What are Mini-Adventures?

There is something incredibly satisfying about the very first page of a brand-new notebook.

All these blank pages ahead of you waiting to be filled and just this slight hesitation as you bring the pen down, lingering before you press the first drop of ink onto the page, readjusting your hold, considering where to leave that first mark.

January is a bit like this for most people, like the first page of a notebook.

By March, the notebook has lost the initial appeal, no longer new and shiny and waiting to be filled.

Some pages have scribbles, some are missing or are half torn out to accommodate little notes you needed to write while waiting in a coffee shop and someone asked for your number. There is a brownish ring on one page, tea, coffee, both?

It’s now June and the notebook is waiting, half forgotten. At the front, still visible all the plans you had set out for the year. There was the gym membership of course and a schedule for how often you would visit. Your contact details a bit hesitantly filled out, just in case it went missing and someone needed to return it to you. Is phone number and postal address too much? Is it even safe?

Small plans and big dreams all taking equal space amongst these pages, clearly set out, beautifully written and yet you are still waiting for next January until you can bring out a new notebook and start again, until you can bring down a new fresh dot of ink on a page and call it a new beginning.

Thankfully for you, it is January now and every month you so wish it to be and you are starting new. Your pages can be filled with fun “to do” things, today, tomorrow and every day you feel like January. Find how here.

Mini Adventure – Dine and Try Something New (Sunny Town – Auckland Center)

Price –> 10$ – 30$ (for two people)

Excuses – time and money

Time –> 2-4 hours for dinner and commute

I If I could personify March this year, it would look like Day 1 of battling the flu, when you are well enough to keep going with work and commitments but tired and achy enough that you actually want to do neither of those things. There was a lot of self-pity, a fair amount of self-criticism and a general lack of direction.

Such is life!

My mini-adventure this month did not require an intense amount of commitment. The idea was simple. Food is an important aspect of every day life. It is also one of the best ways to explore a new culture. When I travel, sampling a new cuisine and tasting unfamiliar favours takes up a big part of the day. Initially, I planned to visit The Maori Kitchen a new establishment on Queens Wharf in Auckland and one of the few restaurants where visitors can be treated to an authentic Maori cuisine experience, witnessing how hangi is cooked traditionally and been able to see it come out of the ground. Their opening hours did not work in my favour, unfortunately, so I went with option number 2: Spicy Chinese Food. 

All my life I have never been particularly fond of spicy food. I don’t necessarily have a problem eating it and would gladly try it if it was served to me but I simply do not go out of my way to surprise my taste buds with spicy food. My Greek upbringing and cultural background prefers olive oil and oregano over chilli flakes or masala, what can I do! 

With the help of a South-African Indian friend and plans to visit Chengdu later this year, the capital of spicy food in the Chinese region of Shicuan, I have been slowly expanding my tolerance of spicy food. For the most part, it has been a very tasty endeavour.

So, that is how when Plan A fell through, Plan B was ready to come into action.

Sunny Town restaurant is located on Lorne Street in downtown Auckland, affordable, tasty and convinient to the students of AUT and Auckland University.

It has the look and feel of a Japanese eatery, minimalist and relaxing, with long communal tables of blonde wood. The menu follows the same approach, with only 12 items to be found, not including drinks. 

I ordered two dishes both of which were exceptionally tasty and packed with flavour. Dan Dan Noodles and Spicy Wontons. 

This is when it gets interesting. The first bites were pure heaven. I was lost in what I now know was a combination of strong but complementary flavours. White pepper, dried longan pulp and the numbing sensation of genuine Sichuan peppers all circling around in a rich broth with lots of chilli oil. It was hot but not unbearably spicy, with a pleasant numbing feel and a touch of citrus. 

One for you, two for me. One for you, three for me.

I hungrily tried to fit as much as I could in my mouth, when it happened. 

I choked. 

The heat from the spicy broth and combination of spices hit my lungs like a truck full of cement and much to my embarrassment I started to panic. 

“Is there a possibility I have a peanut allergy?”, I asked my sister who tried to stay calm and suggested I drink some water. 

“I can’t breath”. I kept saying it again and again. I tried to cough but made it worse. I run to the bathroom but there was no escaping the fire in my lungs. My eyes were red, I was sweating and half crying and all I could think of was how unusual this reaction felt. 

I want to keep eating you – but this relationship is hurting me!

I hastily drunk as much water as I could find, begged my sister to bring me a lemonade or ask for some yoghurt, tried to distract myself in conversation and felt like I was the only one in a place packed with happy stomachs and happy customers that was overreacting to this chilli situation.

While Sunny Town does not have a drinks menu or yoghurt, it does offer an option of warm or cold soybean milk in Classic, Walnut or Date flavours. 

My saviour had arrived. While I sipped this miraculous elixir that slowly soothed my stomach and relaxed my breath, I reluctantly went back to eating the food. Yes, that is the extent of my dedication to this adventure. 

Thank you Classic Soybean Milk!

No more spicy oil this time, though. For every spoonful of food, the excessive spicy broth was drained and then carefully placed on the side, so I could enjoy my food without crying or choking. 

The rest of the evening was uneventful. 

Now, no good citizen in today’s modern world can go through this and not try to self-diagnose their condition, through the internet. 

So, guess what! A small percentage of the population will experience something called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome“, thought to be caused by a flavour additive called MSG. 

Symptoms vary but can include mild headaches, numbness in the back of the neck, all the way to chest tightness, heart palpitations and burning sensations. 

Just in case this sounds familiar here is a list of other ingredient names that can contain MSG:  

  •  autolyzed yeast extract
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • HVP
  • potassium glutamate
  • sodium caseinate
  • broth
  • natural flavourings
  • flavorings

So, let’s briefly talk about the lessons of this mini-adventure.

  1. Trying a new cuisine can indeed be a mini-lesson of a different style of eating and living. A simple educational google search of the place you are going or the things you will be tasting will bring up a wealth of information. Even if you walk away having learnt only one new spice or one new word to describe a style of cooking, you have learnt something new!
  2. Plan A will not always work out – be spontaneous
  3. Warm soybean milk is tasty and can help in cases of near death. Sorry I ever doubted you! 
  4. Bring a sister or a friend to your mini-adventures. You will create interesting stories to always cherish and remember.
  5. Do not inhale spicy chilli oil. 

Did you get to explore a new cuisine this month? Tell me everything!

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