Food Mubarak!

Fasting has a way of resurrecting old foodgasms. I find myself thinking about iftar very early on in the day. Often I oscillate between wondering how I can avoid spending my whole paycheck on a fancy dinner and wondering how fast I can make microwaveable oatmeal. But there are glimpses in the middle of great food experiences of yesteryear, which then lead me to wonder where I should go to break my fast. There are many places to choose from, but I’m drawn to locales where the food is delicious, the prices are decent, and the portion sizes are disciplined.

Today’s musing led me to list my favorite restaurants from around the world. I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible of all my travels but, so as not to taint your experience in any way and also not to get too hungry too early in my fast, I’ll give you recommendations and reviews from others. Happy global hunger hunting!

chefette

Barbados: 10 Best says “Chefette is a small fast food chain, and there are 14 locations all over the island. It’s not particularly fast, but the prices are reasonable and the food is quite good. Tasty chicken and chips is the staple offering, but the “broasted” chicken sandwich and the various rotis are also satisfying. Several locations have drive-throughs and playgrounds for the kids, and some also serve pizza, barbecue or ice cream.”

framboise

France: Creperie Framboise in Paris really got me to appreciate crepes for their decadence. Before this they were just thin pancakes with nutella inside:  -_- (boring face). After Framboise, I see crepes and I smile. 

escale caraibe

L’escale Caraibe on Rue de Guerre was a delightful treat for me, someone who believes I know Caribbean food. Trying the cuisine of Martinique & Guadeloupe was a culinary pleasure of awesome proportions. Yum Yum!

el perro

Germany: Leave it to me to find an awesome Spanish restaurant in the middle of Munich. But, hey, que será será. El Perro y El Griego is as good as I say it is.

 

 

grenada-chocolate1

Grenada: This isn’t a restaurant review. Grenada produces two good food items – nutmeg (who uses nutmeg though, really?) and thee best chocolate I’ve had in all the world. Don’t take my word for it!

 

 

sanchos logoIndiaSancho’s is in Mumbai, and here’s what the good folks at Zomato have to say: “Bandra rather Mumbai has its fair share of Mexican restaurants, but not an overwhelming amount, fading in comparison to the number of Chinese, Sports Bars and Sea Food institutions in town. Broadly speaking, Sancho’s falls firmly in the “Awesome” category. More specifically, the food is “Delicious,” albeit generally a bit too hyped given the prices.”

sant lucias

Santa Lucia is in Fort Aguada, Goa and my mouth is watering just thinking of their Goan fish curry. Check out the reviews here.

 

 

mashua

Netherlands: Mashua in Amsterdam has me reeling from great cocktails to Quinoa Risotto. Oy vey! Gianguido says, “It is Peruvian fusion food. The menu is quite short, which I actually like it. Ample choice of whine.. which I also like 🙂 I went for Ceviche as starter… it was nicely prepared with all the whistles and bells…. I could feel a bit too much the lemon for my personal taste, but over all well done. My main course was a great boneless chicken leg prepared with cumin crust/sauce with wild spinach and young potatoes. it was really delish!” Need I say more?

 


tongue thaiThailand:  Tongue Thai in Bangkok had me with the vintage pics, the jazz music and the authentic food. I went back twice in three days.

 

 

The Corson Building picnic

United States: The Corson Building in Seattle is exactly how I’d want to run a restaurant, if ever I wanted to run a restaurant. Read up for yourself. And here’s what 50 Shades of Delicious has got to say…

 


sala 1 9

Sala One Nine is my favorite restaurant in New York City, which means its probably my favorite restaurant in the whole wide world. Zagat says 90% of people like the restaurant.

 

 

And with that, I’m famished. It’s time to head off to the Blue Nile for some injera stuffed goodness. Ramzan Mubarak!

Social consciousness disclaimer: Everything I’ve had to say about Trayvon Martin trial/fiasco has already been said.

Sleep with Confidence

Jodhpur - Water Habitat Retreat View

When I was in Jodhpur last month, I ended up staying in a resort hotel that just so happened to have a last-minute room available.  I tried to book at the Taj and the Oberoi, and I even tried a local Haveli.  But they were booked up and my flights were already paid for, so I had to scrounge up something and fast! So with little more than the promise of a clean bed and a good ranking on http://www.tripadvisor.com, I reserved a 3 night stay in the Water Habitat Retreat. And whoa, what a treat! This got me thinking about some of my most pleasant, surprise room stays around the world. When you travel, your room is your castle. Here are just four unsung heroes I recommend with confidence:

As the NGO expansion of a Maharaja’s summer home, the Water Habitat Retreat is a 28 room boutique hotel that offers vistas from Jodhpur’s Marwar desert.  Just about 20 minutes from the city center, this hotel is truly an oasis of stunning man-made lakes, hill-top temples, and quiet serenity. The rooms do not have TVs, but I was given a USB MBlaze to get internet reception free of charge.  What’s the catch? Well, the hotel is built aside a water catchment plant and reservoir.  The Aravalli hills are known for desert and drought, but in this NGO run hotel 70% of the hotel booking costs go directly to water harvesting. So, this nice hideaway also doubles as an opportunity for philanthropy. Hard to top that.

When a friend came to India shortly after I first arrived, we scrambled to find a hotel in Goa. We combed http://www.tripadvisor.com for a reasonably priced guesthouse near Candolim or Sinquerim beach. We tried to book to the #1 ranked Bougainvillea Goa, but they were full. They offered a room in their sister guest house just a 3 minute walk away. For $30 USD a night, we booked at Victoria Village Guest House. The room was clean and the owners were very sweet. The wife came to the door carrying her pudgy cheeked doll of a daughter and the husband told us about his sister’s restaurant down the road – which was not a tourist trap! Just a five-minute walk away from the Fort Aguada Taj hotel, I can’t imagine why anyone would choose NOT to stay at Victoria Village.

Not all surprises are cheap. And in San Francisco, you can bet that any good surprise costs a premium. But, a few years back I booked 3 nights at the Orchard Hotel and never once regretted it. I especially appreciated it when I got so sick that I couldn’t leave the hotel on the night before I was set to depart. I still remember the fish stew I ordered from room service, and I have yet to try fish stew that competes. The cleaning crew came multiple times a day and only when they knew we were out of the hotel – so no annoying knocks in the morning. Well worth the spend, if I’m ever back in San Fran I’ll be trying to relive my fish stew dream.

Germany Valley

One of my very favorite places in all of the U.S. is Germany Valley, West Virginia. Trying to unplug from Washington, D.C. life, I searched for a fall foliage locale that wouldn’t break the bank. While once on a stay in the Appalachian-Cabins in Seneca Rocks, I drove a ways and discovered the Germany Valley cabins. I decided that the next year, I would have to come back and stay in one. I had to book almost a year in advance to ensure I had an October weekend, but it was well worth it. Some of my fondest memories with my best friends and their kids were had right there in those hills. These cabins are a hidden gem, well worth the 5 hour drive from DC.

Here are a few other lodging options worth checking out:

Jaipur, India

New Delhi, India

Udaipur, India

Bangkok, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

My Thai

Let me begin with an apology for the delayed posting. I had some fits and starts with the internet in my guest house in Chiang Mai. And I was also having a lot of fun with friends old and new, so it wasn’t convenient to interrupt the fun to find a reliable connection, sit down and write a blog post about all the fun I was having. Ya dig?

This Thailand trip really reminded me why I started this blog in the first place. If you haven’t read the ‘About’ section above, then you may lose track of my point. I don’t write to flaunt my frequent flyer miles or to expose some underlying truth about contemporary affairs.  I’m not merely writing so my friends and family can hear more about my travails from afar. I write about what I love and what I know. Both of which are deeply connected to always being in a state of ‘in between,’ always in transit between two destinations that, in and of themselves, have power and appeal.  This place of filler between sites is the battery in my back. The going, moving, on the way to… is the place I’ve always felt most comfortable and whole.

I dig driving 90 mph on the Jersey Turnpike heading north from exit 2. Why? Because I crave the process of being a passerby, not of any particular obligation, viewing the world pass me by at a pace I willingly submit to and only intersecting with the view outside my window for the split second we have together. It’s the same reason why I always ask for a window seat. Who wants to be in the nose-bleeds at the playoffs?

Hence why, as I peer outside of the seat 35K, over the right wing of the plane, into the darkness of a night somewhere between Bangkok and Delhi, I’m reminded that this quirky experience that most people dread or fear is actually the water that keeps my blood flowing. It’s what kept Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the driver’s seat even after logic would tell him that his seatbelt could break too. It’s not adrenaline. It’s not a rush. It’s an essential element. It’s what made Lauryn Hill create Miseducation… out of a circumstance of needing to prove to herself that she, herself, was capable. It’s what would then lead her to perform Unplugged to prove to the public that she, herself, had nothing more to prove.

I can’t quite give a face to what it feels like to be one of a herd of people passing through customs, and knowing that that individual stamp in my individual passport is the only souvenir I will ever need to prove to myself, or anyone else, that I know myself.  I imagine it’s like what a parent feels like sending off their first born to her first day of school. It’s pride from afar; a silent protectiveness rears up from the underbelly. You think, “This is unnerving, but this is what it’s all about.”

I take my passport envy seriously and it’s the only kind of jealousy that I openly retain. Since I heard Chuck D bring up the term almost a decade ago, I never once forgot its resonance.  And it’s been almost ten years since I’ve really spent any time with the high school friend I hung out with in Chiang Mai. Call it a blast from the past or just a reminder of what’s always been right in my life – but I felt all weekend that I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. Eating. Laughing, Listening. Learning. And being – without a map or an agenda, just an internal compass that said ‘soak this shit up!’

I spent the first night in Thailand alone in a bed and breakfast in the old part of Bangkok.  This was the only thing that was actually planned about the trip – staying at Focal Local.  I have ulterior business motives for stopping through guesthouses and such, and I have no problem learning from the best by walking a mile in their guesthouse shoes.  Needless to say, as much as this place gave me exactly what I needed to fuel my business energies, it wasn’t in the center of town, turned out to be more expensive than I’d expected and thus left a bit to be desired for the girl who decided she wouldn’t read a single guidebook before boarding a Thai Airways flight on Indian Republic Day.

When I arrived, the sun had already set and guilt and sleep deprivation from a work project the day before left me exhausted and craving the warm innards of a cozy bed.  I got to the guesthouse and it was tucked away in a nook of a residential part of town.  I only saw two other foreigners near this neighborhood and both were buying Singha beers for a nightcap in their room at Focal Local.

I took the advice of a Delhite friend and headed to Mango Tree for a Thai dinner. She seemed so convinced it was the best restaurant ever. But while hanging out at an India Art Fair event on the night before my departure we bumped into my new Indian eye candy and his friend, who blurted out something along the lines that her recommendation to go to Mango Tree would be the first line in the unwritten book “Thailand for dumbass tourists: Visit 101 over priced tourist traps.”  (I secretly wished that I could meld Sahab Eye Candy and Sahab Smart Mouth into one person.)

Needless to say, I went to Mango Tree. It was late. I didn’t want to stay out all night and everybody who knows me knows that I love Thai food like a fat kid loves tater tots. Sahab Smart Mouth was on point. The food was good, though not great. But since the entire restaurant was full of tourists, it was a nice little transition into being in between actually staying in this all Thai neighborhood (I don’t speak Thai) and being a traveler on my first real trip to Asia (India and Pakistan don’t count).

I spent the next day putting out some work fires, chatting on Skype, and walking around the 20 block radius of my B&B.  Minus the work part, I couldn’t think of a better way to start the vacay.

At about 5pm on Friday, I flew to Chiang Mai and I was ready to be social. My friend and 2 of her friends met me at Thae Pae Gate.  She looked exactly how she looked when I last saw her. She had the glow of a woman who enjoys smiling. Turns out I’d met one of her friends before, and so on we went to Burmese food right near the gate. I selfishly devoured dishes that were supposed to be shared. I did some Delhi bashing and some Thailand hailing, and then we were off to browse the town before heading to slumber. There were bars full of expats and tourists and lady boys and comfort women and reggaeton and pop music you’d hear on Z100 FM. I went to bed satisfied.

The next day was Saturday and it felt like we should really be getting into some shizznit. And so we did. We went for a breakfast that was really a lunch at a cozy little place that actually underwhelmed on the food front. But the service was good and I had my first juice since I got to this continent. My insides screamed Mazel Tov! (My juicer is about to get the business after I get off this plane.) We bought tickets for the next day’s Jungle Flight – 22 ziplines, 1 spiral stair case, 3 free falls and 2 maybe 3 suspension bridges in a canopy in the mountains – and got Thai massages, which are a lot more active than I was expecting.  And at some point we split up for a few hours. I went to my guest house for what was supposed to be twenty minutes, but became two hours.  I think we did yoga at Namo when I went back, but I can’t remember which day that was.

I do know that we met up later that night with a few new members and were off to dance. Long story short, we ended up in the Nimmanhaemin section of town – near Chiang Mai University and I’m pretty sure that the next time I stay in Chiang Mai this is where I’m heading. There were short skirts and spikey gelled hair everywhere, cute coffee shops and boutiques peppered with young, educated Thai artsy folk. Not quite Soho, think more West Village; not quite H Street, think more the stretch of 14th street between U St and Logan Circle. Not exactly Newbury Street, think more Back Bay.

So we went to Infinity, which is a proper club (not a bar), with girls showing too much skin and tugging at the elbows of guys who were so damn lucky to be born in Thailand that they should suck on the Buddha’s big toe (because otherwise these gorgeous girls would have been, should have been, probably still are out of their league). We were the only tourists there. We means me, my Trini- Boston 5 foot 7 friend, her Chicagoan come English teacher in Lamphun friend and the Chicagoan’s 6 foot 5 British scientist researcher friend. We were a sight, if ever there was one. And we were really loving it up until this sad ass, droning ass, Thai heartbreak music band started playing. It was cool at first when they turned off Jay-Z and Alicia Keys and this 5 dude boy band hit the stage. “Hey, there’s a live band,” I screamed upward towards the direction of the Brit’s far off ear canal. His face read dry British wit, “This poor girl doesn’t know what’s good for her.”  So, after about 40 minutes, the equivalent of 4 songs with 3 breakdowns each, we headed back to the center of town for bed.

The next day we actually did something active, and un-city like. After almost vomiting on myself from extreme car sickness resulting from the driver sending the back-end of the car into a series of tailspins because speeding through the narrow curves heading uphill into the mountain seemed like his idea of fun, I fully understood that I was stuck.  There was no going back,  and no going forward except to strap on a harness, check my carabiners more than once, and jump through the trees.  Oh those lush green trees. I haven’t seen that kind of wet, full, hydrated green since I moved to Delhi – so the canopy was a highlight. After heading back to town 4 hours later, I went off alone for 2 massages and a walk before meeting up with my good company once more for some shopping at the night market. If you asked me where I bought your souvenirs, have no doubt – I bought them off the street, right near the moat, probably just above an open sewer, and in the throws of crowds so thick they could’ve been churned into spicy thai chili butter.

The next day was a day for my friend and I to catch up alone. It was the first stretch of time we had alone since I’d gotten there and it was awkwardly familiar.  Remember how Troy felt when she got down south, saw her high yeller cousin for the first time and chased behind her parent’s car as they drove away? I wasn’t exactly running at full speed, but I was looking around thinking – without all the filler around us, what exactly is the bond?  We rented a scooter and headed out to a lake, and chatted about life and love and this beautiful lake and it felt like we’d grown older but not apart. We kept saying to each other, “I can’t believe we’re in Asia!” We giggled like two schoolgirls after seeing Queenie spring stiffly from the pull out couch.  We ate, we shopped, we phoned home to give shared bday biggups to our friend Tanya Everett.  She fell asleep with her phone in her hand, ended up sleeping side ways in the bed ‘til I woke her for a readjustment. I gave up on packing, finished reading Toure’s “Never Drank the Kool Aid” and started Suze Orman’s “Women & Money.”

I woke up  around 5am to hand her the blaring phone. Then I woke up again when I gave her the last bad breath, sleep induced hug I would give her.  She went off to her village to teach English to Thai kids, and I went back to bed before returning the scooter to the rental place, paying the 30Baht for the loofah I’d bought in the guesthouse, getting a facial scrub, eating one more time at Aum and heading out to the airport. And with that, I said ‘so long’ to Chiang Mai.

Rarely am I ever shocked by anything that happens on an airplane. Turbulence raises no fear, just a well-deserved rush. I say a short prayer to the God of small things, and give nuff respekk to ancestors and deities of varying origins, and I try to fall asleep before the plane even takes off.  On my flight from Bangkok though, I stayed up for some reason and when I realized that they really didn’t bother to even go into the safety procedures in any detail, my attention shifted ahead to the big screen at the front of the economy section. What could it be that would catch the eye of this buxom brown-skinned thang, but the view from a night vision camera on the nose of the plane? What a wonderful world! This isn’t the peripheral vision of a window seat, blocked by the plane’s bulging body. This was the clear shot from the nose to the sky, with nothing but grey renderings of the white spots dotting the night. Every bit of the present, on the ground in the sky, in the trees or on the tarmac has something to offer. If that ain’t a reminder of the process of getting from one great experience to the next, then you, my darling, simply haven’t lived in my in between.