For the love of caffeine: my steady flame of green tea and the coffee that tempts me to stray

Mocha brownies, Coffee Crisp chocolate bars, cafe latte jelly bellies and chocolate truffles with coffee centres . . . these are a few of my favorite sweets. Variations on a theme that is never ending. The surprise here is that despite my love of all things coffee flavored, I almost never drink coffee in Canada. I’ve long been a lover of green tea. Japanese, Chinese, matcha, raspberry-pomegranate, hot or cold I love it so much that I rarely add sweetener. It’s only with travel that I’ve started to enjoy coffee. Even to the point where I’ve found that in some countries – I can’t live without it!

It all started a few summers ago in Spain. It was a backpacking trip focused on partying with as much culture squeezed in as possible. Prix fixe meals are common there and any breakfast deals included espresso. Although espresso is not a proven hangover cure, it sure didn’t hurt. And, WOW, is espresso ever good in Spain! I think I only passed off one “free” coffee to a friend before it became one of the things I looked forward to the most in the morning. There is nothing like sipping that rich, dark liquid while the morning sun warms up the cobblestones in old Madrid. This espresso fling occurred a few years ago, and you’d think I’d have continued to enjoy espresso in Canada, but I resisted and instead continued my steady relationship with green tea. Green tea still doesn’t know about this brief indiscretion.


I'll never forget this espresso in Madrid.

Recently, on the road again, I’ve discovered coffee temptation of a different kind. First it was Kopi-O in Malaysia that I discovered in my quest to try a traditional nonya breakfast. If you order coffee in Malaysia, you’ll get a very strong, sweet drink with what feels like equal parts coffee and sweetened condensed milk. If you want something different, you need to be more specific. Since I don’t drink milk (I’m lactose intolerant), my order is Kopi-O which still contains plenty of sugar and I prefer it iced. Mmmm mmm! I was hooked from my first sip. I’ve been chasing around Malaysian coffee ever since – I was really excited to find it on a Thai island just North of Malaysia! I did a little research to discover why it’s so good and it turns out they roast their coffee beans in either margarine or butter!


I found Malay style coffee in Thailand!

It wasn’t long after my discovery in Malaysia that I gave Vietnamese coffee a try. Coffee in Vietnam similarly comes strong and sweet with sweetened condensed milk. I’ve met frustrated tourists who ordered black coffee only to find it full of sugar – which happens to be just how I like it, thank you very much! I discovered Vietnamese coffee as a bit of an accident too. I needed a caffeine boost after a night bus and had my first. Only minutes after this first coffee had my friend and I arranged for accommodation in the room above the coffee shop and we had negotiated the price to include a free coffee each morning. I was hooked once again!


A soy latte treat at brunch in Singapore.

On arrival in Hanoi, the deal got even sweeter. I discovered egg coffee which is like having an egg white custard in your coffee! Dessert and coffee together? Heaven! I was delighted to discover that I could order this kind of coffee without milk, in fact, I’ve read that it was initially invented at a time when milk was scarce. My favorite morning in Hanoi was spent drinking two egg coffees at a street front cafe. Yes, you heard that right, I drank two coffees in a row! I barely tore myself away from drinking a third – I definitely cannot handle that much caffeine in a day.


My morning of egg coffees in Hanoi.

It’s getting harder and harder to leave coffee behind and I brought some Vietnamese and Malaysian coffee with me to New Zealand. It’s only a limited amount, but I think green tea is starting to get suspicious. I may have to beg for forgiveness . . right after I finish this cup of java.

Foodie acceptance: eating my way around the world

After my recent time in Malaysia was largely spent tracking down recommended eateries from travel food blogs, I finally looked up the definition of foodie (courtesy of wikipedia):

Foodie: A foodie is a gourmet, or a person who has an ardent or refined interest in food and alcoholic beverages. A foodie seeks new food experiences as a hobby rather than simply eating out of convenience or hunger.

Nothing here about being pretentious. Good. I guess it’s time to admit that I’m a foodie.


My skewer selection for peanut satay in Melacca.

Back in Toronto, I didn’t eat out very often, but I did enjoy the thrill of finding delicious, mouthwatering food in local restaurants. I also loved living beside St Lawrence market in downtown Toronto – recently named the best food market in the world by National Geographic. They have an amazing selection of meats, seafood, cheeses and produce not to mention fast food from a wide variety of nationalities that keeps me coming back for more.


Roast duck, sweet potato balls, and peanut coated sweets from Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur.

Some of my favorite Toronto restaurants are Le Petit Dejeuner or Bonjour Brioche for brunch, Pizzeria Lebretto or Big Smoke for lunches, and Patria or Guu for dinner. I recommend the airy Belgian waffles at Le Petit Dejeuner, the rare roast beef sandwich at Bonjour Brioche, the anchovy and buffalo mozzarella pizza at Pizzeria Lebretto and the classic cheeseburger at Big Smoke. Patria and Guu are Spanish and Japanese tapas places respectfully and I recommend trying everything. When at work, I would always put the extra time in to walk to my favorite lunch spots and wait in their long lines cause it made my days that much brighter. One of my most memorable food experiences in Toronto was at The Black Hoof where I ate whole octopus, bone marrow, horse heart, horse tongue, and calf’s brains all in one sitting! That meal also introduced me to a delicious grapefruit, whiskey cocktail with salted rim. I prefer my whiskey neat now but that cocktail was the beginning of developing my love for it.


Lychee, ice and black jelly dessert at a Hawker stand in Singapore.

Great food has become a large part of my travels. Although I still enjoy visiting places like Cuba which have bad food reputations, I do love finding a country with local foods that really tickle my palette. In my quest for trying new and exotic things I’ve eaten horse’s heart, calf’s brains, lamb brains, whole octopus and squid, bone marrow, ox tongue, bison burgers, sheep’s cheese, a cricket (yes, just one), century egg, balut, cheese-flavored ice cream, whole fried fish, raw sea urchin, tripe (pictured above with the satay), black pudding, blood pudding and so much more.


Myanmar pork sichet from YKKO in Yangon

In my recent travels, I was thrilled by the tangine dishes in Morocco, the stuffed falafel in Jordan, the street food (chaat) in Pakistan and India, the laksa in Singapore, the coconut jam toast and iced coffee in Malaysia, the avocado and bean salads and sichet in Myanmar and pretty much every local Thai dish. I’m on a constant search for good avocado juice wherever it’s available (for me that’s milk free and not too sweet). I’m heading to Vietnam soon and I can’t wait to try all the food – I’ve heard such good things!


Chilled coconut on the beach in Koh Phangan!

Any tips on what foods I should try next? I’m heading to Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and New Zealand in the coming months.

[Side notes:
Balut is a cooked, fertilized duck egg – the egg contains a duck fetus. It’s common in Vietnam and the Philippines and prepared slightly differently in both places. I had it in the Philippines thanks to some coworkers who were keen that I try it.

The menu at The Black Hoof has changed since I’ve been. It has a tendency to change.]