’ahu offers some delicious frozen slurpable treats that will satisfy all cravings.

Where to drink it: Rainbow Drive-In‘s strawberry slush float is the perfect blend of sweet and refreshing: a blended strawberry juice topped with a huge heap of vanilla ice cream. Yum.

My Travel Memories Taste Like Sugar: Chile

Food is memory. My memories of places are informed by the taste of the sweet things I ate there.

Kuchen in Chile

I arrived in Puerto Varas after a long journey south from my home, Valparaiso, via Puerto Montt. I had one thing on my mind: kuchen.

Kuchen, a sweet tart with crispy exterior, arrived in Chile with mid-19th century German immigrants, many of whom settled in the cute little European-styled southern town of Puerto Varas. There are all sorts of adventurous things to do in Puerto Varas; whitewater rafting, hiking, sailing, but my mission was purely gastronomic. I was going to have a slice of kuchen from every cafe in town.

I don’t think I quite met my goal but I distinctly remember eating four slices on my first evening.I tried it in all kinds of flavors, like strawberry, rhubarb and something called murta — something like a small cranberry.

I remember sitting in a little cafe where the menu was in Spanish and German, watching the rain beat against the window, sipping tea, writing in my journal and taking slow bites of raspberry filled kuchen. I remember feeling that I had finally found a cozy feeling I had been missing since leaving London six months earlier.

 

 

 

 

My Travel Memories Taste Like Sugar: Argentina

Food is memory. My  memories of places are informed by the taste of the sweet things I ate there.

Chocolate in Argentina

First there was Bariloche. We crossed the border from Chile here; it was our very first stop in Argentina. There was a street called the Street of Chocolate Dreams; a chocolate department store; a chocolate cafe with giant Russian dolls in the window; a forest-themed chocolate restaurant/factory…there was a lot of chocolate. By the final cafe we all said we were sick and tired of it all; we never wanted chocolate again.

Then there was Buneos Aires where the women were almost all whippet-thin, but cortados were always served with a glass of water and either a bite of chocolate or a small medialuna on the side. I later read in Bad Times in Buneos Aires that, amongst well-heeled Porteñas, the chocolate serving was a test: you were supposed to make a show of being  able to resist it.

When I think back to Buenos Aires I can see a picture of myself in El Ateneo Gran Spendid. Sitting at a small table on what used to be the stage in the theater-turned-bookstore sipping a cortado and not even trying to resist the delicately wrapped square of dark chocolate on the saucer.

The Best Shave Ice on O’ahu (According to Me)

Here it is: the definitive list.

A topic of this importance is not to be taken lightly, so I can assure you that I have done some very thorough research before posting this list.

If you visit O’ahu, you will probably be told that Matsumoto’s is the place to visit for your shave ice because, well, that’s where everyone goes. I think, however, that a visitor who only tastes the shave ice at Matsumoto’s is cheated. There’s just so much better out there.

Number 1: Shimazu

Red Velvet with Haupia topping

Shimazu’s cups come big, bigger and huge (get the smallest; believe me it’s enough). They have a size known as “The Larry,” but no-one I know of has ever attempted it. The flavors at Shimazu are the most inventive I’ve come across: they have creme brulee, mojito, red velvet, even durian (though you may be ordered to eat it far outside the store).

The texture is fluffy like cotton, with just a little crunch, and optional fillings and toppings include standards like mochi and red bean, as well as haupia (coconut cream).

My favorite is the sour apple li hing mui, with mochi — although Shimazu’s mochi could be better, and I don’t like that it is cubed.

The only cons are the usual: almost no parking: long lines.

Number 2: City Cafe

Taiwanese Shave Ice with Mochi, Tapioca and Taro

At City Cafe you can choose from regular Hawaiian-style or Taiwanese-style shave ice. This was the first place I ever tried Taiwanese shave ice, and, although Sweet Home Cafe is good, I think it is still the best.

The ice is shaved fine and covered in brown sugar and condensed milk. Toppings include taro, tapioca, pudding and big, firm mochi balls — I think the mochi here is the best.

It’s a small space but I’ve never had a problem finding seating or parking. The owners are quite lovely too.


3. Waiola

Waiola

Wailoa was my favorite for a long time. Their ice is shaved to the finest consistency I have found on the island. The selection of syrups and toppings is small but adequate — I usually get the li hing and lilikoi with mochi. The cups are pretty small for the price and service can be brusque, otherwise there’s not much to fault Waiola.

Honoray Mention: Matsumoto’s

Matsumoto's, North Shore

It’s definitely not the best, I find the ice too thick and crunchy, but you have to visit Matsumoto’s at least for the atmosphere. A North Shore institution, it’s been in the same spot since 1951 and is almost always packed with tourists. Braving the long line and finding a spot on the bench outside is just one of those things you have to do on the North Shore.

Food Talk: Ala Moana Center

I’ve never been much of a mall enthusiast, and would hesitate to recommend that Honolulu tourists spend precious vacation time in a shopping center, but there’s something about Ala Moana Center. It’s at the end of the bus line, so that’s how I usually get there, but it is also directly behind beautiful and peaceful Ala Moana Beach Park–well usually it’s peaceful, not so yesterday; school’s out remember.

Mostly, I come here to eat. Shokudo, outside the mall, is a Japanese restaurant that makes a killer cheese mochi dish and honey toast dessert. I stock up on imported Japanese groceries at Shirokiya, then stop in the food court for tako-yaki, a bento box or a Harajuku-style crepe, before heading back downstairs for raspberry mille-feiulle mochi cream.

Look:

Mochi Creams at Shirokiya

And then there’s Alan Wong’s Pineapple Room; plantation tea jelly from La Palme d’Or and  pau hana lychee mojitos at Panya:

Lychee Mojito at Panya

On yesterday’s visit I tried the acai bowl from Blue Hawaii Lifestyle for the first time. I think I’ve had a broad acai bowl experience over the last eight months: I’ve tried them from the chains, Jamba Juice and Smoothie King (delish and bland respectively); from Kava Roots on the North Shore (huge, chunky granola and thick slices of banana–filling but not memorable) and from Lanikai Juice (didn’t get a fair chance–there was no place to sit so I walked with it in midday heat until I got to the beach and it turned into slush). The one I always went back to was Vita Juice in Chinatown, partly because it was underneath the office I used to work at, but mostly because the sweet owner piled on the fruit and honey (Lanikai Juice makes you pay extra).

I have a few places still to try, but I’ll be back to Blue Hawaii. I tried the Jasmine Bowl, which had just enough of a tangy flavour, and I liked that the fruit and granola was mixed through the bowl, rather than just lying on top. Also, sweet space. I loved the blue stained glass, ceramic bowls, locally-made omiyagis on sale and the little notice on the napkin dispenser that says Napkins=Trees. I didn’t take any.

Blue Hawaii Lifestyle, Ala Moana Center

Matsumoto’s on the North Shore

Only the very early or the very lucky arrive acquire a Matsumoto’s shave ice without standing in a line that stretches out the door, bumping into tourists snapping pictures of the store’s yellow sign. Debate rages as to who has the best shave ice on O’ahu, or even here on the North Shore, but Matsumoto’s has the history (shave ice has been sold at this store for 60 years) and the fame–hence the line.

The ice—while allegedly courser than that of Aoki’s next door—is finely ground and covered with brightly colored homemade syrups. Multiple flavors on offer range from the exotic Li Hing Mui, to the ordinary Strawberry. You may opt for one of Matsumoto’s combinations: the “Rainbow,” “Hawaiian Special” or “Matsumoto’s,” and, if you prefer a little more than ice and syrup in your cone, you can ask for a scoop of ice cream or azuki beans.

The final product makes such a pretty picture that it seems a shame to have to slurp it down so quickly, but you have to hurry because as soon as you get out into the North Shore sun that ice is going to melt and turn into a sticky mess.