Converts to the Fish Taco

Mexican food is slowly coming to Australia – a topic which I have lamented on before. Yet it brings feelings of not only excitement but also inadequacy.

Excitement because I miss Mexican food so much that even the semblance of the real thing that you can get from Mad Mex is better than nothing.  The pop up bars and pubs that have all suddenly turned El Loco are a welcome change until you realise that they are not quite up to scratch and that you preferred it when they were Thai.

Then all we are left with is the inadequate feeling that we will probably never have amazing Mexican food – it’s a dream we may never realise. Though we are winning on the Thai food front and will just have to find satisfaction in that. I am an optimist however, and I will keep trying to bring forth the revolution of genuinely GOOD Mexican food.

The mouth-watering morsel that I have missed most since coming back from the states (apart from the whole concept of taco Tuesday) is the fish taco.  The curious mix of light fluffy fish against some crunch salad or cabbage with a creamy hot sauce like chipotle, maybe a sprinkling of cheese – sometimes your fish is deep-fried, sometimes its seared in herbs – either way its earth shattering YUM.

This is something I have bored my friends with on many Mexican evenings – lamenting the loss of my favourite taco.  Yet they couldn’t picture it.  Just the way I couldn’t the first time I walked into Fred’s Mexican in the heart of San Diego, when the tacos were so  cheap you had to try them all.  Once I had… I never looked back.

The other night I force-fed my friends Fish Tacos – they were stuck in my house and it was the only thing I was serving. Afterwards I had made converts of them all.

Finding the right recipe was a bit of a challenge as I wanted something tasty but also healthy.  In the end I pulled some advice from a bunch of places, including the Londoner (if you are not onto this gem of a blog – check it) and smushed together my own recipe – I call it SUCCESIPE!

INGREDIENTS (Serves four…ish – depending on how hungry you are or if you are feeding boys):

For the Fish –

  • 4 white fish steaks – find something firm that stays together – I used Ling.
  • Lots of coriander
  • 2 Limes – or lemons work just as well
  • 2 birds eye chillies
  • Sea salt and cracked pepper
  • Garlic – as much as you like… there is no such thing as too much in my mind!
  • 1tbs olive oil

For the Salsa

  • 1 Avocado
  • 4 tomatoes
  • 1/2 Red Onion
  • 1/2 lime

For the Taco part

  • Tortillas – I like using wholemeal ones
  • Cheese
  • Rocket, baby spinach or finely chopped cabbage – what ever is on hand
  • Chipolte sauce or if you don’t like chilli – sour cream

INSTRUCTIONS:

FISH: Simply chop up the garlic, chilli and coriander and place into a large bowl.  Squeeze over the juice of 1 1/5 limes (saving the other half for the salsa) and pour in your oil. Sprinkle in a decent pinch of salt and cracked pepper.  Cut up the White fish into chunks about the size of your thumb then smoosh around in the sauce – covering all pieces and sizes.  Put to one side in the fridge while you prepare the salsa and grate the cheese.

Soaking in chilli, garlic and lime juice!

Soaking in chilli, garlic and lime juice!

SALSA: Chop up the tomatoes and the avocado into small cubes and finely dice the onion.  Also finely chop the left coriander – though you can use parsley if that’s what you have on hand. Mix together gently with a spoon and squeeze over remaining lime. Season gently.

FISH AGAIN: Heat up a small non-stick frying pan and pour in your fish including all of the juices.  Simmer cook the fish gently turning as required.  Once cooked through and flaking apart you are ready to create your dinner

Simmering softly

Simmering softly

PUT IT TOGETHER: On a tortilla add some chipolte, top up with some fish, then cheese, then salsa and some baby spinach!

Eat up!

Eat up!

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Too Old?? I Hope Not!

How old do you have to get before staying in a hostel becomes creepy? This is a thought that is worrying me as my age has moved from a number to be proud of (Dah, I am like 21 I can like do what I want!) to a number I choose not to name (How old am I? Gee, well… cough – run!).  Soon there will be a point where my presence will be viewed with raised eyebrows and askance sideways glances – ok well maybe not that soon, but one day definitely.

Now I know some of you are saying – “Seriously why would you want to stay in a hostel, ewwww” and don’t get me wrong, this is a very valid reaction to have.  Hostels can be over crowded, noisy, dirty, unsafe and uncomfortable…. But then so are some hotels. There is a huge difference between a bad hotel and a good hostel – but if you find a GREAT hostel then there are some massive plusses to staying there.

  •  It’s cheap – as I am yet to win the lotto this is a huge plus, but as I no longer work in retail and have a “real” job I can also afford to stay in the somewhat nicer versions as opposed to the ones with fleas.
  • If you are travelling alone –  it’s a great place to meet people due to the room sharing and communal areas – check out this great blog on “How to travel alone and not be a creep” for some more ideas on how to meet people.
  • Local Information – Those who work in hostels are usually backpackers themselves and so have gathered a wealth of information on what they think would be useful – they usually let you pick their brains for the price of a beer!
  • Location – there are always great hostels in the location you really want to stay at, usually two streets over from the 5 star hotel where as the budget hotel is generally about three bus rides away.

There is an art to choosing the right hostel, though it’s something that is learned from experience rather than a blog. Once you have stayed in a few you learn how to spot them and steer clear! I was procrastinating from writing this blog by reading other people’s blogs about hostels and came across the Bemused Backpacker who gives tips on how to choose a great hostel.  As I read through the list of things to note,l I realised that all of these seemed rather obvious to me (a hostel veteran) and yet, I couldn’t think how I would explain to someone how they would be able to make the same judgement as I would.

Location – One of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE hostels (big call I know) was Bumbles in Queenstown. When I looked at the map of where it’s located it appeared to be slightly out of town.  Indeed some of the reviews said that it was a little out of town which added to my anxiety that it would be a bad choice.  I was travelling on my own and so wanted to ensure that I wasn’t too far outside the thick of things. Well, I decided to chance it and trust my gut that it wasn’t that far and that those people who wrote the reviews were wusses! Ha – it paid off.  Less than a 2 minute walk from the centre of town (though Queenstown isn’t that big so most places are a 2 minute walk from the centre). As it wasnt in the middle though, it was a little quieter at night.  Best of all, it was on the opposite side of the town to big hotels and so had beautiful unrestricted views of the lake framed by ice capped mountains.

The view from my hostel room window at Bumbles Backpackers

The view from my hostel room window at Bumbles Backpackers

It’s Cheap – Cost is relative, decide what your safety and a good nights sleep is really worth.  I have stayed in some flea-bitten places – literally! What I have discovered is that no matter how much money you might be saving – if the place is uncomfortable or unsafe it isn’t worth it.  In Vang Vieng we stayed in a tree house style hostel called SpicyLaos.  Those we had met on the South East Asia circuit recommended it as a great place to get the full tubing experience… we stayed two nights there before we grabbed our stuff and splashed out on a hotel room.  It wasn’t the bugs, or the fact that your pack was sitting in the dust if you couldn’t lug it up to your bunk. Or even the makeshift bathrooms that reminded me of an old-fashioned Australian outhouse.  We didn’t feel safe. Vang Vieng hadn’t quite reached the infamy that it now has when I was there – but it wasn’t far off.  After a few red bull buckets you wanted a place where you could feel safe and secure – not have random people walking through at all hours in all states.

Tubing the Vang Vieng!

Tubing the Vang Vieng!

If you are travelling alone – is never easy but can be hugely rewarding.  When I was at university I participated in the Student Exchange program and headed to San Diego in Southern California – or SoCal. If there is one thing you should do at Uni – that’s it! My first week in Sunny SD was in Hostel USA – I chose it because everywhere else was booked out. Just my luck! Indeed it was – that first night I met two others who were participating in the same program as me and heading to SDSU, instant friends! Next I met one of the girls who worked on reception – who was also in charge of fun. And fun is what was had – there was a pub crawl, a beach trip, a sea world trip, a taco Tuesday and dress up party. When I left for my dorm room a week later I was no longer travelling on my own. Find a place with great staff, it can change everything!

Local Information – Generally those who run hostels are a travellers dream.  They are friendly, happy and fountains of knowledge. Whether you are looking for the best pancakes in Dubrovnik (thanks Hostel Villa Angelina) or want an authentic Vietnamese imperial feast  (cheers Hue Sport 2) having someone point out the way or give you that insiders tip can change a trip.

Imperial food art

Imperial food art

I really hope that I am not too old to stay in hostels, as they offer so many different experiences that don’t quite reflect when in a hotel.  However, I am going to pick them more carefully now that I know what to expect – I have had bed bugs two times too many!

Dream Tripping – Road Tripping

After being back at work for only a short time and the with whole year stretching out in front of me before another summer break I am inadvertently looking for a way to constantly re-live the summer each day. Almost subconsciously I found myself creating a play list in my iTunes… when I looked closer at each of the songs I realised that each song reminded me of a particular road trip.  Here is my summer memory road trip play list:

Sunsets – Powderfinger

Its New Year’s Day and I was feeling a little worse for wear – definitely not up for the 5-hour drive down the south coast to where my friends were camping. The weather was amazing, I spent most of the day at the beach putting off the inevitable drive until the last moment.  Finally, as the hordes of beach goers were starting to pack up their umbrellas and sandcastles I knew it was time to leave.  But how to make such a journey bearable?  Having forgotten to charge my iPod I was preparing for the worst trip of my life, when I spied a CD under a pile of semi important papers that I generally ignore – I grabbed it and hit the road.

On the way out of Sydney I tried to make the best of the radio for as long as I had it, but all too soon I was on the highway cruising easily in the outbound lane – in the other direction the traffic was at a near standstill as hundreds of family’s returned from a day on the southern beaches.   Suddenly as I entered a part of the highway that was covered with bush on both sides the radio dropped out… I sighed in annoyance as I stared patiently at the head deck to see if sheer will power would extend its reception – it didn’t.

I grabbed the miscellaneous mix CD – it was scuffed and scratched and for the life of me I couldn’t remember what was on it.

As the player ate up the CD the car drifted out of the bush and started to crest a hill.  The opening bars of Powderfinger’s Sunsets blew out my open windows as the evening sun blinded me through the windshield. I coasted down the hill, foot off the accelerator, picking up speed, my hair flying out the window – it was a fist pump moment and I embraced it!  Suddenly the road seemed wonderful and large, full of possibilities and grand destinations – I sang the whole way there!

Boys of Summer – The Ataris

When you’re seventeen every day is a road trip.  I don’t think any of our teachers actually expected their students to turn up for class when it was 38 degrees out and the river was beckoning.

Every day of summer my friend would come and pick me up in her dated light blue Datsun that had a pump clutch.  Her Dad had done it up for her along with matching seat covers for her birthday – it was the best car in the world!

The car was always hot, but we didn’t mind, as it was an excuse to have our windows down, leaning on the sill letting our hair catch in the breeze – we were young and vain.  If we weren’t at school we drove out of town to the river, there was one CD that we played constantly over the summer, and one song that we would pump up every time. The Boys of Summer by the Ataris – every time I hear it I can smell burning bitumen, sweat and river water – it was a sweeter time.

Little Lion Man – Mumford and Sons

I took a break between uni and real life and decided to do what most Australians never do – road trip the east coast.  Talk to any backpacker and I guarantee they have seen more of Australia’s great wonders than the biggest true blue bogan.  So naturally when I got to Airlie Beach I had to head out on a boat and see the Whitsundays (I was the only Australian apart from the crew on board).  Soon I was relaxing on a sailboat with 20 others, miles away from the cesspool of bars and camper vans.

It was a strange isolating freedom – floating trapped on a boat in the great expanse.

Our yacht - anchored while we went diving

Our yacht – anchored while we went diving

For the next three days we all bonded, drank too much goon, went scuba diving and sun bathing, walked along the most beautiful beach in the world (Whitehaven) and ate food that was shockingly tasty. Before we left on the first day the whole boat had been bought into “The End of the World Game”  (for those of you who don’t know what that is – it’s when you can’t say the word “mine” – if you do you have to drop and give 10 push ups NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE!)

Can you imagine spending three days with people constantly asking questions to trip you up – and we all failed (except one Scottish guy who no matter how much goon he consumed he never succumbed to the trickery), I did more push ups in those three days than I have in my whole life.

Finally sun burnt, covered in bites, exhausted, hung over and completely mellow the yacht headed back to Airlie Beach.  Half of the group was falling asleep in the fading afternoon sun; the other half had were already deep in their own dreams of hot showers and clean toilets.  Suddenly Little Lion Man by Mumford and Sons started blaring through the speakers. As one we all woke up, dragging our minds out of the restful states to group together in the false camaraderie that only backpackers who have been trapped together for a length of time have.  The Scot lead the charge as he leapt onto an esky and started belting out the words – we crowded around him and let our croaked voices mingle with his. Singing at the top of our lungs the whole boat went silent at the line “Its not your fault but…” – as we stared into each other’s faces to see who would slip up – three days of the game had taught us to be careful.  To this day I can’t sing that whole line, and every time I hear it I feel as though I am back on that boat, exhausted and mellow!

Johnny Farnaham – You’re the Voice

Do you ever have those moments that feel as though they should be in a movie – or straight off Broadway?  Moments that are so surreal and cheesy that only Hollywood could do them justice.  Well who better to sing in a moment worthy of Adam Pontipee and his brothers than Johnny Farnham.

I was on a bus in Italy traveling from Genoa to Nice, it was the middle of summer and as always is the case when its stinky hot – the aircon had stopped working.  So you can imagine the groan that ricocheted around the bus once a traffic jam was spotted up ahead.  An hour and a half later and we had barely moved – the bus driver was on the phone to various people who were giving up updates on the jam.  It wasn’t going anywhere soon – there had been a fatal crash in the tunnel ahead.

Now the whole bus was sweaty, hungry and irritable so the bus driver did the only thing that was left for him to do.  He followed the train of cars that looked like they knew where they were going down a small side road.  Slowly the road wound back and forth as it began to climb over the mountain it had previously been trying to go under.  We all sat back in our sweat soaked seats and fell into the kind of stupor that only mind numbing heat and boredom can induce. As we climbed the radio that the driver had been blasting for the last several hours started to break up, he didn’t turn it off though just let it play broken songs from various stations as it moved through reception spots.

Suddenly the mood in the bus changed from lethargic to tense – on one side of the bus was a gigantic drop down the side of the mountain.  The road was barely large enough for the bus.  The bends became sharper and the bus had to do more than a few three point turns to get round them.  As the radio crackled the whole bus held their breaths – staring resolutely ahead, ignoring the drop to one side.

After an hour of this it seemed as though we had crested the mountain and begun down the other side.  As I realised this the radio suddenly came into tune – Johnny Farnham dulcet tones blasted down the bus.

This was that moment.  As I sat back in my seat feeling my muscles relax I began subconsciously humming along, within a few lines I was singing.  I looked across the isle and the girl opposite was doing the same – she smiled at me and we sang louder.  As the courus started I relaised that we weren’t the only ones singing – looking up the isle I caught the eyes of at least six others who were laughing and smiling (I assume that they were part of the horde of Australians invading Europe – though I never asked), my German neighbor was grinning at me.

As the bus picked up speed on a straight bit of road two Kiwi boys in the middle of the bus stood up.  Followed quickly by three girls at the front.  Within a heartbeat nearly the whole bus was standing and attempting to sing the song – even those who didn’t know any of the words or who Johnny Farnham was.  It was two minutes of a musical on a bus.

When the song died we all sat down, we didn’t make eye contact, we just sat back in our seats and let the heat wash back over us.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – Californication

My semester abroad was in San Diego (please don’t start quoting Anchor Man – heard them all) so for a weekend a few fellow internationals and me took a weekend trip to the big smoke.  The city of glamour and destruction – the city of angels – Los Angeles.

One thing you learn in America is that to take life by the horns – embrace it, absurdities and all.  So in the spirit of things we headed to L.A in my friends white convertible with a special mix CD specifically designed by one of my travel companions from the UK.  Every song on this CD related back to California – it was cheesy and poppy and quite frankly…Brilliant!

We did all the major sites, Rodeo drive where we met the town crier, Beverly Hills where I made everyone stand outside Ringo Star’s house for 20 minutes in the off chance he would take out the garbage, we walked along Mullholand Drive hunting for Serial killers – oh and looked at the sign.  On our last afternoon we trekked it down to Santa Monica for a perusal through shops we couldn’t afford.  As the afternoon wore on we slowly drifted towards the beach.  It was a big beach – and ridiculously flat from being combed constantly.  It was broken up by what we called Baywatch towers and the giant monstrosity at the end – Santa Monica Pier. Covered in Ferris Wheels and hot dogs it was simultaneously grotesques and awesome!

Walking on Santa Monica Beach

Walking on Santa Monica Beach

We sat on the beach and watched the beach slowly turn golden as one of California’s famous sunsets began to grow. Suddenly the Englishman jumped up “I’m going in the water” and like that he took off his shirt and ran into the water – an Englishman never wastes an opportunity to swim in the warm sea.

After a splash we began the long drive south to San Diego, the roof was down, the sun was setting, the Englishman was sopping wet in the backseat and the mix CD was playing continuously.

As we drove down Hollywood Blvd, Californication came on – the Englishman leaned forward and turned to volume up – this was California at its finest baby!

Sex on Fire – Kins of Leon

Ever been to Rockhampton? No? You’re not missing much.  We rocked into town around 4pm after a solid 8 hours driving.  The next stretch to Mackay was going to be another long hit so we decided to stay the night.  What to do?  Well there wasn’t many recommendation in Lonely Planet and our hostel owner looked at us like we were aliens – so we asked Google.  Goole advised us that there was a movie theatre just a few streets away – why not!

It was your typical movie theatre, there were teenagers making out in the lobby and pop corn on the floor.  I don’t even remember what movie we saw.  I do remember coming out of the theatre and being starving.  We drove around for about 15 minute and couldn’t see anything worth stopping at, so we did the typical Australian road trip thing – headed to the golden arches – McDonalds!

As my car didn’t have aircon we always had the windows down which meant we had to have the stereo up loud to combat the road noise. We pulled into the car-park with Kings of Leon – Sex on Fire blaring.  Quite possibly one of the most awkward moments of the whole trip.  In the car-park at 9pm, there were several families, teenagers drinking, adults drinking and just people loitering generally – and we rolled in like some punks. When we got of the car the half of Rockhampton was sitting there, they silently watched us walk into the building. After standing in line with the locals donned in trackies, ugg boots (or no shoes) and ratty hair extensions we grabbed our burgers and headed back to the car.

I hadn’t turned the radio down, when I started the engine Sex on Fire blasted the car park again. Now… I can look back and laugh!

Of course there are many more songs like – Scooby Snacks, Bohemian Like You, Walking on a Dream,  and pretty much anything by the Beatles will bring up an image of the long open road which is always just out of reach, beckoning for me.