What’s hot and gold all over? The Grand Palace in Bangkok, although I’m sure there’s a Tehrangeles joke in there somewhere.
After our adventure in Ayutthaya, day three in Thailand was sucked into a black hole of heat exhaustion and a sniffly cold but we were back at it on day four, catching an early water taxi on the Chao Phraya River towards the Grand Palace. This is one of the world’s most visited destinations and boy oh boy did the throngs of tourists make that clear.
Freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice both quenched our thirst and spoke to the Iranian in me before we headed to nearby Wat Pho.
We called it an early evening and the next morning took a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s largest city in the north and near the border with Myanmar. As soon as we settled in to our hotel we were, well, hungry. Nothing a little street side egg, banana, and milk roti wouldn’t fix.
We capped our evening off with a (healthier) meal of stir-fried morning glory with mushrooms and tofu at Aum Vegetarian. Seriously though, I could eat morning glory every day.
It’s been over a year since I visited Bangkok and Chiang Mai and I’m still trying to recreate the tastes of Thailand. From sticky rice and mango in the old city to grilled meats, Issan-style, the flavors of Thailand elude me. Mangoes in California will never be as fragrant and kaffir lime leaves are nearly impossible to find. Fresh sugar cane juice? Forget about it.
Nishan and I went to Thailand to eat, and eat we did. (Oh yeah, we also did some sightseeing.)
We dragged our jet-lagged selves to Khlong Lat Mayom, a floating market half an hour outside of Bangkok. The bustling market, the heat, and the smog were thick but we found fresh mangosteens and freshly squeezed palm and sugar cane juice to cool us down. A snack of eggs with seafood and chili sauce kept us satiated for the ride back to the city. Back in Bangkok’s Sathorn District, we made our way to Thanying for dinner.
Crab roe with salted egg yolk and fresh vegetables
Stir-fried morning glory with soybean sauce
Deep-fried sea bass with garlic and pepper
Stir-fried crab with curry powder, egg, milk, chili oil, and celery
By our second day, we were both feeling under the weather but we had plans to visit historic Ayutthaya, so off we went along the Chao Praya river. From there, a short bus ride took us to Ayutthaya, where we rented bikes to ride through the historic ruins in 100 degree heat and humidity level infinity. Great idea, right?
By the end of the day, Nishan got heat exhaustion and I’d developed a full-blown cold. Back in Thailand, we’d made dinner reservations at Nahm, also known as The Restaurant Where I Was So Stuffy I Couldn’t Taste Anything.
That being said, my favorite thing on the menu by far was dessert — and I don’t even have much of a sweet tooth. Behold: pandanus noodles with black sticky rice, water chestnuts, tapioca, and coconut cream. I could eat this every day.
Sometimes all you need are a couple of days away in the same time zone to recharge. Most Californians take the quick route down to Southern California via Highway 5, but this time around, I wanted to enjoy the scenic route. Here’s my recommended itinerary for a roadtrip to a long weekend in San Diego, Yogurtsoda style.
Day one: Wake up early for the long, beautiful coastal drive down Highway 1. Stop in Carmel to grab a coffee. Putter through Big Sur and take in the vistas. Once you’re in Los Angeles, take a detour away from Highway 1 to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles in Long Beach for dinner. The rush hour gridlock will be worth it. Afterwards, finish the drive to San Diego and check in to your hotel. (Make sure to bring Roscoe’s leftovers with you.)
Day two: Head to La Jolla Beach for a lazy beach day and walk along the coast. Eat tacos.
Day three: Drive over to Coronado Beach for gold sand, happy crowds, and lots of ice cream. Eat more tacos.
Day four: Check out early and get on the road back to Northern California. Take the much faster Highway 5 back and save yourself a few hours. Before leaving Southern California, definitely stop at an Iranian grocer and grab a kalbas (mortadella) sandwich and ice cream sandwich for the road.
Part of what makes Japan so special is the traveler’s ability to hop on a train and be transported somewhere entirely different in just one hour. Before we planned this trip, my friend Karen urged us to take a day trip to Hakone, famous for its hot springs and view of Mount Fuji.
After the train ride into town, we hopped off to explore the Hakone Open Air Museum, which features sculptures on its spacious grounds that blend into gorgeous views of the surrounding valley and mountains. The museum also includes a sizable Picasso collection and a relaxing hot spring foot bath for visitors.
Next it was back to Chokoku-no mori train station and a quick chicken katsudon lunch set before stopping at the Hakone Museum of Photography.
This museum, like the previous one, boasted incredible views of the region, and we soaked it all in over matcha tea and cherry blossom wagashi before heading to Koen Shimo station to board the funicular. Are you keeping track of the stations, yet? Hakone does not play when it comes to diverse transportation.
Our next stop was the Hakone Ropeway, an aerial lift connecting us between Sounzan and Togendai via Owakudani. Owakudani literally translates to “Great Boiling Valley.” Sounds relaxing, right? It’s a volcanic valley with active sulphur vents and hot springs and especially kuro-tamago, or “black egg.” The eggs are hard-boiled in the hot springs, turn black, and smell slightly sulphuric. I passed on the black eggs but bought a bag of smoky dried scallops instead. Souvenirs aside, Owakudani was freezing! Note to future travelers: it’s cold up there. Bring a jacket.
For those keeping track, our next mode of transporation was another aerial lift where we reached the dock at Lake Ashi. At Lake Ashi, we boarded a boat to take us to Hakone town. It was so overcast that Mount Fuji was nowhere to be seen, but the lake was stunning.
After a brief stroll through the side streets of Hakone, we boarded a bus which took us to Hayakawa River. Seriously, do the views get progressively more stunning as the day goes on in Hakone or what? After oohing and ahhing at the river, we strolled over to Hakone Yumoto station, where I grabbed us a snack of inari sushi to hold us over for the train ride back to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, thus completing our Japanese Public Transportation Extravaganza.
We spent our next and last day in Tokyo enjoying some of our favorite foods, among which include department store sushi. No, I’m not joking. The otoro sushi at Kinokuniya’s food hall in Shinjuku may be the best I’ve ever had. This is the sushi dreams are made of. Sublime and perfect, like butter.
Our last meal on this trip was at Ramen Setagaya in Haneda Airport. We paid at the vending machine and ten minutes later sat down to stellar ramen. In the U.S., ramen of this caliber would garner hour-long waits. In Japan, it’s airport food.
I’d previously visited Tsukiji Market with my sister back in 2009, but with the news that the market is slated to relocate in 2016, I had to visit again with Nishan. It was busier this time. Much busier. We navigated the 7 a.m. post-tuna auction crowds until we got to a nondescript sushi restaurant in the middle of the market, and enjoyed some of the freshest sushi the market has to offer. After that, it was time to shop. Preserved scallops, pickled vegetables, sugary mochi, oh my. This was my kind of market.
Afterwards we took the train back to Shinjuku for lunch at Nakajima, Tokyo’s Michelin starred restaurant specializing in sardines. I had the fried sardine lunch set and the pickled greens and radish paired well with the oily fish.
We spent the rest of the day taking it easy in anticipation of what was to come next: Robot Restaurant. Robot Restaurant is a nightmare or a fantastical experience depending on how you look at it. Popularized on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, it’s a dinner show but no one comes for the food. It’s bizarre and epic. You want to see giant metal robots battling it out with lasers? Done. You want to see rainbow rockers flipping into pyramids? Sure. It’s obnoxious, entertaining, and surreal.
The real highlight of the evening, though, was the gigantic bowl of mentaiko udon I had at Tsurutontan after the show. Even at midnight, the line to get in stretched around the corner of the building. One bite of these chewy, hearty noodles and I understood why.