Culinary Journeys

Cacti, UFOs, Malls: What Does Arizona Have to Offer?

January 5, 2020

The desert state of Arizona known for rattlesnakes, cacti and red mountains, is a vast and magnificent place. From haunted copper mining towns, UFO sightings, 40 acre monumental shopping malls and of course, the Grand Canyon, this state truly has a diversity of attractions. If you do find yourself riding cross-country or vacationing in this Wild West state here are some of the sites you just have to see. And for all the city folk, walking or public transportation to and from places is not an option - take a car unless you have an innate desire to walk well over 40 miles one way.  

Begin your journey in the south of the desert in Tucson, where you travel 35 feet underground into a nuclear bunker and can gaze through a world-renowned telescope into the night sky in the same day.

First stop, the Titan Missile Museum located just outside Tucson in Sahuarita. In this fascinating one hour tour, you’ll gain some insight into the role of nuclear weapons during the cold war and dive 35 feet underground into one of the most secretive and protected areas in the 1970s and 80s.  A 760 ton door underground will open to give you access to the command center where a guide will walk you through a potential nuclear deployment. The last stop before bracing the sun again, you will see where they stored nuclear weapons. There is no longer a nuclear weapon there of course, they do not know where others are stored and do not really appreciate questions of extreme secrecy. 

Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Biosphere

Next, take a drive to the top of a hill to look out into the universe at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Look at the weather forecast before and book your tickets on a night where the sky is clear so you can enjoy the mysterious universe without any cloud obstruction. Home to one of the best telescopes in the world, this observatory has both daily and nightly tours, but why go look into a telescope unless you are looking at the stars?

Next morning, hop in a car and drive a little outside of Tucson to the small town of Oracle, to visit the incredible design, science and architecture of Biosphere 2. This scientific marvel is home to a rainforest, desert, savanna, ocean and several other climate conditions all for the purpose of food, water and energy research. There are several different tours to choose from where you can walk through the biosphere and get an overview of the history and science of the building. You’ll learn about their coral, their drought experiment in the rainforest and can see a desert inside a biosphere in the middle of a desert. This glass dome is a work of genius. Visiting Biosphere 2 is an enlightening experience you will not forget. 

After completing your entertaining drive around Tucson, drive north and make your way to Tempe to visit Arizona State University. In the top 5 largest universities in the US, ASU is definitely quite a sight to see. Although there is currently a lot of construction taking place, with refurbishment of classes, building of dorms and solar panels, this college town is still beautiful. Take a stroll down Palm Tree Walk, a beautiful avenue of palm trees and watch students walk to and from classes, trying not to overstress with the piles of work they have to complete in their oversized backpacks. Once the sun sets and classes are over, take a stroll down Mill Avenue where stunning tree lights illuminate the street to a line of entertaining college bars and restaurants. 

Red Rock (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Red Rock

Once you tire yourself of the college lifestyle, discard the studious life and continue to drive north to the famous cowboy city of Sedona. The breath-taking red rocks stretching for miles, scattered with lush green shrubs and cacti is something out of a movie. Speaking of movies, the magnificent backdrop of Sedona was the hub of many of Hollywood’s Wild West movies with cowboys riding horses through the red rocks, guns strapped in their holsters and lariats ready. Now, with the Wild West movies a thing of the past, Sedona is home to mostly retirees, the rumoured homes of Oprah Winfrey and Madonna and the world’s only blue McDonalds! Besides celebrity houses, this city is home to a rich history and beautiful sights. Take a one to two hour Trolley Tour where your guide will drive you through some valleys and explain some fascinating facts about the city. Did you know the now arid land started as an apple orchard and this beautiful city has had its fair share of UFO sightings? 

After the trolley tour, take a walk in the city center and pop into some shops. There are a lot of interesting trinkets you can find, or just enjoy the window shopping. Once you start getting peckish, stop at Cowboy Club, a local Sedona restaurant serving some unique foods from rattlesnake sausage to cactus fries, well worth the visit. Here you’ll be greeted by staff wearing black cowboy hats, cowboy boots and plastic guns in their holsters. Try sit outside if you can to take in the splendid view of the rocks. Their menu is a mix of local interesting delicacies, and if you are courageous, take a hit at their unusual dishes. Their cactus fries, although it sounds bizarre are delicious - a tangy, salty taste with a sweet prickly pear sauce. They taste a little slimy, but you may find that you like them better than French fries.

The ocean inside Biosphere (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) The ocean inside Biosphere

Post stuffing your face and before leaving, try one of the hiking trails in the city. Climb on top of the rocks to get an exquisite view of the surroundings. Many tourists are attracted to this red rock city as a hiking destination, but be careful, along the route, you may come across some rattlesnakes, scorpions and collared peccary, especially in the summer heat, and you do not want to mess with them. However, they are easy to avoid, and the end result of a rocky red plain is well worth the risk.

Last stop on the Arizona tour, and certainly not least by any means is, of course the Grand Canyon. One of the world’s wonders and amazing rock formations stretching several hundred miles, this bewildering natural beauty seems like a creation of the Gods. Keep driving north a few more hours and you’ll hit the Grand Canyon National Park. Besides walking for hours and seeing the vast valley and rocks, there are several activities to keep you entertained during the day. The Park has a camping ground if tents and sleeping bags are up your alley. For the day, there are boating excursions, helicopter tours, horseback riding tours and much more, all on the north, south, east and west rims. You can hike down the canyon have a little picnic, and then must muster the strength to hike back up all in one day. And if the kids want more out of the visit, they can become a Junior Ranger in the course of your time there. Although there are many activities at the Grand Canyon, pay attention to weather reports and seasons as several areas and activities are closed in the winter. The stunning view of the Canyon is something you will never forget, so plan it for clear sunny skies and don’t forget your glasses, you don’t want to miss this view!


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New Orleans: The Wild Bewitching City

November 21, 2019

New Orleans, the city of Jazz, Mardi Gras and all-night drinking is an illustrious world of it own. The energy, sounds and culture are some of the most vibrant and entertaining ever. Built on a swamp and controlled by French, Spanish then French again, until finally being sold to the U.S, New Orleans has a long history, on which many of the current culture and traditions lie. Enduring different regimes, rules and worst of all Hurricane Katrina, this city has a backbone like no other and persists in the hardest of times. Despite it’s past, New Orleans is vivacious, and if you have never visited this enchanting city, you are missing out on a thrill you will receive nowhere else.

(Photo by: Fatema Sachak)

This city’s deep-rooted culture has so much to offer, and there are countless things to do in the city, especially if you are young and looking for adventure. The famous Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is lined with endless bars all trying to lure in tourists to try their Hand Grenade or Hurricane drinks, sure to make your night wild, but blurry. You can hop easily from one bar to another, and with Louisiana being an open container state, walking around with a drink in your hand completely changes the game. If hunger strikes along the way, stop at Willies Chicken Shack, it may even be the best fast food you have. Try the Cajun chicken strips, wings and red beans and rice, guarantee you’ll love it. And to top it off they have giant alcoholic slushies, over ten different flavors, perfect with some fried chicken. If you are looking to reap up more of the history and culture of voodoo and ghosts, there are several night and day time spooky tours to pique your curiosity. From ghost and vampire tours of the French quarter, cemetery tours and haunted pub crawls, New Orleans has thought of every way to bring your darkest nightmares to life. 

If crazy nights are not your cup of tea, the lively, upbeat sounds of jazz flooding through Frenchman street could be perfect for your evening out. If you are looking for a renowned artist or ban, Snug Harbor is the place for you. Remember you to buy your tickets in advance, and because there is limited space, arrive early so for the best seat. This place is a little calmer and pricier than other bars, but well worth it. However, Frenchman street is a whole strip of jazz playing bars where you can enjoy some fantastic music for just a small cover charge or the cost of buying a beer. In the middle of jazz hoping, you can take a break and find an art market along Frenchman street with unique designs to the city and the people. Some of the art in the market is stunning, and if you don’t have a place in your suitcase for it, no worries they ship. You won’t only find music on Frenchman street, during the day, throughout the city, many extraordinary artists line the sidewalk with their instruments. The best jazz by far, is a lady named Doreen, who plays with a band from 11am to 3pm on Royale street. Her clarinet playing is nothing like you have ever heard, and her raspy voice is such a joy to listen to that its possible to stand and listen to her music for hours.  

(Photo by: Fatema Sachak)

During the day is the best time to take in New Orleans scenery. The French Quarter is a must to visit, walk around, pop into some shops and take in the French and Spanish architecture décor well known to the city. Walk down the Mississippi river to Jackson Square and the famous Café du Monde where you will be sure to come across some interesting street performers. A must stop and try is Café du Monde, open 24/7 everyday of the year except Christmas, this café serving only their legendary beignets and coffee is always packed. It’s astonishing to find a café which sells only a few items open and busy all the time, but once you taste their delicacies, you’ll understand. Across the road from the café, balance out the sweetness of the beignets and try out some tastings at the hot sauce bar. Beware, you tongue may well burn, and for several sauces you will have to sign a waiver before trying. After lighting your mouth on fire, make your way to the World War II Museum and be sure to get a ticket for the documentary Beyond all Boundaries. Make sure to make time for this outstanding museum, it needs at least 3 hours. Keep in mind, it is very informative, but it can be a little overwhelming. Once finished at the museum, after walking around for hours, the next stop is southern Cajun food. Acme, located in the French Quarter is one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, but good restaurants come with long lines, so be prepared. Their char-grilled oysters, drowned in cheese, are to die for. The po boy sandwiches, a signature New Orleans are a flavor explosion in your mouth and something you cannot leave without trying. 

(Photo by: Fatema Sachak)

Another must during your visit is seeing a plantation. Oak Valley Plantation, about an hour drive from New Orleans is stunning, rooted in devastating history of slavery. The oaks at the entrance of the white mansion are breathtaking, something out of a movie, but behind the beauty of a house lies the gruesome brutality of plantation owners. Oak Valley Plantation does a good job of recreating the history of the owners as well making sure that the slaves and their lives are not nameless or forgotten. A visit to this or any plantation in the area is extremely insightful and worth the trip.

New Orleans, the city so deeply rooted in its history, food and culture is a city like no other. Their fiery sauces, crazy drinking and ghost neighborhoods hooks in tourists and allows them to have some of the best days of their lives. 


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RPM Aperitivo Hour – Is It As Good as Drake Made It Look?

October 20, 2019

RPM – the exquisite Italian restaurant which famous rapper Drake reserved so he and his girlfriend could eat alone for a night. One would think, if a celebrity allegedly went there twice during his visit, surely it is outstanding. However, even though the aesthetic is beautiful, I wouldn’t say it is the most rave worthy restaurant in the DC or even the Chinatown area. 

Spritz & Giggles (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Spritz & Giggles

I’ve heard many brilliant reviews about RPM’s Happy Hours or as they call it, Aperitivo Hour, so I was excited to finally try this renowned restaurant. Arriving after work on a Thursday, it seemed typical to see many young professionals de-stressing with a drink after a long week. The ambiance, though charming, does not fit the casual Happy Hour spot. It is more suited for a romantic evening; black décor and walls, dimly lit with a small candle on every table and a bar in the middle. Despite the ill-fitted environment for an after work Aperitivo Hour, their deals seemed pretty nice. 

My friend and I were seated almost immediately despite not having a reservation and were seated towards the end of the room near the patio. We started with the Aperitivo menu, which runs from 3:00 pm – 7:00 pm Monday to Friday. We tried to make the most of what we could before 7:00 pm hit. Their hors d’oeuvres were all $5 each and their cocktails were either $7 or $8. We shared a few items, starting with the grilled oysters, fried mozzarella and cremini mushroom pizzette, which was topped with truffle, so we had to choose that. We figured we would probably still be hungry, so we ordered one item off the main menu, their truffle garlic bread circa 1963 (hoping their bread was not as dated as its name insinuated). You can’t go to happy hour without ordering a drink, so of course we both got the pinkest drink on the menu, the Spritz & Giggles. 

Fried oysters (Photo by: Fatema Sachak) Fried oysters

The food and drinks did not take long to arrive and looked appetizing despite the food portions being a touch smaller than we anticipated. The drinks were a lovely deep pink color topped with dried raspberries and a lemon, very delightful. The oysters looked the most enticing, topped on rock salt and covered in cheese. The cheese tasted fantastic, but it swamped the taste of the oyster and I could barely get a taste or feel of the oyster under that cheese. It was not worth ordering the oysters when I could have simply ordered grilled cheese instead. The fried mozzarella was mediocre, they just did not have any taste. We had to take the rock salt from the bed of oysters to add to the mozzarella balls to give them some flavor. Disappointing. The pizzette was the item I was most looking forward to eating. Mushroom, truffle and cheese are some of my favorite foods, therefore together they should be a magic show. However, the mini pizza fell flat on flavor as well. It needed salt in order to bring out all the other flavors, but unfortunately, though it smelled incredible, it tasted bland. Last to arrive was the warm truffle garlic bread, and luckily this was a winner. The bread was crispy with the perfect mix of truffle and garlic that warmed the body, and probably harshened the breath. Oh well!

Overall, it was a pleasant evening at RPM, and I would definitely recommend the place for an after-work drink, but maybe ask for some salt when you order food. Who knows, maybe you’ll order something different and find the gold that Drake discovered at RPM. 


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