4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Food”

Quick Trip: Philadelphia (by Carmen)

In July 2015 we were able to make it to three East Coast cities: Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Portland (Maine). Here’s what I wrote two years ago about stop #1:

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 056

Liberty bell

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 028

Declaration Hall

To be honest, I had forgotten how much important history happened in Philly. I knew the Liberty Bell was there, but had completely forgotten about the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the first halls of Congress, and all that really important foundation of the country stuff. So it was in fact perfect that we decided to do an overnight trip during the Fourth of July weekend.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 060

Birthday cupcakes

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 005

Christ Church

Our hostel was right across the street from the historic Christ Church, which counted many American revolutionaries as part of their congregation including Ben Franklin. His nephew’s printing press is still located nearby and is in working order! We couldn’t resist buying a hand printed Declaration of Independence. Our time in Philadelphia was getting off to a very patriotic start.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 011

Reading Terminal – Carmen’s Cheesesteak

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 013

DeNico’s

When in Philly, one has to eat Philly Cheesesteak. The only problem is… Nathan and I don’t really care for cheesesteak. It’s bland and boring. But we gave it one more shot since we were in its birthplace. Unfortunately, despite going to my namesake (namesteak?) stand, Carmen’s Cheesesteak did not change our minds.  

The good news was that we were in Reading Terminal Market, which has dozens more food stands to choose from.  We headed over to DeNico’s which had the longest line but it moved very fast. A roll piled high with roasted pork and parmesan flecked broccoli rabe was much more satisfying.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 020

City Hall

As we meandered the streets after lunch we were naturally guided to City Hall.  From 1890 to 1905 this was the tallest structure in the world.  It was built before steel construction so to support such a feat the brick and stone walls had to be enormously thick. Most remarkable of all, though, is the oddly outsized statue standing proudly on top of the building.  While the structure comes across as somewhat inelegant to the modern eye, its stature demonstrates how important Philadelphia was at the turn of the 20th century, when the steel industry gave it great power and before being overtaken in economic strength by NYC, Chicago, SF, etc.

2015.07.01-09.30 - Nathan's iPhone - Summer - 004

Franklin Mortgage

The area southeast of the city hall, called Rittenhouse Square, is full of picturesque cobbled streets, cool shops (I really liked Open House on 13th St for great souvenirs and gifts) and hip restaurants.  Nestled among these is the ambiguously named Franklin Mortgage & Investment, a high end cocktail bar following the popular speakeasy theme. The drinks are very well done and Nathan was so inspired by the Peanut Butter & Jelly Cocktail that he immediately began a bourbon-peanut butter infusion when we arrived home.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 044

Zahav

After drinks we tried Zahav, mostly on the recommendation of one of my favorite bloggers, David Lebovitz.  How can you resist if a chef you admire says they have “life changing hummus?”  I’ll give my opinion in a nutshell: the hummus is good (but I think Ottolenghi’s recipe is just as good), the salad mix plate is awesome, and the rest was tasty but overpriced. I might go back for a light meal with the salad plate, but that’s it.

The surprise food find of the trip happened by chance.  Looking for a quick breakfast, we happened to walk by High Street on Market. Turns out they make all their breads in house and even get freshly milled flour from local sources. The pudding and the pastries we tried were excellent.  I really want to go back to order one of the amazing looking breakfast sandwiches that were being delivered to neighboring tables. Fortunately, they just opened a NYC branch so now that’s even easier.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 067

Elferth’s Alley

I went to Philadelphia with expectations of seeing the Liberty Bell and eating cheesesteak, but not much else.  The city truly impressed me with its vibrant cobbled streets and yummy food.  There are places I didn’t even get to try while there – Federal Doughnut for fried chicken, Franklin Fountain for ice cream sundaes,…and maybe I’ll find something healthy too :)  I’ll just have to get another Philly fix.

2015.07.03-04 - Philadelphia - 064

Revolutionaries!

Advertisements

I left my heart in Oaxaca (by Carmen)

Some people leave their hearts in SF, but not me. I left mine in Oaxaca. I’m not sure when I first wanted to go to this artistic corner of Mexico but it lurked somewhere deep in the recesses of my memory. Once Nathan and I narrowed our vacation destination to Mexico, it resurfaced as a top choice. I happened to mention to my parents that we were planning to go to Oaxaca in November and was met with a few moments of silence and then, “Are you serious?”

“Um, yes. Why?”

“We were talking this morning about going to Oaxaca in November, too.”

That’s right. Without even discussing the fact that Nathan and I would be going on any vacations to my parents we had both planned the same trip for the same month. It was fate.

If it hadn’t been for my parents, I doubt I would have booked a whole week for Oaxaca. But I’m so glad I did. It is a beautiful region with so, so much to explore. I already can’t wait to go back, which is rare for me. I’m usually excited to explore parts unknown to me.

Templo Santo Domingo

Templo Santo Domingo

The Tree of Life inside the monastery

The Tree of Life inside the monastery

One of the first things to greet us in Oaxaca was the Templo Santo Domingo. This 16th century Jesuit monastery stands tall and proud with immensely thick whitewashed stone walls. The layout of agave in the front accentuates the simplicity and symmetry of its facade.

Jardín Etnobotánico

Jardín Etnobotánico

Cacti at the Jardín Etnobotánico

Cacti at the Jardín Etnobotánico

Behind the Templo Santo Domingo is one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve ever been in. I am particularly fond of succulents and this sustainable garden was full of native varieties. The jardín etnobotánico was conceived by two artists as the city contemplated converting the disused monastery estate into a parking lot. The result is a stunning compilation of trees and cacti arranged in an aesthetic manner instead of according to biological groupings (like most botanic gardens). I saw plants I never knew existed, including some cacti that were no more than a half meter tall but were centuries old. Just beyond the garden entrance, the Restaurante La Olla was fresh and delicious. It felt like a local hang out despite the fact that I found it through the guide book.

Bride & groom waiting for one of the Oaxaca's many parades

Bride & groom waiting for one of the Oaxaca’s many parades

Fun textures at the textile museum

Fun textures at the textile museum

One of the many reasons I find Oaxaca so enticing is the many cultural activities and sites sprinkled throughout the town. Our very first night in the city, we observed a wedding parade (turns out this is a popular destination wedding location). The parade is lead by two bride and groom puppets, specifically commissioned to look like the bride and groom. As far as cultural sites, the Textile Museum was a beautiful example, full of historic weaved patterns sourced from Oaxaca and the surrounding states. Each tunic and shawl told a story, literally woven into the pattern of the fabric.

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Mercado 20 de Noviembre

Parrilla hall

Parrilla hall

Every good city has a good market, and Oaxaca is a very good city. My parents, Nathan and I decided we were in need of a market meal. For this we turned to a smoke filled hall at the edge of the market lined with bright red steak and sausage ready for grilling. You pay separately for each service – for the meat, then for the person next to the butcher to grill it (interestingly, some meats, like the sausages were placed directly on the coals), then as you sit you pay for someone to provide tortillas, salsas and other fixings and, finally, someone comes around with drinks.  A unique system, but it works deliciously well.

Queso de Oaxaca

Queso de Oaxaca

Oaxacan food is world renowned with it’s most famous dish being mole. I was excited to learn some of the city’s kitchen secrets to bring back to my tiny NYC apartment so I could try to recreate all the yumminess that surrounded me. My family and I signed up for a class with Seasons of the Heart which took place in small ranch just outside of town. First up was a cheese class where we learned how to make amazing queso de oaxaca, which is similar to mozzarella. He strung it out and eventually wrapped it into this little rosette, a shape he said was a specialty of the his hometown.

Yummy mole

Yummy mole

Nathan entertaining classmates while making tetelas

Nathan entertaining classmates while making tetelas

Delectable smells filled the kitchen as the class divided and conquered under the oversight of the instructors. Everyone was anxious to observe the making of mole (think: Mexican curry) which used a wide variety of ingredients as a flavor base, including almonds, cinnamon, cloves, oregano and thyme. Tetelas were another hit – we each took a turn to flatten the dough, spread some spiced, fried beans into the center and then carefully fold it into a triangle before tossing it on the fire-heated griddle. Our feast was complemented by herbed rice, salad, salsas and fresh tortillas. The culmination was a spectacular bread pudding which, although not a traditional Mexican recipe, used local ingredients like pumpkin and piloncillo (evaporated sugarcane juice). Fantastic.

Memelas

Memelas

Oaxaca has that something special about it. Some magic in the air that makes it both exciting and new but totally welcoming and comfortable at the same time. The food was as amazing as I’d hoped – whether enjoying homemade mole or street side memelas (thick corn disks with toppings, very similar to a sope). The surrounding villages each had their own artistic specialty, whether weaving, pottery or painted figurines, providing endlessly entertaining markets. Mezcal is locally made and abundant. The people were kind.

Camino de Santiago pilgrim

Camino de Santiago pilgrim

And on top of everything I saw a sign from above – literally. A Camino de Santiago pilgrim was randomly painted on the side of a building, pointing towards the heart of Oaxaca, telling me where to go.

I shall return.

Al Pastor in Puebla (by Carmen)

View down the street in Puebla

View down the street in Puebla

There is really only one reason we went to Puebla: tacos al pastor. Given that we already sampled many, many tacos al pastor in DF, it may seem crazy to come 2 hours south to Puebla just to eat more. But this is the supposed home of al pastor. And let’s face it, we’re fanatics.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral facing the zócalo

So it was with great anticipation and hunger in our bellies that we found ourselves in the zócolo (main square) of Puebla. A city of 1.5 million seems positively tiny after DF (which holds about 21 million). The zócolo had a relaxed atmosphere with families and friends collecting in clusters and balloon sellers meandering around. The centuries old cathedral towers over the south side of the square flanked by arcades full of cafes to watch the world go by.

Las Ranas' version of al pastor

Las Ranas’ version of al pastor

Just a few blocks away was our al pastor mecca, Las Ranas. Al pastor (literally shepard’s style) was brought to the country by Lebanese immigrants. Like donner, thin sliced marinated meat (in this case pork) rotates on a spigot slowly becoming carmelized and juicy. The meat slicers at Las Ranas were pros and we watched them cut the meat into ever so thin slices to be placed on tortillas, queso fundido (melted cheese), bolillos (bread rolls) or pan árabe (literally arab bread; pita). The pita is what really brought home the origins of this specialty – it was soft and a little chewy, perfect with the seasoned meat and spicy salsas. Las Ranas will forever stay in my memory as a place that 1) has some of the best al pastor in the world and 2) made me fuller than I’ve ever been in my life.

Capilla del Rosario

Capilla del Rosario

One of Puebla's many churches

One of Puebla’s many churches

The next morning we discovered more of Puebla beyond its culinary treasures. An important colonial town, the city is full of lavishly decorated churches and religious sites. My favorite was the Capilla del Rosario. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve seen anywhere in the world. The bright white stucco was shaped into intricate, weaved geometric patterns and then strategically covered in gold to accentuate the design. It was over the top baroque but instead of being tacky it felt fun, as if it were a puzzle to try and decipher the underlying geometries.

Chalupas

Chalupas

Near the church, a group of girls cornered us to ask us questions about America for a school project. They were adorable and very enthusiastic to practice English. One of the cutest moments was when the best English-speaker asked us if we really called calabacitas “zucchinis.” She thought it was such a strange word that she had doubted her teacher’s translation. We asked the schoolgirls what their favorite comida poblana (Pueblan food) was and they responded “chalupas!” We specifically sought these out and discovered that these are comprised of fresh tortillas dragged through rich tomato or tomatillo based sauces and then fried on a griddle. Thanks for the tip, chicas.

Bar in Puebla (I love the dancing woman painted above)

Bar in Puebla (I love the dancing woman painted above)

Pork cemita from Cemitas América

Pork cemita from Cemitas América

Another Pueblan specialty is cemita. What makes these small sandwiches special is the buttery, flakey, spiral shaped bread it sits on. We chose the most hopping cemita joint we could find and ordered two. This place only did one type of cemita – pig face. I like it when an eatery is bold enough to just do one thing well and, in this case, it paid off. Pig face is not for everyone but if you can learn to enjoy the jiggly factor, you’re in for a treat.

At the train museum

At the train museum

Inside a vintage Mexican train

Inside a vintage Mexican train

Puebla continued to charm me with a museum dedicated to Mexico’s basically extinct passenger rail system. El Museo del Ferrocarril (Train Museum) had a collection of old rail cars, some of which you can climb inside. The information signs provide details on the origins of the various cars, how and when they were used and background on the lives of the people who worked them. Inside Puebla’s former rail station, a photography exhibit displayed photos of the many migrants who boarded these trains in the mid-1900s to work in the US. My grandfather was one of these men, traveling from Guadalajara to Chicago, which made the exhibit particularly personal for me. I searched the faces in each photograph to get a sense of both the fear and the bittersweet excitement the men must have felt as they boarded the trains to a such a foreign place and culture.

Quesadilla close up with squash flowers and mushrooms

Quesadilla close up with squash flowers and mushrooms

Heading back to the town center, we couldn’t resist the sizzle of quesadillas on the grill. Ours contained squash blossoms, mushrooms and fresh gooey cheese on a purple corn tortilla.

Biblioteca

Living my librarian dreams at the biblioteca

Directly in the center, we were once again surrounded by colonial splendor. An elegant example of this splendor was the 17th century biblioteca (library). I love libraries. I’ve always been intrigued by becoming a librarian. I think it was the scenes from Beauty and the Beast in which Belle waltzes through the castle library stacked high with leather bound books that influenced me as a child. In short, I was very happy here.

Artsy mole at El Mural

Artsy mole at El Mural

Our final meal in Puebla diverged from all the previous ones we had had in Mexico. Thus far, we had focused on street food and hole-in-the wall eateries to get the most authentic food we could. In general, Nathan and I are weary of white tablecloth restaurants that only the local elite and tourists can afford. But we heard good things about El Mural and we decided to give it a try for breakfast on our last morning in town. They totally had me with their homemade miniature pan dulce. And their café de olla (coffee with spices). And their fresh juices. And pretty much everything else.

Street vendor in Puebla

Street vendor in Puebla

I’m so glad we stopped in Puebla on our trip. It was a charming and calm counterpoint to the frenetic energy of DF yet still had an urban feel. Next up was through the gorgeous four-hour drive through the mountains to Oaxaca.

Falling for Fall in the Hudson Valley (by Carmen)

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Fall foliage in the Hudson Valley

Towards the end of October Nathan and I celebrated a big anniversary so I wanted to surprise him with something different than our usual nice dinner out. Instead, I developed a secret day trip to the Hudson Valley. To make it extra special, I organized our adventure around three common interests: culture, food and nature.

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Path to the Chuang Yen Monastery temple

Buddha in the Hudson

Buddha in the Hudson

Nathan had his suspicions and was able to guess some of the day’s activities, but I really threw him off when I pulled into the Chuang Yen Monastery grounds. This was a serendipitous online discovery. The Hudson is known for artist colonies and high end antiquing more than Chinese monasteries so when I saw the name displayed on Google map I had to learn more. Not only does it have the largest Buddha statue in the Western hemisphere, it also serves a vegetarian lunch to visitors on the weekends. I knew I made the right decision as we walked into the dining hall. Plates were piled high with stir fried vegetables, stewed seitan, braised tofu, rice and chili sauce. It was as delicious as I’d hoped. The two women next to us were discussing Buddhist philosophy as well as a recent group of monastery visitors from Tibet. Based on our experience in Dali in 2012, we made sure to finish every single speck of food on our plate, down to the last grain of rice.

Lake with goddess statue

Lake with goddess statue

Japanese maple tree

Japanese maple tree

After lunch we walked around the grounds, which included a small lake and a mausoleum. The lunch, peaceful surrounds and chill in the air brought back so many memories of our time in China. Especially our trek between the monasteries of Mount Emei Shan.

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Fishkill Farms barn, orchards and vegetables

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Trees laden with apples made for easy picking

Apples!

Apples!

We left the monastery and headed north to Fishkill Farms. What Nathan did guess right about the surprise day trip was the “food” portion of the day: apple picking! Some apple farms that let you pick your own fruit (known as PYO) are like amusement parks focused more on hayrides and corn mazes than produce. I wanted to avoid that scene and, while there were plenty of people at Fishkill Farms, there were quiet corners in the orchards and vegetable patches. The tree limbs were heavy with crisp, ripe Golden Delicious apples, the kale was in full bloom, and we walked out with our arms full of goodies.

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Nathan practicing his expert juggling skill

Apple cider donuts

Apple cider donuts

Most people at the farm seemed to congregate around the apple cider donut stand. Nathan and I had heard people talk of these sweets but we weren’t sure if they were really worth the hype. As we stepped up to the counter, we could smell the fresh from the fryer donuts. Still piping hot, they were coated in cinnamon sugar that became slightly caramelized and crackly. We took our first bite and it was a revelation. Yes, apple cider donuts really are that good. Looking forward to many more of these in my life.

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

“Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity”

One last surprise, was to take a little walk on the Appalachian Trail to honor both our love of nature and of long-distance trekking. We pulled into Fahnestock Park and immediately saw a beautiful green rock jutting out from Canopus Lake. I think we were influenced by our monastery visit earlier in the day but again we were reminded of views from China. We therefore decided to name it the Jade Rock of Hope and Prosperity.

Now that I’ve seen the Hudson Valley in the fall and winter, I’m thinking spring and summer trips are in order!

LA Dreaming (by Carmen)

We are in the cold depths of winter here in NYC. I haven’t had to live through a proper, snowy January since I was six so I was curious and a bit anxious to see how I’d handle it. The weather put up a real challenge complete with polar vortices and plenty of single digit days. Now that it’s the very end of January, I know that if this is some of the worst the city has to offer I will survive the coming years just fine.

Typical LA street - palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

Typical LA street – palm trees, low-rise buildings, baking sun, nobody walking.

That said, I’m still allowed to indulge in a little California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Specifically, I’m thinking back to my past summer spent in Los Angeles. Nathan and I had just got married in Chicago and for our honeymoon we landed in…my parents spare bedroom. At the wedding, everyone’s favorite question was, “After all your travels, where are you going to honeymoon?” What we really wanted, though, wasn’t a honeymoon but a home base from where we could decide on next steps and start the job hunt. In this regard, LA was a great place to set down our backpacks.

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

Meatball sliders at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

The dessert case at Bottega Louie

 As a lover of urban environments, I’m always attracted to the high rises and historic areas of downtown LA. In fact, this area is becoming so hip it was mentioned in the NY Times article “52 Places to Go in 2014.” A major favorite of mine in downtown LA is Bottega Louie. Somehow, the restaurant manages to make a crisp white and marble setting feel simultaneously glamorous and laid back. And the food is every bit as good as you hope it will be. I ordered a plate of mini meatball sliders which were juicy and rich. After the meal, the case of exquisite desserts and macarons towards the front of the restaurant beckons with a rainbow of colors and flavor choices.
Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Early gray pie at The Pie Hole

Downtown LA's Art District

Downtown LA’s Art District

If you resisted the sweets at Bottega Louie (or even if you didn’t) head nearby to The Pie Hole. This hipster cafe is located in the LA Arts District which is full of industrial chic restaurants and stores. They serve a mix of sweet and savory pies each day. I really fell for the earl gray cream pie – it was the perfect base for that delicate bergamot flavor. I’m going to have to recreate that one at home. If I get it right, I’ll post the recipe.

The Hollywood Sign family shot

The Hollywood Sign family shot

Garden at the Getty Museum

Garden at the Getty Museum

We were so lucky to have Nathan’s aunt from Germany join us for our wedding. After Chicago, she swung by California and we joined her for a day of LA sightseeing. The Hollywood sign is always a must see for guests and afterwards we drove to the breathtaking Getty Museum. The grounds and views are just as stunning as the art inside.

Dodger Game

Dodger Game

What American summer is complete without a baseball game? We rounded up friends Joey and Michelle to join us on a warm summer evening at Dodger stadium. We sat among the die-hard fans dressed in cobalt blue…and I was reminded how slow the game is. I’m checking out an LA Galaxy game next time.

Nozomi

Nozomi

During our down time we didn’t venture too far from my parents’ neighborhood, a suburb of LA which happens to have a large Japanese community. We scouted out the best ramen joints, izakaya grills and sushi. In the raw fish department, Nozomi stood out for having incredibly fresh and silky uni, or sea urchin. I still dream about the uni I enjoyed at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo many years ago and this was the closest I’ve found so far.

The chefs

The chefs

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

Tomatoes galore at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

A tangle of green onions at the farmers market

When we decided to stay in, we took full advantage of my Dad’s large kitchen. It’s nice to have so many foodies in the family. In some households, discord arises regarding who will have to make dinner. We had the opposite problem – we had to agree on who would get the honor of cooking that night. So we made a menu board before our weekend trips to the farmers market. Oh, my beloved farmers markets. The beautiful California produce is a sight to behold and something I’ll always miss.

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

Key lime pie at Fishing with Dynamite

As we took turns cooking, we still couldn’t resist LA’s excellent restaurant scene. One of the places we enjoyed was Fishing with Dynamite, a cozy seafood themed restaurant from the same owner as the ever popular Manhattan Beach Post. Each small plate that landed on the table was a hit. And the key lime pie dessert rather speaks for itself.

Father's Office

Father’s Office

Burger at Father's Office

Burger at Father’s Office

Stout ribs at Father's Office

Stout ribs at Father’s Office

Another great find was Father’s Office. This is bar food done right. And that was the surprising thing when my family and I entered – this place really did feel like a bar. We got ID’d on the way in! But the food lived up to its stellar reputation. The burger is incredibly rich, as could be expected when it’s covered in cheese, caramelized onions and bacon, and is best for sharing. We also sampled the pork ribs marinated in stout, then covered in a sweet, spicy honey glaze. I understood why the place was packed.

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupuseria La Flor Blanca

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

Pupusas with cabbage slaw

While Modern American cuisine is gaining a strong foothold in the city, the ethnic enclaves are what I get most excited about. For example, Pupuseria La Flor Blanca. Nathan had been here a number of years ago and we were excited to discover that it was still around. It’s a simple affair with fake brick walls and formica table tops, but as soon as you enter the door you can hear the slap of the pupusas on the griddle. Our pupusa (a bean and cheese stuffed dough patty) combined with the sour tang of the cabbage slaw was exactly what we were looking for.

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Bahn beo at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

Half and Half boba with Kathleen

We sought out more hole-in-the wall restaurant recommendations from friends and struck gold again. My friend Kathleen joined us for a wonderful Vietnamese lunch at Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa in Rosemead. She selected the bahn beo which are steamed rice cakes topped with dried shrimp, green onions and crispy pork skin. They were silky, sweet, salty and took us right back to the markets of Vietnam. Next up was a platter with rice paper, various grilled meats, fresh herbs, bean sprouts, tofu – basically all the ingredients you could want to make your own delicious and fresh spring rolls. Though full after all our food we made it over to Half and Half Tea House for some monster cups of boba. Thanks, Kathleen, for the incredible finds!

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Our favorite local bar, which we frequented with our awesome friends Michelle and David

Indeed, it was wonderful to have friends and family around again. Whether it was catching a baseball game, scarfing down Asian treats, sipping a drink at our favorite beach-side bar during happy hour or sitting down to share a home cooked meal, I’d say our “honeymoon” in LA was just what we needed.

Now share some of the good weather already!

Chicago Living (by Carmen)

Lake Michigan Coast

Lake Michigan Coast

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

Obligatory Cloudgate (or The Bean) shot

We just couldn’t stay away. Our last visit to Chicago was during a July heat wave. We managed not to melt by visiting the beach and ducking into air conditioned restaurants for our fave regional eats – namely deep dish, hot dogs and anything by Rick Bayless. But it wasn’t enough. So this May, Nathan and I set down our backpacks for a whole month.

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me recording

Wait, wait – why were we spending a whole month in the Windy City? Was this an extension of our travels? There was in fact a very specific reason to plop ourselves in this beautiful city by Lake Michigan. Our wedding was to take place at the end of May and we had a lot of planning to do! It was exciting but tiring times. To take a break from all the planning we fit in a few special meals, good beers, and fun shows. Like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, the excellent NPR Saturday morning show recorded in downtown each week.

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Spent a lot of time on our L platform

Revolution Brewing

Revolution Brewing

During our month in Chicago we were fortunate enough to stay with a family friend in the excellent Logan Square neighborhood. I thought it fitting that we were next to the California stop on the L (the name for the local train system). It was also fortunate to be very near one of the best breweries in the city – Revolution Brewing. The space has a huge wooden bar in the center of the lively restaurant. My personal favorite was the Rosa beer, which was a beautiful red color thanks to being brewed with hibiscus. It was a truly refreshing beer as the weather began warming up.

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Longman & Eagle breakfast

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Lula Cafe cinnamon pasta

Logan Square has a lot to offer but two of my favorites are Longman & Eagle and Lula Cafe. The former is quite the multi-faceted business with a hotel, full bar and a restaurant open for breakfast, lunch and dinner all on one site. The owners are able to pull it off it with style and as well as delicious food. I find the breakfast menu to be a particularly good deal so Nathan and I walked over one morning to enjoy chicken and waffles as well as a duck hash. Every time I eat there I wonder how they make their food so tasty.

Just across the square (actually more like a large roundabout) is Lula Cafe. The food was also of very high quality but in a comforting way. Like my pasta mixed with feta, cinnamon, garlic and brown butter. Simple, a little unusual, but ultimately delicious.

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Kurowski Sausage Shop

Polish goodies

Polish goodies

Speaking of comforting, Polish food ranks high for me in terms of homey goodness that just makes me happy. We found gold at Kurowski Sausage Shop, a grocery store full of delectable items like sauerkraut, kielbasa, borscht, dill pickle soup, hunter’s stew and, of course, lots and lots of pierogies. We happily stocked up and wondered if we could move in next door.

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Urban Belly rice cake soup

Belly Shack bulgogi

Belly Shack bulgogi

While I love Polish food, my heart will always belong to the cuisines of Asia. So I couldn’t wait to try Urban Belly. I went with a group and we each ordered a different soup. Through the variety of noodles (udon, rice, ramen and round rice discs), broth bases (chicken, pork), and spiciness levels one theme emerged – each bowl was incredibly scrumptious. We had such a good experience that Nathan and I took a group of family to Belly Shack, a sandwich shop from the same chef. I was a little worried that the group might prefer burgers and fries to the eclectic menu offerings at the shack (example: meatball and noodle sandwich) but everyone came away happy. I particularly enjoyed my bulgogi with flatbread and kimchee.

Fat Rice, a new fave

Fat Rice, a new fave

I thought Urban Belly was an unusual name, but then Fat Rice came and blew it out of the water. Turns out the name is a translation from the more elegant sounding arroz gordo, a specialty of Macau. The whole restaurant is dedicated to Macau cuisine which has a mix of influences – mostly Portuguese and Chinese but also a little bit of everywhere else the Portuguese went. I absolutely love when east meets west so this was right up my alley! While I really wanted to order the arroz gordo (a rice dish with a variety of meats and seafoods, chinese sausage, tea eggs, linguiça and sofrito) it is meant to serve 6. We still considered it though :) Instead we settled for Piri Piri Chicken with peanuts and potatoes in tomato sauce, Crazy Squid and large spears of stir-fried asparagus. Tangy, spicy, tingly, nutty, sour – everything melded together perfectly. From the concept to the food to the decor, this has become one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago.

Newlyweds

Newlyweds

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

Hot Doug’s hot dogs as celebration

And then we got married! Or at least it felt like it happened that fast. All the efforts of not only me and Nathan but our families culminated in what will forever be one of the best days of my life. A smile creeps onto my face anytime I think back to that wonderful weekend full of family, friend and love. And what better way to cement our union than to eat gloriously delicious hot dogs at Hot Doug’s?

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Soaking in the modern “Flamingo” sculpture in Chicago downtown with friends

Filafill

Filafill

Having so many of our family and friends in Chicago at the same time was somewhat surreal. We tried to spend as much time as we could with everyone over the wedding weekend. Most people wanted to check out downtown so we wandered around, admiring architecture together. When we needed refueling we visited Filafill, an excellent falafel and sandwich bar where you fill up your pita with as many sauces, pickles and veggies as you like.

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

Chicago’s sweet side (clockwise from top left: olive oil cake at Floriole; decadent doughnuts at Glazed & Infused; cookies and hot chocolate at Hot Chocolate, sundae at Margie’s Candies)

I will leave this food heavy post off with a sweet ending – dessert! Nathan and I have sweet tooths to be sure. While we revisited Floriole for a moist olive oil cake we were happy to discover Glazed & Infused this time around. They offer some seriously decadent doughnuts in unique flavors like maple bacon. Based on a recommendation from my dad, we also made a trip to Hot Chocolate for (what else) hot chocolate. It was smooth and had perfectly balanced sweetness and richness. Finally, my favorite is Margie’s Candies, an institution since 1921. You walk in and you are transported back in time before artisanal gelato and fancy toppings. There is no salted caramel here. Just simple (but huge) sundaes with lots of hot fudge to drip over it. And you can’t forget the neon maraschino cherry on top!

Thank you, Chicago, for being a sweet setting for us to start a new chapter in our lives.

Back to the Bay (by Carmen)

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

The glorious Dolores Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon in San Francisco

Ok, we are a bit behind. And by a bit, I mean a lot. We’re steering away from the trip tips and cost analysis for now to focus back on what we love most: travel stories and food photography. To kick things off I’m going to write about a trip way back in April, shortly after returning from our gastronomical adventures in China. It was a journey that included hyperactive bhangra dancing, hiking, beers, pottery painting, jello shots and non-jello shots, custom made t-shirts, wine and a veiled crown with inappropriate ornaments. Yes, it was our bachelor and bachelorette parties! I can’t reveal any specifics but I was so happy to be surrounded by wonderful friends to celebrate bachelorette-hood. As it happens most of these friends live in the city by the bay, San Francisco.

Manish slaving away at the stove

Manish slaving away at the stove

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

A wonderful and welcoming vegan meal

Manish welcomed us back from our round the world journey with open arms and a very tasty meal at his apartment in North Beach. While we regaled him with tales of travels far and wide, he graciously cooked us up a vegan meal of green beans, lentils, rice and stuffed flatbreads – just like his momma taught him (quick shout out to her homemade handvo!). We talked, shared a couple growlers and joined friends in what was a great first night in the city.

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Pizza and wine at Preston Winery in Sonoma

Preston Winery tasting area

Preston Winery tasting area

The next day our friend Nalat whisked us away to be her guests at Preston Winery. It is one of the best wineries in the region but has a completely unpretentious atmosphere. You do not have to be a wine snob to enjoy their delicious reds, whites and roses in a classic farmhouse setting. On the day we visited they were serving up some pizza made with local ingredients. Let me tell ya, they take local seriously around here. As in they grew their own wheat on the estate that they then milled into flour for the pizza dough which was baked it in their wood-fired oven. It’s hard to beat that.

Joe’s Sliders

Joe’s Sliders

Over the next week we transitioned from friends in SF to our lovely hosts Kristen and Mark in Berkeley. While we waited for them to return from work, Nathan and I stopped by one of our favorite Berkeley snack shops: Joes’ Sliders. This small cafe does excellent burgers in miniature. It’s such an easy concept, I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before. Sometimes you just want a bite of juicy patty or portobello cap with good quality cheddar, sauce, and sesame seeds bun. This way you get a taste without a full burger commitment.

Vine Street Wine Shop

Vine Street Wine Shop

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

The vast board of cheeses at Cheese Board

While we were in Berkeley, we couldn’t resist a chance to have a final pot luck with our dinner party crew. We had posted about our previous dinner party which honored foods from the Bay Area. But this time we were all pressed for time, so we went with a three ingredient theme, inspired by the cooking show Chopped. To get supplies, we visited three of our fave Berkeley food shops that we dearly miss: Berkeley Bowl (the best grocery store in the world), the Cheese Board (a co-op that has no less than 5 types of feta in addition to pretty much any other type of cheese), and the Vine Street Wine Shop (all wines are well described and under $25…need I say more?).

3 ingredient dinner party

3 ingredient dinner party

My contribution to the three ingredient dinner party was 1) a dish of cantaloupe wrapped in sage in proscuitto and 2) ricotta mixed with herbs and olives on toast. Nathan created a salad of roasted carrots, arugula and avocado (a simplified version of this excellent recipe from Food & Wine). Add in a roast chicken, a cauliflower “risotto”, more greens and a cobbler and we were well fed and happy.

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

Dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge

It was great to be back in the Bay Area yet China was still fresh in our memories. The noodles, and dumplings and tofu…oh yum. I never tire of it and wanted more. Fortunately, our friends were on the same page so six of us gathered round a table for dim sum at Hong Kong Lounge. Our table was soon laden with steamer baskets full of delectable treats on par with the dim sum we had recently enjoyed in HK.

In our visit to the Bay Area we were fortunate enough to spend time with many more people than I have mentioned here. For all those who hosted us, dined with us, drank with us and/or danced with us, we take a bit of you with us wherever we go. And by a bit, I mean a lot.

The Best of 410 Days of Travel (by Nathan)

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Northside of Uçhisar castle in Cappadocia

Life without travel, to us, is not life.  In February of 2012 we set out on an adventure beyond what anyone could fathom.  Our destinations would be magnificent and our itinerary complex.  We gave up most of our possessions and set out to explore the world.  I remember our last night in Berkeley, we sat on the floor of our empty apartment eating a fabulous cheeseboard pizza washed down with rosé (from a winery aptly named L’aventure, The Adventure).  Both of us were nervous about what might happen over the next year.  We wanted needed to travel. There is only so much ground that can be covered on two week vacations, so we postponed our careers in search of historical, cultural and culinary education.  We met wonderful people and saw countless jaw-dropping sights.   In total we explored over 100 villages, towns and big cities in eighteen countries on four continents through 410 days of travel.  It was a wild ride of buses, rickshaws, trains and walking on our own two feet.  The best part is that I would not change any bit of it.  Every experience has its place and memory that I love.

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

Last meal in our Berkeley apartment: Cheeseboard pizza & L’Aventure Rose (perfect)

I think the most impressive achievement of traveling is the accumulation of memories.  Every day traveling creates a new experience, a beautiful sight, a peculiar food or an awkward cultural exchange.  Each one of these unique events is stored within my brain like a painting of a vibrant and textured year.  The events shine with such color and flavor that Carmen and I can quiz each other and remember what we ate, saw and did exactly on any day of the last year.  What were you doing last May 7, 2012?  We woke up at sunrise and walked across the Isla del Sol on Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, then bused to Puno, Peru and had Chinese food while watching a Bruce Lee soap opera with a funny theme song chorus.  I look back at my years working and there are a few standout events, work milestones, or an exceptionally fun weekend or a fabulous meal we created with friends.  But for the most part, memories just are not stored vividly because they get lost in the routine of the day to day while traveling provides so many novel experiences.

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Nathan taking a rest during a hike

Carmen and another day of travel

Carmen and another day of travel

The memories of our trip hit me with amazing detail.  We are constantly asked what our favorite part of the trip was.  It is virtually impossible to compile millions of wonderful memories and synthesize them in a single answer.  We hiked mountains, canyons and through forests and ate dosas, ceviche and hot pot.  And we loved every bit of all of it.  I have tried to go through some of our favorite activities, tastes and sights and tried to compile a brief list of some of the “bests” of fourteen months of travel. 

Rio de Janiero - Ipanema Sunrise

Rio de Janiero – Ipanema Sunrise

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

Best Big Cities: London, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Chengdu

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Big Cities

Carmen and I love big cities.  We love the life that one can feel in a city.  The people thrive with high-rises, public transit, beautiful museums, beaches and sights.  The food tingles with flavors so intense that the tongue and entire body becomes addicted.  And although there may be culture-shock these cities are welcoming and encouraging to be a tourist and maybe an inhabitant.  I loved Rio de Janiero from our week traveling there in March 2012.  The city is beautiful and the music passionate.  I can’t wait to go back.  London and Hong Kong are of course one of our most favorite cities in the world.  Chengdu feels a bit more scattered in its design, but remains one of my favorites for the food alone.  Istanbul is a gem in the world, a perfect crossing point for Asia and Europe with all the delicacies and beauty that make it uniquely Turkish.

Shaxi, our favorite small town

Shaxi, our favorite small town

The small towns often get missed in lists like these.  We visited a perfect little village named Shaxi in between Dali and Lijiang.  It was quaint and picturesque, and a wonderful variation from the Chinese tourist cities that are so common.  Unfortunately it is changing and I expect that it will not be the same when I return.  We visited countless small towns during our Camino de Santiago trek, each dainty or dusty, but fun to explore in search of a café cortado.

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Tartine bread pudding with strawberries

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

Best Sweets: baklava, sweet soup. Mango sticky rice & alfajores

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Sweets

Amazingly enough we did discover coffee during our travels abroad.  Both Carmen and I appreciated coffee, but refused to be addicted so we drank it very rarely.  Walking across Spain changed that, now we just have to limit intake.  There are few better things to have a coffee with than bread pudding.  Tartine in San Francisco makes my absolute favorite dessert of the year.  We always used to eat here, but after having it again with strawberries, I cannot help but put it at the top of the list.  Other favorites include Honeymoon Desserts’ sweet soup and alfajores.   Mango sticky rice is so simple and perfect that I wish I could eat it every day.  In Turkey we tried to eat baklava every day, which were all phenomenal.  One place, Karaköy Güllüoğlu, created nut and phillo pillows of gold.  The fact is that there are just too many excellent places to eat while traveling.

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Gong Bao Ji (Chicken)

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

Best Foods: ceviche, rajas y queso, boat noodles & pho

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Food

I still stand my original statement on Chengdu that the gong bao chicken we ate on Renmin Zhonglu remains one of my favorite meals.  I am so happy that we ate there twice!  Another favorite is La Super Rica; you can order blindly here and you will be very happy.  Boat noodles and pho are charactieristic of the flavors of Thailand and Vietnam.  In general, the everyday food in South America is rather mediocre.  Culinary enthusiasts should rightly stay in Asia.  Although we loved the pizzas of Buenos Aires, my real favorite of South America was the ceviche that we consumed in large amounts in Lima Peru.  Survival during travel is not on food alone, it is the sights that often distinguish the destinations.

Ephesus library

Ephesus library

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

Best Ruins: Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Caryatids on the Acropolis, Vittana Temple & carved church in Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Ruins

In school I never really liked history.  It seemed like such a mish-mash of random wars and crap that never mattered.  Then I started traveling and developed a love of understanding cultures and people and the history leading to their current lives.  I find that I can spend all day bouncing around a set of ruins, crawling around a cave or reading countless interpretive signs.  Seeing a place brings the history to life and ingrains a sense of reality that these events actually happened.  Some of my favorite places were the Inca Trail, Angkor and Athens; there are so many ruins that can be enjoyed and each building, wall and path defines a little bit of history that is easier to understand.  India’s civilization is thousands of years old and the variety of ruins and temples demonstrates a wealth of history.  One of our favorite cities was Hampi, the ruins were spread out, but beautiful and easy to explore.  Cappadocia was honestly unbelievable: underground cities and fairy chimney houses really do exist.

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

Hagia Sofia, most impressive building

We were doubly awestruck when visiting the Hagia Sofia.  It is old enough to be in ruins, built 500ad, but still remarkably towers above and beyond what many modern engineers are designing.  I was deeply moved and inspired by this magnificent building and I look forward to seeing it and Istanbul again.  Beyond the buildings and the history it was the landscapes that intrigued us and kept us walking and walking and walking.

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Grand Canyon Sunset from Cape Final

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

Best Landscapes: Salkantay, Camino de Santiago, Salar de Uyuni & Cappadocia

4FEET2MOUTHS Best Landscapes

The landscapes of the world vary drastically.  The contrasts between mountains, canyons and forests are immense, but one thing is for certain: the human heart is sure to skip a beat at certain places on this planet.  We sought out many of these spectacular sights, and some of my favorites include: camping beneath Salkantay mountain on the Inca Trail, The deserts, rocks and salt flats leading up to the Salar de Uyuni and Cappadocia rock formations and hot air balloons.  Grand Canyon, despite its ubiquity as being a beautiful destination, remains one of my favorite places.  We trekked for eight days and loved all the nuances, textures and colors that transition throughout the day.  We experienced so many beautiful things: Tiger Leaping Gorge and Zhangjiajie come to mind in China or Cafayate and Iguazu in Argentina; each is its own special and vibrant memory.

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

Walking the Camino de Santiago towards Sahagún

I value each experience of our trip uniquely, but one was critical to my well-being and my development as a human- walking the Camino de Santiago.  The steadiness of walking, the meditation involved with each step and the time to think is phenomenal.  I finished the Camino confident that I could achieve anything, but humbled that I finished it with someone I love, Carmen.  Walking the Camino de Santiago is special and life-changing for everyone in their own way.  I feel that I could walk it again tomorrow and it would still bring value and pleasure to my travels.

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

Nathan & Carmen at Condoritos Park

We often get concerns about our travels.  People care to know about muggings, stolen property and the life and death situations that might have caused us head home.  Carmen and I were very fortunate to not have any serious turmoil happen to us while traveling.  Our worst evening was spent shivering on the side of the road next to the Condoritos Park.  We did hear of some friends who had cameras stolen from buses in Tupiza, or friends of friends who were pick-pocketed in Rio, but none of these things happened to us.  We did accidentally leave a nice steel canteen in Sao Paulo and another Nalgene on a minibus in Zhongdian, but that is it.  Carmen and I are very meticulous to carry very little, we pack light and we walk with our hands free and we secure our money when we get it.  We were lucky, but I feel that the people of the world are generally nice and helpful.  People in Vietnam were extremely welcoming and kind to us throughout our trip and we experienced zero hard feelings for being American. In fact, everyone was welcoming; we, for the most part, only encountered nice and thoughtful people.  (That crazy girl in Tiger Leaping Gorge kung fu kicks into my memory.)  Our trip was a great success and I feel confident that we could travel anywhere and have similar experiences and treatment.

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Nathan getting a mud cleanse

Just as fast as the date came for us to embark, it was time to settle down.  We traveled hard and fast.  We were diligent to explore as many parts of the world as we could.  Language and food was no barrier, and we were entertained by the beautiful sights that both nature and humans have created.  The challenge with any travel is that the world never feels smaller.  The world feels more accessible, but our bucket lits of places to go and things to see has only grown larger than when we left.  The question we have to figure out now, is what country we will travel to next?

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Carmen sandbar silhouette in Ilha do Mel

Many of you have been our readers throughout this journey and I thank you for your support.  For those who have just started following us: there is a wealth of excellent photos and information in our past posts.  Future posts will continue to entertain on the travel and food theme that we all love.

Past, Present and Future (by Carmen)

PAST
Looking back on our trip is an adventure unto itself as it provides me a rapidfire onslaught of memories and emotions.
 We had such a variety of experiences this past 14 months, how do I begin to summarize it all?  Fortunately, we have done a couple summary posts already.  Therefore, I’m going to pick up where we left off.  Here is a selection of favorite memories from the last part of our trip, Cambodia through to Hong Kong:

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

Clockwise from left: cooking amok, hanging out with Dalat locals, banh mi

  • Squeezing fresh coconuts for milk and adding it to my fish curry in ultra laid back Battambang
  • That first bite of banh mi in Saigon – crispy, crunchy, sour, sweet, creamy, savory goodness
  • Being invited by locals for watermelon and rice liquor next to Pongour Waterfall near Dalat
Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

Clockwise from left: Halong Bay, Thai stewed pork, mushroom bun, Laotian jungle

  • Chilling on the deck of our boat with Julia and Jonathan in Halong Bay
  • Observing a simpler way of life in the jungle villages of Luang Namtha
  • Being served delicious stewed pork by a street vendor in a cowboy hat in Chiang Mai
  • Sampling Yunnan’s famous mushrooms in steamed bun form at the early morning market in Kunming
Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

Clockwise from left: monastary in Zhongdian, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, stinky tofu, rice terraces

  • Getting up close and personal with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and the intense rapids at its base within Tiger Leaping Gorge
  • Devouring dumplings then getting a taste of Tibetan spirituality at Ganden Sumtseling Gompa monastery in Zhongdian
  • Trying to get my head around the incredible rice terraces of Yuanyang while making new friends Michael and Albert
  • Eating the infamous black stinky tofu of Changsha and actually enjoying it
Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

Clockwise from left: hot pot, hong kong high rises, tied tofu skins in Chengdu, tea house in Zigong in Sichuan province

  • Dipping fresh tofu in a bubbling red hot pot while sitting in a converted bomb shelter in Chongqing
  • Hanging out in the convivial tea houses of Sichuan
  • Finding my food mecca in Chengdu – mapo tofu, gong bao chicken, twice cooked pork, fish fragrant eggplant how I miss you so
  • Absorbing the vivacious energy of Hong Kong in its streets, dim sum halls, hidden bars and Michelin starred hole in the walls
"This food will change your lifestyle" from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

“This food will change your lifestyle” from a 2009 trip to Malaysia

Many of my memories have to do with food because I don’t eat to live, I live to eat. Throughout our travels I was struck by how much difference it made to eat a cuisine in the place it had originated. And it’s not just because things taste fresher. It is a about the environment and the people too. Take dosa for example.  I had eaten dosa, the Indian roll stuffed with potatoes and veggies and served with daal and chutney dipping sauces, in Berkeley.  But it wasn’t until I was in India – eating my dosa at breakfast on a metal plate with a metal cup of chai tea, breathing in the thick humid air, watching other groups chatting happily in their sing song accent – that I really got it.  Dosa is filling but not heavy.  Basically, it is a damn good way to start the day.  In each country, I learned more about foods that I thought I had known with the result being that I now have a greater appreciation for these cuisines.

Of course, travel is about more than food.  Travel changes you but not necessarily in a dramatic way.  I had experiences that caused me to do some thinking, yes, but no light bulb epiphanies that changed my life. When confronted with so many new or unique experiences each day it’s hard to gauge change within yourself. Perhaps a better way to put it is a better sense of self.  Because the saying is true – “wherever you go, there you are.”

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

Sleeper bus to Yuanyang

And we went a lot of places.  Over the past 14 months I have ridden high speed trains, a 27 hour sleeper bus, overnight ferries, small vans overburdened with 22 people, and what I like to call the rickshaw roller coaster. Powered by my own two feet I weaved through traffic packed streets on a bicycle and walked 500 mile across Spain.  My career is in transportation and I can’t help but feel that these experiences brought greater insight to my work.

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Women skillfully carrying their goods in Hubli, India

To remember all these places, experiences and transport modes gives me an immense sense of gratitude.  I know how fortunate I am for the health and resources to do this trip.  As a woman, I’m also grateful for the fact that I was born in the West.  Sexism is alive and well in the USA but I’m happy we got past the women as second class citizens thing.  Not so in many other parts of the world.  It was annoying to see groups of men and women working in China because often the men were sitting around while the women were shoveling or raking or doing whatever job had to be done.  Of course in Turkey there is gender separation as a result of religious norms, though as a tourist I personally did not feel any discrimination. The country we visited where I felt it most was India.  The culture is positively obsessed with gender and the idea that men absolutely can’t control themselves in the presence of a woman.  Women must cover, must hide away, must have their own train car in order to not be groped.  It wasn’t until I arrived in Thailand just after India that I realized how oppressing it all was.  I could finally wear a tank top to deal with the heat and nobody looked twice!  There were more women walking the sidewalks, women riding scooters, women sitting next to the men they didn’t know on transit (gasp!) and life went on.  I do hope that India finds a better balance of equality in the years that come.

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to "cook" during our travels

This tower of dolma was one of the few things we got to “cook” during our travels

PRESENT
Given my tales of culture shock and exhausting bus rides, it’s no wonder people often ask if I’m tired of travel. I think I surprise them when I say not really. If someone offered me a ticket to Italy leaving tomorrow, I wouldn’t hesitate to pack my bags.

That said, I am excited to resume some of my hobbies that I haven’t been able to do because of my travels. Cooking and having my own kitchen is a big one. I’m looking forward to have those lazy Sundays when I get to dedicate my day to making a delicious bolognaise. Also, learning about some many cultural histories has me thinking about my own familial one. I’ve always wanted to make a family tree and now I’m more inspired than ever.

Therefore, we are now in the process of settling down. At least for a short while. The big question is where. Part of the impetus of this trip was an was a desire to move from the San Francisco area, where we had spent nearly 10 years. We are looking for a new place to call home. Our main desire is a big city that supports our lifestyle of exploring by foot and eating good food. Will it be New York? London? Hong Kong? I wish I knew! But the main determinant will be where we can land jobs.

In the immediate future, there is our wedding to plan which is both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Meanwhile, we will be posting on some of our local travels to see friends and family as well as advice on how to plan your own trip.

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

Clockwise from left: the Camino, Hong Kong clay pot restaurant, baklava in Turkey, Santorini, Chengdu delicacies, sunset on the beach in Koh Tao, spring rolls in Saigon

FUTURE
But just because we are staying in one place doesn’t mean I can’t already plan my future travel adventures. Taking a year off just opens your eyes to more places to visit and explore.

My dad asked me where would I return of all the international places I’d been this year, which is much better than asking what my favorite place is (impossible to answer!).  For some places, one visit is enough.  But it’s the ones that call you back that indicate that there’s something special there. Here is a list of places I would return (* means I visited pre-blog):

  • The Camino
  • Greek islands
  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Southern Vietnam
  • Thailand beaches
  • Sichuan
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan*
  • Anywhere in Europe*
I want to have a wall map in my apartment (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

I will definitely have a wall map in my apartment! (photo credit: Urban Outfitters)

And then of course there are the places you hear about and see tantalizing pictures of.  A list of countries I have never been but want to explore:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Korea
  • Western China
  • Nepal
  • The “stans” in Central Asia
  • Russia
  • Croatia
  • Lebanon
  • Jordan
  • Egypt
  • Morocco
  • Botswana
  • Northern Brazil
  • Southern Argentina

It’s time for us to put down some roots and have a bit more routine in our life. But wherever we end up one thing is for sure. A map will be posted on the wall. Pins will be pushed in to the countries we’ve been to, the ones we need to go back to, and the ones we’ve yet to explore. It will serve as a reminder of fortunate we are to have seen all that have as well as an indicator that the next adventure just around the corner.

But this is not the end!  Stay tuned for Nathan’s thoughts on the trip coming up next.

Hong Kong, the Finale (by Nathan)

Soup dumpling at Din Tai Fung

Soup dumpling at Din Tai Fung

The final hoorah to our around-the-world trip was here.  As I described in the previous post, Hong Kong has everything we love about travel.  There is fantastic public transit, jaw-dropping sights and mouth-drooling foods.  So much so that one post couldn’t handle it all.  Here is continuation of the days we spent exploring the ins and outs of the city and the surrounding mountains.

There are numerous excellent restaurants in Hong Kong.  And many of these have Michelin stars.  Since we are traveling on a budget we like to focus on value and Din Tai Fung is one of those amazing places that has fairly inexpensive and high-caliber food.  It was tucked into a mall but the service was top notch even down to the explanation card describing the proper consumption of a soup dumpling.  We dipped the xiao long bao dumplings in black vinegar and chili oil and slurped the soup contents through the paper thin skin.  We also ordered some noodles and seasonal greens, but we wished we had ordered one more bamboo basket of xiao long bao.

Tim Ho Wan dim sum

Tim Ho Wan dim sum

Baked barbecue pork bun at Tim Ho Wan

Baked barbecue pork bun at Tim Ho Wan

We kept on the theme of awesome restaurants and went to Tim Ho Wan, the most inexpensive Michelin star restaurant in the world!  And they sell dim sum!  Their prized piece is a baked pineapple bun filled with barbecue pork.  It was amazing, very sweet, but a nice variation off the cha siu bao we usually order.  The shrimp dumplings and cheung fun (folded rice noodle sheets) were exceptional.  We feasted and stuffed ourselves and waddled our way back onto the street.

Massage chair paper offerings, burn this at your ancestor’s grave and give them a comfortable afterlife

Massage chair paper offerings, burn this at your ancestor’s grave and give them a comfortable afterlife

Around the corner from Tim Ho Wan were a handful of stores selling various ancestral offerings.  One cardboard miniature massage chair could be bought alongside a whole feast of paper fruits, vegetables and meats.  These paper goods are then brought to a relative’s grave and burned.  The offerings are to ensure that they have these items in the afterlife!

Honeymoon dessert

Honeymoon dessert

If I was to die tomorrow I would want someone to bring me a Honeymoon Dessert.  There is something fun about these east/west fusion dessert place.  They make sweet soups of various jellies, lychee, longan and tapioca with coconut cream, almond milk or sesame sweet paste.  We splurged for some with sliced mango and green tea ice cream for some extra decadence.  We loved this place a several weeks ago when we were first in Hong Kong, so it was worth visiting again.

 Harbor at Stanley Beach


Harbor at Stanley Beach

Stanley Beach pier

Stanley Beach pier

This time in Hong Kong we wanted to see some areas that we had never been.  Stanley Market is extremely accessible on a one hour bus ride and seemed to be the perfect place to escape from the high-rises for an afternoon.  We sat on the upper story of a double decker bus that bounced up the mountainside; it was like a rollercoaster weaving and diving through the jungle.  The actual Stanley Market area was very touristy, but the walk along Stanley Beach was very peaceful and the pier had very pretty Victorian wrought iron.

Hong Kong island on a misty night

Hong Kong island on a misty night

Hong Kong Island’s skyline is beautiful at night.  The colors of the ICF tower and Bank of China stand out among the skyscrapers.  The mist of the bay added to the ambiance.  It is always enjoyable to walk along the avenue of the stars in the day time or at night.

High-rise city model

High-rise city model

The view northwest from Hong Kong Island

The view northwest from Hong Kong Island

Looking out from Bank of China building

Looking out from Bank of China building

There are two tall buildings that allow for visitors into the upper levels.  The viewing platform of the Bank of China building looks towards Kowloon and the ICF building has a monetary museum and a wall of glass that looks into the south hillside of Hong Kong Island.  I love the sheer number of fifty story buildings stacked on top of one another.

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Caught in the rain

Caught in the rain

We explored all corners of Hong Kong so we hopped on a ferry.  Lamma Island does not allow any motored vehicles, only bicycles.  We arrived hungry and had an overpriced seafood meal, but spent most of the time walking up and down the mountains and around the island.  We walked from Yung Shue Wan to Sok
Kwu Wan where we ferried back to Hong Kong Island.  Just as we got off the ferry we got caught in a rain storm.  Not just any sprinkle but a full blown dumping from the heavens.  We had little resistance without an umbrella so obviously we wound up extremely wet.

Chowzhou feast

Chowzhou feast

Us with our friend Franco

Us with our friend Franco

We dried off and warmed ourselves with dry and waterproof clothing and we were back off to Kowloon.  (Of course, now that we had our rain jackets the rain stopped.)  We met with Franco, one of my friends from Cal, for dinner at a restaurant specializing in Chowzhou cuisine from northeast Canton.  We had sweet glazed pork that was one of the richest things I have ever eaten.  We also ordered fried oysters, cabbage soup, roasted duck and donuts with condensed milk.  The traditional tiny cups of Chowzhou tea were fun, especially when we learned that subtle nuances of cup holding can turn into a challenge to fight.

Da Ping Huo place setting

Da Ping Huo place setting

Twice cooked pork

Twice cooked pork

As one of our last meals in Hong Kong we wanted to revisit one of our favorite foods: Sichuan.  The first time we visited Hong Kong was in 2009 and we saw the description for Da Ping Huo in our guidebook.  Under the impression that it was a casual eatery, we made our way to the address in the book.  We searched and searched, but we could not find the entrance (turns out it was artistically hidden behind a sculpture at the time).  We did find a door in an alley that went through the kitchen.  We introduced ourselves to the kitchen staff and we sat down at a table awkwardly.  The place was much more upscale than we thought and we were definitely out of place in our shorts, t-shits and sandals.  Within minutes the dishes started to arrive and the kind owner did his best to explain each element to us.  In the end we had ten courses, each was spicier than the next; our mouth sizzled and tingled with numbness. It was great!  We were overstuffed and out-spiced, but we loved every minute of it.  The chef (the owner’s wife) even came out at the end of the evening and sang us a Chinese opera.  We had to return to Da Ping Huo when we returned to Hong Kong.

Ma po dofu

Ma po dofu

We (heart) Da Ping Huo

We (heart) Da Ping Huo

As all of our readers know, we have been training for this moment for the last year.  I have to say that I was scared to try the ten course meal again, it was not the spiciness, but ten dishes is easily two days’ worth of food and I did not want to feel sick on my last day in Hong Kong.  We opted for the five course lunch menu, which was absolutely perfect.  The food at Da Ping Huo is succulent, crispy and absolutely delicious.  They came with two classics: ma po dofu and twice-cooked pork (our favorites) as well as a chicken and cabbage soup, stir-fried potatoes and jelly soup for dessert.  I love this restaurant and it is essential to anyone’s visit to Hong Kong, especially if you do not make it to Sichuan.

Central market

Central market

It is the buildings that separate Hong Kong from cities around the world.  Few places have a number of skyscrapers that even stand close to Hong Kong.  There are places in Kowloon that have 43,000 inhabitants in a square kilometer!  I think that it is fantastic that even though some of the tallest buildings in the world stand overhead that there are still street side markets that serve every community.  One of my favorites is a series of tiny alleys and streets in Central HK with everything from touristy trinkets to fruits, vegetables and meats.  There are a handful of excellent markets around town- jade market is good for real and fake antiques, the woman’s night market in Kowloon offers some good deals and the Temple St Market has about anything and everything for souvenirs.

Crystal Jade at the airport!

Crystal Jade at the airport!

So, how do we pay tribute to a city that we enjoy and love so much?  While in Hong Kong, we decided that it would be nice to live here someday.  We have begun applying for jobs and hope to begin work this year.  This city has all the excitement that we love about the cities, with plenty of hiking available that us accessible by transit.   We will also be connected to travel more throughout Asia. Even the HK airport had one of our favorite restaurants- Crystal Jade.  We enjoyed a last meal of soup dumplings and spicy beef noodles.  It was bittersweet boarding our plane; on one note we were excited to see our families, but then we were sad to leave Asia and conclude our trip.  We know that travel will continue to be a theme of our lives, and Hong Kong will have a place in our hearts.

Although this post may be a “finale” to the around-the-world trip there is much more to be discussed on the 4feet2mouths blog.  In the next few weeks we will be sharing our summaries of the last seven month trip including our favorite places, experiences and meals.  We will begin a series blog posts discussing the planning, transportation and finances necessary to travel the world for fourteen months.  Do you want to know how to travel around the world on $50 per day?  I believe that most everyone can travel and we’ll show you how.

Post Navigation