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#CatTravels: My take on London’s tourist spots

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London is one of the world’s top destinations for travelers — and no surprise why.

The city is packed with everything: world-class museums, Broadway shows, dozens of public parks, boutiques and restaurants galore, a historic castle in the middle of the city with dungeons and jewels, and a 443-foot-tall Ferris wheel.

More than 15 million people from all over the world visit The City every year, making it one of the world’s most visited areas in terms of international visits.

I’ve been to London three times now, and there’s always something new to see. This time around, I got to visit Borough Market, Harrods Food Hall and Warner Bros. Studio Tours London (read: the set of “Harry Potter”) for the first time. And there were a few other spots — Sherlock Holmes Museum on Baker Street, Kensington Palace and the Lamb & Flag, possibly the oldest pub in London — that I missed. But since this was my husband’s first time to London, we planned on hitting some of the usual spots.

I believe that there are some places, no matter how commercialized or crowded, are must-stops on any travel list. Can you really visit Paris without a stop at the Eiffel Tower? And why go all the way to Peru if not to stop and marvel at Machu Picchu?

Same goes for London.

There are some things you just have to see. Some are worth the long queues (British for “lines”) and others, well, are not.

Here’s my take on a few popular London attractions — and you can decide whether or not you want to put them on your list:

Tower of London, London. Phone: 0844 482 7777

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What used to be called Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress is one of the top attractions in London, with more than 2 million people visiting every year. Interestingly enough, it has been a visitor favorite since at least the Elizabethan period with the most popular displays being the Royal Menagerie and suits of armor. Today, people wander around this complex of buildings, with the longest lines outside the torture chambers — of course — and the tower housing the Crown Jewels. There are beefeaters — yeoman warders — still working the castle grounds (though now more as tour guides), which adds to the whole experience. I’ve never been here without hoards of other people, so if you want to see this place, you’ll have to deal with that. But this historic castle on the north bank of the Thames is worth visiting at least once. As my husband said, “It’s a living, breathing history experience.”

British Museum, Great Russell St., London. Phone: 020 7323 8299

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The British Museum is one of those things: It’s there and it’s free, so you may as well go. (The museums in London are all free, though it’s suggested — and advised, really — to offer up a donation.) But you’ll be surprised how much is crammed into this historic building on Great Russell Street. Its permanent collection totals some 8 million works, among the largest and most comprehensive in the world. And on display is everything from the famous Rosetta Stone to the stuff the Brits stole from the Parthenon in Greece. If you want a quick lesson in world history, this is the place to go. Cameras are allowed everywhere, and you can even touch Egyptian artifacts. Personally, I love the clocks and money exhibits.

Westminster Abbey, 20 Deans Yard. Phone: 020 7222 5152

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Who doesn’t love Westminster Abbey, the stunningly beautiful gothic church in the City of Westminster where countless royalty have wed, including Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. While you could just photograph the exterior — it’s one of the most photographed buildings in London — you can tour some exhibits including a collection of royal and other funeral effigies and the graves of such significant historical figures as Jane Austen, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin. And with Parliament and Big Ben just across the street — not to mention the Tower Bridge and other attractions — a stop at the Abbey won’t derail your London plans.

Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road. Phone: 44 (0)20 7942 5000

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This was the first time I’ve been to the Natural History Museum — or anywhere in that area — and I was pleasantly surprised. This museum is home to about 80 million life and earth science specimens in five collections, even some collected by Charles Darwin himself. The big draw here is its dinosaur skeletons, which weren’t accessible when we went. (The exhibit was closed for maintenance.) It was adequately interesting — but I probably wouldn’t go back.

Harrods Food Hall, 87-135 Brompton Road

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The last time I was in London, people bugged me about not going to Harrods, the upmarket department store in Knightsbridge. This store, which sprawls over 5 acres, is best known for its food hall. Like the department stores in Japan, the bottom floor of Harrods is dedicated to all things food, from tapas to high tea to gastropub fare to high-end produce and goods. We actually didn’t have that much time to wander around, but the quick walk-through — with a nice meal at one of the restaurants — was enough to entice me to come back.

An old-fashioned English pub

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The short answer? Yes. Pubs are a must. And it doesn’t really matter which one you go to. Most of them are the same, serving British ales (warm) and traditional pub fare like fish and chips and meat pies. We found this one — Jack Horner — by accident, walking around looking for another restaurant. It sounded inviting — who doesn’t love nursery rhymes? — and there wasn’t any line to get in (bonus). So we walked in, grabbed a table, ordered some grub, including a cottage pie and chips with London’s legendary Brown Sauce, and called it a night. A great night.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#CatTravels: A visit to Borough Market

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We had a late start to our first full day in London. (Blame jet lag and a very comfortable bed.)

But lucky for us, Borough Market, the most renowned food market in London near the London Bridge Station, was open until 5 p.m.

I had always wanted to tour this market, known for the breadth and quality of its goods and produce. But I was never in London long enough — or in the area at the right time — to visit it.

Until Saturday.

A little background: While today’s market is famous for its high-quality goods and unusual offerings — like mushroom pâté and exotic meats preserved in butter — it actually dates back to the 11th century, when traders would sell grain, fish, vegetables and livestock near the bridge. In the 13th century, the market moved to its current location on Borough High Street. In 1755, Parliament closed the market. It was reopened after Southwark residents raised 6,000 pounds to buy a patch of land known as The Triangle. (This is where you’ll find Northfield Farm — great steak sandwiches — and Furness Fish and Game now.)

Today, there are about 100 different vendors selling everything from fresh produce to dried meats to German sausages (top).

Here’s what the market looked like yesterday:

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Love the colors of these greens.

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Prosciutto (dry-cured ham) being sliced right in front of you!

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There were a few bread vendors. We had the olive and cheese roll here.

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We sampled the dried meats here — then bought a wild boar sausage. Not gamey at all — and perfect with the olive and cheese roll.

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This vendor was selling gourmet (and delicious) cheeses. I love how knowledgable and helpful these vendors are about their products.

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There were a few butchers here, selling a variety of meats from pork to wild rabbit.

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The market also features vendors serving hot and cold foods, like this one selling paella and curry prepared in huge pans.

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There were even stalls selling alcohol — like Pimm’s and champagne.How convenient!

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And there were also several stalls boasting fresh fish like turbot, monkfish, mackerel, oysters, scallops and tuna.

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My husband tried the lamb and mint burger from Northfield Farm, prepared with cheese and greens. If you like lamb, you’d love this.

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There were even more vendors outside in the Green Market selling honeys, vegan cupcakes, sausages and lots of desserts.

This is definitely a must-see on any itinerary to London. Just to see the variety of foods available is worth the stop. Not that you should just look at the food. Eat. And eat a lot. You won’t regret it.

Market hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch on Mondays and Tuesdays; full markets run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#CatTravels: Arriving in London

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It really wasn’t that bad getting to London.

We flew on Alaska Airlines to Seattle, then Delta straight to Heathrow. Including the layover time — which, by the way, we strategically used to eat some of the best chili cheese fries I’ve ever had at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport — it only took us maybe 18 hours total.

Not bad for traveling directly around the world.

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While we could have taken the Heathrow Express trains, which take you from the airport to Central London in 23 minutes, we opted for the London Underground, also known as the Tube. This rapid transit system serves 270 stations and has about 250 miles of track, half of which are above ground. Opened in 1863, it’s consider the world’s first underground railway upon which other systems — like in New York and Japan — are modeled.

It took us about an hour via Tube to get to our hotel in the Bloomsbury district, an area of the London Borough of Camden near the Euston Station. It was developed by the Russell family in the 17th and 18th centuries into a fashionable residential area noted for its garden squares. In fact, there are three within walking distance of our hotel.

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I booked a room at the Ambassadors Bloomsbury, a modern boutique hotel just down the street from busy Euston Station and a short walk to the world famous British Museum.

It’s always difficult booking accommodations in a foreign city. You don’t know what to believe. Hotel websites say one thing, then guest reviews say another. I read mixed reviews on this hotel, with some complaining about the room size and unfriendly staff. My only requirements were simple: in a safe neighborhood near a Tube station and with a private bathroom. (Many hotels still have shared bathrooms.) And I have to say, so far, this hotel exceeded my expectations. I actually prepared my husband for what I figured would be uncomfortably small rooms. But if you’ve ever stayed in Tokyo or Hong Kong — which we both have — this is pretty spacious.

But it’s not cheap. I couldn’t find room rates for less than $250 USD a night in Central London. And yes, I was going to pay more for a private toilet in our room.

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And there are tons of restaurants in this area, serving everything from Indian to Chinese cuisine.

My husband has an obsession with fish and chips, so we, along with two friends from London, headed to North Sea Fish Restaurant, about half a mile away.

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It’s not a swanky place, but it had good reviews online. This restaurant started as a small takeaway (British for “takeout) serving fresh fish and chips with hardly any seats. But in 1977, a new owner transformed this into a bona fide restaurant that included a liquor license and a renovation that added 60 seats.

Today, the restaurant is even bigger, and the Beauchamp family still runs it. (His widow still makes desserts, starters and soups for the menu.)

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Of course we had to try the fish and chips!

The fish here is delivered fresh every day. The fish is deep-fried in pure ground nut oil in a crispy batter and served with chips (or fries). And unlike other places we’ve been to, you can actually choose the kind of fish you want, from dover sole to Scotch salmon to the traditional cod.

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My husband couldn’t have been happier eating one of his favorite English meals — and in London!

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Here’s the tuna, one of the daily specials, soaked in a tomato-based sauce with carrots and broccoli.

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I had to order the onion rings, which came in an incredibly light batter. But I was polite and shared. (smile)

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After dinner, we decided to take a walk around London. We headed south to Covent Garden, a lively area in the West End filled with restaurants, bars and shops. It’s in an old fruit and vegetable market in the central square, surrounded by theaters and the Royal Opera House.

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Though we were full from dinner, I couldn’t resist getting a macaroon — OK, I bought four — from Laduree, the famous French bakery that has an outpost here.

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Then we walked through London’s very small Chinatown on our way back to Bloomsbury.

There are more than 100,000 Chinese Brits in London. This area, in the city of Westminster, is packed with restaurants, bakeries, supermarkets and souvenir shops.

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On our way back, we passed the British Museum — it was our landmark to make sure we were heading in the right direction — and stopped for a beer at the unassuming Museum Tavern.

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It definitely felt like a traditional London pub, with a nice selection of beers and spirits including Harvey’s Sussex Best, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Theakston Old Peculiar, Daleside Spring Frenzy, Young’s Gold, Hobgoblin and Fuller’s London Pride.

We found a table but had to order from the bartender working at the gilt-mirrored back bar, a nod to its predecessor, the Dog & Duck, which was in operation from the 1700s.

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Not a bad way to finish a long day of traveling, Tube-riding and eating.

Tomorrow is another day!

Follow Cat on her #FoxHoneymoon to England, Scotland and Ireland on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth. Track her travels at #CatTravels.

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#DoThis: Okinawan Festival this weekend

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Every summer I think about how lucky we are to live in Hawai‘i.

There’s always surf on south shores and bright skies for daylong hikes. The weather is balmy, the oceans is warm, and everyone seems to be just a little happier.

And then there are the festivals, from Duke’s Oceanfest in Waikīkī to the dozens of bon dances at Japanese temples all over the state.

One of my favorites, though, is the annual Okinawan Festival, happening this weekend at Kapi‘olani Park.

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In its 32nd year, the festival, organized by the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, celebrates all things Okinawan, from music to cultural arts.

But the real draw, at least for me, is the food.

Andagi (deep-fried doughnuts, top), champuru (shoyu pork, stir-fried veggies and luncheon meat with rice) and taco rice (exactly what it sounds like) top my list of favorites.

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But the one Okinawan delight I’m desperate to try — and I can’t believe I haven’t eaten it before — is the Oki Dog, a hot dog topped with Zippy’s chili and wrapped in a soft tortilla with shredded shoyu pork and lettuce.

Oh, yeah.

The only thing it needs is maybe a dollop of mayonnaise.

More than 3,000 of these culturally confused dogs are sold every year since its introduction.

I really am surprised I haven’t had one yet.

Well, I guess there’s always this weekend!

The 32nd annual Okinawan Festival, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Aug. 30 & 31 at Kapiolani Park in Waikīkī, Oʻahu. For more information, visit here.

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A peek inside ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’

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The first time I ate at Koko Head Cafe in Kaimukī, I ordered the dumpling of the day.

It just so happened to be the best dish I had eaten all year.

I thought about that pork-stuffed potsticker topped with a housemade XO sauce crafted by “Top Chef” alum Lee Anne Wong (@leeannewong) for weeks.

Turns out, it’s the recipe on Page 4 of her new cookbook, aptly named “Dumplings All Day Wong,” on shelves now.

I flipped through the 256-page cook — gorgeously photographed, by the way — and practically licked the images of sesame jin dui, California roll gyoza, dan dan pork wontons, and white chocolate wasabi pretzel dumplings.

But my heart stopped on Page 122: BBQ Chicken Dumplings (top).

Oh, the perfect combination of things I love, namely chopped barbecue chicken and deep-fried dough. It’s really the perfect dish for leftover chicken — easy to prep, simple to make. I was sold. (Recipe below)

So I chatted with the busy chef/owner — and now cookbook author! — about this new endeavor and how the OG_KarateGuy got into her book:

CT: Where did the idea for the book come from? What were hopes/goals for the project?

LAW: Interestingly enough the photographer in the book, Ken Goodman, whom I have known peripherally through food and wine circles for a few years, contacted me and inquired if I’d be into writing a book. Page Street Publishing was looking for some new culinary authors. I had just filmed a one hour special — “Food Crawl with Lee Anne Wong” for The Cooking Channel/Food Network — which was focused on my interactive tour through NYC in search of awesome dumplings and noodles. It is now and has always been my theory that you’d be hard pressed to find a single soul on this planet who wouldn’t like a hot fresh dumpling. I agreed to write it because while I am no dim sum master, I enjoy feeding people and I love making (and eating) dumplings. With only the hopes that it was a topic that would be universally loved, I set out to write a book for dumpling lovers of all skill sets, from the home cook to the professional.

CT: Why dumplings?

LAW: Almost every culinary culture in this world has their own version of a dumpling of sorts. I focused on the Asian variety because I’m obsessed with them. I also feel like when you’re in the kitchen making dumplings people tend to flock first in curiosity and then in anticipation. “Dumplings bring people together.” If I were a politician that’d be my slogan.

CT: I’m obsessed with your dumplings at Koko Head Cafe. Obsessed. Why do you have such a knack for it — and what do you love about making them?

LAW: Speaking of obsessions, haha, thanks, Cat. Dumplings on my menu at Koko Head Cafe is part of my nod to Asian culture. If it’s 7 a.m. and you put a plate of dumplings in front of me, and then a plate of eggs and bacon, etc, I’m gonna go for the dumplings first every time. Having spent the past 20 years in NYC, favorite early morning activities included dim sum, congee, and noodles in Chinatown, where especially on really cold winter days, it became a morning food religion, soulful comfort food kinda stuff, you know? I have folded many dumplings in my life and when we first opened I was the only one who knew how to do it. I knew I had to teach my cooks at some point. Now at least half of them are quite skilled at it, and I’m no longer folding dumplings on the fly at 7 a.m. hoping the first three tables that sit down immediately don’t want dumplings (and they usually do, only proving my point). I do enjoy the repetition of folding though. It’s my “me” time to think about whatever. And I’m pretty fast.

CT: How do you get inspiration for your recipes?

LAW: I’m inspired by what’s delicious. Classic and favorite flavor combinations make it easy to conceptualize what works, which is pretty much anything. You like meatloaf and mashed potatoes??? OK, let’s put that in a dumpling and drown the thing in mushroom gravy. Yum. Nom nom.

CT: Looks like you did a lot of the shooting and cooking here in Hawaii. True? Why Hawaii and not, oh, NYC?

LAW: Right in my backyard in Mānoa. It was timing, where I had just moved here in December and had to get the book photographed by Jan. 15. I was still in the middle of writing it while we shot the recipes (in a whirlwind of three days — thank you [chef] Will Chen for helping me), so while it was an undoubtedly painful process, I am relieved it is done and now I will always be able to look at my cookbook with that little kid pride: “I did that :)”

CT: Is there anything you can’t do in a dumpling?

LAW: Tell me your favorite food and I’ll tell you how to make it into a dumpling.

CT: The name of the book is perfection. How did that come about?

LAW: The publisher had asked me to start thinking about titles and so I fired off six, “Dumplings All Day Wong” being the first one. I think he glazed over the email or it just didn’t sit well with him the first time. So they tested the concept to a few audiences with some other titles they made up, that in the end I railed against because they said nothing about me or the tone of the book. At which point we had a phone call and I said, “What about ‘Dumplings All Day Wong’? C’mon, it’s funny. It’s very ‘me.’ And it immediately brands the book.” He reacted like he had heard it for the very first time, and everyone else on the conference call chuckled too, so when he said, “I like it, I think it could work.” It was huge victory for me.

CT: I’m stoked the OG_KarateGuy made the book! Is he your muse?

LAW: Yes my little buddy (@OG_KarateGuy on Twitter), who has traveled the culinary universe with me, made it into the book. I actually need to create an Instagram for all of his past adventures, and take him out of my coffee table, where he currently resides, and start creating some fresh ones. Stay tuned. Hai.

***

BBQ Chicken Dumplings
From “Dumplings All Day Wong” by Lee Anne Wong

Ingredients
Filling:
12 oz (340 g) cooked chicken meat, dark meat preferably
¼ cup (15 g) minced scallion, white and green parts
1 tsp (5 g) minced garlic
1 tsp (5 g) minced ginger
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup or dark brown sugar
1 tbsp (15 ml) oyster sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) soy sauce
1 tbsp (15 ml) apple juice or cider
1 tbsp (10 g) cornstarch
1 tbsp (15 ml) Chinese red vinegar or rice vinegar
1 tsp (5 ml) sambal paste or Sriracha
½ tsp dry mustard powder
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 recipe Bao Dough (page 30)
Oil for deep-frying

Directions:
To make the filling, chop the cooked chicken meat into small ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces and shred. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining ingredients until smooth. Fold the sauce into the cooked chicken meat until well combined. Refrigerate for at least an hour. Divide your dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a 1-inch (2.5-cm)-thick rope and cut into ½-inch (1.3-cm) pieces. Keep the dough covered with a damp towel. Roll each dough ball into a 3-inch (7.5-cm) round wrapper using a rolling pin, about ⅙-inch (0.4 cm) thick. Fill each wrapper with 1 tablespoon (12 g) of filling. Lightly wet the edges of the wrapper and form the dumpling using the round or puck-shaped fold. Keep the dumplings covered on a lightly floured tray or plate. Preheat the deep-frying oil to 350°F/176°C. Carefully fry the dumplings in small batches until the skin is golden brown and the dumplings are floating in the oil, about 3 to 4 minutes, gently tossing the dumplings in the oil so all sides cook evenly. Drain on paper towels. Allow the oil to come back to 350°F/176°C before frying the next batch. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce of your choice. Makes 32 dumplings.

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