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[Austin] Chinese restaurants for a Chinese palate


Kent Wang
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One sees a lot of Asian clientele at Sea Dragon, Tien Hong and Marco Polo, too, but it doesn't necessarily mean the quality is good. Well, Marco Polo is the best out of those three but it's definitely no Din Ho or T&S. In fact, T&S has a lot of non-Asian clientele.

Bummer about TC Noodle House.

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I went to TC Noodle House for lunch on Thursday. The decor is very Western, open, even with upscale touches like (faux?) granite table tops. Like I said about First Chinese BBQ next door, it's like an upscale Starbucks.

I ordered the shiu mai, which arrived as a quarter-pound piece of shiu mai filling placed in a cup of soup, served with a gigantic you tiao. Extremely bizarre. I don't know where in China this is called a shiu mai. The you tiao was strange as well as it was so thick that the inside dough was still soft and chewy, instead of crisp and airy like a proper you tiao. Nevertheless, both the "shiu mai" and "you tiao" were pretty tasty -- just not what you would expect.

Also had the "teo chow" marinated meat. You choose three meats, so I selected the pork intestines, pig ear and beef tendon. Terrible. First Chinese does the exact same dish but much more competently. The marinade is a basic Sichuan pepper, star anise, soy sauce blend. The beef tendon was really just a large slice of beef that happened to have a few strips of tendon in it.

The pork dumplings were OK.

Each item was $4 or less, which is a pretty good deal.

Overall, you get what you pay for but I think First Chinese BBQ is not much more expensive and is much higher quality.

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Por favor, where exactly on Airport is Chinese Palace? I used to traverse that street every other day while coming in from Lockhart to drop off the kids at MDO, and I've totally glommed by it, apparently. Have pity on an ol' Houston gal just trying to get her authentic Chinese on...... :smile:

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Austin Chronicle is your friend: http://www.austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Gu...ation?oid=47264

Remember that if you don't look Chinese you'll have to ask for the secret traditional menu. Yimay, it's interesting that you had to ask. I've gone with white friends and the hostess immediately starts speaking to me in Chinese and gives us the traditional menu. I love these opportunities to measure how Chinese you are. :raz:

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  • 4 weeks later...

Austin Chronicle's Mick Vann just reviewed Asia Cafe this week. Restaurant website.

I went on Friday and had the twice-cooked pork and zhong dumplings, as recommended by the review.

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The zhong dumplings ($4.50) were terrific with handmade skins and very loose, fluffy filling.

The pork ($7) was really bacon. It was sliced like store-bought bacon and had a smoky taste. Pork belly is certainly used in Chinese cuisine but bacon is not native. Nevertheless the dish was quite tasty with copious amounts of meat.

Based on this single visit alone, I must say that I agree with Vann's review. Quality food, especially considering no one else is doing Sichuan cuisine in Austin. I definitely want to return many more times to try out the rest of the menu.

Most of the employees there were speaking Mandarin, though I don't know the Sichuan dialect well enough to know if they were from Sichuan.

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I went to Asia Market this afternoon and ordered eggplant with garlic sauce, Zhong dumplings, regular pan-fried dumplings and ma-po tofu (the vegetarian version) for myself and family as a to-go order (they threw in a large carton of white rice). We liked everything except the pan-fried dumplings, which my wife hated (they came without sauce and she had to make her own, and even then said they were the "second worst dumplings" she'd ever had, next to another neighborhood restaurant which shall remain nameless to protect the guilty). We were particularly impressed with the eggplant, which was cut into large cubes with vivid purple skin intact, yet the whole, as per Vann, was soft and flavorful. The tofu and Zhong dumplings would be extremely spicy for a palate not used to Szechuan/Sichuan food (even considering a clientele of Texans), though I love the sinus-clearing qualities of the chile and red oil.

If it hadn't been for this post, and the Statesman review, I would have never found this restaurant, although it's only about two miles from my house and is in a strip mall I visit frequently for one thing or another! (It's a funky, downscale mall whose anchor store is a Big Lots, and also includes Sambet's Cajun Deli and a huge gaming/comics emporium called Thor's Hammer.) From the outside it looks like a standard Asian supermarket; the cafe is in the back, and almost all signs are in Chinese only. If this is, as Vann says, "Austin's best and most authentic Chinese restaurant in town," so be it! I look forward to sampling the chicken and spicy wontons on my next visit. Love these kinds of places. (How can you tell it's authentic Chinese? No fortune cookies, for one thing...) :biggrin:

I went on Friday and had the twice-cooked pork and zhong dumplings, as recommended by the review.

gallery_36558_3077_126253.jpg

The zhong dumplings ($4.50) were terrific with handmade skins and very loose, fluffy filling.

The pork ($7) was really bacon. It was sliced like store-bought bacon and had a smoky taste. Pork belly is certainly used in Chinese cuisine but bacon is not native. Nevertheless the dish was quite tasty with copious amounts of meat.

Based on this single visit alone, I must say that I agree with Vann's review. Quality food, especially considering no one else is doing Sichuan cuisine in Austin. I definitely want to return many more times to try out the rest of the menu.

Most of the employees there were speaking Mandarin, though I don't know the Sichuan dialect well enough to know if they were from Sichuan.

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Hmmn... What my husband neglected to mention was my specific objection to Asia Market's pan-fried dumplings: they both smelled and tasted like acrid tobacco. In a word, horrible. At the same time, there was none of the usual good stuff I'd expect in a dumpling; the only positive comment I can make is that the skins were nice and light and the filling was heavy-handed and dense. Unfortunately, they were so godawful that I literally wound up spitting the last one out. If that means I've got an uneducated palate, so be it (though I don't think so)--but this place is definitely not among my favorites.

An odd alien wench

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  • 2 weeks later...
Austin Chronicle's Mick Vann just reviewed Asia Cafe this week. Restaurant website.

I went on Friday and had the twice-cooked pork and zhong dumplings, as recommended by the review.

The pork ($7) was really bacon. It was sliced like store-bought bacon and had a smoky taste. Pork belly is certainly used in Chinese cuisine but bacon is not native. Nevertheless the dish was quite tasty with copious amounts of meat.

Two things:

I've had twice cooked pork at Asia Cafe at least 6-7 times (just had it an hour ago---was there for vann's review meal too) and I've never had a smoky flavor to the pork. Ever. This meat has a tinge of skin left on it as well. at least every time i've had it it has. It is not store bought bacon, or never has been in my experience. Maybe you caught an off night. It is the same meat used in the cooked pork with special garlic sauce, an amazing dish, served cold, the flavor of that pork is pure and definitely not bacon. they blanch a chunk of unsliced belly, then slice it before the second cooking, thus twice cooked.

2) Indeed bacon, or smoked belly is used in Chinese cooking. I've seen it for sale in Austin, and eaten it in many restaurants (not in Austin). It is common in Hunan cooking and that has drifted into Sichuan as well. Sichuan Cuisine in Houston and Grand Sichuan in NYC both serve a smoked belly dish with leeks and it is highly recommended. The smoky meat and the sweetish leeks make a wonderful combination. Fuschia Dunlop has a recipe for something like this in her upcoming cookbook which is devoted to Hunan cuisine (got a copy from AmazonUK where it's been out since summer and worth the effort). She even uses regular bacon in the recipe since it's easier to get than Chinese bacon.

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Señor Sambamaster, I will defer to your analysis on that dish. You are much more experienced with this cuisine than I am.

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The ma po tofu was wonderful, very soft tofu. I wonder if I can buy that tofu to cook at home.

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Sichuan-style duck, though I think this is an inaccurate translation. Dry and crispy, quite the opposite of greasy Peking-style duck.

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Señor Sambamaster, I will defer to your analysis on that dish. You are much more experienced with this cuisine than I am.

Sichuan-style duck, though I think this is an inaccurate translation. Dry and crispy, quite the opposite of greasy Peking-style duck.

This duck is usually referred to as Tea-Smoked Duck. Or Camphor Smoked...

My experience with it at AC has been uneven. Once it was wonderful, another time a tad dry...

And regarding the above post about the fried dumplings...i've never ordered them there and probably never will...they are not part of the sichuan tradition, so, get 'em in another place that excells with this sort of thing...stick with the Zhong dumplings, the spicy wontons...they've never failed to impress and never anything weird tasting about the filling...always wonderful. As I said in my Chowhound post about this joint, stick with the things they do best and you'll get the best Chinese in town, stray toward the ordinary and you'll get ordinary...ambiguous? Read my post on that other site for details...or I can post it here too....long....

I've had some mediocre dishes here for sure...all in the name of science!!!

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  • 4 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

My recent favorite dishes from First Chinese BBQ:

"Special sausage". This is really pork intestine. Their are two preparations, the "crispy" one is deep-fried.

Pork blood and Chinese chives. I don't think anyone else offers this in town.

Edited by Kent Wang (log)
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"Special sausage". This is really pork intestine. Their are two preparations, the "crispy" one is deep-fried.

is it breaded at all? is it served with salt and pepper?

din ho has deep fried pork intestine, but it's been dipped/dredged and then deep fried, not crispy throughout. soft in the center. i'm looking for the deep fried to a crisp, served with salt/pepper. (jiao yian fei tsang)

Edited by yimay (log)
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It is not breaded, the edges are very thin and crisp. No salt and pepper -- I'm not sure what that would be like. Do you mean that you want the whole thing including the center totally crispy? That's definitely not the case at First Chinese and I'm not sure if that would even be possible considering how thick the intestines are. I do think overall, they did a good job frying to the proper doneness.

T&S also has pork intestine stuffed with ground shrimp. It was good when I had it a year ago but I don't remember the details.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yimay and I had dinner at T&S Seafood last night. We picked all the exotic dishes that we can't order with American friends. Photos were taken by yimay which, I must say, are much better than what I'm capable of.

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Fish maw soup with small bits of shrimp, squid and other seafood. Fish maw was OK, not as crispy as I've had elsewhere. Quantity of fish maw was also a little stingy but a good deal considering the price of $6 for four bowls.

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Pork intestine stuffed with ground shrimp on bed of pickled cabbage. I'm not sure why the crust is orange. The texture of the ground shrimp works nicely with the intestine. Pickled cabbage was drizzled with a bit of chili oil but unfortunately cooled the intestine down very quickly. They should have instead served the intestine on a warmed plate.

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Duck feet with black mushroom hot pot. Duck feet is delicious as always, along with the huge pieces of shitake mushrooms. Duck feet was cooked to proper doneness so that the skin could be easily removed. The sauce, unfortunately, was very plain, just soy sauce, sugar (Shanghai-level quantities -- strange considering T&S is Cantonese) and garlic. It could've benefited from (more) fermented black beans, ginger, oyster sauce, cooking wine and other ways to add depth.

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House special bean curd on sizzling plate. A pretty conventional stir fry with seafood, veggies and baby corn (yimay hates those). The tofu, though, was superb. Extremely soft on the inside, fried to a crisp on the outside. It also doesn't have the somewhat foul odor and aftertaste common with store-bought pre-fried tofu. I wish they would cut out out all the other ingredients and just fill the plate with more tofu. This was also quite expensive at $9.

Overall, it was a decent meal, fairly representative of T&S quality -- though dim sum is another matter entirely. Cheap ingredients, stingy quantities of proteins, limp sauces, relatively high prices, expert frying, terrific soft tofu. I used to go to T&S a lot but I think I prefer Asia Cafe, Pao's and maybe even China Palace and First Chinese over it.

Nevertheless, T&S still has one of the best dim sum, second only to Pao's in my book. They also stay open until 1 am. My favorite (non-exotic) dishes are fried soft-shell crab with salt and pepper, walnut shrimp (yes, very untraditional) and double lobster in scallions and garlic (two lobsters for $40, sometimes $30 on special).

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  • 3 months later...

Asia Cafe. 26 May 2007.

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Zhong dumplings. Great as always.

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Pork viscera with spicy sauce. "Viscera" is intestine. Interesting treatment here, the intestines were salted and lightly stir-fried so that they have a bit of crisp texture and a small burst of saltiness.

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Home style sea cucumber. Generous portions of tender sea cucumber with ground pork and bean sprouts in a mildly spicy sauce. Most sea cucumber dishes are very bland and sea cucumber is nearly tasteless so the spicy sauce was a good treatment.

Another terrific meal at Asia Cafe and I still have many more interesting dishes to try!

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  • 1 month later...

Shanghai opened recently. It was started by some of the people that used to work at Marco Polo. The address is 6718 Middle Fiskville, near Highland Mall.

I recently went to their dim sum (photos and report in my eGfoodblog). It has become my new favorite, better than T&S and Pao's. This is surprising as I've always found Marco Polo's dim sum to be mediocre.

My current dim sum rankings:

Shanghai

Pao's Mandarin House

T&S Seafood

Marco Polo

Tien Hong

One thing T&S will always have that others won't: salt and pepper shrimp.

I'd like to try Shanghai for dinner sometime as well.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Their regular menu, aside from dim sum, is just all American dishes, none that I would try. I did order their salt and pepper soft shell crab and found that to be on par with T&S, though T&S uses more coconut oil.

The story that I've heard is that the chef that was in charge of dim sum at Marco Polo started Shanghai, so the non-dim sum items are not his forte. Then again, the Shanghai dim sum is much better than it was at Marco Polo -- maybe he now has better control over his kitchen.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Mick Vann of the Austin Chronicle has reviewed Shanghai:

"Shanghai Restaurant is our new favorite for dim sum in town. If the name sounds familiar, it's because the Yim family helped introduce Austin to dim sum at the original Shanghai (1980-'96, at the corner of Koenig and Guadalupe) and at Marco Polo before they sold it five years ago."

Looks like he found some good non-dim sum items:

"Crabmeat and fish-maw soup ($5.95/$8.95)

Ma-po dofu ($7.95, soft tofu with pork)

Salt-and-pepper scallops ($12.95)"

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  • 3 weeks later...

Yimay and I had dinner at T&S Seafood last night. We picked all the exotic dishes that we can't order with American friends. Photos were taken by yimay which, I must say, are much better than what I'm capable of.

Kent,

I took my husband to T&S for his birthday. It was one of his favorite lunch spots when he worked in the neighborhood. He seemed pleased. I was appalled. Terrible service, I finally had to point to a picture to order because the waitress (college student) couldn't tell me anything about the non-pictured dishes. Then, they brought me something totally different (I think it was a honey walnut shrimp) it was gooey and cool. My other complaint is totally my own weakness, I can't take the permeating fish tank smell.

We both like many of the other places you've recommended, will have to try those on the list we aren't familiar with. Hubby is more into a traditional menu.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Another meal at Shanghai.

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Jalapeno stuffed with shrimp, greens, duck.

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Pork belly.

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Zhong zi. When we made these back in China when I was a child, it was just a small piece of pork in the middle and the rest was rice. I don't know if that's the only traditional way to make it or if it was because my family grew up through the famine times. But traditional or not, this version is certainly more delicious. The best zhong zi I've ever tasted.

Make sure you're sitting down when you see this next photo...

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Xiao long bao, aka Shanghai soup dumpling, the greatest food ever invented (Cook-off and discussion). They only started making these a few weeks ago and they're the only restaurant in Austin to do so. Austin is now truly a world-class city. The quality is so-so, but I'm not going to complain.

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Rice flour pastry with sesame seed filling. Another new item, very tasty and quite traditional. The green color is a little artificial, though.

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    • By liuzhou
      Chinese food must be among the most famous in the world. Yet, at the same time, the most misunderstood.

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      凤尾菇 (fèng wěi gū), literally “Phoenix tail mushroom”, is a more robust, meaty variety which is more suitable for stir frying.
       

       
      Another member of the pleurotus family bears little resemblance to its cousins and even less to an oyster. This is pleurotus eryngii, known variously as king oyster mushroom, king trumpet mushroom or French horn mushroom or, in Chinese 杏鲍菇 (xìng bào gū). It is considerably larger and has little flavour or aroma when raw. When cooked, it develops typical mushroom flavours. This is one for longer cooking in hot pots or stews.
       

       
      One of my favourites, certainly for appearance are the clusters of shimeji mushrooms. Sometimes known in English as “brown beech mushrooms’ and in Chinese as 真姬菇 zhēn jī gū or 玉皇菇 yù huáng gū, these mushrooms should not be eaten raw as they have an unpleasantly bitter taste. This, however, largely disappears when they are cooked. They are used in stir fries and with seafood. Also, they can be used in soups and stews. When cooked alone, shimeji mushrooms can be sautéed whole, including the stem or stalk. There is also a white variety which is sometimes called 白玉 菇 bái yù gū.
       

       

       
      Next up we have the needle mushrooms. Known in Japanese as enoki, these are tiny headed, long stemmed mushrooms which come in two varieties – gold (金針菇 jīn zhēn gū) and silver (银针菇 yín zhēn gū)). They are very delicate, both in appearance and taste, and are usually added to hot pots.
       

       

       
      Then we have these fellows – tea tree mushrooms (茶树菇 chá shù gū). These I like. They take a bit of cooking as the stems are quite tough, so they are mainly used in stews and soups. But their meaty texture and distinct taste is excellent. These are also available dried.
       

       
      Then there are the delightfully named 鸡腿菇 jī tuǐ gū or “chicken leg mushrooms”. These are known in English as "shaggy ink caps". Only the very young, still white mushrooms are eaten, as mature specimens have a tendency to auto-deliquesce very rapidly, turning to black ‘ink’, hence the English name.
       

       
      Not in season now, but while I’m here, let me mention a couple of other mushrooms often found in the supermarkets. First, straw mushrooms (草菇 cǎo gū). Usually only found canned in western countries, they are available here fresh in the summer months. These are another favourite – usually braised with soy sauce – delicious! When out of season, they are also available canned here.
       

       
      Then there are the curiously named Pig Stomach Mushrooms (猪肚菇 zhū dù gū, Infundibulicybe gibba. These are another favourite. They make a lovely mushroom omelette. Also, a summer find.
       

       
      And finally, not a mushroom, but certainly a fungus and available fresh is the wood ear (木耳 mù ěr). It tastes of almost nothing, but is prized in Chinese cuisine for its crunchy texture. More usually sold dried, it is available fresh in the supermarkets now.
       

       
      Please note that where I have given Chinese names, these are the names most commonly around this part of China, but many variations do exist.
       
      Coming up next - the dried varieties available.
    • By liuzhou
      According to the 2010 census, there were officially 1,830,929 ethnic Koreans living in China and recognised as one of China’s 56 ethnic groups. The largest concentration is in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, Jilin Province, in the north-east bordering - guess where – North Korea. They have been there for centuries. The actual number today is widely believed to be higher, with some 4 to 5 thousand recent refugees living there illegally.
       
      Anyway, what I have just taken delivery of is this Korean blood and glutinous rice sausage from Yanbian. I am an inveterate blood sausage fiend and always eager to try new examples from as many places as possible. I'll cook some tomorrow morning for breakfast and report back.
       

       

    • By liuzhou
      Note: This follows on from the Munching with the Miao topic.
       
      The three-hour journey north from Miao territory ended up taking four, as the driver missed a turning and we had to drive on to the next exit and go back. But our hosts waited for us at the expressway exit and lead us up a winding road to our destination - Buyang 10,000 mu tea plantation (布央万亩茶园 bù yāng wàn mǔ chá yuán) The 'mu' is  a Chinese measurement of area equal to 0.07 of a hectare, but the 10,000 figure is just another Chinese way of saying "very large".
       
      We were in Sanjiang Dong Autonomous County, where 57% of the inhabitants are Dong.
       
      The Dong people (also known as the Kam) are noted for their tea, love of glutinous rice and their carpentry and architecture. And their hospitality. They tend to live at the foot of mountains, unlike the Miao who live in the mid-levels.
       
      By the time we arrived, it was lunch time, but first we had to have a sip of the local tea. This lady did the preparation duty.
       

       

       
      This was what we call black tea, but the Chinese more sensibly call 'red tea'. There is something special about drinking tea when you can see the bush it grew on just outside the window!
       
      Then into lunch:
       

       

      Chicken Soup
       

      The ubiquitous Egg and Tomato
       

      Dried fish with soy beans and chilli peppers. Delicious.
       

      Stir fried lotus root
       

      Daikon Radish
       

      Rice Paddy Fish Deep Fried in Camellia Oil - wonderful with a smoky flavour, but they are not smoked.
       

      Out of Focus Corn and mixed vegetable
       

      Fried Beans
       

      Steamed Pumpkin
       

      Chicken
       

      Beef with Bitter Melon
       

      Glutinous (Sticky) Rice
       

      Oranges
       

      The juiciest pomelo ever. The area is known for the quality of its pomelos.
       
      After lunch we headed out to explore the tea plantation.
       

       

       

       

       
      Interspersed with the tea plants are these camellia trees, the seeds of which are used to make the Dong people's preferred cooking oil.
       

       
      As we climbed the terraces we could hear singing and then came across this group of women. They are the tea pickers. It isn't tea picking time, but they came out in their traditional costumes to welcome us with their call and response music. They do often sing when picking. They were clearly enjoying themselves.
       

       
      And here they are:
       
       
      After our serenade we headed off again, this time to the east and the most memorable meal of the trip. Coming soon.
       
       
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