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9aug15. Brussels, Belgium.



Frites with Andalouse sauce!

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1aug15. Brussels, Belgium.

CHICAGO FOOD & DRINK: TOP 6 MUST-EATS! (as told to me by people who live here)

1~ Portillos. A Chicago staple. Started in 1963 as a hot dog stand. You could say it’s grown. They say “Get the hot dog, the Italian Beef, and the chocolate cake!” I tried 2 out of the 3.

wi 264 wi 289                                                                 The Classic Portillo’s Hot Dogwi 287 wi 285 wi 268 wi 269 wi 272 wi 277 wi 282hi 361 hi 362 hi 364 hi 365 hi 366                                                                 The Classic Chocolate Cake

2~ Lou Malnati’s. A Chicago Pizza institution. Many consider it as having the ‘best deep dish’ in the city. It was gooood…

gf 004 fg 036 fg 040 fg 050 fg 0533~ Al’s #1 Italian Beef. That’s their name and Chicagoans agree with it.

jh 217 jh 219 jh 2134~ Garrett’s “Chicago Mix” Popcorn. ONLY in Chicago. A Mix of Caramel and Cheese.

hi 348 hi 338 hi 343 hi 347 hi 346 hi 339 hi 340 hi 3425~ Chicago Diner. This was recommended to me as a brunch spot and a place to eat a bit healthier. Mostly vegan. Delicious and prepared with care. I got the Chilaquiles. Yum.

fd 072 fd 073 fd 0746~ Stan’s Donuts. I got a classic glazed doughnut. Soft and melts in your mouth.

fd 156 fd 148 fd 149 fd 141 fd 143 fd 144 fd 146 fd 135 fd 147 fd 134May/June2015. Chicago, IL.


Pioneering French street artist, graphic designer, comic book author, video director, designer/collaborator of specialty items for Swatch, Adidas, Coke Light, MAC Cosmetics, Warsteiner (and more!) and all-around superhuman, Fafi, can now add ‘restaurateur’ to the list of her epic accomplishments.

I first met her briefly in December 2013 in Miami, Florida, when she was a featured artist for “The Women of Wynwood Walls,” where she contributed a unique floral installation and a trademark Fafinette sporting a fez and high heels.

As I mentioned, it was a brief encounter, but the essence of her humanity shone through. She’s hyper-intelligent with a great sense of humor. She gives off a comfortable sense of being alone in a crowd. At the same time, she can be as subtle as a train wreck. For example, watching her install flowers on a gate in Miami, one naturally conjures up ideas of simplicity, purity, beauty, and innocence. Step away from the piece and one discovers the word “SALOPE” strategically placed within the colorful arrangement. I assumed it meant “pretty flower,” or something to that effect, in French. Fast forward two months later whilst studying French in Vancouver, I learnt that it actually means “SLUT.” Needless to say, the piece took on a whole new meaning after that. Such is art.

Fafi arranging the “E” in “SALOPE” for her saucy floral installation in Miami, Wynwood Walls, 2013.
Fafi. Miami, Wynwood Walls. December 2013.
“SALOPE” in progress. Miami, Wynwood Walls. December 2013.
“Fezzy” Fafinette. Miami, Wynwood Walls. December 2013. Photo: Danny Rock.
Lizzie by Fafi. On display at Gallery Nucleus. Los Angeles, CA. March 2014.
Joanie by Fafi. Gallery Nucleus. Los Angeles, CA. March 2014.
Special Edition Coke Light can designed by Fafi.
Coquette by Fafi for W Paris Hotel Opera. 2014.
Coquette by Fafi. 2014.

In addition to continuing to lead the life of a highly accomplished artist, Fafi alongside one of her dearest friends, Heidi, has opened Miss Banh-Mi, an incredible new Franco-Vietnamese fusion restaurant in the heart of Sentier. For two years, Fafi and Heidi sold their Banh-Mis at events like “We Love Green,” “Calvi on the Rocks,” and “10 Years of Ed Banger” ~ all the while pleasing the populace with delicious Vietnamese sandwiches and gaining enough momentum to eventually open the doors to their dream on January 29, 2015.

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Miss Banh-Mi restaurant front. 27feb15.
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The lunch hour makes it standing room only at the counter.
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The quaint space fills up at lunch time, causing some customers to have to get their Banh-Mis to go, and at other times the demand is so great that they run out of bread before the appointed closing time!
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Fafi at the counter. For me, that’s like how some people would feel if, I don’t know, like, Picasso was making them sandwiches!
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Floral installation by Fafi. This time, minus the “Salope.”
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Fafi and Heidi. Heidi is the chef/brainchild behind the delicious recipes.
The menu on the day we visited. It changes daily with different ‘Specials’ of the day. The Yummy, Yellow, and Bohai are permanent fixtures and I would actually change the names to Yummy, Yummy, Yummy because they are ALL so delicious! But, that would probably be confusing. (menu image from Miss Banh-Mi’s FB page) ~ Like their page to receive daily updates.
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Sandwich chef making a perfect Banh-Mi.
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The Yummy.
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The Yellow.
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The Bohai.
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All lined in a row.
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Fafi talking to a customer.
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Heidi graciously taking time to talk to a friend from Vietnam who was telling her that these are the best banh-mis he’s had in years!
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Fafi, equally gracious.
Me and Fafi.
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The sign.
Restaurant Miss Banh-Mi
5, rue Mandar
Open daily for lunch 12-2pm (except Mondays)
Brunch on the weekends 12-530pm
Open for dinner from March 5th: 6-10pm
Métro : Sentier, Etienne Marcel, Réaumur – Sébastopol
All photos by me except where expressly written.
All opinions are my own.
Research for post:,,, the little
4mar15. Written in Kiev, after a weekend in Paris.


CHEF TOMOAKI KOGA                                                                                                                                                                                                            FOUNDED COM COKA: 19may2011

tr 093Blogger’s note: When I first came to Kobe, Japan for a 6-month stint of work and travel back in September 2011, I was coming with the life experience of having lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for four years (2006-2010.) In addition to living in “Saigon,” I also traveled extensively throughout the country (Tet 2009 ~ rode my Honda motorbike from HCM to Danang, stopping all along the way to sample the cuisine Vietnam has to offer.) I spent significant time in Nha Trang, stayed in off-the-beaten path locales like Tam Coc and Ninh Binh…and also tasted the ‘differences’ from Saigon-style…in Hanoi, the country’s capital. I am not exaggerating when I say that Com Coka’s Vietnamese food is AS GOOD as anything I ever ate in Vietnam! My biggest questions were “How?” and “Why?” This is a Japanese guy. Why isn’t he making sushi?

After leaving Kobe in February 2012, I once again returned in April 2014 for another extended stint, this one lasting nine months. Obviously, one of the main attractions for returning, was to once again, eat some delicious, authentic Vietnamese grub. When did Koga-san first become interested in Vietnamese cooking? Where does his passion stem from? Answers to those questions and more, below:

ipadsaad 092Above: the simple storefront, unpretentiously inviting you to descend the stairs to the intimate basement space.

TOKIDOKI: At what age did you first become interested in cooking?

Tomoaki Koga: 13.

TD: Why?

KOGA: Both of my parents were very busy when I was growing up and my paternal grandmother lived with us. She was relied upon to do most of the cooking for our family and I became interested in first, watching her, and then eventually, helping her.

TD: So, this obviously made you close to your grandmother? A bond.

KOGA: Yes.

ipadk 007 ipsa 013Don’t blame the chef. This bowl of pho is a special request by me. I love vegetarian pho, but not with all of the green and herbs. I prefer tomatoes, carrots, eggplant, onions, and potatoes. Koga-san desperately tries to encourage my green vegetable consumption, but alas, I resist. At least, for this dish. He generally makes a delicious, authentic beef or chicken pho, from his menu.iiu 259Mango che.kobest 213 ipadbud 002If you’ve been to Vietnam, you know “Ba Ba Ba.” Singha is Thai, yes, as he does try to include a variety of Southeast Asia beers for his customers.ipadhip 010

TOKIDOKI: What were some of the dishes you first learnt to make with your grandmother?

KOGA: She made a lot of traditional Fukuoka-style Japanese dishes, so I learnt how to make ‘easy food’ like fried rice and fish with stewed pumpkin and minced pork.

TD: What did your parents think of your cooking initially?

KOGA: They thought “no good,” (laughing) at first!  (laughing) Then they liked it more and more.

TD: So, at what age did you know that you wanted to actually become a chef, to make it your career?

KOGA: 17. I watched the Japanese cooking show, “Iron Chef,” and loved it!

tr 098 tr 068 jhg 016Chicken wings.ipadm 007 ipadth 006Cafe sua da. Iced coffee made with condensed milk. Sweet. Addictive. troop 013 ipadwa 004 ipadtenj 004 tr 056Spareribs.

KOGA: After high school, I went to two years of cooking school in Fukuoka where I studied Chinese, French, Italian, and Japanese cooking. Then I moved to Kyoto and studied and worked in the oldest Italian restaurant in the old capital. I was there for a year and learned a lot, but it was too traditional, lacking spontaneity and creativity. I needed to do more.

TOKIDOKI: So, when did you become interested in Vietnamese cooking?

KOGA: I went on holiday to Osaka while I was still working in Kyoto, and discovered Vietnamese food there. I then went to Vietnam for the first time and studied in Ho Chi Minh City for about two weeks. I learnt to make proper beef pho, the standard dish, right? (smiling) and chicken wings and spring rolls. By the time I was 25, I was the head chef at a Vietnamese restaurant in Tokyo. This is of course, after establishing trust with the owners. At first, they refused to allow a Japanese chef to make Vietnamese food. I had to be a waiter for a year! Eventually, they tested my abilities as a chef, and I won the spot over their regular Vietnamese chef!

jhg 030Another one of my favorite dishes: Fresh shrimp spring rolls with nuoc mam sauce or peanut sauce.

kobest 216 troop 260

Com Coka also offers delicious Banh Mi (Specialty Vietnamese sandwiches)kobest 217 ipadtu 005 pati1 228

Loyal, hardworking staff.pati1 235The way you make coffee in Vietnam.troop 023

Fried noodles.troop 022 troop 028 troop 027 troop 031 ipsa 017 tr 074

TOKIDOKI: So, what made you so passionate about Vietnamese food?

KOGA: I moved to Hanoi, Vietnam to study Vietnamese cooking for a year and a half and I soon realized that the “Vietnamese heart” is similar to the “Japanese heart” and I just fell in love with the people and the culture.

TD: First dish you learnt how to make in Hanoi?

KOGA: Thit xao ca chua (stewed tomato, basil, tofu, and mushrooms)

TD: What’s your favorite dish to make?

KOGA: Banh cuon (steamed spring roll)

TD: Where do you see yourself in five years?

KOGA: I really don’t know. I’m going back to Vietnam next year to research and study more. Every year, Com Coka is building a stronger customer base, so I have to think about staying here or looking for a new location.

Blogger’s note 2: If you happen to visit Kobe and find yourself in the Kitano area, I highly recommend Com Coka as your restaurant to try. Com Coka’s email address and Facebook page information are provided on the business card image that is imbedded in the post up above.

Business hours:

Every day except Wednesday: 1130am-330pm, 530-1030pm

*On Wednesdays, Com Coka is closed, but his staff runs “Iris Cafe” from 12pm-7pm, where they offer tea and homemade Japanese cakes and sweets.

18dec14. Kobe, Japan.