Sunday, June 27, 2010

To Market, To Market

Nearly every Saturday—if I can actually manage to wake up in time—I make it a point to walk to my nearby farmers’ market. My boyfriend and I lace up our shoes, grab Odie’s leash and head off toward the park for our weekly walk. It’s become one of my favorite rituals.

Once we’re there, it’s hard for me to peel myself away from all of the stands and, well, mainly, the food. And as guilty as I feel for having Eliot and Odie wait for me outside the market (dogs aren’t allowed in the main shopping area), I can’t help but want to take my time—which, much to their chagrin, I often do. It gets even tougher when Odie looks like that (see above right). I love examining each and every vegetable in season, tasting the free fruit samples, gawking at all of the fresh flowers and deciding what to buy for our brunch, from pupusas and tamales to currywurst and chocolate croissants. (What can I say? It’s a pretty eclectic farmers’ market.)

It’s no different when I travel. If anything, my desire to visit local markets only grows—and not just because I love to shop and eat. Visiting the market really does give you a better understanding of the destination you’re in by introducing you to that culture, and in the best ways possible—through your senses. I’ll never forget that first whiff of stinky tofu that I mistook for open sewage in Shanghai. Or how Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market was the only place in Japan where people were actually sort of impolite, cursing under their breath at the ignorant and dumbfounded tourists (ahem, me) standing in their way of a much-needed sale. In Hong Kong, I was a total sucker for beautiful jade necklaces and silks that were cool to the touch—so much so that I nearly tipped the baggage weight limit on my way home. In Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, I was awestruck by the rich colors of so many different spice stands. And in Honolulu, I blissfully ate my way through the Kapiolani Community College Farmers’ Market which, not so secretly, is my favorite farmers’ market thus far.

No matter where you travel to, there’s always something new to discover at the market and, with that, here are some of my favorite discoveries…

I never knew squash blossoms could look so pretty until I saw them at the market in Amsterdam.

Even the tiny little farmers’ market in Hoorn, the Netherlands, was bustling on an early Saturday morning.

I seriously doubted whether or not this man would be able to fit into his mini mobile bakery.

I loved how locals in Strasbourg, France, toted their dogs wherever they went, especially at the market…

And how you could even buy Asian specialties there, too, from beef and curry-filled samosas to…

…Chicken egg rolls.

Also, who doesn’t love a bouquet of fresh flowers?

In Tel Aviv, I was reminded that I was in the land of olives…


...and gummy candy—lots of gummy candy.

I also realized I wasn’t the most inconspicuous of photographers.

And I was perplexed by this silly and hideous-looking—yet intriguing—contraption: a visor with built-in shades that retract up and down. (Photo © Cindy Sosrotuomo)

Another realization: Infomercial sales strategies will work pretty much everywhere.

Kyoto’s Nishiki Market is another favorite market: I loved seeing so many different types of vegetables and snacks on display…

Watching folks pounding fresh mochi…

…and taking in the aroma of freshly roasted chestnuts.

However, I didn’t even want to guess what these might be, but I have my suspicions.

Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market was overwhelming, but in a good way; I’ve never seen so much ahi before in my life.

And although the tuna auction was closed to the public on the day that I went…

I still saw plenty of big tuna throughout the market.

But, if there’s anything I’ve realized about what I love most about markets, it’s not only discovering new things—but savoring them on the spot—just like my fellow travel writer, Margery, did when she two-fisted a fried-green tomato with a Portugese sausage in Honolulu.

Now that’s a market experience with traveling for, don’t you think?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

These past few weeks I’ve had to wrestle with some tough decisions about where I should head to next. Normally, I don’t really hesitate to accept my next travel assignments. These last two potential trips, however, were tough ones to consider and I’m still wondering if I made the right decision.

The first one: Peru. I’ve always wanted to go to Peru. In fact, Machu Picchu is near the top of my list of sites I want to see before I leave this Earth (this topic will also most likely reappear in a future post, I’m sure). And the food: On my rare weekdays off (as my boyfriend can drudgingly attest to), I beg for us to eat at our favorite Peruvian restaurants (I have a total of three faves) just for their lunch specials. Lomo saltado is practically a staple of my diet. (Photo ©

So, when I was invited to go on an all-expenses-paid trip to Lima, Peru, I didn’t hesitate to say yes, well, in my head. Unfortunately, though, due to reasons I won’t really get into, I’m not going. Oh well. Some day.

The second trip: Thailand. Thailand, like Peru, is another one of those destinations that I’ve always longed to travel to. Nearly every travel writer I’ve met who’s been to Thailand before has sung its praises as a destination that can’t be missed. Oh, how I would love to hang out with elephants in Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, though, with the political violence that has been taking place in Thailand—especially in the capital city of Bangkok—I wasn’t so sure whether it would be safe—or prudent—for me to go. (Photo © Tourism Authority of Thailand)

I only had a single night to ponder my decision, so I asked those closest to me for their advice. While my family members didn’t explicitly say no, they didn’t exactly give the trip a resounding endorsement. Other travel industry professionals told me it’d be fine, and that things were totally back to normal. Still, I wasn’t quite sure what to decide.

Here, I thought, was a unique opportunity to actually see what Thailand is like, especially in the wake of what’s happened these past few months. If I went, I could really report on how the government’s current state of emergency is affecting tourism and overall daily life in the city—you know, the kind of stuff that a hard-hitting, in-the-know travel journalist ought to write about instead of fluffy spa day visits or overly opulent luxury hotel reviews (not that I'd turn those down anytime, however).

After much mulling, though, and after talking it over with my editor-in-chief, we decided it was probably best for me not to go, at least for now. A future trip to Thailand might still be a possibility but just not right now.

I think that, if I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that with travel, as with most things, a lot of variables are simply out of your control. And, sometimes, you really have to think more about how your choices will affect the people who matter most to you than looking out for just yourself.

So, instead of packing my bags up and heading off this summer, I’ll most likely be staying at home this year. I’m a little bummed but I'm staying optimistic. Besides, the weather’s been pretty nice lately and well, I can’t wait for summer to officially arrive. So, until then, I’m content to stay.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Typical. Just Typical.

If you walk or drive around Costa Rica on an empty stomach, soon enough you’ll notice plenty of establishments with the catchphrase “La comida típica.” Translated loosely into English, this becomes “typical food.”

The English translation doesn’t sound at all a bit sexy or unique. Worse, it doesn’t do justice to the types of flavors and techniques that exemplify Costa Rica’s traditional, homestyle cooking—never too spicy or hot but always multilayered with tastes that are both comforting and savory.

Here are just a few examples—both typical and some not-so-typical—that I loved from my trip last month:

Costa Rican tamales make for a satisfying desayuno (breakfast), opening up to reveal a carefully assembled package of plantains, ground cornmeal, a fried egg and gallo pinto (rice and beans).

A typical casado (lunch) consists of meat, plantains, salad and rice, although this one’s missing the plantains.

At Los Cusingos Bird Sanctuary, I got an introduction to pejibayes, a starch-like fruit that tasted like a slightly sweet potato, only a lot starchier.

I’ll never turn down an opportunity to savor pastries, especially during a PowerPoint presentation.

While visiting the San Isidro Farmers’ Market in the off hours, we were treated to some authentic dips and desserts, including this delicious one, made with tuna.

Ahh, the breakfast of champions, from Rancho La Botija: fresh papaya, bananas and pineapple…

…Gallo pinto with scrambled eggs and fried plantains…

…Served with corn tortillas, kept steaming hot thanks to this adorable little tortilla warmer.

I love it when pastries come with a welcome message.

Say cheese: We also visited a small, family-owned cheese farm just south of San Gerardo that specialized in making artisan Swiss-style cheeses.

The cheese in this room…

…Came from these cows.

Time for tasting: from left to right, Swiss, Mozzarella and Peppery Swiss.

At Dantica Lodge & Gallery, we snacked on delicious biscuits filled with cream and blackberry jam.

Lunch (err, dinner) at Los Lagos Lodge was delicious—and long overdue—but totally satisfying: pescado frito (fried fish).

Worthy of an encore blog appearance: chorreadas (corn pancakes) topped with sweet sour cream and gallos (tacos) filled with fried potatoes.

Okay, so ceviche is really more of a Peruvian dish, but I’ll always order it when I have the chance to, especially when it’s as good as this one was from The Springs Resort & Spa.

Organic took on a whole new meeting after a visit to Rancho Margot in El Castillo, not only for its sprawling and beautiful grounds but also for its tasty, farm-fresh fare, including roasted pork topped with a blackberry sauce and accompanied by black beans, rice and lettuce—all produced on location.

The last meal: At Leda’s, a seafood restaurant in Caldera, I took fellow journalist Christopher P. Baker’s advice and ordered the pescado al ajillo (fish with garlic) and I wasn’t disappointed.

And, to top it all off, a slice of pastel de tres leches (cake soaked in three different milks).

So, given the choice between la comida típica or some fancy, nouveau style of Costa Rican fusion cuisine, I’ll always opt for the typical. Just the typical, por favor.