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Thai Cooking Class

Here are a few photos of the day we spent at a Thai cooking class north of Chiang Mai.  It included a tour of the market (amusing, since we’d been going to these types of markets for months now); a tour of a garden packed full of ingredients like lemongrass, galengal and tumeric; and an afternoon of chopping, mixing, wok-ing and eating.  No specific measurements, just instructions to pour the oil and fish sauce into a big spoon “with emotion” and add chilis in quantities that were proportionate with whether we felt “a little sexy, medium sexy or suuuper sexyyy.”  Maybe not an intensive learning session, but definitely a lot of fun.

Different types of rice

Garden hats

Garden tour

Rice paddy

Banana blossom

Prep for holy basil stir fry

Mashing the som tam

Red curry paste ingredients

Panaeng curry ingredients

testing the curry

Red curry and coconut cream soup ingredients

Making the sticky rice with coconut cream, palm sugar and salt.

Batter for the deep fried bananas

Cooking together

Dinner is served

02
Jun 2013
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Organic Farming in Ban Khun

Cherry tomato vine

While we were staying with Kevin in Chiang Mai (for the second time), we were able to tag along on one of his jobs.  It was burn season in Thailand and the three of us were happy to leave the city where it was so smoky that the big mountain, Doi Suthep, was invisible.  It turned out to be smoky everywhere else too, but at least in the mountains it’s mixed with less exhaust.


Burning the undergrowth

Kevin does filmmaking for non-profits and his friend Sean had a project for him.  Sean is an American who is working to improve the wellbeing and economic stability of his wife’s Karen (“Kuh-RIN”) hill tribe village in the Omkoi district in the southwest part of Chiang Mai Province.  He is experimenting with vegetable growing methods that are kind to the earth and result in organic produce that can be sold at higher prices to local markets and restaurants.  He is shouldering the burdens of trial and error and hopes to pass on the knowledge to local farmers who may be interested in switching from conventional (chemical) farming.

Here is an explanation from Sean’s website:

“Over the past decade or more chemical fertilizer companies have come into many of the local hill tribe communities promoting their product and investing into local farmers to grow many different crops.  This created many jobs for many poor Karen farmers.  Over time farmers have become reliant on this market and the chemicals and have since lost the ability to take care of the land and use natural resources.  They are have no other market and are forced to sell to middle men and make no money almost every year, growing things like tomato’s and chilis.  We aim to make it possible for these farmers to go back to their roots of working with land in a more natural way and help them find a higher price for their produce.”

Seedling trays

Sean's porch

View from Sean's window

Mosquito net

Sean's dirtbike

Breakfast mango

Sean built his house himself, and it features an open-air kitchen and a porch with a great view of the valley below. (His wife and children were visiting friends back in Chiang Mai, so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to meet them.) It was fun making dinner together and throwing the scraps to the chickens waiting just outside the window. Sean’s mother-in-law helped chop vegetables and brought over a really big knife to cut the meat.

Garlic pounder

Alicia making dinner with MIL

Alicia's borrowed knife

Potato hash

Plate o' pork

Inlaw's house

Rice mill

Dog

Alicia and MIL

If this were a blog about organic farming, we probably would have taken better notes about the seedling trays, the vermicompost (worm tea), the natural fungicide sprays that cost the same as the chemicals, the greenhouses, the rice paddy irrigation, and the way the roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation lines.  Pictures will have to stand in for actual information.

Vermicompost

Drip irrigation

Sean holding beet seeds

Sean showing how roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation

Kevin shot lots of great footage that will help Sean share organic farming methods with Karen and Thai farmers.

MIL's carrot

Kevin filming MIL

Making furrows for the beets

Fun aunt

Mixing up a carrot fungicide

Wildflower tangle

Pressure sprayer motor and fungicide

Jodi spraying the carrots

Walking out to the rice paddies

Cows grazing in the dry rice paddies

Kevin shooting the workers

Worker throwing soil on the raised tomato beds

New Pi

Workers hitching a ride back to the village

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

The greenhouse

Soaking the seedlings

On the last day before we made the long drive back to Chiang Mai, Sean’s mother-in-law called us into her house and fried us some sweet sticky rice batter.

Fried sweet sticky rice batter

MIL cooking

Tony asked about the little star tattoos that dotted her hand and wondered if they had any particular meaning or purpose. Sean translated her response:

“When I was young, it was the fashion. There is no meaning, we just thought it looked pretty.”

Big smiles all around.

Hand tattoos

02
Jun 2013
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What We Ate in Cambodia

While it makes us feel a little better to know that Cambodia isn’t really known for its cuisine, we also feel a little guilty.  We didn’t really experience a huge variety of outstanding food in Cambodia. Half of the blame falls on us, because we didn’t get out of tourist areas much. The other half was that we actually had some difficulty finding good local food. Other than in areas directly adjacent to markets or inside the markets themselves, it seemed like most of the places we went had almost no street food (compared to Vietnam and Thailand where you are almost tripping over it).  We know we missed a ton, and we’re not even sure whether everything below is uniquely Cambodian.

But what we did find was delicious.

Chicken heads

 

So here’s a very small taste of Cambodia.  You’ll need some utensils.  They’re all ready for you, waiting in their hot water bath.

 

Clean silverware delivered to your table in a glass of steaming water

Donuts with a toffee-like crunchy glaze.

Candy glazed donuts

Mi Char – Short, worm shaped noodles rolled by hand, fried with sprouts and meat and greens, topped with a fried egg.Khmer noodles with fried egg

Sach Ko Chomkak – Marinated beef skewers grilled over hot coals, dipped in sweet chili sauce, served with a tangy green papaya and carrot salad.  You’re charged by the number of skewers you order but the vegetables are all-you-can-eat and on the house.  One of our favorites.Grilled beef with chili sauce and green papaya salad

Bobor – Rice porridge, a typical breakfast food. This one has chicken, crispy fried garlic and a blood cube.Breakfast: rice porridge

Grilled red snapper with tamarind sauce.Red snapper

Nyoum Trayong Chaek – Banana blossom salad, really similar to the ones we ate in Thailand.
Banana blossom salad

Kuy Teav Phnom Penh – a Phnom Penh specialty featuring meat, blood, liver, intestines and tongue. This particular one is of porcine origin.
Mixed pork noodle soup

Num Pa Chok Kari Sach Ko - Curry beef and noodles.
Curried beef and noodles

Khmer red curry with chicken, potato, pumpkin and vegetables.
Red curry with chicken

Green curry with prawns, potato, onion and green beans. Those things that look like oversized peas are water lotus seeds.
Green curry with prawns

Amok – A thick, turmeric-heavy yellow curry with vegetables, typically with fish but there’s always a meat or prawn option, topped with coconut cream…
Amok with green beans

…sometimes served in a banana leaf if you’re someplace fancy.
Amok in a banana leaf

Our first pizza in five months. So what if it had corn and mayo on it.
Pizza in Phnom Penh

17
Mar 2013
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What We Ate in Vietnam

Oh man. How to organize this one? There’s so much, it’s going to have to be done alphabetically this time. But we’ll save dessert and coffee for last.

Hoi An market stall

Hoi An street vendor

This is by no means a comprehensive survey of Vietnamese food. It’s going to be our biggest travel food post, but we didn’t come close to sampling all the possibilities. As we were looking up the Vietnamese names for things (please feel free to submit corrections), we kept coming across lists of “must try” foods that we either skipped or flat out never saw. We spent a month in cities in Vietnam, from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, and our number one objective was to eat. But there is still so much we missed.

Sidewalk restaurant

How do you find good food in Vietnam? Wander down any sidewalk or through any market hall. Look for tiny plastic stools. Are there only one or two stools free? Is everyone throwing their napkins and bones and lime peels on the ground? Good. Sit down immediately. Wait. The proprietor may ask what you want. They’re probably only serving one or two things. Point to your neighbor’s table or just hold up one finger and smile. You will be brought something delicious.

Sidewalk

Xoi Yen restaurant, Hanoi

Here goes. What We Ate in Vietnam:

Bánh Bao – Large steamed stuffed dumplings.
Bánh Bao

This bánh bao is filled with minced pork, onions and a quail egg.
Banh Bao

Bánh Bèo – Tiny shallow dishes filled with gelatinous steamed rice cakes, topped with pork, fish sauce and peanuts.
bánh bèo

Bánh Bột Chiên – Rice pancake topped with herbs, bean sprouts, soy sauce and hot ginger sauce.
bánh bột chiên

Bánh Mì – Fresh baguette sandwich with pork pâté, bacon, shredded pork, crispy bbq eel, herbs, chili sauce.
Bánh mì

Bánh Tôm – Shrimp and yam fritters.  (Plus some mini pork wontons.)
Bánh Tôm

Bánh Xèo, Nem Lụi – Savory griddle cakes made with turmeric, pork, shrimp, green onion, and bean sprouts. Skewers of grilled minced pork. Wrap it all up in rice paper sheets, along with spicy peanut sauce, herbs, shredded green papaya and unripe banana.
Nem Lụi, Bánh Xèo

Bắp Cải Nhồi Thịt Cua – Cabbage stuffed with crab.
Stuffed cabbage

Bò Nướng Cuốn Cải – Thin slices of grilled marinated beef served with coarse chili lime salt. We rolled it all up in these big leaves that had a tangy taste almost like horseradish.
Bò nướng cuốn cải

Bún Bò Nam Bộ – A thin rice noodle salad with marinated beef, pickled green papaya and carrot, bean sprouts, fried onions.
Bún bò Nam Bộ

Bún Chả – Sweet broth with fish sauce and slices of green papaya. Grilled pork. Rice noodles. A mountain of cilantro, mint, local herbs, lettuce, and green beans. Chopped fresh garlic and chiles. Some assembly required.
Bún chả

Garlic and chiles

Assembly

Bún Thịt Nướng – Grilled pork on noodles, topped with peanuts, cilantro, pickled carrot and nước chấm (a sweet and sour sauce that’s also salty and spicy).
Bún Thịt Nướng

Cao Lầu – Noodles, broth, meat, herbs.  A combination we’ve come to know and love, but this one is a little different.  The cao lầu noodles are made with water from certain wells in Hoi An, so supposedly the true version of this dish is only available in one place in the entire world. We were skeptical, but the noodles do have a unique mineral flavor that we never encountered again.
Cao Lầu

Cha Ca – fish cakes with dill.
Cha Ca

Chả Giò – Deep fried spring rolls stuffed with minced pork. Often served with our beloved bún chả.
Spring rolls - Chả_giò

Chuối Chiên – Deep fried mashed banana. Sometimes with a slice of coconut (dừa) The newspaper wrapping can’t contain the sweet deliciousness (or the grease).
Deep fried banana ladies

Chuối Chiên

Cơm Cháy Kèm Sốt Cà Chua Thịt Lợn – Pork in a sweet tomato sauce with deep fried rice cakes.
sốt cà chua

Cơm Tấm – “Broken rice” topped with whatever pre-prepared additions you care to you point at. In this case, it’s a dumpling slice, fried spring rolls, roast pork and greens.

Giấp Cá – This is the only non-yummy thing in this blog post. The first time I (Alicia) ate this herb, it was mixed in with a whole bunch of others that I was rolling into rice paper along with other delicious things. I took one bite and literally gagged. Something tasted like old fish tank water. I thought maybe something spoiled had found its way to my plate and my appetite was killed for the rest of the day. (If you know me, this is a shocking event.) The second time, it was lurking in a dish of Cao Lầu. I recognized the nasty flavor and tasted each leaf in my bowl until I found the culprit. I pulled out all of the dark green glossy leaves. Later that day, I Googled “gross Vietnamese herb” and found it. Apparently the Chinese call it “fishy smell herb.” Yep. That’s the one.
Devil weed

Gỏi Đu Đủ – Shredded green papaya, dried beef, basil, peanuts, sweet chili sauce, side of rice crackers.
Gỏi Đu Đủ

Gỏi Hoa Chuối – Shredded banana blossom salad. (Banana blossom is mild and nutty, with a crunchy texture similar to shredded carrots or ginger.)
Gỏi Hoa Chuối

Hến Trộn – A finely chopped salad with tiny clams, onion, herbs, ground fish, topped with peanuts, served hot and comes with a giant rice cracker for dipping and scooping.
Hến trộn

Mì Quảng Lươn – Eel noodle soup for breakfast. Top with shredded banana blossom and big crispy rice crackers.
Mì Quảng Lươn

Mì quảng refers to the type of noodles, and the name of this dish should have additional descriptive words following it, but I’m not sure what those are. This mì quảng had herbs, just enough broth to moisten the noodles, a chicken leg, roast pork, corned beef, and dumpling.
mystery Mì Quảng

Another mystery mì quảng. This time with two hard boiled quail eggs.
Mì Quảng with egg

Mystery Skewer – These tiny rice paper envelopes are stuffed with thin noodles and make a great vehicle for sweet, fiery chili sauce.  We found them in the tiny fishing village of Bai Xep. A skewer costs mere pennies.
Mystery Skewer

Sweet chili sauce

Nem Chua – Fermented pork roll steamed in a banana leaf. Sounds terrible, looks worse, but pairs nicely with a cheap brew. We had these on one of our afternoon bike rides through Hoi An.
Sausage in a banana leaf

Phở Bò – Beef noodle soup doesn’t begin to explain the magic. The thinly sliced meat is put into the bowl still raw, and the rich steamy broth is ladled over top, cooking it just past rare in a flash. You can doctor it up with lime, chiles and herbs.
Pho Bo

Phở Thịt Lợn – Another excellent noodle soup. This one has pork and is topped with pickled shallots, hot sauce, peanuts and cilantro. A squeeze of lime and a side of green papaya slices takes you to the moon.
Phở
Phở Gà
Phở Gà – This one’s with chicken. You can even add…

Doughnut sticks.
…Giò Cháo Quãy – Donut sticks. Ok, we’re going out of alphabetical order here, but DEAR FRIENDS, YOU CAN PUT DONUTS IN YOUR SOUP. What a magical world we live in. Crispy on the outside and nearly hollow inside, these things soak up your phở broth and you’ll forget things like oyster crackers ever existed.

Roll-your-owns. – That’s obviously not the Vietnamese name, but we ate it on a sidewalk in Saigon and there wasn’t a sign posted. Grilled pork with peanuts and green onion. Top with pickled carrots and green papaya, slices of starfruit, unripe banana and cucumber. Add lettuce, mint, basil and chives, dip in sweet and sour fish sauce with chilis. Roll it all up in rice paper triangles. This was so good and so cheap that we ordered a second round and tipped 50 percent.
Roll-your-owns

Train Lunch. – What you might get from the hot food cart on a train at lunch time. Steamed rice, greens, deep fried egg, mystery meat (probably beef) stir fried with pineapple and pickled bamboo shoots.
Train lunch

Trứng Cút – Quail eggs. Hard boiled or cooked in the shell over hot coals.
Trứng cút

Village Mystery Soup – Another culinary mystery from the village of Bai Xep.  The broth tasted of sea food and the rice noodles were thick, transparent and gelatinous.  The chunks floating in it didn’t have much flavor and we thought it could have been squid or octopus, but the woman shook her head and laughed when we pointed to the soup and then pointed to Tony’s squid tattoo.  In hindsight, it was likely pig stomach or some other sort of organ. We may never know.
Village mystery soup

Xôi Xéo – Yellow sticky rice with shavings of mung bean paste and your choice of meat and toppings. This one has roast pork, mushrooms, peanuts and crispy fried onions.
xôi xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with Chinese sausage.
xôi xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with beef and pork dumpling.
Xôi Xéo

Xôi Xéo variation with a small omelet and finely shredded dry pork.

WHEW. Hopefully you have a little room for coffee and dessert.

Cà Phê Sữa Nóng – Strong black coffee brewed by the cup. The velvety richness of Vietnamese-style coffee can be explained by the fact that it is often roasted in clarified butter. Add to that a generous pour of sweetened condensed milk (sữa) ready to be stirred up. If the cafe serves coffee in mugs instead of glasses, it might come in a bowl of hot water to maintain optimal temperature.
cà phê sữa nóng

HCMH coffee

Cà Phê Trứng – Impossibly rich coffee made with frothed egg yolk and sugar.  Think egg nog, plus coffee, minus booze.
Egg coffee foam

Cà Phê Trứng

Chè Bắp – Sweet corn pudding dessert topped with coconut sauce, served cold. Sweet corn is a very common dessert component throughout Asia and its naturally sugary profile makes us wonder why it doesn’t have the same designation back home.
Chè Bắp

Chè Mè Đen – Black sesame pudding dessert, served cold.  Mild, nutty and velvety. Wish we had more.
Chè mè đen

Mystery cookies – We never found the name for these, but our guesthouse owner in Hoi An said these sweet little tea biscuits are made with beans, onions and beef. Definitely a departure from the Western concept of dessert, but surprisingly sweet and pleasant.
Mystery cookies

Rau Câu – A gelatinous dessert made from a seaweed product called agar agar. This particular one has two flavor layers: dừa and cà phê (coconut and coffee).
Rau Câu

Bia Hơi – Fresh beer on tap for 33 cents a glass. This particular block of establishments in District 1 in Saigon had two dogs that were trained to bark when the police were approaching the neighborhood. When the canine alarm sounded, the proprietors collected all the plastic chairs out from under the customers who were sitting on them in the street. The evicted stood around bewildered until the police slowly cruised past, then the chairs were re-issued and the party started all over again.
Bia Hơi

And that’s what we ate in Vietnam.

27
Feb 2013
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Food and Markets in Luang Prabang

MARKETS

Fruit vendors

Congealed bloodCongealed blood.

Something organ-y.Something organ-y.

Whole chickensWhole chickens.

fish

Fish vendorRiver fish.

Crabs on a leashCrabs on a leash.

Mystery fruitsMystery fruits.

Banana blossomsBanana blossoms (8 or so inches in length).

Preserved eggsPreserved eggs.

Basket of mushroomsMushrooms.

Crispy Mekong river weedCrispy Mekong river weed.

Duck in a to-go bagDuck in a to-go bag.

AROUND TOWN

Yellow crackers

Yellow crackers drying in the sunYellow crackers drying in the sun.

Sticky rice vendor

Coconut sticky rice bike

Coconut sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes.Coconut sticky rice cooked in bamboo tubes.  Peel off a section of the bamboo and use it as a scoop.

RESTAURANTS

Pork noodle soup with fish sausage ballsPork noodle soup with fish sausage balls.

Soup fixinsSoup fixins: mint, basil, lettuce, green beans, lime.

Big bucket o' chili pasteBig bucket o’ chili paste.

Lao coffeeLao coffee with a generous dose of sweetened condensed milk, ready to be stirred.

Sticky rice... on a stick

Grilled sticky rice… on a stick. Fish sauce with chilis for dipping.

Crispy yellow noodle

Crispy yellow noodles.

Fried noodles with pork

Fried noodles with pork.

Chicken larb

Chicken Larb – extra spicy meat salad with herbs and chilis.

Mushroom larb

Mushroom larb.

Luang Prabang sausages

Luang Prabang sausages.

04
Feb 2013
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Feasts and Friendship in Khmu Villages

We’ve been talking about how to write about this ever since last month. Because it was probably the most memorable and humbling experience we have had this year, we decided we’d just write a short summary and let the pictures speak for themselves. We’d love to tell you all about it when we see you again, but at least for now, words simply fall short.

Bus station map

 

We met Jena, another fellow traveler, back in Pai. We knew she was heading over to Laos soon and thought we might meet up with her at some point. One morning while we were eating breakfast in Luang Prabang, Jena just happened to walk by. She stopped to talk for a bit and told us about a monk that she befriended when she was traveling through Laos last year. We were soon invited to join both of them to visit his families in their Khmu villages for the next four days. We said yes.

 

Overloaded tuk-tuk at Luang Prabang bus station

Another monk joined us, and after a three hour bus ride and a three hour hike on a dirt road through the mountains, we found ourselves at the monk’s mother’s village. The following morning was another two hour hike and half an hour boat ride to his father’s village. At both villages, we were overwhelmed by welcome and generosity.

We were fed mounds of sticky rice and many versions of untranslatable vegetable mixtures that the monk simply called “jungle salad.” Between our arrival and the new year celebrations, the local animal population dropped slightly. A few young chickens were boiled, an entire goat was roasted (with no part wasted), and a cow’s brains made it into our soup. Our bad luck was erased and our good luck was ensured with multiple baci ceremonies. With great insistence from our hosts, our bellies were warmed with Lao Lao (home made rice whiskey) from the time we woke up until our evening bath in the Ou river. 

Jena, Tony, Monk K beginning the hike

Mountain scenery

The newly-bulldozed road

arriving in Monk K's mother's village

Village kids playing on a bike

Little boy using a large knife to carve a toy rifle

Little girls in a straw mat fort

Monk K's mother's village, Ban Pha Yong

The mother's house

Monk K translating

Village chief leads the baci ceremony

Monk K and his mother during the string tying

The baci table

Tony, Alicia and Jena during the baci ceremony

Tony, Alicia and Jena ceremonially

The baci ceremony for Monk K and his family

Ceremony spectators

Boiled chicken, two

Sticky rice steamed in banana leaves, coconut sticky rice, sweet potatoes

Jena in the morning

Village school

Learning about trees - village school

Boy looking out the window of his classroom

One of the classrooms

Monk K and Monk P

Village baby

Monk K's sister holding a baby

Same baby after a costume change

Woman weaving a bamboo mat

Monks cooking our breakfast

Breakfast of omelette, steamed bamboo shoots, boiled greens

Huge basket of sticky rice

Starting the hike to Monk K's father's village

Hike to Monk K's father's village

A village along the way

Nam Ou - the Ou River

Monk K and Monk P on the boat

D's (Monk K's dad) boat

D's house

Lunch: fish soup and another

View from D's front porch

Getting the boat ready in the morning

Bottom of D's boat

Chilly morning on the boat

Misty jungle

Visiting a weaving village upstream

Thread for weaving

Weaving loom

Little girl pretending to use the loom

Little boy playing with a ball

Shy little girl hiding behind weaving display

Duck and mystery jungle vegetable for lunch

Assembling sticky rice with banana to be steamed in banana leaves

Butchering the goat

The most important and special parts of the goat reserved for guests and important men: intestine, testicle, foot/hoof, knuckle.

Man from another village, D, Monk P eating at the goat barbeque

Congealed goat blood with cilantro and chilis

Everyone watches you take the first bite.  No pressure.

Pouring Lao Lao (homemade rice whiskey) into the goat's horn

Cringing after drinking the Lao Lao

Tony's turn for the Lao Lao

Goat horn, bananas and sticky rice on the table\

Boiled goat with herbs

Another baci at D's friend's house

String tying portion of the baci ceremony

D at a friend's house, ready for the second goat feast of the day

The second feast for the day: boiled goat with herbs, sticky rice

Another baci, this time at D's house

The baci table at D's

Village woman tying strings on Tony's wrists

D and village chief tying strings on Jena's wrists

Congealed chicken blood with peanuts, chili and cilantro

Boiled cow liver and other mystery organs

New year cow brain soup (the broth was delicious!)

Trying to talk with D using our Lao-English and English-Lao phrasebooks

LP Lao phrasebook

D looking through the

D (Monk K's father) and his wife M

Village man wearing an Obama hat

Breakfast: grilled fish, roast new year cow, mystery soup

Breakfast: New year cow intestine

Our breakfast host

Lao Hai in the making (sweet, thick rice wine)

Hen in a basket with a chick perched on top

Chicken coop baskets

D's dragon tattoo that he got in Thailand when he was young

Alicia playing Kator with village girls

Village kids on D's porch

Girl and boy on D's porch

One day, the monk’s father took us in his boat to see some caves that had served as shelters during the U.S. bombings. One still had bones in it.

Back on the river

Monk K leading the way through the jungle

Tony and D checking out the cave entrance

Large chamber inside the first cave

sparkly rock formation in the first cave

Heading back down the river to the next cave

Strange red insect

Hiking to the next cave

Ammunition box hinge

Entrance to another cave

Entrance to the bombed cave

Large spider's eyes reflecting the light

Broken bowl in the bombed cave

Bones in the bombed cave

Arriving back in the village

When we arrived back at the village after exploring the caves, there was a shiny boat tied to the bank that we hadn’t seen before. As we drifted up next to it, the monk’s father pointed and said, “Made in USA.”

Bow of the UXO canoe

During and after the Vietnam War, between 1964 and 1973, there were 580,000 US bombing missions that dropped two million tons of ordinance on Laos- equal to a planeload of bombs every 8 minutes, 24-hours a day, for 9 years. Up to a third of the bombs did not explode. Over 20,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO (unexploded ordinance) in Laos since the bombing ceased.

And they still want you in their homes. And they still want to feed you. And they still want to tie dozens of strings around your wrists as a symbol of how much they want only good things to happen to you in the coming year.

Village chief tying baci bracelets

Want more? Watch our short video of our December adventures, which include motorbiking through Mae Hong Son, floating down the Mekong, and traveling through northern Laos with monks.

31
Jan 2013
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What We Ate in Bangkok and Northern Thailand

Piles of street food
We’ve been looking forward to eating our way through Southeast Asia since the we first began planning our trip. The food is fresh, cheap, delicious and everywhere.  If you are hungry… well you don’t really have much chance to actually get hungry because you are tripping over sidewalk cafes and street vendors at every turn.

 

Street vendor with wok

We’re not even sure how to organize all this. Most of it’s street food, there’s noodles everywhere and it’s all incredible.  Let’s start with noodles, then.

STIR FRIED NOODLES, RICE and CURRIES

Our first pad thai.  Buried underneath is shrimp, calimari, and baby octopus.Our first Pad Thai, eaten on a plastic stool on the sidewalk. Buried underneath is shrimp, calamari and baby octopus.

Pad thai standMore Pad Thai.

Pad see ew

Chicken fried ricePad see ew and chicken fried rice for breakfast at our favorite sidewalk cafe next to our hostel in Bangkok.

green curry chickenGreen curry chicken with basil.

Mushroom and tofu curry
Mushroom and tofu curry.

Fried basil, mushrooms, chickenFried basil, mushrooms, chicken.

glass noodle salad with chilis and fried chickenProbably the spiciest glass noodles and best fried chicken we’ve ever had…

red curry… and some red curry. This particular Bangkok restaurant was in the entryway to a market building and people would ride mopeds through every few minutes.

SOUP

soup shop

Soup vat

beef and noodle soup

beef and noodle soup with fish ballsVarious noodle soups. Point to the type of meat and the type of noodles you want and they throw it in a small basket and dip it briefly into a large vat of boiling broth. Then they pull it out, ladle on the broth, top it with cilantro, green onion and fresh herbs, and it’s up to you to doctor it up with lime and chilis.

Tom yum soupTom yum kung - hot and sour seafood soup made with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and chilis.


STUFF YOU DRINK WITH STRAWS

smoothiesSmoothies and fruit shakes. So cheap you can have them twice a day, but be sure to ask them to skip the sugar.

Lemongrass chili lime drinkLemongrass chili lime drink to cure all your digestive woes.

KHAO SOI

Bus station khao soiKhao soi gets its own category because Tony attempted to eat it for every meal.  It’s egg noodles and meat (usually pork or chicken) in yellow curry sauce, topped with crispy noodles, pickled greens, green onions, shallots, herbs, lime juice, and as much chili paste as you can handle.

Khao soi

Khao soi with fixins

Khao soi at brown rice

Khao soi at Dang's

BURMESE FOOD

green tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato and peanutsGreen tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato, soy nuts.

Hinlay curry with tofu and potatoesHinlay curry with tofu and potatoes.

Another Hinlay curryAnother Hinlay curry.

Burmese food cooked by Hong SarEven yummier Burmese food (tea leaf salad, Hinlay curry, vegetable soup, steamed cabbage) cooked for us by Kevin’s friend Hong Sar. As we ate, Hong Sar described the events he saw and experienced in Burma as a child before his family escaped to Thailand.

CHINESE FOOD

CarrieThere’s probably a lot more Chinese influence in the food in Thailand than we realize (we’re looking at you, steam buns), but we had an official Chinese food night at Kevin’s house when another Couchsurfer, Carrie, cooked us her favorite dishes. We had stir fried morning glory greens, spicy tofu, and a potato and pork soup.

SALADS

Som tam vendor

In Thailand, salads aren’t some leafy green thing.  It’s a salad in the folksy casserole sense of the word.  A big jumble of lots of delicious ingredients, and can be served hot or cold.  The lady above is making some som tam.

som tam in a bag

Som tamSom tam is shredded green (unripe) papaya and carrot with tossed with a paste of dried shrimp, chilis, fish sauce and sugar, and topped with tomatoes, raw green beans and peanuts.

Banana blossom saladMelt-your-face-off banana blossom salad.

Tofu mushroom saladTofu mushroom salad. The mushrooms here are so savory and meaty, even the most devout carnivore wouldn’t mind the lack of meat.

FOOD CARTS and ROADSIDE STANDS

Chicken wingsChicken wings and other grilled meat on a street cart.

Roti stand

Nutella rotiRoti. Somewhere between a crepe and a puffy, crispy pancake, made with ladles of butter, stuffed with banana and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and Nutella.

mini pies

Salty potato puffMini pastries stuffed with sweet and savory things like, potato, taro, pineapple and yam.

Tiny fried quail eggsFried quail eggs.

roasted bananaRoasted banana.

Steam bunsSteamed buns filled with BBQ pork, chicken curry, red bean paste, chocolate pudding… dozens of sweet and savory options.

Black Egg.  Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.Black Egg. Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.

fried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbageFried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbage

Deep fried tofu tarts (topped with sweet soy sauce and peanut)Deep fried tofu tarts topped with sweet soy sauce and peanuts

Dumpling vendor

Steamed pork dumplingsSteamed pork dumplings…

dumplings in a bag…served in a plastic bag with spicy sweet dipping sauce.

Banana leaf omeletEgg and minced meat grilled in a banana leaf.

Miangkam on a skewerMiangkam. As soon as your teeth break through the slightly bitter chaploo leaf wrap, the sticky mixture of sugar, coconut, peanut, ginger, shallots, dried shrimp, chilis and lime inside explodes in your mouth. Whoever invented these is a genius.

Miangkam makerWe’ll thank this nice lady.

Bacon Thick-cut bacon grilled over coals on a skewer…

tablecloth…served at a roadside stand that uses uncut sheets of product labels as tablecloths.

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Dec 2012
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What We Ate in Amman

Here it comes, another food post.  We often feel foolish reaching for our cameras before reaching for our forks, but we hope you enjoy the results.  This post is a little different than the rest; it’s organized by restaurant.

—–

Quarter Moon Shawarma

Tony and shawarma

Our first meal in Jordan was between Queen Alia Airport and our friends’ apartment.

Quarter Moon shawarma

Can’t beat shawarma for a great late night fast food option.

 

—–

Hashem Restaurant, a dive-y place downtown that is famous for serving delicious cheap Middle Eastern food.  Sit on their grungy plastic chairs and have a personal revelation.


Matabel

Matabel, some sort of creamy eggplant wonderfulness.

 

Fuul - tangy, spicy beans swimming in olive oil and herbs.

 

Hummus

Hummus.

 

Falafel

Falafel.

Falafel... stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

More falafel… this time stuffed with roasted onions and rolled in toasted sesame seeds.

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint

Hot tea with sugar and fresh mint.

—–

 

Al Quds was where our friends decided to take us for some mansaf, Jordan’s national dish.

 

Mansaf

Mansaf is staple at weddings, celebrations, and for honoring important guests.  If I had to draw a parallel between this and an American dish, it would be Grandma’s perfect Sunday pot roast.  Not at all similar in flavor, but in sentiment.

 

Mansaf sauce

Wikipedia describes mansaf: ”The lamb is cooked in a broth made with a fermented then dried yogurt-like product called jameed, and served on a large platter with a layer of flatbread (markook or shrak) topped with rice and then meat, garnished with almonds and pine nuts, and then sauce poured over all.”

 

More matabel

More matabel.

 

More hummus

More hummus.


—–

Mahashi takeout from Ali’s Mahashi-Al Mashi.

 

Mahashi al Mashi takeout

The little aluminum boxes aren’t the most photogenic, but there was no way we would skip over this.

 

Mahashi plated

Mahashi is eggplant, zucchini, cabbage… all stuffed with minced meat and rice and vegetables, stewed in spicy tomato and yogurt sauces. Sides: piles of rice and flatbread and an avalanche of pickled vegetables.  Ali is generous with his portions.

—–


Mawwal Restaurant
– a nice sit-down place with waiters who will be very concerned for the state of your mental health if you don’t order enough meat.

 

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles

Fire roasted tomatoes and chiles. Super spicy.

Fattoush

Fattoush salad – greens and vegetables topped with fried flatbread and a vinaigrette dressing.

 

Kebbeh maklieh

 Kebbeh maklieh – deep fried cracked bulgur wheat stuffed with minced lamb and herbs.

 

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh – loads of parsley with mint, tomato, lemon juice and bulgur.

 

Baba ghanoush

Baba ghanoush- roasted eggplant, vegetables and chilis, tahini and garlic, topped with vinaigrette.

 

Galayet Bandora

Galayet Bandora - stewed lamb, tomatoes and onions.

 

Kofta Bi Tahini 

Kofta Bi Tahini - ground lamb and herb patties in a velvety sesame sauce.

 

—–

Habibeh pastry shop.

kunefe cheese

Habibeh (literally, “beloved”) will provide for you na’ama kunefe.  This kunefe is finely chopped pastry dough, topped with soft white cheese, topped with more pastry, drenched in syrup and garnished with pistachios and orange food coloring.

 

kunefe alley

Best eaten hot, on a styrofoam plate in Habibeh’s alley.

—–

And finally, Bang Bang Bubble Tea House at a mall in West Amman near the Seventh Circle.

Bubble tea and complimentary peanut butter waffles.  Ok, maybe it’s not so traditional, but Amman is a modern city, and that’s what we all had that night.

27
Nov 2012
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What we ate in Budapest, Prague and Berlin

We decided to combine the food from our final three European cities into one post. While the cuisines were different, you may notice some similarities.

BUDAPEST

Goulash and pickled cabbage.

Goulash and pickled cabbage

Roasted mushrooms.

Roasted mushrooms

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer. Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate. Lemony túrós táska pastries for dessert.

Sausage, mustard, bread, beer.  Truly enhanced by the cardboard plate.

Stuffed cabbage.

Stuffed cabbage

A typical food vendor’s stall at the Great Market Hall.

A typical food vendor's stall at the Great Market Hall

Bacon wrapped cheese.

Bacon wrapped cheese

Purely medicinal. (Think of a more herbal, concentrated version of Jaegermeister.)

Unicum

We did spend six weeks with some Aussies. It was inevitable.

Vegemite

PRAGUE

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings.

Roast pork with stewed spinach and dumplings

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette.

Chicken-bacon-veg skewer on a baguette

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer.

Potatoes, cabbage, sausage, stewed in dark beer

Goulash in bread bowl.

Goulash in bread bowl

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles.

Pork neck, parsley potatoes, homemade pickles

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings.

Goulash (mostly liver, some beef) and dumplings

Dumplings with carmelized onions.

Dumplings with carmelized onions

Skvarková pomázanka pečivo – an oniony spread made with “scratchings” (fat).

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky.

Massive banana and Nutella palačinky

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.

Some sort of rotisserie doughnuts sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon

Yeast pivo.

Yeast beer

Grizzly pivo from Pivovar Berounský Medved.

Grizzly - Pivovar Berounský Medved

BERLIN

Currywurst.

Currywurst round 1

Currywurst with fries.

Currywurst round 2

…after that cholesterol endurance marathon, we were done with the “authentic” food and moved on to Berlin’s multicultural cuisine. We’re sure Germany has much more to offer than a weiner swimming in some spicy ketchup, but it was time for other things.

Fresh breakfasts at Cafe V.

The

Cafe V breakfast

Cafe V scrambled eggs

Roasted eggplant and falafel.

Roasted eggplant and falafel

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel.

Schwarma, hummus, salad, falafel

Tofu and veg.

Tofu and veg

Pho.

Pho

Pad Thai.

Pad Thai

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps from the Turkish market.

Rocket, feta and tomato gozleme wraps

Dessert? Candy coated grapes, also from the Turkish market.

Candy coated grapes

Carrot cake and cappuccino.

Carrot cake and cappuccino

19
Nov 2012
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A Few Hours in Venice

Our host Marie and her friend Rudi were planning a trip to pick up another friend near Venice, which is only a few hours from Kobarid, and they invited us along. We were not planning on seeing Italy at all this year, and so we jumped at the chance. Rudi drove us to Cividale de Friuli first for an espresso and a look at its big stone bridge. It was raining, so after we finished our coffees, we got right back on the road.

Our one and only Italian espresso

Venice is surrounded by some pretty depressing urban sprawl and industrial areas, at least the parts we could see from the four lane highway, the area that Marie and Rudy dropped us off in, and the parts the bus drove us through before we got to actual Venice Venice.

Waterworld Venice.

When you first cross over the from the large bus parking lot, it’s almost a theatrical entrance as you can hardly see anything until you reach the apex of the main bridge, and there before you is a big canal full of boats and rows of very old, damp, and not so vertical buildings.  And hordes and hordes of people.

First view of Venice

us

It was about 2 p.m. when we arrived and we needed to catch a train to meet Rudi and Marie at 6 p.m., so time was short. We decided we just wanted to wander the streets and enjoy the unexpected treat of visiting one of the world’s most famous cities, have a nice meal, and maybe treat ourselves to an espresso and gelato.

We quickly discovered that while most of the main thoroughfares were elbow-to-elbow with souvenir shoppers and the wheelie bag draggers, most of the time we had the streets and alleys to ourselves if we just deviated a block or two.

Goldola parking

man and dog on a boat

General Lee

We were glad that it was a grey and gloomy. It matched he preconceptions we had in our minds about the place, which doesn’t happen often. The whole city was fantastical and we were happy just observing and admiring everything…  from the canals and multicolored buildings, right down to the door buzzers and shutter locks.

doorbells

water alley

alley

wooden boat

church courtyard

water alley - yellow wall

all the harmonicas

Gondola guys

dragon with umbrellas

Tony

Lunch was another story. We didn’t do any restaurant research beforehand, so we were completely at the mercy of fate and our own good judgement. Both failed us and we managed to spend about $60 on a pizza that had sliced hotdogs on it and some gnocchi that made us certain the chef’s name was Boyardee.

Chef Boyardee?

hotdog pizza

wine

At least the wine was good. And we got this sweet photo of the waiter who gave the restaurant an aura of undeserved legitimacy.

stern waiter

By the time we finally got the bill, raindrops began to fall and we realized we had to leave for the station soon if we were going to catch our train. We opted to take a water bus back, reasoning that even if we missed out on expresso and gelato, we’d at least have an enjoyable boat ride and see some more of Venice. The wind and rain was really starting to pick up now and the boat plunged up and down as we boarded.

wind picking up

building

from the boat taxi

tugboats

Tony on the boat taxi

We managed to pick the boat that took us past large shipping docks and the backside of large industrial buildings, and eventually the weather was so bad that we had to retreat into the enclosed area.

When the boat finally churned sideways into the dock, there was little time to spare and we began to make a run for the train station.  The instant a raindrop falls in a tourist destination, magical umbrella fairies appear and try to make a quick buck. They mistook our rush for trying to stay dry and kept stepping right in our paths to make sure we knew that they had the solution to our problem. The stone promenades were slick and I imagined myself tripping and sliding on my face. We made it to the train soaked, intact, and with three minutes to spare.

train home

Venice didn’t turn out anywhere near perfect, but we’ll remember it just as fondly, maybe even more so, than if it had.

us

02
Nov 2012
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What We Ate in Bosnia

Bosnian cuisine is Turkish-meets-Central Europe. Hearty, simple, way too filling. If you’ve recovered from our run down of Turkish food, here is a little taste of Bosnia.

Dveri

We dropped some coin at Dveri, a restaurant a little more upmarket than we usually visit. Goulash with beef, mushrooms and plums. Polenta with smoked beef, cheese, tangy cream and an egg. Flaky, buttery rolls. So rich. We actually did not finish it all, if you can believe it.

Dveri

carrot ginger soup

Carrot ginger soup.

burek

Burek – flaky pastry filled with your choice of meat, cheese, spinach or potato. Best for breakfast, as long as you don’t plan on moving for the rest of the day.

Dolmas

Grape leaf dolmas – just as good as the ones we had in Turkey, but served in broth and smothered with sour cream.

omelet

We don’t remember the Bosnian name for this, but the English menu called it a “mince meat omelet.”

Sogan dolmas

Sogan dolmas – little onions stuffed with minced meat.

ćevapčići

Ćevapčići – little beef or chicken sausages stuffed into an incredible flatbread (warmed by being grilled in the sausage fat), with chopped onion, sour cream and kajmak (a type of clotted cream).

doughnuts

Fresh friend doughnuts with a side of kajmak… topped with regular cream.

pivo

Sarajevska pivo. (Fun fact: the Sarajevska Pivara supplied the city with fresh water during the war.) Živjeli! Cheers!

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Oct 2012
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Eating Our Way Through Turkey

So we thought we’d leave all the food for one post. Brace yourselves.

Our first impressions of Turkish cuisine were good. But after several days in country, we felt like we were waiting for something to happen. Waiting to find the perfect dish or the right type of restaurant, or maybe just trying to identify some flavor profiles that made Turkish food Turkish. Maybe we were expecting the food to be spicy or saucy or… something.

Grilled awesomeness

Turns out Turkish food is really simple. Meat. Fresh vegetables. Maybe an egg. Done to perfection and, with a few exceptions, without a lot of sauces or fuss. The meat is always grilled to perfection and if you don’t like eggplant, you probably haven’t had patlıcan that came out of a Turkish kitchen. It’s a fertile country that doesn’t import much food, so eating fresh, seasonal, and local is the default.

Let’s start with breakfast. The standard Turkish breakfast includes bread, hard-cooked eggs, fruit, cheese, olives, garlicky sliced sausage, tomato and cucumber. If you’re lucky, there will also be plain yogurt, honey, nuts, dried fruit, and various sweet and savory pastries. It took a while to get used to vegetables for breakfast, but it definitely helps keep your daily consumption at a healthy level.

Egirdir breakfast

Breakfast at Shoestring

Gözleme – a flaky pastry that’s stuffed with savory things like cheese and spinach, or sweet things like honey and banana or Nutella. Somewhere between a flour tortilla and an egg-heavy French crepe.

Gözleme

Menemen varies from place to place. It’s basically scrambled eggs with onion, peppers and tomatoes, but soupy because the tomatoes usually make up at least half of the contents. It’s served in the little pan it’s cooked in and is filling and delicious.

Menemen

Ok, breakfast is over. How about a mid-morning snack of the most delicious peaches, oranges, lemons, berries, melons you’ve ever had? Practically a religious experience. A glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice costs less than a can of cola. Treat yo’ self.

Fruit at the market

Melon stand

Citrus

If you are hiking in Cappadocia, you might come around a bend and find people selling every kind of dried fruit imaginable.

dried fruit sellers

And now for lunch. Actually, you probably started breakfast late and are still so stuffed that you skip lunch and hold out for dinner. So let’s ease in with some starters.

Lavaş. Comes fresh from the oven all puffed up like a balloon. Crispy on bottom, chewy on top, best with liberal amounts of butter.

Lavaş

Lentil soup. Consistently simple and delicious from coast to coast.

Lentil soup

Lahmacun, a crispy flatbread baked with minced meat. Köfte güveç, meatballs baked in a clay dish.

Lahmacun

Dolma refers to any sort of food-stuffed-in-food. In this case, the dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with ground lamb, rice and tomato sauce.

Dolmas

The inescapable döner kebap. Our favorite places incorporated bell peppers and carrots into the stack.

kebap

As the man expertly slices off the perfectly roasted bits from the rotating meat log, you try to not remember what the raw drippy mess looked like at 8 o’clock in the morning.

raw döner

Pide. It’s translated as “Turkish pizza” on most menus, which is a fair enough comparison, although tomato sauce rarely enters into the equation and cheese is only present half the time. This one has eggs and veggies.

Egg pide

Balık ekmek – freshly caught fish, grilled and served with a bit of salad on a baguette.

balık ekmek

Pilav and grilled köfte… usually called “Turkish meatballs” on the menu, but they’re a lot closer to mini burger patties.

Pilav and köfte

Testi kebap – stew baked in a clay pot.

Testi kebap

What’s available to add some kick to all those dishes? A few options.

First, açili esme. I think it’s fair to call this a sort of pureed salsa, because it’s full of roasted red peppers, tomatoes, onion and herbs. It ranges from totally mild to genuinely hot.

esme

Sumac is always on the table alongside the salt and pepper. It’s the dried fruit of the sumac plant ground into a tangy, salty, slightly bitter spice.

Sumac

What are you washing all this down with?

How about slightly fermented watery yogurt drink? Our introduction to Ayran came from our friend Brooks who needed his fix just before we hiked around the deserted cave city of Zelve. Tony’s first reaction was “I could think of nothing better on a hot Turkish afternoon than this sweaty cup of cottage cheese juice.” But soon enough, addiction set in and we shared one with almost every meal. Because most Turkish food tends to lack sauces, Ayran is a perfect pairing. Most bufes will bring you a a single-serving container with a straw to jam through the foil top. Some classier places have a fountain that constantly keeps it frothy.

Ayran single serve

Ayran

Şalgam – You might have seen this on the menu and tried it out of curiosity. You wouldn’t really like it, but you’d continue to sip away, trying to identify all the strange flavors. Then you’d go to Wikipedia later that day and learn that, “although the Turkish word şalgam literally means “turnip”, şalgam is actually made with the juice of red carrot pickles, salted, spiced, and flavoured with aromatic turnip (çelem) fermented in barrels with the addition of ground bulgur.” You might even buy it again, but would learn your lesson the second time.

Şalgam

Made it through all that? Now on to dessert. The options are many.

We’ve already gone into extensive detail about dondurma ice cream.

dondurma

Antep fıstıklı– pistachios everywhere. Back home, these are expensive. Here, they go in almost every dessert.

Pistachio

pistachio pastries

Locum, Turkish Delight. Like our friend Kelley, our knowledge of the stuff began and ended with a certain C. S. Lewis tale. It’s soft and gummy, sometimes a plain sugary gel and other times stuffed with chopped nuts or flavored with rosewater. A dusting of powdered sugar or coconut flakes keep them from sticking together.

Turkish delight

Not done yet. You’ll need a caffeine infusion to stay awake while you digest.

Turkish coffee. Sweet, sludgy, delicious Turkish coffee.

Turkish coffee

And, of course, çay. Strong black tea.

Tea

With as much sugar as you care to add.

Tea closeup

For the the perfect late night snack head for the ıslak vendors at Taksim Square. “Wet burgers” are small and slathered in tomato sauce that soaks both the burger and the white bun. It hangs out in a steamy little sauna box until you order it. They are wonderful, delicious little inventions that are not filling enough to make you regret eating a drippy burger, and cheap enough that you’ll probably grab a second one a couple vendors over once the first one is gone. But judge not, for they’re Anthony Bourdain approved.

ıslak

02
Oct 2012
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Hoşgeldin, Ramazan

Turkish food

One night in Istanbul, we sat down to eat dinner. The tables were half full. We had a few questions for our waiter, and he responded in an extremely agitated manner, nearly shouting his suggestions at us. I was a little dismayed at this and forgot what I had originally wanted. I pointed to the words yoğurtlu kebab on the menu, even though I didn’t know what it was.

A large family arrived and the waiter, now in a frenzy, barked orders at the bus boy to push some tables together. More people arrived and the place was quickly full. The waiter continued to rush around, gesture wildly and alarm the other diners. Totally. Out. Of. His. Mind. We thought it was probably a bad decision to eat here and wondered if it was too late to bail.

Then I noticed that the big family had all been served their food, but were just sitting there staring at it. The flat screen t.v. on the wall (an unfortunate “necessity” in all but the swankiest of places) was displaying a countdown, and the children fidgeted as the numbers ticked away.

Then we remembered that Ramazan had begun the night before. (Ramadan is called Ramazan in Turkish and a few other languages.) We had gazed at the Blue Mosque’s special kandil lights that welcomed the season of Ramazan, sampled impossibly sweet pastries at a special artisans’ exhibition, and watched the crowds of families socializing at Sultanahmet Square.

Blue Mosque from the rooftop

Artisans' Market

Tulumba

Handmade kettle

Sugar coma

Mesir

The waiter’s behavior made total sense now. We imagined how calm we’d be if we hadn’t had even a drop of water since sunrise but still had to suffer the July heat, go to work, smell the food being prepared, and serve guests at one of the busiest times of the year.

The minaret across the street blared the sunset prayer, the countdown on the t.v. hit zero, and the family drew their hands down across their faces and began to enjoy their iftar. Our food arrived and the yoğurtlu kebap, a dish of grilled flat bread and chicken smothered in creamy yogurt and savory tomato sauce, became one of my favorite Turkish dishes. The waiter disappeared for a while, and when he returned, he was composed and smiling.

yoğurtlu kebap

-A

27
Sep 2012
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Turkish Ice Cream – Dondurma

Fact – Turks love ice cream. Every McDonalds and Burger King that I saw in Turkey had dedicated little walk-up windows where the only thing you could order was soft serve ice cream. But really, I have no idea how fast food soft serve made its way into the country that invented dondurma.

Waffle cone maker in Egirdir

Our first experience with dondurma was at Lake Eğirdir. One night after dinner, we happened to walk by a guy on the sidewalk who was spooning batter into a waffle iron set up on a small folding table. This hipster was actually hand-rolling ice cream cones. So I was already sold on the cone before we even knew about the wonderful thing that is Turkish ice cream.

Dondurma boy in Antalya

So let me tell you about the wonderful thing that is Turkish Ice Cream. It’s made with goat milk, orchid flour, and mastic, which makes it thick and chewy. Sometimes it’s so thick that they just go ahead and eat it with a fork and knife. It’s usually seen on the streets being sold by a guy wearing a little vest and cap ensemble. The scoop is on the end of a long metal pole used to churn it like butter and pull it like taffy. Tourists will hear them hitting the little bells over-head and be enticed by the display, then get punked for a good five minutes while the guy in the vest serves them a cone on the end of the stick, then flips it upside down or pulls the ice cream back leaving an empty cone in your hand. Its fun for little kids. Big kids like Alicia sometimes just want their ice cream and refuse to play along.

Waffle cone maker in Eğirdir

But in Eğirdir there were no theatrics to delay your ice cream acquisition. Just two brothers, one sitting under a bug zapper and making cones on the sidewalk and the other in the shack with a scoop in his hand. Two lira for two scoops and a free dip in the chocolate sauce.

Dondruma

-Tony

22
Sep 2012
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Simple blessings in Leliani

Sean and McKinze gave us a great start in Georgia with our weekend in Tbilisi, and they planned to share one of their favorite places-and people- with us by sending us to Kamran, Eleni and Dato in Leliani.

McKinze put us on a marshrutka and told the driver to drop us off at Kamran’s office in Leliani. Since Kamran is apparently a famous person in Georgia (we say that only half joking), the driver knew exactly where that was. Leliani is located in Georgia’s far eastern Kakheti region, which is famous for winemaking and fertile fields.

Marshrutka to Leliani

It took several hours to get there, and on the way, two ladies, a mother and daughter named Nino and Nunu, pointed at animals and objects along the way and tried to teach their Georgian names to Alicia. They thought it was hilarious when Alicia resorted to crowing when she was unable to communicate that she wanted to know the Georgian word for rooster (mamali). Just before we got to their town, Nunu handed Alicia a gaudy pair of earrings. Unfortunately, the only thing she had to offer in return was a mandarin orange fished from the depths of her bag, but she tried to express her appreciation for the ladies’ interest and kindness with many grateful repetitions of didi madloba. Literally, “big thanks.”

The road through Leliani

At last, we reached Leliani and met Kamran. Kamran is one of Sean and McKinze’s fellow Peace Corps volunteers. He’s from North Carolina, has been in country for two years and was recently approved to extend his service for a third. Eleni and Dato are his host mom and brother. The three of them live on a 100-year-old farm that has been passed down through Dato’s father’s family (now seven years deceased). On the other side of the mountains to the north is Russia, and Azerbaijan is a few short miles to the east.

Eleni's cow

Eleni works the farm, taking care of the animals, baking bread, making cheese and keeping the dining table heaped with the labor and bounty of her hands and land. Dato was recently honored with directorship of a local school. Kamran works at the youth center just up the road from the farm.

The house is large and airy, with tall ceiling and enormous porches that make it easy to imagine its splendor in earlier Soviet times. The well runs constantly with cool mountain water, and travels through a gutter along the length of the house and empties into a small stream that runs through the front yard. The detached bathroom is large and luxurious by local standards – it has an electric water heater for the shower and a washing machine.

bathroom

The spring/well

A garden, vineyard and cow pasture cover the property behind the house and are populated by dozens of chickens, a pregnant cow and calf, and several bee colonies. And Charlie.

The vineyards

The garden

The bees

Chickens

Alicia and a chick

Charlie Chaplain is Dato and Eleni’s loyal dog who guards the chick crates at night and lives on table scraps and large hunks of puri. Eleni says he is “an American,” although his true lineage is unclear. He was born in Tbilisi, either to American owners or perhaps to a dog that they had brought with them from America. Charlie was initially suspicious of us, like any good farm dog should be, but was quickly won over when he realized Alicia was a reliable source for belly scratches.

Charlie: baby chickie protector

After a quick tour of the farm, Kamran took Tony to their wine room, where they dipped wine the color of apple juice from the kvevri – large clay jars for aging and storing wine, buried to their tops – and into pitchers for the table. Alicia noted the wine’s color and naively asked if it was “like a rosé,” which Kamran found extremely amusing. Nearly every household in Kakheti makes their own wine using whatever grapes their ancestors planted in their vineyards.

Ladybug on a grapevine

Scooping the wine from the kvevri

Pouring the wine into pitchers

That evening, we were treated to a feast – a supra. Kamran assisted with expert translation. Many toasts were made. To God. To mothers. To children. To future children. To siblings. To America and Georgia. To the dead. To friendship. Our glasses were constantly refilled with the golden wine at a wonderful and terrifying pace.

Supra table

Supra table

Supra table

We ate fried chicken, khachapuri, bread, tkmali (spicy, sour green plum sauce), generous slices of cheese, and greens and herbs. All sourced a few feet from where we dined. In the United States, there is a big trend towards locally sourced organic foods, and “slow” foods prepared with care from scratch. In Leliani, this is not a new thing. It is Eleni and Dato’s reality, mostly unchanged for centuries, save for the added luxury of propane burners and the ice cream bars we had for dessert.

Eleni cooking a pot of chicken

Eleni and the calf

I’m afraid we were too exhausted from our whirlwind weekend in Tbilisi to truly communicate our appreciation of it all while it was happening. We struggled to surpress our yawns and clean our plates and absorb this new country and these new friends.

Kamran, Alicia, Eleni and Tony

To look at this with an American eye, our hosts may seem superficially “poor.” But Eleni is truly rich, and we will always be grateful to have been recipients of her family’s lavish hospitality and friendship.

Didi madloba.

Kamran, Eleni and Charlie

—–

Watch the video we made:

That’s Where You Are: Leliani

If you want to read more about supras, food and winemaking at Eleni’s farm, you can read what Sean and McKinze have written:

—–

04
Jul 2012
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Georgia

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A weekend in Tbilisi

(Hi visitor from the internets! Did you come here looking for info about 144 Stairs in Tbilisi? Here’s their Facebook page, or you can see a few pictures of it towards the bottom of this post. But do feel free to hang out here a while.)

After our early morning arrival and glorious introduction to Georgian food, the rest of our Tbilisi weekend was a blur of seeing everything, doing everything, and having a super fun time getting to know Sean and McKinze better and soaking up all the Georgia intel our brains could handle.

We visited the new city park that President Mikheil Saakashvili (we preferred his nickname, Misha) opened last summer. The glass-domed presidential mansion, “Misha’s house,” is at the top of the hill, so this new park is essentially his front yard.

The new park in Tbilisi and the President's house

Children playing in the splash pad at Tbilisi's new city park

A fountain at Tbilisi's new city park

We walked across the incongruously modern Peace Bridge at noon and at night.

Tbilisi Peace Bridge

Tbilisi Peace Bridge

We came across a free streetside wine tasting and sampled our first Georgian wine (they claim to have invented it 8,000 years ago) while a man alternated between playing his accordion and his organ grinder.

Tbilisi sidewalk wine tasting

Tbilisi sidewalk wine tasting

Tbilisi organ grinder

We climbed Narikala Fortress, whose first stones were laid in the 4th century, and within its walls, we saw a portion of a Georgian Orthodox mass in St. Nicholas Church.

Narikala Fortress

Narikala Fortress

St. Nicholas Church, Tbilisi

View of Tbilisi from Narikala Fortress

We cooled down in a Turkish tea house.

Turkish tea house

The bath houses in Tbilisi

We ate more Georgian food at “the Ossetian place” and piles of noodles and meat at “the Uzbeki place,” where we were treated to an awkward belly dance (is it rude to look, or is it rude to not look?).

Uzbeki food

Uzbeki food

We went to the gold bazaar where McKinze bought a silver St. George pendant (he’s Sakartvelo’s patron saint) and Alicia bought earrings.

Sean and McKinze shopping

Sean and McKinze shopping

We went to the regular bazaar.

Tbilisi bazaar

Near the Tbilisi bazaar

Sean and McKinze negotiated a great cell phone deal for us (up to this point, we didn’t have phones with us).

Cell phone shopping in Tbilisi

Cell phone shopping in Tbilisi

Cell phone shopping in Tbilisi

We had tea and lobiani (khachapuri with beans instead of cheese) in a cafe where a man played guitar and made up funny songs about the men gathered around the back table.

Impromptu musical comedy

We climbed the hill to the brand-new Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, surrounded by rose gardens and a palpable sense of national pride.

 Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

 Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

The grounds of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

 Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

Tony and Alicia at Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

We visited the statue of Tbilisi’s founder, King Vakhtang Gorgasali, whose hand served as a perch to a real bird (although not the falcon of legend).

Statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, Tbilisi

Statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, Tbilisi

Statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali, Tbilisi

We climbed 144 steps to a wine bar of the same name, where we felt like kings as we enjoyed the view of the city from the patio until a thunderstorm drove us indoors. We decided to wait it out, which ended up many long conversations later at 4:30 a.m.

144 Steps, Tbilisi

144 Steps, Tbilisi

144 Steps, Tbilisi

We walked. Everywhere.

Graffiti, Tbilisi

Wandering through Tbilisi

Children playing in a fountain, Tbilisi

Wandering through Tbilisi

The long escalator down to the Metro

All of that in one weekend. Exhausting. Perfect.

On Monday afternoon, McKinze escorted us to the marshrutka station, and translated all the requisite questions that the drivers had for us. Questions that we would answer again and again with every Georgian we would meet.

Marshrutka drivers in Tbilisi

Where are you from? (America… Iowa.)
Do you like Georgia? (We love Georgia! Georgia is beautiful!)
Are you married? (Yes.)
How long are you married? (Almost eight years.)
How many children do you have? (None). Concerned looks from the drivers.
When will you have children? (Maybe when we go back to America.) They perked up. An acceptable answer.
How old are you? (30 and 33.)

When it was time to leave, we hopped in the front seat, bound for Kamran’s village of Leliani. Who is Kamran? A guy we had never met before. Where is Leliani? Several hours east of Tbilisi, by the Russian and Azeri borders. You can’t find it on Google Maps. But we would soon find Leliani in our memories forever.

01
Jul 2012
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Iowans, Meet Georgia

Our first introduction to Georgia came before our feet even hit the tarmac of Tbilisi International Airport. We were waiting for the boarding announcement for our connecting flight in Istanbul. It was delayed by 30 minutes and everyone had gathered at the gate. It was midnight, there was an unexplained delay, and everyone clumped towards the front. It was not a matter who arrived first. Rather, it was who wanted to be first. Despite the late hour and the jostling for position, all the Georgians were happy. They were going home.

As we were two of the only three obviously non-Georgian or non-Russians on the flight, most chose to stare at us to pass the time. The stares are always overt, with no attempt to pretend they were looking elsewhere. To many cultures, including ours, this would be a terribly rude thing to do. But in Georgia… well, why would you not stare at the utskhoelebi (foreigners)? God gave you those eyes for a reason.

Tbilisi International Airport

At arrivals, we stepped into a crowd of people staring back at us and briefly felt like red carpet celebrities, but of course they were anxious for their own friends and family to walk through the door. The only blonde in the crowd was easy to spot, even though she is only five feet tall. McKinze and Sean gave us huge hugs and we piled into a taxi. Or maybe it was just an opportunistic kid who had a car and needed gas money. Either way, we were soon hurtling down George W. Bush Avenue (yep) towards downtown and the Peace Corps office. White lines? Merely a suggestion. We decided that either the drivers of every single vehicle on the road had hit the chacha hard that evening or the rules of the road were very different here.

Tony noticed a large glass building that resembled an American style car dealership, until you read the huge POLICE sign, written in both Georgian and English. McKinze explained that a few years ago President Saakashvili fired and replaced the entirety of an overtly corrupt 30,000 member police force. It was one of his more successful and beneficial initiatives for the country. Part of the overhaul included new police stations with glass facades as a symbol of transparency.

After a sufficient recall of traveler mortality statistics had passed through Alicia’s brain (motor vehicle accidents are at the top of the list), we arrived safely. It was 4 a.m., and rather than paying for a room for the remaining few hours of darkness, we would just sleep on the couches at the Peace Corp office.

But first, Sean suggested a bedtime snack of khachapuri imeruli at the cafe across the street. If you can imagine tangy, salty, homemade cheese stuffed into a leavened dough, baked into a flat, oily, disc and cut into pizza-esque slices, that is your basic khachapuri. Alicia was certain that the recipe had to include a generous squeeze of lemon juice, but Sean said that flavor was all in the cheese. Tony and Sean each enjoyed a pint of Natakhtari, not certain if it qualified as a nightcap or as breakfast.

Khachapuri imeruli, photo courtesy of Sean Fredericks

(photo courtesy of Sean Fredericks)

We caught up with each other’s lives, and they told us about what they had been doing during the nearly two years of service as Peace Corps volunteers here. The sun rose, the birds awoke and we finally walked back to the office and slumped into the couches for a few hours of rest.

Peace Corps office

When we awoke, we grabbed our bags and walked to the guesthouse where we’d stay that evening. It always feels good to find the place you’re sleeping and then leave your heavy bags behind. Our 34 liter backpacks are about half the size of the average backpackers’, and conform to even the strictest airline carryon maximums, but they’re still a ball and chain after a short distance.

Guesthouse

Guesthouse courtyard

We left the leafy courtyard and took the subway to the old city district, to a restaurant where we would have our Very First Georgian Meal Ever. (And the people rejoiced.) The preview of the early morning khachapuri was enough to get us excited for all the wonderful things we would soon be experiencing.

The fastest way to both of our hearts is through our stomachs and Sean and McKinze made sure it was love at first sight. They ordered puri, salty bread; lobio, mashed beans baked in a clay pot; kitri da pomidori salata, cucumber and tomato salad, always with lots of onions, parsley and salt, and sometimes with dill, basil, jalapeños or walnut sauce; two kinds of khinkali, large pasta dumplings filled with either mashed potatoes or ground beef, pork and broth; and khachapuri acharuli, a huge bread boat filled with tangy cheese, an egg yolk, and a slab of butter.

Lobio, puri, kitri da pomidori salata

We started in on this new type of khachapuri. McKinze instructed us to rip off a chunk of bread, stir it up, and eat. Sweet mother of heaven.

Khachapuri acharuli

Sean taught us how to eat the meat-filled khinkali. Hold it bellybutton side down, take a small bite from the edge, then suck out the broth. An expert khinkali eater keeps his plate dry. The bellybutton is edible, but most people keep them on their plates so they can count how many they’ve eaten, and so they can save room for more khinkali. The vegetable salad was a welcome break from the heavy (and heavenly) salt, fat and carbs, and would be something we would continue to order with almost every meal.

Khinkali

We felt only a little remorseful as we waddled out of the restaurant. We would pack a lot into this weekend, and the first day had barely begun.

01
Jul 2012
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Food in Paris

Continuing our tradition of compiling all of our food photos from one leg of the trip into one blog post, here is what we ate in Paris. Two days, a handful of meals… not much time to delve into French cuisine. One of our breakfasts, which consisted of coffee, orange juice and chocolate croissant next to an outdoor market, was just too pleasant to interrupt by taking the camera out. And it didn’t help that we were so hungry one afternoon that we walked into the first cafe we came across. It turned out to be an expat place that sold cheeseburgers and American grocery items. Good thing we had such a great feast in Toulouse!

18
Jun 2012
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Toulouse Hospitality

In January, Tony scheduled a tattoo appointment for May 11 in Toulouse. An old friend of his happens to live there, so he emailed her to see if she would like to meet us for coffee while we were in town. Sharla, her husband, Laurent, (and fancy kitty friend Eugenie) ended up hosting us for five days. Despite the fact that Tony hadn’t seen Sharla in over a decade, Alicia had never met her, and neither of us had met Laurent, we had a great time. Sharla took us to a sorta-almost-secret spot to look out over the city, to a great crepes place, and on an evening walk through the park. Also, she makes really, really good granola.

Laurent’s parents, Jean-Pierre and Anna, were determined that their son’s American guests would have the opportunity to sample the best of French cuisine, so they hosted us for lunch on Sunday. After meeting their teenage and half-century old tortoises, we had champagne and sampled a variety of canard delicacies. There was magret séché de canard (salt-cured duck breast), three types of duck sausage, crispy fried duck skin, and some foie gras Jean-Pierre potted himself. Then came wine and salad and delicious cassoulet, which featured more duck sausage and duck legs. Then five different types of cheeses, ice cream and chocolates for dessert, and a sampling of the sole remaining bottle of Laurent’s grandfather’s homemade plum liquor.

It was a marvelous feast and we enjoyed every bite. Toulouse duck is far and away more delicious than any wild Mississippi River duck. Thank you Sharla, Laurent and family very much for your kind hospitality!

(The dinner photos in this post are courtesy of Jean-Pierre.)

13
Jun 2012
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France

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Xampañería

For several days in Barcelona, we had been lamenting the fact that it would be a long time before we could walk down a street and see a familiar face. Alicia said, “I just want to run into someone I know today. Anyone. Wouldn’t that be so nice?” Late in the afternoon of this particular day we were tired and getting a little cranky. After walking way too far to check out the zoo, which ended up being more than we wanted to pay for “maybe this will be cool” late afternoon entertainment, the decision was made to just go back to our hostel on the opposite end of the city.

The closest metro stop was a few blocks away at Barceloneta. We walked less than a block and a familiar face showed up! That lightly bearded face belonged to Kristian who works at our hostel. When you meet him you feel like you’ve known him for years. Case in point – he immediately introduces us to Michael and Panos, whom I assumed were old buddies of his, but it turned out that he just met them at a Greek restaurant earlier that day. He was taking them to his favorite place, which he only referred to as the xampañería and invited us to come along. I had no idea what a xampañería was, but it sounded like a place where they serve champagne… so yes, let’s go there.

Five minutes away from where we met, he took us down a quiet, seemingly unused block to an unmarked bar with people literally spilling out the front. Kristian dives right into the crowd and forms a channel for us to push our way to the back and find a counter to lean against. The interior is unpretentious. A few cured whole hams hang from the ceiling among the industrial light fixtures and a large wooden sign revealing the name of the mystery bar – Can Paixano.

His xampañería turns out to be a cava bar. Cava is Catalonian champagne. It is pink, bubbly, delicious, costs about €1 per glass, and it’s the only thing served at Can Paixano other than the small plates of cheese and hot sausages they pair it with. Michael brought us up to speed with Greek politics. Kristian told us about leaving his home country of Cyprus in search of adventure elsewhere, which currently finds him in Barcelona. We told him a relatable story.

12
Jun 2012
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Spain

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Edible Barcelona

Most of these pictures are from Mercat St. Josep. You’ll see our favorite cheese (tetilla gallegago look up the translation if you want to learn a fun new Spanish word), bountiful produce and seafood, racy chocolates, “our” neighborhood bakery, and the harsh reality of delicious animal products. For our veg/vegan friends, we included two shots of some graffitti you might like.

05
Jun 2012
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Beach and Paella

We only had a few days left in Spain and still had not eaten any paella. So we spent a day walking the beach and picked a nearby paella restaurant at random. Alicia is not a big fan of invertebrates, but we both definitely found the pile of rice and tentacles and shells and tails and legs the be among our most delicious experiences to date.

05
Jun 2012
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30
May 2012
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Spain

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Food in Madrid – part 1

Tortilla Española, bocadillos, calimares, olives, boquerones, olives and very cheap wine. And ham. Oh, the ham.

30
May 2012
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Places to Eat

Our time in Spain would not have been nearly as enjoyable if our friend Crissa had not given us a list of must-eat foods. Also, Alicia’s friend Alicia (not a typo) recommended a great pastry shop, La Mallorquina, which ended up being only two blocks from our hostel and one we would return to almost daily. Here are some photos of places where we ate (and some places we just poked our heads into).

30
May 2012
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Almudena Cathedral

Santa María la Real de La Almudena is right next to Palacio Real, so it was an easy decision to take the time to visit. For a European cathedral, it’s brand-new (glasses on one of the figures in the relief sculpture on the main exterior doors is an easy giveaway). Construction began in 1879, and after a big gap in construction during and after the Spanish Civil War, it wasn’t finished until 1993. The facade was designed to match the palace.

23
May 2012
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Food: Paisley-Glasgow-Edinburgh

If you’re one of those people who hate seeing food pictures, you’re just going to have to deal with it. Feast your eyes.

If you’re wondering, we did eat the regular haggis, but skipped the deep-fried haggis.

30
Apr 2012
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Note: The image gallery above is giving me fits, so the photos are out of order and there are no captions. But I figured I had better get something posted! Click the image above and then arrow through the photos. If you’ve subscribed by email, you’ll want to visit the website directly to see the pictures. We’ll get this figured out…

I’m going to write about food first, mostly because I’m hungry at the moment, but also because everyone loves food. Most Icelanders live on the coast, so fish is plentiful. And since pollution is at a minimum here, it’s supposed to be some of the best in the world. Back home, we’d almost never order fish (except sushi), so we definitely made an effort to go outside our comfort zone and order a lot of fish. Even if it was breakfast.

Our first meal, a few hours after we landed, was at Snaps Bistro in Reykjavik. A young passerby recommended it. He said they just opened, and their prices were, “way too inexpensive” considering the quality of the food. It was only 11 a.m., so the kitchen wasn’t open yet, but we ordered coffees and pretended that the Íslenska menu was a word game. Some of the words are similar to English, especially if you try to sound them out (beikon = bacon), others you might be able to make an ballpark guess by contextual clues. Eventually, the waiter brought us the English menu, and we were able to compare our guesses with reality. Tony ordered the smoked salmon with cream cheese, lemon and herbs. I ordered the smoked arctic charr with potatoes and apples. Both were fantastic. Mine was somehow simultaneously delicate and rich. This was our first and best meal.

Another cafe we visited was Cafe Loki, which is adjacent to and has a perfect view of Hallgrímskirkja which is deservedly the landmark of the city. We ordered a smoked trout and cottage cheese bagel and a smoked herring and hardboiled egg sandwich for breakfast. We also got a little pastry called a kleina, which is a type of twisted fried donut that has some spices in the batter, but isn’t frosted or glazed or dusted with anything sweet. Perfect accompaniment for coffee. We also saw Magnus Thór Jonsson, better known as Megas, “Iceland’s Bob Dylan,” in the corner enjoying a sandwich and a beer. We recognized him because we are super knowledgeable about international folk music and anyone who knows anything has heard of him. (Or maybe he was performing on a tv program we watched a few days earlier and a nice Icelander told us all about him… more on that story later.) We did not seek an autograph, but I did pretend to be intensely interested in fiddling with the top of my camera so I could fire off a few shots from the hip to prove our brush with fame.

The night before we left, we visited the Laundromat Cafe, which is located down by the harbor in the shopping/entertainment district, and does have a laundromat in the basement if you need to take care of that while you eat. Despite the practical facilities and the good prices, it’s actually a pretty classy joint. The bar is made of bookshelves and the books are all grouped by the color of their spines. Tony got a great salmon dish with salad greens and beets (I couldn’t resist the grilled ham and cheese sandwich, but you’re not reading this to hear about grilled ham and cheese sandwiches).

Pylsur. I’m not sure if this is only tourist food, or late night after-bar food, or if people eat it on a regular basis. But we wanted to give it a try. More than once. Pylsur is a hotdog made of lamb, and is in natural casings. It’s served on a white toasted bun, and “with everything” means with diced onions, crispy fried onions, sweet ketchup, a very mild and thick brown mustard and a yellowish mayonnaise. We had some at the touristy pylsur shack down by the harbor, at a roadside stand in the middle of nowhere on the south coast and at a gas station. The first ones were the best, but it seems that they’re pretty uniform, at least all over Reykjanes Peninsula.

We also relied on grocery stores for some cheaper food options. We had Skyr, a very tasty low fat, high protein yogurt, every day. I’ve seen it in Iowa City before, but it is much more affordable here. On one of our road trip days, I bought a mini loaf of rúgbrauð (a dense, sweet rye bread), a carton of herbed cream cheese and a packet of salami. I chose the cream cheese because regular cheese was expensive and I didn’t want to buy a whole bottle of condiment. They sustained us well throughout the day we spent driving and hiking through a deserted peninsula to the north.

There were a few surprises along the way. At one grocery store, I saw some cartons of blueberry, strawberry, prune and mixed fruit juice. I examined the label, but wasn’t able to understand any of the words. I asked an older woman who was pushing her cart through the aisle if it was good for drinking and I made a drinking motion with the carton. “Oh yes, very good. Very good one,” she said. So I bought it. Once we were in the car, I cracked it open and took a nice big swig of strawberry pie filling. It was then that I located the only English word on the package (pie). I guess I should have noticed that it was stocked right next to the flour. Tony stopped off at a convenience store shortly after that and returned to the car with some chocolate candy as a consolation for my fruit juice failure. It turned out to be chocolate covered salted black licorice. I don’t like licorice at all, but it was pretty mild and the salt actually made the other two ingredients work together in the flavor profile. We saw black licorice gum and other licorice treats all over. Iceland loves its licorice, it seems.

We also had a bite of hákarl. Chef Anthony Bourdain is quoted as declaring it “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten. But that is a story that deserves its own blog post.

-Alicia

17
Apr 2012
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