Broadway and Ernakulam market in Kochi



I love visiting local food markets when I travel, so I asked my homestay host to recommend one. She recommended Broadway and Ernakulam market, where there are fresh fruits and vegetable stalls, as well as shops selling spices, fashion, fabrics, and homeware etc. I took a ferry from Vypin island to Ernakulam, and then got a tuk tuk to bring me to the market one morning.

Surprisingly, the food market was fairly quiet when I arrived, and I didn’t see any tourists as I wandered along the streets. The food market is full of stalls selling all kinds of vegetables and fruits; the vendors were all very friendly and were happy to pose in front of the camera.


broadway market

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochibroadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi


Besides from food, there are also many spice and nut shops as spices and chillies are crucial in South Indian cooking. Since I was at the beginning of my travel, I decided not to buy spices here, but I was really captivated by the pungent fresh spices being sold here.


broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi


Once I left the food market area, I came across many clothing shops, and even stumbled upon a fabric store selling silk fabrics. Most of the fabrics are pre-dyed for sarees, but I did manage to buy some plain ones (it was a struggle) for my natural dyeing.

As the temperature started to rise, I decided that it was time to head to my next destination… I think the market is worth a visit if you are a market-lover like me. Although I didn’t buy much, I still enjoyed the colours, smell and vibe of market.


broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi

broadway market kochi



London’s new street food halls & markets

Flat Iron Square

Flat Iron Square in Southwark


Once upon a time, visitors to London used to tell me that London rarely changes, especially when you compare to cities in Asia. Well, you can’t really compare London to cities like Beijing or Shanghai, but as a Londoner, I feel that London has changed immensely over the last decade. Gentrifications around London has changed the city’s streetscape dramatically, and it is evolving quicker than people realise.

One of biggest trends in recent years is the rise of street food and outdoor street food markets. In terms of food market, Borough market is one of the largest and oldest in London, but it is also the busiest and most touristy one. Try visiting the market on a Saturday, and it is likely turn out to be an exhausting and off-putting experience. In 2010,  Maltby Street Market appeared under the railway arches in the nearby Bermondsey, and soon became a popular food market for many Londoners.

The team behind Kerb is also contributes to London’s thriving street food scene. Their King’s Cross street food market that started in 2012 was highly sucessful and subsequently, they opened four more outdoor street food markets at various locations across London. Now outdoor street food markets can be found in many local neighbourhoods, and Londoners are spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options.


vinegar yard

vinegar yard

vinegar yard

Vinegar Yard near London Bridge station


Unlike London’s trend-driven food scene, street food has been prominent in Asia for decades. Night markets, food courts, and hawker centres are popular in many cities. I particularly love street food in Taiwan (my favourite are Tian Jin flaky scallion pancakes and oyster omelet), pad thai in Thailand (cheaper and better than the restaurants), popiah and chai tow kway at the hawker centres in Singapore. Prices are cheap and choices are endless.

Although I think street food in London is quite expensive compare to Asia, there are some interesting Asian street food stalls at the Old Spitalfields Market if you are craving for Asian street food. In 2017, the iconic East London market received a facelift and launched an indoor street food market called ‘The Kitchens’. I have visited this market a few times, and have tried a few dishes from various Asian vendours.

At Pleasant Lady, I tried their vegetarian jian bing (£6.8), a Chinese savoury crêpe with fillings, which was tasty and crispy but quite expensive as a snack. At Dumpling Shack, I tried their prawn wontons in chilli oil (£7.9) which was spicier than I expected, and rather expensive for the portion. The ‘best value’ dish was a fried fish lunch box from the Burmese stall Lahpet (now they have a restaurant in Bethnal Green), which reminded me of my trip to Myanmar a few years ago.

Besides the above, you can also find Yi Fang fruit tea and Wheelcake Island from Taiwan here.


spitalfields market

spitalfields market

dumpling shack

spitalfields market

Pleasant Lady



Yi Fang

Old Spitalfields market


After an explosion of outdoor street food markets over the last few years, street food markets have been gradually moving indoors. In 2018, the team behind Market Halls converted two abandoned buildings into bustling street food markets: Market Hall Fulham and Market Hall Victoria; and in November 2019, they opened UK’s biggest food hall at the former BHS building.

When my friend and her family came to visit from New York last year, I brought them to Market Hall Victoria on their first night in town. After trying out different restaurants and pub for the next few days, they suggested returning to the food hall again on their last night in town. They were extremely impressed with the simple and fresh pasta from Nonna Tonda, whereas I am fond of the authentic Malaysian food at Gopal’s Corner, which has the same owner as the super-popular Roti King in Euston. Since there is always a queue outside of Roti King, I would rather come here for my laksa or roti fix.



roti king

Market Hall Victoria


In Sept 2019, Kerb also opened its first indoor street food market in Covent Garden. The Seven Dials market now occupies the two-storey 21,000sq ft former banana warehouse on Earlham Street that used to be a shopping centre selling street fashion shops since the 1980s. The shopping centre lost its appeal in recent years, and shoppers were few and far between.

The idea to turn an uninspiring shopping centre into a food hall was a wise one. The bright and spacious market is inviting, and big enough for 25 traders, including street food stalls, a bar, a bookshop, and food producers’ stores on the ground floor. Out of the thirteen food stalls, I ordered a portion of salt and pepper squid with chips from Ink, a fish and chips stall. The batter was crisy and tasty, but not outstanding enough to make me return and reorder. I didn’t mind the communal tables, but I doubt you can have a decent conversation with friends if you come during the peak times. This market is likely to attract hipsters and tourists, so do be prepared to pay the ‘West End’ prices for your food and drinks.


seven dials market  seven dials market

seven dials market

seven dials market


If you want to eat street food in a more glamorous setting, then Mercato Metropolitano’s second street food market (the first one is in Elephant and Castle) is likely to impress. Mercato Mayfair is situated inside a Grade I listed, deconsecrated 19th century St. Mark’s church in Mayfair. It is celebrated as one of the finest examples of 19th century Greek revival architecture, and the market opened in November 2019 after a £5m restoration.

Even if you are not into expensive street food, it is still worth a trip to this market just to see its stunning interiors. Wandering around the church one afternoon, I saw pasta and pizzas being served on the ground floor, and upstairs, I saw my favourite Turkish dish – pide– being served at Lala, so I decided to give it a try. Normally, I would go to Mangal Pide in Dalston for this, but the upmarket version was a pleasant surprise, and the seating offered a grand view of the church’s interiors. The crust of the machine-made pide was crunchy and the filling ingredients tasted fresh; although it is more expensive than the Dalston version, I would come back for this if I am in the area. The beautiful setting is also a big draw for me, so I wouldn’t mind trying out other stalls in the future.


Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair  Mercato Mayfair

Mercato Mayfair


Novelty plays a key factor in the street food scene, therefore these markets have to keep changing in order to attract returning customers. I believe indoor food markets would attract more customers in the cold winter days, and judging from the current trend, we are likely to more of them popping up in different locations across the city in the future.


Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (last day)



Japanese breakfast at Minshuku Momofuku in Koguchi


After having a big Japanese breakfast at Minshuku Momofuku, I was ready for my last hike of the pilgrimage trail. Mr Nakazawa warned me about the first stretch of the hike, which requires a steep climb of 800 metres in elevation over 5km. This section of the trail is called Dogirizaka meaning ‘body breaking slope’. Mr Nakazawa smiled and told me that he had done it a few times, as shown in the photos on his wall.


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The most challenging section of the trail is Dogirizaka. The famous poet Fujiwara Teika (1162-1241) stated in his pilgrimage diary from 1201 that, “This route is very rough and difficult; it is impossible to describe precisely how tough it is”.


Out of all the days, the last day was the day when I encountered the most hikers. Oddly, the supposedly most difficult section seemed to attract more hikers than the rest. Early in the morning, I saw a couple having an argument while hiking up the woods; the husband stormed off (carrying nothing), and his wife (who was carrying a handbag) had to chase after him! It was a bizarre scene. Not long after that, I ran into the couple from San Francisco again and we decided to hike together. We all felt that carrying our own rucksacks while walking the pilgrimage trail was important to us… it would have been much easier to have our rucksacks forwarded to the next destination, but it would completely miss the point and notion of the pilgrimage.

We learned that the Dogirizaka section is tough because the rock staircases appear to be endless, and at times very steep and slippery. Since I have previously suffered from a knee injury, my poles helped me enormously throughout this trail.


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Finally, we survived the toughest section and reached the Echizen-toge pass. Yet it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from then on, because there were still several descends and climbs from one mountain to another. However, we all felt that having companions made the journey easier… mostly because we were having some interesting conversations and were distracted from the walking.

At the Jizo-jaya teahouse remains, we met another group of hikers and had lunch here altogether. Since our water supply was low, we were thrilled to see a vending machine here. Normally, vending machines are conspicuous in Japan, but on this trail, they are rare and are considered as precious commodities. Like the one I saw yesterday, the one at the teahouse remains had ran out of water as well, so we had to opt for other drinks. After lunch, we carried on with the awareness that we were at the last stretch of the trail.




img_8909-min  img_8916-min



Nachi Kogen Park
A pleasant surprise awaited us at the vast and picturesque Nachi Kogen Park, which at the time was full of cherry trees! We saw an ultra long slide and got very excited. We decided to try and slide down, but it was very difficult with the old rollers and ended up using our hands to move down the slide. Luckily, the view from the top of the slide was stunning because of the cherry trees and mountain backdrop, so it made up for the slow motion down the slide. Two Japanese guys saw us struggling and gave a cardboard to my American companion behind me. Thus, he was sliding down very quickly while I was struggling in front of him and worrying that he was going to crash into me… We all had a laugh in the end, especially because it was all quite unexpected, and not long before we reached our destination.




img_8924-min  img_8923-min



Nachi-no-Otaki and Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine


When we finally got a glimpse of the Nachi-no-Otaki waterfall while descending from Mount Nachi, and we were all over the moon. Yet the first thing we did when we arrived at the Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine was to rush into a shop with an ice-cream sign outside! We felt that we deserved some reward for the hard work, and the delicious plum ice cream did the trick for us.

After our treat, we walked around the Shinto Nachi Taisha Shrine and the Buddhist Seiganto-ji Temple (the two structures used to be connected but were separated in the Meiji era). The temple is reputed to be the oldest structure in Kumano and said to have been founded in the fourth century by an Indian monk who also founded the Fudarakusan Temple .

The location was the Grand shrine offers a fantastic view of Japan’s tallest waterfall, Nachi-no-Otaki (133 meters high and 13 meters wide), which has long been a site of religious significance in Japan. The worship of the nature and kami (meaning superior to the human condition) is at the heart of Shintoism, hence the waterfall became a place of worship or pilgrimage site.

It felt odd to see tourists roaming around at this site, since I barely saw more than 20 people over the last few days. I spent more time with trees than humans during my pilgrimage trail, and despite the challenges, I found the experience extremely meditative and gratifying. Being able to walk the ancient trails where pilgrims have passed through for over a thousand years was a privilege, and I would never forget this amazing journey.


img_8935-min  img_8939-min 

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After wandering around the site of the Shrine, it was time for the American couple and I to say goodbye. We exchanged contacts and then parted our ways. My journey would have been quite different without them, and I was glad that we were able to complete the trail together.






I waited for the last bus that headed towards Nachi-Katsuura, a fishing port where I spent my last night before leaving the region by train. Nachi-Katsuura has the highest catch of tuna in Japan, and its morning tuna market is a local attraction. It is also known for its onsens, and I splashed out on my last night of the trail at Manseiro Ryokan, located right across from the pier.






The seafoof banquet at Manseiro Ryokan


The building of the ryokan is rather old and the decor is modest and dated, but the highlight here is its meals. After three days of hiking, I think the spectacular kaiseki-style seafood dinner was a great way to end my journey. The star of the meal was of course, tuna, and apart from eating it raw, it was also served as sukiyaki (usually beef is used). The food just kept coming, even the waiter was laughing because I looked stunned whenever he brought more dishes over.




After the never-ending meal, I rested a little before taking the free ferry (10 mins ride) across to the neighboring Hotel Urashima, where it is famous for its Bokido onsen cave bath overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hotel Urashima is a massive and touristy resort with numerous souvenir shops, karaoke bars, and game centers, and I was quite shocked when I arrived in my onsen yukata. Nonetheless, I managed to find my way in the labyrinth of hallways with colour coded lines on the floor.

Unlike the chaotic lobby and hallways, the natural hot spring bath in a cave by the ocean is very tranquil. Not only you can hear the waves beating against the rocks, you can also feel the sea breeze and look up at the moon and stars while soaking in a hot spring bath. It was a truly unforgettable experience, and I absolutely loved it. Even though all my aches was melting away, I was also feeling exhausted from my 8-hour hike, so I didn’t stay that long in the cave. All I could think of was ‘bed’ after the soak.



Another big breakfast…


Public foot onsen



dsc_0295-min  img_9012-min



After another big but healthy Japanese breakfast the next morning, I ventured over to the tuna market. Although I had missed the early morning auction (I was in need of sleep), I was still curious to see where most of the tuna in Japan originated from. Luckily, there was still some actions to be seen… and I managed to take some photos from the observation deck of auction’s aftermath.

After a short stroll around the quiet town, I bought a fish bento and some seafood snacks for my train ride to kyoto. My five-day journey in the Wakayama region had been sublime and extraordinary, and what struck me most was the largely unspoilt nature along the Kumano Kodo trail. This part of my trip revealed the beauty of Japan that is usually depicted in nature-related documentaries, and I am sure my Shinrin-yoku/forest bathing time was beneficial to my physical and mental health.



The view from the train


Spring in Kanazawa




After days of traveling to and from various small towns and villages, I finally arrived at a big city – Kanazawa – the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. Before my visit, I had heard that it is a historical and picturesque city which has been nicknamed ‘Little Kyoto’. Although like Kyoto, the city escaped air raids during WWII and has preserved many historic architecture; it does not remind me of Kyoto at all.

During the Edo Period, Kanazawa Castle was the headquarter’s of the Maeda Clan, the second most powerful feudal clan after the Tokugawa. Hence Kanazawa is also known as the ‘samurai city’ with a samurai district at the foot of the castle where many samurai residences used to live.

Now the city is still seen as an important city in its region, and with the new shinkansen line opened in 2015 that connects the city to Tokyo in less than 3 hours, it is attracting more tourists from overseas and within Japan.


kanazawa castle


kanazawa  kanazawa




One thing that struck me when I arrived was the sightings of many Western expats here, which was quite unexpected. And after experiencing amazing hospitality for days, I did experience some unfriendly service here (perhaps I was just unlucky), which did slightly spoil my stay.





kanazawa  kanazawa 



Kanazawa Castle Park is a large park in the city centre, and you can enjoy a pleasant stroll here. While I was walking through the park, I also saw a few Japanese couples taking wedding photographs here, so I guess it is a popular spot for wedding photography.

The castle was the headquarters of Kaga Domain, ruled by the Maeda clan for 14 generations from the Sengoku period until the Meiji Restoration in 1871. Like most ancient buildings in Japan, the castle was burnt down several times, and now the surviving structures include the Ishikawa Gate from 1788, the Sanjukken Nagaya and the Tsurumaru Storehouse all of which are designed Important Cultural Properties. Since the castle’s keep no longer exists, it did feel a bit like walking around a ‘film set’ in a samurai film.


Kanazawa Castle


Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle

Kanazawa Castle Park


One of the most popular attractions in Kanazawa is the Myoryuji Temple (aka the Ninja temple) built in 1643. It is so popular that visitors are urged to reserve for their daily tours in advance through their phone (no emails) reservation system. Tours are conducted in Japanese, but there are written guides for foreign visitors. Unlike its name suggests, the temple was not home to the ninjas, but it served as a secret military outpost for the Maeda lords.

The building is constructed with a complicated network of corridors and staircases, traps, secret rooms and escape routes. From the outside it appears to be a two story building, but there are actually four stories with 23 rooms, 29 staircases and a lookout tower.

Despite the troublesome reservation system ( I got my hotel to call the day before), it is still worth visiting this ingenious temple. There are some very inventive and eye-opening ideas and creations, so it is not to be missed.


Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple ninja temple

ninja temple

Myoryuji Temple (also known as the Ninja temple)


Another main attraction is the The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art designed by SANAA (Sejima and Nishikawa Architects and Associates) in 2004. The minimalist circular building is located within a park with some outdoor sculptures scattered around it.

There were two temporary exhibitions at the time of my visit but they were charged separately, which I thought was rather steep, so I picked only one of them. The most photographed art work here (the only work that can be photographed inside the museum) must be Leandro Erlich‘s ‘Swimming Pool’ (only accessible with a paid ticket) – a deceptive looking ‘pool’ where people appear to be underwater. It is probably the most memorable work at this rather small and average art museum. Personally, I think the architecture outweighs the contents, which is a bit of a shame.



The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

Colour activity house Olafur ELIASSON

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art  leandro erlich swimming pool 

leandro erlich swimming pool  leandro erlich swimming pool

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art

The 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art and its art works include Olafur Eliasson’s ‘Colour activity house’ and Leandro Erlich’s ‘Swimming Pool’


One lesser-known attraction is the Yanagi Sori Design Memorial, which is affiliated with Kanazawa College of Art that houses the celebrated industrial designer’s designs and furniture.

Yanagi Sori (1915 – 2011) was an influential Japanese designer who founded the mingei movement that promoted Japanese folk crafts and the beauty of everyday objects. He was also known for his simple, organic and functional designs. His iconic Butterfly stool, which was designed in 1954 after visiting Charles and Ray Eames, was chosen as part of MOMA’s permanent display, and it is still being produced today.


yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial  yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial


Yanagi taught at Kanazawa College of Art for almost 50 years, and after his death, his design studio donated 7,000 of his designs, products, and materials to Kanazawa College of Art, which gave birth to this free memorial space.

This is not a major tourist attraction (I only saw one other Japanese visitor during my visit), yet it is worth a visit if you are interested in beautiful Japanese designs.


yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

yanagi sori design memorial

Yanagi Sori Design Memorial


If you love markets and seafood, then Omicho Market will be seen as ‘heaven’. There are about 200 shops and stalls, as well as restaurants and sushi bars focusing on seafood. You can have breakfast, lunch and dinner here (which I did), and I could have eaten more if I had a bigger stomach. I love wandering around food markets and it was fascinating to see the variety of seafood available here. If only London’s markets offer 1/4 of the stuff I saw here, I would be visiting the markets daily!


Omicho Market  Omicho Market sushi

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market

Omicho Market and the amazing seafood


To be continued…


Myanmar’s food markets & vendors

bagan food market



Food markets in Asia are always vibrant, colourful and stimulating. In Myanmar, we visited several village and town food markets, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experiences. Aside from food like fish, meat, vegetables, eggs, chilies and dried herbs, we also saw some unusual stuff like the addictive betel leaves and thanaka wood (its powder is used as a natural sunscreen).

I have no doubt that the produce being sold at these markets are fresh, but the stalls’ hygiene was a concern for us and so we didn’t make any purchase aside from the Burmese-style doughnuts recommended by our guide. The fried dough was filled with freshly shredded coconut, which was surprisingly light and delicious.


street food vendor

street food vendor

Yummy Burmese-style fried doughnut


Village food market



burmese food market  burmese food market


burmese food market  burmese food market


burmese food market  burmese food market

burmese food market

myanmar food market  garlic






Town food market







burmese food market





burmese chillies


Inle Lake food market











Mandalay & Yangon





ice cream vendor  yangon street food vendor

yangon street food vendor


If you planning to visit Myanmar, then don’t forget to include a trip to the food market. Not only food markets reveal the country’s food culture, they are also fantastic places for people-watching, and they act as stimuli that can enhance our senses. Enjoy!


The gentrification of Brixton

p1170468-min  brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill

brixton windmill  brixton windmill  coffee brixton

The restored grade II* listed Ashby’s Mill, also known as Brixton windmill (1816) & a trendy cafe nearby


Due to rapid urbanisation around the world, major urban cities are struggling to cope with the influx of migrants for the past few decades. Housing shortage is one of the biggest challenges that these cities have to deal with; hence gentrification of the more deprived neighbourhoods has been adopted to solve this ongoing issue.

The term ‘gentrification’ was first coined by German/British sociologist Ruth Glass in 1964, and it was used to describe the processes by which the poor were squeezed out of parts of London to make way for the middle and upper classes. Unsurprisingly, the term carries a negative connotation due to increased property values and the displacement of lower-income families and local businesses. Since the 1960s, many neighbourhoods in London have undergone unprecedented transformation, and not all have been welcomed.

When I was young, I was often warned about areas in London like Brixton, Kings Cross, Camden Town, Dalston, Bethnal Green and even Soho because of high crime rates, drug dealing and prostitution issues. Brixton was regarded as ‘the drugs capital of London’, and so it was seen as a no-go area in London – unless you were going to The Fridge (a well-known nightclub in the 80s & 90s).

I only got to know Brixton because of my ex – who owned a flat there – and it was around that period that the area started to transform. I used to walk through Brixton with my head down when I was alone because I was afraid to catch the eye of the drug dealers or gangsters. Then gradually I felt more relaxed and began to explore the colourful and bustling food markets and independent shops selling vintage/ethnic fashion. There were hardly any chained shops or trendy cafes then, but there were many local restaurants and cafes serving good cheap eats.

I have only been back to the area a few times since he sold his flat – for a hefty profit – but I never spent enough time to see the changes that took place. Twelve years on, I was back in Brixton for a day during the design festival, but I could hardly recognise it. Yes, the architecture still stands but everything else has changed. Our previous after-party eatery Speedy noodles has become Foxtons, and the once dated department store Morleys looks more like House of Fraser now after the glossy makeover.




brixton old post office

brixton old post office  brixton

Top & bottom left: Brixton sort office on Blenheim Gardens (1891); Bottom right: The Windmill pub is also a live music venue


My visit to the gentrified Brixton brought memories and surprises. The surprises came from the area’s historical architecture, which is something that I overlooked in the past. In fact, Brixton has a diverse range of architecture – from Victorian to Edwardian and modernist – it is unlike any other neighbourhoods in London. And not to forget, it is also home of the only surviving windmill, Brixton windmill in inner London.


Corpus Christi Church, Brixton

railway hotel brixton  brixton

brixton library

St Matthew's Brixton   brixton

bon marche brixton

brixton dogstar


Top: The Grade II listed Corpus Christi Church (1887); 2nd left: The Railway Hotel, aka Brady’s Bar (1880) is now Wahaca Mexican restaurant; 3rd row: Brixton Library (1893); 4th left: Portico of the Grade II listed St Matthew’s church (1827); 4th right: Market House; 5th: the former Bon Marche department store (not related to the one in Paris) opened in 1877; 6th: Dogstar bar (former Atlantic pub)


Brixton has always been known for its diverse culture and music scene. The beloved Railway Hotel/ Brady’s bar – with a distinctive tower – has been a landmark since it first opened as a hotel in 1880. It became a popular spot for music and dance, and was reputedly frequented by Jimmy Hendrix and The Clash in the 1960s. Renamed as Brady’s in the 1990s, the iconic venue eventually closed down in 1999 and was left derelict since then. Despite long and persistent efforts to convert it to a community centre, the council finally sold it to the property developer, and now the site is occupied by the Mexican food chain Wahaca. Although the chain claims that it has restored the site to its former glory and is committed to the local community, it is hard not to feel sadden by the increasingly homogeneous streetscape in London now.


brixton railway arches

brxiton railway arches

Brixton railway arches


Recently, clashes between Brixton’s anti-gentrification protestors and the police have made headline news. The protestors are angry that 30 local independent businesses in the Brixton Railway arches are being evicted by their landlord, Network Rail, and Lambeth Council, for a £8 million redevelopment of the arches. A petition objecting to Network Rail’s proposal has attracted nearly 30,000 signatures, and you can find more information by clicking on the Save Brixton arches website.

I can totally understand why the protestors are so upset especially after a visit to Pop Brixton, a Boxpark-like ‘village’ near the arches. The so-called village is occupied by trendy streetfood stalls and filled with young hipsters who usually hang out in Shoreditch, Dalston, Hackney and Peckham; and it looks completely out of place among the local market and shops nearby. As one can imagine, like the three areas mentioned, soon or later, Brixton will lose its unique identity and cultural diversity, and become another hipster paradise full of trendy and overpriced cafes and bars. Many have criticised the act of gentrification is a class war, and it is not difficult to see why they think that way.


Lambeth townhall

lambeth townhall  the former South Beach Bar brixton

ritzy brixton

brixton fire station


Top row & 2nd left: The Lambeth Town Hall (1908); 2nd right: the former South Beach Bar originally opened as the Brixton Hill Cinematograph in 1911; 3rd row: the Grade II listed Ritzy cinema (1911) is now run by Picturehouse; Bottom two rows: Brixton fire station (1906)


electric brixton

 Prince of Wales public house brixton

Olive Morris House brixton

brixton centre

brixton recreation centre  Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square

The Black Cultural Archives

Top: Electric Brixton/formerly known as The Fringe, originally opened as the Palladium Picture Playhouse in 1913; 2nd row: The Prince of Wales public House was built by Joseph Hill F.R.I.B.A. to replace the old building in 1937; 3rd row: the Brutalist Olive Morris House was designed by Edward ‘Ted’ Hollamby in 1975-8, 4th & 5th left: the Grade II listed Brixton Recreation centre was designed by British architect George Finch in 1971 and took 12 years to complete. Its future is uncertain and it is still under the threat of demolition; 5th right: Rush flower sculpture in Windrush Square; Bottom: The Black Cultural Archives opened in 2014


Streetscape, shops & people


brixton bovril ghost sign



brixton  brixton


brixton  brixton

brixton  brixton

brixton market

birxton  brixton


The unique streetscape and shops in Brixton


michaels meat brixton



brixton  brixton



The colourful food market and shops selling fresh and exotic produce


Street art/graffiti


A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986

brixton street art

brixton nathan bowen

brixton street art

brixton street art  david bowie street art  invader brixton

brixton street art

brixton street art

Top: A mural inside the station created by Karen Smith and Angie Biltcliffe in 1986; 3rd row: Street art by Nathan Bowen; 6th middle: David Bowie mural; 6th right: French street artist Invader‘s mosaic; Bottom two rows: Save Brixton arches street art – the bottom one was created by morganico and Maria Beadell


Street art and graffiti has always played crucial role in Brixton, and the eviction of local business by Network Rail has given the street artists a platform to express their dismay. One can find street art under the arches against the controversial redevelopment and unfair eviction.

Across the street lies David Bowie‘s famous mural created by Australian street artist James Cochran in 2013. Now the mural has become his shrine and it may even get listed.

I can’t help feeling pessimistic about the future of Brixton. I think soon or later, local business run by Caribbean, African and other ethnic minorities will eventually be pushed out due to the increased rental costs, change of demographics and the invasion of chained/corporate-run businesses. But despite my pessimism, I still believe that community/people power can change things, and during this unsettling time, we need to support each other more than ever to fight for what we believe in.



Food, wine & markets in Portugal

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Mercado da Vila, Cascais


When I travel, if possible, I would always try to visit a local food market as I believe it is the most authentic place to be in any city/town/village. At the food market, not only you would find the best local produce, but you would also see how the locals interact with each other, and it’s unlikely that you would be ripped off if you shop with the locals!


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Cascais: Mercado da Vila; 6th row middle & Bottom left: Grão damor


In Cascais (the seaside town 30 minutes from Lisbon), there is a bustling municipal market (Mercado da Vila) that sells fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, seafood and other local produce such as cheeses, bread, olives, pastries and sweets etc. And on Wednesdays, there is a jumble sale type of market that sells cheap clothing and shoes etc just outside of the food market.

Usually the eateries in or near the markets are most likely to be reliable due to its proximaty to the fresh produce. I discovered a cute cafe Grão damor on top of the market and had a small fish soup full of fresh fish for €2.50, a real bargain!


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Fish market and Marisco Na Praca


The market is also home to one of most popular seafood restaurants in town, Marisco Na Praca. Everything is ordered by weight, so the customers choose their seafood preferences and they would suggest the cooking methods. The prices here are low but the quality is very good. My favourites were the local shrimps since they taste different from the standard shrimps, and judging from other tables, their seafood rice dish seems like a popular choice too.


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Top row left, middle and 2nd row: Botequim da Mouraria and the owner/chef Domingos; Bottom left & middle: Salsa Verde; Bottom right: Cafe Alentejo


I have heard a lot about Alentejo cuisine and wine before I visited the region, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect until I arrived. Unfortunately for a pescetarian like myself, I struggled to order at some restaurants as most items on the menus seem to be geared towards meat-eaters. From what I have seen and tasted, this region’s cuisine is hearty, simple and slightly peasant-like with a lot of cheeses and sausages.

In Evora, the bar-like Botequim da Mouraria is one of the most well-known restaurants in town to experience typical local cuisine. The wine collection here is huge as well, and instead of going through the list, I simply asked the owner pick a local red wine for me. There are only 12 counter seats, the best part is that you are mostly to end up chatting to your neighbours like I did. I spent much of my meal chatting to a Russian lady and her architect daughter with the owner joining in occasionally. It was relaxing, cosy and fun, probably the most memorable evening during my trip.

And after being deprived from vegetables for days, I was more than relieved to find Salsa Verde, a vegetarian buffet-style cafe for a light lunch. Fresh juice and a plate of vegetarian meal was less than €8, an affordable and healthy option for vegetarians.


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Pastelaria Conventual pão de rala; 2nd left: Sign for Cafetaria Páteo de S. Miguel


I am quite sure that most Portuguese have a sweet tooth! I seldom eat sweets and desserts, but I felt ‘obliged’ to taste the local sweets and pastries while I was there. In Evora, Pastelaria Conventual pão de rala is THE place for those who are addicted to sugar! Most of the sweets here are made on the premises from recipes originated in the local convents. The cafe is cosy and friendly, but after one bite of their famous pão de rala, I felt like I was consuming my whole year’s worth of sugar in one go! I later tried their Queijinho do Céu back in the hotel, and found it less sweet and more ‘edible’ for my taste bud.

Behind the Cathedral, there is another cafeteria that is well-known for their Patéis de Nata (custard tart). The cafe is called Cafetaria Páteo de S. Miguel and their tarts are considered to be as good as the famous Patéis de Bélem!

After consuming so much sweet stuff, I was beginning to wonder about the statistics on diabetes in Portugal… and guess what? I later found out that Portugal has a higher rate of diabetes than any other country in the EU, according to a report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development published in 2012. And boy, I am not at all surprised by this!


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Saturday food market in Estremoz; 6th row middle & Bottom: Gadanha Mercearia; 6th row right: A Cadeia


One of the main attraction in Estremoz is its weekly Saturday markets in the town’s main square. Aside from an antiques/car-boot sale type of market, there is also a food market selling fresh vegetables, fruits, bread, cheeses and sausages etc. I couldn’t resist buying strawberries and satsumas here as I felt like my diet had been rather unbalanced since my arrival here.

Not far from the square, Gadanha Mercearia is a modern restaurant/cafe/deli to sample local cuisine with a contemporary touch. The wine here is produced locally, and the a glass of wine is cheaper than a cup of coffee in London!

In the evening, I had dinner at the prison-turned restaurant A Cadeia Quinhentista near the castle on the top of the hill. The prices are not cheap here (in Portuguese standard), but I didn’t think the food lived up to its reputation nor did I like the formal and rather cold service. It was one of the most expensive but also most disappointing meal of my trip!


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First 3 rows: Mercado da Ribeira; 4th to bottom rows: Mercado de Campo de Ourique


Finally, I was glad to be heading back to Lisbon as I was feeling rather bloated after 2 days of substantial Alentejo cuisine! In Lisbon, the newest and most popular food market/court is the Time out Lisboa’s recently renovated Mercado da Ribeira near Cais do Sodré train station. The 5-million-euro project restored and transformed a 13th century former fish/food market into the hippest culinary destination in town. With seating for 750 people, there are 35 establishments selling and serving a variety of local specialties and international cuisines. Prices here are reasonable, and best of all, you can pick and eat and drink your way around the market provided your stomach can handle it!

Elsewhere in Campo de Ourique, a quiet residential area where I was staying, there is another smaller but less touristy food market/court Mercado de Campo de Ourique. Although the food hall here is smaller than the Time out one, there are still plenty of choices available, and it is especially popular with the locals who live nearby.


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Top & bottom left row: Linha d’Agua in Jardim Amália Rodrigues; Bottom right: a wise ‘motto’ found at a local wine shop!


One of the best parts of this trip was having alfresco lunches in the midst of winter, and I became addicted to eating outdoor whenever it was available. In Lisbon, my favourite outdoor cafe is Linha d’Agua on the top of Jardim Amália Rodrigues. I loved the tranquil and relaxing setting, the cafeteria-style food here is simple but fresh and reasonably priced, and it seems to be a popular choice amongst local students.


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Top & 2nd rows: A Tentadora; 3rd row: A Padaria Portuguesa; 4th & 5th rows: Pastelaria Aloma


When I visited Lisbon previously, my friend and I visited many well-known cafes and pastelarias recommended by guidebooks including the famous Pastelería de Belem. But on this trip, I decided skip these places and headed for the local ones instead. In Campo de Ourique, I stumbled upon an art nouveau style cafe that is great for people-watching called A Tentadora. It is full of elderly locals, and prices are cheap as well (an expresso for €0.60 and €1 for a white Americano), so if you are skimped, spending a few hours here is not a bad option!

If like me, you don’t want to travel all the way to Belem and queue for some pastel de Natac (custard tarts), then the orginal Pastelaria Aloma shop in Campo de Ourique is a must! The 70-year old Lisbon institution is not as touristy as Pastelería de Belem, and it has won the best Pastel de Nata award (yes, there is a competition for it) in Lisbon in two consecutive years, so their tarts are definitely one of the best in town. The shop has recently expanded and opened 3 new outlets (including one at he Time out Mercado da Ribeira), but the friendly and cosy original one is my favourite.

Bakeries and pastelería are ubiquitous in Lisbon, but curiously, the local chain bakery and cafe A Padaria Portuguesa seems to be very popular amongst locals. I didn’t realise it is chain until later, but I think the shop stands out for its contemporary style interior. The food and service here is good, so it is easy to understand why it attracts mostly younger customers.

As much as I enjoyed eating and drinking in Portugal, I felt that a week of indulgence was more than my stomach and liver could bear. It is true to say that good things come in small doses, because all that I craved for by the end of the trip were just fruits and vegetables! And I am most likely to stay away from the sweet stuff for quite a while…




Street life in Paris



This summer, a few overseas friends who visited both Paris and London told me that they enjoyed London much more than Paris. When I asked them the reasons, they said that the streets of Paris feel unsafe and chaotic, whereas London feels more vibrant and safer. I wasn’t surprised by this as I have also noticed that Paris is not what it used to be anymore, hence, I have not had the urge to cross the Channel in the last two years. Interestingly, new figures also suggest that London has beaten Paris, to become the world’s most popular city for tourists.

However, Paris is still one of most beautiful cities in the world and it is always inspirational, so it would hard for me to stay away from it for long. And since I know the city quite well, I try to stay away from touristy spots, so my experiences would most likely differ from my friends’. And somehow, as a Londoner, I feel the need to defend Paris because I think the city still has certain characteristics and charms that London lacks…

First of all, I think Paris is a more walkable city than London because it is much smaller and easier to navigate. I love walking in Paris because it is like a living museum. Aside from the beautiful historical architecture and inspiring shop window display, you can always find something intriguing on the streets including the following:

Art & dogs – Random art pieces (see above) and anything related to dogs…


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People – Parisians are actually not as unfriendly as people imagine, in fact, I have come across many friendly people. And for me, the best places for people watching are food markets and parks…




Architecture & landmarks – On the surface, historical buildings seem to dominate Paris’ cityscape, yet new contemporary architecture is being added ‘discreetly’ in recent years. However, these new buildings are not as obvious and as imposing as the ones in London, you will need to seek out them out amongst the old (which I will write about in one of my next few entries)…


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Markets – I love food markets esp. in Paris where I can spend hours just wandering… I love the colours, smell, variety of food on offer and the interactions between shoppers and with the stall vendors…


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Graffiti and street art– In one of my old entries, I have mentioned about Paris’ graffiti and street art scene, and like London, it is now part of the urban landscape. Nuisance or art, it’s up to you to decide…


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Not only Paris has more elegant looking Vélib’ bikes ( compare to Boris‘ more masculine bikes in London) with their bike sharing scheme, they also have Autolib‘, an electric car sharing service that was launched as a complement to Vélib’ in 2011 ( a scheme which will also be introduced in London soon). With the wide boulevards, Paris streets are definitely safer to cycle than London, though what you need to be careful of is the mad and quick-tempered drivers!


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On a more serious note, both London and Paris have their issues of homelessness. While the British government has recently launched ‘stricter’ rules to combat the issue due to an increase of Eastern Europeans entering the country; the French Government has adopted a more tolerant attitude and so homelessness is becoming more problematic all over France.

It is hard to avoid begging gypsies with their young children in the centre of Paris, and even temporary street dwellings are on the rise. According to a memorial book compiled by campaign group “Les Morts de la Rue” (Dead in the Streets), a total of 453 homeless people died on the streets of France last year, and the numbers are likely to increase unless some drastic measures are put in place to tackle the problem.

This issue has even been highlighted in a multi-award winning short film directed by Bernard Tanguy. Je pourrais être votre grandmère ( I could be your grandmother) is inspired by a true story of a young business lawyer, Joël Catherin, who helped and wrote hundreds of cardboard signs for the homeless people in his posh Paris neighbourhood. You can watch the short film below (though there is no English subtitles):


Je pourrais être votre grand-mère (2010), directed by Bernard Tanguy


To be continued…

Revisiting Hong Kong’s Western district


The Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences 


Last year I wrote about Hong Kong’s mid-levels and Sheung Wan districts, and within a year, the streetscape has changed immensely in this rapidly-changing city, so I have returned to see what is new and how things have changed.

My journey began from Mid-Level’s Caine Road, the once quiet residential street is now more bustling than ever thanks to the opening of new cafes and eateries. One of the new addition is IPC foodlab (38A), an organic cafe that advocates locally grown produce. The cafe provides eat-in or takeaway options and sells a range of healthy food products from around the world. Right next to it is Maison Eric Kayser Artisan Boulanger Café, the French boulanger’s third outlet in Hong Kong. Aside from the bakery, there is also a small bar area for quick lunched/coffees, although the sandwiches are pricey, the quality is high. Another good lunch option is il bel paese (85), a long-standing Italian deli/grocery shop that has a few tables in the quiet back room where one can have a simple meal or coffee.


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Top left: IPC foodlab; top right: Rosie Jean’s cafe; bottom left: salad at il bel paese; Bottom right: Freshness coffee


It is hard to miss the global coffee craze in recent years, and as a coffee lover, I would be more than happy try a new independent coffee shop than the regular chains. And this craze is evident on the west side on Caine street as there are three new cafes here including the kids-friendly Rosie Jean’s Cafe (119), which provides a playground on the terrace for kids to play while parents can chill inside; one for the grown up and coffee connaisseur, Filters lane (111); and a cosy and friendly Freshness coffee (138). Having tasted Filter Lane‘s americano and drip filter, I would say that latter tastes better as I find their americano too acidic for my liking. Like Filter Lane, Freshness coffee is opened by a coffee enthusiast, I enjoyed their coffee but I found the service a bit too attentive, which made me feel slightly uneasy as I was the only customer there at the time.


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Flats or trainers are preferable here as there are steps and slopes everywhere…


The central and the western district of Hong Kong is full of steps and slopes, so high-heels are not recommended if you intend to walk a lot around this area. Ladder Street is one of the famous street (or rather steps) that starts from Queen’s Road Central and ends on Caine Road. And the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences is just off Ladder Street and 5 mins walk from Caine Road.


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Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences


Shamefully when I lived in Hong Kong (quite a while ago), I rarely visited local museums and I only found out about this ‘hidden’ museum in recent years. Established in 1996, this unique institution charts the historical development of medical sciences in Hong Kong. The institute occupies the original site of The Old Bacteriological institute, established in 1906 as the first purpose-built medical laboratory in Hong Kong and later the Pathological Institute. The listed Edwardian style architecture is a hidden gem in Hong Kong and it even has a small but pleasant herbal garden. The entrance fee to the museum is $20, and visitors can wander around the 11 galleries including a temporary exhibition on the ground floor. The museum is not very big but there are many interesting displays including x-rays of bounded feet, old medical tools and equipments, and information on historical events such as plagues to recent epidemic outbreaks in Hong Kong. I am glad that many original architectural details have been preserved inside the building, and it is one of the few places left in Hong Kong where visitors can imagine what it used to be like back in the colonial days.


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 Po Hing Fong – 2nd & bottom row left: Po’s Atelier; bottom right: Blake garden


The back of the entrance of the museum are steps that lead me to Po Hing Fong and Blake garden, an area where the bubonic plague broke out in Hong Kong back in 1894. Now the area is becoming trendier where new shops and cafes can be found, and one of them is Po’s Atelier (62 Po Hing Fong), a artisinal bakery/cafe opened by Japanese baker and chef, Masami Asano. I bought a small but pricey Oolong tea-flavoured loaf to try and I found it ok rather than outstanding. Right next to it is Cafe Deadend that serves food all day in a relaxing setting. Nearby on Tai Ping Shan Street, there is also a new tea house, Teakha, which is popular with tea lovers.


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Square Street – 2nd row left & middle: Droog; 2nd row right: Square Street; Bottom left: Saffron bakery cafe; Bottom right: Lof 10, a new cafe on Lam Terrace


Walking towards the east, I was pleasantly surprised by Dutch design collective, Droog‘s new store in Hong Kong on Square Street (47). Aside from the store, it also offers a gallery, dining room, outdoor kitchen, rooftop terrace and a bedroom. I love the calories-calculating stairs, it’s humourous, quirky and very ‘droog’.

Further down, there is a lifestyle/fashion accessoires shop Square Street (15) founded by Swedish designers, David Ericsson and Alexis Holm. All products here are designed and developed by the founders themselves, David is the designer of VOID Watches while Alexis is the designer of gram Footwear.


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Top left & right: Man Mo cafe; Main: Bibo and Upper Lascar Row; 3rd & bottom row left: Cupping room; Bottom right: Catfe


Upper Lascar Row or Cat street has been a popular tourist attraction for years because of the row of antique shops and stalls here. Bargains and authentic items are hard to find these days, but with two new eateries, the street is no longer confined to tourists or bargain seekers.

Bibo is a new art-centric French restaurant that showcases installations and works from established names from Basquiat, Kusama, Hirst, Koons, and Murakami to Banksy, Kaws and Invader. Further down is Man Mo cafe, a new fusion dim sum cafe opened by a Swiss chef. I had lunch with my friend here and we really enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere. However, the dim sum was slightly hit and miss, some dishes were excellent while some were average. Yet it is a courageous move for this expat to reinvent dim sum in a city that is well known for it.

On Queens Road Central, the Assie-style Cupping Room is popular choice for coffee lovers. The cafe is bright and modern, accompanied by friendly and attentive service. The owner of the cafe is a 2-time Hong Kong Barista Champion, and the cafe is renowned for their single origin filter coffees (brewed to order). I was recommended Boa Vista and it arrived with some information on its origin and taste. The coffee does not come with milk, which shows how ‘serious’ they are about the coffee… for around $60 per cup, it is not something that I would order daily, so this was a treat for me. On Jervois street nearby, there are also two cafes where serious coffee is being served including the tiny Catfe (85) and Barista Jam (126-128).


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King George V memorial park


Over the past decade, new restaurants, shops and galleries have all moved upwards and westwards from Central, and this gentrification has caused business owners to look beyond Sheung Wan towards the more residential Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town.

The word Sai means “west” and Ying Pun means “camp”, especially military camp because this was where the early British military stayed. One of the landmark in the area is the King George V memorial park built in 1936, the year that King George V died. Built on a slope, the masonry walls of the park were found to be the remnant of an important medical complex in early Hong Kong. There are many old trees growing on the walls here and it is quite relaxing to walk under the shades. At the moment, part of the park is closed due to a new MTR station being built here, things will no doubt change a lot when the station finally opens later in the year.


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Top left: La Rotisserie on Third Street; the rest: Glow on Second Street


Apart from the MTR station, the completion of the city’s second outdoor escalator on Centre Street (right by the Centre Street market) has also brought about changes to the area. On both High street and Second Street, new Western style restaurants are opening up constantly. I stumbled upon a small oyster bar and seafood grill, Glow on Second Street and decided to try it out. The lunch set included a ceasar salad, garlic bread and half a grilled lobster with a side purple potato mash. And together with coffee, the bill came to HK$168, which is fairly reasonable for the quality and environment.


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Top left and middle: Centre Street and the new escalator; top right: Centre Street market; 2nd row left: a noodle shop; 2nd row middle, right & 3rd row left: Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop


Like the original escalator in Soho, this new escalator has brought convenience to the local residents and injected a new vibe to the area, but the downside is that property and rental prices are now soaring. This also means local businesses have been squeezed out and the once vibrant local community will soon disappear.

I love the small traditional family-run shops in Hong Kong, but sadly they are disappearing quicker than the opening of Starbucks. Years ago, my friend took me to Tsi Lai Heung Egg Roll Shop on Third Street (66) where egg rolls and other traditional Chinese sweets are freshly made by hand on the premise. I don’t come here often but when I do, I can never resist buying a few packets of egg rolls, ‘Phoenix roll’ (a flat egg roll filled with shredded coconut) and other traditional snacks because the quality is so much better than the prepacked ones from other more well-known brands.

Further down on Centre Street, there is a long-standing dessert shop, Yuen Kee (32), which is famous for their traditional Chinese dessert soups like sweet almond, black sesame or walnut. This family business has been around for a hundred years, and the current owner is the third-generation of their family. The place has barely changed over the years, yet it remains popular with the locals, people don’t just come for the desserts but also for nostalgic reasons. It would be a real shame to see these shops disappear due to gentrification in the area.


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Top left: Kau Yan Tsung Tsin Church; the rest: the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital & The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage


My last stop in the area ends at The Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage (CACHe), a non-profit conservation group on 36A Western Street. At first, I did not realise that the entrance to the centre is actually on Third Street, but I was happy to wander around the old Tsan Yuk Maternity Hospital (now the Western District Community Centre). The three-storey Georgian style building is a listed building built in 1922. The maternity hospital was opened by the English missionary group London Missionary Society, but it eventually moved to a new premise on Hospital Road (opposite the King George V memorial park) in 1955 due to bed shortages and limited places for patients.

It took me a while to find the entrance as it was covered by scaffolding, but once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to see many original architectural features like the windows, fireplaces and high ceiling. In the main room, there was an exhibition Hong Kong in the Storm – Hong Kong Typhoon Historical Photo Exhibition showcasing many historical photos and invaluable collectibles that documents the history of Typhoons in Kong Kong. The centre also organises workshops, talks and walks related to Hong Kong’s heritage, so it is worth checking the website out for future events.


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Walking in the area, I noticed some old ‘tong laus’ (tenement buildings built in late 19th century to the 1960s) and it would be sad to see these buildings being demolished. Gentrification is not the issue, but the government or urban planning team needs to get more involved to maintain a balance between the old and the new. I hope that even when the new MTR station opens, the area will not completely lose its authentic feel, but then again, this may only be my wishful thinking.



Eat, drink and be merry in Andalusia


Dining out in Andalusia is a social activity with friends or with your local bartenders and neighbours


For some reason, Spanish cuisine is not as popular and as ‘recognised’ internationally as Italian cuisine. Perhaps it has something to do with its cooking varying a great deal from region to region, and that authentic Spanish restaurants outside of Spain were hard to come by until a few years ago. The rise of Michelin star restaurants like elBulli ( due to reopen as a creative centre in 2016) finally brought the spotlight back to Spanish cuisine again. And in cosmopolitan cities like London, New York and Hong Kong, a sudden surge of contemporary tapas bars and restaurants are also changing people’s perception of Spanish cuisine esp. on tapas. The ‘makeover’ seems to be working as tapas bars are now becoming more popular than ever outside of Spain.

I love the concept of tapas, humble food served in small portions shared among friends paired with wine ( or sherry in Spain) is my ideal night out. I did a cooking holiday in Italy 2 1/2 years ago, and although the food was fresh and delicious, after a week of cheese, pasta and multi-course meals, I felt rather bloated and it was reflected on my weighing scale back home!


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Main: Bar El Comercio; Bottom middle: Bar Manolo


This trip though, I tried out many dishes at each meal and yet I didn’t put on any weight afterwards. OK, it wasn’t a cooking holiday but overall I found the food less heavy and the portion sizes more acceptable. I was eager to try as many different dishes as possible, but by the end of the trip, I still had many that I wanted to try but didn’t quite manage…

I was equally impressed by the quality of wine (and the prices), the house wines are usually excellent ( which doesn’t always happen in other countries) and even for a red wine lover like myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the few occasions when I ordered white.

Food and wine aside, ambience is a key part of dining out in Andalusia and it is more of a social activity as you often see people hanging inside and outside of popular tapas bars with friends drinking and nibbling in late afternoons or evenings. I rarely saw fast-food or coffee shop chains, people there love their local restaurants and bars, which is a far cry from the chain-dominated London! When I travel, I try to look for authentic restaurants that the locals love, these places I believe reflect the local culture and they are the best for people-watching.


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Top left: deep-fried aubergine; top middle: artichokes; top right: cod ceviche with peppers with crispy artichokes (surprisingly yummy); bottom left: Pimientons de Padron (one of my favourite tapas dishes); bottom right: paella and grilled tuna with roasted vegetables (tapas portions!)


Here are some of the places that I tried during my trip, some are recommended by locals, some via the internet and the rest… simply by chance…



Casa Morales (Calle García de Vinuesa, 11) – Founded in 1850, this bodega located near the Cathedral is often recommended in guidebooks. Yet it was packed with only locals when I was there, could it be partly due to their Spanish-only menu ( which I often view as a positive sign)?

I love the old-style and rustic decorations here, the front room is bar area and the seated area is located in the back, which is filled with enormous tinajas (stoneware sherry/wine barrels). The prices here are reasonable and the food/wine quality is good, but it is the vibe/ambience makes this place charming and unique.

El Rinconcillo (Calle Gerona, 40) is the oldest tapas bar in Seville (since 1670), but due to its location ( away from the touristy Santa Cruz), it is more of a local than a tourist attraction! Like Casa Morales, this place feels authentic and even more rustic with service that is slightly abrupt ( but not rude). It was fun to eat standing and sharing a small table with a local, sometimes it is not the food that matters the most but the experience ( luckily, the food here is not too bad either)…


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Top, 2nd row left and middle: Casa morales; 2nd row right, third and last row: El Rinconcillo



After trying out the traditional places, it was time to try the contemporary restaurants to see how the cuisine has evolved, and one of the most highly rated place is La Azotea, which has several branches in the city.

La Azotea (C/ Mateos Gago, 8) – although this branch is located on a street full of touristy restaurants right off the Cathedral, it is not that touristy and the standard is a cut above the rest. The dishes are creative and beautifully presented, yet the prices are surprisingly reasonable for what you get. The vibe is relaxing and not overly trendy, I certainly would have returned to try out more dishes if I had the time.

Los Palillos (Calle Huelva 22, esq. Plaza de la Pescaderia) – I stumbled upon this small sushi/ jamon bar while looking for food in the area, the minimal and contemporary decor is rather inviting. I was curious to try some Spanish/ Japanese fusion cuisine, and the waiter was friendly and eager to help me with their menu. After trying a few dishes, I felt that some worked better than others, and the fusion was not as obvious ( which may not be a bad thing). However, the ingredients are fresh and the dishes are well cooked and presented, so it was a pleasant discovery ( as I later discovered that the restaurant is very popular with the locals because it filled up within 1/2 hour after my arrival).


La AzoteaLa AzoteaLa Azotealos palilloslos palillos

 Top left, right and main: La Azotea; Bottom left and right: Los Palillos


Breakfast, dulces and helados

I am not a morning person and I don’t usually eat a lot for breakfast either, but coffee is essential to me, so café con leche (coffee with milk) became my staple in Andalusia.

When I travel, I tend to get up earlier and would have breakfasts before setting off. The problem I discovered in Andalusia was that not many cafes would open before 10am, so I had to wander the streets to search for my morning staple. And by chance, I discovered a cafe in Seville’s Santa Cruz which offers buffet breakfast with coffee and fresh orange juice for only €2, what a bargain! But my favourite breakfast is some good coffee with a simple but delicious tostada con tomate ( toast with tomato), which I thought was the best way to start my day.

In general, I find Spanish pastries slightly too sweet, a friend recommended polvoron to me before my trip, so I bought some from the famous and historical Confiteria La Campana (since 1885) but was not fond of the strong cinnamon taste. Later though, I discovered that the most authentic and fun way to buy dulces ( pastries/ cookies/ sweets) is from local convents via a rotating tray/lazy Susan from some invisible nuns! The sweets are usually made by the convent’s nuns from traditional recipes, unfortunately, with fewer nuns and convents these days, the trade is slowly disappearing… I managed to buy a box of almond polvoron from Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba with the help of someone working there. Although the experience was delightful, I would find it too daunting to do it without help due to my limited Spanish vocabulary!


sevillesevilleIMG_5418tostada con tomatocordobala campanatejas dulces de sevillala campana

Top right and 2nd row left: A €2 buffet breakfast in central Seville; 2nd row middle: my favourite breakfast: tostada with tomato at Gaudi Juda Levi in Cordoba; 2nd right: buying dulce at Convento de Santa Ana in Cordoba; Main and bottom right: Confiteria La Campana in Seville; bottom left: Tejas Dulces de Sevilla


Tejas Dulces de Sevilla (Plaza de Jesús de la Pasión 13, Seville) – I walked past this small shop in the city centre and was offered to sample their homemade and natural almond biscuits. These crunchy biscuits are delicious and not too sweet, so I bought a small pack and asked the shop lady about the beautiful blue glassware on the shelves. Apparently, the hand-blown glassware were produced by Crystals La Trinidad, a traditional glass factory that started in 1900 but ceased production in 1999, and these were the remnants from their former factory ( see above).

Helados (ice cream) is popular in Seville, and there are several famous ice cream parlours here. However, being in January meant that many were closed, yet I managed to try a few scoops from Helados La Abuela (Calle Larana, 10) and 1929. The ice cream at 1929 was a bit too sweet for me, the latter was better though not particularly outstanding, I guess it had something to do with the season too.



Left: 1929; Right: Helados La Abuela



With many reputable restaurants closed during my stay in Cordoba, I was left with some overpriced and touristy choices, but thanks to the recommendation of my hotel’s concierge, I visited El Mercado Victoria ( Paseo de La Victoria), an indoor gourmet market housed inside a 19th century building just outside of the old town. There are about 30 stalls selling tapas, seafood, wine, olives, and other cuisines like Japanese and Italian. This is not fine dining, it’s more like an upmarket food court, but it is fun, relaxing, clean and it attracts mainly locals. If you want to get away from the touristy restaurants in the old town, this place is definitely worth visiting.

With the limited cafe choices for breakfast in old town, it was a relief when I found Gaudi Juda Levi ( Plaza Juda Levi s/n), a contemporary cafe that offers good coffee, breakfast, relaxing atmosphere and friendly service.

While I was walking around the town, I came across an artisan bakery ( since 1880), Horno de la Cruz ( Gongora, 2)with a short queue of locals outside, so I decided to join and try it out… Although their pies looked very tempting, I went for some bread and almond cake instead, the bread that I had was ok but the cake was moist and soft, and tasted even better than I imagined, so it was a pleasant surprise.

After eating Spanish/tapas for days, all I wanted was some salad and something slightly different… I noticed that salads in tapas bars seem to be pricier and ‘fancier’ ( with not much green), so I opted for the Moroccan tea house near my hotel, Salón de Té ( Buen Pastor, 13). The place is decorated in Moorish style with a lovely courtyard, and it was almost empty when I was there. I had a mixed salad with pita bread and mint tea, it was what I wanted, so I left the place fairly satisfied.


mercado victoriamercado victoriahorno de la cruzmercado victoriacordobagaudimercado victoria cordobaSalon de ThéSalon de Thé

Top left, right, 2nd row middle, 3rd row right: El Mercado Victoria; 2nd row left: Horno de la Cruz; 2nd row right: The bar at Círculo de la Amistad; Third row left: Gaudi Juda Levi; Bottom left and right: Salón de Té



Two of my favourite eateries during my trip happen to locate in Granada, and one of them is only a cafe hidden in Albayzin. Although I was staying in a hotel nearby, it still took me a while to find Café 4 Gatos ( Placeta Cruz Verde, 6), but it was definitely worth it! Since there aren’t many cafes for breakfasts in the area, this cafe already has its advantage, but it offers much more than that. I love the relaxing and friendly vibe here, the clientele is mainly local and seem to know the owner well. Their coffee is great and they offer a wide variety of tostadas, though the downside is that since it is rather small ( basically a L-shaped bar with some outdoor tables and seating), you can’t linger for too long as it gets busier after 11am. I was so charmed by it that I went back the next day before heading off to the airport, and the owner was able to recall what I had the day before, which was rather impressive. This is not a fancy or trendy cafe, it is friendly, down-to-earth, reasonably priced and utterly charming.

Tapas used to be served free with alcoholic drinks, like in Italy, drinking on an empty stomach is not encouraged ( I wish the Brits would understand this). But these days, not many places would offer this, I was served free tapas about 4/5 times during the entire trip, and this occurred mostly in Granada than in Seville. One of the bars that served free tapas is a wine bar hidden in an alley near the Cathedral, Taberna Más que vinos (Calle Tundidores, 10). The quality of food and wine here is good, but it’s probably best for a drink and nibble than a proper dinner.

With the strong Moorish influences and ties, I was eager to try some Moroccan food while I was in Granada. There are plenty of them in the city, but I picked a small, non-touristy family-run restaurant, Tagine Elvira (Calle Elvira). Not only did I almost missed it from the street, I hesitated slightly before walking in as it was completely empty on the night. The meal was cheap and tasty, but I did find it more on the salty side. Perhaps the chef was having a day ‘off’ as I was the only customer, meanwhile, I also felt like I was eating at someone’s front room because the TV in front of me was broadcasting some American soap with the chef/owner sitting on one side playing with her phone. The experience was definitely an ‘authentic’ one.


cafe 4 gatoscafe 4 gatoscafe 4 gatostagine eviramas que vinostagine evoriamas que vino

Top left, right & 2nd row left: Cafe 4 Getos; 2nd row midde & last row left: Tagines Elvira; 2nd & last row right: Mas que Vinos.


I spent my last night in Granada/ Andalusia at the paella restaurant/ bar, La Parrala ( Tendollas de Sta. Paula, 6), which was one of my favourites of the trip. An elder English couple left as I entered the restaurant and so again, I was the only customer there (a theme throughout my trip)! This restaurant has 2 branches in the city, and I picked this over the one nearer to my hotel because it has live music in the evenings. While I was wondering if the live music would take place or not, the lovely waitress ( who I later learned is the wife of the chef and are both Argentinians) assured me that she would try her best to ‘persuade’ the guitarist to perform for me! And he did… although he spoke little English, he wanted to know if I liked a certain music style and while playing, he completely immersed himself even though I (and the waitress) was the only audience.

Finally, my paella with squid ink arrived and it was delicious, it also went very well with the wine recommended to me. I then spent much of my time chatting to the friendly and warm Argentinian lady about Spain, Argentina, tango etc, and eventually leaving the restaurant extremely ecstatic and satisfied. I believe that when it comes to dining out, no matter how excellent the food and wine is, it needs to be accompanied by the ambience and service to enhance the overall experience. Without the latter factors, the meal is slightly ‘soulless’, which is a bit like cooking, i.e. fresh ingredients do not necessary make the best meals, it is the passion of the chef that is the key to elevate a good meal to an outstanding one.


la parradala parrala

 La Parrala


Like always, when I travel abroad, I would visit local food markets, delis and supermarkets to get an idea of what the locals eat. Throughout the trip, I was attracted by the greengrocers that sell fresh and colourful fruits and vegetables, the butchers and fishmongers that sell fresh meat and fish and the delis and jamon specialists that sell jamon, olives and anchovies etc. Here are some of the specialists I found on my trip:


Flores Gourmet (restaurant/ deli/ winery) – C/ San Pablo 24 (continuacion de Reyes Catolicos)


Jamones Calixto (Jamonerias)Alfonso XIII, 6

San Nicasio is an award-winning brand from Cordoba that makes handmade crisps with extra virgin olive oil and Himalayan salt. It costs just over €1 in Cordoba for 40 g, but in the U.K., you can get 190g for £3.99 at Waitrose! Honestly, €1 is almost justifiable for a small packet of crisps, but £4 is just ridiculous and not worth it in my opinion.


Jamones Casa Diego (Jamonerias) – C/ Santa Escolastica, 13.


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1st row right: Luxurious and ‘healthy’ crisps by San Nicasio; 2nd row: Jamones Calixto in Cordoba; Third row left: Jamones Casa Diego; Third row right: Bacallao in Cordoba; Fourth and fifth row: food market in Granada. Last row: Souvenir from my trip… food for myself, friends and family!