What a weekend. It was my partner's birthday and his colleague, K, and her boyfriend, took us out for food, outlet shopping and welcomed us into her mum's house for a family dinner.
It started on Friday, with another colleague, M's birthday party at a Jamaican bar, at Golden Glades. It's a humble little sports bar with beers at $4 a bottle. Whaaaaat!
But more importantly it was the friendships we were invited to be part of, over pool, pub food and reggae versions of Adele's hits. Karaoke happens as a centrepiece of the sports bar, unlike asian private room karaoke where you can be unabashed with your own friends. Here, people are not afraid to let themselves go, laugh at themselves and be awesome in front of friends and strangers alike. The energy was quite positive and we didn't even need to get drunk to enjoy ourselves.
Highlight of our Friday evening was getting to watch Joseph Schooling, now Singapore's national treasure, win the gold medal at Rio 2016 Olympics, beating defending champion, Michael Phelps. We were gobsmacked in disbelief when it happened. You'd imagine people cheering in the background when it happened. But nope, not in this bar, not in America, not today. I mean, we're on stateside soil and we did just watch little known Singapore beat a legendary USA champion! We can only imagine the excitement in Singapore. But the music in the bar was playing as usual, people drinking and background noise as usual. So surreal.
And then hilarity ensued.
'Oh but he's American! He's from Austin, Texas. He's AMERICAAAAAAN!!!!' - our little dynamite friend, K, bellowed over the din of the bar. Almost fell off my chair.
NBC is the official live broadcaster of the games here and for some reason, even though Schooling is representing Singapore, his hometown was showing up as Austin, Texas on the official pre-race overlay with the live close up of Schooling at the edge of the pool. Of course that's going to throw people off. Not sure if the overlay is the same across the world but it certainly felt like NBC was being a troll. I mean, yes, he is currently living and studying in Texas because of training and college but his hometown is certainly Singapore. Either way, that little glitch gave way to friendly hilarious banter on staking the gold medal claim. Much lol.
Saturday started with a late brunch of Dim Sum. Our friends knew of this neat little restaurant somewhere in Sunrise and took us there.
Must say we were pretty impressed as most of the plates were very legit. Highlights include the steamed char siew bao, the baked char siew bao, chicken feet stew and the lotus leaf glutinous rice. So little stomach space for so much food! Our friends had very little experience of true blue asian dim sum, so we had a lot of cultural exchanges over brunch. I had a lot of fun tricking K into trying everything, cos she hated sweet tasting meats. I mean, who could resist sweet ol' char siew bao! Lol.
After brunch, the perfect thing was to walk the malls and shop away the food. Or is it the it other way round? Anyway we found ourselves at Sawgrass Mills - one of the biggest outlet malls closer to Fort Lauderdale. It's probably the furthest we've gone since arriving in Miami. The mall is so big, it might as well have it's own postcode. Something like 350 stores. Lots of walking and 4 hours later, we only covered 60% of the mall.
And then it was the glorious dinner at a Japanese Buffet near the mall. Our first buffet since arriving too. Many firsts this weekend. Best part is, it's only $22 for weekend dinners and lunches on week days can be something like $12. What in the world! All kinds of sashimi, oysters, shellfish (crabs!), sushi of every color. And then there's the teppanyaki grill where they make it fresh right before your eyes. There's also the tempura section and hot food section, along with desserts - cakes, pies, ice cream, chocolate fountain, fresh cut fruits... In Singapore, you'd be paying anything upwards of $50 but these days, such variety and quality would set you back at least $100 including all the extras.
And as if the weekend isn't already amazing, we were invited to K's mum's house for a family dinner on Sunday evening. And can I say when I arrived and saw the backyard, I almost cried. There is a freakin lake right at the backdoor of their house. I could sit here for hours and not do anything but sip tea and nibble biscuits like an old lady.
Dinner was just perfect love. K's Mum made tandoori chicken, two types of grilled shrimp and rice tossed with carrots, raisins and all kinds of good stuff we want in a fluffy heart warming centrepiece. It was so therapeutic to watch her cook and get dinner ready while we chatted about renting, living overseas and travelling. Her mum is a well travelled worldly wise lady who has spent time working overseas in big cities such as London. We also got to try eating bananas with rice - a common South American staple, as well as plantains, a variety of bananas that are a lot bigger and sweeter, usually served grilled. Very similar to our batter-deep-fried goreng pisang back in Singapore.
The mood was casual and cordial until she brought dessert to the table and I was almost squealing with excitement. You see, I had been wanting to try guava paste for a while. Been seeing these varied packages made from guava and wondering how to eat them - on their own or paired with something else. Or do folks in Miami use it as a base for cooking or baking? K's Mum was so excited when I mentioned I hadn't tried any guava here in Miami. I knew we were in for a treat when she said, 'oh you have to' and proceeded to bring out not just guava paste cut into nice little chunks, but cheeses and crackers as well as fresh pink guava and mango picked from their trees on their backyard. I tried not to die inside cos I was so excited that we were eating from the produce from their own garden. It's my dream to have my own trees and such to be able to grow and eat from the land we sow.
After dinner, her Mum showed us around the house and told us little stories of each room and what she was planning to do with each area of the house. There will be a pool built into the back of the house in time to come, so that grandkids could come play at grandma's. My mind started conjuring up images of kids climbing the trees and chattering all night by the lake and future little ones playing about by the new pool in the not so distant future. Is this a glimpse of American beauty at it's best? Snapshots of love and kinship, sweet history waiting to be made.
This fremily weekend was jam packed a lot of experiences that money can't buy. So grateful we met our friends and get to partake in their family rituals of food and conversation. I was just telling my partner that as tourists you only get to see and consume pre-packaged experiences that are superficial, like window shopping, looking through stained glass windows. To experience real cultural richness, this is where it begins. When you get invited and be part of the fabric and community of someone who has lived their whole lives in a place so rich like Miami. That's where you get to dig deep, only by invitation, through food and the sharing of plates. It brings people across cultures and diverse upbringing together. And we are all more prospered than we first arrived. It's a privilege and honour to be found amongst such collision of strangers who welcome you into their house with such generosity. We've been invited to walk past those stained-glass windows and partake in a communion that is at once humble and special.
Thank you for the best warm embrace this Sunday evening. Our hearts are so full and overflowing.
Asian Australian food adventures in and out of the kitchen. Around the world. Like an oyster searching for it's pearl.