Shanghai – a city of dreams

This post is dedicated to Ana, my travel companion for work trips and creative guru. I’ll miss working with you. 

China holds a special place in my heart, with all the memories when I was living there. So, DISCLAIMER, my recommendations could be completely bias!


Although I spent most of my time in China in Beijing, and I do consider Beijing kind of like my home, I am also very attached to Shanghai.

My take on these two gigantic cities is that Beijing feels slightly more americanized while Shanghai is a bit more european. Usually that can be noticed on the buildings surrounding the cities, the influence on food and brands as well as overall city vibes. That’s my new theory, I travel to feel vibes and usually my top score is based on whether I can live on that city or not. I have already lived in Beijing, some of my happiest days and I would actually live in Shanghai.

One of the largest and most popular cities in mainland China, Shanghai 上海 literally means above water, it being so close to the sea and with the Huangpuu river diving the middle.

I’ve been to Shanghai several times by now. My first time there was back in 2007 where the crowds in Nanjing road reminded me of how I expected everywhere in China to be, crowded. And then a few times later, in the coldest winter, and the suffocating hotness of July and even in the overwhelming period of Chinese New Year.  So here’s my local guide on places where to go, what to eat and some restaurant recommendations.

Where to go

The Bund – probably where all the Shanghai postcard pictures are taken, it’s a good tourist spot to take a memorable picture with the skyscrapers and the Pearl tower in the back

Xin Tian Di – all time favourite area in Shanghai, and I particulalry enjoyed it this year as it was becoming one of the coolest areas in Shanghai. Cool artsy vibes, good food choices and some really interesting shopping options. I would recommend the S. Engine Coffee which was pretty posh and full of fashion bloggers, the Korean make up brand “Too cool for school” and their lunch box foundation kit, Zoo Coffee, dim sum at the world famous Ding Tai fung and spicy food at the Sichuan Maurya 孔雀.

Jing An Temple

Yu Yuan Garden

Nan Jing Road

The ultimate shopping street in Shanghai, well known for centuries.

Shanghai food to try 


Xiao Long Bao dumplings 小笼包

What might seem like a good old boring dumpling, has an interesting trick to eat as it has “soup” inside it. So be careful when eating this, as after dipping it in vinegar, take a small bite on the dumpling and slurp all the soup and then eat the rest of the dumpling.

Honey Lotus Root with Sticky Rice 糯米藕

Beef stir fried He Fen noodles 干炒牛河 my favourite noodles of all time, that also come with a funny story. When living in Beijing, I was the one to “discover” this dish among the Albanian community. To this day, everyone calls them Jona’s noodles when they get together, even though it’s been 9 years that I don’t live there anymore.

Res braised pork 红烧肉

Tea eggs 茶蛋 boiled eggs in fragrant tea, staple street food

Cold red tea 冰红茶 found everywhere in supermarkets, great for hot days


Places where to eat 


Ye Olde Station Restaurant 上海老站餐厅

Sincerely one of the best food we’ve had in Shanghai. As it usually happens with me, the gold spots are found completely randomly. Just like this one.

What to order:

Tofu skins with vegetables

Spicy beef 水煮牛肉 tender pieces of beef in hot spicy numbing sauce

Wild mushroom with bamboo shoots

Turnip flake cake

Black shrimp dumplings  usual dumplings filled with shrimp



Started 2018 at the happiest place on earth! A rare sunny day with a clear blue sky, made the epic castle and the fake little towns look even more surreal. Surprisingly not as crowded as expected, with time for rides at about 40-60 minutes waiting time. I would totally recommend the Photography pack and the option to skip the line. Also, better buy the Minnie ears before the entrance as inside they are exactly the same but ridiculously expensive ( as low at 10 RMB from outside to over 100 RMB inside).


Most people already know by now, but a lot of apps and services are actually banned in China ( including Whatsapp, Facebook, Instagram, Google and more). However, good news if you are traveling and planning to be on roaming, as everything works from a foreign sim. If not, there’s plenty of VPN apps that can help you cross the Great Chinese Firewall.

Whoever is going to China, make the most of it and hopefully I don’t see too many of those pictures, it’s the one place that always makes me nostalgic and wishing I was there!



Fantastic smoothie = Pear + matcha

Smoothies are so versatile. Once you get the hang of it you can pretty much make any smoothie you like. You just need to know the basics of making a drinkable smoothie, how to get the right consistency, how to make it taste good and things like that which are summed up in this article. But always keep in mind that smoothies can be quite personalised 🙂


This smoothie actually goes against all my rules and it’s a very unconventional for my taste.  I have made my share of not-so-good smoothies, especially during the days when I am late for work and forget to add a sweetener or just cram too much greens in the smoothie, I admit it. And I thought this one was just going to be one of those, the ones you drink anyways cause at least they are good for you. But by throwing in whatever I had on hand I just discovered my new favourite smoothie combo: pear and matcha. I guess to me it seemed like a very unconventional pair, until you taste the

Who knew this could be such a great match-a 😀



1 cup coconut milk ( I used homemade)

1 pear

1/2 teaspoon matcha

1/2 teaspoon maca powder

1/3 teaspoon chlorella


Blend all ingredients together in the blender until you get the desired consistency. You may wish to add water or more coconut milk for a thinner version. Enjoy with homemade bliss balls 🙂


Raw Matcha Coconut Ice Cream cake

Let’s talk about matcha. The new craze that has swept over the internet for the past couple of months ( or years). What is Matcha? Matcha is made from the youngest green tea leaves which are then processed into a fine powder.

I for once, have been looking for matcha for at least a couple of years now. Living in Tirana makes it really hard to get your hands on new “exotic” ingredients, such as matcha but also lemongrass or even other Asian ingredients I am obsessed with. I like green tea and I was eager to try matcha. When I went to Shanghai in early 2014, I noticed that the “Matcha craze” was even stronger in China. So, I finally had the chance to try all things matcha. For some reason, it wasn’t an immediate hit with me and I kind of forgot about it for a couple of months.

Last summer, when I returned from Singapore among other stuff, I took with me some matcha powder and have been experimenting all sorts of stuff. Except of the easy Matcha Latte, I have been trying to make matcha mochi cakes, incorporating it in smoothies, and even for these amazing bliss balls. When I came across a recipe on Thrive Market for a Raw Matcha Ice Cream cake, I knew I definitely had to try it. It become more obvious that this was meant to be when I finally found some local raspberries, which were perfect for decorating this cake. And I must say, as my first attempt in making a raw cake it turned out pretty great. I am looking forward to making more raw cakes, considering summer is around the corner ( or it should be, after all the rain has stopped here).

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Coconut milk it’s a favourite ingredient that I like to work with. But it comes with its own “complications”. Even though I usually like to make my coconut milk from scratch, sometimes it’s just easier to buy a couple of cans, and now that I have found organic coconut milk in Tirana (@Rossman), I have become even the more lazier to make it on my own. However, not every can of coconut milk is ever the same, unfortunately. Some are more watery, some are more creamy, and I recently discovered that some can even be more like coconut oil than coconut milk ( still good though). As there is not trick really to find the perfect coconut milk for this recipe, it would usually help to buy a couple of extras. You can never have enough coconut milk at hand, but if you ever do here’s how we can fix it: make some matcha latte, these gorgeous raspberry scones, they go so well in smoothies, even on Piña Colada smoothie bowl, and of course coconut chia pudding.

I was inspired from the post on Thrive Market about vegan desserts, and have made very few alterations to the original recipe.




150g raw cashews

70g pecans

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1 tablespoon honey

pinch of salt


2 cans coconut milk

1 vanilla pod

2-3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons matcha powder

Raspberries for decoration 
White chocolate drizzles (optional) 


First things first, the coconut milk cans should be refrigerated, at least overnight. Then we start with the ingredients for the crust, and pulse them all together in a food processor, until they form a uniform paste like texture. Using your fingers, even out the crust mixture on a 10″ springform cake tin and put it in the freezer. Meanwhile, scoop the top of the coconut milk can into a bowl ( it would help if the bowl and whisk attachment would stay in the freezer for a couple of minutes). Start whipping the coconut cream for a few seconds, adding the rest of the ingredients. Keep mixing and whipping for a few more seconds until everything is well incorporated. Take out the cake tin with the crust and pour over the filling mixture. Return to freezer for a couple of hours. It might depend on your fridge how long it needs to set, as mine was frozen ready just 2-3 hours later. Raspberries make a really pretty decoration for the cake as the green from matcha matches well with their red, but decoration is always up to imagination 🙂 I added some white chocolate drizzles after the first few pieces were gone, as white chocolate and matcha really are a good combo.




Japrak aka Stuffed vine leaves

Do you feel spring comes when the first flowers bloom, when the grass appears greener or when the day becomes longer?

People have different signs when they feel spring has arrived. It may be spring produce, warmer weather or greener scenery, but for me it’s when I can finally make JAPRAK, or stuffed vine leaves. When vine leaves, to be filled with assorted seasonal greens, are in season, it definitely feels like spring to me. That’s when I don’t mind spending hours in the kitchen making the stuffing, then folding leaves and waiting impatiently for them to be done. Kind of therapeutic actually.


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Why I <3 Singapore


Singapore is one of my favourite destinations. I like the multicultural environment which you can see in every part of the island. Probably one of the biggest reasons why I was ( and probably still am) eager to live there for a while. For me cities are not about the buildings that they have, rather than about the feeing that they give when you are there. So here are a couple of reasons why I am so fascinated by this tiny booming country, and what you should do if you are planning a visit:

Must see

Botanical Gardens 

Still the #1 thing to do in Singapore, and it completely deserves the title. It’s an amazing getaway within the city, which gives you the chance to be fascinated by all the amazing tropical plants and distinct flowers. I would suggest getting off at Botanic Gardens MRT station.There is a gift shop mid-way, which also serves as a good place to cool down, after quite a walk. The Orchid Garden is totally worth the $5, take a nice stroll and enjoy the colourful flowers and their stories. Good recommendations for The Halia inside the garden, but I would definitely recommend Relish Burger at the entrance, may it be for a flaky croissant and cafe latte or even for a burger. Gotta love the ambiance.

Must go

China Town

A part of Singapore which I really like, probably as it reminds me of Beijing. Full of different food stands, you have the opportunity to try several authentic Chinese cuisines. I usually go to the 麻辣香锅 , but beware that this dish comes extra spicy and there is a special procedure when you order: grab a bowl, fill it in with different vegetables, meats, tofu or fish and weigh it, then you pay and wait 10-15 minutes for that same bowl to be cooked with lots of spices and chilies. They usually give you a card that vibrates when the food is ready. I would suggest getting 1-2 bowls of rice to combat the spiciness. It goes really well with a cold Milk Bubble Tea from CoCo Tea just opposite the food stand. There are endless options here from fast food stands to restaurants, and most of them are pretty decent. Chinatown is also a good place to get really cool and cheap souvenirs, even Durian candy or Mooncakes. It is also a good place to get your nails done 🙂

Little India 

This part of Singapore between Serangoon Street and Jelan Besar is full of colourful 2-story buildings, many amazing Indian temples and lots of Indian food. It’s a good place to get your eyebrows fixed or even better, get your hands henna tattooed.

Arab Street & Haji Lane 

It’s never ceases to amaze me how Singapore is made of all these different cultures and religions. If you came across several Indian temples in Serangoon, or Chinese ones in Chinatown, it would only be predictable to see a golden Mosque in Arab Street. And if you walk just a bit further, you will find yourself in one of Singapore’s coolest little streets, Haji Lane. Expect the cutest little shops with some very special stuff, some of which might come a little bit pricey.

City Square Mall 

As our hotel was very close to this mall, and also considering the MRT station is basically inside the mall, we did spend quite some time inside here. It has a very nice food court in the upper floors, several restaurants as well, and also a game area. The shops are also quite nice, they have a Charles & Keith here. The 2 ground floors are filled with little food places for breakfast, including a Fairprice (huge supermarket).

Must eat 

There are quite a few things one must not leave Singapore without eating these fruit and food in particular:

Tropical fruit

Every time I go to Singapore, I keep finding out new fruit that I haven’t even seen or heard before. The last time I went there I discovered Selak, the snakeskin fruit. The absolute must for everyone going to Singapore is of course, the king of fruit, Durian. Known for its smelly flesh, you shouldn’t be discouraged by that, because instead when you eat the silky, custard yellow meat of Durian you cannot even smell it but are pleased by the sweetness and richness of this incredible fruit, that you wonder how can this be made from nature. Tian’s favourite however, is Mangosteen, as he likes to call it a “cold” fruit, which apparently it also aids digestion. In the Durian family, it’s also another favourite fruit of mine, Jack fruit, which is a bit less smelly than the Durian, much sweeter and not as soft.Other fruits to try would be: Rambutan, Indian Mango, Papaya, Lychee, Dragon fruit ( or Pitaya). And a good place to try all these would be in Chinatown or Bugis Street market.

Typical Singaporean breakfast 

A typical Singaporean breakfast is usually made of kaya toast, which is basically toasted bread spread with butter and coconut jam ( it is just as good as it sounds) served with barely done runny eggs which should actually be slurped, and kopi, which is local coffee sweetened with condensed milk. We also like to add some dim sum to this, such as 粽子 ( zong zi – sticky rice filled with meat or vegetables, wrapped in bamboo leaf and then steamed). For a bit of a Malaysian hint, order Nasi Lemak, which stands for fried fish with some rice. For me there’s something odd about eating fried fish for breakfast though, I guess I am just not used to it.


A local friend first sent me to this ice cream & desserts place in Toa Payoh on my second trip to Singapore. I absolutely loved their salted Gula Melaka aka salted caramel and had to go again.

Tim Ho Wan 

The first thing you should know about Tim Ho Wan is that it’s the world’s cheapest Michelin star restaurant. But that doesn’t mean that it is less delicious than its more expensive counterparts. Again a courtesy of my local friend who sent us to this gem, where we stuffed our faces with different dim sum and other amazing little treats. Expect great authentic Chinese food which is meant to be shared. We went to the one inside Plaza Singapura but plenty of other locations available.


Must shop


If you decide to go to Orchard Street, one of the main and most famous streets in Singapore, it will be pretty hard to avoid passing through ION. Filled with almost everything you could ask for, they have some pretty nice brands from Forever 21, H&M, Zara, Muji, Accessorize and many more. Their food court is one of the best, and they make the best 干炒牛河, beef flat rice noodles. They have some really nice dessert places, especially one called Subway, which makes the most amazing Singaporean desserts. I die for their Kuid Dadar, which is a Pandan crepe filled with coconut. And then a little bit further is my favourite Bubble tea in the world from Taiwanese Share Tea, Winter Melon tea with bubbles.


The Japanese gem inside Singapore, is a big shopping mall with many different luxury stores. They have a really big and nice bookstore, while I really like the store on the lower ground floor with lots of knick knacks. A floor lower there’s a very Japanese food court, which is worth trying. They also have my favourite ramen place there, Ajisen. On this floor they usually hold different fair kind of events, once it was with food and once with children’s toys.


One of the newest malls in Singapore, you will definitely pass by it if you are going to Sentosa Island.

Charles and Keith

One of the few ( in not the only) Singaporean brand, for mostly shoes and bags, and some other small accessories. I particularly like shopping and checking out Charles and Keith because it makes me feel like I am bringing home a very Singaporean piece with me, that most likely won’t be able to find anywhere else. Not quite so realistic anymore, as they have a very nice online shop and plenty of shops outside of Singapore now ( like in China). But then the style is quite different and very much to my taste. Although there are plenty of their shops everywhere around Singapore, the greatest deals you will get only at the Airport shop. Of course, here there’s a limited selection of designs and sizes, but a very fun shopping experience for adventurous and frugulous types like me.


Flying from Tirana

The best way to get there ( and anywhere in Asia for that matter) is via Turkish Airlines. I have nothing but praise for them. The planes are very good, service impeccable and so many more benefits when you fly from Tirana. Flight schedule being a very important one, as you leave Tirana on an evening flight ( which gives you opportunity to sleep and get adjusted to the time difference easily). You transfer in Istanbul for less than 2 hours and after a red eye you arrive in Singapore in the afternoon. The flight back is also very convenient as you leave Singapore at midnight and arrive in Tirana around 8 in the morning. For those who are working this schedule is beyond amazing, as you get to save 2 days from your leave (yay).




Mango breakfast smoothie

Orange Mango Smoothie 1

I guess everyone has noticed the increasing popularity of smoothies the past few years. A smoothie is always a synonym of a healthier choice ( not to be confused with a milkshake, though). There are endless opportunities to make your smoothies healthy and delicious at the same time. This can be done by adding fresh fruit like bananas, strawberries, mangoes or anything you have on hand and pair them with some good antioxidants and natural food supplements such as spirulina, chlorella, mama powder or even matcha.

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Cauliflower crust pizza (for real)

Final product

Here I am again, in my quest to eat as little processed food as possible without compromising on taste.

Current obsession: cauliflower crust pizza! But who can blame me, when it tastes so good it exceeds all your expectations.

The cauliflower crust pizza craze has been going on for quite a while, and I am bit late catching on. In my defense, I did try to make cauliflower crust a few moths back but it turned out to be a disaster. The crust was completely stuck with the baking paper. This time I handled things differently.

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Toffee Nut Latte Cupcakes

Toffee Nut Latte

For me, winter holidays start when Starbucks launch their annual holiday beverages, especially my favourite, Toffee Nut Latte. I love the combo and would continue drinking it until the stores would run out of the syrup. Now that I live in a country where unfortunately there are no Starbucks in the vicinity, I was able to get a bottle of the Toffee Nut syrup, which I used anytime I drank coffee here, to bring me some holiday spirit. I used to bring it to work, and when I shared with one of my colleagues he said: “This thing is so amazing, it could even make dirt taste delicious”.

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Bliss truffles – the healthy version

Bliss balls 1

As the new year leaps in, January surely becomes a time for new resolutions. New promises, new challenges to our own selves are always part of these resolutions. Some might have started the new year with new objectives which vary from reading more books (one of mine) to hitting the gym more often (again mine), find a new career, become more responsible, save more money and basically anything else we didn’t like about us the past year. Sadly, I have yet to meet someone who has accomplished all their New Year resolutions throughout the whole year. They usually last the first few month(s), very unfortunately.

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