For my meals in Hanoi I mostly relied on this genius and the recommendations of my hostel, which actually pretty much overlapped. My big time favorites: coffee with condensed milk and sticky rice, xoi. Oh boy, I’m just salivating at the thought right now.

Of course I had the must-have Phở, aka beef noodle soup, in the city where it originates from, but I was just too greedy to have the patience to take a decent picture before devouring it.

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Cha ca – Fish sauteed in dill and turmeric and served with rice noodles, peanuts, fresh herbs and fish sauce.
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My first stop in Vietnam: Hanoi. Looking back, it was the best city to start my trip through the blistering hot country, coming from depressingly cold and smoggy Beijing. The people I met travelling in the other direction, from south to north, were constantly complaining about the chilly weather, but by me it was welcomed with open arms.

I only got to spend two full days here, but I enjoyed every second of them. The city, just like the rest of the country, is overflowing with motorbikes, amazing food and nice people. I spent most of my time wandering around and observing the chaos in the small streets: motorbikes coming from every direction, street vendors trying to sell fruit or flowers, and people enjoying their food or coffee on little stools on the side of the road. Loved it!

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Just close your eyes and go.
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Happy Chinese New Year!

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When I visited Shanghai last March, I decided I would also visit the nearby city Suzhou for a day. With its characteristic canals and its stunning surroundings, Suzhou is known as “the Venice of Asia”, but one should realize that this city is growing very fast and there are already 10 million people living there. So it’s by no means a small town and it’s mostly the old part of town where you can find the romantic scenery.

Because that day was a national holiday – aka the worst time to travel to these kinds of places – we decided to skip the tourist spots, like the beautiful pagodas and gardens, but just take a walk next to one of the canals. Even though the weather sucked, it was still very clear that Suzhou is a beautiful and special city.

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I used to be such a picky eater, there used to be a loooong list of ingredients I refused to eat. Even when my interest in food and cooking grew and the list gradually got shorter, the thought of eating certain ingredients or dishes was simply horrifying. Bananas, mushrooms, everything that sounded really exotic or was just simply new to me, I would not eat.

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Then I moved to Beijing and I had to step out of every comfort zone that I had. New friends, different language, different culture, different food and no kitchen. Some things were easier to adjust to than others: food was one of the easier ones, living without a kitchen was definitely not.

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When I went back to the Netherlands last summer I couldn’t wait to try out all the new recipes I had been wanting to make for over a year, and inspired by all these new experiences I found my way back into the kitchen. One day I suddenly realized I had made pasta with mushrooms for dinner with this banana-date cake for dessert. I had finally conquered all of my silly food quirks. I now firmly believe that mushrooms are awesome, bananas are my favorite fruit snack and I will never let a chance go by to try out new flavors and ingredients.

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I started a new teaching job a couple of weeks ago. There’s a lot to say about the Chinese education system and the way students are being educated. The combination of its education system and the one child policy does not really make for an ideal situation.. surprise. The way these kids are growing up is so much different from the way I grew up. It is not uncommon for a kid in primary school to have extra English classes at night after having a normal 7.30 am to 7 pm school day. I had half the amount of classes and I didn’t even have any homework at that time.

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Even though I’m neither a fan of the education system nor of many of the teaching methods, I am a big fan of the kids. They are so sweet, playful, smart and they are studying so hard. Too bad my already crappy immune system can’t handle full days of 4-10 year olds coughing and sneezing in my face. So along with the new job I also got a nonstop cold.

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If I’m really going to pursue this teaching career I should probably build up my immune system a bit better and a vitamin overdose should help me with that. Preferably something with exotic flavors that makes me think I’m in a warm, sunny place, instead of freezing, smoggy Beijing.

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It was a year full of ups and downs, maybe more downs than ups, but it ended a way lot better than it started. This year I had to learn for the first time how to really be alone, and this isn’t always easy (understatement), but I really treasure all the lessons that I’m learning from it and all the new opportunities that it gives me. Having the complete responsibility over my own life is sometimes a bit scary, but when it turns out well and/or I’m learning a lot from it, it gives me such confidence. Next semester I’ll graduate in here Beijing and even though I still don’t know where life will take me afterwards, I’m pretty sure it will turn out fine. But before that happens I’m planning to travel a lot within China and Southeast Asia, stay fit and healthy and work on new Martetatin projects, I can’t wait!

These 10 recipes are my favorite posts from 2013. It’s not a very objective list, as I’ve been missing cooking, Western food and the access to certain ingredients. It was a hard list to make, unfortunately I had to leave out the incredibly moist and flavorful coconut and lemon cake, my new love for carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, the super simple but oh so fragrant scallion noodles,  but I think I ended up with a pretty neat list.

As I’m writing this post I’m already dressed up to party into the new year, including a pretty dress, high heels and new earrings. I wish everybody a Happy New Year, a wonderful 2014 with lots of fun, success and love!

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Even though I’m not really cooking here, I still love strolling over the Beijing markets and discovering new products. In this part of the photo series you can see the colorful summer fruits (pics were taking in October 2012 when it was still pretty warm), vegetables, pickled foods and nuts. Not only the products available are different from back home, also the way they stall them is radically different from what I was used to. That will be even be more clear in next post, in which I will show pictures of the meat department..

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