Japadog – A Deliciously Reluctant Review

Japadog - Things to do and eat in Vancouver

Fusion food, sometimes it’s the best thing in the world… other times not so great.  Deep frying a mars bar was pure genius, while the desert “pizza” has always been a complete disaster (yet you still find it on the menu – why!?!?!)

If Vancouver has a food identity it definitely centres around fusion food, after all their national dish is poutine, a combination of the English chips and gravy and nachos, best enjoyed at 3am when your stomach is full of beer and wine. But a new craze has swept the city in the past ten years becoming a new institution and landmark must try when you are in the city.

I have tried in vain not to write another post about food – however the memories of this Vancouver staple have been seeping into my dreams and have forced my hand (no pun intended)

I am, of course, talking about Japadog! 

Japadog - Things to do and eat in Vancouver

Tell me about it: This unique fast food started out as a simple food cart on the streets of Vancouver.  It later became so popular that it opened up another stand in New York and in LA (however due to spreading resources rather thin, it closed down its stand in New York last year).  The food itself is completely unique being a fusion between Japanese styles such as okonomiyaki and teriyaki crossed with the infamous north American fast food – the hot dog. Most if the stores are food carts that are strategically placed around Vancouver. However there is one restaurant which serves a wider variety of choice including fries.

Now I know what you are thinking.  Your stomach is clenching and you are trying not to imagine what that might taste like.  I was exactly the same, I just couldn’t get my head around how that would taste.  To begin with I am not the biggest fan of hot dogs (processed meat kinda creeps me out) and Japanese is one of my favorite cuisines.  I was scared that in crossing the two I would not only be sick, but turned off wasabi for life (a horrifying thought).

My concern was completely unfounded – in fact after two bites I had quickly decided that it was one of the best things I had ever eaten.

Once when I was about to go on a “gorgefest”, a friend gave me a great piece of advice. She simply asked “will you remember this meal in a weeks’ time?” looking up at the McDonald’s menu I knew for certain that I would forget, if not repress, the memory of that particular meal.  To which she followed up with “then why eat something awful, your food should always be delightful and memorable, it doesn’t have to be the ultimate healthy food, you should just love it” so instead, that day we treated ourselves to a delicious Italian pasta (which I still remember).

My point is that two months later, I haven’t been able to suppress the urge to write a glowing review on Japadog because the memory of those first few bites is still so fresh and mouth-watering!

First Taste at the Robson Restaurant

Japadog - Things to do and eat in Vancouver

Tonkatsu: Deep fried pork cutlet marinated in tonkatsu sauce topped with fresh cabbage.

The bun was fluffy and fresh but without that sweet metallic cakey taste that most fast food buns have (cough… Subway… McDonald’s… cough). The pork was lean and without any gristle or fat, indicating that they weren’t just serving any old cut on their buns.  Then it was deep-fried to perfection with a crispy crunch outer and a lush and juicy meaty centre.  The cabbage was crispy and fresh which perfectly soaked up the tonkatsu sauce, pulling it through the whole bun.  I had a side of shaky fries to go with this – basically fries that are shaken in a bag of a collection of spices, garlic and salt – DELICIOUS!

Second Taste at the Burrard and Smithe St Stand

Japadog - Kobe Beef. Things to do and eat in Vancouver

Kobe Beef: Kobe beef in a hotdog. Flavors are enhanced with the best selected ketchup from Japan, and the maple leaf shaped bean curd.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my second hot dog, my first choice was still my favourite.  The hotdog was perfectly cooked and the strange wasbi flavoured mustard/ketchup was so tantalising that I licked my fingers to catch every drip.  Not to mention the beautiful presentation with the bean curd sauce made it feel like I was eating something that had taken a lot longer than 5 minutes to prepare.  But my favourite part was experiencing the novelty of the hotdog food cart, then sitting in the sun while I stuffed my face watching others struggle to choose which one they should eat.

Japadog - Things to do and eat in Vancouver

I keep googling Japadog store locations on the hope that they will now open a store in Sydney – they would definitely find an appreciative market… even if I have to visit them everyday to keep them in business!!

Walk, Eat, Shop, Drink – North Van Style

Things to do in Vancouver

Vancouver is just like Sydney, but instead of beaches they have mountains.  There are so many similarities that if it wasn’t for the weather I could see myself living there with little change in my life style.  The city is clean, the people are friendly, there are great fusion restaurants and cute little shopping streets. Yet, what I liked most was the attitude of the locals – like your average Sydneysider, Vancouverites are focused on enjoying the good things in life such as a nice local Pale Ale from BC (British Columbia which is the province that Vancouver is situated in) or sushi fusion with locally caught fish.

However, in order to enjoy all of this without your jeans suddenly becoming unbearably tight, Vancouverites are also very active.  Sportswear shops are more common than McDonald’s and everyone appears to be wearing what my grandmother would call “sensible” shoes because they walk everywhere. Indeed when you visit Vancouver your guidebook recommendations on things to do alternate between eating and exercises:

Like Sydney, the city is separated by a giant body of water into South Van, Vancouver City and North Van. Each place has its own identity with loads of things to do. Here is my must see itinerary for the best of North Van – Vancouverite style day. This is also a little off the tourist (beaten) track and a somewhat cheaper than doing the main attractions – yet still beautiful and tasty.

Note: The best way to get to these activities is by car, however if you don’t mind spending some time looking at the stunning scenery from a bus window there are also public transport options that are easy and cheap.

Exercise: Hike at Deep Cove

Public Transport Option: Catch the 210 from Pender and Granville St and then Change to the 211 at Phibbs Bus Exchange

Arriving at Deep Cove is breathtaking, making time to loll on the grass looking at the still water surrounded by forested mountains wouldn’t be a mistake.  Once you have recovered your breath head to the left of the Cove (there is only one street so you can’t miss it) where you will find the start of the Beaden Powell Trail. This is a great 3k return track through luscious pine forest that ends at Quarry rock and spectacular views. Once you have returned from your walk maybe grab a coffee or ice cream in the main street of Deep Cove.

Things to do in Vancouver

Shop: Lonsdale Quay Market

Public Transport Option: Catch the 211 back to Phibbs Bus Exchange and change onto the 239

Vancouver is known as the city of glass, which pretty much sums up the vista as you stand on the Quay behind the markets.  The markets themselves are a great place to pick up unique Canadian and Vancouver souvenirs.  There is also an art gallery upstairs that is well worth a look as it showcases a lot of local artists, and there is usually an artist working in the gallery as well.  I suggest grabbing a cider and watching the big container ships stroll past on their way back out to sea.

Things to do in Vancouver

Eat: Tomahawk Restaurant

Public Transport Option: Jump back on the 239 and get off at Marine Dr and Philip Av, or if you feel like walking it takes about 40 minutes.

I actually read about this restaurant in Lonely Planet, however, my local Canadian friend hadn’t heard of the place so it didn’t seem to me to be a place that would be overwhelmed by the tourist trade.  The minute I walked in I could confirm that it is still very much a local hang out, with two locals sitting alone at the bar wolfing down their burgers and chatting to the wait staff as though they were part of the furniture.   The bar is decorated in souvenirs that have been gathered over the decades, giving the eye something new to look at in every direction. The restaurant has been open since 1926 and you can read the full story on the menu.  I ordered the Chief Dominic Charlie Burger which had an organic beef patty, Yukon-style bacon, lettuce cheese and Tomahawk special sauce with chips, and because I like the novelty of free re-fills, a coke. Every bite was like absorbing a little of the Tomahawk décor – whimsical, classic and oh so tasty!

Things to do in Vancouver

Exercise: Walk across the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge (a free version of the Capilano Suspension bridge)

Public Transport Option: from Tomahawk Restaurant catch the N24, however you have to walk the final part.  From Deep cove catch the 211 and then the 210. Or there is a hike through the forest from Deep Cove, however do your research before you attempt this as getting lost in the Canadian wilderness wouldn’t be much fun.

You can do a walk either side of the bridge, there are loads of maps and information in the park so it is fairly easily to plan.  If you have an extreme fear of heights like me, you may want to wait until there is no one else on the bridge before you attempt to cross it as it can swing through the air a little. Also if you are scared of heights I don’t recommend looking down at the crashing river that is blasting its way over rocks below you – that really doesn’t help.

Things to do in Vancouver

Drink: Cactus Club on Beach Avenue

Public Transport Option: Catch the 210 back to the city

There are Cactus Clubs dotted all over Vancouver so you could really go to any of them.  The one on Beach Avenue however has the best views and a great patio (which is what Canadians call beer gardens, or outdoor spaces where you can have an alcoholic beverage). Watch the sun go down and while sipping on a sangria which is topped with their world-famous Peach Bellini.

Things to do in Vancouver

The best part is that the exercise in beautiful wild green locations, will have negated any calories you may have indulged in with eating all of the scrumptious local produce.

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

When staying in hostels and eating on the cheap it’s not always easy to eat healthy – especially as you spend so much of your time out exploring.  If you are chilling out in Vancouver and can take your eyes off the beautiful scenery for a few moments here is a great way to combine some sightseeing with some healthy and cheap eating.

If you haven’t already read or heard about Granville island then you better get back to your guide-book and do some proper research – because this is one of the must visit places in Vancouver, Canada.

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

A little history for you: As Vancouver started to grow across the bay in what is now known as Gas Town – Granville Island was a small mill town. Over the next century many trades took up residence here as it stayed a predominantly industrial area despite the city popping up around it.  During WWII it was the busiest part of the city with the factories turning out equipment at all hours of the day. But in the late 70s as the district had almost completely declined and become dilapidated a revival or a “gentrification” of the area was called for.  Now the old industrial buildings hold everything from art studios, luxury yacht ship yards and the famous fresh food markets as well as a loads of great shops.

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

You can catch a water bus over from the city which costs about $7 or you can walk across the Granville Bridge which takes about 15 minutes and has spectacular views of the Burrard Bridge complete with jutting mountains and shinning city. Once there it is hard not to get side-tracked by the street performers that are monopolising the square – old fashioned sword swallowers are making a comeback though they compete for the crowd against some ethereal Canadian folk singers and teenage comedians.

Break away from the courageous people who make a spectacle of themselves for your entertainment and head into the giant food market.  Just inside the doors you will probably stop and blink while taking a few deep breaths to steady yourself.GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

Your eyes have been assaulted by the amount of colour and your stomach has just been reminded by the wafting combination of smells that you could eat (even if you are full, being around so much amazing food will make you feel as though you “could” eat).

What to eat: You could visit the “food court” style area and try some of the amazing pre-made dishes such as Mexican (always my favourite), Chinese, salads and spectacular pizza. You could visit various delicatessen’s and other stalls to pull together an amazing picnic assortment of yummy. You could do some shopping for a delicious dinner that will treat your friends back at the hostel or the friend whose floor you have been crashing on for the last week. Finally, you can do what I did, and do all three options… I meant it when I said your body seems to make room for more food when you are there… my stomach turned into a Marry Poppins bag.

A cheese and wine picnic

A cheese and wine picnic

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel or buying off the friend who has lent you her floor. Feeds four… or more if you have stuffed yourselves at the markets and only want a small light dinner.

Equipment Required: All of the below are fairly easy to come by or you can improvise with what you do have

  • A stove top
  • Large frying pan or wide saucepan – a wok will also do if you are improvising
  • A knife
  • Chopping board
  • A smaller saucepan (for cooking rice)
  • A colander (if you don’t have one, use a lid or plate to help you drain out the excess water – just remember to wrap your hand in a tea towel or your sleeves first to avoid steam burns)

Ingredients: Total cost: With Wild Salmon $36 or $9 if you split the cost in four. With Chicken $22 or $5.5 if you split the cost in four.

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

  • Salmon: $20 (Because I was in Canada I really wanted to make a dish with Wild Salmon as I have only ever eaten farmed salmon, I definitely have to say that there is a huge difference in taste and colour as well as the obvious environmental impact.  This was a huge expense that I would have avoided if I hadn’t been saving money by crashing at a friend’s place.  So the cheaper version is to do everything the same but with chicken which you can still buy at the market for $6 for two large breasts.)
  • Variety of Vegetables: $9.25 (this is really up to your taste buds and what’s in season. The only required vegetable is a brown onion, for the rest I pick about 6 different vegetables that are colourful and crunchy such as asparagus, capsicum, zucchini, broccoli, celery and cheery tomato’s.  I also wanted to get some bok-choy but it wasn’t the best quality so I gave it a miss in favour of other more ripe vegetables)
  • Red Curry Paste and Coconut Milk: $3.75 (there is a great Asian spice market in the middle, they have everything at great prices)
  • Brown Rice: I’m not sure how much this is as my friend had it in her pantry, but I don’t imagine its more that $3 (you can also tie the bag of rice up with a hair tie… or a rubber band if you are super fancy, and take it with you to the next hostel for another meal.)

Instructions:

Step One: Put the water for your rice onto boil

Step Two: I like everything to be prepared before I cook anything so I spend a chunk of time chopping things up before hand (this also allows for me to enjoy a glass of wine and some gossiping when the actual cooking process is in motion).  Finely chop the onions and keep separate.  Chop up all of your other vegetables, I like to cut them into different sizes and shapes so that there is a little more “fun” when eating, leave them together – if you have bok-choy cut off the leafy bits and move to one side.  Chop up your salmon or chicken into chunks, not too small, you want them to be nice big meaty pieces.

Step Three: Once everything is prepared get your rice into the boiling water. When the rice is almost cooker – or you can wait until its fully cooked – you can start cooking.  The dish doesn’t take very long to make that’s why I don’t start until the rice is ready so you don’t over cook the vegetable and have them turn mushy and floppy.

Step Four: Brown the onions in the large saucepan/frying pan/wok.

Step Five: Throw in the salmon or chicken.  If you are using salmon, turn the pieces GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostelgently until they are all sealed but don’t over cook.  If you are using chicken you will need a little longer as you will want to make sure the chicken is cooked all the way through.

Step Six: Throw in your vegetables and toss everything together

Step Seven: Add in your curry paste – see packet for instructions in relation to amount.  Because I like my curry strong and jam-packed full of flavour I always do more than the suggested amount, but if you aren’t big on the “curry” flavour you could do less. Ensure that all of the vegetables and the salmon are coated in the paste.

Step Eight: Add in the coconut milk slowly – stirring as you go.  I would turn the heat down at this point so the milk gently simmers.  Once again pour as much as you like, I like my Thai Curries really runny as I like to drink the sauce, however if you prefer a thicker constancy don’t add as much milk. Leave to simmer for about 2 minutes.

Step Nine: Serve on top of the brown rice and eat!

GRANVILLE RED SALMON THAI CURRY: A recipe for winning friends at your hostel

If this doesn’t make you the most popular person in the hostel then nothing will – you are beyond help. It is also a wonderful way to catch up with that great friend who put you up – especially if you also have some wine and a sunny balcony to relax on.

The North American Rivalry: The Visa Situation

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Through the centuries many countries have had an extreme rivalry that has been so emotional that it has spread out across the globe and generations. England V France (actually England V the rest of the world) has had such an effect on the English and the French that most Englishmen no longer know why they must win against France in any and every sport (as well as anything else that they may deem competitive) AT ALL COSTS!

This is a rivalry that has been built up after centuries of wars, famines, dead kings and queens, rugby world cups, gold, champagne, and food.  Don’t get me wrong the French and the English don’t hate each other – they just want to win against the other – always!

But there is another rivalry that is popping up across the ocean with their younger brothers or maybe I should say estranged cousins: Canada and the USA.

For the month of June I will be dipping a toe into each of these vast countries. I don’t have the time or the luxury at the moment to fully explore all that they have to offer so I am just seeing a few places really well and seeing some old friends along the way.

Over the course of my trip I am going to score both countries to see which is better (to my mind). I consider myself impartial as I am starting with a great impression of both places, I have been to the USA before and had a SMASHING time and my best friend is Canadian and so for the last 6 years I have had a constant subliminal and some not so subliminal messages sent to me advising that Canada is in fact AWESOME eh!

Review number 1: The Visa Situation.

When I last went to the States I went on a student visa (which was very pretty and I loved having in my passport… until I accidentally washed my passport and all the colours ran – heartbreaking) so I wasn’t sure what sort of visa if any I would need on my upcoming tourist visit.  When I doubt – turn to Google!

The first few hits were adverts for immigration lawyers. The next one was for the Australian embassy information page – score! The information was immediately apparent but scroll half way down the page and you get this paragraph:

American visa

Riiiiiiiiiight – so I need a visa waiver program? What does ESTA mean? How do I know if I meet the conditions?

Ten more minutes scrolling through Google and Yahoo answers and a phone call to my sister (yes I can be a little thick sometimes – but screwing up my American Visa and ending up on the American version of Boarder Security is not my idea of a holiday) I determined that the Visa Waiver program was ESTA and I had to apply for an ESTA online with a credit card and it would cost me $14 – not a great sum but it kinda feels like I am actually purchasing a visa.

In Short: As an Australian Tourist you do NOT need a visa for the USA – you just need to go to the ESTA website and purchase a visa waiver which allows you to enter the USA for three month stretches for the next 6 years.

The ESTA website looks like it was built ten years ago which gave me a little freak out that I was getting scammed. One more text to my sister who confirmed that the outdated site wasn’t trying to steal my credit card details before I began the process of entering in all of my personal information.

The whole process took me 30 minutes total (may have taken me less time if I hadn’t been watching Law and Order SVU at the same time). I had conquered the American visa system with relative ease – or so I thought.

At the next advert break I decided that while I seemed to have the energy and wasn’t appearing to be procrastinating I should also work out if I need a visa for Canada.  Back to Google I go.

The first website that comes up is titled “Find out if you need a visa for Canada” – this looks like it may contain the information I need eh!

The page opens and right up the top of the page is this quick and easy to use drop down menu.

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And then when I searched for Australia it was stated nice and clearly that I do not need a visa or a visa waiver program or anything else to enter Canada.

In short: No visa required for Australians entering as a tourist to Canada!

In my first encounter with the two North American countries Canada comes out on top – not only because it didn’t charge me $14 to not have a visa but because of how easy it was to find out this information.

SCORE: Canada: 1, USA: 0