The Phone Eats First: Japan

Nothing annoys servers, embarrasses dining companions, and evokes side-eyed judgments from neighboring tables quite like the perfect food pic does. But if I didn’t snap a photo, did I even eat the meal? Naturally my first blog post on Japan is about food. I’m fortunate to have been surrounded by Japanese food growing up and have leaned on my family and friends who speak Japanese fluently to order for me, but if neither of those apply to you, going out to eat can be intimidating.

If you’re traveling to Japan for the first time, these are my go-to orders:

Sushi

I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

Soba Noodles

This was my favorite dish to date, Shio Asari Soba from a noodle shop in Ichinomiya, the town the Tokyo 2020 Olympic surfing games will take place. The clams, the broth, the leeks… Still dreaming about this one.

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When I was surfing that morning, there were fisherman wading in the shallow waters scooping up clams the waves swept in. Unreal.

18279053_10155413288728783_1513950423008577452_oZaru Soba are cold soba noodles and perfect on a hot day with tempura (battered and deep fried shrimp, fish, or vegetables). The noodles and tempura each have a dipping sauce for their respective items.

Ramen

Shoyu ramen (soy sauce flavor) is my preferred style but there’s also Miso (fermented bean paste flavor), Shio (salt flavor), and Tonkatsu (pork broth base). I eat ramen so often I’ve stopped taking photos of it.

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Tonkatsu & Chicken Katsu

Deep-fried, breaded pork or chicken cutlets. I like katsu with Japanese curry (katsukare) or just simply with katsu sauce and rice, pictured below. Karaage, Japanese fried chicken is also a must.

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Okonomiyaki

You’ll generally find noodles, cabbage, seafood, and vegetables in these fried pancakes. There are many variations, especially depending on the local traditions of the town you’re in. Most okonomiyaki restaurants have a large grill you sit around so you can watch the magic happen.

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Course Meal

At a nice place? Order the course meal. Everything comes out beautifully plated and you’ll try traditional dishes you wouldn’t know to order. I wasn’t sure what I was eating half the time, but it looked pretty and tasted delicious. Live a little.

Dessert

Thankful to have been with my mom who’s motto is to eat dessert before dinner. Can’t go wrong with soft serve ice cream, cheesecake, or anything matcha.

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If you’re in Ginza, Tokyo, go to the Salon de Cafe in the Shiseido building for a coffee & dessert break from shopping. You won’t regret it.

Insider tips:

  • Be mindful of cultural practices. Japanese funerals involve leaving food out for the deceased with chopsticks sticking straight into the food. Don’t stick your chopsticks in and don’t pass food chopstick to chopstick if you’re trying to share bites with your friend.
  • How to use automated machines at a ramen shop. The automated machines process your order and receive payment, taking out the middle man of a server. I’ve found that some ramen shops have English options, but sometimes I’ve just pressed random buttons and waited to see what’s brought to me. I’ve never met a bowl of ramen I didn’t like. Once processed, the machine prints out tickets you’ll hand to the attendant/food runner. If you’re pressing buttons and nothing happens, some machines require you put in the money first.
  • Wear socks or bring socks in your purse to the restaurant. Weren’t expecting that one, huh? If you’re at a Izakaya (Japanese style pub), they may have you take your shoes off as there are seating arrangements on tatami bamboo mats.
  • Say thank you! When you’ve finished your meal, saying “gochisosama deshita” to the server and/or person who paid for the meal is the equivalent of “thank you for the meal” or “that was delicious.” Say it while bowing for the full effect.
  • If all else fails. A lot of Japanese family restaurants have plastic food depictions in their display window and menus with photos. I may or may not have asked a server to follow me outside so I could point to my choice behind the glass. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

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Remember, pics or it didn’t happen. Happy snapping eating!

One Week in Cartagena, Colombia

11071118_10153284935123783_251047191713833396_oCheap JetBlue flights from NYC to Cartagena are what brought me and my college best friends to the beautiful land of Colombia in April 2015. I know what you’re thinking–No, I never felt unsafe. Narcos aired four months after my return to the US and it was interesting to compare the Colombia I experienced to Netflix’s depiction of Pablo Escobar’s world.

Cartagena is colonial and dreamy. Old Town/Walled City is where we spent the majority of our time. Giant castle walls, brightly colored buildings, and live music make it hard to want to venture out in to the rest of Cartagena. I could get lost and walk around the Walled City for hours. And I didn’t have wifi, so I did–intentionally and unintentionally.

11092127_10153284936418783_322076358151631369_oThough I’m sure the city has changed a bit over the last two years, here are my Top 5 Where to Go’s and Need to Knows in Cartagena:

Where to Go’s:

1. Playa Blanca. Amazing beach that’s still pretty untouched, I felt like I was in a post card and the white sand put the beach close to our Airbnb to shame. We took a dingy boat from Bocagrande (370,000 pesos) and the ride was 45 minutes. We rented a cabana mostly to keep our stuff tucked away so we could wander away/swim without appointing someone guard.150790_10152638685336682_8616128910049686108_n

2. Volcan del Totumo. We took a van an hour away to a “volcano” filled with mud. You climb down a ladder to meet your friends/30 other tourists crammed like sardines, their white eyes being the only contrast to their mud-caked hair and skin. You float in the mud and the Volcano Men give you massages. Then you walk to a lake where the Bath Ladies scrub you clean. It sounds creepy but it’s a hilarious and bizarre experience that I highly recommend. Bring cash.

3. Getsemani. Most of the action happens in the Old City within the walls, but just 5-minutes outside is Getsemani, the “Brooklyn” of Cartagena. It’s very hipster, a bit run-down with cool graffiti, but we had no issues. Perfect backdrop for your next Instagram.

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After the sun goes down, go to Cafe Havana to salsa dance. The live band goes on at 11:30 pm and you should be there by 11. My favorite night in Cartagena was at a Media Luna Hostel party in Getsemani. Every Wednesday night they throw a party, and it was bumpin’ with international travelers and locals alike. The wait in line to get to the rooftop is long but worth it. Cash only!

4. San Felipe de Barajas Castle. Incredible view of Cartagena. We didn’t stay long because it was super hot mid-day, so I recommend going first thing in the morning. Also if you have a student ID (whether it’s valid or not), bring it because you get a significant discount.

5. Restaurants & Bars in Old City. I would have made a post fully devoted to the food but sadly I waited two years to write this blog and all I have are these cryptic descriptions:

  • La Cevicheria: best ceviche. Anthony Bourdain has been here. Sold.
  • Agua de Mar: Gin bar and the owner was incredibly friendly. We ordered everything on the menu. Their gin and tonics were delicious and very large.
  • La Vitrola: Cuban restaurant, live band, and great scene. Make a reservation ASAP.
  • Oh La La: delicious lunch food in Getsemani.
  • La Mulata: giant portions, best customer service of all the restaurants. Their frozen coconut lemonade drink is a must.
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Agua de Mar

Honorable mentions:

  • El Paridisio: gelato on a hot, Colombian day really is paridisio.
  • Cafe Del Mar: more of a lounge outside on the wall. We went at night but sunset would’ve been ideal with the view.
  • Santa Clara Hotel: Live music and trendy bar across the street from La Cevicheria.
  • Demente: Great Tapas in Getsemani plaza de la Trinidad near Cafe Havana.

Need to Knows:

1. Where to stay: Bocagrande vs. Old City. We stayed in an Airbnb in Bocagrande close to the Hilton Cartagena. It was perfectly fine for our group of seven; we were only there to get ready and sleep. There are beaches within walking distance, but we mostly ventured the 15-min and 6,000 peso cab ride to the Old City for everything else. Note, establish a meeting spot like Old City’s main entryway if your friends get split up in multiple cabs. Next time I go, I plan on staying within the walls of the Old City in a picturesque yellow-walled Italian villa or the Tcherassi Hotel + Spa. #goals.

2. Haggling: hablas español? Thankfully the majority of my friends spoke enough spanish to negotiate prices for vans, boats, etc. If you took French in high school like I did, know how to at least say “how much” and know your numbers.We were able to negotiate our boat trip to Playa Blanca from 450,000 to 370,000 pesos but we probably still could’ve gotten a better deal.

3. Money: P.R.E.A.M – Pesos Rule Everything Around Me. I converted my cash to pesos at the airport, but I probably should have done it at the bank prior to my trip. You can also pay via credit card at most of the restaurants in the Old City but for excursions, bars, and cabs, pesos were the way to go. You won’t need to exchange too much though. Everything is super cheap!

4. Beware: beach cart ceviche. This was advice given to me by multiple people so I’ll continue to pass it along. Ceviche is raw fish cured in citric juices, but the carts being rolled right up to your towel are dicy because they typically aren’t cold enough to keep the fish safe to eat. One snack is not worth the risk of multiple days of food poisoning.

5. Pre-game suggestion + safety. Let it be known I was on my senior year spring break, so cheap alcohol may or may not speak to you the way it spoke to me then. Towards the entrance of Old City, you can purchase rum and cokes from vendors making drinks out of carts. Ceviche carts = no, rum carts = yes. There are no open container laws (Viva Las Vegas) so we would sit on the wall and drink. We were a large group so it was fine but our Airbnb host advised us not to be on the wall at night for safety reasons. There are small nooks and areas that aren’t lit so be aware of your surroundings.

We didn’t have enough time to check out the following: San Pedro Church, Santo Domingo Square, Bolivar Square, Museum of Modern Arts, Gold Museum, and the Rosario Islands. Which means I have to go back.

Until next time, Cartagena!

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Barbados, Baby! Luxury Island Living at Casablanca

When I’m stressed out, I like to close my eyes and picture myself on an island somewhere, wrapped in a warm, tropical breeze watching a glowing sunset. Who doesn’t? The Casablanca estate in Barbados has now set the scene for my dreams (as well as the bar) for a getaway to the Atlantic Sea. The warm weather, abundant activities, and luxurious amenities at the Casablanca estate made for an incredible experience I’ll never forget.

The Property

Casablanca is located on the West Coast of Barbados in Sandy Lane, a prominent neighborhood nestled away from the island bustle about 25 minutes from Grantley Adams International Airport. As we approached our destination, I knew it was going to be hard to leave Casablanca before our bags were even out of the car.

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I immediately began to explore every nook of the 7,800 square foot property: the main villa, cottage, tennis court, outdoor pool and gazebo dining area. The open floor plan is a dream, the warm breeze that flowed throughout the estate felt whimsical.

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The Food

When it was time to eat, it took some time to decide which dining area and view I wanted. More often than not, I gravitated toward the circular glass-topped table on the covered terrace that overlooks the infinity edge pool.

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Our private chef Dennis was incredibly talented and friendly. My favorite dish was the flying fish with cou cou, a traditional staple in Barbados. The local produce and fish were fresh and flavorful and truly added to the Casablanca experience.

The Amenities

There is something for everyone here. A gym, media and card room, two dining areas, full kitchen and bar, tennis court, and have I mentioned the infinity edge pool yet? We thought we would have time to do it all, but sadly we did not.

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Casablanca is the perfect escape for a big family or group of friends to enjoy each other’s company in a large space like the gazebo, or find solitary recluse on the cottage’s private terrace. There are multiple options for guests to come together, but also have the space to sprawl out.

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The Adventure

The poolside R&R was wonderful, but I couldn’t check Barbados off my bucket list without venturing outside! I headed towards the ocean, and as a guest at Casablanca, had access to the Sandy Lane Beach Facility. I recommend snorkeling and sailing in the sparkling waters and finding shade in a private cabana.The world-renowned golf courses were the biggest attraction for other vacationers. I’m not a golfer, but my boyfriend spent the day at Green Monkey Golf Course at Sandy Lane and had a great time.

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If Barbados isn’t already on your list of next island getaways, I highly recommend adding it. Casablanca is perfect for a private recluse or for entertaining a large group. Next time you’re stressed out, don’t just imagine Casablanca with your eyes closed — become a member of THIRDHOME and book your paradise here!