4 feet 2 mouths

walking and eating our way around the world

Archive for the tag “Markets”

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.

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Eat Where We Ate (by Carmen)

While I was traveling I started to wonder if I would ever be able to find all the eateries I’ve visited if I eventually returned to a particular city or region. I mean, it seemed easy enough now since it was all relatively fresh in my memory. But in a few years? There are some places I know I will return to and others less so. Just to be on the safe side, I figured I would note down as many of the places we mentioned in the blog as I could whether or not I plan to revisit. Turns out, that was A LOT.  The culmination of this effort: The 4feet2mouths Food Map

I adore maps, old and new - in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

I adore maps, old and new – in this case of Istanbul (Sources: Duke University, Rifle Paper Co)

Memory is an amazing thing (and has fascinated me even more since I read Moonwalking with Einstein). Our brains are incredibly adept at spatial memory. I was astounded how much location-specific information I could recall when I really tried. I even started testing myself with restaurants from earlier travels and found that by studying a google map I could find places without the help of google search. It is probably obvious by now that I am a complete map nerd. Seriously, cartography is absolutely beautiful!

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

Screenshot of 4feet2Mouths Food Map, zoomed in on Istanbul

There’s an added bonus to my map memory game – now you can eat where we ate! I am using this as a tool to make recommendations to others about our favorite restaurants and food stalls (and a few sights as well). So if anyone says, “Do you know any good places in Istanbul?” I can send the link and they can zoom in from there. I have to admit, this idea stemmed from a map my friend Andrew shared about his favorite places in New York. It was useful for me so I hope mine will be useful to you.

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Datli Maya in Istanbul is one of 150 listings on the 4feet2mouths Food Map!

Food Map Link

The permanent link will be at the top of the page

So from now on the 4feet2mouths Food Map will be housed on the Eat Where We Ate page of this blog (see the link at the top). It was quite the effort and I’m proud of the result. I will update it periodically as our travels progress. In the meantime, I hope you can enjoy some of our recommendations.

The 4feet2mouths Food Map

Picture 5

Eating Like a Local In Phnom Penh (by Nathan)

Bus ride snack of fried crickets

Bus ride snack of fried crickets

Nothing demonstrates local culture more than the food people eat.  Yes, there is dance, language and tradition, but the day-to-day survival of humans depends on the consumption of local cuisine.  The food of a region shows the struggle and the progress of the people.  So when our bus stopped at a roadside stand and every Cambodian huddled around one stall I decided to get whatever the woman was selling. It turns out she was selling crickets, freshly fried and crispy crickets.  I watched as little girls shared giggles of delight with their grandmas.  My turn came and I was suddenly confronted with a choice: sesame seed or green onion and diced chilies.  I sampled each with everyone staring and I ordered the spicier one.  Imagine the best barbecue potato chip you have ever had, I’m talking caramelized onion, sweet potatoes; these were better!  Excuse me, a leg just got caught in my teeth.

Sunset Phnom Penh

Sunset Phnom Penh

Our bus bounced along and the rice fields disappeared with the growth of a denser city and crowded streets.  We arrived in Phnom Penh, we checked into our hotel and started walking.  There is a nice and peaceful riverside sidewalk that is wonderful for sunset walks.  We passed by the elaborate palace with its spectacular silhouette.  We ended the night with a rooftop cocktail, a great start to a new city.

Central market soup

Central market soup

Sticky rice snacks

Sticky rice snacks

I think my favorite part of every city is the market.  Every village or metropolis has some way for farmers, butchers and cooks to sell their life’s work.  Our first destination was Phsar Thmei, the central market.  After some confused meandering through stall after stall of clothing, watches, beauty products and mobile phones we finally found the hawker center.  We sat down at two stools and two heaping steamy bowls were placed in front of us.  We then mimed our way into getting extra limes and some iced tea.  It was a breakfast for travel champions.  Our savory soup lady shared her stall with a sweet soup lady.  We ordered some rice, mung beans and red beans doused with coconut and condensed milks.  Another woman was wrapping sweet fillings with sticky rice and banana leaves.  Too full, we ordered some to snack on later.

Cambodian National Museum garden

Cambodian National Museum garden

The National Museum of Cambodia has beautiful traditional architecture surrounding  a well-kept garden.  The artifacts are mostly from Angkor temples and show a subtle progression of Buddha statues over time.  The brief video that recreated ancient Angkor was excellent, but the explanations of the rest of the museum was rather poor.  We really wanted to visit the palace, but the gates were locked shut as the country mourns the death (from old age) of their leader.

S-21 Concentration Camp

S-21 Concentration Camp

Cambodia has had a tumultuous and horrendous history.  When they finally gained independence from France in the 1950’s the country was still led my a monarchy.  This lasted until 1970 when a coup overthrew the king, but set off a civil war across the country.  A handful of Paris educated men were excited for communism and they created the Khmer Rouge.  They took control with promises of equality and better living for all.  The Khmer rouge insisted that the country cease all outside influence and return to agrarian means of living.  Thousands were forced to leave the cities and the educated were decimated.

One of the more sad experiences of this entire trip was that we visited Toul Sleng, a former school tuned into the S-21 concentration camp and the gateway for over 15,000 murders.  The barbed wire, tiny cells, torturing devices and meticulous photo documentation are all in tact and graphically showing one of the low points in human existence.  It was the North Vietnamese that eventually stopped this monstrosity.  These were the same Vietnamese that the U.S. was fighting.  And since the enemies of our enemies are…um…friends, the Khmer Rouge went into hiding with their warfare being supplied and funded by the U.S.  Millions of American mines were placed into Cambodian soil.  Two million mines still exist in Cambodia, they are armed and sensitive to the unlucky farmer, kid or animal that stumbles upon one.  There is some amazing and brave work being done out there to identify and disarm these minefields.  I encourage any visitor to Cambodia to visit the mining museum in Siem Reap and S-21 in Phnom Penh to gain perspective on modern warfare.

Russian market butcher

Russian market butcher

It is not surprising that after all this turmoil, that Cambodian cuisine remains quite simple compared to their neighbors.  The extremism of the Khmer Rouge appears to have had had an affect of diluting and censoring the food as well.  The flavors of Cambodian cuisine are rustic with a focus on fresh, and sometimes raw vegetables with a nuance of influence from Vietnam, Thailand and China.  We went to the Russian Market for another, but different noodle breakfast.  This market was less organized under rickety wood construction with mounds of vegetables next to cleavers slamming down through bone and flesh of fresh meat.  The market was hot and hazy with humidity; we hovered over our noodles and we were already sweating at 9am.

Skewered delights, note the "Angry Bird" kebab

Skewered delights, note the “Angry Bird” kebab

Night market dessert

Night market dessert

We attempted to stay cool with some 50cent draft beers, but the heat was persistent.  We ventured back onto the streets in search of the night market.  We found twenty stalls selling the same barbecued and fried skewers.  Why don’t they diversify? We sat cross-legged on a central mat with some bitter melon, chicken, short-ribs and sugar cane juice.  Although tempted, we did not try the “angry bird” meat skewers.  For dessert Carmen had banana and coconut pudding and I had shaved ice over various jellies and egg yolk dumplings with condensed milk over the top.

Breakfast pork, egg and rice

Breakfast pork, egg and rice

Our final morning in Phnom Penh was rushed as we embarked on a bus to Vietnam.  With five minutes to spare, we squeezed between the tuk tuk drivers and sat on the tiny stool that rested a mere eight inches above the ground.  We ordered the only thing she was serving- a plate of rice with some dried and re-grilled pork and a fried egg.  A couple spoonfuls of diced chillies and they all smiled at us in astonishment.  We are getting used to this whole eating like a local thing.

Badda Bing Battambang (by Carmen)

Market veggies

Market veggies

The only reason I had heard of Battambang is that a restaurant of the same name was near my office. I thought the name sounded exotic but was completely ignorant to the fact that it was an actual place. As I glanced through the guidebook to plan our Cambodia itinerary I had hoped to find a laid back town to break up our visits to the more tourist-ready Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Battambang (BB) seemed like just the ticket so off we went!

Vegetarian rice soup

Vegetarian rice soup

Rice with savory "meats"

Rice with savory “meats”

At a whopping 140,000 residents, BB is Cambodia’s 2nd largest city. But really it’s more of a town, easily traversed by foot or bike. One of the first places we walked was Vegetarian Foods. In meat crazy Asia even the veg restaurant specialized in imitation meats. They were indeed delicious, served over steamed rice or in a bowl of savory congee.

Bao-licious

Bao-licious

Later, we were walking around the town soaking in the French colonial architecture. But of course we kept an eye open for good street eats and luckily we spied two. One was a huge steamed bun filled with peppery pork.

Nom krok

Nom krok

The other was nom krok, a type of gooey rice ebelskiver. As we walked past this one, I wasn’t entirely sure if the cakes the old woman was cooking were for sale or just for her family. Fortunately, the woman’s granddaughter, who was visiting from the US, was sitting nearby and helped us out. Soon enough we were sitting on our little plastic stools munching away happily. The cakes are a simple mixture of rice flour, coconut milk and green onions. They were served in a broth of more coconut milk, vinegar, fish sauce, and sweet chilies. The sweet savory combo was supremely satisfying. We waved goodbye to the grandma and her family and continued our walk with a big smile.

Sorry, I just had to share this temple statue

Sorry, I just had to share this temple statue

Along the way we stepped into a temple and encountered this. I’m not exactly sure what to say. It no doubt represents an important Buddhist story…in an extremely graphic way. But really, I guess it’s not too different from some Catholic paintings I’ve encountered that depict how the saints were martyred through decapitation, being prodded with hot irons, etc.

BB circus

Battambang circus

That night we did something unexpected – we went to the circus. The Phare Ponleu Selpak group trains impoverished kids to become acrobatic performers good enough to tour the world. I liked the fact that this venue provided opportunities for children to have better futures. In fact many shops, and even cafes in Cambodia seem to be connected to an NGO that somehow assists the disadvantaged. As we sat waiting for the show to start, staff members of some of these NGOs sat behind us chatting about their everyday lives. It was nice to see so many people who were actively trying to improve other communities. As for the show itself, it was greatly entertaining with all the flips and feats of strength one could hope for.

Spring rolls with noodles

Spring rolls with noodles

For an after circus snack we enjoyed a fried spring roll served over rice noodles. It was a little taste of the vietnamese flavors soon to come our way.

Central market building

Central market building

Fish vendors

Fish vendors

In the morning it was back to Cambodian cuisine, not just eating it but cooking it. We chose a cooking class at the Smokin’ Pot restaurant. Because of this Nathan insisted on calling the post “We (Went To) Bought-A-Bong and Spent Time (at) Smoking Pot,” but I thought badda bing came with more bang. Anyway, the classes have been taught for 12 years by the very knowledgeable and insightful owner. The first step was a visit to the market housed in an art deco creation left by the French. Our instructor pointed out what to look for in coconut, lemongrass, long beans, banana flowers and more.

Me cooking up some amok

Me cooking up some amok

Loklak close up

Loklak close up

Back at the kitchen we sliced and diced garlic, lemongrass, chilies, and galangal to make a tasty paste. We squeezed fresh shaved coconut with water to make our very own coconut milk. Then we mixed these flavors with fish sauce, salt, sugar and chunks of fish to make amok, the national dish of Cambodia. It was delightfully rich and definitely tasted better since I made it myself. We went on to cook loklak, a simple peppery stir fry, and sautéed morning glory. I was very happy to get back in the kitchen after months of eating out.

Wat Ek Phnom

Wat Ek Phnom

Buddhas Buddhas everywhere

Buddhas Buddhas everywhere

With some extra time we decided to rent some bikes and cruise over to Wat Ek Phnom. It was built in a similar timeframe as Angkor Wat but was definitely left in a more rustic setting. I wonder if the cow appreciates the significance of the ruins it grazes on :) Nearby was a giant Buddha with a set of smaller Buddhas housed within its base.

BBQ'd eggs

BBQ’d eggs

We cycled over to the night market because we had to try something crazy we had seen – barbecued eggs! They were literally skewered and placed over hot coals. Once we cracked them open it seemed like they had been shaken since the yolk and whites had combined into a single delicious mass. I wondered why I had never thought of this before. Nathan ordered four brown eggs and one white egg from a different stack. It turns out the white one was very special, containing a partially formed chick inside. This delicacy is fairly common in Asian cuisines so we half expected it. But that night I wasn’t up for tasting it. Nathan reported that it was a mix of textures, a sort of soft and hard boiled egg rolled into one. But no strange tastes, just egg flavor.

Old window with scooter

Old window with scooter

I truly enjoyed Battambang . Our stopover provided insight into a less visited Cambodia. One where you can still bike past stilted houses and people wave hello. Yet, in the center, the colonial legacy and expat community results in cozy cafes and creative art galleries. It is the kind of place to spend an afternoon on a cafe patio watching the world go by. Battambang is a place to linger.

Negotiating The Head Waggle In Delhi (by Nathan)

Delhi traffic jam

I had been trying to figure out the best way to describe India for weeks.  Delhi was our final city in an attempt to “see” India.  The country is enormous, the cultures varied and at best we simply “tasted” the pleasures that India has to offer.  I rolled over in bed after a thirteen hour nap and I asked Carmen “What is the opposite of tranquil?”. Urban India is intense, smothering and exhausting, but equally liberating, flavorful and exciting.

Non-stop people, cars, rickshaws, and buses

We were proud. Few Indian delights crossed our eyes without entering our mouths.  But finally we found the one-day gremlin that lurches in the tastiest of of banana-leafed bowls of street food.  The exhaustion of travel caught up with us and a mild case of “Delhi belly” sent us to bed (thankfully not the bathroom).  It was impossible to visit India on our terms; in no way could we control the bohemoth and not one day had worked out as planned.  Thus we submitted and embraced (again) seeing India’s India.  Being a tourist here has a steep learning curve; and we are fast learners.  During our last days we stuck with what we know best: the food, the history and the markets.

Fried dough breakfast

Fried dough with potato curry

Our success with food works on two principals: we are open-minded to eat what locals eat and stubbornly insistent to eat where there are locals eating.  Our morning stroll of dry spot and trash-free hopscotch was not interrupted by hacking, but by the slurping crunching sound of serious food enjoyment. We peered over some shoulders (not difficult because everyone is 3-4 inches shorter in India) and freshly fried four inch disks were moved from a mound to a bowl and topped with a thick potato mixture and mint chutney.  We used the disk to scoop up the potatoes as we ate standing up adjacent to the busy street.  We walked away happy with plans to return.

Drawing on a wall at the crafts museum

Chariot at the crafts museum

The craft museum was a welcome sight to view and learn about many of the various cultures across India.  We saw storyboards depicting the lives of gods, elaborate and delicately woven textiles and a huge wooden chariot.

Humayun’s Tomb

Me at Humayun’s Tomb

Baha’i Lotus Temple

The timeless architecture of India exists in two forms: imperial and religious.  Every sultan built a palace, or ten, and a tomb, and only one.  Across several millennia there have been several sultans, but the most grand of Delhi’s sights is Humayun’s Tomb.  This red sandstone and marble structure is surround by grass and palm trees south of the heart of Delhi.  The modern Baha’i Temple is an impressive concrete lotus flower and a welcome and cost-free sight.

Market street

Dried noodle vendor

It is the markets of India where Carmen and I embrace the craziness of India. Bumping shoulders and rubbernecking at the green beans, sarees or ugly sweaters is a perfect afternoon of entertainment.  Seriously, at the next ugly sweater party I only wish I had the outfit I saw on the subway- bleach-faded jeans, green striped dress shirt and a red, shag sweater vest that had an iridescent quality to it that could only be called glitter.  Everything is sold in markets, there are no big stores, only tiny road-side shacks, push-carts and tiny urban cubby storefronts.

Jalebi

Fried street treats

Aloo paratha on the griddle

Food is everywhere in India. And Delhi has one of the most elaborate and wonderful street-food scenes on the planet. We can’t walk anywhere without catching a scent of some delectable spice or cooking happening. We discovered these decadent fried fritters called jalebi as well as an array of almost tempura battered vegetables with a chickpea curry on the street near our hotel in Paharganj. For breakfast we frequented an aloo paratha stand serving potato filled wheat pancakes and daal (lentils).

Delicious fried puffs with chickpea curry

Calm moment in the crazy street scene of Delhi

One of our days was spent wondering through the streets as we walked from New Delhi to some of the major sights in Old Delhi. We found ourselves deep in a Muslim neighborhood that saw few visitors, but everyone was kind. The trek was all worth it when we saw twenty people crammed in this tiny room eating one of our favorite Indian dishes. Chana bhatura is a large puffy dough ball that is peeled apart and eaten with spicy chickpeas. With a couple gulab jumun (honey-soaked dough-nuts) we walked out of the place having spent $1.20. There is something magical about restaurants that focus on one specific dish, cooking it to perfection everyday for many years. This was one of these special places that everyone knew about and where the best was expected. Now full, we clamored our way through the streets towards the mosque.

Jama Masjid

View from the minaret

Giggling girls getting camera shy at the Jama Masjid

The gem of Old Delhi is the Jama Masjid Mosque.  This enormous complex can support 25,000 worshippers and was built over 350 years ago.  We explored the prayer halls, the plaza and even climbed the south minaret for a smoggy, but enjoyable view of the city.  On several occasions we took photos alongside families, or with a small child in my arms or with a group of teenage girls.  The locals must like my blond hair. In the photo above, the girls appear to be mad-dogging me, but just minutes earlier they were giggling to take my photo.

The favorite pastime, cricket

India has created a mix of emotions within me. I love it and I hate it, there are so many wonderful things about it and others that disgust me. Because I am an engineer, here are the numbers:
22 days total (too little to experience or really “know” India).
16 make-shift cricket matches encountered on plazas, alleys and dirt courts.
30 auto rickshaws taken.
400 times we were asked to take a Rickshaw
4 times Nathan stepped in shit, with sandals.
5-1/2 hours waiting in line for a single train ticket in New Delhi (5 attempts).
70 people insisted on taking photos with us.
15 of those were successfully convinced to take a jumping photo.
200 times asked “which country? What is your name? How are you?”
20 wonderfully complete and various thali meals eaten.
60 chapatis, tandoori roti and naan eaten.
22 miniature bananas eaten.
Countless super nice, helpful and friendly Indian people.
45 tourists seen wearing funny parachute pants.
50 successful negotiations (10 losses)

I have walked away with a greater appreciation of India. The vast amount of people and the complexities of spices used in so many foods is amazing. We have had no trouble learning how to eat here, but it is the nuances of the culture that have intrigued and challenged us. We have become masters of negotiation. Everything is negotiable in India, and by the end of our trip I was haggling with hotel owners,Rickshaw drivers, fruit vendors and tailors. If someone wanted to sell me something we were going to bargain dance. The follow-up to any agreement would be the proper head waggle. There is a subtle motion that Indians make with there head that is not quite side-to-side, or up-and-down, but more a bobble head motion describing that we have an undstanding. With great yearning we asked our Indian-American friends to teach us this skill. They refused! Deep in the trenches of restaurant and market communication Carmen and I waggled our way to understanding. For those that are interested in this art,the most elegant and direct head waggle is achieved by drawing an six inch horizontal figure eight with your chin two to four times. Repeat as necessary.

The First Tourists of Hubli (by Carmen)

Women skillfully carrying their goods

Hubli is not a tourist destination by any standard.  But we found ourselves there because of our dear friend Anu, who lives and works in this million person city.  In truth, we are (probably) not the first tourists Hubli has ever seen.  Many travelers actually pass through since it is a major hub on India’s all important railway system.  However, it definitely has an authentic, untouched vibe to it.  Just as in American small cities, Hubli was slower, cleaner and more easygoing than its big city brethren.

Elephant blessings on offer 

But this is still India, so nothing is ever truly easygoing.  On our first day Anu took us to a delicious all you can eat restaurant in downtown. This involved haggling with a rickshaw, taking a fast paced ride, ducking through a hole in the fence separating the sidewalk from the street, admiring the elephant that will bless you (i.e. touch the top of your head with its trunk) if you pay it, going up some stairs past a few street kids, and being gawked at as we eat our meal with our hands, even the rice.  Not exactly a walk in the park but these are the types of things I’m sure you get used to after a month or two in India.

Main market in Hubli

We walked off our large lunch in the local market.  Betel leaves, garlic, and watermelon snacks are piled high next to bangles, scarves and books.  When the heat got to us we stopped at a cold drink stand for some lime soda.  This ubiquitous drink is a simple mix of lime juice, soda water and either sugar or salt.  I’m liking the salty flavor which I find wonderfully refreshing.

Farmers market

Breakfast mix

We stayed in a suburb of Hubli and happened to be there for the farmers market.  Again more luscious produce – green beans, cucumber, eggplant and more. It inspired us to cook but that is a difficult choice when all the restaurants are also so enticing. For example, we had to stop by a small hole in the wall for some breakfast rice and onion pakora (fried batter mixed with onion).

Nathan’s stylist 

In a place where there is not much to do it is a good idea to catch up on errands. Like haircuts, which are always exciting in foreign countries.  Nathan braved Ganesh Hair Styles to get a much needed crop and shave. Fortunately, a lot of hand gestures were successful in getting Nathan the right cut.

Typical Hubli street

Overall this little corner of Hubli was a typical Indian neighborhood –  some paved roads, some dirt roads, modern buildings as well as lean to shacks, electricity out every night at 7:30, uncertainty on when and for how long the water supply will last.  These infrastructure deficiencies highlight what many westerners take for granted.  It is the last point, water, that most interests our friend Anu. Her company, NextDrop, works with water supply companies to determine when the water will arrive in a certain area.  Then the affected residents are texted about the water’s arrival.  It is a simple idea that takes the guesswork out of water supply schedules.  Not that we are biased or anything but Anu is an awesome CEO and is greatly improving the lives of thousands of residents of Hubli!

Kashmiri naan

Hotel restaurant with awesome paneer tikka

Anu is passionate about water issues but she is also passionate about her friends.  Therefore, she made time to ensure that Nathan and I were well fed.  For example we sampled spectacular paneer tikka, a type of spiced roasted cheese, at the hotel restaurant near her office.  We also gushed over sweet and savory Kashmiri naan at the north Indian restaurant, Al Medina.  This consisted of bread stuffed with raisins and coconut but also herbs and sesame seeds. The simple student eatery with a bunch of plastic chairs squeezed into a big room for all you can eat for $0.60 was also cool. In short, Hubli was Hubli-cious.

Mishra Pedha

Before we left, Nathan and I also had to try pedha, a local sweet that is reminiscent of cookie dough but with Indian flavors such as cardamom. We picked some up at Mishra Pedha which is literally on every corner in central Hubli!

Train ride to Hampi

More train ride to Hampi 

Hubli was a perfectly enjoyable city to spend time in.  It was made even better by 7 Beans, the hip cafe with free wifi.  But Nathan and I couldn’t resist the temptation of a side trip to a very historic and magical place.  We got out of Anu’s hair for a few days and hopped the eastbound train for Hampi.

Rickshaw Roller Coaster In Bangalore (by Nathan)

Betel leaves in spiral at the city market

Visiting India for the first time is a thrilling experience. It is also a little nerve racking. For the first time this year, Carmen and I were both anxious and maybe a little scared at what we might find in this part of the trip. We were out of our comfort zone, but it felt good. There are all the horror stories of poverty, filth and food poisoning, but also the positive moments of spiritual discovery, extravagant palaces and fantastic food. Experiencing the spices alone are enough to draw us to India. We arrived at 4am from a red-eye flight. We both felt a little comatose and we agreed to pick up a few hours sleep in the airport before heading out into the craziness.

Carmen and the sidewalk cow obstacle

We learned very quickly in Bangalore that we needed to slow down and ease into the environment. A typical day in our travels is pretty exhausting; we tackle museums, parks and monuments while also attempting to eat at the best budget restaurants in a city. This usually involves many hours (8-10mi) of walking and public bus rides all around town. In Bangalore our standard mode of transport, our feet, became out-of-service. Even the most cosmopolitan of streets, MG Road or Church Street, do not have a consistent paved surface for more than 15 feet. Walking involves constant focus and diligence to ensure that a foot does not fall into an enormous hole or sludge puddle. The occasional cow, heard of cattle or pie mine is a constant reminder that we share the road with more than just people and motors. Crossing the street, we resemble two little squirrels inching our way into the road then running across with arms flailing about in panic “I’m about to die” mode.

Rajesh and the Rickshaw Roller coaster

Thus, we have decided to join the masses and we frequently hop on the Rickshaw Roller Coaster. The three-wheeled carts are a cross between a motorcycle and a golf cart, painted green, yellow and black. During our first ride, I learned that the is no need to visit a theme park again, 80 cents delivers a 20 minute ride including all the death-defying events without a need to wait in line. If on-coming traffic is your thrill, this ride has it. Bangalore’s many speed bumps provide an opportunity for jumps, poor drainage and rain make splash mountain look puny. Any Rickshaw delivers several G-forces as the driver maneuvers the vehicle around busses, tractors and scooters. Then we screech to a stop. Hold on because there are no seat belts. Dizzying heights? Try all of the above on an overpass! To our benefit we did find a nice driver, Rajesh, that did not mind our screams and did not hit anyone while we were riding. He skillfully squeaked his tuktuk into the 4ft crevices between busses at 30mph.

Bull Temple

Glass building at the botanical garden

Mini meal at MTR

One of our most accomplished days was visiting the Hindu Bull Temple. This enormous carved bull is decorated with flowers and candles and symbolizes Shiva’s mount Nandi. A “mini meal” at Marvalli Tiffin Room (MTR) excited our taste buds and was no small affair – it was actually quite a bit of food. We walked west to explore the Lal Bagh Botanical Garden. There were bonsai gardens ponds and an enormous glass house built to honor Britain in the 1800’s.

Chole Bhatura dinner

Breakfast of idli, poori and various rice pooridges

We could not resist ordering chole bhatura at a standing-only dive down the street from our hotel. The enormous puff ball was everything I remember from Vik’s in Berkeley, slightly doughy and crispy with a huge scoop of spicy chickpeas in a rich sauce. Eating in India is undoubtedly my favorite part so far. The flavors are intense and the chutneys, dal, and sauces seem to pair randomly with the foods, but I know there is some consistency. For breakfast we eat fluffy white idlies or dosas (Indian pancakes/crepes) that are paper thin and filled with potatoes, or thick and moist with diced onions or tomatoes and a delicious coconut chutney.

Colors and craziness of Bangalore’s city market

Temple carvings

Exploring the foods of India is first explored with our appetites. Then we seek to see the source of the food, the markets that fuel the city. In Bangalore, we found ourselves in The City Market, an enormous collection of streetside vendors selling everything from tiny eggplants, pomegranates, betel leaves and nuts. There was even a building dedicated to the flower sellers that string together elaborate leis and signs for weddings and holidays. We traverse through the mud and work through the obstacles of the crowded market. Occasionally we’ll pass a simple temple and often we are entertained with an ornate and elaborate designed temple roof with thousands of carefully carved figurines.

Bengal tiger, croc, cobra and monkey at wild animal park

Young elephant

We bussed an hour outside of town to visit the wild animal park. Most of the animals are rescues, but the huge forests provide a way to protect and rehabilitate animals that were abused or without a natural habitat. Most impressive were the Bengal tigers, white tigers and Indian bears. Our safari ride bounced along the rocky road, and everyone screamed and jumped out of their seats when the 8ft long tiger noticed us and came at us for a closer look. There were cobras that effortlessly hung and slithered along the trees, crocodiles eyeing us from the ponds below and wild monkeys mischievously bouncing through the park. There were even adult and baby elephants that blessed tourists for a coin by tapping their trunk on the person’s head. The zoo was surprisingly a positive experience as the animals, for the most part, all seemed taken care of and happy. On our trip back, there was one thing on our mind…food.

Deliciousness at Kornak

Funny shaped gulab jumun

There are undoubtedly some good food places in Bangalore. We ate North Indian fare at Kornak and Queens. South Indian at street-side stands and cafes. Gulab Jamun is typically a donut ball that is soaked in a honey syrup, at Bhagatram & Sons. Their wiener shaped gulab jumun somehow made it better. We even had wonderful ice cream at Naturals. The mango and coconut ice cream is so good that our good friend and fellow blogger, Anu, might marry one of the servers. Which one? We could not decide.

Carmen waiting in the rain for the bus

Anu and I in Cubbon Park

The slower pace has worked well for us in Bangalore. We see less sights, but experience more of our surroundings. We pack our bags again, we say goodbye to Bangalore and board an overnight train to Hubli. Few tourists travel to Hubli, but our reasons were not sights, but more to visit a typical town in India, see more of our friend Anu and learn more about the incredible headway of her social water project NextDrop. With the click clack of steel wheel to rail and the rocking back and forth we crawled onto our three-tiered bunks and sunk into a light slumber. Only exciting adventures and spicy delights await us in India.

Berkeley Bites (by Carmen)

Last time I wrote a about Berkeley it was to say goodbye to a city that had treated me well.  Seven months later we have returned, not as residents but as visitors.  After we attended the Sonoma wedding we ventured back to Berkeley to stay with friends and revisit old haunts.  It was wonderful to be back in a place I’m so familiar with, where it feels like I know every nook and cranny.  But as I walked around the sunny, tree lined streets, I didn’t feel regret about leaving.  I appreciated the good food and easy walkability of Berkeley but was confident I had made the right choice to move on.

Berkeley Farmer’s Market

River Dog stand at the Berkeley Farmer’s Market

There was only one moment of weakness.  On Thursday evening we attended the organic farmers market and were reminded of the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables available in California. After the market we made our traditional stop at Vintage Berkeley to be tempted by their excellent selection of wines, all of which are priced under $25. We also made our way to the best cheese shop in the world, The Cheese Board Collective. The woman behind the counter was totally excited for our idea of stuffing squash blossoms with ricotta and immediately brought us some amazingly delicious samples to try. Following this routine with a home cooked meal constitutes what I consider to be a perfect Thursday evening, one we enjoyed many times while living here. Aside from all the friends we sorely miss, this foodie path pulled on my heartstrings the most.

Produce at Berkeley Bowl

Heirloom tomatoes!

And then there is Berkeley Bowl.  My love of food and cooking was awakened in Berkeley and I feel that this wondrous grocery store played a role.  To be sure, it is not for everyone.  The enormous variety of good quality products at low prices, not to mention their glorious produce and bulk sections, makes it popular.  With so many people there is a certain amount of jostling to be expected, especially near the bottleneck by the berry section.  But Nathan and I had a strategy: 1) divide list based on sections of the store, 2) enter, we each pick up a basket (carts will just slow you down) and try cheese sample, 3) Nathan goes to deli counter, I head over to dairy, 4) meet up around yogurts (or, more often, retrieve Nathan from nearby wine section), 5) Nathan selects meats and seafood, I find packaged and canned goods, 6) Nathan gets nuts, flour, etc. from bulk, I start in on the produce leaving my basket in a nearby aisle in order to increase maneuverability, 7) Nathan joins me in produce to select fruit, 8) get in the check-out line and breathe!  Oh how I miss it.

In fact most of the things I miss about Berkeley revolve around food.  So with that in mind I present my personal Best of Berkeley list.

Zachary’s Roma Pizza

Zachary’s Chicago Style Pizza

Best Place for Deep Dish Pizza: Zachary’s.  This place is right up there with any Chicago deep dish restaurant.  Actually, its rich tomato sauce beats out any competition.  The Bay Area deep dish debate generally revolves around Little Star (cornmeal crust) vs. Zachary’s (flaky crust), with the occasional Paxti’s lover thrown in.  I can appreciate both styles but for ambiance, employee benefits (Zachary’s is a co-op) and satisfaction guaranteed, I will always head to Zachary’s.

Thin crust from The Cheese Board

Cherry corn scone and english muffin from The Cheese Board

Best Place for Thin Crust Pizza: The Cheese Board Collective.  Another co-op run pizzeria (hey, this is Berkeley!) makes my Best of Berkeley list.  Quite simply, it serves the best veggie pizzas with lots of garlic and herbs piled on a chewy crust.  Plus they give you the bonus half slice with each order. Go to the shop and bakery next door to sample any cheese you can think of a grab a cherry corn scone.

Chilaquiles Verdes from Picante

Best Place to Get Over a Hangover: Picante.  When does good Mexican food not make one feel instantly better?  And for the perfect pick me up, I have two words: chilequiles verdes.  A tangy tomatillo sauce is scooped onto two fried eggs accompanied by rich black beans.  Sop it all up with fresh tortillas.  Wash it down with a cinnamon sweet cafe de olla.  Heaven. Evidence of its excellence: Nathan and I ALWAYS order different dishes at restaurants in order to share and have more variety.  When it comes to Picante’s chilaquiles verdes, we do not share. We each order our own.

ACME Bread

Best Place to Buy Bread: ACME.  In a tiny little bakeshop on the corner of Cedar and San Pablo, the glory of good bread is celebrated.  Everything is good here.  Puts all other supermarket breads to shame.

Brazil Cafe

Tri-tip sandwich at Brazil Cafe

Best Place to Eat Al Fresco: Brazil Cafe.  Walking past this cheery food stand with the Brazilian music blasting round the clock, it’s hard not to stop.  They rope you in with lots of grilled goodies, either stuffed in sandwiches or on top of rice. And then they drizzle on a tangy green garlic sauce that takes it to a whole other level.

Yes, more pizza. This time at Gather

Best Place to be a Localvore: Gather.  The inventive cuisine at Gather is already well known as it was one of the first to really push eating locally.  And they do it in style, with plenty of great vegetarian and vegan options that are packed with flavor.  Their pizzas are excellent and have these special crusts in which the dough is somehow pinched to create pearls of bread around the pie. Yum.

Bakesale Betty sandwich with a strawberry shortcake

Best Place to That Sells Only One Thing: Bakesale Betty.  Ok fine, it sells maybe 5 things and is technically in Oakland.  But you really only go there for one thing – the fried chicken sandwich.  It’s perfectly crunchy and crispy and topped with well-dressed jalapeno coleslaw that rocks.  Followed with a strawberry shortcake or cookie, it’s a decadent treat perfect for a sunny afternoon.

Salsas and tacos at Comal

Best Place to Feel Like You Are In SF: Comal.  This restaurant opened in the 7 months that we were gone and we are already sad that it wasn’t here sooner. Berkeley has some great food but for that buzzing, urban cool ambiance we usually head across the Bay to SF.  But this place was hopping on a Monday night, maybe because their sophisticated cocktails are hard to resist.  As for the high-end Mexican food, we were pretty much licking the plate.

View of the Golden Gate from the Berkeley Hills

And of course there’s more. Phil’s Sliders for its perfectly proportioned gourmet mini-burgers. La Note for its scrumptious French style breakfasts. Ippuku for its awesomely authentic Japanese izakaya cuisine. La Mediterranee, for its completely addictive, savory sweet chicken filo rolls.  Cafe Coulucci for its Ethiopian stews to be sopped up with the spongy, sour injera bread.  I could never name all the places.  All I can say is thank you, Berkeley, for supporting my eating habit with such good options!

Terremotos in Santiago (by Nathan)

View from Santa Lucía

View from Santa Lucía

Sometimes the best way to see a city is with friends by your side.  When those friends live in foreign countries, even better!  Santiago is a flourishing city wrapped with steep mountains and bustling with 50% of Chile’s population.  Many of the best sights and food are only known to locals, so we were excited to temporarily move in with our friends Bobby and Stephanie.

Vinyards and Chilean flag

Vineyards and Chilean flag

Lunch at Bodega Isidrio

Lunch at Bodega Isidrio

The last time we were together we had a great time exploring the wineries of Napa Valley.  For our first day in Santiago, we decided to repeat the experience with a day trip to visit the Casablanca wine region as well as the coast.  There are few better Saturdays than sipping on wine and going to the beach, so we had a perfect day planned.  On a beautiful morning we rented a car and ascended from Santiago to find a valley lush with grape vines.  Our first stop was Emiliana Organic Vineyards.  The excellent tasting took place in a beautiful glass, wood and stone building.  We bought two deliciously inexpensive bottles and we were on to the second winery.  Cerro San Isidro is a modern, bleach white villa perched on the hillside.  Overlooking the valley we enjoyed a delicious lunch.

Viña Beach

Viña Beach

Back in the car and we were on our way through the mountains and then dropping in the colorful beachside communites of Viña del Mar and Valparaíso.  We enjoyed a walk along the beach boardwalk of Viña.  We sipped pineapple juice, ate churros and admired the local crafts.

Valparaíso Streets

Valparaíso Streets

Valparaíso overlook

Valparaíso overlook

A short subway ride away (yes, they have a subway) and we were in Valparaíso.  This small town has a colorful charm, steep hillsides with boxy buildings clinging to the slope.  The streets are cobblestone and every visible wall and surface is artfully painted with murals.  The art was political, scenic, cultural and sometimes just tagging.  But the graphic images gave the city an intriguing sense of place that was fun to explore.

Backyard Asado

Backyard Asado

A late night drive brought us back to Santiago.  We were able to experience an excellent day trip only possible with local friends.  The next day we tagged along to a backyard asado (BBQ) and birthday party that rocked our world with a wonderful home-cooked meal.  First there was pisco sour made awesomely pink and delicious with imported Arizona tuna (cactus apple).  The main course was a fall off the bone lamb cooked in an stone oven then finished over coals and a brine bath.  Sebastian and Laura were excellent hosts.  Great food and a chance to speak Spanish with some interesting Chileans made for a special afternoon.

Parque Forestal

Parque Forestal

Ice cream from Emporio La Rosa

Ice cream from Emporio La Rosa

There are more than enough activities to keep busy for a few days here.  We were staying in the Las Condes area that had a beautiful rose-lined park. Close to the center the slender Parque Forestal offered Parisian-like strolls and locally crafted ice cream.  We enjoyed frutas del bosque (forest fruits) and thai ginger. 

Santiago and its smog

Santiago and its smog

There are a few vistas in the city, but be warned that the air quality is pretty bad.  Santiago is surrounded by mountains that offer crisp snowcapped views in the winter, but in the summer the smog and dust becomes trapped, entombed by the mountains waiting for a storm to clear it out.  Unfortunately our timing in Santiago was one of those bad air times.  With our throats raspy and our skin scaly we climbed the Cerro de Cristóbal.  We were surprised to find that we could only see a third of the city.   In the center of the city we walked to Cerro Santa Lucía and we found an urban look at Santiago under the smog.

Kai hidden Thai restaurant

Kai hidden Thai restaurant

There were many great places that we found only because of our friends Bobby and Stephanie.  Kai is this vibrantly colorful and ornate Thai restaurant   There was no sign, no entrance, but we walked through an unmarked doorway and found some deliciously spicy food.  It’s funny how I miss certain flavors, and finally after weeks of travel Bobby and Stephanie showed me a place to excite my spicy taste buds.

First round of terremotos

First round of terremotos

From one hidden door restaurant to the Chilean drinking hall of La Piojera we were welcomed into a new community of expat and Chilean friends.  It was an initiation into the Chilean culture with cheek kisses and a round of terremotos (earthquakes).  La Piojera definitely makes the ground feel like it’s moving as they scoop an iceberg of pineapple sorbet into a goblet of white wine and top it with a downpour of syrupy mead-like liqueur.  The end result: an off-the-richter drink!

The name terremoto is very apt and almost taunting because, like California, Chile has its share of ground shaking.  To our benefit they have a good grasp on their earthquake engineering.  One shaker caught us on the 25th floor of Bobby and Stephanie’s apartment.  We stood there frozen and watching the building sway against the horizon.

The politically exciting Bar Clinic

The politically exciting Bar Clinic

But the earthquake didn’t stop us from enjoying a few more drinks.  Bar Clinic delivered an excitingly political atmosphere and a few local draft beers for us to enjoy the afternoon sun in downtown.  The walls were decorated with odd parodies and humor reminiscent of “The Onion.”  Close by there were a few nice museums and plazas that dotted the city.  Unfortunately the pre-Columbian museum that we were excited about was closed for renovations.  We settled on the eye opening Botero exhibit on Abu Ghraib which coincidently enough was on loan from the Berkeley Art Museum.

Sizzling shrimp and garlic

Sizzling shrimp and garlic

Santiago has a culinary dish that we frequently spied on other tables.  They grill up tiny shrimp in butter, garlic and optional chili peppers in a small cast-iron pan.  It is delivered sizzling on the table.  Each shrimp turns bright red, perfectly cooked and succulent.  We liked it so much that we ate it twice, once at the excellent restaurant Galindo and then again at the seafood market.

Fresh seafood market

Fresh seafood market

The fresh food market in downtown Santiago is enormous.  Carmen and I spent hours roaming the aisles of meats and produce and we did not nearly see all of it.  The first of the markets is the fresh seafood.  Fifty or so vendors and another fifty or so restaurants called out to us as we walked by.  They held up huge pieces of salmon and others showed off their practically alive mackerel.  We settled for the tiny, perfect little shrimp.

Vega herbs

Vega herbs

Vega vegetables

Vega vegetables

Across the street is where the craziness of fresh food begins.  The first building is relatively empty and almost fooled us, except that this is where we found all the locals eating their farm to table fill of local meats and vegetables.  Further on there are a series of buildings and warehouses each with dense stalls of vendors.  This area is called La Vega (the field).  We found a vendor selling thirty types of peppers, another tomatoes, and another showed a seemingly life-cycle display of the onion.  He had mounds of chives, perfect green onions and even bright purple and plump onions, to complete the family huge leeks overflowed their crate.  We were most excited for the paltas (avocados) which were tender and ready to eat for only $1/lb.  There were dried fruit vendors, grains in bulk and, of course, meat.  Huge sections were devoted to poultry or beef and occasionally we’d see a rack of lamb.  All cuts were displayed their glass cases and ready to take home to cook.

Back in the kitchen

Back in the kitchen

Chilean avocados

Chilean avocados

We wandered through the fresh food market gaining inspiration for a delicious meal.  We picked the spiciest peppers, colorful quinoa, and a mix of plump veggies.  Back at the apartment, we cooked a feast and shared some wine.  A home cooked meal that was perfectly fitting end to our days in Santiago.  Thank you to our wonderful hosts, Bobby and Stephanie!

Shrimp over quinoa and fruit salad

Shrimp over quinoa and fruit salad

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