This past weekend (oops, after procrastination so much, it’s actually now 3 weekends ago), I spent the first two days of my 28th year Birthday Tripping in one of my favorite cities – Washington, D.C.
A few years ago, D.C. was the rendenvous point of Mei and I on our first trip together and alone (it only took 25 years …). The stronghold for the government of a powerful nation was not at all what I had expected, it beholds a kind of quintessential beauty and charm. There is no nerve racking crowds or security at every corner, instead, it’s a city where the air is comfortable and relaxing, along with its endless reservoir of cultural gems, towering monuments, and world famous museums (most of which are of free admission), D.C. makes for a perfect destination for an introverted escape to appreciate and observe.
I *think* this is my fifth time visiting the city and I was still torn between the so many sights and museums to see. With the diverse food scene in D.C., food spotting inevitably made to the list, so did an eye catching Livingsocial deal featuring the mesmerizing photographs of the National Geographic Museum and Panda (insert infinite number of exclamation marks)-spotting at the National Zoo.
Trips are the best excuses for pigging out, the amount of walking and travel induced exhaustion are more than enough to justify the excess calories and after spending money to go somewhere, the budget for food seems minuscule.
After food stalking yelp extensively, I decided to have my first Ethiopian foodventure at Keren Restaurant, semi-near the Dupont circle, I will spare the details since my review on yelp already contains all my raves and rambles.
Chicken Tibsi from Keren’s Restaurant – Spinach, Chickpea, Salad, Chicken with Tomato and Onions
Breakfast Fuul at Keren’s Restaurant – Egg, Tomato, Chickpea, Onion
- Great Ethiopian food and spices are exceedingly flavorful and comforting, the chickpea concoction (in both fuul and tibsi) is especially savory, warm and soothing to the stomach. The tibsi chicken made me willingly devoured the accompanying onions.
- Injera bread (a porous bread) is for both consumption and functions as a utensil.
- Ethiopian people are exceedingly down to earth and hospitable. Instead of laughing at our dumbfounded expression at the lack of utensils, the waitress patiently showed us how to piece the injera bread and eat tibsi with our hands. The chef asked us if we liked the food (as first timers) and said she could conjure up something else if weren’t used to it.
- The atmosphere is pleasant and made even better than the locals greeting each other with hugs.
- The portions are huge. The tibsi is enough to feed two. Very inexpensive, $15 with tip and tax.
The second stop of the foodventure happened in Adam Morgan. Oh god, how can I have missed this place before? A street so lively and so filled with rows and rows of food, Food, and more FOOD. Donburi takes up one of the spots in this foodie heaven, a Japanese restaurant specialized in katsudon (rice topped with variation of condiments and fried pork cutlets) and variations, 14-seater around an spotlessly clean open kitchen. I have to admit, in most restaurants, I avoid sitting at the bar because of the inevitable elbow to elbow, but I thoroughly enjoy such an experience at Japanese ones. A Japanese restaurant with a open kitchen bar is a culinary experience from sight, to smell to taste. Who doesn’t want to watch the mouthwatering dishes to be made and be tantalized into deeper hunger cravings before gobbling down a fantastic meal?
Chef Plating – Seriously when someone is plating all that yummy in front of you, you become desperately 10x more hungry
Mixed Katsudon – Pork cutlets and ebi (shrimp), with pepper, pickled veggie, and half cooked egg
- Full view of the kitchen. The chef prepares the dishes in front of you, mostly plating rice, condiments, proteins and eggs, but including some final searing of unagi pieces and masterful cutting of sake (salmon) slices.
- The fried pork/chicken/shrimp are very lightly battered, afterwards, they are boiled along with onion and sauce, topped with an egg (which comes out half cooked and fluffy).
- Blazing fast service but nevertheless meticulous. The chef never misses a pouring of extra sauce before plating the meat, ever misses a single second searing an incomplete unagi, and never misses laying perfectly the overlapping sake (salmon) pieces on top of the rice.
- Be prepared to get very hungry (even with short wait time) from all the delicacies being tossed up right in front of you.
Being Chinese, loving Panda is probably a genetic predisposition, though I haven’t seen these Little Giant guys in nearly two decades. The National Zoo is the temporary home of Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, along with their new baby, properly named Bao Bao. The popularity of these bamboo eating, sad eyed, chubby cute endangered creatures are overwhelming. It seemed that everyone who went to the Zoo that day (and I’m sure any other day) have their eyes on the Giant Panda House. Many checkpoints are setup from the entrance of the walkway to the panda house to the actual house itself for crowd control. The pandas are the celebrities and we are dangerously anxious panda fans.
… 40 minutes later. PANDA! (Inside-voice screams) Only Tian Tian showed himself in full view that day, though Mei Xiang was sleeping half laying inside the door to her ‘bedroom’ and half outside in a not so lady-like posture, while Bao Bao retired completely to his crib. Tian Tian was handling a giant bamboo masterfully and chewing from it in a half-sitting half-laying position. It really looked like he was savoring the world’s best delicacy and he did little to hide his delights. Needless to say, the obligatory video of Tian Tian being his happy chubby eating self made onto my phone. Oh ya, there are other animals too, who were too easily forgotten in the shadows of Giant Panda.
Tian Tian Bambooing – Totally reminds me of myself earlier that day piggin .. panda-ing out
The most enlightening experience for me on this trip is probably the visit to National Geographic Museum. It goes beyond the primitive pleasure of sighting fuzzy cuteness and tasting delicious food and reaches somewhere deep.
I have always appreciated great photography, Nat Geo’s photography is no doubt one of the most renowned, often capturing animals and people in their most natural state of being, with stunning clarity and at impossible angles and incredible lighting. Naturally, one would think the photographers at Nat Geo get royal treatments to the best photography equipment, ample expedition funding and the best anything-else-that-makes-the-job-easier, maybe even a personal chopper or two at their disposal.
But that’s far from the reality. A glance into the lives of photographers on the big screen told the truth behind the glorious photographs. The expeditions usually involve the most dangerous and abrasive environments: thousands of mosquitoes and flies that revolve themselves around the photographers in the Amazons when they cannot flinch while photographing movements in the trees (though that would be futile as there are enough flying insects to cover their entire hands); hoarding up a dozen snakebites, being dropped off in middle of nowhere alone, and chasing after a herd of buffalo; and quietly and calmly laying down photography equipment just a feet away next to a lioness nursing her cubs .
Wildlife Photography at Risk of … Life
Seeing all these not only made me appreciate their works even more, but I also finally understand unique and ingenious nature of their photographs comes from their passions and dedications to risk and do what normal people cannot do and go where no man has gone before.
And finally, I discovered my self chosen totem animal at the Museum, the Spirit Bear (!!! aka. Kermode Bear): a misplaced polar bear in the jungle, a white black bear, and a genetic rarity produced by two black bears carrying the same recessive gene. There are only 400 Spirit bears left in the www (whole wide world) and they all live in the Great Bear Rainforest in BC. (Yup, one more reason to visit there.) Please support the preservation of these lovely beings!
Spirit Bear – Hail to the Cuteness!
The Nat Geo Museum really throws in a bit of everything in there: the stunningly mesmerizing hall of photographs recounting the history of the Nat Geo, Flying Monsters in 3D where David Attenborough narrates the evolution of flight in dinosaurs and birds, and even a XBox Kinect where you are transformed into a bear (or a tiger) on screen and needs to defend cubs or foods or shelters from other animals, here we practiced and honed our bear slapping skills.
Hall of Photographs in National Geographic Museum
Till next time, DC.