I had the amazing opportunity to visit Shanghai for work, with a little side trip to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is a fabulous, modern and trendy city with something for everyone. I enjoyed the Soho area on Hong Kong Island with all of the trendy shops and restaurants. There is an international vibe in this area and a creative energy that reminded me of New York. I would definitely go back to Hong Kong & spend more time – maybe get some custom clothes made.
Below are some of my tips & observations in Hong Kong:
- The Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong was a pretty good place to stay –the price was moderate at about $150/night, the rooms were clean, it was in a good location, included free WiFi, and the breakfast buffet was great! They had breakfast choices available for all cultures including American breakfast, Chinese, they had Indian food, and it was quite a spread. If you want a more glamorous hotel, the Peninsula and Langham Hotels are a staple on Kowloon. It could also be fun to try a boutique hotel on Hong Kong Island, but it won’t be cheap!
My hotel room at the Regal Kowloon Hotel in Hong Kong
- Be sure to visit the Soho area Soho reminded me of a mix of San Francisco (with the huge hills) and New York, with the cute shops and restaurants. I enjoyed the Olive Greek & Mediterranean Restaurant, which had great service and delicious food. It has good reviews on Trip Advisor as well. I also spent a nice amount of time in a boutique called Goods of Desire where there is a variety of trendy Chinese-inspired gifts, clothes & jewelry.
- The Temple Street night market is a fun experience, but don’t expect much as far as the merchandise. Like my co-worker said, it’s like visiting a huge dollar store. Still a great place to take in the sights and sounds of the city.
Temple Street Market in Hong Kong
Egg waffles are a popular street food to try with long lines. They tasted a lot like a hot fortune cookie but in a waffle format. Not very sweet, but they seem to be all the rage. I personally could have used a little bit of vanilla ice cream and nutella – that would have taken them over the top.
Egg waffles are the thing to eat in Hong Kong!
Public transportation is a breeze! So easy and clean. There is an express train that goes from the airport to Kowloon, and a shuttle that goes straight to the Regal Kowloon Hotel.
On the train in Hong Kong. So clean and quiet
- The Big Buddha was an interesting experience, with beautiful views and a little village full of places to shop and things to do.
Me in front of the big buddha
Shanghai has the best skyline I’ve ever seen. The city is slightly overwhelming as it’s very large and spread out with a population of 23 million people. Being from Chicago, our skyline is hard to beat, but I fell in love with the gorgeous buildings and the Shanghai pearl tower.
Shanghai’s breathtaking skyline!
Tips & Observations in Shanghai:
- Be prepared for the toilets. They are literally a hole in the ground. It takes a little maneuvering to navigate. Keep some tissues on hand just in case you need them. There are the “western toilets” in some places, like the shopping malls, but this style is common as well.
The toilet situation in Shanghai. Get ready!
- Napkins don’t seem to be a thing in Shanghai. Many times you will get a hot towel, but that’s about it.
- In the touristy areas, many of the people from other provinces haven’t seen many people from other cultures. As a black woman, I felt like a celebrity sometimes. People’s eyes would get big, they would start whispering to each other, and sometimes walk over and ask for a picture. I even caught some people sneaking pictures – acting like they were taking a selfie, but they were really taking pictures of me! It was crazy how excited they were. They said that we were “foreign beauties.” I’ll take it!
- Yu Garden is a fun place to walk around and shop. The French Concession area also has some trendy little unique shops where they had unique restaurant concepts and stores with beauty products.
In the French Concession area frolicking under the umbrellas!
- China bans Facebook and Google. You need to get a VPN before you get over there.
- Personal space is very small in China. People get very close to you in elevators and trains, and you may be cut off while walking or pushed in a large crowd. Get ready!
- The food in China is different than it is here in the states. The sauces are different. It’s still tasty, but just different. Chinese food every day got a little bit tiring, I will say. The thing that I appreciated coming back to the states is our wide variety of cuisines from around the world. The first thing I ate was Lou Malnati’s pizza!
Overall, this was a trip to remember – my first major international business trip. I flew business class for the first time & that’s definitely the way to go for a 15 hour flight. The fully reclining seats & lounge access are a huge bonus. Traveling truly makes you appreciate different cultures, but also reminds you of the things you take for granted (like our freedom of speech and our wonderful variety of food). So long, China! It’s been real!
When my friend asked me if I wanted to visit her in Europe, I immediately said yes, as I love to travel. We decided on Barcelona on Thanksgiving weekend, and the best part is that I was able to use airline miles and hotel points for a virtually free trip!
Ham, Ham everywhere!
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city that offers amazing food, art, history & shopping. It’s pretty easy to navigate once you understand the lay of the land. I would highly suggest getting on one of the hop-on hop off tours as soon as you arrive to get a feel for where everything is located. I stayed at the trendy DoubleTree Hotel, and enjoyed the location and the great service.
My lovely hotel – the Doubletree Alexandra Barcelona
Lunch in Barcelona starts around 2pm and dinner starts around 8-9pm, so the eating schedule takes a little getting used to, especially when you have jet lag like I did. Between 2-4pm is siesta where people take their lunch breaks and rest. This mid-day break is taken very seriously as many stores close during this time. It’s very important to pay attention to store hours on the outside of buildings when in Barcelona, especially if it’s a small shop or boutique.
Pay attention to these signs
I went on a Gourmet walking tour, which was quite informative. The food that you see in Spain truly ties into their history. One pleasant surprise was the huge number of French bakeries and pastries available, as Spain was under French rule for two centuries, and the food stayed (yes!). I enjoyed getting croissants and tea as my breakfast in the morning.The first place I visited to eat was Cafe Emma, which was a bistro on Pau Claris – thoroughly enjoyed it!
Ham seemed like the national food there, and I learned that there are 2 types of ham, black hoof and white hoofed ham. The black hoofed ham is raised on the countryside and is considered to be of higher quality. It generally has less fat than ham with the white hoof. The black-hoofed pigs are fed acorns and are encouraged to run, which results in a high-quality piece of meat. I went into the La Boqueria food market, and was shocked to see ham laying there with the hooves still on them. (As Jimmy Fallon says, “ew!”). At first I was grossed out, but after learning more about it, I understood that the hooves are on them so that you can know the level of quality you are getting.
This hoof of the ham was startling at first until I learned more
In Barcelona, there were a number of restaurants offering Pinxos (pronounced “peen-chos”). The idea of Pinxos is quite genius. They are basically small appetizers on top of bread with a small stick in it. You go in, get a plate, grab the food you want, and then when you are finished, the waitress/cashier will count the number of remaining sticks you have for your final price. This is great because if you just want a little snack, you could just get 2-3 pinxos for about 5-6 Euro. There were also dessert Pinxos available, which gave me some party ideas. A Pinxos restaurant concept would be great in the city of Chicago – especially in the loop where people don’t have a lot of time to devote to lunch.
Pinxos in Barcelona
As far as tapas are concerned, the restaurants in Barcelona offered many of the same tapas that you may see in American restaurants, but they taste much better. I had the best Patatas Bravas that I’ve ever had IN LIFE.
If you get tired of tapas and pinxos, there are other cuisines available in Barcelona. We stopped by Thai Barcelona for some Thai Food, and the food was good, and the ambiance was absolutely gorgeous. I will say that the food was a bit pricy – around 18 Euros for an entrée, but it was a nice experience.
Another restaurant that I enjoyed visiting was called Cornelia and Co. the ambiance was very laid back and relaxed, and the food was good (although they had small portions). Good place to go if you are dining alone. They had a good mix of cuisines, including Spanish and Italian food, and I tried this Catalan dish with bread where you rub garlic on top, drizzle olive oil and sea salt on it, then squeeze the juice of a tomato on it. Delish – although I ended up smelling like garlic for a couple of days. The woman who sat next to me in the restaurant showed me how to do it.
Catalan bread and olive oil with tomatoes, and sea salt. Delish!
Below is a video where you can see some of my adventures. Enjoy!!
Check Please! is a local Chicago show where people talk about their favorite restaurants. This show has always been a source of great information about restaurants that I otherwise would not have known about.
The current host of the show is stepping down, creating the opportunity to apply for the host position. My love for food and the Chicago restaurant scene has compelled me to submit an audition video reel, and below is the video – Enjoy!
[slideshow]I consider myself to be quite the food connoisseur, and I recognize talent when I see it. If I were a chef talent scout (I’m sure those exist), I would definitely be recruiting Jessica Ashley to join my team. She’s young, ambitious and doing her thing! Her talent is undeniable. In just 3 years after graduating from culinary school, she has baked custom cakes for MTV and celebrity events, and worked as a production chef on the kids cooking TV show Junior Cuisine. In the midst of all of this, she has also been running her own cake business, baking specialized cakes for weddings and special events.
During her college internship with Kraft, Jessica instantly knew that she wanted to be a chef when she visited to the Culinary Institute for Education. This life-changing “aha” moment led her to apply for culinary school at Kendall College in Chicago after finishing her undergraduate degree. She kept her application a secret until she applied, because she “just knew” that this is what she wanted to do, and there was no stopping her.
The level of creativity and skill is instantly apparent in Jessica’s cakes. They look like the kinds of cakes that you see on shows like “Cake Boss” and “Ace of Cakes”.
Her specialty? The Cream Cheese Pound Cake. This recipe from her great aunt has been in her family for years. In addition to her decadent cakes, she also bakes vegan and dairy-free cakes, and she’s been experimenting with sugar-free dessert offerings for those with diabetes.
Jessica has observed that people aren’t buying the grocery store sheet cakes as much anymore because they are opting for decorative cakes to serve as a trendy centerpiece. Just when she thought that cupcakes were on their way out, they are quite popular, even in weddings. Some of her clients have requested cupcake towers vs. traditional tier cakes to avoid the “cutting fee” that many banquet facilities charge when using an outside cake vendor. Cupcakes also allow wedding guests to grab a cupcake and go, and they offer flexibility with providing an assortment of flavors.
What’s next for Jessica? She’s working on offering after school cooking classes for kids centering around nutrition, baking with healthy ingredients, and decorating. She will also continue to host private events, and plans to travel more with her business. Her next trip is scheduled in New York, where she will be baking for a corporate launch party event.
Jessica inspires me because she is truly living out her passion and purpose, and success has followed her along the way. I see big things for her future. One of her goals is to compete in a Food Network competition, so keep your eyes open! With her passion and drive, you just might see her on TV! Hopefully her story inspires you as much as she inspires me.
Jessica’s Baking Tips for Home Chefs:
- Instead of sticking a knife or toothpick in your cakes/cupcakes to check for doneness, gently press the top of the cake to see if it springs back. If it springs back, its done.
- If you start baking, make sure all of your dairy items are room temperature.
- Bring eggs to room temperature before baking. If you don’t have the time, place eggs in warm water to bring to room temperature faster.