We can’t always travel business course across the world. We would love to, however it is not necessarily feasible. As well as for brief haul trips around Southeast Asia, we are more likely to travel among the popular inexpensive companies. After all, i might instead save yourself my cash and kilometers to make a 12 hour trip to Europe operating course. Meaning more budget flights around Southeast Asia. This is how we wound up testing out Tigerair to to Singapore.
Flying From Bangkok on Tigerair to Singapore
There are several inexpensive companies, or spending plan airlines, that fly throughout Southeast Asia. We’ve flown AirAsia, a whole lot. And, we’ve tested out Thai Smile on a domestic trip within Thailand. But, recently we had the chance to fly Tigerair to Singapore for the first time. We flew Tigerair within Australia a few times in 2009. This was our first-time flying Tigerair within Asia.
We flew from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Tigerair’s hub at Singapore Changi Airport. Our two hour journey had been every thing you’d want from a flight: quick, comfortable, and with friendly solution. And, because our company is luxury travelers, we opted for an “upgrade” on first row on our flight on Tigerair to Singapore and to exit row along the way right back. There’s always a way to fly having a little bit of luxury, even on a tight budget flight.
Updating on a tight budget Airline
Most associated with inexpensive providers who fly within Southeast offer customers this sort of “upgrade.” This might consist of buying meals aboard or roomier seats in exit line or at the front end associated with aircraft. Tigerair is not any various and offers all of these solutions. Just what sets them besides airlines like AirAsia, is Tigerair permits chair upgrades during the trip.
From my chair in the 1st row, I heard the statement that seats were available in rows one and 13 for purchase. An update mid-flight! This may be a great substitute for offer passengers. You may still find numerous fliers whom aren’t aware of these roomier seats or may have forgotten to pick this program once they initially booked their solution. Having one final chance to purchase additional leg space, also for cost, is a huge plus. On the other hand, I’m 6’4” while having extra legroom on my brain every time I fly.
Tigerair is Singapore Air, And More!
Tigerair is one of four airlines that comprise Singapore Global Airlines, the SIA holding company. SIA additionally operates Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, and Scoot. Scoot and Tigerair have a pretty close relationship. Scoot covers more long term channels, especially on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Around we just flew Tigerair to Singapore, we could have seamlessly linked to Scoot, and flown to Australia and past.
At Singapore Airport, Tigerair and Scoot fliers can quickly move from flight to another to attain more locations throughout Asia. Our last location was Singapore so we didn’t hook up to a Scoot journey. But if we had, it was great to know our bags could have been transported directly to our next flight.
Tigerair and the Value Alliance
Tigerair is a member of the Singapore Airlines family, where Tigerair flights make KrisMiles. Tigerair is also a founding person in the worth Alliance. So that you can compete keenly against AirAsia, eight airlines formed the world’s first “pan-regional Low Cost Carrier” alliance. The worth Alliances includes Cebu Pacific associated with Philippines, JejuAir from South Korea, Nok and NokScoot of Thailand, Vanilla Air from Japan, and lastly Scoot and Tigerair.
Just what does this mean for Tigerair people? According to the Value Alliance, it indicates that people are in a position to book flights provided by any Value Alliance partner “when they visit any user web site.” Being the #AvGeek I am, I place this to the test on Tigerair’s web site. When I looked for flights from Seoul to Cebu, a route served by JejuAir, no journey resulted. I’m not sure if this is user mistake or in the event that scheduling system isn’t in place yet. I’ll consistently experiment to see exactly what arises. Regardless, this may be a big step forward the inexpensive providers in Southeast Asia within their efforts to compete keenly against AirAsia. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for tourists to find and book the roads they desire using one of these brilliant eight airlines.
As the final time we travelled Tigerair was at 2009, I’m delighted we had the chance to experience them again. And, it had been good to compare their solution to another cheap companies in Southeast Asia.
Being situated in Bangkok, it’s always our preference to travel out of Suvarnabhumi versus Don Muang. Fortunately Tigerair flies out of the larger Suvarnabhumi. Overall, I became happy with this experience. The inflight meal we ordered had beenn’t the greatest we’ve had, but wasn’t the worst. The employees had been excessively friendly.
We were hosted for the journey on Tigerair to Singapore in order to attend a travel seminar hosted by TravMedia. As constantly, my ideas are my own. Also, since our journey, SIA announced that Scoot Air could be taking in Tigerair into the future. This will take a moment, however, therefore it is nevertheless possible to own this Tigerair experience traveling inside and out of Singapore.
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Nearly all of our our podcast episodes are scheduled in advance. We know who we intend to speak with, we execute a small back ground research, and possess a listing of topics to talk about. This episode ended up being simply not that sort of episode.
When we bit to the very first small break fast sandwich at Tiger Deaux-Nuts Baton Rouge, we knew we had to master the tale behind this little bit of donut heaven in Louisiana.
Top Breakfast Sandwich in Baton Rouge
Jeff of Tiger Deaux-Nuts explained precisely what had been on one of the best breakfast sandwiches we’ve ever consumed. To start, it included a particular sausage, called boudin, plus it ended up being sandwiched between two slices of the famous donuts. It was so delicious I didn’t also should add ketchup! Locals say it generates a “mockery of the McGriddle.”
The Donuts at Tiger Deaux-Nuts Baton Rouge
Jeff had been a guy with a fantasy. A donut fantasy. On this week’s episode of our meals travel podcast, not only did we mention a locally famous break fast sandwich, but we discovered exactly how he came up with the thought of producing an artisan donut store in Baton Rouge.
And, what’s utilizing the name? What is a deaux-nut anyway? It’s the Cajun means of spelling donut. Well, not formally, nonetheless it’s a Cajun use words. Trust united states.
Mentions with this Week’s Culinary Podcast
How to locate the greatest Gulf Coast Consumes!
Tiger Deaux-Nuts in Baton Rouge
Greenhouse on Porter – the biscuit and coffee shop in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. We chatted with the women behind the biscuits on a current podcast episode.
Parish Brewing business – Craft alcohol over near Lafayette, Louisiana
Tin Roof Beer – Baton Rouge’s big craft alcohol business
Southern Craft Beer business – in which we took our additional donuts to set with Louisiana craft alcohol
Resort Indigo Baton Rouge – where we stayed during our trip to Baton Rouge
What exactly is Boudin – if you need to ask this concern, you need to read this post
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What happens when two Yankees come home to the US for the first time in years? We head south. We have been lucky living in Bangkok to find some decent American comfort food. We’ve found good pizza and hamburgers and even found some good Mexican in Bangkok. The one thing we haven’t found is Southern comfort food. That’s we we spent a few weeks driving across the US south, in search of the best Gulf Coast eats.
We spent a good chunk of our six week road trip along the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Starting in Tampa, we made our way west. We spent a night in Mobile, Alabama, visited the Mississippi Gulf Coast, followed by a week in New Orleans, and then off to Lafayette and Baton Rouge. This stretch of our American road trip was one of the tastiest. We ate some amazing food. But, some of the dishes we ate just stood out. These are the best Gulf Coast eats, and the ones you should track down!
What to Eat in the Gulf Coast
We’ve never been big oyster eaters. I’ve occasionally had them raw, but I have always struggled a bit with the texture. When I started to hear about how prevalent chargrilled oysters are along the gulf, I became a lot more intrigued.
We started with a half dozen at Wintzell’s in Mobile, Alabama. We started easy with grilled oysters covered in cheddar cheese, bacon, and jalapeños. With a few drops of Louisiana Hot Sauce, they were fab. I was hooked. We tried chargrilled oysters as often as possible. They generally were great across Mississippi and Louisiana, and we were only disappointed once. They are definitely one of the best Gulf Coast eats, particularly because they are so fresh and local.
The Best Chargrilled Oysters: The best oysters we ate were, of all places, at the Biloxi Shuckers minor league baseball game. Of course with a name like The Shuckers, we were expecting to find oysters. But Julius, the oyster man of the ball park, grilled them up fresh in front of us. They were slathered in garlic butter, sprinkled with creole seasoning, and topped with melted parmesan cheese. Washed down with a nice Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan craft beer, it was the best ball park meal I’ve had ever.
Runner Up: We ate oysters at Acme in New Orleans, which were disappointing, and Drago’s in New Orleans as well. We ate them at Jolie Oyster in Baton Rouge, which were also good. They offer a good variety from the Gulf, as well as from the East Coast and West Coast. But, our runner up has to go to Parrains in Baton Rouge, where they introduced us to Oysters Bienville, which were tasty and juicy and delicious. They were prepared with butter, parmesan cheese, and bread crumbs, making them super crunchy.
Our first po’boy experiences were in New Orleans during our early trips to hang out around Bourbon Street. At the time, we focused on fried shrimp po’boys, essentially deep fried shrimp on a fresh baguette, dressed with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Sometimes, the shrimp po’boys would be served with a spicy remoulade sauce. Remoulade is a French inspired sauce, normally mayonnaise based with enough spices that it normally is a pink or red color.
During our trip to find the best Gulf Coast eats, though, we wanted to explore beyond the typical shrimp po’boy. We tried a catfish po’boy at Wintzells in Mobile, a fried oyster po’boy at Taranto’s outside of Biloxi, and a handful of roast beef po’boys as well.
The Best Po’Boy: One of the best things we ate during our entire week in New Orleans was the Ferdi’s Special Po’Boy at Mother’s, one of the most famous restaurants in New Orleans. The Ferdi’s special includes their famous ham, roast beef, and debris, essentially bits of beef and au jus. It comes dressed with shredded cabbage, sliced pickles, mayo, and mustard. This was a napkin grabbing po’boy sandwich, as the au jus started to drip down my arm. The mustard and pickles offered a tanginess and the beef was so tender. We returned the following day for another, and took one home for a snack later that day. Mother’s often has a line out the door, and there is a reason why. Although a lot of locals claim that Mother’s is too commercial, and too touristy, their sandwich was spot on tasty, and you can’t argue with that.
Runner Up: Before arriving at the Biloxi Shuckers game, we had already eaten 3 or 4 po’boys, including ones made with roast beef, catfish, and oysters. Two of these were at Taranto’s, which were quite tasty! At the game, though, we ate a shrimp po’boy, dressed with lettuce, tomato, mayo, a pickle, and served with a bit of remoulade on the side. My first bite was heaven. There is something about the crispness of the shrimp along the Gulf Coast, mixing with the fried breading, and the tanginess of the pickle. I ate this sandwich on a Facebook Live video, and probably made a fool of myself doing so.
I was so looking forward to fresh biscuits during our Gulf Coast eats road trip, that we named our Kia Optima “Biscuit.” I don’t know what it is about a good biscuit. When well made, it’s just comforting.
The Best Biscuits: In Ocean Springs, Mississippi, we were introduced to Greenhouse on Porter, a new-ish biscuit cafe, specializing in pour over coffees during the day, and craft beer infused trivia in the evenings. I was hooked as soon as we walked in and met Marigold, the adorable six toed Hemingway Cat that happily let me pick her up at will.
Greenhouse on Porter’s biscuits are made fresh, in a small oven behind the counter. Each day they offer their regular biscuits, sweet potato biscuits, and one sweet and one savory speciality. They had me hooked on the first day, with a mango biscuit served with lemon fluff. When I asked one of the owners, Kait, what is in the fluff, she just replied “magic.” What I loved about Greenhouse on Porter was that it had a great neighborhood vibe. We were immediately welcomed by patrons, who all offered their suggestions on where to eat along the Gulf Coast. We visited Greenhouse on Porter each morning we were in Ocean Springs.
Runner Up: As much as Greenhouse on Porter offered some tasty biscuits, as far as traditional biscuits go, the Rusted Rooster in Lafayette has to win at least an honorable mention. I went full southern and ordered the Gravy Train, a fresh biscuit, served with tender fried chicken in between, and slathered with gravy. Yep, biscuits, gravy, and fried chicken, all on one tiny plate.
Listen to our podcast talking about biscuits with the ladies at Greenhouse on Porter.
BBQ Along the Gulf Coast
The real reason behind the road trip across the south was BBQ. We both love BBQ, and wanted to eat as much of it as possible. Places like New Orleans are just not BBQ cities, but all along the Gulf Coast there are loads of places to get great BBQ. The great thing about a lot of these places is that they are not entirely focused on one style, they are a blend of Texas, North Carolina, and even Kansas City style BBQ.
The Best BBQ: Any time we can meet the owner of an award winning BBQ joint, we are in. We sat down with Brad of The Shed BBQ in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and talked BBQ. He is as much of a character as his father, known as Daddy O. And, he makes some mean BBQ, literally award winning. The highlight for me was the brisket, which had a black pepper flavor to it, along with the tangy BBQ sauce. Dining at The Shed is also an experience, one in which words alone cannot do it justice.
Runner Up: As much as NOLA is not known for BBQ, we ate some great pulled pork and brisket sandwiches at McClure’s BBQ, located inside the NOLA Tap Room. It was a huge portion, tender, and loaded with cole slaw. A nice job for BBQ, and especially surprising to find in New Orleans.
Crawfish, Jambalaya, and Gumbo
We were cheated just a little bit on our crawfish eating experience because it was not crawfish season. We missed out by just two days when Taranto’s Crawfish in Mississippi had a special crawfish day, unheard of in August. Due to the recent rains, some crawfish had crawled its way to the surface, and Taranto’s claimed the catch.
But, during our time searching out the best Gulf Coast eats, we ate seafood gumbo, crawfish étouffée, and jambalaya all over, whenever we could. It was the only way we could get our crawfish fix.
Best Étouffée and Jambalaya: During our visit to Baton Rouge, we toured the Louisiana Fish Fry factory, getting a behind the scenes tour of how they make their famous fish and shrimp fry. After our tour, we received a few giant platters of food from Tony’s Fish Market, famous all over Baton Rouge. Along with our platter of fried shrimp and fried catfish, they brought out a vat of tasty and creamy crawfish étouffée, along with a giant bowl of jambalaya. I was not expecting it to be as good as it was.
Runner Up: Of all places, at an old school, traditional southern restaurant, Eric enjoyed a steak stuffed with crawfish. At Cafe Vermilionville in Lafayette, Eric enjoyed their Steak Louis XIII, which just exudes tradition. And, yes, it was stuffed with crawfish tails, and then slathered in a crawfish mornay sauce. Simply decadent.
We are not big sweets eaters, focusing more on the savory. Besides, once we’ve loaded up on the oysters, po’boys, BBQ, and washed it all down with some craft beer, we are pretty darn full. That said, we had a couple of great desserts during our road trip.
That said, I am a big bread pudding fan. I love the layers of gooey deliciousness. The addition of raisins or nuts is also welcome.
Best Bread Pudding: We stopped in at The Little Big Cup in Arnaudville, Louisiana, just outside of Lafayette. I was not hungry when we sat down, so we split their special po’boy sandwich. The po’boy alone should get an honorable mention above, as it was fabulous, but it was a little more refined, higher end po’boy, lathered in crawfish and cream sauce.
Then, we met the owners, Sanjay and Kevin, who offered us the chance to sit on their newly built back deck, overlooking the bayou. They brought out their pecan cheesecake and a warm slice of their home made bread pudding. As full as I was, I went to town on it. The bread pudding itself was good, but it ranks here mostly because we enjoyed chatting with Kevin. Kevin shared their story, and how they moved back down to his little home town after escaping the corporate life in New York. Part of what they are doing at The Little Big Cup is trying to change the perceptions of food in the Lafayette area, which is increasingly becoming loaded with chain restaurants, like much of America. They are focusing on innovative versions of classic southern dishes, and their white chocolate bread pudding is a good place to start.
Runner Up: Eric is not as much of a fan of bread pudding as I am, but when we got a southern dessert demo at Red Stick Spice Co. in Baton Rouge, he became a convert. Before I was even done taking my photos, he had practically licked the bowl clean. Well done Chef Anne, you created a bread pudding lover!
Just before we arrived in the Gulf, horrible rains plagued Louisiana, with the Baton Rouge area being hit the hardest. It was a constant topic of discussion, with many people still out of their homes over a month later. Despite this, our experience along the Gulf Coast was incredible. I hope that our readers will visit there and experience the cuisine and the hospitality for themselves. After disasters like this, tourism is more important than ever to keep small businesses alive, and to pump up the economy of the region. If you’re not able to visit, please consider donating to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation or Operation BBQ Relief, to support the relief efforts in the region, which are still ongoing.
We have several weeks of great culinary stories coming to you on the podcast. We’ve already published a few, but there are more to come. This episode is just an overview of our thoughts on the #USChowDown, and how we are still a little surprised that we survived our first American road trip!
#USChowDown was a huge success, even if we returned to Bangkok a little wider around the waist than when we left. But, if we came back after eating all that food thinner than before, that would have been strange. We ate great food across the Gulf Coast, had a BBQ party hosted in our honor in Macon, and ate at one of the top restaurants in the US. So, not too shabby, uh?
We even survived two weeks with family, visiting Eric’s sisters in North Carolina, my sisters wedding, and spent time with Eric’s mother in New Jersey, who watched us spend a weekend eating New Jersey pizza. We tell all these stories, and more, on this week’s episode about our first American road trip.
Breaking Down 5 Cruise Misconceptions on a European River Cruise
We’ve always prided ourselves on the fact that we’ve never been on a cruise. Technically, we can’t even make this claim due to a not so fab two night Yangtze River cruise we took in China back in 2009. But, I don’t think it counts. I mean a real cruise. One with a cruise director, buffet meals, and pre-arranged activities, on a boat with a bunch of other people. I’ve always stuck my nose up a bit at cruise goers, that was until our recent French river cruise experience.
Yes, Viking River Cruises hosted us on this experience. And I’m glad they did. I never would have thought of doing this type of river cruise otherwise. We not only had a great experience, but it certainly dispelled some of the misconceptions I had about cruising in general.
1. Cruise Misconceptions: Cruise Ships are Crowded
Close your eyes and say the words “cruise ship” and what images pop into your head? For me, it’s always been large cruise ships, the size of a small city, where it’s nearly impossible to find a lounge chair near the pool. Where I would be one of a thousand people clamoring for a server’s attention at dinner.
I knew this wouldn’t be our experience on a European river cruise. First, the rivers can’t hold ships that big. There were less than a hundred staterooms on our Viking Buri longship. On our cruise, from Avignon to Lyon, I believe there were about 150 passengers on board. That meant there were always seats available at dinner, or in the lounge. Even when many of the passengers were in one place, for example during our evening briefings, it never felt crowded at all.
I also assumed that those cruise ships would be very impersonal. But, the crew on the Viking Buri were fabulous. They knew many of us by name, or minimally, based on what we drank. By the end of the week, Robert, one of our servers in the restaurant knew that lunch time meant rosé, and that it was hard for me to say no to dessert. The bartender, Boris, always knew I started my cocktails in the evening with an Aperol Spritz. The crew was so unbelievably personable and welcoming, more so than any hotel I’ve ever stayed at.
2. Cruise Misconceptions: Bad Buffet Food
For me, this presents almost a nightmarish scenario aboard a cruise ship. Long lines, cold food, all of which looks manhandled and unappetizing. Imagine spending a week when all of your meals involved elbowing people away to grab the last remnant of a lemon meringue pie.
But, our French river cruise was intended to cater to food lovers. In fact, the entire cruise around Provence and the Rhone River Valley focused on food and wine. Menus always had locally inspired dishes. And, the cultural curriculum included demonstrations on how to make chocolate fondant, a presentation on French cheeses, and a galley tour.
Although a casual buffet option was available for three meals a day, the presentation of the buffet was impressive. Food was well prepared, and well stocked. Service was above and beyond. Breakfast and lunch in the main restaurant offered some buffet options as well as an a la carte menu. The lunch items changed daily.
Dinner at the restaurant was always a la carte, and focused on international and local dishes. We ate escargot and frogs legs and chateaubriand, all paired with French wines. Although our fellow diners agreed that a few of the menu items over the week were “misses,” overall the dinners were fabulous. Honestly, they were way better than expected.
One afternoon, Chef Peter provided a galley tour, which put everything in perspective. The galley, or kitchen, is tiny. There are less than ten people in the kitchen, preparing dinners for 150 people, who are all sitting down at one time, to eat a three course meal. More impressive, for safety reasons, all of the cooking has to be electric. Not a single fire burning in the galley. When I learned this, I became even more impressed with the meals Viking prepared.
Moreover, the folks on the Viking French river cruise did a great job of looking after guests with food allergies and other issues. We were traveling with a friend who was recently diagnosed with a disease that has altered everything he ingests. The Maitre d’, Imre, found our friend at every meal to ensure he was taken care of. Imre went so far as to go ashore and buy coconut milk, so our friend wasn’t stuck with soy. The attention was so good that at times our friend wanted to “cheat” a little, but didn’t want to disappoint Imre. It was amazing to watch.
3. Cruise Misconceptions: An Older Demographic
I’ve always wondered whether I could enjoy a cruise if we didn’t fit the demographic of the cruise ship, generally misconstrued to be limited to older people. Our European river cruise was just such a test. Now, I should note that Eric and I tend to fit in very well with retirees. We always end up hanging with retirees at resorts or hotels. Some of our closest friends when living in Bali were in their sixties. Perhaps that is because we don’t stay up late partying and we value our sleep.
That said, most of the people aboard our Viking River Cruise were older than us. It is not only the general age of cruise ship passengers, but it is because Viking caters to a more affluent audience. It is more of a luxury cruise experience than a Carnival cruise around the Caribbean. Viking’s focus on service, and attention to detail, mean a higher price tag. A higher price tag means a more affluent demographic. There were no drunk twenty somethings partying until 4 am. Something I appreciated.
Who was aboard? Some really lovely people, who enjoy traveling, and drinking wine. We actually met four gentlemen, who travel together, with their wives, every year. They were fraternity brothers at our alma matter, Rutgers University. Now, they are professors and lawyers. We had a lot of fun on tours with them, getting to know them. Eric even sang the school song with them on our last night.
So, were we younger than most passengers? Yes. Did we care? Absolutely not.
4. Cruise Misconceptions: Too Scheduled
I am generally not a fan of group tours because I don’t like being on a tight schedule. I value my free time. I like to nap. I want to ensure I have time to write, or to work, or to just sit and chat with someone. I was a little concerned that cruise travel would be too scheduled. Too many ports of call, on board activities, and excursions.
A crew member placed a copy of the Viking Daily in our room each night. If I attended each and every activity on the daily schedule, I would be run ragged. There were loads of activities. And, I could have done them all. Or, I could have passed on every one. Although lunch and dinner times were pretty set, everything else was up to us. I felt no pressure to do activities I didn’t want to do. And, one afternoon when it was raining out and I was tired, we laid in bed and watched Downtown Abbey on our cabin’s TV.
During our French river cruise, there were about ten optional excursions for an extra charge, generally between 50 and 120 Euros per person. We did only three of those excursions. We traveled to Chateuaneuf-du-Pape for a wine tasting.
We learned to cook French pastries in Lyon.
We visited a goat cheese farm and learned about truffle hunting.
Of the fifteen or so excursions that were included in the price of the cruise, we did two. We went to Beaujolais for a wine tasting, and took a walking tour in the one of the villages. A few days we had nothing scheduled at all. Certainly, we were not too scheduled, and I felt that I could relax when I wanted to.
5. Cruise Misconceptions: Too Cramped
Eric is almost a giant. He doesn’t fit anywhere. It’s one of the reasons why we’ve never booked a cruise. I didn’t want to feel cramped in a tiny cabin with a giant. For that ill fated Chinese river cruise years ago, we had two tiny single beds, up against the wall, and a bathroom that was virtually unusable. Add to this the fact that I’ve recently developed a minor case of claustrophobia, and I was nervous about being stuck in a small cabin space for a week.
On our Viking Buri ship, we had a Veranda Stateroom. We had floor to ceiling windows, and a balcony. We had a queen sized bed and a shower that Eric could fit in. The stateroom was about the same size as a typical hotel room in Hong Kong, cozy, but functional, and not in the least bit claustrophobia inducing.
Also, because we were in one place for a full seven nights, which almost never happens when we travel, we could completely unpack, and store our suit cases under the bed. I never felt too cramped, and was happy to curl up in bed while we were cruising, open the curtains, and watch the French countryside go by.
Check out our video for more details on our French river cruise:
We were guests of Viking River Cruises for our French river cruise, but all opinions, and yummy sounds, are as always, my own. Our Veranda Stateroom aboard the Viking Longship Buri starts at $1,999 per person.
During our first trip to China in 2009, I was entirely overwhelmed by the experience of traveling in China. Despite our flashpacking budget back then, we stayed at Western chain hotels, just to have some sort of comfort and familiarity. For our recent visit to China, though, I wanted more. I wanted a great experience, great food, and a little bit of luxury. And, we found it at a relative new Chengdu luxury hotel.
Through our recent luxury travel experiences, we’ve learned what to expect from a luxury hotel. A well appointed room, a decadent lobby, well trained staff.
But, when traveling in China, I wasn’t sure if the same rules applied. Sure, we’ve stayed in luxury hotels in nearby Macau and Hong Kong. But, mainland China, well, that’s another story. Traveling in China is hard, so I expect a luxury hotel in Chengdu to eliminate the stress of China.
And, Niccolo Hotel did just that.
The hotel prides itself on incorporating some truly unique artwork from both local and international artists. After walking in through the glass enclosed tea lounge, artwork surrounded us. Niccolo touts its “contemporary urban chic” decor, but I don’t care what they call it. It’s impressive.
The most notable artwork was “Beijing Girl” by Zhang Xiang Ming. Her deep, soulful eyes greeted us each time we walked through the lobby.
Of course Niccolo Chengdu offered well appointed rooms, with luxury amenities and a comfortable bed.
But, what really set the hotel apart was the service, and the food. Niccolo Chengdu helped to arrange our visit to see the pandas, the Leshan Buddha, and a Chengdu food tour. In fact, we explored a lot of the Sichuan dining scene in Chengdu. But, we also ate some great meals right there in the Niccolo Chengdu. Because unlike hotel dining in the US, Asian luxury hotels offer some amazing dining experiences.
Yue Hin at Niccolo Chengdu
We arrived in Chengdu and didn’t even need to leave the hotel to experience local Sichuan food. At Niccolo Chengdu’s Yue Hin, we indulged in a tasting menu with about a dozen different dishes. We started with cold dishes, including a smoked fish and a ridiculously spicy cucumber skin. A series of hot dishes started to arrive at the table, so many that we quickly ran out of space on our table.
One of the more unique presentations included a deceptively simple double boiled pine mushroom soup with pork and chicken. Served in a tea pot, over a tea light candle, the soup came with a small Chinese style tea cup. I say deceptively simple as the soup was nothing more than a chicken broth, but packed such rich and condensed flavors.
A second soup involved a large vat of poached fish with mushrooms. More creamy, this soup tasted good. But the individual tea pot of broth stole the show on the soup front.
I’ve now eaten abalone multiple times in the last several months, particularly during some of our fancy Cantonese meals in Hong Kong. At Yue Hin, steamed abalone was served in a pea broth. It tasted tender and well prepared, but abalone is still not something I understand, or really get. It looked pretty though.
The highlights of the main course for me, though, were the Sichuan dishes. Dishes included one of my all time favorites, stir-fried chicken with Sichuan chili peppers. This dish should be served with the amount of chili peppers vastly outweighing the amount of chicken. It should leave the lips tingling. It did not disappoint.
And, a Sichuan style meat ball was loaded with a home-made pepper powder. It was similar to a five spice powder, but with the addition of Sichuan chilies.
At the end of the hot dishes, the server brought out what was described in the menu as “Vegetables Big Platter.” And, that is just what arrived. But the presentation was stunning, with each slice of vegetable laid across the plate to form a fan design. Bird’s nest and saffron trimmed the edges.
Then, the main courses arrived. No, all of the platters of food that covered every inch of our table were not enough. And, they were not even our main courses. A three tiered platter of dim sum arrived, including a goose pastry shaped like a swan, with little doughy panda bears on guard at each end. A wild mushroom steamed dumpling was topped with truffles. And a steamed bun, filled with mushroom and gravy, was made to look like a mushroom itself.
And, if this was not enough, a poached rice with lobster soup finished the meal. The Cantonese inspired soup seemed similar to something we’ve eaten in Hong Kong. For this version, the toasted rice was sprinkled into the soup table side, leaving the soup bubbling and popping from the rice.
Just as I felt the zipper to my dress start to give, dessert arrived. A large fried sesame ball, similar to a typical dim sum dish, was hallowed out and filled with a sweet almond cream along with bird’s nest. It was served alongside a unique presentation of two healthy juices, to aid in digestion, of course served in two test tubes.
This was exactly what I had hoped from a Chengdu luxury hotel, and something entirely different from our first experience travelling in China. With impeccable service, I felt spoiled, right from the start. And, I was stuffed.
Entrees at Yue Hin start as low as $10, with speciality dishes obviously being more.
Check out our YouTube video on what to eat in Chengdu:
Niccolo Kitchen at Niccolo Chengdu
One of the reasons why I love traveling with friends is that it means we can try so many more dishes when we eat. Normally, Eric and I are limited to 3 or 4 dishes. But if there are six people at a table eating family style, we get to taste everything! It’s why we were able to taste so many different dishes at Yue Hin. And, our dinner at Niccolo Kitchen felt as though we ate every thing on the menu. And, the menu is about 8 pages long.
Niccolo Kitchen serves an international menu. Despite this, almost everything we ate offered some element of, minimally, Asian influences, but often Sichuan influences. It started with a Sichuan spicy lobster pizza, which included miniature mountains of diced Sichuan pepper sprinkled on each slice. It was easily the spiciest pizza I’ve eaten in a very long time.
A former chef from Niccolo developed their NK Cheeseburger. Based on an In-n-Out burger, it’s served complete with sauteed onions, and special sauce. Although not Asian inspired, for an expat living in Asia, the burger tasted pretty spot on, down to the bun. French fries accompanied the burger, but I made sure to order the special basket of spicy Sichuan pepper fries. The spice of the pepper mixed perfectly with the tangy ketchup. I never let that basket of fries out of my sight.
And, not to cater too much to the pescatarian friend in our group, we indulged in NK’s Meat Lovers’ Delight. The platter included some of the most tender and juicy lamb chops, grilled chicken, and soy marinated short ribs. Presented in a large cast iron pan, the server placed this mountain of meat directly in front of Eric, most likely intentionally.
Before we even made a dent in our mega meat platter, the server delivered over one kilo of fresh whole prawns in spicy Sichuan seasonings. We all tried our best to make it through the dishes. But, once again, I left dinner stuffed.
At Niccolo Kitchen, dishes start around $10. Not surprisingly, the Meat Lovers’s Delight is around $60, but serves two to three people. Desserts at Niccolo Kitchen start around $6. Considering the quality of the food, the prices were entirely reasonable for a Chengdu luxury hotel.
Afternoon Tea at Niccolo Chengdu
I am infatuated with the notion of afternoon tea.
Niccolo Chengdu’s Tea Lounge is beautiful, with tall ceilings, glass walls, contemporary decor. Each and every table had a squishy little teddy bar to enjoy tea with. It might be a little gimmicky, but I loved sitting with a teddy by my side while eating scones and cream and cucumber sandwiches. I felt like a little girl playing dress up. This is why I am so infatuated with afternoon tea.
Eric chose a white tea, Bai Hao Yin Zhen, solely because it translated to “the pretty lady tea.” I tried not to point out that he wore a salmon colored shirt and green pants, while drinking pretty lady tea. I went traditional and stuck with the green tea from the local mountains. The selection of finger sandwiches complemented the tea, and it all felt very elegant. Again, entirely different from our experience in China in 2009.
The Tea Lounge at Niccolo Chengdu serves high tea each afternoon, from 1-5 pm. The tea set costs around $40 for 2 people, with tea priced separately depending the specific tea ordered.
Check out our YouTube video of what to do in Chengdu:
Eating French Food at a Chengdu Luxury Hotel
I never thought I would be eating French food in China. It was, of course, not the reason why we were traveling to Chengdu. Our trip focused on spicy Sichuan food. But, Niccolo Hotel had a visiting chef from Xiamen, China, in for a promotion the week we were in Chengdu. And, the chef just happened to be from France. This is how we ended up eating French food in Chengdu.
Having met with Chef Olivier early in the day, he promised us frogs legs. I am used to eating Asian style frogs legs, mostly in Vietnam. They are often deep fried and seasoned with garlic, chili, and lemongrass. During our French river cruise, we ate a whole frog in a creamy sauce with tomato and pepper. But, Chef Olivier’s version was Provencale style, layered with tomatoes and juicy green peppers.
Along with the frogs legs, we enjoyed an escargot that rivaled some of the escargot we enjoyed in Lyon, France. This version included hunks of ham in a creamy sauce. The escargot itself tasted tender and juicy.
The server then arrived with one of our main courses, a giant cast iron pan with two rather large confit duck legs, served with sautéed potatoes and fresh carrots. Some miscommunication with the server seemed to imply that we were about to receive two portions of confit. In the end, they served two portions in the one pan. Thank goodness because as Eric began to carve up the Flintstone-sized duck legs, two large platters of beef bourguignon arrived. Tender pieces of beef stewed in burgundy wine served over a fresh hand made pasta.
But, this was not all. These were just our “starter mains.” The real main course arrived in the form of an oversized vat of bouillabaisse from Marseille. The bouillabaisse we just tried during our French river cruise was much lighter than this Marseille version. Here, the bouillabaisse teemed with an entire slow poached fish, enormous mussels, prawns, crab, and more. Stick a chopstick in me. I was done.
Once dessert arrived, particularly because it was our last day in Chengdu, I was, once again cumulatively stuffed. The occupational hazards of being a food travel blogger. But, I managed to make room for a spice topped creme brûlée, and a icy nougat with raspberry coulis.
I am not familiar enough with French cuisine to know how authentic this meal was. All I know is that it tasted amazing, and the food well prepared. I would expect nothing less from a luxury hotel, even if we were eating French food in China.
Listen to our food travel podcast where we spoke with French Chef Olivier.
Chef Olivier’s special French dinner was served at Niccolo Kitchen, alongside the regular menu. Prices were comparable to regular entree prices.
All in I was super thrilled with our Chengdu luxury hotel experience, and everything that Niccolo Chengdu offered. It was our first time staying with the brand, and I am excited to see what they are going to do in the future.
When we came up with the crazy notion of driving across the Southeast on a culinary road trip, the first thing we started concerning ourselves with were destinations. What cities did we want to explore for the best food. Then it dawned on me. We’ve never taken a road trip like this before, so how well prepared were we to take our first American road trip?
Turns out, not so prepared.
But after spending 6 weeks zooming across the Southeast US on our #USChowDown, it turns out, we’ve learned a thing or two about surviving an American road trip.
5 Tips for Surviving Your First American Road Trip
Tip 1: Find a Comfortable Car
For many Americans, bigger is always better. For us, that is just not the case, despite the fact that Eric is over 6 feet tall. We worked with Kia America during our road trip, so we were blessed that we did not have to rent a car for our 6 week road trip.
Initially, Kia offered us a Kia Sedona, which looks like a cross over between a minivan and an SUV. Most people would jump at the chance to drive a comfy SUV on an American road trip. For us, though, we are used to small cars. We’ve never owned an SUV. This was not the time to start.
So, we asked for something smaller, and they offered us the Kia Optima. It was a sedan that was still a lot bigger than we are used to, particularly because most of our rental cars are small European models. But, it was comfy, even on our longer drives.
The lesson here, think of what kind of car you are most comfortable driving, and what car makes sense for the road trip you are going to take.
Tip 2: Upgrade to the Sirius XM
We’ve never driven a car with Sirius satellite radio before, and it was a life saver. It’s one of the hardest things when we rent a car – what kind of radio system will there be? Will there be bluetooth to hook up our phones to play from our playlists?
With Sirius XM, it was so pleasant to be able to listen to commercial free radio no matter what state we were in. I understand that satellite radio is common place for so many people now, but for us, it was a novelty.
Tip 3: Load Up With Podcasts
No, this is not just a plug for our own With Husband In Tow podcast, which you should of course listen to. On our longer drives, having engaging podcasts to listen to, again, saved the day. Our go to favorite was the new Weekly West Wing Podcast, which walks through every episode of one of our favorite TV shows, week by week. So much fun to listen to, and because they were each about an hour long, it made the time fly by.
Tip 4: Slow Down on Your First American Road Trip
Do as I say, not as I do?
We covered a lot of territory in the 6 weeks of our American road trip. We tried to spend at least 3 nights in places (sometimes we failed even at that) and even did some longer stays. And, we tried to pick cities that were in close proximity. That meant we would only be driving a couple of hours between destinations.
But, we had a couple of longer rides, each about 7 hours. We had a few stops where we only stayed 2 nights, like in Savannah and Charleston. Constantly being on the go was exhausting, particularly considering the amount of food we were trying to cram into each stay.
Six weeks seemed like an awful long time, but in the end, I wished we had gone just a little bit slower for our first American road trip.
Tip 5: Focus on the Secondary Cities
It’s easy to fly to the largest cities in America. It’s a lot harder to hit the secondary, or even tertiary destinations. An American road trip was our opportunity to visit cities like Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Macon, and Athens. These are four cities we’ve not only never visited before, but weren’t really on our radar until they became stopping off points between the larger cities, like New Orleans and Memphis and Savannah.
And, these cities were the absolute favorite destinations of our trips. The food was amazing and reasonably priced, and the people were so friendly and welcoming. They are not only so proud of their destination, but so excited that visitors and bloggers would consider visiting. In the end, I was thrilled we choose to visit these secondary cities.
We are craft beer novices, as we’ve mentioned before when we talked craft beer with The Opportunistic Travelers on episode 09 of season 2. But, during our #USChowDown 6 week long US culinary road trip, we wanted to learn as much as possible about American craft beer. And, we were schooled in Louisiana, at Parish Brewing Company.
After a trip to Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Mississippi, and a week of drinking craft beer in New Orleans, I think my taste buds are getting the hang of American craft beer. I am still not a fan of the IPAs, which are a little too hoppy for my tastes. But, I’ve been enjoying quite a few of the beer we’ve tasted.
When we walked into Parish Brewing Company in Broussard, Louisiana, we were greeted in a bustling Tap Room by the owner, Andrew, and his adorable puppy, Murphy. Andrew gave us a tour of the brewery. And, we tasted every one of their 12 (!) American craft beer varieties, and I enjoyed quite a lot of them.
On this week’s episode of the food travel podcast, we sit down with Andrew to talk hop wizardry, how he ended up in the American craft beer industry, and why the food in Lafayette, Louisiana is so darned special.
Although right now Parish Brewing Company only distributes their craft beer within Louisiana, it is easy to find all over the state. In particular, search for my favorite, the Parish Brewing Company Canebrake, and Eric’s favorite, the Everie IPA.
Just before we arrived in the Gulf, horrible rains plagued Louisiana, with the Baton Rouge area being hit the hardest. It was a constant topic of discussion, with many people still out of their homes over a month later. Despite this, our experience along the Gulf Coast was incredible. I hope that our readers will visit there and experience the cuisine and the hospitality for themselves. After disasters like this, tourism is more important than ever to keep small businesses alive, and to pump up the economy of the region. If you’re not able to visit, please consider donating to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation or Operation BBQ Relief, to support the relief efforts in the region.
Recently, Excelsior Wine in South Africa asked if we could spread the word about their latest contest, where our readers and followers can win a dream trip to South Africa. Let me tell you how.
But first, this was an interesting time for Excelsior Wine to come to us asking about promoting a contest for a wine and BBQ trip to South Africa.
Our South Africa Plans for 2017
As we are in the final weeks of our #USChowDown, we are already planning for our 2017 travels. Although we have spent a lot of time this year returning to places we love, we are hoping to get to a few new destinations, and in particular new countries, in 2017.
We placed South Africa on the top of that list. Why? Wine. Pure and simple, we want to explore the wine tourism offerings in South Africa. And, what goes well with wine?
Current BBQ and Wine Explorations
During our current #USChowDown, we’ve been exploring Southern BBQ. From The Shed BBQ in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to a weekend of BBQ love in Memphis, we’ve been enjoying loads of different types of tasty BBQ. And, although many people think that BBQ goes perfect with beer, we’ve been experimenting with BBQ and wine. During the #USChowDown, we were pairing refreshing sparkling red Lambrusco with home made BBQ, seasoned with Mama Honey’s Hiney Rub in Macon, Georgia. We’ve been eating and drinking well, so I am sold on the concept of BBQ and wine.
When I heard about the concept of drinking South African wine, while enjoying South Africa’s version of BBQ, though, I was intrigued. I was more than intrigued! I was sold!
South Africa BBQ – Braai
Being American, I sometimes think that America is the end all and be all of BBQ, but I know in my heart of hearts that there are all different ways to make BBQ, or to grill well. Braii, pronounced “Br-eye”, is South Africa’s version of grilling. Yes, the meat and the flavor are important, but the importance of Braii really comes from a way of life, a way for friends and family to gather together, and to cook, and drink wine together.
Because nothing partners better with grilling good meat than good wine. Excelsior is one of South Africa’s top wine estates. It is located only 90 minutes from Cape Town, and is run by fourth and fifth generation wine owners. At the Excelsior Wine Estate they often pair their wines with South African Braai.
Win a Trip to South Africa!
The Excelsior Wine Contest is called BBQ to Braai. Their goal is to find America’s First Braai Master. In a partnership with Cape Classics, Excelsior Wine’s importer into the US, and South African Airways, they are offering one lucky American grill master a trip for two people to Cape Town to learn how to make South African braai, on the wine estate!
“Braaing is so much a part of our daily life in South Africa that we even have a national holiday named for it,” said Peter de Wet, owner and winemaker at Excelsior Wine Estate, speaking of National Braai Day, which is celebrated annually on September 24. “By hosting the BBQ to Braai contest, we will hopefully inspire the American grill master to learn more about historic tradition of cooking over fire, and win a chance to take part in authentic braaing with me at the Excelsior Estate.”
Excelsior Wine Estate is located in the picturesque Robertson Valley, in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains, approximately 100 miles east of Cape Town, with a focus on Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz. Many of these wines pair perfectly with grilled meats.
The Grand Prize winner of the BBQ to Braai contest will win two coach round-trip tickets to Cape Town on South Africa Airways, along with five days, and four nights in South Africa. The trip will include 2 nights in Cape Town, and 2 nights at Excelsior Wine Estate. While staying at the Excelsior Wine Estate, the winner will learn braai skills from a braai master, Peter de Wet, of Excelsior Wine!
Applicants must be residents of the US, and able to jet off to South Africa from either JFK or Dulles Airports between February 1 and May 1, 2017.
How to Enter to Win a Trip to South Africa!
To enter, visit Excelsior’s contest website to submit an original, 60-second (or less) video. The video must tell Excelsior why the applicant should be named America’s First Braai Master.
Entries will be accepted through October 2, 2016.
Once all entries are in, a two-week voting period will follow. Ten finalists will be determined by a popular vote.
A team of judges will evaluate the finalists’ videos for creativity, visual appeal, clarity of message, and inclusion of South Africa, Braai, or Excelsior in the message.
Because we recently ate loads of tasty foods in Chengdu, I asked our friends Agnes and Cez, China experts, to share their recommendations for foods you must eat in China.
Agnes and Cez are typical foodies who love to discover new flavors when traveling across the world. Living and teaching English in China on and off since 2011, they managed to try a great variety of traditional Chinese dishes. They share their culinary experiences on their travel (eTramping) and food (Run Agness Run) blogs. Check them out if you are looking for some food inspiration!
Unique Flavors of Chinese Food
There’s a reason why Chinese food is so popular among worldwide travelers and locals. Chinese cuisine is, above all, extremely tasty, aromatic and very colorful. It is also diverse as you can find extremely spicy meals in the Eastern part of the country, sweet in the South, salty in the North, and West is characterized by its sourness. In this way, everyone can find something for themselves when visiting different parts of China.
Cez enjoying his jiaozi – traditional Chinese dumplings.
Additionally, dining out in China is very affordable so you can eat more and pay less. Superior restaurants are much cheaper than you think, whereas the street food costs nearly nothing!
Agness ready to try some fried pork with rice and veggies.
Since we know that Chinese cuisine is worth tasting, let’s check out some of the top dishes you must eat in China when visiting the Land of Dragons.
Top Foods You Must Eat in China
Sweet and Sour Chicken in Batter
This dish is a perfect dinner option as it combines sweetness and sourness. It is served everywhere across the country so you can find it in small and big cities in any decent restaurant. The chicken is very crispy and tastes amazing when served with fried rice. This is by far my favourite dish in China. I often find myself ordering it when I go out with my friends in Shanghai or Beijing. You can order a glass of wine as well as it fits this dish perfectly.
Crispy goose is a traditional dish served in the Southern part of China, well-known for its roasted meat and BBQ taste. You will definitely love its taste – crispy skin and tender meat. The goose is often seasoned with various spices and served with a bowl of rice. Not trying it is simply a sin!
Spiced Lamb Skewers
This is a typical street food that is sold by locals everywhere. Very tasty and quite spicy, it contains a lot of fat so don’t eat too much of it. Chinese people love to have it during their summer barbecue with friends dining outside (and usually heavily drinking beer).
Two Types of Chinese Dumplings: Baozi and Jiaozi
If you make it to China, trying baozi and jiaozi is a must! Both are dumplings, but what’s the main difference between then? Baozi are much bigger than jiaozi, they are steamed and filled with meat (mince) and veggies (carrots and cabbage). They can be consumed daily and will fill you up quite quickly. Jiaozi are eaten during the Chinese New Year and they are not only popular in China, but also in South-East Asian countries, especially Vietnam and Thailand. They look tiny in comparison to baozi, but you will find them more crispy and salty if they are fried. Jiaozi is also easily found in local eateries, served throughout the day in baskets where they were previously steamed, and also put into soups instead of noodles. It’s hard to spend a few days in China without eating either Jiaozi or Baozi.
Congee is a typical breakfast option for everyone who eats healthy. It’s a rice porridge that you can eat plain or with such steamed veggies as carrot or sweet corn. Some locals love to have it as a side dish, some eat it with fish or fried meat. It’s very thick and filling.
If you are visiting China in summer, a fresh mango pudding is must-try! It’s very lite and healthy and you can dig into it right after a dinner. This pudding is often served with an additional portion of fruits and coconut milk.
Steamed Egg Custard
Again, this is a perfect snack and dessert option, very delicious, healthy and lite. I absolutely love its texture – soft and silky. It is usually garnished with homemade sesame oil and soy sauce.
Chinese Spring Rolls
Although you can taste spring rolls anywhere in Asia, Chinese ones (called chūn juǎn) have a very unique taste and smell. They are made during the Spring Festival and it takes some time to prepare them in a very traditional way. Firstly, they are filled with mince, fresh veggies and sometimes rice, then wrapped in special dough wrapper and finally perfectly fried so they turn golden-yellow color. When you order chūn juǎn, dip them in a plum or soy sauce – perfect combo.
Hungry for more? Head to China and discover new flavours, new aroma and new tastes! Overall, there are plenty of different Chinese dishes you can enjoy while visiting various Chinese sightseeing spots. Be adventurous with food and don’t be afraid of trying new things, even if it’s a spider on a stick!
Thanks to Agness and Cez for sharing their food tips!