A Year in Review

One year ago today, Donnie and I got off our 17 hour Qantas flight with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I really remember from that first day was feeling super hot (it was -1C/30F the day we left Nashville and 36 C/96.8F the day we arrived in Sydney) and somewhat disoriented. We stayed in a hellacious granny flat for the first week we were here (you can revisit my recount of that lovely experience here) and it honestly took longer than I expected to really settle in to life Down Under. But after a year here, I have found Australia to be a wild, amazing place that I deeply love. I could write loads of serious insights into how different life is and how things have changed, but instead I thought we’d keep it light and fun with a few “Top 5” (or other random number) lists of different things we’ve experienced since February 14, 2016. Enjoy!

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Top 5 Weirdest Things We’ve Learned to Say

1. Chockers (pronounced “Chockahs”): full up, crowded

For example, “Aw mate, I tried to get us a table at Beach Burrito but it was chockers.”

2. How you going?: How are you? (Never answer with actual directions, like “Oh I’m going to the shops.”)

How you going mate?”  “Yeah, good!”

3. She’ll be right: it’s OK

As in, “Are you worried about layoffs at your company?” “Yeah nah, she’ll be right.”

4. Flat out like a lizard drinking: super busy

“How you going mate?” “I’m flat out like a lizard drinking!”

5. Easy as/Sweet as/Aussie as: various uses

“Just ring up Donnie and ask him.” “Easy as!”

“I got two tickets to the rugby match.” “Sweet as!”

“I chucked two snags on the barbecue.” “Ah, Aussie as!”

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Top 7 Trips We’ve Taken

1. Bali, Indonesia

2. Alaska

3. South Pacific Islands

4. San Diego/Nashville

5. The Blue Mountains

6. Brisbane

7. Melbourne

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Top 4 Weirdest Aussie Sports

1. Cricket

2. Aussie Rules Football

3. Rugby

4. Netball

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Top 6 Things We Miss from America

1. Lucy, the greatest little black pup

2. Central AC/heat

3.. Mexican food

4.. Trader Joe’s

5. Chick-Fil-A

6. Amazon (not even asking for Prime, just regular old Amazon)

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Top 6 Foods Australia Does Better Than the US

1. Coffee (Neither of us has ever been a coffee snob, but after getting used to coffee here it’s almost impossible to go back.)

2. Chocolate (specifically Cadbury, though it is still not quite on par with the UK’s Cadbury which is the all-time greatest)

3. Thai

4. Pizza

5. Chips (as in fries. Also chicken salt is the greatest invention.)

6. TimTams (also known as the greatest biscuit ever made)

7. Hot Cross Buns

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Top 2 Scariest Aussie Animals (spoiler alert: neither is a spider or a snake)

1. Magpies (You haven’t experienced true terror until one of these giant birds dive bombs your head and rips your hair from your head.)

2. Cockroaches (As if the giant gross bugs aren’t bad enough- they fly!)

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Top 7 Fave Aussie Experiences

 1. Diving into giant waves over and over and over.

2. Eating fish and chips on the beach.

3. Sausage sizzle.

4. Climbing the Harbour Bridge.

5. Cuddling a koala (which was more like trying not to get clawed to death and less like cuddling.)

6. Seeing a koala in the wild.

7. Watching a movie at the outdoor cinema on the harbour (and an incredible bonus Chinese New Year fireworks show!)

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It’s been a pretty unbelievable year. We are so grateful to our family and friends who make the time to stay in touch and keep up with us, even with the time difference and distance challenges. Cheers to a fabulous year of adventure and a whole new year to come!

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All the Best Food

Finding the “good food” is an important part of any trip. It can be challenging in some areas (Evansville, IN I’m looking at you) or plentiful in others, like Charleston, SC, where I’m pretty sure I could spend months visiting different restaurants and never run out of delectable options. I’d read a lot about Sydney and the surrounding area before we moved here, so I was aware of the vast international presence that exists, both in population and culinary options. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how good the food is here.

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Food here surprised me in both quality and quantity. There are numerous restaurants, even in small areas, and a vast variety of types of food: Thai, Italian, Vietnamese, fish and chip shops, seafood, Chinese, Malaysian, Mexican, and probably dozens more. Except for Mexican food, which is woefully lacking in cheese dip and LP Specials, everything we’ve encountered here has been fresh, authentic, and delicious.

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Thai 

If I have a kryptonite, it is chili jam chicken stirfry with cashews. This dish is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy, with plenty of veggies (although in Australia they spell vegie with one “g”) and perfectly roasted cashews. I’ve ordered this dish with rice, eaten it by itself, and also with wide, flat noodles– it’s incredible all three ways. Apparently I’ve never been able to take a picture without diving in, so here’s a beautiful Pad Thai to fill in.

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The Thai food we’ve had here puts anything I’ve ever tried in Nashville to shame, including my beloved Thai Phoo Ket. Maybe I’m just really hungry, but I would say the Thai food alone is worth the plane ticket to Sydney. And that’s a long flight.

Italian

Australia has a pretty significant Italian influence, which has resulted in two glorious treasures: pizza and coffee.

The pizzas here are very different from American-style pizza. If you’ve been to Europe, especially Italy specifically, you’ve probably encountered the wonder that is the thin, crispy yet chewy, wood-fired pizza with fresh toppings. My favorite is a tie between traditional Margherita (tomato base, super fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil) or ham and pineapple. There are also loads of more “adventurous” style pizzas, including the Tandoori Chicken with mint-yoghurt drizzle (pictured below), prawn and seafood, and interestingly enough, a “Coat of Arms” pizza that features meat from Australia’s coat of arms– emu and kangaroo. Can’t say that I’ll be digging in to that last one anytime soon.

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And about Australian coffee. Let’s just say it lives up to its reputation. I honestly can’t compare the coffee here with Italian coffee (mostly because my idea of coffee, when I spent two weeks in Italy at age 20, consisted of a French Vanilla Bean frappuccino from Starbucks) but it is an entirely different substance than what we consume in America. Everything is espresso-based and treated with care and precision.

I was very skeptical before trying coffee here, especially since I had become somewhat dependent on my morning drip coffee, usually consumed black or with one sweetener. Then I tasted my first flat white, and I haven’t looked back. Coffee is an art in Sydney, and it is taken very seriously, with incredible results.

Chinese

A few weeks ago, Donnie and ferried over to the CBD and went in search of the lauded yum cha I’d read so much about. Yum cha, literally “drink tea,” is a term used to describe the brunch-like meal originated in Cantonese-speaking areas of China. We usually hear this referred to as “dim sum” in the States, which translates to “touch the heart” and is a description of the wide variety of options available on the menu– anyone can find a dish they love.

After a bit of research, I landed on Marigold (which was then confirmed as “one of the best for yum cha” by our Australian dining partner on our cruise) for our first foray into “Chinese Brunch.” We took the train from Circular Quay to Town Hall and walked the 15 or so minutes into the heart of Haymarket, home to Sydney’s Chinatown. We entered a brick building, waited with a small crowd for an elevator, and journeyed to the top 5th floor. The doors opened on a large, bright room packed with diners and a long line of patrons waiting for a table.

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The woman in charge was all business, bustling customers to tables with impressive efficiency. As a result, we were seated within minutes of joining the long queue. Then the fun began!

Servers passed through with carts full of mostly steamed delights. We began accepting dishes and requesting bamboo baskets full of dumplings, buns, and all kinds of treats.

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My favorite item was the silky, piping-hot prawn dumplings, while Donnie was taken with the pork dumplings, and we were both obsessed with these lightly fried noodles dipped in a peanut butter-chocolate sauce. Marigold boasts a busy, loud, and simply fun atmosphere. Tables were packed with friends catching up, families enjoying time out, and the occasional couples. Every dish was fresh and very hot, and the pot of tea I enjoyed was light and fragrant. Yum cha was definitely an experience that I would recommend any visitor to Sydney enjoy, and I would highly recommend Marigold.

Fruit and Veg

Now that we are settled in our apartment, we’ve been cooking at home each night instead of going out to eat. It’s honestly been very enjoyable to explore Aussie grocery stores and have a kitchen at my disposal again, even if my new kitchen is approximately 1/5 the size of my previous kitchen. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the fresh produce at our disposal and the prices are quite reasonable (for most items.) Some fun new things I’ve had to learn include converting recipe measurements from cups to millileters, pounds to kilograms (I almost ordered over 2 pounds of deli turkey on accident!) and figuring out new names for common items (a bell pepper is a capsicum, ketchup is tomato sauce, and cantaloupe is rock melon.) Overall, food here is incredibly fresh and almost everything is free from preservatives.

Also, the major grocery stores deliver your shopping to your door, which is an absolute miracle, especially when you hate grocery shopping as much as I do!