Canada’s Best Kept Secret: Pelee Island

As part of my Point Pelee road trip this summer, we visited Pelee Island for a day trip. We stayed in Leamington, a town nearby and the “Tomato Capital of Canada”, for a few nights. For us, Leamington was the gateway into Point Pelee National Park and Pelee Island. Both places were the highlights of our road trip and from Leamington, it took about twenty minutes by car to get to the park or ferry dock.

Since we wanted to spend as much time as we could on Pelee Island, we arrived about one hour early to buy the 10am ferry ride, the first ride of the day at Kingsville Ferry Dock. Passengers are only allowed to buy one way ticket to and from the island. We liked the flexibility of this ticketing system. The cost of a one way ticket is $7.50. The duration of the ferry ride to Pelee Island is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.

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Passengers can take their own bikes and cars over to the island. Cars need to be registered and paid a fee ahead of time, in order to ensure a spot on the ferry, especially during the busy season of summer. Information can be found here: https://www.ontarioferries.com/en/home/

Once we arrived at the island, we immediately walked over to Comfortech, the only bicycle rental store on the island. Comfortech is about a few minutes walk from the ferry dock. We rented our bikes all day for $25.

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After studying the map of the island, we decided to bike around the whole island via the Waterfront Trail at our own pace since we had until 7pm to return our bikes. The bike route was approximately 30.3 km and the map estimated that it would take us anywhere between 2.5-4 hours to complete it, not including time spent at each point of interest.

The weather on that day was warm, sunny and breezy: perfect for biking all day!

We saw many gorgeous sights along the way…

We made a lunch stop at a popular bakery  and deli with the best vegetarian breakfast croissants and fresh baked goods on the island…

We stopped once in a while to park our bikes to explore trails…

And sometimes we took a break on beaches…

Our last stop was at Pelee Island Winery, where we did wine tasting and bought some wines that were only produced on the island and not sold at LCBO…

We found one day on Pelee Island too short of a time. Next time, we would like to stay overnight or a few days at one of the cozy inns so we can explore the island at our leisure.

If you enjoy a slow pace of life, and being surrounded by the beauty of nature and friendly locals, then Pelee Island may be your kind of paradise. All in all, Pelee Island is definitely Canada’s best kept secret!

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Ottawa: The Tea Party Cafe

Last Tuesday I was in Ottawa, our nation’s capital, to continue my own celebration of our country’s 150th birthday. I was on the hunt for a cool cafe with character because for me, a visit in a city is not complete without exploring at least one cafe or tea shop! Luckily for me, my cousin Flo, a local of Ottawa, knew just the place to take me!

Located on a quiet street inside the historical ByWard Market, The Tea Party Cafe is a cute cafe with two floors, and its own private patio, perfect for tea sipping and chatting with friends under the sunshine.

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It has a charming yet funky vibe, with Alice in Wonderland drawings all over the walls.

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We arrived around noon, and it was still calm. There were a few people outside in the patio, and only one table was occupied inside.

For vegetarians and vegans, the lunch menu was a delight. There were a variety of healthy options to choose from. I selected Daal Curry with basmati rice while Flo chose Thai Tofu Curry with basmati rice. We decided on the large size ($8.50) for our vegan dishes as opposed to small ($5.50), and were not disappointed with the generous portion size and price. Both dishes were extremely fresh and delicious!

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After our lunch, we ordered the “Cream Tea” for dessert, which included a pot of tea and their famous scone with clotted cream and strawberry jam. The Tea Party Cafe has over 50 types of tea to choose from including a series called “Alice in Wonderland”, which goes nicely with the theme of this cafe. The fun part of selecting our own tea was we could walk up to the tea shelves and open up any jar of tea to smell it, before deciding which one we wanted!

I opted for Japanese Kyoto Cherry Rose while Flo opted for Jasmine with Flowers. Both teas had strong flavours associated with their flowers. We enjoyed the taste of both!

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We got very lucky that we were served scones fresh out of the oven, since they ran out of all ingredients after the Canada Day long weekend, and made a stop that morning to buy the ingredients for the scones. With a dollop of clotted cream and a spread of strawberry jam over the scone, the scone simply melted into our mouths. As claimed by the cafe, they are definitely the best in the city!

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At the end of our meals, we came to the conclusion that The Tea Party Cafe is a nice cozy peaceful place to hang out with your friends, over yummy food, desserts and teas!

Next time I’m back in Ottawa, I would love to try their afternoon tea menu. The best part is that they also offer a vegan version of the afternoon tea! For a vegan afternoon tea, they only need two orders and 48 hours notice.

If you’re ever visiting Ottawa, check out The Tea Party Cafe!

Website: http://www.theteapartycafe.com/ottawacafes/

5 Must-Dos in Seoul

When I wrote my “10 Vancouver Must-Dos List” for summer 2014, some of my readers asked me if I could do one for South Korea when I returned end of August that year. I began it and never finished it. I sincerely apologize. Recently I’ve had quite a few people ask me about what to do and see in South Korea, which prompted me to find this draft and complete it.

Although it has been delayed, I finally managed to compile one and it’s been updated since my last trip to South Korea in Spring 2016. Instead of writing “10 South Korea Must -Dos List” as was the original plan, I will now divide them up by cities. This post will focus on the must-dos in Seoul. 🙂

As someone who loves to travel, see the world and have new experiences, I know that I should really take every opportunity I get to venture off to another place in the world that I’ve never been before. However, there is just something about South Korea that holds a special place in my heart. I have been to this beautiful and dynamic country 5 times in the past 6 years. Every time I return, I love it even more. ❤

There’s just so many fun things to do, see and delicious food to eat in South Korea!

Here are my top 5 things to see and/or do while in Seoul:

1. Shopping in Myeongdong & Dongdaemun

If you’re a shopaholic like me, Seoul is the place to be. It’s a shopper’s paradise! From fashionable clothing, shoes, fancy hair accessories, jewelry, makeup, face masks to gadgets, Seoul has it all. Moreover, depending on your style and taste, you can go from high end to affordable trendy. Two of my favourite places to shop in Seoul is Myeongdong and Dongdaemun.

Myeongdong is considered the shopping mecca in Seoul. It has endless stores from international brand Forever 21, H&M, UNIQLO, to popular Korean brands. If you feel like you’re done with Myeongdong, hop over to Dongdaemun. At Dongdaemun, you can literally shop till you drop, since shops close at 5am! You can slowly shop at every floor of the shopping malls all night, and re-energize with some food in the food court so you can continue shopping into the early morning! I love both Migliore (lower end mall) and Doota (higher end mall) because you can find lots of local designers and brands!

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I loved seeing and eating such colourful cotton candy at Myeongdong! If you’re there, try looking for this street food stand! 🙂

 

2.Insadong

I love this area as you can see Korean culture come to life through its traditional arts. Also, Insadong is filled with lots of delicious Korean food places (including street food, look for “Dragon’s Beard Candy” to try!), tea houses, art galleries and unique shops (check out Ssamziegil Mall). For me, the best part in Insadong is appreciating cultural art such as the Korean ceramics, paintings, antiques, jewelry etc. I always enjoy buying souvenirs here for myself and others as they are not only one of a kind but also handcrafted.

For more information:

http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/enu/ATR/SI_EN_3_1_1_1.jsp?cid=264354

https://theculturetrip.com/asia/south-korea/articles/the-top-10-things-to-do-in-insadong-south-korea/

 

3. Bukchon Hanok Village

If you want to get a feel of living in a traditional Korean village, this is the place to go as you explore it. This village has many alleys and traditional houses known as hanok from the Joseon Dynasty (1392–1897). This is an actual neighbourhood where locals reside so tourists are asked to respect the peace and quiet of its local residents when wandering the alleys and taking photos. There are also tea houses, cafes, restaurants, cultural centres, galleries, museums and guesthouses spread throughout this neighbourhood. This is a wonderful place to learn more about Korean history and culture!

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Bukchon-Hanok-Village_/263#

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/villages/bukchon-hanok-village/

 

4.Gyeongbokgung Palace

A trip to Seoul is not complete without visiting this beautiful Main Royal Palace of the Joseon Dynasty!

For more information:

http://www.royalpalace.go.kr/html/eng/main/main.jsp

http://www.theseoulguide.com/sights/palaces/gyeongbokgung-palace/

 

5. Cheonggyecheon Stream

If you want to find some tranquility in this busy city, this urban park is the perfect place for it! It’s more than 15 feet below street level and surrounded by small waterfalls, greenery and many overhead bridges.

For more information:

http://english.visitseoul.net/attractions/Cheonggyecheon-Stream_/35#

 

*Worth Exploring: Hongdae 

For entertainment and nightlife, check out this vibrant youthful area that never sleeps! It is known for its indie music and urban street art. It is also filled with all night dance clubs (many close at 6am), bars and independent cafes etc. When you come here, there are often live street performances. Aside from the lively nightlife, shopping is great in this area too!

Best Vegan Restaurants in Taipei

Another reason I loved living in Taipei is its diverse and endless options for vegans. From cheap local vegetarian/vegan buffet eateries to expensive westernized Vegan restaurants, the vegan’s eating choices are limitless.

I’ve recently had a request from a reader who will be travelling to Taipei next month for a list of vegetarian and/or vegan restaurants. Her request motivated me to write a blog post on my top 5 favourite vegan restaurants in Taipei, which I’m excited to share with you!!

Whether you live in Taipei, or plan to visit it someday, I hope you find this information useful. 🙂

 

1. 全國健康素食餐飲連鎖

This is my favourite local vegetarian/vegan eatery. When I was studying Mandarin at NTU (National Taiwan University), it was always my go-to lunch place. On my way to school, I would quickly go in and select the many types of vegetarian or vegan dishes and put them into a takeout box, and I usually pair that with a bowl of purple rice or vegan sushi. I love all the dishes here because they are super healthy, fresh and delicious. Unlike other local buffet eateries, I find this place uses the least amount of oil in their cooking. The cost of one meal is determined by weight. The staff will put the selected food on a scale and tell the customer how much it costs. Depending on how much food I put into my takeout box, my meals are usually between $100 NTD ($4 CAD) to $150 ($6 CAD). You just pay $10 NTD (42 cents CAD) for a bowl of rice.

When one is not rushed for time, one can also sit in and enjoy the meal, and the self-serve free soups of the day. There is always one salty soup and one sweet soup, which is considered a dessert. After finishing the meal, one takes its plate and tray with the cutlery outside to clean; there are clear sections for recycle, compost and garbage.

全國健康素食餐飲連鎖 is a vegetarian buffet chain and it’s all across Taipei. My favourite location is at No. 314, Section 2, Fuxing S Rd, Da’an District. The closest MRT station to this location is Technology Building Station (Line 1, Brown colour).

For more info: https://www.facebook.com/chv1996.com.tw/

 

2.Ooh Cha Cha (自然食)

This is a cute little plant-based whole-foods café with a few tables where you can come to get your “North American” vegan fix. It’s very popular so it’s often crowded. I highly recommend the green smoothies and the bowls. My favourite bowl is the gluten-free “Friendly Macro(biotic) Bowl” which has pesticide-free brown rice, organic quinoa and local baby greens served with all the goodies for the guts: sesame tempeh, wakame, ginger kimchi, alfalfa sprouts, purple cabbage with cashew cream.

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During the winter season, they also make a vegan version of red beans and rice (quinoa is used instead) which is simply flavourful and hearty. Almost every time I finished my yoga class, I would go directly to Ooh Cha Cha just to eat this for lunch, along with a green smoothie as part of a combo deal.

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If you have a sweet tooth like me, their raw cakes are to die for!

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For location, hours and more info: http://www.oohchacha.com

 

3.Mianto (米愛多)

This is a cool and modern restaurant tucked away in a residential area near Da’an Park. It specializes in international vegan cuisine. Everything ordered here is delightful and all homemade! I especially enjoy the curries and desserts here.

For location, hours and more info:  http://www.mianto.tw

 

4.Vege Creek (蔬河)

For a quick, affordable and healthy vegan meal, I highly recommend this place. I think it’s a very fun place to eat because you get to choose the ingredients to put into your bowl of noodles. You can also choose the type of noodles from ramen to thin noodles. Once all the ingredients have been selected and paid for, the chef cooks them and will call you when your bowl of noodles are ready, and you can eat it at the communal dining table.

I usually go to the original store which is near Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. It is always busy in the evenings as it is a small space. From experience, most diners don’t linger after a meal. They come solely for the purpose of eating, and then they leave, so the waiting time is decent.

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For location, hours and more info: https://www.facebook.com/VEGECREEK/

 

5.The Green Room

I have never tasted such delicious Thai food in my life (and I’ve been to Thailand!) and the best part is that all the food is vegan! This restaurant is a must try culinary experience if you’re in Taipei! The Green Room uses local products for its food, so I love how it supports local farmers and being environmentally friendly. The atmosphere is very warm and inviting.

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My absolute favourites are the Thai Crispy Spring Rolls, all the different types of curries served with Turmeric Thai Rice and Ginger Soy Tea.

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For location, hours and more info: http://thegreenroomtaipei.com

Lunar New Year in Taipei & Next Adventure

As promised, I’ll be sharing with you how I celebrated Lunar New Year in Taipei. Today is the second day of Lunar New Year! 🙂

When I arrived to Taipei end of summer last year, I was excited that I’ll be spending Lunar New Year here, and was looking forward to it, because I thought it would be more festive than in Canada. To my shock, it is not as festive as I imagined it to be; even my local friends admit that Taipei is the least festive city during Lunar New Year. The main reason is that most of the people who usually crowd the streets and MRT stations are actually transplants. They live in Taipei because of work and when it’s Lunar New Year, they return to their hometown to celebrate it. I learned that over 50% of whom I assumed were local Taipei residents return to their hometowns. Therefore, the past few days have been eerily quiet and empty, since most stores close too. I’ve actually been enjoying the peace and quiet the past few days, with less people on both the streets and subway.

Nonetheless, there are some little festivities around the city to remind us that it’s still Lunar New Year, such as red decorations and Lunar New Year sales in stores that are opened during this holiday.

Below, I’ll share a few photos with you so you can get a feel of Lunar New Year festivities:

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Of course Taipei 101 Mall is decorated and it’s opened to tourists. 🙂

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Inside of Taipei 101 Mall

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Another department store with beautiful red decoration at front door

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I thought it was cool that even Krispy Kreme celebrates Lunar New Year and sells Lunar New Year themed donuts!

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Top row, sells a few kinds of Lunar New Year donuts, the monkey one is so cute! 🙂

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Of course lots of stores sell Lunar New Year decorations…red means good luck! 🙂

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Some typical New Year snacks Taiwanese eat as introduced to us by my Mandarin professor. 

 

I was very happy that my landlords invited me to go grocery shopping with them and experience the hecticness of buying food to prepare the two most important meals/dinners of Lunar New Year: New Year’s Eve & First Day. It was most crowded with people at the grocery stores and the markets. That was where I felt the most festive atmosphere! 🙂

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This is Hua Gao (literal translation: Flower High); it’s a very yummy sweet cake that is eaten during this time because it means in whatever endeavour you pursue (e.g. work place) you will be promoted to a higher level. 

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Busy Nanmen Market on New Year’s Eve

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I was told by many Taiwanese friends that I won’t be able to see a lion dance in Taipei, but they were wrong! On the first day of Lunar New Year, I was woken up by loud drum sounds so I quickly went to see where the noise came from. I was really thrilled to see the lion dance from afar, on my apartment balcony. This lion dance went on for about 20 minutes in front of the department store. Very festive indeed!!

Eating homemade New Year’s Eve and First Day of New Year dinners with my warm-hearted lovely landlords and their family was a very wonderful experience! I learned it takes them the whole day to prepare such a feast!

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New Year’s Eve Dinner

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First Day of Lunar New Year Dinner

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I found it very interesting my landlords decorated even a refrigerator door with red Spring scrolls. They told me that wherever there are doors, the red Spring scrolls must be put on. The Chinese character on the fridge door means “full”. The word full signifies that all year long one is never hungry, and have enough to eat. 🙂

Living in Taipei has been beyond what I expected…I’m filled with happiness every day and feel so blessed to have met so many warm-hearted and caring souls, and exposed to so many different exciting everyday adventures!!

I am now off on my next adventure, to New Zealand for my 200 hours yoga training and some travelling down under and some other countries for the next few months.

I will not bring my laptop while travelling, but when inspired by what I see and experience, will try my best to share with you via instagram. On the right hand side of my blog, I’ve added an instagram link (violet_everydaygirl), so feel free to click on it whenever you want to see where I am in the world! 🙂

Like this sweet dumpling soup that my landlords are sending me off with (they say it’s for good luck this year and will encourage me to be the best person I can be as only sweet thoughts and words will come from me), I wish you all a very sweet Year of the Monkey, and wherever you are or go, may only sweet and good things follow! ❤

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With love and gratitude,

Violet 

 

 

My Top 10 Must-Eats in New Orleans

I believe one of the greatest pleasures in travelling is trying and eating foods from places I’m visiting. In my opinion, New Orleans is definitely a foodie’s paradise. Its rich history and diversity of cultures makes its food unique and mouth-watering whether it’s Cajun, Creole, Southern or a mix with other ethnic cuisines.

Before going to New Orleans (NOLA), I asked friends and family members who have been to New Orleans what are the must-dos there. Everyone’s response was this: “You have to EAT A LOT while there.” By the time I finished talking to everyone, I had a long list of food I had to try in NOLA.

Below, I would like to share with you my favourite top 10 picks of New Orleans food that I tried this July. You cannot leave the city without eating them at least once! 😉

1.Red Beans and Rice

I’ve always loved eating red beans and rice and when I was in NOLA, where it was invented, I could not stop myself from gorging on it almost every single day! From fast food shops to pubs to fancy restaurants, I ordered it off the menu and no matter how each place made it, whether eaten on its own or paired with some kind of meat, I loved it!

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Red Beans and Rice with Sausage

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Mike Anderson’s Seafood at Riverwalk Outlet (food court): Red Beans and Rice

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Muriel’s Jackson Square: Wood Grilled Pork Chop with New Orleans Red Beans and Louisiana Popcorn Rice 

 

2. Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Because I’m allergic to certain seafood, I could not try the seafood gumbo. Instead, I ate the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo. Since I really like sausages especially chorizo, I ate this flavourful dish a few times. This stew tastes amazing especially with white rice in it. 🙂

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Eaten at Oak Alley Plantation Restaurant

 

3. Jambalaya

This popular Louisiana Creole rice, meat and vegetable dish is also a must-eat; it’s simply delicious!!

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I made this with my friend F.Y. at Crescent City Cooks, a really good culinary school! If you have time, I highly recommend signing up for a hands-on culinary class here where you not only learn about making several dishes but also get to eat them at the end of class. It was so fun!

 

4. Muffuletta

Trying this ginormous classic sandwich is a must, and you have to get it from its’ original place, Central Grocery Co. on 923 Decatur Street.

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This round type of Sesame bread is layered with Italian salami, olive salad, Italian ham and freshly minced garlic. At this deli, they cut the big round bread into 4 quarters, and sell them either in half or whole. A whole muffuletta can feed 4 people.

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I bought half of the muffuletta and ate one quarter for lunch, and then saved the other quarter for dinner. Each quarter is huge!

 

5. Bread Pudding

New Orleans is known for this scrumptious dessert!

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6. Pecan Pie

When I think of New Orleans, I also think of pecan pie and honestly, almost every local I spoke to while here knows how to make it or has someone in their family who knows how. Pecan pies are so delicious!!

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These mini pecan pies were made at Crescent City Cooks too. 🙂

 

7. Pralines

If you have a serious sweet tooth, these sugary and creamy candies filled with pecans are for you! I highly recommend trying the original flavour.

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These original flavoured pralines are from Southern Candymakers.

See:

http://www.southerncandymakers.com/index.php/pralines

 

8. Praline Bacon from Elizabeth’s

Elizabeth’s is located in the Bywater district in New Orleans, and it claims to have invented the Praline Bacon in 1998. Since it’s famous, I had to give it a try here, even though I rarely eat bacon anymore. I had my first bite and I was hooked. It’s sinfully delicious…a perfect combination of salty and sweet.

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9. Boudin Balls in Creole Mustard Sauce

These flavourful Cajun style deep fried pork and rice sausage balls are to die for!

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I had them at Elizabeth’s too. They were sooooooooooo good!

Thanks so much to the best bike tour I did in the city, the Confederacy of Cruisers, I learned about Elizabeth’s! 🙂

See: 

http://confederacyofcruisers.com/

http://www.elizabethsrestaurantnola.com/

 

10. Beignets and Cafe au Lait at Cafe du Monde

I think a true authentic New Orleans culinary experience cannot be complete without visiting Cafe du Monde and treating oneself to its famous French style beignets (square size donuts dusted with powdered sugar) and cafe au lait. 🙂

The Cafe du Monde on 800 Decatur Street (French Market location) is open 24 hours a day and only closes on Christmas.

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Beignets are served in a plate of three; they are quite huge so can be shared.