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Category Archives: Canada

Ottawa with the Locals: Discovering Great Foods in the Nation’s Capital

I’m going to admit it: I’m not a foodie-traveler. I believe it’s very important to eat local food when you are in a new place, but I’ve never actually researched them beforehand. I know, shocking! I mean, I research EVERYTHING before I go; from things to do to public transportation to hostel reviews, absolutely nothing is left to chance. That is, except for places to eat (Hah! I can’t even tell you where the logic is in that!). I guess I figured there are a ton of restaurants in any given city, so we can just wing it and walk in as long ad the menu and the prices look good. As a result, I always miss out on the hot/hip spots in the city, only finding out from friends after I got back or when I stumble across an article or a blog post weeks or months later. This is why it’s awesome to go to places where you have friends. I don’t have to do any research since they know all the best places to eat in their city (at least I would hope so!). It’s a win-win situation, really.

That said, I’m lucky enough to have several friends living in Ottawa: Rue, Vanessa, and Kainat among them. These wonderful ladies took me places and showed me a different side of Ottawa I otherwise wouldn’t find out if I were going on my own. Now, I’m going to share these spots with you and hopefully you’ll get a chance to try them when you visit the capital city!

For Breakfast:

French Baker 

119 Murray Street – Ottawa – ON – K1N5M5

Rue puts it eloquently: “Whenever you want to smell Paris, just step into the French Baker and inhale!”. A small store on the side of Byward Market, this bakery sells french-inspired pastries and artisan bread. You don’t even have to step inside, you will catch the delicious whiff of fresh baguette by simply walking past it! For something around $2.80, I had the almond croissant and it was pretty damn delicious (even after I dropped it on the floor)!

La Botega

64 George Street – Byward Market – Ottawa – ON – K1N 5V9

This small food market has everything you ever want from Europe, from cheese, to cookies, straight down to the authentic Italian coffees. We were there for a mid-morning snack, so I didn’t have any of their hot food. However, I’ve been told their $5 sandwiches is very popular, not to mention delicious, lunch item. Also, Kainat and I may or may not have spent a good chunk of my money on Milka chocolate bars.

For Lunch:

Saigon Boy Noodle House 

648 Somerset St. W. – Chinatown –  Ottawa – ON – K1R 5K4
Vietnamese Bun from Saigon Boy

Vietnamese Bun from Saigon Boy

Head to Chinatown and hop into Saigon Boy for a bowl of authentic Vietnamese noodle bowl. It’s definitely not better than Pho Hung in Toronto, but it’s certainly better than other Vietnamese places I’ve tried. The generous portion is also a bonus!

For Afternoon Coffee:

Bridgehead Roastery

130 Anderson St. – Ottawa – ON – K1R 6T7

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Located on the side of the Bridgehead Roastery in Little Italy, this brew bar is a unique experience for coffee-drinkers. For $2.55 you get to choose which coffee beans and which brewing method you want to try, with each method producing a different taste.

The different brewing methods offered: Syphon, Chemex, Clever, and Eva Solo.

The different brewing methods offered: Syphon, Chemex, Clever, and Eva Solo (not necessarily in that order)

When you go with a friend, it’s a good idea to choose exactly the same coffee beans but different brewing method. That way you get to actually taste the difference in tastes.

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Be aware, though, that it is a fully functioning roastery, which means their roasters run during the week. That said, it does get a little bit noisy in there, so it’s probably not the best place to be if you’re looking for a quiet coffee house.

For Happy Hour:

Mambo Nuevo Latino 

77 Clarence St. – Ottawa – ON – K1N 5S7

Who else would take me here other than Kainat, a self-professed lover of all things Spanish and European football-related?

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We each ordered a glass of sangria and shared a plate of patata bravas. The atmosphere plus the food instantly transported me back to greatest place in the world: Barcelona.

The Clocktower Brew Pub

575 Bank St. – Ottawa – ON – K1S 5L7

2 things you need to order: Kolsch Beer and Pub Chips. The beer was light and the chips savory, together they make excellent snacks to munch on while catching up with friends.

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For Dinner:

Homemade french onion soup

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I included this one because I have been wanting to have a bowl of French Onion Soup since I came back from Paris several years ago. So, when Rue asked me what I want to eat (as Vanessa is a chef specializing in European cuisine), I quickly requested she make French Onion Soup. And she delivered! Served steaming hot and topped with a cheese-smothered bread, it was nothing but DELICIOUS. Thank you, Vanessa!

What about you guys? How do you eat when you travel? Do you research your restaurants? Do you go by local recommendations? Or do you wing it like I do?

*Special thanks to my awesome friends: Kainat, Rue, and Vanessa, all of whom played the role of gracious hosts when I was in Ottawa. Natasha – I didn’t forget you; I’ll just have to spend some time with you next time I’m back in Ottawa!

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Ottawa: Where -30°C is Normal

Psst – I updated my Life List page. Check it out and tell me anything else I should add to it. Not that I’m anywhere near close to accomplishing them, but you know, motivation is always good! 

***

It was around the end of May 2005, when most of us finally knew where we were going for our post-secondary studies. We sat at our usual lunch table, at the very last row on the right hand side of the cafeteria, imagining what the next year is going to be like. Rue was the only one out of our group of friends who was going out of town for university. In an attempt to preserve our friendship, we all made a promise to visit her in Ottawa. Years passed, everyone has come and gone to visit Rue, except me. Then, the one time I decided to go, she was on the other side of the world in Kenya doing an internship with UNHabitat (you go, girl!). Finally, in early January, ViaRail had their awesome Escape fare sale and (also  because I was going through a travel withdrawal), I managed to plan a quick weekend trip to Ottawa.

The Obama cookies

The Obama cookies

I’ve been warned that Ottawa’s winter can be extremely-cold and harsh, I just never expect it to materialize when I was there. I figured, Toronto was sitting at -5°C when I left, so Ottawa shouldn’t be that bad. Yea right! I kid you not, the average temperature for that weekend was probably -25°C. It was COLD, people!

The Parliament Hill on a VERY cold winter afternoon

The Parliament Hill on a VERY cold winter afternoon

This didn’t seem to bother the locals though; the sun was shining and Winterlude was in full-swing! I had never seen so many happy people out and about in such a dreary weather.

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Now in its 36th year, the Winterlude has been running annually since 1979 and, quoting verbatim from the official website, “It was created to celebrate Canada’s unique northern climate and culture”. Put plainly, Winterlude provides a joyful distraction to an otherwise dull (not to mention incredibly-freezing) winter in Canada’s capital city.

Lanterns at Confederation Park during Winterlude

Lanterns at Confederation Park during Winterlude

Aside from visiting Rue, I had another pretty strong reason to go to Ottawa – to cross off an item from my Life List, specifically to skate on Rideau Canal Skateway, deemed to be the largest skating rink in the world.

Rideau Canal

Skaters on Rideau Canal

And that’s exactly what we did! Rue and I went down to the canal on Monday morning, rented our skates (plus a sleigh for Rue; “for stability”, she said, yet I ended up pushing it as she sat in it), and we cruised down the canal. The frigid temperature turns out to be a blessing in disguise as the river needed the cold snap to freeze thoroughly in order to be declared safe to skate on.

Rue with her sleigh

Rue with her sleigh

Teehee!

I can’t believe it took me almost 8-years to finally visit, but hey – I did it! Plus, Rue is still in school to finish her degree, so technically speaking, no promise has been broken. Thank you, Rue and Vanessa, for your amazing hospitality and all the delicious food you fed me! Until next time!

Has anyone else been to the Winterlude? Have you skated on the Canal before? If not, would you do it? Skating on the canal, I mean. On another note, have you been on the Via train? It’s awesome! I don’t think I’ve been SO EXCITED to be on a train before!    

When you go: 

– Make sure you dress warmly. A hat and a pair of gloves are essential when you visit Ottawa in the winter.
– Skate rental is $16 for 2 hours (+a $50 security deposit, which will be returned to you when you return your skates). The sleigh is $20, also for 2 hours. Credit cards are accepted.
– There are lots of vendors scattered along the canal, so you can have your Beavertails (or 3!) while you skate.

Firsts

Eh. What do people usually write for their first blog post? This is hard.

I think I can officially declare myself as a travel-addict. I went all around South East Asia in February for 3 weeks. And then I went to Arizona in the beginning of May. After that, I went to Ottawa for a weekend jaunt during Victoria Day long weekend. And now I’m itching to go somewhere again. It’s really no wonder that my father gets very angry every time I tell him I want to go somewhere – “BUT YOU JUST CAME BACK FROM SOMEWHERE!”.

Where would I go, you ask? Ooh, that my friend, is easy enough to answer. I have lots of places that I would love to visit. For now, though, I’m thinking local. A place I can visit for a weekend getaway. A girl can only take off so many days off work, you know.

So, please excuse me while I entertain the fantasies I have in my mind:

Chicago
Who can resist the bean? (By the bean I meant the Cloud Gate sculpture at Millennium Park, in case you were thinking of something else). That plus deep dish pizza, awesome waterfront, and SHOPPING GALORE. I think I’m sold.

OR

Halifax
Atlantic Ocean! Peggy’s Cove! LIGHTHOUSES! If we’re feeling adventurous, maybe we’ll rent a car and drive around the island or something. Whale watching, possibly?

OR

New York City
This just makes me want to visit NYC that much more! Thank you Jay-Z and Alicia Keys! I should also add that watching Gossip Girl for their first 3 seasons had a huge influence on this one. Seriously, though, I think I just really want to visit NYC because it’s been portrayed so glamorously in all the TV shows and movies (like Home Alone, Friends, that music video up there, Gossip Girl, Sex in the City, and the list goes on). And I live in Toronto. We are neighbours with NYC. It still baffles me that I still haven’t visited to this day.

Who’s coming with me?