Travel Blogging Challenge – Week 5 (Top Three Cultural Foods) The Time I Ate Too Much

Food, food, food, food, food! Is what most people hear when they travel with me. In all of my travels, food plays a crucial role to my enjoyment.

As a vegetarian since birth, I’m always wary of eating out at restaurants. Luckily, I am blessed with a wonderful mother, who is the best chef in the world. However, when I hit the road, I am always excited to try other cultural foods!

As you can imagine, being a vegetarian abroad can be quite complicated. Some countries think fish and chicken are not meat, therefore, it is okay for it to be in a vegetarian meal. I have to learn some key phrases with every foreign country I visit, to convey the entirety of my vegetarian-ess. With every mistake I make, I learn a lot to have a better experience the next time.

Because of my continuously adventurous vegetarian taste buds, I have gotten to try amazing vegetarian dishes from around the world. Here are top three favorite countries’ dishes, in collage form.

  1. Korea for its crazy food inventions. I am in love with korean-style ramen. I love their desserts, bibimbap (rice and vegetable mixture with excellent presentation and sauce), and japchae (clear noodles). Ever heard of cold noodles in ice? Not my cup of noodles, but I tried it anyway! Thanks Korea. 🙂
  2. Nicaragua – Choosing a country from the many favorite foods I had in Central America was quite difficult. I chose Nicaragua purely because I had an amazing street food experience there. Shave ice desserts called granizado were all over the streets. Central American foods sometimes overlapped each other, so I was happy to find some of my favorite foods in neighboring countries. Some of my favorites are elotes (corn), traditional rice and beans con queso (with cheese) dishes, platanos (plantains), and pan (bread).
  3. Thailand – How do you beat $1 phad thai? Love the diversity of street foods in Bangkok. Also a great place for noodles and spicy food, which is right down my alley.

Note: I left out some of my favorite foods (because I think I am biased towards them). For your interest, I will list them below:

Vietnamese foods. Being Vietnamese by blood, I’m always partial to my native country’s cuisines. I am immensely proud of the variety of Vietnamese foods. It’s colorful, tasty, and full of culture.

Japanese foods. As one of the most amazing cultures out there, they have so many creative dishes. 🙂 Home to sushi, green tea Kit Kat, soba noodles, and tempura, it’s possibly some of my favorite foods. Unfortunately, most their foods are not vegetarian friendly.

 

Filipino foods. Raised in the Philippines, I came to love eating mangoes, bananacues (caramelized, roasted plantains), and various different vegetarian snack options.2174887938_28dc5b40d0_z

Thanks for reading!! What are your favorite foods???


Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Read more of my posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge:

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

Who else is doing the challenge?

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

 

Couchsurfing: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers for Free!

People often ask me how I can afford traveling to so many places. Truth is, traveling doesn’t need to be expensive. In my recent post, I wrote about ways to travel cheaply. In this post, I would like to elaborate on Couchsurfing, and how it changed my life.

Couchsurfing a worldwide cultural exchange program that brings together millions of hosts and travelers. It is popular with budget travelers and backpackers, and the best way to connect with locals and experience culture. Best of all, it’s a free service for all! Especially in expensive cities where hotels costs over $100/night, Couchsurfing is a lifesaver.

I have been using Couchsurfing since 2014. My first host was an expat living in Hong Kong. He lived right by the beach, where he took us on a walk to see the sunset. We had long conversations about everything. He also gave us very helpful advice while exploring Hong Kong. I felt very safe and welcomed in his home, my only regret being that I wish we could have spent more time with him! Since then I have couchsurfed in Washington, DC, Chicago, Asheville, Honduras, Guatemala, New York, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and more!

My Awesome Experiences with Couchsurfing: 

Authentic Culture and Traditions. Living with locals is the most immersive way to experience culture. We share a house with the host, sometimes with their family and pet, too! Once we’re in the house, we’re practically family.

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Here’s a photo of my Couchsurfing family in Bacalar, Mexico

Depending on the host, we sometimes also get an opportunity to meet other couchsurfers, too! Hosts often take surfers to local hangout spots (which are especially fun on national holidays) that we would never have found on our own.

Couchsurf hosts live a very interesting lifestyles. Some have traveled all over the world, some choose to live off-the-grid, and some who love meet and talk to people from all over the world. They love sharing their local culture, history, and traditions. There is always so much to learn.

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Staying at a Couchsurfing off-the-grid cabin powered by solar panels in the Big Island, Hawaii.

In Hawaii, we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful host at an off-the-grid log cabin in a tropical jungle. We were surrounded by fruit trees on all sides. We were able to walk around and pick passion fruits, jackfruits, coconuts, and other fruits to eat (for free)! We did not have access to the internet, which gave us an opportunity to write on our journals.

Food. I’ve eaten the most authentic foods while Couchsurfing. They are usually foods that locals would eat every day, and are incredibly tasty. In return, we would share our own traditional Vietnamese/American foods!

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An El Salvadorian dish prepared for us by our host’s mom.

Contributing. Unlike hotels and Airbnbs, Couchsurfing is a community. Once you stay with them, you’re like family. That means you do dishes, chores, and cooking. One important principle of being a surfer that a host once taught me, “Carry your own weight.” Contribute and don’t be a free loader!

Things to Know:

  • Read the hosts’ profile. Do not copy and paste your request to all hosts. Most host will ignore your request if your message is not personalized. They will usually include something in their description page saying, “Please include ___ in your request or I will ignore it.” It is their way of telling whether or not you’ve visited their page.
  • Be careful when sending Couchsurf requests to stay. It is important to check the hosts’ previous references and description page. Not all hosts are good people. We’ve met a host with strange behaviors and opted to leave the same night. That said, 99.9% of hosts are fantastic people. I like to see a full profile, complete with photos and hobbies so that I know more about the host before staying.
  • Each hosts’ preference is different. I’ve seen hosts who only host single travelers. I’ve seen hosts who live the nudist lifestyle (and will be walking around naked in the house). These information are written in their host profile upfront.
  • You may be sleeping on the couch, floor, bed, or tent. Over the years, I’ve met hosts who literally just have a space to set up on the floor.
  • Hosts may not spend time with you. Hosts have busy lives. They might not be there during work hours. In these cases, I like to spare my nights to spend time with hosts and get to know them.

Planning a trip and want to try Couchsurfing? Check out this article on 16 Places to Couchsurf in 2017.

What’s on your travel list this year? Please leave questions/comments below and let’s exchange!

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Free New York: Food and Music Festival in Brooklyn

New York is a giant hub of free things to do. There are always free performances on the sidewalk of busy streets in NYC, from street art to live music, from people on stilts to break dancers on subways, there’s a little bit of fun for everyone. My recent favorite is listening to a saxophonist who plays breathtaking music every morning on my way to work on Wall Street. Of course, I can’t always rely on chance to lead me to these free things to do. For free, fun, non-spontaneous day outs, I rely on a mailing list that updates me on big events that go on throughout the week.

This weekend, we decided to go to the Atlantic Antic Festival and Americana Music Festival right in the heart of Brooklyn. A mash of food, music, clothing, and culture can be found at the annual Atlantic Antic Festival where 10+ blocks of Atlantic Avenue closes for hundreds of vendors to sell and thousands of people to walk through.

Being vegetarian travelers, we have learned to never expect people to have food for us. Especially in Central America and Southeast Asia, “vegetarian” can mean very different things.  I have always been very careful while eating out. One can imagine my distress when I found small chunks of chicken in my “vegetable” soup (being vegetarian isn’t really popular in Central America). That said, having food protects us from making rash and costly decisions to buy everything in sight and smell.

We walked past cool buildings full with graffiti of New York innuendos.

At the end of the Atlantic Avenue lies the Americana Music Festival. How awfully convenient for us. We were met with an amazing view of the NYC Skyline, a great crowd in high spirits, and a band that is already playing music. It was a beautiful day to be outside, good thing we came prepared.

 

With our books and sandwiches, we found a spot to sit and picnic while listening to great American Folk music playing. Brooklyn Americana Festival celebrates its 2nd anniversary this year; the festival features country, blues, and folk music in streets, bars, and piers.

As I listened to a banjo player telling the story of an interactive West Side Story, I thought of how a year later, we are once again gazing at the Manhattan Skyline as the sun sets. About this time last year, we had began our road trip around the United States, New York being one of our first destinations. I had fallen in love with the city and was determined to return. Now, here we are, living the dream life. Work on weekdays, travel in one of the world’s most touristic cities on weekends. We’ve come a very long way to get here, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.

About 2 hours after settling down, we were greeted with a beautiful view of sunset over the Manhattan skyline. Growing up in the mountains, I never knew what skyscrapers were, or been on subways, or used a bike to get around. Here, in New York, I feel like the possibilities are endless.

The festival was beautiful all the way to the very end. We watched the sun go down as the stage back light and the city skyline illuminate the night sky, a marvelous sight to behold. As the festival was coming to an end, we packed up our things to head home, looking forward to the next adventure.

Spending Time with Kids: Asheville Weekend Trip

Growing up in a small town in the mountains, there weren’t many things to do. My parents, who were constantly busy, didn’t take us out much. That’s why whenever I get the chance to come home, I love to take my brother and sisters out to fun day trips. We lucked out this weekend by getting permission from our parents to stay overnight at a big event about 2 hours away.  Whoo-hoo!

Day 1: NC Mountain State Fair – Asheville

Parking was free, surprisingly, but entrance fee was not. The dense mountain fog did not allow us to leave until 9:30 am. No matter, we’re getting out of the house, and everyone was in high spirits. Right off the bat, we took advantage of the vast amount of heavenly, greasy, inaccessible-at-home foods: Blooming Onion, Corn, Funnel Cake. One of the coolest acts of the mountain fair was the pumpkin chainsaw carving. We watched him carve a bear out of wood and sold it for $70! Afterwards, he made a minion (Stewart) and gave it to Winthanh when she asked for it. AWESOME guy. He said yes! We brought our pumpkin friend with us and named him “Bob.”

Next stop: swings. I don’t know how they do it. Just two rounds on those things would make me want to throw up (yes, I have thrown up from a swing ride before). I’ve never really had a great liking for rotating rides merry-go-rounds, teacup rides, etc.

Fairs are always so colorful; so many things to look at… and buy. It is a wonderland for kids. After walking around in the hot sun for awhile, we found a building where tons of booths were set up. We took free samples, ate food, and walked around. In the large performance area was a Kenyan Acrobatic Show. Their performance was passionate, energetic, and amazing that it made me want to do cartwheels and dance with them (I’m no good at either). Leaving the sweet air-conditioned building, we walked around some more before stumbling upon this money pit: pony rides. Children as they are, they begged me to let them ride on ponies. What a money pit this fair is! $5 per child for barely 2 minutes! I can’t wait ’till they grow and understand the concept of money. I guess moments like these are hard to recreate when they get older. I’ll probably look back and find it worth it just to see the smiles on their faces.

Who doesn’t like sliding down a giant inflating dino slide? Me. The friction on the way down burnt the bottom of my feet. That expression of pain was real. Note to self: wear socks. Ouch!

Kids love the hypnotists. Something about creepy mind control hypnotism is just appealing to these little humans. I was skeptical of the “hypnotism act” at first, but I came out a believer. He  chose an unlikely group of 15 people, and brought them onto the stage. He then hypnotized them to do crazy random things that I could not imagine, like fall asleep in the middle of walking, making them believe that a normal belt is a snake. Whenever he makes that sound, the hypnotized people will see a snake. The belt belongs to the one of the girls, so it was really funny seeing her put it on and have it turned into a snake. The boy threw his shoe at the man and hit him on the face. What a fun night! I would love to see another show like this again.

Day 2: Elaida Corn Maze

We left the hotel at 11 am. On our trip there, we saw several streets named after medieval queens and knights: Lancelot, Arthur, Gweneviere, Merlin. There was an air-conditioned room with stage and an inflated pumpkin. The kids watched the movie on display. It was hot day and we were all sweaty but there were lots of things to do at the corn maze! There was a giant jumping pillow, corn box, giant checkers, spiderweb net thing, tic-tac-toe, hay ride, oh, and of course the corn maze.

I’ve never been to a corn maze before. Lesson learned, mazes are hot! We did all the other activities before going into the corn maze. The path we went on was also very long. There were 5 different maze trails. The Elaida trail one took over an hour. Luckily, we brought apples and we ate them to hydrate from the long trail. We didn’t have enough water and we were lost for a long time because Tam refused to use the map. We were exhausted when we finally finished the maze, and immediately seeked refuge at a nearby corn box.

I have also never seen a corn box before. It is bizarre seeing a box full of corn kernels. I thought that it was somewhat a waste to just have an entire box of kernels for filthy, sweaty kids to play in. As soon as I sat it in, I understood why it was there. It was amazingly cool and strangely soothing (like running your hand through rice). As you can see, Winthanh and Winthien wasted no time burying themselves in the corn. The corn box was surprisingly fun and we stayed there for a long time as we recovered from our long maze hike. Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with Waffle House before going home. A fun filled weekend drained the energy out of everybody. We were ready to go home and watch some TV.

Looking back, when I ask them what their favorite parts of the weekend were, it’s very interesting to see what they remember fondly. Winthien’s favorite activities were jumping on the big trampoline pillow, diving through the corn box, and receiving the Minecraft sword gift. Winthanh’s favorite part was the corn box. Lastly, my favorite part is that the children will remember this weekend as a quality time spent together.

What is your favorite trip to take with children? What are good quality time activities to do together?