Category Archives: Other Stuff

The Traveling Foodie — An Update —

The date of departure for our Round The World trip is fast approaching (20 days) and for anyone who’s read the previous post on the subject I have an update.

The vast majority of the items listed for us to do are still in place, the changes are that we are no longer going to be heading to Tokushima. Getting to the island has proven to be logistically more difficult then we’d expected and with our time constraints we’ve cut it out. The result is that we won’t be experiencing the ramen there and will have to sample that style elsewhere.

We will now be having the pleasure of dining in the second tallest building and tallest tower in the world, the Tokyo SkyTree. While getting tickets to this attraction was via a Japanese only lottery system since it’s opening last month until after we have left I’ve managed to (via a great deal of difficulty) acquire two tickets. We will likely be among a very few foreigners who will be in the tower until the day it’s fully open to the public.

I’ve also decided that we’ll be dining at Sapporo Kanihonke while in Nagoya. While this is not a traditional Japanese restaurant I love crab and there is no place that has a menu approximating a Mecca for lovers of crab like this.

When in Korea we will now be heading to Gyeongju and indulging in some of the best traditional Korean dishes that can be found. We’ll sample Ssambap with its 30+ side dishes and Gyeongju’s famous Hwangnamppang bread to name a few.

The non-foodie parts of the trip will be even more exciting. Some of them are:

  • Fly on an A380 on the upper deck
  • Wander Ginza and Akihabara (where I intend to geek out on tech)
  • Take a river cruise in Tokyo
  • Check out the new mall,aquarium and other sites at SkyTree Town
  • Ride the Shinkansen Bullet Train around the country
  • Attend the Nagoya Grand Sumo tournament
  • Visit Nara park
  • Ferry  to Miyajima
  • See the memorials in Hiroshima
  • Ride accross to Korea on a hydrofoil
  • Visit the tombs in Gyeongju
  • Ride the KTX
  • Tour the DMZ at Panmunjeom
  • Explore old Delhi
  • Visit the Red Fort and Taj Mahal
  • Sleep in a palace
  • Explore Petra
  • Float on the Dead Sea
  • Experience the craziness of the 2012 Olympics(Thankfully Brief)
  • Explore the Irish countryside by car

I look forward to posting on our foodie fun while travelling and will do my best to keep you up to date with our experiences(technology allowing).

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The Traveling Foodie…It’s going to be an interesting summer

As individuals who love both food and travel we often try to combine the two in an effort to satisfy both of these major passions at one time. This summer will once again be just such a opportunity.

We are going on what is refered to as an RTW if you’ll forgive the travel parlance or simply a “Round the World” trip. The plan is for us to be heading west from our Southern Alberta home and continuing to do so until some 27,000 miles, ten flights, several bullet trains, numerous subways, an unfortunate number of crowded commuter trains, a gondola, 3 ferries, one hydrofoil, an elephant, a horse, two camels, a few tuk tuks, a rickshaw, a jeep, one mini van, far too many taxis and a single tiny rental car with the wheel on the right later we end up right back here. Pheww… my chiro is gonna kill me.

We’ll be stopping first in LA where a 5.5 hour layover affords us the chance to head out and enjoy some Southern California munchies. We’ll then be boarding the world’s largest airliner -an A380- on which we’ve been lucky enough to be seated on the upper deck…score!!! (hey.. airplane geek here, okay?) while heading to our first major stop, Japan. Here we’ll be visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Hikone, Nara, Osaka, Tokushima, Matsuyama, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Fukuoka over three of the major islands in Japan. Next comes a ferry to Bu San Korea and trip North via Daegeon to end up in Seoul before departing from Incheon.

We next land in Guangzhou China for a quick layover and perhaps a little dim sum. From China we head to India and tour through the area known as “The Golden Triangle” where we visit Delhi, Neemrana, Jaipur, Fatehpur Sikri and Agra. We’ll also be visiting several smaller towns and such along the route.

Following India we will be stopping in Jordan and visiting Amman, Um Qais, Ajlun, Jerash, The Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, Madaba, Wadi Mujib,  Kerak, Petra, Beida, Wadi Rum and Aqaba. Between the desert hikes, the heat and the camels I may be in traction following this. Thankfully I’ve booked a spa at the dead sea close to the end of this leg.

After a very fast-paced and travel filled month long trip we head to London where we’ll try very hard to escape the crowds visitng for the Olympics and finally fly to Belfast so we can spend a week or so relaxing and driving around the Irish countryside.

How does this fit being posted to ChowTown you may ask. Well, as Foodies we won’t be simply doing the touristy things most might on such a trip. We’ll also be doing the following special things along side our usual habit of sampling the best street food and local restaurants…

  • Dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo. Where the master Itamae 86 year old Jiro Ono, widely regarded as the world’s greatest sushi chef will prepare an omakase meal the likes of which we are surely never to experience again in our lives.
  • Visiting the world famous Tsukiji Fish Market to select our own fish before having it prepared fresh at local restaurant.
  • Sampling a variety of Ramen in Tokushima, the home of Japan’s most famous soup.
  • Indulging in many of the unique foods in Korea such as sannakji (live baby octopus), one of the foods considered rather dangerous due to the habit it has of clinging to the throat and choking diners to death. (we’d wanted to try Fugu (Blowfish/Puffer) but it’s not in season.
  • A private cooking class and dinner with the owners of Naila Bagh palace in Jaipur India.
  • A home visit with an Indian family for a formal dinner.
  • Attending a special cooking class in Petra Jordan to learn local cuisine from a master chef.
  • A private food tour through the streets of Amman to sample the very best Jordan has to offer.
  • Dinner in one of Amman’s most popular Arabic restaurants with a local family.
  • Consuming my body weight in pub food, Guinness and Irish whiskey. 🙂

I’ll be posting on these adventures upon my return and providing pictures and maybe even some useful information… assuming I survive. 🙂

Tales of a travelling foodie. The Russian Truckstop

I was reading a review on Foodosophy today and while leaving a comment I was reminded of a story I have told many times. It’s about one of my travel experiences that must be one of the more unusual I’ve had the pleasure to add to my list of anecdotes.

This story can begin with what is most certainly a cliché opener but suits it very well…

It was a dark and stormy night, (see, I told you so) I was on a bus in Russia travelling from the city of St. Petersburg to Moscow with the same group of travellers I had seen most of Scandinavia with. This motley crew consisted mainly of Aussie and Kiwi students and professionals. There were a couple of Canucks such as myself whom it seems were there just to keep the rest from entering areas of certain cities where the local cops don’t even go, being killed by mob types while drunk and mouthy or perhaps being arrested for drug possession while crossing international borders (these are a few of many more tales that I rather enjoy relating to others).

I had, over the time I’d been in Europe seen, met and travelled with so many strange and interesting people from these two countries that I often found myself wondering if there were anyone left in the Southern hemisphere. Who, if anyone was running the place right now? And if not whether the last ones out had in fact remembered to turn out the lights when they left.

These people were not foodies or experienced travelers and they most certainly could not be mistaken for history buffs as my constantly having to explain who certain figures were(such as the Vikings and Rasputin) would indicate. It was my impression from having spent several months with a number of the same sorry group that they travelled for no other reason but that previous generations of their countrymen had informed them that they had a really good time doing so and the booze was fairly good in other countries. None the less I had enjoyed my time with at least a couple of them and they had even saved my life in Norway when while stricken with some unknown local virus I had a fever too high to allow me to think.  After a couple of weeks they’d taken me to hospital where I received immediate treatment for the Pneumonia that was now present in every lobe of my lungs and would according to the doctor have caused full respiratory arrest within days. I like to think they did so out of some sense of altruism and not merely because my coughing and sweating was becoming annoying, not to mention I actually knew where we were going to head next and had set things up.

So, after a couple weeks of recovery and several cheaply acquired doses of frighteningly large pills of unknown content I found myself in a cold bus surrounded by semi-drunk companions speeding down a dark rain-soaked highway. A highway full of a disturbing number of large potholes which our “driver” managed to barely avoid hitting by using the aptly named “suicide lane”. The victims of this road lay in the ditches on either side and the length of time some of the now deceased vehicles had been there was evidenced by the lack of paint/wheels/glass on many of them.

This barely roadworthy transportation had been arranged for us by the enigmatic figure we’d come to rely on as our local “fixer” and we’d decided to call Dodgy Serge for what to us were obvious reasons. This bus trip had however not lived up to Serge’s previous work for us and I was wondering if this was the final act in Serge setting us all up to trust him before we became an unfortunate statistic at the hands of his unsettlingly nasty cohorts(a few of which we’d met). He did however redeem himself with tickets to a Russia vs. Finland hockey game in Moscow that was “sold out” and he managed to also get us in to view Lenin’s tomb after it had been permanently closed to the public.

We were to have left St. Petersburg earlier in the day but the bus we should have been using had been “taken”. This was the simple explanation Serge had given me via the payphone I was to wait for his call on. Thus we had the cold and perhaps barely maintained coffin on wheels in which we now found ourselves. As mentioned before the weather on this evening was bad and the rain was coming down so hard that I began asking what my companions wanted to do to deal with what was becoming even for us an unusually dangerous situation in my view. They were characteristically unconcerned until the driver hit the brakes a short time later and managed a full 360 before stopping and informing us that the wipers had stopped working. This was enough to persuade the lot that finding somewhere to spend the night may just be a good idea.

We drove on for another 30 minutes or so at a much more life-extending speed until the driver announced that we were close to the outskirts of a town called Tver and he knew of a “hotel” we could spend the night in. We all quickly agreed that since driving on would endanger us to more of a degree than we were willing to accept at the time we would stop here and continue on to Moscow in the morning. We were told by the driver it wouldn’t cost any more money paid to him. It seems he felt that not rendering his wife a widow tonight was worth more than money. All we need do was cover his room cost for the night.

We pulled in to what from this point on I’ll refer to as “the truck stop” and parked near a small building that looked like a house. Myself and a few others got out and ran through the rain to the office with our driver who now had to act as interpreter for us. The negotiations with the manager went very smoothly, no doubt aided by the fact we said we’d pay in American dollars. We managed to get enough rooms for all and quickly agreed to a price that we felt was quite good considering they threw in a dinner and breakfast as well.

Soon we were all grabbing our packs from the bus, getting keys and running across the lake of mud that was the parking lot to the oddly barn-like building we had been told by the manager would be our home for the night. We walked up the wide wooden stairs to a hallway with 15  large wooden doors, some of which were not useable due to missing handles. Two bare bulbs lit the narrow hall and the floor was bare wood which creeked badly when any of us moved. I found my room and tried the key. It never even fit the lock and I was able to just twist the handle and push the door open. Others had the same feature on their rooms.

Now, I have to say that I’ve travelled a fair bit and am not easily disturbed by what would be considered to be shall we say less than luxury accommodations in many countries, but the room in which I found myself bunking with long-time roomy Tony this night was an true eye-opener for me. I discovered upon entering the room and quickly looking it over that perhaps it may be better to leave the truck stop and take our chances with the storm. After all the rest of the trip to Moscow wasn’t really that long and the rain could be letting up. This was a feeling shared by most of my companions and one that had the driver not vetoed it and refused to leave would have surely been acted upon.

Our room looked oddly medieval with large wooden furnishings and panelling, the bathroom consisted of a small toilet like device, a wash basin and a large raised tile platform that was apparently the shower, although the lack of a curtain made this assessment not 100% provable. I made the mistake of using this thing only to discover the water was dark yellow and the smell we were so offended by upon opening the door to the the bathroom had not actually come from either the toilet or the rotting walls as we’d previously thought. I closed my eyes and holding my breath quickly scrubbed the previous two days off myself. Unfortunatly I felt no cleaner after this experience. Tony wisely decided he could wait one more day before showering upon smelling my new aroma.

The door to our room had been broken down on what seemed a number of different occasions based on both the damage and numerous subsequent repairs that were visible and the lock did nothing aside from make an interesting grinding noise when we tried to use it. Tony and I decided it would be a good idea for us to move the large, heavy wooden bureau in front of the door while we slept. We’d also come to the conclusion that given we were on the second floor we reasoned the window that did not close or lock was less likely to be the entry point of those we were certain would visit during the night.

The group had agreed to meet in the restaurant an hour after we’d arrived so I headed down and across the parking lot to the building it was housed in. I entered a dark smoke filled hallway and at first wondered if my instructions were correct as to where to go, but after making my way down the corridor I discovered the bar and soon a large open space with a stage at one end that reminded me of a school gym. I found a few members of the group and after giving our ticket to the guy at the bar we entered the dining room. Some more of our companions were already sitting at a long shabby table with drinks in their hands and we quickly moved to join them as the assortment of large mean looking Russian truck drivers eyed us and made comments to others nearby. Tony joked that perhaps we were to be the entertainment for the night and pointed to the stage that seemed so very out of place. We didn’t laugh.

Soon the rest of the group was at our table and we now felt better knowing that with nearly 20 of us it would be very unlikely that we would be bothered while eating dinner. We all agreed that strength in numbers had served us well in the past and would do so again should we need to employ it. I note that even the most rowdy of our group had expressed no intention of hanging around after dinner and sharing a few drinks with the locals.

Shortly after the group was together we received our food, obviously we were not going to be asked what we wanted and while this was annoying we were all pleased to see the plates of what looked like chicken arrive at the table. We examined the food and thought maybe it was a schnitzel of some kind or perhaps chicken Kiev. It did look quite good and we all began to eat.

I cut off a piece of the chicken on my plate and now realizing how hungry I was promptly put in my mouth and began to chew. I immediately noticed a disturbing crunch and felt the sting of bone slicing into my gums adding the taste of blood to the mouthful of what? chicken? was I still thinking this was chicken that shredded my mouth? I looked at my friends and saw the expressions of surprise and disgust on their faces, some had even spat out what they’d put in their mouths. I used a napkin to remove what I’d bitten off and placed it on the table.

I now took a good look at what was on my plate, it still looked tasty sitting there and I used the fork and knife to remove the coating mix and skin that was on the piece. There underneath was what I can only describe as a chicken back that was repeatedly hit with a hammer or run over with a truck perhaps. This thing was flattened completely, there was only the small sharp fragments of bone that opened my gums and no visible meat at all. We were not happy but decided it would not be worth making a stink about and as a result just ate the skin and limp veggies, washing all down with what in my case was very potent vodka.

We were beginning to get ready to leave when the lights dimmed and the groups of truckers who until now were doing no more than mulling around drinking and talking suddenly all sat down at the other tables in the room and became quiet, they looked towards the stage and this prompted us to do the same thing. I was amazed by what I saw there.

What I saw was something that to this day is both hilarious to discuss and perhaps frightening enough to make me wonder if I’d been sharing in some mass hallucination. One brought on by something having been slipped into our drinks in order to render us more easily overpowered when we were to be rolled for our money and packs.

The show we witnessed that stormy night in a dangerous looking truck stop in the middle of Russia was a young lady dancing. No, she was not naked nor touching herself in any way. Quite to the contrary she danced in lovely clothes holding large feathers to very nice classical music. All in all the routine was quite elegant and well performed. Scanning the assortment of large, scarred, tattooed and hairy truck drivers that surrounded me and noting the intensity with which they watched this show was unearthly. They made no noises and no crude gestures were offered to the girl before them who moved beautifully around the stage. It was a form of what I’ll crudely describe as culture-shock that prior to this moment I would not have guessed was even possible. And while certainly aided by being tired and not having eaten the feeling was none the less exceedingly uncomfortable.

After a period of time I was able to get hold of myself and I looked at my companions. They too were in utter disbelief at what was happening, as evidenced by the looks of shock on their faces. This was so unsettling (in a Twilight Zone/Weird dream sort of way) that we all quickly and without a word spoken seemed to decide at once to remove ourselves from the situation. We all got up leaving food and unfinished drinks on the table as we swiftly returned to our rooms. There was a very large man in the hall outside our rooms and we moved past without eye contact, hoping he wasn’t there to relieve us of our belongings and that we’d just interrupted him.

Tony and I for our part never even spoke about what we’d just witnessed. Laughing about the strangeness of it all was something reserved for later. We were honestly just happy that upon returning to our room we found nobody had tampered with the chains we’d used to lock our bags to the perhaps 800 pound beds and that the huge guy in the hall had not decided to nudge the door open for a look. We moved the heavy furnishings in front of the door and climbed into bed with thoughts of leaving as early as we could the following morning.

None of the group had their doors kicked down in the night and in fact not one of us had any problems at all. This may have been the result of the 6’9″ guy with a gun that wandered up and down the hall where all of our rooms were that night. Hearing him plodding back and forth on the squeaking floor caused me so much grief that I finally -and to Tony’s horror- had to look into the hall at around 3 am. I received a smile and Zdra-stvu-eetee from the monster of a man who was the same one we’d seen earlier. He raised a palm to me and said “go, sleep now, good and safe”. I closed the door, told Tony that we were apparently being guarded and after blocking the door again (for good measure) went back to bed. We thanked the manager the next morning for the protection and before departing left him a US $10 tip (may not seem like much to you, but converted to roubles it was two months pay for him). None of us had slept well (Some hearing the pacing back and forth in the hall never slept at all) but it was over with.

We decided not to have breakfast at the dining room and opted instead to consume some of our portable stores in order to leave as quickly as we could. The rain had ceased and the drive to Moscow was mostly uneventful other than the usual lane changes and passing of slow-moving vehicles in the suicide lane. Upon arriving in Moscow the bus died with a huge smoky bang just inside the city. We were however able to get to our next stop-over via subway so we decided to move on. We wished the driver luck, gave him his money and after a call to Serge were on our way. When we finally discussed the previous night and all that it had entailed it was with the levity of looking back and having moved on. This was aided by a great deal of vodka.

A Foodies Life in a Smaller City

We’ve lived in the “City” of Airdrie now for a couple of months and thus far my impressions of the place are not as good as I’d hoped… at least in a few ways, chief among these being culinary variety.

When we said we were moving to Airdrie one friend of Nancy’s refered to this little city as a “cultural wasteland” and asked what on earth would possess us to move here. While I’d never go so far as to use such judgemental terms I have found that our neighbours have a good number of pick-up trucks and that their driving habits are lacking normal couth.  For example; the tendency to use the slow-lane to and from Calgary as their own personal express way or never using the signal-lights except as a quick “F-You” type flash as they cut quickly in front of a Slow Moving vehicle (only doing 120KPH in a 110KPH zone)is somewhat indicative of a more “Hick-Town” mentality than I’d hoped for when planning to move here.

I’ve also noticed since living here the somewhat disturbing fact that without exception thus far every bar I’ve driven past or entered is busy EVERY SINGLE NIGHT OF THE WEEK! Often when I’ve been to these places the dining side has far more families than one would ever see in Calgary at a similar or exact same place. It’s not as if there are no restaurants to dine at so why choose a loud place like Brewsters to take the folks and the kids on a Tuesday night? I can only hope that I’ll also find the same thing occurring in the better restaurants around town. I’ll know for sure when I’ve gotten out a bit more after the weather warms up.

We do have access to some fairly good food including sushi at Sushi Haru, but this highly rated place suffers from something that I’ve noticed is common here, namely that the more interesting menu items one would find normally at a similar place in a larger city are always missing. The nigiri list at Haru is perhaps 10 items long and when asked about the absence of certain things the staff points out something I’ve heard from several owners in town. They’ve told me that the patrons simply don’t eat the more unusual or authentic food they offered when they first opened, so it was removed from the menu. Truly sad.

The owner of a local Vietnamese noodle shop told us that when they opened they had common ingredients in their Pho such as beef tendon but that the people ordering it complained of the weird stuff in their soup. I’ll not for the sake of kindness say what should be said about anyone who complains that the food from another culture contains things not normal to them. Of course I don’t blame the owners for making these changes to the menu, after all they would lose money if they continued to offer things the clientele will not eat. I just wish that my fellow Airdronians had a little more … um, what’s a good term to use here?…. one that won’t insult my local friends….. how about refined palette? yeah, that should work. I hope that places such as the somewhat over-priced yet good Taj Indian restaurant will succeed here since we need them. And of course on the other end of the spectrum I hope as well that stores such as Five Guys Burgers, Nathan’s Hotdogs and DQ are not the only places that are busy every day.

While I do believe in promoting local places above others and will thus choose an Airdrie location prior to considering the drive to Calgary (and this is for all business, not just dining) I will also not hold back on any reviews or opinions I have just because the store in question might need a boost. If the food sucks I’ll be sure to say just that. This having been said I do not expect that I’ll find almost anything that resembles a recipe true to the culture it represents, so with this in mind I’ll try to be more forgiving.

We’ve now been to several places multiple times and will begin to post reviews soon. Also, despite what I wrote above I actually look forward to a Nathan’s Chili Cheese or Chicago Dog with a side of Beer Battered Rings…It’s been a long time old friends, a long time. 🙂

P.S. I will state for the record that any Nathan’s hotdog eating contest entered (such as the one June 18th in Calgary) will be for the sole purpose of this blog and my readers and in no way should be used as a standard by which one measures my own cultural depth.

No, I’ve not died…

I’ve simply been busy/lazy for some time.

Life can at any moment catch us all by surprise and manages to suck up our time. Between selling a property, buying a new home, renting a property, travelling, getting a new job etc. I’ve managed to burn months before I knew it. I apologize to my readers for this absence and will make every attempt to post more in the near future.

We’re still busy with Christmas, moving and work and while we don’t go out as much as before I will endeavor to post reviews when we do.

Thanks for being so patient (those that have not e-mailed me weekly at least) and have a Merry Christmas!

One man’s pet is another man’s protein

Many of you know that Nancy is currently in Peru and enjoying all of the many things that a different culture presents to a traveller.

One of those things is regional cuisine, and both of us have had our fair share of unique and often interesting local specialties.

Well tonight Nancy had the chance to sample the treat know as Cuy. Now to you and me this dish would be better known as Guinea Pig. That’s right folks the plump little rodents that in North America are sold not by the pound but as pets.

According to Nancy’s broadly experienced and refined palette cuy tastes like frog legs, however since many of you may not have sampled those either you’ll just have to get more adventurous in order to know what she’s talking about.

Wonder what wine I’d pair with our friend GP…

Before

After

Home again

As many of you already know I spent the last while in the deep south of the US. Well, nearly 4000 miles and 11 states later I’m back in Calgary.

I’d planned on visiting many restaurants during my trip, several of which were suggestions from fellow bloggers and foodies. While I did have meals in many of these and other places I didn’t take detailed notes and pictures as I had planned. It seems riding in 100+ and 98% humidity takes more out of me now than it used to and just wanting to eat and then rest was my MO this trip. As a result of this I’m not going to be posting individual reviews for the stores I visited during my ride. Instead I’m placing my short reviews on Urbanspoon.

I’ve consumed vast quantities of BBQ, seafood and other southern foods and have a better grasp of the regional differences between the areas where they are popular. I’ll use this in the future to make my reviews of local places as useful and informative as I can.

So, back to the routine. Will be visiting The Casbah with the UrbanSpoon group next week and am deciding on a possible “looking for the best xxxx in Calgary” series while Nancy is in South America.