Ten Iconic Foods In Southeast Asia

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Ten Iconic Foods In Southeast Asia

“Food is our common ground- a universal experience.” James Beard

The rich variety of foods in Southeast Asia is one of the many memories I have from traveling there. It is both very affordable and different so you might want to ease your way into the cuisine. Don’t start with the spicy tarantula. The staple across the region is rice which is often served as a main dish. Second place is taken by a variety of noodles, which are boiled, fried, tossed, steamed or baked to form a part of a wide variety of dishes. You can’t drink the water in these countries which leads me to only eat cooked food. I have had some amazing meals and carefully ate in morning street markets when the food is fresh. If you going to eat street food (and you should) it is best to eat at the time locals do. If the stand is crowded, it is probably good.

Bahn Mi, Vietnam

The bánh mì is a French-style baguette, stuffed with an ever varying combination of meats, vegetables, and sauces. The bánh mì sandwich gets its origin from the French influence on Indochina. The baguette was introduced by the French, but appropriated by the Vietnamese in the 1950s when they started calling it the bánh mì or wheat bread. The traditional meats you find in bánh mì are pork, pâté, and cured ham. Typically, the vegetables are coriander, cucumber, carrot, slices, radish and more depending on what part of the country you are in. The best one I had I was at a roadside stand driving from Ho Chi Minh City to the Mekong Delta. Try them in Hoi An as well. Anthony Bourdain loved them there. Hoi An is one of my favorite places in Southeast Asia.

Mohinga, Myanmar

I watched as a street vendor in Yangon set up his food and put out a few small plastic tables and chairs. They were serving mohinga which is the most popular and also the national dish of Myanmar. It is a combination of rice noodles in a curry sauce with a base of fish combined with many flavorsome ingredients like ginger, garlic, onions, lemongrass, and a handful of dried spices as well. You can garnish it with chili and cilantro and if you spoke Burmese you could get a fried egg on top. It looked and smelled fresh and within minutes was crowded with people. I decided to try it. It tasted like something you would eat in Thailand or India which makes sense because Myanmar is between those countries. I watched as more and more tables were being set up and more street carts were appearing. It was quite good and cost about fifty cents.

Pad Thai, Thailand

Pad Thai was invented in the 1940’s as part of a set of cultural reforms to have a national Thai identity. Accounts vary but they say it was part of a national competition. It was given the name Pad Thai to distinguish it from the many similar Chinese noodle dishes. Pad Thai is not old or traditional but it is the most popular snack food in Thailand. There is not a lot of protein in it in Thailand but due to the popularity around the world, restaurants have added protein options to make it more of a meal.The dish usually combines tamarind, rice noodles, shallots, eggs, fish sauce, fresh bean sprouts, chives and miscellaneous fresh vegetables or protein. Chili pepper, Roasted peanuts and a wedge of lime are served on the side. I had it first in a restaurant near Ayuthaya which are the ruins of the old capital of Siam destroyed by the Burmese in the eighteenth century. In Thailand you eat it with a spoon and fork. The chopsticks are for the tourists.

Fish Amok, Cambodia

Cambodia’s most famous dish is fish amok. It is a steamed, mousse-like custard made of curry paste, with river fish and coconut milk and is served in a banana leaf cup. It probably started as an inland dish as the fish comes from a river or lake. Amok refers to the process of steaming food in a banana leaf. Sounds good right? It is so delicious. It was my first lunch in Siem Reap after visiting Angor Wat. This is eaten with chopsticks. Everything in Cambodia is eaten with rice. Having had so much starvation for so many years, it is odd for them to see people jogging to lose weight or not eat rice. I needed to eat some rice in Cambodia to understand the food. I felt a little of that first world privilege that I had a choice not to eat it.

Khao Piak Sen, Laos

Though I wanted to eat laap in Laos, (traditionally raw meat salad) which I saw many people eating, I stuck with cooked food. Rice noodle soup in Luang Prabang is the best way to start a busy day of sightseeing. It is a flavorful meat or chicken broth with thick handmade noodles and has a thicker consistency than watery soup. At the table setting you will usually find a small dish of fresh herbs, hot red peppers fried in oil, shrimp paste, and often some dried crushed peanuts as well. It is one of Lao’s oldest, most traditional dishes.

Samusas, Myanmar

Samusas are a popular snack throughout Myanmar.They are smaller than their Indian cousins and are served with a sauce unique to the Burmese region. Burmese are obsessed with frying – the more oil, the better.  In the tea shops in Yangon they chop them up and serve them in a salad. They are also served in a soup. I felt they were cooked enough to eat from a street cart when my blood sugar got low. I really wanted to try the raw sugar cane juice with it but I had green tea instead.

Bun Cha, Viet Nam

I ate bun cha when I arrived in Hanoi. It started in Hanoi and is their signature dish. Rice noodles are served on a separate plate (bun). Cha is pork cooked in two styles: cha vine (ground pork) and cha mieng cha (grilled thin sliced pork). It is served in the broth which  is made of fish sauce, vinegar and sugar. In the big basket of greens on the table, you will find fresh lettuce, Thai basil, cilantro, fish mint, banana flower, and coriander. There are two ways to eat it. You can wrap everything in lettuce and dip it in the broth or you can throw everything in like Hanoians do and eat it like soup with chopsticks. I did that to cook the lettuce a bit. It was fun to relive the experience watching President Obama and Anthony Bourdain eat bun cha in Hanoi.

Khao Niaow Ma Muang,Thailand
Mango with sticky rice is one of my favorite desserts. Mango is the most popular fruit in the world. Traditionally, sticky rice is made by being soaked in enough water to cover the rice, and then left overnight before being steamed and sweetened with sugar and coconut milk (it has a similar taste to rice pudding although it is not quite as moist). It is served to complement the sweet mango. There are many streets vendors in Bangkok that sell it in the summer months. You can also get it as a dessert in restaurants.

Chaa Angrong Sach Ko, Cambodia

Hunger is a legacy that lives on in Cambodia and everything is edible. This is not my first fried bug country but there are a lot of them here. Platters of fried tarantulas and spiders are common in the market. They told me the red ants that were biting my leg on the hammock were delicious when cooked with beef and fresh basil and they were right. The insects add a tangy, sour pop to the savory, fragrant medley of chili, basil, ginger, lemongrass, garlic, and shallots. As long as it is cooked, I’m willing to be adventurous. Anything fried in oil and salt tastes good and they add a pop of more protein to the dish.

Pho, Viet Nam

No matter what time of day or night, a steaming bowl of pho noodle soup is never hard to find in Vietnam. Pho consists of flat rice noodles in a light, meat-based broth. There are small amounts of meat or meat balls cooked separately and added. Fresh vegetable garnishes complete the ensemble, usually composed of Thai basil, green onions, cilantro, and bean sprouts. Bean Sprouts are for the tourists who get that in their own countries. The dish is usually accompanied by basil, lime, chili, and other extras on the side so that eaters can season the soup to their own taste. The balanced tastes of sweet, salty, spicy, and citrus are highly contagious; pho usually becomes an instant favorite. It is Viet Nam’s unofficial national dish and eaten all over the world now. The first pho I had in Viet Nam was on the way back from Halong Bay. Pho costs about two dollars. It is eaten with chopsticks in one hand and a spoon in the other. Slurping is encouraged.

 

Stay safe,

JAZ.

Ten Amazing Travel Days

Ten Amazing Travel Days

“It’s a perfect day, drank Sangria in the park, later on when it gets dark, we go home”  Lou Reed

A perfect travel day is when everything falls seamlessly into place. There are days when you experience amazing things because the world is an incredible place. I picked ten of my favorite days

Cappadocia , Turkey

Cappadocia could be among my favorite places in the world.  The dramatic landscape is the result of volcanic eruptions that happened millions of years ago. Wind and water eroded the land leaving these odd surreal land formations, fairy chimneys, caves and underground cities.

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Floating across the sky at sunrise, above the lunar-like, rugged moonscape of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon was one of the most incredible mornings of my life and should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Dubrovnik and Peljesac Penninsula, Croatia

I had a great time in Croatia with my kids. A particularly beautiful day was spent exploring the Peljesac Peninsula with our tour guide Petar Vlasik http://www.dubrovnikrivieratours.com.  We stopped at a few different wineries for wine tasting. Ston is a fortified city from the middle ages with stone ramparts said to resemble a small great wall of China. Ston is known for their lush oyster beds and salt pans and is a great place to eat the freshest oysters and buy salt.

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That night we attended a really good jazz concert at the Old Rectory Church in Dubrovnik. It was a great family memory.

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Onsets and Ryokans, Japan

Ryokan are Japanese style inns found throughout the country in hot springs resorts. Ryokan are a traditional Japanese experience, incorporating elements such as tatami floors, futon beds, Japanese style baths and local kaiseki ryori (eight course typical Japanese meals with local and seasonal specialties).

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The main activity besides eating is bathing. The geothermal springs located throughout the country( onsens) provide hot mineral-rich water for indoor and outdoor baths. The chemistry, temperature, pressure, buoyancy, sulfa and magnesium of thermal baths have curative properties . The meals show all that is beautiful about Japanese culture. Kaiseki is a multi course meal rooted in the Buddhist idea of simplicity. I have been fortunate to visit a few ryokans in Nikko, Yufuin and Iso Nagaoka. Each one has been special.

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Marajo, Brazil

Marajo is an island in Brazil in the state of Para at the mouth of the Amazon. It is the size of Switzerland and home to many beautiful birds and water buffalo.

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The story goes that a ship laden with goods and water buffalo from India hit a reef and sank off the coast of Marajo. Some of the buffalo escaped the wreck and swam to shore. The buffalo are descendants of this shipwreck though now more have been brought in. There are large herds of domesticated water buffalo on the island. At Fazenda Sanjo you can experience life on a farm in the Amazon. There is piranha fishing, riding and milking buffalo, canoeing and horseback riding through the river with the buffalo. We did the riding with the buffalo. It was definitely the most different thing I have ever seen up close and pretty amazing.

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Edinburgh, Scotland

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a summer theatre festival that includes cutting edge theatre, interesting comedians, and everything else. It is a festival where anyone can perform and my daughter’s high school took advantage of that and had a three-week summer program in Edinburgh. My son and I went to see her perform. It was my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe. Being a theatre person, I loved every minute of it and have been back a few times.

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My son worked there the following summer. The Royal Mile is the definitive part of the fringe. This road is packed full of street entertainment, groups doing excerpts from their shows (mainly musicals) and lots, lots and lots of acts trying to flyer you to get you to see their shows. There’s not really any equivalent to this anywhere else. Theatre goes on all day and all night. We had a blast.

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Cartagena, Colombia

The heat in Cartagena gives it a sleepy feeling which kind of makes it okay to sit on the wall, browse through shops and street vendors, buy fresh fruit from a woman carrying it on her head and not go to a museum.

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La Boquilla is a poor fishing village twenty minutes outside of Cartegena. It is a peninsula at the end of a beach with the Caribbean Sea on one side and a lake with mangroves on the other. The guide takes you on an old canoe through mangrove tunnels with flocks of birds and fishermen fishing for crabs ,shrimp and small fish.

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After the canoe they pull out a fresh coconut and make a hole for a straw with a machete. I walk for a long time on the beach with my feet in the Caribbean Sea. I have lunch on the beach of fresh fish, plantains and coconut rice.

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Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a writer in Cartegena. His novel Love in The Time Of Cholera Is set here. It is one of my favorites. I see Fermina riding in the horse and carriages and Florentino wandering everywhere in despair. You can see how much of Cartegena is in his books.

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Hoi An, Viet Nam

Hoi An is one of the most charming cities in Viet Nam .Hoi An’s Old Quarter is lined with two-story old Chinese buildings that now house shops with elaborately carved wooden facades and moss-covered tile roofs.

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The food market reminds visitors of another era when it was filled with goods from all over the Asia. (mangos, rambuchan, snake wine) Hoi An is a place where you can get clothes and shoes made at a reasonable price as long as you have a picture. It is also one of the best eating cities in Viet Nam and known for cooking classes and especially delicious food.

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After spending the day in the hustle and bustle of the busy streets of Hoi An, i head back to the Nam Hai all-villa resort on quiet Hoi An Beach. The contemporary architecture is welcoming and eye-catching as feng shui mingles with strong modern lines.

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The Spa at the Nam Hai is truly something wonderful. Composed of 8 villas, floating around a lotus pond, it is the ideal location for a relaxing massage, steam shower and herbal tea! The people who work there are most helpful and always want to practice their English.

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Venice, Italy

Every corner you turn in Venice ,you walk deeper into some real-life watercolor painting that a camera can never do justice. It’s like no place else I’ve ever been.

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It’s  a maze of canals and small streets, whimsical bridges, and colorful buildings. And as with all mazes, you should prepare to find yourself lost a time or two. I was there with my kids and a friend,  It was during the Art Biennale in the summer.

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We got to see incredible modern art from all over the world in the morning and explore the city in the afternoon.

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An important Venetian holiday is held on the third week in July. It is the Feast of the Redentore commemorating the end of the plague that killed fifty thousand people including Titian. The fireworks display is so extensive and significant that the re-election of the mayor is contingent on their quality (sort of like us picking a governor based on his movies) I have to add that they were the most incredible fireworks of our lives –I hope that mayor got re-elected.

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Buenos Aires, Argentina

It started in Tigre, a port a half hour from Buenos Aires. We sailed through the different rivers of the Delta Del Parana.

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At lunchtime, we went to Tres Esquinas in Barranca, a working class barrio in Buenos Aires for steak and empanadas. I love outdoor markets but the Sunday antiques market in Plaza Dorrego  in San Telmo is a phenomenon. The antiques are around the plaza but the shopping continues with arts and crafts vendors for many blocks. It is curbside capitalism at its finest.

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La Confiteria Ideal did not start as a tango hall but as  a pastry café in 1912. In the nineties it became a tango hall. Its faded glamour was a perfect background for the faded glamour of the tango dancers I saw that day. Dance has been a big part of my life. Andres Miguel my tour guide is a tango dancer.  tango@culturacercana.com.ar  Everything we did that day was related to tango  –  a boat on a river, good food and shopping, a milonga and always tango stories. He was the perfect tour guide for me and gave me a gift of the perfect day.

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Krueger National Park, South Africa

My daughter and my new son-in-law  were married on a safari In South Africa with sixty-five of their closest friends and family. A game park in Africa is an unlikely wedding destination. (We Love Pictures)

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You know that word that we Americans overuse for everything – awesome? i didn’t expect to have the feeling of humbleness and awe I had when seeing the African animals in the wild up close. There are moments of joy in your life. Watching your daughter get married to the right guy   in the peace and beauty of the African Bush is a distinctive moment of happiness. Watching your son officiate the wedding with intelligence, humor, kindness, sensitivity and even a bit of spirituality  (albeit in the form of animals)  makes it perfect.

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Fly safe,
JAZ

Thirty Things That I Wanted To Do In 2014. Did I Do Them?

Thirty Things That I Wanted To Do 2014. Did I Do Them?

“Every hundred feet, the world changes.”  Robert Boitano

  1. Go to Colombia. Yes
  2. Go To Southeast Asia. Yes
  3. Go to Seattle. Yes
  4. Read more books on the 1000 Books You Have To Read Before You Die. Yes
  5. Go to the theatre with my son. Yes
  6. Meditate every day. I think this may be like a dieting resolution. I will make it every year. Still not every day.
  7. Do an Urban Art tour in LA. No definitely in 2015
  8. Do a spa day with my daughter. Yes
  9. Watch even less Real Housewives. Yes they are getting boring now that so many of them are going to jail.
  10. Go to Guatemala. No
  11. Go To Miami. Yes
  12. Have more spiritual friends. Now I want to have less spiritual friends.
  13. Eat less sugar. Hmmmmm not sure but probably not.
  14. Go to the Bridge On The River Kwai. No
  15. Try ten new restaurants in LA. Yes Orsa and Winston, Bucato, Sushi Tsujita, Bachi Burger, Cleo, Republique, Wallys, Everleigh, Carousel and Escuela De Taqueria
  16. Try ten restaurants in other places. Yes Andres Carne De Res – Bogota Colombia, Matiz – Bogota, Colombia,  Salou – Cartegena, Colombia, Morning Glory –  Hoi An, Viet Nam, Golden Rice – Hue, Viet Nam, Pepper Tree – Phu Quoc, Viet Nam, Washoku Bar – Tokyo, Japan, The Dining Room – Siem Reap, Cambodia, Salumi –  Seattle, Washington, Anchovy and Olive – Seattle Washington.
  17. Have ten meals with Kitchensurfing. Yes
  18. Go back to Japan. Yes
  19. Spend more time at 826 LA.Yes
  20. Practice tai chi. Yes sort of.
  21.  Go to a ryokan.Yes
  22. Go To Angor Wat, YES ( a bucket list item)
  23. Drink less coffee maybe No
  24. React less. Maybe
  25. Go To Agua Dulce. Not yet
  26. Get more people to read my blog. Still trying
  27. Do more yoga. Yes
  28. Go to Bainbridge Island. Yes
  29. Go to the Grand Canyon. Not yet.
  30. Go to a Grouplove  concert. Yes

Not too bad.  Two thirds yes. I don’t beat myself up over stuff like this. On to the 2015 list. I’ll make it smaller and harder.

25 Things I  Want To Do In 2015

1. Do something big that I am afraid of.

2. Drink less coffee.

3. Go to Rio.

4. Go To Another Grouplove concert.

5. Finish my hamburger blog.

6. Get more people to read my blog.

7. Try eleven more new restaurants in LA.

8. Try eleven restaurants in other places.

9. Go to another place on my bucket list.

10. Read more books – the kind you hold in your hand that smell like books.

11. Go to Sao Paulo..

12. Meditate every day.

13. Look up less random questions on the internet.

14. Go To Brazil.

15. Have more real friends.

16. Go to The Stanley Film Festival.

17. Get more involved at 826 LA.

18. See ten documentary films.

19. See ten foreign films

20. Eat less gluten.

21. Read more of other people’s blogs.

22. Do more beach walks.

23. Be more grateful every day.

24. Finally do that urban art tour in LA.

25. Be a tourist in LA.

Happy New Year and Fly Safe,

JAZ