Gaijin: A Foreigner’s Take on Japanese Omakase

Last night we celebrated our friend Albert’s birthday at Gaijin in Astoria, Queens. Gaijin (written as 外人 in Japanese) means “foreigner,” and Chef Mark fully embraces his identity, putting a new spin on traditional Japanese omakase. The restaurant has only been open for five months but it was completely full when we went. A few weeks earlier, we reserved the seats by the bar (there are 8 available) for the $125 full omakase (chef’s choice). Table seating is for guests ordering a la carte. There were three people preparing the food behind the counter so service was a bit on the slower side, but the wait staff were all very courteous and refilled the genmaicha (brown rice green tea) we ordered without extra charge.

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Part-Time Travelers: Where Do We Find the Time and Money?

Many of our friends ask, “how do you guys travel so often?” The reality is, we do not come from wealthy families nor do we make boatloads of money, but we are very lucky in the flexibility our jobs offer. Moreover, we are the type to go the extra mile in trip planning, as opposed to simply purchasing a LivingSocial or Groupon deal. Not that I am criticizing people who do this. Everyone has a different travel style – some just want a getaway without stressing over the logistics. Let someone/something else – be it a travel agent, tour company, or deal package – handle that. We are just the type that enjoys taking the process into our own hands.

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The Weekender: Sights and Activities in Nashville

I told everyone we were going to Nashville mainly for the food and country music, but the truth is it was mostly for the food. My country music knowledge can be summed up by one Shania Twain album, a handful of Patsy Cline songs, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” (wait…are they even country?). Nonetheless, I was eager to listen to some live music. Tennessee isn’t known for its scenic views, but I was surprised it was a popular destination for bachelor and bachelorette parties. Here’s what you (or y’all?) can expect.

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The Weekender: What to Eat in Nashville, Tennessee

This past weekend, I flew to Nashville with my girl friends Winnie, Alice, and Roxana. I wanted to get my hands on as much hot chicken as possible after having watched the Hot Ones video series on YouTube prior and salivating each time. So of course I took my food research quite seriously. My friends probably got sick of having so much meat every meal. I think I ate enough chicken to last me through the rest of this year. Anywhos, here’s a list of all the places we tried. Enjoy! (P.S. I only brought my phone with me this time, so no DSLR quality photos :T)

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Chefs For a Day: Paon Cooking Class

Not sure why we don’t do this more often, but taking cooking classes in a foreign country is a great way to learn about their culture and meet fellow tourists. We fell in love with Indonesian food during our stay in Bali, so I’m glad we got a chance to prepare some common dishes. Prior to the trip, we booked a morning class at Paon Cooking Class, which lasted from 8:30AM to around 1:30PM. I recommend the morning class because it includes a market tour (afternoon one doesn’t), so you see where the ingredients come from and taste some locally grown fruit.

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The Weekender: The Museum of Broken Relationships

In the middle of tourist central Hollywood lies a small respite – The Museum of Broken Relationships. At first I asked myself, do I really want to get emotionally drained during our trip? I have a tendency to put the burden of other people’s sorrow and misery onto myself. As such, I didn’t know if I was ready to challenge my own sensitivity, especially since I’ve finally found myself in a happy relationship. But as it turns out, being in a better place in my life allowed me to step back and empathize or sympathize with others better. The museum was more a haven of hope and positive outlook through introspection rather than a weep fest. Also, it covered a range of relationships – relationships with partners, friends, oneself, etc.

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What to Eat in Singapore

I’ll admit, the main reason I wanted to visit Singapore was because I saw the Fung Brothers eating at the hawker stalls there. I think one of the most fascinating things about Singapore is that it is truly a city of immigrants. Malaysians, Chinese, Indians practicing a range of religions from Islam to Buddhism to Christianity. This diversity also lends itself to a diversity of flavors in Singaporean cuisine. Here are some of our recommended foods!

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Haw Par Villa: The Bizarre Theme Park

One of the strangest, most fascinating “theme parks” we’ve visited was in Singapore. Haw Par Villa was commissioned by the creators of Tiger Balm to educate the masses in Chinese culture. As such, the park’s attractions are all related to characters in popular Chinese folklore and mythology which can range from bright and colorful to grotesque. It was a failed business venture as Haw Par Villa incurred losses over the years, eventually making the admission free. Many of the statues and dioramas are still being restored. I suggest lathering on the sunscreen because there was barely any shade and we were baking in the sun! Sweaty and parched, it was still worth checking out the graphic displays (warning: some images are not for children…or they are, if you want to teach your kids not to sin and be banished to hell).

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The Weekender: The Bradbury Building

Once upon a time I was obsessed with the film 500 Days of Summer. One of the most beautiful locations was The Bradbury Building, located in downtown Los Angeles. From the outside, it looks like many other landmark historical buildings. Inside, it’s obvious why it’s chosen as the backdrop for so many photo and video shoots. There are, however, restricted areas because does house several office spaces and government departments. My favorite things about the interior are definitely the ornamental cast iron banisters and giant skylight to flow a ton of natural sunlight into the atrium below.

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