Charlie’s Chopsticks Grand Opening

Charlie's Chopsticks Logo

My little brother got the chance to be a part of the creation of a new fresh take out restaurant! How very exciting. I got the chance to go in and sample everything and share my experience with you.

If you have passed 970 Upper James (right near the Linc) recently, you may have noticed this little shop open up in the sex shop plaza. Leading up to their grand opening, they have been giving out samples of all their menu items for everyone who walked in.

Charlie’s Chopsticks is a custom asian open concept kitchen that caters to those who want to eat well, healthy, and quickly.

Sushi Cut

Charlie’s Chopsticks offers three main items: Rolls (Sushi & Summer), Rice Dishes, and Drinks. When you walk into the store, you’ll immediately see the counter with the main ingredients that you can choose to customize your meal.

Sushi roll charlie's chopsticks

The first thing I had was the sushi roll. I really like how you really just get to choose whatever you want to make your own custom sushi roll just the way you like it. I think you can have a maximum of 5 items, which is a ton to fit inside one roll. I chose to put my favourite items: salmon, crab stick, cucumber, sweet egg, and mango. It was pretty cool to watch them roll my sushi.

sushi cutter

This blew my mind the most. They put the sushi roll into this machine and it cuts it all up for you. WHAT?! So cool. Where do I get one for my house? My carrots would be such even sizes.

Charlie's Chopsticks Sauces

This is the part that gets really interesting. In addition to the soy sauce that you usually get with sushi, you have a range of other sauces you can try too. Their spicy mayo is particularly interesting. It’s not just the Kewpie Mayo (or baby mayo, as we call it in my house) & Sriracha combination that you basically get everywhere else, but this has a great hint of ginger to it as well. I loved it. One of the workers encouraged me to try the wafu sauce as well, which is a Japanese sesame dressing, and I’m glad I did because that tasted great with the fresh sushi. I don’t have anything else to compare the wafu sauce to though, but it was great.

There is also a few secret sauces. The two of my favourite being Honey Peach and my absolute favourite: Maple Ginger. I just could not get enough of that Maple Ginger. Just the right amount of sweetness and savouriness.

Custom Summer Roll Charlie's Chopsticks

The next thing I tried were the Summer rolls that they offered. Patrons of Vietnamese restaurants may know them as fresh rolls. They are basically any ingredient you like, wrapped up in a rice paper wrap. It’s light and yummy. Traditionally, in my home, we add vermicelli into it as well, but this way you get more fun stuff and less filler. I had mine with lettuce, mango, sweet egg, cucumber, avocado, ginger beef, and a little slice of clementine, which the employee strongly suggest. I never would have guessed to put the clementine it, but the sweet burst of flavour was a great enhancement.

Charlie’s Chopsticks even offers traditional Vietnamese nuoc mam, or fish sauce. Please don’t let the name scare you away because it tastes NOTHING like fish. It is a fish sauce mixed with garlic, lemon, and a few other things that I don’t know because I haven’t asked my mother how to make it yet. But seriously, this sauce is a staple in Vietnamese cuisine, and the salty lemony garlicky flavour compliments these rolls like nothing else. I think it’s the greatest compliment when I say these rolls taste just like we make them at home.

I won’t lie. I stood there and tried a few other rolls, a few with strawberries for colour, and of course, fresh bacon. The owners order many of the veggies local and the bacon come straight from Mennonite farmers in Hamilton’s Farmer’s Market.

I have never had bacon this good.

I don’t know what it was about it, but dang. It was just crispy enough with a bit of chew, my perfect texture. The taste was beyond anything else. Damn, I was just about ready to hop off the bacon train, but that piece of bacon in one of my many fresh rolls was just BEYOND.

meat dish

Lastly, I tried the rice dish. You get to choose your meat: chicken, beef, or pork, and then you have the piece of meat basted with whatever flavour you like (I got chicken with maple ginger, and beef with teriyaki). It goes through the oven (though I think they might be replacing that with a grill), and gets served with a bowl of rice and your choice of veggies. Again, I highly recommend trying the fish sauce with this dish.

Charlie’s Chopsticks will be serving bubble tea (with choices of grass jellies, fruit jellies, tapioca) and fresh fruit smoothies.

All in all, while the food is not gourmet or out of the box, it is good, wholesome, fresh food, which is definitely hard to find in today’s fast food industry. Their prices are awesome for a quick lunch, or a light, healthy dinner. The best bit is that they’re open late every night (past midnight on Fridays and Saturdays) and they do delivery as well. Who HASN’T sat there thinking, oh, I could totally do sushi right now, but balked at the time, drive, price of sushi restaurants? And who really wants to put pants on to go buy some crappy day old grocery store sushi?

Charlie’s Chopsticks officially opens TODAY (!) October 18, 2014, at 11 a.m. and the first 88 people in the doors will receive a voucher for 30 free items. Spread the word, #hamont, the new take out is here.

Facebook – Charlie’s Chopsticks

Instagram – @CharliesChopsticks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Burrito Brothers!

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This place has been wildly popular since it opened a few weeks ago in downtown Brantford. I drove all the way to 38 Dalhousie because I cannot turn down a burrito. Downtown Toronto, you can get a good burrito at almost any corner, but they’ve been sparse since I moved further out west to Hamilton. I was ready for my fix. This place isn’t a chain, which is awesome, and every single ingredient is made fresh at the store, especially their amazing sauces.

This is is huge and thick and amazing. I, of course, piled on as many toppings and sauces as possible. This wrap is filled with so much yumminess and definitely fills you up. And, they do the thing that separates a great burrito from a wrap stuffed with edible things, they grill the outside of the burrito. That is the one thing that will determine if I like a burrito or not. The grill slightly crisps the outside and makes sure the whole thing doesn’t it fall apart. It is a necessity!!

They have so many fillings to choose from. Pork, pulled beef, chicken, and sweet potato. Wait, what? Sweet potato? YES, SWEET POTATO. And the sweet potato is SO good. I am a bonafide meat eater, and even I would get a sweet potato burrito. It’s hearty, the flavour is not too sweet, and has just the right amount of spice. The sweet potato is a must try. They also have a bunch of different salsas to choose from: pico de gallo, roasted tomato homestyle salsa, coleslaw, corn and bean. They even make their own queso fresca.

They make their own cheese.

I had to highlight that because that fact in itself is amazing. I didn’t get a chance to take a photo of their sauces but they have crazy things like lime sour cream, special “burrito sauce,” and a range of hot sauces, one of them is actually CRAZY hot, and I am good at eating spicy food.

They also do tacos. They also do fish tacos. This one I made for myself, topping it with the things that I wanted (aka everything). The fish is soft, but the batter is right crispy. They make the fish to order so it is never soggy!

These are the fish tacos proper, which is topped with all the things that they recommend on a fish taco. These ones have coleslaw, onions, cilantro, lime sour cream, and queso fresca. One of them has the suicide hot sauce. Bullets were sweat that day.

They also do bomb nachos! Topped with meat and any other topping you could put on the burritos and tacos. The best part, after they put the cheese on it, they bake it in the oven to get all that wonderful melty cheese.

Melty cheese makes the world go round.

It’s statements like these that make me think I should write a book. I could be the new Deepak Chopra. “Look inside yourself, for you cannot change the world without faith in you. Inside of you, before anything, you should find the melty cheese, and with this power, the world is yours.” I’m a damn natural.

I didn’t get a chance to try their new burrito because it just came out today and only available for the month of October, but it’s a turkey burrito, with cranberry sauce and other things. I really need to go back this month to try it out because it looks so good. For all those who don’t want to cook, you can just bring your family into Burrito Brothers, and they can be your family too. HA.

I filmed my last visit to BB, and it’s part of my new vlog series on youtube! Unfortunately, my channel isn’t under the username Judskii but I’m looking for a way to right that wrong! My BB visit starts at 7:44.

Good night, and sweet burritos to all!

Afterlife

Visiting Vietnam, the place where my entire family, before my generation, is from. Where all my grandparents, their parents, and their parents’ parents were born and buried. Because I’m unable to visit their grave sites very often, we do visit them at least twice when we are in the country.

My mother came from a Catholic family, and my father a Buddhist family, although now he’s since converted. With these two different religions, the kinds of cemeteries that we visit are rather different, in both ritual and aesthetic. Yes, the cemeteries are segregated depending on the religion. Actually, I don’t know if that’s how it is in North America or not because I don’t visit cemeteries here.

I’m sure we’re all familiar with the idea of the Christian/Catholic afterlife. Be good and you go to Heaven. Be bad and you go to Hell. The Catholic side of my family all resided in the rural areas outside of the main city of Hai Phong, so it is only natural that this is where their plots lay, in the primarily catholic village’s cemetery. The road to get there is rocky and really difficult to get to in a large group or with a car. The path is narrow and broken up, with large rocks and deep “pot holes.” It’s hard to deftly maneuver a bicycle there even, as you just hit the rocks and keel over.

The graves themselves are angular, efficient, and have a powerful presence to them. They’re mostly made of ceramic tiles, though some can be brick or marble even. Each has a small vase packed with dirt that you stick incense in. When you arrive at the plot, we say a prayer, individually light incense, and greet the deceased. Depending on the occasion (anniversary of death, etc), songs can be sung and/or the rosary is recited.

Life is a journey.
Death is a return to earth.
The universe is like an inn.
The passing years are like dust.

Regard this phantom world
As a star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp – a phantom – and a dream.

In Buddhist beliefs of the afterlife, after you die, you are either reborn as a different being, be it another human or a creature. This is the belief of reincarnation. However, you can also enter Nirvana, which is the Buddhist equivalent of Heaven. Depending on the sect of Buddhism, Nirvana can mean different things, mostly a synonym of ‘reaching Enlightenment,’ such as achieving a ‘purified, superior mind,’ or ridding oneself of craving, pleasure, or ignorance and therefore ridding oneself of suffering. Anyone who achieves Enlightenment becomes a Buddha and is no longer reincarnated, but instead enters Nirvana.

As you can see, Vietnamese Buddhist cemeteries are quite different from Catholic ones, even though they do have some similarities. Part of my family has a mausoleum-like area where much of my paternal family members are buried. The architectural details of both the graves and larger structures call back to an ancient Oriental aesthetic. They remind me of pictures I’d seen of the Forbidden City of Beijing, except a bit more morbid.

At a Buddhist cemetery, we also burn incense as a way of honouring and communicating with the dead. Instead of praying, however, we sort of have a very surreal, one-sided conversation with our ancestors. I always feel weird doing anything besides greeting them. My grandfather died about 4 months before I was born, so I never met him, and the only other relative that I know of buried there is my uncle, whom I’d never met. I think my father once said that he wanted to be buried here too.

At the entrance of the cemetery, there’s a little shop/shack that you can buy incense and other things. One of these other things are stacks of fake American bills as well as yellow paper with Chinese-like characters on them. We buy these leafs of very thin paper and burn them in the designated pits by the grave site (see above). The idea behind this is that the money must also ‘die,’ aka be burned, and pass onto the dead, so that they can spend it, wherever they are. I’m now realizing that this doesn’t quite fit in with the Buddhist afterlife theory, so maybe we’re not Buddhist? But I think we are. My parents’ English is not perfect. Maybe my father’s side was Taoist, which is also prevalent in that area of the world.

In one sense: afterlife doesn’t exist in terms of a Taoist belief system

It’s in life that we are eternal in Taoism. The afterlife is within life itself. We are of the Tao when living and upon death are the Tao again. Death is the point where your essence is not you, non being… Yet it’s always you as we are always of the Tao, But your expression of your life is within life.

There are also some variations where it’s a belief of Buddhist-Taoist hybrid. I remember when I was younger, I watched a Chinese movie where this woman died, but being unable to move on to the next life, her body got trapped inside an umbrella which was left in the attic of an old house. A very long time later, a man found the umbrella, opened it, and freed her ghost, but she was still unable to move on. Through the story, the man fell in love with her and would buy her beautiful garments, but of course, since she was a ghost, she was unable to wear them. So, he burned them, and then they would appear in her ‘realm,’ for lack of a better word, and then she would be able to wear them. I think this is kind of what happens to the money.

I also visited another (let’s just stick with) Buddhist cemetery on the way to Hue, in the village that my grandparents came from. It was my first time there, and I saw my great-grandparents’ graves. They were finishing up a tomb encasing there, moving an urn to its proper place in my family’s plot. There were groups of grave-tomb-things, each with an urn placed on top. They were mostly in pairs but some with three or four in a row.

It was easier to draw a picture. At the top was the shrine and grave of my ancestors, which were probably 4 or more greats above my grandparents, so it went a long way back. Each row represents a generation, their children, their spouses, etc. I don’t exactly know how it works, but that’s the gist of it. It’s like a macabre family tree. This is closest I’ve ever been to my actual roots. I’ve always been so jealous of the people that can say, “I can trace my family back to this century, or this person.” It gives you a sense of history, that I think, maybe, I might be missing.

At the back of the plot, there was a tiny bump about 2 feet by 1 feet, and maybe a foot high, with a bunch of snack wrappers on it, as well as incense sticking out. I thought that was terribly rude, until I overheard that it was a family member’s child’s grave. That gave me intense chills as I was standing right beside it. It was a two year old boy, playing by the river or a hill, one second looking away, and he fell and hit his head on a rock. He wasn’t old enough to get his own large urn-holder thing, so they buried him at the back of the plot, marked only by the offerings of sweets on a pile of dirt, overgrown with grass.

There are so many unmarked graves here, either unidentified bodies, those from the war, or families were just too poor to be able to afford to build anything–they could only pay for the plot of land. The hour that we spent here was unnerving, and I felt my breathe caught in my chest the entire time; like I was afraid to breathe, much less speak.

Walking to and from the car as especially nerve-wracking because in addition to being an incredibly bumpy and hilly path (as with in the Catholic cemetery), there were unmarked graves everywhere. I was on the edge of tears trying not to step on someone’s final resting place. Aside from being extremely haunting, however, it was elegiacally beautiful. It was a foggy day, fresh from the rain, and the mist hung in the air. The cemetery was in the middle of nowhere and haze stretched far across the fields.

And that is the story of cemeteries I visited in Vietnam. I think this is the last post on Vietnam. The posts following this will return to normal, Canadian life, what I’ve been up to, and of course, food. Hope you enjoyed my tour of Vietnam.