All posts filed under: Wanderlust

How To Pack Lightly

Food fans, hold onto your forks and knives. This week I’m switching gears to discuss another passion of mine, travel. Because I enjoy traveling so much more without the burden of a huge, heavy suitcase or backpack to lug around the globe — and because a friend recently mentioned that she needed to learn how to pack lightly — I thought that I’d impart a few packing tips. So, for all those wondering how to manage three weeks or just three days with only a small carry-on bag … WHAT’S IN MY CARRY-ON FOR 1 to 3 WEEKS OF TRAVEL: *Ziploc bag with TSA-approved size (3-ounce) containers of conditioner, deodorant and sunscreen. Although I love my brand of shampoo, I figure that hotel shampoo is fine when combined with my usual conditioner. The Ziploc bag also contains Ibuprofen, a sheet of Benadryl (great for allergies, restless nights and allergic reactions), a few tablets of Immodium (the victim of food poisoning’s friend), loose Band-Aids, small hair brush, toothbrush, toothpaste, facial soap and tweezers. What the bag …

Searching for Soba

When I told friends that I’d be traveling to Japan last month, the first or, depending on the person’s love of manga, Godzilla movies or Hello Kitty, second thing mentioned was sushi. Eyes lit up with thoughts of velvety, coral-colored toro blanketing perfectly made beds of vinegared white rice. Although I love sushi, I had a different culinary mission for Japan. As soon as the plane touched down in Tokyo, I went on a hunt for soba. The name for the thin, grayish-tan noodles as well as the buckwheat flour from which they’re made, soba has long been a favorite food. It has a warm, earthy flavor, nutty aroma and firm texture that I adore. I likewise appreciate that it can be eaten hot or cold, with or without stocks or sauces and on its own or with meats, herbs and/or vegetables atop it. Plus, it’s loaded with nutrients and a decent source of vitamins B, C and E and protein. What’s not to love? Once in Japan, I didn’t have to look long or …

Raise Your Forks! It’s St. Paddy’s Day!

Maybe it’s the water from the River Liffey or the way that Irish bartenders pour their stouts. Whatever the reason I have become one of those curmudgeons who grumbles that Guinness tastes best in Ireland. When I’m in Ireland, I’ll down pint after pint of this smooth, dry brew. Hardly unusual—one out of every two pints consumed in Ireland reputedly is a Guinness. Yet, when I’m back at home, I’m more apt to empty it into a pot and cook with it than I am to drink this Irish beer. Drained from a bottle on American soil, it just doesn’t provide me with that wonderful richness and effervescence of the Irish original. Because my friends are generous and unaware of my finickiness, I have received many, many 6-packs as well as the occasional case of Guinness. Remember 2009, when the 250-year anniversary stout was released? That was a banner year for beer-based dishes. What do I make with all that booze? Well, after sampling a bottle and confirming that I’m still a major fusspot, I …

Hot off the Presses! Waffles!

At a recent holiday party I got pulled into a conversation about why Belgium is such a fantastic country to visit. According to the Belgium buffs, it possesses everything that anyone could ever desire — quaint cities, beautiful architecture, first rate art, few tourists and loads of excellent food including Trappist beer, fries, mussels and chocolates. While I wouldn’t rank Belgium as my top vacation spot, I do enjoy much that this historic land and the headquarters of the European Union has to offer. Of course, I love the aforementioned art and architecture. I likewise adore the world class chocolates and beer. What sells me on Belgium, though, is its waffles. Sold throughout the country in cafes and on street corners, waffles are believed to be a spin-off of the medieval Flemish wafer. Like their small and crisp predecessor, these honeycombed cakes are cooked between two greased, patterned, metal plates. Originally, folks pulled out their waffle irons only on special occasions. In fact, during the Middle Ages parents of a newborn girl would often receive …

Taste of Vietnam

For me Vietnam has never meant cuisine. Born at the end of the Vietnam – or, as they call it in Vietnam, “the American” – War, I’ve long been fascinated by that war and this Indochinese country. The food? It just didn’t captivate me the same way that the history and culture did. Yet, the more time I spend here, the more I grow to appreciate the background, flavors and techniques of Vietnamese cooking. Eat in Vietnam and you eat with my nemesis, chopsticks. I have 1,000 years of Chinese occupation to thank for the popularity of these tricky utensils. Along with chopsticks the Chinese also introduced rice cultivation, stir-frying, beef and bean curd to the Vietnamese. Without their influence there would be no pho (rice noodle soup), congee (creamy rice soup), banh cuon (rice rolls) or stir fried meals of any kind. Guess I can forgive them for the chopsticks. China wasn’t the only country to have an impact on Vietnamese cooking. Nearly a century of French rule resulted in affinities for beer, baguettes, …

Market Fresh in Vietnam

Although I’ve been in Vietnam less than a week, already I’m addicted to market shopping. Found in every city and town, the cho, or market, serves as a one-stop shopping spot for the locals and for me. Forget Western-style grocery stores, which you won’t find anyhow. If you need a new shirt, frying pan, necklace, pound of onions or fresh shrimp, just drop by the local market. In Ho Chi Minh City I’ve spent hours at the Ben Thanh Market. Built by the French in 1914, this enclosed shopping mall was originally called Les Halles Central. If you’re familiar with Paris or French history, you might recognize the name for Paris also had a Les Halles or “central market halls.” With over 100 vendors in place Ben Thanh is unquestionably the main market hall for HCMC. What have I found at Ben Thanh? Chopsticks. Chinese-style dresses. Quirky t-shirts. Men’s polos. Silk purses and cellphone holders. Coffee, tea and spices. And that’s just the some of the dried goods, textiles and general merchandise. If so inclined, …

Portuguese Idyll

Among all the places that I’ve visited Portugal may become one of my favorites. Along with an abundance of pleasant weather, charming people, beautiful sites, relaxed atmosphere and efficient infrastructure, the Iberian country boasted of some of the freshest cuisine that I’ve found. In Lisbon Sean and I roamed the cobblestone streets, nibbling on warm pasteis de natas, the custard cream tarts discussed in a previous entry. While bakeries have become a rarity in the States, in Lisbon they appeared on virtually every street corner. In addition to the luscious de natas these shops offered such delicacies as egg-topped Easter loaves, powdered sugar-dusted coconut puffs, almond cookies, honey cakes, crusty breads and small cups of strong coffee or uma bica. Needless to say, he and I both suffered from a major case of bakery envy. Since we spent much of our time along the coast, we often dined on simply prepared, local seafood such as tuna, mullet, clams, barnacles and bass. Sardines popped up not only in restaurants but also along the beaches, where they …

Bit of the Bubbly

I spent much of last week in Dallas so the obvious choice would be to write about Tex Mex food. Yet, as I quickly learned, there’s more to Texas cuisine than chilies and guacamole. For instance, there is beer. No, I don’t mean the obvious, South-of-the-Border choices such as Corona or Dos Equis but rather all the other fine brews found on tap there. Want an American craft beer such as Ommegang‘s Three Philosophers or Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA? How about an Italian Peroni, English Young’s Double Chocolate Stout or a Belgian Maredsous, Leffe Blonde or Chimay? I could enjoy them all and many more at the lively Old Monk and The Ginger Man. Drinking all these heady lagers and ales made me think, unsurprisingly, about food and how infrequently I use beer when cooking. Sure, every now and then I pull together a tasty Guinness- or Victory Lager-based cheese fondue. Still, I’ve not spent enough time tinkering in the kitchen and seeing what other recipes can benefit from a bottle of good beer. …

Indian Food Lover's Delight

As a fan of Indian food, I was bowled over by the delectability of Northern Indian cooking.  Fresh, flavorful produce, heady spices and sweet, locally grown rice all played starring roles in this region’s cuisine. Likewise chicken, lamb, and fish made frequent appearances in non-vegetarian dishes while legumes and nuts dominated the vegetarian fare.  Almost every street cart and restaurant menu featured flat breads such as unleavened chapathi and leavened naan and filled pastries such as the crisp, conical samosa. Foods that I consistently encountered at home turned out to be staples of Northern Indian diets, too.  Pureed mint-coriander, chopped mango and piquant sweet pickle chutneys appeared at the start of every meal.  Coupled with the chutneys were crunchy, wafer-like papadums, another regular from my U.S. Indian dining experiences.  Even the national dish of Britain, chicken tikka masala, occasionally popped up on menus.  Originating in the UK, this imported entree emphasized such traditional ingredients as garam masala, turmeric, yogurt, ginger, coriander, tomatoes and, of course, chicken. Along with the usual items were the slightly unusual.  …

Too Brief a Trip to Malaysia

After two weeks in India Sean and I craved a break from the terrifying traffic, 100+ degree heat and constant crush of peddlers, beggars and people on the streets.   We found respite not at an ashram, on the beach or even in the Himalayas.  Instead we ended up decompressing in a completely different country, Malaysia. A brief work assignment had brought us to the ultra modern and immaculate capital Kuala Lumpur.  Although I had been skeptical about the destination — I had hoped to make it not to Southeast Asia but to Nepal on this journey — this city of two million won my heart.  With its law-abiding drivers, 90-degree weather and subdued pedestrians KL was a godsend. On our first day we went to the Perdana Lake Garden. Number of Malays who accosted us on our 15-minute walk to the public park?  Zero!  Number of times that we jumped out of the path of a deranged driver barreling down the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic?  Nil! Inside the tranquil garden we followed …