This is a way overdue post about my trip to Japan back in November last year. Truth is, ever since Steve and I got engaged, things have been chaotic and busy to say the least, what with organising the wedding etc. Before we realise anything it's already July and I am deeply reminiscing the good times we had in Japan. So I'm going to relive our Japan trip in between wedding and food posts. Instead of posting our trip chronologically, I'm just going to post it randomly.

While I was planning the trip, I was most excited to visit Kyoto. After reading Memoirs of a Geisha when I was 16 or 17, I fell in love with the author's description of Kyoto. When I watched the movie adaptation of the book, I was entranced by the quaint city. I wanted to visit every shrine, temple, palaces, pavilions and absorb all the heritage and culture!

Our first stop in Kyoto was Kiyomizu-dera Temple, a Buddhist temple that was listed as one of UNESCO's World Heritage Site. But before we make our way to probably one of the most famous iconic sights of Kyoto, we had to get a make over.


Yes, we walked around Kiyomizu-dera temple site in our rental kimonos. It was a rather harrowing experience for Steve at the kimono rental shop because him (and four or five other strangers) were told to strip down to their undies and dressed by an elderly lady. It was a similar experience for me, though I got to pick my own hairstyle etc. Steve was quite defensive initially about wearing a kimono, but later on agreed that it was a smart move to wear the loose robes in 25C heat. 

A few minutes' walk uphill surrounded by quaint little shops selling teaware, snacks and various other knick knacks, we were greeted by vermillion coloured gates and shrines. Although I have seen similar shrines in Tokyo, the bright colours still tickled my fancy.

The view was simply spectacular. I was fascinated at the contrast of the vermillion gate against the drab monotonous commercial and residential buildings in the distance. 

After a few minutes of walking, we were in front of a large brown structure that looks like a theatre stage. We finally reached the main hall. The temple's main hall is still a place of worship and many worshippers were there praying for good luck or for their wishes to be granted.

There were many look out points and walkways that offer spectacular view of the temple surrounding. We were there in early Autumn when the leaves started turning into beautiful hues of red and orange. It was magical and the leaves glimmered under the golden late afternoon sunshine.

Don't forget to look back as you make your way around the temple surroundings, because we did and simply blown away at the magnificence of the main hall's structure. Can you believe not a single nail was used to construct it? Wow!

Beneath the main hall, you'll see the Otawa waterfall with three streams of water that falls into a pond. Each stream represents longevity, luck in love and success in school. Visitors can drink from each stream as it is said that you'll be blessed with benefits from each stream. I drank from one of the streams and as you can see, it was packed with other tourists looking to get some good luck and fortune.

Despite the throng of tourists that swarmed the temple when we visited, we still had a great time. Kiyomizu-dera temple is synonymous to Kyoto and I'd say if you only have one day in Kyoto, do make it part of your itinerary. It's only a 15-minute bus ride away from Kyoto JR Station, or about 30 minute walk from Kyoto JR Station. 

Get There and Around
Kiyomizu-dera can be reached from Kyoto Station by bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 230 yen). Get off at Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple. Alternatively, Kiyomizudera is about a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line.




I've been wishing to write this post for a long time now but have been putting it off due to the intense wedding planning that is leading up to the big day. But I am seeking an outlet to procrastinate, so here I am!

A wedding is a joyous occasion celebrating the union of not just two people, but two families as well. Some weddings are lavish, while some are intimate and simple...Doesn't matter what style of the wedding it is, a lot of meticulous planning and emotions are involved. Moreover, Steve is Greek-Australian and I'm Chinese/Teochew-Malaysian. When two cultures meet, I know that we will be faced with lots of challenges and decision-making, especially when it comes to planning a wedding. 

To simplify matters, we have decided to have a wedding in Malaysia, which will follow the Chinese-Teochew rules and traditions, but also incorporate elements of a modern Australian wedding. A month after Steve proposed to me, my parents kick-started the action by selecting an auspicious wedding date, based on our date and time of birth. The Buddhist monk whom my family consult time-to-time selected 23 July 2016, based on the compatibility of our birth date and time. If you think this is a hassle, be prepared - we're only at the beginning!

Another important date, perhaps even more important than the wedding itself is the Betrothal Ceremony, also known as Guo Da Li (which from hereon will be referred to as GDL). Usually held two weeks before the wedding date, it is a formal meeting between the groom and the bride's family. However, due to logistic issues (us being in Australia and my parents in Malaysia), we've decided to have the GDL on 11 June 2016, coinciding with the Queen's Birthday long weekend. During GDL, the groom's family present the bride's family with various proposal gifts such as traditional wedding cakes, fruits, jewellery and various other knick-knacks. 

My family have started the preparation process weeks before the date, because they had to prepare the groom's betrothal gifts (聘礼) and the bride's return gifts (回礼), which means double the work. According to Teochew traditions, all the betrothal gifts are presented in straw baskets which are printed with auspicious motifs of flora and fauna.

Teochew betrothal and wedding baskets

Before the GDL ceremony, we faced a slightly awkward situation, whereby Steve and I were both staying in my family home, which will make the GDL ceremony essentially redundant and silly because the gifts would already be in my parents' hand. We were going to overlook the whole farce initially, but one of our family friend, Ms. Song was so generous to "adopt" Steve for the night and to be his chaperone for the GDL ceremony. Usually the chaperone who accompanies the groom to the bride's house is an elderly woman who lives a "good life," i.e. married with children, good career, bright personality, etc. 

The Chinese are a superstitious lot and believe that everyone's life is pre-destined. So by selecting a chaperone who meets all the criteria, it is believed that the chaperone's fate and luck will rub off on the couple as well. 

So, a night before our GDL, we dropped Steve and baskets filled with the betrothal gifts at Ms. Song's house. It was my first night sleeping without Steve since February this year, so I was a teensy-weensy bit sad when we kissed goodnight/goodbye in front of Ms. Song's house.

The next morning, we woke up bright and early in preparation for Steve's arrival. I was instructed to wear my brightest, reddest dress because red is the auspicious colour. Mum and Dad hung the hong cai (红彩) - red drapes and lantern used to announce to passer-bys about the impending big day. 

Hong cai and lanterns

Soon after, a car honk indicated that Steve and his chaperone, Ms. Song had arrived!

The groom party

The event started with Steve presenting the baskets of items to my dad. Items that were presented include: 
  • 2 bottles of whiskey - Gift for father-in-law
  • 8 oranges - not sure why but mandarin/oranges are always presented during auspicious events.
  • An assortment of peanut and sesame candies 
  • A pair of dragon and phoenix candles 
  • Red envelopes with money in them for various purposes
  • Traditional wedding invitations
  • "Four Touches of Gold" (Si dian jin 四点金) jewellery for the bride
  • A slab of roast pork - which is used to symbolise the bride's virginity (what...)
  • Traditional wedding cakes - to be distributed to the bride's relatives.
  • The bride price (money stuffed in red envelopes to be given by the groom to the bride's parents)

Traditionally, a whole roast pig is presented to the bride's family, who would then carved up the roast pig and distribute it among relatives and friends. However, we decided to simplify it and opted for a slab of roast pork instead.

According to the ancient customs, there were supposed to be more items in the baskets. But we simplified the process and used red envelopes stuffed with cash to symbolise the items instead. In no particular order, the purpose of the red envelopes:
  • Gratitude money to my mum for bringing me up (离乳金)
  • A few red envelopes for the bride's family to clean and fix up the house (厅仪大礼,门仪尊礼,洗洁礼)
  • A red envelope for the bride to buy a pair of bridal shoes (新娘鞋)
  • A red envelope for the bride's hair and make-up (修容礼仪)
  • A red envelope to symbolise banana (not sure why parents didn't just buy some bananas...)

All red everrrthang.

One of the items that my parents particularly insisted on was the "Four Touches of Gold" (si dian jin 四点金). As the name suggests, the Four Touches of Gold is a parure of gold jewellery (1. necklace and pendant  2. bracelet/bangle  3. ring  4. A pair of earrings) requested by the bride's mother and given by either the groom or his family, as a wedding gift to the bride. 

The teochews are a money-savvy lot and the bride's mother would request the "Four Touches of Gold" for her daughter's safekeeping. It is also a welcome gift to the bride to show that she'll always have a roof over her head. Auspicious motifs such as dragon and phoenix, or the double happiness sign are prominent features of the gold jewellery. The bride will be presented again with the gold jewellery during the tea ceremony and she'll wear it throughout her wedding. 

Four Touches of Gold with hand-carved dragon and phoenix.

If you're starting to think that the Chinese culture favours the bride's family more, save the thoughts for later because it is customary for the bride's family to return gifts for the groom's family too. But first, Steven presented the traditional wedding invitations to myself and my dad. Written in traditional Chinese characters in the ancient Chinese wording and format, the invitations read more like formal letters: The first letter/invitation is addressed to myself (the bride) formally asked for hand in marriage, whereas the second letter/invitation addressed to my dad is a letter requesting for my dad's permission to marry me. The letters also include the date and time of the wedding. Essentially the letters act as a "contract" of sorts. 

Steven presented the wedding invitations to my parents and myself

The Chinese are also a reflective and respectful lot. After all the fuss with presenting the betrothal gifts, it's time to introduce Steve to my ancestors (namely my late-grandma and grandpa). We stood in front of the family altar and prayed to my ancestors for a blissful marriage ahead.


After prayers to my ancestors, my parents adjourned to the dining area to prepare the return gifts, which was packed in one of the wedding baskets. The return gifts consist of:
  • Two boxes of the traditional wedding cakes
  • Part of the bride price money
  • Two bottles of Fanta (I'm not sure why not Coke or Sprite, but Fanta has always been the norm..)
  • The dragon candle
  • Gold ring for the groom (to be presented again during the tea ceremony)
  • A few packets of the peanut and sesame candies presented earlier
  • Oranges 
  • Ginger - to symbolise that our life will reach as far and deep as the ginger roots...
  • Seeds and grain - a symbol of fertility
  • Dried longan 
  • Charcoal ("black gold") - a symbol of prosperity
  • Traditional wedding invitation from bride's parents to groom's family.
  • Red envelopes with cash for son-in-law: birthday money, money to buy property, money to buy shoes
  • Red envelopes with cash for groom's family.
  • A strip of roast pork belly from the betrothal gifts

Return gifts

...and with that, our GDL is complete, and we are officially engaged! Throughout the whole process, I feel that my parents have invested a lot of thought, effort and money to ensure that it's a memorable event. Not only that, each element and steps involved in the GDL are blessings for Steve and myself. Modern beliefs and lifestyle may have make the GDL seem backwards and and irrelevant, but it is centuries of tradition which shows the parents' love and blessing for their children, plus a show of respect and goodwill between two families. Moreover, the somewhat tedious process is also a groom's show of love and commitment towards his bride, a proclamation that the marriage is legitimate, witnessed and blessed by the elders. 



If you've been following my blog for a while, you may know that I love food, and I am getting married soon. In order to get that wedding body, I've committed to doing the Kayla Itsines Bikini Workout. However, the big foodie that I am still cannot resist food and I couldn't help feeling dizzy post-workout.

I came across some tips from the registered dietician at Nuts.com, who shared that after a workout, your body enters recovery mode. Instead of avoiding carbs complete, a blend of carbohydrates and protein is the perfect nutrient mix to refuel tired muscles.

Hurray!! Bring on all the roasted potatoes and rice!

Nuts.com shared that not all carbs are equal, and suggested these healthy lifting snacks that will aid in recovery:

1. Power Trail Mix (17g carbs, 3 g protein)
This delicious power trail mix is crunchy, flavoursome and oh-so-delicious. I love munching on them just as a snack.

2. Edamame (17g carbs, 9g protein)
Edamame is young soybean that has been harvested before the beans had a chance to harden. Commonly served as a snack in Japanese restaurant, edamame is the perfect pick-me-up snack.

3. Raw Sprouted Granola (23g carbs, 8g protein)
A mix of goodies, granola is packed with nutrients needed for a good recovery. I love to mix them through fat-free yoghurt for breakfast.

4. Raw Chocolate Chip Granola Bites (36g carbs, 8g protein)
This is just the perfect snack for chocolate lovers to clear my foodie conscience!

5. Beef Jerky (13g carbs, 11g protein)
Great for munching on in between meals, beef jerky is a good source of protein while you're on-the-move.

This is not a sponsored post.



Weekends are made for enjoying good food. Last weekend I roasted a slab of pork belly and thanks to the oven gods, the roast turned out beautiful - The crackling was golden-brown and crackled with every bite, whilst the meat remained moist and tender. It was a big hit with the mister and all-round happy days with plenty leftover.

What's a good cook to do with leftover pork belly? Double-cooked pork belly in Szechuan-style, that's what. The English name of this recipe is literally translated from the Chinese name: "回锅肉". Derived from the cooking process, "回" means "to return," meaning that the pork should be cooked twice. The usual cooking method is blanching the pork belly before stir-frying, but I personally prefer to cook this dish with roast pork. The crackling takes in the flavours of sauces and spices really well, and makes it the perfect dish to go with a bowl of steamed rice.

There are many variations to this dish, mainly the side ingredients that go with it. I prefer to use spring onion, onion, minced ginger and garlic. Since dish presentation and colour is commonly considered one of the five big factors in Chinese cooking philosophy, capsicum is mostly used together in this dish, which contributes to a vibrant colour that is appetising and delicious.

All the ingredients are then cooked with spicy bean paste (douban jiang) and a dash of dark soy sauce. If you like the numbing peppercorn flavour found in szechuan cuisine, you may add a pinch (just a small pinch!) of powdered or crushed szechuan peppercorn and prepare some chilli oil (homemade or store-bought) to go with it.

It took me only 30 minutes (plus 10 minutes' preparation time) to get this dish ready. The mister loved every bit of it and almost licked the serving bowl dry!

Double-Cooked Pork Belly, Szechuan Style (回锅肉)

500g of pork belly (roasted or blanched), then sliced thinly
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1cm ginger, minced
1/2 brown onion, cut to 1cm in length
1/2 red capsicum, cubed
3 sprigs of spring onion, cut to 3cm in length

1/2 - 1tbsp spicy bean paste
a dash of dark soy sauce
a pinch of szechuan peppercorn, crushed (optional)

Homemade Chilli Oil 
1 red chilli, deseeded and julienne, or
a handful of dried red chilli, deseeded and cut into 3cm pieces
1/8 cup of cooking/ vegetable oil

Prepare the homemade chilli oil by heating the cooking/ vegetable oil on medium heat in a wok. When the wok is hot, gently fry the red chillies until fragrant, or until the oil turns orange/red. Take note to not burn the chillies, otherwise the oil may taste bitter. Pour the oil and chillies into a bowl and let it rest. The longer it rests, the redder the oil will be. In the meantime, prepare the dry ingredients.

Heat 1tsp of cooking oil in the wok. On medium high heat, fry the garlic and ginger for a few minutes or until fragrant. Then, add the red capsicum and half of the spring onions, fry for another 3 minutes or until fragrant.

Add the pork belly to the wok, fry for half a minute. Add the spicy bean paste, fry for a minute. Then, add a dash of dark soy sauce, combine and fry for another minute or two. Place the chilli oil and the rest of the scallion, then fry for a minute. Lastly, turn the heat down to medium, then cover the wok and simmer for another minute, until the spring onions are wilted.

Serve immediately with steamed rice on the side.



Now that the chill is setting in, I'm finding myself reminiscing the sunlight that seems to shine forever and beautiful summer flavours. This brings to mind of a restaurant that some friends and I visited on my birthday back in January.

After visiting our friend's newborn baby in a hospital nearby, we couldn't resist the beautiful warm evening and decided to dine at True South, a stone's throw away from Black Rock beach. The former mechanic's garage has been transformed into a flash bar and dining space.

On that particular evening, the space was buzzing with local folks and beach-goers enjoying the evening with a beer or two, good food and good company. It doesn't hurt that the restaurant overlooks the beautiful coastline.

True South's menu is modern Argentinian food with Italian and Spanish influences. So, expect tapas-style menu and sharing plates. For those seeking for gluten-free and vegetarian options, you will be pleased to know that True South offers many delicious options too, such as the quinoa salad with warm roasted vegetables, pistachios and smoked yoghurt.

We also ordered the Ceviche de Vieiras, which is raw scallops, red onion, lime chilli and sweet corn. It was a super refreshing dish and lots of fresh flavours.

The highlight of the night is no doubt the Carrileras Guisadas, which is braised grass fed angus cheeks, cauliflower cous cous and spiced almonds. Look at that angus cheek in all its gelatinous, melt-in-your-mouth glory! The flavoursome braising and meat juice soaks through the cauliflower cous cous, making it a tummy-warming comfort food, great for all seasons. 

Looking back at these pictures taken at True South makes me want to revisit the restaurant again. While I was looking at their website, I also found out that True South has a great function space upstairs with a private bar and balcony overlooking the beach, perfect for a casual but memorable wedding. I am definitely putting the restaurant on my shortlist of wedding venues to consider.

True South Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato



In Nagaland, North of India, when someone in the community gains a position of wealth, they can choose to hold a celebration festival. During the festival, the whole community, including the poor and disadvantaged, is invited to join in and share the fruits of the person's wealth. The festival is called Feast of Merit and its the philosophy of the restaurant and cafe of the same name.

Located in Richmond, Feast of Merit is an initiative of YGAP (Y-Generation Against Poverty), a charity that supports leadership and entrepreneurship in Australia, India, Cambodia and Africa. Feast of Merit was borne out of the charity's initiative find permanent funding. In fact, 100% of the cafe and restaurant's profit directly supports entrepreneurs in those regions stated above who are significantly improving the lives of people living in poverty.  In support, some of the staff members donate their time volunteering, whilst suppliers such as St Ali, Hopkins River Beef and St David's Dairy donates products.

That was the spiel I read from Feast of Merit's menu while waiting for my girl friends to arrive on Sunday evening. With recent news of non-free-range eggs being labelled as free-range in major supermarkets, I was relieved to know that feast of merit's menu philosophy is food to farm: raw vegetables and grains, with a focus on sustainably sourced meat.

The Middle-Eastern influenced menu is creatively presented with heaps of beautiful flavours that is truly inspiring. There were many highlights from the menu, but I cannot commend the Fried Cauliflower enough.

How can something so simple taste so delicious?! With herbs and spices of course.  The Fried Cauliflower with blackened onions, hung yoghurt, sour cherries, za'tar and dill delivered a punch of herbs and spices immediately, whilst the delicate sweetness from the cauliflower bursts through. It reminded me of the creative ways to prepare a humble vegetable, such as the cauliflower.

Another star of the evening was the Cherry tree slow-cooked lamb joint with harissa. It was food-gasm for us as we cut into the lamb joint: Skin crackling... meat falling off the bone. We were in cloud nine. It was the perfect dish to welcome the colder and shorter days.

We also ordered the BBQ zucchini, served with squash, chermoula, cracked wheat, toasted pine nut and preserved lemon. The dish perfectly balanced out the from the richness of the lamb joint.

The cafe and restaurant also serves up a range of small plates, which are great if you're just after snack to go with your coffee or wine. We tried the falafel, snapper croquettes and the BBQ eggplant dip with grilled flat bread.

Feast of Merit's philosophy of sourcing local produce extends all the way to its boost list, which feature local, biodynamic wines and smaller batch beers. Whilst we were too full to explore the rooftop bar, you can still get the same range of cocktails from the restaurant and cafe area, which brings me to another point: service.

From the moment we walked in, we were greeted by friendly staff who actually went over the top for us. Our waitress was so lovely and didn't mind answering our questions at all. While the maitre d was kind enough to get the bar lady to make a cocktail for me, fashioned out of one of their cocktails. I felt like a painful customer, but they made me feel comfortable. The atmosphere was just so welcoming.

Good friends, good food and good vibes: Feast of Merit is a good place to be.

Feast of Merit:
117 Swan Street, Richmond, Melbourne, VIC
7:30pm - 3pm (Mon), 7:30am - 11:30pm (Tues - Fri), 8:00am - 11:30pm (Sat - Sun)

Feast of Merit Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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